Monday, November 23, 2009

My Father Is Gone

My father, Ralph Sternfeld Jaskow, passed away peacefully at 9:45 this morning, after a long illness, with his wife and two daughters by his side.

Burial will be in New York sometime on Tuesday afternoon.

May the memory of my father, a gentle and sweet man of the highest ethics, be for a blessing.

Posting will resume after shiva (the week of mourning).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

50–0 in 2.2 Seconds

When I visited my neighbor recently, Catschka took a run across the room, leaped onto my lap, and ended up like this in seconds:

Catschka on my lap 1

Purr... zzz.

I guess that’s what happens when you run around the yard and climb trees all day.

The Friday Ark. The Carnival of the Cats.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Music for a Wall to Fall By

When I was a kid, my favorite performing artist was Billy Joel. I loved to hear his piano work, which was so strongly influenced by classical music, and his lyrics, too—I knew the words to every one of his solo pieces from Cold Spring Harbor right up through Glass Houses by heart. His 1981 album of live versions of his lesser-known works, Songs in the Attic, was not new to me, except for the fact that these were live performances. I already knew the songs and still listened to them frequently. And Billy Joel was a real New Yorker, just like I wanted to be (my family moved upstate when I was still very young).

My parents knew how much I liked Billy Joel’s music. (There was no way they couldn’t know; I had it playing on the stereo in my room all the time, though at low volume.) When he performed in Madison Square Garden in 1980, my father bought tickets from a scalper so that I could go, and my mother took me there and sat with me through the entire concert. Heroes, both of them.

Before I go any further, I should make it clear that I’m not much of a fan type. I don’t follow celebrities. I don’t think that a person is great or even good just because he can sing, play an instrument and write good lyrics.

But shortly before the Berlin Wall fell, I saw Billy Joel acting like a mensch, if not a tzaddik.

During one of his concerts in the Soviet Union in 1987, a film crew was lighting the audience. Billy Joel asked them several times to stop, and when they didn’t, he stopped the song in the middle and proceeded to throw a tantrum onstage, during which he overturned a grand piano.

Here is how my thought processes went as I watched the events unfold on television. At first:

Good grief! The man just overturned a grand piano, and all because the film crew didn’t obey him! Ugh, disgusting! What a prima donn—

And then, a flash of a fraction of a second later:

No, this man is no prima donna. No way. This is still the Soviet Union, still the repressive Communist regime. He deflected the authorities’ attention from the audience to himself in the best way possible: by throwing a fit onstage. He would rather have millions of people think he’s a jerk than risk exposing his audience to harm. That’s pretty amazing. This guy is a real mensch.

There was also a scene in which a Russian man, a lifelong fan of his (Victor of the incredibly moving song “Leningrad,” I believe), met Billy Joel for the first time and showed unrestrained admiration for him. Billy Joel’s response showed, immediately and unequivocally, that he was completely down to earth.

I have no idea what Billy Joel is like in real life. And really, it’s none of my business. But for me, the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Berlin Wall are bound up in those moments from his trip to the Soviet Union: his attempt to protect his audience at the expense of his own image, and his insistence that a long-time admirer treat him not as a celebrity idol but as an ordinary human being.

If he ever comes to play here, I’ll go and see him just for that.

(Here is Billy Joel’s recounting of the episode during the concert in his own words. Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Quiet on the Set!

Yesterday, I worked as an extra for a film that is currently in production. Here are pictures (and just in case anyone is wondering, I asked for and received permission to take and post them).

We filmed at the former location of the Schneller Orphanage in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood, which served as an army base from 1948 to 2008, when it was closed down.

The view of the set from the courtyard:

Film set 1

The mock-up of the vegetable stand, with real fruits and vegetables (I wonder what happened to them after the day of filming):

Vegetable store on the set

Portable tracks for the camera dolly. Here, the whole setup is being tested prior to filming:

Testing the camera

Two gentlemen who also worked as extras record the moment for posterity:

Photographing the photographer

One of the crew members wore a particularly interesting t-shirt. I thought that some army units were so secret that no one was allowed to know that they existed!

T-shirt closer up

A view of the tower at the front of the building complex framed by high clouds:

Clouds over the tower 2

A view of the rear tower:

Closeup of rear tower

Wow, 1856! During a lull in the filming (there were quite a few of them, at least for us extras), I did a bit of exploring in the old complex. Here are some of the things I found:

A narrow corridor leading from the courtyard to the outside world:

A narrow corridor

Bits of ceramic used to reinforce construction:

Bits of ceramic

A board on which tools were kept:

Tool chart

Beyond the main courtyard, an overgrown back yard:

Beyond the courtyard once again

Heading back to the main area, pausing for a moment on cobblestones that are more than a century old:

On the set: Shoes on century-old cobblestones

Back on the set, various items:

Various items on the set

An extra waits (we all did quite a lot of waiting!):

Arch, stairs, actor

Now, just so that nobody gets the idea that filming is glamorous: the Schneller compound had been abandoned for some time and had no running water. Therefore, we had these:

The powder rooms

There was an outdoor sink nearby with liquid soap. There was also some grumbling, including by high-level personnel on the set, but there was nothing to be done.

Now comes the part that is a bit less pleasant to write about: the food. Actually, it wasn’t so much the food itself as it was a matter of being made to feel included, part of the team. Food is an important part of that... and here, someone evidently missed the boat.

The woman who was in charge of us extras knew that most if not all of us would be religiously observant people from Bet Shemesh and Jerusalem. She warned me beforehand that while there would be catered food on the set, it would not be kosher, since the studio had a contract with a company that did not keep the Jewish dietary laws. In practice, this meant that in the morning, most of the people there had a lovely breakfast that included hot dishes. Those of us who kept kosher had to make do with cold omelette sandwiches.

In the evening, after filming, dinner was served to the cast and crew. It looked like this...

Regular dinner on the set

... and it was served here:

At dinner

The extras from Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh who kept kosher—most if not all of us—got this...

The kosher dinner

... served indoors at room temperature.

This is the kind of thing that I would have expected to deal with abroad, not in Israel. I have to admit that I was disappointed—and not because of the food or its serving temperature. For me, it has to do with making everyone in the work environment feel included, like we’re part of the team, even for the brief time that we were there. The fact that we were served the food that we were served in the manner that we were served it—at room temperature and separate from the rest of the cast and crew—gave me a feeling that was, shall we say, less than pleasant. It was almost as if we were being told: OK, we’re the cool people, and you’re just the religious, small-town provincials. We had to do something for you, and here it is. Be grateful.

I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. One of the other extras called his wife during dinner and offhandedly described the food we’d been given as “hazerei”—Yiddish for junk. Sure, I would have preferred a hot meal and a fresh salad. But more than that, I wonder: would it have been so difficult to hire a catering company that kept kosher if only in order to allow everyone who had put in a long day of work on the set to be, and feel, included?

Nevertheless, all things considered, it was a good day and I had a lot of fun. I even received personal direction from the director! Lots of us extras did, and it made me feel like a real live actor instead of just a piece of breathing scenery. Here is a photo of myself in Haredi garb—specifically, the cape and turban. The clothes underneath are my own.

As a Haredi woman

The rest of my photos from the day of filming are here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bucking the Trend

(Men, be warned. This is strictly a Girl Talk post. If you disregard this warning and continue to read and become embarrassed, don’t blame me. I warned you.)

I’ve never been much into current fashion (except, I confess, for a brief bout of silliness during my teenage years). When I was in elementary and middle school, my teachers—products of the 1960s almost to a man and woman—taught us to question what we were told. Part of that involved learning about the techniques that advertisers used to influence potential customers. We spent several weeks bringing in advertisements from magazines and analyzing them in class, and dissecting popular ads on the radio and on TV. We learned how to use grownup terms like “subliminal advertising” and “snob appeal.” It was fascinating stuff, and I enjoyed it.

But it was more than fun, more than the excitement of kids about to enter adolescence feeling like they were being initiated into the secrets of Madison Avenue. It was valuable teaching. I learned to look beyond the slogans, photos and trends and choose products that I liked, not what someone else was being paid a lot of money to tell me I ought to like. Some years ago, when a saleslady at my eye doctor’s office tried to sell me an expensive pair of frames on the grounds that they were the latest style, I told her: “That’s not how to sell me frames. You have to tell me that they’re pretty, practical and will last me for years, not that they’re trendy.”

Which brings me to the point of this post. Guys, if any of you are still here, I warn you once again: you probably want to stop reading now.

I’ve tried, and used, much of what’s been available in feminine hygiene over the past thirty years. (Good Lord. Thirty years. Now I really feel old!) When I was still fairly young, I settled on applicator-less tampons, feeling that they were the most convenient option. In my view, they were better for the environment because they generated the least amount of trash. For the same reason, they were also more modest, since I had less trash to worry about disposing of discreetly.

And then I found these... and I haven’t looked back since.

I won’t go into detail about how to use and care for them here. There’s plenty of information about that on the Internet (see the Wikipedia article and the individual sites that sell them). I will say that they’re the best option I’ve ever found and that I wish I’d known about them when I was much younger. When I think of all the money I could have saved and all the hassle I could have avoided... well, done is done.

Going the reusable route also gave me a practical use for my sewing hobby. I made my own reusable cloth pads according to a pattern that I downloaded from the Internet. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of good patterns out there. I simply chose the one that I liked best, bought some inexpensive cotton fabric at a local fabric store, took out my machine and went to work.

Since then, I haven’t had to spend one red cent on monthly supplies. The cup does most of the work, the cloth pads are there for extra insurance, and all is well. There’s also the comfort factor, which is pretty important in a hot climate. True, sometimes it happens that the pads don’t look as fresh and new as they did the moment I lifted them off the sewing machine and snipped the thread. So I have to spend a bit more time washing them—big deal! They need to be washed anyway. When they get worn out from years of washing, I take out my bag of cloth scraps and make new ones.

Some years ago, a well-known feminine hygiene company adopted the slogan “It’s all about you.” Every time I see one of the company’s trucks with that slogan on it—yes, we do see them here, with the slogan in English—I can’t resist a smile. Yes, I think to myself, it is all about me... because I get to use products that are safe, comfortable and reusable, and that paid for themselves long ago. My money’s not going to this firm’s advertising execs. As far as this part of my budget is concerned, my money is staying right where I want it: in my wallet.

Flu: It’s All the Rage

It’s official, or at least as official as it’s going to get. I’ve got the flu.

I felt a bit more tired than usual last Friday night, but that didn’t seem out of the ordinary. I figured it was simply because I’d been at work at 6:00 a.m. I’d also felt a bit out of sorts for a few days before, but I figured that it was simply anticipation of the approaching weekend with its chance to rest.

On Saturday morning, I led services for my women’s prayer group, Shirat Sara. As the service progressed, I felt weaker and weaker, and when my part was done, I did something that I’ve never done the entire time I’ve been with the group: I went to the couch in the main room and lay down.

That’s when I realized that something was wrong.

I dozed off a bit, then woke up when services were over and the women came into the main room for kiddush. Then I spent some time gathering strength for the walk home. It was slow going. Later on, I took my temperature. It was 101.3.

Grrrr. Expletive deleted.

It goes without saying that I didn’t go to work yesterday (but I’m saying it anyway). I called the doctor, but the earliest appointment I could get was this morning. (To be fair, the doctor said that I should have asked to speak directly with her or insisted on an earlier appointment. But my judgment’s not too great when I have fever.) I spent the day at home, drinking tea and soup and resting, grateful to be living in a time and place where we have such a thing as sick leave.

After my doctor examined me this morning, she said, “You have a flu-like virus. It could be regular flu, or it could be swine flu.” She gave me instructions to call her tomorrow with an update, to go immediately to the emergency clinic if I should feel worse, and a prescription for Tamiflu. “You’ll have to go to the main pharmacy downtown for it,” she told me. “They only have it there. And you don’t have to pay for it; it’s free.” The wind was picking up outside, but so far there was no rain. Off I went.

When I got to the pharmacy, I saw a sign on the door stating that people who had a prescription for Tamiflu could receive it right away, without waiting in line. I went inside, walked straight to the counter and presented my prescription. I had my Tamiflu in hand and was out the door within seconds. It felt a bit weird to receive VIP treatment, but then, it had nothing to do with my own status and everything to do with protecting the other people there as much as possible.

So now I’m back home, drinking tea, having soup and taking my Tamiflu. For once in my life, I’m keeping up with current trends, and have a virus that’s all the rage.

Well, possibly, anyway. If I start rooting around for truffles and acorns, I guess I’ll know for sure.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Haveil Havalim Is Up

Haveil Havalim #241 is up at Simply Jews. Happy fourth blogoversary, Snoopy the Goon!

First Major Rain of the Season

Rain in Jerusalem

Each autumn, how it sets my soul aquiver
To see the street below become a river.

Up a Tree

Catschka in a tree

Catschka has a love affair
With being high up in the air.
I’m grateful that there’s no redwood
Growing in our neighborhood.