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 »

A Jewish Kid in Catholic School? Nothing But Nachas.*

April 18, 2013 § 3 Comments


My son Nicky loves baseball. He’s really, really good at it.

Despite the looooong list of Jews who made it big in baseball, we were shocked to learn our town was not overflowing with Jewish schools that have viable baseball programs. My husband’s old Catholic school, however, (“The Hall”) has a very well-respected baseball program. So does another Catholic school nearer to us (“The Mount”). Mark Teixeira is a hometown boy who went to The Mount. We forgive his playing for the Yankees.

Nicky wanted to apply to these schools because of their baseball programs. So he took the Catholic School entrance exam, applied to, and toured both schools. He struggled, though, with what to put on the part of the application that asked for his religion.

You see, right after we were married, Dave and I sought out counseling from both a priest and a rabbi, and they both gave us the same advice. They felt that which religion we chose for the kids was much less important than that Dave and I agreed on which religion we chose. Twenty-two years into the marriage, it’s pretty clear that even though we decided back then our kids would be Jewish, we did next to nothing to raise them with religion. I’m sad about that, but we’re still incredibly proud of the people they have become.

So when it came to Nicky’s school application, Dave suggested “Jewish, non-practicing.” That worked. Nicky got into both schools and chose The Mount.

The kink at this point was only in my conscience. I had a hard time reconciling the fact that I’d be sending my son to a school whose governing church preached certain views I found abhorrent–especially regarding homosexuality, the role of women, and legalized abortion. In fact, I had written a blog post that ran in my local Patch, called “An Open Letter to Pro-Lifers.” Hilarity ensued. (Not Really.) So, not only was I uncomfortable supporting this organization financially, I was reluctant to be viewed as a hypocrite in my local community.

To whom could I turn for guidance? Naturally, John Shore–a powerful voice in the Christian Left movement. I enjoy his blog, and am always impressed with the advice he gives to people facing situations ranging from sticky (mine) to downright gut-wrenching. He offered me the following guidance:

“…Personally, I don’t think you should lose a moment’s sleep over the choice you’ve made….My understanding is that…local Catholic-affiliated institutions are…self-sustaining, grassroots entities. They’re not funneling money upwards to the Pope….

“Life is complex. Needing to do what’s best for your son isn’t. As long as he understands the complexities and subtleties involved in the decision to send him to the school, and he’s cool with it all, then…boom. Done.” Leave it to the unfundamentalist Christian to help the non-practicing Jew make sense of sending her son to Catholic school.

While Nicky’s likely the only Jew in his class, he’s not the only non-Catholic. He’s got company when he sits out communion. He’s not feeling any pressure to convert–only to learn. No pressure to actively participate, only to be respectful of his Catholic surroundings. Enthusiastic teachers, many of whom graduated from The Mount themselves, have clear and deep loyalty and appreciation for the school and the kids. There are high expectations and a loving community. There’s the fact that when anyone asks how he likes high school, he answers, “I REALLY like it!” We couldn’t be happier. Baseball tryouts were in February, and he made the 9th grade team.

Here’s a clip from the second game he pitched for the Mount.  (Music, courtesy of Billy Joel at Shea Stadium.)

This post originally appeared on Kveller.com.  I’ve updated to include information since it was published in October.  🙂

*Nachas is Yiddish for the joy children bring to their parents.

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.

Bearing the Torch – Part 2 of 2, by Ken Kovacs

July 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

Here is Ken Kovacs’ piece on remembering the Munich Massacre.  He is a Pastor at Catonsville Presbyterian Church.  The piece also appears in The Catonsville Patch.  It was a pleasure to work with him, and an honor to be his partner in writing about this important event in our history and how to heal.

As Aliza Worthington reminds us, this summer marks the 40th anniversary of the “Munich Massacre.”  I was seven years old when it occurred. I vividly remember watching the images on television coming from the Olympic village.  Members of the Palestinian terrorist group, “Black September,” killed two members of the Israeli delegation and took nine other Israeli athletes and coaches hostage.  The nine were then eventually murdered as well.

It is unfortunate that this coming week, as athletes and coaches and all lovers of sport (as they say in the United Kingdom, always in the singular) gather in London for the 2012 Olympics, there will be no official remembrance of this tragic loss, no memorial, not even a moment of silence.  As Aliza shared, there have been repeated requests over the years, each time it’s been denied by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

On this Friday, at 11:00 a.m. (GMT), the same day as the opening ceremony there will be a commemoration held in Trafalgar Square, in the heart of London.  However, it won’t be organized by the IOC.  “Everybody is welcome, regardless of colour or creed,” the organizers claim.  It won’t be a political rally for Israel.  It’s designed to publicly commemorate the murder of the eleven athletes, “to remind people that this atrocity occurred and to honour the memory of those who were killed – something the IOC has refused to do.”

NBC news Sports anchor Bob Costas plans to have his own on-air commemoration during the opening ceremony.  He also plans to mention the IOC’s denial when the Israeli athletes enter the Olympic Stadium.  On Tuesday this week, the Washington Post weighed in with a critique of the IOC.

The IOC claims the games are apolitical, they are celebratory in nature, they are expressions of unity, of nations coming together despite their differences to unite the human spirit around something of a shared passion, namely athletic training and competition.   Still, the Olympic games, as everyone knows, have always been about more than the games. There’s always a political subtext to them – this was especially so during the Cold War.  Denying all of this doesn’t change the reality; it actually distorts reality, turning the Olympics into something fantastical and imaginary and out of touch with human experience.

I’m particularly struck by the IOC’s policy of denial with regard to the Munich Massacre – nothing, not even a moment of silence.

In talking about this issue with Aliza, I had an image of the IOC taking the whole affair and placing it in a dark room and throwing away the key. It was the image of the IOC taking the whole affair and throwing into shadow, into the dark.  If it’s in the dark, you can’t “see” it.”  If you can’t “see” it, then you don’t have to acknowledge it.  If you don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen.  If you don’t recognize it, then you don’t have to deal with it, don’t have to come to terms with what transpired.

What is true personally is also true collectively:  a lot of damage is done when we are caught in the grips of denial.  Yes, facing the truth, facing the light can be painful.  It’s easier to avoid the truth, avoid the light.  We often think, “out of sight, out of mind,” but this simply isn’t true.  That which is denied continues to have a hold on us, even when we don’t “see” it.  Denial never serves us well and it can be very destructive – for individuals, families, and communities, even nations.   What is being denied continues to exert influences over our conscious lives, often unconsciously – which is rarely a good thing.

A contrasting image came to mind: the Olympic torch, the flame, a symbol of light.   As I played with this image, I had a thought:  Here’s an opportunity for the IOC to extend some light into a dark corner of our past, but it chooses not to do so.  How ironic.

In the Olympics of ancient Greece, a flame was ignited by the sun and kept burning throughout the games.  It commemorated the time when Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity.  Fire is a spark of, an offspring of the sun and therefore a manifestation of divinity.  The fiery torch was a reminder that Prometheus enabled human beings to participate in “all things divine” and encouraged human beings to become like the gods themselves.  The Olympic torch is the light of the gods given to enable and ennoble human beings to strive for something beyond themselves.

The Olympic flame first appeared in modern Olympics in 1928 when the games gathered in Amsterdam.  At the Berlin Olympics in 1936, the torch became a propaganda tool of the Nazis.  Devious masters of ritual and the symbolic that they were, the Nazis “stole” the image from Prometheus to help fuel the flames of their devilish destruction in Europe.  “Sporting chivalrous contest helps knit the bonds of peace between nations,” Adolf Hitler declared.  “Therefore may the Olympic flame never expire.”

The Olympic torch relay was first introduced by the Nazis for the Berlin games. Carl Diem, organizer of the relay, said, “The Olympic torch is designed to shine through the centuries, a signal of peaceful understanding between nations, with the aim of arousing more and more enthusiasm for the ideal of humanity.”  The flame was lit in Olympia, Greece, and then relayed through Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany. In two years, the Nazis reversed the path of the torch, relaying its own hellish fire of destruction, starting with the Anschluss into Austria in 1938.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the IOC from 1980-2001, said that the Olympic Games, “Pay tribute first and foremost to the athletes. By demanding the best of themselves they encourage us to excel; by reaching the limit of their capabilities, they push back the limits of mankind.”

The IOC is missing an opportunity to shed some light into a dark corner of its past, as well as a dark corner of the human past.  It was not only a loss of Israeli citizens forty years ago; it was a human loss, a loss for humanity.  The IOC has an opportunity to help us “push back the limits of mankind” by modeling a way for humanity as a whole to respond with “the better angels of our nature.”  It’s an occasion to be angels of light, bearing the torch into the dark places in the world. It’s an opportunity to model for the world a different way, a better way of being human.  The IOC’s intentional act of denial hinders an expression of much-needed humanism in our day and obstructs an opportunity to bring healing to the wounds of the past.

“The sole purpose of human existence,” the Swiss psychoanalyst C. G. Jung claimed, “is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”   May we have the courage to do so.

An Open Letter to Pro-Lifers

March 1, 2012 § 27 Comments

I could tell you I was raped.  (I wasn’t.) I could tell you I am a victim of incest.  (I’m not.)  I could tell you my life would be in danger if I got pregnant.  (Partly true, but for this discussion, let’s say not.)  I could tell you I’m mentally challenged or ill.  (I don’t think so, but let’s please not open THAT up to debate…) These are some of the scenarios even the most ardent advocates in the Pro-Life movement might allow themselves and those they love flexibility where safe and legal abortion is concerned.  Might.

Let’s talk about a different scenario – one that is completely true.  I am a 42-year-old woman.  I have been married to my college sweetheart since I was 21 years old, and I have had sex with ONLY him for well over 21 years.  I use birth control.  We have three children: a 15-year-old daughter, a 13-year-old son, and an 8-year-old son.  They are (thank god and knock wood) magnificent, kind, intelligent, healthy kids.  I am fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom, comfortable financially, we have health insurance, many friends, a good support system, etc., etc., etc.

What if MY birth control fails?  I don’t have any of the extreme situations mentioned in the first paragraph.  By all accounts, a woman my age and with my resources should be able to manage just fine with a fourth child.  The child would likely be healthy, well-cared for, raised with boundless love, etc., etc., etc.

But what if I didn’t WANT to have another child?

I repeat, what if I did not WANT to?

Even though I could?  Even though the pregnancy occurred through an act of love between two married, consenting adults?  Even though chances are the child would be fine – we would ALL be fine?

What if I didn’t WANT to?  Should I be forbidden access to a safe and legal abortion?

Should the potential of the embryo inside me to grow into a human being and be born and bring light to the world and cure cancer and colonize the moon outweigh my wishes?

My wishes to cherish and spend as much time as possible with the three children I already have before I blink and they are out of the house with families of their own?

My wishes to keep the undefinable, debilitating exhaustion of new parenthood relegated to a distant memory?

My wishes to not have a car seat and stroller at this stage of my life?

My wishes to nourish myself, now that I finally have some time and something creative and productive to do with it?

My wishes to have two free hands and a clear mind as I prepare my daughter for college, my first son for high school and my youngest son for his first season of swim team?

My wishes that my days of volunteering in pre-school be over?

My wishes that one day soon I will be watching what I want on T.V.?

Can you look me in the eyes and tell me my wishes for all these things, and how hard I’ve worked for them, are less important than the potential clump of cells in my uterus?

I understand why you consider a growing blastula, embryo, fetus an absolute miracle, a cherished life form, something to be protected.  I feel the same way.  I understand your religious and moral reasons for feeling passionately about this life form, such as it is.  I respect your zeal, your advocacy, your feelings.

I simply feel that I should have the right to put myself, the life (and lives) I’ve already created for myself and my ALREADY ALIVE family ahead of the potential life of a non-viable fetus. I am entitled to be respected in my ability to weigh and decide matters of such an intense personal nature for myself and my own family, understanding that anything I choose will come with unintended, possibly devastating consequences.

I understand why you might see an abortion clinic and those who utilize it as tragic and unjust.  I know the image you have of women who get abortions range from sympathetic (sad and in need of help) to judgemental (irresponsible sluts who use it as a form of birth control.)

I would argue, though, that people who fall into the image in that last category are few and far between.  Furthermore, people who use abortion as a cheap and easy fix for their irresponsible behavior (if such people exist) are presenting symptoms of much deeper societal ills than the fact that safe and legal abortions are available to them.  Just like people who use guns in an irresponsible, devastating way are reflective of a much deeper ill than the fact that guns are legal.

Finally, I would ask you this.  Can YOU understand MY needs?  Can YOU respect MY wishes?  Can you honestly say you are in a better position than I am to determine what is best for me and my entire family and our futures?  Can you assert in good conscience that this most sacred and personal individual choice of mine (and YOURS) should be limited to the following options:

1.  having another baby,
2.  carrying the pregnancy to term and giving the baby up for adoption, or
3.  a back-alley abortion?

Can you understand why, upon hearing about proposed (thankfully defeated) bill for mandatory, unwanted transvaginal ultrasounds, upon hearing about Congress proposing to allow ANY employer to opt out of providing healthcare plans that include access to birth control and abortion, that so many women AND men are looking around us with wild, crazed eyes and asking, “WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS COUNTRY?”

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