Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Salamone-Punsters meet the Skier (Psycho Toddler/Mrs. Balabusta) family!!!!!!!!!!!!

Warning: Lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng post!!!

The Orthodox organization for which I’ve been temping on and off since December 2001 employs both Jews of all stripes and non-Jews, so the clothing runs the full gamut, from Orthodox women in skirts below the knees, high-cut tops covering the elbows, and, for the married ones, hair at least partially covered, to, at the other extreme, women in pants or mini-skirts and sleeveless and/or low-cut tops. So I don’t risk being fired when I show up bareheaded in a short-sleeve blouse.

But I didn't want to risk putting the kabosh on a couple of new friendships. So when I found out that the Skier clan was coming to New York City and we made arrangements to meet, I told my husband that this was going to be an “undercover” operation—we were both going to go under cover, literally.

Well, that’s easy for a guy. All the Punster had to do was don his Adjunct Professor of Accounting summer uniform of khakis and a short-sleeve dress shirt and top it with one of the many crocheted kippot (yarmulkes, skullcaps) that he uses both for davvening/praying at home and in shul (synagogue) and for teaching at a campus of his college that caters to Orthodox Jews. (Did I win the "run-on sentence" championship with that one? :) )

For me, on the other hand, dressing was a major national project. Unfortunately, it’s been several years since I’ve been able to find a denim skirt that fits me. And I had a strong suspicion that jeans—or any other kind of pants, for that matter—just wouldn’t do. (Indeed, the Mom [] and both older girls were wearing skirts even in the picnic photos on Mark’s blog []). (Shorts?!!! Are you out of your mind?!!!!!! I don’t care if it’s already 80° Fahrenheit—don’t even think about it!!!!!!!!!!!!) So I was stuck with one of the dress-casual cotton-knit skirts (with a hemline about three inches below the knee) that I wear to the office. I topped that with my favorite jewel-neck (read—close to the collarbone) t-shirt, and topped that with a long-sleeved blouse with the sleeves rolled up to just below the elbow to hide the t-shirt’s short sleeves. I was dressed and almost ready to go: First, I had to review my reminders. Number one: Remember not to take your sunhat off when you go indoors. Number two: Under no circumstances should you call their youngest daughter by That Name That Her Father Calls Her On His Blog. (Ahem: Eek!!! ‘Nuf said!) And last but not least, I reminded both myself and my husband to be careful with whom we shook hands. (For an explanation of shmirat negiah, the law of being shomer negiah, see This prompted a typical comedy routine. Punster: “You mean I can’t shake hands with any of the girls?” Me: “Are you trying to make trouble?” Punster (wearing his trademarked naughty-boy grin): “Yes.” (Where’s a roll-eyes emoticon when I need one?)

Finally, we were off to the subway, then the bus. We debarked on Main Street. (I hate to bust your bubble, Mark, but debarking isn’t just for trees and dogs :)—it’s a legitimate English word of French origin, quothe the old lady with the BA in French. :) ) From there, we were occupied with practical concerns. I wondered how on earth all the Orthodox women whom I saw at my office dressed in two layers, with the top layer falling at least below the elbow, managed to keep the top layer on all day even when they were outdoors in 95° weather—I was wilting already in 80° weather after walking only a few blocks. The Punster’s concern was even more practical: “How will we know them?” “Oh, don’t worry—I’ve seen photos of all of them on Mark’s blog. I’ll recognize them.”

We were rapidly approaching the designated coordinates, and I was wondering whether I’d have a minute to duck into the nearby Judaica store, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but, well, actually, a crowd large enough to fill the entire width of the sidewalk, and then some. At that point, I started counting heads, literally. One teenage girl—check. Three teenage boys—check. (Where were Daughter Number Two and the Mom?) One vaguely-familiar-looking guy with a beard. But the real clincher was perched atop the bearded guy’s shoulders—there sat the most flabbergastingly-familiar-looking four-year-old girl whom I’d never actually met yet. “Mark?” “Yes.” “I’m [real first name.] And this is [the Punster’s real first name].” “How did you know it was us?” Confession time: “I counted heads.” Mark made the introductions, which were, through no fault of his own, ah gornisht helfen (no help)—I’m embarrassed to say that it took me two days, a look at one of Mark’s old posts, and a quick review of the liner notes to his “Rock of Sages” CD to figure out which name went with which son. (Apparently, I had two of the boys' ages reversed. No wonder I was so farblunget [confused].) Mom and Daughter Number Two were shopping and would meet us later.

We checked into the Skier clan’s favorite local kosher pizzeria. The three boychiklach promptly commandeered a booth and took charge of Youngest Daughter, leaving Mark, Oldest Daughter, me, and the Punster to bring back lunch. We settled in the booth in front of the rest of the crew so as to be easily visible to Mom and Daughter 2, with me across from Daughter 1 and Punster across from Mark. I told Mark that I’d been half tempted to tell my boss that I was going to see an internist, which was, literally speaking, true, but a bit disingenuous. :) Mark cracked up, and made some mocking remark about not wanting to get arrested. The Mom arrived, with Daughter 2 in tow, and told quite a tale: It seems that the blouse that she’d originally been given to try on had been so difficult to fasten that she’d needed her daughter’s help. We joked that she needed an engineering degree for that one. The chosen blouse apparently passed for a sci fi costume. This prompted some droll and some serious discussion of our mutual favorite TV show, Babylon 5. "You're not a real B5 fan unless you have all the DVDs, including the ones for (the aborted, 13-episode-only, sequel) Crusade." :) Wow, Mark had actually met and talked with creator, producer, and chief writer J. Michael Straczynski at a sci fi convention. I'm impressed. And the Mom, er, Mark’s Mrs. (genieg shoin—enough already: This woman needs her own name. I’ll call her C) had the fascinating theory that the G'Quan Eth plant desperately sought for a religious holiday by Planet Narn's ambassador G'Kar in the first season's "By Any Means Necessary" was based on an etrog, which, like the G'Quan Eth plant, is also valued only as a ritual "object" during a specific holiday (in the case of the etrog, that would be Sukkot, the Feast of Booths). Not only that, but Commander Jeffrey Sinclair had used talmudic logic to help enable G'Kar to celebrate his holiday.

The five of us in the front booth—Daughter 1, Mark, C, me, and the Punster—alternated between serious conversation and goofing off. We talked about Daughter 1’s upcoming first year of college and our Young Scientist's decision to change his major from computer engineering technology to physics. We talked about our respective Jewish communities. We talked about my understanding of the “Orthodox spectrum”—“Modern Orthodox, then Yeshivish, then Chareidi”—and C’s view, from the inside: “It depends on who you’re standing next to. The Modern Orthodox [of Milwaukee] consider our (the "Twerski?") community extremely observant, but the Chassidim think we’re too lenient.” We talked about Mark’s concern that Modern Orthodoxy was rapidly being replaced by a form of Chareidi Orthodoxy that considered anything enjoyable to be suspect, as if fun of any kind endangered the survival of Torah-true Judaism, an attitude that I described as ascetic. On a related subject, I complimented him on coining the term “Autoimmune Judaism” (See in response to a series of posts on dilbert’s blog positing that much of the current Orthodox community's internal strife is a reaction to the rise of Reform Judaism roughly 200 years ago. ( : Commented Mark to one of the posts in dilbert's series: “ . . .the idea that the attitudes which are currently splintering the orthodox community were born out of the conflict between Orthodoxy and the Reform movement is fascinating.From a Medical point of view, it seems similar to an antibody reaction being triggered by a foreign antigen, which then spins out of control and begins attacking the host's own body.” Man, he sure has that right—from my perspective, watching the right-wingers accuse the Modern Orthodox of heresy and/or atheism and/or insufficiently-strict observance of religious law is like watching the frum/Orthodox world destroy itself from the inside out. To paraphrase what we used to say during the Vietnam War, they're destroying the community in order to save it.)

And I mentioned my own theory that the problem, at this point, is that many of the Orthodox are trying to be "frummer than thou" because they're literally afraid of being mistaken for Conservative.

Lest you think that our get-together was all work and no play, meeting C and Mark confirmed a theory of mine. On the occasion of their recent 18th wedding anniversary, Mark wrote of his wife, “It's a testament to the power of Jewish marriage that two such different personalities can stay together for so long without driving each other crazy.” (See Mark's Wednesday, June 08, 2005 post, "The Mrs.," at, and don't forget to read the comments, which are half the fun.) Having read C’s relatively new blog (, and remembering something hilarious that she’d written that Mark had posted on his blog some months back, before she'd started her own (see, I was convinced that it might very well be the “driving each other crazy” part that kept the two of them together—both C and Mark have marvelous senses of humor. Talk about “leave ‘em laughing,” the last thing C said to me before joining the rest of the clan in the family “battle tank” for the drive back to Mark’s parents’ home absolutely cracked me up! :) Check out her Thursday, June 16, 2005 post, “The Electric Company,” at and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the fun we were having together.

And, by the way, the minute I first saw C, I got a pretty good idea of why Daughter 1 is even prettier in person—by far!!!—than she looks in her father’s photos.

A grand time was had by all. I hope we can get together again the next time they’re in town.


Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Yeah, it was a blast!

I certainly don't see the Orthodox community disappearing, but I do see it changing radically--as you said, "Now the U.S. version of Modern Orthodoxy seems to have become almost indistinguishable from what we used to call "black hat" when I was a kid"--and, from my own perspective, the change is not for the better. It was bad enough when the right-wingers "asured" (forbade) TV, movies, and the Internet, but now, even simple pleasures such as eating corn on the cob are suspect. That was perfectly acceptable as recently as a few years ago. Why is it suddenly wrong now? When will this "chumra (stringency)-of-the-month" mentality end?

Mon Jun 27, 07:21:00 AM 2005  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Fantastic post. I understand your sentiments.

When I went to volunteer for a Chabad telethon, I was told I could wear what I wanted, so long as it was modest! So, I put on a long skirt and long sleeve blouse, and no open shoes and was fine.

You might be intersted in a post I have today on my blog, dealing with a related question.

Mon Jun 27, 10:20:00 AM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

It was really great meeting you and the Punster, Shira! Although it really didn't feel like I was meeting someone for the first time. More like an old friend.

I posted your picture.

Mon Jun 27, 09:30:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Apparently, Ms. On the Fringe derived a fringe benefit from being literally undercover--I hardly recognize myself, which, considering the fact that I blog under a pseudonym, may not be a bad thing. :) On the other hand, I would recognize that picture of the Punster from halfway down the block. :) So much for that theory. :)

Tue Jun 28, 12:19:00 AM 2005  

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