Lafishman’s Blog

December 7, 2011

The Vort

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The Vort

And so it begins. Last night we attended a vort (engagement party) for our friend’s oldest daughter. She’s all of twenty and met Moshe, her fiancée, about five months ago. I marveled at how the parents managed to spruce up their normally hectic house and pull together an impressive spread of homemade desserts in a matter of days. The engagement didn’t become “official” until the l’chaim the night before. So I assumed the parents didn’t have much of a heads-up. But then, I don’t know how these things work.

My only daughter, Emily, is 17—three years behind Sheva, the kallah. Since Emily is classmates with Sheva’s sister, she showed up at the vort along with most of the Bais Yaakov senior class. How close these girls seemed to the same fate as Sheva, and yet how giddy and awkward. They stand on the brink of a pre-ordained fate. Graduate high school. One year of seminary. Begin college while awaiting a fix-up with a suitable guy. You might get your degree before the first child comes but, without birth control, chances are slim. And truly, who wants to spend four years in college while the matrimonial clock ticks away? By the time you graduate, you’ll be 22, with just three to four years of eligibility left.  Meanwhile, you will have sat in the wings watching your high school friends married off one by one.

Walking into the party around 8:00 last night, I felt ecstatic. I shared the satisfaction our friends must have felt to see their first daughter fulfill her obligation as a daughter of Torah. Never mind that they’d only met the groom’s parents once, and none of the rest of his family. So what if his career path was uncertain? This would not be a marriage of selfish desires or eager lust, but a payment on the future of the Jewish nation, teeming with righteous, learned children.

And why shouldn’t I be elated? After all, this is the path we chose for Emily even before she was born, when we decided an orthodox lifestyle would remedy the empty, confused spirituality of our own childhoods…not to mention the missteps we’d taken coming of age in a secular society.

By 9:00, my ecstacy had decayed into tempered mortification. My daughter, married at 20? Committed to sharing a bed and life with a man she barely knew? Tossing away all that academic potential? And what if she were to fall for a guy who plans to spend all his days studying Torah? What if he expects us to foot the bills? What if we’ve actually raised…a kollel wife?

I looked at my daughter shifting from foot to foot across the room. As Sheva had been, she’s among the top students in her class. Sheva was accepted into the most academically elite seminary. For the two years following her stint in Israel, she wavered between career options. These included the typical choices for a woman who planned to raise many children while helping fund their private school education: occupational therapy, speech therapy, teaching, and the more ambitious pharmacy career.  Those less suited to academics might train to be a sheitel maven (selling and styling wigs). Such portable jobs are highly prized among the young women who can’t be sure where their husband’s learning will lead them. And if you can make money in your basement while the kids sleep upstairs, all the better.

Suddenly, I wanted to pull my daughter aside, rip away her ankle-length grey uniform skirt, years of learning how to teach and train her fourteen future children how to carry on the legacy of Torah, and say, “Just kidding.”

But wait. Haven’t I been the one who has fought tooth-and-nail to keep our kids on the derech? Haven’t I made sacrifice after sacrifice to bring my daughter precisely to this point? What if it was a mistake? Maybe a school a little to the left would have been better. She could have taken more science labs, joined the Physics Club, become a doctor. Maybe we’ve put her in the impossible position of being the one upright Jew in a home of observational misfits.

What’s the use? One long look at my daughter and you can see it’s too late. We’ve done our job much too well. She is a jewel in God’s crown, a shining, polished, pomegranate dangling from the branch. She has already exceeded our capacity to serve God and, I can’t help but think, she knows just how she needs to do it.

Yesterday morning, I felt all was as it should be. My daughter will do right everything I did wrong. It’s just…standing face-to-face with a roomful of well-wishers in black suits and long skirts, the cookies decorated with “Mazel Tov” and the stupefied look on the future groom’s face last night, I wondered if I’ve been too sure about what “right” is. I can only pray that God and my daughter do.

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April 13, 2010

A poem for Yom HaShoah

Again

by Lisa Turner Fishman

Maybe I didn’t know the cold Gestapo breath on my neck, snows of human ash

or the stench of certain death squeezed up next to me

on a three-by-five wooden plank each night for seven years

…but then again, maybe I did

Maybe I don’t know the shame of a shaved head, branded flesh or public nakedness.

And I don’t dare judge those who were there, who couldn’t bear

to think about it, much less talk about it all these years,

whose Jewishness was perverted into a wound so tender,

it won’t be touched.

I haven’t one aunt, uncle, bubbe or zayde who was ripped from home to ride a cattle car

to Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Sobibor.

But what I do know

(not what I have learned or read or heard, but know)

is this:

every time a Jewish boy whines because he must go to Temple on Yom Kippur,

missing school so that everyone will know he is different;

every one who believes his Bar Mitzvah is enough Jewish education;

every time the local Jewish paper announces a Goldstein engaged to  a Singh

or the birth of Christina or Conner James;

every Jewess’ child who wakes in late December to fascinate over a silver-laced tree;

every time a worker hides his religion for fear of discrimination,

and we gloat about finally achieving our immigrant grandparents’ longed-for assimilation,

with each of these, my friends, a Nazi soul dances with glee.

He did it, killed another Jew, made him or her a coward, shameful, dirty and worthy

of all the hate we have turned on ourselves.

We have become our own enemy.

Have you? Will you?

Forget the insults you took, forget about any of the six million people

you might have been, given a few historical seconds more or less?

Deny your own truth?

Will you admit that you, yes you, do not deserve to live?

Will you let those friggin’ Nazis win?

Again?

©Lisa Turner Fishman 2010

August 18, 2009

A Shot of Creative Courage

A Shot of Creative Courage

I suppose you could say my thirty years as a marketing copywriter were gratifying. My agency colleagues appreciated my words and, if I were lucky, so did my clients. It’s the kind of validation every artist or craftsperson needs in order to take that step into the void of possibility, where success and failure have equal shots. Still, I never had the pleasure of seeing a customer dart to the store compelled by my ad, pick up the advertised brand and hand over his or her hard-earned money to the cashier. And if I had, could it compare to the gratification I felt today?

It was only my second craft fair, and the first to feature my hand-felted silk scarves. “Isn’t this beautiful?” I had cooed to my husband after completing one chartreuse creation, exploding with lavender flowers. “Very nice,” he’d muttered. To heck with him, I thought, tossing off his limp reaction. The color in these scarves was gorgeous, electric, especially when still wet. If their beauty were any less intense seeing them hang from the display rack at the craft fair, the more astute shoppers weren’t letting on.

Those with a taste for the artistic fell in love. My first sale was to an elegantly dressed, middle-aged woman who chose the chartreuse, flowered scarf. Then Betty, my long-time, elderly neighbor, came up to the table and glommed onto the “Fuchsia Fantasy” scarf. She turned the confection of plum, violet and fuchsia over and back. Oh no, I thought. My stunning creation on someone so old, so…unhip! Betty wrapped the scarf around her neck. Something happened that I hadn’t anticipated. Her face lit up – not from the reflection of herself in the mirror; she hadn’t seen that yet. The color in that scarf was like a switch turning on a light bulb. It illuminated her skin and then, the entire room.

As Betty played at ways to tie the scarf, a younger, more attractive woman tried on the “Monet” scarf. It was dyed cornflower blue and painted with spots of wool in cerulean, azure and bits of cool green. The reaction was the same. My scarf physically transformed this woman before my eyes. Not a subtle transformation, but instant and dramatic and disarming.

That woman passed on buying the scarf, but after a bout of hemming and hawing, Betty submitted and bought “Fuchsia Fantasy”. Any disappointment I may have felt at the idea of my design on this non-model quickly dissipated. While I’ll never see my chartreuse scarf again, Betty will be wearing hers around the neighborhood week after week. Not only will that scarf bring pleasure to someone I know, but every time I see her wear it, I will feel validated in my new artistic pursuit—another shot of the courage it takes to venture into the creative unknown.

Thanks Betty.

March 19, 2009

Everyone’s a Writer/The Democratization of Talent

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As a young copywriter, it didn’t take long to learn that almost every client and agency colleague fancied himself or herself a competent writer…at least competent enough to advise the one they were paying to do the job. Makes sense. Suggest to most people they take a crack at art direction or design and you’ll get, “Oh no, I can’t draw a straight line.” But anyone who can put pen to paper – make that finger to keyboard – and string letters into words…well, they can write.

So 30 years into my professional writing career, why should I be surprised that every Tom, Dick and Mary is taking a shot at blogging and internet poetry? With user-generated content, wikis and free blogs allowing for unfettered expression, writing is now anybody’s –  and everybody’s – game.

Oh, you say, but the world will weed out the bad ones and the cream will rise to the top. I get it. The New York Times Bestseller List serves its purpose. If a book is that popular, is must be great, right? Not necessarily. Isn’t it possible for 2,000,000 to be wrong? Think Sodom and Gemorrah. Think Chris Daughtry. Just because most people are not erudite enough to appreciate great literature or art doesn’t mean it isn’t great, or that the most popular work is. How many box office hits rose to the top on the merit of their sophomoric content, while examples of truly fine filmmaking never find their way to the Cineplex?

I’m worried. How many of these Twittering poets will I have to wade through to find the serious ones? You can’t tell by how many followers they have. Those are probably the poet wannabes playing poetic telephone with the originator.

More worrisome, now that the internet has given every person in the world a writer’s license, how long before the educated, veteran writers among us become obsolete? Who needs to hire an experienced copywriter when you can get the intern to throw together a blog or tweet? That’s assuming that the client doesn’t take it on himself.

I already feel the moss growing. So here I am, writing my first blog entry. Am I worthier than any other of the 100,000 bloggers out there? I guess you’ll tell me.

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