I Miss Her Already, And She’s Not Even Gone

During the course of my mother-in-law’s slow, quiet slide into the abyss of dementia, I’ve become the ersatz matriarch of the family.

Mostly, it’s fine, pulling together a few Shabbos dinners a month and making sure everyone remembers each other’s birthdays. But for some reason, I’m not feeling it this Thanksgiving. I haven’t even been to the grocery store yet—just the thought of climbing around the aisles grabbing for the one unbruised potato is causing my intestines to entwine.

Surely losing my job has contributed to the ambivalence over two days worth of cooking that gets snarfed in 20 minutes, but the thing that’s been bothering me the most is that a threshold has been crossed: My mother-in-law no longer remembers me. She hasn’t said my name since the beginning of the summer, but her eyes would still spark when she heard my voice. The family singsong phrase “I love you love you love you…” could always evoke a response, though she hasn’t spoken any real words in months. Even if it took a few seconds, I could watch her face go from suspicion to scrunched confusion as her poor mind tried to latch onto something that matched. I could tell the second the synapse clicked: She would smile, the mystery of this person in front of her singing and waving solved.

Last week, though, the click never came. Her wonderful caregiver, Iris (whose nephew happens to be Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, a lil’ tidbit for all you SEC football fans) got her all fapitzed (that’s Yiddish for gussied up) in red for the JEA senior Thanksgiving lunch, complete with a spritz of the Chanel perfume that’s been collecting dust on the vanity for the last few years.

El Yenta Man’s eyes teared up when he smelled his mama. “She smells like Mom again,” he choked, placing his cheek against her neck for one more breath.

I knelt in front of her wheelchair (her ability to walk diminished right around the same time as her speech) for our usual ritual, but when I looked into her eyes and cooed our “love you” song, she looked back and shrugged. I tried a few more times, but the curtain of confusion never parted even a sliver, and that’s the first time in the five years she’s been diagnosed that I couldn’t get through.

Though one never knows with dementia, it appears that our family is nearing the end of having this dear lady around. I know what I need to do is step up and make this the best Thanksgiving ever—assign kitchen tasks to keep my father-in-law busy and out of the clutches of despair, make pies from scratch, encourage the children to learn a few new songs on the piano and have Iris put my mother-in-law in something fine, with a little spritz of Chanel behind her ears. Except all I want to do is scream at everyone to go out for Chinese and then zone in front of the TV, even if I have watch football all day. I’m making a lousy matriarch, more like Joan Crawford than Martha Stewart.

If my mother-in-law had her druthers, she’d let me spill my sadness and nod without saying anything for a while. She was the kind of matriarch who let everyone be who they were and do their thing while she quietly and without complaint shouldered the brunt of the shopping, the cooking, the napkin-folding, the wine uncorking, so it hardly looked like any work at all. Of course, as a good Southern Jewish girl, she somehow missed the entire women’s liberation movement of her generation, though when we discussed the feminism, she waved her hand and said she had always done everything she wanted to do.

If she could, she would tell me it’s very understandable that I should be feeling down about things and not so motivated to make a big fuss over a meal. She’d give me some simple shortcuts to make things easier, like buying instant stuffing (which is gross, but listen, though she is a fantastic and talented lady, between you and me, she was never much of a gourmet cook.) She’d also remind me how important I am to my family, and if I need help, I should ask for it. And finally, without guilt-tripping me or making me feel like an a**hole, she’d list off twenty or so amazing things in my life for which I can be grateful.

And what do you know? My father-in-law just called to volunteer to make the turkey. El Yenta Man said he’d make the stuffing. I’m still saddled with the shopping, the green beans and the pies, but if I treat myself to a carmel macchiato before I brave the florescent-lit purgatory of Publix, I can manage.

This may not be a Thanksgiving to remember, and maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And I may end up being the kind of matriarch who makes reservations at Wang’s Chinese next year.

Chanukah Contest: This Means Chocolate!

Yo, Geltdiggers! Remember last Purim when the meshuggenehs at Oh Nuts! helped the Yenta host a supersweet giveaway at their online store? Well, mah friends, since a game of dreidel is pretty lame without chocolate coins, it is ON again for Chanukah!

All you need to do win $25 to spend on serious nom noms is this:

Go to the Oh Nuts! Chanukah page. Find the tasty item that incites the most drooling. Come back to THIS POST on Yo, Yenta! and leave a comment in the comments section with the name and the URL of said tasty item. Got that? Pick it, tell me about it here.

Social media maniacs can also go to the Oh Nuts! Facebook Page and become a fan. Post on the wall your tasty item, the URL and be sure to tell them Yo, Yenta! sent you. You can also follow @ohnuts on Twitter and tweet your little heart out with something like: “Geltdiggers! Win Chanukah gelt from http://www.yoyenta.com/?p=3373 RT @ohnuts.”

Winner will be announced Dec. 1 before the sun goes down and the candles are lit!

The Three “I’s of Airport Security: Israelification, Intelligence And Eye Contact

Have any of you had the pleasure of being screened in the naked machine at airport security? I did a few weeks back on our way to San Francisco from the Jacksonville airport; the little booth reminded me of something at a hi-tech spa. The whole thing wasn’t so bad, although it would have been nicer if the process included a free spray tan.

I’m not a particularly modest lady, having logged plenty of afternoons in the nudey section of Muir Beach in my 20s as well as also having given birth in a room full of curious med students. I don’t really care if the person checking my electronic image for dangerous materials took a nice long gander at my fillings and the copper IUD hanging out in my Fallopian tubes.

However, apparently I was deemed extra suspicious that day because I also got my boobs patted down by a female TSA officer and that’s when I started thinking there really has to be a better way to protect the skies from shoe bombers and underpants terrorists. Wouldn’t it just be easier to ask me, point blank, if I planned to blow up the plane today? If my eyes got shifty and I started to sweat, then it might be prudent to take me aside and start touching me, but being felt up, in public, in front of my children, made me think we’re already living in a police state where any of us could be denied due process in a flash.

Seeing as I wanted to get to San Francisco, and my family was pacing around like I was being detained by KGB agents, I remained calm and cooperative with the lady with the plastic gloves, hoping that El Yenta Man’s snarky sexual comments would not get me hauled off to a Siberian work camp for an anal probe.

John Tyner gave no such acquiescence. He’s the guy in San Diego last weekend who refused his airport scan and recorded the consequences on his cell phone. Instead of submitting to the alternative method for determining his danger to other passengers (which basically includes everything but an anal probe), he turned around and went home. You can listen to the full exchange (in which Tyner famously warns the TSA agent not to touch his “junk”) here.

All week long people have spouted on about how the scanners and patdowns are “a necessary evil” of the times in which we live, while others are revolting against the breach in privacy and civil rights. CBSNews posted today that nobody even knows if the scanners even work since the information is highly classified. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of clusterf*ck ensues next week as the entire country crisscrosses itself in order to eat turkey with their loved ones.

We Americans talk so tough about our rights to own guns and vote in morons to Congress—why are we so willing to give up the right to be treated with dignity in the name of fear? Yet another mystifying paradox.

You know who’s watching all this nonsense and shaking their heads? The Israelis. This Toronto Star interview with Rafi Sela, who set up Tel Aviv International Airport’s highly efficient, six-tiered security system that keeps passengers moving and the bad guys out, is a must-read—especially the part about what would actually happen if a bomb was discovered in any major American airport and the entire place had to be evacuated.

The brunt of Israeli airport (and other types of) security relies on the individual screeners’ willingness to look a person in the eye and discern whether he or she is acting suspicious—none of this American faux-politeness (“Sir, please step to the side and submit to a search…”) Somehow as Americans we’ve come to believe that this “behavioral profiling” is discriminatory, when it so many cases it is a poisonous form of political correctness. According to Sela, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his exploding underwear would have never found his way onto a plane last Christmas if he’d gone through Israel.

“Israelification” shows us what we lack when it comes to vetting out possibly security threats from massive crowds: Balls. The very junk that John Tyner didn’t want that government TSA agent touching.

Those Damn Jew Physics and Other Liberal Conspiracies

Just when you thought things couldn’t get more absurd, that ignorance-luvin’ element of our society that rejects evolution and dinosaurs has now turned its dull Cyclops eye on Einstein.

University of Virginia physics professor Paul Fishbane writes in yesterday’s Tablet of Conservapedia.com‘s re-labeling of the theory of relativity a “liberal conspiracy,” and geez, it is a mindbender. Not just because it’s challenging to absorb an AP Physics review before I’ve had a second cup of tea in spite of Dr. Fishbane’s generous simplifications, but that people actually believe the example of Jesus walking on water is a valid refutation of space-time curvature.

Conservapedia is a crowd-source “encyclopedia” founded by Andrew Schlafly (son of pursey-faced anti-feminist Phyllis) and patterned after Wikipedia, though it appears that most of its contributors were homeschooled in Waco, Texas.

Its entry on the “counterexamples to relativity” describes the Einstein’s findings on the nature of mass and speed and light are “heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world” and cites the following as Reason #20 why the theory of relativity is bunk:

“The lack of useful devices developed based on any insights provided by the theory; no lives have been saved or helped, and the theory has not led to other useful theories and may have interfered with scientific progress.”

Huh. While the atom-smashing that led to the nuclear bomb doesn’t count as fun times for humanity, surely the implication that relativity is “just a theory” that’s had no impact on the world is asinine. Nuclear power might not be perfect, but it is a viable power source. And how many lives have been saved—and helped— by PET scans that detect cancer and who would have found themselves wandering around in circles if not for their GPS device?

Though there is no overt anti-Semitism, Dr. Fishbane susses that the rejection of Einstein’s work smacks of the Nazi political tactic of rejecting science that doesn’t jive with the agenda. He writes that the Conservapedians believe that “Einstein is at the root of a Great Liberal Conspiracy. His work is not science but a foundation for radicalism; relativity is not a scientific theory but the advance guard for an all-out assault on the edifice of fundamental conservatism and, by extension, on absolute authority.”

We’re up against people who are using Genesis and the New Testament as their physics textbooks, folks. How do you argue with that kind of crazy? Read Dr. Fishbane’s entire article here.

Should’ve Made ‘Em Just Play Again, Only Naked

When I was a kid, the neighborhood boys would play a game with a Nerf football called “Smear the Queer.”

I wasn’t old enough to discern the homophobic nuances, but the spectacle of pre-teenagers with spindly mustaches beating the living crap out of the unlucky guy with the ball was enough to keep me in my own yard, safely ensconced in a Nancy Drew book. These were the kids who smoked cigarettes in their basement rec room lit by black light bulbs that made everyone’s teeth a scary yellow, and any game they played I quickly knew better than to be a part of.

Apparently, some students at La Quinta High School near Palm Springs, CA had no such inner compass, as several were apprehended this summer for spending the wee hours of the morning playing a game called “Beat the Jew.”

According to Care2.com, “the game consists of “Jews” being blindfolded and taken to a random location off the freeway. They then must make it to “base,” or the school, while being chased by “Nazis” who are out to tackle and capture them. While seven students were caught, the game has 40 fans on its Facebook page.

Charming. The Facebook page has since been shut down, and the ADL swooped into Southern Cali this week to throw down what’s bound to be one muthafarkin’ tolerance and anti-bias education program, but I have my doubts that even Ravin’ Abe Foxman Himself can really make a difference to these kids.

Especially since some of them defended themselves with the argument that their “Beat the Jew” game was not anti-Semitic since no Jews were actually harassed.

Seriously, how much patience does a society have to have for this kind of stupidity? Does that mean the late afternoon ass-kickings of “Smear the Queer” weren’t homophobic because my scary redneck neighbors didn’t shake the sh*t out of any actual gay people?

At least they might have truthfully claimed that they didn’t know the word “queer” was a fairly obvious reference to a gay person in 1978. But how could the term “Jew,” in 2010 or 1939 or 1492, refer to anything else?

“I’m Jewish, But Beethoven Is My Religion”

Have you met Alice yet?

At 106, she’s the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, but that’s hardly the most remarkable thing about this extraordinary lady. Filmmaker Nick Reed captures the magnificent light of his graceful and lovely subject in “Alice Dancing Under the Gallows,” his forthcoming documentary that’s been burning up the Interwebs with this trailer:

A testament to the capacity of the human spirit, certainly. And also a damn good reason to keep taking piano lessons.

Would you believe you can pre-order the film for $4.99? Do it, do it now, and show it to all your friends when it arrives.

Back to the Freelance Grind

Remember that fab new job I started over the summer promoting Georgia history? Well, it’s history as of Friday.

Not quite sure what happened, as I had some what I consider several successes in attracting statewide media coverage to the organization in the five months I was there, but apparently there were other factors involved that remain opaque. All I can say is I know I did everything I could to squeeze this round tushy into a square hole and I wish all the lovely people over there the very best.

Bygones. The good news is that I’m a full-time yenta again, which means this website will be getting some kind of makeover in the coming months and that the book proposal will get some loving attention.

Speaking of books, I picked up Dara Horn’s latest, All Other Nights, last week at the library and I’m already hooked like a gap-mouthed trout. It’s a meticulously researched historical novel about Jewish spies who run both sides of lines during the Civil War, a period I remain fascinated by in spite of not being paid to like it anymore.

From the publisher:

Based on real personalities like Judah Benjamin, the Confederacy’s Jewish Secretary of State and spymaster, and on historical facts and events ranging from an African-American spy network to the dramatic self-destruction of the city of Richmond, All Other Nights is a gripping and suspenseful story of men and women driven to the extreme limits of loyalty and betrayal. It is also a brilliant parable of the rift in America that lingers a century and a half later: between those who value family and tradition first, and those dedicated, at any cost, to social and racial justice for all.

So that’ll keep me busy for a little bit. It’s so interesting to see a broadened historical context for Jewish stories—especially the in early American history. Of course, Savannah’s storied Jewish past would make excellent fodder for a novel…I’ll get right on that, ‘k?

Continuing on the Civil War theme, I, along with the rest of the folks at last night’s Director’s Choice showing at the Savannah Film Festival, got a sneak peek of Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, filmed right here in the SAV. The film stars that sexy Scot James McEvoy as the lawyer charged with defending the mother of one of the men who planned Abraham Lincoln’s assassination—played with depth and grace by the gorgeous and amazing Robin Wright (I do believe she has dropped her ex-husband’s name.)

I’ve been a devoted fan of RW’s since I was a teenager—yes, before she was Forrest Gump‘s Jenny, even before she melted everyone’s heart as The Princess Bride: I have adored her since she was the beautifully tragic Kelly Capwell on the super-cheesy 80s soap opera Santa Barbara and I would fake being sick just so I could stay home and watch her get chased by her serial killer boyfriend and have miscarriages. Many years later, when she and then-husband Sean Penn lived down the road from us in Marin County, I once saw her at the drugstore and stared for about 30 seconds longer than would make anyone comfortable

So yes, that’s embarrassing, and when I got to actually meet and hang out with her last night at a dive bar on River Street, I am proud to say I kept those little tidbits to myself. By the way, she’s as gorgeous in person as she is onscreen—you should see The Conspirator just to check out her flawless complexion.

The night also paid tribute to Bobby Zarem, legendary publicist and Savannah son, whom I am hoping to interview here very soon, if he’ll have me. Bobby is the great mind behind the “I (Heart) NY” campaign and one stupendous character; he’s the magnet that’s attracted so many stars and films and finance to Savannah and I feel pretty damn cool wearing my “I (HEART) BZ” baseball hat today.

Finally, the best thing about losing my job is that I have time to take my mother-in-law to lunch at the JEA with the other Yentas today. She’s difficult to manage these days, her body deteriorating almost as quickly as her mind, but she still likes the chicken. And the company, I think. I know I do.