Thursday, October 20, 2011

Some women invited their mothers...

...others chose Golda Meir, Barbra Streisand and Michelle Obama. Still others picked the mom of freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Me? I involked Moo to come join us in the sukkah last evening.

What's a sukkah, you ask? It's a temporary outdoor structure, a hut, built for the week-long festival of Sukkot with 3 sides and barely covered so you can see the becomes the Gathering Place - the hearth so to speak - for friends and family. It's a place of connection and true community, even if you're alone. And though the sukkah symbolizes frailty and the temporary nature of life, what happens in a sukkah can be very powerful indeed.

Especially when you have 40 or so women gathering to celebrate the new month, or Rosh Chodesh.

(Rosh means head, so since it's at the top it also means start, and chodesh is month...Jewish women's groups often adopt Rosh Chodesh as a time to gather because of a woman's connection with the moon - ours is a lunar calendar after all - and we both have 28-day cycles. Oh! And because the women remained level-headed and faithful wandering in the desert for 40 years while the men ran off half-cocked, yelling "FIRE!" and smelting a silly little cow o'gold. So we were rewarded with a holiday...but I digress...)

So as if there weren't enough gals spilling out of the sukkah onto the patio and lining the adjacent rock wall, our fearless leader called for reinforcements! It's a tradition that for each night of Sukkot, you ceremonially 'welcome' a biblical figure into the sukkah with you, and that became our celebration... getting to know each other a little better by whose spirit she invoked.

So we introduced ourselves and said what woman - biblical, historical or current, Jewish or not - we would I said, I 'brought' Moo. I really don't know why. She wasn't particularly observant; I don't even know if she belonged to the women's club at her own synagogue. But she was the first woman to pop in my head and there she stayed...giggling with me, talking to my friends and inspecting the baked goods.

I think she fit in well with the crowd...each woman a testament to strength over vulnerability...Maybe that's why she came to me: The sukkah may be flimsy, but what's inside is enduring.

To make sure the guys endured without me, I made meatloaf the night before so they'd have leftovers.

Here goes:

-Preheat oven to 375 and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
-In a bowl, combine 1 lb ground beef, 1lb ground turkey, 2 eggs, 2 T worcestershire sauce, a quarter to a third cup red wine, a quarter cup bread crumbs - I used matzah meal 'cuz it was the first thing I saw in the pantry! - 1 finely chopped medium shallot, 4 minced garlic cloves, 1 and a half t salt, lotsa ground black pepper and 1 and a half t dried oregano.
-Combine with your hands until well mixed, but don't mix it to death.
-Place on sheet pan and shape into a loaf.
-Pour on 1 4-oz tin tomato sauce - or as much as it'll take...
-And pop into oven for about an hour and a half...internal temp should be 160 when done.
-When done, let it rest another 10 minutes out of the oven so you're not serving crumbs.

And though their eyes weren't glowing quite as brightly when I came home as they were the first night they had this, they were happy. And so was I.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sometimes, prayers really are answered...

(This is what transpired Saturday...and how I got another chance...)

Today is Yom Kippur. And I’ve been feeling crap for longer than I’ve wanted…often asking G-d to help me leave this place (metaphysically) and have some peace.

If I play my cards correctly, I just may be able to achieve it. Metaphysically. And if that happens, I will have gained the Awe of these 10 Days.

Before last night’s 1st Al Chet (the confessional prayer), our Rabbi read some personal confessions from congregants that were humorous (the kids’) and poignant (the adults’) and my own formulated out of my pain: And for the sin of not knowing how to start to make thing right, selach lanu, mechal lanu, karpeir lanu. (Forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.)

And I cried through the rest of the prayer.

After services, I greeted my friend and she asked if I’ve been writing…my inner Eeyore kicked in and I replied: Only cover letters, lots and lots, that no one is reading.

Throughout the evening and in my dreams, I kept thinking of my Al Chet, and how I replied to my friend. These weighed on my mind through services this morning. Earlier I had a little brekkie and I told myself that I broke the fast because I felt weak when I woke and because I’d lost a few pounds over the week. I felt I had rationalized and that is a form of beating myself up. My prevailing feeling was negative. I exuded negativity. And negativity is physically heavy and draining and a burden and only encourages more of the same. And it feels simply awful. Nothing good – what I craved above all else – ever comes of it. Ever.

When we stood a bit later, the little girl behind me inadvertently pushed my chair into my knees and quite automatically, I pushed it back. Then I thought: Why be that person? She didn’t do it intentionally. Find another solution. And I did.

That’s when it hit me. Just be Positive. While I’ve always been grateful for all that I have – too many wonderful things about my life and in my life to list here – I have let negativity and to some degree self-pity have its way with me. It was one aspect of Me I couldn’t shake; it was seeping from my pores. And I realized that if I let it persist, I’d remain unemployed and I’d remain down and I’d remain in this rut I’ve carved for myself.

Before Rosh Hashanah started, someone suggested that for this new year, I should resolve to not put myself down. I thought – rationalizing maybe? – that I was just being self-deprecating. Apparently, my friend saw through the all-too-often put downs and called it what it was. This was also on my mind throughout these High Holy Days and was the spark I needed to survive. And to grow.

So now, as I think about having broken the fast before it began, I’m not assailing myself for sinning. I honestly feel that I’ve done as commanded: I removed the distraction, the weakness in my body, that would have impeded my concentration as I sought to gain insight and spirituality on this Holy Day.

That’s what resolutions and spirituality and growth are all about, right?

Maybe I’ll email my friend and share this as a way of explaining my downer reply – Maybe I’ll just let her see the new me – Maybe the peace I’ve found today will transform me back to the person I know lives inside –

Maybe I won’t have to say a word.
            For the sin of negativity,
            And for the sin of repressing ourselves –
            Selach lanu, mechal lanu, karpeir lanu.

And may we all be written into the Book of a Positive life.

And with a small piece of sweet Pumpkin Bread, I truly broke my fast.

Here goes:

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a loaf pan with spray oil.
-Put 4 (store-bought) crispy ginger snaps or spice cookies in a zip-top bag and bash into small chunks. Set aside.
-In mixer, beat 6 T butter (room temp) with 3/4 cup dark brown sugar and a 1/4 cup regular sugar until fluffy then beat in 2 large (room temp) eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.
-Add in 1 can (14 to 15 oz) pumpkin puree, a half t vanilla extract, 1 and a half cups flour, 1 t baking soda, a quarter t baking powder, 1 t salt, 2 t cinnamon, 1 t ground ginger, a half t each of grated nutmeg and cloves and 2 handfuls of walnuts.
-Carefully beat until just blended then pour batter into prepared pan. Top with reserved cookie crumbs.
-Pop into the oven for 1 hour 25's done when a skewer comes out clean from the middle.

It's traditional to celebrate the new year and new beginnings with something sweet...and it's always good to say thanks for being blessed with life, sustained, and for reaching this day.