The Pot and the Kettle

February 8th, 2015 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in Jewishness, other rants, sadness

Speaking of displaced persons camps (see post below), today’s New York Times has a fascinating (random) article on how badly Americans treated Jewish displaced persons after WWII. Many people I know have been very surprised. When I was researching for my book back in 2009, I learned a lot about how bad things were, so the article just makes me sad.

Here’s a highlight:

“We entered the synagogue, which was packed with the greatest stinking mass of humanity I have ever seen,” [Gen. George S.] Patton wrote. “Of course, I have seen them since the beginning and marveled that beings alleged to be made in the form of God can look the way they do or act the way they act.”

For every American Jew who has been so critical of anti-Semitism in Europe, remember that the US has historically not really loved Jews any more. (And you just need to read the completely fucked up comments on the article to see that this is not just something that is a historical problem.) This country is just much better at hiding our anti-Semitism, just as we are experts at whitewashing the true history of “freedom” and “democracy” in a land built on the backs of slave labor, the 3/5 Compromise, and votes only for white male landowners. We are as failed at living up to our ideals as any other country, but really, really great at being sanctimonious.

What we know from history is that Jews can find refuge in places for quite some time, but it always comes to an end. Husband always says we should be ready to flee because the US is really no different. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way, but people really love believing the lies – that the Constitution is for everyone – because it means we don’t have to do the hard work to make it true. And yes, I realize that I still have it pretty good living here compared to some other places. But that doesn’t mean I have to settle for what is. I want to see the US really be the shining beacon of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, and it hurts me that so many of my fellow countrymen like to settle for half measures. The truth shall set you free.

Mumps: A Fairy Tale

February 4th, 2015 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in family, mortification, other rants

MumpsOnce upon a time, in a displaced person’s camp in Austria, the only child of Holocaust survivors came down with the mumps. For parents whose entire families were lost – either to the Nazi death camps or to the Iron Curtain – this was beyond devastating. They would have done anything if only they could have prevented their little boy from contracting this terrible disease.

Fortunately, the boy survived. The family moved to the United States, where the boy grew up, married, and had his own family. Everyone was very excited that the children could receive a vaccine that would prevent them from going through what they had experienced decades ago. Many, many years later, one of the daughters of the boy with mumps had her own baby. He, too, received a vaccine.

The very idea that a person would not take this precious opportunity to protect his or her child, and to protect the children of other, is horrifying to this family. What evil, wicked forces would brainwash parents to turn down a lifesaving option? They cannot understand.

This fairy tale does not have to have an unhappy ending. The spell of the anti-vaccination, anti-science advocates can be broken. It will take bravery and moral courage, but as this family knows, the alternative is even scarier.

Tags: , ,

Doing a Mitzvah

September 19th, 2014 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in hilarity

Thirty-five minutes before my train was set to leave, I arrived at the gate. The line already extended out of the boarding area and was starting to snake down the hall. I never really understood why people feel the compulsion to arrive so early for a train with a guaranteed eat, and yet there I was, early for the train.

My stomach rumbled. I opened a baggie of pistacio nuts. I had just begun shoving them into my gaping maw by the handful when an older white couple joined the line behind me. The man was short, wearing navy pants, a hideous navy shirt made of some polyesther looking fabric, and navy pants. The woman was wearing a woven blazer and tasteful gold jewelry. A blond man, maybe in his twenties, wearing a navy jacket, pink shirt, and khakis, assisted them.

“Sir,” he said, which of course caught my attention. Who the fuck talks like that? “You’ll take this piece of paper” – and he handed him the boarding pass – “and show it to the person when you get to the gate.”

The couple asked a variety of questions about where to put their bags and what it would be like coming back to DC from Philly, when they were on their own. I turned around and told them it would be less crazy on the way back, explaining that people don’t really line up so early, but also that the train would be more crowded when they boarded, since it was coming from somewhere else.

The woman nodded. “We usually just fly, but it seems silly to fly to Philadelphia. And it’s expensive.”

Thinking about the clusterfuck of hell that I dealt with back in December when I flew to Philly to connect to a flight elsewhere, but 36 hours later found myself on Amtrak back home, I nodded. “Actually, if Amtrak runs smoothly, it’s a pretty relaxing trip.”

She seemed pleased. I began reading my book. Suddenly, a man darted into the line. “Are you…..” he asked, but I missed what he said. I turned slightly to observe. “I’ve been following your career for a few years. You are truly a great American!”

The man in navy beamed. Now I was really curious. Who was this dude with the white boy assistant? I tried to peek at the name on his boarding pass. Fail. I tried to glimpse the name on the woman’s boarding pass. Another fail. However, she did pull out her driver’s license. I still didn’t see the name, but it was from Indiana.

Richard Lugar, I thought immediately. Must be. The line moved forward. I asked if they needed help, but they said they were fine. I rushed ahead to get on the train and figure out if I had just offered to assist an anti-choice Republican.

As soon as I sat on the train, I googled his name. The accompanying picture indicated that yes, I had been kind to a Republican former Senator from Indiana who is a quiet anti-choicer, as I had suspected. I felt charitable. Let the weekend begin.


Stranger on the Plane

September 16th, 2014 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in random

The woman sitting next to me on the plane looked vampiric and was reading a VC Andrews novel. I was already seated in the middle seat when she boarded the plane, but she didn’t give me a chance to move out before trying to climb over me. She was weird.

So it freaked me out a bit when, halfway through the short flight, when she leaned over and asked me what I was reading on my kindle. She had a strange look on her face. It was obvious she’d been reading over my shoulder, although for how long I was not sure.

“Uh, The Outside World,” I told her. I was pretty sure that she was not reading novels about Jews seeking more meaning in their religious practices, and wasn’t sure where she was going with this.

“Oh.” She seemed disappointed. “I thought it was something else.”

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman?” I asked. Maybe she did like reading books about ultra-Orthodox Jews.

“Yes, that’s it. I read that. I thought this might be that book.”

I was confused. If she read the book, did it not strike her that none of the characters have the same names or live in the same setting?

She leaned toward me. “Do you live in New York?”


“How come you’re traveling?”

“I’m going to a conference,” I said. I really did not want to talk to her. I picked up my Kindle again.

“Oh, you work? Do you like working?”


Then she asked me where I live in New York. By this point, we were landing. I was increasingly nervous that she was going to follow me off the plane, onto the subway platform, and shove me onto the tracks as a train pulled into the station. Fortunately, the women on the other side of me decided to tell me all about her trip to Cancun with her husband. Vampir-O shrunk back. I can’t say for sure if she was hissing, but I swear she might have been.

I should not travel for work.


New research

September 9th, 2014 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in Jewishness, oh happy day, writing

While working, training for a half marathon, and seeking representation for my novel set in Warsaw in the 1930s, I was hit with an idea for a second novel. (Really, a third novel since a lot of the material I cut from my original idea for my Warsaw-Chicago novel is a partial second novel, but whatever.) The new novel involves adoption, the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, and triplets born in London in 1910.

This means: RESEARCH! Good god, I love research. I am very excited to be in a research phase again. The nice thing about this research is that it is also primarily dealing with documents in English. (Much easier for me than Yiddish and Polish, since I speak neither of those languages.) Plus, I love London.

The triplets born in London in 1910 who form part of the family saga are actually my husband’s grandmother and great aunt and great uncle. The only thing better than research in general is genealogical research. Especially when records actually exist. (Major problem I have with finding information about my grandfather and his family in Warsaw: no records left after the Nazis destroyed not only the people who lived there, but their paper documentation, as if to erase this world completely.)

I’m super excited.


August 14th, 2014 by Suzanne | 1 Comment | Filed in family, hilarity, Jewishness

Look closely

I love this photo of my grandfather at B’Nai Jacob on Artesian in 1987. At first glance, it seems like a man praying with his peers, probably as a minyan. But then you look closely… and it so perfectly captures who my grandpa was and his relationship with Judaism.

I thought about this picture out of the blue this evening. I was suddenly struck by how much I would love to talk to him again, just one last time. Generally when that mood strikes, I feel like I’d use an opportunity for another conversation to ask him about his past. This evening, I just wanted to hear him tell one of his jokes.

Man, it is hard sometimes.

SCOTUS Gives Hobby Lobby & Other Employers Right to Kill Me

June 30th, 2014 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in Asshole idiots, Damn, evil, fuck

Back some time in the early 2000s, I was diagnosed with a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It’s a pretty common ailment these days, unfortunately. In my case, both my ovaries are covered with little cysts. These bastards secret their own androgens that fuck with the rest of me. For example, I have a chin full of lovely whiskers, have to watch my weight like a sentry at a max security prison, and am prone to depression.

The bigger problem is that people with PCOS have increased risks of various types of cancer. According to the National Institute for Health, “The risk of cancer of the endometrium… the inside lining of the uterus, is three times as high for women with PCOS as it is for other women… Women with PCOS also may be at higher risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Small studies have suggested that a lack of ovulation (anovulation), as occurs with PCOS, is linked with a risk of breast cancer that is three to four times that of women without anovulation. In other research, results showed more than a doubling of the risk of ovarian cancer in women with PCOS, but scientists have not confirmed these links in large population studies.”

One of the reasons, as cited above, for these risks is a lack of ovulation and menstruation, which was a problem I have because of the cysts and their damn androgens. Fortunately, birth control is available to resolve that. When I was on the Pill, I got my period more regularly than when I was not. My risk of cancer decreased dramatically. Yay!

However, studies also show that it’s not really great to be on the Pill indefinitely. When I turned 35, I’d been on the Pill to combat my PCOS for over 10 years. My doctor suggested that I consider switching to an IUD. I wasn’t crazy about the idea (*cough*Dalkon Shield*cough*), but eventually it made sense. After a farcical failed attempt to have one inserted in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (let’s just say my cervix does not like shit being pushed through it, and I thought I might understand what an abortion done with knitting needles might feel like), I finally got one in June 2013. My insurance covered it. And it’s been great.

The problem is that certain employers, thanks to the Supreme Court, are now considered people with religious beliefs. It seems that these non-human people were upset that they may have to allow their employees to have certain kinds of birth control on their company insurance that offended the company’s religion. The Supreme Court today decided that my potentially life-saving contraceptive device violated the non-human person’s First Amendment rights. Therefore, in four years when I need a new IUD, I better not work for a non-human company with religious beliefs that conflict with my medical needs, or I could be denied an IUD with insurance.

So people have gone pretty crazy about this, insisting that I can just “skip a few cups of Starbucks and buy contraceptives for $20 from Wal-Mart.” (This is an actual quote.) Who cares that the decision is so narrow that Jehovah’s Witness non-human people are still forced to cover blood transfusions against their religious beliefs? I’m just being a whiny, feminist bitch who doesn’t want to get cancer. (How demanding!) Any woman can just wander into 7-11, according to that loving defender of priests who molest children, Cardinal Dolan, and get one. (Yes, he seriously said that.) Who cares that an IUD is actually a few hundred dollars and then the cost of the insertion?

An IUD can save my life. It’s nice that my potential future employer might be forced to cover it if I sit down with them and explain to them why I need it. Just like men are forced to do when they want vasectomies. Wait – they aren’t? Oh rats. I’m just being a demanding, whiny bitch again. It’s so wrong of me to be upset that these companies that claim their religions value life so much that I can’t have a contraceptive that will possibly save my life unless I beg and plead!

The best part is that when I mentioned this on twitter, the delightful NY Post columnist Jon Podhoretz responded, “aaaand scene.”

Yep. It sure could be.

Tags: , , ,

Passing Over Passover?

April 16th, 2014 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in Jewishness, mortification

Passover began on Monday night. I celebrated it the usual way, inviting family and friends over for a feast. Let me be clear not a Seder, but a feast. I don’t think I’ve ever done an actual, full Seder. In recent years, we’ve gathered and cracked out some Haggadahs (sadly, not the Maxwell House ones from my youth), read a few pages in English, made the blessing over the wine and the matzo, and mocked my brother-in-law as he fumbled through the four questions.

This year, we forgot that we don’t have Haggadahs, and forgot to ask Husband’s parents to bring some. Instead of printing some up on the spot, we decided to forgo even that small ritual. We said the prayer over the wine, I googled the prayer over the matzo since we couldn’t remember it in full, and we ate traditional Ashkenazi Passover foods. I got all emotional while eating gefilte fish and Husband’s homemade matzo balls (no, this is not a pun or double entendre) because it reminded me of what I loved about Passover when I grew up.

I write all of this because I had a conversation the previous week with someone about Passover. When I asked her what she was planning, she told me that she wasn’t doing anything because she didn’t feel there was anything that would be meaningful to her kids. I was horrified. This is a person who works in public service. Even if you don’t have the religious fervor, even if you don’t have fond cultural associations, even if you don’t want to forge memories of family togetherness, Passover is at its heart a story about freedom and social justice. To not see that – or think that young people today find any meaning it in – just left me dumbstruck.

As always, I ate too much at my Passover dinner. We didn’t explicitly talk about the value of freedom or explore its parallels in modern society, but we knew it was there. I don’t believe that there was a baby named Moses lifted from the river by an Egytian princess who later spoke to God through a burning bush (and yes, the double entendre is cracking me up), then unleashed ten plagues upon the land, and then guided people through a parted Red Sea, but I value that family time, that tradition, and that opportunity to reflect on things bigger than me. I hope that everyone who celebrated had a lovely holiday as well.

Rollin’ in the Deep

March 25th, 2014 by Suzanne | 1 Comment | Filed in I love New York

Husband and I returned from my granny’s funeral last night. It wasn’t late, so to save money, we took the dreaded M60 bus home. (I almost always have some sort of horrific experience on this route, whether due to traffic, overcrowding, or more dramatically, a woman insisting that the man sitting next to her on the bus is sexually harassing her and thus calls 911, and put the call on speaker phone so the overcrowded bus can hear as we sit in traffic.) The bus was a little crowded, but not awful.

A middle-aged man sat across the aisle from me, chatting loudly with a young girl I assumed was his daughter. Mostly I paid no attention to them. However, as we approached the Astoria-Ditmas stop, the man swirled around in his seat, and flailed his arms. “Is this where we get off to take the N train to midtown so we can transfer at Times Square to go uptown?” he asked no one in particular. I looked at him. It was Richard Kind:
Yes, the guy my granny would have enjoyed on “The Carole Burnett Show,” who she may have watched on “Mad About You,” and also on “Spin City.” He actually lives in my neighborhood. I have seen him wandering around in a clueless manner on several occasions. It was just funny to see him on the dreaded M60 bus, also clueless. I thought that Granny would have gotten a kick out of it.

I debated telling him that he could stay on the bus to 125th and take the 2 or 3 downtown, but I worried that I would seem like a stalker, and he got off before I could say anything once I decided that I would just seem like a helpful, not scary fellow bus rider. This is too bad because the second part of our adventure took place on the subway train. Once the train pulled out of the station, some (drunk?) ornery fellow at the end of the car began yelling randomly. Then a station or two later, a young woman stepped into the car.

“Hello everyone,” she announced. “I’m struggling right now, and pregnant, so I am going to sing you a song and if you like it, you can give me a contribution. I’ll also take clapping and smiles if you don’t have money to give.”

I braced myself – she looked like she was going to be a horrible screecher. She took a deep breath, and the first notes came out. I was floored: it was like Adele was standing right in front of me. Everyone in the train was quiet while she belted out “Rollin’ in the Deep,” even the shouter at the end. When she finished, there were a few seconds of silence. then the shouter yelled, “BOOOOOOO!” but was immediately drown out by applause. She collected some dollar bills from appreciative riders. (I considered asking her if she wanted to be pregnant, and if not, giving her the number to the New York Abortion Access Fund, but she got off the train before I had a chance.)

The whole commute was one of those times when my faith in humanity was, temporarily, restored.

Grandma Bernice

March 18th, 2014 by Suzanne | 3 Comments | Filed in Uncategorized

This is my grandmother, Bernice (Kolichman) Cohen in South Haven, MI on her 19th birthday. I particularly like this picture today because she passed away earlier this morning, a few months shy of her 91st birthday. Even at the end, she was just like the spunky woman in this photo.

My grandmother had a difficult childhood. Her mother was nine months pregnant with what would have been my grandmother’s second sibling when she caught the flu and died. The fetus died, too. Her father, an immigrant from Kishniev, Moldova, eventually was sent to a sanitarium. When he recovered, he married a woman who did not treat my grandmother and her brother well. Then her father died, too, and her stepmother cast my granny and great uncle out. They lived with different cousins, forging a close bond. (I guess that’s the silver lining.)

The cousins called themselves the Nisht Mit Allem Club, which is Yiddish for “Not All There.” (I always forget that my grandmother grew up speaking Yiddish – or as she said, Jewish – because she was born in America, unlike my father’s parents, and so I always thought of her as my American, English-speaking only grandma.) The Nisht Mit Allem Club, though, is a good insight into who she was. She had a rocking sense of humor, often a ribald one. Once, my mom told me, she went to visit my mom at the school she taught it. When my mother introduced Granny to the principal, my granny asked if he liked fruit. “Sure,” the prinicipal said. My granny smiled. “Then take a bite of my ass – it’s a peach!” she replied.

My sister and I spent a lot of time with our grandma when we were kids. Running a few simple errands – going to the bank, post office, and grocery store – turned into an all day adventure. Most kids do not look forward to going to the eye doctor, but our annual visit was always exciting for me. We picked Grandma up early in the morning, drove to the Skokie Swift, and took the L downtown. After we each had our eyes inspected, we had lunch at the Marquette restaurant. This may have been where I uncovered my unfortunate love of cheesecake. (Even if Grandma did not introduce me to that treat, she definitely got me hooked on root beer, but I digress…) Once we returned during rush hour, and the trains were packed. My (maybe) five foot tall granny elbowed past hordes of people and smushed us onto the packed train. Later, my mom described her with wonder as “brutal – just brutal.”

She wasn’t brutal, though, when she took us to Marshall Field’s for lunch every year and then bought us Easter baskets. My bubby disapproved, but I couldn’t understand why. It wasn’t until I made a Catholic friend at 4th grade that I learned that Easter was actually a Christian holiday! With Granny, I just thought it involved cute bunnies, fuzzy chicks, and a lot of chocolate. She was fun like that.

Grandma was also super fun at Cubs games. Whether we were all the way up in the nose bleed seats along the 3rd baseline during the epic 1984 season, cheering for the Cubs with all the camp groups, or just a few rows behind the dugout, where she yelled “I love you (insert name of Cubs player here),” we had an awesome time.

In 1995, Granny came with my mom and bubby to visit me in New York. Needless to say, adventures were had! The best night, hands down, was when the fire alarm went off in my dorm, and my friends and I descended on their hotel room. We ate cookies, and of course, Grandma had everyone busting up with her jokes.

The thing about Grandma, though, is that she didn’t just love me, Dana, and my cousin. Any of our friends who didn’t have grandparents were “adopted” by her. When my friend Nancy heard that Granny had passed, she said that she always loved Granny’s sense of humor. My friend Julie, her voice cracking, said she was the sweetest woman in the world – much nicer than her own grandmother. My mom’s former student Rachel said she was a real classy lady (although this makes me wonder a bit if Rachel is confusing her for someone else…). Dana’s friend Sara said, “Your Grandma was wonderful. She will be missed.”

She is. She already is.