Monday, October 30

The Debut

There is certain order to proceedings in the frum world.
We know how events should run and we know what to do and how to do it. This is why we never need rehearsal dinners, hello! Every frummer and frummie knows how the first Sheva Brochos is supposed to go. After all, it has been passed down from generation to generation. But isn’t that a bit booooring?
Why can’t we just shake things up a bit??

So, in light of this new found need to revolutionize, I confidently suggested that instead of the regular Chusson-Kallah-Show-Up-After-Everyone-Else thing, my niece and new husband should actually be standing in the centre of the room covered by a festively decorated box. Then when everyone is seated the band could start playing music and announce, “For the very second time (the first being the wedding, duh!) appearing as husband and wife; Mr and Mrs Rhubarb!”
And then VOILA!
The box would be removed and much merriment would ensue.

I thought my proposal had gone down a treat until they adjusted the straps on my straightjacket (lined in satin, dahling) and sent me back into the rubber room with no corners.

But back to the Sheva Brochos.
I think the first Sheva Brochos should be called, ‘The Unveiling’ for it is then that the new Kallah debuts and reveals… her new sheitel.

First Sheva Brochos are indeed excruciating for a Kallah because of the whole sheitel business. I remember turning up to my Sheva Brochos looking like a frightened French poodle. I can’t even use the eighties for an excuse.

Usually, the poor bride walks in and assorted siblings and in-laws ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over her wig while simultaneously poking and prodding it, in order to “just fix this stray hair

Usually, the Kallah, sporting a few Ukrainian milkmaids hair if she’s lucky (cuz if she ain’t, then her wig probably looks like she stole it from Barbie), feels like she is balancing road kill on her head

Usually, this pathetic creature can be found looking longingly at the cutlery to figure out which would be better to stick underneath her wig to alleviate the itching; the knife or the fork?

And everyone at the first Sheva Brochos, is watching her every move, every nuance, every emotion that crosses her face.

Not so my niece, Celery.
She showed up at her first Sheva Brochos in a wig that looked like her hair had done the day before and all her self confidence in tact.
It was a pleasure to look at her.
Which I did.

That is, I looked at her until Glinda the Good showed up, and then my attention swiftly moved so I could gawk at her. It’s not my fault I was compelled to stare at her, she’s just so darn sparkly.

This particular evening found her wearing a necklace of south sea pearls the size of golf balls interspersed with diamond balls of equal size. It looked so heavy, I don’t know how she held her head upright. She accessorized this with matching earrings bracelets, assorted rings and a flower shaped diamond encrusted watch that was a large as one of Wonder Woman’s cuffs.

It was like looking at the sun.
I was just itching to go up to her and beg to be adopted.
But I didn’t.

Darn, these straps are tight.

Thursday, October 26

Dancing on the Viennese Table

After the chuppah, we all went back to the hotel, where we all removed our hats; the men their standard black ones and us women, our fabulous be-jeweled, be-feathered, be-autiful hats.
(When I become Prime Minister of England, I will make a law requiring all women in the United Kingdom, to wear spectacular hats.
At all times.
With at least one feather.)

The dinner shinding took place that evening in the hotel hall.

Besides the gorgeous flowers, great music, and fabulous bride and groom, I found it heart warming to see my kids, all squeaky clean and gussied up, get into the swing of things. The image of Asparagus and Cucumber dancing with their cousin, the Kallah, will stay with me forever.

What happened on the mens side with my three boys I had to (poke, prod) glean from Mr Kasamba because the darn mechitza was as thick as the Badeken cloth.

There was this one woman who didn’t walk into the hall, she wafted. A flawlessly preserved older woman with perfectly coifed blonde hair, she looked like Glinda the Good when she landed in Munchkin land in her huge mobile soap bubble. But it wasn’t even her aura which channelled old Hollywood, it wasn’t even the twelve inch long cigarette holder perched between her immaculately manicured fingers, (heck, she made smoking look so good, I was inches close to starting the habit myself) it was her jewels.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have been to see the crown jewels in the Tower of London. There, you have to queue for two hours to stand on a treadmill to get a two minute view of jewellery that might just be rhinestones. Plus, if you walk backwards on the moving walkway, the people behind you get really cross. Well, on this dame, I had my own showing of gems that were real and I could stare as long as wanted. (Okay, so she did get uncomfortable at one point.)

I’m sure she would have forgiven me, because until I saw her, I had never seen jewels of that calibre on a human before. The woman was like a walking JAR exhibition. Her necklace, earrings, bracelet, ring and brooch housed the most enormous emeralds I have ever had the pleasure of dreaming about. They were so large, I could have ice skated on any one of them.
We’re talking triple axle room here.

She was also wearing a stunning gown, but let’s be honest;
with rocks like those, who needs clothes?

But enough about that, back to Celery and Rhubarb, the happy couple at their wedding dinner.

In Europe, we have speeches during Chasunas. Let me tell you, there is an art in having a discussion with your neighbour without being spotted by the top table.
I would make an excellent ventriloquist.

In between speeches, there was dancing, and it was incredibly leibedik. My niece is a natural born dancer and stole the show with her fancy footwork.

The Mitzvah Tanse was very emotional, as I don’t think the whole giving-up-my-daughter- thing sunk into my brother-in-law until then. My sister-in-law, on the other hand, had been sick about the whole thing for ages. After all, you don’t raise such a great kid only to say, ‘bye’ without a backwards glance! My sister-in-law had a lump in throat for weeks prior to this momentous occasion and lost packs of weight because she couldn’t eat. Thank goodness the wedding wasn’t the next week, because she would have disappeared by then.

By the way, the happiest words said at a Mitzvah Tanse are, “Er geit, er geit”.

Then the Cusson and Kallah danced together.

And so the wedding ended.
The first child in our family to get married, my niece has all our hopes, prayers and dreams infused in her wedding ring. And when we saw her bidding everyone a ‘Guten Abend’ with her hand clutching her new husbands for dear life, we all knew that all is good with the world.

There is nothing like a family simcha to make you appreciate what a terrific family you have.

Tuesday, October 24

The Chalice in the Palace

And so, the beautiful Princess ‘mit allah malles’, Celery (well, she is tall) married her darling Prince Rubarb ‘the top-top-top-learner’ and they live happily ever after.

But in my haste, I am running myself over (ouch).

So, to continue from my last post, we finally left the Vienna airport to go to our hotel. The taxi driver, although looking quite austere and not speaking one word of English had a thing for cheesy good old fashioned American music. Now I like John Denver as much as my next Loubitan clad sister, but even I think that hearing ‘Country Road’ four times in a row is just a bit excessive.

As in most European hotels, they write English like they speak German.
It is a real hoot.
On the elevators they had a sign proclaiming
‘Do Not Use In Case of Fire’.
Had I been a few diet cokes short of a six pack, I would have felt compelled to use the stairs.

Ya. It is so.
(Never mind what my teachers said, I am proficient in foreign languages.)

The chuppah was in a palace that was drop dead stunning and had seen many centuries and many of its inhabitants drop dead as well. Both the building and the garden looked like they were plucked straight out of Versailles, except for one thing: The artwork.

Apparently when one makes a simcha, the sight of pre-Raphaelite females in their birthday suits is a big no-no.
So, get this, they strategically covered all the offending artistry.
The statues were draped in cloth while the paintings had paper fans tastefully stuck to their naughty bits.
I just assume that what London does for slits, Vienna does for art.
Oh, to be Jewish and modest!

BUT once my niece walked in, all thoughts of art were promptly forgotten. Celery looked ethereal in a dress of off white lace and chiffon. She looked more Grace Kelly than Grace herself. There was nary a dry eye in the palace when Rhubarb arrived for the Badeken, except for one thing:
The Badeken cloth was so thick that she could easily have been a Challah instead of a Kallah.
And takeh, when they gave the Brochos under the chuppah they said, “Mesameach Chusson im HACHALLOH”
You see, even they couldn’t tell the difference!

Then the Chuppah started to billow and sway and I thought the weather had turned, but it hadn’t, it was just the Chusson shuckling at forty miles per hour and davening with his eyes closed. I mean, this guy, my new nephew Rhubarb, was so engrossed in his discourse with our Creator (Probably thanking Him for such a fabulous bride) I almost felt like an intruder on such a private conversation.
Anyway, he created a nice breeze.

(Coming up next: The wedding dinner)

Friday, October 20

Vienna Waits For Me

As I write this, I’m shining my storm trooper boots, practising my goosestep and trying to assemble my features into the most Aryan-like countenance.

Where am I going, you might ask?
Well, if the title wasn’t enough for you, I’m off with my spousal unit, my parental units and my bunch of dependents, to Vienna, Austria, birthplace of the Evil Moustached One. Don’t be too impressed, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump away from London. A flight from NY to Miami is about an hour longer. So you could say Vienna is practically in my back yard.
Sure, you could say that.

I’ve actually been there before because said spousal unit’s sister lives there with her Hubby and Kiddies. Why she lives in a place where a yarmulke is like a 6 inch bull’s-eye is beyond me; but she’s happy. Anyhoo, her first born child, the first ever grandchild, the veritable princess of our family is getting married. YAY!!!

Right now, our flight to Vienna has been delayed for forty five minutes and my father has gone and done the unthinkable. He has taken off his ‘I-am-a-Jew-trying-not-to-look-like-a-Jew’ hat and is sitting behind me with his Yarmulke du jour; a huge soup bowl number in assorted shades of crimson (which I am slowly turning).
I am pretending I don’t know him.
All the rest of the passengers are looking at him as if they can’t believe there are any of his kind left.

Oh, darn, Dad has blown my cover. Arghhh!

The truth is my cover was blown already because of the quantity of sandwiches and nosh that have been whipped out two seconds after we boarded.
Before we even reached our seats.

My mother, who is sitting next to Kasamba Papa is hissing at me because she knows that I am writing this instead of writing the prerequisite gramen necessary for a functional Sheva Brochos.
Boy, she can be scary sometimes.

Meanwhile, my offspring are the ultimate in British refinement and deportment as they cruch their Bamba and shout out with their mouths full to their cousins who are also on board this flight 740 to Vienna, Austria.
Ahhh. Such nachas.

Finally we take off, just to be greeted a few minutes later by a bit of turbulence which sees mini cans of soda flying about with assorted foodstuffs. The pilot has just announced that we can’t fly under the turbulence because the clear air-paths underneath us are occupied.

Okay, now the ping has announced the removal of the ‘fasten your seatbelts’ sign; there is a mass exodus towards the toilets situated in the rear of the aircraft.
Oh my, I hope the plane doesn’t tilt.

It didn’t and we arrived safely.
Upon arrival In Austria, we were welcomed by an immigration officer, who if she wasn’t named Helga by her parents should immediately dash to change her name by deed pole, tout sweet. She really looked like a Helga; built like a piece of furniture with an expression to match.
I don’t even want to think what she does in her spare time.

Now as opposed to the British who enjoy queuing (lining up in a line or a line like lining up), the Austrians take their queuing very seriously. So much so, that even a line to go to the ladies room is as quiet as library. Where, if you so much talk to your sister in law, who is also on line; everyone looks at you as if you just announced that the Fuehrer wore women’s undergarments.

And no one smiles.
Maybe it’s because of defective dental work- but maybe not.
Maybe it’s because their teeth are fluorescent yellow from smoking like chimneys- but maybe not.
Maybe it’s because there may not be anything to smile about in Austria- I think we might be onto a winner here.

But then again I might just be jumping the gun because we haven’t
left the airport yet.

(Okay, Mom, I’m writing the gramen now.)

Monday, October 16

The Kiddie Never Sleeps

Somehow, none of my kids were ever big into taking naps.

It’s not surprising considering that before I became ancient, I too could never sleep in the daytime. I vividly recall, (eeringly as if it was yesterday) naptime in my kindergarten days and how all my peers would doze off into la-la land while I would toss and turn this way and that and count the pitted holes in the ceiling tiles.
It was pure torture.
Because of all my twitching I was never zoyche to be the ‘wake up fairy’ and wake all the children up with the special wand designated for such a purpose.

The problem with not taking a nap in the middle of the day means that most likely, the child in question will not be able to stay awake into the evening.
Umm, not necessarily.

My youngest child, my 4 year old, Cucumber, follows the pattern of the children who preceded her. A perfect example stands out of her MO this Simchas Torah. My parents and my favourite Uncle came to spend the second days of Sukkos with us in sunny London.

My mother begged me not to take Cucumber to Motzai Shabbos Hakafos, saying that Cucumber was so exhausted that she couldn’t see properly. She takeh looked as sleep deprived as a junior doctor and in as good of a mood. Ah, but I knew my child and shlepped her with me anyway.

As soon as the time rolled around for her normal bedtime, she flourished. Her pallid cheeks suddenly sprouted rosy colour. The dark circles under her eyes rapidly gave way to sparkling eyes. Her metamorphosis was nothing short of miraculous!

Yes, she had reached her ‘second wind’. She was in her element, gathering all shapes and sizes of sweets while running up and down the stairs and giggling with her little friends. But the time had come when I had to go home to make sure everything was ready for that evenings meal, so I asked Cucumber if she wanted to go home with me, she looked at me with her eyes slightly dilated from her sugar high and said, “I’ll go home with Daddy, hello!”

(Oh, by the way, Cucumber ends all of her sentences with ‘hello!’ as if you’re supposed to know what she says, before she says it. That way whenever she speaks she’s just stating the obvious:
“Mum, I need a spoon, hello!”
“That dress itches me, hello!”
“I already ate breakfast, hello!”)

So she came home with her Daddy; bouncing in, still raring to go, at 11:00 at night.

Every evening when the time comes for her to go to sleep, she becomes cuter than any child could hope to be. She brings every song and every dance in her repertoire out for my viewing pleasure. She insists on being read a book and then proceeds to weigh the books in her hands to see which one is the heaviest. (Knowing this, I only buy books with about three words per page.)
She then needs; a drink, the bathroom, to tell something to one of her siblings, to do her homework (wha?) anything, but go to sleep.

Then the worst part is, she goes into a deep-rhythm breathing state where you think she is fast asleep. So you move to leave her bedside, and she sits up as suddenly as the villain in an old horror flick that you think has been killed. And my reaction is quite similar, because I always jump from shock.

I do the whole, ‘winding down’ thing, only soft lighting, no voices above a whisper, relaxing bath time etc… but it never works. She seems to be as wound up as a politician awaiting the limelight. I think she thinks she’s missing out on something if she sleeps. That’s the only explanation I can think of because it also accounts for the fact that she wakes up at the crack of dawn, regardless of what time she goes to sleep.

Who knows, I might even change her name to ‘Caffeine’.

But then, when I look at her long eyelashes at long last resting on her cherubic cheeks and her gorgeous little form finally in the deepest of sleep, I think,
‘Now what was all that fuss about, hello?’

Thursday, October 12

The Sukkos Stakes

I do not think of myself as a competitive person.
But there is something about this holiday that brings out a fierce competitiveness that apparently lays dormant in my nature for 52 weeks a year. Suddenly, Sukkos will role around and I become as cut-throat and bloodthirsty as Genghis Kahn in order to win the Sukkos Stakes.

Now let me make this clear, the Sukkos Stakes are different for men than they are for women. For men they are as simple as having the nicest esrog or remembering the most Ushpizim by heart.

For me, it’s not so simple.
On Sukkos, somehow I seem to need validation that I am the BEST.

Here in London the little kiddies go Sukkah hopping to each and every Sukkah accompanied by an adult. They will then look around the Sukkah and give the Sukkah a rating of one out of ten. Ten being the highest and most bestest score one could ever get.

Oh, the plight of these poor, innocent, gullible youngsters!

Do they not realise that I place the sweetest, most colourful and additive loaded nosh in the Sukkah in order to manipulate their sugar addled brains into giving my Sukkah a ten out of ten????

Do I have no shame when I foist ziplocked bags full of tooth putrefying junk food into their greedy, sticky little hands knowing full well that their eeny weeny teeth are decomposing as they are walking home????
Apparently not.

Every year I stoop to a new low as I get my ten out of ten rating.
Because nothing less will do.

Now here’s the second category of the Sukkos Stakes and this is the one with the fiercest competition. This is called the ‘Who Had the Best and Most Interesting Chol Hamoed Trip’.I don’t always win this one and some years, I have to admit, I don’t even make it to the finals!
But, I try.
They know up Above that I try.

Throughout all the years of shlepping to Legoland, Thorpe Park, Windsor Safari Park, London Zoo, boating on the Thames, indoor skiing, and open air ice skating, there remains the one outing that I just adored. It was different, it was unique and it bordered on the bizarre. It was my all time favourite jaunt which allowed me to waltz away with the title of:
‘Sukkah Queen 2003’.

It was an unseasonably sunny day for Chol Hamoed when I packed up my kids, assorted nieces and nephews and one sister-in-law into my tank and set off into the heart of London. We headed to Tower Bridge, where the famous magician David Blaine was being suspended in a glass box overlooking the River Thames. By this time he was already as starved as an attention crazed debutante because he sort of didn’t take any food with him into his temporary glass home.
(Hey, temporary home- Sukkos- co-inky-dink ya think? Naa)

Anyhoo, we arrived and I immediately saw David, clear as day, raise his famished hand and wave to ME. He picked me, Kasamba, out from the crowd and he waved at ME.
I was so overcome by my emotion and his good sense that I screamed at the top of my lungs, “I LOVE YOU DAVID!” to which he feebly waved at me again.

It was only then I noticed the silence.
And when I whipped around I saw my kids groaning in embarrassment, my sister-in-law rolling her eyes and my nieces and nephews laughing their heads off.
I also noticed the throngs of Chassidim that were staring at me as if I had just taken a roasted pig on a spit out of my handbag.
They stared at me for a full five seconds (microwave seconds- loooong seconds) and then resumed giving their kids Bissli while watching the hungry man in the glass box.

Okay, so it wasn’t a completely original idea but seeing as most Chassidim don’t enter the Sukkos Stakes (because their Rebbe would probably frown upon it) –
I WON!!!!!
(Jumpstart Mexican wave and Aborigine victory dance)
Yeah, that felt good.

But unlike the Nicest Sukkah Competition where you get your mark right away, with Best Sukkos Trips you will never really know just how amazing your Sukkos outings were in this world. But lucky for us Jews, evidently after our 120 years are up, videos of our lives will be viewed by us and everyone who knows us in the afterlife (sans popcorn). It is only then that I’ll know if I indeed had the coolest Chol Hamoed excursions by how many ‘Oooohhhhs’ and ‘Ahhhhhhs’ I’ll hear.

In the meantime, I just do what I must.

Enjoy the rest of Sukkos!

Sunday, October 8

Sukkos in Casa Kasamba

As soon as I woke up to wind that whipped the hardy British evergreens into teetering bobble headed frenzies, I knew I not in Kansas anymore- Sukkos was coming.
Hoo Ya!

Sitting in huts in pseudo-tornado winds and torrential rain just to show how hardy and tough we are, Heaven Forbid we should have it unproblematic and pleasant and enjoy Sukkos out under the spring skies- oh no! We have to show that we do the Sukkah thing even when it’s not easy.
Tell me about it.

After all, wouldn’t it be just fabby-abulous to celebrate Sukkos at the same time as Pesach when it really happened, and then we could have all the matzoh mess out back in the Sukkah.
It would just be so much simpler.

When I was first married, we lived in a house with a built in Sukkah roof in the kitchen. It sounds like it should have been easy but it wasn’t because it was situated right by the oven, so that every time we needed to open the oven, everyone had to stand up and move the table. So, we started to build a proper outdoor Sukkah every year.

Now here is my issue:
Because the laws of England have been made by a bunch of inbred alcoholics, apparently people can move into any empty building and claim ‘squatters rights’. Therefore, every Sukkos morning I require one of my kids to open the Sukkah door for fear of finding a family of Armenians claiming ‘squatters rights’ in my Sukkah.

Every year I used to decorate my Sukkah with different themes. Not one of those themes ever included any one of Mrs. Santa’s dangly earrings, as I like to call the brightly coloured tinsel decorations. Anyhoo, as our family got bigger and our guest list expanded accordingly, we built a Sukkah that could accommodate a maximum of eighteen people.

The theme I chose for this Sukkah was the Far East.
I did this because Chazal tell us that after Avraham Avinu gave everything he had to Yitzchak, he again bestowed gifts on the children of Kesura. If Avraham gave everything he had to Yitzchak, how could he still have something to give to Kesuras offspring? The answer is of course, that knowledge is the only thing you can keep giving away. So the children of Kesura took this wisdom of Avraham’s and set out to the Far East.
And so, my Sukkah commemorates this.

Nah, not really- but it did sound good didn’t it?

Remember how I told you how Mr Kasamba travels to the Far East ALL THE TIME???
Well, I made all the decorations far Eastern because I just want him to feel comfortable in his Sukkah!
And you know what??? I never have to change the theme because the joke never gets old! (snort!)

So what that I have décor that might say,
Buddah loves me’?
It just compliments all seven hundred ‘Mizrach’ signs that my kids have brought home from school all these years!
Well, east is east!

Remember; Confucius says
‘He who sleeps in open Sukkah in London, sure to get wet’

Tuesday, October 3


Erev Yom Kippur, doing Kapparos with ever civilised money, I was shlepped down memory lane….
(Cue smoke machines for flashback)

There I was, all of sixteen years of age.
Naïve, fabulous, but most of all… vain.
I would wake up at the crack of dawn to blow dry my naturally curly very long hair into the perfect coif that would make Dynasty cast members cry with envy. It didn’t take much, just a hair dryer and a half a can of gravity defying hairspray (well, it was the eighties!).

So, there I was, my hairspray standing at attention at my side and my hairdryer poised in my left hand to begin my daily ritual. All was at it should it be until… I turned the hairdryer on. Suddenly, it started to make noises as if it was being strangulated and then it started to sputter and cough. The last thing I saw as it burst into flames were feathers, (I kid you not) singed feathers, spewing forth from my now toasted hairdryer. Then I knew, I knew who the culprit was as surely as my shoulder pads were six inches high.
I screamed, “MAAAAAAAA” and my mother came a running, a guilty look on her face.

You see, my Hungarian mother had acclimated herself to the American way of life, except there were some things she missed from the old country, especially when it came to the ritual of doing Kaparos. My mother, felt that it wasn’t the ‘real deal’ and therefore skipped over to New Square every year to buy herself a live chicken just clucking to give away its life for my mothers sins.

According to Mom, that year they gave her a particularly dirty chicken that my mother felt was just too dirty to shlug Kaparos with. So, and get this, she put the funky chicken in the sink and washed it using my favourite shampoo and then she used my hairdryer to blow dry it.

She tried to explain that the chicken looked amazing and all fluffy and she didn’t realise that the feathers had got stuck in my hairdryer but I was too busy moaning, ”Nooooooooooooooooooo”. So that morning I went off to school looking more vague than Vogue, but my mother shlugged Kaparos with a gorgeous looking chicken.

So every year, my mother goes into Yom Kippur having swung a chicken over her head like a voodoo high priestess.

And the men in my shul, in their Kittels and canvas sneakers with their collective halitosis that could fell a forest, were like angels yesterday and all was as it should be.

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