Monday, October 30, 2006

Kol Sasson V'Kol Simcha

This weekend I went home for a wedding. Leaving school smack in the middle of midterms: not a good idea. I missed three tests. Count ‘em—THREE. Yeeeah. However, despite the mess that I am in now that I have returned, the weekend was super duper incredible. The wedding was that of a very close family friend—a 36 year old baal teshuva whose new kallah is a 33 year old baalas teshuva. Both of them are amazing people, and have been searching for their beshert for a long time. There were a lot of things about the weekend and the whole experience of the wedding that I found truly inspiring:

1) The wedding was simple by today’s standards. The couple didn’t have a big budget, so a group of close friends pitched in and really took over many of the important details. My mom was in charge of the flowers and decorating (since there was no florist), among other things. Though I wasn’t around for most of the planning, once I was home, I was included in the mad rush to make the wedding a success. It was amazing to see how everyone in the community rallied around the chassan and kallah. The wedding was such a community effort, with everyone contributing and participating to make the wedding beautiful. This was expressed this most clearly to me when, after the shabbos kallah, the overwhelmed kallah asked if the women who were still there (her closest friends and family) could chip in and help her say sefer tehillim. It is a minhag for the kallah to say it on her wedding day, but our kallah simply needed help. So we all volunteered and split up sefer tehillim between us, each woman taking as many as she could handle, depending on her time constraints and level of skill in Hebrew. It really made it so clear that we were all pieces of one whole, as we all shared in the kallah’s experience and her joy.

2) The wedding was in the chosson’s hometown (which is also my hometown), so the kallah’s friends and family all had to be put up at different people’s houses in the community. On Friday night a family in the community hosted dinner for the 35 out-of-town visitors and their hosts. We were there, and I had the opportunity to meet the kallah’s side. It was so lovely to meet so many new people, every one of whom was so incredibly nice and friendly. Both the chassan and kallah have hashkafically diverse families and backgrounds, so at the wedding, there were all different types of people—from Aish, Chabad, Modern Orthodox, non-religious, even Breslav—and everyone got along so well, and joined in together to be mesameach the chassan and kallah. Though unfortunately the Jewish community often has problems of sectionalism and a lack of unity, an experience like this weekend reminds me how beautiful it is when Jews are united.

3) Since the chassan and kallah are both baalei teshuva, many of their friends are as well. I met and spoke to so many amazing baalei teshuva this weekend, and meeting them just gives me hope for the future of klall Yisrael. I am so awed and inspired by people who have come to yahadus later in their lives and embraced it with hearts so full that the enthusiasm and joy that Torah brings to their lives simply overflows. I have so much respect for them, and just being around them and hearing their stories makes me so incredibly happy.

4) The chassan and kallah themselves. I’ve known the chassan for years, so his uniqueness is already old news to me (though he’s also great)—but the kallah, who just came into our lives a few months ago, is one of my new favorite people in the world. She is amazing. About a month and a half before the wedding, she was getting ready to move from her old city to her new city (the chassan’s hometown). She had all her possessions packed in a U-Haul truck, ready to be moved. She left the truck, locked, in front of her apartment while she went to spend shabbos away, and when she came back, the truck had been stolen. The kallah lost all her physical possessions in the world. I cannot even imagine handling a catastrophe like that, but the kallah did, with grace and a positive attitude. I can’t even fathom it. Plus, she is just so warm and knows exactly what to say to each person to make him/her feel appreciated and special. Anyone who knows me will know that I am not the type to say something like this, but…that girl just has the most beautiful neshama. She’s truly incredible, and I am so so happy for her and her chassan and wish them the happiest, most wonderful life together. (Sniff, sniff, ok, wipe away my tears)

Anyway, the wedding came off beautifully, the chassan and kallah were glowing, and we were all going out of our heads with joy. The weekend was a wonderful experience, and it made me appreciate my home and my community all the more. Hoorah! But now I’m back, and it’s time to return to the drudge of school and midterms. So off I go…drudge, drudge, drudge…

Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Yorkers: To Bash or Not to Bash?

Last week, over on Ezzie's Blog there was some discussion of the issue of “New York bashing.” As a proud out-of-towner, I must admit that I am guilty of possessing some negative stereotypes about certain NY Jews and their attitude. However, I acquired these stereotypes based on real-life experience, and of course I don’t apply them across the board. The truth is that before I went to Israel for a year after high school, I had practically never met a New Yorker in my life. It was only then that my eyes were opened with a vengeance to the concept of in-town vs. out-of-town. I quickly found out firsthand about some of the issues with the stereotypically “New York” mentality. When I started going to school in NY the following year, I found out even more. No one will deny that the differences between being a Jew in-town and out-of-town are plentiful. I’m not going to discuss the pros and cons of these differences here, but I will weigh in on the appropriate time, place, and way to point out flaws within certain segments of the Jewish community in New York.

My final disclaimer is this: I am close friends with a ton of in-towners, whom I love to pieces, and many of whom display none of the negative stereotypical characteristics of in-towners. There are far too many Jews in this area to make a generalization about any group—inevitably, every group has an infinite number of variations within it. If you are a New Yorker reading this, it should in no way be taken as a personal attack. It is very possible that you are among the New Yorkers who are as well-mannered, considerate, and sensitive as any out-of-towner could ever hope to be. That said, it must be acknowledged that, unfortunately, there are many New Yorkers who do not share your attitude. Any negativity is directed solely at those who display behaviors that merit it. Ok, now to what I wanted to say:

The bottom line is this: Orthodox Jews need as much good publicity as they can get. If I was to write an article for a non-Jewish publication, I would never ever write about problems with pushy NY Jews. Instead, I would write about positive examples of Orthodox Judaism. And if a non-frum person or a non-Jew out-of-town said something negative to me about New Yorky Orthodox Jews, I would respond with an adamant defense, and tell the person that that’s not the case at all. I would say that the problems the person encountered were probably the result of the hectic NYC mentality, which affects Jews and non-Jews alike, and is not a problem unique to the Jewish community. If the person persisted, and cited examples, I would say that it is unfortunate that he/she had encountered people like that, but that the majority of Orthodox Jews in New York are not like that, and that those people, who should indeed change their ways, are exceptions and not the rule.

However, I think it entirely appropriate to discuss problems with the mentality and actions of certain NY Jews in a private setting. If there is no discussion of these issues, then the problems will only be propagated and ignored, and we are all at risk of falling into the same kind of behavior. As someone who lives in NY (temporarily), I am, of course, prone to the possibility of acting in the ways that so disturb me. By talking about the issues that undeniably exist among certain populations of NY Jews, I attempt to keep myself and those who hear what I have to say away from those behaviors. There is a delicate balance between speaking out to correct behaviors when needed and perpetrating sinas chinam. However, the fact that it is tricky does not mean that we must keep entirely silent about the problems we see. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and no Jew should feel content to merely sit back and watch the amount of chillul Hashem that sometimes occurs. As frum Jews, we are all responsible for one another, and the actions of any one of us affects the image of the entire group. We need to offer mussar in whatever way we deem will be most effective--but without being overly harsh or allowing personal bitterness to infiltrate our reaction.

A friend from NY pointed out that sometimes we out-of-towners don’t realize that what we say may be offensive to NYers—that our flippant comments may often be insensitive. I think that we should always be conscious, and avoid making comments purely out of annoyance or spite. Yet, when necessary, we should offer tochacha in whatever way we think may actually get the message across and keep people from acting that way again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Lesson in Appreciation

This year, Hashem is teaching me to appreciate things I usually take for granted.

At the beginning of the year I got sick and lost my voice entirely, for nearly a week. That week was incredibly agonizing—I had never thought about how important it is to have a voice. Not only was I practically isolated because I couldn’t carry on a normal conversation with anyone, but I couldn’t sing—which may not sound like such a big deal to you, but to me, it made all the difference. I sing all the time (when there are no men around, of course), and when I sing, I am happy. Sitting in kabbalat Shabbat that Friday night, unable to elicit even a squeak to contribute to lecha dodi, I panicked. What would I do if my voice didn’t come back? How could I ever survive? Thank God, I was well again a few days later, with a renewed appreciation for the ability to speak and sing.

On Rosh Hashanah I stubbed my toe really hard on the way back from tashlich (don’t know what that says about whether I was successful in throwing away my sins, but that’s another story). I was in pain for the rest of the day, and during the next couple days I couldn’t walk without a limp. I realized then what a bracha it is just to be able to walk, run, and skip.

Yesterday morning I went to my laptop to check my email, as I do first thing every morning (being the internet addict that I am), and found that my internet wasn’t working. That afternoon when I came back from class it still wasn’t working. I called Verizon, and after trying things for about 20 minutes, the customer service representative told me that he couldn’t help me but that they’d work on fixing the problem as soon as possible. Only this afternoon was I finally re-connected. Having no internet connection yesterday made me extremely nervous and frustrated. Every time that I clicked on the Internet Explorer icon and my Yahoo homepage failed to appear I wondered why I didn’t appreciate my internet connection when I had it. Not having the ability to check my email every 5 minutes, to read the blogs I read, to check onlysimchas, etc. really threw me off. Not to mention that in this age of technology the majority of my homework requires the internet in one form or another to complete. It may sound a little silly, but when my internet was finally restored I thanked Hashem from the bottom of my heart.

This year, I hope to be a more thankful person in general. Hashem gives me so many gifts every day, and the very least I can do is appreciate them. I really do believe that thanking Him every day for those things I take for granted will not only make me love Hashem more, but will make me a happier person as well.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Back to School

Today I successfully traveled from my home-sweet-home all the way back to the excellent educational institution which serves as my diras arai. It is very nice to be back among my (always entertaining) roommates and esteemed colleagues, but I am rather dreading the inevitable return to homework and class and stress (compounded by upcoming midterms and the scads of extracurriculars in which I am involved this year). Nevertheless, I am glad glad glad to be here. However, I must warn that this likely heralds an era of neglect of my dear blog--though it is also quite possible that I will find that I am already too attached to my new friend to let go so soon. We shall see. Anyway, detested Spanish homework awaits, so I must run. Farewell for now!

Friday, October 13, 2006

What is the purpose of taking the arbah minim?

Over the course of this week, I, like my fellow Jews all over the world, have been dutifully shaking my palm fronds and citron each day. But as I was doing so, I felt that something was lacking. I realized that I didn’t know what to be thinking about while performing this somewhat strange commandment. I mean, when I sit in the sukkah I know exactly what I should be thinking: I should be focusing on commemorating our experience in the midbar, and recognizing human vulnerability and God’s protection. When I hear shofar, I know what I should be thinking: wake up, do teshuva. When I drink four cups of wine: I am demonstrating my freedom, freedom given us by our miraculous redemption from Egypt. Lighting Chanukah candles: miracle of the oil. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I realized that shaking the lulav and etrog is the only holiday-related mitzvah (that I can think of) that really has no immediately apparent reason. Of course, I know the ideas from Chazal about the arbah minim representing different parts of the human body, or four different types of people—but neither of those feels to me like a solid, concrete explanation for why we are performing this strange ritual.

I was discussing this issue with a very wise friend, and we came upon an insight that has really helped me understand this mitzvah better. (I have no outside source for this, so feel free to correct me if something is inaccurate or, if you know of one, to cite a real source to back this up.)

If you read the yehi ratzon that is said before bensching lulav (printed in the Artscroll siddur), it describes the act of taking the four species as a means of bringing together the four letters of Hashem’s name “in perfect unity.” (Kabbalah identifies each of the arbah minim with one of the letters of Hashem’s name). This explanation of the mitzvah is similar to the other two already mentioned, in that all three are based on the idea of unification. This indicates that, in whatever sense, this is the underlying purpose of taking the lulav and etrog—the bringing together of different components to form one unified whole.

This is also an important part of the theme of the holiday of Sukkot. Hashem’s protection in the midbar was an experience shared by all the Jews together, as a unified whole. The holiday itself equalizes people, bringing everyone out of our respective mansions or houses or apartments into pretty much equal huts. Also, according to Zechariah (14:16-19) in the time of moshiach Sukkot will bring an even more expanded type of unity, as it will become a universal festival, where even the goyim will come to Yerushalayim to worship Hashem.

The holiday of Sukkot is all about unity, and the lulav and etrog express that idea—bringing different components together—whether they represent the letters of Hashem’s name, parts of the human body, or types of people in the world.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


A friend remarked to me today that my blog looks incredibly frum--every post so far has been about something purely God-related. So, in order to bust that impression, I am now writing a post of a different sort. Actually, that's not why I'm writing this--I would love to have a supershtark blog. But I'm in a bit of a mood, so I decided to just talk a little, and let some of my often-strange personality shine through in an all-new blog post of randomness.

I am currently working on a short story for my creative writing class (as I have been and will be for the rest of the semester--my crazy teacher assigns a new story every week). I am having particular trouble with this one though. I have started about five different stories, but have yet to come up with an actual plot line for any of them. One of my various beginnings has even developed into the majority of a story, except that I am still lacking an ending. The only problem now is that a story without a good ending is not a story. It is a pet peeve of mine to read stories by amateurs which, though they may contain vivid description and characterization, often end in a vague or abrupt manner. Come on Dude, where's my ending? I want resolution! I want a feeling of completion, of satisfaction! I want a pint of ice cream! (Ok, I won't insist that you provide that last part.) I definitely relate to the temptation to trail off with a vague "And no one has heard of him since" or "And then she saw it, and knew that she would never be the same" or "He heard a thud, followed by a silence as eerie as the ending of this story" but I know that I do my readers a disservice if I don't provide them with a concrete, well thought out ending. So I keep thinking, and I keep coming up with new plot twists to lengthen the story, but still no clever conclusion crosses my cranium (I like alliteration, btw). Ah well, there is no rest for the striving artist.

I guess I just need to relax a little, to get the creative juices flowing...for some reason I feel like I didn't breathe much today. Though that might have had something to do with the dress I was wearing. True Story: I was sitting at my computer a few hours after I woke up, when I suddenly started getting sharp pains in my lower ribs. I thought it was rather weird, and didn't know what was going on--but then I figured it out. I untied the sash of the funky brown dress I was wearing and *poof* the pain disappeared and I found myself able to breathe again. Yeah, I know, how dumb am I? But really it was strange because I hadn't even tied it that tightly! Makes me really feel bad for my olden-day sisters--I can't even imagine what it was like to wear a corset. Ouch.

Last random thing: I was typing an email about how an engaged friend of my family is going to a fitting for her wedding dress and I looked up and realized that I had capitalized the word Wedding. As a grammar geek, I believe that the way we use words reveals a lot about who we are. It occurred to me that my typo accurately reflects the importance that all things marriage-related assume for an (almost) twenty year old girl in today's Orthodox Jewish society. But I really can justify having weddings (or Weddings) on the brain--my ex-roommate just got engaged yesterday. Mazal Tov!

Alright, time to call it quits for the evening. Over and out!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Chol Hamoed: More Than Meets the Eye

My whole life I was raised with the erroneous mentality that chol hamoed is practically like chol—the only difference being that you must eat in a sukkah (on chol hamoed Sukkos) or may not eat chametz (on chol hamoed Pesach). This year, I decided to try to rectify my mistaken impression of these “intermediary days.” I took out my trusty kitzur Mishna Berurah and read through all the halachot of chol hamoed. The only problem was that, though the kitzur is terrific, it tends to focus on more ancient situations in halacha, which are hard to apply to the modern day. So I did a bit more research—I asked a knowledgeable friend (who also had access to a very useful book on the topic) and I looked up some things online (gotta love using the internet for a higher purpose). Although I’m not going to attempt to replicate all my findings, I just thought I’d mention a few practical things that I discovered.

1. You are supposed to dress nicely and eat special foods (ideally both a night meal and a day meal of bread) in order to clearly distinguish the days from chol

2. You can’t do laundry on chol hamoed.

3. You really are not supposed to write on chol hamoed, if at all possible (this refers to writing by hand). If you have to write, you should try to do it with a shinui (for example, making your letters incomplete, or writing with your left hand, if you’re a righty). However, you may write down something without a shinui if it is something that you will otherwise forget (examples in the Mishna Berurah: monetary accounts, or a “chidush” originated by you or another that you might otherwise forget)

4. Typing is generally considered “maaseh hedyot”—not a specialized action—and is therefore permitted (hoorah!)

I would recommend that anyone who is as ignorant as I was in this topic should do further research. There is a lot more to it than I ever knew.

In conclusion, the Gemara Yerushalmi indicates that the prohibitions of melacha on chol hamoed were instituted in order to give us more time to focus on Torah learning during these days. Chol hamoed is supposed to be sanctified chol—it is an example of the important Jewish concept of raising up chol and making it kadosh. Therefore, even if we find ways to get around most of these prohibitions, it is important that we do our best to fulfill this purpose. May the next few days provide an example for how to imbue chol with kedusha, and may they be filled with learning and joy in Zman Simchasenu!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Has this happened to anyone else?

Only four days after Yom Kippur, I did something that I had resolved wouldn’t happen again (in this case, I’m talking about a ben adam l’chavero). When I resolved not to do it again, I really meant it. I really wanted it never to happen. But a part of me sort of knew it would, no matter how hard I tried (like when we all resolve never to speak another word of Lashon Hara, and mean it, yet know that we’ll probably slip up again at some point). But I didn’t think I’d mess up again so soon! I just have this sunken feeling, like I really let myself down (as well as the other person involved). How I am supposed to get back that confidence I had in myself? The belief that I really could improve, that I really would avoid the pitfalls of last year? Though what I did wasn’t a HUGE deal by the world’s standards perhaps, it meant a lot to me, and has really made me feel discouraged. I have an inclination to just hate myself for this, but I also know that that is not a productive attitude—in order to change, I have to believe that I am a strong enough person to change, that I really have it in me. It’s Erev Sukkot, and already I feel like I don’t have a clean slate. I don’t want to go into the chag feeling like this. I guess this is an attempt to improve my state of mind by expressing myself. Even though I fell down, I can get up again, and I will. I will resolve anew, and daven that both Hashem and the person I hurt will forgive my mistake, yet again. To anyone else who might be in a similar situation: don’t give up on yourself—just try again, and try harder! May the New Year bring continued growth and perseverance in the face of all challenges!

Ack Yom Tov is in two hours! What am I doing here? I’ve got to run! Chag Sameach!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


For obvious reasons, this topic has been cropping up a lot lately. Though Yom Kippur is over, some random thoughts about teshuva:

I had a discussion over shabbos about the hardest part of teshuva. We concluded that the hardest part is also one of the most integral components of ensuring that the chayt doesn’t occur again. When a person sins, it is usually not merely for the thrill of sinning, not done simply to rebel against G-d (if it is, you have a much bigger problem). Usually, a sin is done because a person believes that it will benefit him in some way. For example, you steal an i-pod because you want to enjoy use of that i-pod. Or, you embarrass your friend because in some way that makes you feel superior. So the issue is this: how do you retroactively get rid of the pleasure that you got from your sin? How do you force yourself to realize that in reality you did not benefit at all—that in fact, you lost exponentially more than you gained? Though you may have returned the i-pod or apologized to your friend, you still have a memory of the enjoyment that you got from the sin. How do you change that memory from a pleasant one to one that repulses you at the very thought? If a person is successful in this area, I think it is virtually certain that the sin will not occur again, because it means that he has realized that there is nothing to gain from the sin, and everything to lose. But unfortunately, it is really hard to do. Any suggestions about how to accomplish this feat?

This topic also leads in to another discussion that I had on shabbos at the residence of a very illustrious j-blogger (who I was privileged to finally meet properly). The question was raised: would it be a good thing if, as part of the teshuva process, the memory of your sin would be erased? After confessing your sin and thoroughly regretting it, all memory that the sin occurred would disappear. On one hand, this would be a solution to the problem I described above—if you have no memory of the sin, you can’t remember the pleasure you got from it. Yet, I argued that overall it would not be a good thing. If you have no recollection of your sin and your consequent regret, what’s to keep you from repeating your mistake? The fact that you sinned in a specific area must mean that you have a yetzer hara for that sin—that for some reason you are compelled to do it. The thing that will keep you from doing it again is the memory that you tried it, and then realized how wrong it was—and that it was eminently not worth it. Without memory, you have no experience to learn from, so you will just keep falling into the same traps.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Halachic Dilemma

The time: a.m., the very morning after Yom Kippur

The Players: me: the college girl home for the chagim; my mom: about to leave for the gym

The Facts: My mom asks me before she leaves to answer the phone while she is gone, because she is expecting a call from the pool guy about an appointment to fix our leaking pool. I readily agree, eager for the easy opportunity to do a mitzvah.

The Dilemma: Having just woken up a few minutes before she left, I start davening once she is gone. I am in the midst of pesukei d'zimra, and then...the phone rings--dum dum dum! I am hit by a wave of confusion: I know that I am not allowed to speak in the middle of pesukei d'zimra, but then again, I have a mitzvah of kibud eim to take into consideration!

What would you do?


Hooray, I've finally joined the blogosphere! But I must offer a disclaimer: I am now home for the chagim, and therefore I have free time. When I am back in school, free time is virtually non-existent--this semester is my busiest ever. Therefore, I make no promises about posting consistently. When I have the time and the inclination, you may see something new. When I don't, you'll just have to survive somehow.

I hope this is as much fun as everyone makes it look!