by Krista on February 24, 2014
You’re 12 years old. It’s your birthday. Write for ten minutes on that memory. GO.
Photographers, artists, poets: show us RECKLESS.
– – – – –
Sorry. No pictures of youthful birthday parties. Never had one. I don’t even remember either of my siblings having a birthday party except for my sister when she was … like five maybe? Otherwise, there wasn’t much celebrating in my house. Later, when my life was my own, we had some good times.
Garry threw me a surprise party on my 60th birthday … and we went to New Orleans for my 50th. I took him to Cooperstown for his 50th. Childhood was a long time ago and stuff that happened to me as a grownup somehow seems more relevant at this age and stage. Twelve, as I vaguely recall, was not one of my vintage years. Awkward, a mouth full of braces, short, half woman, mostly kid, frizzy hair and a general look of dazed confusion at a world that didn’t seem to have anything to do with me.
It got better. Then worse. Then better again. That’s life. Much like the roller coasters I dearly love, life has its ups and downs. The downs are terrifying, the ups give you a chance to catch your breath before you plunge down the next drop. When you pull into the station, laughing and gasping, what do you say? I say: “Let’s do it again!”
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I have a lot of sweaters. Winters are long; this one is endless. Heating oil is expensive. Sweaters fill the gap. I like sweaters anyhow. These are cuddly, warm, soft garments into which I can snuggle when the north wind blows. Most of my sweaters are purple. I’ve got a few in black, a handful in red, but purple rules. Until recently, all my sweaters were black. I’m from New York where women wear black. It’s a right coast thing.
The purpling of my wardrobe occurred gradually. It crept up on me, a sweater at a time … a lavender cashmere here, a dark purple merino there. Seasons passed until my wardrobe was awash in purple.
Purple sweaters scream “final mark-down.” One of the perils of waiting until the end of the season is the selection of colors and sizes is limited. As a habitue of end-of-the-season sales, I know what to expect. Lots of purple, white, orange and some nasty shades of green in which no one looks healthy.
Leftovers also include the “specialty colors” designers were sure would be the next big things. They never sell well, so there are plenty of whatever it was in the clearance bins. All normal, neutral colors are gone, but you’ll find fruit salad: cantaloupe , mango, kiwi, aubergine, honeydew, sugarplum, pumpkin, mocha and vanilla bean. But we all knew they were tan, and orange and coral and lavender. No one was tricked and the new names didn’t make old colors the next big anything.
I’m a fan of neutral colors. I’m conservative about color having I spent decades working. Dressing had to be fast, mindless. Neutral colors are the backbone of a working woman’s wardrobe. If your clothing is all black, grey, off-white, taupe, brown, or khaki, putting together an outfit is a piece of cake. Grab a top, a bottom, attach earrings and voilà. It’s a go-anywhere wardrobe for the fashion-challenged. Me.
The years rolled on. I stopped working and had no money or legitimate need for new clothing — except the usual gaining weight so nothing fit (oops). Our persistent lack of money elevated and honed my bargain hunting skills, but … I have always been a bargain hunter.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve hunted down final sales and closeouts, even when I wasn’t strapped for cash. It’s a family tradition. My mother raised me to hold fast to one unyielding principle: “Never pay full price,” or rephrased, “Only fools pay full price.”
I take great pride in scoring really great buys. You aren’t supposed to brag about how much you pay. You’re supposed to brag about how much you didn’t pay. The less you pay, the greater your bragging rights. I was astonished to discover some people are proud of paying a lot for something for which they could have gotten half off if they’d waited a couple of days. That’s weird, don’t you think? Okay, they might have had to buy it in purple or orange, but think of all the money they’d save!
Would I have different attitude towards shopping if I were rich? I don’t think so. To put it in perspective, back in the early 1990s, I got into a tug of war with Carly Simon for possession of a 70% off final clearance silk blouse in a chi-chi shop in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. Neither of us was poor. It was principal. The blouse was orange. I won. It was a fantastic blouse.
Bargain hunting is not just for people on a tight budget. For many of us, it’s a contact sport. Somewhere, in Heaven, Mom is smiling proudly.
by Krista on February 23, 2014 — What giant step did you take in which you hoped your leg wouldn’t break? Was it worth it, were you successful in walking on the moon, or did your leg break?
I was born in Brooklyn, New York in March 1947. By the end of 1977 I found myself at emotional loose-ends. I was closing the book on chapter one of my life and looking for the next part of the story. Which is why, in January 1978, I tossed everything into a couple of trunks, got permission to take my son with me … and ran away to join the circus. Well, not the circus. I made Aaliyah and went to live in Israel which is very similar. I’d wanted to go there since I was an overly romantic teenage girl with visions of Ari Ben Canaan stuffed in my head.
I had a bunch of reasons for going, though the bottom line was a persistent hunger for adventure and a yearning for romance. It went like this:
- My marriage was over. I wanted to get on with life and being very far away seemed like a fine choice
- I wanted to put an ocean between me and my father. I forgot this would put an ocean between me and everyone else, too
- My idea of Israel was gleaned entirely from books, movies and Mom — but it sounded great
- I wanted to get out of my safety zone and into a wider world. I was bored
- I wanted culture shock. To immerse myself in a different society. Really bored
- I was tired of suburban life and wanted to do something big. Or, in other words, I was really, really bored.
How did it go? I gave up a lot to go there. Everything. Except my son. Divorce is easy if you hand everything to your ex and take a hike. I probably should have made a better settlement but I was young. Freedom was worth everything. Eventually I came to realize money matters too, but back then, it didn’t seem all that important.
I got plenty of excitement. I got layer upon layer of history, the ghosts of millennium walking with me on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. I got romance too, but not the sweaty, breast-heaving sort. It was the romance of discovery, more interesting than I dreamed. All in all, a worthy adventure.
I learned a lot in Israel. I discovered how provincial and ignorant I was. I learned how inaccurate the international press is, that everything you read about the Middle East is slanted. Sometimes, it’s completely untrue. As in “that never happened.”
Israelis — like other people — are not of one mind. Israelis don’t walk, talk and think in lock-step. If you know anything about Jewish culture, the idea that millions of Jews could live together and agree on anything (much less everything) is funny. Get three Jews in a room and you’ll have 4 — or more — opinions. With millions of Jews all packed together? Imagine the possibilities.
When I am asked about Israel, I find myself saying: “It’s complicated.” Which translates to “The amount of time it would take me to answer your question exceeds any real interest you have in the subject. ” Where Israel is concerned, it’s always complicated. Because everyone is right. And wrong.
Flaws and all, it’s the only place on earth where Jews live by a Jewish calendar, where we aren’t a tiny minority. We need Israel as our safe place when nowhere else will take us in. It’s not paranoia — it’s history. Without Israel, Jews are fragile nomads, blowing with the winds of war and public sentiment.
What brought me back?
I’m American. This land is my land (please join in for the chorus). The seasons sync with my body. I can smell the salt air of the Atlantic. The trees are the right color and they turn gold in autumn. After 9 years away, I needed to come home.
I’m glad I went, glad I stayed but very glad I came back.
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Judaism is a religion, but even more it’s a philosophy, an ethnicity and an identity. We have special foods, customs, and stories from wherever “our people” have lived through the centuries.
It was during the time among the Babylonians, and later among the Persians, we incorporated into our folklore shedim (demons) and dibbukim (migrant spirits) as well as the concept of angels and demons (derived from Zoroastrianism). These influences have become a permanent part of Jewish literature, right through today.
One of the characters who appears frequently in Jewish folklore is — of all people — Alexander the Great. As a kid, I was astonished to find Alexander showing up in stories from the Talmud.
This one is my favorite.
The Acquisitive Eye
Alexander is on his way home to Macedonia after conquering the entire world. The great ruler comes to a stream whose waters originate in Paradise. He follows the stream until he comes to the gates of Paradise itself, and pounds on the gate crying: “I am Alexander, conqueror of the world! I demand you let me in!”
Alexander is told that “Only the pious may enter Paradise,” but being as he is Alexander, they make an exception and he is allowed to come through the gates. As he stands at the entrance, he see something rolling towards him. Alexander realizes it’s a human eye. He picks it up, brings it to the wise men and asks them, “What does this mean?”
The wise men tell Alexander to place the eye on a scale and try to balance it with gold and jewels. Alexander heaps the scale with piles of riches, but no matter how much he piles on, the eye outweighs it.
“The eye is never satisfied as long as it can see,” say the wise men, “Therefore it can never be satisfied. All the treasure in the world cannot outweigh it. The eye will want more and more.”
The wise men instruct Alexander to remove the gold and place a pinch of dust on the eye. They then place a feather on the opposing scale and it is heavier than the eye. At last the great Alexander understands the Talmudic lesson on greed and materialism.
He says: “So long as a man is alive, his eye can never be satisfied. Yet as soon as he dies, the moment dust covers his eye, even a feather outweighs it. Only in death does the eye lose its power. Only in death is man satisfied.”
And so Alexander left Paradise a wiser man.
For more stories and other information, see THE AMERICA COUNCIL ON JUDAISM.