My Strange Reaction to “The Book Thief” (Spoiler Alerts, People)

December 12, 2013 § 11 Comments


Photo courtesy of IMDb

I went to see “The Book Thief” with a friend a few weeks ago. I knew nothing about it except it was set in Nazi Germany and involved a girl joining a new family.

My friend and I discussed how we really do enjoy seeing a movie knowing little about the plot, as we like to see it unfold before us with no preconceived notions, and our reactions are genuine – usually finding delight in letting the storyteller take us to places we don’t anticipate. It’s a little like having a trusted friend lead you around when you’re wearing a blind-fold.

As the movie progressed, I felt as I expected – loving the good story, wanting to know what happened next, in awe of the amazing acting of Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson – not to mention those marvelous child actors, Sophie Nélisse and Nico Liersch. I was lost in John Williams’ magnificent musical score, and impressed with the director’s ability to convey horror without gore. « Read the rest of this entry »


Happy ANYTHING, Okay?

December 2, 2013 § 31 Comments


I’m a little late with this post, as it’s already the sixth night of Chanukkah. You may have heard (if you don’t live under a rock) that it coincided with Thanksgiving this year, and travel, and blah, blah, blah – so apologies for tardiness. However, it is NOT too late to discuss the nuttiness that surrounds these winter holidays.  In particular, I’d love to address addressing. Not as in envelopes, but as in in greeting people.  Specifically, in greeting ME.

There always seems to be a well-meaning discussion about how to greet others.  Do we wish them happiness in the holiday THEY celebrate?  Or do we wish them well in the holiday WE celebrate?  What do we say if we’re not sure?  How do we avoid offending? « Read the rest of this entry »


October 18, 2013 § 6 Comments

Author’s Note:  I wrote this a couple of years ago for my local Patch blog.  In light of “The View’s” recent “discussions” and comments about Jews – you can read about it here and here – I thought it was worth re-publishing.

Me with a tiny man outside tiny synagogue, outside Orthodox quarter of Jerusalem. June 1990.

Me with a tiny man outside tiny synagogue, outside Orthodox quarter of Jerusalem. June 1990.

Perfect!!!  I thought of this about a month or so ago as a way to describe my religious life/beliefs, such as they are.  Jew-ish.  “Ish!”  It’s right there in the name!  I’m a Jew.  Ish. Kinda in the middle – sorta…

That helped me crystallize some of the ways in which I am a full-fledged Jew, and ways in which I am kinda, sorta – you know, Jew-ish.  Hope you don’t mind my sharing. « Read the rest of this entry »

Lisa Alcalay Klug’s “Hot Mamalah” – Book Review

December 4, 2012 § 5 Comments

Full disclosure #1:  I’ve never written a book review before.  I apologize in advance.

Full disclosure #2:  The publisher sent me the book for free, but I was not compensated in any way to review it.

Full disclosure #3:  I don’t have a third one, but I kinda feel a list should have at least three things on it.

Do not, I repeat, do NOT read Hot Mamalah, The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe if you are hungry, thirsty, or chocolate deprived.  DO read it if you have a stocked liquor cabinet and an open mind.

Lisa Alcalay Klug formats her book like a meal, with each of the four chapters representing one of the courses.  Truly, though, it is sprinkled with bits of dessert throughout every course, which is how I like it.  It’s the kind of book where you can open up to any page and learn something new about food, Judaism, and a Joan Rivers line.  Groan-inducing puns (a playlist for the “Jewke Box”) and saliva-inducing drink recipes abound.  It’s even better if you imagine it being read to you by Mike Meyers in his Linda Richman Coffee Talk voice.

Rather than refute stereotypes, “Hot Mamalah” celebrates in caricature fashion all the elements of Jews with two X chromosomes.  Recurring informational tidbits help educate and amuse, like the  “Recycle, Reuse, Reschmooze” sections, and the “FYI: For the Yiddish Impaired” boxes.

“FYI: For the Yiddish Impaired

A Joke.
Three Jewish women are sitting quietly minding their business.
The end.”

Lisa devotes entire pages to ways you can know if you’re a Hot Mamalah.  Most are funny, but every once in a while, there’s one thrown in that makes the heart smile.  “You know you’re a Hot Mamalah because you always exaggerate for the sake of clarity.”  “You know you’re a Hot Mamalah because your favorite food is seconds.”  See?  Those made me laugh.  “You know you’re a Hot Mamalah because your life is one adorable clumsy waltz.”  “You know you’re a Hot Mamalah because you befriend kids next to you in line.”  Those made my heart smile.

The lists are abundant and fun – like strong Hot Mamalahs from Biblical times and their claims to fame, and fabulous names for our nether regions titled “Upstairs/Downstairs” – (my faves: Upstairs?  “Mount of Olives.”  Downstairs?  It’s tied between “Hot Pocket” and “The Negev.”)  There is dating advice, break-up advice, and a proven bullshit detection device.

Be willing to abandon linear thinking – this book is a tornado filled with stories, jokes, TONS of recipes, and where things land within each course/chapter, they land.  Once I got into it, though, (I’m a painfully linear thinker) I found it liberating to  just let Lisa grab me by the hand and take me along for the kooky and hilarious ride, wherever it went.  I admit I found myself wishing I knew more Yiddish and Hebrew so I could get all the jokes, dammit!  But isn’t that something a good book does?  Leave you wanting to know more?

I did learn one thing I wish I hadn’t, though – involving the fact that some Bubbes made gefilte fish from scratch, fresh from carp that was actually swimming in their bathtubs.  Daddy?  Please tell me the gefilte fish we had at Grandma’s was out of a jar.  Please?

Here’s the link where you can buy “Hot Mamalah”, which is a follow-up companion book to her guide for 21st-century members of the Tribe, “Cool Jew.”  Buy ’em both!

Happy New Year?

September 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve written a little bit about my relationship with Judaism before.  In this Catonsville Patch post from over a year ago, I compare the ways in which I am Jewish to ways in which I am Jew-ish.  In a post on my own blog last March, I wrote about how I had a Passover Seder without realizing it.  I am continually amazed at how every time I learn something new about Jewish law, customs and teachings, I find myself saying, “Hey!  I do that, too!  For that same reason!  Except, I didn’t know it was a Jew thing…”  While you’d have to be on drugs or delusional to call me observant, I can assert with great conviction that I have a strong Jewish identity – always have.  Judaism’s funny that way.  You don’t meet many “Secular Catholics” or “Secular Mormons” the way you might meet a Secular Jew.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I was surrounded by Jews, of course.  All through my schooling years, though, my friends were as likely as not to be Jewish.  Or black.  Or Asian.  or Puerto Rican.  Brooklyn’s awesome like that.  Even though the only Jewish holidays we celebrated in our family growing up were Hanukkah and Passover, and I only went to synagogue to hang with my dad who played organ there, I knew I was Jewish and never felt alone in that.  Then I went to college in Baltimore.

Before classes even started, I was dating the (Jewish) guy who would become my boyfriend for 2 years, but on one of those first dates I remember him having trouble believing I was Jewish. “Really?  Are you sure your’e Jewish?  With the light hair and the small nose?”  (He was probably kidding – thinking back, I’m guessing my name – Aliza Lirtzman – was enough to give me away.)  Yeah, he was way more religious than I was, and taught me lots of stuff about my religion.  So that first month of school I was still feeling pretty Jewy.  Or so I thought.

One pretty September day, I was walking from class to the Student Union, when I passed a classmate who said, “Happy New Year!”  I kind of went, “Huh?” as he passed, but made the connection quickly enough to wish him the same.  It was Rosh Hashanah.  The Jewish New Year.  When I grew up, the holiday was marked only by my having a day off from school and my dad having to play in synagogue all day.  Here I was in Bawlteemawer, on my way to class without either of those reminders.  Sure, I had a Jewish boyfriend, and knew other Jews on campus, but I wasn’t exactly raised steeped in Judaism’s finer points, like when one of the most important holidays took place, or even why the Jewish calendar was so screwy that it didn’t neatly line up with the regular calendar.

I was struck by something else when my classmate wished me a Happy New Year.  Once I realized to what he was referring, I found his wishes comforting.  “That’s kinda weird,” I thought.  Why would I find something comforting when I didn’t feel like anything was troubling me to begin with?  It took me a while, but I thought about it enough to come to the following conclusion: when I went to college, I became minority.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I never felt like that – I mean, pretty much EVERYONE in New York is a minority in one way or another – even white, Christian males.  But here?  At Johns Hopkins?  In Charles Village?  A Jewish girl?  Yup.  I was a minority.  It was a weird, complex yet subtle transition, and it had taken place for sure.  How else to explain the feeling of unique connectedness I felt with my classmate?  The feeling of “Whew, it’s nice not to be the only one” that was subconscious, but close enough to the surface to emerge with a single “Happy New Year?”

The funny thing is, I don’t remember anyone in Brooklyn wishing me a Happy New Year over Rosh Hashanah growing up.  We weren’t religious, and didn’t really travel in observant circles.  It probably happened sometimes, but it sure didn’t have the effect on me as when I was in my first month away at college.  Yet, even though it wasn’t a yearly celebration for me in Brooklyn, my classmate’s kind wishes brought me a slice of home.  That is something EVERY freshman in college needs in those days of transition.  So, thanks, George Whatever-Your-Last-Name-Is.  You gave me something I was missing even before I realized I was missing it.

It happens my parents will be visiting us this weekend, which coincides with Rosh Hashanah.  Maybe we’ll accidentally observe by accidentally dipping an apple in some honey, or accidentally explaining to my kids how the holiday is related to the reading of the Torah.  And my youngest son will have his first trumpet lesson.  It ain’t a shofar, but it’s about as close as you can get Catonsville.

The Accidental Seder (Phlegm isn’t a Plague?)

March 26, 2012 § 23 Comments

I know it's hard to believe, but I do have some Jew-y stuff in my house!

It all started a couple of years ago, when my hubby, kids and I were visiting my sister and her fam over Spring Break.  Okay, wait…it started a couple of weeks before that – when my awesome friend, Mitch, was reeling from disbelief that I’d never seen the movie, “The Ten Commandments.”  The one with the NRA enthusiast and the King of Siam?  Correctly deducing that this meant I was a horrible Jew and had not actively been passing on critical knowledge (not to mention that great movie) to my children  he launched into an interrogation consisting of questions like, “Does Emma know what the word ‘kosher’ means?”  and “Does Nicky know how to spell Chanukkah?” or questions of that nature.  (By the way…no, and no.)  I said, “Oy, leave me alone, already!” and he backed off.

So, a couple of weeks later, having dinner at my sister’s house, I relayed this silly interaction between me and Mitch.  I said, “Can you believe he was FREAKING out that I’d never seen ‘The Ten Commandments?'”  Both Rachel (my sister) and Gary (her husband) put down their forks, looked at me in disbelief, and said, “You’ve NEVER SEEN ‘The Ten Commandments????”  “Come on!”  “Yes, you have!!!”  “You MUST have!!!”  Sigh.  No.  Maybe parts of it, but I don’t recall ever seeing the movie in its entirety.  “But…it’s like… a Passover TRADITION!”  To which my son (then 11) asked, “What’s ‘The Ten Commandments?”  We told him it was a famous movie telling the story of Moses and the story behind Passover.  To which he replied…

…”What’s Passover?”

Hooooo boy.  The jig was up.  Judgement day was here.  I’d officially failed as a Jew-mom.  Stammering, trying to regain any pathetic sense of Jewish street cred I may have had, I started telling him and Emma (the youngest had hopefully left the table by now…) the story of Passover.  Rachel and Gary, bless their hearts, jumped in to try to help me.  Let’s be honest, though.  Those two suffer from Jew-deficiency as much as I do, though they HAD, clearly, seen “The Ten Commandments.”  I appreciated the effort, though, and I needed all the help I could get.

We stumbled through what we remembered of the story, and how Jews celebrate and honor the holiday of Passover.  In our large, multi-generational seders growing up, I was the second youngest, and always read the 4 questions (in English, because who knew how to read Hebrew, for Christ’s sake?).  This was years later, and I confess to not remembering them all.  Do I get a pass because I was past 40?

Then there was the matter of the ten plagues.  Here we improvised, remembering what we could, and filling in the rest with things like “Phlegm,” “Unruly Cowlicks,” and “Loss of internet connection,” or something equally ridiculous.

We were able to explain with some credibility why Jews eat Matzoh, and why slavery is wrong, and asked Nicky if he wanted to hear any more about Passover.

“Not really,” he said and shrugged, so we changed the subject.  Dinner went on, the kiddos meandered off, and it slowly dawned on me that it was one of the nights of Passover.  I said, verrrrry quietly to Rachel, Gary and Dave, “Don’t look now, but I think we may have just sorta had a seder…”  They were all, “Hey, yeah!”  You know, a seder in the sense that it was one of the eight nights of Passover, and we  told the kids the Passover story as best we knew how and for as long as they would listen.

We may have been eating pizza, I’m not sure, but who cares?

p.s.  I still haven’t seen “The Ten Commandments.”

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