Thursday, December 13, 2007
Orthodox Judaism dictates belief in a single God—a God whose oneness transcends any unity we can conceive of; whose omniscience is undisputed; whose incorporeality puts Him beyond the scope of our imaginations. Yet we attempt to have a relationship with this God—because we wish it and because we believe that He wishes it. And so we try, futile as it may be, to figure out what He wants us to do on a daily basis, to turn to Him for answers.
The problem is this: as humans we are so limited, our perspectives so narrow—is it really God we relate to, or merely our own personal conception of Him? As limited humans, we know only ourselves. We relate to others, but we can never really enter into anyone’s consciousness but our own. As Rav Soloveitchik explains in his essay Confrontation: “Each [person] exists in a singular manner, completely absorbed in his individual awareness which is egocentric and exclusive. The sun of existence rises with the birth of one's self awareness and sets with its termination. It is beyond the experiential power of an individual to visualize an existence preceding or following his.”
Because we are so innately self-centered, it naturally follows that our view of God is affected by our own personal outlook and biases. The way I view God differs from the way you view Him, because I view the world differently than you do. Even two people within the same sub-sub-group of Orthodox Judaism will not view God in the same way, because each person is, inescapably, an individual.
I was speaking to a few friends the other day, remembering the ways in which we used to picture God when we were very young. We were all brought up with the idea of one God who knew everything, we were probably taught very similar things in school—yet the differences between the ways we conceived of Him were easily discerned. One friend remembered thinking of a tall, Rabbinic looking figure with a long white beard. Another friend simply visualized a large, magnificent throne to pray to. And yet another (slightly odd) friend imagined a giant cucumber in the sky (no, I’m not kidding). Personally, I don’t remember creating a visual image, but no doubt I had my own unique ideas nevertheless.
In children, these differences are obvious, because they conceive of God in a very physical way. We can easily recognize the contrasts between the various pictures we drew in our minds. As mature adults, though, are we so different? Perhaps we are no longer thinking of old men or thrones or cucumbers, but we do imagine a God that fits with our own personal ideas. Is He a friend to confide secrets to, or a stern taskmaster who punishes? A regal king or a familiar father? Theologically we’d probably answer “all of the above,” but when we talk to Him, who are we really talking to?
This presents a serious danger. If everyone has a tailor-made God, where is the line between God and self? When I talk to Hashem, who is to say that in reality I am not merely talking to myself? This is a frightening thought. If I have created God in my own image, then what do I have, really? I have an imagined relationship with something of my own creation, not with the true King. Yet, is this an avoidable phenomenon? It is truly a dilemma, and one that I think we all must recognize.
It occurred to me that is this issue that makes the prescribed words of tefillah so important. Many people (including myself) are often frustrated by the repetitiveness of tefillah--the same words, three times a day, over and over and over. Where is the originality? Where is the individuality? How is one supposed to feel anything when we are forced to endlessly repeat? As valid as these concerns are, individualized prayer presents a hazard that is even more pressing. Without a prescribed formula for prayer, people would simply tailor their words to their own personal God, and could very soon lose sight of the greater concept of God entirely. The words of tefillah force us to think of God in a certain way, reminding us of true ideas about God, preventing us from praying to a God wholly of our own imagination and conception. Though it does not eliminate the philosophical dilemma entirely, by any means, it is one tool that the system provides in order to help us grapple with this complex issue.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
A few weeks ago, someone asked me a question which put me in a similar position. I gave my own answer, but I’d be interested to hear some other perspectives. The situation is this:
If you had the choice between being mekareiv 10,000 people who will then be “frum” to a normal halachic standard, or being mekareiv one person who will go on to become the gadol hador—which would you choose?
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Amazingly Awesome Things I have Done In the Past Few Weeks:
I am not a New Yorker, nor do I ever plan to be one. Though this is my third year living in NYC for college, I do not plan to stay here long—certainly not long-term. Yet, as much as I may complain about the New York area and Manhattan in specific, sometimes living in the city is amazing. In the past I’ve sometimes tended to get caught up in school and school-related things and not get out as much as I should. This year, I am happy to report, I have been doing a better job of exploring and experiencing New York. As follows, a brief guide/summary of some of the attractions I’ve discovered in my current city of residence.
Times Square -- though it is one of the most well-known tourist sites in New York, there is so much to see and do that it’s exciting to go back again and again even for those of us who live just a few blocks away. Some things to see in Times Square:
- Toys “R” Us – this store may be known to in-towners as nothing but a trite date-site, but really it is much more. Yes, it’s a great place to spy on shidduch dates, if that’s one of your hobbies (“Oooh, that one’s not going well, look at how her arms are crossed—I guess she’s not a fan of Ninja Turtles”; “They’ve for sure been dating a while, they look totally comfortable together”; “No matter how many we see, I still think a black hat and suit look strange in a toy store”), but it’s also a terrific spot to go with friends. One upside of going with an all-female group is the ability to spend extended amounts of time in the Barbie section without having to deal with a male feeling his masculinity challenged by an overload of pink. Seriously though, for those of us who are still on good terms with the 7-year-old inside us, it is always a ton of fun.
- The M&M Store, The Hershey’s Store – the former is much bigger (three floors) and carries anything you could ever want or need—all emblazoned with the M&M logo or pictures of the various M&Ms from the ads. They also carry M&M candies in more colors than you could have ever imagined. You won’t necessarily buy anything there, but it’s fun to look. The latter is much smaller, and in my mind a bit overrated. It doesn’t really sell much but chocolate—but then again, there’s nothing wrong with chocolate. :)
- Dale and Thomas Popcorn, aka Popcorn Indiana – carries popcorn in all sorts of flavours, including cheddar, kettle corn, barbeque, chocolate caramel, and white chocolate peanut butter—and it’s all kosher! My personal favourite is the kettle corn, which is the only flavour of which I am able to consume large amounts at a time. The ones with chocolate are amazing, but so rich that it’s hard to have more than a little. The popcorn costs little more than Starbucks, but is much yummier. I’m a fan.
- Broadway Shows – I am a huge fan of musicals, and Broadway shows, though often quite costly, generally provide an experience exciting enough to talk about for weeks. There are various methods of obtaining tickets for less, some of which I’ve found more effective than others. TKTS, in my experience, won’t offer tickets cheaper than can be bought at the box office, but will usually give better seats for the same price. Student rush tickets are available for some shows, or if you’re feeling lucky, many shows have a lottery for $20-25 front row seats. Take, for example, Wicked—one of my favourite shows ever. Long-time devotees of this blog may recall that I saw it in London, but of course that isn’t the same as seeing it on Broadway. Before today, I had twice entered the lottery and left empty handed. Today, however, I entered…and won! My friend and I paid $26.25 each and sat in the second row! We were so close that I could see Galinda’s zits hidden under seven layers of cover up. It was awesome, to say the least.
Pylones Stores -- never heard of them? Neither have most people—but trust me, they are incredible. Pylones makes accessories, furniture, kitchen appliances, keychains—all in bright, shiny, funky prints and shapes. They have three stores in the city; I recently discovered the one in Soho. The picture on the left will give you an idea of the kind of place it is. ‘Nuff said.
Poet’s House Reading Room – ok, so my Writing Children’s Lit teacher forced me to go. But it was cool anyway! A small room on the second floor of 72 Spring Street houses shelves and shelves of books and a quiet reading/writing area. And the door is yellow. I read an awesome children’s book there (Plum, by Tony Mitton, illustrated by Mary Grand Pre). But they are moving locations very soon, so it won’t be the same long.
Fish’s Eddy – another random store I discovered on a trek to Barnes and Noble; proprietor of such items as the “Heroes of the Torah” glass set, featuring pictures of Rabbis with generic Jewish names that neither I nor my friend had ever heard of—we are convinced they made them up. They also had colorful mottled dishware and plastic reusable straws with stripes and polka dots. I like bright colors.
The Great Children’s Read – you can’t go to this anytime soon, because it happened already this year. On the quad of Columbia University, children’s authors and performers gathered to read aloud, answer questions, and express their love of books and writing. I saw Julie Andrews. In real life. Proof on the left. I nearly passed out. And I saw a lot of other fun people/things too. Go next year.
The Staten Island Ferry – it’s a ferry, and it’s free, so why not? It’s better when it’s not so cold outside, but if you’re willing to brave a little wind you can get a great view of the city and the Statue of Liberty. And did I mention it’s free?
Midnight Runs to Duane Reade – “a drug store??” you ask, “that’s supposed to be fun??” And I answer: yes! 24-hour Duane Reades are awesome. Walking to Duane Reade with your friends at one am is a party in and of itself. And once there, there is no limit to what you can discover. Like laundry detergent. And chocolate. Ok, whatever, don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it.
Getting Ready for Shabbos Aboard the LIRR – admittedly, it takes a very specific set of circumstances, and a very special type of person, but it is an exhilarating experience. When you’ve missed the train you meant to take and then missed your back-up train, you aren’t left with many other options. The experience includes the classic one-handed makeup maneuver (the other hand holds the mini-mirror), and if you’re really brave you can do the train-bathroom-hair-ironing-trick (no, I didn’t do it, but my friend did…and I have the picture to prove it).
Bonus: Anywhere you go in the city, keep your eyes and ears open for interesting sights and dialogue. Example: in Toys “R” Us today I saw a group of be-payised, bearded, bekeshe-clad Chassidim posing with a bin full of bright red stuffed Elmo dolls while a young Chassidish girl took a picture. I coyly took out my cell phone and snapped one of my own. :) And eavesdropping (a necessity of life, for a writer) in the city is always sure to yield lots of colorful dialogue.
Of course, I also love ice skating in Bryant Park and Rockefeller Center, and looking at the holiday windows at Macy’s and Lord and Taylor, and lots of other things too…but really this entry was meant to record only those things I’ve done recently, because I didn’t want it to get too long. Oh. Right. Well. Ahem.
Sooo…that’s it for now, folks. Wherever you live, get out there and enjoy it!
This message brought to you by Adventurous People Promoting Life and Excitement (APPLE) and the Committee of Procrastination (COP)
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Until now, that is. Almost entirely inadvertently, I’ve found out what it feels like to lose myself in my writing, to be consumed by it. Last night, I decided to try something new. I was inspired to attempt a writing style that is extremely ambitious and different than my norm. For once, instead of waiting ‘til the urge passed, as I usually do (because I am lazy or decide that I should be focusing on dull school essays instead), I went with the instinct and started to write. And wrote and wrote. I had to come up for air occasionally, pacing around my room (or rather, taking the two steps between my desk and the door repeatedly—my room isn’t exactly spacious) and reminding myself of the world I’m really in. But then I’d submerge myself again, back into my writing.
When I stopped, I had only written two single-spaced pages, not a tremendous output for several hours of work—but those pages are so different than anything I’ve ever written that I’m proud. They very well may be lousy, and probably are, but they represent a step outside of my comfort zone and a pursuit of my passion.
Then, the whole rest of the evening, night, and now morning I have been distracted by thoughts of my story—words to change, things to add, where to take it next. My real life issues seem far away, in the background, while only my story occupies the forefront of my mind. And I think that’s amazing! If I learn how to channel this skill, not only will I be able to worry less about the things that trouble me, but I will also end up writing a lot more. And that is important, because it’s going to take a huge amount of practice and discipline if I ever want to get good at this.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Yesterday, I reached a very important milestone.
Those who know me are aware that there are many things I can do--but driving is not one of them. I didn't get my license until I was 19, after failing the driving test once--and I'm convinced the second tester only gave it to me out of pity. However, my father tells me I should consider myself lucky: my grandmother failed the test four times, my father failed it three...so really, to continue the pattern, I should have had to fail it twice before passing. In any case, even after I obtained the coveted piece of plastic (with a shockingly decent picture!), my independence was still incomplete. Though I mastered driving in my tranquil suburban neighborhood, I was still utterly petrified of driving on the freeway. With my mother in the passenger's seat, I would occasionally take the wheel on short drives, for practice, but even those excursions were extremely nerve-wracking. The fact that I have no (and I mean literally ZERO) sense of direction doesn't help matters. Heck, I still have trouble telling the difference between left and right (seriously).
So now I've had my license for over a year, and though I've made a few solo freeway drives (requiring about 45 seconds of freeway each), I've never gone farther than that. My lack of transportation independence has aggravated my friends for years, since it means that if they ever want to see me they have to make the half hour drive to my house, and I rarely pay a return call (my parents are anti-kid schlepping).
So last night, when I told my mom that I wanted to go to the 'hood to see my friends, and she unexpectedly said, "Ok, take the car," my reaction was less than tranquil. I knew that this day would come, and I wanted it to, but that didn't make it any less terrifying. In contemplation of the drive before me, I nearly burst into tears. I envisioned myself getting into various accidents--even if miraculously I didn't end up in the hospital, at least I would damage the car and incur my father's wrath.
I wavered back and forth. Should I do it? Though my timid side urged me to give up the crazy scheme and succumb to passivity (as I do far too often), another part of me refused. "No!" it said. "There comes a time for a girl to act...and that time is now. You need to learn not to be afraid. Grow up, dude!" So, hoping that giving this side of me some exercise would help me be strong in other areas, I steeled myself for the task, grabbed the keys, and got in the car.
And I made it. All in once piece. And so did the car! True, it took me a while to figure out how to work the windshield wipers (did I mention that it was raining?), and yes, my freeway lane change was less than ideal, but I didn't get pulled over, and no one even made any obscene hand gestures (though, of course, this isn't NYC).
At my friend's house, her parents were even more excited than I was about my newfound skill. After all, it means that she no longer has to abscond with their cars to come see me all the time. Later that night, my brother was dropped off in the 'hood after an NCSY event, so I got to experience a new dimension of driving: the teenage boy as passenger. Though my brother is no driver (he's only 15), his presence and the knowledge that I had already done it once before made the drive home far easier than the drive there--despite the fact that it was nighttime, and despite the music blasting. (When I drove by myself I turned off the music, realizing that it was only a distraction...though that didn't really help much, because I just ended up singing to myself anyway.) With my brother egging me on, I hit 70 on the way home...and loved it.
When we arrived back home triumphantly, my parents awaited to hear about the disasters that had occurred on the drive--but there were none to report! Hoorah for me!
My next challenge: learn how to read a map.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Well, the weather outside is frightful, and it looks like my family and I have a good chance of being rained out of our Sukkah once again this year. Our Sukkah is up, merely waiting to be decorated, and I'm trying desperately to get all my school assignments done before the chag so that I'm not even tempted to work over chol hamoed.
This past Sunday was the one year anniversary of the creation of this blog. Happy (two days late) birthday to it! Last year I wrote two Sukkos-relevant posts which nobody read, since this blog did not yet have an audience. Therefore, I have decided that to post links to them here.
The first post was about chol hamoed--a brief summary of some laws I hadn't really known before.
The second was my thoughts on the reasons for the arbah minim.
Enjoy and Chag Sameach!
Friday, September 21, 2007
One thought on Yom Kippur, that I heard from Rabbi Hanoch Teller during my year in Israel: people often complain that it is impossible to focus on tefillah while fasting. How are we supposed to concentrate our thoughts to heaven if our stomachs are rumbling? Rabbi Teller counters: haven't you ever been reading, and been so engrossed in the book that the hours fly by, until you finish, only to realize that your neck is sore, that it is 3:00 am, and that you are super hungry? (I, for one, know that this has happened to me.) It is possible to get so engrossed in a task that everything else gets shut out, even basic physical concerns. If we were able to immerse ourselves entirely in our tefillos, we would not even notice our hunger. Though very few people are actually on that level, even I have experienced it to some degree, if only for moments instead of hours. So on Yom Kippur, when my stomach starts to distract me, I redouble my efforts to focus on what I am saying, on what weighs in the balance and what I am asking for.
I wish everyone a gmar chasimah tova--may your tefilos be answered, and may we all be sealed for another year of life and happiness.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
If I had three wishes, my first wish would be that my life was a musical and we’d just randomly burst into song all the time. Like my life would have a soundtrack. That would be so cool.
My second wish would be that whatever I wanted to buy I’d reach into my pocket and always pull out exact change.
(in a rather bored tone) And my third wish would be something for the good of humanity. Like moshiach or something.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Two shabboses ago was shabbos sheva brachot, and there was a meal for the families and close friends of both the chatan and kallah—nearly 100 people—at a hotel on Friday night. Then on shabbos day the families ate separately. Those of us on the chatan’s side had lunch at his family’s house, where they fit forty people into their living room/dining room. One table was designated for the “under 25” constituent, and midway into lunch a heated debate began at our table. The chatan and his family moved to
As I watched, however, it occurred to me that as heated as the debate seemed to be, it was a very healthy phenomenon. The arguers were members of the same family. They are very close, they love one another, and yet they disagree passionately. When my uncle began singing zmiros loudly their argument was interrupted, and within a minute everyone was singing together as if the debate had never occurred. This drove home the point to me.
The ability to hear a perspective disparate from one’s own, to argue, to debate, and yet to love one another is a beautiful thing and extremely important. This ability comes naturally when dealing with one’s close family, but if only we could extend it to all of klall Yisrael, the world would be a much better place. Really, all Jews are family, and as much as we may disagree, we should listen to one another, hear a new perspective, and unite in the end, conscious and secure in our mutual affection despite—and because of—our differences.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
On the most basic level, the phrase implies that the answer given is the only answer to the question (by saying “the answer is…” instead of “Rashi’s answer is…” or “Rav Willig answers that…”). Saying “the answer” is a sort of conceit—and also, to me, comes off as uneducated.
When teaching a child Torah, it is common (and understandable) to pose a simple question, and then to give one answer as the answer. I remember learning this way in fourth grade, and being so proud to show off my knowledge to my parents. I had a question, and I knew the answer. Period. Children see things only in black and white—they cannot grasp the idea that there could be more than one correct answer.
Adults, however, understand the existence of multiple answers to Torah questions. The concept of shivim panim l’Torah is a fundamental component of our system. It is only those with some degree of intellectual sophistication who can understand that life is comprised mainly of shades of gray—and that Torah reflects this in the multiplicity of its perspectives. This idea is manifested throughout the entire system of Orthodoxy. It allows one to understand that there are many different valid derachim within halachic Judaism, and prevents belief in one’s own way to the exclusion of every other.
Religious fanaticism is the easy way out. It’s much easier to believe that there is only one right way, and that everyone else is wrong. It makes life simpler. It is also a childish and dangerous way of seeing the world. The basis for so much of what we believe rests in the idea that there can be more than one right answer.
Though “And the answer is…” seems but a harmless phrase, its philosophical ramifications are more complex and far-reaching than one might originally surmise. Though I don’t assume that anyone who uses that phrase has serious philosophical issues (since I understand that yes, it is only a phrase, and I shouldn’t read into it too much), the idea that it implies is deeply problematic.
Friday, July 13, 2007
I am an English major. English has always been my subject, and I have always excelled in it. I used to walk into an English class confident that I would do well, that the teacher would see my work and immediately approve. And this was always the case—until Dr. Schwebel’s class. She was the first English professor who truly challenged me without making me resentful. While other teachers would occasionally find fault with something I wrote, I usually felt the criticism to be subjective and nitpicky. Dr. Schwebel asked more of me than anyone else ever had---and the most difficult part was that I knew her criticism was justified. She could simultaneously laud my writing style and point out inexcusable errors in my analysis. Though I was sometimes frustrated, I knew she was right, and she got me to push myself in a way that no other teacher had.
I didn’t know her well—I was only her student for a single semester. Yet, in a way I knew her intimately. Twice a week for over four months I listened to her, watched her, noted her funky wardrobe. In every day of her class her unique personality shone through. She made Beowulf relevant. She compared Shakespeare and Donne to modern day love ballads. She was the only person I ever met who could use the word “oogy” and still sound intelligent. She was one of the most brilliant teachers I have ever had, yet she never condescended or talked over our heads. Her passion for what she taught was unmatched. Her passion for life was astounding. She was one of the most vibrant, zany people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
And she was so nice. She was always up for a chat, if only to exchange a few words after class. I would hang back when class ended, even if I had nothing to say, just to hear her speak to my friend (who also worshipped her). When I had a question about how to improve my essay, I knew I could write her an email and expect a lengthy response within a day. At her Survey of English Lit I final, when I couldn't think of an answer, one I knew I knew, I asked her about it, and she was so sympathetic to my memory block, yet utterly refused to give me any hint. I couldn’t come up with the answer, but I did well on the final anyway. A few weeks after school ended, after I had seen my grade in her class (and been pleasantly shocked), I wrote her to ask about my final essay. I wanted to know what she thought of it, since I had written more drafts for it than any other essay I had ever composed—and because I had done so in a fervent attempt to meet her incredibly high standards. She responded with an amazingly detailed breakdown of everything that was done well, as well as what could be improved in my paper. Her suggestions were typically insightful, and her praise generous. Her appreciation for what I had written meant that much more to me because of the hard work I had put in to deserve it.
The tragedy of her passing has hurt and confused me. How could this happen? I wasn’t done learning from her. And still, I am not done learning from her. Remembering her, I know I will push myself harder and expect more from myself than I did before. Those lucky enough to have had an instructor like her will understand how a teacher who has pushed you to improve really feels like a friend. The impact she has had on my life will reach far beyond the single semester I was privileged to know her.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
[Btw, if there is interest in a .]
And now, without further ado, the “Eight Things About Me” meme that has already tagged every single blogger I read:
1. I don’t have pierced ears, but I do have an earring fetish—I buy pierced earrings and convert them into clips. I therefore own an obscene number of colorful and funky earrings, and they make me happy.
2. Sometimes I pretend that I’m British. I love their accents--a lot. Two of my very close friends are British. I’ve been to
3. I am an English Literature major and believe strongly in the ability of fiction to help us better understand and appreciate the world that we live in and the people in it. That said, my own favourite thing to write is creative non-fiction (for those of you who don’t know, that basically means stories about real life, non-fiction that reads like fiction—but it also includes descriptions of interesting people and places, no plot required, and personal essays).
4. Call me naïve, but I am a sucker for happy endings. Though I appreciate and value many books that are sad, I can’t bring myself to like them. I figure that real life is difficult enough—why depress myself for fun and recreation? I also won’t watch sad movies (though I rarely watch movies anyway). And I absolutely cannot stand watching violence. Even the slightest amount literally makes me ill. Give me Happily Ever After every time, please, thanks.
5. I have an unhealthy obsession with ice cream. It is my weakness. Especially ice cream that contains chocolate in some form. Vanilla just isn’t worth it. And while ice cream alone is good (as long as I’m not sad), ice cream with a friend (or many!) is seventeen times better.
6. When I am sad, I don’t eat.
7. The older I get, the more I love and appreciate my family, especially my parents.
8. My two recurring nightmares are:
- I’m supposed to be somewhere important, but instead I’m in my room, unable to find anything suitable to wear. I comb through my closet, but nothing in it fits me nicely or looks good. As the minutes pass, and I get later and later for the event, I grow frantic, throwing clothes around in a frenzy. I wake up incredibly stressed out.
- My house is infested with bugs of some kind, or mice, or lizards, etc. They are everywhere I turn, and no one but me seems concerned about it. I shriek a lot, and desperately search for somewhere to go that will be infestation-free. I wake up feeling covered in crawly things, and let out a huge sigh of relief when I discover it was only a dream.
Since pretty much everyone I read has been tagged, I shall simply issue a general invitation to do this meme if you'd like--consider yourself tagged by me!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
This afternoon, I fled the madness of Stern in finals season (see below, if you haven’t yet) to my favorite NY haven…Central Park. I love Central Park. I could write hundreds of posts about Central Park. There will probably be future posts about Central Park. But tonight I have a hard final that I haven’t studied for yet (again, see below) and therefore I will limit my words.
I went there today with three of my close friends, ostensibly to study in the park, though of course I knew better. We plunked ourselves down on the sun-dappled grass under the shade of a large tree and took out our notebooks. The grass was patchy, and we hadn’t brought a sheet, and thus I was shortly covered in dirt, weird plant thingies, and teeny tiny little bright red bugs that crawled across my notes uninvited. I tried not to think about where else they might be crawling.
After finding an attempt to read my notes unsuccessful (surprise!), I couldn’t resist lying down on my back and staring up at the sunlight streaming through the spring green leaves and branches of the tree high above me. The beauty of that spectacle was literally breathtaking. I gazed into the vast canopy above me, and felt the hard earth under my head. Now let me tell you, I am certainly no hippie-nature-girl, but at that moment, I communed with nature. It was actually stunning. I could have stayed like that for hours.
Then I tried to study again. My friends and I, however, were shortly distracted once more by a couple a few yards down the slope on which we camped. This couple was horizontal, and they were engaged in, well, let’s just say…they weren’t quite shomer negiah. My friends and I did our best to ignore them, but 10, 15, 30 minutes later, when they were still similarly employed, it started to grate on our sensitivities, and we couldn’t help but brainstorm imaginative ways to remedy the situation. We could walk up to them and say, “Hope we’re not interrupting anything…but would you mind taking a picture for us?” Or walk by and discreetly cough, “Get a room! Ahem! Get a room!” Or surround them in a ring and sing the shomer negiah song. This last option was shortly ruled out, however, because of kol isha issues.
Eventually, we realized that it was getting late, and if we didn’t leave soon we’d miss the mad rush to dinner at the caf and be left utterly foodless, as we were two nights ago. Stern really needs to learn how to order food during finals. Having hundreds of burned-out-from-studying-Jewish-girls, who stagger into the caf hoping for sustenance to get them through another loooong night of memorizing obscure information, to find that the only remaining food is a few semi-stale bagels and low-fat kugels…well, let’s just say, I feared for my life. I’ve never seen so many people in such a collective bad mood. But I digress…
We picked up camp and walked through the park in the direction of the subway station. Those who have been to Central Park will know that lining the main walkway of the park lurk myriad caricature and portrait artists seeking customers. As testaments to their skills, they display samples of their work, depictions of celebrities of all sorts. (Never mind that they probably spent hours doing those, while the one they will draw of you will take 15 minutes, and therefore will not look remotely like the samples, nor in all likelihood, remotely like you. Trust me, I know from experience.)
We sardined ourselves onto the packed subway and finally arrived at our destination—in time, you will be glad to hear, for me to procure a piece of slimy chicken, some mediocre french fries, and a cup of utterly flat cherry coke. Gotta love caf food. Anyway, that was my afternoon.
Wow, I can’t help but a feel a little bit like friend and fellow blogger, Chana, who can’t seem to restrain herself from writing incredibly lengthy posts, and who happened to record a slightly similar park experience just a few weeks ago. Hmm.
Other notes on life…
On the subway earlier this morning, a family (mom, dad, pre-pubescent son) sat down near me. The father was clad in a peach polo shirt and khaki shorts displaying hairy legs, and also sported a large gray mustache. These people were tourists. How do I know? When someone all the way across the subway car sneezed, I was abruptly awakened from my half-doze when the father said loudly, “Bless you!” My first thought was, “What? You just don’t do that. Who does that?” I mean, it was a little weird. The sneezer wasn’t even in our line of vision! But after that immediate reaction, I smiled to myself. Ah, how I love out-of-towners. And from now on, I resolve to bless subway sneezers!
And…graduations make me tear up—even if I’m not graduating, and even if I don’t know the people graduating. Something about seeing all the relatives there, beaming with pride, cameras in hand, makes me emotional. It’s nice, in a funny way. Though transitions from one stage to another are always interesting, achieving a goal is something to be proud of. It’s good to take some time simply to be glad before having to move on to whatever challenges lie ahead. So hooray for my grads, and mazal tov!
Now I should probably start studying for my final…
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Finals time comes twice each year
And suddenly Stern girls appear
Laden with notebooks and textbooks and more
Dressed in sweatshirts and skirts to the floor
To sit in the library, the hallway, their rooms
And take a break from seeking out grooms
To read over notes and pore over tomes
With occasional shrieks, exclamations, and groans
But I find my strategy far more compelling
Even though my mind on tests should be dwelling
I instead surf the web, make lists of things to do
Feed cravings with sugar, and observe what ensues
Distract my roommates with accents and antics
Sing random songs till I’ve turned my friends frantic
When they get fed up, I make use of my phone
And good ol’ google chat means I’m never alone
But when I start to think about cleaning my room
I know that I’m desperate, so I put down the broom
I can put off no longer, the time is now here
The time that I’ve so long awaited with fear
With head hanging low I realize with sorrow
It’s two am, and my final is tomorrow
I sit myself down, prop eyes open with hooks
And finally think about hitting the books
But it never lasts long, cuz my head soon starts falling
I know that sound well: it’s my warm, soft bed calling
And when morning arrives I jolt out of sleep
To find I hit snooze seven times and heard nary a beep!
So now I’ve awoken an hour later than planned
I dress, daven, and dash, notes in my hand
I arrive out of breath, and plop down in my chair
Take out my pencil, pull back my hair
But before I begin, in my customary way,
I talk to myself, and this is what I say:
You shall now take this test, and though it shall be graded
Worry not, cuz you know A’s are way overrated!
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
As everyone knows, there are many perspectives on how to treat Yom Haatzmaut. Will you go to a chagiga with live music? Will you be reciting Hallel? Will you have a seudah? Opinions on this topic tend to be impassioned, and with good reason: we are dealing with a very important issue.
I give full credence to the validity of more than one position on how to celebrate the day. However, there is one thing I do not understand. I do not understand those people who decide to “play it safe” and therefore end up doing nothing.
The question is as follows: is Israel a gift from Hashem to the Jewish people or not?
Satmar (for example) takes a clear stand on this issue: the State of Israel is an evil thing, and therefore it is appropriate to mourn on this day. Or if you are someone who thinks that the State has nothing to do with Hashem, then you very well may ignore the day completely, and that would be consistent.
If, however, you believe that Israel is a gift from Hakadosh Baruch Hu, then it is your obligation to do something to recognize this fact.
Perhaps you don’t feel comfortable going to a chagiga with live music during the omer? Fine, gather together some like-minded friends and have a kumzitz. Your rabbi paskens not to say hallel? So say some prakim of Tehillim. Listen to a shiur online. Eat a seudah. These are things that people can do without worrying about breaking the minhag of mourning during sefirah, without worrying about brachot levatalah.
I find that all too commonly people will say, “No, I’m not going to the program/chagiga tonight because of the tefillah chagigit and the live music,” and then instead, they simply do nothing. If you believe that Hashem gave us Israel, that there were nissim, that we are incredibly blessed to have our own state in Eretz Yisrael (despite its very imperfect government), then it is wrong not to thank Hashem, not to acknowledge His gifts, His blessings, His miracles.
Have a Yom Haatzmaut sameach, in whatever way you choose to celebrate!
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I have lived a perfect life, a life entirely free from intense suffering. Sure, I have known people—young people, good people—who have suffered from terrible diseases, from impossible hardship. But these people have not been the people closest to me, so these tragedies have not touched me in the most personal way. My faith is strong—but who am I to talk, I whose faith has never been tested?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking for a test. I’m not asking for a tragedy, chas v’shalom. But I fear. I have lived a life without trial, yet I am imperfect. If, given every gift that Hashem can possibly offer, I still am unable to serve Him perfectly (in fact, far from it), where would I be if something terrible happened?
And that’s where the Holocaust books come in. My whole life, I never read any (with the exception of Elie Wiesel’s Night, which I had to read for school). My philosophy, right or wrong, has always been: why make yourself sad on purpose? Besides, I am extremely squeamish, and the details of Holocaust tales have always been too much for me to handle.
Now, a junior in college, one of my classes has required me to read a book called The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn. The author tells his own tale, a man searching for the stories of six of his ancestors who were killed by the Nazis. He travels from the Ukraine, to Australia, to Israel, seeking out his history. His saga is interspersed with comparisons to stories in Sefer Bereishit, as elucidated by Rashi and a modern commentator named Friedman. The author himself is not Orthodox—he was brought up vaguely Reform, and although since then he has ‘discovered’ much of his heritage, the impression I have gotten is that he still takes a secular approach to the validity of the Torah. The book is long, 500 pages, and I am only halfway through. Though it is slow reading, I have, for the most part, enjoyed its intricate rambling and frequent keen insights.
But reading about some of the horrors of the Holocaust, and only just the horrors that occurred to the population of a tiny town called Bolechow, has also frightened me immensely. Reading the book for long periods of time, I feel sucked into a world I am afraid of. The way that Hashem allowed people, Jewish people, religious people, to be treated makes me forget, momentarily, that He is just. When I hear that the Rabbis suffered most—how a Rabbi, his eyes cut out, was forced to dance naked with a woman for the officers’ amusement, I wonder—how? Why?
Yes, I had heard about the evils of the Holocaust before. I had heard of the slaughter, but rarely in such vivid detail. Six million is not just a number. Six million are people, each with an individual story. When I hear the story of a single death I am sickened—multiply that horror by six million, and what happens? I cannot even fathom it.
And that, that is why I do not read Holocaust books. Because yes, it is important to be aware of our history. Yes, it is bad to close your eyes to reality. But I am not as strong as I should be. Hashem has not tested my faith, He has not put me in their shoes. Maybe, in a tough situation, I’d find my hidden strength. I’d like to think I would. But their tests are not mine, and reading about them will not make them mine—it will only confuse me.
As a close friend said, “I’d rather not shred myself up into little tiny pieces just to see if the pieces can come back together when I close the book.”
Friday, March 30, 2007
Right now, I am home for the weekend, before my family jet-sets to sunny LA for Pesach on Monday. Though it is not overly warm here, the sun shines, and outside my window our cherry tree is covered with small pink blossoms. On a personal note, I lately completed a project that had been occupying the majority of my time for a while, and am embarking on another new beginning even more exciting than the last.
Pesach also signifies a new beginning for the Jewish People. It marks our emergence as a nation, our departure from slavery into freedom—an entirely new start filled with endless possibility.
A close friend of mine always uses Pesach as an opportunity for reflection. Before Pesach she creates her own mini-Yom Kippur, a midyear checkpoint, and examines her progress over the year, noting areas that could use improvement. I think this is a fantastic idea, as anytime is a good time for introspection. But to me, a Pesach checkup feels different than an Elul one. During Elul, resolutions (for me anyway) are mainly marked by regret and sense of inadequacy. However, now it is springtime. The season itself inspires hope, and my self-reflection is infused with a feeling of endless possibility and optimism. It is a time of new beginnings, and no task is too great to achieve.
So this Pesach, I wish you all a chag kasher v'sameach, a chag in which we all embrace the season, leap at a new start, and remember that we each have the potential to reach our highest goals. Have a spectabulous Pesach, everyone!
So this Pesach, I wish you all a chag kasher v'sameach, a chag in which we all embrace the season, leap at a new start, and remember that we each have the potential to reach our highest goals. Have a spectabulous Pesach, everyone!
Sunday, February 25, 2007
In addition to blog-related topics of conversation, we had quite a few other deep and fascinating (and lengthy) discussions. One of these related to whether it is necessary to acknowledge the validity of approaches that conflict with our own, and whether by doing so one is crushing youthful idealism.
I shall not even attempt to recap the majority of the conversation, but for me, the bottom line was that it is absolutely imperative to try to understand the point of view of those with whom we disagree, for two main reasons. One is that, though idealism is wonderful, it is impractical to refuse to see how the world functions (even if you disagree with the methods by which it does). Idealists are the only ones who will ever be able to affect change, and if they stay in lala land and never open their eyes to the real world and to points of view that differ from their own, how are they going to do anything? If you simply say “the other side is garbage” and dismiss it, no one will listen to anything you have to say. You need to understand the other side in order to argue against it.
Furthermore…and I think even more importantly...it is crucial to understand that there is another perspective. That even though you may disagree with that perspective, it is an approach. It is valid. People who hold that approach are valid, and it is not right to harbor dislike and animosity towards them. We have to understand them in order to love them, to promote ahavas Yisroel. For me, this is the bottom line. Love your fellow Jew. The End.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
But, despite all this, I couldn’t resist a brief reunion with my blog. I shall now recount an interesting experience from my very exciting and eventful weekend. My high school flew me home to be an advisor on their shabbaton, and placed me as the only authority figure in a bunk with nine 8th graders. Many fascinating, illuminating, and amusing events occurred over those two days, but I shall only tell you about one right now.
Once upon a time…
I was the only advisor on my bus to the campsite where the shabbaton was to take place. Picture this: I am sitting in the front of the bus. Smack in the middle of the 1.5 hour bus ride, I hear shrieks from behind me. I turn around, and see chaos erupting in the back of the bus. A Junior girl runs up the aisle to me and exclaims, panicked: “The back of the bus is filling up with smoke!” I look, and observe this to be true. And the smoke smells like burning rubber. Uh-oh. Not good.
Everyone in the back of the bus has gotten up, and most of them are panicking. The remainder are slightly amused. Two girls decide to alert the bus driver to the situation. They tell him rapidly and in high pitched voices about the disconcerting situation. His very apt and intelligent response is:
An elderly gentleman, it appears he is somewhat deaf. Eventually, he is so besieged by panicking students that he declares, exasperated,
“I’m pulling over!”
He does so, and gets up to see what the matter is. Observing the copious smoke, he gets out of the bus and examines it from the outside. He returns, and informs us,
“We’re overheating like crazy! We’re going to have to switch to a new bus.”
At which point he returns to his seat and resumes driving.
The students, meanwhile, involve themselves in wondering why we are now careening merrily down the freeway as the smoke continues to billow forth, call their parents and inform them that our bus is on fire, and speculate as to whether the bus will explode. I decide that someone should tell a real authority figure about the situation. So I call one of the Rabbis in charge. I tell him:
“The back of our bus is filling up with smoke, and we will probably have to switch busses.”
The sympathetic and useful response from this esteemed educator? “Hahahahahahahahahahaha!”
Right. Eventually, we pull over once again. On an on-ramp. To the freeway. (No, don’t ask me why we stopped there. I have no idea.) Soon we see another bus on the horizon, wending its jolly way toward our still smoking vehicle. It pulls in front of our bus and stops. The kids eagerly get up and fill the aisle, awaiting their exit from our bus (whose air is now as clouded as that of an unsavory bowling alley). Our driver bellows at everyone to sit down, as we must wait patiently as the two drivers transfer all our luggage from the old bus to the new one. We sit.
Eventually, we are told that the kids may leave the bus, slowly, and in single file, since we are, after all, sitting on an on-ramp as cars whiz past. I, however, am asked to remain behind, to assure that everyone gets off safely, and that all the luggage is transferred. The bus empties, and I stand in front of the open bus door, staying as close as possible to the bus in order to avoid being hit by a speeding semi-truck. Another five minutes pass as the driver moves duffels and sleeping bags to the new bus. I stand outside alone, waiting, and every few seconds peeking anxiously into the bottom of the bus to see how much luggage remains to be moved. Finally, he is done. I verify that everything has been transferred, thank the kindly driver of the rescue bus, and board the new bus, where, thank G-d, my kids are handling everything just fine. (Luckily, most of the kids on my bus were older, and not as rambunctious—if I had had freshman boys, I do not know what I would have done.) The driver starts the bus, and the rest of our ride is blissfully uneventful. The same, however, could not be said of the rest of the shabbaton (cue ominous music)…
Sunday, January 21, 2007
People/Places/Things I saw in London (by category):
- Tower of London (where lots of people were tortured and died, before which they carved some pretty depressing ancient graffiti on the walls)
- The Crown Jewels (talk about shiny…makes Stern girls’ engagement rings look paltry and cheap--and that’s saying something)
- Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace (during which, to my bafflement, the Royal Band, bearskin hats and all, played a medley of Gershwin—a good American composer)
- Covent Garden (upscale shopping area, where we also saw a pretty good string quartet playing famous classical pieces in an open square…while very adeptly guilt-tripping observers into giving money)
- Leicester Square (lots of theatres, yet nothing like Broadway)
- Trafalgar Square (which contains a lot of famous stuff, like huge stone lions and Nelson’s Column, about which my ever-useful friend knew absolutely no history—but at least I can say I’ve seen it, even if I don’t know why it’s important)
- The National Gallery (from the outside only)
- Camden Town (a little like Greenwich Village, English style)
- The Tate Modern Museum (which was hosting a really cool exhibit that consisted of huge twisty metal tube slides that came down from each of the 5 floors, and which visitors could ride for free! We went down the one from the fourth floor, and it was well worth the visit.)
- Waterloo Bridge (great view of the city)
- UCL (University College London—not really a tourist site, but I was there nevertheless, and even attended a statistics lab without being asked whether I was actually a student there or not)
- The Tube (aka the underground—Mind the Gap!)
- 2 high schools
- 2 shuls
- R’ Tatz
- R’ Sheinberg
- One women’s learning program (organized by my friend)
- Extensive tours of Hendon and Golders Green
Just Plain Fun:
- Wicked (with British accents, for half the price of tickets in NY—what could possibly have been better????)
- Kasamba (‘nuff said)
- My friends’ families (English people are lovely!)
- A clip of an Iraqi TV talk show with subtitles (I wish I knew the link…but take my word for it, it was one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my entire life)
Things to know before going to England:
- They drive on the other side of the road! (I knew this, but it wasn’t on my mind when I got there…so the taxi driver looked perplexed when I tried to get in on the wrong side, and I narrowly avoided getting hit by cars several times after not knowing which direction to look when crossing the street).
- When they speak about “green men” they are not referring to extraterrestrials, but to the lights at crosswalks. (That took me a while.)
- There are no hechshers on food there…so if you anticipate getting hungry, you better pick up a Kosher Food Guide first…or carry an English friend around with you wherever you go. Also, learn some terminology or you could be very confused (crisps, biscuits, etc.).
- Things are more expensive there. Period. In order to avoid extreme frustration, pretend the pounds are dollars.
And there you have it, folks: SJ's guide to London! Now in (sort of) the same vein, it's time for me to head back to good ol' Survey of English Lit reading...fun fun!
Sunday, January 07, 2007
This weekend, my aunt and uncle and two little girl cousins who live two states away came to visit us for the first time since my brother’s Bar Mitzvah 1.5 years ago. I had the most loveliest time playing with my 4 and a half year old and 2 year old cousins. I wish I could record all the cute things they said and did, but there were far too many to count. This afternoon, a family friend and her kids came over to play as well…she has a boy who is 6, a girl who is nearly 4, and a 14 month old drop-dead gorgeous baby (and twins on the way!). With all the kids around, I felt like I had died and gone to baby heaven! Mmmm, delicious! I was so tempted to hide one in my suitcase and take it to
Before my family left for the airport just a few minutes ago, my 4.5 year old cousin came over to me and announced with a grave face that she’d miss me a lot. She then asked her Daddy for her phone number, which she recited to me, telling me to call her whenever I miss her.
Why is she so delicious?? I want one!!
Anyway, all the company just left for the airport or their house, respectively, and now my house is quiet once more...and I have to start packing for London! Since I shall be away until next Sunday night, it is likely that you won't hear from me over the coming week...so I hope you have a wonderful week--I know I shall! Toodles!
Anyway, all the company just left for the airport or their house, respectively, and now my house is quiet once more...and I have to start packing for London! Since I shall be away until next Sunday night, it is likely that you won't hear from me over the coming week...so I hope you have a wonderful week--I know I shall! Toodles!
Thursday, January 04, 2007
What brings me to visit our stuffy old cousins over there, you ask? Well, first off, I will take great offense to your slanderous appellation—who says English people are stuffy? They have rollicking good fun over there! (I love Brits!) And then I will answer your question—I am going purely for pleasure, which, after all, is the only reason to go anywhere (how Oscar Wilde-ish of me). I have always wanted to pay it a visit, and now life (and my parents) have finally afforded me the opportunity to do so! Not to mention that two of my very favourite people in the world happen to hail from the neighborhood (and that’s not even including Kasamba, one of my very favourite bloggers out there, who, incidentally, is not originally from England anyway!). I shall be imposing upon the hospitality of these two wonderful lovely incredible young ladies, who I was privileged to meet during my (not so) long ago days in sem in the Holy Land, and shall be forcing them not only to endure my company, but to show me around their fair city! I can’t wait!
Of course, the thing that excites me most is the prospect of being entirely surrounded by people with fantastic accents! In fact, I plan to come back with one myself (a fantastic accent, not a person). After all, I’ve always considered myself English at heart…my English friends tell me that I certainly don’t sound like most of the other vulgar Americans with their horrid accents, and I am a fan of Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse, and I’m quite accustomed to gray, drizzly weather (though I wouldn’t eat Marmite if you paid me, and I don’t drink tea…but disregard those piddling facts for now).
So, you ask yourself, when is this girl going to stop blabbing and leave already? Ha! Well, I’m afraid you are not so lucky, my friend…I’m not leaving till Sunday night! All this is just preparation! Because I am psyched! And what else is a blog for but to vent one’s thoughts and feelings, hmmm?? So, with that deep philosophic question to ponder, I will bid you farewell for now, for I have visiting relatives shortly to descend upon the house. However, worry not, for I shall return!
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
I am personally a huge fan of bright colors, and usually wear nothing else (orange being my personal favorite). However, there are situations where I will think twice before donning an eye-catching sartorial hue. While I don’t believe that wearing red is inherently abhorrent and untznius, if the color of your clothing will cause others to look at you askance, you do run into a tznius dilemma. The bottom line is that if your clothes draw undue attention to your appearance, then they are not tzenua. For the most part, in today’s world, wearing red or any other bright color will not call more attention to oneself than wearing black or blue. However, to a certain extent, I believe that tznius can be relative. What I would wear to class is different than what I would wear on a visit to Meah Shearim (that’s an extreme example, but even in less extreme cases I would think twice). There are places where wearing red will make people stare, and if people stare, that is not tzenua. So while I don’t believe that wearing red is the equivalent of wearing a tight-fitting tank top (which indisputably calls attention to your body, no matter where you are), I do believe in following the minhag hamakom and not causing yourself to stand out. And if the minhag hamakom is too difficult to keep—then perhaps that makom is not the place for you.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
With finals finally behind me, I am home once again, and, as usual, a little bored. Today it is rainy and stormy and pouring and gray...which doesn't really help improve the state of one's spirits. But as I sat here bemoaning the uncooperative weather, I remembered something I wrote for an assignment back in ninth grade, so long ago. I went back to my files and looked it up, and since it cheered me up, I figured I would share it with you, in hopes that it might also help anyone else experiencing the rainy day blues.
So here it is, my descriptive paragraph of days of yore:
There is nothing that gives me more of a sense of comfort than a rainy day. The rhythmic patter of the rain on the roof has a hypnotic quality. Sitting in front of a blazing fire, I feel its warmth as the flames make patterns on the wall. They are shadows, leaping up and down in a harmonious, never-ending dance. I hold a steaming cup of hot chocolate in my hands, and as I sip it, my tongue is filled with the taste of its warm, rich, sweetness. I swallow, and it soothes and calms me. I sit curled up on the sofa, and pick up a good book. I eagerly turn the pages, and as I lose myself in tales of strange lands and people I will never meet, I know that I am free from harm, safe and secure, warm in my house. Outside, the rain gets harder and beats mercilessly against the windowpanes. But it does not affect me because I am sheltered, protected, comfortable. The sound of the rain does not wane, and soon I can no longer keep my eyes open. As I fall asleep, a deep sense of satisfaction and happiness envelops me. Home is bliss, on a cold, rainy winter’s day.