Jewish moms taking offense to ‘Tiger Mother’


With her take-no-prisoners approach in “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” author Amy Chua has drawn the ire of mothers across America who take exception to the draconian measures she recommends to ensure successful, prodigious offspring.

So it’s little surprise that prominent among her critics are another group famous—infamous, some might say—for what they have to say about how best to be a parent: Jewish mothers.

Chua’s book and a synopsis she wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 8, “Why Chinese Moms are Superior,” lay out her parental rules—no sleepovers, no play dates, no television—and admiringly relate a story of how she once reduced her daughter to tears when she couldn’t play a piano piece.

“If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion,” Chua writes. “The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.”

Chua’s article summarizing her book elicited a firestorm of criticism and became the most responded-to article in the Journal’s history. It also reportedly elicited death threats for Chua, a professor at the Yale University Law School.

A stream of offended Jewish mothers have waded into the debate, among them Ayelet Waldman, who drew some motherly opprobrium when she made a scandalous admission of her own some years ago—confessing in the pages of The New York Times to loving her husband, novelist Michael Chabon, more than she loved her children.

“The difference between Ms. Chua and me, I suppose—between proud Chinese mothers and ambivalent Western ones—is that I felt guilty about having berated my daughter for failing to deliver the report card I expected,” Waldman wrote in the Journal. “I was ashamed at my reaction.”

Ironically, Chua, who is married to fellow Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld, is raising her children as Jews. Rubenfeld has yet to weigh in on the brouhaha over his wife’s article—Rubenfeld did not respond to a JTA request for an interview—but Chua does acknowledge they don’t always see eye to eye.

“It’s more my story,” she told the Times. “I was the one that in a very overconfident immigrant way thought I knew exactly how to raise my kids. My husband was much more typical. He had a lot of anxiety, he didn’t think he knew all the right choices.”

Writing in the Huffington Post, Wendy Sachs, editor of the parenting Website Care.com, claimed that Jewish and Chinese mothers aren’t in fact so different. The difference is one of style more than substance.

“Chua says that Chinese moms don’t mince words when it comes to their children’s appearance either,” Sachs writes. “They can say, ‘Hey fatty—lose some weight.’ The Jewish mom would more likely kvell over her daughter than insult her, no matter how fat she had become.”

Echoing a similar theme, Allison Kaplan Sommer, writing in the Forward’s Sisterhood blog, claimed that Jewish and Chinese mothers are both uncompromising when it comes to their kids—they just don’t measure achievement the same way.

“It is their broader definition of ‘success’—one that treats social status as important to climbing the American Dream ladder as academic success—that leads to their different ground rules,” Sommer writes. “Chua’s ‘Tiger Mother’ model dismisses activities that are crucial to gain social skills important for climbing the ladder in modern America. If one doesn’t master the politics of play dates and sleepovers, how are they going to handle dorm life and office politics?”

That was the line as well taken by the most prominent Jewish father to weigh in on Chua: New York Times columnist David Brooks. In a piece titled “Amy Chua is a Wimp,” Brooks writes that Chua is actually channeling her children’s attention into less mentally challenging tasks by depriving them of vital social outlets.

“Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls,” writes Brooks, the author of a recently released book on how brain chemistry impacts human achievement.

“Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group—these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale. Yet mastering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement.”

Letters to Mom


Dear Mother,

Here we are again on the plains of Bethel. We’re in the 10th month of our 10th year in Canaan. Sorry I haven’t written. There were
so many things happening, but none of them so important to justify my negligence. The famine, Pharaoh, Avimelech, the war — they all came and went and I remained the same. I wanted to believe that this move to Canaan would open a new chapter in my life, but boy was I disappointed.

You remember the day of my wedding? Such joy! Such innocence! I thought it would be only a matter of time before I became a mother. But with every year that passed, the dream seemed more remote and unreachable. Everyone was celebrating motherhood and parenthood, the little voices of children filling their homes with joy and happiness. And me? Nothing. I felt alienated and rejected. I felt their furtive glances as I was passing by, as if I was carrying a curse, a terrible disease.

You were the only one who understood, but there was nothing you could do. God alone can count the tears I shed, day after day, year after year, praying, yearning for a child that will redeem me from my solitude, from my agony and my shame. Oh, was I glad to go when the Divine order came to leave Haran. Just go away and leave behind me all the pitying, mercy filled, hypocrite faces. Yes, it was difficult to go and leave you and Dad behind, but I did it not just to fulfill the Divine commandment and follow my husband, but also because I secretly hoped that the move will bring a change, a blessing. But this was not what God wanted.

Abram says that I am a righteous woman and that God enjoys my prayers and supplications. I appreciate that, but enough is enough, we’ve spent 10 years in Canaan and nada. I want to have a child. I want to have a child!

Love,
Sarai

Dear Mother,

Sorry it’s been a couple months since I last wrote you. We’re at the Oaks of Mamre, and I’ve figured out a solution. It’s painful, but I can live with it. I will have Abram marry my maidservant Hagar (remember, the Egyptian girl?). She will be the surrogate mother of my child. Don’t try to dissuade me. I’ve made up my mind, and I know of several respectful families who have gone through this process successfully.

Love,
Sarai

Dear Mother,

It’s over; she’s gone. We don’t know where or when, but she has disappeared from Be’er Sheva. I should be happy, I should be celebrating, but I’m not. I feel terrible. I didn’t mean it to happen like that. All I wanted was to have a child we could call our own, but things got out of hand.

This tricky, treacherous, no-good maid knew very well how to rub it in. “I’m tired,” “I’m nauseated,” “I feel so hungry,” “I crave this” and “Sorry, I can’t bend down to bring you that, Sarai.” All very subtle; not the kind of things a man would notice.

Don’t get me wrong, Ma, I love and respect Abram. But why is his quest of justice reserved only for foreigners? Sodom and Gomorra deserve justice, with all their sins. Meanwhile, I’m abused daily by this Hagar. Do I not deserve justice? These things pass right over his head.

That’s why I blew up. Justice is all I want! He should give me the same treatment he gave Sodom. He stood up to defend those sinners, why not me? And all he said to me was: “Well, what do you want from me? She is your maid. Do whatever you want with her.” And, believe me, I did just that; I didn’t give her a free moment.

But now she’s gone, and I feel miserable. It all swelled up in me — all the anger and frustration, years of sterility, endless nights of crying and, worst of all, the notion that my husband doesn’t understand me. So I took it all on her and I am not so sure I did the right thing.

Love,
Sarai

P.S.: Last night I had a terrible dream, my descendants were persecuted by hers, tortured and expelled, and that voice kept echoing in my mind: “See what you’ve done. See what you’ve done!”

These letters were not unearthed in the hills of Canaan, but they offer a possible interpretation of the events in this week’s parsha.

Rabbi Moshe Ben Nahman, however, does suggest that Sarah should not have tortured Hagar, and that the persecution of Jews by Muslims in the 11th and 12th century is a direct consequence of that behavior. The message that no action goes unnoticed or unaccounted for and that communication is essential to a healthy family and society reverberates to this day.

We can only imagine how different things would be if the protagonists in the story would talk with one another, try to define the problems and solve them, instead of being swept away by emotions. How often do we channel anger and frustration at the wrong people? Did you ever interpret someone’s action in a certain way and gave them no chance to explain before attacking?
By telling us the story with all its intricate human relationships and the tragic outcome, the Torah teaches us an important lesson about our daily interaction with the people surrounding us. And this lesson is as applicable in American suburbia as it was at the hilltops of Canaan.


Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a Sephardic congregation in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at haimovadia@hotmail.com.

Brachas vs. bluegrass: moms make the switch


Reality shows seem to be becoming less and less real every season. Exhibit A: The very intriguing but highly unlikely pairing of a Shomer Shabbos Jewish family from Brookline, Mass. (near Boston), and a coon-huntin’ family from Olympia, Ky. (on a map that would be nowhere near a kosher grocery store), in the Oct. 20 two-hour season premiere of FOX’s “Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy.”

For the past two years, the show has been trading moms between families of vastly different demographics (i.e., pro-choice and pro-life, gays and conservative Christians). And this one is no exception.

In spite of the obvious cultural differences between the Southern Martins (mom, Sharon; dad, Dale; daughter, Ashton, 20; and son, Aaron, 17) and the East Coast Shatzes (mom, Lisa, who wears pants; dad, Michael; son, Aryeh, 20; and daughters, Esther, 17; Adina, 15; and third-grader Kayla) both families are very insulated in their respective worlds.

Lisa, an MIT-educated associate professor of electrical engineering, asks Dale, a corrections officer, what bluegrass is when told that is what the state is known for. (It’s a grass.)

Sharon, a registered nurse, goes shopping at the kosher market with Michael, a physicist, and remarks that she couldn’t understand any of the “Arabic, Hebrew, whatever” on the labels, adding, “I could give a flying flip about the kosher.”
The families, who each receive $50,000 (with a twist) for participating, have very parallel, yet opposite, living situations.

According to Lisa, Aaron spends too much time playing on the computer and hanging out and not enough time studying. She wants to call a tutor, much to the horror of Aaron, who is adamant that he’s not stupid and doesn’t need a tutor. Lisa also makes the faux pas judgment that raccoon hunting, a Martin family pastime, is “intolerable and should be outlawed” after they take her on a late-night jaunt in search of the critters.

According to Sharon, the Shatz kids are socially awkward and need to have fun. She suggests throwing a party, much to the horror of Michael, who is adamant that there be no party and no dancing (“in the Jewish religion, we don’t give our kids permission to indulge in risky behavior,” he tells her). Sharon also makes the misstep of bringing up two very taboo topics at the dinner table: dating and Jesus.

So will there be fireworks in the second hour when Grandma confronts Lisa (“Do y’all still have sacrifices?”); Sharon tries to throw the Shatz kids a party (“They’ll dance! You wait and see!”) and the two moms meet face-to-face? It doesn’t take an MIT degree to figure that answer out.

“Trading Spouses” kicks off the new season Friday, Oct. 20 from 8-10 p.m. on

Fight or flight? A Jewish Cuban mom wonders


Melinda Lopez’s “Sonia Flew,” which opens at the Laguna Playhouse on Sept. 16, depicts the parallel struggles of a Cuban girl in 1961 and a half-Jewish, half-Cuban American boy just after Sept. 11.

Of Cubans and Jews, Lopez says, “These are two cultures that have experienced Diaspora, two cultures that are disconnected from their homeland, two cultures that stress education, family, food, laughter. When you go to Thanksgiving in a Jewish household or a Cuban household, you’ll talk about politics, tell jokes.”

Speaking from Boston, where she lives with her Jewish husband, Lopez, who was born in this country to Cuban parents, says with a chuckle: “Two Cubans in a household is just trouble.”

The first act of her new play takes place during Chanukah/Christmas vacation in 2001. To emphasize the seeming harmony of this “blended family,” Lopez indicates in stage directions that the Christmas tree is decorated with Stars of David.

Yet we sense that something may be wrong when Sonia, the protagonist, and her daughter forget to make the traditional 7-Up Jell-O salad, a symbolic failure that suggests a rift in the family, similar to what occurs in Barry Levinson’s “Avalon” when a guest, arriving late for Thanksgiving, complains, “You cut the turkey?”

In Levinson’s movie, the discord is over the relative climb up the financial ladder of the differing family members, while in Lopez’s play Sonia is distressed over her son’s decision to leave college and join the Marines.

In making a parallel between the aftermath of Castro’s revolution and Sept. 11, Lopez seems to posit that history doesn’t repeat itself but it can overwhelm families and tear them apart. Like Stephen Dedalus, who famously says in “Ulysses,” “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” Sonia feels she has been doomed twice by history, once in 1961 when her parents forced her to flee to the United States, the second time in 2001 when her son, Zak, heads off to fight in Afghanistan. Like Daedalus, the namesake for Joyce’s character, who flies from the island of Crete to safety but loses his son, Sonia escapes from Castro’s oppression but never gets to see her parents again, and 40 years later she fears losing her son, too.

One of the ironies of “Sonia Flew” is that flight, which should signify freedom, comes to mean betrayal to Sonia — abandonment and a manipulation of patriotism.

With the subtext of the two hijacked airplanes flying into the Twin Towers, Lopez broaches the forgotten history of the Pedro Pan children, whose parents sent them away from Cuba on falsified student visas in the early 1960s; the play ponders why the parents never left the windows open so the children could return to their homeland.

Unlike Peter Pan and the lost boys, the Pedro Pan children don’t live in Never Neverland; they live very much in the real world, in a new country, the United States, where they have to start all over, learn a new language, make new families. In that regard, Sonia shares a bond with Sam, her father-in-law, a World War II veteran who emigrated from Europe to the United States at the time of the Holocaust.

While there is no suspense in the first half of the play about Zak’s joining the Marines, the act ends with Zak involved in an explosion in Afghanistan, followed by a blackout. Lopez leaves us uncertain for nearly the entire second act as to whether Zak lives or dies. For a scene or two, she also effectively withholds from us the key point that Sonia’s parents hated the revolution under Castro.
Occasionally, Sonia tips us off with Shakespearean-style soliloquies. Lopez began her theatrical career as an actress for Shakespeare & Company, a troupe in Western Massachusetts, and she says that when she first started acting, “I imagined myself exclusively performing Shakespeare’s plays.”

For years, she was primarily an actor. However, she enjoyed “contributing to someone else’s artistic vision” to such an extent that she decided to write her own plays. She obtained a masters in playwriting from Boston University, where she studied with Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, and wrote her first play about 10 years ago, a one-woman show, “Midnight Sandwich,” which was staged in Boston and in which she played all the parts of her bicultural family.

Since then, she has written several other short works, as well as a number of full-length plays. In addition to Shakespeare, whose Ariel is a precursor to Sonia in that she can fly, yet lacks freedom until the end of “The Tempest,” Lopez cites August Wilson as an influence. Lopez doesn’t write the way Wilson does with his flowing jazz-like riffs and authentic dialect. At times, Lopez’s dialogue veers toward cliché, such as when young Sonia, in a line uttered countless times since the dawn of movies, tells her mother, “I’m not going to end up like you, I know that much. I’m going to do something with my life.”

Despite the occasional, overly familiar line, Lopez creates characters who are inhabited with the kind of dedication and idealism we expect of pioneers. Given the waves of Jewish immigration in this country, it may not be surprising that after Lopez staged her one-woman show, “Midnight Sandwich,” her mother-in-law said to her, “You’re Jewish, and your whole family is Jewish.” Her mother-in-law then began asking Lopez if her family lit candles on Friday nights, like Marrano Jews who conducted ancient Jewish rituals in the basements of their homes after the Spanish Inquisition.

“You came over with Columbus and stopped off at Cuba,” theorized her mother-in-law.

Lopez took her mother-in-law’s comment as a compliment, though she has no idea whether she actually descends from Jews. While her protagonist, Sonia, is very attracted to Castro, whose surname, according to tradition, is a Jewish surname, Lopez does not have fond words for the aging Cuban leader.

“I don’t think he’s going to die. He’s too stubborn to die,” she said. “Nothing will change. When he does die in another 50 years, things will get worse. Scarcity will be greater. I’m not very optimistic.”

I Was Kid Free and Guilt Free! For A Week!


My children were unexpectedly away for a week this summer, and I didn’t miss them a bit. Apparently, that’s grounds for expulsion from the Good Mommy Club.

My husband, 8-year-old son, 14-year-old daughter and I were on our way back to Los Angeles from a trip to Squaw Valley, and we’d stopped in the Bay Area to stay with family friends overnight. As we were packing the car the next morning and getting set for the long ride home, our hosts suddenly invited our two children to stay for the week.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “That’s way too much work for you.”
But they insisted that it was the perfect week for such spontaneity. Their own two kids, who are very close with ours, had nothing to do: no school, no camp, no anything.

“Let them all be together and have one last summer fling,” the mom said.
After a bit more requisite protesting on our part, my husband and I fished our children’s bags out of the trunk, went online to buy a pair of one-way airplane tickets for the following Saturday and found ourselves headed back to Los Angeles in a most unfamiliar position: just the two of us, alone.

At first, we felt more strange than giddy.

“Miss them yet?” my husband said after we had been rolling for, oh, three or four miles. But about halfway down I-5, it started to sink in: We realized that we’d been talking for hours and that no one had interrupted us to ask that we turn up the music (if it was theirs) or turn down the music (if it was ours). Or to tell us he was hungry. Or she was thirsty. Or had to go to the bathroom. Or to ask us when we would be arriving home — over and over and over again.

The next day I wasn’t even unpacked before I boasted to a friend — a bit smugly I admit — that we were child-free. She answered back: “You must miss them, though.”

“No,” I replied, “I don’t miss them at all.”

“Oh,” she said. “Wait a few days. You will.”

But I didn’t. Not then, not in a few days and not even on my last day of freedom. Frankly, I enjoyed every moment of it.

My husband and I dined out all but one night — and without the slightest consideration that my daughter doesn’t like Thai food or that my son won’t try Indian. We ate late, lingered over our last sips of wine and took long evening walks.

I slept in for a solid week, drank coffee and read my morning newspapers uninterrupted. When I sat down at my desk to work, my computer was not set on RuneScape, my son’s favorite online game. And my scissors, pencils and pens, pencil sharpener, dictionary, notepads and Scotch tape were exactly where I had left them the last time I used them. Miracle of miracles!

When I went to take a shower, no wet towels littered the floor, and I didn’t have to step over my daughter’s housecoat, blue jeans or discarded shoes to get there.

And every time I looked in the refrigerator or freezer for some juice, a piece of fruit, a bowl of ice cream, whatever, it was there because the hordes of teenagers that usually hang out at my house had not emptied it out five minutes after I’d returned from a $200 grocery store run.

I spent no time on the phone arranging carpools for my daughter or schlepping her to sleepovers, the mall or movies. My son did not noodge me for countless play dates, complain of being bored or pester me to buy him comic books or a Game Boy for his next birthday (still six months away). It was heaven.

I bragged to just about everyone I ran into that we were without our children for the week. Almost all of them asked if I missed them and almost all of them seemed surprised — some even slightly horrified — when I said no.

My husband asked me several times, as well, if I missed the kids, though he seemed more amused than shocked by my response: “Not even a little.”

Now, before you get your knickers in twist, know this: I love my kids deeply. And I was thrilled to see their sweet faces when they arrived home. But for goodness sake, they were gone for a blink. Next summer, I think I’ll try to convince them to go away for two weeks. Or maybe even three.

By then, after 51 weeks of togetherness, my Good Mommy credentials should be reinstated, my membership in the club renewed.


Randye Hoder is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, The Wall Street Journal and others.

Don’t Think Of Me As Different — I’m Not


My name is Rachel, and I am a Jewish American girl who was born in China. I was adopted. I am finishing the fifth grade, and I go to a Jewish school where I am not the only Chinese girl — there is one other girl from China named Willow, who is in the fourth grade. We are friends.

Sometimes I do not want to be different from the other kids,

My Yiddische Mama


What if famous people had Jewish mothers?

That’s the subject of a one-minute Internet film from Aish.com, the Web site of Aish Hatorah, the religious outreach organization based in Israel with branch offices around the world, including Los Angeles.

The one minute “film” — it’s basically pictures with captions — was written for Purim, but is more in tune with Mother’s Day. It presents historical characters and conjectures what their mothers might have said to them — if they had been Jewish mothers.

Take the message from the “Jewish mom” of Christopher Columbus: “I don’t care what you have discovered, you still should have written.”

Mrs. Michaelangelo would whine about the Sistine Chapel: “Why can’t you draw on walls like other children — do you know how hard it is to get schmutz off the ceiling?”

The Beatles’ proud mother reminded the Fab 4 that she’d promised cousin Harold that he could play cello in their band. And Tiger Woods’ mom complained that golf “just isn’t our sport.” How about bingo?

Aish’s “Jewish Mothers” video is among a dozen or so mostly serious videos available at Aish.com. Most of the offerings provoke questions about life, spirituality and religion. The films are sent out to a mailing list of 170,000, according to the Web site.

Actually some of the chosen subjects did have Jewish mothers. So it’s actually possible that Einstein’s real Jewish mother was not amused by that wild-haired genius look: “But it’s your senior photograph, couldn’t you have done something with your hair?” — Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Real Estate Magnate Ready to Play Ball

A group of investors led by real estate magnate Ted Lerner and his family has purchased the Washington Nationals baseball team. Lerner and Major League Baseball wrapped up details of the $450 million purchase Tuesday night following a yearlong competition over ownership. Lerner, 80, was raised in an observant Orthodox Jewish family. One of the largest beneficiaries of his philanthropic work is his Conservative congregation, Ohr Kodesh in Chevy Chase, Md., to which he contributed $505,000 in 2003. The Lerners are partnered with former Atlanta Braves President Stan Kasten, the son of Holocaust survivors. The bid beat one by Fred Malek, a Nixon administration official who carried out an order from the president to purge the Department of Labor of Jewish statisticians.

Revved Up for Paper Clips

It’s not always a cause for concern when a platoon of bikers pulls up in front of your school. Some 400 Jewish motorcyclists turned up recently at the Tennessee school where students collected millions of paper clips to commemorate the Holocaust (the Academy Award-nominated documentary titled “Paper Clips” was made about the project). Members of the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance visited the Whitwell Middle School to see the display of paper clips, which is housed inside a German railroad car once used to transport Jews to concentration camps during World War II.

 

Get Married Without Disowning Your Mom


Welcome to tonight’s main event, bride-to-be vs. mother of the bride. These two lightweight champions are battling it out for the hostess title. Ladies, take your corners. Have a clean fight, a fair fight and no hitting below the garter belt.

Many a wedding have lead to knockout, throw-down arguments between mother and daughter. Should it be black tie or California casual? Meat or fish? DJ or band? Should there be fewer guests at a lavish wedding or more guests at a bare-bones one? And why should cousin Sally, who the bride hasn’t seen since her sweet 16, get an invite over a co-worker? Planning for this happy occasion shouldn’t involve constant bickering and hurt feelings. But brides envision their wedding one way, and mothers envision it another way. Mothers threaten to boycott the wedding, and daughters threaten to elope. But wedding preparations don’t have to take down family relationships.

Rachel Zients had a bad experience during the planning of her bat mitzvah, and after she got engaged to Jay Schinderman, the 30-something television writer-producer initially worried about the possibility of a rerun.

Brides don’t want to feel trapped by their parents’ opinions, and parents just want to be part of this special occasion. But is it possible to effectively balance expectations when planning a wedding?

Zients and her mother, Eileen Douglas Israel, decided to try.

“It was a goal of mine to have harmony during my wedding planning,” Zients said. “The most important thing my mother did was recognize that I was an organized, working woman who didn’t need her to do everything, but who appreciated the things she did do.”

Israel gave her daughter the freedom to plan her wedding the way she wanted to. In return, Zients called on her mother when she really needed her.

Since she lived in Santa Monica, Zients enlisted her mother and future mother-in-law to help scout locations in New York. The mothers explored numerous hotels and banquet halls and reported their findings back to Zients in Los Angeles. When Zients flew to New York, she had the luxury of only focusing her attention on a few likely venues. By assigning this task to the mothers, Zients received real help rather than empty advice.

After the wedding was set for the Metropolitan Club, Zients planned other elements of the ceremony on her own: the flowers, the music, the dress. Her mother supported most of her choices.

But the two butted heads on the processional music. Zients felt that getting married was like starting down a yellow brick road, so she wanted to walk down the aisle to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Her mother wasn’t on board at first.

“My mom thought it was untraditional, but it just seemed right to me,” Zients said. “I took a step back and listened to her, but decided it was important to me.”

While a bride should remain open to hearing her mother’s opinions, a mother also needs to know when to trust her daughter’s taste. Such balance is key in harmonious wedding planning.

In the end, Zients went ahead and used the song. After the ceremony, her mother confessed that the music worked.

Unlike the mother-daughter affair of the Zients-Schinderman wedding, Robyn Lazarus enlisted the help of her entire family. Additional help can also bring with it additional problems, so it’s important for family to share ideas but not make demands.

Lazarus’ parents, Alan and Janet Fink, and her sister, Missy Fink, attended meetings with everyone from the caterer to the wedding coordinator. There were moments of conflict during the planning of Lazarus’ wedding and the family didn’t always agree, but they did try to keep things in perspective.

“The wedding was really about what Robyn wanted, we just helped her get there,” Janet Fink said.

While most brides-to-be turn to their mothers for help, Lazarus said it was her father who had very distinct ideas about the flowers, the lighting, the tables and the food.

“He knew what he wanted my wedding to be like; he wanted everything to be top-notch,” she said.

Parents and siblings should suggest a location or recommend a vendor, but not insist on one. That way, they voice their opinion and communicate their view without imposing it on the bride.

“I wanted to make sure I was making the best choices and I appreciated my family’s thoughts and input,” said Lazarus, who teaches second grade in Simi Valley.

While some brides might have felt suffocated by such heavy family involvement, Lazarus said it worked for her.

“Having my whole family contribute to the planning process made my wedding even more special,” said Lazarus, who married her husband Mike at the Century City Park Hyatt earlier this year.

It’s important for brides to remember that while it is their wedding day, it’s also a family event, and parents want to feel like they’re a part of it — especially if they’re picking up the bill. Lazarus found that all of her family’s guidance helped reduce — rather than increase — her wedding stress.

“My family is always involved, so I think their role in planning my wedding just mirrors the relationship and family dynamic that we have,” Lazarus said.

It’s easy for a bride-to-be and her parents to squabble over guest lists, seating charts and napkin rings. And it’s common to think that the wrong name cards could ruin a wedding and that a less-than-perfect guestbook means disaster. But if both sides can remember that this day is not just about the wedding and the reception, but about the start of a marriage and an event that is truly a family affair, these fights can be kept to a minimum.

Rachel Zients remembered a particularly snowy Manhattan day when she was running through a jam-packed schedule of location callbacks with her mother. In between bustling and price checking, Zients received unexpected words of wisdom.

“One of the location managers said, ‘This is what you should remember, this is what you should take with you. This moment of running around New York City with your mom,'” she said. “She was right, this was a really special time for me and my mom.”



Steps Toward Sanity

So the big day is months away, but the arguing has already begun. Looking to put an end to all the bickering with your folks? Andrea Ross, event manager at the Chicago Marriott Downtown on the Magnificent Mile, has helped countless couples and their families plan gorgeous weddings. She offers up the following practical tips and insider secrets for brides-to-be:

• Be Honest With Your Mother: If you have a vision or want something specific, tell her. If she makes a suggestion that you don’t like, tell her.

• Get Organized: If your mother makes a suggestion, write it down. If she brings you an article, accept it. Keep these items in a folder and tell her when you plan to work on that specific wedding item. For example, if she cuts out pictures of cakes, tell her you’re putting them in your cake file, but don’t plan on making that decision until two months prior to the wedding. This way, she won’t bug you — er … ask you — about it everyday, but feels like you’re taking her suggestions seriously.

• Agree to Disagree: Your mom is going to hate some of your ideas, and you’re going to dislike some of hers. Just because you love each other doesn’t mean you’ll love all of each other’s ideas.

• Share the Details: In order to avoid confrontations with your mother, give out as much information as possible. Neither you nor your mother want to be contacted by Great-Aunt Ethel who wants to know what the activities for the weekend are, where she can make room reservations and if there’s a Sunday brunch. Set up a Web site, send out an e-mail or mail your guests an itinerary. You may even want to appoint a sibling or maid-of-honor to be the point person to answer guests’ questions. This will help reduce friction between you and your mother.

• Have a Family Meeting: Include both the parents of the bride and the parents of the groom. Lay everything out: who is paying for what, who is planning what and how everyone envisions the day. This discussion will help set parameters like the number of guests each side will invite, the total budget for the reception, who will conduct the ceremony and who should sit where. Conduct this meeting in a public place, like a restaurant, so no one will raise his or her voice.

• Don’t forget that a wedding is about the union of two people. It should be fun and as least stressful as possible. — CD

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Jewish Mom for the Straight Guy


When my father informed me he had scheduled a business trip to Los Angeles and was taking my mother with him about a month after I moved out here, his timing seemed less than coincidental. Both of my parents had been anxiously phoning me on a daily basis since I left New York. The real reason they were coming was to make sure I wasn’t living in a crack house, or at the very least had the decency to choose a Jewish crack house.

Truth be told, I needed them. After all the work that went into finding a suitable apartment and automobile in Los Angeles, I was growing increasingly listless about settling in much further. Even when the weather got colder and I struggled to sleep without a quilt, freezing each night felt preferable to braving the crowds at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Still, I had to be careful what I wished for. From the first minute my parents arrived at my new apartment, my mother began scrutinizing every square inch. As she wandered about steadying crooked picture frames, frowning at price tags and toeing carpet stains, I felt as if she and I were co-starring in the rejected pilot episode of "Jewish Mom for the Straight Guy."

But their visit was not entirely without generosity. When my father told me he was bringing a housewarming gift, my mind immediately raced with a few tantalizing possibilities: That waterbed I’ve been fruitlessly asking for since I was a kid? Not likely. A new car? In my dreams. A welcome mat emblazoned with the family name? Hope there’s a lot of willing Wallensteins on eBay.

So when he handed me a gift-wrapped package about the size of a cigar, I was completely confounded. Removing the wrapping, I unsheathed a mezuzah, the slender religious object Jews affix to their doorposts containing a scroll with excerpts from the Torah.

"It will watch over you," my father suggested.

The mezuzah was about more than providing a surrogate guardian, I realized. My decision to move out of New York City had only accelerated their long-compounding anxiety over my fading religious identity; despite Los Angeles’ heavy Jewish population, I imagine they pictured the city filled entirely with blonde heathens named Heather intent on eternally altering their bloodline. If my parents could fit Mount Sinai itself on a handtruck, they would have had it wheeled into my apartment. A mezuzah was a more practical choice to serve as a constant reminder of my Jewishness.

Had I wanted to distract my parents into forgetting about posting the mezuzah, I probably could have gotten away with it. But like every Jew, strands of guilt are coiled into my DNA’s double helix as tightly as a Chasid’s peyos.

On my parents’ last day in Los Angeles, they stood by as I fastened the mezuzah into place outside the front door of my apartment. Much as I would like to say the spirit of Moses himself swelled within my soul, the hammer, nails and wood actually brought to mind the crucifixion of Jesus.

"Can I ask what you’re doing?" a voice called out from down the hall. My parents and I wheeled around to glimpse the neighbor I had never met who lived three doors away. As if Central Casting had dispatched Hot, Young Los Angeles Neighbor to the never-ending sitcom that is my life, a striking blonde stuck her head out of the apartment, presumably prompted by the banging outside. My parents and I exchanged a helpless look. How were we going to explain a mezuzah?

She ventured out of her apartment for a closer look, which afforded me the opportunity to get a closer look at her blue eyes and tan legs. Fairly certain my parents would not spontaneously combust at that moment no matter how much I might will it, I instantaneously decided they would help me charm her. I turned to my father and asked him to explain the mezuzah, which he did with surprising gusto. I was then reminded of a fact I often forget: my father is also a man, and no man is immune to a friendly, attractive woman.

"Would you like us to install one for you next?" I asked. "Free of charge."

She laughed and even came into my apartment for a quick tour. My parents nervously milled about, watching their worst nightmare unfold in front of their eyes as I flirted with a neighbor who was way too blonde to be Jewish. When she scribbled her phone number on a Post-it before leaving, they simply ignored what transpired in sullen silence.

Not another word has been spoken about the mezuzah since that fateful day; I’d imagine in their mind I might as well have nailed mistletoe to the door. My mezuzah had indeed blessed me, but not in the way they had intended.

Kids Page


Moms and Mitzvot

There is a lot of teaching going on in Parshat Emor. God teaches us many mitzvot. For instance, we learn that farmers must leave some of their harvest for poor people. God teaches Moses laws about the priests. Then he tells Moses to teach them. Then he tells the priests to teach their children the laws of purity. God is like a really big parent!

This Mother’s Day, which will fall on May 11, you will have a chance to appreciate the person who has taught you most in life: how to share, how to eat well, how to take care of yourself. Give her a chance to show her how much you’ve learned: make her breakfast, clean up your dirty socks and give her a big kiss!

Skittish With Yiddish?

Here is a hilarious Mother’s Day poem sent in by Jake Mogul, 11, of Moorpark.

Here are the Yiddish words you need to know: punim = face; shmutz = dirt; shayna = sweet.

Mom, my toys away you puts,

Mom, you clear my punim of the shmutz.

Mom, you are such a shayna,

You put my lunch

in a containa!

Palindrome This One, Pal

Palin what?

OK — a palindrome

is a word that is spelled the same forward and backward. So, here’s the question: Which two words in English are palindromes whose Hebrew translations are also palindromes? (Hint: One of those words has a lot to do with the subject of today’s page, and the other has a lot to do with the first answer.)

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