Deep thoughts, random insights, and musings by Susan Jacobs

Monday, September 27, 2004

Mrs. America

So tonight I turned on my t.v. at the regular time, hoping to catch the nightly rerun of one of my favorite shows, Early Edition (show about a guy who gets tomorrow's newspaper today, delivered by a cat -- Kyle Chandler, the series star, has old-movie good looks and a Jimmy Stewart-esqe, self-deprecating style [if only he were Jewish, and single, and a little bit younger …, but I digress]), and lo and behold, the Pax network had instead decided to air the Mrs. America pageant.

Now pageants are funny spectacles to begin with, and Mrs. America has got to be the most ridiculous of all. I'm not particularly into designer clothes, or high heels, or bikinis, or plastic surgery, and I certainly don't believe it's appropriate to judge women by the way they parade around in swimsuits, and claim to be running a "scholarship competition," but I find pageants highly entertaining. The laugh factor of these extravaganzas was hilariously portrayed in the Sandra Bullock movie "Miss Congeniality." If you are female and have not yet seen this movie, then you are missing out big time. (My favorite line in the movie was delivered by Candace Bergman, who was listing the categories of people who are anti-pageant, er "scholarship competition," … "intellectuals, feminists, ugly women.")

It is particularly ridiculous to watch grown women behaving as if they are still trying out to be high school prom queen. The makeup, the fake nails, the sequins -- do these women know it's 2004? The highlight of the competition (at least for me) was the part in which each contestant pranced down the runway (which was suspended over a swimming pool, and darn it, nobody fell in) dressed in a costume that represented some aspect of her state. Mrs. New Hampshire was a ladybug. Mrs. Georgia was a phoenix rising from the ashes. Mrs. Oklahoma was an oil derrick -- I'm not kidding. Amongst all the Vegas-style costumes (including Mrs. Washington representing the skyline of Seattle -- and would you believe, she won best costume?), I was proud that Mrs. West Virginia was tastefully dressed in a silver-gray shorts outfit, carrying a hard hat, to represent the coal miners of WV. Of course she lost.

And by the way, Mrs. Louisiana won Mrs. Congeniality. I didn't watch till the end to find out who won the crown, but I didn't need to.

All together now: open mouths with shock and exhilaration, lift manicured hands to face, fanning them furiously to ward off that wellspring of tears that will smear the makeup. Praise the Lord several times. Hug a few fellow contestants for show, and blow kisses to the audience. Cue the music … fade out.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Pleasantly full

Isn't it funny that we can compensate for 25 hours of not eating in less than an hour? When Yom Kippur ended tonight, I hurried home with great anticipation, feeling that I could eat all the food in my refrigerator. Truth be told, after consuming one sensibly sized starch-studded meal, I felt quite full. The highlight of my break-the-fast meal was a bowl of potato-lukshin soup, which I had prepared before the fast. The name says it all -- the soup contains diced potatoes and thin egg noodles, plus salt and pepper to taste, with milk poured over it at serving time. It's not fancy, but it's a soup my Bubby often made when I was growing up, and is on my list of favorite comfort foods.

Thankfully, the fast was relatively easy this year, and I was pleased to feel more familiar than ever with the liturgy. After years of plodding through the Hebrew, it is a wonderful feeling to look at the words on the page and actually know what they mean (at least most of the time, when I'm concentrating). Going into Yom Kippur after finishing my first week on the new job, I was afraid I'd be too tired to daven well, but fortunately, that wasn't a problem.

Speaking of the job, so far so good. I LOVE working for a newspaper again. Everyone in the office is really nice, and the executive editor is really taking my suggestions/criticisms to heart. And believe me, I've been voicing them.

All of my life I've been fairly shy, and started my other jobs with trepidation and self-consciousness. This time, however, I quickly overcame my nerves on the first day, and dove right into the job. It helps that I am part of a very small staff, all of whom welcomed me warmly, and were interested in my input from day one. (They also needed my help immediately, so there was no time for frivolous things, like learning how to retrieve voice mail from the system.) And it also helps that I have worked for a newspaper before, and know how to do my job. But even so, I was shocked last week to hear myself saying things with authority. We had an editorial meeting on Thursday to discuss next week's paper, and I disagreed with the executive editor about whether to cover a particular story. He didn't think it was newsworthy. I did, and I told him why. In the end, he agreed with me. I was surprised by my frankness, but proud that I had voiced my opinion.

I think there are a few reasons I feel so comfortable so quickly at this job. First, for the last two years, I have been reading The Jewish Chronicle with great frustration, knowing that I could make it better. As someone deeply involved in the Jewish community, I have a lot of ideas for articles that should be written and issues that should be covered. Second, unlike my two years as an associate at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I feel I am working with the same level of competence as my fellow staffers. At the Post-Gazette, I was working with very smart, seasoned journalists who were sometimes an intimidating bunch. The paper also had firmly established beats, and senior staff writers got first dibs on all the most interesting stories. I loved my two years at the PG, and soaked up every bit of journalistic know-how that came my way, but I was also relieved to leave the intensity of that job behind me.

The new job is intense too -- each day of my first week was packed solid with interviewing, writing, and editing. But it was also a lot of fun, and I felt freer and more confident in my writing than I ever did at the PG. The first consideration in writing a newspaper article is, "What will the readers want to know?" At the PG, the audience is large and very diverse, and as a young, single, Orthodox Jewish female, the topics that interested my editors weren't always all that important to me. At The Chronicle, it is much easier for me to understand the concerns of the community, because they are my concerns too. The Jewish community here is reasonably large and diverse, and there are lots of viewpoints that need to be represented in the paper, but from the start, I feel that I understand those views, or can learn to understand them in time.

In a few weeks, I may be complaining about my coworkers, or the job itself, and wondering why I was so excited at the beginning, but for now, I am really happy.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Of milk and honey

I had such great blogging plans for the last two days of 5764. In my two days of freedom (read: mad errand-running) between my last day at the old job and Rosh Hashana, I expected to complete a Herculean list of tasks, and have the presence of mind to leisurely post on my blog. Ha! I completed a fair share of those long-procrastinated tasks, but blogging was not to be. In addition to not having the aforementioned presence of mind, I also had an unfortunate incident involving a glass of milk and my trusty Dell keyboard. Milk: it does a body good, but it's murder on a keyboard.

They say not to cry over spilled milk, and I didn't. Instead, I told myself that perhaps I was supposed to suffer this minor financial loss and inconvenience in the waning hours of 5764 as some sort of atonement. And, I was grateful that my hiatus between jobs allowed me the time to zip over to the local computer store, where I procured a perfectly serviceable and relatively inexpensive new keyboard. And there was even time to spare before Yom Tov to dash off a few emails. As inconveniences go, it was really one of the more painless ones.

And so, I cleaned up the spilled milk before heading into the holiday in which everything is dipped in honey. Yes, more blatant symbolism laden with cliches.

Rosh Hashana was good this year. On the first night, I davened in one of Pittsburgh's shteebles (house that serves as a shul), and got to hear a drasha (sermon), which set an appropriately introspective tone for the holiday. The rabbi spoke about the importance of praying with total concentration, just as Hannah does in the Haftarah of the first day of Rosh Hashana, thus setting a precedent for all of Jewry. It's hard to remember exactly what he said, but the gist was: Our prayers should be complete, and spoken from the heart, and we should focus on the idea that our fate is literally in G-d's hands, for good or for bad.

I used to think it seemed small-minded to pray to G-d for personal things, but over the years, I have come to realize that doing so is a demonstration of the belief that all of our needs are ultimately satisfied by G-d -- that we turn to Him, because we recognize that He is the One who sustains us. This year, I felt like I had some "quality time" in shul, which made me feel good.

The year behind me was a difficult one emotionally for a variety of reasons, including the gradual decline and death of my Zayde. Over the last eight years, my grandmother and four of her siblings, my grandfather and two of his siblings, two uncles, and a handful of other relatives have all died. Most were elderly, but some were not. It has been exhausting, and much of last year was pent-up with anxiety about whether and when my grandfather would die. (After scaring us several times with congestive heart failure and minor strokes, he quite stubbornly clung to life, and was very weak, but still lucid when he died in July at age 93. According to his full-time caregiver, in the last week of his life, he began speaking a great deal more about my grandmother and longing to be with her. It is a comfort that he is with her now, and no longer suffering.)

At his funeral, my sister and I said, in effect, "Okay, that's enough. No one else is allowed to die for at least 20 years." Although I know it is unrealistic to think that I won't experience any more sadness in the next two decades, I do have the sense that a very somber period of my life is behind me, and I am hopeful that the future will hold happiness that surpasses the sadness of the past.

On Rosh Hashana, I thought some about my grandfather, who so loved going to shul, and teaching his grandchildren to love it too. Growing up, my sister and I would sit with Zayde in shul, and afterwards walk home with him. When I was in high school, when he and I would walk hand-in-hand, he used to say to me, "Someday your grandchildren will walk with you to shul too." That someday always seemed so far away to me, and it still does, but now that he's gone, it seems like something so much more real to hope and pray for.

I pray that the year ahead will bring comfort, happiness, and peace to all of Israel.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Starting a new chapter

Today was my last day of work at the Jewish Association on Aging. This was my second "real" job, and one that I held for two years. From the start, it was a job that I took because I couldn't find a journalism job, and it was never a job that I planned to stay with for more than a year or two. So, I am glad to be moving on, but grateful that I have been gainfully employed for the last two years, and that I was able to have a job that was basically pleasant, and which gave me the satisfaction of participating in the work of an organization that does good, concrete things for people who need help.

Today was bittersweet -- busier than I expected with lots of loose ends that still needed to be tied up -- I am happy to be moving on, but will miss a lot of the people I worked with. I also realized today that I became very invested in some of the projects I worked on, and it is strange to think of someone taking my place and doing "my" work.

On the other hand, I feel very liberated. After two years of feeling creatively stifled, I am so excited to be returning to what I feel is my "calling." I met last week with my new boss, and I got the sense that I will be in a position to really influence the direction of the paper, and will also have plenty of opportunities to do the reporting and writing I love so much. I feel like a part of brain and my psyche which have been dormant for a while are reawakening now, and it feels so good.

Because I've worked for a newspaper before, I know there will be plenty of days that I'll feel too tired to write, but will have to anyway, and that there will be lots of uncomfortable politics to contend with, both inside and outside the office. But I also think that this is a wonderful opportunity both to exercise my journalism skills, and to serve my community. First assignment: this Sunday I get to interview Cameron Kerry!, John Kerry's brother, who will be in town to meet with local Jewish leaders. How cool is that? First day on the job -- I'm a little bit nervous, and I hardly believe it's real.

I like to believe that things work out for a reason, and I find it particularly interesting that my last day at my old job was a couple of days before Rosh Hashana, and that my first day at the new job is just a couple of days into the New Year. New year, new chapter in my life. The timing is just dripping with symbolism.

And, it is also fitting that I am getting started with this blog at this time of transition in my life (though I hope I'm not already boring you with details of my life). Thanks so much to all of you who have already visited this blog. I had sorted of hoped to be quietly posting for a while before announcing that I was out in the blogosphere, though it has been rather flattering to be "visited" by friends, strangers, and relatives alike (Yay Freedman cousins!). I sort of feel like I was talking very candidly to a friend, not realizing that a whole group of people was standing behind me, listening to the whole conversation. All of a sudden I turned around, and there you were -- and you were smiling and nodding your heads. Thanks for being there. I won't make any promises about posting frequently, but I hope to get into some sort of a rhythm of posting.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Welcome to my blog

After more than a year of reading friends' blogs and telling myself that I should launch my own, I have finally taken the leap.

By way of introduction, I am Susan Jacobs, a 27-year-old journalist living in Pittsburgh, PA. I grew up in Charleston, WV, and love my hometown and home state dearly. I go back to visit whenever I have a chance, and it helps that Pittsburgh is just a four hour car trip away from my family.

I am also an Orthodox Jew (a baalas teshuva -- been completely shomer Shabbos for nine years, but started becoming more observant after I declared at age nine that "I want to be Orthodox when I grow up."). If you know anything about West Virginia, you should know that it is not exactly a center of Jewish life in general, or Orthodoxy in particular. But Charleston is home to a wonderful community of about 1,000 Jews (out of 60,000 total population in the city), and it has been home to my family for more than 100 years. I am proud of both of my heritages (Jewish and West Virginian), but the combination of the two has sparked more than a little surprise and confusion on the part of big city Jews. In grad school, one of my professors had no problem understanding the Jewish part of me, but he just couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that I grew up in West Virginia. I relish being a contradiction in terms, and I expect at least a few entries on this blog will address this topic.

The most exciting news in my life of late is that after biding my time for two years as "marketing manager" for the Jewish Association on Aging, I am finally returning to the wonderful world of journalism. As of Sept. 20, I will be Associate Editor of The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh. The current Web site is no great shakes, but I'll see what I can do about that. First and foremost, the paper needs more help with basic content and copy editing. It won't be a glamorous job, but it's newspaper work, which I love, and it's an opportunity to lend my talents to my community. Just one step in my meteoric rise to stardom. (Alright, it's a slow-moving meteor. Work with me here.)

Well, if you've read this far, then you also know by now that I'm long-winded. (Hey, everybody needs an editor, even so-called editors.) But before you go, allow me to explain why I chose the name "Draydel" for this blog. During Chanukah when I was 10 years old, two wonderful pets were adopted by my family -- an adorable Cocker spaniel puppy named Taffy, and a part-Siamese cat with deep blue eyes whom we named Draydel. We got both pets because my sister had been begging for years to have a dog, and since she was getting a dog, I said I wanted a cat. Taffy and Draydel were wonderful companions and they were with us for 14 and 15 years, respectively. They were the first and so far only pets I've ever had. Although I'm sad she's gone, Draydel's memory still makes me happy, and for that reason (and because other blog names I considered were already taken), this blog is named for her.

So ends the first post on the blog named Draydel. Keep checking back for more.