Monday, May 30, 2005

Star Wars, Schmar Wars—Our son’s the real deal :)

Our son started out on my favorite televised-science-fiction message boards as the Young Prince (named after the Disney character). When all of us thought that he was going to go into a computer field, he became known there as the Young Tech. After he changed majors in the third academic quarter of his freshman year at college and became a physics major, I renamed him the Young Scientist. Not only is he now majoring in physics, he’s minoring in Japanese (as if he doesn’t have enough studying to do, considering his choice of major). We warned him when he chose physics as his major that he couldn’t rely on either of us for help—personally, I can’t add two and two without a calculator, and the kind of math that’s typically used by a physicist is hardly the same kind of math that’s typically used by a CPA such as his dear old dad. As for his minor in Japanese, my own B.A. is in French, with nine credits of Spanish on the side—when it comes to grammatically-complicated Asian languages with non-Latin alphabets, I have enough trouble with Hebrew.

Here are a couple of stories for your entertainment.

Our son got his first pair of hearing aids when he was only three and a half. He spent several months getting rid of them at every opportunity, throwing them on the floor, stuffing them between the couch pillows, etc. Thank heaven for hearing-aid insurance—he actually managed to ditch a hearing aid on the way home from the daycare person, even though I was with him at the time, and I never did find the thing despite going back and forth over the sidewalk between our apartment buildings at least twice. Then, one fine day, nes gadol hayah po, a great miracle happened here—my son discovered that he could hear the cartoons a lot better when he was wearing his hearing aids. From that moment on, we never had any more trouble getting him to wear them. G-d bless television!!! :)

So there we were, some 16 or so years later, parked in front of the idiot box together, watching a rerun of one of our sci fi favorites, “Stargate: SG1.” It was the episode in which Air Force Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter, astrophysicist, brains of the SG1 team, and resident genius of the Stargate Program as a whole, returned to her alma mater, the U.S. Air Force Academy, to give a physics lecture. And there sat my son, having just finished his third year of college as a physics major, fine-tooth-combing the equations on the board! You’ll be happy to know that he declared that, aside from the error that was spotted by that obnoxious but brilliant cadet whom Colonel Carter later took under her wing, the equations made sense. Not only do I “bless” television, I also bless the producers, directors, writers, and, especially, actress Amanda Tapping, for giving our son such a wonderful, albeit fictional, role model in the person of Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter, astrophysicist, U.S. Air Force.

Lucas, Schmucas—our son is the real wave of the future. Now that he’s entering his fourth year of a five-year program, he’s had to “declare” a specialty within physics, and he’s chosen nanotechnology as his field. Praise the electron microscope and pass the tuition money! :)

Our son started our as the Young Prince, then became the Young Tech, and is now known as the Young Scientist. When he graduates with his B.S. in two more years . . .well, some families have a family physician, but, just to be different, we’re going to have “the Family Physicist.” :)

Here’s a question for the doctors in the (Jewish blogosphere) house with whom I am currently acquainted, namely, dilbert, of , Psycho Toddler ,and Doctor Bean (a contributor to ): If the Young Scientist happens to obtain a Ph.D. in physics at some point in the future, would you have any objections to our calling him “Our Son, the Doctor?” :)

Update (off topic, but what the hey): Congratulations to dilbert, allegedly a guest blogger at, on starting another blog, Check it out, folks!

Milestones: The kid rents a car for the first time; we take a trip to New Jersey to see a fellow congregant, probably for the last time

Our son needed clothes, and our favorite place is on Long Island, outside of New York City, so he charged the car rental to his credit card so that he could be the primary driver. (It’ll cost us an extra $125, because he’s under 25, but he’s pretty responsible about charging things to his credit card, knowing that we’re paying, and he certainly needed the driving practice, so what the hey.) It was his good fortune that his dear old dad, whom I dubbed “Punster” over at , did something extremely unusual and actually got lost on Long Island. Unlike his clueless wife, the Punster has an excellent sense of direction, and it’s rare for him to get lost at all, much less this thoroughly so. In this case, it worked to our son’s advantage—he got an extra hour’s driving practice. I’m happy to report that neither the Punster, who was in the “suicide seat,” not I, playing “backseat driver,” had to spend too much time with our hearts in our mouths—our son is actually a pretty good driver, especially considering how little opportunity he’s had to practice. And yes, we did finally find the store. Our son got four new t-shirts out of the deal, though jeans that actually fit him eluded him.

Monday morning, in the middle of the Amidah, it suddenly dawned on me that we should keep the car for an extra day and go see S_______, who’s now in a hospice. He’s had a good run, baruch HaShem (thank G-d), being in his mid-nineties, but, considering his current condition, it occurred to me that we, and, especially our son, might never have another opportunity to see him alive. Our son remembers S_______ very well, and, until S_____ and his wife moved to a seniors’ residence in New Jersey, was happy to come to shul whenever he was home just to be sure to see him. And S____ certainly always got a kick out of seeing him.

It turned out that one of our sister congregants also had a rented car, so we agreed that we would return ours (to save a fortune) and all pile into hers for the trip. So off we went, the four of us, trying, with little success (because of a portable CD player with limited volume) to listen to my CDs of Moshe Skier, Zamir Chorale of Boston, and Sarah Aroeste (“A la Una—In the Beginning” [Ladino music]). (That worked a lot better when the driver was doing 40 miles per hour than went she hit the suburban highways and got up to 60, believe me. Sorry, PT, but the bass line was the first thing to “disappear”—a great loss, especially when one is listening to your band’s “Sh’ma.”) The driver, who’s a cantor by profession, brought her guitar. (She’s currently between congregations, so if any synagogue happens to be interested in hiring a member of both the Cantors’ Assembly [Conservative] and the American Conference of Cantors [Reform], an operatic mezzo-soprano who earned a Masters and the title of Cantor from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Sacred Music and has served as cantor of eight congregations [some Conservative, some Reform] please let me know and I’ll pass along the information.) When we arrived, we found that poor S________ was in at least as poor a condition as we had been warned to expect. He wasn’t able to speak at all, though he did attempt to whisper something to our son that our son was unable to hear, unfortunately—which, we hope, means that he recognized our son, at least. Our cantor friend, whom he knows from when she was a member of our shul for many years before taking a cantorial position, accompanied herself on the guitar while singing a few songs in Yiddish. She even sang “Morenika,” the Ladino original of the Israeli song “Shecharchoret,” mostly so that my husband and I could do the Israeli folkdance that was choreographed to that song—I figured that perhaps S______ would recognize us if we danced together, since we’re infamous as the “dancing duo” of our shul, cutting a rug at every Chanukah and Purim party. We talked about our synagogue (in which he used to lead the weekday morning minyan, an honor that he passed on to my husband and/or our regular cantor and/or, lately, our cantor friend—we get away with all sorts of egalitarian practices when none of the traditionalists are present to object), our local Jewish War Veterans post (in which he used to be Quartermaster [treasurer], a post that he also passed on to my husband), and just about anything else we could think of that he might be interested in and that might jog his memory. Frankly, he looked like hell. I’m glad we went to pay a bikur cholim (visiting the sick) visit, because I think that the next time we “see” him will probably be at his funeral. May he live only as long as he is not suffering, and may his wife and daughters be privileged to spend more time with him and to be left with good memories of him when the time comes.

Update: Every year, for as long as his legs would carry him, S___ marched in the Salute to Israel Parade with our local Jewish War Veterans post. When he could no longer walk that far, he stood on the sidelines and cheered, wearing his JWV cap with pride. So, when the time came, less than a week after we'd visited him, our congregation did exactly what we thought he would have wanted us to do: Half of us went to the parade, in his memory, and the other half went out to the cemetery, took shovels in hand and threw dirt onto his coffin, in accordance with tradition, and helped give him a proper Jewish burial. Zichrono li-b'rachah--may his memory be a blessing.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ivdu et HaShem b'simchah, bo-u l'fanav birnanah--Dancing in HaShem’s light

(Warning: Extremely long post, complete with hyperlink-clicking and some waiting for downloads. Read it when you have some spare time.)

Boy, was I surprised!

For many years, I’d seen men pull their tallitot (prayer shawls) over their heads and cover their eyes with their tallitot for a moment after reciting the blessing thereon. It had never occurred to me that they were actually (supposed to be) saying something while they were under there, until Psycho Toddler ( pointed out that he’d written a song to the words of that prayer, “Ma Yakar”—it’s on his “Rock of Sages” CD ( .

So I figured I’d give this prayer a try. And right away, I got into trouble. I may be something resembling a Conservative Jew in terms of ritual, most comfortable using a Conservative or Orthodox siddur (prayer book) and adding the Mothers where only the Fathers are mentioned (and daughters, where only sons are mentioned), but, in terms of theology, I’m still closer to Reconstructionist. I’m not sure just how literally I believe in a supernatural G-d. So what am I supposed to think of this prayer? Here’s the ArtScroll siddur’s (prayer book's) translation: How precious is Your kindness, G-d! The [er] sons of man [literally, sons, or children, of Adam, which can be translated “the human”—would you settle for “human beings” as a non-sexist translation?] take refuge in the shadow of your wings. May they be sated from the abundance of Your house; and may You give them to drink from the stream of your delights. For with You is the source of life—by Your light we shall see light. Extend Your kindness to those who know You, and Your charity to the upright of heart.”

It’s beautiful poetry, but could I live with it? Okay, so maybe I would learn just the first line.

Well, I tried, with my tallit pulled just over my head but not down over my eyes—it’s hard to read that way—but I couldn’t do it. I just kept hearing the rest of the music: “Ki imcha m’kor chayim, b’orcha nir’eh or.” I’d never make it as a Vulcan. Logic, schmogic—for me, music trumps theology almost every time. Shut up, Spock. :)

So I prayed the whole thing. And found myself in an odd position. How could I feel bathed in the light of a G-d in whom I’m not sure I believe?

But that feeling was there, nevertheless. I continued davvening (praying) with that feeling until I found myself almost at the end of Mizmor Shir Chanukat HaBayit L’David (Psalm 30), when, suddenly, the words just jumped off the page and into my head . . .

. . . in three-part harmony.

This is what I heard. As my son would say, “Wait for it.” Hafachta (Shur)

“Hafachta misp’di l’machol li—you have changed my lament into dancing . . .”

So that’s why I recognize that line!

(Now if someone would please tell me where the second line comes from . . .)

I spent the rest of the service shuckling (swaying in prayer) like mad. That’s about as close as one can get to dancing while davvening.

Lines of poetry kept jumping off the page.

This one seems almost to have been written for Israeli folkdancers and choreographers, Jewish singers, songwriters, and musicians: Y’halelu sh’mo b’machol, b’tof v’chinor y’zamru lo—Let them praise His Name with dancing, with drums and harp let them make music to Him.” (Psalm 149)

And here’s one that’s always been a favorite when I’m in a poetic mood. It’s a Shabbat-v’Shalosh R’galim/Sabbath-and-Festival special, so old, according to the ArtScroll siddur, that it’s mentioned in the Talmud (Pesachim 118a): “Ilu finu malei shirah kayam…Were our mouths as full of song as the sea, and our tongues as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky, and our feet as swift as hinds, we still could not thank You sufficiently, HaShem our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, for even one of the thousands . . . and myriads of favors that You performed for us. You redeemed us from Egypt, HaShem our G-d, and liberated us from the house of bondage.” Dayenu (enough)—for me, being a free person is enough of a reason to be grateful.

And further on, in the same prayer, the writer quotes Psalm 35:10, which seems almost to have been written for dancers, instrumentalists, and those who use their hands (and those who interpret for them) to praise G-d in any of the world’s many sign languages of the Deaf: “Kadavar shekatuv, ‘Kol atzmotai tomarnah, HaShem mi chamocha’—“As it is written, ‘All my bones will say, HaShem, who is like You . . .’”

I tried this a couple of weeks ago and it didn’t work. Somehow, the bouncy music clashed with what seemed to me to be the solemnity of the words that came after it.

But this week, I was ready for it. I’d taken to heart these words from Psalm 100, which we recite during the weekday P’sukei D’Zimrah (Verses of Song) in Shacharit (Morning Service): “Ivdu et HaShem b’simchah, bo-u l’fanav birnanah—Serve HaShem with gladness, come before Him with joyous song.” And I was ready to celebrate. To celebrate all the words of this Shabbat-v’Shalosh-R’galim addition to this prayer. Keep scrolling through the “radio blog” until you get to “Hakol Yoducha.”

“Hakol yoducha, v’hakol y’shabchucha, hakol yomru ein kadosh kaShem. Hakol y’rom’mucha sela, yotzer hakol. All will thank You and all will praise You, and all will declare, 'Nothing is as holy as HaShem!' All will exalt You, Selah, You Whom forms everything.

The G-d who opens daily the doors of the gateways of the East, and splits the windows of the firmament, Who removes the sun from its place and the moon from the site of its dwelling, and Who illuminates all the world and its inhabitants, which He created with the attribute of mercy.”

I can’t remember the last time I davvened with such joy.

I davvened that way through the end of the Amidah shel Shacharit (the “Standing” Prayer of the Morning Service).

This was the last thing I heard in my head before leaving the apartment. In my head, I added a vocal harmony that doesn't actually exist on the recording--it took me at least a week of singing that harmony part to realize that I was making it up, based on an instrumental harmony in the background. Keep scrolling through the “radio blog” until you get to “Elokai Netzor.”

I’ve continued to maintain my recently-developed personal minhag (custom) of praying the entire Shacharit service at home on Shabbat (Sabbath) and Shalosh R’galim (Pilgrimage Festivals) in order to give myself enough time to recite many more prayers, and to try to recite them with more kavannah (intent, focus), than I could while attempting to keep up with our rabbi (P’sukei d’Zimrah) or cantor (everything else). This time, my timing was perfect for the day of a Bar Mitzvah celebration—I walked into the shul (synagogue) at the very beginning of the Torah service (Seder Hotza-at HaTorah). Never before have I sung the words “Baruch shenatan Torah l’amo Yisrael bi-k’dushato--Praised is the One who gave the Torah to His People Israel” with such a full heart. And, noch besser (even better), the Bar Mitzvah boy did a wonderful job of chanting the haftarah (a reading from books of the Bible later than the Torah/Five Books of Moses). The service ended with his older sister leading all the cousins in Ein Kelokeinu, Alenu, and Adon Olam.

I was “high” all morning. No booze. No drugs. Just high.

I rarely get so emotional in my davvening. This is probably not the case for all Reconstructionists, but I, personally, find that this sort of “high” requires me to almost-literally—or even (gulp) literally—suspend disbelief. So it doesn’t happen very often. And when it does, I enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

I spent the entire morning on a high.

And ended on a high, too.

Or perhaps I should say a high note.

This one.

Adon Olam (Skier)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Health insurance for a college student, part 2, or let’s pray that our son doesn’t get sick between academic quarters

For part #1, see, in which my husband discovers that his health insurance company has changed its policy--college students 22 and older are no longer covered.

We just paid $275 for our son to see the family practitioner. He’ll be covered by student health insurance, all right—from June 6 to August 15 only! That’s when he’ll be undertaking a college-sponsored research project at another college. After that, he’ll be without coverage again until he’s officially re-enrolled for the fall academic quarter at his usual college. Every time he’s between academic quarters, there’ll be an insurance-coverage gap. That’s pretty scary for the parents of a kid with kidney stones—a trip to the hospital could set us back by several hundred bucks. To be put in a position in which we have to worry as much about the cost of our son’s health problems as we worry about his health problems themselves is revolting.

A lesson in bcc, learned the hard way (as usual)—This is my public apology for having “outed” an anonymous blogger

Last fall, I had a brilliant idea. I decided that, whenever I was particularly anxious to get comments to a post, I would send a mass e-mail to a group of bloggers, inviting them to click on over to my blog for a “post party.”

Idiot that I am, it never occurred to me to send the mass e-mail via bcc, blind carbon/courtesy copy. Then, while we were out of town picking up our son from college, I received an e-mail from the newest person on my list in which he informed me that he’d decided to close down his blog because he no longer felt free to post what he wanted to post after I’d sent his real name and e-mail address to over a dozen other bloggers.

True to tell, I was taken aback. It had never occurred to me that a person who’d posted his photo on his blog would still consider his blog to be anonymous. So I tried to remember whether I’d ever encountered a similar situation. And, much to my distress, I realized that I had, indeed, encountered exactly the same situation on the blog that I’d discovered the most recently. As I have no desire to get myself into any more trouble, I’ll describe it only as the blog of the Lady in Navy. This blogger posted a photo of herself in a navy dress, yet still gave no indication of her real name, and did not list any e-mail address whatsoever.

So I’ve learned the hard way that even my mass e-mail from my blog e-mail address has to be sent bcc. In this case, I learned at someone else’s expense.

I cannot begin to tell you how devastated I am that I’ve caused such distress to a fellow blogger. Just thinking about that e-mail still brings tears to my eyes. I am so, so sorry. I sincerely hope that you will be able to ignore my stupidity and continue blogging.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The ironic news—Quoth Boss #1, “They don’t even stay long enough for me to fire them.”

Last Wednesday, I met Boss #1’s new junior administrative assistant, whom he’d hired last Monday. Last Friday, she quit. The senior administrative assistant explained that the new gal didn’t appreciate the fact that so much multitasking was expected of her. This, she’s telling to me, noch (yet). Apparently, it’s so taken for granted by everyone that I’m not going to get this job that it didn’t even occur to her that I might be upset by such a conversation. The irony is that even I’m not sure how I felt about that conversation—at this point, even I take it for granted that I’m not going to get this job. I’m more resigned and depressed than anything else.

The bad news—Ms. Am Haaretz manages to offend the entire Orthodox community by accident (er, Sefirah—what’s that?)

So there I was, thinking I was scoring major brownie points with Boss #1 by playing Jewish music on the computer. It wasn’t until late afternoon that it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t supposed to be playing music during the semi-mourning period known as Sefirah. So I get the dubious privilege of apologizing to my black-hat boss tomorrow for my ignorance.

Then, halfway to the subway on the way home, it occurred to me that, in the middle of this Sefirah period, I'd published a major post on the subject of Jewish rock music by an Orthodox songwriter. Such timing. So, should I delete the “A musical education” post and publish it again after Shavuot?

The good news—that allegedly-treif candy is still kosher, after all!

I finally found the OU-D on the Chew-ets (formerly Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews) wrapper. Whew, that was a close call!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

“A musical education” (in celebration of my 103rd post)

Well, how do you like that—Because I missed a few posts (saved in Word) when I formatted them for automatic numbering, I actually missed my one and only glorious opportunity to celebrate my 100th post!

Better late than never. To celebrate the (passing of) this major milestone in my life as a blogger, I’m going to post a copy of an e-mail exchange between me and Psycho Toddler ( . Some of you may not be aware of this, but PT wears two hats (or kippot)—he’s both a physician (Mark Skier, MD) and a musician (leader, lead singer, and bass player of the Moshe Skier Band). I mentioned him in my Sunday, May 15, 2005, post, A Jewish blogger speaks: What am I doing here, literally?,” (, which probably should have been my 100th post, but I wasn’t thinking of that at the time. The below is what I meant when I said, “I'm currently getting an education in contemporary Jewish rock music. (Check this out: This man plays a mean bass .)” By all means, check this out—hop on over to and listen—literally— to what I’m talking about! Enjoy!

Sat, 14 May 2005 20:54:27 -0700 (PDT)

I must admit that having a blog buddy who's both a band leader and a bass player has certainly made me pay more close attention to what I'm listening to. In the process, I've noticed some interesting things.

For openers, if one wishes to sing and play a musical instrument at the same, it certainly helps to be an excellent multitasker. How else can one possibly sing "Horeini, HaShem darkecha" in one rhythm and play a harmony on the bass that's in a totally different, much more syncopated, yet somehow perfectly compatible rhythm at the same time? I would give my eye teeth to be able to pull off a stunt like that!

Another thing I never noticed before is that the bass player doesn't *always* play. That's most obvious in "Elokai Netzor," when there's a frequently-repeated passage that sounds *almost* like a call-and-response pattern between the bass and guitar (except that the guitarist never actually stops playing). So maybe playing *all* the time is the job of the rhythm-guitar player. Or maybe not. I'm clueless.

I've also notice that a good musical arrangement can make an enormous difference, especially when one is attempting to rescue old chestnuts from being consigned to the "boring" category. "Oseh Shalom" is literally old, and it gets figuratively old, too, pretty quickly, after about the 4,564 repetition of "yaaseh shalom." There's just not much anyone can do with a melody that's that familiar--the only things keeping this piece alive are the drums and the bass. Even so, after about the 878th repetition, I'm just about ready to change the channel when some guy in the back row gives me a wake-up call with a nice bass line. Just walks right down the scale, repeating each note except the last one twice--do, ti flat (?), la, so, fa. And then--wait for it--proceeds to do the same nifty thing again, about 3 bars later. Whoa! Did Carlebach ever write anything like that? :)

Then there's "Sh'ma." It starts with a nifty bass line, then the guitarist (topped by a violin, methinks), comes in with . . .well, I haven't a clue what, exactly, but whatever knob, lever, switch and/or button he hit on his guitar gives him a sound that I sure as heck wasn't expecting the first time I heard it. Then we go to bass, voice, and drums, with only a smidge of guitar at first--also unexpected--with some violin thrown in later, and a seriously swift guitar solo. Neat!

I've been rather pleasantly surprised to hear tunes that, to my ears, are carried largely by the bass line ("Horeini" and "Sh'ma" come to mind). That's a new one on this former choir singer.

So how much of the arranging do you do? For that matter, which of the songs on your website did you write from scratch?

And where do I get a lyrics sheet? :)

Sun, 15 May 2005 07:58:42 -0700 (PDT)

Wow, I think that's the best analysis of my music that I've ever heard! I mean "read"! You obviously have an excellent ear. You are dead-on right about the multitasking. People don't realize how hard it is to play bass and sing at the same time. I got a new respect for Paul McCartney after picking up the bass. You're basically playing a monophonic melody on the bass which is often at odds with what you are singing. For my own songs, I cheat. I tend to write basslines and melodies that I can perform together. I also tend to write notes in my own vocal range, which is actually quite narrow.

As far as arranging goes, it's variable. What I like about music is the ability to build and create a sound or a mood from nothing. And I like working with a band because you can get different ideas from different people, and when you put them together, it sounds like more than just the sum of the parts. One example would be a "groove." Like what we did with Oseh Shalom. I tried to get the drummer to play as straight as possible. Then I try to fill in the gaps by playing "off" of his rhythm. If it works out just right, it's kinda like great sex. Actually I think life is all about timing. I may blog about that one day. Anyway, if we do it right, the person listening to the song can't tell it's two people playing different things. It sounds like one sound doing something interesting.

One song where I did all the arrangements is "Shiru Lo", which is on the Kabbalah cd. I wrote all the parts. But most songs I just let the instrumentalists do what they want. That's why, although I'm pretty much constant throughout the 20 years of material I sent you, it sounds different at different time periods.

I just bought PT’s—er, Moshe Skier’s—Rock of Sages CD. Nice stuff! Much to my great amusement, the Kabbalah band (his previous band, whose music is on this CD) even did a Beatles take-off, Ayzehu Chacham, with words from Pirkei Avot (Verses [Ethics] of the Fathers), chapter 4, perek (?) 1. The music is probably by Moshe Skier; the lyrics are by Ben Zoma :). Check it out!

I'll be off the Internet for a few days while we pick up our son from college. Shabbat Shalom. I'll see you Sunday.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The good news is that I didn’t get fired; the bad news is I didn’t get hired, either—I was passed over *again.*

Boss #1 just hired someone else to take the place of the woman on maternity leave, who is not coming back. (She wants a part-time job in her neighborhood.) I’m not a happy camper.

I think I understand what the problem is. Boss #1 hinted at it a few weeks ago when he said that I wasn’t all that good at the secretarial stuff, which is not entirely untrue. I’m absolutely dreadful at answering more than one phone call at a time, much to the dismay of the senior administrative assistant in that office. And while I suspect that I’m one of the best in my organization at keeping records of my computer files, keeping track of paperwork is another matter entirely.

On the plus side, what I am good at is working on special projects on the computer. My command of the English language is pretty good, which makes me a good editor. My formatting skills in Word are also pretty good. I can also go back and find old documents—not only do I have records of everything I’ve typed for this organization since I first began temping for them several years ago, I also have copies of every one of those documents on my home computer, in case of disaster. (What, you’ve never had a computer “eat” a document?) So I’m the go-to person for special projects. But in between special projects, I’m unemployed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

And I thought what I posted *last* night was bad: We just found out that our son is longer covered by our health insurance.

My poor husband got one heck of a shock when he went to the pharmacy to get a prescription refill for our son and found out that we’re going to be charged over $200! So he went to his insurance’s website and discovered that there’s been a change in the eligibility policy—children over the age of 22 are no longer covered, even if the child is still a college undergraduate. Let’s hope the kid doesn’t get sick until he’s eligible for college insurance coverage next September, or there’s going to be major damage done to our wallet. :(

Treif candy, kosher dancers, etc.—anything to take my mind off of the office

The company that makes my favorite candy has been sold—Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews are no longer kosher. :( I’m heartbroken.

I stayed home today, claiming illness, which isn’t far from the truth—between anxiety and asthma, I didn’t get much sleep last night. My doctor is off, so I’m waiting ‘til Monday.

Meanwhile, let me tell you something about our glorious evening last Sunday night at an Israeli folkdancing session in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. For openers, we had a grand old time. Even though my asthma’s been kicking up lately and I wasn’t able to dance as much as I would normally, I got a kick out of watching some really great dancers. In honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, and because the session was honoring the memory of the recently-deceased great Israeli songwriter Ehud Manor (composer of, among over a thousand songs, “Bashana Habaa”), practically every Israeli folkdance teacher from the general vicinity showed up. Ruth Goodman, Danny Uziel, and Howie Goldman were there, along with Zvi "Tatcho" Hilman, imported from Israel. I got a particular kick out of watching Zvi dance with Ruth (who usually dances with Danny)—Zvi was getting his jollies trying to see how many times he could make her spin during the partner dances. :) (I should only be as lively as he is when I get to his age.) And in between dances—and even during the dances—people were playing the instruments that they’d schlepped especially for the occasion. Zvi and another guy were trading licks on whatever-those-hand-held-Middle-Eastern-drums-are-called. A wonderful time was had by all.

One thing I noticed was the different “hashkafot” (approaches) among those dancers who were clearly Orthodox. For openers, I guess this group has a mekhil (lenient) approach to the observance of the semi-mourning period known as Sefira, which runs from the second day of Pesach (starting at the second seder, for those of us who live in the Golah/Diaspora) until Shavuot/Feast of Weeks. Then again, from what I already knew and what I’ve been reading on the blogs, there seem to be any number of interpretations of when and how one is supposed to observe Sefira. Is it permissible to listen to music, as long as it’s not live music? Are there times during Sefira when some will listen to music and others will not? That seems to be the case. All I know is that, with men in kippot and skirt-wearing women with sleeves below the elbows (the married ones with their heads covered) participating in the festivities, it was interesting to see who was dancing with whom. One kippah-clad man was dancing with his baseball-cap-wearing wife while some of the other dancers took turns passing their little baby around. On the other hand, two skirt-clad women, both with sleeves below the elbows, danced only with one another for every single partner dance. Those two followed what would normally be standard procedure for a person trying to learn a new dance, dancing on the outside of/behind the circle for every single circle dance, unless they could couple up with another woman on each side, to avoid holding a man’s hands. (For an explanation of shmirat negiah, the observance of the prohibition against physical contact between members of the opposite sex who are not members of the same family, see I was fascinated to see the different ways that Orthodox Jews approached the issue of “mixed” dancing.

Monday, May 16, 2005

So much for delusions of grandeur—I think I just lost my job

My current boss is a travelin’ man—his job takes him from one coast to the other, and to points in between, as well. Unfortunately, the cheapskates refuse to give him his own permanent secretary, figuring that he’ll just “borrow” whoever’s at the location in which he’s working that day. The result is that no one person has all of his files on one computer, nor is anyone keeping track of who typed what where. The result of that is that the project on which I’m working for him, is, without the least shadow of a doubt, the single worst-organized project on which I’ve ever worked since earning a certificate in word processing in 1997. We’re actually using white-out to make changes in documents because we have no idea who typed the originals, and, therefore, can't get copies e-mailed to us. (I can’t retype everything—the final product is well over a thousand pages long!) And these whited-out documents are being sent to a government agency that has the power to decide whether or not to authorize the project that our organization wishes to undertake. It’s an embarrassment to the organization, and a blow to my personal pride in a job well done. I’ve always considered it my responsibility, as an administrative assistant, to make my employer look good. In this case, that’s quite literally impossible.

So last week, I made a business proposal to my boss—I suggested that he hire me as “traffic controller” to keep track of his documents, on the entirely reasonable fiscal grounds that the organization is paying me approximately three times what it should have had to pay me because I’ve had to work a ridiculous number of hours as a direct result of the fact that this project is so poorly organized. Well, that was last week. This week is another story entirely. Today, I screwed up the project completely, and gave up all hope of ever being hired as a full-time permanent employee.

This project was a mess from the get-go. They called me in to pick up the pieces—and I dropped every last one of them. Please excuse me while I go cry myself to sleep.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A Jewish blogger speaks: What am I doing here, literally?

A few posts back, I mentioned that I’d spent six hours in the hospital waiting room with one of my girlfriends during Chol HaMoed Pesach (the “intermediate days,” when one is permitted to travel and to work, of Passover), distracting her while her husband underwent six hours of open-heart surgery. (He’s recovering nicely, baruch haShem/praise G-d). As you can imagine, with six hours to kill, we talked about nearly everything under the sun—husbands, children, parents, friends, careers, our own fortunately-relatively-minor health problems, Pesach and the sedarim. (Picture two bareheaded, pants-wearing women sitting in a hospital waiting room conducting a serious discussion of the haggadah, complete with commentary on the phrase “at p’tach lo” and two completely different possible natural explanations of the ten plagues [each of which can be interpreted as being with or without benefit of “etzba kelokim,” the finger of G-d], and you can well imagine why most of the black-hatted Orthodox men who dropped by the waiting room also walked out in short order. But, as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin said in his haggadah, the real problem child is not the so-called “rasha,” or wicked child, but the child who doesn’t even attend a seder. We may be apikorsot—heretics—but at least we’re still there.)

To make a long story short, I succeeded very easily in keeping my girlfriend distracted for six hours. Do you get the feeling that I like to talk? :)

It was at just about the same time that I told my husband that blogging had become my hobby. When I first discovered the Internet in the late 90s, I made the rounds for a while, trying to determine where I fit. I discovered quickly that chat rooms were not for me—the chat was way too superficial to be of any interest. Message boards, on the other hand, were another matter entirely. I could actually conduct a serious and thoughful discussion on the message boards. I was hooked! Then, early last year, I discovered the phenomenon called blogging through an article published in the New York Jewish Week, “Inside the expanding universe of Jewish blogs,” by Debra Nussbaum Cohen. Slowly but surely, I started checking out some blogs. I even started a secular personal blog, to which I posted exactly once before deciding that it wasn’t for me. The problem was that I needed a structure, something specific to discuss, as I’d had on the various televised-science-fiction message boards. By August, I’d decided to take the plunge and start a “religion” blog.

I’ve had nothing but surprises as a blogger.

For openers, between those who comment on this blog, and all the blogs that I at least try to read, I’ve “met” some very interesting people whom I would never have encountered in real life. Some are too far from me in terms of distance. Others are “too far” from me in terms of “haskafah” (approach), a neat word that I learned while making the rounds of the Jewish blogs. In real life, most of my Jewish friends are to the left of Orthodox and to the right of secular, mostly Conservative Jews. Here, I’ve had the privilege of encountering many fine folks who are fighting the good fight to preserve what’s left of Modern Orthodox Judaism, as well as many who, like me, take their Judaism seriously, but not necessarily literally. Left, right, and center, (and various combinations of the aforementioned), Jews by birth and Jews by Choice, along with the occasional Christian, have dropped in to leave comments.

I’m also catching up on some of my missing Jewish education. I’ve learned new Hebrew words and new Jewish concepts here. I'm currently getting an education in contemporary Jewish rock music. (Check this out: This man plays a mean bass .)

Probably the biggest surprise to me is the turn that my blog has taken. I started out writing about Judaism almost exclusively. To be honest, I’m almost taken aback at how personal my blog has become. First, I started complaining about being “between jobs” and being passed over for permanent employment. Next thing I knew, inspired by Z’s posts on raising a child with autism (see, I’d “come out of the closet” as the mother of a child with disabilities, and had written a ten-post series on the subject of raising such a kid. I’ve blogged about the health problems of my husband, son, and sister. I’ve griped about feeling abandoned after my parents made aliyah. Inspired by Nice Jewish Girl (see, I’ve even written a few posts about “illicit” desire, something that I never thought I could discuss in “public” in a million years. Blogging under a pseudonym has freed me to write things that I never would have written if there were more than maybe a dozen or so people on earth who knew my real identity.

One of my long-standing jokes about my husband and me is that I do the talking for both of us. When my husband has something to say, it’s often very much worth listening to, but he’s not terribly talkative by nature. The message boards gave me a place where I could hold a serious and intelligent discussion on a more frequent basis. This blog opens up the conversation—I can discuss a much broader range of topics here. I am very pleased to have an opportunity for intellectual stimulation. I just love an intelligent conversation. Thank you for joining in that conversation with me.

"Chemical Reaction," part 2—Taking the long view

Those new to this topic can check out part 1 here:

I’ve learned a few things about “chemical reactions.” One is that my reaction to forbidden desire depends on the circumstances. When I was young (that is, still suffering from raging hormones) and single (in dire need of a good hug, and considerably more), I found having to refrain from having any physical contact with my best friend’s boyfriend excrutiating. Others may have different experiences, but, personally, I found being single a living hell. (In the words of singer kd lang, I suffered from a severe case of “constant craving.”) I expect my inevitable next round of singlehood—many it not begin for at least another two decades—to be much different. I don’t think it will be quite as difficult physically—the fires have banked somewhat over the years. But, for the second go-round, it's getting used to being alone and lonely after decades of marriage that will be excrutiating.

As for the “chemical reactions” that I had after I was married, while the frustration level was, obviously, mitigated by the fact that I had someone to whom to go home, I suffered far more from the fear of falling prey to temptation, and from the guilt that went with both the “reaction” itself and the fear of failing to meet my own standards.

The good news is that, for me, even the strongest “chemical reaction” dissipates over time. Of the three gentlemen whom I discussed in part 1, I still see one several times a year. I’m happy to report that I now enjoy his company, but no longer have “that kind” of reaction to him at all.

As to the actors to whom I’ve had “chemical reactions,” I’ve noticed a very strange thing. It seems to me that, when I was younger, I was attracted to actors who were noticeably older that I (Paul Newman was “it” when I was a teenager), and that, now, I’m usually attracted to actors who are noticeably younger than I. For the life of me, I can’t remember there ever having been a time when I was attracted to actors my own age. Surely I must have been, at some point. Did I suppress (repress?) my feelings of attraction to actors my own age, and/or my memories thereof, because they freaked me out? If my latest little “escapade” is any indication, that may very well be the case. As I was saying in my previous post on this subject, having “a fantasy of the 'chemical' kind that came so close to being realistic . . .” scared the bleep out of me.

I’m happy—not to mention relieved—to report that my feelings for the current actor of my dreams seem to be cycling back to what they were before. That is to say, I find that, slowly but surely, I’m going back to watching the TV show in which that actor appears, rather than just watching the actor himself. And that’s exactly as it should be. (See my first post on the subject of this particular actor, “Doubletake—on not judging a book by its cover, at After all, if the guy wanted only to be oggled, he would have become a model. But he chose to be an actor. And for an actor, “the play’s the thing.”

Eventually, maybe I’ll even stop wishing that I were in his leading lady’s shoes. Okay, so I’m jealous. So shoot me. :)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Laugh of the day: Well, a cup is a cup . . . :)

So there I am at kiddush in shul when I happen to glance over at the table on which the n’tilat yadayim (hand-washing-ritual cups) are standing—just in time to see our synagogue’s one and only current toddler reach up, grab a n’tilat yadim cup, and proceed to drink out of it. I can’t remember the last time I laughed that loudly in shul. :)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Thoughts on Yom HaAtzmaut from an armchair Zionist

“God bless America, my home, sweet home.”

I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine packing up practically everything I own, leaving friends, family, job behind, and making aliyah, as my brother did when he was in his mid-twenties and my parents did when they were in their early sixties. Maybe it’s loyalty. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe it’s just plain inertia. I just know I can’t do it.

I’m an American through and through. And not just in my secular life. I can’t imagine living in a country divided so starkly between datiim (“religious”) and chilonim (“secular”), with non-Orthodox but practicing Jews denied even the right to be married by their own rabbis. (I’ll admit that divorce is more problematic, but marriage?) In this country, when women sing at Holocaust memorial programs, Orthodox men get up and walk out. In that country, when women sing prayers and lein Torah (chant from the Bible scroll) at the Kotel HaMaaravi/Western Wall, they get physically attacked. I think I’ll stay where I can davven in peace, both figuratively and literally, in more ways than one—don’t think that the “matzav”/”situation” doesn’t enter into this.

Lihyot am chofshi b’artzénu . . . To be a free people in our land . . .“ And yet, that, too, is my land, the only place where a Jew can always go and they’ll always take him or her in. The only place where Jewish holidays are national holidays, where you don’t have to worry about losing your job for taking off from work on a festival. A place in which you needn't live in Boro Park to see a Purim parade, or sukkot by the dozens.

May HaShem spread over it sukkat sh'lomecha, His canopy of peace.

Friday, May 06, 2005

More parnassah, less posting—this coming Monday, I’m going back to temping (at the usual place)

It's likely that I’ll be doing a lot more blog reading (between phone calls, unless I’m typing) and a lot less blog writing (I don’t dare post from the office!). It’ll be nice to make some money again after a nearly-three-week unpaid involuntary vacation. It would be even nicer if they actually hired me permanently for this job. (Not that I'm holding my breath, or anything.)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I’m outraged: What did Mayor Bloomberg think he was doing?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A neighborhood paper printed an article stating that, while visiting a Greek Orthodox church last Saturday night in honor of Greek Orthodox Easter, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg—yes, he’s Jewish—“received the Holy Light symbolizing the resurrection of [the individual whom our Christian neighbors call] Christ and in turn lighted the candles of other worshippers on exiting the church.” I’m not an Orthodox Jew, and I have no problem with a Jew entering a church, or even attending a service as a respectful observer. But actively participating in a religious ritual of a religion other than your own is quite another matter. As far as I’m concerned, Mayor Bloomberg showed disrespect not only to the Jewish religion, but to the Greek Orthodox faith as well, by coopting a ritual of that faith for use in a photo op. For shame!!!!!

Going it alone, part 2 (for part 1, see “Motherless Child”)

My sister suffered a serious back injury and whiplash in an auto accident the week of our son’s brit milah over two decades ago, and has never fully recovered. Several years ago, she developed life-threatening allergies, complete with anaphylactic shock She has “multiple chemical sensitivities,” which I believe means that she can get sick from just about anything at just about any time, presumably without warning. Her health is so poor that she doesn’t even feel well enough to see our son, her only non-Israeli nephew, when he comes home from college later this month.

Thinking further about my reaction to my mother telling me to look in a cookbook when I asked her for cooking advice (see , I realize that, at an ocean’s remove, I was simply unprepared psychologically to make the transition from being a child who depended on my parents to one on whom her parents depended. Though my sister lives within commuting distance, I think I’m approaching that transition point with her, as well. She’s the oldest of us kids, and has always been the one with her finger on the pulse, the one most likely to have a good grasp of the stock market and of the care and handling of various bureaucracies. As a first-class networker, she’s always been the go-to person for information on just about any subject other than computers. In addition, when our son was younger and his maternal aunt was in better shape (both physically and fiscally), she bought him tons of books, invited him over to her apartment, took him to the movies and other events, and babysat for us every year on our anniversary. I was hoping that she’d be in reasonably good shape for another decade, at least. But, at this rate, not only do I face the prospect of losing her as part of my own support system, it’s likely that I’ll become part of hers in the near future.

When it comes to my own family, I’m pretty much going it alone. If I ever had a safety net—and that was debatable even before my parents made aliyah, since they lived so far away from me—it’s gone, or nearly so, at this point. My brother in Jerusalem is my parents’ safety net, not mine. My brother in California is too far away from any of us to be of much help. (And vice versa, to be fair.) And at this point, if I lean on my sister, she’ll break.

I suppose that this is a stupid and, admittedly, selfish thing to say, considering how many years my (younger) brother and ex-sister-in-law have been taking care of my parents, but I can’t help feeling that I shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of responsibility at my age. Or ever. I spent 19 years raising a child with disabilities. No sooner was he safely tucked away in college than my husband developed kidney stones and swallowing problems. Then our son developed kidney stones. Now my sister’s physically falling apart, even though she’s only two years older than I. It seems as if I’ve spent half my life taking care of other people. Who’s taking care of me?

Actually, that would be my husband. And my friends.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

"Chemical Reaction"

The other day, at the second seder, the host (one of my oldest friends) and I were talking about an old flame of hers, of over 20 years ago. I hadn’t kept track of him, and didn’t know that he’d not only married, but now had an adult child.

That discussion, combined with my writing of the Monday, March 21, 2005 post, “Doubletake: On not judging a book by its cover,” (, and with my reading of Nice Jewish Girl’s blog ( —whatever you do, you must read this blog from the beginning, or, at the very least, read the first two posts first!!!!!!!!!), really got me thinking about an almost-literally touchy subject—wanting someone when you shouldn’t.

For over twenty years, I’ve carefully “forgotten” about the fact that I once had a real “case” for my aforementioned best friend’s aforementioned old flame. It was not the most pleasant period of my life. I once had occasion to visit him alone in his apartment, and spent a torturous half hour or so forcing myself not to go anywhere near him. That’s about as close as I ever got to being shomeret negiah (observing the law against touching male non-relatives), a practice that I’d never even heard of at the time. There’s something to be said for the tradition prohibiting yichud, the leaving of a male and a female who are not married to one another alone together.

On the plus side, I’m happy that I remembered that incident, because it answers a question that’s bothered me for years. Twice since I’ve been married, I’ve had a serious “chemical reaction” to a man other than my husband. On both occasions, the reaction lasted for months, and was very difficult to ignore. I am eternally grateful that neither man had the slight interest in me. I’ve been troubled for years by the question of whether I could have resisted the temptation. Remembering that earlier incident, when I was still single and yet still managed to resist the temptation because the guy was “taken,” makes me feel a lot better. After all these years of guilt, I finally have the answer to my question—yes, I know I could have resisted the temptation because I’ve resisted it before.

In terms of my fantasy life, I’m eternally grateful for the existence of the “glass mechitzah.” Like the physical barrier separating men from women in an Orthodox synagogue, the television’s screen separates reality from fantasy. I can look—and drool—all I want without ever having to worry about “getting myself in trouble.” What a relief!

Over a number of years, I’ve had particularly strong “chemical reactions” to two specific actors. I’ve often wondered whether, if I ever had the opportunity to meet either one in person, I’d be literally afraid to look at him. There’s such a thing as “up close and personal” being way too close for comfort!

The more recent “chemical reaction” has been the strangest. I guess I’m used to “cradle robbing,” being interested in a guy who’s impossibly younger than I. So you can imagine how freaked out I was when I final got up the nerve to check the biographical information on this guy’s website—and discovered that, if he and I were any closer in age, we’d share a birthday. We’re less than a year apart in age! This guy’s old enough to be my husband, for crying out loud! I’ve never before had a fantasy of the “chemical” kind that came so close to being realistic—and, to tell you the truth, it scares the s_ _t out of me! It’s a bleeping good thing that you can’t get a tan from blushing, because if you could, I’d be halfway to the hospital for treatment of second-degree burns every time I even thought about him. As I was saying, thank G-d for the “glass mechitzah”—he should live and be well, far away from me! :)

Monday, May 02, 2005

Ashrénu, mah tov chelkénu: Heirs to one of the world’s most beautiful love poems

“Happy are we, how good is our portion,” to have inherited from our ancestors such a gorgeous piece of poetry as Shir haShirim, the Song of Songs, which we read every year during Pesach (Passover), among other times. Whether you interpret it p’shat (in accordance with the literal meaning of the text), as a love poem between a man and a woman, or whether you accept the rabbininc interpretation that this is a love poem between HaShem (G-d) and the Jewish People, it’s a beautiful work of literary art.

And yes, Virginia, there is a connection between my life as a Jew and my “hobby” as a science fiction fan: If I could find one word to describe the selfless love of Babylon 5’s resident romantic, Marcus Cole, for Susan Ivanova, it would be this—“libavtini,” you have ravished my heart.” Surely, for this man, who sacrificed his own life to save hers, “azah cha-mavet ahavah, as strong as death is love . . . “
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