Monday, February 28, 2005

Oh, Daughter of Mine

About an hour or more ago, I put my daughter to bed. After her Jacuzzi bath and follow-up shower, I'd spent about 45 minutes this evening braiding her hair Bo Derek-style. The mornings are rushed, and besides, I'm usually gone by the time she wakes up, so there's no time for hair niceties done by my hand.

But tonight I offered to make her lots of little braids, and let me tell you, we both needed patience for the task to be completed. She grew restless, I grew restless; she needed to stretch her back, I needed to stretch mine. But the end result was a headful of lovely little braids with colorful elastic bands holding them together.

For once my daughter was not so pouty, and more pleased by my stylistic coifs done on her behalf.

But I knew that by the morning the beautiful braids might become disheveled, with straggling hair hanging here and there. The braids would look unkempt and it would be too time-consuming and difficult for this seven-year-old to be up to the task of "putting her best hair forward!" So we sought a solution to try to keep the braids looking equally good in the morning as they did when she went to bed. She requested that I put a head scarf on her, which I've done before. This was something I did when I was young, coming home from the hairdresser, and wearing a head scarf to bed to try to keep the hairstyle intact.

This evening, however, when I tied the scarf around her braids, in a babushka style, I suddenly thought that my daughter had taken on an Old World look--a look of a Polish peasant, perhaps. Perhaps, I thought, she looked like my aunt must have, when she died at age 15 at the hands of the Nazis. My daughter is named for this aunt, my father's adored youngest sister. Of course, there are no photos that were salvaged from before the war years, so I have no clue what this aunt might have looked like. But I know that her name was Marjem, after her father Meir, who died two months before she was born. She was a source of light to her family.

My daughter's middle name is Meriam, and she too, is sweet and adored, and a source of light for our family, as her great-aunt was to my father's family.

May Marjem rest in peace, and l'havdil, may Meriam live a long, healthy and happy life. Amen.

"...We're Lost in a Masquerade"

"Are we really happy here
With this lonely game we play
Looking for words to say
Searching but not finding understanding anyway
We're lost in a masquerade..."

Thank you, George Benson, singer/guitarist extraordinaire, for those[hopefully correct]lyrics.

I couldn't help but think of them today after a "conversation" I had with a fellow blogger re. blogging vs. silence.

Many of us have taken names for ourselves via which to blog -- we are keeping our true identities secret from those who know us. But are we in fact remaining secret? So many of us drop enough clues or personal stories that give us away. I never told anyone other than my husband and my children that I blog. But last week, a friend linked to me through a roundabout source in my published article and she had this to say: "Oh my G-d, you're TorontoPearl, you're Pearlies of Wisdom. Why didn't you tell me? (sniff!)" But this friend knows me, knows what's going in my life, knows how I think -- there was really no need for her to read my words and know about my online identity.

But as we bloggers mill about in blogland, I can't help but think of a costume party in which the guests wear elaborate masks to hide their identities from fellow partygoers. Are we not like these guests, wearing our blogging names like masks so that we won't be found out? Yes, it's a bit daring, thrilling even to wear the blogging name and remain incognito, isn't it?

What if we bloggers were to remove those masks, those names, use our real names and say, "I don't have a blog. I have a Web site. Perhaps you'd like to check it out...."

Yes, "...we're lost in a masquerade."

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Ain't It Nice To Imagine....?

As I mentioned once in a post of mine, I live in a beautiful neighborhood that is still being developed with million-dollar homes. Rest assured, mine is not worth anything close to that amount -- we just lucked out with a smaller, older home in a nice subdivision.

About a five minute drive from us is a gated community being developed with million-dollar and two-million-dollar homes. Sometimes when the weather is nicer, we take walks with the dog to view some of the ones still being built. I don't really aspire to live in anything of their grandeur and size, nor could I maintain the upkeep of such palatial homes, nor the expected lifestyle that one would think is associated with such a piece of real estate. But it's nice to look at them all the same.

Today I took my children to see one of these homes: it is the grand prize in a cancer hospital lottery (tickets are $100 each or three for $250) and is worth over two million dollars, furnishings included. To look at this home on the outside is nice; to look at it on the inside is nicer. My children and I went through the rooms and announced who would get which room...if we won(yes, we are ticket purchasers for such a great fund-raising cause).

My heart melted at a second-floor library that surrounded an opening in the floor through which you could look down to the main level. I imagined parts of the shelving holding dear and familiar children's books, other parts holding family photo albums, while others held sforim. And just opposite the library was a small office with rolltop desks; I figured this is a room where I could hone my writing skills even more, write a publishable manuscript and the resulting book would one day end up on those library shelves.

Perhaps it's easier to imagine pretend lives in such a home when there is such a slim chance of winning it. But our walkabout today gave my children great pleasure and opened their minds, their imagination, to great things. They understand that it's okay to partake in this game of make-believe for a short while.

I'm proud that for them the reality kicks in when they announce, "If we win this house, it's going to be a much longer walk to shul!"

Life's a Gamble

While sitting this a.m., waiting for my children to finish their swimming lessons, I listened to the conversations around me and partook as well.

One woman said: "Could I ask you a question...?" It sounded ominous but she wanted to find out what "Kosher" means and why Cheerios may or may not be Kosher. At least she, as a non-Jewish woman, had some basic understanding about Kashrut and understood that we don't mix meat with dairy, and knew that for Pesach we change all our dishes, etc. So I only had to give a crash course in Kashrut.

On the other side of me, were two young Modern Orthodox peer fathers, who were discussing gambling, and going to Vegas or smaller casinos in Ontario, and what games give them a "rush" -- and how much money they would drop at a time, how much they'd come home with as a gain, or as a loss.

I couldn't help but silently give thanks to Hashem that my husband partakes in none of this, nor does he desire to do so. Once upon a time, I thought that the "gadgets" he likes to buy are often thrown-out money, but I'd so much rather he have gadgets and money in the bank, than an empty wallet after a rush at the blackjack table and a losing streak.

Friday, February 25, 2005

I Stole Something from A Simple Jew.... Umm, I Mean I Borrowed It.

"...record your inner life in a journal. This will not be something you do to earn immortal fame as an author, but rather engrave your soul-portrait on paper. Write down all your inner struggles, your setbacks and successes, and grant them eternal life. This way your very essence, the personality of your soul, your spiritual attainments, your life's inner treasures, will live on forever in the lives of your spiritual heirs as generations to come and go."

(Piaceszna Rebbe)

Asking forgiveness of fellow blogger A Simple Jew, I admit that I stole this posting of his from October 10, 2004. I'm like a comedian who's run out of quality material and has to recycle jokes of yesteryear.

But A Simple Jew knows the right things to say at the right time, the right quotations to cite to bring an awareness to his readers. Even if one of his posts doesn't offer anything more than a word of wisdom from a late, great rebbe, that post is a treasure and food for thought.

This quote from the Piaceszna Rebbe hits home for me as a blogger and as someone who kept a journal for years. My words are markers for my life, recreating or renewing events -- both trivial and major -- for me and any readers with the [good] fortune to read my words.

As the quote says, "...engrave your soul-portrait on paper." Or in this modern-day world, engrave it on a screen, don't forget to hit SAVE and then FILE. And remember, "a picture is worth a thousand words..."

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Interesting how the human mind works, and more interesting is memory.

I am 43. When I was 12 and in grade 7 (okay, to you Americans, 7th grade), we would have spelling bees from time to time if we finished our work and had about 10 minutes till the bell would ring for dismissal. We lined up along the blackboard and the teacher gave us words -- some easy, some difficult -- randomly. Either the bell would ring first, or we'd declare a champion speller, based on who was left standing.

I was a good speller, but I don't recall being champion. However, I do recall that the word bathyscaphe was given by the teacher -- to me? Perhaps. I can't recall that, either. But since that day in 1973, when I heard the spelling of the word, I've retained it. I quickly spell it aloud from time to time and recall this story to family and friends. Or I do it in a singsong manner, or make a clapping game with the word for my young daughter.

I may have remembered the spelling of the word all these years, but I've never had reason to use it in a sentence. Go figure....

Yes, memory is a strange and often wonderful thing. A perfect example that leaves me wondering about memory continually is my father's memory for his father's yahrzeit. Now you might think, "Of course her father would know and commemorate a parent's yahrzeit." But my father was six years old when his father passed away (my father's littlest sister was born two months after her father passed away!). That was over 75 years ago! There were harsh living conditions, a world war, dealing with huge and horrific losses, an uprooting of a life, and a replanting of a life and resulting fruit in subsequent years. So many trials and tribulations...illnesses that affected the brain: brain tumor, stroke...and yet the yahrzeit date stayed with this man all these years.

I think it's a blessing in disguise -- a kavod for the grandfather I never knew, the father that my father barely knew. We should all be blessed with such a do the right things in life.

***Bathyscaphe (also bathyscaph) -- n. : a navigable submersible for deep-sea exploration having a spherical watertight cabin attached to its underside.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Working Mother's Woes

Woe is me...I'm a working mom. Okay, so I bring home a few shekels, and I help pay for the mortgage, the second car, the insurance, the household bills, the day care, the schooling, the day camp, the extra-curricular lessons, shul membership, the dog food, the--

Oh wait, I said I bring home a few shekels, and I help pay for... the dog food. Yup, that's about it. So why am I out there, rushing to and from work, leaving my husband to deal with chauffeuring and meal preps and homework till I get home. I'm not the main breadwinner in this family by any means, but I do help out a bit.

Recently hubby and I looked at my checkbook to see if there was a pattern to my spending habits -- oh, ya, the pattern is THE KIDS. I pay for swimming, for hockey, for chess, for other mind-expanding, brain-enlightening courses they pursue, for school expenses (of course, those are on top of tuition, on top of school uniforms, on top of supply lists) such as trips and food programs and Scholastic book orders.

Yes, we spend on THE KIDS, but the rewards are plentiful. My kids will swim/skate up to me, and in a loud and clear voice one of them will ask me to join him in a game of chess. I'll refuse, reminding him that it is in fact I who needs to take chess lessons, and tell him to play with his father, while I suggest his sister read the Scholastic book I ordered. In the meantime, I'll do the laundry and wash my daughter's school jumper and her brother's zippered school logo jacket.

And littlest child, not yet in school, will look at me, and with pleading eyes ask, "Can I have a brownie?" "Sure," I say. After all, it's only a brownie, and not a cataloged list of Scholastic books he wants me to buy for him, or an after-school program he wants to take, or a knapsack he insists on having because it's the latest schoolyard look.

Thank G-d for small blessings...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Online with Hashem

I've discovered blogs in which people are actually writing letters to Hashem. Blogosphere mail to the Almighty! Is this what we call progress?

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret is a well-known Judy Blume novel; I'm pretty sure that nearly every pubescent/adolescent girl has checked this book out of her library, or bought it via a Scholastic Books order. And I can't help but think of that book title when I read peoples' online pleas to Hashem or praise for Hashem.

For me, anyway, any words I have for Hashem are private and are generally meant to stay that way. Yes, I'll daven in a kehilla, but I move my lips quietly when I say the prayers; I'll make the brachot over the Shabbos candles and might say the words aloud, but my added prayers for family members and friends are said quietly or silently, using my mind to transport my words high above.

Some of my early journals have written pleas to Hashem or thanks to him embedded within their entries, but again, these are private, for my eyes only.

That's why I can't help but think that some of these people who are outrightly praying online are in some way desecrating the purer ways of communicating to Hashem. I'm sure they are engrossed in regular davening and learning, but perhaps they think that any means possible will get their prayers answered faster?

But the question they really need to be asking is: How often does Hashem check his e-mail?

(I hope by writing this entry that I'm not doing any major desecrating....)

Monday, February 21, 2005

With a Hop, Skip and a Jump

If some of you tune in once in a while or regularly -- even better! -- to this blog, you'll note once again the change in design. Every now and again, I look at my site and see that something screwed up in the display -- the fave sites are missing or got misplaced down to the netherworld of the screen's page, posts or comments are getting cut off, etc. I don't know how it happens, but I guess it's probably an indication that I'm spending too much time on this site, and losing out on valuable items as a result.

Even if my Pearlies of Wisdom page doesn't display my list of faves, I have an organized column on my computer both at home and at work that I refer to so that I can check in to see how some other bloggers are doing.

Because I am still relatively new to the world of blogs and blogging -- I started blogging in December 2004 -- I have to think back to how I even accumulated a list of faves.

My stepping stone was back in October 2004 when I received a mailing about newly published Jewish books and a blurb about their authors. The book that caught my eye on the list was screenwriter Robert Avrech's The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden (mentioned several times on this blog). I googled Robert's name and discovered his blog, then became hooked on reading it. I began to check out some of his faves, among them A Simple Jew and Five Years Later. And also got hooked. Then I looked at the faves on A Simple Jew and linked on to those...and got hooked to several. And when I linked on to those, I cross-linked to others.

Now each time I go online to read others' blogs, I move through the blogosphere with a hop, skip and a jump. Sometimes I can't even remember how I arrived at a particular blog, what circuitous route I took to get there. But I'm glad I'm there...

And I'm equally glad you're here, that you found your way to Pearlies of Wisdom.


In his book Happiness: Formulas, Stories & Insights, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin offers an exercise in which the ideas are conducive for accessing happiness-producing states.

Try to fill in some of these:

*I am grateful for....
*I talk and act joyously when...
*One of the greatest people I ever met was...
*The nicest thing anyone ever said to me is...
*I will increase...
*The people who add to my happiness are...
*I felt a sense of accomplishment when...
*What makes me smile is...
*What I most appreciate about my father is...
*What I most appreciate about my mother is...
*What I most appreciate about my brother/sister is...
*I feel fortunate that...
*I appreciate...

Even if you think you are not so happy at the moment, upon doing this exercise and reviewing your ever-changing answers, you will realize that you have much to be thankful for and you appreciate the small things in life that you might otherwise take for granted.

Wishing you much happiness...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Screenwriter Makes His Seraphic Vision a Reality [something to kvell about]

Please refer to for more insights...


The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden, by Robert J. Avrech, Seraphic Press.

Robert J. Avrech’s primary experience has been as a screenwriter. With Brian DePalma, he wrote the screenplay for the 1984 thriller Body Double, and he was the screenwriter for the 1992 film, A Stranger Among Us, an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival. His moving 1999 adaptation of author Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic garnered him an Emmy Award.

Avrech recently undertook a new venture – to write a novel for young adults that would reflect the values of an observant Jew.

His guiding light was his son, Ariel Chaim, a yeshiva student, gentle, deeply religious, devoted to his parents, his younger sisters and his studies. Ariel also loved both classic and modern literature, but was concerned about the values found in contemporary young adult literature, which he felt reflected the point of view of cynical authors and editors determined to impose their negative viewpoint on others.

He suggested that his father “start a publishing company, publish fiction that is of the highest quality, yet also suitable for kids who hold Torah values.”

At age 14, Ariel was diagnosed with a brain tumour. His family rallied around him as he underwent intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, transfusions and surgery.

For the eight years that he was in and out of hospital, family, faith and friendships sustained him in his fight to survive. He continued to study and was valedictorian of his graduating class at Los Angeles’ Yeshiva Gedolah. Four years later, however, in fall 2002, Ariel had difficulty breathing. The prognosis was that the chemotherapy for his tumour had left his lungs scarred. He was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis and needed a lung transplant.

By this time, Avrech had begun writing a Jewish historical novel, The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. His goal was to share his “love of Judaism, Jewish ritual and Jewish history with as many people as possible.” He wanted to be a positive influence, telling a great story that also embraced Orthodox Jewish ideals.

The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden is the coming-of-age story of the unlikely friendship between Ariel, “The Hebrew Kid,” and Lozen, an Apache warrior girl and younger sister of Victorio, who was perhaps the greatest Apache chief in the Old West. Ariel, an intelligent, serious and spunky boy of almost bar mitzvah age, is determined to celebrate this important ceremony.

He becomes friends with Lozen, as he and his observant Jewish family make their way across the Arizona Territory after the Civil War, seeking a life free of oppression, a place where they can practise their religion and livelihood.

Through their adventures and intriguing friendship, Ariel and Lozen learn about the similarities and the differences in their cultures.

The story’s colourful characters include Papa, Mama, sister Rebecca, Victorio, U.S. cavalry, scalp hunters, settlers and the renowned Doc Holliday, all travelling westward to find a new beginning. With its page-turning suspense, adventure, humour, historical and religious references, and its glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms, The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden is a welcome and wonderful book for anyone age nine to 120. It is a literary treasure for families to read and reread.

Avrech spent two years researching Apache life, the westward expansion and letters and journals of Jews who made the migration to the west. He travelled to Arizona, where the story takes place, to get a feel for the land and to talk to Apache tribe members.

While Ariel remained hospitalized or homebound, Avrech read him the manuscript, discussing story lines, characterization, halachic accuracies. He says his son was “a fine literary critic, and after he read a chapter, it was not unusual for Ariel to offer gentle but cogent criticism that would send me back to my pages for numerous rewrites.

“My years as a screenwriter have taught me some basic lessons in telling a good story, getting to the heart of the scene quickly and resolving characters and situations.”

Avrech completed seven drafts of the book, “each one better than the next,” with further input from family, friends, rabbis, writers and editors.

Unfortunately, Ariel did not receive the lung transplant he and his family were desperately hoping for, and in July 2003, he died at age 22. Avrech and his wife, Karen, decided to establish Seraphic Press in Ariel’s memory. Seraphim, God’s first order of angels, are often mentioned in the Torah. Ariel’s pious nature was recognized early by his family, friends and community, making Seraphic Press a befitting name.

The outstanding Seraphic Press design team includes Obadinah Heavner, illustrator; Robert Lanphear, book designer; and Iskra, calligrapher. Jonathan David Publishers, Inc. has been signed on as exclusive distributor for The Hebrew Kid and upcoming Seraphic Press books whose release dates will coincide with National Jewish Book Month.

The publishing list includes more titles in The Hebrew Kid series – Avrech is currently working on The Hebrew Kid and Buffalo Bill, a story about bringing a Torah to Tombstone, Ariz. The Shidduch Diaries, designated as “chick lit for the observant,” is author Michael Levin’s wildly entertaining look at the insular Jewish dating scene. Maccabee and Me, another Avrech title, features a time-travel story about a high school student who learns to appreciate his Judaism when he is cast back into the world of Judah the Maccabee.

The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden, recently released, received wonderful reviews. In November 2004, Avrech was invited to read and sign copies of his book at the largest Jewish children’s book fair in Los Angeles. But he said then: “HaShem has a wicked curveball. The bookfest takes place 100 yards from Ariel’s kever [grave]. Understand, this is The Hebrew Kid’s very first public appearance.”

In May 2004, Avrech started a blog, an online journal – Seraphic Secret, – his space to remember his only son, Ariel.

Robert J. Avrech translated his son’s vision into the Avrech family’s vision, Seraphic Press, whose motto is “belief in books.”

The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden is available at and at, in Toronto at Negev Books and at Israel’s Books and Gifts, and in Montreal at Rodal’s and Kotel Books.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Letter by Letter

Gotta say that I love picking titles -- hopefully catchy ones, at that! -- for this blog of mine. You might read a title, anticipating that the entry is about something in particular, and then it's about something totally different. And so, it's a power we bloggers have, that we can easily pull the wool over your eyes.

That was just my entrance speech for this blog. What I really want to say is that I have always had the ability to write well -- not exclusively stories or poetry, but letters. While someone can sit and ponder for hours how to phrase something, how to get their point across, whether for business' sake or personal sake, I can formulate ideas and easily transfer them onto paper. The words always just seem to flow from me when it comes to writing -- letter by letter.

According to a general poll of my friends over the years, they all agree that they cherish my letters-- the letters were always wordy, descriptive, insightful. I took the time to write, to describe, to convey, and my friends looked forward to receiving mail from me if they traveled, or if I traveled, or if I just chose to write birthday or anniversary greetings. Many would request that I send a note for no particular reason, but just so that they could receive something from me. I know that some friends have every letter I ever sent them -- and they reassure me that it's not the quantity that counts, but the quality.

Some family friends have even told me over the past nearly-dozen years that they still have the thank-you notes I sent following my engagement party, my wedding, my children's births. Each recipient was deemed special and so, each note was treated individually. I guess my words left their mark.

These days it's much easier and quicker to e-mail folks than it is to sit and write letters, but still I try to throw in humor, description and anything else I can think of to reach my reader. The question: Could I possibly make a living or pull in some freelance work as a "professional letter writer"-- does such a thing exist?

Oh ya, maybe it does. Maybe I should be a celebrity's assistant who writes answers to all the fan club members -- I'll make them happy, especially when I make each one personalized that they'll think said celebrity answered them exclusively.

So, if you want to give me your address, maybe I'll sit down and write you a letter...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Songs in the Key of Life

While growing up, I knew just about every lyric to every contemporary song on the radio -- and just like in that game show Name that Tune, I'd announce, "I can name that tune in 3 notes!"

Reading, writing and music were my great loves, and I was usually busy with one of those, if not all three at the same time! Locked in my room, my AM-FM radio playing in the background, I'd be reading books, composing poetry or writing letters: all the while song lyrics were being imprinted on my brain.

When Janis Ian came out with "At Seventeen," I thought "That's my song." When Frankie Valli came out with "My Eyes Adored You," I thought "That's my song." The mellower the music, the closer it sat to my heart. After all, I was a poet, and song lyrics are really poems set to music.

When you listen to songs being sung, try to remove the lyrics from the music. Really listen to the words, and they'll tell a story to the audience. Some are catchier than others, some are sadder than others, and some touch you more than others. But they are all SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE.

Wendy Shalit Responds to the Responsa

Click on this link to read Wendy's response to all those who pointed fingers at her after her NYT article appeared.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Kid Wit and Mom Wit...or Nitwit (you choose)

I have three, bli ayin harah, lovely children, who give me great joy...and countless gray hairs, too! But all in all, I have been blessed with these treasures, and I hope that one day they will say the same about their "eema"!

I don' t talk about them too much because I'm not the bragging sort -- I'm more of a silent "kveller"!

But I've been thinking of my oldest, a boy, and how just about 5 years ago, when he was in preschool, his photo was in the Canadian Jewish News along with my parents, the photo having been taken at a school event. When I'd been told that it would be in the paper, I relayed the news to A and said, "You're going to be famous." He starts jumping on his bed and shrieking, "I'm gonna be famous, I'm gonna be famous." Suddenly, in mid-jump, a bewildered look crosses his face. He pauses and says, "What's famous?"

My daughter's photo appeared in last week's Jewish paper -- see Zimriya -- and I now know that my article about Seraphic Press will appear in the paper this week, in a couple of days. I feel like taking A's lead, jumping up and down on my bed and shrieking, "I'm gonna be famous, I'm gonna be famous!" But then I stop in this imaginary play because I realize I already am famous -- my "published" words get to be read by... hundreds?... on a daily basis. Yeah, that's right, I'm a columnist already...yeah, a syndicated columnist. Yeah, people read my words from coast to coast...even over in Taiwan--Dan, you win; not "down" in Taiwan, but "over" in Taiwan. (Can anyone picture Jon Lovitz doing his "Yeah, that's right" shtick on Saturday Night Live?) Yeah, who needs some weekly community newspaper when I can cater my words to the WORLD?!?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Ya Gotta Be Seen on the Scene

When I was single and deliberating whether or not to go to a singles' event in Toronto, I called the coordinator of it and spoke to her at length about my dilemma. She put it this way: "If you stay at home, nobody will know that Pearl ____ even exists." She had a point; yes, she was a businesswoman, as my mother pointed out to me, and of course she wanted me to attend her event, but she opened my eyes to a truth.

Yes, I did go to the event, met some nice people and thereafter immersed myself in the Shabbaton scene in Toronto and further abroad...for about a year and a half until I was lucky enough to meet my husband locally and NOT AT A SHABBATON.

But the woman's comment stayed with me, and I now adapt it to other areas of my life: even if I'm not keen on attending a certain minyan, is it better for me to sit at home or be there and perhaps meeting new people; is it easier for me to sit on the sidelines and say "I should do this...and this...and this" or actually be doing it or trying to do whatever "it" entails.

And so, I'm now out there, in blogland, perhaps hovering around your site -- of course, Rome wasn't built in a day, and there are only so many hours in the day to go exploring new sites, but watch out 'cause I might get to yours one of these days -- and leaving comments or questions.

And in tribute to Neil Simon, who in Brighton Beach Memoirs offered a line like "Pearls are like people; they like to go out once in a while and be seen" -- I'm taking his words and the earlier words of that singles' event coordinator to heart. Maybe some of you will get to know this Pearl in time...!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Arthur Miller -- Dead at Age 89

Just found out that great American (oops, almost said Canadian!) playwright Arthur Miller died of heart failure.

Didn't just about everyone study at least one of his plays, or perform in a production of "Death of a Salesman"?

For years, while growing up, I heard that Mr. Miller was supposed to be a relative on my maternal side -- perhaps it was his father or grandfather (can't remember which) who left the Old Country to come to America. Anyhow, it was via his paternal side that I was supposed to have been related on my maternal side. (are you still with me? do you need a translator?)

Apparently some relatives tried to seek him out over the years and confirm this information, but he denied it -- what did he know? He was a playwright, not a genealogist! I even recall, when the Toronto Film Festival was on one year, I went down to the hotel where he was staying, with a letter in hand to be delivered to his room by hotel staff, explaining the "family link" -- after all, "mishpocheh is mishpocheh"! Needless to say, I never did get a reply.

But it also occurred to me all those years ago: If I was in fact related to Arthur Miller, as some first cousin thrice removed, or something offbeat like that, did that mean I was related to Marilyn Monroe, too? Had I been around in the fifties, might I have been able to call her up, invite her for a Shabbos dinner, and address her as 'cuz?

And I wonder: Would I also be able to call Daniel Day-Lewis, Miller's son-in-law, 'cuz? (You have heard of "six degrees of separation," haven't you? Well, this would be seven!)

May Arthur Miller rest in peace. Amen.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Everything Old Becomes New Again

I'm fickle--I like to a Feng Shui thing going on. So every weeks, out of boredom, I try out on a new look/template for my blog. The reason I resorted now to my orginal style after a short-lived, appreciated template, was 'cause I SCREWED UP. Sometimes you just hit the wrong button and life don't look the same. My blog was being cut off, my comments cut off -- I took it as a personal thing and yesterday I took on a old/new look to correct matters.

It wasn't long ago that I learned how to link and show my fave sites, and only a few days ago was I guided in how to use the traffic meter. But you'll notice they're both gone from my current blog. Yes, I'll try to figure out how to list my faves once more, but I won't add the traffic meter. For what reason? To see if I'm popular, if I beat the number of hits your blog got this past hour or today, to see if someone in South America chooses to read my words? Really, what difference does it make? Popularity contests were supposed to be over with school, or at least when I gave up the dating life for marriagehood. I'm popular among my family and friends and co-workers and some of you bloggers out there who pat me on the back once in a while. That really should be enough.

I don't have to be the BLOGGER OF THE WEEK pinup--I just have to put some smiles on people's faces, or frowns on their forehead, or just give them an idea to carry further.

Why not try to get "back to basics" yourself and kick the habit of a traffic meter? The people who read you before will continue to read you, the people who critiqued you before will continue to do so, too.

Try it, you might like it....

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Sitting on Shpilkes

Do any of you people know what it's like to sit on shpilkes? Those pins and needles get you antsy; it's tough to sit still; you're waiting...sometimes you're not even sure what it is exactly that you're waiting for.

In my case, I've been sitting on shpilkes for some time -- I'm restless at work, although my job entails deep concentration and being alert; I'm restless at home, and try to use the Internet as a tool for relaxation, but then again, some of you might notice that I'm not relaxed. You might see that I "hit" your site several times a day -- I like to see if there were any new postings or comments. I apologize, and I hope you don't go cursing me when you see that it's ONLY TorontoPearl who left a comment or was the person behind a viewing, and not someone new to the site.

Why am I on shpilkes you might ask? Not quite sure, but I think that a lot has to do with a project that I took on since October -- I learned about a web site -- -- which I've mentioned before. I befriended the creative and wonderful soul behind that site, and have chosen to help promote his work and that site. Although my life as I know it is very busy with work and family life, it now also has this added dimension. One of the ways I chose to promote "everything Seraphic" was by suggesting to our community Jewish newspaper that I write a piece about Mr. "Seraphic" -- I was given the green light and met the deadline of January 10, but not the word limit. Instead of some 750 words, I wrote (and wrote and wrote) nearly 1500 words, and offered an explanation to the editor as to why I felt I HAD to do so.

I'd have thought that my piece might appear in the paper the following week...but no. I've had to wait -- patiently? -- for it to make its debut. Space is an issue, and if the editor is kind enough to salvage most of those 1500 words, of course he needs space for the piece.

Well, yesterday I was finally notified that my piece is in the editing stage and is slated for publication probably in next week's edition. This Jewish newspaper is not just local or provincial, but it works its way across Canada and points beyond where ex-Canadians might choose to keep up with the major Canadian Jewish community news. So, there might be a pediatrician in Toronto who has the paper in his waiting room; there might be a librarian offering the paper to a patron in Montreal's Jewish library; there might be a snowbird reading the paper in Arizona or Florida; there might even be a recent "oleh" reading the paper in his room at the ulpan program in Raanana.

To think that my words will get noticed by numbers is delightful for me, as I don't make my living as a writer. To think that I will draw attention to Seraphic Press and the story behind it is worth more for me. I'd been asked at some point by a family member: "What's in it for you?" I was sort of taken aback and replied: "Nothing. Just making someone...and myself happy." (refer to

As a copy editor and editor, I understand about author sensitivity to how her/his words are altered; now the shoe is on the other foot. I am the writer whose words will be edited...

Perhaps that is why I'm on shpilkes -- waiting for my piece to finally appear in the paper, and waiting to see how it's been shoicheted!

With Apologies to Carly Simon

Do you remember that great musical hit from the 1970s -- "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon? To this day her audiences don't know whom she wrote the song about, but there's great speculation, and Mick Jagger tops the list.

Well, in this day and age, Carly would have to change the lyrics just a smidgen...

"You're so vain
You probably think this blog is about you
You're so vain...
I bet you think this blog is about you, don't you, don't you...?"

Maybe some of you out there could help revise the rest of the lyrics -- why not give it a shot?

Enjoy Helping Others

"Experiencing joy in doing acts of kindness for others will increase the quantity and quality of your kind acts. When you enjoy doing things to help others, you will always be able to find enjoyable things to do. The life of a person who loves to do acts of kindness will be a life of joy."

Thank you, Rabbi Pliskin, for your uplifting thought for today.

There is an American standard song lyric that goes something like this: "...make someone happy, make just someone happy...and you will be happy, too."

Forget about doing a mitzvah for the sake of a mitzvah. Just think of putting a smile on someone else's face, and no doubt, as a result, you will soon have a smile on your own.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A Committee Member

Yes, dear readers, I am a committee member. Normally, I prefer not to sit on committees; I prefer hands-on interaction, the active rather than the passive. But I have sat on committees before: I sat on a PR/marketing committee for Toronto's Jewish Community Center for almost a year, but had no real impact there. I have been involved for twenty years with Toronto's Jewish Archives cataloguing committee, and that's okay because my work there is not about discussing policy, it's about restoration of documents, of categorizing history. I sit and work, not just sit and talk. I was on an editing committee for my children's school fund-raiser, an elegant and Kosher cookbook -- again, something I worked on, not just something I discussed.

Yes, dear readers, I am a committee member. And although I prefer not to sit on committees, this one's okay by me. It is the CHINUCH COMMITTEE of my children's school. I didn't request to sit on it, I didn't track down the chairperson to beg him to add my name to his committee list. Rather, I got a phone call from the school president, who told me that my name had been recommended to him to sit on this committee. I don't know who did the recommending, especially because I'm not a "macher" at the school -- we lay low for the most part as a school family -- but I do volunteer for them whenever I can. I was totally flattered that more than one person referred my name to the school president for the CHINUCH COMMITTEE.

Now for those of you who might not be familiar with the term, CHINUCH means "education" -- we discuss school policies, provincial requirements for secular education, the board of Jewish education's directives for religious studies, parents' needs and teacher's needs and administration's needs. We discuss whether all the school is doing is in tune with the school's HASHKAFA, philosophy. Wow, to think that I can sit on a committee, and that what I say might have a direct impact on how my $9000+ /year per child is being spent and whether or not our children's needs are being met. This behind-the-scenes look can be very eye opening for a parent, but the only requirement of me is CONFIDENTIALITY. That is not always an easy trait to observe -- Does my husband qualify as taboo to school information? I live with him; he's a parent in the school. Does my blog qualify as off-limits? Nobody at the school knows I blog, except my husband and children.

I guess to sit on my committee member's seat for the two-year reign is an honor in our school, and I should be ENLIGHTENED enough to respect that and the confidentiality code. So, folks, my lips are sealed: you won't get any info out of me; I promise not to say anything; don't even ask me to give you a hint... Okay, you want to know what they said last night? Okay, I give up, twist my rubber arm. Last night it was discussed that--

Shhh...silence is golden.

The Truth of the Matter

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- why do some folks even keep blogs? They're giving their readers a play by play of their day, down to the last moronic detail, and there are blog readers out there feeding off them! It's like knowing there's a popular soap opera: "Let's all tune in...Can't miss an episode...Tell me what happened yesterday...Did you see it?"

Some of these writers are filling dead space--with "nareshkeit."

But then there are the intellectual, brain-stimulating types, who ride a bright topic like a wave, wrapping themselves around their readers, warming them with real, not surface, feelings that come through in their words. I don't want to read about the surface you, I want to read about the essence you. The base human qualities that make you tick, the Torah that you know, the family that you love and interact with, the deep hurts that you feel, the books you read that move you, the mottos that you live by, the child that you were, the adult you have become.

I have radio, TV, magazines and newspapers to offer me current events, politics and sports trivia. What I don't have is enough "ordinary people". And that's what I'm looking for when I read or skim some of the blogs out there. Because sometimes it's that ordinary person who is the most special one of all!

Sign in Please...

Here's my guestbook for today. Sign in please...

Sunday, February 06, 2005


I just returned home from Toronto's Zimriya -- a musical festival that hosts Jewish day school, Jewish high school and Jewish supplementary school choirs. My daughter is in her first year in her school's choir and I hope she continues with it until the cut-off, which is grade 6. To hear and see young children raise their voices in beautiful unity is most special.

Held in an acoustically perfect and beautiful modern concert hall, the Zimriya had a morning performance and an afternoon performance because there are so many outstanding Jewish children's choirs in Toronto. Today's performers all sang the famous songs of Naomi Shemer -- lyrical and lovely.

It was a reason for parents to sit and kvell and videotape or photograph. Or just smile and beam, as I do.

When the audience, together with the choirs en masse, sang "Oh, Canada," "HaTikvah" and "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav," it was as though Jewish angels were opening the gates of heaven. Beautiful and memorable.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Writing from the Inner Self

I own a collection, a lovely eye-catching array of bound notebooks, whose pages have been filled over a thirteen year time span. I stopped writing in those books, my journals, the night I got engaged. That was about 11 1/2 years ago. I signed off the last page of the book -- how apropos that I'd reached a last page in a book, while closing off a chapter in my personal life, as well -- with "Chazak, Chazak v'Nitchazek." This is said when you finish reading a book in the Torah, and also start fresh.

Blank books were easily filled. Flowery scrawl dusted the pages with the vibrancy of youth, the streamofconsciousness always there for me. My motto of that time period was: "To read is human, to write is divine."

These days, however, the writing doesn't always flow. I look to my shelf and see a handful of books that are supposed to help me on my way in all matters literary. I have my standard thesaurus, Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam-Webster's dictionary. But then, I also have: The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing, by Monica Wood, published by Writer's Digest Books ( a prize I won in a contest) ; The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron ( a gift from my brother who tried to ease me on my way to writing); Ideas and Images: A Creative Journal for Authors, Artists and Lovers of Children's Literature, published by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Ilustrators ( a prize for my creative suggestion for a literary contest...of all things!); and lastly I own a book, bought by me in July 1991. It is called Writing from the Inner Self, by Elaine Hughes. It is a book that combines writing with meditation exercises and emphasizes the importance of looking to our inner selves as a source for our writing. The dust jacket reads: "...leads you to delve into your limitless supply of creative material, helping you dip into your memories, feelings, body sensations, observations, and imagination, and make something exist that was not there before."

I'd like to think that I do have a "limitless supply of creative material." Only problem is that the supply forgot to tell me where in Pearl's warehouse it's being stored! I'm waiting for some clues here...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

If You Post It They Will Come

"Keep on posting and the readers will come."

So I've been told by a fellow blogger...

Should I believe him?

Taking Attendance

My office building is set in a bit of an industrial area, away from a main thoroughfare. But surprisingly there are some private schools housed within neighboring buildings. One of these schools, a private high school, is situated on the street behind our building, so students use our parking lot for overflow.

Crossing the lot this morning I took attendance of the students' vehicles: Lexus, Mercedes, Mercedes, (yup, two different styles) Volvo, BMW, Audi. It's like a luxury car showroom. I'd like to think that these cars belong to Mom and Dad, not to the kids, and that Mom and Dad demand the keys back at the end of the day.

Of course it is said that "Clothing don't make the man" -- so I'll take that and say that "Cars don't make a person, either." But when I see a 17-year-old driving a Mercedes or Audi, I just think that something is wrong with this picture.

Oh, wait, I see one of the students now getting back into his BMW. And what is that hanging from his mouth -- a cigarette, a lollipop? Oh,'s a silver spoon!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Good Reads, or The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden go Walking Home

As a copy editor working in the trade fiction and genre fiction industry, I have an opportunity to do a lot of reading. As an English major in university -- all those years ago -- I had an opportunity to do a lot of reading. And unfortunately, due to both the school and work reading, I don't have the "cheshek" to do much reading after hours. Of course I love children's books and always will -- it's a pleasure for me to read to my three children and put on animated voices or act out scenes that I read. But in terms of reading books for my own pleasure, that's a rarity.

And for that reason, I'm more than thrilled that I can recommend two excellent reads that caught me and held me captive. They are each rather different from one another, but in the end they're both about the same idea: the human experience and the interaction with others to form that personal experience.

The first book is called The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. It is categorized as young adult historical fiction, but the story is appealing to anyone from age nine to however high you can count. It was written by Robert J. Avrech, an award-winning Orthodox Jewish Hollywood screenwriter -- he co-wrote Body Double with Brian de Palma, and was the screenwriter for A Stranger Among Us. More recently, he won an Emmy Award for his adaptation of the YA novel The Devil's Arithmetic by author Jane Yolen.

The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden is the first release from Seraphic Press, a publishing house started by Robert and his wife, Karen, in memory of their twenty-two-year-old son, Ariel, z"l, who passed away in July 2003 as a result of a long bout with cancer. The publishing house is committed to publishing quality fiction for Torah-observant young people.

I'd love to go into details about the book, but I'd rather you check out Robert's site or refer to or Just believe me when I say it is a worthy read, and Robert Avrech is a lovely human being -- a true mensch who has undertaken a very valid, time-consuming and life-altering project to help honor the memory of his son. Ariel lives on in the character of the Hebrew Kid. And his spirit lives on in every new literary project that Robert and Karen are planning for Seraphic Press.

Another book that I've had the good fortune of reading and enjoying immensely is called Walking Home, by Gloria Goldreich, and published by MIRA Books, January 2005. Again, I refer you to or for story details. But in short, the book is about a young single Jewish woman who reaches a crossroads in her life regarding her job, her family situation, her social life. She has to make some decisions that will change the course of her life, and becoming a dog walker helps her to see things more clearly. It is a very moving story and some readers might recognize pieces of themselves and their friends and family in among the pages. It gets gold stars by me!

I hope that you will take my recommendations and seek out these titles.

After all, quality books by quality writers deserve quality readers as yourselves!

"Adon Olam"

[I'm more than annoyed. I just spent about 15 minutes formulating a blog entry, and somehow it got lost...and is now floating around in cyberspace. If anyone finds it -- there is NO REWARD.]

Earlier today I found myself humming "Adon Olam" and was hit by a recollection from my junior high school years.

I attended the city's largest Jewish day school, a Talmud Torah school, and by grade 6, the boys and girls were separated for most of the Jewish studies classes, including Tefillah.

While in junior high, we had shlichim come from Israel to be our teachers in Jewish studies. They were lovely people who, with their families, had to adjust to their three-year tenures in a new country, in a new climate, in a new school. They also had to adjust to the trials and tribulations of teaching teenagers.

Teenage girls, being hormone-induced, can be downright cruel between the ages of 12-16, and can be very trying on an adult. Such was the case with our Tefillah class in grade 8, I believe it was.

One day, while waiting for our teacher to get to the classroom and lead us in Tefillah, one of the girls started singing "Adon Olam" -- but not to one of the two standard tunes. She sang it to "Jesus Christ, Superstar"! And the words fit to the tune! Other girls started to join in. Now imagine: it's a Jewish day school, a moderately Orthodox Jewish day school, and "Jesus Christ, Superstar" is being sung when the teacher walks in. I recall her yelling at the girls to stop, and having to say it more than once to get them to shut their "pisks". But these girls found it a challenge... And in a Tefillah class the next week, one of them piped up with "Adon Olam" sung to the tune of "Rock Around the Clock" as done by Bill Haley & the Comets. Somehow the teacher managed to control the class, but I can only imagine what an earful her husband would get at night when she came home after teaching.

Having witnessed these "new" versions of "Adon Olam," I tested out the theory that you could sing "Adon Olam" to the tune of nearly any song -- I sang it to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue"; to "Killing Me Softly" by Roberta Flack; to " Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles. Somehow the theory hasn't failed me yet.

Why not try for yourself. Find a favorite and familiar R & B tune, pop song, Broadway showtune, or Hassidic melody and adapt "Adon Olam" to it. And if doesn't work...? [shrug] ....well, at least you'll have made some beautiful music -- to your ears!

A Mitch Albom Story

Jewish World Review Feb. 1, 2005 /22 Shevat, 5765
He was alive, but saw ghosts
By Mitch Albom

A few years back, a friend named Sonya told me about her father, who survived the Auschwitz death camp but lost everything else, including his young wife and 2-year-old son. He had come to America after the war, started a new life, a new family, worked into his old age as a sign maker in Detroit.

"He reads your column," Sonya said. "He'd like to meet you."

I promised it would happen, then, of course, never followed up. Now and again, she would mention it, and I'd say, "Oh, sure, sure, let's make the time," but again, I fell short.

Last month, in the empty days between Christmas and New Year's, I finally went to see Sonya's father. At this point, he was in a nursing home, having broken his collarbone after falling on the way to the bathroom. His body was thin, almost skeletal, a boy's body under the sheets, but his face, round yet bony, thin lips, narrow eyes, revealed the weariness of a tortured life.

"Hello, I'm — "

"I know who you are," he said, smiling, his voice weak.

He was 91. Or 89. No one is sure. It really doesn't matter. Once I heard his story, it was clear that the remarkable thing about Harvey Vinton wasn't how long he lived, but that he lived at all.
He was born Chaim Weinstein in a small Polish town, and his real first name, in Hebrew, means "life." Yet from birth it seemed that name was to be tested. Three days after he came into this world, his mother died. He grew up poor, raised by his grandmother. In time he married and had a son of his own. He was a fine artist and found work as a sign painter and monument carver. Thanks to beautiful penmanship — today you would call him a calligrapher — several shops in his hometown welcomed customers beneath his handiwork.

Then the Nazis invaded Poland. Jews were rounded up, humiliated, forced to wear yellow stars, earmarked, by Adolf Hitler, for murderous extermination. One evening, Chaim was returning from work when his train was stopped by German soldiers. He never made it home. Never saw his wife or son again. They were butchered in one concentration camp, he was taken to another, then another, then another. Before the Nazis were done with him, he was a prisoner in 11 different pits from hell.

Auschwitz was the last.

There he slept inches away from other Jewish prisoners who, like him, were kept so hungry and filthy you could scrape lice from their arms as if rubbing off sand from the beach. At night, he might whisper a few words to someone, and in the morning, find that person stiff and dead. Corpses were everywhere; no one hurried to take them away. To reach the toilet — which was only a piece of wood — he had to waddle through ankle-deep human waste. He was weak to the point of collapse, every day, because there was no real food, only rotted scraps and potato peelings. And these were the quiet moments, before the sun woke the Nazi guards and their daily torture commenced.

The purpose of the death camps was to wipe out the Jews entirely, and Chaim was put to work on various tasks, sometimes digging ditches for the bodies of his slaughtered camp mates. Dead Jewish corpses were stacked everywhere, women, infants, old men, waiting to be tossed into a pit. Some of them, Chaim remembered, were still gasping, still alive in a pile of death. He yearned to help them. What could he do? Their minutes were numbered. His, too, he thought.

But Chaim survived. He survived with his hands. The Nazis, having discovered his unique penmanship, used him to write letters. They used him to paint signs or portraits in their houses. He was a possession for the officers, a Jew with a talent, and so, even though the guards would sometime sic the dogs on him, allowing them to chew his legs and chomp on his arms, they didn't let him die. They always pulled him out and used him elsewhere. In this way, he lived when most everyone else died. It was, for the rest of his days, his blessing and his curse.

One winter day in 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Russian soldiers, and an emaciated Chaim found himself alone in a strange village. People were saying, "You're free. Go." He stepped into the street. The sky began to spin. Then he collapsed.

He woke up in a hospital, stricken with typhoid fever. It was a disease that killed nearly everyone who had it. But true to his name, Chaim lived through it. He was sent to another camp, this one for displaced persons. He met a woman there. They married.

A few years later he came to America.

A holocaust, for those who survive it, might be past tense, but it is never the past. Through his years in Detroit, through his 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, Chaim Weinstein — who changed his named to Harvey Vinton out of fear that his Judaism would mark him again — woke up screaming. He had horrible dreams. He had dark, sullen moments. He couldn't help but tell his story to family or dinner table company, often to the point where someone would say, "Enough, stop."
Stop? If only it would stop. He read incessantly about the Holocaust, the death camps, as if studying might yield some answers, some peace. He watched documentaries. He watched "Schindler's List." He retained his skill at drawing and calligraphy, but he never allowed himself to truly practice his talent. His love of art had been corrupted by the Nazis, as had his sleep, his memories, even his name. He was alive, but he saw ghosts.

Last year, Harvey fell into a coma. The reasons are still unclear. But when he came out of it, four days later, he spoke of an epiphany. He said he had been watching a TV program on the Animal Planet network when something came over him.

"The way those animals interact, the intricacies, the details," he told his daughter. "How could there not be a G-d?"

From that point forward, he seemed a changed man. Smiles came more easily. His voice and tone were calmer. He stopped talking about wanting to die, although he insisted he was "ready."
And, as it turns out, he was.

When I saw him, he was terribly weak. He spoke only of his shattered collarbone, his love for books and his mother, whom he never met but whose photograph was on the bedside table, as if to study her face for an upcoming reunion.

"I don't know how much longer I'm gonna be here," he said, not worried, not sad, as if he were simply curious about the schedule. Before I left, he thanked me no fewer than five times for coming.

Chaim Weinstein/Harvey Vinton died this month, on Jan. 5. He was found in a bathroom, unconscious, and expired minutes later on the bed in which I saw him. He missed, by a few weeks, the 60-year anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Perhaps he didn't need the reminder.

But we do. We need to go to the nursing homes, to the senior centers. We need to hear the stories that are slowly being silenced by age and decay. A child of Auschwitz would now be 65 or 70. An adult prisoner would be approaching 90. The mantra Jews recite for their 6 million Holocaust victims is "never forget." But to do that, we must never stop hearing the story.

Be at peace, Chaim Weinstein. I should have come sooner.