Thursday, March 31, 2005

Passed Over before Passover

If the title sounds familiar, it's because I borrowed it from my Wednesday, December 08, 2004 post, "Passed Over on Chanukah (Oy, Chanukah)."

Here we go again.

I've been temping. for the same organization on and off since late 2001. But, instead of hiring me to replace the assistant whose position I've been filling for several months, who is, apparently, not returning from maternity leave, they're bringing in a different temp. to fill that position and reassigning me to work on a special project for a different boss. This is the second time that *this* boss has passed me over for a permanent, full-time position. (Another boss, as I mentioned in my December post, has passed me over *three* times.) They seem bound and determined never to give me a full-time permanent job. Or even a part-time permanent job. I have no office, no boss, no desk, no computer, no work friends (except S___) to call my own.

I'm the office orphan.

I'm like the neighborhood stray. Everyone puts out food, but nobody wants to adopt. Good enough to feed, but not good enough to be taken into anyone's home.

So why do I keep hoping that these people will finally come to their senses and hire me permanently? Well, as Galen the Technomage (from the short-lived Babylon 5 sequel Crusade) so eloquently put it, "There's always hope. It's the one thing they haven't figured out how to kill yet."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Poetic license??!—in which the siddur (prayerbook) contradicts Torah she-bichtav (the Written Law)

This one’s for Naomi Chana (, and anyone else with a good grasp of the history and development of Jewish liturgy.

As I mentioned in a previous post (, I’ve taken to davvening Shacharit (praying the Morning Service) up to the Torah reading at home on Shabbat (Sabbath). This gives me the opportunity to davven at my own ridiculously slow speed and, with luck, to do so with kavannah (intent, focus). It also allows me to recite prayers that I used to skip for lack of time in my vain attempt to keep up with the cantor.

So what’s with this passage from Birkot haShachar (the Morning Blessings)?

"Aval anachnu am’cha . . . zera Yitzchak y’chido . . . adat Yaakov bin’cha b’chirecha . . . But we are your people . . . the seed of Isaac, his (Abraham’s) only son . . . the community of Jacob, Your firstborn son . . .”

Yitzchak is Avraham’s only son? So what’s Yishmael (Ishmael), chopped liver?

Actually, in this case, the Torah shebichtav (Written Law) beat the author of the prayer to the punch by contradicting itself first. In Parshat Vayera, Genesis chapter 22, verse 2, at the beginning of the story of the Akedah (Binding of Isaac), HaShem told Avraham to take his only son and offer him up as a sacrifice. Talk about favoritism, even HaShem can't remember that this guy has two sons.

(For those of us who believe that the Torah had more than one author, methinks the Redactor failed to cover his tracks, for a change. I never cease to be amazed by the amount of evidence left in plain sight that there was more than version of many of the Bible's stories. Didn't this guy understand the concept of invisible seams?)

And since when is Yaakov the firstborn? Okay, maybe you can argue that he’s the firstborn ever since he conned Eisav (Esau) out of his birthright and blessing, but that argument’s a bit iffy, if you ask me.

I find it absolutely fascinating that whoever penned this prayer had absolutely no problem contradicting the Written Torah itself. Apparently, Slifkin’s in good company.

And as long as I’ve scandalized everyone already, what do you mean, “Your firstborn son?” Whose kid is this, anyway?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

“Come and get it?!”

Leaving aside the obvious kashrut problem, is it just me, or does anyone else think that a certain fast-food franchise’s “tender crisp bacon cheddar ranch” commercial borders on softcore porn?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Doubletake: On not judging a book by its cover

A funny thing happened to me on the way past Barnes and Noble. I spotted a DVD of an old TV show—and was startled by what I saw.

Since I’ve already confessed to being a science fiction fan, I’d like to introduce you to one of my all-time favorite comedy scenes from “Babylon 5.”

Captain Sheridan has a brilliant idea, and is so excited that he wakes his first officer up in the middle of the night, then asks his first officer to follow him to the “war room” so that he can explain further. His first officer demurs, being not exactly in uniform at the time. And then, Sheridan says the words that he’ll shortly come to rue: “Sorry I I..hadn’t noticed.”

No man should ever tell a woman that he doesn’t notice she’s wearing only a nightgown and robe.

“What do you mean you didn’t notice? I mean, what am I, chopped flarn? I mean okay..granted, I don’t have any interest in you, you don’t have any interest in me..but if you’re gonna come barging in here in the middle of the night, the least you could say is..”Nice outfit, Ivanova”—and then go on a tear.”

And yet, sometimes, I think that noticing such things can be a disadvantage. In a previous season of Babylon 5, I’d been startled when a “groundpounder”—infantry person—passing through the station on the way to battle, had complimented the security chief behind his back: “Cute butt.” Until she mentioned it, like Sheridan, I hadn’t noticed. I’d been too busy watching Jerry Doyle act to pay attention to how he looked.

I’d often thought that it was just as well that Walter Koenig didn’t play the B5 villain Bester when he was as young and cute as he was back when he played Checkov in Star Trek: The Original Series. It’s amazing how a couple of decades can add to a man’s gravitas. I’d thought that it was simply much easier to take him seriously as an actor when I wasn’t so busy drooling. But then I realized that Ed Wasser, who played another B5 villain, Mr. Morden, was just as handsome as Koenig had been as a much younger man—mind you, he’s not bad looking now, either—and I’d been so caught up in his villainy that, again, I hadn’t noticed.

You can’t plumb the depths unless you can get past the surface. And if the actor’s really good—and the writing and direction are equally good—you may be lucky enough not to notice.

That’s why I did a doubletake when I saw the photo on that DVD. Since my son’s a fan of both the shows in which he’s starred, I’ve been watching the guy in the cover photo on and off for roughly a decade. Maybe it’s just because the cover photo was a shot of him in his previous series, when he was noticeably younger than he is now. But in any case, what surprised me was that I’d literally forgotten that he’s a good-looking guy. I’d been so caught up in the characters he played and plays that it had been a long time since I’d noticed.

Still, I must admit that I spent the rest of the afternoon with a Mona-Lisa smile on my face. After all, as the not-so-old saying goes, “I may be over fifty, but I’m not dead yet.”

Sunday, March 20, 2005

“*Everybody* Must Get ‘Stoned’?!”

It’s a good thing my kid never reads this blog, ‘cause if he knew I was posting this, he’d kill me!

To the few friends who know me in real life and actually read this blog: Please don’t tell your kids, or my son will kill me twice!!

It was our son’s birthday. When I got home from work, I found a cryptic message from him on the answering machine. I waited ‘til the hubby got home from teaching his evening class, and then we called.

“Hi, how are you?”

I’m fine tonight.”

It was an odd answer, but I figured we should deal with the good stuff first, so I started singing “Happy Birthday,” and the Olde Man joined in.

“So what did you call us about?”

It turned out that our son had landed himself in the hospital with a painful, but, fortunately, not life-threatening, health problem the night before his birthday.

Like father, like son. :( But at least the old man had the good sense to wait ‘til he was in his late 50’s.

And here we thought that the only major medical bill we had to worry about was the one for the young man’s next set of hearing aids.

Our son was very upset because he’d missed 2 physics classes, which simply isn’t done. “How are you going to catch up?” “I’m not. I’ll just have to fake it.” From the sound of it, that’s going to be one hell of a trick.

After all the worry we had with him, he finally overcame his various disabilities enough to become a physics major at a mainstream college, and now this happens?! I just hope that this latest problem doesn’t sabotage either his studies or his career.

On raising a child with disabilities, part 10: In which I say that it could have been worse, and dedicate this series

In the long run, we were lucky.

While our son faced quite a number of challenges in his childhood, probably inherited from one side of the family or the other, he also inherited the family tendency to outgrow his disabilities sufficiently to be able to lead a normal life.

And while our son had a list of disabilities as long as your arm, most of them were relatively minor.

Hyperactivity? Maybe. I never had him tested, because I was told that, if he could sit still long enough to have a book read to him, he wasn’t hyperactive. From what I’ve learned since then, this may not necessarily be true. But he was never quite wild enough that we couldn’t handle it, with the usual amount of chasing after him and tearing our hair out. Fortunately, he never needed any of the types of medications that have proven helpful to so many hyperactive children.

A bilateral mild-to-moderate hearing loss? That’s probably the only diagnosis on which there’s never been any disagreement.

Emotional disability? No, but sticking that label on him was the only way to get him the help that he needed, so we swallowed our egos and put up with it.

Learning disability? That’s an interesting question. I think that it would be more accurate to describe him as “learning delayed” than as “learning disabled.” Like yours truly, he didn’t learn to read until third grade—a condition which I describe as “delayed reading readiness”—and like me, he didn’t waste any time catching up. In third grade, he was two years behind what was considered an age-appropriate reading level. By the time he was in fifth grade, he was two years ahead. As for his math skills, I don’t know whether he took after me or after Albert Einstein—like both of us, he had a very difficult time mastering basic arithmetic. But unlike me, he made up for it in spades. If anyone had told me, when he was ten years old and having trouble learning the times tables, that by the time he was twenty, he’d be majoring in physics, I would have thought they were out of their minds. Life is just full of surprises, and occasionally, they’re pleasant ones.

Attention Deficit Disorder? Personally, I never really saw that as one of his problems, but I may have been wrong.

Pervasive Developmental Delays? I once brought some smiles to the faces of the folks on one of his evaluation teams by describing P.D.D. as a catch-all diagnosis for kids whose disabilities aren’t clear-cut enough to be diagnosed as anything else. This diagnosis, such as it is, probably covered the learning delays, the Pragmatic Language Deficit, and the Expressive Spatial Dyssemia combined, though I think the Oppositional Defiant Disorder was probably in a class by itself.

The good news is that our son, like his parents before him, has overcome or outgrown his disabilities enough to join the mainstream.

Having seen the kids in his special-ed school who were in the vocational track or the sheltered-workshop track, and having become acquainted with other children with more serious disabilities, and their parents, I know how fortunate we were, in the long run.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to dedicate this series on raising a child with disabilities:

To Z, whose posts about her autistic son (see inspired me to come out of the closet as the mother of a child with disabilities and write this series, and to her husband, Anthony and the aforementioned son, Evan. Z’s response to my series was to publish a series of her own, “When Something’s Wrong” (see 2.20.2005). If you haven’t already read it, I strongly recommend that you do so.

To all those who read, commented on, and/or linked to this series.

To all the children, and the parents thereof, who went through special ed. with our son, from pre-school all the way through high school.

To all his teachers, assistant teachers, therapists, social workers and/or counselors.

To the evaluation teams, and, especially, to the speech and language pathologist who finally diagnosed our son's Pragmatic Language Deficit.

To the non-profit organizations that helped us.

To the educational evaluator and the lawyer who helped us get him into a state-subsidized special-ed. school.

To the administrators and support staff (office, technical, maintenance, etc.), and to the hard-working parents, local celebrities, and businesses who gave of their time and/or efforts , donated products or services, or just plain opened their checkbooks to raise money for our son's allegedly state-subsidized but outrageously-underfunded school.

To our friends the former secular Yiddishist and his wife (who dragged him, no longer kicking and screaming, into synagogue life when she chose not only him but also Judaism), and to their two kids, who faced challenges when they were younger.

To the Military Man, and to our friends his mom and the-dad-who-raised-him, who’s finally getting his act together after a tough time dealing with his learning difficulties.

To our dear friend Chanah Blumah, who’s still fighting the good fight to ensure that her two young adults get the help that they need.

To my parents, who somehow managed to raise a decent bunch of kids even though I’m reasonably certain that at least two of the four of us, including me, have undiagnosed learning disabilities.

To my husband’s parents, aleihem hashalom (roughly translated, "rest in peace"), who, despite his mother's having had a life-long undiagnosed serious disability of her own, defied the doctors who told them to put their older, hyperactive son into an institution and raised him to the best of their abilities, thus enabling him to graduate college, serve our country, return to college and earn a master’s degree, and, eventually, marry me!

And last, but very far from least, to my brother-in-law, and, especially, to my sister-in-law, one of the most dedicated and loving mothers I have ever known, who fought the good fight to help their son overcome his attention deficit disorder, hyperactive disorder, and learning disabilities, and won many a battle, only to lose the war when their son died of a fatal genetic disease of unknown origin at the same age that our son is now. May their son’s memory be a blessing, and may we and her parents be blessed to see joy in the eyes of their daughter.


On raising a child with disabilities, part 9: Concerning intolerance, or how to make a difficult situation even more so

Why did the woman cross the road?

To get to the other side—because my son was making so much noise.

Roughly 20 years later, I’m still convinced that this was the reason, though I’ve never had any real proof. On the plus side, that means that, at least, that particular woman was kind enough not to say anything to me.

That’s more than I can say for some other people.

I chose the wrong word in my Sunday, February 20, 2005 post, “On raising a child with disabilites, part 3: Oppositional Defiant Disorder—it’s not just for teenagers” when I said,“ How can you complain about behavior that noboby else’s kids are manifesting at that age without people thinking that you’re exagerrating or that it’s all in your head, or having your kid thought of as some kind of weirdo?” “Weirdo” was not the right term.

When our son was a toddler, I used to take him to the local Y’s “Drop-In Center,” a large, toy-filled playspace for babies and toddlers suffering from “cabin fever” during the cold winter months. Unfortunately, one day, we arrived a few minutes before the room became available, and my son was tearing around the lobby, yelling at the top of his lungs, as usual. (This was pre-hearing aids. The hearing aids didn’t help him with his defiant behavior or with his borderline hyperactivity, but it’s amazing how much quieter he got, once he could hear how loud he was. Ahem—back to the subject at hand.) So one older woman turned to another and said, in a voice clearly intended to be loud enough for me to hear, “Now you know why some children grow up to be juvenile delinquents.” Having no desire to take such an insult lying down, I looked her dead in the eye and replied, “If you think I’m doing such a bad job, why don’t you help me?” That shut her up real fast.

But the incident stayed with me. After all, it isn’t every day that a child under three is accused of being a future juvenile delinquent. That’s why, when our son was going through the so-called “latency period” of early elementary school and was supposed to have been relatively easy to handle, I made it a point not to discuss his defiant behavior with anyone whom I didn’t know and trust. The last thing I needed was to have my son branded a juvenile delinquent—again.

There’s precious little tolerance for non-“standard” behavior in children. And even in this so-called “liberated” day and age, most of the blame still falls on that old standby, the mother.

To all the mothers of children with disabilities, and to all the fathers who help support them not only financially, but also emotionally, and who strive to be good parents in their own right, I wish you chazak—strength.


Crystal ball—a look at my future

No Thanks, But No Choice, Either

It’s Thanksgiving, 2004. My sister is here for dinner, as usual. My husband does a quick shave, to make himself presentable for the occasion. My sister has an allergic reaction to his aftershave, and almost has to leave. My husband brings out a cup of tea for himself, and my sister asks him to move it away from her, because she’s having an allergic reaction to the tea’s vapors. We spend half an hour looking for all-cotton sheets so that she can stay overnight, and then she announces that there’s something in the air that’s making her sick and she’ll have to go home. She calls later to tell us that whatever was in the air wasn’t in our apartment. It was coming from something outside on the street—four stories down.

It’s my brother’s turn now; it’ll be my turn later.

Right now, my younger brother, who’s the only one of us kids who lives close enough, is taking care of Mom and Dad. In twenty years, since I’m the only one who lives close enough, I’ll be taking care of our sister.

I can’t honestly say that I’m looking forward to it.

“The Morgue”

It’s Saturday night, March 19, 2005, after Shabbat. I’m in my mid-fifties, my husband’s in his early sixties. Our son, in his early twenties, is away at college. The hubby’s freelancing at the office of a former colleague. I’m here all by my lonesome. I’d love to call someone, but I’m nursing a stomach virus, and I’m afraid I’ll have to make a run for it in the middle of a conversation. I’ve tried watching some figure skating, but I’m too out of it for TV. So I’m sitting here posting my opinions on my favorite televised-science-fiction message boards and catching up on reading the umpteen Jewish blogs on my Favorites list. It’s dead as a doornail in here—you could hear a pin drop.

So this is what it’s going to be like after my husband dies.

And after all my friends are gone, it’ll be even worse.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Nothing to help us pray: Women and the Sh’ma—davvenning in the abstract

In her January 17, 2005 post, “Something to help me pray,” (, FluffyKneidle said, referring to tefillin “I, as a woman, also want that special, special privilege of being able to use G-d given prayer aids. . . . But I’ve been branded a traitor. For wanting to daven better, I’ve be [sic] ridiculed and shunned. Apikores, they’ve called me, Conservative apikores.” Her post has been bothering me ever since.

FluffyKneidle seems to be writing from the perspective of a woman who left, then rejoined, charedi/fervently-Orthodox Judaism. I, on the other, speak as what her friends so delicately describe as a “Conservative apikores (heretic).” But we’re dealing with the same issue from different perspectives.

What’s a woman supposed to do when the Sh’ma says, in no uncertain terms, to bind HaShem’s words on your hand and between your eyes? And when the Sh’ma says that you will see the fringe and remember all HaShem’s mitzot, what’s a woman supposed to look at? Why should we be condemned to pray in the abstract just because we’re female?

Sigh—I asked a question, so now I have to try to answer it.

Chiyuv (obligation):
The rabbis exempted women from most mitzvot (commandments) that must be performed at specific times. But that hasn’t stopped many women from taking upon themselves the obligation to bentsch lulav (say the brachah/blessing over and wave the lulav and etrog), and nobody condemns them for doing so, to the best of my admittedly-limited knowledge. So why should a woman be condemned as an apikorus (heretic) for taking upon herself the obligation to wear tzitzit (ritual fringes on the corners of a garment) and/or to lay tefillin (wear phylacteries)?

Beged Ish (a man’s garment):
The Torah sheBiCh’tav (Written Law) specifically forbids crossdressing. But what does that have to do with this? The Sh’ma says, referring to the ritual fringes on the corners, “Daber el B’nei Yisrael v’amarta alehem v’asu lahem tzitzit al kanfei vigdeihem. . . ,” Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them to make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments . . . “ Of what relevance is it that B’nei Yisrael can be legitimately translated either Children of Israel or Sons of Israel? If we insist that B’nei Yisrael refers only to men, then women don’t have to observe the Sabbath—the text says, after all, “V’shomru V’nei Yisrael et haShabbat . . . “ Would anyone be crazy enough to translate that, “And the Sons of Israel will observe the Sabbath?!” So the fact that the word “B’nei” appears in the quote cannot be used as proof that a tallit (ritual garment bearing fringes on the corners), be it the over-the-clothing or the under-the-clothing (tallit katan) version, is beged ish (a man’s garment). And the quote telling us to bind HaShem’s words on our hands and between our eyes says nothing whatsoever about gender.

Tzniut (Modesty)
Ouch—okay, I’ll admit that there’s a problem with tefillin for those Orthodox women who believe that it’s not tzanua (modest), and, therefore, forbidden, for a woman’s elbows to be visible. I am not aware of any method of laying tefillin that does not require the bayit (“house,” or box housing the parchments) to be placed above the elbow. So any woman who follows this particular interpretation of the laws of tzniut would always have to davven with no males present.

And, last but not least, there’s . . .

The “Looking Over Your Shoulder” problem:
FluffyKneidle’s friends hit the nail right on the head—as with so many issues of how strictly one wishes to interpret the mitzvot, there’s always the problem that anyone perceived of as following a more lenient interpretation is seen as a “Conservative apikores,” a non-Orthodox heretic. Any woman who doesn’t follow the party line concerning tallit and tefillin risks being shunned by her community.

Therefore, no fervently Orthodox woman will ever be able to look at her non-existent tzitzit while she’s reciting the Sh’ma. And I think that’s a shame.
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