The ProsenPeople

Not Feeling the Candy Hearts? Turn Around Your 50 Shades of Abysmal Gray

Thursday, February 14, 2013 | Permalink
Lisa Alcalay Klug's most recent book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe, is now available. She is blogging here today for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
 

It’s that time of year...chocolates, flowers, jewelry. Sappy advertisements and red and pink store displays. There are reminders everywhere. It’s Valentine’s Day.

Sure, it’s a bit commercial (understatement) but it’s all good. We know that. It’s beautiful to celebrate love.

But what about if you don't have a special someone or even your favorite chocolate already lined up for a great Thursday night? (Or perhaps you have a loving companion but you've somehow lost yourself in the relationship.) Whatever the reason, this day, with its cards and balloons, candy hearts and kitsch, is turning your mood fifty shades of a rather abysmal gray. Instead of bringing you a great sense of joy and intimacy, this so-called celebration feels more about absence or loss. And over the course of a day that seems to have somehow overlooked your very own precious self, you find yourself thinking, “I don’t have a valentine.”

To which we respond, what do you mean you don’t have a valentine?

Of course you have a valentine.

Walk right into the bathroom. Grab a hold of the sink and look up. Yours will be right there waiting, looking you straight in the punim.

Even if you feel very alone at times, you always have a valentine. It’s you.

That’s right. No matter who is or isn’t in your life, you are your own ultimate bashert.

And naturally, you’re fabulous. How lucky you are to have you for a valentine.

Because when you’re very your own valentine, you can celebrate any way you want.

How romantic it would be to buy yourself one perfect red rose. Not a whole bouquet. Just one perfectly closed bud representing your love for yourself. Take this vulnerable darling home and place it in a vase. All it needs is just a little bit of water.

Over the course of a few hours, watch your flower bloom as a symbol of you opening up to the undying expression of your own self love, showing yourself the greatest kindness, compassion and understanding, no matter what life brings.

Choose a song that opens your heart, and helps you dream a little dream, and dance with yourself. That’s right, ignite your own boogie fever. Don’t worry what it looks like. There are no rules here. You don’t even have to watch.

Yes, it's scary to be vulnerable. Even to yourself. But it’s also easy to be your own best valentine, the kind that promises extreme self care, extreme self empathy, extreme self respect. Because when you truly love yourself, every day is Valentine’s Day.

So when you're ready, grab a pen and some paper, or maybe even some broken crayons, and make yourself a good old fashioned valentine. That’s right, make some vows to yourself, to be true to yourself, and be your most authentic self. If you find yourself suddenly tongue tied, feel free to borrow these “Marriage Vows to Me” taken straight from the pages of my book, Hot Mamalah.


It’s true, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of sweethearts. Of relationships. Of your chocolate tooth. We're not denying that. But that doesn't mean it can't also be about celebrating the sweetness of your own life and the most intimate relationship you always have, the one with yourself. Isn't it about time you commit to love, honor and cherish?

Now go on. Get real with yourself and bring a little romance to your game. Valentine’s Day with yourself is EVERY day, forevermore.

That certainly sounds like a great romance to me.

Mazal tov, now you’re a hot mamalah!

How do you know you're a hot mamalah?

Because you don't have to work hard to be hot. You just have to be you. Your most authentic self is the hottest thing of all.

How can you be sure you’re a hot mamalah?

Because a hot mamalah loves and respects herself.

How can you be positively certain you’re a hot mamalah?

Because a real mamalah is her own best valentine, today and every day.

And when you wake up the morning after, how do you remember you're a hot mamalah?

You. Just. Do.

Happy Valentine’s Day, You!

Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe and Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Forward and many other publications. Visit her online at lisaklug.com.Twitter @lisaklug | Facebook.com/lisaalcalayklug.

For the Sake of Unification

Friday, November 02, 2012 | Permalink
Earlier this week, Lisa Alcalay Klug wrote about a surprising discovery in Nachlaot and about how her work is informed by her father's experiences during the Holocaust. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Soon after learning my late grandmother’s family lived in Nachlaot, I accepted an invitation for Shabbat dinner from sweet friends, Mottle and Batya Wolfe. Spending Shabbat in Nachlaot definitely felt like the most fitting way to honor my newly discovered roots. When I shared how much I wanted to spend more time where my grandmother grew up, the Wolfes seemed to read my mind and invited me to their seder. I was so touched by their invitation, but Passover was four months away. I was still touring for Cool Jew in what was fast becoming the Energizer Bunny of book tours. It just kept going and going... Could I really return so soon?

At my next stop, Limmud UK, the answer effortlessly appeared. Several participants suggested I present at Limmud Berlin and Limmud Amsterdam, both slated for May. I could fly early to Europe, add on a trip to Israel for Passover and return in time for both conferences. I would barely be home between now and then but I was used to that (!) and Passover in Nachlaot was clearly where I was meant to be... It just kept getting validated. Was it the luck of Cool Jew, my grandmother's orchestrations on high or something else at work?

The time flew by. Finally, I landed at Mottle and Batya’s seder. They urged me to share my story again with their guests. I had long known my grandmother was born in Israel but I didn’t know she grew up in Nachlaot, near Ohel Moshe Street, where it meets Rehov Aryeh Levin, named for the great tzaddik of Jerusalem. The story kept growing...

In two weeks, it would be the 28th of Nissan, designated by the Hebrew letters kaf-chet, which form the word koach/strength. The day is the anniversary of my father’s liberation day from Buchenwald, the yahrzeit of my grandmother whose portrait I found displayed in Nachlaot and my Hebrew birthday. I planned to sponsor a Shabbat kiddush in memory of my grandmother, in honor of my father and as act of gratitude on my birthday. I had no idea where, but the less I planned, it seemed, the more the Universe provided.

One afternoon during Passover, I went to Gan Sacher to meet friends. When they called to cancel, I realized I was so close to Nachlaot, I thought I’d "visit" my family's portrait in the same ways others visit graves. I navigated Nachlaot's twists and turns, delighted when I found it. I stayed for a few moments, marveling, again, over the discovery, realizing she and my great-grandparents and many other relatives had stood here, too, long before images were ever embedded in these stone walls. As I was leaving, I was stunned to find the gate of an adjacent synagogue slightly open. Without hesitation, I wandered through the gate and climbed the stairs, then stood silent on a landing. Through a glass door, I could see a group of men engaged in study. One stood up, approached the door and gave up a thumbs up, motioning me upstairs. I nodded. I wanted to see what I could find out about the portraits, but if mincha, the afternoon prayers, were part of the plan, "Okay," I thought, "I'll roll with it."

We climbed a narrow set of stairs outdoors to a heavy door he unlocked. I continued alone, up another narrow set of stairs indoors to the ezrat nashim. The women’s balcony offered a spectacular view of an elaborate Sefardi sanctuary. The magnificent ceiling was painted blue with gold stars. It was so close I could practically touch it. The imaginary sky met graceful renderings of the twelve tribes. Oriental rugs surrounded a raised bima and variations on an elaborate parochet, an embroidered velvet curtain, covered several spots along the walls. My favorite decoration of all was the large red neon crown adorned with the four letters of the tetragrammaton. I laughed. It was Imperial margarine meets Cool Jew.

Within a few minutes, prayers began in the Mizrachi nusach; eventually two women and young girl joined me. Through the window behind us, the sun set over Jerusalem. Finally, after maariv, I retraced my path downstairs and cautiously waited until someone motioned me through the glass doors. I asked in Hebrew for the rabbi. His name was Rav Moshe and he was delighted to hear I was related to those "embedded in the walls." When I explained I wanted to commemorate my grandmother’s yahrzeit on an upcoming Shabbat, he corrected me with the correct Sefardi terminology. He invited me sponsor the azkara on the appropriate weekday. This charming shul, the Great Synagogue of Ohel Moshe, was the only house of worship with a section for woman during my grandmother’s childhood. So this, he said, was it: her shul. I was so moved and so surprised. Like a new stanza of "Dayenu," I wouldn't have been there if my friends hadn't canceled, or if I hadn't arrived in time for services, or returned for Passover, or gone to Limmud, or found the portrait on display, or opened David's email, or met him at Jewlicious, or written Cool Jew...

Days later, in nearby Mahane Yehuda, I shopped for traditional items served at an hazkara. Mezonot/grains (crackers and cookies), pri haetz/fruit of the tree (dates), pri haadama/fruit of the ground (peanuts) and sh’hakol, which loosely translates as "everything"not covered by another blessing (drinks). That day, Rav Yitzchak, who searched with me for the image of the unknown Alcalays and many other dear friends showed up.

We davened mincha and maariv and read chapters of the Zohar to elevate the soul of my grandmother, Yehudit bat Yitzchak. Afterwards, the shul regulars and my friends, said blessings over the refreshments and we drank l'chaim to my grandmother's memory, my father's long life, everyone present and my birthday. I retold, once again, the story of discovering my grandmother’s roots in the neighborhood and the unusual unification of my Sefardi grandmother, my Ashkenazi father and my own entry into this world.

I felt then, as now, grateful for the Providence of marking that moment in Jerusalem, for our connections to each other and Above, and by the abundance of personal validation, hasgacha pratit, that continues to unfold... It's there. Always. Sometimes, it is so openly revealed. And sometimes, we see it only when we remember to look.

Lisa Alcalay Klug (lisaklug.com) is an award-winning journalist, author, speaker and media coach. She is currently at work on a memoir. This post is a part of a blog tour celebrating the release of her new book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe. Learn more about the blog tour at https://www.facebook.com/events/505196389498488/. Join her Smokin' Hot Mamalah Book Launch Giveaway valued at $300 at www.ModernTribe.com/mamalah.

Seeking Connection

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Lisa Alcalay Klug wrote about how her work is informed by her father's experiences during the Holocaust. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

If there is one consistent theme in the ongoing discoveries of my family history it is meaningful coincidence. Some people call this synchronicity. Our sages call it hasgacha pratit, Divine providence.

In 2009, I received an email from David Abitbol, whom I had met the year before when I presented at the Jewlicious Festival he co-founded in Los Angeles. David had made aliyah and spotted a vintage photograph of a Jerusalem couple named Alcalay displayed near his apartment in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot. He asked if they were my relatives. I didn’t know. My mother didn’t know. My grandparents were no longer living so I couldn’t ask them. Months passed and the question lingered. If I could find more details about the image, I might discover how we are related.

If hobbies can be Jewish, genealogy certainly is. It’s a way of reclaiming our past despite centuries of persecution and loss. It’s also popular among “Holocaust families” like mine who dream of discovering a lost relative. Before the proliferation of genealogical sites on the Net, I consulted an Israeli professor of Sefardi history, Yom Tov Assis at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, about my mother's family. Yom Tov told me all Alcalays are part of a large clan that left Spain at the time of the Inquisition and dispersed across the Mediterranean. While he was still alive, my grandfather, the son of a Jerusalem rabbi, told me we are direct descendants of an early Zionist thinker, Rabbi Yehuda Alcalay, the chief rabbi of Sarajevo. In his writings, Herzl credits Alcalay with many of the ideas for a future Jewish state. To honor that history, I inserted the montage of delegates at the first Zionist Congress held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland into my first book, Cool Jew. Two delegates were both descendants of Rabbi Alcalay, a granddaughter and a great nephew, who were married. Their names are David and Judith Alcalay; she was one of the relatively few women in attendance.

Months after David Abitbol sent me the image of the unknown Alcalays, I was invited to present at Limmud UK. Since I was traveling all the way from California, I added on a visit to Israel and recruited another friend, Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz, for help unraveling the mystery of the photo. I had met Yitzchak years earlier when we both taught in a Jewish spirituality retreat in Maui. Nachlaot's labyrinthian streets easily swallow up newcomers but Yitzchak, who studies kabbalah in Nachlaot each night—all night—was happy to help. David had told me the image is one among many historic portraits embedded in Nachlaot's walls; these displays honor early residents of one of the first neighborhoods outside the Old City with weather-protected photographs that represent a Jewish twist on “Lincoln slept here.” On one wall, there might be the image of Tevyeh the Milkman. On another, Rachel the seamstress.

We wandered the neighborhood in an impromptu tour, carefully reading every caption, enjoying the charming stories, but there was not one Alcalay among them. The sun began to set and soon, Yitzchak had to leave for his evening routine. I asked if we could quickly try just one more street before we gave up. We picked up our pace and turned another corner. There, we discovered a series of about 20 images, the largest yet, but one drew me directly to it and I began to cry. The photo features a family, including one young woman I immediately recognized as my grandmother. She had a stroke early in life and I barely knew her, but I "happened" to have visited her a week before she died and attended her funeral in the same cemetery as the Israelis martyred at the Munich Olympics.

My aunt had given me a copy of her family portrait soon after my grandmother passed away. I love it so much that I keep it on display in my home. By the time I discovered it in Nachlaot, I had already published it in Cool Jew. It accompanies a section on Jewish blood ties.

 

My grandmother, Yehudit Levy, z'l is shown seated in the far right corner, with her parents,
siblings, niece and nephew.

It was only because I was searching that I found what I wasn't seeking, a bond to Nachlaot I didn't even know existed. This amazing series of meetings and friendships had led me to an unexpected gift during Chanukah, when my grandmother was born. Her parents had named her Judith, in honor of one of the heroines of Chanukah, who slew the enemy ruler, Holofernes.

I was due in England soon but hoped to return to Nachlaot for the next major festival, Passover. I dreamt of commemorating our redemption and walking the streets my grandmother had, and where my great grandparents had before her.

The next installment of this story will appear in a third post in this series.

Read Part 3 of this series: For the Sake of Unification

Lisa Alcalay Klug (lisaklug.com) is an award-winning journalist, author, speaker and media coach. She is currently at work on a memoir. This post is a part of a blog tour celebrating the release of her new book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe. Learn more about the blog tour at https://www.facebook.com/events/505196389498488/. Join her Smokin' Hot Mamalah Book Launch Giveaway valued at $300 at www.ModernTribe.com/mamalah.

It's Not All in a Name

Monday, October 29, 2012 | Permalink

Lisa Alcalay Klug's most recent book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe, is now available. She is also the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe, a National Jewish Book Awards Finalist. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

It’s clear from the names of my two pop culture humor books, Cool Jew and Hot Mamalah, that my Jewish background is a primary force in my writing. What these titles don’t reveal is how much my work is informed by my father’s experiences during the Holocaust.

They say every child of a Holocaust survivor is born with a tear in her eye. This is far from an obvious starting point for cultivating humor. But like many other creatives, my “weighty inheritance” significantly contributes to the overall tenor of my writing about contemporary Jewish lifein both revealed and unrevealed ways.

My first book, Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe (cooljewbook.com), was a 2008 National Jewish Book Awards Finalist and the first humor book honored in the awards’ 50-year-history. My new book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe (hotmamalah.com), debuted this month. Both books are filled with humorous depictions of Jewish life and practice. They promote learning about your identity and celebrating it with a reverent irreverence...an irreverence based on a real love of being Jewish.

My father, who will b’ezrat Hashem, soon turn 90, is a survivor of Buchenwald. As a child, my father told me his parents died “in the war.” It was only when I turned the age of bat mitzvah that I learned their precise fate. On Yom Kippur 1942, the Nazis deported them and their daughter Rosa to Treblinka. They were never heard from again. That same year, the Nazis murdered my uncle Lipman in the Czestohowa ghetto. Somehow, despite years as a slave laborer in war-time Poland, my father survived. He was near death when General Patton’s Third Army finally liberated Buchenwald. He was furious to miss the oranges and chocolate U.S. liberators fed his fellow captives. As many of them died from complications, my father realized this was one more blessing that saved his life.

One of my father’s mottos is never give up. One day in April 1945 he was a slave. And the next day, suddenly, the skies parted. And he was a free.

Another of my father's favorite maxims is never, ever be ashamed to be a Jew. My books, Cool Jew and Hot Mamalah, turn this injunction into a positive: to know who you are and own it. Little did I know that my own embracing of this teaching would lead me to new revelations about my heritage, including the Sefardi history of my mother’s family. Check back soon for more about them in an upcoming post in this series.

Read Part 2 of this series: Seeking Connection

Read Part 3 of this series: For the Sake of Unification

Lisa Alcalay Klug (lisaklug.com) is an award-winning journalist, author, speaker and media coach. She is currently at work on a memoir. This post is one in series in a blog tour celebrating the release of her new book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe. Learn more about the blog tour at https://www.facebook.com/events/505196389498488/. Join her Smokin' Hot Mamalah Book Launch Giveaway valued at $300 at www.ModernTribe.com/mamalah.