Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
In preparation for my standup comedy audition, I surfed the Internet, trying to find some amusing up-to-date weekend headlines I could use for material. And there it was, a right-in-your-face lead article announcing “Safari Park Seeks New Homes For Hippos.”
That’s why I love Sky News. When they report about Israel, they always go for the jugular, or the funny-bone, whichever catches their fancy. Truth is, their political reporting sometimes sounds like an exercise in Israel bashing. But there’s no doubt, their human-interest features pack a lot of (animal) empathy. And that’s okay with me. As far as I’m concerned, Hippos are Israelis too.
The article itself is terrifically entertaining. Hey, who doesn’t love Hippos? I, for one, had no idea these heavy, lumbering animals were insatiable (except when it came to eating). The Safari surroundings must make great love nests and some Safari Ranger clearly has a sense of humor, having spiked the luscious greens they feed these behemoths with hippo-Viagra (Can you imagine the size of that pill?). If you read the article you’ll find that Israel is being overrun with those cute, pudgy, submarines and zoos all over the world are asking for our corpulent hippo Don Juans.
The article put me in such a good mood, I almost bought a Hippo myself, except you know how small Tel Aviv apartments are. On a good day I can barely squeeze both feet into my house. And God forbid the hippo should get the “urge”….
After waking up to such cheery, upbeat, news this morning, I admit I almost wish our papers in Israel would report more of these types of stories.
So remember you heard it here first, the breaking news of Sky: The Ramat Gan Safari in Israel is over-populated with Hippos. I’d like to think it has something to do with the water, or the Israeli climate (We are close to Africa). I know lots of people who will blame it on Zionism (for good and for bad). Me, I think the hippos are trying to teach us an age old dictum: Make Love Not War.
If that’s the case, where on earth do they keep the Men’s Safari?
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December 25, 2009 | 10:22 am
Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
Do you know how the movie theaters stay open around Christmas time, and there’s that usher at the theater cursing out those 2 people who just had to see a movie, thus preventing him from staying home for the Holiday? Well, I’m normally one of those 2 people.
What better time for Jews to enjoy a nice, quiet cinema outing than Christmas?
Except, in Tel Aviv, where the population is mainly Jewish, it wasn’t just me and my date watching AVATAR—there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. Thank God even the Ushers are Jewish, so hopefully they’re not resentful about missing the Jingle Bell Fiesta.
Apparently, the fact that the tickets to the 3D film Avatar are 6 shekel more expensive than a regular ticket didn’t deter the crowd. After all, if James Cameron could spend almost $500 million to make the film, we could spend 41 NIS to see it.
All week I’d been waiting to see the movie, but last night my Christmas Cheer all but dissipated. It’s not because of the movie, not even because of my date…
…it’s because 40 minutes earlier I had sent someone to the Hospital.
A homeless man had stopped me in the street and called me over. I nervously stayed my distance, trying to understand what it is he wanted. He had this strange look in his eyes – a mixture of pain and pleading – and finally managed to whisper “Call an Ambulance” as the scent of alcohol invaded my nostrils. Then he grabbed his chest, grimacing. I made the call, telling the operator he might be having a heart attack.
Suspicious of his motives, I kept a distance, but still waited with him until the ambulance came. Maybe I’ve been in the city too long. I was so wary that he might try to mug me or worse, that I never even asked his name, let alone sat near him.
When the ambulance came they put him on a gurney and as he passed by me he reached out his hand. I hesitantly took it, almost wincing. He brought my hand to his lips and kissed it, then leveled his gaze to mine and whispered “Todah, malach”, Thank you, angel. That’s when I saw the tear fall. And that’s when I realized he probably wasn’t having a heart attack…He was having a loneliness attack.
The movie? By the time I got to the theater I was ready for anything that would take my mind off what had just happened. Guilt, among other emotions, primed me for the hype that seemed to emplasticize the entire theater. This clearly was the movie of the century.
Truth is, I have to hand it to Cameron, he managed to build a beautiful, inspiring world, with magnificent humanoid creatures. I’m sure everyone seeing the movie wished they were chosen to be transported to the planet “Pandora” and bask in the ultra violet glows of the forest (although I’m not sure how good that is for you).
Cameron’s imagination combined with modern technology left an awesome impact on me. You don’t need the 3D glasses to feel impressed with the way he’s successfully combined real live actors on realistic sets with animated figures, in a make-believe world. In fact, the transition was so swift and seamless, I’m still not sure if it was a cartoon or a real-people movie.
Unfortunately, the movie didn’t live up to the expectations; the plot was okay (at best) and the action good (but not great). It was a little long and drawn out, and too many times I found myself wandering back to the homeless man who I sent into an ambulance—by himself.
AVATAR preaches the warning we’ve heard many times before: How we are destroying our planet, each other, and our moral imperative to do the right thing in life. You could practically predict every twist in the storyline, and the strong moral conveyed of “think green before there’s nothing left to live for”, had nothing too new to teach me. As far as I was concerned the movie was preaching to the converted.
Leaving the theater, I suddenly felt my money could have been put to better use, and made the monumental (for me) decision to find my homeless, loveless, vagabond.
My date, whom I barely knew, offered to accompany me to the hospital. But after 2 hours of searching, I never did find what became of him. Without a name it’s sort of hard to find someone in a hospital, unless you’re a cop or a detective. Hospitals are very stingy about giving out personal information.
Around the Holidays, people tend to get the blues, even those who have forgotten their families and whose families have probably forgotten them. If I learned anything from the experience it’s that people have to be more important than things, even humanoid things, even the-greatest-movie-of-the-century things. Connecting with someone who’s alone has to be more important than connecting with another escape mechanism, and that you’d better realize that if you try to go against the patterns you’ve been taught since childhood you’re going to feel very, very guilty.
I wish I could take back time, and board the ambulance with him. Even at the risk of standing-up my date, and missing out on Cameron’s out-of-this world Blue Entities.
Truthfully, if you just want to get away and enjoy a really good animated movie, AVATAR fits the bill. So go ahead and have a great time. Just don’t expect it to take away those Holiday Blues.
December 24, 2009 | 5:23 pm
Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
Just when we think we can breathe a sigh of relief, that after gorging ourselves with Hanukkah Sufganiyot for 8 days we can finally put the Holidays behind us for a couple of months, along comes one more.
Don’t tell me you didn’t know Christmas is a Jewish Holiday?
Truth is, I wasn’t so sure about it myself. It was one thing when I lived in Los Angeles, where it seemed to me that being American – Jewish or Gentile—was intertwined with celebrating some form of Christmas, whether just exchanging gifts, attending a party or two, or placing a “token” tree in the living room “so we’ll have someplace to put the gifts.”
But here in Israel, in Tel Aviv, I certainly didn’t expect to get a sled-load of invitations to Christmas Parties, many with decidedly Jewish themes. The invites promised eggnog, scantily clad female (and male) elves, and one party even had a mandatory dress code – yes, you guessed it – traditional red and green.
And why not? Watching the news this evening report Holiday preparations around the world, you sort of get caught up in the mad shopping sprees that are the hallmark of Christmas. Then they pan to the pristine snow covering the ground, reindeer pulling a sled, egg nog, a warm cozy fire – hey, how much joy can one person take? Check the Websites that list “Santa’s worldwide route” and yes, once again the little country of Israel is nowhere to be found. It’s one thing when CNN forgets about us, but a guy with a long, white beard has to pay us a visit…at least a chimney stop in Jerusalem.
No one likes to be left out. Especially when the rest of the world seems to be having so much fun! So is it any wonder we want to celebrate Christmas? Now to find that Jewish theme….
Actually, it’s elementary my dear reader: If Christ was Jewish doesn’t it stand to reason that Christmas was probably Jewish at one time as well?
Think about it: A short, stout man with a long beard and a hat, a warm smile but not fawning, clearly a charismatic figure, devout helpers announcing his coming, and of course he only visits the good for only the good can be rewarded.
No, I’m not talking about the Messiah – although a case for that could be made too. I’m talking about Elijah the Prophet, the spirit that comes to every bris and has a special cup of wine prepared for him at the Seder table (of course, he comes through the door). Is it just coincidence that the germatria (numerical value – dropping all the zeros) for the Hebrew word “Santa” just happens to be the equivalent of the combination of words Elijah and Seder as well as Elijah and Bris? Of course not.
Santa the eternal visitor and Elijah the eternal visitor have certain common traits. They both evoke a certain spirit; they both have long white beards; and of course, they both ride chariots in the sky.
See the Jewish link?
Just in case you don’t. As I note the red and greed colors decorating my invitations, I’m reminded of the Purim story, of how a person is supposed to drink so much that he can’t tell the difference between Haman, the villain and Mordechai, the hero, and it dawns on me: Why are the colors of Christmas red and green? Clearly, because a person is supposed to drink so much until he can’t tell the difference between Red – stop! and Green – go!
So, we might have thought the Holidays were behind us, but here they are again. Purim, Passover, they’ve all been mixed up, rearranged, and reworked so that the rest of the world can enjoy them as well.
‘Tis the season….
December 22, 2009 | 7:22 pm
Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
Many of you may have heard of the new law Israel is trying to pass: Alcohol to be sold only to those over 21. The logic behind this is that 18 year olds are still kids, and not responsible enough to drink.
The sad truth is that Israel suffers from a large amount of DUI’s most of which seem to be committed by people under the age of 22. The even bigger problem is that adolescents UNDER the age of 18 already consume large amounts of alcohol, since they can easily pick up a bottle at any corner makolet (grocery store).
The law still has to pass through the “Knesset”, but the motion has already created a buzz.
Until now, the legal drinking age in Israel was 18. And why not? After all, as soon as Israeli youth finish high school, we pack up our “young adults” and shift them off to the army. They undergo brutal physical training, psychological trauma’s and experience exceptionally harsh conditions. We expect our youth to be Zionistic and enlist out of sense of loyalty; to be gung-ho, protect and fight for their country. But the truth is, neither the kids nor the government really has much of a choice. Israel is surrounded by potential annihilators and our standing army is sometimes the only thing that keeps them at bay.
While in the USA most 19 year olds are living it up at frat parties, or sight-seeing Europe, Israeli “oldalescents” are government property. Their body, choices and everyday routine are controlled by the army for at least three years after they finish high school. A post-high school kid quickly learns responsibility and takes on the trappings of adulthood way before his U.S. peer. That’s a lot of pressure for an 18 year to be under, wouldn’t you think? So the question is, do you have to be sober to do it?
I remember what it was like for one of my brothers who fought in an elite unit in the army. There was a point during the first Intifada when he was fighting in Jenin, doing God-knows-what. I remember noticing his face beginning to change. Not only did he lose weight, his complexion darken from the repeated frost-bite, but he became withdrawn and quiet, and the sparkle in his eyes all but vanished. He reminded me more of a loan wolf, than my older brother. Thank God he survived his ordeal, but not without significant trauma.
In those trying times, when he finally came home for the weekend, I recall him going out with friends. Drinking seemed to be a major pastime, and an obvious way to ease the pain. And though it was only momentary relief, it was an opportunity to take the load off, just the same. A well needed, and earned, break.
On the other hand, I know a 16 old girl who recently played a part in a high-school student film. Her character was supposed to be that of a young girl drinking beer. Not knowing any better, she abided by the 17-year-old director’s instructions, and consumed a whopping 2 liters of beer throughout the takes.
She called me to the set, to see her in “action”.
“Don’t worry,” the toddler on heels reassured me, “I’m a professional. I can handle my liquor.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I told her, looking around at the table of teens shouting “Chug! Chug! Chug!” as the co-star was preparing to get into character. “Remember, you want to be a member of the acting profession, not a member of AA,” I admonished her.
“But Tiferet,” she argued, “don’t all professional characters have to get into the role? Mine is supposed to be a girl who’s drunk.”
“For pretend,” I reminded her. “Do you think actors always get high when their characters are supposed to be smoking a joint? You think they actually have real-live sex for a sex-scene?!”
“They don’t?” was her amazed response, and I like to think I saved her from a life of porno flicks.
“Hey,” a pimple-faced 15 year old called out, trying to impress me with his metal braced smile. “Wanta’ have a contest? I bet I could drink more shots of Arak than you.”
“I bet I can PRETEND to drink more shots of Arak than you,” I countered.
Now switch to Los Angeles where I once tried to buy some sweet kiddush wine for a family who had invited me for Friday night dinner. Imagine my shock when I was “carded” at the supermarket, and the bottle of wine confiscated.
“Believe me,” I told the teller. “If I were going to get drunk, it wouldn’t be on Manischewitz. This is just a gift. I can’t go empty handed.”
But she wouldn’t hear of it, and I was forced to buy Sparkling peach wannabe wine. Alcoholic content minus 20%.
And was I ever surprised when, in L.A., sharing a bottle of wine on a date, the pub-owner called out “Last Call”, and the crowd paid their bill and went home. I couldn’t get over how disciplined everyone was. I could never see something like that taking place in Israel.
Of course, you’re right, 18 is not the age kids should be drinking. And sure everybody’s worried about the scourge of drinking, both here and abroad. But unlike the U.S., in Israel it seems to make more sense to allow those who are risking their lives to control their lives, at least as far as liquor is concerned. After all, if you’re giving a kid a gun, dressing him in army fatigues, sending him on dangerous missions and telling him to kill or be killed, then I think when his R&R time comes it should be – drinks all around.
December 21, 2009 | 4:27 pm
Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
Israel breathes a sigh of relief as news of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work makes free) sign was found, although in 3 pieces. According to Krakow police, the sign was stolen for financial purposes, not as an act of neo-Nazism. Five suspects were arrested and further investigation is required.
Last Friday, people around the world were furious to learn that the sign above the Auschwitz Death camp was stolen. But in Israel this was a “sign of the times”.
Were the perpetrators attempting to erase traces of the Holocaust? Obviously, the theft of such an important historical monument was a statement against Jews, a provocative gesture insinuating that the war is not over, or an attempt to deny the war took place altogether.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) referred to the theft as a “critical failure of the Polish police.”
Germany was quick to raise their donations for the new Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, now holding at $87 million.
But wait a moment! Isn’t history – even Holocaust history – open to all sorts of interpretations these days? Could it be that there never was a sign over the entrance of the Auschwitz Death Camp? Clearly, much of the world believe that “if it didn’t happen in my lifetime it just didn’t happen!”
Take my younger sister, #2. After seeing “Inglorious Basterds” last week, I had to assure her that Hitler, Himmler and the rest of the Nazi vermin were not blown up while viewing a movie.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Tarantino, and I really enjoyed the film. But at the end of the movie my father, who’s mother survived two and a half years in Auschwitz, shook his head and smiled. “I wish those inglorious bastards had existed. I’d probably have grown up with grandparents if they had.”
There’s entertainment and then there’s history. When you put them in the hands of someone like Tarantino you get entertaining history which most young people treat as historical documentaries. These people believe what they see, and why not? It looked realistic to me.
So I have to wonder: Are we placing our heritage in the right hands?
Although there were certainly many heroes during the Holocaust, both Jewish and Gentile, the catastrophic outcome of this madman’s dream led to millions dead, despite the heroic efforts of some.
When my Grandmother went to see “Life Is Beautiful” she really loved the movie, especially the way the barracks were so clean and the prisoner’s outfits well-ironed.
“If only the Camps were like that!” she lamented. “By the end of the War we were lined up in the snow totally naked for the ‘counting’, the final decider of who would live and who would die. Oh, I just wish the war was like the movies.”
As the years go by, more and more misinformation about the Holocaust blurs our understanding of the facts. Yes indeed, facts are sometimes stranger than fiction, but fiction can make mincemeat of facts. Movies, as important as they are for documenting real life events, still have to add the spices of love, adventure, action, etc. to make their concoction palatable to their audiences. Right now, the Nazis are always the bad guys. But what if a wealthy Holocaust Denier (and there are wealthy ones) decides to make a movie showing how dedicated the Nazi soldiers and officers were to the Fatherland and how it was the Jews’ fault they were murdered? Sounds impossible? That’s what they said about the Holocaust in 1933.
When I went to Poland with my Grandmother who wanted to revisit Auschwitz, she showed me the hard, wood bed she and 11 other women slept in. She pointed to the spot where she last saw her Mother torn from her arms. She relived the terrifying memory of the cries and pleas of those gagging to death in the gas chambers.
We heard our guide explain about the conditions in the Camp, about the tortures, about the kapos, and the sadism of the Nazis. After the lecture and tour, my younger brother turned to me and said, “You know how the war ended, don’t you? Hitler killed himself.”
“Yeah, so the rumor has it,” I confirmed.
He nodded solemnly. “And do you know why he killed himself,” he asked me, daring me to know the answer, the answer he had learned in school, from a friend. “It was because the gas bill was too high. He couldn’t afford it.”
No, my little brother didn’t realize he was joking.
Or the time my young sister took a practical joke literally, and on Holocaust Day in school, publicly announced that Chihuahuas were the number one killer dogs during the Holocaust, responsible for the murder of many Jews. To this day she shakes uncontrollably whenever she sees a picture of Paris Hilton and her pocket sized dog in her purse.
As a child someone convinced me that Hitler was responsible for inventing cigarettes, in order to give Jews lung cancer.
It all boils down to whether we even want to know the facts. You can create as many Holocaust museums as you want, but if the crowds are all lined up to see a bunch of inglorious basterds destroy the Nazis single-handedly, then there may, God forbid, come a time when entertainment becomes a place of reality and the museums become a home for the discarded relics of the past, things like the sign above the Auschwitz Concentration camp.
And Chihuahuas will take the place of Doberman Pinchers.
And Hitler will have killed himself because he couldn’t “afford” to keep killing Jews.
And, darn, if only the Master Race hadn’t made those silly mistakes we’d all be demi-gods today.
It’s time to give the Holocaust a reality check… today.
December 20, 2009 | 7:30 pm
Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
I heard about it a little after midnight, Sunday Night. I was catching up on the daily online news, when one of the Israeli sites I normally visit, reported the tragedy: Britney Murphy had passed away a few hours ago from cardiac arrest, in Los Angeles.
My first thought is, this is Israel, what do we know? And immediately I set out to get the “real” news, from news sites across the globe. To my surprise, almost every online newspaper was reporting the same; the young actress died this morning after apparently going into cardiac arrest in the shower. She was 32.
I still can’t wrap my mind around it. How does someone so young go into cardiac arrest out of the blue? While I’m still trying to get over the shock, I’m even more surprised when I start scrolling down the “comments” random readers have posted, in response to the articles.
The news of the Murphy’s death is still “hot off the press” and already the rumors have begun. Although many do express their sorrow, most readers seem busy lambasting the mysterious circumstances of the young actresses’ death.
“Well what do you expect, eating a cucumber for breakfast lunch and dinner will do that to you,” one ‘fan” comments. Another adds, “so do drugs.”
In fact, hundreds of people seemed to have the time to post their thoughts on the speculated drug addiction, to the rumored Bulimia Murphy may have had.
Why is everyone awake now? I wonder, and doesn’t anyone have anything better to do than badmouth a young actress who has barely crossed over to the other side yet??
But I suppose that when bad things happen in America, we still feel it strongly in Israel. And when bad things happen to famous people, it strikes a cord with any average Joe.
A few days ago a friend of mine was trying to discourage me from continuing my acting career.
“Tiferet,” he had said. “Don’t you see how it always ends? The higher you climb, the bigger the fall. Don’t you see how all the big stars end up?”
I tried to argue that “making it big” did not necessarily mean “making it bad”. But it was a hard point to argue after he brought in the examples of Tiger Woods’ infidelity, Heath Ledgers mysterious death, Lindsay Lohans’ eating disorders as well as the many actors who continue to fight a drug addiction, if they haven’t already Over-Dosed. Even in Israel, many of my actor friend grapple with the challenges of “making it to the top”, and others simple can’t handle the pressure at the summit, and crack.
Is the price of Success worth it? Does it always have to end with Divorce, or Rehab or mysterious deaths? Are the Rich and Famous doomed?
I don’t’ know how Britney Murphy died. But I know she was much too young. By any standard.
I’d like to think her death has nothing to do with all these rumors. That her early stardom was not the obstacle of her mortality. That no one is untouchable, including celebrities. Simple tragedies happen to them too, and that’s all there is to it. I’d like to think that all the vicious rumors revolving around Murphys death have no basis and are nothing more than a tabloid stunt to sell more papers.
I’d like to think we lost a wonderful actress, but there was nothing anyone could have done to stop it. Who could predict cardiac arrest? She could never have seen it coming.
Or so I’d like to think…. So I think tomorrow, I just won’t buy the morning paper….
December 17, 2009 | 3:44 pm
Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
I’ll never forget my first Hanukkah in Los Angeles. It was beautiful. All the colorful lights, the festive atmosphere, people rushing to buy last-minute gifts, the backed-up, gridlock traffic – it all reminded me of Hanukkah in Israel.
True, instead of eating Jelly-filled doughnuts, people were stocking up on fruit cake, and the eight lights of the Menorah took a back-seat to the dozens of brightly lit globes that were strewn all over the Christmas trees, not to mention the metamorphosis of brave Judah and his mighty Maccabees into an elderly, deep-voiced, white-bearded guy in a red suit and his funny looking elves. But still, there was no denying this was a season of miracles, a time to rejoice and celebrate.
And though I knew that the Holiday being celebrated was not my own, I was caught up in the electric, festive atmosphere. I even remember buying Hershey Kisses with wrappers specially decorated for Christmas and getting a feeling I was living out an old childhood fantasy.
Like many Anglo-Israelis, growing up in Israel I always had the sense I was missing out on something. After all, there were all these great Christmas cartoons we always heard of, but never saw. And although I always loved my 8 nights of dreidle fun, chocolate gelt, and special Hanukkah presents, I couldn’t help but feel that waking up at 5:00 AM to HUNDREDS of presents piled high under a decorated tree was really the way to go. What wouldn’t I give to have my very own giant stocking stuffed with Candy.
America knows how to PR a Holiday. Most Israeli TV stations give a passing nod to the Hanukkah Spirit. But American TV shows inundate their audiences with “Holiday Specials”. The episode will normally begin with people scrambling for the last gift on the shelf, and then something exciting happens, and it’s a whole adventure. And finally, the episode ends with a peaceful image of a family snuggling together around the fireplace, eating “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” (which I thought was very brave considering the fire regulations in most countries), and watching the snowflakes fall.
So I don’t know how to explain what happened when, during my first Hanukkah in LA, after my chestnuts had burnt in the toaster setting off my fire alarm, and after I finished wrapping gifts in the traditional green and red gift wrapper, I found I wasn’t as ecstatic as I thought I’d be. Something was missing. Lighting an 8-branch Menorah without my siblings—the horde of eight— and my parents noisily celebrating with me, didn’t have the holiday feel to it.
Christmas or Hanukkah, all around me the world was shouting “Family!” and mine was MIA.
So you can imagine my excitement to be in Israel this year and join the familiar, ecstatic and chaotic setting awaiting me at the traditional family HANUKKAH PARTY.
“I want to use the blue colored oil! Give it to me!”
“No, I’m saving it. I want to light blue oil every night!”
“Fine, if you don’t give me the blue oil, I’m gonna’ blow your candles out as soon as you light them!”
“Rainbow! I want rainbow oil!”
”I WANT RED CANDLES AND YELLOW OIL!”
I’m doing my best to suppress my urge to start a bonfire on the living room floor and throw all the candles and oils in it, as what seemed like hundreds of siblings and their thousands of kids try to get their act together. It’s not enough that the boxes of multi-colored candles the youngest kids are using cause constant friction, some bright guy got the idea to create different colored oil so that the older kids can fight too. And, of course, if it’s new, Mom buys it.
Someone shouts: “Kids! Don’t run around the table you’re gonna’ knock down the Hanukkah Menorahs!” I often think that the fact there are rarely any Hanukkah fires in Israel is just another one of those unspoken miracles of the Holiday.
I sneak off to the corner to hide. The table that holds all the Hannukiyot is placed in front of our double-glass doors, facing the bustling street, and I don’t want any passersby to recognize me. We deliberately place the table there so we could do “Pirsumay Denisah”, publicize the miracle of one drop of oil lasting eight days. But right now, I feel the only thing we’re publicizing are logical reasons for “safe sex” or THIS is what you get…
“Tiferet!” My 3 year old niece shouts out to me from somewhere in the house. “Can you come wipe me?”
Three flushes later, I’m trying to make my way back to the living room, but the path is lined with Rug-Rat obstacles.
I stub my toe on a toy, manage to remove a thorn from my nephews tongue (don’t ask how it got there), and scoop up a straying baby, only to find myself face to face to face with two nieces who are busily picking each other’s nose.
“Do I have to remind you of what Saba always says?” I say sternly, yanking on both their fingers while the baby is trying to pull them into his mouth. “You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friends’ nose!”
“But we’re cousins!” the older one retorts, now trying to place an available finger in the baby’s nose.
“Fine, do what you want. I just don’t want you to end up like the kid I babysit for, who only has four fingers on one hand.”
My nieces look at me, a bit perplexed.
“It’s true,” I say solemnly. “The last time we saw his index finger it was up his sister’s nose. She warned him she was going to sneeze…. And, remember, you really need that finger to spin a dreidle with.”
After what seems like hours the entire family gathers in front of a formidable display of hand-made and machine-made Hanukiyot. The smell of Latkes and Sufganiyot envelop us, the nostalgic song of Maoz Tzur melodically strums my ear, and I’m basking in the warm glow of 16 Hanukkah menorahs burning bright.
Now this feels right, I say to myself.
I should really stop talking to myself. I think I give myself an “ayin harah” (the Evil Eye).
Suddenly, Moishie yells, “Hey! Look at that,” pointing. “The blue oil is almost reaching the ceiling!”
“My red one is up there too! It’s a Hanukkah miracle!” chimes in Chana.
Sure enough, the traditional bobbing point of light on the wicks of most of the Chanukiyot has somehow mushroomed into torches spreading their white hot fingers high up in the air. Two Chanukiyot are ablaze as fire flares from their wicks.
“What do we do?” I ask, alarmed. “The house will catch on fire!”
“But can you blow out the Hanukkah candles within a half hour of lighting them?” ponders Yitzi, our resident twelve year old scholar. He knows all the important laws of Hanukkah and even some that no one’s ever heard of.
My parents aren’t interested in a scholarly discussion. They’re frantically blowing on the two menorahs until they’re faces match the blue of the oil. They no sooner blow out one candle when it immediately explodes in a ball of light again, relit by the fireball of its neighbor.
“What’s going on here?” my father asks, amazed.
“It’s like those trick candles we had for my birthday!” shouts Tali.
“It’s the special colorful oil Bubby bought!!” exclaims Sauly.
My father picks up a bottle and reads Caution: Paraffin- Highly Flammable. Not to be used indoors. “Paraffin! Who bought paraffin for our menorahs?!”
“NOT ME!” fifty voices shout. Actually, only forty-nine. My mother is mum.
As all eyes shift to her.
“But everyone was buying it for Hanukkah,” Mom says sheepishly.
“Yes, but it can only be lit with special glass containers,” my father notes, a sudden realization dawning on him.
“Right,” my mother says. “That’s why I bought that small round glass menorah that no one’s using. So, where did YOU pour the oil into?” she asks accusingly.
Like the oil of the other menorah, my father turns a bright red.
“Step aside,” my brother, #7, declares. “I’ve been in the army, I’m trained for such situations.”
But he doesn’t succeed in blowing them out either. In fact, the flames are just growing bigger, and the room is filling up with smoke. Me and some other siblings join him, certain that our younger, stronger lungs can do the trick. But to no avail, and we aren’t even smokers.
In the background my nephew is crying, insisting we don’t blow out his Menorah, and that next time he promises he WILL share the oil.
“Let’s just pour water over it!” Shirley suggests.
“No, that’ the last thing we should do!” brother #3 argues. “Don’t you remember the French-Fry-Fire of 99?”
We all nod knowingly. Who could forget? We were frying French fries when somehow, for some reason, the pan went up in flames. We quickly poured water on the oil fire and BAROOM! the flames shot up into the air. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that my father was holding the deep-frying pan. Terrified, he let go and miraculously when the pan hit the ground the fire went out. He still has scars on his hand to remind him of that fateful day.
“Let’s just call the fire-department!” shouts #8, as the flames start to consume the menorah itself.
“By the time they come we’ll all be French fries,” someone shouts, causing some of the younger children to start crying.
Suddenly my Father picks up a burning Chanukiya and my older brother (the other one) picks up the second menorah and they race to the patio.
Our very own Maccabees.
Once outside, the immediate danger subsides, but the question still remains as to how to blow out these Hanukkah torches. The same brother tries stepping on the flames, and loses a shoe to the cause, although he manages to shatter most of the glass holders. My sister tries throwing sand on them, but that plan literally backfires as the Jerusalem winds cause the sand to fly in the opposite direction, and she spends the next ten minutes washing her eyes out.
It’s a group effort, but thanks to the resourcefulness of 12 yiddishe kops, and a series of wet towels, we finally manage to put out the fire.
Looking around, illuminated by the remaining 14 Menorahs burning, I’m grateful the story has ended so well, and every one’s safe and sound. I realize our Hanukkah is nowhere near ruined. After all, this was terrific entertainment for those who weren’t terrified, and I finally found my Holiday adventure, not to mention working up an appetite.
“Hey, don’t finish the sour-cream!”
“So don’t finish the Apple-sauce!”
“I need it for my art-project. Look! I melted a whole pack of Hanukkah candles onto a plate! Isn’t that creative?”
Christmas? Who needs Christmas? I’ve got lots of family, a Holiday filled with miracles, and—
“And you,” I turn to my boisterous niece, “Get your finger out of my nose!”
Yep. It’s good to be home. Safe and Secure.
Although I still have to wonder—Did anyone burn down a Christmas tree this year?
December 10, 2009 | 8:07 pm
Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
In acting school, you learn all sorts of techniques. But nothing really prepared me for the phone call I was about to make. Determined to get an audition that was supposedly “closed to the public”, I saw no choice but to call the producer and convince him it was worth his while to invite me to audition. I had to make this call before the Hanukkah vacation rush when he might go on vacation.
In business, this is called “Cold Calling”. In acting, this is called “potential suicide”, because many “big shots” of the industry don’t appreciate actors using unconventional methods to get their foot in the door. But I felt the casting directors would WANT to see me, so it was my responsibility to break down those doors.
I read somewhere that phone solicitors go through dozens (hundreds?) of “cold calls” to just get one successful sale. Unfortunately, I didn’t have hundreds of numbers to practice on. Just one. And I heard he wasn’t very nice guy.
So, after spending the past two days mentally preparing myself for the conversation (You’d be surprised at how many ways you can say “Hi, my name is Tiferet…), I was disappointed to learn that—when it came to actually calling – my fingers had a mind of their own and “did the walking” away from the phone. I was totally procrastinating. I volunteered to babysit my niece for an hour (any hour), agreed to go shopping with each of my eight siblings (only two took me up on it), and tried to stay out of my apartment as much as possible (which accounts for this blistering cold). Anything to buy me a little extra time to get my thoughts together.
“How about we play “Connect the Dots”? Or maybe we can do a puzzle together?” I plead with my niece, determined to avoid a replay of her headlong smash into the piano leg which left a red mark on her adorable cheek. I figured I could tell my sister I had kissed her there.
“Wheeee! I’m a dreidle!” she shouts in delight, as she spins herself around the living room. Round and round she goes and where she lands….“Nes Gadol Haya…“ she shrieks excitedly just twirling headlong towards the far wall. I chase after her trying to guard her with a sofa pillow to cushion her next collision. Seeing the pillow in front of her she turns and slams herself against my knee.
“Ouch!” I cry, empathizing with the sound of her collision with my knee. She cries for a second, then thinks better of it, and careens around the room looking for new dreidle adventures.
Who on earth made up the ridiculous tradition of spinning dreidles on Hanukkah in the first place? I don’t remember any mention of it in the Hanukkah story.
I watch as my niece abruptly stops and turns a pale shade of green. “Tiferet, I’m dizzy,” she says, and she sways towards me like a drunken midget sailor.
Great! I mumble under my breath, as she throws-up the ice cream, cookies, sufganiyot (Israeli doughnuts), and assorted M&Ms that seemed not to have melted in her mouth. She starts to shriek as I scoop her up in my arms and run to the bathroom. And we still have 8 more fundays of this.
For my niece, Hanukkah is all about fun. It’s a chance to trade in the celery sticks and high protein dinners for oil soaked latkes, and all sorts of goodies. And let’s not forget about the Hanukkah gelt (she won’t accept anything under 10 shekels), and of course, presents (she’s already asked me for a pet elephant—apparently hamsters are out of style).
But for those of us who need to maintain our day jobs and never experienced Hanukkah vacation as adults; for those of us who are spending the gelt instead of getting it; for those of us who gain 15 pounds over the holiday just smelling the sufganiyot—WHAT’S THE BIG ATTRACTION?
That’s it! I say to myself. Life’s too short (and Hanukkah’s too long!)! So, after equipping my energetic 3-year-old niece with a helmet, knee and elbow pads, and tying a small garbage bag around her waist just in case of up-chug emergencies, I pick up my cell phone and prepare to dial The Producer. But once again, I’m too scared to make the phone call. I’m afraid he’ll hang up on me, or get upset with me for calling him directly.
It’ll take nothing short of a miracle for me to finally make this phone call, I think to myself.
That’s when I realize what Hanukkah has going for it. Miracles. 8 days worth.
After the Greeks defiled the Holy Sanctuary, God made a miracle and saved the Jews at the last minute, and he gave them the miracle of finding pure oil when everything was profaned, and allowing the oil to burn for 8 days when there was only enough oil for one day, and….
But that was then. I get the feeling that back then God was in a much more miraculous mood.
How can modern men and women recognize miracles today? We all hope and pray for miracles, but when do we actually get to see them?
CRASH!!! My niece has twirled herself into the bookcase.
Here we go again, I think to myself, prepared to wedge her out from under the display of books that have toppled over her. But surprisingly, she shoves my helpful hand away, and digs herself out independently.
“I can do it by myself,” she says adamantly. “I’m a big girl!” and goes spinning away (I check to see that the garbage bag is still securely tied to her).
I’m reminded of something interesting I recently read. Although I know it’s a custom for Jews not to work during the first half hour of candle-lighting, I was surprised to learn that a specific emphasis is placed on the women being idle, and that there’s even a custom that women don’t work on the first and last day of Hanukkah.
Here’s an excerpt from THE BOOK OF OUR HERITAGE, by Eliyahu Kitov:
“The reason for particular emphasis of Chanukah observance on the part of women, is that a harsh decree had then been issued against the daughters of Israel: The Greeks ordained that every girl who was to be married was to be brought first to the Greek ruler.
Additionally, the miracle itself came about through the heroism of a woman. The daughter of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol was especially beautiful, and the Greek tyrant king desired her. She pretended to acquiesce, came to him, and fed him cheese dishes until he became thirsty. Then she gave him wine to quench his thirst, and he became intoxicated and fell asleep, whereupon she beheaded him. She brought his head to Jerusalem, and when the enemy commanders saw what had happened, they fled.”
So, I discovered the root of “wine and cheese” parties, as well as the fact that a major heroine of the Hanukkah story was a girl.
She must have been terrified. How did she have the courage to go through with such a dangerous plan? Had she failed, no doubt she would have been killed. Where did she find the inner strength and resources to kill the most powerful man in the country?
“Nes Gadol Haya PPPOOOHHH!!” my niece shouts gaily, the Hebrew words for A GREAT MIRACLE HAPPENED HERE, just as she crashes through the sliding door, her helmet shattering the glass to pieces. Oblivious to both the damage and danger, she quickly brushes herself off and resumes running around while I, mouth agap, keep looking for the blood that should be spurting from her, or at least a slight hint of exhaustion.
Had I been such a stubborn daredevil at 3? Were all children so care-free, nonchalantly smashing through glass without giving it a second thought?
At what point in life do we lose the courage to hit an obstacle, get up, and keep going? When did we stop having faith that everything will turn out all right, and let the red-eyed worry monster take over to fill us with dread and worry about the things to come?
I’d like to say I figured it all out. But I still have no idea what spinning dreidles have to do with anything, or how to recognize a miracle when I see one. But what I DO realize is that if oil once burned hot for 8 days, making a cold call is small Latkes in comparison.
So instead of trying to imagine successfully calling the producer, I close my eyes and imagine being Yochanan’s daughter in that terrifying predicament. Here I am, forced into marrying a powerful, horrible man, and realizing that my only way out is to kill him. I feel my heart racing and my hands tremble with fear as I picture my fingers grip the knife and—-
I open my eyes and smile.
My phone call doesn’t seem quite so scary, or even all that life-altering anymore.
Here we go, I tell myself, taking a deep breath and finally dialing His number.