A Crucial Fireplace

Some say that Fate guides them through life. Others believe that it is God who grasps their hand and tugs them, gently but insistently, into the future. Whether one or the other is true, or whether life is just a series of random happenstances, I am certain that things might have turned out very differently if Amanda had known the the room had a fireplace. Circumstances, then, be they under divine control or not, have the utmost impact on people, and Amanda would always look back at that dratted fireplace as the start of the whole sorry tale.

Amanda, the reader might want to know, wasn’t religious in the proper sense of the word. She believed in God, although she characterized Him with the sense of humor of a rather crotchety, bored old man, but she often forgot about Him in the fun and flurry of the holidays. It was hard to remember, when hanging up cheap silvery-colored ribbons on the Christmas tree and laughing uproariously with her two roommates over wine-coolers, that the celebration on December 25th owed anything to religion at all. It was all a big pageant to her, full of red, white and green, golden stars winking from shop windows, snowmen standing in backyards and children carrying little ice-skates over their shoulders. The magic of Christmas was to Amanda the same now, at the ripe old age of twenty-six, as it had been when she was four years old and wearing a full pajama suit that made her look rather like a koala bear.

But we are straying from our story. The moment of the fireplace, as we must call Amanda’s first glimpse of it, happened on Christmas Eve, but was not directly connected to the birth of the Son, nor to Amanda’s remembrance – or rather, lack thereof – of the meaning of the holiday. The fireplace lay in the room where she was to have her interview for the position of copy-editor in the Local Post, a weekly newspaper that was distributed for free around town and was filled with advertisements and coupons. The room where the fireplace lay was on the ground floor of the tallest office-building in the small city, and Amanda had been working in the self-same building since she’d gotten her M.A. in journalism. Because of her familiarity with the rather old high-rise, she dressed warmly to work every day during the winter, since the heating never worked properly. Naturally, she assumed that her interview for the lowly position in the Local Post – which was, nevertheless, better than her current job as a secretary – would take place in a cold room that had a crack or two in the window.

But, alas, as Amanda discovered when she walked in and saw the figure of Mr. Charles Forthright, the old fireplace that was in the editor’s office was ablaze, and warmth washed over her. She was much too embarrassed and tense to begin pulling off her two sweaters and one of her undershirts, and so she sweltered, face growing redder and forehead sweatier, answering the questions Mr. Forthright posed with liveliness and enthusiasm but what seemed to be extreme guilt or discomfort. It is a sad fact that sweat and redness often are products of liars, and Mr. Forthright was a rather supposing man, in the sense that he supposed things he thought were true without bothering to check them too deeply – he had fact-checkers on staff to do that dreary work for him. And so, although he thought that Amanda looked like a lovely young girl, he supposed that she was hiding something, such as an unwanted pregnancy that would lead to taking time off, or perhaps a health concern that would lead to the same, and as a calculating man, he decided not to give her the job.

Amanda conveniently forgot that she could have asked for a moment to remove her sweaters and get more comfortable. Throughout the changes that she would go through in coming years, she still insisted obstinately that if it weren’t for that fireplace, she would have gotten the job at the Local Post, and her life would have turned out entirely differently.

Dear Santa

August 27, 2010

Dear Santa Clause,

Mommy and Daddy say you don’t exist because we’re Jewish. But my best friend Wanda says that you do and she’s my best friend so I’m going to listen to her.

I’m 8 and I’m starting 3d grade tomorrow. I don’t want to go back to school. But Wanda says that Christmas will be here very soon (in 4 months) and that then I can get presents from you if I ask for them nicely.

Wanda got a lot of nice presents last year. She got another pony doll for her collection and a bathing suit for the summer (she says that was a funny present to get in the winter but I said it was a good idea and that you’re smart for thinking ahead) and a computer game about ponies (how do you know that she likes ponies? Does she tell you?) and also a book that’s about a horse (she likes ponies better than horses but she still liked the book. It was about a ghost horse! It was a good book. We read it together.)

I have been very good this year Santa. I wrote in my diary every day like the reading and writing teacher said I should last year because I wasn’t so good at it. Mommy helped me with spelling all the time but then she also showed me how to find the right spelling on Google. Do you know about Google Santa? I bet you do. Maybe you started it. I asked Wanda why I couldn’t email you and she said that you didn’t have internet in the North Pole (or South Pole? I can’t remember but I’ll ask Wanda before I send the letter).

I have also been helping Mommy do shopping for food every week and I take my dog Pesky for a walk every day (Mommy and Daddy take him for walks too) but only around the park because Mommy doesn’t want me to cross the street alone yet. I crossed the street alone once because Wanda dared me to but except for that I have been very good!

I know it is early to write to you, but I wanted to tell you that even though I’m Jewish and we have Hanukah I still want to have Christmas too. It’s not just for the presents. I’m not greedy! It’s just that Wanda has a fireplace and we don’t so I think you’ll have to come in through the window in my room (it’s biggest) and then I’ll get to see you. I want to meet your raindeer. Why are they called that Santa? Do they like the rain?

Like Mommy said to do I’m reading everything I wrote now to check for spelling and I fixed some stuff (ok a lot of stuff but I’m getting better!) and I know that I asked you a lot of questions. Will you write back to me Santa? I hope you will. I want a penpal.

I hope I see you in December!

Sincerely,

Me (Wanda says you know who we are and that we shouldn’t write our names in case someone else finds the letter and tries to find out where we live. But you know where we live already so that’s ok)

Studying, Studying, All-Nighter, Apology

I want to apologize in advance for having been absent from commenting. I have been writing a paper for my history course (Classic Greece) all day. And I mean all day. I woke up, ate, wrote, ate, took a brief break, wrote, ate, napped because of coming up all-nighter, ate, and now I’m writing this.

Funnily enough, my all-nighter has nothing to do with my course. No, it’s a voluntary night of studying that I’m spending with two friends. Today is Erev Shavu’ot, which is the eve of a Jewish holiday. I honestly don’t know very much about the holiday, except that it’s something to do with the harvest; that there’s a modern tradition of eating cheesecake during it; and that there’s an ancient custom of studying Jewish philosophy, lore and writings of several rabbis throughout the night.

My friends and I are taking the custom and making it OURS. We’re going to read each other poetry, study random Wikipedia articles, play instructive games, talk about philosophy, and generally make an intellectual pajama-party out of it.

Hope you all have a good Tuesday, and I’ll hopefully be back on schedule tomorrow!

Passover and Flying

Last night was Passover. While every single one of my friends and acquaintances here in Israel was at a Seder [that’s the Passover dinner] and either enjoying or loathing their families, I was at home, alone with my mother, watching Julie & Julia. Which is an excellent film, by the way. Oh no, don’t feel sorry for me! My mom and I were relieved to spend a quiet night together, and we didn’t want to be at a Seder! Some people were jealous of us for having no familial obligations here.

But tonight we’re flying to Los Angeles, and we’re going to have extensive familial obligations there. I don’t consider my brother or my aunts as obligations, of course, nor do I consider my mother’s close friends who are almost like family as such. No, the obligations come in on Saturday night, when we’ll be attending a late and unconventionally dated Seder [the reason for it is that it had to fit all the young’uns’ spring-breaks].

Hmm. I still sound bitter. But these obligations are ones I take on with joy. I love my extensive, slightly nutty, family. I love the gossip and the laughs and the way I’m finally treated as an adult and privy to such knowledge as who’s cheating, who’s getting divorced or who’s off the wagon. Not that I wish these things upon anyone in my family, but when a large group of sixty to eighty people join together for a dinner, gossip is bound to happen.

As you may be able to tell, I’m quite frazzled. I need to pack my carry-on bag, shower, and be ready in half an hour with a thermos of coffee to take to the park so that Sir. B. F. and I can spend an hour alone before he drives us to the airport.

I’m going to try, as hard as I possibly can, to keep writing every day, and keep track of all my friends here. Wish me luck!

New Year

New Year’s Eve. All around the world, there will be people counting down to their own time zone’s midnight, raising glasses of champagne to their lips and toasting each other and the entrance of the new year. People will kiss, dance, rejoice in something that feels monumental to them. Some will be saddened, feeling the holiday season’s last gasp come to a close and thinking bleakly about the coming week which will be completely back to normal.

New Year’s Eve. A holiday of sorts that should mean something – the beginning of something new and the farewell to something old. It should be a time for resolutions and dreams, hopes and ambitions, fears overcome and disappointments shrugged off.

New Year’s Eve. It’s never meant much to me, honestly. It should mean a lot of things, but it never seems to live up to what I would expect it to be. It’s just a night like any other night, to me. I feel like we should always be ushering in the new and making resolutions and hoping for the future – not just one evening a year.

Independence Day

Independence Day in Israel falls on a different date every year. It is celebrated on the same date in the Jewish calender, but it’s very different from the common calender that most of us use – the one with January, February etc. The Jewish calender is actually based on the cycles of the moon – by looking at the Jewish calendar I can always know when it’s going to be a full moon and when there isn’t going to be a visible moon at all. It’s quite comfy.

No matter when Independence Day falls here, though, whether in April or May, it is always celebrated in the exact same fashion all over the country. On the Eve of it, there are performances in every city, some streets are closed off so people can roam freely in certain areas, and the same pointless, useless, dumb junk is sold all over. One time, I bought a headband with orange or pink pom-poms standing up on it. I think I purchased a necklace one time as well. Still, this year I saw my favorite pointless junk, but I refrained from buying it – sunglasses with little light bulbs all around the rims that flash on and off in different colors. Sensible, stylish and not at all tacky, I say!

That’s only one part of the holiday, though. On the day itself, the skies of Israel are blurred with smog and smoke – everyone, simply everyone, has barbecues. EVERYONE. There isn’t a free grassy knoll or an empty park bench to be found anywhere.

If someone could explain to me how any of this is supposed to symbolise patriotism for the state of Israel, I would appreciate it.

Sniff

Leaning out of the window, bringing in the laundry, hands touching the cold clothing hanging in the cold air, I catch a scent. Just a whif at first, and then the smell fills my nostrils, and I breath it deeply, tears gathering in my eyes. It’s the smell of latkes, this sort of potato-patty thing – it’s a traditional thing to cook during the Jewish holiday, Hannukah, which is ending tonight. Why is it that the enticing smell of fried potatos makes my eyes water? My father used to make them every holiday time, and when I was smaller and ate an even smaller variety of foods than I eat today, I hated the smell. Today though, it makes me hungry to smell it and cry to think that my father won’t ever make it again and I’ll never get to show him that I might like his cooking for once.

It’s incredible how smell triggers the memory, isn’t it? The smallest of scents blown into your nostrils from a tiny breath of wind can remind you vividly of a sumemr’s day when you got your first kiss, of a night of partying with friends, of a person you haven’t seen for a long time or of a place you miss and long to be in. It’s amazing, in my mind, how smells can bring up memories long forgotten or ignored.

Sniff away, then, I say – you may discover some feeling or time you hardly remember.

Happy New Year, Jews of the World!

It’s 9:47PM here in the Holy Land and the holiday is officially on! Marvelous holiday, this Rosh Hashana business. Better than Christmas even! Sure we don’t have big fur trees or snow, but we’ve got FISH HEADS. Nothing beats some fish heads and some strangely shaped fruit with lots of seeds.

So gather ’round the table, all you family folk, and sing the kindergarten songs that pass for carols and rejoice, for today is the first day of the new year and soon enough you’ll get to fast! Wonderful, marvelous, go, go, enjoy, have fun! Go hug all the family members that you hate and kiss their cheeks and tell them Shana Tova! Drink a bottle or two of wine, it’s OK, you can repent it in a few days!

New year’s resolution: Stop being so cynical about harmless holidays.