Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Return of Eli Gershonson

Gerald Kolpan‘s newest book, Magic Words: The Tale of a Jewish Boy-Interpreter, the World’s Most Estimable Magician, a Murderous Harlot, and America’s Greatest Indian Chief, is now available. He will be blogging here for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning all week.

When you’re writing a novel, it’s often surprising how a character will insinuate himself into your story.

Sometimes they appear out of nowhere – as in the case of Prophet John McGarrigle, the clairvoyant Indian scout in my new novel, Magic Words. I was writing a passage in which one of my main characters, Julius Meyer, walks into an overheated shack seeking shelter from the cold. Inside that shack was Prophet John.

Sure, Julius was surprised, by not half as surprised as me. I had no idea who John was, what he was doing in that shack or why he was in my book. I had to write him to find out.

The story of Eli Gershonson, a Jewish peddler in the Old West, is just the opposite. He took a long and circuitous route to his supporting role in Magic Words.

Eli started life in my little son’s bedroom. He was part of an imaginary gang of “protectors” I would tell Ned about at bedtime; their job was to fight off his nightmares.

The group included the Bagel Man (the hero of a song I made up), the Guys Up The Street (some tough dudes who hung at 2nd & Kenilworth, our Philadelphia corner), and Eli Gershonson, Esq., a lawyer who would take the bad dreams to court if they dared bother my boy (nothing like a lawsuit to scare off Freddy Krueger).

It may sound a bit elaborate, but most nights, it worked.

Cut to 15 years later.

I was writing my first novel, Etta, and found myself in need of a name for a character – a Jewish peddler of the type who roamed the West by the hundreds at the turn of the century. By this time, my son was 21 and no longer needed a nightside attorney, so I appropriated Mr. Gershonson’s moniker, revoked his law degree and gave him a wagon filled with pots, pans, cloth, needles, pins and other chazerai. In the end, he appeared in less than two pages in the book, but that was all he needed to advance the plot.

I figured that was my farewell to Eli.

Then, in 2009, when I was writing Magic Words, I needed a name and background for another Jewish peddler who would be Julius Meyer’s uncle in the book. He needed to be patient, honest, and kind, but with a quiet authority.

I soon realized that the character I was envisioning had all of the qualities of the character I already had.

So, Eli Gershonson jumped from my first book to my second, pots and pan intact, though shedding some 30 years in the transition. In Magic Words, his part isn’t a page-and-a-half cameo, but a major role woven throughout the narrative. In fact, he’s one of the last characters we see in the book.

I’m thankful to Eli for allowing me to move him from one story to the next. His presence gave my two books a kind of crazy continuity, not to mention that I was afforded the great pleasure of getting to know him better.

Believe me, he’s a mensch.

Posted on April 30, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Acknowledging the Tenement Museum

These days, when people write a book, they invariably have an acknowledgments page, where they thank a few people or–like someone going on and on at the Oscars–everyone they ever knew, down to the babysitter who once braided their hair in elementary school. My own acknowledgements page for my most recent book thanks my first readers–the friends who commented on my stories in draft–and the artist colonies that offered me an extended time to write.

tenement museumNow that I think about it, and think about it in terms of what really enabled me to do what I needed to do, I realize I should also have thanked New York’s Tenement Museum. The museum consists of a modern visitor center at 103 Orchard Street and a tenement at 97 Orchard that has been “restored”–or perhaps safely kept in its earlier dismal condition. The rooms have been furnished as they were during the years (1863-1935), when the tenement was occupied.

This may sound drearily like any number of museums, where you stand behind a rope while you look at a Victorian bedroom or see the trundle bed where Melville’s children slept. But it is nothing of the sort. Instead the tour guide who takes you into 97 Orchard Street (you can’t just wander alone) tells you the story of one of the immigrant families who once lived there. And at least some of those immigrants were Jewish.

The Museum gave me the very thing that I needed to write: a sense of the lived life, the specifics of daily existence. I have at times got buried in, and distracted by, my efforts at verisimilitude. I have tried to do research for books and only learned how much I don’t know, how there was no way I could write my book unless I had more courage, more of an ability to ask people who I didn’t know what their lives were like. But intruth you don’t need to know everything to write a story or novel. You just need enough to convince. In an interview on identitytheory.com, the fiction writer Jim Shepard talks about the role of research in fiction this way:

Henry James said, ‘She had eyes like this and a nose like this.’ And you go, ‘I could really see her.’ You have two details! Theoretically you could do the same thing with the Battle of Antietam, right? If you get the right details. Part of the point of all that research is not, ‘Oh, I am going to be able to deploy more details.’ It’s that I am more likely to come across those two.”

What The Tenement Museum gave me were the details, ironically enough, to imagine where my characters lived. I only used two things from the visit to the Museum: a detail about where toilets were placed in a tenement and what the lay out of an apartment might be like, but, in my head, the whole world was quite vivid. I could see it all, and hopefully my readers can as well.

Posted on April 27, 2012

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Do My Characters Need to be Jewish?

Should I show my husband my work? My sister? My mother? Students sometimes ask me this. Go ahead, I say. Just don’t be too eager to listen to your family members’ opinions about your fiction. Parents and siblings bring too much non-literary baggage to their reading, so they’re not the ones to turn to for clearheaded advice. Which is a shame, I’ll be frank, because my mother thinks I’m a genius. My siblings are kind (though not uniformly) about my work. There are a few comments, over the years, that hurt at the time, that pain me less in retrospect. Here’s one that just interested me. My mother read a few stories of mine (in draft) and then asked, “Why do all your characters have to be Jewish?” She wasn’t asking this about the stories where there was a clear answer. If the story concerned Jews on the Lower East Side or a rabbi (as two of the stories in my most recent collection do), then that was fine. What she was asking was about the other stories. The ones with no clear Jewish content, where I nonetheless had made the characters Jewish. The story about the faltering marriage in Baltimore, the one about the cousins living together in a Cambridge apartment when Vaclav Havel’s press secretary comes to visit? They didn’thave to be Jewish, did they?

And the truth is, no, they didn’t. There was nothing in the stories that necessitated me clarifying their cultural heritage or spiritual lives. Still, even if I did edit the explicit mention of Jewishness out, as I did in some cases–because my mother was right it really didn’t need to be there–the characters remained Jewish in my head.

Why, exactly? I could say that I have spent my whole life as a Jew, even if as a completely secular one, and that is the lens through which I see the world, but I have spent my whole life as a woman, and I find myself able to write from a man’s point of view. I have spent my whole life as an identical twin, and I only once wrote about a character who is an identical twin. I think it has more to do with the immediate kinship that I feel with some Jews, the sense that we share a sensibility. Intelligence, warmth, self-deprecating humor, liberal politics, rugelachbooks, and black and white cookies occupy the same place in our hearts. Which is to say that we highly value them. OK, well, maybe not the black-and-white cookies, not for all Jews. I can see that might be a debatable point. And everyone doesn’t share my politics, I know. But you get the idea. There’s a certain coziness I feel with other Jews, and it’s a coziness I like to feel with my characters. My characters are in a quite literal way (of course) “my people.” So, no surprise, I suppose, that they should resemble my people in a larger sense, the ones I come from and the ones for whom I feel a special affection.

Posted on April 25, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Seeking Fact, Finding the Unknowable

Debra Spark is the author of The Pretty Girl, a collection of stories about art and deception.

In literature, as in life, you may go looking for one thing, only to find another. Several years ago, I decided to go to London to do research for a novel I was planning to write. I had written a short story about Victorian toy theatres — it’s in my most recent book, The Pretty Girl — and I didn’t think I was quite through with the subject. I had an idea of writing a novel that was set, at least partially, in Victorian times and focused on a Jewish engraver of plates for the toy theatre. I felt, from the start, that I was in over my head. What did I know about Victorian London? Much less, Jews in that time period? As part of my research, I engaged a tour guide who took me on a daylong tour of Jewish London. By the end of the day, I felt unequal to the task of my novel. There was too much I didn’t know. The last stop on the tour was an Orthodox synagogue. My female tour guide and I arrived during services and crept upstairs. We were the only women in the balcony and from the looks of things, there hadn’t been any other women up there in decades. In one back corner of the balcony, there was, of all things, a clothes rack on which hung racy pieces of women’s lingerie. Downstairs, men davened seriously, muttering their Hebrew so quickly that I couldn’t make out a word. At one point, a man whipped out a cell phone, though he continued to pray, and I thought perhaps he was putting in a call to the Big Guy at that very moment.

I loved this strange scene, but didn’t know what I could take from my day beyond my pleasure. I was dispirited. I felt I’d have to do a Ph.D. in history, before I could write the book I intended. I was also anxious to get back to the Marriott in Swiss Cottage where I was staying. My mother and young son were waiting for me, and I knew my son would be impatient for my return. He was not, at that point in his life, good with an extended separation.

It was late in the day when I finally got to the hotel. On the way up to my floor in the elevator, I saw a man in a yarmulke holding a clipboard. I almost had an urge to tell him about my day, as if all Jews were bound to be interested by my dip into history. I saw the words Adin Steinsaltz on the man’s clipboard. Now I had another reason I felt like speaking. “He wrote my favorite book,” I said, pointing.

“What’s that?” the man said, interested.

The Thirteen Petalled Rose.”

“Do you understand that book?” the man said abruptly.

I had actually studied the book, which attempts to explain the Jewish mystical system that is kabbalah, fairly seriously at one point, so I gave him a longer answer than he might have liked. “I feel like if there are 100 levels on which to get that book, after reading it twice, I managed to get to level two.” The book had meant a lot to me, because it opened up a way to think about Judaism that made me feel what I do in the world, my actions, whether kindly or not, influence the structure of the universe. I liked the notion that if you do a good act, you put more good in the universe, and similarly with a bad act. Thus, each day man has the potential to create the world as a better or worse place.

“Well, I tell the rabbi, I don’t get that book,” the man said, and he introduced himself. He was Steinsaltz’s personal assistant.

I was shocked. The Steinsaltz book—and other books by Steinsaltz—had once been so important to me that I had named my son, Aidan, after Adin. Or that’s not quite right. My husband, who isn’t Jewish, had found the name Aidan in a baby book. He liked it. I did, too, but then thought it was strange to give a boy whom we were going to raise as Jewish such an Irish name. Somehow “Adin,” though I knew it was pronounced differently, made me think it would be OK after all.

It turned out that the Rabbi, who is known perhaps best for his translation of the Talmud, was speaking that night. To a sold out crowd. But the assistant said he could get me in. As exciting as this prospect sounded, I had to say no. I couldn’t leave my son any longer with my mother. So the assistant offered something else. I could come up the next day to the Rabbi’s hotel suite and have coffee with him.

I could barely sleep that night. I was so excited. Later, I told Steve Stern, a Jewish writer friend in New York, about this encounter, and he gasped, “He’s a holy man!”

My meeting was brief. I was embarrassed by my secular self in front of the rabbi. I should have counted on not feeling quite frum enough to be meeting with him. I felt I should have a question for him, but I hadn’t prepared a question. I didn’t know what to say. He was gentle and kind, but I struggled to hear him, as his voice is soft, and my hearing isn’t so great. I ended up deciding to ask him about the end of the Book of Esther. The end of the book had troubled me, since I reread it in preparation for taking my son to his firstPurim celebration. Like most Jews, I knew that Haman, the bad guy, gets his just desserts, that he is hung on the gallows that he intended for Mordecai, the hero. But I didn’t know (till I reread the book) that afterward, the Jews go out and kill 75,000 additional men. I asked the rabbi about it. The lack of clarity in the Book of Esther bothered me. Thanks to an edict that the king has signed, the Persians have permission to attack Jews on a certain date, even though Haman is dead. But it is not clear they are taking advantage of that permission, when the day comes.

“Well, you’ve never been beaten,” the rabbi said.

“What?”

“If you were beaten, you’d understand.”

It seemed to me that we were talking about contemporary Israel and Palestine and not ancient Jews and Persians. Later I realized we probably were. I discovered that the rabbi’s politics were far to the right of my own. The other thing the rabbi said, though I can’t remember what we were talking about that led him to these words, is that he liked children, because they weren’t ruined yet. It didn’t seem the sort of wisdom that you’d get from a great man. It didn’t even seem true, though I love children myself.

Why am I telling these stories?

Because the meeting with the Rabbi redirected me, though not in the way I thought it would, when I was up all night, anticipating my morning coffee with the rabbi.

When we talk about fact and fiction in novel writing, I think we are frequently talking about direct borrowings from one’s own autobiography. For me, fact works in a more complex way in my fiction.

I never wrote that book about toy theatres, the one I planned to write when I went to London. Instead, I wrote a novel, called Good for the Jews, that is a loose retelling of the Book of Esther and makes explicit use of the Rabbi’s words about being beaten. I also wrote a story for my subsequent book, The Pretty Girl, called “A Wedding Story.” In it, a rabbi says what Steinsaltz said about children, and the character who hears his words stumbles on them; they are not what she wants out of a sage.

I couldn’t understand enough about the facts of the Victorian world, so I couldn’t write the novel I intended to. I couldn’t understand the Rabbi’s thinking, and so I found a story I did feel I could write. Stupidity, you could say, stopped me, and stupidity led me forward. Different kinds of stupidity. To write about something, you need to know about the things that are knowable. If there are facts to be had, you need to have the facts. But you don’t need to know about what is unknowable. You just need to be present to it.

Posted on April 23, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Primordial Slush

Several years ago at a writing conference, I was listening to a panel of agents and editors talk about how to get published. They had advice about query letters and first chapters and whether or not to compare yourself to Nobel Prize winning authors. A man stood up and said, “How long should a novel be? I don’t want to have to write this thing again and again, so I’d appreciate it if you just told me what you wanted right up front.” I could feel everyone in the room sigh for this man, but of course, we all knew what he meant. Why is this so hard, I’ve thought a million times. You read a great book and it feels effortless, like the writer just knew how to tell that story. All of us in that room wanted to know how to tell our stories, too.

My first novel took eight years and seventeen drafts. I wanted to believe that it would be easier the second time around, but I was wrong. It might even be harder, because I know exactly how long the road is. But I am not complaining. No one is forcing me to write — if I hated this (OK, sometimes I do hate it. A lot. But then I love it again later) I could stop. I understand that starting is hard. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first your fourth book, you are always in the dark. Also — a reminder to my future self—it’s not just the beginning that’s difficult. The middle, oh the middle is a test. And finishing? Dear God!

These days I am working on something new. I did the math again, tried to make a deal with myself to write a certain number of pages a day. I dreamed of having a draft by the time my son was born in November. I had a lot of pages, but I did not, by any stretch, have a draft. When people ask me what I’m working on I tell them I don’t know yet since it’s is still in the primordial slush phase and has not yet sprouted legs and crawled up onto land. I have been saying that for a year. Still no legs. And that has to be OK, because that is what’s true. I still hope that in a matter of years, and I do realize that it will be years and not months around, I will be able to walk back out of this room having showered and put on respectable clothing with a readable manuscript in my hands. But that time is not now. Now, I need to close the door and kneel down in the mud. I have to have faith that something is growing here, even if it is just a single-celled organism, slippery and legless.

Posted on April 20, 2012

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Mother/Writer

I have been a writer for my whole adult life. I have only been a mother for five months. Like many women, I worried that having a baby would unmake my professional life. I worried that I would never have time to write, that my upcoming book tour would be a disaster and the novel that had taken me eight years to write — arguably my first baby — would not get the birth I wanted for it.

My son was born in November, and for several weeks, I disappeared into the slow, rolling water of motherhood. My sense of time disappeared. It made little difference if it was night or day — I nursed, I slept, I ate, I gazed down at this brand new creature, alive for the first time in history. I forgot all about my book, about the new novel I had been working on while I was pregnant, about publicity and schedules. There was a new story in my life: the story of my son, the story of me as his mother. In the first nights, the baby slept beautifully but my husband and I lay awake because it was impossible to look away from him. His tiny, perfect hands rested on his tiny, perfect chest. This is my baby, I kept thinking. I will love him for the duration. I had been making things my whole life, but never had I created something like this.

When my son was two weeks old, I got an email from my publicist with a series of interview questions from another writer. “Could you have this to me by Tuesday?” she asked. Tuesday? I thought. What is Tuesday? The calendar and I had parted ways. It seemed so strange that everyone was having a regular work-week, that they were tending to the usual business while I was living a miracle. Still, I opened my computer and discovered when Tuesday was. I read the questions and thought about them. It took me a few days to get all the answers down, but it felt good to remember that other baby of mine. Especially since I could do so with my son on my lap, swaddled and sleeping. He was happy to let me do my job, to make room in the day for other parts of me.

Three months later, the book was published and reviews began to come in. Though they were mostly positive,
it was overwhelming to see the work I’d done evaluated all over the place. Before the first reading I started to wonder what I was doing.

How was this a good idea again? The private part of writing suits me; I wasn’t sure how I felt about the public performance part. But I looked down at my sweet boy in my lap. He was sucking on his hands — a new trick. “I’m just going to read to you, OK? You are the only audience that matters.” He smiled up at me. And for the next four weeks, in cities across the country, he was there in the back of the bookstore curled up on my husband’s chest. He cooed and gargled occasionally and slept most of the time. He did have to be taken out of the room once, but not because he was upset: he had the giggles.

After I had read and signed books, milled and chatted, the three of us would go out and find a glass of wine someplace. It was wonderful. We were a family, my husband, our son, me –both the mom and the writer. I had worried about how I would pull everything off with a baby, but I hadn’t considered how I would have managed it without him.

Posted on April 18, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Why I Write

Maybe there are four or five people on earth for whom writing is effortless and never heartbreaking. I don’t know those people, and I’m not sure I’d like them if we met. Writers are professional feelers—our hearts should be tender and sore at the end of the day, right?

Still, sometimes it feels as if any other vocation would be easier. I could have studied fresh-water algae, been a long-distance runner, a baby-seal feeder. But that’s exactly the thing that bring me back: writing allows me to live a hundred other lives besides my own. When I was in high school I thought I wanted to be an actress, but there was one small issue—I was shy and not interested in performing. It turned out I wanted the other job where you get to imagine your way into the heads and hearts of other people, feel the world in a new way every time you sit down to work.

Most of the day, we all tend to the usual things. We pay the gas bill, find a parking place, buy cereal, apples, chicken breasts, remember to call our mothers, take the children to the doctor, sort the stack of mail. We do what needs doing. Meanwhile, we lose friends, fall in love with people, teach our babies to talk, help our parents leave the world. Being alive is so gorgeous, so hard, so everything. Writing—and reading—is the place where I get to try to understand some of the ten zillion strange, beautiful, terrible truths. For me, it is the second half of being alive.

Posted on April 16, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Bageling

Have you ever been ‘bageled’?

Bageling” is:

the conscious act – or speech – of a non-obviously looking Jewish individual to an obviously looking Jew intended to indicate that he or she is also Jewish; or, the conscious act of a non-Jew towards a Jew to indicate his or her affinity with the Jewish people.

An example of the former is when I was on the plane back from Denver and a bare-headed Jew came over to me and said Shalom. He was ‘bageling’ me. He was attempting to indicate with the word Shalom that he too is one of the tribe.

I am sure that many of us have been bageled before. Often all of us have been approached by individuals –Jewish and non-Jews- and befriended or just greeted in order to inform us that the person standing before us would like to connect with us.

In the latter case of a non-Jew, the act of being bageled can be as innocent as the non-Jew also saying Shalomor sometimes – as happened to me at the airport in Denver- much weightier and significant.

So sit back, relax and listen to one more tale of the ‘travels of Rabbi Eisenman’.

My least favorite part of flying is the security check point. Believe it or not- I enjoy the actual flight. After all, I have hours of uninterruptible time by myself; what could be better?

However, the security check point is always uncomfortable for me. I do my best to empty everything in my pockets, hoping that the metal detector alarm will not sound, as I do not want everyone seeing ‘the rabbi’ having to undergo the ‘wand’ treatment.

As I was approaching the security machine in Denver I was quite conscious of the fact that I was the most obviously looking Jew in the airport at the time. I emptied my pockets and waited for the guard on the other side of the metal detector to signal me to begin the shoe-less, belt-less, cell phone-less stroll through the metal detector doorway to the freedom of the plane.

The officer on the other side of the detector was big. He was about six feet three and trim, fit and very stern looking. As I waited to be instructed to begin my walk, I wondered silently if he was physically capable of smiling.

He slowly lifted his fingers ever so slightly and indicated that I was now to proceed through the invisible aura which sees all.

I walked through and looked up at my protector expecting and hoping for ‘the nod’ which would allow me to proceed without further delay.

However, it was not to be.

Officer Cheerful-face indicated that I must approach him.

I slowly neared my ‘defender of the homeland’ with both trepidation and nervousness.

“Will I be whisked off to Gitmo, never to be seen again?

Will I become the next poster child for the Agudah?

Will prayer rallies be held on my behalf?

Will the very same ‘please forward to everyone you know’ emails that I have preciously railed against now be splashed all over the virtual world for my quick and immediate release?

Will the young girls in Bais Ya’akovs all across the globe know my Hebrew name by heart as their pristine and sinless lips fervidly say Tehillim for my redemption?

Will I now write books from the inside of a prison cell in Guantanamo Bay?”

I was now face to face with the law.

He slowly looked me in the eye and then, in a move which no doubt would strike fear in the hearts of the mightiest of men, he motioned to me to come very, very close to him. He then began to look from side to side.

“What is going to happen to me now?

If the person who is supposed to be my protector is now making sure no one else is looking and that no one else can hear us, what is he planning to do?

Could it be that he is secretly related to a choleric and cross congregant who still bears a grudge against the rabbi for his not getting ‘Shlishi’ last Shabbos?

Could it be that he is really a secret admirer of Osama Bin Laden and he has mistaken me as a fellow Taliban?’

Finally, after his being convinced that no one else could hear us, he began his murmured divulgence:

“America must support Israel! The only hope for America is when we and Israel are totally in sync and when there is no difference between our interests and that of Israel. That is the only hope for our country. I just wanted you to know this!”

I nodded and, as quickly as my little legs could transport me, I proceeded to the plane.

Friends, I was just super bageled–with cream cheese and lox as well!

Posted on April 12, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

How’s Everything?

Yesterday a man came to see me for an appointment. As he came in to the office he asked me, “how’s everything?” At first I did not answer, so he asked again, “Is everything alright?”

Once again, I did not answer.

I do not recall when the phrase “how’s everything” first became part of our vernacular. When I was a child, people greeted each other with “How are you today?” or “How do you do?” I don’t think the phrase “how’s everything” became popular until the era of ‘a cell phone on every belt clip and a blue tooth in every ear.’

Whenever this phrase became popular, I really dislike it and do my best never to use it.

Why do I have such disdain for this seemingly innocuous greeting? What possible reason could there be for me, a normally mild mannered and easy going person, to become full of wrath and contempt about the use of this little ditty of a phrase?

The reason, which has been made clear to me on numerous occasions, was particularly brought home yesterday when this fellow asked the question. Here was an individual who had requested a meeting to see me about his concerns. Nevertheless, normal human relations necessitate a formal asking of your host’s health and well being. For this somewhat almost perfunctory necessity, people would say, “How are you today?” That was fine. The petitioner would at least sincerely inquire as to how his host was feeling today.

However, nowadays we have this all encompassing and meaningless greeting “How’s everything?”

When I hear it, I say to me, “does he really want to know HOW IS EVERYTHING?”
What does that mean everything?

Does he want to know all about my children and their issues? What about me and my personal struggles and battles? What about communal affairs? Does he really want to inquire about EVERYTHING

Of course not.

Therefore one can deduce that when one says “how’s everything” they really do not care about anything!

However, by using the word ‘everything’ they are being ‘politically correct’ in conveying the artificial message of care or of setting up the illusion that they really care about everything when in reality perhaps they are interested in nothing.

Try this sometime. The next time someone asks you, “how’s everything?” Answer, “I am so happy you asked” and proceed to discuss at length your issues at work, your issues with world politics, your issues with…..everything! And then see their reaction.

For those who think this post is Much Ado about Nothing, you are right.

When people say: “how’s everything?”- they are indenting for all to believe that they are interested in ‘much ado’ while in realty it is all nothing.

So let us begin our own little “We Hate ‘How’s Everything’” club:

Show you really care about people and stop using the phrase how’s everything.

All members of the club should only say “How are you today” and really listen and care about their answer! Let’s attempt to stamp out this depthless and casual type of greeting. Let’s go back to the meaningful, “how are you today?”

This can make all the difference in the world.

Thank for reading and by the way, “How’s’ Everything?”

 

Posted on April 11, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Secret Code of “Hava Negilah”

Hava Nagila (Hebrew: הבה נגילה) (lit. “Let us rejoice”) is a Hebrew folk song that has become a staple of band performers at Jewish weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.  The melody was taken from a Ukrainian folk song from Bukovina. The commonly used text was probably composed by Abraham Zevi (Zvi) Idelsohn in 1918 to celebrate the British victory in Palestine during World War I as well as the Balfour Delcaration. (From Wikipedia)

Yesterday was some day- I almost cannot remember the clock moving; it began early in the day at Shul and ended late at night. It was a day of constant motion and if I would fill you in on the details of the day… well, suffice to say we could sell such stories to ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’!

At about 5 pm, I find myself at my next challenge of an already hectic day: attempting to find parking on the island of Manhattan. Finally, I spot a garage and quickly turn my vehicle into the lot with about 10 minutes to spare for my 5:13 pm appointment in mid-town New York.

As I open my door and begin to exit, the dark-skinned attendant and his side quick greet me with a smile. They could be African-American, Latino, Indian, Bangladeshi, Arab or perhaps Sephardic Jews (however, that last choice is very unlikely).

As I am step totally out of the car and place my hat on my head, suddenly my parking pals burst out in a spontaneous rendition of Hava Nageela.

At first I am totally shocked by this unexpected occurrence of being ‘bageled’ – by these perfect parking strangers. After all, here I am in the middle of Manhattan as these two men of unknown lineage are serenading me to the tune of Hava Nageela.

As I am in a rush (which seems more and more to be the norm of my life and not the exception) – I am somewhat turned off by this unneeded and bothersome waste of time.

However, as I looked at their smiling faces and their genuine attempt to connect with me on my terms I realized that this impromptu medley came from a good and pure place of the human experience; namely their want and their desire to connect to another human being in friendship.

With this epiphany in hand, not only was I no longer agitated by this spontaneous song, I was elated.

Indeed, this was exactly the G-d send I needed to cheer me up on this stress ridden and difficult day. In less time than you can say “Uru aḥim! Uru aḥim b’lev sameaḥ” I joined their duet and we immediately created the ‘Nageela Trio’ in the middle of a cold night in Manhattan.

On and on we went, “Hava Nageela, Hava Nageela….” as the three of us sang the night away – well, that’s somewhat of an exaggeration as in truth our opening rendition lasted about thirty seconds; however, the joy and fun we had was real and meaningful- not to mention great fodder for today’s blog.

Why ignore those moments which are so precious and so meaningful when you connect with another person in joy and simcha? Why ignore someone when they reach out to you on your terms? If nothing else, at least acknowledge and smile back – it will change your day.

 

Posted on April 9, 2012

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