Girlfriend, can we talk?

not your vagina

Just not about your vagina. Lady bloggers, I’m tired of hearing about it. Here’s why.

Growing up in the South, there was an unwritten rule: if it happens below the waist, we don’t talk about it in polite company. There were a bunch of other unwritten rules, like black people couldn’t live next to white people, that needed to go away. But I’d like to hang on to the below-the-waist thing.

Every single day, I’m greeted with some blog post or other about somebody’s vagina. Near as I can tell, all us ladies have one, and it’s good for two things only:

Babies
Women in my family get pregnant if you look directly at us, so I’m sure I could have had some. I didn’t, but I love seeing pictures of your babies on Facebook, many as you want. Brag on them all you like. Just don’t keep them screaming in restaurants where my dinner costs more than $20, or in religious services, weddings, funerals, or movies. Walk them outside like people used to do.

Sex
Call me a prude, but the only sex I care to hear about is mine. Don’t tell me about yours, and certainly spare me discussions of which toys your va-jay-jay likes best. Post-menopausal? Me, too. And the only thing I care to hear less about than vaginas is old vaginas.

Beyond those two things, the “lady business” is mostly just a lot of trouble. Whatever is bothering yours, most of us have had some version of that. Don’t need to hear more. Tell your gynecologist and leave me out of it.

If men blogged incessantly about their johnsons and shared their musings about their members widely on social media, we ladies would call them creeps, perverts, and maybe worse. So why is it okay for women to yap on and on about every little thing her little Jane does?

Before you comment about how I’m not a good woman or I’m insensitive to the really terrible things that can befall a vagina or maybe that I’m a lesbian or a mommy-hater, save it. Heard it all before. But if you’re also tired of hearing about other folks’ lady parts, share. You’ll be doing us all a favor.

 

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Mini-Mitzvahs, and Miracles

Editor’s Note: there’s a glossary at the end of this article.

Rabbi Zalman Posner z''l
Photo used with permission: www.collive.com

In the Tel Aviv airport, at the end of my first trip to Israel, I was looking for a tzedakah box to put my remaining shekels in. Across the way, there was a Chabadnik laying tefillin on a guy. They’ll have a tzedakah box, thinks I. As I dropped coins in the box, the tefillin-wrapper says, “You know Chabad?” Yes, we have Chabad where I live. “Where’s that?” Nashville. “Oh! Zalman Posner!”

Yes, Zalman Posner, z”l, the rabbi of Sherith Israel for 53 years. When I read yesterday that he had passed away, the word hasidut came to mind. Not so much in all of its various meanings about organizations, movements, and schools of thought within Judaism, but its root ~ chet, samech, dalet ~ meaning kindness, hesed.

Reb Zalman lived in a world of Judaism that I don’t move in, that I and many of my fellow Jews feel removed from. Yet, Rabbi Posner treated me with such kindness, such hesed. At a Torah study, at which women were welcome with him, someone asked a question about keeping some mitzvah or the other and he said, “If you can’t keep them all, keep some of them. If you can’t keep many, keep one. If you can’t keep a whole one, keep half of one.” A mini-mitzvah kept was better than none at all. All attempts to keep the mitzvot contribute to perfecting the world. A very gentle point of view, Hasidism at its best.

At lunch that day, after services, the Rabbi asked me to sit with him at his tish. Being a newbie to Judiasm, this was special but I didn’t realize how special. His wife, Risya, sat next to me and was very sweet and engaging. As emissaries with a long, long sojourn in Nashville, their welcome was just right. It made me want to know more, to study more, perhaps keep an extra mitzvah or two.

As I went through the conversion process, I attended a lecture by Rabbi Posner at which someone asked him to define a miracle. He said, with such kindness, and a sense of awe he never lost, “It’s all a miracle.” It is indeed.

Baruch dayan emet, blessed be the judge of truth, and may his mourners be comforted. A great man has passed. Read more about his amazing career here.

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Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist at www.hebrica.com

Glossary
Z”l: abbreviation of zichrono livracham, may his memory be a blessing
Tzedakah: charitable giving, from the root for “justice”
Tefillin: prayer phylacteries
Chabad: organization of Hasidic Jewry; more here.
Hasidut: kindness, school of Jewish thought; more here.
Mitzvah: pl. mitzvot, commandment
Tish: table

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This Passover, let ’em eat cake.

chocolate cake for passover

We Jews, especially Reform Jews, have a complicated relationship with food. You might think in the Orthodox tradition it would be cut and dried—do this, don’t do that—but not so. At Passover, the holiday most fraught with food issues, even the most observant Jews don’t agree. (Surprise.) The Sephardim often allow themselves rice and beans, while the Ashkenazim go cold turkey on ANYthing that may ferment. Given that I am a kosher vegetarian, my Passover diet roughly matches that of a rabbi from 18th century Lithuania, only without the meat. It’s pretty grim.

This year, in the run-up to Passover, I’m drooling over the mouth-watering images of Passover foods on Pinterest. There’s chocolate matzah, Pesach pizza, sweet potato fries, gefilte sushi, and my personal favorite: the BEST EVER KOSHER-FOR-PASSOVER COOKIE RECIPES! And I’m pinning those suckers like crazy. (Okay, not the gefilte sushi. Eeuw.) I’m searching the limited Passover section at Publix for my favorite chocolate macaroons and scouring the local liquor stores for drinkable (I do NOT put Manieschwitz in this category) pesadik wines. That kosher-for-Passover beer is calling my name, too.

The seder I attended was a shmancy affair with a tender brisket (not for me, but my friends enjoyed it), a potato casserole that weighs in at about 1,200 calories per serving (I brought it, so I know), and a flourless chocolate torte that would make a Jehovah’s Witness jump ship. Oh, the usual ritual foods were on the table, including plenty of the “bread of our affliction,” and we told the story of how our ancestors suffered in Egypt, while we didn’t.

This week, it has been egg salad, matzah, and potatoes. The pesadik wine makes the slave-diet a bit more tolerable, but I kvetch anyhow, and I’m too lazy to make all those sumptuous Pinterest treats. My way-Reform friends roll their eyes and butter their toast; Kim’s lost her mind… another convert gone round the bend. Why suffer? Let’s enjoy our freedom to have a biscuit. Or beer. Or pork barbecue. Or the shrimp.

I get that. I really do. We have the freedom to make choices, and we’ve had to fight one Pharaoh or another for thousands of years to keep it. The world has changed in all that time, and what difference does it make whether I eat chametz or not? Maybe Passover kosher is just plain silly.

Or maybe suffering has its purposes.

What is enslaving us now? What is keeping us from being the best Jews we can be? The Israelites couldn’t find out who they really were until they got away from their oppression in Egypt. They suffered 40 more years in the desert before they were ready to accept their destiny, to be chosen as a distinct people, a “nation of priests.” What does that mean today? Maybe it’s more important to think about how (and by whom) our food is grown than to do without yummy yeasty bread. Or, maybe by forgoing the bagels for a few days, on our next trip to Brueggers, we’ll wonder if the person behind the counter is making more than $7.25 an hour. Were the tomatoes picked by an undocumented immigrant woman who is sexually harassed but keeps it to herself out of fear of deportation? How was the cow raised, and slaughtered, for the next juicy Rueben at Noshville?

Making the conscious choice to follow what some consider to be an outdated tradition might have spiritual benefits we didn’t expect. The fact that Reform Jews consider keeping Passover kosher a choice doesn’t necessarily diminish the integrity of the holiday. So we tell our story of suffering and freedom, and hope there’s enough flourless chocolate torte to go around. Let’s make it so everybody gets cake.

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Kim Phillips is a Judaica artist at www.hebrica.com

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Planely offensive.

239 people on board Malayasia Airlines flight 370 are likely at the bottom of the ocean or slammed into a mountain somewhere in Asia. Hilarious, no?

No.

And yet this meme has been circulating, less than two weeks after the tragedy:

ze plane boss

The first time I saw it, in my Facebook feed, I gasped. It was posted by accident by a friend who hit the “share” button on her phone in the middle of the night. We’ve all been there, right? She was horrified and deleted it asap, but people continued to chuckle about it. I don’t think the family members of the people on that airplane were among them.

As the day went on, other people posted the meme, and not by accident. A real laugh riot, this post. It was chalked up to “black humor.” If you’re going to go there, it better be funny, and it better not do damage. Some went so far as to say that the investigation has been so bungled that probably even the family members of the clearly departed would think it was funny. I think not, but you judge for yourself: here’s a mom in action. Perhaps if she just stopped to look at Tattoo for a minute, she would see the humor in the situation.

When I pointed out that the meme might be just a smidge tasteless, I was pilloried. That’s me, no sense of humor at all. Ask anybody. One giddy poster gave the back-handed “If you were offended, I apologize.” Which is not quite the same as “I am sorry I offended you.” I’ll leave it to my much-smarter friend, Marjorie Ingall, at SorryWatch.com to explain the nuances of that kind of non-apology.

Let’s bottom-line this: surely the people who created, circulated, and chuckled at this meme can find something else to brighten their days than a bunch of dead people on a missing airplane. If they want to skewer the the ineptitude of the investigators, why not wait until we actually know what happened? After all, they only have 2.97 million square miles to search, much of it ocean. Shouldn’t they be done by now?

On a completely unrelated post, I saw someone say that social media had made people crazy. Social media hasn’t made people crazy, or tasteless, or mean, or paranoid or clueless. It’s just a microphone.

P.S. It’s fairly telling that the website that appears to be circulating this post the most has tagged it “funny, plane, malaysia.” Right.

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Little boxes.

box

The cigar box with childish treasures, under the bed, away from a little brother’s reach, a milk crate upside-down nightstand for a broke college student, one cardboard box to carry my office things out when they didn’t need me any more, dozens of boxes to move a lifetime of accumulated stuff from house to house, more each time, things and more things and ever more things. Boxes and more boxes. They haunt me.

When my mother died, all they gave me of her was a little box, about a foot square. She was living in Mexico and had decided, when they told her about the cancer, that she would be cremated. It’s a really big deal to bring a body back into the country, but if you are cremated, you’re just a carry-on. When we placed the box in the tiny, square grave next to her father and grandmother, I kept thinking: this should be more. Before we put the dirt in, we added another box, this one just about three inches across. It was her beloved cat, Prissy, who had hated everybody but my mother and who had died a while before. Her ashes went in, too, Momma’s only request.

Some months after Momma was gone, I got a box from Mexico. I couldn’t open it for nearly a year. It just sat in a corner of my living room, scaring me. In the box were some family pictures and things she had saved, like every birthday card I had ever given her, my French honor society medal, and a copy of the speech I gave to the congregation when I converted to Judaism. She took almost nothing with her to Mexico, having gotten rid of nearly everything she owned except what would fit in her car. So I was surprised by what came back. Inside that box was a little box, with a few pieces of jewelry, and her watch. I think the watch touched me the most of all. It sat on her wrist every day of her life. It was there all the years she worked as a bank teller, for little pay and less respect from the company, so she could raise her two kids. She was so beloved by her customers that they used to stand in her line while other tellers were open, just so they could give their deposits to her. The little box that holds her watch is one of my treasures.

I am surrounded by boxes… bank statements and personal financial crap that I probably don’t need. Stuff for Goodwill. Paper to recycle. Books to donate. Art junk I keep meaning to do something with. Things still not unpacked from the last move, 16 years ago. Boxes and boxes and boxes of meaningless crap. And only a few tiny boxes with anything important in them. Who will want any of it? Will it mean anything to anyone, after I’m gone?

Years and years before my mother-in-law died, she went on a binge of giving stuff away. Every time we went to visit, we left with a box, pressed upon us as we went out the door. At the time, I didn’t understand it. When we’d get in the car, I’d ask my husband, “Why is she giving everything away?” Now, I know. She wanted it, any of it, to matter. She wanted to matter.

So, if I start handing out weird crap at random, just take it, okay?

When I die give what’s left of me away
to children and old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
cry for your brother  walking the street beside you.
And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
and give them what you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
something better than words or sounds,
Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved,
and if you cannot give me away,
at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind.

You can love me best by letting hands touch hands,
and by letting go of children that need to be free.
Love doesn’t die, people do.
So, when all that’s left of me is love,
give me away.

~ Merrit Malloy

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Am echad, lev echad. One people, one heart.

D’var Torah, Parshat Va’era 5774

One People, One HeartThere’s a saying in Israel, “sim lev.” You see it over open man-hole covers and at construction sites or bad places in the road, where we in America would have a big old “CAUTION” sign. It means, literally, “put your heart into it.” I love that. Not just “Watch out!” or even “take care” but really put your heart into paying attention.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’era, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart; in some places, Pharaoh hardens his own heart but either way, his heart is HARD. He is stubborn and ignores the facts (like it’s raining frogs) to the detriment of his own people. No matter what signs and wonders or pestilence and pain come his way, he hangs on to his stubbornness. Why? Looks like when the Nile ran with blood, the first plague, he would have said, “Get those Israelites outta here.” But he didn’t. His pride—which God may have given him, as a lesson to the rest of us—just wouldn’t let him do the right thing. He had to show his personal power. His heart stayed hard for quite a while.

There’s another phrase in Hebrew that I especially love: “am echad, lev echad”… one people, one heart. Would that it were true. People may think that the tension, for Jews, is with the Gentiles or the Palestinians. In fact, our biggest tension is with our fellow yehudim, with Am Yisrael. We can be very hard-hearted with each other.

I’m online a lot. I have lots of Jewish friends and have “liked” lots of Jewish stuff on Facebook. I read Jewish blogs and I am in several Jewish groups on LinkedIn. On a daily basis, I’m just astounded at the things Jews say to each other. Judgement, snarkiness, name-calling, holier-than-thou and “I’m a better Jew than you” stuff. One way to be a Jew, from people who think their way is the only way.

The Orthodox haven’t cornered the market on dissing other Jews, by the way. Reform and secular Jews have been known to ridicule super-observant Jews. Still, I bristle at being called a “not religious” Jew. Really, then why am I here?

It doesn’t matter what the topic is: food, rituals, Israel, Torah…it’s always an argument. Sure, argument is our national sport, but it should be disputation of the Talmudic kind, where everybody gets to talk and all opinions are given consideration. I recently saw a guy call a fellow Jew a jihadist, an Arab propagandist, evil, ignorant of the mitzvot, and mentally deficient because he is a vegetarian. Online, this kind of nastiness is very public, a shanda for the goyim. In private, it is a knife in the heart of the Jewish people, and the Jews put it there. We do it to each other. Somebody’s always ready to tell another Jew that he’s not doing it right.

We’re well into the year 5774, but 2014 is ready to begin. Let’s resolve to approach our fellow Jews “sim lev,” more carefully. Let’s be “am echad,” one people with “lev echad,” one heart. Let’s make our hearts a little softer toward each other.

Ken y’hi ratzon, may it only be…

Shabbat shalom.

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Kim Phillips is a Jewish artist specializing in papercut art.

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The longer I’m Jewish, the more I like Christmas.

jewish christmasI’ve written here before about how Christmas wasn’t always merry for me; Momma did her best, but family dynamics often conspired to make it more Grinch than Charlie Brown. I longed for a low-tech holiday, where the family hikes out into the snowy woods, dad chops down an evergreen, and we all decorate it with hand-strung popcorn and cranberries and Bing Crosby croons in the background while mom makes gingerbread and we sip hot chocolate. It was not to be.

The older I got, the more troublesome the yuletide got. The retail extravaganza was just too much and seemed to be enjoyed most by the malls, Hallmark, and Kroger. The season stretched out longer and longer, starting before Thanksgiving, so that by the time Christmas actually arrived, I was completely over it. The tit-for-tat gift-giving, dull office parties, awkward family gatherings, obscene amounts of food…ugh. But the worst was the enforced jollity: be happy right now.

Evidently I’m not alone in not loving Christmas. The writer Anne Lamott, on her Facebook page, describes “deeply unhinged people beaming at us with a rictus of holiday mirth, wishing they had a grenade.” It’s not popular to admit you don’t love Christmas, but the fact is that, for some people, it’s just too much pressure. Some folks are lonely, missing loved ones now gone, or regretting family estrangements, tired of the stress and expense the holiday creates, tired of the fact that it is mostly not about what it’s supposed to be about. If you don’t enjoy the holiday, clearly there is something wrong with you.

So, when my rabbi asked me, as I was converting to Judaism, would I be okay with bagging Christmas, I told her, “I can’t wait to.” Becoming a Jew would let me off the hook for so many things. The fact that I still got time off from work seemed like a little bonus that didn’t quite make up for having to hear “Are you ready for Christmas?” about 900 times in two weeks. Now that my mom is gone, my brother lives in the Winter Wonderland that is Los Angeles, and there are no kids around, you’d think I’d just pull the covers over my head and enjoy my Grinchiness.

The fact is, I’m starting to like Christmas. Since it was never a religious occasion for me (and mostly isn’t anyway), there’s no conflict in my head about it; I can enjoy the greenery and lights and the occasional rum ball. I can give presents to my close Christian friends, knowing they will respect my wish not to make it an exchange…just pure giving and no receiving. I can play Santa for my husband the atheist, who happily accepts surprises to celebrate the pagan season season of solstice and solace. I can watch It’s a Wonderful Life and cry at the end, when George’s friends dump all their money on the table to pull him out of his savings-and-loan crisis…Christmas spirit at its finest. I can sleep late a couple of extra days and, when someone says “Merry Christmas,” I say, “You, too.”

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