Saturday, November 30, 2013

Reponse to Jerk who is being celebrated by social media re the Huffington Post

Dear Elan,

Congratulations on earning fame and Twitter followers due to your nasty exchange with a woman on an airplane. Although the post was mildly entertaining, in the end I feel a bit sickened by your behavior which was inappropriate and wrong, more so than Diane’s.  Although I hesitate to write, because it will send more people to your story, perhaps my perspective will shape how they see you and your Tweets.  

I have three big problems with you.

1. Your stunt must have stressed the flight attendants trying to get through the busiest travel season of the year. The very people you were allegedly trying to protect, you probably harmed as they wondered if they would need to ground the flight due to a passenger incident.

2. You also display unsubtle and now publicized misogyny as exampled by your description of Diane and your foul “request.” Would you have requested a male passenger to dine on the same body part?  This reeks of serious issues with women that I hope for your sake you address with a professional.

3. Your lack of compassion is troubling. Flying has become a brutal necessity as our families are farther and father apart. You have no idea what Diane’s issues are or why she was wearing a mask. You can’t change a stranger’s behavior on a flight, but you can influence your own personal reaction to her.  You could have put on headphones and ignored her. She wasn't seat encroaching. She was not even really near you on the plane. She did not deserve your attack and your now public shaming of her for publicity.

With all of the negativity in the world, there is no need for the year you have named after yourself.  You are the equivalent of a gross stampede on Black Friday. The ugliness that you are promoting is certainly not in the holiday spirit, and I hope if you fly on New Year’s Eve, your resolution will be to be kinder to everyone around you.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

When I was little, my dad used to call me his little turkey. I have no idea why.  Perhaps it’s because he grew up on a farm. However, the name was very apropos for my meltdown last week.

I live in Israel, but work at an American company. So last week, the social committee of said company hosted a Thanksgiving Dinner.  The company provided drinks, tables and chairs, and the attendees had to each bring a dish.

I was unusually excited for this event. I was happy that I would get to celebrate Thanksgiving, even though I would be missing the time with my family.

The day began like any other Saturday (Shabbat). Typically, we stay home and lounge around or go to my in laws who live about 80 minutes away.  I ate a yogurt and then worked out for an hour. Then I watched the baby, while my husband ran as I prepared lunch.  I didn’t eat very much of the lunch, because I was saving my calories for Thanksgiving Dinner.

In the afternoon, I prepared the dish that I was bringing: pumpkin casserole. I am a decent cook, but typically a terrible baker. First, I had to bake the pumpkin because there is no canned pumpkin here. After baking it, then I had to scoop it out and puree it. However, from the beginning there were already some issues. We bought enough pumpkin to quadruple the recipe, but did not have the right amount of butter.  So, I substituted applesauce and olive oil thanks to advice from a quick internet search.  Also, the recipe called for dried milk. I think that’s gross, so I wanted to use coconut milk.  But I didn’t have enough coconut milk, so we added skim milk. I do not have the greatest oven, so it’s never really clear what temperature the food is cooking at. Also, because it’s in centigrade, even a minor change is a huge temperature differentiation.  My lack of aptitude, bad decisions, the wrong ingredients and a not-so-great oven were not the best conditions to be baking.

The aluminum pan was super heavy. So Lior transported the pan on a cutting board to the oven as I assisted.

After an hour, the time allotted for it to bake, it looked like pumpkin soup, not casserole. We gave it a half an hour more, and then another 15 minutes. By then, it looked ready. Lior took it out from the oven and oh &%#@!  The pan collapsed.
This is what it should have looked like. Click here for the recipe.

Besides the intense cleanup just as we were dressed and ready to go, we lost about half the pumpkin casserole. I wasn’t mad or upset. My grandmother, when I was 9, was terribly burned by a pan collapsing that spilled hot oil on her legs. She honestly was never the same after that, although perhaps it was a symptom, not a cause. Regardless, I was just glad that no one was hurt. We decided to make lemons out of lemonade and changed the name of the dish from casserole to pumpkin pudding.

We were one of the first to arrive at the dinner.  It wasn’t really a sit down event. There was a huge table set out for food (the company provided the tables, drinks and turkeys). The company I work for has about 100 employees, and most people attended,  plus their spouses, children or plus ones. As soon as we were given the all clear, I grabbed a little plate for Maya with a taste of several items except turkey - she only has four teeth. It was bittersweet that her first Thanksgiving meal was not with my family, but this was a nice compromise.  A husband of one of the veteran teachers looked at my plate for Maya and said with a troubled face in Hebrew, “That isn’t a lot of food.”  I responded “Yes, but it’s for a baby.” His look was foreboding, but I shrugged it off, not understanding his silent prophesy.

Lior and I have a pact. He eats first, I feed Maya, and then I eat, because he eats so fast  Whatever then needs to happen with Maya, he takes care of while I eat.  So as I was feeding Maya, Lior went to get his food. He stood in line for a while and then came back to eat.  He was done eating 3000 calories in about 100 seconds. So then it was my turn. I don’t really eat baked turkey, but I was hyped up for mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, creamed spinach, artichoke dip, green bean casserole and whatever else was there. Many of the Israelis brought traditional Israeli food, hummus, taboule, Israeli salad, etc,  although I had no plan of eating any Middle Eastern food. After all, it was Thanksgiving Dinner.

As I approached the table, I grabbed a plate and then looked.

No food.

It was all gone.

Not a marshmallow, not a crouton, not a spinach leaf, not a green bean.

There was just a little bit of hummus that was left, mocking me.

And so, I lost it. I could feel the tears welling up and had to run to get Lior so we could go. I had to keep it together. My boss was there, the superintendent was there, my colleagues who I always plaster a smile on my face for were there.

I had to keep it together.

On my way to find Lior, I ran into a colleague. She is a Jewish Canadian immigrant to Israel who is 9 months pregnant. She saw my face and asked me what’s wrong.

“There’s no food,” I said.

“There is food,” she said. “There’s some turkey and I think I saw some hummus.”

“No, I don’t want that,” I said.

“Okay, but why do you look like you’re about to cry?” she said.

“Because it’s Thanksgiving food,” I said.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “I can bring you sweet potatoes on Monday if you want.”

A fact about Canadian Jews. Unlike most American Jews, they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. So they do not have the same attachments to the customs. I also didn’t want to go on and on about it, because she is one of the few friends I have here, and I could tell she was giving me the, "you're weirder than I thought" look.

Then I found my beloved husband and daughter. “Lior, we have to leave now,” I said.

“What’s wrong?” he said.

“I don’t want to get into it here, I need to leave,” I said.

Usually, he would be the first person to want to leave a party, but the inquisition began.

“Why?” he said.

“There’s no food,” I said.

“There’s got to be some food, let’s get you some food. There’s turkey, and I think I saw some hummus,” he said.

“I DON’T WANT HUMMUS!” I said.  “I want Thanksgiving food. I want green bean casserole. I want pumpkin pie. I want the terrible banana cake we eat every year at Thanksgiving for my brother’s birthday. I want to leave.”

“Sharna, this resembles chicken fingers,” Lior said.

He was recalling  a time when my then 3-year-old niece woke up grumpy from a nap. She asked what was for dinner, and my brother said hamburgers. She said she wanted chicken fingers and then cried for literally 45 minutes just repeating over and over “I want chicken fingers. I want chicken fingers.” He and I often joke if something bad happens, we want to know if it’s “chicken fingers” bad or as an adjective for a person acting irrationally about a situation involving food. For example, the time when I was pregnant and went to have a healthy snack of hummus and carrots only to open the hummus to find a half a teaspoon left. It was and has been the biggest fight of our marriage.

Yes, this was a chicken fingers moment so I gave him the look. You know, the universal look every wife gives to her husband when she is angry. As we walked out the door we saw the CEO, a lovely, cheerful man from Texas.

“Did you get enough to eat?” he said.

“Yes!” I said too enthusiastically. “We’ve got to go, the baby is tired.”

I rushed to the car with my Israeli husband behind me.

“Sharna, I don’t get it,” he said. “I can make you mashed potatoes if you want.”

That comment made things worse and then the tears came.  These tears were not merely about food, but about being homesick, grieving my aunt, having almost no friends here, and panicking about all of the papers I had to grade.

I put Maya to bed, squeezing her tight, and tried to get control over my emotions. However, when I put her down, I started crying again. (PS: I did not become a crier, except for rare occasions until she was born) How could I be so selfish about food when people are dying in the Philippines and children all over the world don’t have enough to eat on a daily basis?

The next day I woke up with a crying hangover. I thought to myself, I have to get it together and get in the true Thanksgiving spirit.  I packed up a bag of clothes for a donation box, signed up to donate blood, and I suggested to Lior that we invite his family over, not for Thanksgiving, but Shabbat lunch the next week. They have never all been here, and it would be nice to get everyone together.

11/12 of them could come. During lunch I realized why there’s no Thanksgiving in Israel. For many families, every Saturday lunch is Thanksgiving. (They also have their own version in September/October).

I made stuffed chicken breasts, the pumpkin casserole and curried ginger carrot soup.

We also bought wine, challah and soft drinks. But my in laws brought so much more food: salads, tuna salad, baked chicken, root vegetable, fried chicken, meatballs, and rice.

There was too much food to capture in one frame. This is every Saturday at Maya's grandmother's house.
We bought a cake and his sister made a cake to celebrate 3 family birthdays.

It was a wonderful afternoon. Maya loves her cousins. My husband was happy. And despite the language barrier, I was happy, too. (Although, I think my Hebrew is actually getting worse living here rather than better).

Maya getting a hug from her cousin who is about 10 months older than her. She is being held by her grandmother, or Savta.

So, I guess the lesson from this “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” is that Thanksgiving is really not about food but about family. And I miss my family, but I have a lovely extended family here, and I’m thankful that I have opportunities to enjoy being with them.  I’m also thankful for my husband and Maya, who was born a little over a month after last Thanksgiving.

Yeah, I love her more than sweet potatoes.

But man, I would kill right now for some of those American side dishes.  And although I try to be rational, sometimes I just think about that dinner and think bitterly,

“All I wanted was some f&*%@$# stuffing.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

Aunt Sharon

I am not sure has ever lived a woman who had so much capacity to love and was loved by so many. While one might examine her life and focus on her struggles, when you were with her, one on and one, you never really felt them, even though over the last few years they were so visible. You just felt tremendous love from her.

Anytime you left my aunt Sharon’s house, it was like you received a love transfusion.

As her niece, whenever I doubted anything in life, especially myself, there was always one absolute truth: my aunt Sharon loved me. She thought I was beautiful. She told me every time I saw her.

When I was with my Aunt Sharon, I was a different kid. I wasn’t the serious book nerd/tomboy. She was the aunt that did my hair, (Princess Leah style for one of my brother’s bar mitzvahs) and painted my nails. She was the only person who could get me excited about my looks and jewelry.  I spent a lot of time at her house when I was a kid. A lot. We played a ton of cards. I drew a hundreds of pictures there. I jumped on the trampoline in the basement. I played with her dogs, even though now everyone knows I don’t really like dogs.  But I always liked Aunt Sharon’s dogs. Always. I played on her piano, and she enjoyed it, and told me I could keep playing, even though she needed to rest. With my aunt I did things that I never enjoyed doing and still don’t. However, when I was with her, it was fun: garage sales and flee markets.  Her excitement and her enthusiasm got me on board.

The only things she ever criticized were my nails and hair: "Mamashayna, don't chew your nails," she would say lovingly. I have curbed the habit and when she has seen me, she always comments.  For my hair she would say, "Mamshayna, why don't you wear your hair back, you have such a beautiful face, a shayna punim."

I don’t know why this is such a strong memory, but I remember when I was a teenager, I drove her in her van. It was incredibly hard to drive. I was really too small to be driving it, but she had absolute patience and plenty of laughter as I spent 45 minutes getting out of her garage.

I will really miss all of the Yiddish that she through into every conversation.  I’ll miss her singing. I’ll miss her love of off colored jokes.

 If you had to make a list of the people my aunt loved, it would be super long, including countless friends around the country. During the last few years, she even loved the people with whom she had previously feuded.

However, the list of people who loved her would be even longer.

But there would be asterisks for super-sized love for her kids, Ruth and David, their spouses, Rob and Elizabeth, and her six grandchildren, Samantha, Allison, Noah, Zachary, Brandon and Jeremy.   She really loved her first cousins. She would talk about them all of the time. She loved my brothers and their families. She loved my husband and daughter. She loved my husband the first time she met him. It was amazing. It was just instantaneous. I am so grateful that she met him and got to see me married and with a child. I know that was important to her and made her happy and relieved.

 The people though that I think she loved the most, besides her kids, were my mom and dad, especially my mom, who she referred to as her baby sister.

 I was lucky enough to Facetime with her last week.  We chatted and she saw Maya crawling around. I talked to her this week as well.  The last time I saw her, however, was the end of July. I had been home to South Bend quite a bit during the summer, because of the move to Israel. Before I left, she said, “Shayna Rana, don’t forget about me.”  I promised her that of course I wouldn’t. Then when Lior and I got into the car with Maya, I cried because I found it unbearable that she thought that I might.

But, what I think she was saying, even subconsciously, is don’t forget about her because that would the last time I would see her, hold her hand, tell her that I love her and she tell me that she loves me. She always made me kiss her on both sides of her cheek. 

One of the hardest parts of moving to Israel was leaving my nieces and nephew.  When my niece Talia was born 16 years ago, I promised I would be the same kind of aunt that my aunt Sharon was to me.  I definitely have not reached that bar. I lived on the same street at my aunt; she was a third mother to me. Now, not only do I not live on the same street at my nieces and nephew, I live across an ocean.

But I do think that they know, or they will know, that my love for them is absolute and unconditional, and always will be.

After all, I learned from the best.