Rules to Live By

We’ve always followed that old 5-second rule. We remember when our toddler would drop a grape on the kitchen floor and it rolled under the counter. We’d get down on our hands and knees, fish it out, brush it off and hand it right back to him. We didn’t think about the germs. Sure, we knew the rule was arbitrary, but we risked it anyway.

In the past year, there have been a lot of new rules about germs. Some were clear and consistent: Stay home, wear a mask and only socialize with the people you live with. For months and months we obeyed – because if we risked it, we could die. Clear consequences.

Other rules were crowd-sourced: Let the mail sit before you open it. Wipe off the groceries. Spray the front door handle when you come in.

We disinfected our takeout burritos before we put them on the table because our friends told us to. We don’t do that anymore.

As more people are getting vaccinated and we’re thinking about the world opening back up, we’re looking for guidance. We want to know what’s what. What’s a risk worth taking? What’s a definite no-no? Who should we listen to? 

We empathize with the COVID rule-makers. When we became parents, we had to make the rules, and we quickly learned that we had to be consistent. “Say what you mean, and mean what you say,” our mothers told us. We learned our partner has to be on the same page. We have to present a united front. When our kid misbehaved at a birthday party, we couldn’t threaten to leave if we weren’t going to follow through. 

But our state, county and city did not learn this lesson. The rules change from place to place and from day to day. In our suburban neighborhood, we can go out for pizza with another family and sit at a table all together. Two miles away in the city, that’s not allowed. 

So do we listen to the governor or the mayor? There’s wiggle room on what’s allowed and it’s confusing. It’s like when we used to say, “No more ice cream” and the kids ran to ask their dad.  

As parents, it’s tough to make the rules. Sometimes you don’t know what’s right –  and you feel like you’re making it up as you go. Maybe that’s why there’s no agreement about what’s safe to do.  

We watch TV and think, thank goodness it’s not my teenagers frolicking on the beach for spring break without a mask. How many times did we say to them, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you, too?” It looks to us like the whole state of Florida is jumping off a bridge. 

What are we supposed to think when we see the Texas Rangers baseball stadium packed to capacity with 40,000 cheering fans? Our home team is only letting in 8,000 fans. We have to sit with our small group, keep at least 6 feet away from other pods, and wear a mask if we’re not eating. We see a loophole here: If we nurse a beer and slowly crack open each peanut in the bag, we can probably keep our masks off the entire game. But would we?

When we see scenes of life in other states (Texas and Florida, we’re looking at you!) it reminds us of when our kids would try to persuade us to allow them to do something they knew wasn’t right: “Suzy’s mom is letting her have a coed sleepover. Please. ….” 

As our children grew and took chances, we had to create new rules to keep them safe. Can they chew that big marshmallow? Can they ride a bike in the street? Can we let them drive on the expressway?

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For months now, in this lawless Covid Wild West, everyone has had to decide for themselves what risks they want to take and how strict they want to be. Do you want to parent like Danny Tanner enforcing bedtime rules or Linda Belcher dancing on the tabletop?

We can’t wait to hug our friends, invite all the cousins over for dinner, and take that first family trip but we have some safety concerns, too. Should we eat outside – and can we share desserts? Should we hold it in or can we stop at a rest-stop bathroom?  Why is she still wearing a mask if we’re all vaccinated?

We need answers from an all-knowing parent. Hey, Dr. Fauci. Can you please write the definitive guide that tells us everything we need to know: “What to Expect When You’re Expecting  . . .  to get back to normal after COVID.” We would definitely read it.

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Passover Prep (Post-Pandemic)

It’s been a horrible year of mixed emotions and isolation.  

We’ve grown accustomed to wearing  a mask and standing away from the next person in line. Going to the supermarket isn’t fun like it used to be, but it’s not the terrifying reconnaissance mission it was last spring. 

But things are looking brighter. Most of the older people we know have been vaccinated (yay!), and the CDC says that we can get together with a few friends or maybe see our kids. So we’re trying to keep our hopes up and plan for a Passover that might be on the road to sort-of normal. 

Speaking of on the road, we can count on a field trip to the amazing ShopRite supermarket in Cherry Hill, NJ, to get our enthusiasm for the most food-centered Jewish holiday going. Just off of Route 70 in the Garden State Pavilion (turn at the “Famous King of Pizza” restaurant), the ShopRite is the last store at the end of the parking lot. We’ve written about the ShopRite before and how much we love its aisles of pesachdik (OK for Passover) groceries and products imported from Israel.   

Members of the tribe who live in the boondocks have told us how lucky we are to have such a tremendous selection of Passover foods.  They post photos on line – of lonely jars of gefillte fish and yahrzeit candles, filling half a shelf in the “Foreign Foods ” aisle of their supermarkets. Most grocery stores do not order in the goods like the Ravitz family does. We know it’s special – and that’s one of the reasons we love it.    

This year Passover comes early. The first seder is Saturday night, March 27, so we went early to check out what’s new. We passed right by the wall of pesachdik cereals.

We tried them once or twice when the kids were little, but as soon as everyone tasted them – and agreed they tasted nothing like Honey Nut Cheerios – the box went in the trash. One year, we sprinkled the O’s in the backyard, and even the squirrels turned them down. We learned our lesson many years ago: Another $4.99 ventured, nothing gained.

Then we spied a label we could love: Haroset!

Haroset is the classic mixture of apples, walnuts, sweet wine and cinnamon that stands in for bricks and mortar on the seder plate. We like to make our own. It’s one of the Passover cooking jobs the kids used to love to do. Maybe that’s because they liked to pour (and sample) the sweet Manischewitz wine. Many recipes call for only a few tablespoons of wine, which yields a dry haroset where the white, shredded apples shine through. We say the apples should have enough wine to take a bath in! They should soak it up and look a little purple by the time you’re ready to eat.

If you make Sephardic haroset, you don’t use apples. Sephardic haroset (like Sephardic Jews) comes from countries in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East – including Italy, Morocco, Spain and Israel. Sephardic haroset calls for fruits like dried dates, apricots and figs. You can add pistachios and spices like cardamom, clove, and ginger. So we give props to this import from Israel: The label says it contains Kinneret dates, which are grown near Lake Kinneret, aka the Sea of Galilee, the fertile farming region of Central Israel. 

It turns out that those dates took a pit stop in Bayonne, NJ, on their way from Israel to Cherry Hill!

Did you know that North Jersey is a mecca of Jewish foods? From their gigantic warehouse in Bayonne, Kayco is a family-owned company that distributes 105 of the best-known Jewish food brands, including many that they import from Israel. Their roster of well-known Jewish food names includes Carmel, Gefen, Yehuda and Afikomen brands. (You know that’s for Passover!)

. . . when you sell so much Manischewitz that the company gives you a free-standing display for your “kichels”

They have Sabra hummus, Telma soups, Dorot spices, Prigat grapefruit drink and Kedem  the dark purple grape juice you remember. In 2019, when Kayco acquired all of Manischewitz’s  products, “the announcement was seen in the kosher world as the equivalent of General Motors acquiring Ford,” wrote Joseph Berger in The New York Times.    

New products from Kayco this year include Gefen’s almond milk coffee creamer and Manischewitz macaroons in Earl Grey Tea and Cold Brew Coffee flavors. We remember the year when we looked forward to sampling the “new” Rocky Road flavor, only to be disappointed by shreds of pareve marshmallow in a standard chocolate macaroon. But “cold-brew coffee” flavored? Who says Manischewitz is not hipster! We won’t be able to resist trying these, but we’re glad they did not try to make kombucha flavored.

It’s no surprise  that we ended up with a cart full of Passover goodies!

But just as much as we enjoy the newest Passover products, we treasure our oldest and dearest Passover objects. When we take them out again each Spring, it’s like seeing old friends:  The Israeli seder plate that was a gift from a favorite cousin. The jumping frog decoration that our preschooler made (25+ years ago!) with a paper plate and googly eyes. The shallow, wooden bowl that Poppy used to chop apples in to make the haroset. The Elijah’s Cup, from a husband’s bar mitzvah kiddush many eons ago. Joyce’s  grandmother’s 12-quart Wearever aluminum stock pot – which can hold enough matzah ball soup for the masses. 

We cherish the memories and the links to family history. We like combining the old and the new – so we’ we look forward to placing the new-fangled flavor cold brew coffee macaroons on Aunt Ruth’s vintage pressed glass cake stand.  We know she would be eager to try them too!

Happy Passover to our family and friends!

Enjoy – and taste the haroset!


Our all-time favorite Pesach art: Moses (and the Tablets of the Law) by Rembrandt van Rijn with macaroons (by Manischewitz) in this illustration by Mike Licht


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Oy! – Revisited

In January 2020, we wrote a blog titled “Sometimes You Just Need a Good Oy!”

At the time, we had no idea what was to come in the year ahead, and how much we’d really need to depend on a good oy to get us through the dumpster fire that was 2020

Sunday, March 13 will mark one whole year since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency – one whole year of too few hugs and too many oys.  

While chose “pandemic” as its word of the year, we, of course, picked oy. In honor of this honor, we are revisiting this perfect, all-purpose Yiddish word . . .

At one of our “Shmoozing With the Word Mavens” programs, the hosts decorated the tables with Oys!

First, a refresher: Oy is an interjection that can be used to express a range of emotions. It’s perhaps the most popular Yiddish expression. It can be used on its own or paired up with other words: Oy vay (short for oy vey iz mir) means “Oh, woe is me.” Oy gevalt is a cry for help similar to “Oh, my God!” 

In The Joys of Yiddish, the gold standard for many Yiddish definitions, venerable author Leo Rosten writes that oy can be used to express anything from “a cry of dismay to a reflex of delight.” But we tend to think of oy – and use it – to express dismay, disappointment or upset. And sure enough, in Rosten’s list of the 29 emotions that oy conveys, 25 are negative: aggravation, anguish, apprehension, astonishment . . . and that’s just the As! 

We don’t yell “Oy!” when we’re delighted. We’re with London journalist David Robson, who wrote in The Jewish Chronicle: “For me, oy is mostly a better, more acceptable surrogate for the f-word.” Maybe that’s why we throw oy around so much!

While a single oy packs a punch, a triple oy – or oy-oy-oy – is what you need when things go really wrong. This explains why oy has been a favorite of ours during the pandemic. We’re almost at double-digit oys these days.

As 2020 came to an end, The Washington Post asked readers to describe the year in one word or phrase. Lee Sakellarides, of Merritt Island, FL, submitted oy vey. “Every day presented new reasons to shake our heads in bewilderment and despair,” she wrote. “Every time we thought we had hit rock bottom, the bottom fell out and we plunged to new depths.” Oy vey, indeed.

Oy is beloved – and uttered – by almost everyone, including cartoon charactersYou might know that Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons is Jewish. In Season 3, when Krusty’s father, Rabbi Hyman Krustovsky, discovers that his son has decided to be a clown instead of a rabbi, he’s devastated. “Oy vey iz mir,” the rabbi shouts.

In the animated film Madagascar, when some animals escape from a New York zoo to explore the world, they end up washed ashore on a desert island. Apprehensive and astonished (remember Leo Rosten’s As?) Gloria the Hippo exclaims: “Oy vey!” – and her zebra and giraffe friends know exactly what she’s talking about. 

Joyce has a longtime friend, a Jewish woman, who goes on and on with her stories and wanted to break the habit. The friend asked Joyce to pick a safe word to signal that she had had enough and needed a break. Joyce picked oy. It was the first word that came to mind.

The friend kept talking, and a few minutes later Joyce let out an oy! – not because her friend was talking too much but because Joyce was empathizing with her tale of woe. 

The takeaway: While oy is a good empathy word, it’s not a good safe word because we need it! We use it! We can’t live without a good oy

But . . . with more and more people getting vaccinated and with spring on the way, we’re breathing a little easier and oy-ing a little less these days. 

We can’t wait to go from oy to joy!

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