Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

Archive for April, 2015

THE JOKE’S ON ME

I don’t like practical jokes, even on April Fools Day. I never really enjoyed the original “Candid Camera,” and have never seen “Punk’d.” I squirm when I see people humiliated in public. Or in private. So it was completely unintentional, and rather ironic, when I became the perpetrator of such a hoax.

It began on March 31, when fellow Oak Tree Press author Sharon Moore emailed all of the OTP authors to check the blog on April 1 for an important announcement. When I clicked on the site the following day, there was a “press release” from Sharon that OTP publisher Billie Johnson had signed a deal with Simon and Schuster. “Wow,” I thought naively, “I wonder if S&S is going to distribute our books under a new imprint.” Then I read further and realized it was a doozy of an April Fools Day joke. Billie, Sharon wrote, was purchasing S&S! After I stopped chuckling, I sent an email announcing that I had big news, too: my books had been optioned by Hollywood, Broadway, and TV.

I thought my joke was so good (and absurd – I love absurdist humor) that I posted a version of the email onto my FaceBook page. I wrote:

“I was sworn to secrecy until April 1, but I can now announce my Rabbi Aviva Cohen books have been optioned as a movie by Spielberg, as a series by HBO, and as a musical by Sondheim. Bette Midler will star in all 3 productions. And Mel Brooks is teaming up with Gene Wilder and Carl Reiner to adapt Talk Dirty Yiddish as a PBS special.”

And that’s when the joke was on me.

Many people got it. I got a lot of comments along the lines of “Yeah, you wish.” But I got others with what seemed to be sincere congratulations

The April 1 “dateline” hadn’t tipped everyone off. So I added a link to Sharon’s blog. I still got awed responses. So I suggested people check the date of the posting. Still too subtle. So I posted it was a joke. Some friends responded to the original post without checking the comments. Two days later, after 135 likes (some for the cleverness of the joke) and 87 comments (many from people who understood it was a hoax), I posted a new status explaining it was a joke.

My favorite response was from an author I consider a friend (I hope she still feels the same about me) who wrote, “You mean I just wasted hours being green with envy? And now my husband is laughing at me.” But I couldn’t tell if she were serious, or if she had realized it was a joke and was going along with it.

And that’s really the crux of the matter. As I wrote in my mea culpa, the joke must have been a success if people believed it. But, I continued, it also “demonstrates the limits of the written word for communication, as people can’t hear tone of voice and inflections or observe body language.”

My idea is not original. Much has been written about how hard it is to know what someone intends when reading a post or a text. A whole industry – that of emoticons – is devoted to “solving” the problem. But is that big grin meant to be ironic? Is someone hiding behind the winking face to disguise an insult? Even my favorite comic strip, “Pearls before Swine,” devoted a series to using emoticons to excuse nasty comments. (“If you’re hurt by what I said, it’s your problem. I added a wink.”)

How can we really be communicating when comments are taken out of context and there are no auditory or visual cues to help understand what is meant?

Do I have answers? No. Just more questions. And puzzlement.

But I do appreciate  my husband’s perspective on the matter. He told me I should be flattered that people thought the news could be possible. It meant they liked my books. Of course, it could also mean they have a low opinion of popular culture. I prefer to believe that they do think my books are that good. So if anyone has contact with Spielberg or Sondheim or HBO or Bette Midler or Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner or Gene Wilder, please let them know I’m willing to accept offers. But, please, no prank contacts from them. I, too, can be very gullible.

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How to Make Charoset. (Huh?)

The major theme of Passover is the universal one of  celebrating the journey from slavery to freedom, from tyranny to independence. The foods served and displayed on the Seder plate, in the center of the table, all have symbolic meanings relating to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: the matzah (unleavened bread) for the haste with which the Israelites fled from Egypt; the horseradish or other bitter herb for the bitterness of oppression; the shank bone for the 10th plague, when the Israelites put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts to ward off the Angel of Death, and  to represent the Paschal offering in the days of the Temple; the greens to represent the spring season; salt water, to represent the tears that were shed under the cruelty of the taskmasters; the hardboiled egg to symbolize wholeness and the cycle of the year; and the charoset, to remind us of the mortar the Israelites used to make bricks.

“Charoset?” you ask. “Never heard of it. What is it? And who wants to eat mortar?”

Glad you asked. Charoset is a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and red wine. Other families may have their favorites, made with figs, dates, and other fruits. But apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine are the ingredients I grew up with. Sometimes, I’m a traditionalist.

It’s simple to make: put all the ingredients into a food processor (so maybe I’m not that much of a traditionalist) and mush it up. Taste. Decide it’s missing something. Add more wine. Taste. Now it’s too watery. Add more nuts. Taste. Now it’s too bland. Add more cinnamon. Taste. Now it’s too sharp. Add more apples. Look for a larger bowl. Taste. Give up and decide it’s fine the way it is.

I’ve been following that recipe for years, and have yet to hear any complaints. Our guests wouldn’t dare complain. If they do, they’ll be in charge of making the charoset next year.

To my friends who celebrate Passover, have a hag sameach (happy holiday) and a zissen Pesach (a sweet Passover).