What Does Your Costume Say About You?

Growing up in an observant Jewish home, I didn’t do Halloween. Instead, the holiday of Purim served as a festive stand in for costumes and revelry. But when I re-entered the New York single scene in my mid-30s and lived downtown, “What are you dressing up as?” (and it better be both sexy and smart ) was a challenge constantly posed.

My answer: “Ugh. Who cares,” or “No clue.”

I’m not a big advance planner, not to mention that my frenetic workweek doesn’t afford me with the bandwidth for costume combing. And, it also may have something to do with my stubborn resistance to trends or group-think.

But the upside is that lazy, last-minute creative concepting can be thrilling, fun, and preferable. When I was a divorcee living in Soho, my fellow single gal pals came over so we could all get ready together, high school style. I was the Girl with The Dragon Tattoo because it required no prep.73439_457961034790_2980109_n I didn’t need to shop for what I already possessed – black clothing, black eyeliner, lots of necklaces, and a bitchy “don’t mess with me” countenance.

On the Halloween before Hurricane Sandy, when my now husband and I were dating, he dressed up as Frankenstein and I donned blue clothes and gray clouds (Frankenstorm). The Halloween after we got married, he was Frankenstein (costume recycle!) and I was Bride of Frankenstein. Last year, we both wore blonde wigs and gowns and were Renee Zelwegger.

This year, I had an ad industry party to attend on Thursday night, and as much as I didn’t want to dress up, I knew I had to show some kind of effort, so on my way I stopped at Ricky’s Costume Shop on 14th Street (mistake!) in search of dog-ears (anything dog themed is my classic default) and I’d speak in a low whisper all night (get it?).

Ricky’s was jammed, hot, and out of dog-ears. But they had plenty of Cougar kits – ears and tails – so I took it as a sign. I could be a Jewish Cougar (the Jewish part requires no accessorizing save some cchhs and hand gesturing). But the line snaked around the store, and I was already late. Here’s a tip: Costume shops pre-Halloween are packed with students and twenty-somethings who are happy to make five dollars purchasing your outfit for you. I found an exuberant volunteer at the front of the line.

My husband and I were invited to a party at 7pm on Saturday, but at 5pm, we still had no idea what we were going to be, so we head out to Ricky’s (upper west side – way better). But just before we got there, a light bulb went off (his). We would be Entangled Particles; two interconnected photons whose measurements and actions are synchronized. They communicate – even when separated by large distances (Einstein’s “Spooky Action at a Distance”). It was clever and topical and coupley. And I could also wear a slinky silver jumpsuit. 12183839_10153746905884791_6310947485647648194_o

As we engtangled Nerds head out into the cool evening, we were warmed to see crowds of joyful children and their parents, their smiles apparent behind their princess or ladybug masks. Some of the brownstones in the West 90s were decked out in Halloween decorations, families out on their stoops talking and taking pictures.

A stark contrast from when we lived in Chelsea and descended into the throngs of loud, young fratty types, and I was heartened to feel that I’d finally graduated to the next stage – or almost. Or maybe I was ensconced happily in between. A newlywed with a new grownup home in a grownup neighborhood, where  I could (could) leave candy out for the young children who live in my building (or eat theirs. Or my dog could). And I could also head back downtown, attend a party at a gallery with my fellow particle, and dance with him in a dark club with the unencumbered high of love and youth.

I very much look forward to not planning for next Halloween.


Keeping Up With Kippur

Yom Kippur fell smack in the middle of the work week this year – on a Wednesday – which is always my busiest day and the apex of the week, so observing it posed a greater challenge than usual. Unplugging from life’s whirl was going to be difficult. I’m the east coast solo-ship of my company and when I slow down, so does business. How could I turn off my phone? How could I not follow up with emails I had sent the day before, or return inquiries from clients? How could I mute the constant little voice pushing me to do more, write more, make plans with friends I haven’t seen, and tend to the endless household needs of our new apartment? And how could I turn off Facebook, which seems likes the most benign distraction when you’re trying to ignore the rumble in your stomach at 4pm? (I know, really? We’re talking 24 hours. What does that say?)

Another impediment emerged: my husband has class on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, book-ending the holiday, so he couldn’t Kip up with me. And I was on the fence about going out to NJ to be with my family for prayers and the pre and post fast meals, like I normally would do. And I wasn’t sure why. Did I want to be alone, pray alone, and have nowhere to go and shove a bagel and whitefish down my throat at 749pm?

And was I being a bad Jew by not praying alongside my family, or my husband, or anyone I knew, on the holiest day of the year? If left to my own devices (and ants in pants), would I actually jew anything?

Now that I live on the Upper West Side, I have plenty of options; many friends with their own families who would happily host me if I wanted to join, but for some reason, I didn’t reach out to them nor hear from them (undoubtedly they assumed I had my usual arrangements in place). The ones who did text me were working and not fasting, and wrote: “I’m a bad Jew!” I laughed, but then it occurred to me, why does whether we perform certain rituals dictate whether we are good or bad? What does it mean if I don’t follow my family’s prompts and the ease of it?

I married a Christian. I go to church more often than I go to synagogue (although that will change now that I’ve found a permanent home and a synagogue nearby that I love). I don’t know that it makes me a bad Jew (look how far I’ve come!*). On the contrary, I’m connecting with God now more than I ever have when I went to Jewish high-school and wore the appropriate length skirts and didn’t eat shrimp.

So I decided to observe Yom Kippur by myself this year and see what I’d do when not reacting to anyone else.

At twenty minutes before sundown, after an intensely busy work day, I inhaled a (kosher) turkey sandwich and leftover fettucini, lit candles and said the blessing, then put on a skirt and sneakers and walked the ten quiet blocks down West End Avenue to a synagogue I’d been to last year (coincidentally it was before we moved ten blocks away). The fall air was crisp, the huge old buildings and brownstones projecting majesty and comfort. I found an unreserved seat in the back pew of the balcony and followed the text without any interruptions, or the urge to tell a story I just thought of to my sister. I stood and swayed and sang along with the female cantor as her voice swelled through the vaulted breath of space. I wondered if people walking outside could hear it too.

I did miss my husband, but in lieu of his attendance, there didn’t seem to be a reason for filler. I followed the words on the page, heartened to realize I remembered most of the Hebrew prayers. I discovered that trivial aggravations, petty chatter, snap judgments about people whose behavior makes me bristle (because they mirror my own suppressed flaws), and work problems from the day — melted away. The Rabbi’s sermon, about the difference between being “religious” by observing ritual, versus the importance of having spiritual depth and moral purpose resonated with me (and made me feel better when I cheated with a shot of espresso the following morning). Rather than cutting out after an hour and change like I usually do, I stayed until the end (a whole two hours), then walked home leisurely, past some of my people who were on their way home too. The world felt different, in a way titled outward, expansively, but also titled inward. I felt centered.

My husband had just arrived home when I did. Rather than unwinding in front of the TV, we sat together on the couch and I told him about my evening. We talked about the commonalities between Christianity and Judaism, and the beauty of the faith – the spirituality – that we share, and our shared moral purpose. I could see him light up to witness his wife motivated and fulfilled by connecting with God.

The next morning, after my husband and I walked the beast otherwise known as Gemma, I did a short pop-in in synagogue again, followed by a two-hour sleep that could have been a coma because I learned later that the dog-walker came in twice and couldn’t wake neither me or Gemma (a good guard dog she is not). Gemma and I woke refreshed (our eyes locking, “What time is it?”), and as I eagerly walked to synagogue for the Day of Atonement’s “closing of the gate,” I realized that maybe I’m not a bad Jew afterall. Or a good one, whatever that means. What matters is halting, connecting, and striving to do better in our individualized way, whatever that means to Jew.

For some insight into how far I’ve actually come, here are some posts from previous Yom Kippur’s where this Cougel was clearly in need of atonement:

In 2010, Cougel licks her wounds after a breakup and goes J-single mingling (aka synagoggling) in synagogue. KIP KIP HURRAY!

A year later, still single, Cougel kicks off her fast with a burrito and per Mom’s suggestion (“Go to the Soho Synagogue! You must be with your people!”), goes synagoggling again. ATONEMENT, CHANGE, AND KUGEL .

Four years later, Cougel celebrates the high holidays with her Christian husband.