“I am so sad,” my son Joel, who is 9, sighs, his restless energy making us all more miserable. All of us wished this day wouldn’t come, this day that marks the last stages of goodbye, not for a person but for a place. And although I’ve known the sadness of funerals before, and I realize the grief shouldn’t be compared, I’m doing it anyway. My in-laws have sold their beach house, the center for family gatherings for 15 years, and bought a smaller house nearby. It is a pretty home near town. Still, our hearts ache with the loss.
On my bat mitzvah morning, a September Sunday some 30 years ago, I recall feeling an intense need to suppress a fit of giggles. Not only were my ordinarily garrulous relatives gazing up at me in respectful silence; a few men seemed to be outfitted as aliens for a costume party rather than attired for a bat mitzvah ceremony.
‘What about an Israeli pen pal?” my daughter Talia asks. She waits expectantly, smiling a wary smile, hoping that this time I won’t wince. In a quest to fulfill a bat mitzvah requirement, she’s floated idea after idea in recent weeks — from eliminating illegal smoking in Central Park to purchasing projectors for underfunded schools — and I’ve torpedoed them all. Later, I suggest minor adjustments to her proposals, but she’s no longer interested. Not even a bit.
On stage, Ofir Ben-Shitrit is in her element — her voice, rich and soulful; her entire being infused with song. But off stage, it was her personal story, as much as her singing, that captivated the Israeli public last winter.
I am not a morning person. When the alarm sounds, I roll toward my husband, attempting to hold him there, hostage to the world of sleep, hoping we can linger on in the realm of delicious dreams for a few minutes more. And yet, at least one weekday morning each week, I rise early and depart for synagogue.
Unless you’ve been living overseas, or under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the rare coincidence this autumn of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, and of creative ideas to celebrate it — sweet potato latkes; donuts filled with cranberry jelly or pumpkin cream; and, of course, “Menurkeys,” ceramic turkeys whose feathers hold Chanukah candles (the brainchild of our friend’s 9-year-old son, Asher Weintraub).
Stories of Jewish women trapped in dead-end marriages, held hostage by embittered husbands, always disturb me. Jewish law assigns the man the exclusive right to confer a divorce, and some men abuse that power, vengefully refusing to release unhappy spouses from the bonds of matrimony.
Like many women in midlife, Joy Ladin tenses up as she approaches a mirror. But upon seeing her reflection — a bob of wavy hair, a long skirt, a bold necklace — Joy feels grateful. For more than four decades, Joy lived as Jay, a woman trapped in a man’s body, a woman wearing a beard, a woman who could never don a dress without repercussions, a woman who was so distanced from her body that she felt “far away, or far below, or somewhere within,” the loving family with whom she lived. During these years, a fleeting glance at her face would traumatize her.
I distinctly remember the pleasures of being 23, of jogging through the parks of Tokyo, where I then lived, the frogs croaking and cicadas humming in the evening’s darkness, my body and soul invigorated by the endless possibilities that lay around the next bend, wherever that might be.