Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Haiku Winners: Together

Haiku. Haiku is what bwings us togeddah, today.

Times are tough. But I'm hoping I can play a part (See what I did there? A part? Oh, never mind.) in making things a teensy bit easier for three people, and for three charities.

And thus, I shall cease my blabbering and announce the winners of my togetherness haiku contest.

Put your hands together (See what I did there?) for this year's award winners:

Not Quite Honorable Mention

My wife Denise's haiku is easily the finest pandering ever done in one of my contests. Unfortunately, she majored in English, not math. Eighteen syllables a haiku does not make.
You are my husband
He is our curly headed boy
We are together

Honorable Mentions

Rawknrobin perfectly encapsulates the mood of the working-from-home masses (even if my company uses Skype, and I'm in the pants-wearing minority).
We aren't wearing pants
Let us zoom together now
Joelle highlights cats' love for cornering us when we're at our most vulnerable (even if we sometimes secretly enjoy the company).
Social distancing?
For humans, not for kitties.
Never poop alone.
And then there's my sister Naomi, whose haiku I laughed out loud at (even if I knew long before the contest started she wasn't going to win).
Why do I see you
Whenever I turn around?
Oh, right! Conjoined twins.

First Prize: Traditional

Yeah, I might be biased against Naomi, but not her 9-year-old son Solomon. He wins the prize for traditional haiku, and he has chosen Habitat for Humanity as his charity. I will be giving them a donation of $100.
A tiny atom.
Has very very small quarks.
All stuck together.

First Prize: Humorous/Creative

Jess Sokol used one of her superpowers (i.e. cats) to take the award for humorous haiku. Her chosen charity is Protectors of Animals, who will also be receiving a $100 donation.
Too many cats near
Eyeing my keyboard and cords
The mouse is afraid

First Prize: Judge's Choice

And finally, my pick for the third prize is one that embodies family and the joys of childhood, courtesy of Joe.
Grab that big blanket.
Everyone, quick, get under.
Now tickle someone!

Joe, please send me an email and let me know to which charity I should donate. I'll be making the donations (and sending out the gift cards) in the next few days.

Congratulations to all the winners and mentions! And thank you to everyone who submitted haiku (you can read all the entries here) or shared the contest with others. I hope I was able to bring you some much-needed levity (and/or spending money) in these trying times.

So, farewell my friends,
Until we meet up again.
(With or without pants.)

Friday, May 1, 2020

Together: A Haiku Contest for Charity

*** The contest has ended. Check out the winners! ***

We, as a people, are too divided. We were already split along economical, ideological, and political lines (among others), and then the Virus That Shall Not Be Named came along and split us apart physically.

Enough is enough. Let's write some haiku about togetherness.

You may think a haiku contest won't accomplish much. And you'd be right. But at least this one will result in $300 for charity. It isn't much, but it's a start.

Simply follow standard haiku structure (5 syllables, then 7, then 5), and write a poem inspired by the word "together." However you interpret the theme is up to you.

I will select the best haiku in the following three categories:
  • Humorous/Creative
  • Traditional (i.e. eloquent, evocative, etc.)
  • Judge's Choice
As in past years,* each winner will receive a $25 gift card. But then I will also donate $100 each to charities of their choosing.

The deadline to submit haiku is Thursday, May 7 at 5:00pm (Eastern Time). Official "rules" are below.

Submit some haiku.
For you, or for charity.
Or for all of us.

Official "Rules":
  1. To enter, post haiku inspired by the word "together" in the comments section below. Multiple submissions are allowed, up to a maximum of five (5) entries. If you submit more than five, it will smack of selfishness in a time of need. It's not a good look for you. And you will not win.
  2. Standard haiku rules apply. To qualify, each entry must be a three-line poem, the first line containing exactly 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the third line 5 syllables. These rules are in place to keep the poetic form safe. If you ignore them, I'll wash my hands of you, and your entry won't win.
  3. The contest is open until Thursday, May 7, 2020 at 5:00pm, Eastern Time. If you arrive late, the contest will already be at capacity, and you'll be left out in the cold. No prize for you.
  4. If your entry is not in English, you must also provide its English translation. If I don't know what you're saying, it'll feel like you're keeping me at a distance. (Note: Translations don't need to adhere to the 17-syllable structure.)
  5. Anonymous entries will not win. You can't foster a feeling of togetherness if all you do is keep secrets.
  6. Prizes will be awarded in each of three (3) categories: Humorous/Creative, Traditional, and Judge's Choice, which is basically a catch-all category because I couldn't think of a proper third one.
    • Each first place winner will each receive a $25 gift card, and I will donate $100 to a charity of their choice.
    • An indeterminate number of Honorable Mentions will receive mention. Also honor.
  7. I will act as sole judge, and select the winning haiku based on the aforementioned criteria, as well as other criteria I make up as I go along. All decisions are final, and will not be changed under any circumstances, unless I decide I was just being sarcastic the first time around.

* For reference, previous themes were: ninja, pirates, robots, space, the ocean, heroes & villains, science, the wild west, and magic.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Today would have been my mom's 75th birthday.

For those who don't know, my mother passed away Thanksgiving morning, after a far-too-short battle with leukemia.

I won't recap her life story here, since my sister already did a phenomenal job of that in her obituary. Instead, I want to give you a taste of who she was.

Anita "Liar Woman" Wilson (I'll get to the nickname later) was one of the most selfless people I've ever known. She and my dad took in 5 foster children (adopting 1), and raised 13 puppies to be seeing-eye dogs (adopting 3 who didn't make the cut). She volunteered for countless organizations, not just offering her time, but often acting as treasurer, president, or some officer in between. She donated to all manner of charities. She gave blood till they wouldn't accept it anymore.

With us, she was even more generous. Many parents chauffeur their kids around, but she was my driver early every Sunday morning for 5 years as I delivered newspapers. She asked nothing in return. I know I didn't thank her nearly enough. I was a teenager.

After my son was born, my mom watched him two days a week for us, instilling in him her love of reading as she'd done for me decades before. And she almost never said no to a babysitting gig for her grandkids, even if it inconvenienced her. We tried not to take advantage of this fact. We mostly succeeded.

You know, I can't recall my mom ever saying something mean or vindictive about another person. (Well, perhaps about one specific politician... but never another person.) And she never swore, at least not in the presence of her children. Only once in my life did I hear her use even mild profanity, and that was right near the end, when I asked how she felt that day.

Of course, she wasn't a saint. (For one thing, she was Jewish.) Obituaries may be glowing on all accounts, but this is not an obituary. My mom had her faults.

For instance, she was terrible and being a Jewish grandmother. Don't get me wrong—she was a fantastic grandmother. We'd leave my son with her for the afternoon, and they'd play games and read dozens of books, possibly dozens of times. But would she try to feed him, even once? Nope.

On the topic of food, to this day I have a strange affinity for slightly overcooked vegetables. Especially broccoli. Thanks, mom.

And then there's all the stuff. You see, my mother was an amateur hoarder. Not a professional hoarder like you see on TV, but enough to lead to piles of newspapers and magazines and dangerous stacks of books atop bookcases. (She planned to read those later, but was always too busy volunteering.) Thanks to her charitable donations, she was inundated with free calendars, greeting cards, and mailing labels... none of which she threw away. Sure, her tendencies meant she kept our stories and drawings going all the way back to kindergarten, but it also meant she kept our clothes and our toys and our games. Oh, and one drawer in her jewelry box? Completely filled with baby teeth.

Okay, now you have a sense of my mother, the good and the bad. All that's left is the nickname.

I can't think of any lies she truly told, apart from that nonsense about the tooth fairy. But in the early 1990s, our family took a trip to Israel. In Old Jerusalem, my mom took some photographs of the Dome of the Rock, and a man nearby (who had previously tried to get us to pay him for a tour) began yelling not to take pictures of the Muslim women. She said she wasn't. He swore she was. They argued for a short while, eventually escalating to him proclaiming at the top of his lungs, "You are a liar woman! LIAR WOMAN!" Needless to say, we didn't stick around after that. (But of course, the nickname did.)

The last words I heard that liar woman speak were to my son, as we left the hospital near the end. I'll close with them, since they're also fitting for how I feel about you, dear readers:

"I love you, too."

Monday, December 30, 2019

It's My 10th Annual Jew & A!

For my 10th Jew & A, I’m doing things a little differently.

Instead of asking you for new questions about Judaism, I’m going to answer all the ones I’ve ignored over the past decade.

You see, every year I’ve provided examples of questions to ask. There are now 25 of them — one for every letter in the Hebrew alphabet. (That’s right: We’ve kept three letters secret from you gentiles for millennia. Mwa ha hah!*)

* Those are the 3 letters.

Here are the 25 questions, listed in the order they were asked, with my quick-fire (yet absurdly informative) answers:

  1. Why did God choose to talk to Moses from inside a flaming shrubbery?
    Well, it was a nice-looking shrubbery, and not too expensive. Plus, as I have mentioned previously, we’re all pretty much pyromaniacs. It was an inspired choice on His part.

    (Pay no attention to the god behind the curtain.)

  2. Why is challah braided while French bread isn't?
    Reply hazy. Try again later.

  3. Why can’t Orthodox Jews listen to Black Sabbath on the Sabbath?
    Per the torah, we’re only allowed one Sabbath each week. The less devout among us can substitute the Black version without any repercussions, but the spiritual toll of a second Sabbath for the Orthodox becomes exponential: 4x the atonement, 4x the guilt, 4x the fasting... That’s why they stick with Black Sabbath cover bands.

  4. Why are the Hebrews so obsessed with bagels and lox?
    What, you didn’t think Jews were among the multitude Jesus fed?

    Bagels and lox: The loaves and fishes of the Jewish set.

  5. Why are Jews so good with money, but so bad at sports?
    Um, we’re good with money because we’re bad at sports. We can’t get paid millions to play games for a living, so we need to make the most of what little money we do get. And that’s what we do. We make it into the most money.

    All our years playing in travel finance leagues don’t hurt, either.

  6. Why do the practices of Orthodox Jews seem so unorthodox?
    Because you’re an unimaginative git who can’t perceive what it’s like to have different beliefs. If you walked a mile in their shoes, you wouldn’t think that anymore.*

    * Instead you’d think, “There's no way I'm walking all the way back. Better call an Uber.” You lazy git.

  7. Why do Jews repeatedly insist you have a nagila?
    Because they are so. Friggin’. Good. Honestly, they’re like heaven in your mouth, which is saying something since we Jews don’t believe in heaven. But these are so amazing they make us believe. You have no idea what you’re missing. (And you probably never will, either; we snatch them up like Walmart shoppers on Black Friday.)

  8. Why is Hanukkah sometimes so early (or late)?
    The Spanish Inquisition.

    You see, usually nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. And that has led to grave consequences. But by varying when Hanukkah occurs every year, we Jews are prepared for anything at anytime. We are so ready for Hanukkah 2020!*

    * It began in July 2017.

  9. Why do so many Jews’ names end in “berg” or “stein”?
    The ‘Steins traditionally were the beer- and winemakers, the ones who kept people’s mugs filled. The ‘Bergs provided the ice.*

    * That is, diamonds.

  10. What were Moses' thoughts on gay marriage?
    Moses was all for gay marriage. Who doesn't like a happy marriage? Besides, anything that kept people from committing adultery or coveting their neighbor’s wife was fine by him.

  11. Where can I find a good local deli?
    Online. After all, online’s only a few inches away, which is the localest you get.

  12. Where are the Jewish unfaithful most likely to hide their stash of bacon?
    In their bellies.

  13. Does Moses' deep-seeded aversion to water stem from his early basket trip down the Nile?
    No, Moses was too young to remember his wild Nile adventure. The real reason he ensured not a single drop of Red Sea touched him and his followers was because he had a pet mogwai.

  14. Oy, will my daughter ever meet a nice Jewish boy and settle down?
    Get with the times, old man. No one feels settled in this day and age, with every headline a new source of fear and frustration. And there’s no reason the boy needs to be Jewish. Or a boy. Or even nice. As long as they don’t make their mother worry, they’re a keeper.

  15. How do you identify if someone’s Jewish just by looking?
    I’ve previously mentioned the horns and other visible clues, and for you poor goyim that’s as good as you’re going to get. To really know at a glance who is and isn’t Jewish, you’ll need to convert to Judaism. Only then will you be able to see the ethereal glow that emanates from each of God’s Chosen People. It’s kind of like a secret handshake.*

    * Handshake not included.

  16. Which styles of yarmulke are in this holiday season?
    I actually answered this question back in 2015, but as always, styles have changed. Kids are now begging for square Minecraft-style yarmulkes, while the most discerning adults favor the Emperor’s New Kippah.*

    * Sure, it may look like their heads are bare, but well, maybe you shouldn’t say anything about it.

  17. Does the Red Sea naturally part on the right or the left?
    It doesn’t part naturally at all. Have you seen the disorder of its many waves and curls? To get a comb through that mess, you’d need a miracle worker.

  18. What were the Jews really doing in that desert for 40 years?
    As rabid fans of Moses & the Israelites (known for such hits as “The Ten Commandments”, “Let My People Go”, and “Don't Eat That Pig!”), they just had to follow their messiah on his decades-long desert tour.

  19. How do I tell the difference between a regular Jewish American girl and a Princess?
    The only difference between the two is the princess’s entitlement. And I mean that literally. For instance, if she is introduced as “Leah Steinbergenstein,” she’s a girl. But if she’s introduced as “Leah Steinbergenstein, Princess,” well, you can figure out the rest.

  20. How can you tell sufganiyot and Sufjan Stevens apart?
    One is a cheesy yet delectable treat, a perfect complement for the holiday season... and the other is sufganiyot.

  21. How do I confirm the authenticity of my King James Torah?
    Check the front for the “Official Autographed Copy” sticker. Duh.

  22. What does Trump’s embassy decision mean for “next year in Jerusalem”?
    The main impact of the president’s decision is some Palestinians will treat Americans even worse, so it'd be best not to act American while there. Thus, the correct phrase is now: “Next year in Jerusalem, eh?”

  23. Does my dislike for Yosemite Sam mean I really hate all Semites?
    What kind of idiotic logic is that? It would mean my dislike for Elmo, Dolores Umbridge, and Donald Trump translates to hate for all elms, bridges, and rum, which is just stupid. I don’t hate rum.

    In other words... there’s a 66.7% chance you do, yes.

  24. Is “apple jews” or “apple seder” is the more delicious(ly horrible) pun?
    “Apple seder” at least has some merit; the first one is such a lazy, deplorable attempt at punnery I can’t even bring myself to repeat it here. In fact, I decree that whoever came up with it be fried in leftover latke oil. And this punishment must be carried out in full, because I’m the boss, Applesauce.*

    * Yes, I ended my verdict with a Judge Judy-ism. Get it? Judy-ism? Ok, ok, I’m getting in the oil.

  25. Something has been nagging me for weeks, and I’m beginning to wonder: Is it actually a Jew?
    Blast! Yes, it was me all along. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if not for you damn kids and your dog. Now go tell your friends and family you love them, like I’ve been telling you to do for weeks.

No, that’s not a joke. Tell your loved ones how you feel. And have a wonderful New Year’s.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Putting the Ha! back in Hanukkah!

Welcome to the answer portion of this year's Jew & A! The only questions came from my sister and nephew, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to delay my answers for a week. And I was right: It didn't hurt at all.

However, to make up for the delay — and that (feeble attempt at a) joke — I'll also answer a third question about Judaism. It's almost the least I can do.

My sister Naomi asks:
How can I tell if someone is Jewish? E.g. Is there a special tattoo or handshake or something?
I've previously talked about the horns, but it's hard to justify looking closely at everyone's scalp unless you're a barber or a school nurse during lice season.* So let's talk about other outwardly visual signs. There are three.
  1. The things we carry
    Jews, as everyone knows, are insanely rich. Problem is, we prefer not to be garish about it, so you can't judge based on clothes or jewelry. No, what you want to do is watch people when they're buying things. Specifically, look at their credit card. Our gold cards are made of actual gold. Our platinum cards, platinum. Our francium cards, francium.

    That's right, francium. The element with a half-life of 22 minutes. We keep world-class scientists on retainer just to make us one-use credit cards.

    So get yourself a francium detector. And follow the money.
  2. Guilt by association
    Another option is to look for people who have an air of guilt about them. Now, I don't mean shifty-eyed or suspicious-looking. You're seeking successful individuals whose physical expression and demeanor convey they know that they don't visit/call/spoil their mother enough.

    You might think this describes non-Jews as well, but over time you'll be able to tell the difference. If they show even an ounce of bravado? Not a Jew.
  3. Take me to your leader
    You can also pick Jews out by their behavior. For instance, look for people speaking in front of a group. Specifically, leading a congregation in a religious service inside a synagogue. Find that, and you've found yourself a Jew!
* Not an actual season. The actual seasons are spring, duck, wabbit, and Christmas.

My nephew Solomon asks:
Why does one light the menorah?
It is said one is the loneliest number. Well, the reason it's so lonely is because one is also the greediest, most selfish number. If there's something fun to do, one's not about to let any other number do it. He has to be the first and the best at everything.

In this case, since fire is involved, there's no way anyone else gets near the menorah. One always make sure to grab the match, or the lighter, or the traditional Hanukkah arc welder, and brandishes it as a weapon if another number gets too close. Afterward, he opens up everyone's gifts, destroys all instruments and mp3 players,* and keeps the rest for himself.

That's why one lights the menorah. One's a jerk.

* One especially hates musical numbers.

And here's the bonus question from Kevin (via Facebook):
Who dislikes Yosemite Sam?
At first glance, this question may appear to have nothing to do with Judaism.* Well, prepare to be educated, my friend.

First, you need to know Yosemite Sam's origins. Leading into WWII, hatred for Jews was growing in America, too. And the biggest target was Uncle Sam. (Yes, Uncle Sam is Jewish... why do you think he always wears that hat? The horns, people. It always comes back to the horns.)

Back then, you could tell if someone was Jewish just by seeing if they looked when you said, "Yo, Semite!" So, Friz Freleng created Yo-semite Sam to be the embodiment of hatred and irrational thought, and set him against Bugs Bunny (also Jewish... they're behind the ears).

So, who dislikes Yosemite Sam? People in favor of freedom and equality, that's who. We dislike him not for who he is, but for what he represents. There are millions of us. Are you one?

I hope not. One's a jerk.

* Same with the second and third glances. Also, every subsequent glance.

And that brings the 2018 Jew & A to a close. Same time next year (give or take)?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Putting the Ish Back in Jewish

Just in time for whatever day of Hanukkah this is, it's my 9th Annual Jew & A!

In other words...
I will answer any question you have about Judaism.

That's right: Just post any questions you have about Jews or Judaism in the comments section before Hanukkah ends (i.e. sundown next Monday, 12/10), and I will answer them.

Maybe you're curious if your dislike for Yosemite Sam means you really hate all semites. Perhaps you need to settle an argument on whether apple jews or apple seder is the more delicious(ly horrible) pun. Or maybe something has been nagging you for weeks, and you wonder if it's actually, well, a Jew.

Whatever your query, send it along. Even if it's been asked before; much like its calendar, Judaism itself is constantly in flux.

So, what would you like to know?

The Original Primer and Past Jew & A's:

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Magic Haiku Contest Winners!

Welcome back, ladies and gents. It's the most magical time of the year! (Andy Williams had it wrong.)

Anyway, you're probably wondering who won this year's haiku contest. Well, so am I.

Let's get to it.

Honorable Mentions

Scott, what's With all the Capitalized Words? Ooh, It's a Secret Code, isn't it? So your Assistant Knows tbicmrp is the One To pick? Nope, Not picking It.
Terrified Bunny
In his hidden Compartment
Makes Rabbit Pellets
Of all the entries, this one from my sister Naomi is actually the one I laughed at the hardest when I first read it. But is it magic? According to the judge, no. No kid has ever believed this is magic.
The guillotine blade
Was installed slightly askew.
Ha ha! Got your nose!
Betsy Rose's would make me sad, but luckily I now have a child and can laugh vicariously through him:
The child laughs with joy
At the magic everywhere.
Then becomes a man.
In my early 20s, I once picked up a deck of cards, split the deck, and correctly guessed the chosen card: the four of spades. Since then, I always pick the four of spades. Sorry, Sam Cook, you were so close:
Go pick a card, Nate.
Got it? It's the Three of Spades!
(So cool if this works)
I also liked that Sam brought web design humor. But alas, he only managed to make part of his haiku vanish, not the whole thing. He doesn't win the prize.
Make this haiku disappear!
<!--this line is hidden-->

First Place - Traditional

Except he does win the prize. Thanks a lot, Sam, for making me a liar.
My arm extended
Pointed toward that distant snack
I yearn for The Force

For those of you who might argue the Force is not magic, that it's just a hokey religion, I completely agree. Of course, I also believe magicians create only illusions, the appeal of baby's laughter is science, and Trix is not even close to magically delicious. It's not like I can disqualify everything on a technicality. Well, I can, since I'm the judge. But I won't.

First Place - Humorous/Creative

The other one goes to my sister:
“It’s LeviOHsa,
Not LeviohSA, you twit.”
“Shut up, HermiOHN.”

I don't know about the rest of you muggles, but for the first three books of the series, I was sure her name was pronounced HermiOHN. (Well, actually, HERmiohn.) But after the first movie came out I was forced to admit my mistake. I'm also making a mistake naming Naomi a winner, but at least I admit that from the start.

And that'll do it for this year's contest. Be sure to read all the magical entries. Thanks again to everyone who entered, shared, or ridiculed my contest. Until next time...

Leave 'em wantin' more.
That's what they say in show biz.
So I'll just