Friday, September 30, 2005

“She’ll be Comin' ‘Round the Mountain When She Comes . . . “

Or maybe not

Sometimes fast and sometimes slow
Sometimes yes and sometimes no

So what can you say?
Are you gonna try and hide?
"I had a good time anyway
Thanks for the ride "

Guys have it easy

Or maybe not

Sometimes fast and sometimes slow
Sometimes yes and sometimes no

It's a gamble on both sides every time
But when all goes well, it can be sublime
Don’t touch unless you mean it,
then give it your best shot
Put your heart in it,
give it everything you've got

Ani l'dodi . . .
Dodi li ,
Will you come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Inspired by:

1) Blue Fringe’s “Shir Hashirim,” based, of course, on Shir haShirim, the Song of Songs. My first reaction to this song was that it's pretty racy stuff from a shomer n’giah guy. I must be hangin' out in the wrong circles. :)

Or maybe not :) — see . . .

2) This interesting IM exchange between two of the Jewish blogosphere’s favorite bloggin’ docs:

Doctor Bean: new drug rep. hubba hubba. altace for everyone! on me!
Doctor Bean: i gotta watch some very borring training videos about the new EMR version, but it's hard to concentrate with the drug rep walking around.
PT: pretend she's a cylon [Battlestar Galactica reference]
Doctor Bean: that makes her more desirable, just more dangerous

Driver, follow that drug rep link! :) You'll get yet a third opinion from yet another one of our favorite bloggin' docs (dilbert) and a few other fine folks, and have a few good laughs. :)


Thursday, September 29, 2005

“Would you take your only son . . .?”

I've been a regular shul-goer for 32 years. I've heard the story of the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac (and of his near-sacrifice) read in synagogue twice every year for 32 years. It's read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), and during the regular cycle of weekly Torah (Bible) readings in the reading Parshat Vayera (Genesis, chapter 18, verse 1-chapter 22, verse 24—the story of the Binding of Isaac is in chapter 22, verses 1-19) . My husband and I have discussed it many times. We've concluded that Hashem wanted to see whether Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Patriarch) would show as much devotion to Him as a pagan would have shown to a pagan god, who, in that era, would have demanded child sacrifice. The difference, of course—and it's a huge one—is that Hashem didn't allow Avraham to go through with the sacrifice of his child.

But to speak of this on an intellectual level is one thing. To speak of it on a personal level is another. For so many years, I've tried to ignore this question, but, somehow, when it's put to music, it reaches out past my defenses and goes straight to my heart:

"Would take your only son?
Would you lay your answer down?
Would you bind him to the stone?
Would you take your only son?"

The first time I heard Blue Fringe's "Hineni," I almost turned it off. The second time, I listened closely, because, given the way the song had affected me the first time, I knew that I would have to write about it. The third time was this morning, when I began writing this post—I listened so that I could write down the lyrics. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to listen to it again. It’s a beautiful song, but I can’t bear to hear the words.

Because I have an only son.

And the answer is "No."

"Ani maamin, be-emuna sh'lema . . . I believe with perfect faith . . . "

I sing these words to honor my ancestors, factual or metaphorical, who died with the Sh'ma on their lips. I sing these words for the martyrs who died al k'dushat haShem, for the sanctification of The Name, during the wars in which the Temples, first and second, were destroyed. For those who died during the revolts of the Maccabees and Bar Kochba. For the Ten Sages, whose terrible deaths we commemorate during the Martyrology on Yom Kippur/the Day of Atonement. For the victims of the Crusades, the pogroms, the Shoah/Holocaust. For all those who have died because they were Jews.

I sing those words to honor my ancestors. Not because I believe them.

Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I'm hiding, but it’s my faith that’s naked.

Either you believe that life’s misfortunes are random, or you believe that Hashem has His reasons. I cannot accept either the idea, promulgated by some, that misfortune is a punishment for sin, or the idea, supported by others, that we must simply accept misfortune and not question why, because Hashem’s ways are beyond human comprehension.

Avinu haAv haRachamun haM’Rachem—Our Father, Compassionate Father Who has compassion . . .” Does He? If so, why did He deem it necessary to put Avraham (and, for that matter, Iyov/Job) through such a trial?

Eish u’varad, sheleg v’kitor, ruach s’arah osah d’varo—Fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind fulfilling His word” (Psalm 148). Why should I trust a G-d who stands by while thousands die in tsunamis and hurricanes to stay my hand and put a ram in my son’s place?

Hineni? Here I am?


If they asked me, I would die al k'dushat haShem.

But I would not take my only son . . .

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

CD review, “Take” 2: The “Moshe Skier Band, Live”—these guys rock!

Sometimes I get these notions in my head about how something is supposed to be (or, in this case, sound) and I find it hard to try looking from a different perspective. Such was the case when first I heard this CD—I was so busy mourning the absence of a keyboard player that I failed to pay proper attention to who was present.

Coming back from Israel, I realized that I hadn’t played this CD in about a month, and decided to give it another listen. Boy, was I surprised!

Present and accounting for themselves very well indeed are drummer Dan Lawitts, bass player Mark Skier (also the band leader, lead singer, and composer of a good deal of the music that this band plays, known around the Jewish blogosphere as PT), and, last but not least, lead guitar player Mendel Appel.

. . .of whom I can only say, “Holy Moses, Mark, where do you get this guy?!!!” No wonder you enjoy working with Mendel! I once described his playing as so hot that it’s a wonder he doesn’t burn his fingers on his own guitar strings. He doesn’t need cigarettes—he’s “smokin” all by himself. :)

Mendel’s playin' wild stuff, Mark’s bass line is dancin' around the guitar line—as they used to say in the old Pall Mall cigarette jingle, “over, under, around and through”—and Dan’s tappin’ time to beat the band :). Way cool! This is some serious “park it in your CD player and you won’t fall asleep at the keyboard in the office” music. Next time we rent a car, this is going to be our “stay awake at the wheel after 11” music. "Good morning. This is your wake-up call." :)

You can find some of this rockin’ music here. E-mail Mark here for the rest—the CD is well worth the investment. (So are his “Rock of Ages” CD and his Kabbalah Band and Moshe Skier #1 CDs.) Enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Yesterday's "Jewzapalooza" concert

One of my girlfriends from shul (synagogue) told a bunch of us about this free concert yesterday in Riverside Park in Manhattan. More’s the pity that only the two of us were available. She and I had a marvelous time, occasional intrusions by politicians making speeches notwithstanding.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a spot in Riverside Park at 72nd Street that had concrete bleachers. Even after over 30 years in New York, I still discover new places. I recommended that we sit in the top row, which was on the same level as the sidewalk, so that I could get up and dance whenever I felt like it. That’s the wonderful thing about being 56 and married 28 years, with my only child away at college and in no position to be embarrassed by his mother’s shenanigans—I don’t have to worry quite as often about making a fool of myself in public. :)

Here are the bands that we heard:

Avishai Cohen, an Israeli-born bassist and composer, was “declared one of the 100 Most Influential Bass Players of the 20th Centurey by Bass Player Magazine.” This band was more M.’s thing than mine—she’s more into jazz.

Joshua Nelson & the Kosher Gospel Singers sang a combination of soul music and shul music. Picture the words “lo yisa goi el goy cherev, lo yim’du od milchama, lo yim’du od milchama” sung to the tune of “I ain’t gonna study war no more, I ain’t gonna study war no more, I ain’t gonna study war no more,” and you’ll get the general idea. A rockin’, toe-tapping, hand-clapping good time was had by all.

Blue Fringe is a band playing a kind of Jewish version of light rock, with lyrics mostly in Hebrew or English/Hebrew combinations. Very nice indeed—I ran right over to the CD booth and bought their latest CD, “70 Faces,” which I just finished listening to for the first time, and which I must declare a very enjoyable addition to my growing Jewish-music CD collection.

Golem is a wonderful klezmer/rock band, a tad on the wild side, which made the show all the more fun. Try them—you’ll like them.

Pharoah’s Daughter plays beautiful songs beautifully. They have a very good band leader and lead singer, Basya Schechter (who also plays oud, guitar, and percussion), and their instrument-playing is delightful. Their music leans heavily toward the Mizrachi and Sefardi, and they performed some lovely Ladino songs at the concert. I bought one of their CDs, too, and, while I was a tad disappointed that this particular album, “Exile,” contained English-language secular music almost exlusively, I must admit that, after a while, I just stopped listening to the words and let myself drown in the music.

Oy Va Voi was the “Surprise Performance” of the evening. They’re quite a rockin’ group. (Sorry, no URL—they weren’t on the printed program.)

Soul Farm was also a terrific band.

Okay, re Avishai Cohen, Oy Va Voi, and Soul Farm, I confess that, when I go to a Jewish concert, I’m more interested in hearing bands that play mostly Jewish music than regular jazz or rock bands whose members happen to be Jewish.

Blackfield, featuring Aviv Geffen & Steven Wilson,, gets a black mark from me. Let me put it to you this way: When the volume is cranked up so high that I don’t need to hear the bass player because I can catch the whole bass line through bone conduction across the rib cage—from, literally, two blocks away . . . We walked out before the end of the set.

Aside from the hearing-loss-inducing final set, the concert was wonderful. Fortunately, M. doesn’t mind my antics—I spent about half of the concert dancing my feet off, and had a grand old time.

Update: Run, do not walk, over to Blue Fringe's music page and listen to and/or download the song "SALAAM" from Blue Fringe's "LIVE IN WHITE PLAINS, NY 10/15/03 With Ruby Harris on violin" performance. Ruby Harris is a wonder at rock violin (not to mention country fiddle--you should hear him on the Diaspora Yeshiva Band's CDs! Mark/PT, who's played gigs with him, recommended The Diaspora Collection) . You can read more about him here and, speaking of Mark playing gigs with him, here.


“Shivti b’Vét Hashem . . . “—Davvening at the Kótel

January 9, 2006 update:

I'm going to make another attempt to "insert" my favorite among our photos of the Kotel. Wish me luck.


My first rabbi in New York used to complain bitterly that using a non-Orthodox prayer book was divisive. Every Jew should be able to walk into any synagogue in the world and pray, he said. Finally, after several years of “shul-hopping,” visiting mostly Orthodox synagogues on “sheni’s” and “acharon’s” (days of the Pilgrimage Festivals not observed by Reform or, in some cases, Reconstructionist, Jews), I concluded that he was right. Therefore, I undertook what’s probably still, to this day, one of the greatest Jewish learning challenges that I’ve ever undertaken, with the possible exception of learning to chant the Torah reading (do kriat hatorah) for the morning of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement): I learned to pray the entire matbéah shel t'fillah (the core required part of the service—everything word from Bar’chu through the [Musaf] Amidah) for weekdays, Rosh Chodesh (first day of a Jewish month), Shabbat (Sabbath) and the Shalosh R’galim (Pilgrimage Festivals).

Unfortunately, I was still in the learning process the first time I went to Israel. It was the summer after our wedding. I was 29, and Our Favorite Physics Student was yet to arrive.

I stood at the Kótel haMaaraví—the Western Wall, sacred to Jews as the retaining wall holding up the expanded Temple Mount, and the only surviving wall pertaining to the Temple—and literally didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was standing on sacred ground, and yet . . . I left feeling empty, as if I’d missed something.

I had.

This time, we managed to get to the Kótel on three different days. And on each day, I knew exactly what to do. First, I went up to the Kótel, placed my hand on this wall that had seen my ancestors wait for the opportunity to bring their offerings to Hashem, and said Ashré—Happy are they who dwell in Your house. Which I was. Then, to make room for other women waiting behind me, I backed away a few yards/meters—and davvened (prayed) the rest of Mincha, the Afternoon Service. I even went through a good portion of my Sefer T'hillim (Book of Psalms), reciting all the psalms that I knew until it was time to leave. On each occasion, I made sure that, in addition to Ashré, I recited the other two psalms that I know that I thought were appropriate to the location, Mizmor Shir Chanukah haBayit, l’David (A Song, A Psalm for the Dedication of “the House,” by [for] David, Psalm 30), and L’David—Hashem Ori v’Yish’i (Of [for] David—G-d is My Light and My Salvation, Psalm 27), also known as the so-called Penitential Psalm, recited during the month preceding the Yamim Noraim (High Holydays) which contains the verses “One thing I asked of Hashem, that shall I seek: That I dwell in the House of Hashem (Shivti b'Vét Hashem) all the days of my life.” (My girlfriend the cantor pointed out that I’d missed one: “Samachti b’omrim li, ’Bét Hashem néléch. ' Omdim hayu raglénu bi-sh’arayich, Yerushalayim. I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the House of Hashem. Our feet stood within your gates, Jerusalem” (Psalm 122). I’ll remember that one the next time I davven at the Kótel. [The soundtrack for this psalm, playing in my mind’s ear, is wonderful—there I am, in the alto row of my former synagogue’s choir, singing Cantor Charles Osborn’s choral version.])

I stood there, davvening, reciting psalms, looking at this wall that had seen so much of my people’s history. It was a moving experience, awe-inspiring. This time, being at the Kótel truly meant something to me. This time, the past reached out to the present and touched my soul.

This time, I belonged.

Now, I belong.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

“Hafachta misp’di l’machol li”—Song and Dance in Jerusalem

Don't forget to check out the November 16, 2006 YouTube additions below!

As you may have gathered, I’m still “processing” my recent trip to Israel. Seeing my parents was a mixture of joy and sorrow—joy in seeing them after such a long separation, but sorrow in seeing the toll that age, illness, and memory loss have taken. And while it’s always a pleasure seeing my brother, ex-sister-in-law, nieces and nephew, seeing them also made me all too painfully aware of how difficult it is for me to maintain a sense of connection with family separated by continents. My nieces and nephew are virtual strangers to me, and to their first cousin, my son, as well. The “global village” is no substitute for the real one, in which the family lives, as I did as a teenager with my own first cousins, a bicycle-ride away.

That said, we had some truly wonderful moments in Jerusalem.

“You have changed for me my lament into dancing.”

We spent Tuesday evening, August 22 at the Israel Museum’s ethnic fair, where we watched a performance of a Bokharian singing group. Most of the singers, having come to the entirely reasonable conclusion that the sound technician was never going to be able to get their microphones working, decided to treat us to an informal and improvised dance presentation, instead, relying on the drummer and the one singer with a working microphone to keep the music going. And what a wonderful performance it was! I have a delightful video of several minutes of the performance that I truly wish I knew how to share with you on the Internet. The best dancer was the oldest guy in the group—the video shows him on his knees, dancing beautifully with his upper body alone. He was outstanding. And, although, obviously, it would have been better if we could have actually heard all of the singers, the music was wonderful.


We went Israeli folk dancing twice. I seem to have forgotten to write down any details about our first session. I think it was on Wednesday night, in a gym somewhere in some Israeli equivalent of a YM-YWHA. We had a really good time. But we had an even better time, though the dance room was smaller, on Saturday, August 27. After Shabbat, we went to the Merkaz haTarbut HaAmim L’Noar/International Cultural Center for Youth to a wonderful Israeli folk dance session run by Boaz Cohen . We got there only half an hour late, so we were there in time to do many of the easier dances. Then, at around 11 PM, all of us were invited, much to our surprise, to partake of vegetarian couscous in the courtyard of the Cultural Center. We wondered what the occasion was and who paid for it. To our further surprise, the group split in two after the m’sibah/party, with “couples dancing” in the main room and circle dancing and some teaching in a smaller room across the hall. After about an hour, they kicked us out of the small room and recombined the groups, going back to circle dancing. I was having such a grand time that I stayed much longer than I’ve stayed at a session in years, only insisting on leaving at 1 AM. On the way out, I took a two-minute video of the dancing with the session leader in the center of the circle. Boy, was he ever a good dancer! And boy, would I love to be able to post that video!


(And boy, do I have news for my Orthodox readers: Israeli folk dancers in Israel hardly ever hold hands while doing circle dances. Even in the U.S., there’s an increasing tendency not to hold hands for circle dances. Choreographers are even choreographing circle dances that deliberately bypass hand-holding. The “look Rav, no hands” approach has the choreographic advantage of allowing for a quite incredible range of arm movements that simple aren’t seen—because they aren’t possible—in dances in which the dancers hold hands. So, it’s getting easier and easier for shomer negiah ( folks who don’t object to dancing without a mechitzah to go Israeli folk dancing. I look forward to seeing you.)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

S. called and offered to take us to Chutzot haYotzer, Jerusalem's annual outdoor international crafts fair, held at B'rékat haSultan/the Sultan’s Pool. There, we saw two wonderful Indian dancers perform on the small stage, then caught a performance on the main stage by a group called Hatractor. Fortunately, S. thought to lead us up to almost the very top row of the bleachers, so that we wouldn't be deafened by the blasting speakers. Unfortunately, he's never developed an interest in contemporary Israeli music and had absolutely no idea of the name of the lead singer, who's also the composer, some of whose songs the Punster and I know from Israeli folk dancing. So we still have no idea to whom we were listening. He was wonderful, though. And the concert was a nice, low-tech affair--the only fancy touches were a smoke machine and an occasion flash of colored lights. The singer was standing there--not doing any fancy modern choreographed stage moves, in nothing but a plain tee-shirt and open shirt--just singing his heart out, and doing a fantastic job of it. What a voice! After a while, S. and Our Favorite Physics Major had had enough, so they left to wander among the crafts booths, leaving the Punster and me literally dancing by our seats. We had the most wonderful time. Now, if only we could find out the name of the singer/songwriter . . .

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Unsuspended Animation—A Moment in Musical Time (poem)


(Yes, I’m shouting, and I’ll do it again.)


Sometimes, I know some of the words,
And tear my hair out trying to catch the rest of them

Occasionally, I know all of the words,
But I have no idea from where

This time, I know all the words,
I know exactly from where!

Now, how often does that happen?

Years ago, I realized that I already knew
Half of Haftarat Noach—it’s the same as Haftarat Ki Tetze
So I learned the other half
By doing so, I added two new haftarot to my repertoire—
Every haftarah learned
In a synagogue that can count its haftarah chanters
(Baalei/baalot haftarah?)
On two hands

So there I sat, not having been called in to work that Friday
Our home printer on my left cranking out checks
(Gotta pay the early-October bills—
at least the ones with late fees—
before Rosh Hashanah, no?)
While, to my right, lay my beloved, battered Hertz Chumash
Its cover long gone from over 30 years of constant use
Opened to Haftarat Re’eh
And what the composer has so delicately described as
“those crappy computer speakers”
cranked up high enough
that I could hear his voice—a real singer’s—above my own

I stood up, and, right away, got into trouble
“No, no, not now, not to this one!
Wait for the full-band version!”
But my feet refused to suspend their animation
And so the rest of me gave up, and followed suit
Such a delight!
What a simple pleasure
To choreograph for solo singer and acoustic guitar alone

Back to work!
The bills were magnetized to the apartment door
Awaiting mailing
I headed into the kitchen
And there, scrubbing the countertops,
I found myself entertaining the poor, long-suffering neighbors
With full voice and heart
Singing a new song to Hashem

Motz’ei Shabbat, Saturday, September 24, 2005

Mark Skier's Aniyah (acoustic)


Friday, September 23, 2005

". . .May it be Your will . . . that their homes not become their graves"—For the victims of Hurricane Katrina

"For the people of the Sharon he [the Cohen Gadol/High Priest] prayed: May it be Your will, L-rd our G-d and G-d of our Ancestors, that their homes not become their graves."

Philip (Paltiel) Birnbaum, Z'L (RIP), in a footnote on page 825 of his High Holyday Prayer Book (1951), explains: "With reference to the inhabitants of a place name Sharon in Palestine we are told that they had to renovate their homes twice in each seven-year period because the bricks there were not substantial enough to withstand the effects of the weather. Hence the high priest's special prayer on behalf of anshei haSharon [the people of Sharon], lest they be buried in the ruins of their homes."

Ever since I returned from Israel and was confronted, at closer range, with the story of the devastation of the Gulf Coast, I've been trying to figure out where in the Yom Kippur service I'd heard those ancient words, which, somehow, seemed to express my reaction to this present-day tragedy. For so many, their homes have, indeed, become their graves. But my final push to do some serious searching for those words came from this post, and the song that was posted with it. The words to the song are from Haftarat Re'eh, from Yishayah/Isaiah chapter 54, verses 11 and 13, and chapter 55, verse 1. Tze u'lmad—go and study. A Song for Katrina.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Shelter of peace (a poem)

It was a three-tiered fountain.
From the top bowl, the water poured out
Cascading to the second bowl
Then to the third
Where a sparrow splashed about for several minutes
Flapping its wings
Taking a sip, then another
Before flying away

In the park, under the trees
I’d whiled away my lunch hour
On this, the last day of summer
What a beauty!
Sunny, just warm enough, a gentle breeze blowing

Always, under a canopy of leafy trees
I feel such a sense of peace
As if I were sitting in Hashem’s own sukkat shalom

I’ll miss this when the cold weather comes
But there’s a consolation in seeing the gentle geometry
of the bare tree branches’ lacy tracery
against the sky

Meanwhile, I’ll take thick-leaved branches
Willows of the brook, palm leaves
Heaven-scented citron
And rejoice before Hashem with lulav and etrog
and words of brachah

In gratitude for His beautiful, bountiful Earth
I’ll while away my lunch hour in a human-made sukkah


Monday, September 19, 2005

City Lights in Elul (a poem)


Walking to the subway through the dark night
Blinded by the halogens of an oncoming car
Lights outlining the roof of the new bank on the corner

Up the stairs and onto the elevated subway train we go
Gazing out over our borough
At the streets below
Lights on the stores—red, green
Lights shining out through the light-industry factory windows
Cool blue, dirty yellow, bright white
Golden orange lights in the open-air parking garage
Floodlights shining on a billboard

Down into the tunnel we go, to subnavigate the East River
A blue light at the tunnel's entrance
Traffic signals for the motorperson at the “driver’s wheel”
Green, yellow, red


As if to remind me
that it’s that time of year
when we speak of light
to think of the Light
Hashem ori v’yish’i—G-d is my light and my salvation

May Your light light our paths
and bring us closer
To You
And to one another


Friday, September 16, 2005

Circling Ben Gurion, so to speak—trying to avoid the obvious (part 5)

Let’s go back to that “Bad Daughter” post, shall we?

Actually, I’d rather not, which is why I’ve been avoiding posting this in the first place.

I’m no good at maintaining long-distance relationships. Not only have I done a terrible job of it with my parents, I’ve done a bad job with both brothers, too. And I scarcely know my nieces and nephew.

Mom’s coping about as well as can be expected, considering the fact that she has to do most of the thinking for two. Fortunately, she has a social worker whom she sees on a regular basis. She has the social worker’s cell phone number, too, just in case.

What can I say about Dad? First, he asked me why I was going back to the U.S. “What do you have left there?” Clearly, he was mistaking me for my ex-sister-in-law, who has no siblings and whose parents have both been gone for well over 15 years. (My youngest niece is named after N.’s mother.) Fortunately, that memory glitch lasted for only about a minute. But then, to make matters more interesting, there was that incident in front of the Tali School. “You went to school there, didn’t you?” It was weird enough being mistaken for N., but being mistaken for one of her daughters was even weirder. At least N. is of my generation.

But the saddest thing for me was the silence in my parents’ apartment. My father, who’s obviously much better at listening to music and doing something else at the same time that I am, almost always had music going. Classical, Broadway, Golden Oldies (the Barry Sisters singing “Bei Mir Bist du Schein"), Big Band, it didn’t matter. (I developed such a fondness for the Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman bands that, when we had a “D.J.” playing folk dance records at our wedding reception and wanted to play something for some of the older folks, I had Dad bring some Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman records with him.) Let me correct myself, which is, I guess, the point of this post: My father was much better at listening to music . . . Not anymore. He still sings to himself. But he can’t listen to music anymore. It’s all noise to him now. He didn’t want to listen to CDs. He wasn’t crazy about hearing me singing, either. He just wants peace and quiet.

What’s the rush? He’ll get that, soon enough.

As I said, I took a hit.

Circling Ben Gurion, so to speak—trying to avoid the obvious (part 4)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Mom and Dad having walked us yesterday to the Tali School only about a block and a half from where we’re staying so that we could find our way without waiting for them, we showed up at the Bet haKnesset Masorti Shevet Achim a mere half hour late and discovered, much to our dismay, that they were already up to the repetition of the Amidah. Boy, do they ever davven fast! [Update, Fri., Aug. 29, 2008: I learned, long after this trip, that it's Minhag Yerushalmi, the Custom of Jerusalem, to recite at least Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings) at home before going to synagogue. I've also heard that some have the custom to pray part of the Pesukei D'Zimrah, Verses of Song, sometimes called the Introductory Service, at home as well, and to start with Ashrei in synagogue. That probably accounts for the service having been much farther along after only half an hour than we had anticipated--in our home synagogue, we're barely at Bar'chu after half an hour, but we start with "Baruch . . . asher natan la-sechvi . . ." in Birkot HaShachar at our shul.] The congregation having become much more international in make-up over the years, neither the original English nor the later Russian is used at all anymore—everything is in Hebrew exclusively. We davvened with the synagogue’s Rinat Yisrael Sfard books, so we really had to stay alert and not davven on autopilot—Nusach Sfard combines the Ashkenazi and Sefardi nusachim, so sometimes the words and/or pronunciations are different, and nusach Sfard is also famous for adding extra words. The congregation was led by a baalat tefillah and mixed baalot and baalei koreh, some of whom read for themselves. Much to my surprise, they followed the triennial cycle. Both the d’var Torah before the reading and the one before musaf were given in Hebrew. They did a hecha kedushah for musaf, so the whole service was over in about two hours.

I borrowed one of the shul’s tallitot. It was the largest tallit I’d ever worn, and made the experience literally feel a bit different. Instead of feeling that I was wearing a shawl, I felt as if I were wearing a cape. The tallit was so long, top to bottom, that I was sitting on it, and it really wasn’t possible to wear it both in front of the arms shawl-style and over the shoulders—I really had to put it over my shoulders. I had the real sense of wearing a garment. Maybe it’s time I consider going to a larger tallit.

After Kiddush with the congregation, we went to lunch at Mom and Dad’s apartment. We discussed societal changes over the past 50 years or so. We discussed my dismay that college graduates can no longer be assumed to speak English at a high level of proper usage. We also discussed the increased use of vulgar language, my father insisting that certain words were never said in the Army, whereas my son insisted that vulgar and insulting language is now used by drill sergeants all the time—he’s heard the ROTC drill sergeants on campus put their troops through some really nasty tongue lashings. This was probably the most intelligent conversation my father’s been able to have since we’ve been here. It was a real pleasure.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

S. drove us to the airport. He explained the way that roadside security checks work. What appears to be idle, polite chitchat is actually an integral part of a security check--the soldiers are listening for Arabic accents.

Racial profiling is alive and well in Israel. Jews of B'nei Edot haMizrach origin are far more likely to be stopped than are Jews of clearly Western origin. And that's where the accent check comes in handy--it enables the soldiers to distinguish between Jewish Arabs and Muslim Arabs.

S. doesn't see anything wrong with racial profiling. He thinks it's perfectly logical to stop the folks who are known to be most likely to commit acts of terrorism, and can't understand why we Americans are so squeamishly politically correct on this issue.

He also told me, "Your presence must have jogged Dad's memory--I haven't seen him in such good shape in months," said my brother. "Don't bother coming back next year--he won't know you by then." Dad can no longer remember much for long. One has to repeat things to him six times in the space of an hour. At one point, he mistook me for N., and, at another, he thought I was one of S.'s daughters. S. also pointed out that Mom is as thin as a rail: Every few years, she has a major illness, loses weight, and never regains it. Mom is so frail that she can't manage physically without Dad, and Dad needs Mom to do the thinking. No matter who goes first, the other will be hard-pressed to live alone without help, he said.

We took one photo of S., said goodbye, and got on the interminable lines.

Circling Ben Gurion, so to speak—trying to avoid the obvious (part 3)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

. . .having spent Shabbat with my brother and his girlfriend, we spent Sunday and Monday with my ex-sister-in-law, who, obviously, remains our son’s aunt. We expect to spend next Shabbat with her and whichever of her children—probably only L.—is/are available.

On Sunday, we took a bus tour of Jerusalem, with N. providing the interpreting. (She told us that the infidada had pretty much killed off the foreign-tourist industry, which was why so few tours were conducted in English.) The poor bus driver did the best he could, considering the fact that the bus with the microphone was out of order. Then, we ate at Bet Ticho, the former home of a physician and his artist wife. We ate in the garden, under the shade of a couple of beach umbrellas. The food was wonderful! I am struck by how delicious Israeli fruits and vegetables are. My brother says that that’s because they’re grown much closer to where they’re eaten, and are, therefore, a lot fresher. Then, we walked around the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall again. I asked N. what one called a pedestrian mall in Hebrew. She said it was called a midrachov, combining the words midracha (sidewalk) and rehov (street). I pestered poor N. for Hebrew vocabulary all day.

Monday, August 22, 2005

We spent the day with N. again. First, we went to the seniors’ craft center Yad Lakashish, where I bought a beribboned and lacy woman’s kippah s’rugah and N. bought a wall hanging. [Yad LaKashish is one of my mother’s favorite places. They have the most beautiful handicrafts. And you’re supporting a good cause by buying them, too. “Quick note—the same #1 bus that took us from the Kotel to the Tachanah HaMercazit/Central (Bus) Station also took us past Yad LaKashish.”] Then we took a walking tour of the Ir haAtika. That’s where it got interesting. We were supposed to take a “tunnel tour” of some of the underground excavations around the Kotel, but we got separated by sex at the Kotel—and, having failed to coordinate a meeting place, stayed separated for about an hour longer than we should have. Once we finally found one another, courtesy of my parents’ cell phone, we grabbed a bite and wondered around the Jewish Quarter some more, stopping to see a museum in the Herodian Quarter that N. had never seen before. We rescheduled the tunnel tour for Monday, so that’s okay.

Speaking of seeing, I’d never before spent enough time outdoors with N. to notice the challenges that she faces as a person who’s legally blind. It took me a while to adjust to the fact that she wasn’t kidding when she asked us to check something that was only half a block away—she really can’t see that far. (I imagine that she has to ask either other people at the bus stop or the bus driver him/herself which number bus it is—she certainly can’t see far enough to read the number.) She walks up the stairs with no trouble, but does sometimes cope better going down the stairs when holding unto a railing or another person.

I’m looking forward to seeing her this coming Friday and Shabbat.

Friday, August 26, 2005

. . .

We went back to N.’s apartment, where we met the rest of the crew—my older niece A.R., my nephew A.Y., and my younger niece L. Also on hand were A.R.’s boyfriend, and, of course, N.’s boyfriend G. Somehow, I got so busy talking with the assorted young folk and prepping fruit and veggies for Shabbat dinner that I completely forgot to take pictures of my nieces and nephew! (I’m going to ask my uncle, who was here only a few weeks before I got here, to send some photos my way.) I did manage to connect a bit more with L., who’s majoring in theater in high school—she still has two more years to go.

A.Y. spent the most time with us. He led a few z’mirot. He also gave us a short d’var Torah on the dangers of being too machmir, saying that perhaps the second Temple might not have been destroyed if the Cohanim/Priests had been willing to accept the slightly-imperfect sacrificial offering of the Romans instead of insulting them by rejecting it. Along with that, he put an interesting twist on the ancient observance of Tu B’Av, in which the young women all wore borrowed white dresses so that the men would chose wives without knowing who was rich and who was poor. He reminded us that, with the laws given to b’not Tzlofchad saying that brotherless daughters could inherit land from their fathers provided that they married within the tribe, Tu B’Av stood that law on its head by making it impossible to tell who came from which tribe—it was the one day of the year when anyone, rich or poor, could marry anyone, no matter from which tribe! Then he led birkat hamazon.

A.Y. will continue for another year in the midrasha pre-Tzahal study-and-social-service, then spend two years in Tzahal, then probably spend what’s become the customary post-Tzahal year traveling, probably to South Asia, then, he hopes, he’ll go to the Berkeley School of Music in Boston, possibly preceded by attendance at another school of music in London, to study drums. In answer to my question, he told me that he played both Middle Eastern and western drums. His mom joked that he played everything—tables, boxes, her plastic stools from the mirpeset/balcony, and pretty much anything he could get his hands on. :)

Circling Ben Gurion, so to speak—trying to avoid the obvious (part 2)

Friday, August 19, 2005

My brother picked us up at 7:45 AM for a walking tour of which he’s an organizer. We walked through a nice section of Yaar Yerushalayim/the Jerusalem Forest, with my poor bro busting his chops as interpreter. Down the mountainside we walked, then up another into Ein Kerem. There, we saw a couple of churches and an outdoor agricultural museum. It was hot as bleep, and the hills were a bit steep, but we drank water like fish and had a wonderful time.

Time to catch some shut-eye: We’re spending Shabbat with my brother. I’m really looking forward to this. He made aliyah 28 years ago, literally weeks about the Punster and I got married—we moved our wedding date from November to June so he wouldn’t miss it. So this will be the longest time I’ve spent with him in 28 years, and the longest time my son has ever spent with him. Okay, nap time.

Shabbat with my brother

There were so many of us there at one time that my brother and his girlfriend had to move some furniture out of the kitchen to accommodate all of us for Shabbat dinner. What a mob scene! There were my mother and father, the Punster, the Young Scientist, me, my brother S., my older niece, my nephew, my younger niece, my brother’s girlfriend R., her two elementary-school-aged daughters, and her mother. Aside from the language barrier—I don’t think R.’s mother said a word all evening (which, according to my mother, is what she does whenever they’re there for dinner), and her daughters know almost no English, either—we got along famously. There was joking and singing around the table in both languages, with occasional translations.

My nieces and nephew have grown so much that I scarcely recognize them. But we do get an opportunity to speak to the older two after we repair to the living room. A.R.., 25, is entering her second year at Ben Gurion University, having done her tour of active duty in Tzahal, spend some time in South Asia and some in the US. She’s decided to major in Political Sociology, a combination that I didn’t even know existed. A.Y., 19, is entering his second year of pre-Tzahal, working as a volunteer with at-risk youth, the disabled, and/or seniors and, this coming year, doing a lot of heavy-duty studying. This year, he’s entering a program in which he’ll be learning all manner of Jewish traditional texts in chevruta with other men and women from across the religious spectrum, from chiloni to kippah s’rugah. He’s turning into quite the family scholar. We didn’t get much of a chance to speak with L., who, being 16, apparently felt more comfortable hanging out with her two younger “sisters.” My brother’s kids and R.’s act like one big family, which was a pleasure to see.

We talked about the hitnatkut. I commented that everyone, including taxi drivers and bus drivers, seemed to have had their ears glued to the news since we arrived, which I could certainly understand. My brother told me that he usually drives in silence, but that, this week, he kept turning the news on, then off—he could only listen for about 15 minutes at a time before getting upset.

My brother tried to correct what he thought were misunderstandings on my part. He said that most of the settlers in Gush Katif, unlike many of the settlers in the West Bank, were there less because the government had told them that it was okay or a good thing—or cheaper—to live there, and more for reasons of religious ideology. He said that, odd as it might seem, the settlements established for practical reasons by the Labor party were more likely to prove non-negotiable, being considerably larger and more contiguous with the areas within the Green Line, than the more scattered, more ideology-based settlements established by Likud, which he thinks will all be given back over time. It’s a lot easier to give back Gush Katif, Gannim, and a few other settlements in Shomron than to uproot places like Efrat. He also said that we shouldn’t worry about the expansion of established cities that are beyond the Green Line. When the time comes, he said, Israel would just exchange some other territory, probably in the Negev, for that land.

My brother and I agreed that Sharon was giving up Gush Katif and those cities in the Shomron to make Israel more easily defensible. He added, though, that Sharon has basically given up on peace in the short run and is settling in for a long struggle. He also expressed concern that the so-called security fence, which is, in many places, an actual wall, may bring some quiet in the short run, but that locking a large group of unemployed men behind a wall was likely to fan the flames of anger in the long run.

Our discussion even result in A. Y. pulling out a dictionary to do a little research on dikduk—they were debating whether the word hitnatkut or hinatkut would be a better description. From what I could gather, hitnatkut means the self-withdrawal, whereas hinatkut means, simply, withdrawal. He prefers the term hinatkut.

We spent all of Shabbat with my brother and R., and had a grand time.

Circling Ben Gurion, so to speak—trying to avoid the obvious

“My trips home have been brief hit-and-run missions. I see my folks, then head back.”

So said Mark in a recent post.

Maybe the real reason why I posted on my observations of daily life in Israel, rather than posting portions of my travel diary, was that I haven’t quite been able to deal with the trip on an emotional level. The mission may have been “hit and run.” But I’m the one who took a hit.

This is as close as I’ve gotten, thus far:

Shalom, lo l'hitraot?--Goodby, not until we see one another again?

On Monday, I walked out of my parents' apartment blinking away tears. "Your presence must have jogged Dad's memory--I haven't seen him in such good shape in months," said my brother. "Don't bother coming back next year--he won't know you by then." My father can no longer remember much for long. One has to repeat things to him six times in the space of an hour. At one point, he mistook me for N., and, at another, he thought I was one of my brother's daughters. And my mother is as thin as a rail: Every few years, she has a major illness, loses weight, and never regains it. Mom is so frail that she can't manage physically without Dad, and Dad needs Mom to do the thinking. No matter who goes first, the other will be hard-pressed to live alone without help. I'm typing this through tears--I don't know whether I'll ever see either of them again.

posted by Shira Salamone at 11:14 AM


PsychoToddler said...

I know that feeling.

Tue Sep 06, 09:56:32 AM 2005

Shira Salamone said...

Sorry it took me so long to respond--I'm still playing catch-up.Yeah, it's no picnic, seeing what kind of shape your parents are in and wondering "when?," especially if you're not exactly living in the neighborhood and can't really be there for them. We seem to be in somewhat similar situations, in that regard.

Sat Sep 10, 09:17:58 PM 2005

Let me try again.

Thursday, August 18

The ride from the airport turned into a bit of an adventure. It seems that the driver had never been to my parents’ neighborhood before and had no idea how to get there. He asked me for travel directions, as far as I can determine, given my limited Hebrew. Well, I figured he was the one getting paid, and let him have it. “Atah Yisraeli. Ech anachnu yod’im?” I hope that meant, more or less, “You’re the Israeli. How would we know?” Finally, we arrived, safe and sound and, after quite a few stops on the driver’s part to ask other drivers and pedestrians, in the right place, too. :) Mom and Dad were waiting for us with keys, sheets, pillowcases, and towels. It was great to see them again. We dumped our bags and walked back to their place.

After the food Mom ordered was delivered by the local m’kolet [grocery store]—with a Shabbat Shalom by the delivery guy—we hopped on the bus for what turned out to be quite a long ride to the Ben Yehudah pedestrian mall. This was where my parents’ age started to show. They can walk and climb stairs pretty well, though Dad’s permanently bent forward at the hips and complains of a bad back. But they both use canes now, and Dad walks much more slowly than Mom does, even though he’s only two years older. But, since neither of them is capable of eating and walking at the same time anymore, their schwarma sandwiches became a half-hour sit-down affair. Finally, we got a power converter for the Punster’s laptop, an electric teakettle as a gift for our host, and hats for both of my guys, and headed back.

Mom’s hair is still brown, amazingly enough. (Apparently, I take after Mom—I’m 56, but if I have more than half a dozen gray hairs, I’d be surprised.) Dad’s short-term memory is shot—Mom has to tell him the same thing six times. Dad takes his problems with good humor, and doesn’t object—at least not visibly—to Mom telling him what to do. It’s sad, though. But at least he still has the same personality. He still walks around the “house” singing, and tells silly jokes. And he considers doing the dishes his personal responsibility, so he’s still trying to carry some of the weight.

I’m so glad that the Young Scientist is with us. My parents made aliyah when he was less than three years old. And before that, they didn’t live within easy commuting distance. This will be the longest time that he’s ever spent with them in his life—or is ever likely to. I hope he comes to appreciate them as human beings, not just voices on the telephone.

Looking in through the candy-store window: A technology-challenged person speaks out

This is how it feels:

[From an e-mail]
“The phone-book file is a story in itself. When we first got a computer, [our son] was around 6 and I was at home with him, so, while he was in school, I took some time every day to enter my handwritten phone book into the computer. After about a month and a half, I had the whole thing entered, and was feeling quite proud of myself. Unfortunately, when I mentioned my accomplishment to a more tech-savvy friend of ours, he looked at me as if I had two heads. Apparently, there was this thing called a database application . . . *Now* you tell me?! I didn't even know how to set up a table--I'd alphabetized the whole phone book manually, the old-fashioned way! To this day, I've never had the koach to re-do the thing. So my phone book went from Multimate to WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS to Word for Windows, and there it sits, to this day.”

[From an e-mail]
“ I've always said of computers that my generation is like a generation of immigrant parents--just as immigrant children teach their parents the language of their new country, so my generation's children are way ahead of many of us older parents in figuring out how to use computers and other modern technological marvels (digital cameras, DVRs, etc.)."

True, that’s what I’ve always said, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that “it ain’t necessarily so.” Half of my friends—people of roughly my age—are more adept at using computers and modern technology than I am. It’s not my age group—it’s me.

This is how it feels:

“You don’t have to hold down the button while you’re taking videos. Just push it once to start, then push it once to stop. . . . “ “Of course the camera isn’t taking pictures—you still have it on the video setting. Watch your settings. Make sure it’s on the “photo” setting. . . .”Why don’t you use the portrait setting when you’re taking pictures of people?” . . . If you’re going to take a landscape shot, use the landscape setting. Look at the icons—they’re self-explanatory.” (Oh, of course—the icon is a frame around two black arrows standing side by side. They’re supposed to suggest mountains. I knew that. Not.)

Sorry, son, I’m illiterate in icon. We never learned to read icon in elementary school. (Of course, that’s because most icons didn’t exist yet.)

[From an e-mail:]
"[Our son] says the icons on our camera are easy to figure out. Maybe that's because he's studying Japanese. :) "

This is how it feels:

One of my best friends is a computer wiz. She wrote a proposal to the New York State Education Department seeking authorization for the college for which she works to start a new degree-granting program in instructional technology (the use of computers and other technology in education). Her proposal won the state’s approval, and the program is now up and running. She also gets her jollies designing databases with another friend.

I took a full-day crash course in Access. I didn’t understand a thing. So I took a teach-yourself-Access instruction book, went through every exercise and read the entire guide cover to cover. I still don’t understand a thing.

This is how it feels:

I was trying to carry my share of the weight, for once, by installing my own anti-virus software update. The software didn’t work—I couldn’t get the new GoBack installed, despite having uninstalled the old one. So the Punster called Symantec to see what the problem was. It turned out that, by dint of sheer talent, I’d managed not to complete the installation. How, exactly, does one manage to stop an automatic upload??!!

This is how it feels:

"I'm not your tech support anymore. Read the manual, or look it up on the Internet. You have to figure out how to do these things yourself."

I already tried that, remember? I tried to learn Access by reading the book and following the instructions. It didn't help. I tried to install some software from a CD that should have done the whole installation automatically. That didn't work either.

Technology and I just don't get along. Attention Deficit Disorder + instruction manual = inability to focus + information overload = confusion.

This is how it feels:

At 40, I had just gotten my first computer, and was busy figuring out the perfect way—or not—to enter data (see above).

At 39, this other individual has a very nice blog. It’s loaded with photos. It has colored text, and text in italics. It has those wonderful one-word hyperlinks instead of the clunky full URLs that I’m always using. And not only does it have a sidebar, but, to make things even nicer, the blogs listed therein get these neat little “Updated” notations displayed next to their names, probably automatically, whenever they’ve been updated. Cool. :)

It gets better, folks—click on the one-word hyperlink that says here and you’ll go there. His website has more hyperlinks than Wikipedia. And “oh, the places you’ll go”—the links take you to “Bootlegs of live performances!” And “Reviews.” You can even “Watch Movies Here.” After all of which, you can “Click HERE to purchase the album.” But, wait, I haven’t finished yet. You can download mp3’s. (Roughly translated, “mp3” means “music.” :) ) And check out that whatever-it-is called a “radio blog:” Click on a song and it’ll play music for about an hour, on autopilot. Even cooler. :)

[From e-mails]
Yours truly: “Speaking of camcorders, I have to ask you this, because you're the only person I know who's done it! How do you upload videos to the Internet? I have a few that we took in Israel that I would love to send around, but I couldn't even figure out how to send those dance videos, which were probably shorter. What's the method? Do I need a website? Is this going to be a major national project? (And are you gonna shoot me for bein' such a pest? :) "

The Party in Question: “You need to have the capability of transferring video from the camera to the computer. That means either a relatively new camera and a relatively new computer, or a video capture card or box that you can connect to your computer and VCR. Your son will need to help you with this because I don’t think there’s any way I can do this through email.

What I have is a new cannon DVR recorder which has a DVR output. I put a firewire card into the computer I bought in January. Then I bought a special cable to connect the two. Now the video can be uploaded directly into the computer via either native windows xp software or special software that came with the camera. Then you have to compress it to web quality (usually an option when you save the clip) and up load it somewhere. Like a podcast.

Where did I lose you?”

Yours truly: “Er, as long as you asked, you lost me here: "Then you have to compress it to web quality (usually an option when you save the clip) and up load it somewhere. Like a podcast."

I'm afraid I'm still at the "Internet for Dummies" level. Sigh. Between this and Homestar, there are times when I'm not sure we speak the same language. "

The Party in Question: "You gotta get on the stick with the Homestar ;) "

It’s said that almost every word in Hebrew has a shoresh, a three-letter root. Lamed, mem, dalet—L, M, D. Lilmod (to study). L’lamed (to teach). Melamed (a teacher of young students, pupils). Talmid (student).

So is “pod” an English shoresh? Podcast? iPod? What’s a pod? Everybody else knows what a pod is. I don’t.

That’s how it feels.

Friday, Sept. 23, 2005 update:

PsychoToddler said...
Why aren't you using the button bars in the blogger compose post window to do the hyperlinks?
Thu Sep 22, 04:52:12 PM 2005

Experiments with buttons in "compose post" window follow:

"The wonderful world of color"



Unquote (tricky—gotta write the part after the quote first—can't figure out how to turn the "blockquote" feature off.)

And now for the great hyperlink experiment:


Hey, check out that "Preview" function—I can finally check my posts before I publish them. (Maybe I can catch more mistakes before they get posted worldwide.) You mean that one-word hyperlink that I just attempted to create actually works?! Holy Moses! Thanks, Mark!


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"Sweatin' to the Oldies," Jewish style

Congratulate me—I've been banished to "Siberia." No, really, that's a good thing. Boss # 1 has hired a new assistant—I hope she'll stay longer than the last one, who quit after one week—he's also reapportioned the work assignments. In plain English, the new gal is now helping my overworked officemate and answering phones, while I sit at one of our office's public-access computers down the hall and type. Yay—no more answering phones! I'm free! :)

Boss # 1 has finally figured out that the organization really needs someone to specialize in editing and formatting Word documents, which we produce in massive quantities due to various government and other regulations. In other words, I'm a one-woman typing pool, or, in modern parlance, a one-person word-processing center. As to exactly what my new position is going to be called, and how much I'm going to be paid for it, stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch house, our office building has been without air conditioning for two days, and is expected to remain that way for at least another two. On the plus side, now that I'm not answering phones anymore, I can listen to my CDs at work. (It's a good thing, too—the public-access computers don't have audio hardware installed, so I can't listen to anything on the Internet.) So I'm sitting here pounding away at the keyboard while distracting myself from the heat by listening to Mark's "Rock of Sages" album ( As I said, I'm "Schvitzin' to the Oldies." :)

"The Movie Set"—A cautionary tale for young people

When I was in my mid-twenties and still single, I knew a guy from my synagogue who was very handsome.

I could barely tolerate him.

Women of my generation would describe him as one of those guys who thinks he's G-d's gift to womankind. He thought he could "coast" on his good looks alone. Well, he couldn't. He never had anything interesting to say, and I thought he was a crashing bore.

Years ago, I gave him the secret nickname “The Movie Set.” Like a movie set, he was all façade, with nothing behind it.

I had no use for him whatsover.

A gift box with nothing in it, however beautifully wrapped, is still an empty box. And not many people appreciate getting an empty gift box. Don't think that you're going to be of any interest to, well, anyone to whom you wish to be of interest unless you have something interesting going on upstairs to offer them. You'd be surprised by how few people are interested in a person who's only a pretty face.

Monday, September 12, 2005

"Our Gang," Salamone-Punster style: The Conservative Jewish community

Since it seems to me that I've been blogging a good deal about the Orthodox Jewish community and not nearly enough about my own Conservative crew, I've been thinking for a while about posting something about the Conservative movement. The post from which I quoted below persuaded me that now is the time.

2005 [in Hebrew text: Yom Sheni, September 12]

"Inadequate Denominations

. . .

[There are a few 'traditional' congregations left, where there's no mechitza, very few members are observant, but they insist on things like an Orthodox Rabbi whose job it is to make 'ha-motzi' at sisterhood functions. The only elements of tradition that it adheres to are those which keep the people unempowered. Let's call it 'Misogydoxy' or 'Ignoramodoxy']. "

If I didn't know better, I'd swear (you should pardon the expression) that this man has actually visited and davvened (prayed) in my synagogue.

No, there's no mechitza.

" . . . very few members are observant . . . " A former rabbi once joked that one of the few members of our synagogue who would pass a "tzitzit test" is a woman who's a Jew by Choice. She's one of the few congregants who neither works, shops, nor travels on Shabbat.

At the moment, we have an Orthodox rabbi. Don't ask—it's a major sore point for me. The problem is not entirely that he's Orthodox, but that he's a very close-minded individual with an extremely negative attitude. (I've blogged before that his approach to Judaism can be described in five words: "They're out to get us." Somehow, I suspect that the Renegade Rebbitzen's favorite rabbi has a rather different hashkafah [approach, viewpoint].)

"The only elements of tradition that it adheres to are those which keep the people unempowered. Let's call it 'Misogydoxy' or 'Ignoramodoxy.'" Man o' Manishevitz, ain't that the truth. There are exactly four—count 'em, four—congregants who know how to lein Torah (chant a text directly from the handwritten scroll of the Bible), and none of us learned that skill at this synagogue. One's Israeli (he leins without trup [cantillation]), one's a trained cantor who's currently between congregations, one's my husband (who learned to lein at our former synagogue), and one's me (ditto). Off the top of my head, I can think of only eight members who've ever chanted a haftarah (a Bible reading usually from the Prophets) at times other than their Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration, which is why my husband gets the honor at least twice a month. Most folks at our shul (synagogue) are perfectly happy appoaching Jewish ritual as a performance, rather than a participatory experience. The sad truth is that they're not interested in becoming empowered. The poor cantor's been offering to teach people to chant a haftarah for years—he just doesn't get any takers. And it doesn't help that our rabbi considers himself such a Talmud scholar that he thinks it's beneath his dignity to learn either how to chant a haftarah or to lein Torah. (I kid you not—he really doesn't know how.)

On the other hand, there are many lively and participatory Conservative synagogues in which the congregants love to learn new tunes—boy, have I "caught it" for introducing new tunes for Ein Kelokeinu and Adon Olam—love to sing along, have a different person leining each aliyah on Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (holiday), and have such a large roster of haftarah-chanters that one must "book" a haftarah a year in advance. Now that's my kind of Conservative shul!

We are a group divided. We're divided by level of observance, which varies to a staggering degree even among members of the same synagogue. We're divided by our approach to the participation of women in public ritual, with some saying that the traditional role for women provides them with more than enough honor, dignity, respect and meaning, and others saying that we're not comfortable with the rigid roles of our ancestors and feel excluded. We're divided, lately, by questions concerning our leadership, both lay and rabbinic. For example, should a person who's intermarried be a member of a synagogue board? (To be honest, I don't know whether the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has an official position on that question. My own opinion? No!) Should the Jewish Theological Seminary (NY) and/or the University of Judaism (CA) ordain gay men and women as rabbis? (The jury's still out on that one—the Rabbinical Assembly is currently reconsidering the question. And so I am.)

What will become of our movement? Will it survive into the next century, or vanish, an experiment that failed? Will our grandchildren be Jewish? (Conservative Judaism accepts the halachic ruling that the religion of a child is determined by the religion of the mother. My only child is a son. I try not to think about that too much. Which is to say that I'll probably spend the next few years biting my nails.)

There are so many issues, so many questions, and so few answers. Only time will tell, and I won't live long enough to find out.

Ahoy, matey: Top o' the mornin' to ya, "Capn Crunch" :)

Start here, follow the hyperlink to Treppenwitz's blog, see the photos and read the comments there, then come back and read the comments on Psycho Toddler's blog. Then just try to stop laughing. :)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

9/11 notes that I saved for our family and for the historical record

Orthomom reminded me of what I've been trying to forget when she published a 9/11 post. She almost lost her husband that day.

I wrote these posts in Word and published them on my favorite message boards on September 11, 2001.

/Posting on all B5 websites:

Topic name (more or less)—

Re World Trade Cntr: I’m ok, but I don’t know about my sister

As many of you are, no doubt, aware by now, both World Trade Center towers in lower Manhattan, New York City, USA, collapsed about an hour and a half after 2 hijacked airplanes crashed into them. (A hijacked airplane also crashed into the Pentagon Building, home of the US Defense Department, in Washington, DC, USA. Part of that building has also collapsed. There was a report that a car bomb exploded outside of the US State Department Building, also in Washington, DC, USA. All US Federal government buildings in Washington, DC have been evacuated.) Manhattan is being evacuated south of Canal Street.

My husband and I are both safe at home in . . . Our son is safe in school in . . ., though we're not sure how he's going to get home, now that subway ("underground," "metro") service has been suspended.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the fate of my sister, who lives only a 10-minute walk from where the World Trade Center towers stood until only about an hour ago. The most recent news is that Battery Park City, the development in which she lives, is currently being evacuated by boat, there being a landing for the ferry from (Weehawken?), New Jersey (across the Hudson River from Manhattan) at the World Financial Center, just north of her building.

11:54 AM

We have just received word from our synagogue, of which my husband is the president, that the police have advised our office staff to close the synagogue office. Presumably, this is a precaution against possible terrorist attack.

[From a response on one of the message boards:]

Tonight the fires will begin in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Shops will burn and people of Arab persuasion will be beaten and killed. Expect an increase in violence at a city near you.
As despicable as it is, I don't even care.
"I look at my beautiful city in flames, and I cry"~ Delenn

Wed., Sept. 12, 2001, 1:00 PM

I am happy and relieved to report that I've spoken to my sister, who’s alive and well at the home one of our first cousins in South Jersey (that’s southern New Jersey, for the Brits on the ‘Net).My sister told me a harrowing tale when I finally got hold of her. Living in the Battery Park City apartment complex just south of the World Financial Center, which is across the street from the World Trade Center site, she was, literally, a ten-minute walk from the World Trade Center. She left her apartment and came down to the street level (presumably to get a better view, since her apartment’s windows don’t face the WTC site) after the first plane crashed into the first tower, and witnessed the second crash. She was standing at the boat basin (a marina for yachts), which is between her apartment complex and the World Financial Center, when the first tower collapsed. All present were urged to run south on the promenade that runs directly behind her complex along the Hudson River. They literally ran for their lives as the smoke began to engulf them. Fortunately, ferries were arriving from New Jersey, just across the Hudson, and a construction barge had already been moored in that area. She was one of about 30(?) people who ended up on the construction barge, after all were urged not to jump into the river. Those who were fortunate enough to find water transportation were evacuated to New Jersey. By the time she arrived on the Jersey side of the Hudson, the second tower had already collapsed. An evacuation center was being set up, to give the evacuees a place to sleep, but my sister decided to try to contact relatives. She ended up taking a shuttle bus to the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) commuter train station in Newark, from which she was, also, briefly evacuated. From there, having no money and purely by declaring evacuee status (presumably, she was sufficiently coated with dust to make her claim credible), she made her way to a New Jersey railroad train to Trenton, New Jersey, from which she took a train to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From Philly, she took yet another train to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where she was picked up by our cousin, arriving at our cousin’s home at about 11 PM. I’m sure she’ll remember yesterday as one of the longest days of her life. Had she not been taking shots for the past year and a half for life-threatening allergies, she would almost certainly have died of smoke inhalation, which was my chief concern. She counts herself very lucky to be alive. None of us has the slightest idea when she’ll be able to return to her apartment.

P. S. Here's the latest news--it's about 2:15 AM United States Eastern Daylight Time:

Three more buildings in the area surrounding the WTC site are in serious danger of collapsing.

Rescue workers are now being required to use face masks because of asbestos particles in the air.

There was a report about 2 hours ago that New York City has requested *6,000* body bags.

[From some responses on the message boards:]

Maybe we should attach a label to Earth: "to get rid of this species, just wait a bit longer".

"Ask him about Palestinians. They're simply not human. "

I seem to remember a guy named Adolph saying the same thing about the Jews. Let's not start down that road again, shall we?

From: <>
To: <>
Subject: re:[my sister]
Date: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 11:22 PM

Hi ___,
___ and I just arrived home with [my sister]. It is 11:00 Tuesday.
love, [my first cousin]

Hi ___
I left my apartment after the first plane crashed and was outside
and saw the South tower get hit from my lobby. I was at the outer edge
of the yaught basin watching the north tower burn when the south tower
collapsed, so I was on the promenade and in the thickest part of the
smoke. I was evacuated to NJ and I am OK. From NJ, I called [our first cousin]
and Aunt ____ to ask them to call Mom and Dad and I tried to call you
several times but the circuits were busy, as you probably know. I
eventually got an evacuation bus to go to the PATH to Newark and then
took the train to Phila, and the high speed line to Cherry Hill where
M___ and B___ picked me up. I guess it will be a week or two before
they allow anyone back into Battery Park City and I shudder to think what
my apart must look like (dust, broken glass, who knows?) but I am safe
and I came very close to not being OK. If I had been in that smoke
another 10 minutes, I would've been asphysiated(sp?) so I have much to be
thankful for today. Love, [my sister]l
Please forward this to [our Israeli brother] and [our brother in California] if you have their emails.

From: [a friend]
To: [us]
Subject: We are ok
Date: Wednesday, September 12, 2001 1:11 AM

Just a note to all that we are ok.
[His wife] fortunately was scheduled for a class in midtown.
I, on the other hand, got to Wall Street later than usual due to
voting and train delays, and when I got out onto the street, there was
debris and people were gathered and looking up. I turned to see that
were looking at a burning trade center. I continued on to work, not
much else, and found many coworkers outside, and was told that we had
the option
to go home if we wanted to, but I opted to at least go to my desk after
hearing about
the planes, to call my dad to let him know I was ok.
My desk is on the 12th floor facing Broad Street at the NYSE. Had
trouble getting through
to my dad. Finally did, and just as we began our conversation, the first
Trade Center
collapsed (it's about 8 blocks away) and it sounded like a plane
was going to crash into the NYSE, and then smoke rose above my 12th
floor window and totally blocked any view of anything. It was during
this time that I
reacted with "Oh my G-D" and then the phone line went dead, so those
were the last words
my dad heard from me for several hours until I was able to get a call
out from a phone.
We were then evacuated from the floor. We went down 12 flights of
stairs, and ended up
outside. It was horrible. It was like a war zone. Couldn't see. Couldn't
(I am writing this at 9:30 at night, and I can still taste the soot.)
So I went back into the building, where we waited in the lobby still
breathing this
soot, and finally they escorted us onto the floor of the NYSE where the
air was better,
and where I stayed until 3pm when word came that some of the trains were
running, but possibly
not below 14th street. So I walked in the war zone of lower manhattan,
guided by the police toward
the water, and eventually found a train at East Broadway in Chinatown.
I hope the closest most of you got or get to this tragedy is simply what
you see on TV, and that no one
you know personally has been injured or killed by this terrorist act.
[A friend]

From: [a friend]
To: [us ]
Subject: My sister's ok!
Date: Thursday, September 13, 2001 9:32 AM

Glad tomhear she's OK. I saw the collapse from Chambers Street, and I
managed to get home by 3:00 after walking to Penn Station and waiting for
the trains to start up again. I work at the World Financial Center, so
I'll probably get back around when she does.

Take care,
[Our friend]

A message-board post by me:

I'm a member of 2 synagogues. The member whom I reported was missing turns out not to have been on the scene--he's alive and well. Unfortunately, I've since learned that a member of my other synagogue who worked in the WTC is still missing.

[From message-board posts:]

As we are all mourning the loss of so many lives tragically cut short by the brutal terrorist assaults of yesterday, there is something fundamental we all must think about before its too late.
I am appalled by the savage attacks on yet more innocents perpetrated by outraged americans upon americans who's only crime is to be of Middle Eastern descent. This is not the answer and makes each person committing these heinous crimes terrorists themselves. We are all outraged and grieving, but we are NOT TERRORISTS! It is not acceptable to inflict pain on those NOT responsible for these reprehensible acts. The terrorists acted without compassion, or reason. There are as many of Arab/Islamic descent who are just as outraged and grieving just as we are.

Somewhere in some small apartment on the other side of the world a woman is preparing a meal for her family while listening to the radio. And while she knows no one in New York or D.C. her heart is breaking for the families of the dead.

A later message-board post by me:

October 5, 2001
Watching the news is a strange experience. The pedestrian overpass leading to the World Financial Center is still standing—but the building at its eastern end is gone. I wonder whether they’ll tear down the overpass, or whether they’ll build new stairs and/or an elevator leading up to it.

“New York” magazine [oops—that should have read “The New York Times Magazine,” Sunday, Sept. 23, 2001 edition] carried a photo of the Winter Garden with the ceiling windows as shattered as our delusions of safety.

There’s a huge gap on the subway map. South of Canal St., only the stations east of Broadway are open. Some trains are being rerouted, and some that aren’t running at all are being replaced by others for the foreseeable future. I’ve heard that the 1 and 9, N and R stations at Cortland St., as well as the WTC stop on the PATH train, were crushed under tons of debris, and that it may be years before they’re rebuilt. It’s going to be one heck of a long walk to my sister’s apartment from Wall Street.

My sister has dropped out of sight. At last report, she’s returned to New York, but no one in my family knows where she’s staying. Her apartment building in Battery Park City has not yet been re-opened for occupancy, according to the latest info from the landlord’s website.

Our friend from our synagogue in Queens is taking things as well as he can, under the circumstances. His subway train was late getting to the World Trade Center on September 11—that’s why he’s alive and some of his co-workers are dead. His employer, the State of New York, is sending him and his surviving colleagues to offices in Brooklyn, where they’re getting counseling. There’s nowhere for them to work, and all their time and attendance and pension records are gone, but at least they’re alive.

Our sister congregant from our synagogue in Manhattan was not so lucky. The dreaded announcement for which we’ve been waiting has finally arrived: Her memorial service will take place this Sunday.

I won't post all of my notes on the attack and the responses to the attack--personal, political, and military. As you can imagine, there was considerable discussion on my various favorite message boards--my notes are 130 pages long.

The man from our Queens synagogue who survived and the woman from the synagogue in Manhattan of which we were then members who did not survive turned out to have known one another in passing--they worked for the same State of New York agency, only a few floors away from one another.

Wild Bill Hiccup

Coming home from two weeks in Israel followed by two days' laundry followed by a few days on the road taking our son back to college, I spent a good part of Labor Day entering 13 bills in Quicken and writing eight checks. So I decided to give myself a breather and not bother with bills for a few days. Imagine my dismay when I went to check the bill pile after mincha-maariv last night and discovered that, in the intervening five days, I'd received another 11 bills! Don't ask me when I went to bed last night, or rather, this morning—you really don't want to know. Remind me never to take a bill-entry break again.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

No more anonymous kippot

He looks like a typical chassid. Indoors, you can see the full outfit—black pants, white shirt with long sleeves rolled up to just below the elbow, arba kanfot (literally, "four corners," a ritual garment with fringes on each of the four corners, that a man puts on over his head so that two corners are in front and two in back, worn, usually, under the shirt), worn over the shirt (noch besser—even better), a black vest, no tie, and a large black velvet kippah/yarmulkeh/skullcap. Outdoors, he tops that outfit with the usual long black coat. (Kapoteh? Bekesheh? I'm not aware of there ever having been chassidim in my family, so I'm not quite sure of the terminology.)

Six years ago, I would have dismissed him as just another chassid straight out of Central Casting for "Fiddler on the Roof." Not anymore.

This particularly chassid , whom I'll call Moreh (teacher), is the guy who used to teach a weekly women's shiur (class) before being reassigned to another office. He has the most wonderful sense of humor. And, noch besser, a member of my (Conservative) synagogue has known him for years because—get this—she's met him several times at science fiction conventions. Yes, Virginia, this chassid is a sci fi fan. If you ever need to make a minyan at a Star Trek convention, Moreh is your man.

One of the advantages of working for an Orthodox Jewish organization is that, in addition to getting the Jewish holidays off without a hassle from the boss, I'm getting to know a segment of the Jewish community with whom I've never interacted very much in the past. (The same thing's happening on my blog, which is half the fun, but this is in person.) It's nice to be able to look at people and see beyond the kippot.

So, first up, let me introduce you to Boss # 1. He's a "black hat." In plain English, that means that a) his business and synagogue attire consists of a black suit and white shirt, topped by a black velvet kippah, and, when outdoors, with a black hat, because men with his particular haskafah/viewpoint believe that that's the way a traditional Jew should dress; and b) that he's rather right-wing on the Orthodox spectrum. He's also the holder of an earned Ph.D. in a secular subject, and frequently locks himself in the office with a verbal "do not disturb" sign to work on the organization's high-level paperwork. He's also a staunch supporter of higher education for Orthodox Jews, male and female, and a true believer that Jews should work to support their families, rather than sitting in kollel studying full-time and relying on welfare. Though he's strictly a two-finger typist and doesn't sufficiently appreciate the work I do for him on the computer because he hasn't a clue how much time and effort go into all that fancy formatting, he's fairly even-tempered, and is usually a pleasant person to be around.

Boss # 2 is probably what some describe as a Centrist Orthodox Jew. He wears suits of various colors, and a black velvet kippah that he covers, when outdoors, with a dark blue hat. He's a bit more temperamental than Boss # 1, but, since he has a bit more of an aptitude for language, is more appreciative of my editing abilities than is Boss # 1.

Another recent boss is a Modern Orthodox Jew. Back in the good old days before my three-month-old CD player with the external speakers broke, he used to be very happy to listen to my Debbie Friedman CD. I always behaved myself, though: Whenever a gentleman of an obviously more right-wind hashkafah walked into the office—as you can see from my descriptions above, one can usually tell just by looking at the person's clothing—I would replace my Neshama Carlbach CD with my Shlomo one.

Since my last post was about Orthodox women, this post was going to be about Orthodox men. But how can I not mention any Orthodox women when discussing an office that employs a bazillion of them?

There's the sheitl/wig-wearing, open-minded and tolerant Modern Orthodox woman who's a grandma several times over who's my best buddy at work. In spite of being radically overworked and outrageously underpaid—I'm sorry to say that worker exploitation is alive and well in the Jewish community—she can usually find a minute for me. Sometimes we chat about a mutual friend (who recommended me for this job). At other times, poor S. is patient enough to put up with my many questions about words or concepts with which I'm not familiar. She's the one who explained the meaning of the word "hashkafah" to me and introduced me to the idea of a "vort," which is, apparently, an Orthodox version of an engagement party.

Last but far from least is the woman whom I hereby designate "The Wiz." (I'm off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wiz of our corps. I tell you, she's a wonderful wiz—I never could ask for more. :) ) Our resident computer-programming genius, rumored to be Lubavitch, she's pulled my feet—and the feet of half the staff, including Boss # 1—out of the fire more often we can remember or thank her for, and has taught me more formatting tricks than I can name. With her patient assistance, I've become far better at my job than I was when I first began working here. I pray that she finds herself a fine shidduch (marital match) some day soon, not only for her own sake, but for the entirely selfish reason that the Jewish people can ill afford not to have the genes of an individual of such good character and such intelligence passed on to another generation.

Monday, September 05, 2005

" . . .not in my job description" (a poem)

" . . . Asani kir'tzono--He made me according to His will"

I'm trying to understand
A different haskafah, viewpoint
Another perspective
Because this is my half of the community
because I sit on the same side of the mechitzah
and I need to understand why we're there
not just with my mind
but with my heart

We're here
"to blow G-d's metaphorical socks off. "
by being the best individuals--
each in her own right,
each in her own way-- that we can be

We're here
to use the talents that HaShem has given each of us
to introduce tiny tots to Torah
to imbue them with a love of HaShem and our tradition
It's a great responsibility
and we accept it with pride and with joy

"From the fruit of her handiwork she plants a vineyard"
She runs a business, a professional practice, from home
or works outside the home
to send her children to yeshiva
and later, to Yeshiva
ensuring that they will become
a vineyard
that will yield a rich harvest
for HaShem, Am Yisrael, the broader community

We are the other Leviim
With pride, we wash the hands
of those whose hands need washing
Wiping dirty faces after playing a game of baseball with our kids
With pride, we bear the burden of a mishkan,
a place where the Shechina is welcome,
which we set up in our own homes
to draw our husbands, our children
close to HaShem and His derech

We are the scribes, the teachers
who help our children with their homework
We teach them how to judge
to choose carefully
Are TV, movies, music, video games okay?
That depends--which shows, movies, music, video games?
What values do the characters, the lyrics, show you?
Respect and caring
or hatred and violence?
Can you learn from watching commercials?
Yes: You can learn to think for yourself,
and not believe everything you hear,
to say, "This is important to know"
"This would be a great help to have"
"I don't need this"
"This is not good for me"
A mother says to her son,
"I don't care what they call it
--if it has chocolate in it, it's candy, not cereal!"

"Strength and dignity are her clothing"
We have our own dignity
What need have we for externals?
Tzitzit and tefillin, aliyot and minyan
are not in our job description
Our role is different
Why assume that it's any less important?

So much to do
so many responsibilities
Enough work for a lifetime
Caring for the children
Being supportive of one's husband,
"someone's open arms to come home to."
Each of us creates, b'chol yom
A bayit b'Yisrael
Each of us establishes a Bet Yaakov
We are Bet Yaakov
Helping our families, friends, kehillah
"we are the brains behind all the new programs,
the things the community doesn't even know it lacks"
Always learning, doing,
serving HaShem with joy

This isn't a competition--
it's a cooperative venture

"Give her of the fruit of her hands
And let own works praise her in the gates"

" . . .Asani kir'tzono--He made me according to His will"
And that's an honor

The quotes are from:
1) Birkot HaShachar--the Morning Blessings in the siddur (prayerbook)
2) "Eishet Chayil," a.k.a. Mishlei/Proverbs 31:10-31
3) yours truly, giving her son her favorite nutrition lecture :)
4) a writer known as Fudge

(There's also an allusion to ha-m'chadesh b'tuvo b'chol yom tamid maasei v'reishit sprinkled round about.)

This poem is dedicated to Orthodox mothers everywhere, especially:,
dilbert's "holy wife," Dr. Bean's ball-and-chain, MoChassid's wife (give your daughter a hearty "Welcome to NY!" from me), the Out of Step Jew in Kfar Saba's wife, Seraphic Secret's radiant Karen, and Trep's zahava.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

A "New Year's resolution," so to speak (it's Rosh Chodesh Elul): I must acknowledge my son's adulthood

Our son has been complaining quite vociferously that we don't treat him as an adult. As a small first step, I've changed his blog alias. He's been "the Young _____ (Prince, Tech, Scientist)" ever since I started posting on the science-fiction-television message boards when he was about 14. Now that he's 22--old enough to drive, vote, be registered for the draft, and drink--it's high time I stopped calling him "the Young" anything. So unless and/or until he either a) changes majors or b) graduates, he's going to be known here as Our Favorite Physics Major. It's a start.
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