Pins & Needles

Chrismukkah Bush, 2011: Dancing Snoopy is visible in the foreground

In the 70s, “they” used to say that kids who were completely forbidden from eating junk food ended up becoming the equivalent of cookie crack heads when left to their own devices later on. I was not forbidden from eating junk food but ended up becoming the equivalent of a cookie crack head anyway. And in today’s day and age I’m sure “they” no longer say that. My point is, growing up Jewish in my town meant growing up with Christmas tree envy. Sure, we had menorahs and mezzuzahs and clear, golden plastic dreidels filled with gelt.  But they didn’t cut the deli mustard.

Christmas trees just never struck me as religion-specific. Their German appellation — tannenbaum — is, after all, a common Jewish last name, is it not? To me, they simply symbolized the good side of winter, an impending 10 days off from school, the festive mood of the holidays, and most important, being like everyone else. The smell, the tinsel, the lights, the colorful balls, the popcorn strings, the personal significance of each little ornament … they were the most beautiful home accessory I could imagine. I fantasized for years about what kind of tree I would get in the unlikely event Jews ever started getting Christmas trees. And it was always the tackiest, most over the top tree — white plastic with shiny silver garlands, blue spruce, sparkly orbs, blinking bulbs, battery-operated ornaments out of which came dancing Snoopy … in short, I was a Christmas tree crack head.

So it was kind of a dream come true when I married someone of Italian descent and at long last had justification for securing an actual Christmas tree. (Of course, plagued by Jewish guilt, I remain compelled to refer to them as “Chrismukkah bushes.”) And as it turned out, the tree selection tradition in Keith’s family was just as I always imagined such an activity would be. On the crisp Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, everyone caravans to an idyllic-sounding tree farm in western New Jersey. We partake in mediocre free coffee and cider, plus homemade donuts and cookies, and we walk the land. Afterwards, we return to my MIL and FIL’s house to make turkey sandwiches on white bread. This year, it happened to be 65 degrees, my nephew peed in his pants and my niece was painfully constipated, but that just added to the charm.

There was so much for a Jewish girl to learn! I’d never realized that not all trees were created equal — I’d thought, ignorantly, that the choice was merely real or fake. Blue spruce had a lovely color but painfully prickly needles, for instance, while Balsam fir gave off that iconic piney smell.  And who knew?! You actually had to water the trees! Tinsel was a nightmare, as it shed out of control and left its DNA in random places until Memorial Day. Getting a tree topper to stay on? Not so easy. Those balls I had so admired as a girl? They broke if you breathed on them. (Perhaps this is not the case if you buy them somewhere other than Target.) Also new to me? The idea of bases and skirts, available in different sizes to accommodate whatever type of tree you had.

Selecting ornaments, however, was pure joy and came easy to me. I found the strength to resist my own tacky taste (sort of). I pinpointed a plethora of interfaithy options, including my personal favorite, a ceramic disc featuring Santa Claus, a Hassidic rabbi and the text “Oy to the World.” Kiki brought us a Jonathan Adler piece sign. Katy imported a Latvian doggie. We have crystal doves, sparkle snowflakes, silver pine cones and, I am proud to say,  a battery-operated dog house out of which comes dancing Snoopy.

But with the joy of the Chrismukkah bush comes the darker, more sinister side as well: the de-ornamentation and the removal of the dying icon. Keith was more than willing to assist in this process, but I felt, as a rite of marital passage, that I had to go through it alone. Last eve, while Keith attended a spin class, I forlornly packed up the aforementioned ornaments and called “The Guy” downstairs in our lobby who had said he would come fetch the tree carcass. When he arrived, he asked me if I wanted to keep the base.

Um … er … are bases disposable?! Do most people keep them?

“The Guy” looked at me like I was insane, which prompted me to explain that I was Jewish and thus dense, which prompted him to look at me like I was insane. It seemed to me that the base might be reusable, so I told him I wanted to keep it. Unfortunately, that meant someone had to actually separate it from the tree. Fortunately, it was pretty obvious that someone wasn’t going to be 5′, 100-lb me.

The Guy spent several minutes trying to dislodge the tree trunk, to no avail. Then I suggested he drag the tree in the base out to the cart and remove the base while the tree was upside down. The Guy agreed this was wise. What he’d neglected to ask – and what I’d neglected to think about – was that the base was still full of needly water. So, as the tree fell into the cart, the hallway got an unplanned bath. I felt terrible and did the first thing I could think of: I got my wet/dry Dust Buster and handed it to The Guy. The Guy looked at the size of the wet spot and then at the size of the vacuum and laughed. That seemed mean, but I tipped him nonetheless.

I felt like a very bad neighbor and, quite frankly, a moron. I had no choice but to wonder if maybe the genetic lack of handiness that afflicts my people is the very reason we do not have Hanukkah trees. There was only one place I could seek solace. I went to the plastic box in which I’d stored all the precious ornaments and pulled out the battery-operated dog house to see Snoopy dance one last time until next year.

Pins & Needles

Chai Witness

Editor’s Note:  The following story involves an Orthodox Jewish woman and her son.  If you think there is even the most remote chance you will be offended, please exit page left.

I’m sure there’s some kind of deep-rooted, Jungian issue behind this, but as a Jew, when I see my fellow tribesmen doing the very things for which we are often negatively stereotyped, I find it difficult to contain my inner-rage. I just can’t help but feel that any bad behavior by a Jew reflects horribly on all Jews and particularly this Jew, even if I have nothing whatsoever to do with it.  In fact, let me take this opportunity to apologize on behalf of Bernie Madoff;  the rabbis in that New Jersey money- and organ-laundering scheme;  Son of Sam; and of course, Judas.   

About a block into a recent bus ride on a very rainy day, a mangy little boy ran up the steps, began cackling loudly and evilly, and sprawled his sopping wet body out on a row of seats, rendering them useless for anyone who prefers to arrive at work with a dry ass.  Then came his equally mangy mother and his sopping wet stroller, which was quickly dropped on the floor at such an angle that you’d have to step over it to reach the seats her son had not just soaked. I watched as several elderly people struggled to get by, noting that she didn’t bat an eyelash or acknowledge the blockade. Eventually, I lifted the stroller myself so people could get past it without risking spinal cord injury.

The mother then launched into an inappropriately loud tirade in which she accused her son of dropping his hat in a puddle on purpose so that she would have more laundry to do and thus, drop dead from exhaustion.  Based on the fact that the kid was picking his nose and decorating the windows with what he excavated, I just didn’t get the feeling he was that calculating.  However, I don’t think anyone on the bus would have blamed the kid if in fact he HAD been plotting her death by washing machine.

It was pretty clear from their attire, the length of the little boy’s hair and the name on his book bag that they were Orthodox Jews, a fairly common sight on the Upper West Side. As the other bus riders exchanged looks of disbelief, my face started burning with collective shame and I very much hoped I passed for an Italian that day.

I didn’t have much time to plot MY fantasy murder of this woman, because breakfast was served.  She handed the kid a a tub of  kosher cottage cheese that actually contained a runny egg.

“Eat it with your hands bubbala.  No I don’t have a napkin. Use the seat.  Go on. Wipe your hands on the seat. Isn’t that the best egg you ever had? Isn’t it nice of Mommy to make you breakfast? Aren’t you going to thank Mommy? [SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASED VOLUME] SAY THANK YOU TO MOMMY OR I’M NOT READING YOUR SPECIAL BOOK!”

Whoa.  WHOA.  Oh man. Say thank you, kid, so we can all start the day with a “special book” read to us in that mellifluous voice. I BEG YOU, kid, say “thank you.” 

He did not.

But out came the special book anyway. And guess what?! It was “The Story of Purim.”

Oh for the love of GOD. 

What better way to show your hatred of someone than by naming a pastry after them?

In a ridiculously dramatic manner, the mother commenced her high-volume reading of the tale of Esther, Mordechai, King Ahasverus and of course, the evil Haman (who hated the Jews but for whom they nonetheless named a delicious cookie– see Hamantash).

A highlight, for your pleasure. Please insert the most annoying voice you can possibly conjure.

Mother: “And they made the Jews work on SHABBOS! Can you believe that bubbala?! The SHABBOS!”

Kid: And did we KILL dem?

I looked around at the other bus riders — some of whom, the odds are, were fellow tribesmen as well. Everyone had the same look of utter horror on their faces.  Big, fat, OY.

No, no we did not kill “dem.” But please, kill ME!

Chai Witness