Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A key of my own

Being a temp means not being able to do what you’re being paid to do until someone else unlocks the door.

Being a temp means getting your raincoat locked in the office and having to wear your son’s rain poncho all Shavuot because nobody thought to tell you that they were locking the office with the coat closet in it when they left five minutes before you did.

Being a temp means that, whenever the senior assistant comes back from vacation, you have to give her back her key.

Being a full-time permanent employee means not getting pay-docked every time they close the office for a holiday.

Being a full-time permanent employee means finally having a desk that I can truly consider my own.

Being a full-time permanent employee means that, when I call other employees of our organization who work in my building, the interoffice caller-ID display shows my name.

Being a full-time permanent employee means that, for the first time since I earned a certificate in word processing in January 1997, I finally have my own key to the office.

I’m not an orphan anymore.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Some light entertainment on a Saturday night—Is this Superman’s new phone booth?

Ladies, is it just me, or have you, too, noticed that some women are now using the Ladies Room as a place from which to make cell phone calls? Oddly enough, I can understand that, more or less. Let’s face it, folks—where else can one find anything even remotely resembling privacy in an office (unless you’re lucky enough to have one with a door)? I will confess, though, to being a tad grossed out when women make or answer phone calls while, er, answering a call of nature.

On occasion, I’ve even found myself at the other end of the equation, discovering that someone whom I’ve called has answered the cell phone while in the, er, “library.” Are people that afraid of not answering phone calls immediately, these days?

Gents, does the same sort of thing happen in the Men’s Room, too?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Have some people misinterpreted “Judaism is an evolving religious civilization” to mean that Judaism could survive without the “religion" part?

Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the late former professor at the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary and, in the end, founder of the Reconstructionist Movement, posited the theory that Judaism is an evolving religious civilization. My question is, “What does that mean in real Jewish life?”

Yes, Judaism includes what every other civilization includes—history, literature, music, art, etc.—and all of those are cherished treasures of the Jewish People. But what would happen if you took away the “religion” part, which was absolutely not Kaplan’s intent?

A friend of mine was raised a devout Secular Yiddishist. Yet, he made a deliberate decision not to teach his children Yiddish, but, rather, to send them to a Jewish day school, where they learned Hebrew and Jewish religion, instead. Having been raised in a completely secular Jewish environment, he was convinced that there was no future in it, no way of passing such a Judaism down to one’s children.

And I think he’s right.

Bagels (or bourekas, for the Sefardim) are not enough.

I don’t believe that we could have managed to survive 2,000 years, give or take, without a land, which every other civilization has, if we hadn’t had the Jewish religion to sustain us. And I don’t think Judaism can survive into the future without religion, either.

I was disussing this topic with my husband just last week. I decided to blog about it after reading these posts. (Both are cross-posted on The Jewish Connection, but most of the comments are on their blogs of origin.) I strongly recommend that you read GoldaLeah’s Thursday, November 17, 2005 post "Judaism won't be here in 100 years," which discusses her Hebrew High School students’ attitudes, on her blog, Go West, Young Jew, and Jack’s Shack’s November 18, 2005 post, "Does Judaism Need G-d?" , on his blog, “Random thoughts- Do they have meaning?”.

Tzé u-l’mad, go and study.

Okay, now that you’re back, let me make a long story short:

On the one hand, I don’t think it’s possible to have a Jewish civilization without the religion part. Our sacred literature and prayers are at the core of so much else that’s part of our civilization that having “an evolving Jewish civilization” without the “religious” part would just eviscerate the civilization.

On the other hand, I think that the jury’s still out on whether the religion part has to be Orthodox, or whether other “brands” will do the job. It’s my sincere belief that only time will tell. Give me a call in about 200 years and we’ll compare notes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Yishmael—disowned by Hashem

Start with Parshat Lech L’cha, Genesis, chapter 17, verse 20. There, Hashem calls Yishmael (Ishmael) by that name only. Now go to Parshat Vayera, Genesis, chapter 21, verses 12-20. There, Hashem calls Yishmael “ha-naar,” the youth/lad, and also “ben ha-amah,” the son of the handwoman.” Then see, in the same parsha, chapter 22, verse 2, “. . . kach et bincha, et y’chidcha, asher ahavta, et Yitzchak . . .take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchak (Isaac) . . .”

Never once does Hashem ever call Yishmael “bincha,” “your son,” meaning the son of Avraham. In the eyes of Hashem, Yishmael is nothing but Sarah’s mistake.

Did anyone bother telling Sarah that she was going to have a child of her own before she gave her servant to Avraham as a surrogate mother? Did Avraham help in any way when Hagar showed disrespect to his own wife, or did he just wash his hands of the whole problem and tell Sarah, "you deal with her?" (Parshat Lech L'cha, Genesis, chapter 16, verses 4-6). And when Yishmael laughed on the day of Yitzchak’s "weaning feast" in such a way as to make Sarah question whether she even wanted him to grow up in the same “house,” did Avraham discipline Yishmael (Parshat Vayera, Genesis, chapter 21, verses 8-20)? Or did he follow Hashem’s example, disown his own son, and send him and his mother out into the desert with nothing but a canteen and a sandwich, washing his hands of the whole affair and leaving it in Hashem’s hands to rescue the two of them from certain death?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Shlomo Carlebach and company show me the way—a milestone in the life of a late-learner

This is a two-fer—you get two for the price of one.

Which, in this case, means that you might want to read this post first.

Not having had the benefit of a Jewish day school education, I haven’t quite mastered the art of speed-davvening because I simply can’t read Hebrew quickly enough. I’m also not entirely comfortable with the idea. What’s the point in praying so quickly that you don’t have time to think about what you’re saying?

There was a time, years ago, when, like many people, I would come into the synagogue and ask what page we were on, then fight to keep up with the chazzan (cantor). It took me quite a while to learn that that’s not the point. It’s more important to say a whole prayer than to skip half of it just to keep up. So what if I’m not on the same page as everyone else?

So how do I choose what to pray? Well, once I got to the point at which I was even interested in going beyond the matbéah shel tefillah (roughly, the core, required part of a service, which consists, to the best of my knowledge, of the brachot (blessings) before the Sh’ma, the Sh’ma itself, the brachot after the Sh’ma, and the Amidah (prayer recited while standing), I started asking questions. “You should say at least Ashré before the matbéah, and at least one prayer, preferably Alénu, afterword,” said a former rabbi. Fine. "What should I add if I have more time?" “You should add Baruch She-amar and Yishtabach,” said my husband. “If you have more time, you should add Hallelukah, hallelu kél b’kodsho” (Psalm 150). “You should add the verses after Baruch She-amar,” said the aforementioned rabbi. “With due respect, Rabbi, if I’m going to learn more prayers, I’d much rather learn a whole psalm than two pages of random verses." “Then add Hallelukah, hallelu min hashamayim” (Psalm 148).

And there my davvening stayed, for quite a while.

Eventually, I resigned myself to learning pages of random verses. First, there was U’va L’tzion goel/V’atah kadosh yoshev t’hillot yisrael. Then came Baruch Hashem l’olam, amen v’amen. I even learned a nice chunk of Tachanun, despite not being big on guilt-tripping.

I never did get around to learning those random verses after Baruch She-amar, though, aside from the last paragraph or so that includes Ki vo yishmach libeinu.

The hyperlink directly above brings me to my point.

Which is that, of the prayers and/or biblical quotes included as part of various services that I choose to say, probably about a quarter of them include words that I’ve learned from songs, be they nusach (traditional prayer melodies), Jewish folk music, Jewish rock, or choir music (which is why I first started reciting Hallelukah, hallelu kél b’kodsho, Psalm 146—I stumbled upon it one day, and realized that I knew the words because I knew a gorgeous four-part version of that psalm by the great Italian Jewish composer Salamone Rossi).

And therein lies my last Elul story.

One fine day, sometime this past Elul, I finally made a connection without help for the first time in my life. Even my husband had never made the connection.

There I was, saying Elokai n’tzor—which I used to skip, until I heard Mark’s song (yep, it’s in the radio blog—just keep scrolling)—when it suddenly dawned on me that I’d heard similar words before.

So I finished davvening through the end of the post-Amidah “closing verses” and turned back in the siddur (prayerbook).

And, sure enough, there were those words, in the middle of Psalm 34.

David haMelech (King David) said, “N’tzor l’shoncha méra, u-s’fatecha midaber mirmah, Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.”

And, generations later, a writer of prayers echoed those words when he wrote the prayer that we recite to end the Amidah, “Elokai, n’tzor l’shoni méra, u-s'fatai midaber mirmah, My G-d, guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking deceitfully.”

The tradition continues to this very day.

Just as David haMelech wrote words of praise, and our prayer-writing ancestor followed in his footsteps, so, today, does one generation of songwriters after another sing of Hashem’s ways.

And so, Shlomo Carlebach wrote a song, “Mi ha-ish,” which includes the words "N’tzor l’shoncha méra, u-s’fatecha midaber mirmah".

And a generation or two later, Mark Skier wrote a song beginning with the words "“Elokai, n’tzor l’shoni méra, u-s'fatai midaber mirmah.”

I'd like to thank the chazzan of my previous shul (synagogue). He made it a practice to lead us in chanting responsively, in Hebrew, at just about every Shabbat and holiday service, at least one psalm that had a song in the middle, leading us in the song, then leading us in chanting the rest of the psalm. It's thanks to him that I choose to davven Psalm 19, which has the song Torah Adoshem T'mimah in the middle, and it's because of him that I also choose to davven Psalm 34—which has Carlebach's Mi ha-ish in the middle.

If it hadn't been for the fact that I knew Psalm 34, I would never have made this connection.

Thanks to my former chazzan, to the late, great Shlomo Carlebach, and to Mark for helping me learn—and for making learning such a joy.

Good news, bad news--I'll be back in the boss's office, probably as of, er, today

The good news is that my boss shocked the heck out of me—after waiting nearly four years to hire me as a full-time permanent employee, he managed to get me a computer only weeks after I was officially hired. Once the IT people get my Internet connection functioning—I think they’re working on getting the firewall in place—I’m off of the public-access computers at the opposite end of the building and back in the boss’s office. The great thing about that is that I won't have to spend half an hour almost every day downloading my documents from my e-mail onto whichever computer is available before I can even get to work.

(Oh, yes, I may have forgotten to mention that the guy who finally hired me was Boss #1 , a.k.a. “the black-hat,” who will hereafter be described as “the boss,” plain and simple. When he lends me out to others for their special projects, I’ll describe them as “the party to whom I’m temporarily assigned on special project.”)

The bad news is that, once I go back to the boss’s office, I’ll be back to answering phones, again. !#$%$^&*!!!!!!!! I hate answering phones!!! I’m not a “people person”—just give me my work and leave me alone to get it done. Oh, well.

In addition, since there are now going to be three permanent administrative employees working in the boss’s office for the first time in many years, the seating arrangements are in the process of being completely reconfigured. The new gal is now sitting on the “front line,” so to speak—she’s in the outer office (where I used to be), and is the first person anyone sees when s/he walks in. I’ll be in the middle office now. The senior administrator is giving me her desk and moving to the back desk, which she’s been dying to do for years—she hates it when people hang around her desk, because she has confidential paperwork lying on it at all times, of necessity. So now that we’re sharing the middle office, I can’t play my music on any kind of speakers—she’d shoot me for distracting her, and I can’t say I blame her. Today, I invested in a pair of “bud”-style headphones. They’re not as comfy as “earmuff”-style headphones, but I can’t answer phones while wearing “earmuffs.” I hope the boss won’t object to me listening to music, as long as I keep only one “bud” in and leave the other ear free for hearing the telephone ring.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Lost in translation, or one reason why I’m taking Ulpan (modern Israeli Hebrew) again after a 20-something-year hiatus

Yesterday morning, I was taking a nice, leisurely “walk” through Shacharit (the morning service), trying to understand some of the Biblical quotes and prayers in the original, and/or, failing in that, glancing at the facing English page for a little enlightenment, when I came across this gem: "Zeh keli v’anvéhu, said the Hebrew—and the ArtScroll siddur (prayerbook) translated it, “This is my G-d, and I will build Him a Sanctuary.”

Hunhhh??? There’s no verb livnot, to build, in that phrase. Nor is there either the noun “mishkan,” indicating the portable sanctuary of the 40 years in the wilderness, or the term Bet HaMikdash, indicating the Temple in Jerualem. So we’re now getting midrash (rabbinic interpretation) in place of p’shat (literal meaning) in a translation??? Of a siddur ???!!! Isn’t it bad enough that ArtScroll has foisted off a midrashic “translation” of Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs) on the entire Jewish community, not caring that some of us less fortunate souls don’t know enough Hebrew to know the difference? Or rather, “caring” enough to mislead the undereducated deliberately?(!)

Enough! I’ve had it up to here with being one of the undereducated. I’m fed up with being an am ha-aretz, a Jewishly-illiterate Jew. I’m sick and tired of looking at three different translations of the same text and having to decide for myself which one is correct. If Rabbi Akiva could learned the alef-bet (Hebrew alphabet) at 40, surely I can learn to speak, read, and write Hebrew at 56. If I still have the koach (strength) by the time I’ve fluent enough to be able to read Yediot Achronot in the original (I gather from my brother that Haaretz will take a lot longer), I’ll study a little Biblical Hebrew next, just enough to do some serious studying. It isn’t every day that you see a 60-year-old woman start learning Chumash Rashi for the first time.

Milestone: Our son is now the proud new owner of an old car

. . . and we are now the kvetching new payers of a whopping auto-insurance bill.

On the plus side, our son paid for the car out of the money that he earned over the summer by participating in a physics research project. He also bought the car upstate, which, rumor has it, means that we’re paying roughly half what we’d be paying in insurance if he’d bought it anywhere within hailing distance of the New York City metropolitan area. And, if his drive home for Thanksgiving goes well, we won't be buying any more airline tickets for him, either.

I’m trying not to think about my son driving around in the dead of winter in the rain-soaked or sleet-covered or icy or snowed-in roads of upstate New York. I’m trying to remember that he is now able to participate in his fencing club again, now that he no longer has to wait for the college shuttle bus to take him to the college’s off-campus housing (which is where they house the students when they run out of room[s] in the on-campus housing). It’s so nice to know that my son now has an opportunity to take his nose out of his books occasionally, now that he doesn’t have to worry about the shuttle getting him home at 1 AM on a school night.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

And now, for something totally different--They finally hired me as a full-time permanent employee!

I've been temping on and off—mostly on, for roughly the past year—for the same Orthodox Jewish organization since mid-December 2001. And I told Boss #1, all the way back in 2002, that his special projects would never get done as long as the person doing them was also answering phones and typing memos. Apparently, he finally realized that I was right—and put me on his budget. Baruch shehecheyanu!

High-Holiday-Season Highlights, part 6: “ . . . v’hayita ach saméach, & you will be altogether joyful

[As I was saying in the first half of this post—see the previous post—I apologize to my readers for its lateness—'tis, admittedly, a bit after the fact. Unfortunately, Blogger and I have been involved in a long-running dispute—I've been trying to post this since last Tuesday. This is roughly my eighth attempt. I've given up trying to post this where it belongs, which is after "Decaffeinating copy-editor," in the sincere but probably vain hope that it won't get deleted, this time.

I split the original post into two parts and changed the names of both posts—I hope that works, because I’m running out of ideas. See the previous post for the first half.]

Within the past two and a half months, I have had so much joy in my life.

The joy of going to Israel. Seeing my parents there. And my brother. My older niece. My nephew. My younger niece.

Going Israeli folk dancing bi-Y'rushalayim.

Singing and dancing in the aisle at an outdoor concert, also in Jerusalem.

And davvening Mincha at the Kótel.

Then coming home, and seeing our son safely off to college again.

And discovering new music in prayer.The joy of saying “Ma Yakar chasdecha, Elokim, How precious is Your kindness, L-rd” and feeling sheltered under Hashem’s wings as I stand with my tallit (prayer shawl) over my head at the beginning of the Birkot Hashachar.

The joy of hearing Neshama Carlebach’s voice in my head, singing her late father Shlomo’s music, as I say, “Atah hu Hashem Elokeinu bashamayim u-va-aretz u-vi-sh’mei hashamayim ha-elyonim, You are He, Hashem our G-d, in heaven and on earth, and in the heaven of heaven on high.”

Adding Psalm 100 to my P’sukei D’Zimra at a weekday morning minyan, even though I don’t really have time when I’m trying to get to work, because the melody sung by the Diaspora Yeshiva Band to “Ivdu et Hashem b’simchah, bo-u l’fanav bi-r’nanah, Serve Hashem with gladness, come before Him with joyous song” is so infectious that “Resistance is futile.” :)

Realizing that the reason why I can sing the part of their “Zion Mountain” that starts “T’viémo v’titaémo b’har nachalatcha . . . You will bring them and implant them on the mountain of Your heritage . . .” is that I know it from the end of Shirat Yam Suf, the Song of the Reed Sea. Realizing, too, that sometimes I have to be careful which music I hear in my head while davvening, after “hearing” their rollicking Country-Western “T’ka b’shofar gadol . . .Sound the great shofar . . .”—complete with “Yiiiiiii-Haaaaa!”—and almost cracking up in the middle of the Amidah because it was so incongrous in that context. (You can find some of the music of Shlomo Carlebach, Neshama Carlebach, and the Diaspora Yeshiva Band here: http://www.mostlymusic.com/)

Getting a kick out of being able to find all the words to Blue Fringe’s gorgeous “Av Harachamim, (Father of Mercy),” partly in the Seder Hotza-at HaTorah/the service for taking out the Torah scroll, partly in Avinu Malkénu (Our Father, Our King), and partly in U-n’taneh Tokef (at the end, when the prayer says “. . . k’rachem av al banim, as a father has compassion for his children . . .)“

"Hearing” Lenny Solomon and his Shlock Rock gang sing the beginning of Psalm 92, “Mizmor Shir l’Yom HaShabbat, Tov L’Hodot LaShem, A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day, It is good to give thanks to the L-rd,” and Debbie Friedman sing half the rest of it.

Realizing that I now know five different tunes for the Elul-Holiday-Season psalm’s “Achat Sha-alti mé-ét Hashem, One thing I ask of the L-rd”—one fast tune (composer unknown), one slow one (probably by Carlebach), one by the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, and two totally different ones by Mark.

Teaching the congregation Mark’s “Hashkiveinu” on Erev Simchat Torah during the hakafot.

And dancing in the street with the sifré Torah/Torah scrolls on the morning of Simchat Torah.I had so many reasons to be glad during Elul and the holidays. They were truly ach saméach, altogether joyful.

High-Holiday-Season Highlights, part 5: A singer learns the other half of it, literally

[I apologize to my readers for the lateness of this post—'tis, admittedly, a bit after the fact. Unfortunately, Blogger and I have been involved in a long-running dispute—I've been trying to post this since last Tuesday. This is roughly my eighth attempt. I've given up trying to post this where it belongs, which is after "Decaffeinating copy-editor," in the sincere but probably vain hope that it won't get deleted, this time.

Update: Splitting post into two parts—I hope that works, because I’m running out of ideas.]

It’s late on Sunday afternoon when we rush out of the subway station at 72nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan and hit the ground running—we have only about 20 minutes to get past West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, all the way across Riverside Park and down to the Hudson River to do Tashlich while it’s still light enough for us to be able to read the designated passages out of my pocket Birnbaum siddur (prayerbook) by daylight.

We make it by the skin of our teeth, symbolically casting our sins into the depths of the Hudson. As the sun sets slowly in the west, we divvie up the remaining psalms so that neither of us has to do too much teeth-cracking on the Hebrew (though I must say that my husband’s ability to read any Hebrew text without prior practice is considerably better than mine.) Since the Hebrew in Psalm 33 doesn’t look completely beyond my capabilities, I decide to go for it, and start reading. I get to the second to last sentence in the psalm—

—and stop dead in my tracks.“Ki vo yismach libeinu, ki v’shem kodsho batachnu. Y’hi chasdecha Hashem aleinu, ka-asher yichalnu lach, 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.”“Holy Moses,” I practically yell in my husband’s ear, “those are the same words that I found a few weeks ago in P'sukei D'Zimra! THIS IS THE SOURCE! PSALM 33 IS THE SOURCE!”

The next morning, our friend the currently-between-jobs cantor serves as the baalat tefillah (prayer leader) and baalat koreh (Torah reader) for the Hoshanah Rabbah service. It’s the most beautiful Hoshanah Rabbah service I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I tell her so.

I don’t know whether this is the typical minhag (custom), but, at our shul (synagogue), we use the Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (Festival) version of P’sukei D’Zimrah for Shacharit (the morning service) on Hoshanah Rabbah. And I notice that Psalm 33 is included, right after the so-called Hallel HaGadol, or Great Hallel (Hodu LaShem ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo, Give thanks to the L-rd, for Him is good, for eternal is His kindness), which is, ironically enough, the shorter version. (Go figure.) So in it goes, to be added to my P’sukei D’Zimra from then on.It’s been my custom, for just about a year now, to davven (pray) at least the Birkot HaShachar (Morning Blessings) and the P’sukei D’Zimra (Verses of Song) sections at home, before going to shul, to enable me to add prayers that I wouldn’t have time to davven if I were trying to keep up with our speed-davvening rabbi and/or to pray whatever prayers I choose to pray with more kavannah (intention, focus). So, still in my apartment, I start davvening Psalm 33 for the first time as a part of what I include in my own personal version of P’sukei D’Zimra, get as far as the third sentence—

—and stop dead in my tracks again.“Shiru lo shir chadash, heytiyvu nagen bi-t’ruah. Ki yashar d’var Hashem, v’chol ma-aseihu b’emunah, Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully amid shouts of joy. For upright is the word of the L-rd; and all His work is done in faithfulness.”Holy Moses, Mark , so this is where you’ve been hiding this—I’ve been looking for the words to "Shiru Lo" since last May!

And so it came to pass that a singer who, two months ago, didn’t know even the half of it now knows both halves—Mark's "Shiru Lo," beginning with the third verse of Psalm 33, and his "Ki Vo Yismach Libeinu," beginning with the second to last.

To be continued.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Separation anxiety: A tale of two eras

My husband and I were discussing a seeming emotional coldness that we’ve noticed in some Jewish families and between some Jewish couples. The Punster theorized that this coldness is a defense mechanism left over from the “old country” (in our case the eastern and central European Ashkenazi community), when one had to keep one’s emotions and behavior under strict control in order to “fly under the radar” of the local anti-Semites and not attract their negative attention. He expressed his relief that matters have improved in modern times, and that, as the generations become farther and farther removed from the old country, they will become farther removed from old-country uptightness, as well.

I begged to differ.

I printed out a copy of part of the Sunday, October 17, 2004 post Ai du from the blog of the London chassid The Shaigetz, some of which I’d quoted in my Sunday, July 31, 2005 post, “The new Qumran community”:

"With . . . the separation of the sexes at weddings and functions now starting at the car park I sometimes wonder whether some of these couples would recognize their ‘other’ in a crowd.

The late Rabbi Shlomo Baumgarten was the Rav of a yekkishe shul [yekkishe = of German Jewish origin—Jews of German origin have a reputation for being great practitioners of decorum] on the Hill and a great man. He would greet the ladies of the congregation, waiting to walk home with their cloven, with a polite Good Shabbes as he left the shul. With the Chassidisation of the Hill today, no Rav would risk being drummed out of town for that. In fact one the commenters on the previous post brought to my attention a paper urging women to leave the shul as soon as the davening ends so as not to be seen by the men when they leave.

In my opinion it is some of the elders’ obsession with visual temptation that is stifling the cleaving of many young families. I do not believe that the generations before us, where couples walked home from shul together, went together to sheva brachot and barmitzvas, that were celebrated at home and in rooms with no mechitza (partition wall between men and women), were more likely to cleave with the wrong mate than we who are so well insulated from any potential pitfalls. Nor do I believe that the reason five year old girls are no longer allowed to enter the men’s shul even on Simchat Torah is because there is a real problem of anyone being led astray by their good looks. I have never noticed any risk of cleavage with a five-year-old girl and if the strict segregation we practice leads to impure thoughts about kids then it might be high time we abolished either the rules or the kids

So this is an improvement? In some quarters, these attitudes are getting worse, not better.

After he’d read the above, I told him a story:

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a band of merry musicians. For the most part, they tended to play close to home, where there were yeshivot by the score and kosher take-out places on every other corner. But every now and then, they got invitations to play their music in distant lands.

Many years ago, this band of merry musicians was asked to give a performance in a land where the yeshivot are few and far between, a place so isolated from the huge Jewish community in which the band members lived that, to this day, there’s not so much as a kosher pizzeria in the entire kingdom. They were welcomed with open arms, housed and fed, and given rehearsal space. Their kind hosts even brought them tea. Eventually, though, one of those fine folks stopped bringing tea to one of the band members—and married him instead.

Fast-forward about 19 years, give or take. An article in the New York Jewish Week described the set-up at a recent performance of the Jewish rock band Blue Fringe at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women: There was a mechitzah of balloons placed between the band members, all male, and the students, obviously all female. Not because they were davvening. Just because. Because that’s the way it’s done, these days.

I’ve been to their website and listened to some of their live performances. Yes, the teenyboppers are screaming in the background just as those of my generation screamed at the Beatles. But how many of these young ladies, in this day and age, would even be allowed close enough to any of these guys to serve them tea? Folks, Blue Fringe is composed of four musicians. Male. Jewish. Orthodox. In their twenties. None of them married. These guys have the words SHIDDUCH MATERIAL practically plastered across their foreheads. Do they ever get near enough to any of their myriad screaming fans even to be able to ask for a date? Okay, maybe things aren’t quite that bad. Maybe I’m exaggerating. But by how much? Do you think it’s an accident that they’ve written a parody of the current trend toward non-matchmaking in the Orthodox Jewish community called “Shidduch Song?”

[Official tangent warning.

I must confess that one of the things that distressed me, in reading the description of a funeral in the Jewish community only a few months ago, was not only the age—or lack thereof—of the deceased and the fact that she’d left behind children as young as less than a year old. I admit to having been more than a bit taken aback to read that there had been a mechitzah at the funeral. Do the rabbis of our day have so little faith in us that they don’t trust us to have the common decency to behave in a respectful and appropriate fashion even in the presence of the dead?]

End of tangent.]

That story must have given the Punster food for thought because, as I walked out of his office/our son’s bedroom to go scrub the tub, he called me back.

“Do you think it’s really a good idea for us to take ________ Israeli folk dancing with us?’

I was puzzled by his question. For openers, the plan had fallen through, for a very understandable reason. Also, I’d e-mailed the father of the prospective invitee in question, a student at a Jewish women’s college under Orthodox auspices, assuring him that I would dance “outside the circle” with his daughter, along with the two female Orthodox “regulars” who never dance with men. Since she wouldn’t have been dancing with any of the men, what would have been the problem?

“Don’t you think there’d be hell to pay if she went folk dancing with us?”

My jaw practically dropped as I realized the implications of his question. “Do you think it would ruin her reputation in her community?”

“They’d throw her out of school!”

Holy _____!

Invitation officially withdrawn.

Adventures in Haftarah-chanting, etc.

The fun started on Friday night, when I did my first practice run. (Since I’ve known all the haftorot [readings from the prophets] that I chant for years—in most cases, for at least a decade—I usually need only one or two rehearsals.) There I was, just chanting along and minding my own business when all of a sudden I got to this line:

Aniyah so-arah, lo nuchamah . . .


It got even better as I went along.

Hoy, kol tzamé . . .


Fast-forward to the next morning.

Mistake number one: You would think that I would know better by now, but I always manage to forget that, for some odd reason, cold water from the cooler sets off my acid reflux and makes me clear my throat 14 times. I should have gotten a glass of water from the tap before heading back into the sanctuary.

So there I am, standing up on the bima, with my husband to my right (okay, so they still won’t let women chant their own brachot, but one must be grateful for not-so-small favors—I was a member for years before they let women chant a haftarah) and the rabbi to my left.

For openers, I’m clearing my throat for the entire first page. Which is distracting enough.

Then the rabbi chimes in, trying to ask my husband a question. So the poor Punster is trying to gesture (apparently, to the envelope for the aliyah cards, which has fallen on the floor) and answer as quietly as possible. Yet another distraction.

Then the elderly gentleman in the front row, who has, most unfortunately, precious little memory left, pipes up, “What page?”

Then our resident toddler toddles into the sanctuary—and I find myself accidentally skipping to the next sentence, saying “banayich, your children,” instead of “g’vuléch, your borders.” So my husband corrects me—and, realizing why I’ve made the mistake, I point at the boychikkle in a most undignified manner (not my usual behavior on the bima) and repeat the word banayich quietly, for his benefit, before correcting myself and continuing.

Then the senior gentleman in the front row with the memory problem pipes up again, “What page?”

Then I make an error in the cantillation and my husband corrects me—incorrectly! I spend an extra second figuring out that both my cantillation and his are off, and finding the correct cantillation. At this point, I’ve pretty much already lost it, and shake my finger in “naughty boy” fashion at my husband. No, seriously, folks, I take my responsibilities on the bima quite seriously, whether I’m chanting a haftarah or leading my Junior Congregation kids in Adon Olam. I don’t act this way. Under normal circumstances.

Then the senior gentleman in the front row with the memory problem pipes up, “What page?” for the third time.

Then our resident toddler, who’s been touring the sanctuary with his mother in tow, manages to attract the attention of one of our louder seniors. By which I mean one of the quarter of the membership that doesn’t have hearing aids and needs them. And there’s that other major detail: As the old joke goes, “Some people come to synagogue to talk to G-d, and some come to talk to Goldberg.” Well, guess what? So this guy, who’s a morning minyan regular but doesn’t take the davvening (praying) part of being in shul too seriously, starts talking to the boychikkle. Loudly, of course. From the front row.

At this point, I’ve had it, and give the reading desk a clop. (Banging a hand on a hard surface is a way to tell someone to be quiet when one doesn’t wish to interrupt a prayer—or a reading—by speaking.)

How a rotten multitasker like me got through this haftarah with only one Hebrew mistake and one cantillation error despite facing a roomful of distractions is beyond my comprehension.

As the old joke goes, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

There I am, up on the bima leading my Junior Congregation kids when the boychikkle’s grandfather, also in need of hearing aids, and impatient, to boot, jumps the gun on me and starts singing Alénu a second before I do. And keeps singing it in his own key. Standing not in the front row, but, noch besser (even better), almost directly to my right, practically on the bima himself. I turn around and give him a dirty look—and he, in his typical witless fashion, smiles back!

May this be the last time in my life that I’m ever forced to do something as totally disrespectful as stick a finger in one ear in order to stay in my own key while leading a prayer.

And you think nothing interesting ever happens in shul? :)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Decaffeinating copy-editor

Idiot that I am, I spend half the night tossing and turning, wondering why my heart is pounding to beat the band.

With the dawning of the day comes the dawning of understanding.

Uh, Shira?


Exactly how many times did you hit the candy machine at the office for chocolate to keep you awake yesterday ?

Oy, don’t ask.

Ok, I’m not asking, I’m telling: More sleep, less caffeine—no chocolate for you until your heart stops racing. Which, if memory of previous experience serves me correctly, should be about four days.

Four days without chocolate??!! What are you trying to do, kill me??!!

Well, actually . . . Do you remember that verse “U-r’é vanim l’vanecha—You will see your child’s children?”

Shutting up now.

Caffeine withdrawal commencing.


High-Holiday-Season Highlights, part 4: Hallel—a mixed blessing

Since I’m a singer by nature, I’ve always loved Hallel on a Yom Tov or on a Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, when we have time to sing all its wonderful tunes.

But I’ve found myself a bit ambivalent ever since I read an article (probably in the New York Jewish Week) lamenting that the verse from Psalm 113 that says “Moshivi akeret habayit ém habanim s’méchah, He transforms the barren wife into a glad mother of children” is cruel to women who can’t have children.

Now, whenever I do Hallel, I think of the husband and wife in my office who’ve prayed for a child for so long that they both changed their [Hebrew] names some months ago in the hope of changing their luck. Thus far, no dice.

I also I think of some of the folks from the Jewish blogosphere and the world at large who’ve tried everything they can think of to have a baby.

Fertility treatments. Surrogate motherhood, and with it, a prayer that the surrogate mother won’t change her mind and that the baby will be healthy. Adoption. (And I’m thankful that my friends were finally able to adopt a little girl.)

And I think of all the many people who would dearly love to have children, if only they were in a position to do so.

I think of the assistant to one of my bosses, now in her late twenties, still single, still hoping for an opportunity “to raise children to Toirah.”

And I think of the Wiz, also in her mid-to-late twenties, also still single despite being one of the most brilliant and patient people I know.

And of the man, described in a blog post, who watches in silent envy as his married friends dance around the synagogue on Simchat Torah with their children on their shoulders.

And the woman who described that man, who sometimes feels as if her own Shabbes candles are mocking her for lighting them while alone in her apartment, with neither children to rise up and bless her nor husband to praise her. Who lamented that she could “only wish that S[imchat] T[orah] had any joy left in it for me. This year was a misery of discomfort and unbelonging that I'm too upset to even process anywhere yet.”

I think, too, of a single counterpart of hers from the opposite coast, who feels left out of the Jewish community, “. . . mourning the single woman and the loss of Jews.”

And a woman who’s observed every—and I mean every—Jewish law there is, and now finds herself, at 35, not only never having been kissed, but facing the distinct possibility that she never will be kissed—for the rest of her life. Which is gonna make it pretty hard for her to have kids.

I think, too, of those who do have kids, but who can’t be described as entirely glad, because their families have been torn asunder, be it by death or by divorce.

And I thank Hashem for a son who gives me grief—and joy.

And for a husband who teases me to distraction—and then says the sweetest things.

I have no words of my own to offer.

But perhaps David HaMelech/King David . . .

Harofe li-sh’vorey leiv, u-m’chabeish l’atzvotam.” (Psalm 147)

May the One who heals the brokenhearted bind up your sorrows.

And may you, someday, single or married, divorced or widowed, with or without children, feel the joy of being a part of the Jewish community and be able to say, with a full heart, along with all those saying Hallel, “Ze hayom asah Hashem, nagilah v’nism’chah vo, This is the day that Hashem has made, let us rejoice and be glad on it.”

Gee, I must be gettin’ old or somethin’--quoth a visitor, "Sorry, ma’am”

That's what a young lady visiting our office said to me when she almost bumped into me.

I'll get used to it, eventually.

On the plus side, I'm glad I've lived long enough to have "earned" the title.
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