celebrations, customs/rituals, folklore, parties

Q: WHEN IS A HAIRCUT NOT JUST A HAIRCUT?

 

A: WHEN A THREE-YEAR-OLD ORTHODOX JEWISH BOY GETS HIS HAIR CUT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Ari Schmukler at age 2, now one year older and ready for his first haircut. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

On March 1, 2017, Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler invited the Las Cruces Chabad Jewish community to witness and participate in the first haircut ceremony of their son, Ari. The event is called an Upshernish (shearing).

Many of you know that multicultural rites of passage, customs and beliefs delight me. And although I had written about this ceremony as observed in Israel, I had never had a first hand observer’s experience before this.

Witnessing and participating in the ceremony were Chenchie’s parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun who flew in from New York. Rabbi Bery and Chenchie’s four other children, Cherna, Mayer, Leba, Leah were the other key players enjoying the event.

Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler with her parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun with the grandchildren, Cherna (in arms), Mayer, Leba, Leah, and Ari.

 

Ari patiently sat on a chair as his father and grandfather offered words of congratulations. Then the congregation lined up to have a turn to cut a lock of Ari’s hair.

 

 

Ari Schmukler patiently sitting while a congregant cuts a lock of his hair. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

After cutting a lock of hair, the person placed it in a plastic container and then deposited a quarter in the yellow Tsedaka (charity) container. Eventually, most of the hair was cut except for the peot (side locks).

 

The yellow tsedaka container. Here hair cutters deposit quarters for charity. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Chenchie is a fantastic party organizer. She made cookies in the shape of scissors, in the shape of the aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the first letter of Ari’s name. She created a donut wall where the children happily removed the donuts and provided a colorful and abundant feast for all in attendance.

Cookies in the shapes of the aleph, scissors, and the numeral three. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

The 3rd birthday haircutting ceremony announces the beginning of the child’s Jewish education. He now wears a kippah or yarmulke (skull cap) and tzizit (fringed undergarment). An easel held the Hebrew alphabet that had drops of honey dabbed on it emphasizing the sweetness of learning. Overall, the celebration stresses the importance of charity and the responsibility of learning.

The Hebrew alphabet to demonstrate that Ari will now begin his Jewish education. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There is a rationale for having this ceremony at age three. The child becomes analogous to a tree that is prohibited from being cut until it is three, lest the fruit be underdeveloped. But if the tree is left untouched for three years, the fruit becomes sweet. Humans, too, should not be touched for the first three years. After that, they are ready to move on to the next stage of life.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is not an Orthodox Jew. However, sensing that her son’s first haircut was significant, she took him to her maternal grandfather, Jacob Friesh, who had been a barber in England. He proudly gave Mark, his first great-grandson, the first haircut.

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aging, creativity, music

What Am I Going to Be When I Grow Up?

Here I am in my new incarnation. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Here I am in my new incarnation. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

When I first arrived in Las Cruces at the age of 80, I considered it a major transformation and probably the last big change I would make. Up to then, my life had been full. Professionally, I taught at California State University Los Angeles for 20 years; I wrote books, articles, and an award-winning column for the Los Angeles Times. On the personal side I had been a wife, mom, grandmother, widow, great-grandmother. I thought I had completed both cycles, but life had some surprises for me.

Instead of settling into the New Mexico lifestyle and relaxing, I felt restless and began exploring new avenues. Today, at 85, I am more community-involved than I ever was in Los Angeles.

I joined the Las Cruces Women’s Press Club; I volunteer weekly at the Institute of Historical Research Foundation; I am producing a program for the brand new Las Cruces Community Radio Station (KTAL), that I will write about in a future blog. I perform with the Las Cruces Ukes.

Best of all, I have found a new dear friend and playmate, Roxana Gillett. Together, we have been writing song parodies and presenting them to our ukulele group and elsewhere. We are having so much fun with this new venture, plotting and combining mutual interests and talents.

Roxana Gillett and I in cognito (sort-of) as reindeer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I in cognito (sort-of) as reindeer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Here’s a partial sample of one of our parodies, sung to the tune of “All I Want For Christmas.”

All I want for Christmas is my young body back,

Memory intact, my belly flat.

And if I could only find my new false teeth,

Then I could wish you Merry Christmas.

It seems so long since I could walk

Without a pain in my tuchas

Gosh, oh gee, how happy I would be

If I didn’t have toe fungus.

 

Roxana Gillett and I in our beards to perform a parody of "Hallelujah." Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I as the Bearded Ladies.” Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Another one of our hit songs was set to the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Our version is the irreverent topic of what to do about having cooties.

Did-ja know our beards are filled with dirt

Within these hairs cooties lurk?

But hygiene sucks, it doesn’t work, so sue us.

They sink their teeth into our scalps

Eat our flesh until we yelp

Give us some relief, some shampoo-yah.

Some shampoo-yah, Some shampoo-yah

Some shampoo-yah, Some shampoo-yah.

Roxana Gillett and I in our Halloween hats to sing a seasonal parody to the tune of the Addams Family theme song. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I in our Halloween regalia for an appropriate song parody.  Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

We couldn’t overlook Halloween, so we wrote a parody to the tune of the Addams Family theme song.

La Cruces Ukes are kooky. On Halloween, we’re spooky

We’re altogether ooky, ukulele family.

We play at business lunches, and walrus fishy brunches

Bring smiles to gloomy Gus-es, ukulele family.

Roxana Gillett and I are ready for St. Patrick's Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I are ready for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

This is a parody of  “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” as part of a St. Patrick’s Day medley.

Ukulele you’re the divil, you’re leading me astray, taking up my social life and even my        birthday.

The music from our strumming is spunkier than the tay, ukulele you’re the divil drunk or sober.

Roxana Gillett and I took a cynical stab at Valentine's Day. Photo by Mariah Chase, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I took a cynical stab at Valentine’s Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

For Valentine’s Day, we parodied Dean Martin’s song “That’s Amore” changing it to “That’s Divorcé.

When the love leaves your heart and you’re a-falling apart

That’s divorcé.

When you’ve run out of Prozac switched over to cognac

That’s divorcé.

Cell phone rings, ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a ling

It’s you ex’s fiancée.

Heart skips a beat tippi-tippi-tay, tippy-tippy-tay

She’s sending a selfie.

She is flashing a ring that has way too much bling

He’s replaced you.

She’s a gold-digging ghoul, you have been such a fool

You hate her.

You throw down the phone, you feel so alone,

You start crying.

‘Scusa-me, but you see back in our home town,

That’s divorcé.

Roxana Gillett and I preparing for the Las Cruces Ukulele Festival. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017
Roxana Gillett and I preparing for the upcoming Third Annual Las Cruces Ukulele Festival. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017

Now we’re aiming for the Third Annual Las Cruces Ukulele Festival in May. This parody is sung to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.” Here is the first verse:

There is a coop in Las Cruces, they call the Rockin’ Roost,

It’s been a place where chickens can hide, to keep from being fried.

Our mother was a frying hen, in sizzling oil she died.

Our father was a uke-strumming cock, it saved him from the pot.

 

So what am I going to be when I grow up?

WEIRD AL YANKOVICH… MOVE OVER!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is astonished that even at 85, more exciting times are possible (If only her body cooperates).

customs/rituals, death, death rituals

How Do We Remember?

Harold working as an extra in a Pepsi ad with a chimp. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Harold Dresser with a chimp, working as an extra in a Pepsi ad, mid-1990s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My husband, Harold Dresser, died on February 2, 2007. For the 10 year anniversary of his death, I wanted to commemorate the occasion in a special way.

I had his name and death date engraved on a gold plated marker that hangs on a Memorial Wall inside the Alevy Chabad Center, an Orthodox Jewish place of worship here in Las Cruces. On the date of his death, the light adjacent to his name will burn brightly. Then for the rest of the month the light will merely flicker.

Recently, when I went to see the marker for the first time, the rabbi kindly turned on the light so that I could take a photo to send to my non-local offspring. Harold’s name alone stirred sorrow within me, but with the adjacent glowing light, the sadness intensified.

Harold's memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Harold’s memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There are many ways to remember a deceased loved one. In Cruces, I often see memorial car rear windshields as exemplified below.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Commonly, fatal auto wrecks are commemorated with floral displays and crosses at the site of the carnage.

090126 - Kennesaw - Friends and fellow students of Garrett Reed, 16 gathered at the scene of roadside memorial Monday morning, January 26, 2009 at Sylvia Drive and Midway Road where he died early Sunday morning. Drive and hit another car about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Cobb County police Sgt. Dana Pierce said. Reed died at the scene. The other driver, Richard Reyes, 25, of Dallas, was taken to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in stable condition, Pierce said. The wreck happened less than a mile from Harrison High School, where Reed was a junior wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. Reed was the second Harrison athlete to be killed in a wreck in recent years. Luke Abbate, a junior on the school's lacrosse team, was killed, and four of his teammates injured, in a February, 2006 crash. The funeral for Reed will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Powder Springs. Visitation is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at West Cobb Funeral Home. jspink@ajc.com

Back to the Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle (Yahrzeit candle)  that burns for 24 hours marking the death date. But with my night prowler cat, Sweetie Beattie, it is dangerous having an unattended burning candle while I sleep, so I have switched to an electric one that does the job safely.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

What are the ways in which you memorialize a deceased loved one? I would like to know and share the information with others.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist feeling sad at this time of the year.

Gifts

When the Lights Go On Again . . . In My Toilet Bowl*

 

Guess what my daughter, Amy, gave me for my 85th birthday?

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An illumibowl, a gadget that turns my toilet bowl rainbow colors as I approach it in a darkened bathroom. It’s not sentimental, but practical. It keeps me, a natural born klutz, from falling.

Amy is definitely her father’s daughter, for shortly after we met, Harold surprised me with a gift of a green plastic toilet seat. And did I ever tell you that he was in the plumbing supply business? That meant he didn’t even have to go out shopping for this non-romantic present.

Actually, he thought he was giving me another gift during our one-year courtship. I was studying overnight for final exams at the house of a UCLA classmate, and he offered to pick me up the next morning. When he phoned the night before to confirm the arrangements, he told me he was bringing me a surprise. Ah, an engagement ring I hoped.

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The next morning when he walked me to the car, I discovered no diamond; instead his beautiful blue-eyed three-year-old niece, Madge, waited for us. She was the surprise and we were taking her to breakfast. I stifled my disappointment.

This event took place during the mandatory seatbelt, approved children’s carseat era. That meant that Madge sat between Harold and me in the front seat, and we formed an instant triangle.

On our way to the restaurant, Harold stopped at a drug store to buy a cigar while we females waited in the car. As soon as he was out of sight, Madge pinched me hard. In turn, I lightly slapped her hand and warned, “Don’t you ever do that again.”

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The small vixen didn’t react, until her adored uncle re-entered the car. At that moment, she burst into tears and cried, “She hit me!” Luckily, a distracted Harold paid no attention to her.

After marriage, Harold continued to present me with unique gifts. During WWII, he had been in the Naval Air Force and was stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY. He frequently ventured into Manhattan and loved eating at Katz’s Delicatessen. Over the decades, he often repeated their slogan, “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.”

One day, he announced that he had ordered a present for me. You guessed it…a salami from Katz’s Delicatessen. Of course, the salami was really for him, and he ate most of it. However, I must admit that I loved its aroma as it hung from a string in the kitchen.

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For my birthdays, he went on a Timex watch binge. Several years in a row, he purchased the same gift. Of course the styles varied, but it was as if he didn’t remember from one year to the next that he had already given one to me. You can bet that I remembered. And so did the children. They thought it was funny. I was not as amused.

I guess I’m feeling nostalgic during this year’s gift-giving season. And if only Harold were still alive, I would love nothing more than another quirky gift from him.

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Norine Dresser is a folklorist who, at this time of year, wistfully reviews the past.

 

* For those younger than me, this title is a play on words from the song, “When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World,” popular during World War II. The words refer to the London blackouts.

Los Angeles Times, racism

What’s This Democrat to Do?

Election protests in Washington. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Election protests in Washington. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

The results of last week’s election devastated me. As a Jew, I have always voted Democratic. That’s because my parents did and because their parents did. My grandparents experienced racism and bigotry in Europe, so along with millions of other refugees during the early 1900s, they fled to these shores for religious and economic freedom. Once settled, they became ardent supporters of FDR. They believed he cared about the poor and working people, and thus a family tradition of voting Democratic ensued.

I was born in California and only ten when WWII broke out, but I felt the fear in my household about being Jewish. Even though we had no direct confrontations, a wariness prevailed. For example, scared of publicly revealing who we were, we never placed a mezuzah on our outside door.

When my junior high school homeroom teacher made all the Semites stand up, I got a flash of what it might feel like to be targeted as outcasts. My infuriated parents threatened to report my teacher. That terrified me because I feared the backlash. My mom and dad promised not to say anything, but behind my back, my father met with the principal. He told her about the classroom incident and said, “This teacher is either stupid or a follower of Hitler.” The principal had no choice but to assure my dad that the teacher was stupid.

That was merely a taste of what it felt like to be considered an “other,” yet it marked me in such as way that I cannot stand to see others targeted as outsiders.

After Trump’s campaign of name-calling and enabling racists, he has reaffirmed his stance by appointing Stephen Bannon as his White House Chief Strategist. Bannon chairs Breitbart News, an ultra-conservative news source. They are openly anti-immigrant, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-semitic, are racist and believe in white supremacy.

A few weekends ago, I heeded the TV reminders about turning our clocks back one hour to adjust to Daylight Savings Time; Sadly, I also agreed with the internet advice to “Turn Back Your Clocks Fifty Years.”

And so it begins. Trump has empowered the bigots. This past weekend, an Associated Press column documented reports of increased racist incidents in schools and universities. For example, white students called Black students “cotton pickers”; a university student attempted to pull off the hijab worn by a Muslim student; a “whites only” message appeared on a bathroom door in Illinois; students in Michigan chanted “build a wall” in the school cafeteria; and in Pennsylvania, African American parents were told to, “Go back to Africa.”

I dread that the worst is yet to come negatively impacting women’s rights; the LGBTQ communities; the environment; people of color, Muslims, and Jews. Who and what did I leave out?

And what can I do about it?

Of course, I will make donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. And although the thought of participating in the Women’s March on Washington on Inauguration Day appeals to me, that is much too daunting for this old lady.

Yet there is something positive that I can do.

After the 1992 Rodney King riots in L. A., I proposed a column to the Los Angeles Times, demystifying the cultures of people unlike ourselves. Called, “Multicultural Manners,” the eight-year running column received a 1998 award from the County of Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations. They recognized it for promoting intergroup understanding.

Now if I can accomplish something similar in this new environment of divisiveness, that would be fantastic. And best of all, I have a new platform.

Very soon a new community radio station will be on the air here in Las Cruces. Its call letters, KTAL (¿Qué tal?, meaning What’s Up? ), will be airing programs pertinent to community issues. Fortunately, they have accepted my proposal for, “Your Multicultural Minute,” where I will narrate incidents about people who have inadvertently confused, insulted, amused others and all because of cultural differences.

I believe that educating the public about the customs, beliefs, and values of different cultures will create respect for others.

Last Saturday Night Live’s opening skit nailed it. In her persona as Hillary Clinton, Kate McKinnon sat at the piano playing and singing Leonard Cohen’s poignant “Hallelujah.” Then she turned to the audience and said, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”

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Norine Dresser is a folklorist who specializes in rituals, customs and beliefs of global communities.