Monday, September 10, 2012

FORBIDDEN -- What my daughter saw in Jerusalem

Orthodox Jews are forbidden to watch television, go to the movies or museums where they might see images of naked men and women.  Women are forbidden to appear in public without covering their hair or to wear clothing that fails to cover their lower arms, their necks or their knees.

Men are required to wear what we regard as a uniform -- a yarmulke or a black hat, black pants, and a white shirt.

There are foods Orthodox Jews cannot eat and books they cannot read.  In other words, the secular world in its myriad dimensions is off limits to them.

What my daughter saw as she strolled through Orthodox communities in Jerusalem or joined the huge crowds at the Western Wall were hordes of Orthodox Jews, separate in dress and manner, carrying a prayer book in one hand and in the other hand, the whole of the secular world, their iPhone.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Menachim is the friend I made on American Airlines Flight 16.  I was traveling in Economy and there was an empty seat next to me -- for which I was grateful.  At the very last minute before take off, an Orthodox Jewish man claimed the seat. 

He was not someone I would have chosen as a seat mate.  I am a secular Jew, with a particular antipathy for fundamentalism in any form.  However, in the past few years, one of my grandsons chose ultra Orthodoxy as his way of life, which has troubled me very much.

A short time after the plane took off, without any thought, I turned to my fellow traveler and said, "I think it's beshert that I am sitting next to you."  He smiled and said that beshert (it's fated) usually refers to a mating situation and he didn't think I had that in mind.  Among other differences, my seat mate appeared about forty years younger than I am.

From that point on, Mechachim and I talked, laughed, and had drinks together.  To my amazement, I liked this man.  That flight was the start of our friendship.  We have talked many times on the phone.  He has visited my home and I have been at his home for a Purim party.  He has invited me to join his family at Passover -- although I was unable to accept.  He invites me to lunch with his wife.  We have shared beliefs and feelings about many things.  There is no doubt in my mind that we are friends.

My most recent experience with Menachim was when he brought me some special matzohs for Passover.  We sat and talked for a while about his faith, our children, and my feelings about my grandson's Orthodox lifestyle.

As he was at the door, almost to leave, I turned to Menachim and said, "If I weren't against your tradition, I'd love to give you a hug."

The next morning Menachim called me.  He said he had told his wife about my wanting to hug him.  Her response was, "You should have let her.  She's an old lady."


I first met Vivian in an exercise class.  I was impressed with her energy, her air of confidence, and a quiet presence I thought of as dignity.

I made some friendly overtures to her, chatting before class started and suggesting we go to coffee sometime; but it was clear Vivian was not interested in our getting together.  She always left with her friend Alice, a long-time friend.

Vivian left exercise class long before I did.  I was surprised when our paths crossed in a book club we had both joined.  Vivian had an extraordinary knowledge of modern and classical literature -- which we all appreciated.

Vivian was much more a member of the book club group than she had been in the exercise class.  I attributed it to the fact that, without Alice, she was much freer to interact with all of us.

Eventually, Vivian and I became friends -- as close as some of the friends in my past.  How was that possible, I asked myself?  We didn't grow up together; we weren't in the same class in kindergarten, or high school, or college.  We never pledged to be (BFF) best friends forever.

Vivian didn't know my story, my parents, and she didn't dance at my wedding.  We weren't professional colleagues.  She never met my husband -- nor I hers.  She never shared the intimate secrets of my life's various stages.

How, then, could I regard her as a close friend -- but I did.  We knew each other's older selves and we shared what it meant to grow old.

But, like many of my friends of my past, Vivian died, and I miss her.  She was my friend.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


There was a time not so long ago when women never talked about menopause and never used the word, even with close friends or even an intimate partner. They regarded it as a condition that was inevitable and generally considered that, once they reached menopause around the age of fifty, they were “over the hill” – especially in the area of their sexuality. With the flowering of the feminist movement, menopause came out of the closet. Books about menopause became best sellers and it was a popular topic on radio and TV talk shows. Even the pharmaceutical industry became involved offering new formulas to ease severe symptoms from which some women suffered. Gradually, women began to believe that there was life possible after menopause – even an active sex life. Recently, some of the attention focused on female menopause has shifted to men. The question has been asked, “Is there a male menopause?” In the true sense of the word, the word menopause means the end of menses and men do not menstruate. On a hormonal level, females experience an abrupt ending of estrogen, which causes many of the symptoms that women sometimes experience. Men don’t have this abrupt ending to the production of testosterone, the hormone responsible in the male and female sex drive. There may be a gradual decline over the years, but this decline doesn’t occur in all men. But like women, men do age as time goes by. At about the same age as women experience menopause, they start to lose some of their strength and vigor, lose some of their hair and they, too, develop wrinkles. Of course, exercise and a healthy diet may do a lot in both sexes to postpone signs of aging – their sex drive may diminish, but there is no scientific evidence that is tied to a decrease in their hormonal decline. But many men do report what we might label a mid-life crisis around the same time as women experience menopause. There may be many psychological reasons for this state – often tied to awareness that life is passing them by, they haven’t realized their dreams, the nest is empty, and life has lost some of its possibilities, its promise. Women, too, experience some of these feelings; but in recent years, many women feel a new sense of freedom and opportunity – that Margaret Mead described as menopausal zest. It seems to me that we are now into a New Age, that the mid-life crisis may still occur, but perhaps not in the fifties – but, with our increasing longevity, many years later. I often remember that a century ago women died in their late forties – they probably never experienced menopause and men’s’ lives were much shorter then too. With the possibility of an extended lifespan, we need to not only focus on enriching our personal lives but making the world a better place in which everyone can live a fulfilling life.

Monday, March 26, 2012


You have to be a cock-eyed optimist not to believe that at an advanced age your time on this earth is pretty limited. You can wonder why you've been allotted so many years, but after a while you take it pretty much for granted that lady luck is on your side and maybe you still have some days, months, even years ahead.

So how to use whatever time may lie ahead? Grandiose ideas emerge that involve places that you have never seen, but always wanted to, projects you still want to develop, the foreign language you want to learn, maybe Mandarin. There seems no end to the dreams. You tell yourself that you have the time, the energy, the resources, the support -- so why not?

But what really happens? You live each day pretty much as you have been living the days that have recently gone by. You don't go to Easter Island, you did go to California again, you don't write a book -- you write a piece for your writing class -- you just keep doing what you've been doing -- and to your surprise, you ask yourself, could anything be better?