Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in West Jerusalem

Our family has established our own Jewish tradition for Christmas, inspired by my childhood in west Jerusalem in the early sixties.

We are the outsiders, looking in.

We take a walk on Christmas Day, beginning in the late afternoon. As the sun goes down, the Christmas lights go up. Front lawns twinkling, colored lights on trees placed by windows, and an occasional neighbor who’d gone Santa-wild with bobbing reindeer on the roof and illuminated giant Mr. & Mrs. Claus waving mechanically. We come home, chilly but jolly, to hot chocolate and the calm harbor of our Jewish home.

No, I didn’t have any of these winter lights displays in my childhood. If fact, west Jerusalem streets, pre-1967, didn’t have a single overt sign of Christmas. The Jewish part of the city, then cut-off from its older parts, had neither church bells nor a whiff of a hint of any but the Jewish Holidays.

My mother was a member of the local YMCA. We treated it as a health club and a good place to park me, the daughter of a single working mother, for summer camps. Its Christian character was so subtle that you’d blink and miss it.

But one Christmas day, when I was seven, my mother decided we’d take the bus and go to the YMCA on King David Street to see the Christmas tree in their lobby. The YMCA had the only Christmas tree in town. She felt I should at least know much of the world was experiencing something that day.

There is nothing like the first time of something. My first glimpse of the towering green pine, a real tree in the corner of an indoor space, all adorned with twinkling colored lights, was the stuff imprinting memories are made of.

It was so beautifully exotic.

To this day, my viewing of others’ holiday decorations has the same intriguing and fabulous effect on me. It isn’t mine, it is of the other, and it is lovely.

I have no wish to bring it into our own living room. I like being an outsider looking in. I like that you wish to share it by putting the light so it is visible to us.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Shades of Gray

Because one blogger compared my book to it, and another writer thought The Voice of Thunder belonged on the bookshelf along side it, I am now reading BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. No, not the world-wide best-selling but decidedly smutty other book.* This SHADES is a critically-lauded literary award-winning Young Adult book, by Ruta Sepetys. The only smut in this book is the outrageous behavior of our species when we are convinced we hold the right to abuse one another in the name of “truth.”

Yes, this book. And it deserved every glowing review it got.

*The one I’m not reading is “GrEy,” British spelling, whereas the good book I am  reading is “GrAy, American spelling. Who knew we’d have one over the Brits in taste and literariness?

This got me thinking about how I have always had a visceral recoiling from black-and-white thinking. I come from a region where everyone (that’s everyone) has an opinion about everything. My parent’s idea of social get-togethers consisted of friends coming over for tea and cookies after dinner, and arguing together. The evenings often ended in raised voices, declarations of mental inadequacy on the part of the other, and, finally, a walk to the door and an agreement to do this all over again next week.

And my parents and their friends were the open-minded ones. They discussed things. They didn’t throw stones or vow to kill. They only committed to arguing and trying to persuade. But they did feel, strongly, that they were “right.”

And so I came to this great melting-pot, the U.S.A.. Here the pervasive cultural ethos, sometimes referred to as WASP, was the polite avoidance of arguing. Underneath, many still feel they hold the absolute truth. But polite conversation avoids religion and even politics, the mainstays of both social connectedness and divisiveness where I came from.

It suits me fine. My interior meter tells me black-and-white is the illusion. I do believe there are higher truths that are not shades of gray. I also think it is the height of hubris to think we are privy to those from our perch. I’m a shades-of-gray lady.

For me- black & white is for wearing, not thinking.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday Time is Not for Dieting

Dieters and health fanatics, beware. This is not a post for you.

An acquaintance passed on to me what she felt was a fantastic new recipe: Fat Free Potato Latkes.

If you know that Hanukkah is about celebrating the miracle of sacred oil, which was to last only a day but lasted for eight days and kept the temple’s sacred light glowing, you would not be cheering fat-free. I pointed to her that the holiday is not a celebration of the potato.

“But fat-free is so healthy,” she said.

What’s health got to do with it? This is where the health-nuts will leave me, I know.

Because The Miracle of the Oil (not the Miracle of the Potato, which could make an interesting holiday) is nourishment of the spirit, and fat-free, forgive me, isn’t.

Imagine Thanksgiving without stuffing. Then you’ll get the gist of this holiday robbing Grinch who’s roaming around to steal the meat of celebrations.

Celebrating is not fasting, and it isn’t dieting. That we can do during times of penance, and every great tradition has those.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should eat eighty-three latkes, full fat with sour cream on the side. (I might, though I’ve not committed to it yet.) But spare me your fat-free and let go of my Latkes, yearning to breath free.

Here’s the recipe I use, something I got from my mother who got it from hers. Enjoy!

Full-fat Latkes

4 cups grated, drained (squeeze hard and then squeeze some more) potatoes

I cup grated drained onion
3 eggs, beaten

½ cup matzo meal (I prefer to use breadcrumbs, but I’m not supposed to say it)
1 t. salt

½ t. pepper

Mix all the above. Shape with your hand about half cup of mixture at a time, and fry in LOTS* of good vegetable oil.

*Lots and lots = at least half an inch deep

My friend’s kids endorse them in South Korea. Go Latkes!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Great Business of Publishing

With all the angst, tribulations, anguish and trials writers go through on the road to publication, it’s no wonder we whine, cuss, and even throw rotten eggs at this amorphous thing called The Publishing Business.

And what better time to point the finger at the publishing establishment and wag it? Its failings, its consolidations, its being usurped by the self-published… Ha! Told you, Publishing! You weren’t doing your job! See?* (*Sometimes this really means you failed to accept my book or my best friend’s book, or properly promote the best book I ever read.)

Now that I am in the “published” section, I can attest that frustration doesn’t end there. It morphs. I’ve seen it years ago with published friends, complaining about aspects of publishing that I could only secretly dream of being able to complain about.

So I decided to do something different here. I missed being publically thankful on Thanksgiving, but there’s no expiration date on gratitude. I woke up determined to find three great things about the business of publishing.

It was easy. I could probably list ten. But lists get tedious after three. Here goes:

*Publishing is about books. The business makes books, not weapons, or doodads.

**Many, if not most, people in the business love books.

***Best of all, publishing produces some great books.