Stories from my Closet: Bris Dress

Everyone, meet

Okay, it’s a London Times size 6 dress that I got at Housing Works Thrift Store on the Upper West Side at a huge sale. I can’t even remember how much it cost. All I remember are the changing rooms at that location, that reminded me of western saloons from old movies, and the fact that there was always more furniture, books and records, than clothes. I will always have fond memories of that place. And in all honesty, I think Housing Works is one of the most legit thrift stores in NYC.

This is also a dress I wore when I first went to a synagogue. To a bris ceremony.

I remember that day well. Having lived on the UWS for almost a year at that point, there were certain routine things I had to do. For example – sit in the car. Parking your vehicle in the streets of NYC is a form of art. And kudos to everyone who’s figured it out.I swear to G-d I still remember the street cleaning schedule, and when and where you could park your car on any day of the week. I remember that hump day, holidays and weekends were free passes, those were my favorites. Also any natural cataclysm, aka snow, freed you from having to move your car.

That’s what I did that morning, I sat in the car, reading a book, to two kids, who wanted nothing more, but to get out of that car. Then we got dressed, took a cab all the way to the East Side, and went to the bris.

The synagogue was surprisingly not that different from a catholic or an episcopal church. I don’t really know what I expected to see, but stained glass windows and menorahs, along with stars of David everywhere had a calming effect on me.

Unfortunately the ceremony was mostly in Hebrew, and I don’t speak that language, with an exception of a few well-known words and a Sabbath prayer.

Now it’s a well known fact that best cheese cake and dessert in general in NYC is at the synagogue. I don’t know where they get it, whether they raid Zabar’s on Monday morning before everyone else gets to it, or order from some secret dessert take out, it’s to die for. Here is a fun fact about me, I don’t necessarily like American desserts, French – yes, but that thick creamy icing rubs me the wrong way. But I will sell my soul for Jewish pastries, including challah bread.

And then there were bagels, mountains of them, and small mountains of cream cheese. Plus pizza, kosher pizza.

And then there was I in my thrifted dress, born again Christian at a synagogue, with just a chap stick and a flip phone in my pocket, wanting nothing more, but to be a part of the mystery, the religion, the act.

And now all I can hope for is for that boy to have a good Bar Mitzvah!

Shortly after we took a cab back to the Upper West Side, and I went back to my Upper West Side routine, never going back to the synagogue again.



PS. Stories from my Closet will be coming out every Friday on BeingZhenya now.



Tennis Addiction

Last year was when I really got into this whole Tennis Craze! Especially with the US Open. But it all started with Wimbledon 2010 and the fact that it was always on in the NYC apartment where I lived with my Jewish host family. Then Vera Zvonareva made it into the finals. See now, here is the benefit of being from a different country – You can still cheer and support your country’s player, and do the same thing about the players from the country where you live now. And when they play each other, well it’s a win-win situation!

Of course I wanted Sharapova to win something during the US Open, but alas. Maybe this year! At least she is one of the most fashionable players out there. And this matters just as much as how well you play!

Just look at how cute her dresses are!

I believe she wore this one last year during the US Open

This last skirt is a dream! I would seriously wear it in the summer, and I have nothing to do with tennis. I just watch it!

I think out of all tennis players out there Sharapova is my fave! I like Kurnikova too, and I am super excited to see her as one of the trainers on the next season of the Biggest Loser. Of course I am sad to see Jillian go, but Anna will rock that ranch I am sure!

A few years ago I was on the plane sitting next to Yaroslava Shvedova, who plays for Kazakhstan. She wasn’t as famous as she is now, but it was still amazing to talk to a famous person! She was super easy going, and fun! Of course an over night flight from NYC to Moscow is not a good time to get to know someone, but I still remember that conversation. It’s not often that you meet nice people on the planes these days!

Anyways, I am super excited for US Open 2011! I hope Sam is too! Last year he kept making fun of all the grunts and other noises the players were making!

Sweet Friday and a Sweet Caroline to you all!

Life’s Lessons: What I learned from the Jews

This is the continuation of my Life’s Lessons series, so far there has only been one post about it, on Flexibility, and you can check it out here

Now, what does a simple Russian girl like me have to do with the Jews? Well, I used to work for them, I used to live with them, I celebrated Sabbath (almost every week) with them, I celebrated the other holidays, and I simply talked to them, and through that communication came the life’s lessons that I want to share with you today, maybe you’ll find them helpful, maybe not, but the goal of this post is to prove – that there are so many good things different nationalities can learn from each other (FYI: I do have a MA in Cultural Studies)

Lesson One: Patience

I lived in a family, that was in constant law suits (I do believe there was more than 1 going on at the same time). One of the law suits is still going on, as I am writing this post. Have you been in one? No? Me neither! But watching them go through this, I definitely realized, that sometimes you just need to be patient and most of the time, it’s the only thing left to do!

Lesson 2: Gratefulness

This lesson naturally comes out of lesson 1. I learned to be thankful for not having to go through law suits. I learned to be thankful for not having kids who misbehave, who pee themselves, and do other not so fun stuff. I learned to be thankful for Grandmothers, because the one they had was so extremely helpful (thought at times annoying), it definitely made me realize how important our relatives are! And to be thankful for the family! I learned to express my gratitude, and thank you cards is not all there is! You can make cookies, you can bring flowers, you can make photo collages, etc, etc, etc… What counts, is being grateful!

Lesson 3: Cooking

Not that I didn’t know how to cook before, but I learned how to enjoy the process! The host father was a fabulous cook! The best one I’ve ever met, never used a cook book, always followed the instinct/ intuition/heart/gut (pick whichever one you like!). He didn’t teach me how to cook, he taught me confidence! That no matter what you are making, it will turn out, as long as you are confident! I am not saying I am this super talented chef now, but I can cook to impress, and I am happy about it! I also learned the importance of buying organic and eating kosher meat (with all the junk they pump the meat with in the States), it’s the safest way to go and tastes as good. I began experimenting, trying different recipes, trying different foods! I never thought I would like falafel or beets! Now I do!

Lesson 4: Persistence

I will call until I get an answer (no matter how long I am going to have to spend on hold). I will fight until the end to get my refund. I will write reviews on sales reps, managers, assistants, if I liked them, if I didn’t like them, if I hated them, and in many other situations. Today, thanks to my persistence, I was able to finally get rid of this nervous, flip flopping feeling in my stomach! And all because I called and asked the right questions!

Lesson 5: Useful lingo

“Schmuck” & “Putz”, enough said!

Lesson 6: Saving on Everything

Couponing, shopping on sales, clearances, but I didn’t stop there. I began to freecycle ( ), thrift shop, and it’s not just to save the money, but to reuse and save the environment! I am not an extreme couponer, like the ones they show on TLC, but I know my way around, and how to get free stuff. Some things I have freecycled include, but aren’t limited to 🙂 clothes, books, iHome, jewelry (real and costume), toiletries, house decor, movies, CDs. You name it, I have probably freecycled it at one point or another! I also went to monthly swaps! And those were amazing! Even my jewish host mom was amazed at me, because she considered herself thrifty, but I beat here there. Though sometimes I think she was just a plain hoarder 🙂

Lesson 7: Acceptance and Tolerance 

When it came to other cultures and religions, I used to be a person who would flinch, and go her own way, but this Jewish family changed a lot for me. I didn’t become a Jew, nor am I planning on becoming one, I simply was able to get a better perspective on God’s chosen people. Having been a Christian for the most part of my life, we were always taught the New Testament is more important than the Old. I was able to see that Old Testament with my own eyes, experience it through different holiday celebrations, and learn a lot about God, or as they call him HaShem.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, let me know if there is anything you want to disagree with.

PS. I left out the names, I hope I don’t need to explain why! Another important thing: this is the good stuff, there was plenty of bad, ugly, and even unmentionable. But I chose to remember the good, forget the bad, and move on. Though this only relates to my Jewish family, the Catholics can forget I ever existed!

Strangers No More

Out of all Oscar nominated movies, one stood out to me the most. One about Strangers, that were no more. In Israel, there is a school, called Bialik-Rogozin, where students come from no more, nor less, but 48 different countries. It’s a place that welcomes the oppressed, the poor, victims of genocide and political persecution. The only requirement – you need to come with an OPEN HEART! This is the school where “No child left behind” comes to life, because “No child is a stranger”! This school is for Jews, Christians, Muslims, it’s for everyone, as long as you are willing, as long as you are ready, and as long as you want to learn and make an effort.

During my years as a nanny in NYC, I have once put a child on the wrong school bus. Nothing happened, the kid is still alive and kicking, and driving some other nanny insane. And think of it “For most children getting to school is as simple as going around the block” or getting on a school bus, or in a car, and being driven there. “But for others it’s a dangerous journey across hostile borders”.

The documentary “Strangers No More” produced and directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon tells a story of the only school in Israel that opens its’ doors to students like that, but more than that, it tells the stories of 3 students, form different places, who wanted to learn in spite of the fact that they had no prior education. As we watch them speak we notice colorful handprints in the background. Those colorful hands are going to create their lives from now on, and when they grow up and look back at what they had to go through, those hands and the people they belonged to is what they will remember.

The three students that opened up their hearts, allowed to share the story, made actual friends with the producers are Mohammed, a teenager from Darfur. This young man never went to school, but here in Bialik-Rogozin School, he was able to finish 4 years of school in just 1! Of course he had difficulties with homework and self-discipline at first, but look at him now! He has a great future ahead of him!

Then there is Johannes from Eritrea. Turned out Johannes was practically blind on one eye, but with the new glasses his teachers got him, he is now able to actively participate in the school process.

The saddest story is the story of Esther, a 9 year old, whose mother was murdered. “Your mom is like your best friend” imagine what happens when she is taken away from you. My relationship with my mom has never been a walk in the park, but as we all know difficulties bring people closer together, so we’ve been working on our relationship over the past couple of weeks. So what do you do when you see your mom killed in front of your eyes and it’s no movie? I have no answer to that. But Esther’s teachers do. They got her to open up, and she is able to receive help now. I always thought South Africa was more peaceful than that.

The beginning of the journey is different for everyone (shyness, being lost, feeling different), but the outcome is somewhat similar – it’s education, it’s acceptance, it’s the realization that there should be no boundaries, no stereotypes, no violence.

Watch the 87 minutes of this documentary, hear the children speak in their native language and in English, meet the teachers! It’s worth it.

PS. My personal interest in this film is the following – I lived with a Jewish family for a year, celebrated Shabbat, Sukkoth, Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, cooked meals the kosher way, ate the kosher way, went to a Brisk! And I am proud of it, I am thankful for the experience I was able to have, to feel included into the culture, into the tradition. Not everyone gets this opportunity! And not everyone understands the importance of it. I hope you will after watching the documentary!