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Reesa Cohen Stone: How to Stay Young. Lie.

by Reesa Cohen Stone, posted Nov 21, 2013

One of the many nice things about living in Israel is that you get to celebrate two birthdays; one according to the Jewish calendar (aka the ‘religious’/Jewish/Hebrew birthday), and one according to the Gregorian (aka the Facebook birthday). Every 19 years, of course, when the two calendars coincide again, you only have one birthday, but for 18 lovely years, you are allowed two celebrations, two cakes, and lots and lots of balloons. In addition – and this is the best part – the time between the two birthdays (known as Chol HaMoed) can be used to buy yourself gifts—in theory anyway. It’s never actually worked out that way for me. But a girl can dream.

My birthday, both Hebrew and Facebook, always falls during the holiday season of Tishrei. As a kid in the old country (where only one birthday was celebrated – a reason to make aliyah if ever there was one), my special day was often overlooked because my mother was always busy overcooking for the hordes who came to eat her sumptuous holiday meals. (I’m not bitter.)

Now that I’m all grown up (or so I’m told) with a family of my own, we don’t make much of an ado about birthdays: A computer-generated card, chocolate cake adorned with gummy candies, off-key renditions of Happy Birthday to you (you look like a monkey, and you smell like one too) and other ditties left over from kindergarten, and that’s about it. We’re not much into presents because a) we never seem to be organized enough to find the time to buy a relevant gift, and giving the stuff bought years ago ‘just in case we need a present’ doesn’t always work (how many teddy bears does a 15-year-old boy need?), b) we feed and clothe the kid all year. S/He should be giving us presents, c) we’re lazy, and d) we’re cheap.

Special birthdays like 12/13, 18, or 21 get nice presents. (The present at 21 is hearsay – I haven’t turned 21 yet, cough……) However, the cakes and songs are all repeated at the end of the birthday Chol HaMoed period, which is good for those who missed out on the first time around because of being in the army. Sort of like Moed Bet in University.

When the kids were in nursery school, oftentimes they would have three cakes in a year; two on their birthdays, and one in school. I never did understand that quaint custom of bringing cake to school, which seemed to last all the way through 12 grades. Not only was valuable teaching/learning time wasted on eating cake, but I had to bake one. How rude is that? I remember one year in kindergarden, one of my kids, I can’t remember which, shared his party with another kid. Both the other mother and I had to bring a cake. Mine was the usual chocolate cake with chocolate icing and sprinkles (gummy candies were only for home consumption) and hers was a white cake (who knew that birthday cake came in white?) in the shape of a spaceship, with green and brown and pink and red icing. Of course, all the little kids went for the spaceship cake – how cool is that! – which, unfortunately, tasted as if she had left bits of the original spaceship in it. So mine got eaten up with none to take home, and hers was left in the plates. Oh dear.

But I digress.

This year, my Hebrew birthday came before the Facebook one. And I was sick that day. It was minor, but enough to put me in a terrible, depressed mood. I also forgot it was my birthday. I had fallen asleep on the living room couch watching TV (which has really nothing to do with not feeling well) when my son tiptoed in and out of the house carrying a bottle of oil. It was then I remembered it was my birthday. Anytime my kids are doing something suspicious like sneaking out of the house with a bottle of oil, it’s either because they are doing a ‘science project’ (yeah, right) or it’s my birthday. School has barely started, so I knew it was my birthday.

All I wanted to do was sleep. And these pesky kids were UPTOSOMETHING. I stormed off to the father of the pesky kids. “Tell them all to go away. I have to sleep. I’m sick. Doesn’t anybody care about me?”

Obediently, he did just that, and I went to sleep in my own bed.

Only later did I discover to what lengths the kids had gone to surprise me on my birthday. One had baked a cake. One had peeled vegetables. One had stolen oil. Two had even come home from their yeshivot –in the middle of the Ten Days of Awe between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, high season in yeshivaland – to surprise me. And one had invited other family members and then canceled the whole thing when I turned out to be a no-show.

In the end, they all just went out for Shwarma, which was just fine by them (and me).

Now, I’m all better. My Facebook birthday (this year) is after the hoopla of all the holidays. My Chol HaMoed is almost over. I didn’t get much of a chance to party because of all the holidays, and my kids will have all scattered by the big day.

I just thought of something. If you have two birthdays, does that make you twice as old? Maybe I’ll just go get some Shwarma.

This was first published in the Tiems of Israel

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