Wednesday, December 30, 2009

If New Yorkers are found to be unhappiest, what about the bulk of the Jews in the U.S.?

A recent study published in the well-respected journal Science found that New Yorkers were the least happy when compared to residents of the rest of the country.  Yes, they came in at the bottom of the barrel of data processed to learn which state churned out the most satisfied people.  If the Jewish population is most dominant in New York state (one estimate is 1.9 million), what does that say for the majority of our people in this country?  Are Jews in New York actually less happy than those elsewhere?  Does it fulfill the Woody Allen stereotype of the neurotic, parasitic, always-worrying, hypchondriac shnorrer?

Surely, even Woody found some happiness through film at least once by way of his mockumentary Zelig

 This title character became famous in the 1920s by possessing the skill to morph into various different famous personas.  That's pretty happy, right?  Optimistically, Zelig literally translates as "happy."  Have you known a Seligman, Seelig, or Seligsohn?  Here is a  further look at the name with Zelig as its root.

Living in New York sure can be rough, at least around the edges, and especially when you get a ticket while you're down the block purchasing your muni meter parking ticket.  Any number of Seinfeld or Curb episodes can attest to that type of absurdity that happens day-in, day-out in New York City.  Perhaps this explains why so many Jews headed out west, making Los Angeles quite literally the city of angels for the Jews who had enough saychel  (scroll down for the description of Greece) to move after braving the elements of New York.

(Keep posted for a report on Jews in LA...but not those of the Ashkenazi-bred rye bread deli-pack).

Looking at the bright side of the study, where were Americans happiest?  Louisiana.  Fascinating news since one would think that post-Katrina, folks in the Bayou were still downtrodden and depressed.  But it sure sounds like it's the place to live, if you take the study for what it's worth.  If that's the case, maybe we Jews should all head down to join Reb Uri and Dahlia Topolosky in their holy work with the rebuilding of the Jewish community of New Orleans.

In reality, whether you live in Prospect Heights, Runyon Canyon or Metairie, we should all be filled with Joy because "we want you to be happy, don't live inside the gloom..."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The 11:11 Phenomenon, or Numerical Synchronicity

The Whole Phamily has taken an informal poll of real-life friends, and asked if they have experienced the recurring phenomenon of looking at a digital clock and seeing their numeric birthday.  For example, if their  birthday is July 16th, they often look at the clock and see the numbers 07:16.

Apparantly other people in cyberspace agree, and to some, this is called the 11:11 Phenomenon.

What in the world does this have to do with the Whole Phamily, which is exploring the interconnectivity of Judaism, names and beyond?

We believe that everything is connected.  Indeed, Jonathan Safran Foer, with a totally funkadelic website that evokes interconnectivity, and one of the leading Jewish writers of our day, asserts that Everything is Illuminated in one of his novels.  There is something to be said for numbers and names and how they are connected.

We are certainly not expects in the Zohar, the book of Kabbalah that is traditionally studied by men aged 40 years and up (this is when it was deemed certain that a Jewish man would be well-versed in the Torah and could therefore handle the intensity of its deep world truths).  Obviously various popular culture stars (yes, you, Madonna) ignore that, but obviously people are seeking out truth in age-old wisdom.  Indeed, Jewish astrology is very real, and very much happening as we write and you read.

Doubtful that as large a group of our immigrant ancestors to North America from Minsk, Pinsk, the Pale of Settlement, Damascus,  Aleppo or Alexandria were exposed to these concepts as the Jewish community is today.  Yes, the scholars were educated in deep metaphysical mysteries of the world, but not the average mama of eight children trying to get food on the table.

Today when you think of a favorite number combination and then later see it as a total on a store receipt from buying your day's groceries, realize that it's not totally random, and Judaism has a lot to say about that.

Do you look at the clock a lot these past nearly ten years and see 09:11?

On a positive note, the Whole Phamily thinks it's great when the time comes up as 6:13.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jewish Geography and Kevin Bacon

If you haven't yet heard about the famous game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, where you link an actor to Kevin Bacon through no more than six connections, then, as in the words of Martin Short as the flamboyant wedding coordinator in the remake of "Father of the Bride, "Welcome to the 90's, Mr. Bank."  The game is a take on the idea of six degress of separation, but when you're Jewish, that number seems sometimes to dwindle down to three or even two.

You might know it better as Jewish Geography.

C'mon, we all know you've engaged in a fun game of it in your lifetime.  Maybe you shy away from it now.  But, even if you're from Bozeman, Montana, you most likely have played.  Whether you're from Boca, Skokie, or Roslyn, whether you went to camp anywhere near Honesdale or Lake Winnipesaukee (Adam Sandler is from nearby), you've done youth groups like  Young Judaea, USY, BBYO, B'nai Akiva, or NCSY, we know you've done it.  Whether you were in a Jewish fraternity or sorority anywhere, but particularly at Wisconsin (Madison only, puh-lease!), Michigan (Ann Arbor, of course), or Indiana (are there even any other campuses where out of state Jews would seek out?), you've played.  What about any affiliation with Penn, the SUNYs (particularly Binghamton or Albany), Maryland, Brandeis or B.U.?

Still no?

If you've been part of any of the teen tour circuit, including American Trails West, Rein, or West Coast Connection, you know the game.

Jewish geography is like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon amplified and on steroids, because you can be visiting your cousins in LA and run into a friend's aunt or uncle that you met a few years ago at his sister's bat mitzvah in the valley while strolling along Third Street Promenade.

The Whole Phamily is constantly learning about connections to friends of cousins of sisters of husbands' next door neighbors at their parents place in Bal Harbor.  The network can seem endless.

Wanna play?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ezra Jack Keats

As children, we were practically reared on Ezra Jack Keats' classic picture books The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie.  Through these stories we were introduced to the sweet African American boy named Peter, and got a glimpse of urban life that was different than that of ours in the suburbs.  We always thought that these tales were written by an African American man, but as it turns out, this is not the case.

Did you know that Ezra Jack Keats was born Jewish, in Brooklyn, to parents who immigrated around the turn of the century and his given name was Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz?

We owe so much to Keats for presenting the "black kid as hero" to thousands of American children.  So many children welcomed Peter into their own homes, and in doing so, the African American child has become part of many other "phamilies" different than his own.

As we know, the name Katz is often a derivative of the name Cohen, and a very common Jewish name at that.  The Kohen Gadol or, as a surname, Cohen, was the high priest who lived during the Temple Era and was a descendent of biblical Aaron, Moses' brother.  In terms of tribal legacy, today's descendents of the Kohen Gadol have an elevated status among their fellow Jews, and are bestowed with the priestly blessing during communal prayers.  As Keats most likely was passed down this tradition from his father, we feel an ever deeper sense of honor for the author.

Check out the Ezra Jack Keats foundation to learn more about this celebrated, award-winning American author and artist.

Gottlieb's Deli, Williamsburg, New York

David Sax's recent epic on the fate of the North American Deli, Save The Deli, introduced us the glatt-kosher Gottlieb's Restaurant in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  For any of you familiar with the hipster scene that already peaked in this neighborhood, rest assured, this deli is on the proverbial other side of the tracks.  But, hey, it ain't that far away from Billsburg, so if you're hankering for some classic old-world Ashkenazi deli food, this is the place to go.

The moment we walked in, the place had a familiar feel.  It felt cozy and comfortable, like we'd been there before.  If you had any experience in the New York delis of the 60's, 70's and 80's, you'd know what we're talking about.  Gottlieb's is a place that has an ambience practically erased from the landscape of New York City.

Doesn't the name Gottlieb ring a bell?  Have you known a Gottlieb or two in your day?  Defined as "God's love," it's familiar to many.  We had the honor of  the proprietor, Gottlieb himself (the grandson of the founder of the restaurant, who passed away only 2 years ago at the age of 98, of blessed memory), serve our boisterous table of 7.

Founded in 1962, the family has served up delicious dishes to hungry souls from all walks of life.   We didn't ask about this Gottlieb's family history, but we got a big smile when we told him about our idea of the ganse mishpucha.  Gottlieb's father was in the house, busy preparing deli platters and serving up food, so we didn't get a chance to shmooze with him..

And the food?  Perhaps the best stuffed cabbage we have ever had (sorry, grandma).  The puffed up rice inside the meat filling was so tasty.  The sweet and sour sauce was near-perfect.  There was chicken fricasse, latkes, shlishkes, homemade mashed potatoes, health salad, brisket and roast beef in a sauce, plated hot tongue (sorry, no raisins), and a turkey cutlet that was far from the roasted bird we had on Thanksgiving a few weeks ago.

Hipster, chassid, or Chowhound, Gottlieb's is a place to add on to your radar screen.  It is, without doubt, part of the Whole Phamily.

Oh, and of course they're closed on shabbes.