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Oct 13 2014

Why Didn’t I Give That Homeless Man Money?

By at 10:32 am

Homeless-man

His sign read simply, “I’m homeless–need help.” It was scribbled on a rumpled piece of cardboard with black marker. Growing up in Los Angeles, my children will see many curious things, just as I did. But that day, as I drove on Hollywood Boulevard with my son, I found myself entirely unprepared for how one otherwise ordinary interaction would impact me.

My son asked me to help him decipher the words on the sign. I strive for honesty, so I read them to him without edits. “What does that mean Mommy?” he asked.

I hesitated. After a considerable pause I replied cautiously, “It means that he doesn’t have anywhere to live and he is looking for something or someone to help him out.” I waited for the barrage of questions that often followed, but it never came. “Oh,” my son replied, and left it at that. Somehow my answer was sufficient to satisfy his inquisition, but I wondered if and when more questions would follow, and I felt anxious about how I would field them. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 24 2014

My Little Larry David Doesn’t Like My “Stop & Chats”

By at 9:58 am

larry-davids

“You know everyone!” I once gushed to my aunt after she exchanged hellos with a familiar face at a Tom Thumb grocery store in Dallas. She shrugged in response. “Well, I’ve lived here a long time.”

That hardly happened where we lived. Los Angeles during the 1980s was easier to navigate, since less traffic compared to today meant the city felt open for exploring. Beach every weekend? Sure! But our lives were a series of anti-local, community-defying tradeoffs. None of my school friends lived nearby. We’d drive miles to go grocery shopping at a higher quality market where we were just as likely to spot Mr. T filling up his cart than someone we actually knew in real life.

Now as an L.A. native, I see people I know around town, and I love it. (We also have great food shopping options in our own neighborhood, thankfully.) Meanwhile, as possibly a bizarre twist of karmic balance, it drives my two boys crazy when I see a friend and stop whatever we’re doing to enjoy a little conversation. “When I was your age, I WISHED that would happen,” I try to explain, this unwarranted commentary falling on deaf ears, naturally. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 16 2011

Oy! My Guilt, Let Me Tell it To You

By at 4:36 pm

I’m going to LA for eight days and eight nights. Alone.

I’m leaving tonight.

Eight. Days. Eight. Nights. Like Hanukkah, only in August. And not really.

The longest I’ve been away from my kids up until now is, like, eight hours

But still.

“Dude, it’s just eight days!” my friend David reassures me on the phone.

“They’ll survive!” Chris tells me on gchat.

“If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Michal messages me on Facebook.

Still, let me tell you about the reaction on the kibbutz:

The conversation starts off innocuously enough at the coffee place where I am smoking my (third) cigarette and sipping my (second) latte.

“What’s new, Sarah?”

“I’m flying to LA next week!”

“Oh how wonderful! And of course you’re taking the kids!” (This is always said without a question mark.)

“Actually, I am going alone.”

You can hear the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer in Lebanon during the silence that follows. And while my news sinks in, I try not to squirm under the unblinking Eyes of Judgment, because Heaven Fore-fucking-fend I should allow myself this treat without turning my stomach in knots first.

After all, what kind of mother puts her own needs first and leaves her children (with a loving father, and savta, and uncle and caring teachers, and wonderful friends and assorted extended family members) for eight days.

This mother.

The Bad Mother.

Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 11 2011

Planting Roots, Leaving L.A. Behind

By at 9:38 am

Sarah's plants. Some of them will even be planted in the earth.

I’ve heard the stories at least a hundred times: My Great Grandma Tsiryl dry-heaving over the side of a steamer ship as they rolled up into Baltimore Harbor in 1904. A pregnant Great Grandma Esther stoically clutching the belly that held the baby that would one day be my grandfather while ocean waves battered the hull of the last ship out of Europe before World War I.

Two different women from two different places, and yet they shared such a similar experience with each other and with the thousands upon thousands of other Jewish immigrants who left Eastern Europe for American shores. They crammed their lives into small suitcases – sometimes with incredible forethought, other times in great haste, they kissed their families goodbye, and on trains or buggies or by foot they traveled over hostile terrain toward distant harbors, and ultimately onto ships that would take them excruciatingly slowly, slowly, slowly away from the achingly familiar.

(Cue Itzhak Perlman playing something in a minor key.)

And like so many others who left the cities and shtetls of Eastern Europe during those fragile years at the turn of the 20th century, my Great Grandmothers made it work.  They gave birth to American babies. They raised their children in broken English. They played Mah Jong and drank coffee with other landsman in cramped apartments in big cities far away from their childhood friends. They waited for letters from their families. They dreaded the inevitable telegram. They celebrated mitzvahs and simchas at the synagogue. They sat shiva. They buried their own on foreign soil. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 18 2011

Next Year In….

By at 1:35 pm

Last year, I volunteered to host the family Passover Seder.

(I was three months postpartum, and thanks to serious sleep deprivation and delusions of grandeur brought on by fitting into a pair of pre-pregnancy jeans courtesy of my BFF Spanx, I had clearly lost it.)

And what was supposed to be a small Seder turned into a jam-packed affair – 20 people crammed into our living room.

But, between the card tables and the colorful table cloths and the place settings; between the home-cooked stuff – the brisket, the tsimis, the chicken soup and matzah balls, the kugel and the ginger yams; between the store-bought chopped liver (don’t ask) and gefilte fish (I heart you, Manischewitz) along with and a lot of help from B. and my step-mother and father-in-law, (not to mention a boatload of Kosher for Pesach wine, we had ourselves an honest-to-goodness Seder meal.

And between the story-telling–our Seders have always been a seamless blend of English and Hebrew–and the traditional nigunim mixed with Go Down Moses (you should hear the Paul Robsenesque pipes on my dad!) and Bob Dylan, we rocked it.

And even though it was waaay past their bedtimes, we made it with our then-not-quite-two-year-old and three-month-old to the line: NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM.

And here we are. One Jewish calendar year later. And while technically we aren’t in Jerusalem, we’re a heck-of-a-lot closer than we were in years past. This year on the Kibbutz.

And all I want to do is book a direct flight with El Al and go back to LA.

I’m dreading the Seder this year – stumbling through the unfamiliar melodies, lost in Hebrew, missing the familiar tastes and textures of my own Seder. I am yearning for the frenetic give-and-take of my own family in LA: Aunt Caren with her last minute floral arrangements. Uncle Robert on the guitar. My dad holding forth. Twirling around in my own kitchen, tasting the soup, shaping the matzoh balls. A sprinkle of kosher salt here, a sprig of dill there. Mixing the ginger yams by hand, following my mother’s recipe for haroset down to the last Granny Smith Apple.

And this year, B.’s family said “just bring some ice cream.”

Because, after all, I’m just a guest here. A stranger in the homeland.

Next year in LA.

For more on Passover, including movies for the whole family and stylish additions to any seder table, go here.

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