Tag Archives: jewish

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Cut Then Drink or Drink Then Cut?

I came back to the car with the platter of insanely overpriced kosher chocolates I just bought in the “elite” gourmet store on Central Avenue.   Topped with a fancy sign, the place is considered to be high-end in the upscale Jewish neighborhood that my husband’s family we came to visit  lives in.    We don’t know any other “good” kosher stores in the area, and don’t want to look cheap, so wasting money seems like the right thing to do.  We usually are invited twice a year – for Chanukah and Purim.   Every visit sparks a discussion about religion, the existence of God, and his role in our lives.  Not that we need a visit for that; the topic is one of my son’s all-time favorites.  That’s why I am trying to avoid it at all costs, because once it starts it never ends.   The fact that it is a belief, and, therefore, does not need a proof, only makes him more passionate in trying to prove that God’s existence is not proven.   The fact that nobody disagrees with him does not stop him from moving on, presenting countless arguments for indefinite amount of time.

Anyway, when I came back my husband was laughing, so I asked him why.  He said that they were talking about circumcision.  Not understanding how this barbaric, but medically beneficial procedure could be funny, I’ve asked him to elaborate.  This was the statement my son made on the topic of Purim while I was away: “ God is so messed up.  First, he wants to cut up your penis, and then drink to the point where you won’t recognize your neighbor.”  This description of events, certainly, had a right to exist, since you did have to get drunk on Purim.  However, we had to point out, that in the case of a circumcision the sequence of events was the opposite.  First, the 8-day-old baby was given wine, and then his penis got cut off.   That was when the philosophical question “what came first” did not only get a new life, but also brought many more questions.  My older son was concerned about the effects of the alcohol intoxication on a baby.  My younger son wanted to know what part was being cut off.   My older son was concerned with how drunk-ing the baby was legal, my younger son was worried about the bleeding aspect. My older son, just finishing the reproductive unit in his Living Environment class, identified the unfortunate body part as nothing other than “a foreskin”.    The value of this knowledge for my younger son could hardly be underestimated, since it could drastically improve his reputation among his fellow 4th graders.

Even though we are Jewish to the bone, we’ve never been particularly religious.  We do try to follow certain traditions, like eating latkes and lighting the Menorah on Chanukah, Hamentashen for Purim, no bread for Passover.  However, even though each ritual has deep meaning and historical significance, it is very hard to explain to kids.  They don’t buy into “the tradition” rhetoric.   They would gladly listen to the interesting stories about their ancestors, but why should they starve on Yom Kippur, or deny themselves their favorite food on Passover to show solidarity with the hypothetical Jews that lived thousands of years ago.   Didn’t these Jews endure all the hardships, so that the future generations would not have to suffer? Other religions don’t seem to be that cruel to their members.

Every time we come to a Purim party, there is a different set of ideas coming from the same exact script read and analyzed over and over again.   This time it was the double meaning of clothing: one that we wore on the outside-physical articles of the wardrobe; the other, spiritual one- the people we were on the inside.  Looking beyond the surface, digging deeper could uncover the new concept or a theory never explored before.    Reading between the lines, interpreting every single word, gesture, detail of a dress are the signs of a true scholar, which we are clearly not.   That’s why I’ve asked my family members to be quiet, and pretend like they were smart, or at least somewhat educated. As Mark Twain said: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

 

 

Am I a Jewish Mother?

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This question came to my mind unexpectedly, while I was looking through the window of my office, waiting for my boss to provide me with the 25th round of changes to the next year budget.   Even though this exercise was completely useless, because the 26th round was coming tomorrow, I felt guilty.   Feeling guilty for me is like eating or breathing- everyday necessity.  If there is no apparent reason for it; it’s not a problem, I can always make up one.  I blame my mom for it – my Jewish mother.

My mom loves my sister and me deeply and unconditionally.  We talk every day.  If my mom calls and I am not home, I feel guilty.  She would come up with some horrific scenarios in her mind and worry herself to death.   She would feed us and our families until we can’t get up from the table.  If I don’t try everything she cooked and complement, I feel guilty – it hurts her feelings.   I don’t remember hearing “Good Job” from my mom.  There is always something small (or big) that could be done better.  She compares us to others, but somehow fails to see that we grew up to be independent and successful people.  First, my mom seems surprised that her kid actually has accomplished something; second, there is always someone else who has achieved more.  She is worried that we don’t think everything through before making an important step.  When I told her that we were buying a house, she asked: “Are you sure you have money for it?  What happens if you lose your job?”

My parents’ primary goal was to make sure we had food, clothes and roof over our heads.  They wanted us to get an education that would lead to stable jobs – with “stable” being the key word.  It’s OK to be stuck at a job you hate, as long as you get a paycheck.  Everybody is doing it.  We talked about politics, books, but never about personal matters.  I could not imagine having a conversation with my parents regarding alcohol, drugs, sex.  It was not something you discuss at a dinner table.

My parents wanted us to have a good life – stable, calm, risk free, without any major ups or downs.  They did what they knew how and were comfortable with.  They are great people, and I’ve learned a lot from them.  They shaped a person I grew up to be.

In my opinion, my mom is a partially “Jewish mother”.  She definitely overfed me (too bad I was naturally skinny) and always put me first; but, she also instilled a feeling of guilt in me, worry about non-existent problems and doubt about my abilities.  She was never overprotective, or wanted something back in return for her “hardships” of raising me.  I give her a lot of credit for not getting too involved in my life after I got married.  She could comment on minor things, but she stood away from my relationship with my husband, kids, career choices, money decisions.   In some areas of raising my children I follow my parents, in others I take completely different route.  As probably any parent, I constantly question my approach to disciplining my kids, and decisions I make on a daily basis.  I may think that I handle things the right way at the moment, but the next day I realize I’ve made a mistake.

Which brings me to the question at hand:  am I a Jewish mother?  Sure, I am a mother and I am Jewish, but these are not the only prerequisites for obtaining this Honorary Degree.  In fact, you don’t even have to be Jewish to qualify for a “Jewish mother”.   I am yet to figure out if this is an insult or a complement.  I guess it depends on the circumstances.

I’ve decided to look what others think about it, and came up with the following “Jewish mother Syndrome” definitions:

Wikipedia

The stereotype generally involves a nagging, loud, highly-talkative, overprotective, smothering, and overbearing mother or wife, who persists in interfering in her children’s lives long after they have become adults and who is excellent at making her children feel guilty for actions which may have caused her to suffer.[1] The Jewish mother stereotype can also involve a loving and overly proud mother who is highly defensive about her children in front of others. Like Italian mother stereotypes, Jewish mother characters are often shown cooking for the family, urging loved ones to eat more, and taking great pride in their food. Feeding a loved one is characterized as an extension of the desire to mother those around her. Lisa Aronson Fontes describes the stereotype as one of “endless caretaking and boundless self-sacrifice” by a mother who demonstrates her love by “constant overfeeding and unremitting solicitude about every aspect of her children’s and husband’s welfare[s]“.[2]

Urban dictionary.com

Jewish mothers an unstoppable force of nature that will feed you, pamper you, and pester you at the slightest provocation. known to spout Yiddish randomly.

be warned: if you come to my house, you WILL leave with a full stomach and a bag of leftovers. 

 Based on Richard W. Malott at Western Michigan University who spent fair amount of time studying this syndrome: “The Jewish-Mother Syndrome: You can never do it right; no matter how hard you try. So you try harder and harder, because, if you don’t, you’ll feel even more guilt. Successful people seem driven by this guilt, fear, and anxiety. Without his own Jewish-mother syndrome, we would never have had the world’s most brilliant, insightful psychotherapist Sigmund Freud. But, without their Jewish-mother syndromes, Dr. Freud’s patients wouldn’t have needed the world’s most brilliant psychotherapist. Nothing is free. So what happens to the unfortunate who have not had a good Jewish Mother? They will have a low rate of empathetic behavior, and they will also have a low rate of other productive professional or work behavior. Those who have had moderately effective Jewish mothering will start fearing failure at the beginning of the month when the task is assigned and will start to work on it right away, with the immediate results of a mild decrease in their fear, and with the long term results that they complete a high quantity of high-quality tasks on a timely basis.” 

The other day I was talking to my son’s swimming coach, asking her to make him work hard.  She said: “You must be a Jewish mother.  I have three boys myself, all grown up now.  They are successful because I’ve made them work.”  I believe in working hard, and doing your best.  Laziness and/or ignorance drives me crazy.  I don’t like leaving assignments to the last minute.  If there is a problem in school –academic or otherwise- it should be communicated; otherwise, I don’t have an opportunity to help, and my kids have to take full responsibility for the outcome.  Is that a lot to ask of a kid?  Probably, but I believe that if they don’t learn discipline and work ethics at the young age, they won’t be successful.  My standards and expectations are high.  I want my kids to be challenged.   I make them work.  I scream if they don’t listen, and then feel bad about.  It is really hard to compete with U-tubes, X-boxes, I-pads, etc, but this is a topic of another conversation.

I don’t overfeed or nag.  I would never blame my kids for anything I have to “sacrifice” for parenting them.  That is because, despite the common belief, I don’t sacrifice anything.  If you choose to do something, you take all of it – good and bad- without complaining.  It applies to careers, sports, hobbies, friendships, but somehow society has a different set of rules for parenting.   If one buys a luxury car, everybody understands- he enjoys driving it-money well spent; if he pays for his child’s college – he sacrifices.  Well, knowing that my kids get a good education gives me more pleasure then driving a luxury car.  Children do not choose to be born, nor do they choose how they would be raised, so they don’t have to pay for it.

I try not to be overly protective, but my husband compensates for it.  No amount of scientific evidence is enough for him to prove that cold weather doesn’t cause flu epidemic.  He is willing to go above and beyond to dress my teenager into something warmer than his classmates are wearing.  Putting a basketball hoop on the driveway took months of intense negotiations.  What if the ball bounces off to the road?  So he clearly fills that part of a “Jewish mother” requirements.

I believe in pursuing one’s interests in choosing a career.  I tell my kids that I don’t care whom they would become as long as they are good at what they do.  There are no limits as to what they can accomplish.  This concept is foreign to my parents.  They believe I have to point my sons in the “right direction”.

We talk about everything.  I don’t believe that telling the truth about my mistakes and weaknesses impacts the level of respect my kids have for me.  It strengths our bond, reinforces the concept that nobody is perfect and it’s OK.  We criticize each other constantly, make jokes.  My 8-year-old can grill us on how many times we got drunk or if we ever tried drugs, and he would get an honest answer.  I remember when my older son came back from an overnight camp trip, and started telling me about how the bunch of boys found a bra in the woods nearby and worshipped it in the bunk.  When I told him that I didn’t really want to know all the details of this ludicrous act, he said:” But mom you wanted to know everything.”  There is no elaborate philosophical or educational tactic behind it; I just get a kick out of hearing their opinions and take on things.

My son feels guilty when he is not doing something he is suppose to do (like school project).  He blames me for that (sounds familiar?).  “Mom, I feel bad about it.  Are you happy?” he asks me.  I try not to overdo the guilt thing.

A lot of parents I know consider raising kids to be “the job” –exhausting and all-consuming.  For me, even though it’s quite overwhelming and stressful at times, parenting is mostly about fun.   Based on the definition that goes against the very core of a “Jewish mother” term. Nevertheless, I still consider myself a “Jewish mother”.

In my opinion, the term evolved through the years.   We live in a more open and inclusive society.   The corporal punishment is replaced by a more lenient alternatives.  Being grounded in the room with an iPhone and a computer, or spending 30 minutes in a detention doesn’t do much disciplining.  Parents don’t have as much influence on the kids as they have had before due to abundance of information coming from all the different sources.  You can’t protect your kids from it; only to teach them to deal with it and make the right choices.  At the end I am pursuing the same goals as a traditional “Jewish mother” does; I just have updated my methods a bit.  I don’t know if my approach will bear fruit or back fire.  Time will tell.   To me a “Jewish mother” is a mother who is crazy about her kids.  I am definitely one of those, just more liberal one.

Sex, Drugs, & Gefilte Fish

9780446504621-1This was the classic case of judging the book by its cover.  Please don’t judge me for judging the book by its cover.  I had to read it.  We are a chosen nation.  We don’t do sex and drugs, we do prescribed meds and procreation (most jews don’t even like gefilte fish).  Our primary goal is to increase the jewish population on Earth, not to engage in various not approved by Rabbi activities.

It is a collection of stories by Jewish writers and comedians about their personal experiences in different aspects of life related to being Jewish.    It is hilarious, yet tender, and will make you blush and cry at the same time.   From the story where a 15 year old was confronted by Israeli soldiers during his first sexual encounter, to a proud mom organizing her son’s Bar Mitzvah on a limited budget in an upscale neighborhood, to a writer trying to persuade his 80 something grandma to vote for a black President; each story is filled with love and family values.

This book is a very enjoyable read, whether you are Jewish or not.

Old Jews Telling Jokes

Old+Jews+Telling+JokesIf you want to brighten up your day, get a book “Old Jews Telling Jokes”.  Last Spring we went to see a Broadway Show based on this book, and it was hilarious.  Nothing fancy, just few actors playing out the jokes.  I laughed so hard, the tears were streaming down my face.   Few days ago I saw this book in the library, and, needless to say, had to read it.  A lot of the best jokes did not make it to the show due to adult nature, so it was well worth it.  Well, see for yourself:

***Two beggars were outside the Tivoli fountain in Rome.  One beggar had his hat in front of him, decorated with crucifix.  The other had his hat in front of him, his with a Star of David.

People are walking by, and they’re all putting their donations into the hat with the crucifix.

A priest walks by, and he sees the two of them sitting there, and he says, “My good man this is a Catholic city.  No one’s going to put money in a hat with a Star of David! As a matter of fact, most Catholics and Christians in this city will probably donate extra to the hat with the crucifix.”

The beggar with the Star of David turns to the other and says, “Moshe, look who’s trying to tell the Cohen brothers about marketing!”

*** The man goes to see his rabbi.  He says to the rabbi, “Rabbi, I think my wife is poisoning me.  I know she is poisoning me.”

The rabbi says, ”Calm down, calm down.”

He says, “No, no, I know! But I don’t know what to do.  I need your advice.”  The rabbi says, “Well, give me a chance to talk to her, and then I’ll get back to you.”

About three days later, the rabbi calls the guy, and he says, “I had a long talk with your wife.  I talked to her for about three hours.”  He says, “Yes, yes, so what’s your advice?”

“Take the poison.”