My ‘great schlep’ to Florida pays off in politics and grandma’s food

“If you knew that visiting your grandparents could change the world, would you do it?” A couple of weeks ago, a video came across my inbox with Sarah Silverman posing this very question.

As Florida is such a pivotal and undecided state in this year’s presidential contest, Silverman was urging Jews to visit their grandparents there to educate them about Barack Obama and help swing the state in his favor in an effort dubbed The Great Schlep.

I thought the idea was decent but mostly just hilarious. I forwarded the video on to friends and went back to filing the company expenses.

A week later, I received a phone call from a woman asking me about visiting my own grandparents. I laughed, as I had after the video, but when an awkward silence followed, I realized she actually wanted an answer. She was calling from The Great Schlep and had been referred to me by a mutual friend.

It seemed like a great idea to visit my grandparents in Fort Lauderdale, which I hadn’t done in a few years, and in the process do something for my country. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more enthusiastic I became about going and speaking on behalf of Obama to my grandparents and some of their friends. The 2000 election had come down to literally hundreds of votes, and if I could convince my grandparents and their friends that Obama is the best choice, it might really affect the outcome.

I decided I had to make the schlep, not for myself but for my country and my grandparents, of course. But I needed to make sure they’d be around and would be willing to have the discussion with me. I called my grandmother immediately to tell her the plan. Our conversation went something like this:

“I’m going to come visit you this weekend, and I want to speak to you about … “

“Oh, that’s wonderful! When are you coming in town?”

“I’m going to come for the weekend, but I want to maybe try and speak with you and some of your friends about … “

“Just the weekend? Such a short trip!”

“Yes, it was kind of a last-minute thing. But, Grandma, I want to spend some time speaking with you and some of your friends about Barack Obama and the upcoming election.”

(Muffled sounds of her shouting to my grandfather about my visit.)

“Grandma, do you think you could help have some friends come over in the afternoon, and we could just all talk about the election?”

“Yes, fine, fine, there’s just one thing. What do you want to eat for dinner?”

Needless to say, my grandparents were on board, but the next obstacle was making sure we could get a good turnout so I could make the most of my trip. I quickly discovered the difficulty of organizing an event from Los Angeles with a bunch of senior citizens in Florida.

I couldn’t exactly send them all an Evite or a Facebook invitation. I don’t even know if a simple e-mail would have accomplished much. The success and organization of the political side of my trip would have to be left in my grandparents’ hands. In the meantime, I studied up on the issues.

The rest of the week was quite interesting. A few national news outlets started calling me, referred by The Great Schlep. They wanted to interview my grandparents and me while I was down there. Not only was I going to be making my mark on American history, but I was going to be on TV, too!

I left on the red eye on Friday, Oct. 10, and I managed to sleep for most of the flight from Los Angeles to Florida. As soon as my grandparents pulled up to the terminal on Saturday morning, the greeting was standard operation: 10 minutes of criticism on the length of both my facial hair and my jeans, followed by a lecture on how handsome I could be.

Interestingly enough, however, the political discussion began immediately. My grandparents wanted to jump right into it. Throughout the day, I spent most of my time eating and fixing all the problems they’d been having with their computer and their TV. But we also watched the news together, read the paper and just talked about the country. Most of the time they were lecturing me, but when they had questions about Obama’s stance on an issue, or if they brought up something they had heard about him, I could clear up what was and wasn’t true.

Sunday though, was what The Great Schlep was all about. My grandparents had managed to get seven friends to come to their house. So, for a few hours, they spoke to me about their concerns; I spoke to them about mine, and we all spoke to the TV and radio news crews that had stopped by in the middle to get their story.

A lot of my grandparents’ friends seemed very disappointed in John McCain and how far he had veered from his Straight Talk Express. Their problem with Obama, though, was that they just didn’t know enough about him yet — whether on the topic of domestic issues, like taxes and social security, or foreign issues, like Iran and Israel. In other words, my schlepping to Florida to discuss and answer questions was exactly what they needed.

Come November, some of the people I spoke with might decide to vote for McCain, and others might have always wanted to vote for Obama, but I think the most important thing is that because I went, they were able to learn more about the issues without having to rely on political ads and partisan pundits.

I can only hope my visit will allow them to make an informed decision based on facts and not on campaign smears and misinformation. But in the end, my “great schlep” was not a schlep at all, because not only did I make an investment in my country, I got to spend some valuable time with my family … and I ate better than I’ve eaten in long time.

Taylor Magenheim, 24, is from Texas and has lived in Los Angeles for the past two years. He is currently a development assistant at a Hollywood studio.

One Tough Room

As a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher of world issues for seniors in Los Angeles, I began yesterday’s class by playing a taped interview of Michael Moore talking about his movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” I had suggested that the class go see the film, so we could discuss it.

Tillie seemed particularly interested, nodding her head up and down as she listened, so I thought I’d start with her.

“Tillie, dear, what do you think?”

“She can’t hear you,” said the woman next to her. “She’s deaf!”

“Then what did you think?”

“I ain’t saying. I don’t have to say.”

“Anyone else?”

“Excellent!” Fred said.

“OK. And…?” I asked, hoping for a more lively discussion.

“That’s it. I liked it. Period,” he said, with finality.

A hand goes up. “Yes, dear?”

“It left me disheartened,”

“OK. Can you say more?”

“I’ve said enough.”

Great — 10 minutes gone, one hour and 50 to go. I changed the subject. “Where’s Margaret today?”

“She’s in the hospital.”


“She fell down yesterday and broke her hip.” I changed the subject again. “Where’s Matilda?”

“She died.”

“She died? She was here last week! When did she die?”

“Two days ago.”

“So what are you telling me? She won’t be coming back?”

“Not unless she’s a Buddhist.”

I change the subject again. “Who has some good news for us?”

Ethel raises her hand.

“Yes, dear?”

“A man comes up to me yesterday, sits at my lunch table; I can tell he’s a goy and he says, ‘You’re Jewish, right?’ I says to him, ‘I don’t like you either, go to hell, I spit on you.'”

I try to use this as a discussion point. “Well, all right, that’s a nice thing to do…what could she have said to this gentleman, instead?”


“So?” Ethel demanded. “What should I have said to him?”

“Well, you might have asked why he felt that way, you know, open a dialogue, maybe make a new friend?”

“With that goy?” sputters The Diplomat. “To hell with him!”

The woman next to Ethel raises her hand. “Can I ask a question?”


“What’s the problem with the Palestinians?”

Ethel answers: “I spit on the Palestinians! I am a Jew!”

“Yes, Ethel, we know that,” I say, “and I’m a Jew myself, but don’t you think we need to find a way to live together?”

“They blow themselves up!”

“Yes, darling, but that’s because they watch too much television.”

“Who watches television?”

“He said we should watch television?”

“No, I didn’t. That’s just a joke gone awry.”

“Rye bread? It’s dinner time?”

“No Fred, not yet,” I say. “I was just saying, what about the Palestinians who are doctors, lawyers and merchants and just want to raise their families and live in peace?”

“Lawyers are the problem!”

“Shut up, Murray! The teacher’s talking!”

“Actually, we’re all supposed to be talking here about world issues and I’m doing all the talking….”

“That’s what you get paid for!”

Suddenly, the distinct sound of snoring.

“What’s with Mary here?” I ask. Mary is asleep in her chair, her head thrown back, her mouth wide open, snoring.

“She takes Darvicet for her arthritis,” says Olga. Apparently Darvicet eases Mary’s pain but knocks her out. I have a microphone in my hand because half the seniors are hard of hearing so I put the mike by Mary’s mouth and from the public address system now comes the rumbling of Mary’s snoring. Two old wiseguys wink at me and giggle. One old gal’s mouth drops open in horror. The rest are oblivious.

Quality shtick. One tough room. Oy.

“Look, I’ve been talking nonstop for over an hour. I’m supposed to get you guys to talk!”

“We don’t want to talk. We want to listen to you.”

“But I’m tired of telling you bad news. Who has some good news for us? Yes, Martin?”

“I heard today the interest rates are going up.”

“And how is that good news, sir?”

“I don’t know.”

“I have some good news.” It’s The Diplomat. “This goy says to me, ‘You’re Jewish, no?’ So I told him, I says, ‘I don’t like you either.'”

“You told us that already, Ethel!” Ann reprimands .

“Leave me alone!” Ethel pleads. “I was in the camps!”

“Maybe you could share with us some of your experiences under the Nazis, darling,” I say. “What camp were you in? Auschwitz? Buchenwald?”

“I don’t remember. I want to forget.” Her voice trails off.

Who am I to pry into something like that? Especially if she doesn’t want to talk? The room is silent, except for the air-conditioning.

“What time is it?”

“It’s six past three.”

“We’re supposed to be done at three.”

“We know,” Sophie laughs. “We like being with you.”

“I like being with you, too. See you next week.”

Wildman Weiner is credentialed teacher of older adults.

Meyers Writes Her Own Happy Ending

A decade ago, filmmaker Nancy Meyers became intrigued by a Hollywood friend who exclusively dated younger women.

"They were always between 25 and 30," said Meyers, 54, who directed the Mel Gibson hit, "What Women Want." "Over the years, he went from his 40s to his 60s, but the women never got any older."

As she advanced through her 40s, Meyers felt increasingly "invisible" around her friend; she wondered, "If I were stranded on a desert island with such a man, would I still be invisible?"

Her musing led to a movie premise about a cradle-robber who falls for his girlfriend’s mom.

Because Meyers’ screenplays always reflect her life, she wasn’t ready to tackle the topic until she divorced around 2000 and found herself 50ish and single.

"Suddenly my premise became a completely different kind of story," she said. "I wanted to write about the realities of a couple falling in love late in life."

Her new romantic comedy, "Something’s Gotta Give," tells of Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson), a roguishly charming record company executive whose girlfriends are under 30. When he attempts to consummate his latest relationship at her mother’s beach house, he collapses from a heart attack and is left in the care of the mom, Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), a no-nonsense Jewish playwright. As the two are forced into each other’s company, sparks unexpectedly fly.

Last week the National Board of Review named Keaton 2003’s Best Actress for her performance.

Time magazine called the comedy a "December-December romance"; it’s one of an unprecedented new crop of films, including "House of Sand and Fog," that frankly depicts older couples having sex.

Yet some viewers see "Give" as Meyers’ romantic fantasy, complete with a cute young doctor suitor for Erica played by Keanu Reeves. While the director admits the Reeves relationship is a stretch ("I’ve not dated a 36-year-old doctor, unfortunately," she said), she doesn’t think the Harry-Erica pairing is far fetched.

"People say, ‘You’re movie is so optimistic,’" said Meyers, who admits she’s had one age-appropriate relationship since her divorce. "Are these people suggesting that if single men had the option, they’d never go with anyone their own age? I don’t think that’s true. There are a lot of men married to women their age who aren’t waiting for their spouses to die or to get a divorce so they can have that trophy wife. And I think that a lot of men, when they do meet someone close to their age, feel they have found something perhaps more solid than when they’re dating a woman 25 years younger. I mean, it must be a relief not to have to act 35 in bed when you’re 60."

The down-to-earth Meyers has always had a penchant for turning fantasy into reality. The daughter of a Philadelphia voting machine manufacturer, she dreamed up her first movie — literally — while under anesthesia at the dentist at 14. "It was a Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedy," she said. "When I awakened, I told the dentist the entire plot."

Yet Meyers initially didn’t set her sights on Hollywood, due to the more conventional path outlined for women of her generation. "At my Reform temple, girls weren’t even bat mitzvahed," she said. "I was always jealous of the boys, because for girls it just wasn’t done." While attending American University, she said she "went with the program and got engaged to a Jewish boy my junior year. But instead of getting married, I canceled weeks before the wedding and moved to California in 1972."

Early on, she sold cheesecakes, based on her Aunt Estelle’s recipe, while struggling to support herself as a screenwriter. She met her future husband, TV writer Charles Shyer, while on a date with his best friend, Harvey Miller.

"Charles was this cute guy wearing a B’nai B’rith T-shirt," she said.

In 1979, Meyers, Shyer and Miller collaborated on "Private Benjamin," based on her idea about a naive Jewish woman (Goldie Hawn) who joins the Army after her husband dies on their wedding night. The story reflected Meyers’ experience of canceling her wedding and reinventing herself in Hollywood, but observers saw the character in a less flattering light.

"People like to call Judy Benjamin a Jewish princess, but I take great offense at that expression," she said. "It’s a racist, sexist caricature: the girl who gets a nose job, who shops and wants to be taken care of. But Judy is actually a woman of her time, with the problems of her time. Because of social conventions, she was following a road that wasn’t right for her, and the Army allows her to grow up and to figure out her life."

Meyers shared a 1981 Oscar nomination for "Private Benjamin"; over the years, she became known for films she co-wrote with Shyer, including 1984’s "Irreconcilable Differences" and 1991’s "Father of the Bride," which he directed.

Along the way the couple had two daughters, but didn’t marry until 1995. "I wanted us to be filmmaking partners without having that husband-and-wife-team cliché hanging over us, because in Hollywood, people always assume the wife isn’t responsible for the work," she said.

In 1998, Meyers made her directorial debut with "The Parent Trap," a remake of the Disney classic about twins who get their divorced parents back together. Behind the scenes, the opposite was happening for Meyers and Shyer, the film’s co-author.

"The relationship had changed to the point where neither one of us thought we could get it back where it was," she said.

They separated that year.

"What Women Want" (2000) her first project without Shyer, reflected those circumstances. The female lead, played by Helen Hunt, is a recently divorced advertising executive who reveals she had collaborated with her husband and is nervous about going it alone.

Despite Meyers’ trepidations, the movie became a box office smash and made her one of the most sought-after female directors in Hollywood; it’s perhaps one reason Nicholson, who had never worked with a woman director, agreed to read "Something’s Gotta Give" around 2001.

"I hadn’t worked for two years, I didn’t want to work, but this was the kind of script I had never seen," said Nicholson, who is himself perceived as an aging playboy. "One of the biggest misperceptions about me is that I am not a romantic, but I’ve always been deeply sentimental. And one of the most refreshing things about this picture was getting to do the kinds of things on film that I do in real life."

Meyers, for her part, shares attributes with the fictional Erica: The character is also a successful writer who calls her daughter "Bubbie" and peppers her speech with Yiddishisms.

While it’s surprising to hear Keaton, the WASP from "Annie Hall," refer to Diane Sawyer "going into caves in Afghanistan with a shmatte on her head," the actress was comfortable with the role.

"This film is Nancy’s celebration of older women, and I’m thrilled she picked me as her representative," Keaton said.

So will viewers enjoy seeing such a celebration on screen? Meyers thinks so.

"Baby Boomers want characters who reflect their lives," she said. "We’re not dead yet. Just a bit over 50."

"Something’s Gotta Give" opens today in Los Angeles.

Aunt Coca’s Ghost

Did you have an Aunt Coca? My auntie, to
whom I am not genetically connected, was a lady we kindly invited to family
gatherings because she was alone. It was silently understood that she was an “old maid,” one of those
unfortunate women who did not marry and have children.

My Aunt Coca, from my child perspective, was an “old” woman.
A distinguished blonde lady, a member of the adult clan who clumsily pinched my
cheeks and brought gifts. What seemed old then, is close to home now. Like her,
I am an unmarried, 40-year-old woman, and I sometimes painfully feel the same
loneliness and single-woman stigmas as she did.

My four closest girlfriends are also not married. One of
them is 38 — but we still love her. Another has returned to the chevra (group)
after going through a divorce and becoming a single mom. She at least has a
record of having “sealed the deal.”

In our achievements and independence, we are very different
from Aunt Coca, who I believe spent her life working as a secretary. I am
reminded of our professional competence as we sit for our weekly Coffee Bean
& Tea Leaf shot of friendship. Our skills are varied: a lawyer, a doctor, a
writer, another lawyer and a high-tech wiz.

Our chevra was bonded and sealed through our 20-year
adventures in Los Angeles single Jewish life. In our 20s and 30s we all dated
many men, had some near-misses, attended young leader retreats, Shabbatons,
traveled to exotic destinations and busily became ensconced in Los Angeles
Jewish life.

As we chat and interrupt each other, I think of our common
denominators besides being 40: we are smart, kind, interesting and always
chasing those extra 10 (or 15) zaftig pounds. Our exchange does not have
commercial breaks:

“Jewish men are looking for playboy bunnies who read Torah.”

“Los Angeles is not Kansas City! There are so many women who
look fabulous here. Anyway they want women in their 20s to have a family.”

“Bull, they are just dirty old men”

We exchange JDate horror and victory stories. My friend
Debbie, who was not even looking (she had a top-level marketing job), got
married to a great guy through JDate.

Our PalmPilots sit on the table as we pick them up to
proactively pencil in social opportunities to be aware of: “Makor has a 40-50
singles group.” “What’s their Web site?” “Are you going to The Federation
leadership event?” “Too young. The guys are looking for 20-year-olds.” “LACMA
has free concerts on Fridays.” “MOCA has a singles group.” “It’s 20-something.”
“Did you go to Friday Night Live?” “The UJ has a 39 cutoff for their discussion
group.” “I am taking bridge lessons.” “The Fountain Theatre has a great play.”

We network activities for an hour. Our loneliness, though
populated with (diminishing) marriage prospects according to researchers, is
densely populated with friendships, philanthropic involvements, cultural
activities, family events, the gym, our pets and occasional nights at home.

Midweek I met my friend Elliott in the magazine area of
Barnes & Noble. By his own admission, he is a Jewish prince who fears
commitment. His (generally blonde) relationship attempts fail regularly and he
lives on antidepressants, while attending every single event listed (and not
listed) to find his muse. Though my friends and I would probably fit his needs
better than his relationship résumé, he would never consider dating a woman
like me. “Kind” is not one of the criteria he seeks in a woman. He wants a
young, beautiful, successful, slim, amazing, funny, superlative fit.

I leave Elliott and feel angry at men like him. Of course,
there are lot of good men who are more real, but it does certainly seem like
there are many Elliotts around. What’s a girl to do? Have fun and enjoy life
anyway, is my answer. I do feel shame not being married, but I do not feel
desperate or bored. There are times when I feel that I live on another planet
from my Valley friends, who are consumed with diaper and carpool concerns.
Mostly, my throat tightens and I feel particularly single at family Shabbat
dinners and holidays. My brothers have supplied the grandchildren, not I, the
Jewish daughter brought up for marriage. Luck? Fear of commitment? Who knows?

Am I that different than my Aunt Coca? Is the organized
Jewish community life aware of the great number of mature singles —
particularly women? Is anything being done on a community level to integrate us
into a fulfilling role other than being an alien in a synagogue world dedicated
to family life? I hope that Jewish leaders and rabbis will hear our message as
they look at Jewish life today and tomorrow.

It sometimes feels like the Orthodox community is making a
more concerted effort to reach out to older singles. Some question their
motives, but the consistency of their outreach voice is undeniable. My friends
and I often trek to Pico-Robertson to experience Shabbat with Jewish families
and feel the warmth of community sharing.

My options are different than Aunt Coca’s. To address my
ticking biological clock, I could adopt or consider other options. I can enjoy
the benefits of independent life and choose other ways to contribute socially
than by having a family and children.

However, tonight I finish my fun
Scrabble game on and then switch to JCupid to see if their Web site has more
options than JDate.

Five days to the next girlfriend caffeinated meeting.

Annabelle Stevens is a writer and the public relations director at Gary Wexler + Associates | Passion Marketing for Issues and Causes. She is the mother of the infamous Black Jacquie the cat.