The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Born to Be Old

Posted in philosophizing, synagogue life by Juliet on November 9, 2010

[Missed Part I? Check it out here.]

The other day I had time to kill between appointments so I popped into Starbucks. (And yes, I am aware that for someone who claims to “not even like Starbucks very much,” I seem to go there an awful lot. Ubiquity.)

I sat facing the room and soon noticed an older gent in a cowboy hat. He was probably in his late 70s or possibly even early 80s. He caught my eye because of his order: oatmeal and an ice water.

But what kept me watching was that it soon became clear we were separated at birth twins.

He pulled a crossword out of his pocket and started working it. I was doing the exact same crossword (Wednesday New York Times syndicated) in the exact same paper (The Californian) with the exact same type of pen (retractable Sharpie.)

NOBODY does a crossword puzzle with a Sharpie. Separated at birth is obviously the only explanation.

Then he pulled out a book and began to read, and it was the exact same new release I’d just picked up from the library and was excited about (the latest M.C. Beaton Agatha Raisin mystery.)

Eerie, no?

So at heart I am 80 years old, which is probably why I’m having such a hard time dressing for events these days. And why I want to wear pantyhose to everything. (In my defense, sheer black pantyhose! Not suntan! Not taupe! Sheer black only. But yes, I know, the argument is a dead one. It’s 2010.)

What better for an 80 year old to wear to a daytime wedding, funeral, baptism, christening, baby naming, graduation, or other formal event than a St John suit, right?

I can’t explain my fascination with St John. And hey, by the time I can actually afford one, I’ll probably be old enough for it to look okay, actually. But even St John is changing. (Mostly) gone are the knits and signature buttons. (Mostly) gone are the Chanel-style suits with boucle jackets. They are trying to youth it up.

I floated the St John idea to the same group of women friends with whom I have the ongoing Great Pantyhose Debate, and opinions ran the gamut from: no; to NO; to HELL NOOOOOO!!!!!

So I can’t wear a St John knit suit with oversized gold buttons and panythose and cap-toed pumps. What can I wear?

That led me to research: WHAT DO WOMEN WEAR TO CHURCH OR SYNAGOGUE NOWADAYS?

Frustratingly, there is no answer. None. Absolutely none. I live in the land of the megachurch. And yet, I can’t get an answer. Everyone seems to be going casual. There are churches where you can wear shorts and flip flops. Churches where women have tattoos peeking out from their tank tops. My Catholic friends mostly wear dresses or skirts and sweaters with tops (but NO pantyhose.)

And synagogue? It’s an absolute mixed bag. A grab bag.

So I am back to NO RULES.

I am making it my mission to find my Bat Mitzvah outfit this week. It will be:

* dressy daytime-appropriate
* dress or skirt (no pants)
* in a color or colors but no patterns, and not a boring color like black, grey, or navy
* youthful and flattering

If I find this holy grail, you will be the first to hear all about it. Or rather, the second. I need to tell the Pantyhose Mafia first.

Next time: (un)scientifically selected experts weigh in

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the first rule is….there are no rules

Posted in philosophizing, synagogue life by Juliet on November 8, 2010

Invitations are in the mail. The menu is planned, wines are paired. Hebrew is becoming passable.

Now I have a brand new thing to stress about: WHAT DO I WEAR?!?!

A group of women friends and I have the Great Pantyhose Debate. We’ve been “debating” on and off for several years now, though I’m just about ready to concede that maybe yes, there really isn’t a live issue anymore so “debate” isn’t quite the word for it.

The idea is more like me, swearing there must be places and occasions where people still wear pantyhose, and everyone else swearing just as strongly that it’s just not true.

(I did find an exception, though: an all-African American funeral for a close friend who died recently. Where there are black women in church hats, there are bound to be pantyhose.)

I have been having synagogue-related clothing agita for at least a decade. Sure, when I worked full-time as an attorney, I could just wear the same suits I wore to work when we attended services. It was a fairly safe rule of thumb that worked well for years.

Then a few things happened all around the same time.

I stopped working. I became pregnant. (I stopped working as an attorney during my fifth month of pregnancy with Eva, who is now eight. I was unexpectedly ordered onto bedrest, so I literally quit overnight.) We moved to the suburbs. I had another baby. I got older.

And to top it all off, everyone suddenly stopped wearing pantyhose.

It was like one second every stockbroker and lawyer and accountant and doctor and human resources director and public relations account executive was cracking open a plastic L’Eggs egg or carefully extricating Donna Karan or Wolford sheers from the box, and the next, NOBODY, no matter how old, or veiny-legged, or otherwise-formally dressed, wore them.

Sure, the pantyhose are still there. Walk into any Target or Walmart or Macy’s or supermarket and there will be a big aisle filled with them. What I can’t figure out is who is wearing these things, since I sure as hell don’t see them anywhere.

That includes synagogue. Even women in their 70s and 80s are completely bare-legged on Yom Kippur, the holiest and most somber day of the Jewish calendar.

I don’t object, mind you. I’m just puzzled, confused, adrift. I like RULES because I don’t feel confident with fashion so I’d rather have a predetermined path to follow.

I want to be issued my “going to synagogue” uniform to hang up in the closet next to my “weekday mom at Target” and “date night with husband” outfits.

So what’s a clueless rule-follower in an anarchic world of absolutely no rules to do?

NEXT TIME: in search of the elusive “dressy day suit,” and why my love of St John means I was born old

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I Am Not My Zip Code

Posted in philosophizing by Juliet on July 11, 2010

It was no surprise to see moneyed folks at Camp Ramah. There was all kinds of money: entitlement money, nouveau riche money, mega McMansion money, yuppie Escalade money, Santa Monica Farmer’s Market money.

But we also saw the flip side. I learned, for instance, about the Wexner Foundation program, in which participants devote YEARS (literally) to classes, seminars, and global conferences, all with the goal of learning about Judaism and how to give back to the Jewish community in a meaningful way. At least two attendees of the Ramah Family Camp weekend were currently enrolled in Wexner programs (one in Los Angeles and one in Arizona.)

We met a self-made man whose eyes lit up with excitement when he described his (ultra-luxury) work and (even more ultra-luxury) hobbies. He lives and works alongside very A-list celebrities but he doesn’t flaunt it.

As we met this parade of wealthy people over the weekend, we had a chance to talk seriously about what values and attitudes toward money we want our own kids to have.

The natural corollary to the conversation is the why: Why Ramah? Why Jewish camp? Why a Jewish camp in Southern California?

There is a certain type of savvy, snappy, sassy Jewish girl. Here on the west coast, she may be from West LA or the San Fernando Valley or a Bay Area suburb like Atherton.

Do I want my daughters to be her? No. But I want them to be able to comfortably, self-assuredly navigate her world with discernment and judgment.

In short, I want them to navigate that world, but not to be of it.

It’s a lot to ask, but my kids are smart and have been raised with solid core values.

For instance, all weekend long, we saw: bored kids; complaining kids; rude kids.

Eva whispered to me: “That boy was rude,” when a child blew past us on a motorized scooter without ceding the narrow strip of pavement to us (older) pedestrians.

Kudos to my daughter, at age eight, for recognizing attitude when she saw it, and specifically choosing, in a way I can only describe as super cool, to be above and beyond it. She’s not snooty or snobby; she’s just herself: poised, self-confident, never afraid to be who she is.

I want to arm my girls with the social tools they need to thrive in all situations and with all types of people, and the discernment to align themselves with the best of that affluent world: Opportunities! Experiences!

The question we heard all weekend long was:

TEMECULA? WHY DO YOU LIVE THERE?

(Or, for variety, a left-handed compliment: “How brave of you!”)

So, why?

If we can live anywhere we want, why do we choose to live where we do?

Let me start by saying: I love Temecula! (I have an entire blog pretty much devoted to my love of this beautiful place, after all.) It really took me by surprise how much I enjoy living here and how great it has been for our entire family to have settled in this community.

And now, some history. This post explains a little bit about how we came to live in Temecula in the first place. (And this one tells you why in a weird way I actually like Riverside, too.)

Basically, since Scott has his own business in a largely referral- and relationship-driven industry, we searched for a place to settle by drawing a big driving-distance circle around his Riverside office. Other places we considered besides Temecula included Redlands and some San Gabriel Valley cities, but after we decided to eliminate anywhere with smog, we decided on the Temecula Valley cities of Temecula and Murrieta. Clean air, clean water, good public schools…we were sold.

We actually ended up buying the first house we saw! (Yes, we looked at others, but the Jungle House won us over with its huge mature fruit trees.)

So why here? Why “California’s Bible Belt”?

We immediately discovered that this area is incredibly family friendly. (You know it’s kid-friendly when the wineries have kiddie menus.) I’ve never experienced a place so culturally supportive, in word and in deed, of stay-at-home-moms. It’s ingrained in the culture here to walk your talk. These are people living their values, every day.

There’s a little bit of “keeping up with the Joneses” here but it’s easy to ignore it if you choose. Which we do. What little we have of Peyton Place or Real Housewives of Orange County is fairly self-contained. And there is zero “keeping up with the Greenblatts.” There just aren’t enough Greenblatts to go around.

We noticed a tendency of people we met at Family Camp to identify themselves micro-specifically: not just The Valley, but “south of the boulevard”; not just LA or even West LA, but “Brentwood” or “Pacific Palisades.”

Is it snobbery? Insecurity? The opening salvo in a game of Jewish geography?

It might be a teeny bit, but I think mostly it’s over-identification with one’s zip code.

We’ve chosen to opt completely out of that game. We could have completely rearranged our lives to live someplace with a bragworthy zip code, but then we wouldn’t have money to be at Camp Ramah in the first place.

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The Grandmaster

Posted in personal growth, philosophizing by Juliet on June 18, 2010

Part of why I cannot stop myself from taking on new hobbies is a lifelong desire to be the world’s foremost expert in…what? Something obscure. Preferably arcane, esoteric, intricate, and difficult.

I want to earn the title “Grandmaster.”

As in, “Oh, yeah, didn’t you know? Juliet’s an eleventh-degree Grandmaster of…?”

It’s the “…” that trips me up. I’m interested in everything but don’t have the actual patience of perseverance to see my study through to the eleventh degree.

I took two or three trimesters each of four different Romance languages. When the going gets tough, the not-so-tough move on with hope and optimism and a certainty that this next thing will be “the” one. The big thing. Eleventh level.

I have true, actual interest in many arcane topics. But in my heart of hearts I have to admit that a big part of the appeal of the more offbeat pursuits is to stand out. To be different, unique. Why be a Civil War buff when I can know everything humanly possible that there is to learn about Spanish Inquisitor Torquemada? (Did you know he was Jewish?)

So whether it’s Nichiren Buddhism, or fencing, or krav maga, or bellydancing, or Belgian pastry making, I like my hobbies slightly obscure or offbeat. Traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking is a good example. So is ham radio operation.)

I don’t just want to be different, though. I also want to know things that not everyone knows. I was born with a level of curiosity bordering on frank nosiness.  What’s a girl to do?

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A Good Name

Posted in personal growth, philosophizing, rituals by Juliet on June 16, 2010

I’m in the market for a new name.

Not “Juliet.”  I’m perfectly happy with my English name.

What I need is the perfect Hebrew name.

When I’m called to the Torah for my very own bat mitzvah this December, I want it to be with my shiny new Hebrew name, so that’s the deadline I’m giving myself.

I wasn’t given a Hebrew name when I was born.  I didn’t have a bat mitzvah as a child so I wasn’t given one then.  I have heard of female converts taking the Hebrew name “Sarah” (after the first woman to adopt Judaism along with her husband, Abraham), but no matter how non-Jewish “Juliet Drucilla” sounds, I was born Jewish.

I took on a Hebrew name a dozen or so years ago, when I attended a women’s retreat led by a female rabbi affiliated with the Conservative movement who was an expert in the meaning and symbolism behind names.

The name I chose was “Chava,” which I love in part because it is the Hebrew version of my great-grandma’s name, Eva.  (There wa a bunch of other important symbolism which I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t remember, other than that it was a positive, “good” name that won the rabbi-expert’s stamp of approval.)

Years passed, though, and I hardly used the name.  I was called to the bimah a handful of times and when asked for my Hebrew name, said:  “Chava bat Ruth.”  But really, the name never resonated with me.  Despite a strong soul-level connection with my great-grandmother (who died when I was only eight),  the name never felt like a true part of me.

We named our first child Eva (though her Hebrew name is not Chava, but rather “Batya,” and she has Russian and Yiddish variants of her name too:  Basia and Bashie.)

Without really thinking it through, we gave our daughter the Hebrew name “Batya bat Chava” despite the fact that her own English name also translates to Chava, which doesn’t seem like a big deal but is something she’ll always have to explain or at least clarify.

So that, combined with my feeling that I chose wrong for myself first time around leads me to this moment:  woman in search of a good name.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Many Jews use their English name as a starting place, but my name starts with a sound not found in the Hebrew language. (The “J” sound in foreign words is pronounced by Hebrew speakers with a soft zch-like sound.)  The closest thing Hebrew has is a Y-like letter, and I remember the name-expert-rabbi from years ago finding spiritual flaws with the few names that start with it.  Yael.  A good name in general but bad for me (again for some reason I don’t remember.  I crossed it off the mental checklist and moved on.)  Yardena (Jordana.)  A pretty name with the negative connotation of moving downward (like the flow of the Jordan River.)  And that’s about it for the Ys.

One night during our stay at Ramah I was thinking a lot about the name issue.  We were driving on a dark road at night and as we rounded a corner, suddenly a giant spread of wings appeared and swooped up in front of us.  An owl!  It was thrilling.  Owls are cool.  Owls are wise.  I figured it was a sign and when we got back to civilization I tried to find some name that is the Hebrew equivalent of “wise female owl.”  Turns out, however, that owls are considered bad luck in traditional Judaism.

So then I thought about just choosing a name whose sound I like.  Did you know “Mahalia” is a Hebrew name?  And wouldn’t it be kind of awesome to have a legitimate reason to demand people start calling me Mahalia?

Gospel singer and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson

But alas, since I’m on a spiritual quest, it feels too shallow to simply choose name because it’s pretty.

Then there’s pure, random chance.  I get an email newsletter from Procter & Gamble (“Top Ten Cleaning Tips!”  “Five Ways to Dust!”)  One day mine arrived as usual, but addressed to the wrong name.  “Dear Eliana,” it began.

It’s a beautiful name meaning “God has answered.”  I’m living with it for a few weeks to see whether I still like it in July.  Batya bat Eliana.  Nesia bat Eliana.  Compared to Scott’s Hebrew name (Yakov Meir ben Pinya Chaim) it’s practically elegant.  Stay tuned.

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