Friday mornings are busy here in New Jersey. But it’s not me flicking chickens for Shabbat, as I became accustomed to seeing my mother do. My chickens are usually nice and clean when they arrive, and often even more than dead. They’re usually already cooked!
And my challot have reverted back to bakery-supplied, after a couple of years of unsuccessful tries at home baking and investing in two bread machines. Somehow the ones from the bakery always taste better and don’t get stale as fast either.
That leaves me with ample time to have pre-Shabbat conversations with the family, aka the favorite people, in Israel and America and other places as well. We often speak during regular weekdays, but Friday mornings are an absolute must-do. Cooking, or buying, is finished and time zones accounted for (trickier some weeks than others), so this week we spanned Herzliya and Jerusalem, Hawaii, New Delhi, and the East Coast from Florida to Massachusetts. All these calls are notable and often include Facetime with delightful people like our newest, the very handsome Elchanan, and next newest, the beautiful Sophie, plus the three adorable older boys, one of whom, Noam, will be getting his own siddur before you read this. (Mazal tov, Noam! We are so proud.)
Our pre-Shabbat conversations vary according to the news of the week or day, reeling today around the untrustworthy and truly despicable UNWRA. We always do find agreement in our politics, as disturbing as events actually are.
Among the regular chatterers is my sister Janet, a very long-time Israeli, 57 years and counting, living in Herzliya. She’s a retired English teacher, continuing to work professionally as a solidly booked English tutor. She’s always been a tad more liberal than I, but not the force-it-down-your-throat type. We usually disagree until ultimately we agree.
Then there’s Josh, our second grandson, now out of his Tzahal uniform and spending a year or so in New Delhi on assignment from his job at a high-tech company in Central Israel. His and Shosh’s new house was being built when they started their temporary assignment but certainly construction will be long delayed, with no thanks to Hamas whatsoever. A new house is a creature comfort that is clearly on the back burner these past few months. Josh and Shosh are not complainers, and they understand reality.
Then there’s Aaron, our grandson, now in the Miluim and back at yeshiva after spending two years in Tzahal, including a too-long (for me) stint in Gaza. He’s very brave — but, no surprise here, I am not! Aaron has already been to several heart-wrenching funerals of his contemporaries, fellow soldiers who, like Aaron, felt safe and committed to winning this terrible war against terrorism.
I used to warn Aaron about friendly fire, which has recently taken a tragic toll in the Israeli army. He always responded with a statistical analysis of why it was so unlikely and how well protected from it he and his fellow chayalim felt. He was like a surgeon giving odds. There’s a less than 1% chance of a terrible event happening. Hard to clarify that less than 1% still is someone’s tragedy. We use odds to make us feel better, to comfort us. But they don’t change the numbers.
I once asked my oncologist about odds. His answer resonates until today. He said your odds of beating this cancer are 0% or 100%. There’s no in between.
And there’s Sarit, our granddaughter, a recent graduate of the Frisch School in Paramus, studying at a seminary in Jerusalem, very comfortable in the homeland, having spent lots of concentrated time there. She’s generous with her time so we see her often when we’re in the Holy City.
There are also all the locals, scattered up and down the Atlantic Coast. We like to keep in touch with them all. And we are pretty much in complete agreement where politics, both Israeli and American, are involved. We share our opinions of the former American president, now running for office, considering him to be a criminal, and truly having not a single good thing to say about him, including wondering what Melania has on him since she’s disappeared totally from the scene. Must be quite the prenup. If that Mona Lisa would only speak, the stories she could tell! And also fretting angrily about Bibi, whose son Yair basks in sunny Florida instead of just as sunny Gaza. Really! How dare he!
So all of us have lots to talk about, here in America or there across the sea, even if it’s often redundant. We’re good at criticizing, but that’s easier to do than coming up with solutions. But you should know that we are really and truly motivated to problem-solve, to evict Bibi from his office, laden with Sara’s jewelry and his ubiquitous very expensive cigars, and to finally get an American Supreme Court to stop being replete with gonifs in search of billionaire handouts like jetting around on private planes and paying the judges’ bills, and to start acting like they are at least a little bit supreme. Are any of these things likely to happen? Is Clarence going to recuse? Is the cow going to jump over the moon? In my lifetime? Exceptionally doubtful.
How about in my sister’s? Well, she’s already 81, so that’s also unlikely, even though she demonstrates with the rest and best of them.
But does normal living continue? It’s fair to say that Israeli kids, in the midst of a terrible war, are hearing much too much about brutal deaths than they ought to be. And what does that mean in terms of their childhoods? It turns out it means a lot, even if somehow their own family escapes unscathed. Does it matter that the country is attending funerals, day after nightmarish day? And let’s just say it’s the time for you to celebrate your bar mitzvah. What then? Is the greater good best served by your minimizing your big event? I’m not so sure.
As it happens, we have a bar mitzvah coming up imminently, the son of our wonderful nephew and his talented wife. She’s a pediatrician and now studying genetics. He’s a business tycoon, and remarkable son to my sister. Their son, the young man-to-be, has already mastered his Torah portion and his haftarah as well. His clothing will, no doubt, be Israeli casual. So he’s ready. Except for one thing: will there, and should there, be a party to celebrate his coming of age?
This is a tough call, one in which sensitivity is imperative. He lives in a land at war, where every day new deaths are announced, and families are torn apart by unspeakable tragedy. How does one feel hiring a DJ at such a fraught time in the country’s history? How indeed!
But in a scant few years the new man and his friends also will don military uniforms. Should they not have their moments of commemoration, not in anticipation, God forbid, of sorrowful times, but in celebration of milestones which they will always remember with joy? Happiness can often be fleeting. Isn’t it almost obligatory to grab onto it with jubilation?
Parents need to make these decisions. Nothing is incorrect. If they want a garish, overstated event, they can go for it! If they want nothing beyond the shul service with a simple kiddush, that’s fine. In the case of our family’s event there has recently been a decision made, a decision made in light of the family’s traditions and history, and with hopes and prayers for the young man and his parents and siblings.
In honor of his late Sabba, who fought for his country numerous times, and his late great-uncle, who fought and died for that same country, in loving tribute to both of them, this bar mitzvah will be tastefully and simply and beautifully commemorated. It will be a celebration of life and Jewishness and achievement and family. We look forward to being part of that wonderful event with the hopes and prayers that it will be the forerunner of many more such happy times in the family’s life and story. And we hope to join in the joy as we wish the newly proclaimed young man l’chaim and mazal tov!
And may all of our celebrations and conversations be meaningful as they return to the routine. May we discuss color schemes and music and photography and invitations and be finally finished with talk of war. And may Israel know peace forever more.
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of five. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was! She welcomes email at email@example.com