Thursday, January 30, 2014

Zoe vs. the Judaic Book Fair

That it was a Jewish book fair, held in a synagogue, is probably not relevant in terms of Zoe's antics (even if I've long suspected her of anti-Semitic leanings). However, this was her first book fair in general, and the fact that it was held in a synagogue added another level to bringing Zoe into a social sphere where I don't necessarily know the rules but get the sense she and I are pooping all over them. (One of us literally. No guessing!)
Ready to hit the bars?
Though I grew up in New York City (birthplace of such Jewish notables as George Burns and Woody Allen), as a Catholic I spent most of my youth around other Catholics---going to Church on Sundays, attending Catholic schools from elementary to college, drinking from a chalice filled with shame. However, what with all the suffering, I sometimes felt like an honorary Jew. Plus, my dad was a fan of Borscht Belt humor (Rodney Dangerfield was his favorite), and I went through a Yiddish phase (who hasn't?) when I called anyone who annoyed me a putz. Occasionally a shlemiel.
Still, until I started working, most of my experience of Jewishness was limited to Jewish comedians, bagels, and the Old Testament God. And even then, though I met many non-Catholics, no matter what religion they were raised in most were now non-practicing. 
The point of this whole shpiel is just to say I've never had occasion to enter a synagogue.
I'd passed this particular one many times and never felt much curiosity except for the fact it was in a round building. But last Sunday, a deep freeze combined with a stir-crazy three-year-old made a book fair seem like the answer to my prayers.
When we first arrived Zoe didn't want to go in and I had to wrestle her out of her coat, though she kept her hat on, perhaps out of religious misunderstanding, while a nice man carried her stroller down the stairs because the book fair turned out to be in the basement. 
Though she eventually removed her hat, Zoe remained unhappy until she realized the roundness of the building translated to the stairs, and then she regressed, wanting to go down one set and up the other in a continuous loop like she did when she was two.
The man who'd helped me had made it back to the front door by Zoe's third circuit, and this time she went to the front door saying she wanted to leave. 
The man said, "There was just a little girl here like you saying the same thing." 
I was like, same girl, just without a hat clutched over her head.
Then he said, as if it would entice her: "There's a woman painting faces downstairs."
She pulled harder on the door.
Lest you think me heartless and cruel, I would've put the kibosh on the whole thing except I was waiting for friends who were on their way AND I didn't want the poor man to have to shlep her stroller upstairs two minutes after sitting down again.
Then again maybe I am heartless and cruel as evidenced by my next faux enthusiastic comment to Zoe: "Wow! Would you like to get your face painted, Zoe?!" 
She gave me a look like, Mamaleh, get a grip, you know I don't submit to things I don't understand, and the more "fun" you make it sound, the more I think some schmuck with a stethoscope is about to stick a needle in my tuchus.
After a nosh I coaxed her into the book fair proper. Once inside she proceeded to pick up books that had been carefully displayed on one table, each with a theme, and move them to another. Jewish cookbooks were soon with mysteries and mysteries were soon with nonfiction until it was all fercockt.
There was also a "library" where children could sit on the floor and be read to by a woman who was sitting there waiting. God forbid Zoe would be interested in this, busy as she was with all her rearranging, and she soon removed one of the "library" books and brought it to a "sale" table, and then shuttled one of the on-sale books to the library. I spent my time following her around undoing her "work."

Moshe, Moshe, Moshe! If you want him
to ask you to prom, Miriam, you've got
to lose the glasses already. And
enough with those shapeless frocks!
Luckily the two women who seemed to be running the event admired Zoe's chutzpah. One of them asked if I'd like to sign up for a book mailing. Why not? I went over and wrote Zoe's info down and then read the bookmark the woman gave me detailing the program, how we'd receive one book a month "for Jewish children and their families." Wondering if signing a gentile up for the program had been kosher---Oy vey, the guilt!---I escorted Zoe, the shiksa ganef, to a table where a lady was giving out stickers. These were either snowflakes or Stars of David. I couldn't tell as Zoe tends to stick and re-stick stickers till they rip.
While she was thus occupied destroying stickers (innocently or anti-Semitically depending on what was actually on the stickers), I took a look at the books to see if I could buy her anything. 
Guilt was a major driving force.

A shmendrick in his youth.

Which is worse: Catholic guilt or Jewish guilt?
Both religions have glamorized it (just kidding!). Catholics have the sacrament of Confession, which we can partake in any day of the year (twice on Sundays---again, I kid) and Jews have Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. But which is preferable? Getting it over with at once? Or having more opportunities to say sorry? Or does that just lead to coming up with more reasons to be sorry?

Jesus H! The Vegas ads were
supposed to spare me this boredom.

And what about the guilt of lapsed Catholics? 
Jews for Jesus?
Can I get another "oy vey"?
Feeling so tired I could plotz, I came upon the Jewish children's books table.
Now, I suppose Zoe has a few religious books at home, that is, if you counted "First Christmas" titles. As for serious Catholic children's books, I'm not sure what else there would be. Naughty Johnny: The Boy Who Made the Baby Jesus Cry? In any case, this table held all these different books for Jewish children. Titles I'd never seen before.
The one I bought for Zoe was based on a well-known Yiddish folk tale called It Could Always Be Worse. This is my new favorite title of all time. After all, it's true. It could always be worse. You could be getting your face painted.

More terrifying than the Old Testament God.
(Coda: Though she refused that day, every day since Zoe has asked to get her face painted.)
Zoe: 29; Universe: bupkis.


  1. Liz, I pop in and read this blog every so often, and I have failed thus far to tell you what a delight it is to read. But I've got to say--that painted face with the eyes on the lids?

    You scared me.

  2. I *love* "It Could Always Be Worse"! My kids had that book! :D
    I almost lost it when I saw your Marsha Brady caption. Bwahahahahaha!! Well done!! --Lisa

    1. Right? Isn't that the greatest title? I have to admit we haven't even read it yet. I just love looking at the cover.

  3. Oh, Liz, I loved this! Not just because of the hilarious writing style and your way with words, but also because I can relate. I once wrote a post about Catholic guilt when the hubs and I went to a Methodist church with some friends. It's on my blog somewhere...anyway, I loved it!!

    1. Thanks! I'm gonna have to go check that out. I loves me some religious tragicomedy.

  4. Points for drinking from a chalice filled with shame, and for posting the creepiest picture I've ever seen on the internet. 1 million points for each.

  5. Hilarious. I would love to hang out with Zoe and climb stairs.

    1. That can be arranged! I was thinking of renting her out to people needing a cardio workout.