Friday, December 26, 2014

Maria the phlebotomist proceeded to take my blood pressure, check my hemoglobin, and temperature, all the routin-ities of donating blood. Following the congenial code of conversation for this time of winter, I wished Maria happy holidays and asked her how her Christmas was. She was overjoyed about getting to sleep in late and about her special non alcoholic eggnog which swapped rum for pineapple juice. She hosted her husband's side of the family and spent the day cooking for 10 guests. Sighing the memory away she continued the complimentary reciprocation and asked about my St. Nick's Day, to which I responded that I don't celebrate Christmas. She didn't seem surprised at all. 

"My daughter's boyfriend is Jewish, he actually spent Christmas with us. He also has never tried eggnog." (I told her I had never tried eggnog since the idea of yolk and rum was less yum and more rolk to me.) 

She went on to tell me how her daughter and the boy, Coby,  met in debate team. She told me about how smart he is, how he is placed in accelerated math. She told me how he asked to eat around the Christmas tree, how he had never seen a pine so decoratively bedecked. She said it smelled lovely. I mustered a faint smile and watched the needle of the pressure gauge on the ballooned gadget fall. 

I am not so naive as to think that interfaith couples don't occur, because they do, but for some reason, this one highschooler "Coby," struck a cord with me. I looked at Maria as she prepared the bags and tubes that would soon be drawing blood from me and assessed that she was a very pretty woman. Her hazel skin held green eyes with long lashes peeking out just below straight blonde bangs. She seemed to be one of those natural beauties who stopped aging and baffled cosmetologists. If her daughter took after her mother, its no wonder why Coby was slurping eggnog to the tunes of Jingle Bells. 

This phenomena is not gender contingent: I've seen just as many Jewish boys "out-sourcing" as Jewish girls. Throughout college I've met a number of interfaith couples. One girl I met has been dating a non-Jewish guy for about 2 years, they plan to get married after he converts. In one of my Journalism classes I befriended a guy whose father's side were European Jews during WW2 and whose mother's side were German and part of the National Socialist Party! 

With the United Synagogue Youth (USY) dropping the ban against their national board members interdating, the organization went on to say that observance of Shabbat and holidays are not required either. USY recognizes the "importance of dating within the Jewish community and treating each person with the recognition that they were created Betzelem Elohim (in the image of God)," as reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

I am an advocate of equality and put my trust into all humankind being created in G-d's image, yet as I watched Maria clamp down on the looping blood tubes indicating that the bag was full, I couldn't help but muse over the contents of that blood. 

 In that pint of blood swirled yiddush seforim and Russian honey balls, misnagdim, chasidut, and flairs of Zionism. It was infused with long noses, blue eyes, and recessive tall genes. It wasn't just blood but Dam (Hebrew word for blood) and not just Dam but all 10 of the biblical plagues. It's a a sack of collective memory, a bloodline if you will. It's that link, that bloodline that Orthodox Jews are so afraid of losing in this transitioning world. 

So as I held my warm liquid sack of  A negative cells, and smiled for a Facebook photo. I couldn't help but feel distress over the "Cobys" of the world who preferred the taste of pineapple eggnog and the "lovely" smell of pine. 

A wounded idealist

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recently, I've been shopping by a code of  mental layaway: buy now because there will be Chanukah gelt waiting when you get home. Sure enough- after a 1.5 hr Supershuttle ride, 1 peppermint mocha at Starbucks, 2 more hrs gazing at a 60 year old cross-dresser in leather (.5 hrs conversing and asking where said leather was purchased), and 1 United plane ride that most definitely required a theme-park waiver of some sort- the gelt was waiting.

But as I stared out the bay windows, I couldn't help but ponder how twisted the Chanukah message of purity and re-dedication had become. How children yell for their Dad to stop singing so they can open the presents already. And I couldn't help but notice how my neighbor's Christmas tree lights looked fake and dull against the glow of my Chanukiah's nine burning candles. After a belabored travel, with late night dinner resting in my lap, basking in the incandescent hug, I thought how materialistic Chanukah has become. 

And so, I'm reflected on some fun, free things I did in the past 72 hours to "spark" some gratitude:

1. Walked the NYC's Highline overlooking the Hudson River 
2. Became the guinea pig of a free soap scrub massage during a holiday-market demonstration
3. Explored Little Italy and China Town's butcher shops(one sold pig faces), fish market (squid?!), and back alleyways (where one will find 3 hair salons, 1 trinket shop, and a "Chemist" shop) 
4. Managed to get a month's free membership at the local gym
5. Rented "The Fault in Our Stars" and sniffled seven glorious times
6. Successfully removed security tag off of purchased leggings with a flame and 10 inch butcher knife. NOTE: invest in Airwick.
7. Learned new holiday tunes: shamelessly rocking out to Six13's Chanuka version of "Shake it Off"
8. Googled cross-dressers favorite leather shop

In sum, it's not about the money-money-money, it's about the memories. Why twist our holiday into being a Christian knockoff. Honestly, you couldn't pay me to stare at red filament light bulbs all night, but while traveling, I literally paid friends to have me in mind during their lighting. I literally paid someone to stare at their Chanukah candles. To be true, through the money I gave, not got, I felt the heat of a small dormant spark rekindle. 

Layaway to Lay-a-while

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Prompt:

First paragraph:  What have you been learning about yourself as a writer this semester? (Has your writing changed? This paragraph can go in many different directions).

Second paragraph:  What were the most significant revisions to your work, and how did they relate to the workshop process?

Third paragraph:  What are the aesthetic values that you hold most dear in fiction writing?  What do you like?  Where would you like to see your work go in the future?

The Product:

Eliana Block
10 December 2014

Disclaimer: This is a metaphor, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.

I’m climbing this broad, meaty tree and the bark is stroking my ankles with the tickle of a father’s overgrown beard on the cap of his baby’s forehead. Every day I climb a little further up and I watch as a crowd assembles below. Familiar faces emerge among the mass: I see Bubbie Sandy, my grandmother, standing round, firmly; I see Mommy encouraging me not to piss off the animals above (or get pissed on by them); and then there’s my educators, my blog community, my peers, hurrahing me to climb further. Every gap I close, rising limb to limb, squatting hard and lunging low, their compliments double, rising higher. So I look down and wonder why they cheer so much. They do not know that I am afraid of heights, because what can I climb that no one has already climbed? What knobby nook or secret nut crevice can I discover that a squirrel has not already homed or ransacked? If I go higher I risk failure, or at best, mediocrity. If I descend stealthy back towards ground, my crowd will dissipate; Bubbie and Mommy will say, “just get in the car,” and I will be resistant but not knowing why, and confused where to go. But at least I will do it on my own terms. I look inward at the core, pressing my face against the birch, inhaling pencil. My eyes whip open, with a birdesque curiosity, turn around resolute, and take off running, off the edge of the limb.

In free fall words arrange, link and make love, forming glorious lines, filling beautiful pages with communicative fetus networks, a jaded daughter with her vegetable-mother. The free-fall is exhilarating. It is beautiful.

I open my eyes and somehow I am back on the tree. The crowd bellows even louder below, and I realize, somehow my free-fall brought me higher up the rungs.

Hello Tree, you are paper, you are pencil. Hello Climbing, you are expectations. Hello Crowd, you are encouraging, sometimes annoying. Hello Free-fall, you are risks, and I love you.
It was difficult re-coupling with my work after workshop: fellow writers weren't very helpful in their critiques, looking for morals and whatnot. What I tried to alleviate were those burning questions, spoken and unspoken: are they in a single womb, or multiple? Who is Odella? Is it important to know who is speaking, or is the not knowing critical to understanding the unity of the Chord?

The most hot-potato, witch scolding, tongue burning question: Is the ending my own personal views on life after death?
But it’s not meant to be answered because this question is not personal to me, its personal to whoever’s reading it. So, is my ending in any way definitive? Well, butter burner, coal scorcher, you should probably suck a popsicle. What does the ending mean to you?

I am a sucker for empathy through imagery. I don’t care if you’re trying to get me to fall in love with a one-eyed goat, or an iphone5 case, you better give me something rich to read. I love first person narratives: I crave literary panoramas and profusely tender dialogue. In the future, I see myself climbing or falling, or both—into your lap, with my name on the cover, under a title I thought way too long on, taking myself all too seriously, wondering whether I should have capitalized the word “The.”

what prompt?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rush Limbaugh was the crazy uncle I never wanted but got anyways. He made himself known at family gatherings: trips to the doctors office, family car rides and always,  Shabbat dinners. Whenever his voice blasted out the car radio, no one else was allowed to speak.

In high school, as the youngest of four and the least politically seasoned, I never had much to contribute during these intense and frequent Shabbat conversations. Instead of facing partisan jargon  at the table, I stuck to the kitchen making salad.

3 cups Spinach
"Did you hear what Rush said yesterday?"
1/2 cup red onion
"Obama was in London meeting with the Queen"
1 cup fresh sliced strawberries
"He got her a gift, and you know what it was?"
Balsamic Vinaigrette
"An Ipod! Can you believe that?!? An Ipod!! Some president.."
A few nuts

After three semesters at a liberal arts college, with courses taught by strong opinionated professors, I've learned people's political stripes are coherently present in terminology alone:

Americans without documentation : illegal aliens or undocumented?
The right to end the growth of an unborn fetus: pro-abortion or pro-choice?
Kurdish people fighting against ISIS: revolutionary militants or freedom fighters?

In Journalism as in Judaism, representation is always dependent on your point of reference.

On a Shiddush resume if shes overweight: a few pounds over or a house?
A guy who lives in the beis: serious about his avodat hashem or an unrealistic bimbo?
The strip of land wedged between fanatical extremists: The State of Israel or Eretz Yisroel (Spoken in the Mama Loshen)

As the youngest of four, all I can do is educate myself and observe until I can come to my own conclusions. But until then, I'll stick to making the salad.

could use less nuts

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The anti-Israel saga continues

I'm writing from a place of vulnerability, and hope that because I forewarned you, you find compassion and hold your scalpel steady during this open-heart surgery.

For over a month now, I've been cheap with my blogs. Not the "I just saved three bucks by using coupons on body wash, score! , kind of cheap," but the "sorry, I've only got one piece of gum left" type. And its not that I haven't had anything to write during these past 5 weeks, or because of all the recent Jewish holidays, it's because I simply didn't budget my time. 

In a cursory overview, here are my potential past blogs:

Week 1: Skipping Davening and bloody knees from running up a down escalator
Week 2: Why are Jewish Girls not enough for Jewish Boys anymore: a look at intermarriage.
Week 3: The Shabbos App: the generation of easy-does-it
Week 4: New Friend: Mom Muslim, Dad Jewish, wants to go on Birthright, Question: Can I celebrate Sukkot with you?

(I pride myself on being frugal- but this here's just plain stingy. Sorry. Back to the operating room.)


I cried again today, and by now my crying has probably lost its luster; yet I assure you, it was justified. 

"We are midday through the semester and I assume that you are just trying to get through this class. You see me as your hurdle...." Pause.

"Block," she says, burning holes into my eye sockets and making my ancestors blush,
"You are my hurdle."

My Fiction Writing teacher-Again.

From my after-class impromptu meeting, I'm now going to boil-down a list of things I can not do right:

1. I cannot take criticism well.
2. I always have to be right.
3. People are intimidated in the classroom by my presence and don't speak up for fear I will judge them.
4. I look like I'm in pain. I am hostile.
5. I think I am superior to everyone else and therefore believe I cannot learn from them
6. I am too advanced for the class
7. My discussion board posts try to prove to everyone else that I am smarter than they are by incorporating larger concepts, big words, and because I despise vague phrases like "The author's imagery is good."
8. I am an intellectual snob
9. I stress her out because I remind her of herself
10. Because of this conversation, I make her late to her next class

So I cried. Again. And right before my short story is going to be workshopped in my next class. I wipe my face all over with a Neutragena towelette. I breathe in the scent and it reminds me of cushy baby wipes, of snuggles and "keppee kisses." Gosh, aren't we all just inner babies? Would you tell a baby they are a "hurdle?"

In workshop, no one really knows what to say about my piece. I wrote about a group of 4 boys living in 1960's Lower East Side. They are a gang of friends. The narrator has an unconventional relationship with his parents made of gestures not words. His parents are holocaust survivors. He learns this in context of his American History class. His parents never told him. They are ashamed and refuse to speak.

The class refuses to speak, or rather, they have nothing to say. Thank God for the one page response rubic everyone is meant to write-up, or else I may never know what they didn't like. 

The entire time I kept hearing her words in my head. "People are intimidated in the classroom by your presence: they don't speak up because they think you'll judge them."


As I sit in bed now, pushing off studying the Immigration Policy midterm I have tomorrow, and drinking soy milk chunks because I forgot to "Shake Well," I am trying to use this powerfully vulnerable episode as a type of inertia for strength. 

I take a literature of the holocaust class. In Auschwitz, the chemist Primo Levi had never used a shovel, and while digging, accidentally shoveled piles of dirt onto his head. Once liberated, he became a successful novelist, orator, and his book The Periodic Table was named the best science book ever in 2006 by The Royal Institution of Great Britain.


I have a friend who fears he is "not Jewish enough." His mother is Muslim, and his Father is Jewish. They are not religious people. He hears I am Jewish and opens himself up to rejection. "Here's my number, please let me know if any more Jewish holidays are coming up. By the way, what is Hillel?"


A boy from Kemp Mill dies without warning, way before his time. His friends, are shocked, in a frenzy, make themselves ill and bitter. Some in their deepest realm of rawness, point an accusatory finger towards God.


I believe that the beauty of first drafts- the rough vulnerability we writers, teenagers, Jews, Muslims, students, agnostics, believers, humans encounter- is actually,  the revision. 



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When my Creative Writing teacher spread anti-Israel ideas I wouldn't stand for it

Today was the second time I've ever cried at college, oddly enough, they were both about the same thing. The first time was on Yom Ha'atzmauot, because I wanted to be back. However; this was not that.

In my fiction writing class, we read a piece called "Means of Suppression" written by a former IDF solider who had attended Harvard at the timem her piece was published in The New Yorker. In a nutshell her narrative was a satire bemoaning the dramatization and false pretenses surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict. The focus is on individuals becoming jaded during wartime and the petty practices to use the media as a propaganda outlet to gain sympathizers.

Here is a single quote from the narrative made by a Palestinian protester at an armed checkpoint:

"Shoot and miss, just shoot and miss.... please," said the man. "We need to be in the newspaper. Page 5, even."

At the start of class the teacher decided to give some background to the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
"How many of you have never heard of the Arab-Israeli conflict?" Several hands jut into the air. And with that she began.

Direct Quotes From Class:
"Palestinians don't have an organized army,so they use whatever they have to defend themselves."

"The British created a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This means that if you are a Jew in Germany and your parents, grandparents, and ancestors lived in Germany, you now have the right to take Palestinian land."

"For decades the Palestinians did not resist."

"Israel responded by bombing the shit out of Palestine."

(Repeat after me style)

Teacher: "The IDF use...?"
Class: "Guns"
Teacher: "Palestinians use...?"
Class : "Rocks"

After she had said all she wanted to in terms of historical context, she started to move into analyzing the text. A decision. Stay quite and live long and prosper- but people will be mislead- people who dont know the truth... God....

"I think the perspective you gave was a one-sided approach."
A long piercing stare.
"Palestine does not exist on the map."
(Am I even breathing?)
"What about the rockets in Gaza?"
Somebody stop me.

Professor at student- student at professor. A standoff. She made me look like an idiot. I made myself look like an idiot.

I could have talked about the fact that there has been a continuous Jewish presence in Israel for over 2000 years. I could have talked about the Zionist concept predating the Balfour declaration and it was not just a Holocaust guilt outcome as she had said. I could have talked about the hundreds of tunnels dug under Israeli fields and homes paved and paid with money sent to better the Palestinian socio-economic conditions yet used frivolously and maliciously to kill innocents. I could have said how the United Nations together with the Israelis agreed on a two-state solution back in 1947, and how it wasn't enough for the Palestinians who militarized and instead fortified with every available Arab nation to wipe Israel off the map, then lost, cried about it, and out of Isreal's generosity, given land in Gaza and part of the West Bank.

I could have. But I froze and in being dumbfounded, left Israel in a more precarious light.
After class I was warned not to sabotage the lesson again.

I walked in a dream-like state to a tree outside my dorm room and sat under a small, delicate sapling. Reaching for my phone, I called the only person I knew would understand.

"Bubbie," I said. "I'm having a bad day."

As always, her chicken-soup words filled me with the strength to continue. As I sat down in my next class familiar faces from the last class smiled at me. "Wow she really dug into you. The stuff she said about 'Israel bombing the shit out of Palestine' was not cool."

It was the second time I had cried in college--but right now--all I could do was smile.

Second Chances

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

As an English and Journalism major, my days consist of reading, writing, revising, and repeat. Through it, what I've determined is that literature focused majors are all cut from the same cloth of crazy.

Saddled with five English and Journalism courses, in addition to freelancing for a local newspaper, occasionally blogging, open mic poetry reading, and living with other writers as part of the school's writing program- I feel like Narcissus-  knowing that I was over ambitious in planning my schedule and will eventually be overwhelmed, drowning  in a pool of nouns and prepositions.

But I must to tell you, as much as the work is incessant, complex, and unforgiving, it is also freeing.
I am taking a fiction novel writing class, and for the last 15 minutes of class we disabled the projector, stopped speaking, and just wrote. At first the liberty of time and permission to invent caught me off guard, but then it just poured onto the page. 

A woman. She's pregnant. She's telling her husband about the baby. tonight. He needs to tell her something too. He lost his job today. The rents due by the end of the week. They chew their Eggo waffle dinner. A storm. Losing power. A knock at the door. A mother in law. Suitcases in hand. 

Freeze. 15 minutes are up. 

Creative writers we're an enigma labeled "extra crunchy." My professors, they say things like "buttload," "shithead," and "F*$@ it." My fellow writing members write about meth, cannibalism, and intergalactic force-fields. They share open mic stories about masturbation- and getting caught.

Sometimes I feel like I shouldn't be classified with people that some may box-in as "freaks," but then I remember my own freakish habits.

 I get drunk on verbs, high on metaphors, and shoot up Stephen King. I dream up novels about dinosaurs and the apocalypse and sometimes a dinosaur apocalypse, while I'm showering. The ultimate test if you're in English major is if you have a favorite word, a word that would make you hug your arch enemy at its recitation. Mine is  "nincomoopery." That's validation enough.

So for now I'll read, write, revise, and repeat, because if I'm not a writer, then who the hell looking up at me from the pool?

Deep-end-ing on reflection

Monday, September 1, 2014

Growing up, I saw a lot of black in my community. Everywhere you turned, plenty of them-black hats, suit jackets, and velvet kippot- but rarely did I ever interact with someone of another race or sexual orientation during my daily to-do.

A product of my environment, my definition of ethnicity was restricted only to the Semitic Sphere. Meaning, I felt fully content and even quite pleased knowing Spheradim, Tamanim, and Yerushalmis.

One of the biggest shocks came during Freshman registration while talking with my Arts and Humanities advisor about English careers. My advisor was responding to a question I had about the core curriculum, but her answer barley registered. My ears were turned inwardly to some internal shock: a startling realization that I had never actually spent more than 10 minutes, let alone a half hour, talking with a black person. As my third eye rolled back into reality and we broke into conversation about studying habits and keys to successful time management, I sensed a prick, and took mental note. Later I would recall this moment as the first crack in my "Jewish Bubble."

With the commencement of Sophomore year conveniently falling out during the month of Elul, I find it appropriate to assess the state of my bubble. Has it been obliterated, leaving a free-spirited spongy core, or in fact responding to change like those fancy bike locks that fortify when one tries to break the chain? 

A few nights ago, the topic of race spontaneously came up between myself, my roommate, and her friend. They spoke of their hatred for all applications that make an applicant conform to a particular race. My roommate is the product of multiple roots with black, white, and Hispanic ancestry. A bit darker, her friend was black with Caucasian roots as well. She spoke uncensored about the acute stigma of lighter blacks within the black community; yet she affirmed that she felt unashamed of her pallor.

 "During slavery, I would have been the one working in the house," she said, "the lighter blacks got to stay in the kitchens instead of doing fieldwork." Even though their labor was reduced, because slave owners didn't consider whiter blacks their legitimate offspring, they lived a limbo existence, resented by darker slaves yet abhorred as bastardy by whites. And I thought deciding between "Caucasian" and "Jewish" on the application was rough. 

Blessed and plagued by the desire to engage and question others, I schmoozed with a girl waiting at a busstop for the city Metro. I was on my way to my job at a local Jewish newspaper. She was headed home for a Nigerian convention in a North Carolina Baptist church. She told me about "her country," and the slow-moving political response of Nigerian officials to Boko Haram's mass kidnapped of 200+ Nigerian schoolgirls.

We sat, we chatted, and we departed. 

Last night, my roommate's friend asked a question with the preface, "Can I ask you something I don't understand?" 

Her question: Do Jewish people identify themselves as a race, nationality, or ethnicity? 

I said I didn't know. While on the one hand I want to say Judaism is a religion, how can I account for Jewish traditions like the Horah or Mazah Ball soup that are not deistic? A step further, what about atheists who still consider themselves Jewish- Humanistic Judaism- who follow religious construct hollow of any supernatural Force? So I'm stuck, and when one is stuck, I usually reach for a dictionary.

Race:  a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock; a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics

Nationality:  a group of people who share the same history, traditions, and language, and who usually live together in a particular country

Ethnicity of or relating to races or large groups of people who have the same customs, religion, origin, etc. ; associated with or belonging to a particular race or group of people who have a culture that is different from the main culture of a country

Religion:  an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods

I am left even more baffled- but again- Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will this answer be. But during this coming Elul, I challenge you to a duel! Yes, I am metaphorically slapping you with an old western glove and saying "wake up and access your bubble!" As important as it is to engage in the world around you,  it is just as (if not more important) to reflect on your own Jewish identity. Just as one prepares for an interview by considering the questions his boss may pose, ask yourself questions about your own identity and see if you can answer them. Who knows, you might learn something new. 

The year is beginning, and I for one could use a refresher course. 

failed yet again by Merriam-Webster

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

There are two jars of banana baby food in the fridge, and they have my name on it.

 I got my wisdom teeth pulled today and the procedure went pretty smoothly. I checked in at 2:15, acknowledged the palpable "dentist office smell," and right away began filling out the HIPA form and new client pages. I can't tell you the kind of unanticipated relief that comes with crossing off medical problems like congestive heart failure, lupus, and cancer. Health is one of those things that gets taken for granted and only appreciated when you get to plant a big X across the entire box to save time at the dentist's office. If I had the time, I would read through each of the maladies- their symptoms, prevalence, life expediencies..- and start a #icebucketchallange for each.

A consultation was in order. The dentist said the teeth were "impacted," professional jargon for half busted through- half concealed under gum and jawbone. He asked if I was planning on going under or getting locally anesthetized. If I chose to go under, we would have to come back for a later appointment on a day I had not eaten: I chose local. I could tough, it right? What percent goes under anyways? "95% of my clients," he said.


The needle for the Novocain was the worst part: I remember feeling really anxious, imploring with the nurse that I could move my mouth and would be able to feel everything once he started. She laughed. I didn't.

When he started all I could feel was pressure. Unlike his patients who go under with general anesthesia and want to be as far removed from the horrors of surgery as possible, I wanted to know everything and made him recite out loud as he completed each task.

"I am now scraping away the gum tissue."
"You'll feel a bit of pain."
"Some slight pressure to extract the tooth."
"Two stitches in, one more to go."

I asked if I could keep the teeth. He gave me a perplexed look, then wrapped them neatly in a sterile bag.(FYI, the tooth root really does look like those saber toothed x-ray images.)

The Dentist told my mom I was ,"A Trooper." I didn't get one of those free oral care bags- everyone secretly loves- stashed with floss and mouthwash and fun things that actually come in handy when the house runs out of toothpaste, or when you're in need of a new toothbrush right before Pesach.

Not allowed to play sports or do any physical activity, so I'm just sitting under my yellow quilt now feeling tired, hungry, and drool-ey. The only thing that could make me feel more like a baby is.......oh ya.

Gerber's Stage 4: Banana Creme Baby Food