The Usual Suspects of… The Recipe Groups

This time of year is one holiday after another for us Jews, and as such, it’s also one meal after another. When a festival runs into Shabbat, we get a three day whammy, which gives us at least 6 meals to prepare for, and for some over-eager beavers, 9+.

The holidays are a time for family, so it isn’t unusual to have crowds of 20 or more around your festive table, and unlike the stories I’ve heard told of Xmas dinner, there is no set menu of Turkey and Cranberry sauce to keep to, so the opportunities are endless.

If there is one place to people-watch this time of year, it has to be the Kosher recipe groups on Facebook, where if you’re lucky, and very very quiet, you might catch sight of these rare breeds in their natural habitat.

1. The Substitutor

This poster pops up on most dessert threads, mainly to make you feel really bad about yourself. Questions include: ‘Have you ever made those brownies with apple sauce instead of sugar?’ (No, I’m not insane) and ‘What do you substitute the margarine for in that kugel?’ (More margarine. it’s a margarine kugel. Go away. )

Sometimes they just pop in to lie to you, with such classics as ‘I made that omelette without eggs and it tasted completely identical’ as well as ‘My kids said they loved the beetroot and courgette muffins more than the chocolate chip ones.’ Fool me once, shame on you.

2. Mrs What’s Missing?

Just when you’ve made the executive decision that everyone is going to have cereal and milk for Friday night (and like it) here comes Chaya from Brooklyn with her “menu”. It’s not a restaurant, Chaya.

Guys I really need help!! So far, I have Challa and home-made dips, chicken soup with all the trimmings, BBQ schnitzel, honey roasted chicken, salt beef, broccoli and potato kugels, sweet and sour rice, popcorn cauliflower, 3 salads, and then for dessert it’s ice cream, salted caramel brownies and a pavlova. I feel like I’m missing something, what am I missing? Oh ps: it’s just me and my hubby thanks.

Chaya? Chaya! Pick me! I know what you’re missing! It’s about seventeen more humans, and a nap.

3. The Amnesiac Shopper

Now I know I went to the grocery store this morning, and I know that I picked up a whole lot of food, but for the life of me, I’m not sure what any of it actually is. Does anyone recognise this odd looking vegetable? Or know what I can do with it that will feed 7 adults and 4 kids including a 13yo who doesn’t eat vegetables?

What about this cut of meat? I think it’s called number 5. Or maybe it was 9. I’m pretty sure the Butcher said it was pickled. or maybe he said it should be pickled. Did I remember to buy pickles? Does anyone know where I left my car?

4. The Amateur Masterchef

Some of the photos I see on the recipe groups are pretty impressive, from Challot that look bakery-bought but probably taste better, to chocolate babkas that are practically food porn, as well as incredibly fiddly pastry and meat concoctions that I would never be able to achieve.

But sometimes, no matter how much you call it herb encrusted salmon with an assiette of wilted tender stem garden produce, it’s still gonna be fish and green veg. And whatever joy describing your lightly browned beef on a bed of puréed chickpeas gives you, it’s still the mincemeat and hummus that takes five minutes to make and you discovered at your mother in laws house. #sorrynotsorry

5. Harbinger of Doom

With love to all the over achievers out there, I still have to give a shout out to my people. You know who you are. (Hint: you put jacket potatoes in the slow cooker for one of your Rosh Hashana meals, but forgot to heat the baked beans. Yeah, there you are.) You probably head to the recipe groups out of sheer voyeuristic pleasure, or maybe to ask whether that turkey roll you forgot about at the back of the fridge is still good to eat. If you’ve done the latter, you’ve probably met the Harbinger of Doom before.

“I made chicken soup 3 days ago, can I still eat it?”
“Absolutely not, bin it.”

“Oh. What about this potato kugel, it was defrosted about a week ago?”
“Are you kidding? Definitely not. Throw it away.”

“How about this yoghurt? The best before was just yesterday..”
“Do you want to make your kid sick? Why risk it?”

“I opened this cheese earlier on, but I left it on the counter for half an hour and-“
“Throw it away. Use gloves. Can’t be too careful with bacteria.”

Jesus lady, how about this sealed packed of biscuits? Is it okay if I eat these while I try to recover from my new food phobia?

But don’t worry dear reader, you aren’t alone. Check the comments for dozens of hardy women who are on your side, and are guaranteed to have shared their war stories to make you feel better.

I regularly drink milk that’s spoiled and I’m still here to tell the tale!

I once ate a schnitzel that I found behind the couch, and I’m FINE.

I don’t even bother cooking the meat and my kids haven’t complained yet! Granted, they are kind of quiet.. Chavi, you ok honey?

5. The Shameless Brag

A relative of the humble bragger from the online mums forums post, when this person moves over to the recipe groups, she has no need to be coy. Posting photos of the oddest brags, from a fully set Seder table a fortnight before Pesach, to six dozen chocolate cakes “all ready for the freezer!” She must live in the Ice Bar, she has so much space to cook ahead of time, and she will absolutely post the recipes for all of these “delish treats” as soon as she has a spare minute. Which is good, because the F’s on her post are getting a bit out of hand, and the natives are getting restless.

bragging recipe post.png

Have I missed any of your favourite recipe group regulars?

My View from Behind the Curtain

There’s a lot been written lately about feminism and Judaism, or at least-about women’s roles in our faith. While I wouldn’t say personally that I feel invisible behind the mechitza, I do struggle with women who are blocked from getting the most out of their orthodoxy, especially where it feels like it comes down to custom or tradition rather than Jewish law.

Losing a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I don’t grapple with it daily, but it has the power to move me to tears with literally no notice whatsoever, at any given moment. It’s scarred me and shaped me in ways I probably couldn’t describe, and some ways I can.

Judaism has guidelines for losing a parent. And to me, it’s one of the most beautiful areas of Jewish law. From the second a parent dies, their family has rules to follow. Don’t leave the body alone, call the chevra kadisha, say the shema prayer.. the list of laws and customs goes on, from those first impossible minutes until years later, when we light a memorial candle on the anniversary of their death. And the intensity of those rules lessens as time goes on.

The first week, your every waking minute is filled with people visiting you sit shiva, while for the month, the restrictions of new clothes and luxury are enough to keep you aware of your loss but also able to forget for small periods of time, get on with work and friendships and daily life. The entire year, you exclude yourself from social gatherings where you might not feel comfortable, but your life begins to move on, often without daily reminders of your status as an avel. To me, it felt like God was walking me through the process of grieving, not letting me sweep my feelings under the carpet, but also helping me put myself back together without drowning under the weight of it.

But there were moments. Moments where I still feel like my grief would have more bearing, more status somehow, if I were a man.

Standing by the graveside at my fathers funeral, they asked the men to step forward to take part in an incredible mark of respect, to help fill the grave with earth. My family, my friends, people who knew us all my life came close to take a spade and begin the labour. When I asked to join in, eager to honour my father this last time, I was asked to wait while a groundskeeper ran to fetch something. When he came back, he brought with him a small trowel and some ready turned earth in a bucket. They offered me a token, a ceremonial act, like the action of lifting a shovel was going to be too much for me. Like they couldn’t see that the act of not lifting it would be far heavier to carry. Needless to say, I took the spade. But I don’t know that other women would know to insist.

During the week of shiva, men need a minyan, ten men to join them in prayer, three times a day. It means that your home is filled with people, pretty much all of your waking hours. We take breaks, for meals or for rest times, but the company is necessary. It surrounds you with stories of your loved ones, with people who care about you. It’s healing. As the only person sitting shiva, I didn’t need a minyan, so we didn’t always have one. The mornings, I slept in until visitors arrived to see me, and in the evenings, I had to leave the room while the men prayed, standing in the kitchen or the hallway, wondering why I felt shut out, if the reason they were there was me. I chose to say the Kaddish prayer that week, and they chose men to say it with me, to make it more “appropriate”, some of whom I had never met before, turning around at the sound of a woman’s voice standing out from the crowd

I didn’t have to say Kaddish at all that year, and so I didn’t. I asked someone I love, someone who loves me to say it for me, and they did. They went to shul every day, three times a day, and did the action of a grieving child for me. They said my words, my prayer, because even if I had chosen to go, orthodox Jewish law dictates it would be better if a man was doing it too. Some would say that a man needs to be doing it too. That even if I take the nineteen years we had together and pour all of those feelings into every word I say, they don’t really count.

Each year now, on the anniversary of his death, the yartzeit, I head to shul and I say the Kaddish prayer, quietly, respectfully behind the mechitza. If the other men notice a man who has yartzeit, they might offer him a special mitzvah, leading the service or holding the Torah.

Me? Me, they don’t notice at all, and they wouldn’t have anything to offer me even if they did.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the logic and the reasoning behind the laws for women and men. The way it would be impossible to get to shul three times a day with small children in tow, the way we believe that a woman’s spirituality lends itself to needing less outward signs of our faith, the rules of modesty and how they manifest in clothes and song and power struggles. Some of these things I agree with, others less so. But I believe in the package of orthodoxy, and I feel like I matter and have a role to play. But when it comes to grief, I suddenly get a glimpse into how other women might feel, not just in mourning but in prayer, in community, in education. Like their voice is being silenced, like they have nowhere to stand, like they don’t count.

All I know, is that my father meant to the world to me, and I to him. But in a million small ways, Judaism tells me that I’m not quite enough to honour him all on my own. I need a mans help to do that to its full potential. A brother, a husband, an uncle, hey- any relative will do. So long as they’re male.

It’s one small area of Jewish law, and you don’t even consider it until it’s thrust upon you. I hardly think about it any more, just once a year, when I stand behind that curtain. Not invisible, but not quite visible enough either.

Bah Humbug

It’s that time of year again, and while I love Chanukah as much as the next Jew, it’s impossible to get away from the Xmas spirit. Winter sales, goodwill to all, and chestnuts available at every corner shop, what’s not to love?

Well, a few things actually. And maybe you’re all too close to see it, but with all the respect in the world, let me give you a run-down of the things I would change if my household kept Christmas.

1. The menu.

I think it’s fair to say that the whole of Xmas day centres around the big festive meal. For thousands of years people have been gathering around the dinner table and breaking bread together to celebrate this pinnacle in the Christian calendar. But who came up with the ideas for the grub? On what other day in the year would anyone choose Turkey, the arguable worst meat of choice to be the centrepiece of the meal? Beef, Lamb, Duck, even Chicken is preferable to Turkey any other day of the year. Let’s call a spade a spade here, Turkey is dry and hasn’t got much flavour, hence why you’re spending 2 to 3 hours preparing stuffing and sauces to accompany it. To top it off, although no one’s arguing with roast potatoes, does anyone eat Brussel Sprouts at any other meal the entire year? Let alone the weird tradition of Cranberry sauce, a foodstuff that just doesn’t exist whatsoever outside of December 25th.
Lastly, every meal should be complimented by the grand finale of dessert. And dessert will never ever mean fruit cake. I don’t care what you call it, or how much alcohol you add to it (although it probably helps), a Xmas Pudding is not dessert. Give me chocolate cake, give me ice cream, even something citrus-y would round off the meal well. But why are we pretending that Xmas pud is in any way appetising? In my house, it would be Haagen Daaz and sticky toffee pudding, maybe with a pavlova on the side. Extra points for the fact that none of those options takes months of my life to prepare. If I wanted to spend 2-3 months feeding something in small increments daily, I would buy a hamster.

2. The decor.

Love the Christmas lights, in fact I think we should add that to Judaism, a festival where we decorate the outside of our homes with ostentatious flashing lights and various plastic accompaniments. I can just see my home now, with a rendition of the 10 plagues of Egypt on my front lawn, and a replica of Mount Sinai on the roof. Fab.
This brings me to Christmas trees. Excellent idea I would even up the ante. Let’s bring all of the outside in, creating an indoor Xmas garden, complete with flowers and grass (astro-turf if need be) and why not woodland creatures, so cold at this time of year and in need of some Xmas spirit just as much as you.
Yes, I’m joking. But it is kind of weird that you bring a tree into your living rooms. Doesn’t it make a crazy mess of needles and twigs? Doesn’t it brings in bugs and the like? Do you have to buy a special spray for that? So many questions.

3. The list of demands.

This one is actually pretty serious, as I’ve read that the average household will spend £868 on Christmas this year. Nearly a thousand pounds on one day of the year, that just can’t be affordable for 95% of the UK. And meanwhile your kids are sitting at home writing a letter for Santa? A magical being that flies in, drops off their hearts desire and leaves again without so much as a thanks for him or his hard working elves [AKA unpaid midget workforce]. (Seriously, does anyone’s kids write thank you notes to Santa?) Doesn’t the whole thing seem a bit entitled? From the outside looking in at least, it seems like the last way I want my children to consider the presents we work hard to provide for them. Maybe it’s a little Scrooge of me, but I like to think that I would use the opportunity to talk to my kids about wants and needs, earning and spending, and ask them to think of one or two things they really want, which Santa won’t be bringing, but their hard-working parents will be.

4. The Xmas season

This is a tough one, because we all enjoy some of the elongated Xmas perks, such as Starbucks red cups which appear Nov 1st, or Xmas songs on the radio from what feels like mid-summer. But when I try to get an email response at work on December 3rd, and get told that the company are “winding down for Christmas”, it can really make me feel peeved. Similarly, spending the whole of December attending various Xmas lunches and functions with the people I anyway see and speak to every single week can be a little grating. Cmon boss, just give us the afternoon off if you’re trying to make us feel festive. It would probably cost you less.

Any other holiday traditions that you would scrap?

santa

 

 

Wobbly Wednesday (or ‘What I Saw Wednesday’)

By far the most common question I get asked when I mention that my son R has a visual impairment, is “How much can he see?” Although it’s an innocent question which seems simple enough, there is no clear answer for a child (or an adult for that matter) with Nystagmus, the condition my son and I were both born with, which causes an involuntary eye movement. While sight will vary from person to person, the far more interesting fact about Nystagmus is that it also varies depending on situation, stress levels, schema and mood. As part of Wobbly Wednesday, I thought I’d write a little about our own ‘out of the box’ visual experiences with R, many of which were just as much a surprise to us at the time, even with my own experience with Nystagmus, and bringing up a VI child.

So here we go.

Five times my son could see less than expected. (Yes, even with his glasses on!)

1. As a baby, it was nearly impossible to tell whether R could see in any given situation, but once in a while it was extremely evident what he couldnt see. One day at a lunch with friends, one of the guests was speaking, and I noticed R crawling towards the radiator, which I knew was on, and hot. Not wanting to be rude and leave the table, I uncovered an extremely sparkly charm bracelet I was wearing, and dangled my hand down by my chair legs, at his eye level, moving my wrist so that the sunlight and faux gems could attract his attention and move him away from the heater. I was less than a metre away from him.
R, around 14 months old was sitting up, facing in my direction, but however fiercely I moved my arm, he had absolutely no idea anything was happening. Not knowing I was wearing a bracelet, or that I wanted his attention, with no auditory cues, I may as well have been doing nothing at all. I realised how important my verbal cues had been to him up until that point.

2. I am told all the time what a surprise it is to find out that my son has a VI. He runs, jumps and plays like any other 4 year old boy. Thankfully, he has no fear. But once in a while, this can backfire. On holiday last year, he was almost 3, and we were visiting Hershey’s Chocolate Factory in Philadelphia. The room was large, and it sloped downwards on a walkway and then turned to the right. I told R he could run ahead, and warned him that the floor wasn’t flat, an issue of depth perception that we take for granted, but a person with Nystagmus would find it hard to notice. He took a couple of cautious steps, got a feel for the gradient, and ran down the slope to the end. Before we knew it, he was lying flat on the floor, after running into the metal handrail at the end of the room. it being parallel with the wall, he had not noticed that it wasn’t flush with the wall, another issue of depth perception, and had underestimated how much space he had to go before he needed to turn right. This kind of situation, where he feels like his eyes misled him, can be extremely distressing for a child with Nystagmus, and can cause temporary fear. Completely of his own accord, for the rest of the day in this unfamiliar place, he walked alongside us and did not run ahead.

3. We all know the slightly unnerving feeling of coming across someone in a mask or full costume and not knowing who it is, relying on their voice to give them away. A visual impairment makes this so much more complicated. The Jewish holiday of Purim, (think Halloween for a good VI comparison) means that many familiar faces are suddenly covered. While this is obviously difficult, what you may not expect is how much as small a change as a funny hat or glasses, or a design drawn in face paint can confuse someone who is partially sighted. Last year, R joined in with his friends in dressing up, and was unable to recognise people he saw every day and knew well, because of such simple additions to their attire as a sparkly hat. Friends of mine who knew his condition cottoned on quickly, stooping down to his level and announcing their name when they said hello, (a sensible thing to do with R even in a usual situation) but many people rushed past waving at him, or just said hi breezily, forgetting what a struggle it was for him to recognise them now that they had pink hair, or a huge red nose. By the end of the day, he was more exhausted than I’ve ever seen him, and he slept for close to 15 hours that night.

4. It’s okay, he can sit right at the front.  Another reassurance I get a lot from friends and family. But sitting close up does not help in every situation. (Although it is obviously better than sitting far away!) One good example is the first time we took R to a child’s birthday party, once the kids started graduating from tea and cake and onto entertainers. I sat R directly under the nose of the entertainer, and sat next to him so I could point out anything he might miss. For an adult, the misdirection and horseplay is obvious and predictable, but we forget that our children are seeing all of this for the first time. When the entertainer held his wand behind his back while it flip flopped all over the place, complaining bitterly that he couldn’t find his wand ANYWHERE, looking out into the crowd of children laughing and pointing behind him, my R looked at me blankly. All he could do was follow the entertainers eyes and instructions, which were telling him nothing about what he should be focusing on. The children’s raucous laughter only made him feel left out, which to be honest-he was. Quick tricks with lightning fast fingers meant nothing to him, and fiddly characters looking out of windows and hiding back down again, met with cheers and whoops from happy kids, but confusion and stress from my own. After 5 minutes, he started misbehaving, and after 10, I took him out of the room. His speech delayed, I was moved to tears when he turned to me and said clearly, “I just couldn’t see that.” Nowadays, friends may be offended when I show up late to those kind of parties, bringing him for birthday cake and music rather than the sit down and watch portion of events. But it’s not something which can be solved by him sitting at the front, or another common answer, getting him stronger glasses.

5. Another common struggle is when something isn’t where it’s ‘meant’ to be. R, like I’m sure all VI kids, likes to make his visual field easier to navigate. That means that every single thing has a place. If it isn’t where he left it, even if it is 3 inches to the right, it may as well be in Siberia. As a toddler, he would wait for all the other kids to finish playing with a particular activity at nursery, so that he could put it all away and put it back in it’s right place, for fear of not finding it later. He will talk to me sitting on a particular chair, run off to play, and then run right back to the same chair to show me something else, stopping suddenly about half a metre away from it, because it takes him that long to realise I’m not there any more. If someone appears out of context, where he doesn’t expect them to be, he will not name them until they name themselves. If a person is where they ‘should be’ however, where he expects you to be, he might be able to wave at you from across the room, or maybe even respond if you motion him to come here without words. That doesn’t mean he’s being naughty the next time he ‘ignores’ you, it just means you caught him knowing what was expected of him or in a situation which he found visually easier. Maybe it was a familiar place, maybe he already walked past you and took note of where you are or what you were wearing, maybe he simply slept better the night before and it’s helping his sight today.

There is clearly no easy answer to “How much can he see?” but I don’t mind you asking. I know that it’s a complicated response, and I appreciate anyone who tries to understand it. The only comments I don’t know how to respond to are “Oh wow, he saw that Aeroplane!”  or “I’m sure he recognised me from across the playground!”  because yes, sometimes it may seem like I’m making a fuss about nothing, or that his vision is as good as any other kid in specs that you’ve met before. And some days it is. Which is why most of the time I love how no one has to treat him any differently from his peers. And I’m so proud to know that you can be happy for all that he can see and achieve. But if you happen to come across him on a day where he needs that bit of extra help, I’d really appreciate you knowing how to do that too.

Wobbly Wednesday is today! It is a day of fundraising for better understanding, support and research of Nystagmus and it’s sufferers.
To help, you can Text WWNN14 £ and the amount you want to donate to 70070 or visit https://www.justgiving.com/nystagmusnetwork/donate

The Lying Game

A Jason manford comment made me think recently. (I know, it’s surprising.)

The quote was a version of the following: That when an adult asks what he thinks happens after death he says he doesn’t know but probably nothing. When a kid asks the same, he can’t help but talk about heaven and angels and fluffy clouds.

And I was so grateful to have a faith. Not because I think I’m better than anyone else, or that my answer has more validity than yours, but because I believe in absolute honesty with my son. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things he doesn’t need to know. But if you listen to their questions carefully, most children want an answer you can give in an age appropriate way. When a three year old asks where babies come from, the answer ‘Mummy’s tummy’ will normally suffice. When they point to a man sleeping rough on the street and ask why he’s asleep on the floor, your child probably won’t question you further if you tell them he doesn’t have a house. And if they do question further? Well then that’s ok too. I’m comfortable to keep giving information layer by layer until their curiosity is satisfied. I see it as a privilege actually.

But I wouldn’t know how to begin to look a child in the eyes and tell them that there is nothing else but this world. To tell them that grandpa has been buried in the ground and that’s it. If that’s really what I believed, that this world is all we have, that our actions are meaningless outside of the eighty or so years on earth we are given, I would not only be at a loss for answers to my children, but I think I’d find it pretty hard to get out of bed myself.

Why do good things happen to bad people? Why does tragedy strike the most worthy of us? Why do some people have to live with illness, or poverty, or heartbreak? The answer that the world is random, that things just occur for no discernible reason is just not good enough, even for me, let alone for an inquisitive child whose favourite word is why.

But truthfully, if I COULD look myself in the mirror and accept those facts as random and meaningless, I would try and explain those beliefs to my children too. We want to protect our kids from painful truths, so we try and sugarcoat things. I get that. But in my world, where I’m not even that comfortable with the tooth fairy, (unless everyone concerned is very clear it’s a game, and it’s all done with lots of heavy winking and tones of jest to make that really evident) I’m not interested in putting an icing glaze on the big issues.

I saw a forum conversation recently about how to explain death to a 3 year old. The answers were really helpful to the original poster, but I read the entire thread in my usual judgemental way, and was left unsettled when I finished. “We told our son that grandpa lives on the moon.” “We told our daughter that auntie Beth is a star now, and then we chose a star for them to look out for so they could wave at her.” “We told our kids that their great grandma moved to Australia, which is really far away so we won’t be able to see her any more. After all, why upset them?” “Our twins were only just three, so we just told them that grandma was feeling too poorly to see them – after a while they stopped asking.”

I don’t doubt that these answers cause less upset in the short term, and maybe by the time they realise you are lying to them, (because that’s what you’re doing, it’s not sugarcoating, it’s lying) the immediate pain of the persons passing is over, or they can deal with it in a more mature way, but what of your relationship with your kids? Their trust in you to be able to face the hard situations with them as well as the straightforward or enjoyable? It seems to me that when the real answers come out, all your kids have learned is that death and dying is something to be so afraid of that it’s better to make up a story than talk about the truth.

For me, death doesn’t need a sense of magic or fantasy. And the truth is, it’s a matter of faith pure and simple. At some point, you have obviously come to your own convictions about what happens after you die, so why not have the strength to share these with your child? I feel lucky to believe in heaven, but I would still start this important conversation with the disclaimer that “no one knows for certain what happens when a person dies but I believe…” As long as your child leaves the conversation knowing that the person who is gone isn’t in pain, isn’t sad, and isn’t scared, so they don’t have to be either, what are you worried about?

The meaning of death and dying, along with illness, sex, and any number of other words, are our responsibility to teach. They are brand new concepts to our children. They aren’t inherently scary words to be afraid of. They are whatever we want them to be. Do we want them to be a lie? Surely it’s our job to teach not only the meanings of the words, but also the emotional responses to these facts of life, in a clear and open way without relying on the quick fix of deception.

That’s how I feel today anyway. Ask me again when my boy loses his first tooth and I don wings and a sparkly pen to creep into his bedroom and retrieve it.

tooth fairy

And a very happy Jew year to you, too.

It’s that time of year again, and my newsfeed is littered with pictures of apples doing honey bucket challenges, and smiling families wishing everyone a happy and sweet new year.

For Jewish people around the world, this year has been pretty much the opposite of happy and sweet, and the situation in Israel has been foremost in all of our minds. The homes of the three boys who were taken and murdered earlier in the year will have empty places at their tables this Rosh Hashana, and many Israelis are still living in fear. But despite this, I have received calls and texts, messages, emails and even the odd card through the door, wishing me and all the Jewish people all the best for the year ahead. And it makes me proud.

Earlier this year, a teen evoked a small media frenzy, and a slightly larger social media backlash to a photo she took of herself at Auschwitz while on a class trip. The world erupted with anger at the ‘Auschwitz selfie’ taken at the scene of so much horror and tragedy, and that she had the nerve to stand smiling with a face full of make up at the site of murder and genocide.

And I knew at once why she did it. (Or rather, I knew at once why I would have done it. As it turns out, it was some kind of memorial to her late father, and she had none of the intentions that I jumped to conclusions over, but it got me thinking.) So here is why I would be proud to take an Auschwitz selfie.

I was 19 when I visited Poland, in the year of mourning for my dear father, and a few months on from my year living in Israel. I had probably never felt quite so close to God, and if I’d realised how fragile and transient that stage is, I would have appreciated it a lot more. I remember being told that concentration camps were a place of death, and it was right to be sad and to cry. But cemeteries, they were a place of life, a place to rejoice. If these people had graves, with names on, with markers or even headstones, that meant that someone buried them. Someone lived on after them to remember them, to place the memorial, to visit and to upkeep it. We were there now, reading these peoples names, wondering and imagining about their lives, and then most importantly, going home to continue our own, because of them and others of their generation and their bravery.

A selfie at Auschwitz? A smiling face amongst all that terror and death? I see it as a flag, a symbol of our endurance. After all, there are no smiling selfies of Nazis. Just last week, a Nazi of almost 100 years old was prosecuted for being an accessory to nearly 300,000 murders. But we Jews? We are still here, we exist, we live on. We smile.

And as I look over my newsfeed, at hopeful and excited faces and witty cartoons, happily taking the place of the videos of Hamas insisting Israel are driven into the sea, calling for the death of each and every one of the Jewish people, I can see life everywhere I look. It is our ability to look to the future, to believe in the strength of our faith and our homeland, and to smile in the face of terror that keeps us united. More than that, it is what keeps us alive.

******

Wishing a happy, healthy and successful new year to each and every one of you!

“What’s worse than a Male Chauvinist Pig?”

” …A woman that won’t do what she’s told.” 

That’s an actual joke someone told me, before laughing raucously, in answer to my question “Would you call yourself a feminist?”

Until recently, I’ve never thought much of feminism. Not in a disparaging way, I mean it literally hasn’t crossed my mind that much. I suppose I’ve never noticed that much sexism taking place around me. I like to think that if I had been alive a hundred years ago, I would have been one of the women throwing myself under horses for the rights of women, but in all honesty I’d probably have been obliviously popping out babies chained to the kitchen sink like the majority of that generation.

We can vote, we can work, we have birth control at our fingertips, we can be presidents and prime ministers. (ettes?!) We pretty much have it all. Truthfully, I’ve always sighed at women’s lib organisations like Femen, and asked, what more do we want?

After all, Feminism in its original meaning doesn’t exist any more, does it? We’re not campaigning to be allowed a say in politics, or for control over our own bodies. In the western world at least, life is pretty good for women. We can have our babies and return to work. We can choose not to, and that’s fine too. We can have sex, and we can even enjoy it. Of course there is working woman’s guilt, mummy guilt, stay at home guilt, basically vagina guilt, but if we were really honest we would accept that it’s mainly self judgement, and that the rest of the world doesn’t care. Real issues still exist, the gender pay gap being a massive one, but for the most part we are doing pretty well for a gender who couldn’t even go to university when our grandparents were kids.

So if I’m happy enough to let other women deal with what’s left of inequality in the western world nowadays, what’s brought feminism to my attention lately?

Caitlin Moran (in her fabulous biography how to be a woman which you must all go out and read) discusses the kind of sexism that you don’t notice right away. You might leave a situation thinking, wow-they were a massive douche, and then it actually takes another few hours to sit bolt upright and realise that you missed the word sexist out of that description.

And since that written revelation, I’ve been absolutely bombarded by my own memory, to the point where I can’t believe quite how rife my life has been with hidden sexism. And that’s what I believe we should be fighting against.

Last month, I had the displeasure of spending a few hours in enforced company with an extreme male chauvinist. The kind you can’t help but notice. He had a mini fit when his son picked up a pink buggy to play with, complete with a baby doll inside. “Sorry” I just barely bit back from saying, “I didn’t realise you want your son to grow into the type of man who won’t care for his children or help his wife.” Later that afternoon, midway through an intellectual discussion between him and two other men, I joined the debate. After his look of shock dissipated, he continued talking, making sure to explain every word over two syllables with a condescending look in my direction and an apologetic head tilt for his superior knowledge. When I correctly answered the problem he had posed, he shook his head and basically told me I’d made a lucky guess.

I went home livid. How has he got to mid thirties without someone telling him he has a huge problem? And how can his wife let him behave that way without saying something?

Attitude. That’s what the war should be waged on. The next time someone is rude to you, stop and check the conversation. Is it rudeness, or sexism? More and more I can see that what at first glance was brushed off as ‘they’re an idiot” has a horrible undercurrent of latent sexism that maybe even the speaker isn’t aware of. Sentences like “what does your husband do?” before you’ve even asked about my own work, are not just rude, they are horribly sexist. And they paint a reality. A reality where the female intern gets the coffee while the male one assists the director of the company. A world where you plan an important speech for a meeting and two men stand up to leave before you’ve finished the first sentence. A world where it’s assumed you wont want to join everyone for lunch, so you’re left alone to answer the phones.

All of the above have happened to me in the last five years, and honestly, none of them are serious enough as stand alone events to even mention, without dealing with another sexist label, “the hormonal hysterical woman.” But put them all together and you have a quite frightening picture of a woman’s worth.

It’s easy enough to solve. And bear with me here because this is quite radical. Everyone has to see women…. as people.

That’s right. The same as any other person, male or otherwise.

It’s crazy! It’s insane! It will never work!

But taking every situation I’ve outlined above, I think it may be genius. Instead of my new favourite MCP noting that a dress and heels had joined the convo, if he had just noted that another human was now involved, the only change in conversation would have been a slight body shift to include me in the debate.

If I wasn’t immediately wife, but rather person, then obviously the first question would have been “what do you do?”

“2 interns? Flip a coin, decide between yourselves, take turns for gods sake.”

“Oh, a person is talking, I’d better wait to go powder my nose until they are finished. Perhaps I’ll even listen.”

“Ah, we’re going for lunch, every person is obviously welcome.”

I’m not for one minute downplaying the important work that feminists do for women, and I’m grateful every day for our ‘sister suffragettes’ that made my own freedom and choices possible. But the work needed nowadays is different, and I believe it is mostly down to menfolk to make the changes, although of course women can be just as guilty. To see women simply as other people who coexist side by side, separate but equal. To extend the same courtesy they would to any other person, by simply not being rude. To think about an unpleasant encounter in their day and ask themselves whether they would have made the same choices had a man been standing in front of them, or at the other end of the line.

So do me a favour, and pass on the message to the man in your life. After all, they probably will have stopped reading this by now. It’s written by a woman. 

sexism

That Moment

When you make her laugh and no one else could, when you see him smile across a crowded room before you’ve quite caught his eye. When you write that thought down, in fear of losing its memory, when you solve that puzzle first out of the group. How you interpret that comment as a compliment, so that no one gets hurt, how you change your mind last minute and save the day. As you remember why you loved your career all along, as you turn that final page and sit in silence. He grips your finger so tightly, that tiny person you gave life to, she asks you not to leave her alone as her breathing becomes shallow.

People like to talk about how small they feel, how infinitesimal they are in relation to the world, like that’s comforting. And maybe it is, in terms of a higher power who looks after such incredibly complex features of the universe as the tides and the planets so therefore cant have any trouble keeping you safe and happy. And maybe by feeling so small, so insignificant, your troubles become insignificant too.

But I prefer to think of those moments. That come up so rarely, but remind you, unquestionably, that you are not small.

You make an immense difference, at least in that instant, to another person. You have set into motion a sequence of events;. You’ve thought of something new, something real. That’s what’s comforting to me, the mind blowing realisation that you are one of billions, and yet you are one. In that moment, in your moment, you belong to people, you exist, and you matter.