But all of a sudden, I'm feeling nostalgic for my old guys.
But all of a sudden, I'm feeling nostalgic for my old guys.
Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber as two tough Jews in 'Defiance.'
Back in 2002, a dude named Adam Weitz wrote a jokey list titled "Films about Tough Jews." The list, in its entirety, was:
The Ten Commandments
Hardy-har-har. Well, I just found that list this year, and I'm retroactively ticked off about it. There are a whole lot more movies about tough Jews than that. For the purposes of this list, we're going to keep it to Jews who show physical toughness, not just mental or emotional grit.
The mention of a mob movie on a list of "tough Jews" might itself be a reference to the 1999 book Tough Jews : Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams. This is not the only book about the Jewish involvement in organized crime; another has the lovely title But He Was Good to His Mother: The Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters. (There are also The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America and even The Book of American Jewish Gangsters: A Pictorial History so you can tailor the costumes for your Jewish-mobster movie more accurately).
Movies about such tough Jews include the one about Bugsy Siegel and the one about Meyer Lansky. Jewish mobsters Moe Green (based on Siegel) and Hyman Roth (based on Lansky) appear in the Godfather films, too. A Jewish mobster movie that aims at the epic proportions of The Godfather is Once Upon a Time in America.
Jewish gangsters are even mentioned in the theme song to an Elvis movie. In "Jailhouse Rock," which imagines "the whole cell block" busting into song and "the rhythm section" was composed of "the Purple Gang."
The idea of "tough Jews" must include athletes, and they have been depicted on screen as well. There are boxers from Daniel Mendoza (back in the 1700s! No movie yet …) to Barney Ross and Max Baer (unfairly maligned in Cinderella Man). The Israeli victims of the Munich Olympics massacre included three weightlifters and two wrestlers. Speaking of the Olympics, Chariots of Fire features a Jewish athlete tough enough to compete in a race he didn't even train for … and, in a way, Ben-Hur becomes an athlete to compete in that famous chariot race.
Then there are the "tough Jews" who are soldiers and rebels. There are some movies about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and other movies about Defiance against the Nazis. There are several about the early days of Israel, including the Exodus from Nazi Europe and the American Jewish general who Cast a Giant Shadow over the founding of the Jewish State. There are even two about Operation Thunderbolt, in which Israeli soldiers achieved Victory at Entebbe over terrorist hijackers in Uganda.
Protecting the home front, Jewish police officers have appeared onscreen as well. Liev Schreiber plays a Chasidic cop on Fading Gigolo, Melanie Griffith goes undercover in a Chasidic community in A Stranger Among Us, and Andy Garcia investigates an anti-Semitic murder in Homicide (There is still room for a Jewish firefighter movie…).
It's harder to find Jewish characters in science-fiction, superhero and fantasy movies, but they are out there. While his heritage is not as well-known as his origin, Ben Grimm, a.k.a. The Thing -- a member of the Fantastic Four -- is Jewish. And I challenge you to find a tougher Jew than one who can stop a semi with his literally rock-solid shoulder.
Tough Jews -- in the heat of competition and on both sides of the law -- have been depicted time and time (and time) again in the movies. So if you want me to keep listing them, well, as the superhero says, "I could do this all day."
(OK, so Captain America, while he was dreamt up by Jewish artists, isn't Jewish himself. But he did do this.)
Andy in 2012
I was on my way to a work event and needed something to give me a little boost of energy. I quickly ducked into a CVS with the intention of grabbing a diet soda -- a little caffeine boost would do the trick. As I entered through the automatic doors, all the beverages were immediately to the right: Milk, then juice, then, here we go -- soda. I was in a hurry and quickly scanned my options, settling on Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi -- a real treat because most places don't carry it.
I turned around and headed for the registers, passing by the chips, cookies, and -- wait a minute -- out of the corner of my eye was the candy aisle. It's as if, they knew my weaknesses and placed it right in my path. I wasn't hungry, but somehow found myself stopping, turning away from the register and now walking into a sugary sweet display of all the most dangerous choices.
I fixated on the display of gummy candies, which I am convinced are singlehandedly responsible for putting my dentist's kids through college. I zeroed in on a bag of those fruit slices with the sugary topping glistening in the store lights. At $1.49 a bag, I contemplated whether it would be justifiable to buy the whole bag, eat only a few of them and then throw the rest away. I reached out and grabbed onto one of the bags, the plastic crinkling as I started to pull it off the shelf.
Then I said to myself,
I don't know if I need this right now. There will be other food at this event, so why do I need to eat this right now. The diet soda will give me the pick-me-up I am craving right now. Walk away now and go buy the soda.
I released the package from my grip, took a step back, a deep breath and turned back toward the register.
"Did you find everything you need okay?" said the cashier.
I am sure I walked out of there with everything I needed, but my mouth was still salivating at his question, because I was thinking about biting into one of those fruit slices. I was imagining how the sugar would have tingled on my tongue as soon as I put it in my mouth.
I muttered some kind of neutral response but I don't remember what it was. I was feeling too ashamed about my episode with the candy in aisle four. Sure I had stopped myself this time, but other times before that day, I had not chosen to stop. On my way out, I began to wonder if I ever came in for a diet soda at all, or if my subconscious plan was to sniff out the candy aisle all along.
Earlier this month, The New York Times ran a piece about the findings of a study of a group of contestants from the reality TV show The Biggest Loser. Admittedly, I have only watched the show a couple of times, but the premise is pretty simple: Extremely overweight contestants compete to see who can lose the most weight. The winner, after several months of intense dieting and exercise along with a host of other challenges, is crowned "Biggest Loser."
This study tracked contestants from Season 8 for six years after their dramatic weight loss to find that most had regained some if not all of the weight they lost on the show. Furthermore, the research found that major changes had occurred in each of their resting metabolisms after their extreme weight loss. In short, their bodies seemed to be working against them when it came to maintaining their dramatic feats of weight loss even more so than before they lost the weight in the first place.
Andy in 2005
I saw this article pop up in my social media feeds a lot; it brought on a strong reaction from many people. Over 2,700 people have directly commented on the article and I am sure thousands more have read it. I am not a scientist or nutrition expert, so I can't speak to the science behind what this research shows, but having lost over 100 pounds and worked to maintain that loss for over four years, I can definitely speak to it from my own personal experience.
If you read between the lines, this article tells the story of what draws us to the stories of these Biggest Losers. Those of us who want to see those pounds go away but feel helpless to stop ourselves from overeating find hope in the stories of the contestants on the show. If they can do it, so can we. We then find comfort in our own failures when we hear that even they couldn't keep the weight off. And finally, when we learn from the research that it's not them (or us) it's our metabolism that is to blame, that removes the guilt and shame from ever having this problem in the first place.
Sadly, none of this does anything to help. Whether we dive head first and guilt-free into a piece of chocolate cake or sit quietly in the corner, stuffing it into our faces fighting back shameful tears, we are still eating chocolate cake. If we eat enough of it, we will likely gain weight.
To be clear, I don't believe that eating cake or gummy candies or anything "bad for you" is a mortal sin, regardless of what may or may not happen to your body. I'm just pointing out that changes to our behaviors and habits must be a piece of changing our bodies. At the same time, I am also not interested in reducing what for me was a complex, physical and emotional journey to an oversimplified scientific finding, fad diet or the notion that walking away from the candy aisle made all the difference.
After struggling with food for almost my entire life, I have found that food issues and challenges with weight are immensely more layered and nuanced than a lot of popular media would suggest. I would love to see more articles that remove the stigmas around being fat, so we can have more honest conversation about how to take responsibility for eating our way to the healthiest versions of ourselves. If we can't talk openly about this then how will we truly know what we are losing for anyway?
"I hate you."
These are powerful words. They can ruin years of relationship development in two seconds. All the breakthroughs and trust painstakingly earned can all come to a halt. And yet what's the alternative? Just hold it in? Let it stew and get worse as the days go by? Hatred is such a strong negative feeling and seemingly the sign of a relationship doomed for failure -- disastrous if you express it and explosive if you don't.
To add confusion and kindling to this quandary, it happens all the time. Teenagers scream "I hate you!" (or other more flowery terminology …) at their parents. Spouses often feel if not express loathsome feelings toward their significant other after feeling despair, hurt, loneliness, or anger in their relationship. Yet sharing these feelings seems so counterproductive. Can't we just ignore it and get over it or maneuver around it?
Here's some advice, "Don't hate."
The great solution we've all been dreaming of: Don't hate! That would basically remedy the relationship-hatred-challenge … except it's not in touch with reality. We do hate, and we don't really have access to an internal switch that turns it off.
The Torah offers a beautiful insight into this emotional challenge. It doesn't simply say, "don't hate," rather it says, "don't hate … in your heart."
Our heart represents our private inner thoughts. It's kind of our internal chamber for thinking to ourselves. Using a bit of logic, this means if I tell the person I hate them, then I'm no longer hating them in my heart. So the Torah seems to be saying I should go tell them, "I hate you," right?
Well, the verse continues. "Rebuke your fellow…" Ok, fantastic, I'll give him a piece of my mind. But then it continues further, " …and do not carry on him a sin."
One could understand this to mean you can't blame the other person or put the fault on him. You might hate him with good reason. He did X, Y -- and Z too! But here comes the clincher: There is another side to every experience. You need to tell him that you are feeling so hurt, sad, angry, and sometimes even stronger negative feelings towards him (i.e. hatred). But you also need to tell him, "I don't understand why you did this to me. I feel inclined to blame you, but I'm told (by the Almighty) not to blame you. So could you please explain to me what in the world happened?"
That sounds difficult, and yes, it is. But imagine what it would do for you and the other person?
The Torah continues, "… Don't bear a grudge." How could I not bear a grudge? Well, if you followed the rules of sharing your inner pain and hard feelings (no hatred in the heart), without blaming the other (rebuke without carrying a sin on him), then you will be able to get over your grudge too. And best of all, you will find a newfound stronger place of love between each other, as the verse continues, "Love thy neighbor (i.e. this newfound friend) as yourself."
It's 4 p.m. on Thursday and the house is currently cleared of the 14 relatives who will crowd around the stovetop asking for seconds on matzah ball soup. But we've still got time -- time to make roast and tzimmus, matzah farfel and broccoli, sweep the floor, wash the floor (since its sticky from unattended juice boxes bulldozed with petite feet of the same size) and set the table. Mom needs time without foot traffic, so the house is empty except for her and me. But the hours slip seamlessly like the Jewish CD that's flipping from track to track.
Soon the twins will be back and there are calls for "Bubbie, Bubbie" and sounds of the fridge door yawning open and winding back. Suddenly, I remember the presents I bought for my 7 (and three-fifths)-year-old nephews. They "wait right there" while I claim the rectangle boxes from my bedroom. They stare at the name-engraved siddurs, exactly the same, except that one is beige and the other brown -- fraternal twins, like the boys.
As they stand, thanking me as per custom, I cannot help but imagine they're disappointed that my gift doesn't come with preprogrammed games and lacks an "on" button.
Someone says they'll grow into it. And I wonder -- at nearly 22 -- have I grown into it? Essentially, I've grown up with tefilah (prayer) -- that I know -- but have I become a grownup with tefilah?
Age: 5 -- feeling sneaky
It's so quiet that I can hear the fluorescent lights hum in the sanctuary. Kayla's laughing next to me. She's smirking -- her siddur's covering her mouth -- but I can see it in her eyes. I start to laugh too because her mom doesn't know we're mouthing the words "bubblegum, bubblegum" over and over. Her mom thinks were praying the silent Shmone Esrei prayer, and gives us an approving grin. We're rocking back and forth, mumbling our "bubblegums," trying to fit in. We laugh because we'll probably be rewarded with stickers on our Mitzvah Charts.
Age: 11 -- feeling high
I am one of the only girls -- and by far the oldest -- traveling round and round the bimah (stage) on my dad's shoulders. It's Simchat Torah, the yearly celebration upon completing the five books of Torah, and we're 40 minutes into the huddled parade. Dad shifts me every couple of minutes. With 75 pounds above him, the 52-year-old calls to my older brother for backup. A man hugging a Torah shouts a prayer and suddenly, I am tossed into the air squealing peals of laughter with other children. Together we look like sautéing vegetables, flicking and falling in a chef's skillet. Somewhere over the divider, my mother is covering her mouth, complaining that the ceiling fans are too low.
Age: 14 -- feeling bored
I don't know how reading from the Torah became a popularity contest, but it just does. We're eighth graders, and though we feel on top of the world, in years to come, we'll cover up these pictures and declare "it was my awkward stage." I'm a goofy eighth grader and look to entertain myself in the classroom we converted into a makeshift prayer space. I ask the teacher supervising services if she has a band-aid. She checks the desk drawers and declares that there aren't any. I ask if she can please find me one. She leaves the room. While she's gone, I go behind the desk and rifle through the confiscated items inside its drawers. I remove rubber bands and popsicle sticks, and stash them away inside the kangaroo pouch of my Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt. The teacher returns 60 seconds later with a band-aid and a "just in case" band-aid. I begin to craft a slingshot and shoot rubber bands over the mechitzah (dividing curtain). Popular kids laugh and I'm no longer bored.
Age 19 -- feeling the kedushah
Margin by annotated margin, my siddur becomes a thick enjambment of diary reflections and rhetorical questions. In my 6-foot by 4-foot turquoise text, blank spaces become as hard to find as downtown parking spots. I feel uplifted, inspired -- pure.
Age 21 -- feeling feminist-y
There's a circular sunroof just above the bimah that transforms the chem student reading from the Torah into a radiating Hercules. I imagine a ginormous hand reaching through the skylight -- like a hand unclogging a drain or King Kong plucking Ann Darrow -- and pulling him through the orb. Someone says a blessing, and I remember I'm supposed to focus. It is in this room, the upstairs sanctuary of Hillel, that I took an oath as a freshman to pray in daily, an oath I compromised to visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays as a sophomore and forgot entirely as a junior. Only the digital pestering of Facebook reminders brought me here on this Saturday morning. It's hard to ignore when there's a partnership minyan approaching, especially when you're friends with the people who organize partnership minyanim. It's even easier to get suckered into taking leadership roles. I approach the bimah while cursing myself for doing this. Grasp. Dip. Bend. Straighten. Someone spots me as I lift the Torah high, nearly touching the circle. I return to my seat feeling oddly empowered as the first woman to do hagbah (lifting the Torah) in Hillel during a partnership minyan.
Back to Pesach.It's the last day of the holiday and I'm waiting for Bubbie to finish breakfast so we can go to shul. I know this won't be quick. I grab a white siddur from the bookshelf and start from the beginning. After only 10 minutes of living room seclusion, I hear small feet patter and stop in front of me. I glance up and see one of my nephews. I look back down and continue, trying to convey that the proper respect for prayer is avoiding interruptions.
"Mom!" He shouts, though the kitchen is a few yards away. "Where's my siddur?" he asks.
She says it's packed in the basement, but he says he wants it.
"To use in the house or to bring to shul?" She calls back.
What comes next sends trills of pleasure down my spine.
"Both," he says.
I guess he found the "on" button after all.
Even though it seems like it was only a year ago, I'm about to have another birthday.
But this is no ordinary birthday. No, no, no. Not only is this the first birthday I'm going to celebrate without all of my baby teeth (I misplaced them on the bus), but it's also the fifth anniversary of my 24th birthday. So yeah, I'm going to be 29. I hope it will be a birthday to remember since I can't remember the last 28.
But fear not my generous Oy! enthusiasts, for I have a surefire plane to make sure this birthday is one for the books! That book being "The Book of Things Adam Kind of Makes Up to Make His Life More Awesome: Part 1." Journey with me.
I've never been big on birthdays. I'm usually normal size. But birthdays don't have the same profound impact on me as I've seen them have on others. I tend to care more for unique celebratory milestones, like when I celebrated turning 10,000 days old, or when I take a moment to enjoy some of the small things life throws my way. But this year, I'm quite looking forward to my birthday because it will be -- in my twisted logic -- the longest birthday I've ever had to perfectly accommodate the age that I will become.
You ready for this? Read on. Or read the title of the article. That's a dead giveaway. But then read on.
You see, I am fortunate enough to be going on a vacation this year to the most important state in the union, Hawaii, which is important because it helps make our flag look balanced. I mean, a 49 star flag -- that would be outrageous, egregious, and preposterous.
When I am in the Aloha State, a phrase which here means, "a quiet laugh," (Get it? A-low-ha. Heh heh … I'll see myself out) I will be celebrating my 29th birthday. I'll be doing this on May 12, because that's when my birthday is. I know because I was there.
But here's the thing, when in Hawaii the time zone difference from Chicago is 5 hours. So that means when it is 7 p.m. on May 11, Hawaii time, it will be 12 a.m. on May 12 Chicago time. So in a way, that is when my birthday is technically going to be starting. However, given that I am on Hawaii time, I fully intend to still consider the full day of May 12 -- all 24 hours of it -- as my birthday on top of the aforementioned additional time.
Do you see it? If you see it, that's great. You're amazing. You're basically mishpacha (family). If you don't, let me do some math for you so you can become mishpacha.
Let's break it down. My actual birthday is 24 hours long, but to everyone I know in Chicago, it will be starting five hours earlier since I will be in Hawaii. Mostly based on the fact that I know my Dad will be wishing me a happy birthday right at midnight Chicago time, it is safe to say that we can add five hours of celebratory shenaniganery to my normally 24-hour birthday.
So, 5 hours + 24 hours = 29 hours. And it's my 29th birthday.
I couldn't make this up. I couldn't have planned it. But if this was going to happen to anyone, it was going to happen be me. This blows the idea of a Golden Birthday (when I turned 12 on May 12) out of the water. Or my reverse birthday every year (again, given I was born on May 12, my reverse birthday is December 5). It's like some amazing, unbelievable, coincidence! (That's a previously written blog that came out last year -- on my birthday! It just keeps going!)
But when I had the realization that on my 29th birthday I would be having a 29-hour birthday, my jaw hit the floor. It was because I had tripped. But when I got back up, I immediately had to write this Oy! blog, which you are reading right now to immortalize my incessant dorkiness with the way I view the world and the fun moments that are hidden within the everyday ones. It was short. It was sweet. It took me about 29 hours to write ... it just keeps going!
Grandpa Max with Grandma Rita -- married 68 years -- circa the late 1950s.
My Grandpa Max passed away this spring -- on his 93rd birthday.
According to Jewish wisdom, dying on the same day that you're born is a blessing. In fact, Moses was said to have died on his 120th birthday. The Talmud teaches us that God calculates and completes the lifespan of a righteous person.
Jewish scholars say that righteous people are charged with a mission at their birth: To live their lives to the fullest potential and finish their mission completely. The mission ends on the very same day it was begun.
So that means Grandpa passed away on the exact day he was supposed to.
My grandpa -- my dad's dad -- was a mensch who lived his life with dignity and integrity. A kind, humble, generous, and gentle soul with the driest wit.
It was the way he loved and teased my grandma for 68 years.
It was the way he would interact with people at the deli counter, Grandma's beauty parlor, or the convenience store where he bought his lottery tickets, how he'd disarm them with a joke.
It was the way he would rarely sign his paintings, because he didn't care to take credit for his work.
It was the way he served in combat during World War II on the beaches of the Philippines and in the jungles of New Guinea.
When he returned to Long Island after the war, he met my grandma, set up by their two sisters who dreamed up their shidduch (match) at a canasta game. Max worked long hours in the family school supply factory in Manhattan. He would bring home for his two sons -- and later his four granddaughters -- notebooks and pencils with our names etched on them.
He never went to college, but he read voraciously, and seemed to know just about everything. Every day, my grandma would do the crossword puzzle, and any time she didn't know an answer, she would enlist the help of her Max. Whether it was a baseball player, an obscure politician, or even the name of a 1990s boy band member -- somehow Grandpa knew the answer.
In his free time, he loved to paint, especially portraits of the people he loved; Max would capture not only their physical likeness, but their spirit too.
When I'd come to visit, we'd paint canvases with his special acrylics; I'd get frustrated when my artwork, unlike Grandpa's, looked nothing like the person I was painting. But Grandpa would always tell me they were beautiful. I knew that they weren't, but I also knew that Grandpa believed that they were because he only saw the good in his granddaughters.
In the summertime, Grandpa and I would stroll along the boardwalk near Grandma and Grandpa's home in Long Island. We'd sometimes chat about school and friends and other times just walk in silence, smelling the seaweed and ocean air, and listening to the soothing crashing of the waves. For my grandpa was a man who was comfortable with silences, and who only spoke when he had something to say.
Each one of us have our own Grandpa Max, people we miss every day, people that paved the way for us, who live on in us forever.
My other grandfather, Harry, died two weeks before my second birthday.
Even though I didn't get the chance to know Grandpa Harry, he always held this superhero status in my mind and heart. After all, my grandma, my mom, and other people who knew and loved him would constantly nourish me with stories about him, about his decency and his moral compass.
A Jewish socialist, he immigrated to the States from Russia in the early part of the 20th century. Here, he met my maternal grandma and they bought a farm in Wisconsin, where they raised cattle, corn, two sons, and a daughter. He and my Grandma loved Israel and he insisted on investing their meager savings in Israel's early days. Harry would say, "If this is worth nothing, then our lives are worth nothing."
Grandpa Harry died 36 years before Grandpa Max. These last few weeks, since Max died, I keep envisioning my two grandfathers, who had been fond of each other back when my parents were first courting, reunited with each other now. I bet that they, along with my late grandma, are enjoying each other's company and making each other laugh.
Death has this way of making us take stock of our lives. When our loved ones die, in the best of worlds, their passing makes those of us they leave behind want to live our lives with even more purpose and integrity. Like Grandpa Max and Grandpa Harry, the really great ones inspire us to live our lives to our fullest potentials, to complete our own missions.