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The Problem with Charity

            I’ve always felt uneasy about giving charity. I can’t figure out which charities to help, or how to be helpful, or how to not feel guilty for all of the other charities I am therefore ignoring. As the Covid-19 pandemic has grown, I’ve watched others act generously, and give generously, and the peer pressure to do the same has been enormous, but still impossible to live up to.

“I don’t have peers, so I’m safe.”

We had a discussion about charity one Friday night at my synagogue, after hearing the results of a study that said the younger generation of Jews (AKA me) are not giving as much money to charity as previous generations. The consensus opinion among the older congregants was that young people don’t understand that charity is an obligation, and therefore they don’t even think about giving, either to their own communities, or to the needy, or to the arts, or medicine. The older congregants remembered their parents setting aside specific times to give Tzedakah to different charitable organizations. They would do this once a year, or once a month, or before major holidays, and they were purposely involved in the process by their parents, in order to teach them that this is an obligation they would need to live up to as adults.

The discussion then veered off into how we could (and should) use peer pressure to encourage people to give more money to charity; how we should purposely press on those guilt buttons and encourage competitive giving, and offer rewards to those who give, because people need to be pushed to do “the right thing.”

“Do NOT push me.”

And I was left feeling confused, and guilty, and troubled. Because I don’t want to be left to give charity on my own. I don’t have enough money to make a difference, and I don’t want to watch my single coin drop to the bottom of an empty well. I felt like something was missing from this discussion but I couldn’t figure out what it was, at least not right away. I needed to take some time to think about it.

            The word charity feels Christian to me, both because it is, and because it is so often paired with the word “Christian,” especially in all of the Christmas movies I inhale in November and December. The Hebrew word Tzedakah, though, has a somewhat different connotation, even though it is often translated as charity. Tzedakah literally means “righteousness” and refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just. The Torah requires that 10% of a Jew’s income be allotted to righteous deeds and causes.

            Except, from where I sit, giving charity is much more complicated than that. For example, in the United States, people can receive tax refunds for giving money to charity, and many corporations see giving charity as good publicity. Does charity given for selfish purposes still count as charity? Does charity given out of guilt still count as righteous?

            I don’t think I’m the only person from my generation who has noted the hypocrisy, and been put off by it. But for me, there’s also a more personal set of issues in the way. When I was a child, my father often made a show of putting a twenty dollar bill into the pushka (the tzedakah box) at our synagogue, after weekday morning services, or buying gifts for people at our synagogue that he didn’t really know, or helping other congregants when they were locked out of their cars. And at the same time, he refused to pay the bills at home, or fix things that were broken at home. My mother was often left to seek out hand-me-downs, or to buy furniture at St. Vincent De Paul, or to go to consignment stores and flea markets (though the last two she’d have done anyway), to make sure we had what we needed. And then my father would suddenly give us generous presents, though rarely what we asked for, or needed. At the same time, he spent a lot of money on clothes and shoes and hats and books and classes for himself.

            It was very hard for my brother and I to figure out what we could actually afford as a family, and my brother just decided that we were poor, even though in reality we were solidly middle class, given our parents combined incomes, where we lived, and where we went to school, even with scholarships.

“Did you have to walk six miles, uphill, in the snow, to get your chicken treats?”

In graduate school for social work, I heard a lot about the debate between needs-based and rights-based approaches to poverty. Needs-based thinking leads to charity and philanthropy, or voluntary giving to the “deserving” poor. Rights-based thinking includes changes in government policy, income redistribution, wage floors and cash subsidies, so that poverty can be eradicated and no one is seen as “undeserving.”

            As a child, I believed (often incorrectly) that paying taxes would mean lifting everyone up out of the risk of poverty, and creating a social safety net. I thought taxes equaled that ten percent we were required to give to good works, plus some more for roads and bridges. I believed that we paid our taxes so that we could all have our basic needs met. Over time, I started to realize that this wonderful safety net I’d imagined was more like a Swiss cheese umbrella, and I could easily get rained on. I heard screeds against anyone who would apply for disability or Medicaid, like me, instead of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. And I realized that, in the eyes of a lot of people who did not know me, I would qualify as the “undeserving” poor.

            Often, the excuse for not covering the holes in our social safety net is that “charities can handle that.” Except, why would we prefer something as unreliable as charity over obligatory protections?

I think that a big part of why people prefer charity to taxes is that giving charity feels good. I see it in my synagogue all the time. The same people who grumble at having to pay yearly dues (to pay for salaries, building maintenance and repairs, taxes, and other boring things), will gladly give money at a fundraiser, or offer money to charity, or give time as a volunteer. Partially it’s because it looks like generosity, but more often it’s because it feels like generosity. It feels so much better to give a gift that you are not required to give, than to give what is required.

            I remember an episode of Law & Order where a man became addicted to giving away his organs. He wasn’t selling them, or selling his blood, or skin, or whatever else he was giving away, but the feeling of giving and of being generous was so intoxicating for him that he couldn’t stop, even when it put his own life at risk. But, he insisted that the person who received his generous gift be “deserving,” and he was the only one who could determine their worthiness. In fact, he felt justified in killing someone in order to re-gift an organ to someone he deemed more worthy. Giving charity gave him the power over life and death, literally.

            As, as a child, I would have preferred to have an allowance, or clear guidelines for what I could and could not have, instead of randomly receiving gifts (or charity) from my father, when he wanted to give them. And I feel the same way now. I’d rather know what kinds of support I can rely on, and where it will come from, so that I can plan ahead, and not feel constantly on edge about whether the needed gift will come in time, or whether I even deserve that gift.

“When do I get my chicken treats?”

In response to Covid-19, at first, the federal government of the United States seemed to be stepping up and taking responsibility for compensation, not just because we needed help, but because we had a right to it. We wouldn’t have to pay for testing, and we could rely on unemployment and subsidies and rent freezes to allow us to stay home as long as necessary. This made sense to me, both because other countries were doing their own versions of the same thing, and because it was clear that our government could have limited the impact of Covid-19, by testing early and often, providing adequate protective equipment to health care workers, and doing contact tracing as soon as the first cases were discovered.

Pretty quickly, though, it became clear that the measures put in place were wildly inadequate, with underfunded and understaffed unemployment plans, and much of the loan money meant to go to small businesses going to companies who had pre-existing relationships with the big banks. And despite those clear failures, congress was unwilling or unable (depending on your perspective) to offer further support. In response, some politicians advocated reopening businesses and throwing senior citizens into the volcano to appease the Covid gods. And then, because we thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, it became clear that the federal government’s already weak response to the coronavirus had dropped precipitously at the same time as studies began to show that poor people and people of color were being disproportionately impacted.

And, as usual, kind and generous people stepped in with charitable organizations to try to fill the gaps. Except, charity means that each individual gets to choose who they want to help, and who they don’t, and many people who needed help were left with nothing.

I have a tendency towards cynicism and hopelessness, expecting failure at every turn, but lately I have been seeing evidence that real change is possible, if you fight for it. I want to learn how to be hopeful and to believe that the current wave of protests and education and political change will take us further than we’ve been able to go in the past. Because honestly, if we don’t make a change soon, I think we’re screwed.

“Uh oh. Mommy used a bad word.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Virtual Field Trips

            At the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdown, my Facebook page flooded with resources for students, including long lists of virtual field trips to zoos and aquariums and exotic locations. And then the adults, feeling left out. started posting pictures and videos of all of the places they wanted to go. And I couldn’t look away.

“What IS this show?”

            I never travel in real life, but, now that I can’t go anywhere, I spend a lot of my time wondering where I’d go if I could. I even saw a car commercial that encouraged people to take to the open road this summer, though my first thought was, I am not going into a gas station, in a town where no one knows me, wearing a bandana over my face. Even as a white woman, that just seemed like a stupid idea. And I haven’t seen that commercial again.

I think, for the most part, people who live in the United States aren’t going anywhere for a while. Instead, I’ve been taking virtual field trips. I’m on the second season of a murder mystery series set in France, where each episode highlights another picturesque French town I’ve never heard of. They pronounce “oui” as “way,” which is disconcerting, but the landscapes are breathtaking. There was a murder on an isolated island, steeped in fog, and a murder on the border with Spain, and a murder set between cliffs and caves, and a murder at the end of a long drive by the sea. I’ve also visited the beach in Sandhamn, for another mystery series, set in Sweden, and then there were murders in Masada, and Tel Aviv, and Tennessee. In order to solve fictional murders, I have vicariously climbed mountains and gone scuba diving and even tried line dancing and Flamenco.

“We could dance too.”

            There’s something extraordinary about the technology that allows us to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. There’s also something strangely comforting about a murder that can be solved, by someone else, in an hour and a half, with proof, and clear motives, and justice prevailing in the end.

            I’ve also been listening to a lot of Duolingo Spanish Podcasts lately (because I forgot I had subscribed two years ago and now there’s a pile of them on my phone). The varied accents and unfamiliar vocabulary of the stories are a challenge to my advanced beginner Spanish, but the host always steps in, just in time, with an explanation in English. Each podcast is set in a different part of the Spanish speaking world, like Cuba, or Mexico, or Columbia, or Madrid, or Los Angeles, and the narrators tell stories about becoming the first female skydiving teacher in South America, and learning to love your Afro-Latina hair, and building up a mescal factory in rural Mexico, and becoming a successful wheelchair tri-athlete, and on and on.

“Any stories about dogs and their nose-less birds?”

            I don’t think I would have found this much joy in my virtual field trips ten years ago; it would have overwhelmed me. I wouldn’t have known what to do with all of these lives that were nothing like mine, teaching lessons I didn’t feel ready to learn. But therapy has done a lot of work on my internal world. I feel like a construction worker, using my invisible tools to build invisible rooms in my head to store and organize all of my complicated feelings. I’ve learned a lot about pacing, and self-protection, so I’m not as easily flooded; and when a story or idea is more challenging than I can handle, I have plenty of internal shelves to store them on, for later.

            I’m still not at the point where I could manage actually traveling to any of these places in real life, but clearly I don’t have to. Another benefit of virtual field trips is that I don’t have to stockpile a month’s worth of medication from my local drugstore, or try to find someone willing to tolerate Cricket for an extended period of time. I don’t even have to worry about the weather, or a new wardrobe, because I can just wear my pajamas, and rest my head against my air-conditioner, and visit Bombay or Tokyo or Quebec or wherever I choose to go next. Coronavirus be damned.

“Can we go to the dog park?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

I want to be back in the classroom in September, not on Zoom

            The staff of the synagogue school where I work is spending the summer, just like every other school, planning for the unknown. We’re doing curriculum development and lesson planning, for every scenario, and we’re building our technical abilities, and looking for ways to re-interpret our current ways of teaching for a two dimensional world.

            But it sucks.

“Harrumph.”

            I mean, I’m grateful that we’re doing all of this preparation, so that it won’t feel like we’re being dropped into a sea of ice cold water, again. And I’m grateful that the technology exists, both to allow us to work together from afar all summer, and to build up our online classrooms into more interesting places. But I want to see my kids. I want to hear them; without one person’s microphone blocking out everyone else’s, or all of their voices coming at me through a delay, or some of the kids not coming through at all because their internet connections are spotty or because every member of their family is online at once. I want to be able to talk with one of my kids privately, if they seem upset, without everyone else noticing or listening in. I want to be able to make eye contact with the quiet kid in the corner who thinks he’s invisible.

“Can you see me, Mommy?”

            Zoom, even with all of the bells and whistles, and integration with other apps and games and videos, is not the real world. I miss being able to talk to my students and forget what I look like, or what I’m wearing, or how silly I look when I’m trying to dance. I miss seeing all of the other kids in the hallways, and catching the eye of another teacher as we silently ask each other “are you okay?” And I miss being able to shut the door of my car at the end of the day and feel the transition from work to home starting to sink in.

“Be quiet. I’m sleeping.”

            But I really miss being able to close the door of my classroom and knowing that it’s just me and the kids for a while, with no one looking over our shoulders, or recording our conversations, or judging each move we make or each word we say.

            It’s not that my classroom is so awful that it can’t withstand the scrutiny (I hope), but there’s something intimidating about having so many virtual doors and windows open at all times, and not knowing who’s listening in or watching from two feet out of camera range.

“Is somebody watching me?”

            Zoom is so public.

            We had a Zoom class just before Mother’s Day, and I was helping the kids create blessings for their mothers (and fathers, since school was going to end before Father’s Day), and one of the kids started miming at the screen, and then messaged me privately that she couldn’t answer with her mom in the room. Up until that second I had no idea that her mother had been there, just out of range, for the previous forty-five minutes.

            I can be silly with kids in a way I can’t with adults, at least adults I don’t know. I can play the role of the-one-who-knows-things with the kids, whereas with other adults around I’d be more self-conscious, recalibrating each time a new person came in. Just like I would feel different, and probably act differently, with my boss in the room.

I’m the boss.”

            And the kids are different too.

            A lot of the things the kids would have said in the classroom could barely even be thought when they were at home; not because they were unsafe at home (though I don’t know), but because they are different people at home than at synagogue school, and they are much more aware of being overheard, and of being their home-selves; being the big sister, or the good kid, or the chatterbox they are presumed to be when they are at home.

            In the classroom they can try on new behaviors, and say things they wouldn’t say with an audience. At home, even with Mom and Dad in a separate room, their internal censors are on and they are much more careful.

            I don’t really care if I ever step into a shopping mall again, and while I miss movie theaters, I actually like the variety and control and cost of streaming better. I do miss going to synagogue in person, but the alternate-universe-Zoom-synagogue has been a pretty good substitute. But, I miss my classroom, and my kids.

            And it sucks.

“Harrumph.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Re-opening

            I’m very nervous about the reopening of the country. In New York, we’ve had a pretty severe shutdown, and we are moving through the stages of re-opening, tied to the lower numbers of hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19, but I’m still scared. I remember, not so long ago, when many governors were worrying out loud about the fact that there are no walls between states, and a high infection rate nearby, due to low-usage of masks, or a lack of social distancing, or just bad luck, could put us all under water again.

Cricket, Ellie, and Oliver, attempting social distancing.

People are people, and they will get into a car, or get on a plane, and go to a business meeting, or visit family, or go on vacation. And, maybe someone will take their temperature somewhere along the way, but sick people can have normal temperatures, and maybe they will take the precaution to get tested, but a negative Covid test one day can become a positive test the next.

            We know that wearing masks and social distancing can mitigate the spread, but in many parts of the country the wearing of masks has become a political issue, and in many places the fear of this disease has largely dissolved, and people are crowding into bars and restaurants without masks, or wearing masks as a fashion accessory rather than as protection, and removing them to drink and eat and talk with friends.

My friend Oliver does not like to wear a mask

            At the same time, the CDC keeps raising the estimates for how many people are going to die. The last I heard it was 140,000 people dead by July 4th, but that announcement came only a week after the previous estimate of 130,000 people dead by July 4th. It’s getting worse, not better.

            My synagogue is planning to have High Holiday services online this fall, and we’re planning “just in case” for synagogue school to be online as well. But no one really knows what will be possible as the numbers of cases keep rising across the country. I’ve heard estimates that 200,000 people will have died in the United States, from Covid-19, by the end of the summer, or sooner. And the chances that those numbers are an undercount is very high.

            The problem is, no one quite knows what the right balance should be, between being so careful and isolated that we lose our minds, and being so lax that the number of cases grow precipitously. A lot of people are desperate to get outside and to go back to feeling normal, no matter what the numbers may be.

“Did you say ‘go outside’?”

            I think I’m more frightened now than I was back in March, because in the beginning this seemed like it might go away in a few months. At the time, we were watching China re-open and South Korea re-open and assumed we could get there too. But now China is seeing new cases, and New Zealand, where the coronavirus had seemingly been eradicated, new cases appeared when they opened up to travel from other countries. I don’t think we will be able to shut down again, even if that’s the only tactic that would really work to contain the virus. But I don’t feel confident that I would survive Covid-19 if I got sick. More importantly, I don’t trust that my mother would survive this disease, and I know I wouldn’t survive without her.

My own risk benefit analysis has made it clear to me that I need to continue to shelter in place, despite the re-opening around me. I will continue to go to the supermarket and the drug store as infrequently as possible, wearing a mask and gloves, and I will continue to go to appointments by phone or Zoom, and cancel the ones that would have to be done in person. I will continue to walk the dogs in the backyard, keeping at least six feet of distance between me and my neighbors.

“I hate neighbors.”

            But I respect the people who are making risk benefit assessments that are different than mine. Other people have different situations, and different health issues, and may not live with older relatives. Other people may have no choice about whether or not to go out to work, or may need to get out for the sake of their mental health. I understand the risk benefit analysis that has led people to go out and march in protest, making sure to wear their masks and wash their hands, decreasing risk as much as possible while expressing outrage that can’t be expressed effectively any other way. I understand that people feel isolated and need to meet with friends, trying to keep some distance, in order to feel less alone. And I understand that mistakes will happen, and people can get tired and forget to wear their masks or lose track of how far away they are from a stranger on the sidewalk.

            But, I don’t understand crowds of unmasked people filling the beaches on Memorial Day, or packing into bars like sardines. And I don’t understand having a rally indoors, where people will be standing close together and screaming for hours, in a city where rates of coronavirus are rising.

I don’t understand who can see estimates of 200,000 people dead by September and decide that that’s an acceptable loss. It’s not acceptable to me. It’s monstrous, and devastating. And I’m afraid.

“I love my Mommy, so everything will be okay.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Cricket’s Bat Mitzvah

            Cricket will turn thirteen later this summer, and I have been wondering how best to mark this monumental birthday. For humans of the Jewish persuasion, thirteen means it’s time for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, to mark the onset of adolescence (Orthodox Jewish girls may have a Bat Mitzvah at age twelve instead). But, what about for a Jewish dog?

Cricket at (almost) thirteen

To be honest, thirteen seems too young for a transition into adulthood, at least for humans. A hundred years ago, kids might have left school at thirteen and gone out to work, but now that’s not even legal, and certainly not practical. But we’ve kept the Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations at the onset of puberty, or thereabouts, because…tradition. And because it would be impossible to convince kids to stay in Hebrew school for even more years before they can have their big party.

But dogs, even Jewish dogs, are a different story. If anything, the age of thirteen would mark old age, rather than the first steps into adulthood. And a lot of dogs don’t make it to thirteen, especially the larger breeds. I don’t understand how a religion that has rituals for almost everything, has missed the opportunity to designate lifecycle events for our pets, so I’m stuck with this somewhat inappropriate and misleading event that has come to be called, at least on social media, the Bark Mitzvah.

“Is that a celebration of barking?!”

            When we first brought Cricket home, twelve and three-quarter years ago, I looked up Cockapoos on an aging chart and it said she could live eighteen to twenty years. Dina, my Labrador mix, had lived a miraculous sixteen years, twice as long as the Doberman who had preceded her. But twenty? That’s more like a cat!

“Hey! I’m not a cat!”

At almost thirteen, Cricket is showing signs of aging, with a little cloudiness in her eyes and a habit of hearing things that aren’t there, and a tiny bit of slowing down (though not much). But she has amassed an enormous amount of knowledge in her thirteen years, and many useful skills: she can beg, and guilt, and manipulate; she can bully and wheedle and whine; she can love and cuddle and sniff like a scientist; she could have been a gardener or an archeologist or a detective very easily, if we lived in a world that allowed dogs to go to school, and she has always been the de-facto Sherriff at our home. She has also been a surprisingly effective big sister, to Butterfly, and now to Ellie, who both needed mentoring in how to be dogs after growing up under less than ideal conditions as breeding mamas. Cricket has even learned how to offer comfort, rather than just to receive it, and can, on very rare occasions, even share food with her loved ones (though she would rather not).

“Cricket never shares food. Never.”

            There’s no escaping that thirteen is old age for a dog, but maybe that’s what we could celebrate with Cricket’s Bat Mitzvah. She has accomplished an enormous amount and now she is graduating into the last third of her life; finally becoming the wise old crone she has always wanted to be.

“I am very wise, it’s true.”

I don’t think Cricket is prepared for the rigors of a traditional Bat Mitzvah, though. She understands quite a few words in Hebrew, but she has trouble with articulation, and her sense of melody is iffy (though she is, at this very moment, singing the song of her people. I think I can make out the words “chicken” and “I want”). And, really, no one with any sense would ever let Cricket into the sanctuary or anywhere near a Sefer Torah (the holy scroll, kept in the sanctuary, that Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids dread having to read from at their services). But that actually works out well this year, since all of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah services at my synagogue are being streamed, while we can’t attend in person. Maybe Cricket’s Bat Mitzvah could be in our backyard, with the support of the big Paw Paw tree (also turning thirteen this year, coincidentally). They could have a service of their own, to mark their individual, and complex, journeys to their current stages of life. A very short service.

“Grandma, how did Mister Paw Paw get so much taller than me? Rude.”

            The fact is, Cricket could care less about having a Bat Mitzvah to celebrate her accomplishments, and her quirks, or to set a hopeful tone as she marches into her senior years. She just wants the food. So I will have to stock up on chicken treats and liver and all of the other good stuff she loves to eat. In moderation, of course, because I want her senior years to last a very long time.

“Did you say food?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Jews of Color

            The world is exploding and I am angry and afraid, and maybe hopeful too. I know I can’t handle being part of the protests in person (because my health won’t allow it, because I’m still afraid of the coronavirus, and because the potential for violence scares the crap out of me, no matter who’s causing it), but I want to do something, or add something, or learn something. But…there is so much information available on racism in general, and police violence towards people of color in particular, and mass incarceration, and how racism impacts educational opportunities and the ability to accumulate wealth, and, and, and…I don’t have the bandwidth to take in all of the books and articles and podcasts and Facebook posts that are out there. So when the cantor at my synagogue took the time to offer a zoom-cast on Jews of color, and what they might need from their Jewish community during this time, I felt like, that’s a lane I could go down.

“Did you say we’re going for a walk?”

            The cantor showed us a YouTube video of Ilana Kaufman, discussing her goal of counting every Jew of color, so that we can see all the Jews in our communities and recognize and welcome them. As it stands now, she said, Jews of color are experiencing racism out in the world, and then experiencing racism again within their own Jewish communities, where they are seen as “other.”

            My own synagogue on Long Island is not especially diverse, especially if you experience the community by going to regular services, or adult education classes, which are often filled with older, Ashkenazi (of eastern European descent) Jews. But if you go to the synagogue school, you start to see the next generation, the children of interfaith and interracial marriage, adoption and conversion. In other communities, the process of integration has been going on longer and now includes the children of adult Jews of color raised in the Jewish community. And in Israel, Jews from China and India and Africa and France and Russia, and all around the world, of all shades and traditions, are trying to create community out of diversity.

“We like when the community brings food.”

            Historically, the great fear of intermarriage in the American Jewish community assumed that the children of interfaith and interracial marriage would all disappear from Judaism, but, in fact, a lot of those families have embraced being Jewish (along with being Christian or Moslem or Hindu or Buddhist). We have children in our synagogue school with Asian features or darker skin; and we have children who proudly discuss their Christmas celebrations, or their trips to visit family in India or Greece or Israel. And instead of feeling like our Jewish world is dying out, I’ve started to feel like our world is growing wider and richer, and more people have started to feel like family.

            When I watched Ilana Kaufman’s Eli Talk (the Jewish version of a Ted Talk) during the cantor’s zoom-cast, I felt like I knew her, even though she is a multi-racial queer women from San Francisco whom I’ve never met. She spoke my language. I don’t mean simply that she speaks Hebrew, or knows Torah and Jewish history, which she does, but she challenged me, with compassion and patience, to see more than I could see on my own, just like the clergy at my synagogue do. She talked about a young girl named Tova, who wore a Star of David necklace to school every day, and went to her synagogue regularly, and yet her classmates still couldn’t believe that she was Jewish, because of the color of her skin. And Ilana Kaufman warned that children like this will be lost to us if we don’t learn how to deal with our own racism.

            And, no, most progressive Jews are not the obvious kinds of racists that that word seems to represent. In fact, many progressive Jews are social justice oriented, and have marched for civil rights and Black Lives Matter and everything in between; but if we continue to see Jews of color as outsiders who need to prove their Jewishness, or if we fail to see them at all, then we are hurting them, and hurting ourselves. It’s a more subtle form of racism than we are used to addressing. It’s a form of racism caused by a natural human tendency to stick to what we know, instead of reaching out to what may be new to us and feel challenging. Ilana Kaufman laid down the gauntlet for Jews-who-are-considered-white to look a little more carefully at our communities and at ourselves, and I want to try to do that.

            Approximations vary, but the most common count is that 20% of North American Jews are Jews of color. The counting is complicated because some include Mizrachi Jews (of Middle Eastern and North African Heritage) and some don’t. Some include Jews converted only by Orthodox rabbis and some include conversions by liberal rabbis as well. But right now, many Jews with African American ancestry need their Jewish communities, because watching the murder of George Floyd playing over and over is exhausting, and frightening, and heartbreaking, and enraging, and when you are going through trauma you need your family, and your community, to see you and hear you.      So, even though I’m not out on the streets, I wanted to say that I’m listening.

“We’re listening too. And napping. We’re multi-taskers.”

I’m including a list of links to a few articles written by Jews of color, but this is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you have recommendations, please add them in the comments.

For an overview of the current situation: https://www.jta.org/2020/05/31/united-states/believe-us-black-jews-respond-to-the-george-floyd-protests-in-their-own-words

Some background: http://evolve.reconstructingjudaism.org/racism-in-the-jewish-community

Ilana Kaufman: https://www.schusterman.org/blogs/ilana-kaufman/keeping-our-multiracial-jewish-community-safe, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/eli-talks/who-counts-race-and-the-jewish-future/, https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/waking-up-and-showing-up-for-our-jewish-youth-of-color-because-our-community-is-at-stake/

Erika Davis: https://www.ritualwell.org/blog/black-gay-and-jewish-east-coast-jew-pacific-northwest, https://www.kveller.com/not-all-jews-look-like-barbra-streisand/

Orthodox Jewish women of color: https://globaljews.org/articles/identity/frum-women-of-color/

Jewish and Chinese and American: https://forward.com/opinion/355898/what-i-learned-about-being-jewish-and-chinese-on-my-birthright-trip-to-isra/

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Streaming Movies During a Pandemic

            I can’t wrap my mind around 100,000 American deaths (and over 350,000 worldwide), numbers we’ll see in the rearview mirror by the time I post this to the blog. I try to picture some of the victims: the teachers who died early on, because we didn’t want to close schools too soon; the doctors and nurses and EMTs and health aides and janitors and nursing home workers; the transit workers and police officers and grocery store workers; the thousands and thousands of nursing home residents; workers at meat packing plants; the people living in situations where there’s no space for social distancing; the multiple members of the same families that died within weeks of each other; the residents of Native American reservations, and on and on.

            I can’t keep up with the numbers and the names; even the small percentage of the names that end up on TV or Facebook are overwhelming. I can’t make sense of so much death. It’s incomprehensible, and it keeps going on. I can’t even comment on the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. I watched ten seconds of the video and had to stop, because I couldn’t breathe.

            And here I am, safe at home, and grateful to be home, but feeling guilty that my life isn’t harder, or at least more productive. If I don’t have to work in a grocery store or a hospital, then I should at least become fluent in five languages, or drown in middle class angst by way of multiple depressing documentaries about racism and poverty. Right?

“Are you asking me?”

Despite the guilt, though, I persist in being me. And I still can’t seem to work on my writing. I’m obsessed with revising my synagogue school lesson plans for next fall, and checking Facebook for clues to all of the things I’m supposed to be doing but can’t quite put my finger on.

I can’t tell if my tendency towards this kind of guilt is getting worse during the shutdown, or if it is just more obvious because there’s nothing to keep my mind off of it. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be, in life in general, let alone during a pandemic. I can only do what I can do, and since the two free streaming services I get through my library (Hoopla and Kanopy) upped their views-per-month to ten each for the shutdown, I am even more determined to watch all of the movies that are supposed to be good for me: like documentaries, and foreign films, and anything about the Holocaust or the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Fun!

“Not fun, Mommy.”

            So, of course, I immediately gave up on the good-for-me plan and chose a documentary about roller skaters in Venice, California, in the seventies and eighties. I loved going roller skating as a kid, and I love anything like dance, but the documentary ended up being a screed on one of my favorite silly movies from my teens: Roller Boogie, starring Linda Blair. It turns out that the Venice Beach skating scene that was, sort of, portrayed in Roller Boogie, as largely made up of white people, was, in real life, made up of people of color who faced a lot of discrimination and sought out roller skating as an escape. The documentary forced me to look at the fact that Roller Boogie probably couldn’t have been made at that time (1979) if it had starred people of color. So, what I thought of as a light, romantic, happy, summer movie was actually built on real lives that were much more difficult and complicated than I could have imagined.

            I kept ignoring my directive to watch the good-for-me movies, but the movies I escaped to for fun kept opening up pits of despair. I watched a documentary about the Kutcher’s resort in the Catskills, one of the last Kosher hotels of the borscht belt, and the inspiration for Dirty Dancing, but it turned out to be an elegy about the slow death of a Jewish way of life; and then there was the English movie that was supposed to be a romantic comedy, about a man whose job was to seek out family members and friends of the dead who die alone. It was supposed to be a feel-good movie about how he discovers a whole new world when he meets the daughter of his latest “client,” except that it really, really, didn’t end well.

“Oy.”

Clearly, my attempts to escape my educational project were not working, so I redoubled my resolve and went back to the list of foreign language, stretch-your-horizons movies. There were a bunch of Israeli movies that I had to give up on halfway through because of unspeakably insensitive male characters that challenged even my dogged determination to practice Hebrew; but then, Thank God, there was a really lovely Israeli romantic comedy called The Wedding Plan, about a woman who breaks up with her fiancé and decides to keep her wedding day anyway, in the hopes that a husband will magically show up in time; and then there was a documentary about Israeli Cuisine and all of the different cultures represented by the food people eat in Israel. The film crew traveled to different regions of the country to sample Palestinian and Lebanese and Moroccan and Eastern European dishes, showing the scenery along the way, which almost made me feel like I was there.

“Did you say something about food?”

I took a short break from the educational project to watch an English romantic comedy about a woman who inherits her grandmother’s pug, after which, he, of course, changes her life for the better; and then there was a movie about a Latina who becomes a sushi chef; and then a sweet little romantic fantasy about a garden in London. And then I felt brave enough to risk watching a very dark Swedish movie called Astrid, about the woman who wrote Pippi Longstocking; and then a documentary about refugees from Darfur who were persecuted in Egypt and escaped across the border to Israel with mixed results; and a docudrama about four Jewish teenagers who hid in Berlin during the Holocaust. There was also a documentary about the early Jewish stars of Bollywood, and a series of movies in German, about a female Jewish police detective from Berlin who moves to Tel Aviv, but I’m not sure if those were on the educational list or the fun list, because I couldn’t really tell the difference anymore.

Cricket was done.

I’m pretty sure I watched more movies that I’ve blocked out, and I feel guilty, of course, for being only a few episodes into a Great Courses series called The Holy Land, about the archeology and history of the place we call Israel today. It all sounds exhausting when I put it in a list, but I still feel guilty for all of the good-for-me movies and books and podcasts left unseen, unread and unheard. I feel like I’m still hopelessly behind, and under-educated, and under-enlightened, and nothing I do is the right thing or ever enough. I’m just not sure why I keep feeling this way, or how to change it.

I may have to go look for a movie about that.

“Really?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

What’s Next?

            There are so many trainings advertised on Facebook, for online teaching and social work, and I keep thinking I should sign up for all of them, but I don’t want to, and I feel guilty about it. I want to work on my own writing, but my brain can’t shift out of work mode, or job search mode, or Rachel-isn’t-trying-hard-enough mode. It doesn’t help that I’ve been hit by another wave of inflammation and exhaustion and can’t stay awake long enough to finish a thought.

I’m expecting stay-at-home rules to last longer in New York than elsewhere, especially in the areas closest to Manhattan, like Long Island, where I live. Even when we start to open up a little bit, schools will still be closed, and crowds will still be forbidden. I keep hearing that we’re supposed to get tested, but I don’t know if that includes me, or if I’d need a prescription from my doctor, or an appointment, or specific symptoms. I’ve been trying to figure out Governor Cuomo’s system of regions and parameters and how that relates to what’s happening in other states, but it’s not computing.

            I’m really not looking forward to wearing masks and gloves in the heat of the summer, or the inevitable power outages when everyone is at home on Zoom and using their air conditioners all day. And I’m afraid that my doctors will decide to reopen their offices soon. I don’t want to go to the dentist. I don’t want to go to the dermatologist. I don’t want to go to the cardiologist or the oral pathologist or the general practitioner for tests. Skipping non-essential doctor visits for the past two months has been one of the perks of the shutdown for me. Maybe I can hide under the couch with Cricket when they start to call.

“No room.”

            We finally ordered take out for the first time in two months (for Mother’s Day), and I had to put on my mask and gloves and walk around the corner to the Italian place, which has remained open all along. They were all set up for social distancing, with a table at the door to keep customers outside, and everyone on staff wearing gloves and masks. But there was a lot of staff, and I was preoccupied with details, like the hole in one man’s glove, and the workers brushing shoulders behind the counter. I forgot to get the receipt as I took the bag of food and ran away. It was such a relief to get back home and into my pajamas again.

            Usually, for Mother’s Day, we would have gone to a gardening store to pick out Mom’s new plants for the season, but with the cold spell, and the expected crowds of Mother’s Day shoppers, we delayed the trip. Mom threatened to race out to the gardening store as soon as the weather improved, but, Thank God, she didn’t do it. I keep picturing huge globs of coronavirus rolling down the street, like a bowling ball looking for pins to knock down, and I don’t want Mom knocked down.

            One bright spot is that my big Paw Paw tree (the lone survivor, at thirteen years of age) has started to blossom. We probably won’t have fruit this year, because you need two trees for cross pollination, and the gardener has been lackadaisical about replacing the tree he cut down. He ignored Mom’s suggestions for where to buy a sapling, maybe because he assumes all of his suppliers are awash in young Paw Paw trees. If he ever follows through on his promise to replace the tree he killed, chances are high that he will mistake a Papaya for a Paw Paw, or just fill the space with whatever fruit tree he can buy off the back of a truck. But in the meantime, my tree is leafing and flowering, and that makes me happy.

Paw Paw flowers

We’ve been having a lot of zoomed Ritual Committee meetings at my synagogue recently, to discuss what we’re going to do for the High Holidays, in mid-September. Even if we are allowed to go back to the synagogue building by then, will we really be ready to stuff hundreds of people into the sanctuary at one time? Will we go to services in protective equipment and sit six feet apart? Could we have services outdoors? In a tent? A really, really big tent?

            In the meantime, the choir is preparing to sing a few the songs from home, in case singing in person remains impossible. I did my first video this week, listening to the piano and the Cantor on earphones while singing to the computer screen. It took a lot of willpower not to look down at the music, but Mom insisted that I had to look up, and smile.

“Smile like this, Mommy!”

            I’m taking each next step, but I still don’t feel like I’m back on track, or managing my life very well. It’s not that I want to get a haircut, or go to the beach or the mall; I just want to go to a supermarket with full shelves. And I really want to stop feeling like I’m forgetting something important. Did I lock the car? Did I leave a sock in the dryer? Did I touch my face?!!!!!

            Actually, I think what needs to come next for me is rest, so that I can begin to approach the next set of challenges with some energy and motivation, instead of dragging myself along like an English bulldog forced to walk around the block. I really need a nap; or twelve.

“Bed’s taken. Too bad.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Zooming

Teaching synagogue school classes on Zoom reminds me of the terror of my early weeks of teaching last September, as if I’m balancing on a thin rope five hundred feet in the air. It took months for that feeling to dissipate in the first place, but Zoom brought it right back. Part of the problem is that I have to use Mom’s laptop, instead of my familiar desktop computer, because my computer doesn’t have a camera or microphone. But more of the problem is that I’m afraid I will bore the kids, or run out of things to say, or accidentally end the Zoom when I only mean to share my screen. I hate the idea that I could put so much work into it and still fail.

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“This again?”

My first attempt to teach a class on Zoom was harrowing – not so much while it was happening, but in the aftermath, when I could hear my own thoughts again. I was asked to do the first Zoom as an experiment, to see if more kids would come to a Zoom than to lessons on the website. Since this Zoom would be for all sixteen kids at once, instead of broken into two classes, I planned it as a get together, give myself time to get used to the technology, and focus on reconnecting with the kids. About half of my students showed up, plus my teacher’s aide, and five dogs, and I lost track of the hand-raising and muting pretty early on, but they all stayed engaged for more than an hour, and shared their stories from the shutdown. So, of course, once the Zoom was over, I spent the next few hours beating myself up for not planning a real lesson, and then wondering why the rest of my students didn’t come and worrying that they must hate me.

For days afterwards I felt like I was having a low grade heart attack, because of the Zoom itself and because now I knew I’d have to do a second one.

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“Eek!”

In the second Zoom I planned to teach both of my lessons for the week (one Hebrew and one Judaic Studies), which meant I’d have to share my screen, and manage the hand raising and muting, so I asked my teacher’s aide, a brilliant teenage girl otherwise busy writing research papers on game theory, if she could co-host the class with me, and she agreed. Thank God. Teacher’s Aide is the wrong term, actually. We use the Hebrew word Madricha, for her role, and I’ve seen it translated as counselor or guide, so maybe Teacher’s Guide is the best way to describe her.

After some serious outreach by the principal of the Synagogue School (my boss), more of my students came to the second Zoom. We did Show and Tell at the beginning of the session, to give the kids a chance to share objects that had helped them through the shutdown (dogs were a popular theme), and they all participated. But when I tried to start the actual lesson, with a list of Hebrew words on our shared screen, kids started to fill the chat box with “No, no, no, no, no, no, no,………!”  They continued to complain for the rest of the hour, though they still did the work, which made me feel like we were back in our classroom, on familiar ground.

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“Are you banging on a drum?”

I still felt like there was a rip in the time/space continuum after the second Zoom was over, though. I was pretty sure that the computer’s camera was following me around the living room, critiquing what I ate for lunch, and tsk-ing when I changed back into my pajamas. I got back to work as soon as possible, sending out the next set of emails to my students and their parents, and typing up a schedule for the next Zoom, just in case my boss was watching me somehow, from somewhere. I had to rely on big doses of chocolate and pasta to finally reduce my anxiety level to a more manageable (EEEEEEEK!!!!) level, so that I could take my afternoon nap.

IMG_1414

The third Zoom had big technical difficulties. First, we couldn’t log in for the first fifteen minutes, and then videos refused to play, and words were cut off of various documents. But I stayed calm, strangely enough, and managed emails with the parents and phone calls with my boss, and I even taught everything in my lesson. One of my straggling sheep was clearly unhappy to be back in class, and another one’s father had to keep pushing his rolling chair back to the computer, and even though I’d seen fourteen of my sixteen students I was still worried about the last two. Were they okay? Were their families okay? Did they hate me? Because I thought they liked me! WAAAAAHHH! But then, towards the halfway point of the class, one of my last two sheep straggled in, and smiled at the camera, and laughed at my jokes, and the world felt like a sweeter place.

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“Did you say sweet?”

Of course, I was still anxious after the third Zoom, worried that I’d forgotten too many details from my lesson plan, and failed to call on all of the students, and maybe I was too strict, or too lenient, or too something else I couldn’t think of yet. I was also wondering where my sixteenth student could possibly be, though a tiny part of me felt like, maybe, I’d accomplished something good.

By the fourth, and final, Zoom in two weeks, the kids had hit their limit of relatively good behavior and started begging to leave early, clamoring for games instead of lessons, and complaining that there was no candy coming through the screen. But, my sixteenth student came to that final Zoom; and we all made it through the lesson plan (with some judicious editing). The kids even let me say goodbye to them, and wish them well.

We still don’t know what will be possible, in terms of large gatherings and classrooms and such, come the fall, so I’m going to have to keep practicing my Zoom skills in case I need to run classes without the help of my genius Teacher’s Guide. And I’ll have to plan for both in-person and Zoom versions of everything, just in case. But, I did it. I survived, and not just the Zooming, but the whole year of teaching synagogue school. I didn’t really think this was something I could do, or something I would enjoy so much. I really, really liked spending time with the kids; I liked getting to know how their minds worked, and figuring out how to teach them and motivate them to learn. I wish we could have ended the year in our classroom, with chocolate chip cookies and art projects and singing and dancing and utter chaos. But maybe that’s something to look forward to next year.

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Cricket is resting up for next year.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

Finally, the Groomer is Essential

 

I was getting very jealous when I started to see other dogs on Facebook posting their after-grooming pictures last week, so we called our groomer, thinking she might have a recorded message letting us know when she might be back in business. Instead, she answered the phone and told us that she had received the okay from the local fire department to re-open, on a limited basis, and she could give us an appointment in a few days. I continued my constant watch on Cricket’s mats, and sneak attacks with the comb and scissors, until Grooming day finally arrived.

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“I looked fine, Mommy. I liked the way none of the hair on my face could move in the wind.”

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Ellie, on the other hand, was ready for a trim.

We handed the dogs off to the groomer in her parking lot – me on one side of the fence, wearing my red face mask and blue-alien-skin gloves, and the groomer on her side of the fence. The girls know the groomer well, so they were (mostly) okay about going with her. I, on the other hand, had to go home to a dog-less apartment. The echoing silence was so exhausting that I slept for most of the time they were gone.

The pick-up was basically the same in reverse, tossing the leashes over the fence in exchange for an envelope full of money. I was worried that we’d have to pay double for Cricket, given the state of her hair, but we paid the same price as usual. The girls jumped into the car as if they were fleeing the scene of a crime and then Cricket climbed onto my lap in the passenger seat, and then behind my neck, leaving a cloud of white hair in the air and all over my clothes.

IMG_1543

“Oh, the shame.”

 

Poor little Cricket has had her worst fears realized. The groomer had to shave her really, really close to the skin; she’s not pink, but the film of white hair barely covers her nakedness. Miss Ellie, on the other hand, looks fine. I tried to explain the situation to Cricket – that because Ellie let me brush her hair and cut out her occasional mats, she didn’t have to be shaved down to the nubs. But Cricket couldn’t hear me. It’s possible that she still has hair in her ears, because only the vet has the courage to pull out that stubborn hair and risk murder and mayhem, but more likely Cricket just doesn’t want to hear what I have to say. She has very good selective hearing skills. She can even hear things that aren’t there.

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“Can you see what they did to me?!!!!!”

Both dogs were starving when they got home, as if they were trying to fill up the empty space where their hair used to be. But then they were exhausted and slept through most of the afternoon and evening, barely noticing my Zoom meetings and only waking up to beg for more food and walks.

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“I could eat.”

To cap off grooming day, we watched a segment of Stephen Colbert’s show where one of his producers let his ten year old son give him a haircut. First, the boy clipped off clumps of his father’s hair with what looked like kitchen shears, and then he moved on to the clippers. The Dad/producer ended up looking like a plucked chicken; kind of like Cricket, though she has slightly more hair left on her head than he did. Unfortunately, I can already see tiny mats trying to form in Cricket’s hair, so maybe she would have been better off if she’d been completely plucked.

I feel better now that Cricket doesn’t have any more mats on her face and belly, clumped with goop and food, breeding who knows what kinds of infections. Cricket, on the other hand, still believes that she was fine the way she was; and she’s sticking to it.

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“Harrumph, Mommy. Harrumph.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?