Monday, October 31, 2005

High-Holiday-Season Highlights, part 3: The 1st day of Sukkot—this is the “ugly” part

Anyone who’s particularly sensitive to descriptions of violence should skip this post. And blame it on my rabbi. Because he’s the one who described the act of violence.

(Bail-out space—I’m leaving this space blank to give you time to bail out.)

Don’t say you weren’t forewarned.

By way of further bail-out space, I’ll post this definition first: S’chach is the organic material used to make the roof of a sukkah. A sukkah's roof must be made of organic material that has been “harvested.” [For example, you can’t use an arbor as a sukkah, because the vines’ roots are still in the ground.] The roof is usually made of branches that have been chopped from (that is, that are no longer attached to) a tree, mats of sliced bamboo or reed, or bamboo poles.

This is your final warning.

Okay, here goes.

I’ve blogged before that my rabbi’s approach to Judaism can be described in five words: “They’re out to get us.” Perhaps my description was incomplete. Because he seems to have a second part to that statement: “ . . . and we’re not going to shut up and take it anymore.”

So this is the essence of his sermon on the first day of Sukkot:

Our people aren’t all 90-pound weaklings. We can defend ourselves.

Back in the Old Country, a rabbi was once sitting in his sukkah when some anti-Semitic hooligan tossed a rock through the s’chach. The rabbi went out, found the gloating youth, and asked him to show him which hand he’d used to throw the rock. The young braggart held out the offending hand.

And the rabbi grabbed the hand and broke it.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how our rabbi inspires us to celebrate sukkot as z'man simchateinu, the season of our joy. This is his idea of joy.

And this is why I decided that I will, henceforth, avoid remaining in the sanctuary for the rabbi’s sermon whenever possible.

When I first began blogging, I choose to write under a pseudonym and remain anonymous because I wanted to be able to speak freely about the difficulty of being an egalitarian in a traditional Conservative synagogue. That’s still the case.

But now, I have an even more important reason: I need an outlet for talking about my rabbi. As I’ve posted previously, “The problem is not entirely that he's Orthodox, but that he's a very close-minded individual with an extremely negative attitude.”

It gets worse, folks.

You see, I’m sorry to say that our rabbi is not covered under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Because his disabilites do interfere with his ability to perform his job.

That he has difficulty reading text that he doesn’t already know is bad enough.

Worse still is that he has abysmal social skills for a man in his early forties ( a problem that, assuredly, does not serve him well as a congregational rabbi).

Perhaps even worse is that, despite having chosen Orthodoxy roughly thirty years ago, and, therefore, having spent a good deal of the last three decades hanging around rabbis, batei midrash/study halls, and synagogues, he hasn’t the remotest idea what constitutes appropriate material for a sermon.

Which is how it came to pass that, at the Bar Mitzvah celebration of a male Jew by Choice, (the son of a Jewish father), he actually made it a point to mention the young man’s then-recent circumsion. Repeatedly.

It gets even worse, folks.

Usually, he just dismisses my interpretations of Jewish tradition or sacred text not as approaches with which he disagrees, but rather, as the thinking of an idiot or nut case.

But occasionally . . .

Let’s just say that one does have to be careful, lest he take offense.

Last January, after the tsunami, he announced from the bima that the U.S. government would take care of the victims, and that we shouldn’t bother helping them because they were Muslims and, therefore, opposed the existence of the State of Israel. Since I was on the bima anyway to make an announcement, I took the opportunity to disagree with him, castigating him for being willing to let children die just because their parents were of the wrong religion.

The president had to mediate the ensuing dispute. I ended up having to apologize to the rabbi and solemnly promise never to challenge his authority from the pulpit again.

Because he threatened to sue me.

“He has freedom of the pulpit,” the president said.

Okay, okay, I get it.

He has a right to discourage people from giving to tzedakah just because he doesn’t approve of the recipients.

He has the right to embarrass a teenage boy in public in the presence of the congregation and in front of his entire family, not to mention the young friends of his who were guests, who, for all I know, are probably still teasing him about the whole business to this day.

And he has the right to laud acts of violence from the pulpit and pass them off as reasons for celebration.

And to stand on the bima after Adon Olam singing "v’samachta b’chagecha, you will rejoice in your holiday," having absolutely no clue that he’s almost ruined it.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A language maven’s lament ;)

Maven (pronounced may-vinn)—a Yiddish word meaning expert or connoisseur (from the Hebrew, pronounced may-veen)

Quoth a sister blogger, a few months ago, lamenting the inability of some musicians to compose lyrics in reasonably grammatical English, “some of us are just destined to be librarians.”

Sigh. And some of us are destined to be “copy editors.” Of sorts. Spending our days in front of computer screens, cleaning up other peoples’ word usage, spelling, grammatical errors, and, with any luck, punctuation errors.

And then being told that, because someone neglected to review the text that he gave me to ensure that all the information contained therein was correct, I may have to go back into my e-mail, bring up a copy of the file in question that I e-mailed a month ago, and replace all the new text that it took me three days to enter (because I had to retain some of the old text and paste the new stuff in paragraph by paragraph, editing and reformatting as I went) with the original text. !#$%^&*!!!!!!!!!!

And, to make matters even worse, not even the Wiz, who’s helped me solve about 95% of my formatting problems, can figure out how to do a “universal reformat” for footnotes. Which means that, after editing and reformatting an entire book manuscript, I’m going to have to go back to the beginning of the manuscript and reformat every single footnote individually.

I can’t afford to tear my hair out. My hair’s thin enough as it is. :(

So maybe I should spend more time worrying about punctuation. I never did quite figure out the difference in rules between a colon and a period. A period always goes inside the quotation marks, as far as I know. Does a colon go inside or outside the quotation marks?

Holy Moses, Shira, have you forgotten that the Jewish blogosphere includes at least three medical doctors and a nurse? And you’re writing about “colons” and “periods??!!” Can you imagine where some of those fine folks could go with words like those??!!

Why do I have visions of another flurry of Instant Messages going back and forth between Wisconsin and California, rather like that “Bagel” business posted here on Wednesday, September 28, 2005? :)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—High-Holiday-Season Highlights, part 2: The Yamim Noraim

The good news is that we finally found something that the rabbi is good at (yeah, more on that later, too)—this year, he was our baal t’kiah.*

Our poor regular cantor, delusions of operatic talent notwithstanding, is a very good leiner/baal koreh/Torah reader(chanter), but he simply doesn’t have the “chops” to literally toot his own horn. :) The rabbi did quite a respectable job of *blowing the shofar.

And the High Holiday cantor was much more bearable this year for a “nusach nut” like me than he was last year.

Granted, I simply cannot fathom what on earth would inspire a chazzan to chant the V’Anachnu Kor’im” during which he drops to his knees and touches his forehead to the floor to the tune of the old Israeli folk dancers’ favorite “Erev Ba.” Sure, I can sing the tune—hey, I’m an old Israeli folk dancer, after all (and gettin’ older by the day :) ), but still . . . hunh???

But I can more or less deal with singing: “ . . .erev va-voker, erev va-voker, b’chol yom tamid” to the tune of “sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days” in the middle of the Musaf Kedusha. At least the tune matches the Hebrew words (“evening, morning, evening, morning. . .”). (I’ll let dilbert deal with the whole “is a baal tefillah/prayer leader allowed to repeat words?” halachic controversy in his Friday, October 21, 2005 post, Repeating words and Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur tunes.)

And I thanked him for using a lot fewer show tunes and a lot more Carlebach and niggunim (wordless tunes). At least, it sounded like shul, not Broadway.

Then, of course, there was my so-called Junior Congregation. On Rosh Hashanah, the teenagers, bribed into showing up by being given the honor of carrying a sefer Torah/Torah scroll, decided to grace me with their presence. Oy. One got the “three strikes, you’re out” treatment when I told that “Jack” to “hit the road . . . and don’t you come back no more . . .” after he’d insulted one of the little Hebrew School girls for the third time.

On Yom Kippur, I somehow ended up with all of the kids in the same room at the same time. And I mean all. Right down to the High Holiday cantor’s three-year-old grandson, who kept interrupting my attempts to conduct a serious discussion on teshuva/repentance by jumping up and down and saying, “Listen to me!” Who could resist anyone that cute? Then, having gotten our undivided attention, he would intone something as profound as, say, “My name is marshmallow.” :) So much for a serious discussion. (And I have to admit to having felt a little twinge, as the mother of a hard-of-hearing son, listening to a three-year-old whose speech was clear as a bell—and remembering how our own son, barely diagnosed at that age and not yet sporting his first set of hearing aids, once cried because he couldn’t speak clearly enough to enable us to understand him. Then I shook myself mentally, thanking Hashem who is good, whose kindness endures forever, that our son has only a mild-to-moderate hearing loss, hears pretty well with hearing aids, never needed to go to a school for the deaf or to use the American Sign Language that I tried to teach him as a toddler, and even shocked his dear old mom when, less than a year after getting his first hearing aids, he said a motzi with the chaf in Baruch pronounced correctly.)

And, just to make sure that I noticed that I wasn’t with the adults, they even forgot to bring us upstairs at the end of the service on the second day, which means that we didn’t hear either Hayom T’amsteinu or the last shofar blowing.

A couple of years ago, I put my foot down. Now, I get up before Hin’ni and announce that I’ll be rounding up the kids and taking them out for Jr. Cong. after the Musaf Kedushah. And not a minute before. No matter how late that is. For the privilege of being harassed by teenagers and ignored by mischevious pre-schoolers, I have to miss my beloved U’nataneh Tokef?

Which brings me directly to what’s been bothering me this whole season.

Will U’nataneh Tokef continue to be so beloved by me after the “Mi yichyeh, u-mi yamut, who will live and who will die” includes my own parents?

Thus far, the closest I got was on September 11, 2001, when I almost lost my sister, who lived only a few blocks from the World Trade Center. “Mi va-eish, who by fire . . . ?”

But I’m getting closer. This year, our synagogue lost ten members to the Mal’ach HaMavet, the Angel of Death. My congregation is dying. Literally.

Mi v’kitzo, who [will die] at his predestined time. . .” One was my favorite senior, the leader, both figurative and literal (as baal tefillah) of the morning minyannaires for many years. I’m so glad that we went to see him just before he passed away. I’m not absolutely certain that he still knew who we were, but I’m pretty sure he appreciated our visit, anyway.

U-mi lo v’kitzo, who before his time. . .”Another wasn’t lucky enough to be in her mid-nineties—she died in her mid-forties, single and childless, leaving behind a mother, also a congregant, who’d already buried a husband and a single and childless son. The mother now finds herself a frail senior with neither husband, nor child, nor grandchild to help or comfort her. Every time I think of her, I think of Naomi’s words from Megillat Ruth, the Book of Ruth: “Ani m’leiah halachti, v’reykam heshiyvani Hashem, I was full when I went away, but Hashem has brought me back empty.”

Mi va-mayim, who by water . . .” Thousands killed by tsunamis and hurricanes.

Not to mention earthquakes.

And then there are the three fathers, whose words I’ve read in the Jewish blogosphere only within the past few months, each of whom has lost a child. One young man a rabbinical school student. One young man still in high school. One young girl not yet even old enough to be a Bat Mitzvah.

I have no words of my own to offer. I can only pray that the words of David HaMelech/King David come true for you, your wives, and your suriving children someday:

"Hafachta misp’di l’machol li, pitachta saki va-t’az’reiniy simchah."

May the day come when your lament will be changed into dancing, and your sackcloth replaced by garments worn in gladness.

Following an old tradition not to end on a sad note, I’ll finish this post with a happy one. Or rather, many happy ones. The highlight of my Yamim Noraim was hearing the Diaspora Yeshiva Band sing “Ataher Etchem” in my head.

Friday, October 28, 2005

We interrupt our usual blogging to bring you RenReb’s post-Yom Tov “recovery” post :)

Here it is, for your amusement.

In other good news, The PT has, apparently, recovered sufficiently from the fever that put the kabosh on her Imma's and Abba’s enjoyment of Simchat Torah to resume her more usual ways of tormenting her long-suffering parents, for which she has earned the new nickname Miss Melodrama. Kids. You gotta love 'em.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—High-Holiday-Season Highlights, part 1: Elul forshbeis (appetizer), aka “prep time”

First, there was that visit to my parents (and my brother, nieces and nephew) in Israel.

It was a pleasure to see my parents, but painful to see the toll that time had taken.

Going Israeli folk dancing in Israel was great fun.

But it was sad to witness the displacement of so many people—we arrived in the middle of the hitnatkut, the withdrawal from Gaza. In the final analysis, it didn’t matter whether you were in favor or opposed—the end result was that thousands of people were suddenly homeless.

Singing at an outdoor concert in Yerushalayim was wonderful.

But we were sad that we don’t know my brother’s children better.

With barely enough turn-around time to do some laundry in between trips, we drove the son back to college. Time to rest? Fat chance.

Normally, wild horses couldn’t get me up early on a Sunday, my one day to sleep late. But when the wild horse is one of my best friends at shul, and she practically begs me to “ride shotgun” in another congregant’s car to help the driver carry the huge boxes of pastries from the kosher bakery to her trunk so that we’ll have goodies to sell at the outdoor flea market . . .Bleary-eyed, we arrive at the shul, boxes of goodies stacked in the back.

At about 8:30 AM.

Well, as long as I have to stick around anyway to see whether M. needs any more help, I might as well get on the computer and do some of that synagogue-bulletin editing that didn’t get done while I was in Israel.

And as long as I’m here anyway, might as well go to minyan.

So there I am, in the middle of tying one on (I’m always in the middle of tying one on—have you any idea how long it takes a late-learner like me to lay tefillin??! On the plus side, at least I’ve gotten good enough at it that they don’t usually slide all the way down to my wrist halfway through Shacharit anymore.)

Er, um, where was I before I so rudely interrupted myself in the middle of a sentence?

Oh, yes. So there I was, in the middle (as usual) of laying tefillin when the rabbi starts davvening aloud, “Ki vo yismach libeinu, ki v’shem kodsho batachnu. Y’hi chasdecha Hashem aleinu, ka-asher yichalnu lach.”

Say WHAT???!!!

After the service, I go on one of my quote hunts, and find it in that two-page “anthology” of miscellaneous quotes right after Baruch She-amar. “For in Him will our hearts be glad, for in His Holy Name we trusted. May Your kindness be upon us, just as we awaited You.” So that’s where Mark got the words to Ki Vo Yismach! (Just keep a-scrollin' through that radio blog--it's in there somewhere.)

And I add another paragraph to what I davven of P’sukei D’Zimra.

More later, folks—it gets better. 'Cause, apparently, I don't know the half of it. Literally. :) Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Who’s on first?—on raising a Jew

Warning: Lonnnnnnnnnnng post

I read with great interest some of the posts and comments published on some Orthodox women’s blogs this holiday season. They gave me much food for thought.

“Eishes Cranky,” a new mom, commenting on someone else’s post, said, “I'm delurking to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have a 2-month-old, and this was the first year I spent doing mommy things instead of davening and concentrating fiercely at shul. To say the least, it's an adjustment. Thank you for helping me feel less alone.”

Holy Moses, have I ever been there and done that! Even after 23 years, I remember well how overwhelmed I felt in the beginning, seeing my life turned upside down. Don’t worry, Cranky—one does get used to it after a while. Best wishes to you, your husband, and your baby.

Another mom posted, “Off I go to the supermarket. To shop for yet another Shabbos in the Shabbos-YomTov-Shabbos-YomTov-Shabbos-YomTov-Shabbos(YomTov)-YomTov-Shabbos cycle. Don't get me wrong, I love Shabbos and YomTov, because the kids (and their mom) actually get to spend a substantial amount of time with their dad, but I have already grated one too many potato, cracked one too many egg, and measured one too many cup of flour - and we're just halfway through the cycle.”

Well, as long as you’re at it, could you throw in a side order of laundry? To go? ;)

(Shira ducks and covers as the volleys of rotten tomatoes head her way. Incoming!!! Splat! :) )

But seriously folks, there were two posts that particularly caught my attention.

“There was a moment . . wherein I suddenly began to feel That Connection forming, the Yom Kippur connection, the kind I used to feel. And just as the feeling began to slowly seep through me, and somewhere in the back of my head I began to think I may actually have one precious moment of true daavening - of real avoda she'ba-lev - just as I was beginning to flood with relief, and to open my heart to pour out whatever's been buried in there, just at that moment - wouldn't you know it - a pair of arms flings around my legs, and a dear little voice whispers "Why is everyone standing? Can I go to Daddy now? Is it still Yom Kippur? Why is that lady punching herself?

. . . I know in my heart that focusing on my children is the most important thing in the world, and that it's what Hashem wants from me. I truly, truly believe that He would rather I do that than experience the Yom Kippur Feeling. I feel that, deep in my soul, and I accept it with love and without hesitation. And I also know that it won't be this way forever . . . I'm just saying, until then, it's hard. It's hard because I miss The Feeling. It's hard because I miss God. And I miss the release of the flood from my heart. I just hope, by the time I get the chance, that I'll even have it in me to release, and that I'll still remember how.”

Tzam’ah nafshi l’Elokim, l’Kel chai; matai avo v’éraeh p’né Elokim? My soul thirsts for G-d, for the living G-d; when will I come and appear before G-d?” (Psalm 42, verse 3)

I’ll call her the M’vakeshet Hashem—the Seeker of G-d.

And then there was another post. I’ll call both the post and the writer thereof “Morah N’vuchot,” A Woman(’s) Guide for Perplexed Women.”

Priority of priorities, quoth the Morah N’vuchot, choose your priorities.

With so many plates to juggle, it’s inevitable that you’ll drop one. It’s up to you to decide which one, and to determine whether there’s a pillow under it to break its fall.

Do whatever davvening (praying) you want to do at home. Know when to show up at shul (synagogue) with the kids, how to prep them ahead of time (with a snack and a trip to the bathroom/diaper change) and what to bring by way of toys, books, and snacks to keep them happy. When the baby wakes up and/or the kids have had enough, leave, while both you and the children are still in a good mood and have had a positive experience at synagogue. Don’t push your luck, or you’ll regret it.

Invite company for only one meal, so that you’re not cooking skeighty-eight courses for skeighty-eight people skeighty-eight times.

If you tend to “fade” after dark, invite your company to lunch. If you prefer to put the kids to bed so that you can actually have something remotely resembling an adult conversation, invite guests to dinner. Make sure that you and your husband agree on which meal will be the “company” meal—it takes two to host.

Last, but far from least, have fun. This is z’man simchaténu, the season of our joy—we’re supposed to have a good time. Eat whatever makes you feel good—milchig (dairy), fleishig (meat), fancy (pot roast) or simple (salmon burgers). Remember that you’re making memories, so make them good ones. Nobody’s going to remember how nicely the silverware was polished. What they’ll remember is hanging around together in the kitchen peeling potatoes by the ton, singing and yakking. What they’ll remember is the smell of the tzimmes that they helped you make. Enjoy yourself, your husband, your kids, your life. It’s a gift, and it’s up to you to make it happen.

I’m sure that many moms with kids younger than my 22-year-old found the post that I've just paraphrased very helpful.

I found the last paragraph very moving.

And yet . . .

And yet . . .

I’ve read many of her posts.

She’s spoken frequently about every mother’s need to remember that she’s still a human being who has to take care of herself in addition to her kids.

It’s not only the kids who need sleep—you need it, too.

Make sure that you get something to eat, even if that means that you grab a sandwich before feeding the kids—you don’t want to be practically passing out by the time you get a chance to eat dinner.

And a weekly aerobics class can’t hurt, either.

But there’s one thing of which she’s spoken almost not at all.

And that’s a woman’s spiritual needs.

So many women—and yes, it’s mostly the women—have chosen to put their own spiritual lives on hold for years—even decades—in order to ensure that their children learn the ways of our people and experience the joys of being Jewish.

I’m not speaking of Orthodox women only. My oldest friend, a sister tallit-wearing, egalitarian non-Orthodox but very-much-committed Jew, chose to go that route.

And then there are the rest of us.

Until he was roughly 10 or 11 years old, our son was borderline-hyperactive. One fine year, he decided that he’d had just about enough of staying with the synagogue babysitting service on the High Holidays, and, since yours truly was safely ensconced in the alto row of the choir in the very front of the sanctuary, the young’un proceeded to tug my poor husband, davvening in the back, out of shul repeatedly. Exasperated, my husband went on strike. And I refused to pick up the slack.

So, for the follow year’s High Holidays, we left him with our daycare lady.

Esther D. Kustanwotiz, of My Urban Kvetch, JDaters Anonymous, and Jewlicious fame, published a rather telling article, “Traveling on the Guilt Trip,” in the October 14, 2005 edition of the New York Jewish Week. Here’s her take on the Jewish single person’s version:

“We go out to parties and on blind dates because we feel guilty staying home. We have guilt from family and society, guilt for doing what we want and not what we should. We go out with our mother’s best friend-from-college’s son’s friend’s roommate, to help us answer a parental “but are you trying?” with a less guilt-ridden “yes.”

Well, Esther, this is a Jewish guilt trip in the motherhood manner.

Whoever heard of a pair of Jewish parents leaving their kid with a babysitter on the holiest days of the Jewish year? Shouldn’t he have been in there hearing the shofar, eating round challah, dipping apples in honey, watching the chazzan (cantor), who never kneels, kneel four times(!) on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) . . .

Nevertheless, truth to tell, if I had it to do all over again, I would probably not change that much, aside from choosing a more Jewish neighborhood.

There are so many of us who struggle to find something remotely resembling a reasonable compromise in childrearing. We try to create memories for our children, but we refuse to ignore our own spiritual needs.

And yet . . .

And yet . . .

What will become of our children?

Yes, yes, I know as well as you do that predicting the future is a risky business.

But I can’t imagine any other outcome:

In twenty-five years, all of the children of the M’vakeshet Hashem and the Morah N’vuchot will be married to Jews and will be “on The Derech,” firmly committed to "The Way" of Orthodox Judaism.

And our son?

Will his children sing z’mirot, Sabbath songs, around the family Shabbat dinner table?

Or will they sing carols around the family Xmas tree?

As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”

And many’s the moment when I wonder whether I paid anywhere nearly enough.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A shortage of G’Quan Eth plants: The Great Sukkot Scandal of 5766/2005—"I can’t get no . . . " lulav action

Lots of davvening, not enough goofing:
Time for this blogger to have some fun.
This is a “two-fer,” blogger folks:
You get two for the price of one.

First, re “I can’t get no . . . ,” watch A Very Shlock Rock Purim and enjoy—you'll hear why when you get there. (Thanks for the link, PT.) Okay, it’s more than a little out of season, but it’s worth a chuckle anyway.

Then, check this out—here’s an e-mail I just got from blogger PT on Monday:

I have an idea for a post for you: Have you read about the Lulav shortage due to Egypt refusing to export them? It’s very similar to what happened on an early episode of Babylon 5 with the gquan eth plants. Sounds like a story that’s right down your alley.

Mark S. Skier, MD
Internal Medicine and Primary Care

Boy, did that ever sound familiar! Where had I heard that comparison made before? On a hunch, I went into my Word archives—I keep copies of all my posts, and the comments thereto—and did a search for the phrase “eth plant.” And, sure enough, there it was:

“C . . . [better known in Olam HaBlog as Mrs. Balabusta] had the fascinating theory that the G'Quan Eth plant desperately sought for a religious holiday by Planet Narn's ambassador G'Kar in the first season's "By Any Means Necessary" was based on an etrog, which, like the G'Quan Eth plant, is also valued only as a ritual "object" during a specific holiday (in the case of the etrog, that would be Sukkot, the Feast of Booths). Not only that, but Commander Jeffrey Sinclair had used talmudic logic to help enable G'Kar to celebrate his holiday.”

Of course that comparison sounded familiar—it was Mark’s wife who’d first mentioned it to me!

Great minds think alike. :)

But seriously, folks, I found a few posts on the lulav-shortage scare included in the weekly blog-post “round-up,” Haveil Havalim, recently hosted by Biur Chametz here. He referred us to this post , as well as to the Tuesday, October 11, 2005 post “Is a Stolen Lulav Kosher?” at

I also found Rachel Barenblat’s post concerning Sukkot, "What's shakin'?," interesting reading. You might want to give it a look.

Moed tov—Happy "Intermediate Days" (of Sukkot).

Monday, October 17, 2005

The quote-hunter finds another one

I never even tried looking for this particular pasuk/verse because the Hebrew is sufficiently difficult for a person of my limited knowledge that I couldn’t even figure out what all the words were, much less what they meant. But, on Erev Yom Kippur/the evening of the Day of Atonement, I got lucky. The chazzan/cantor, speed-davvening through a couple pages of miscellaneous quotes from the Tanach/Bible, actually managed to take a breath long enough to say one at a comprehensible speed—and the minute I heard it, I got the “instant replay” in my head. In multipart harmony. So after services, I went home and spent ten minutes looking for it in the ArtScroll Machzor l'Yom Kippur (prayer book for the Day of Atonement). (One of the minor banes of my existence as an inveterate “quote-hunter” is that none of the Conservative prayer books has footnotes—here we are, davvening all those marvelous quotations, and I have no idea where they’re from.) After we’d broken the fast some 25 hours later, I put on the CD, picked a part that I could sing (my top range having been temporarily knocked out by acid reflux, again—I’m back on Prevacid), and sang the words of Yechezkel/Ezekiel chapter 36, verse 25: V’zakarti aleychem mayim t’horim, u-t’hartem mikol tum’oteychem, u-mikol giluleychem ataher etchem, And I will pour pure water on you and purify you, of all your contaminations and of all your abominations I will purify you.”

Just a few months ago, my husband went on a hike through a reconstruction of one of David HaMelech’s/King David’s water tunnels in Ir David/the City of David. I went on strike, not wishing to slosh through water up to my hips, and crossing the street and hiking back uphill, went to davven Mincha at the Kótel/Western Wall. We agreed to meet afterward at the back of the Kótel, umpteen steps above the women’s section, in Ir haAtikah/the Old City. So there I sat, at a picnic table by the outdoor fast-food stands, my earphones plastered to my head, listening to the music of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band—within walking distance of the Diaspora Yeshiva. That’s one of my fondest musical memories of my trip to Israel.

I thanked them then, and I thank them now: Thank you, Diaspora Yeshiva Band, for all your beautiful music.

Update: Oops! I forgot to mention where to find the song. It's part of the three-part song cycle The Gate of Return (consisting of Va-ani K'cheresh, V'hu Rachum, and this one, Ataher Etchem), track/"song" # 12 on the two-CD set The Diaspora Collection.

I also forgot to mention where the verse appears in the Machzor l'Yom Kippur. It's the second to last sentence in the second to last paragraph before Sh'ma Koleynu in the Maariv (evening) and Musaf (Additional [daytime]) services. Unless I missed it somehow, this pasuk does not appear in any of the services for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

Bonus: Look what I found while checking in the ArtScroll Machzor l'Rosh Hashanah to see whether this pasuk showed up in the Maariv shel Rosh Hashanah—apparently, you can add to the standard greeting "L'Shanah Tovah Tikatevu V'Techatemu, For a Good Year May You be Written and Sealed" (which, in the ArtScroll, is properly broken down by gender and number in accordance with correct Hebrew grammar, something that I've never heard done in my life) the words "l'altar, l'chaim tovim u-l'shalom, immediately, for a good life and peace." Far out—that's something else that I've never heard in my life, not even after four years of working for the "black-hats." I learn something new every day. Baruch chonen ha-daat—Praised is the One who graciously gives knowledge.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A sad farewell

I don’t know which bureau my ex-sister-in-law went to in Israel to register her get (Jewish religious divorce), but the clerk said to her, “Finita la comedia, eh?)

This, she tells me, of all people.

After my brother, having concluded that the marriage counseling wasn’t getting them anywhere, packed his bags.

It could have been worse, I suppose. Years ago, when a girlfriend of mine asked a guy friend of mine to leave—with good cause, I’m sorry to say—I didn’t talk to him for two years until he finally gave her a get.

Why am I talking about this? Truth to tell, I’m stalling.

About a year and a half ago, I read an article in the Jewish Week about these things called Web logs, or blogs, for short, something that I’d never heard of, naturally, being the low-tech soul that I am. The Jewish Week then proceeded to introduce me to my very first blog, a Jewish one, of course, this being, after all, a Jewish Week article.

So I was sad to learn, last Friday morning, that my "blogmother," writer of the first blog I ever read, has decided to stop posting in order to spare her children at least some of the pain of her recent divorce, for which, assuming that I'm translating the word grusha correctly, she’s already received a get. I have no words. All that keeps running through my head is Blue Fringe singing “Av haRachamim, Av haRachamim, Avinu . . . “

AidelMaidel, you will be missed. May those who care for you continue to be there for you, and may you find comfort in your faith.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A charmed life

This past Friday’s New York "Jewish Week” contained an article by blogger Esther K. Kustanowitz, (of My Urban Kvetch), “Homing In On Change.”

“The Upper West Side is more than just a neighborhood. It is a social system that is supposed to work like this: you move there, become a member of the tribe of Jewish singles, date for a few years, find the right person, then get married. But for those of us who have spent years living within it — and remain, inexplicably, single — it often feels like the system is breaking down. For me, the change was a tectonic shift: monumental, but barely visible to the naked eye. One day, there it was: my gaggle of single gals had all but disintegrated, I had no one to walk home from shul with, and my married, parenting peers were canceling nights out for time at home. But I was still me, chasing my spiritual and social shadow on West End Avenue, like Peter Pan reincarnated as single Jewish female. . . ., a solitary single against a series of teams. I was barely in the black; they had extensive financial portfolios. . . .. I was writing and creating; but they were procreating. Needing a change, I did something I never do: I took a vacation. But even there, in the very act of my self-assertion, I found myself an odd-numbered wheel, rolling in the wake of other people’s romance as we strolled a near-empty beach at sunset: two by two, by one. . . .

. . . there’s been an emotional and spiritual disconnect, a crack in the foundation of the city that I would otherwise consider my home. The rupture represents unfulfilled hopes and my disenchantment with a community that even after a decade, has failed to nurture my soul. I felt connected, once. But whether that connection has been severed, frayed or just removed for repairs, it doesn’t matter—it’s gone. . . .

Single friends around the world — some of whom have never even heard of the Upper West Side — tell similar stories of feeling spiritual and social disconnect, albeit in different cities.”

In a recent e-mail to a sister blogger, I wrote, “what's particularly difficult for me to accept, as a woman who was single until the age of 28 and had her only child at 34, is that, in traditional Judaism, there seems to be a reduced role for a married woman who doesn't have children, and no role whatsoever for a woman who never marries.’

Even when I was in my late thirties, when people would ask me if I “knew anyone,” I never had any names to offer. By then, the guys worth marrying were long “taken.”

It gets worse, folks. Having barely caught up from two weeks in Israel (and a trip to return our son to college), and having written maybe a dozen posts about my trip, then a few more, I’ve just begun to catch up on my blog reading. This afternoon, I was saddened to read that one of my sister bloggers has now been separated for several weeks.

What can I say to either blogger that wouldn’t be trite? I have no help to offer.

I must live a charmed life. I’m fortunate to have a husband who’s still bonkers about me, even though I haven’t always made his life easy. I’m fortunate to have a son who outgrew his disabilities enough to become a college physics major.

I have no words, and I cannot help you. I’m sorry.
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