Saturday, December 31, 2005

“You never call, you never write”: On a friendship that never happened

Last year, I met someone whom I thought would be really great to have as a friend, someone intelligent and articulate, with a wonderful sense of humor and a strong commitment to Jewish practice. Unfortunately, after a few months, I noticed that my correspondence was no longer being answered. For lack of an alternative, I was forced to conclude that I was far more interested in this friendship than the other party was. It was a great disappointment.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened to me (and, sadly, I suppose there’s no guarantee that it will be the last). When I was in college, I joined an organization for the express purpose of getting to know a particular member of that organization better. I was surprised and dismayed when someone else was assigned to be my mentor.

I’m curious as to how other people handle this sort of situation. Is it just one of those things that one must simply swallow hard and accept? Alternatively, have I been going about the pursuit of friendship in the wrong way? Is it possible that an obvious eagerness to make friends with someone can be off-putting to some people? Any suggests, advice, and/or just good old-fashioned hand-holding would be appreciated.

Friday, December 30, 2005

With apologies to the professional staff of the J. Blog Medical Center

One of the unanticipated consequences of becoming a member of the Jewish blogosphere is that, surrounded as I am by three bloggin’ docs and a nurse, I’m beginning to feel guilty about paying my medical bills late.

Well, it’s like this: First, we pay the bills that keep a roof over our heads, our utilities working, our son in college, and our various insurance policies still valid. Then, we pay the bills that have late fees. Medical bills, I’m sorry to say, run a distant third.

The problem is that health care professionals and lawyers aren’t the only professionals who often provide services to individuals and/or groups who sometimes have difficulty paying for them.

Magnetized to our apartment entrance door as I type are two checks, both from the same non-profit foundation and both made payable to Punster Husband, CPA. The total is enough to pay not only our medical bills, but also our son’s college tuition for January.

There’s only one catch: Both checks are postdated January 9.

And the less said about the major client who took over four months to pay my husband, the better. !#$%^&*!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To all of our assorted health care professionals and labs: Sorry, but you’ll get paid when he gets paid.

Update: As promised, I wrote checks for *all* our medical bills today. It helped considerably that my husband *finally* got paid on December 29 for a fee that had been due since July.

The Festival of Lights (a poem)

[First published on a Babylon 5 (televised science fiction) message board December 7, 1999.]

It was a quiet day at the office—until the boss called in from the road at a quarter to 5, asking for airplane tickets for tomorrow morning at 7
Oh, well—what’s a little overtime between friends?
Finally free, I went down, down—first down in the elevator, then down again into the subway
A quick ride, a quick change of trains, then
Under the river and through the air, to hubby and son I go
As the train emerges from the tunnel and becomes an elevated subway, an oxymoron if I ever heard one
The night plays tricks with Plexiglas
I see the blue-lit factory windows shining through the subway windows from in front of me
While, from behind me, the lights are reflected in those same subway windows
Looking through the windows into the distance, I enjoy the gorgeous view
The night skyline, a sight for sore eyes even after all these years of living in the city
There’s the Chrysler Building, all lit up, the top of the building looking for all the world like rows of shark’s teeth
The Empire State Building, always lit according to the season, mocks this Jew celebrating Chanukah with its red and green Christmas lighting
The windows of the subway car give a double view
The buildings on the outside, the people on the inside, mirrored
Lights, everywhere
Standing at the back of the car at the door, I look through its window, watching the conductor in the next car stick his head out of the window of the conductor’s booth at every stop, making sure that no one gets caught in the doors as the train speeds out of each station
Here’s the most brightly-lit of all of the above-ground stations on this line
Two more stops
The doors open, and I suddenly realize that my knees are cold
The doors open again, and I step out into the chill night air
Visions of Chanukah candles dancing in my head

December 29, 2005: I'm happy to say that the lights on the top of the Empire State Building have been blue and white for the past few nights. Happy Chanukah to all, and to all a git nacht. :)


Thursday, December 29, 2005


“Dis (diss?)” (slang): Verb—to show disrespect for; noun—disrespect.

Exhibit A: Someone yanks a microphone out of a singer’s hand in the middle of a song—watch Etan G, The Jewish Rapper, get "kicked off the Chabad Telethon!"

Exhibit B: Congregant has choreographed three Jewish line dances (two to Yishayah/Isaiah, one to the prayer Modeh Ani/I thank You) and is presenting their official public debut at the synagogue Chanukah party when, halfway through the second dance, she’s interrupted by the announcement, “Tables 1, 2, 3, and 4 can now go up to the buffet table.” According to the “counter” on Mark's radio blog, Modeh Ani (just keep a-scrollin’ down—it’s in there somewhere) is only 2 minutes and 17 seconds long. Mr. Impatient couldn’t have waited literally another minute? Sigh—not when the congregants are beginning to kvetch out loud, “Let’s eat, already!” There are occasional drawbacks to having a retired kosher caterer as president of the shul. Sorry, Mark, but, truth to tell, I think that my dances to your Ki V'Simchah (also somewhere on the radio blog, Modeh Ani, and Aniyah (acoustic guitar version) probably looked better in rehearsal.

Exhibit C: An organization decides to move an entire division to another location—and doesn’t bother informing the vice president of that decision until it’s a done deal. I don't even work for that division, and even I’m livid! Do you suppose this has anything to do with the fact that the vice president in question is the only female vice president in the entire Orthodox Jewish not-for-profit organization for which I work—and one who wears pants almost every day, to boot—and that the literal men in charge resent the fact that she's done such a marvelous job of running programs that bring funding into the organization? Or are the powers-that-be "equal opportunity offenders" who'd pull the same inconsiderate and insulting stunt on anyone?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A shock to the system--when the real world and "Olam HaBlog" collide

Today, I typed an announcement to be posted throughout my office building notifying our staff and visitors of the death of a staff member's father, and providing details concerning the funeral and shiva (roughly translated, the period when the mourners receive condolence visitors). Imagine my shock when I was making the rounds of the blogs and discovered that the deceased is the grandfather of a Jewish blogger's spouse. Baruch dayan emet--Blessed is the true Judge.

"Kol Isha" night at Makor--a Sefardi & Mizrachi music feast

Sarah Aroeste, Basya Schechter and her "Pharoah's Daughter" band, and Smadar played at Makor tonight as part of the New York Sephardic Music Festival. We ended up in the "cheap seats"--the "nightclub" section was wall-to-wall standing room only, so we ordered dinner in the restaurant in the back of the same floor, with a limited view of the stage and variable ability to hear the music, and made the best of it. And still ended up dancing half the evening away.

The location being Makor, the crowd was mostly in their 20s and 30s, but there were a few families and folks over 40 such as ourselves. There were a number of gentlemen in kippot/yarmulkes/skullcaps in the audience despite the fact that all the lead singers were women and that many in the Orthodox community believe that halachah (Jewish law) prohibits a man from listening to a woman sing for fear that a woman's voice ("kol isha") will lead him to sexual thoughts. Even a couple of Chassidim showed up, payos (sidelocks) and all.

The musicians hung around after their own sets to listen to one another's music, all of which was wonderful, including some traditional and modern Sefardi Chanukah songs and some Chanukah songs that I think may have been composed especially for the occasion. Sarah Aroeste spent half of the second and third sets in the back of the club area dancing the night away. A grand old time was had by all.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a keyboard and Lenny, ‘cause Shlock Rock was here!

Having watched and enjoyed the videos of the recent Shlock Rock concert in Milwaukee with the the Moshe Skier Band playing back-up, I was eager to hear more. So when I noticed on Shlock Rock's online calendar that they were having three concerts within hailing distance of our apartment on Dec. 24th and 25th . . .

Well, after considerable wondering around the wilds of Westchester County, we finally managed, thanks to the Punster’s much-appreciated skill at getting unlost, to get to the concert just barely on time (which is to say that the band started playing roughly the same 15 minutes late that we arrived—thank goodness for "Jewish Time" :) ).

We took seats in the back row and proceeded to dance through most of the concert. Lenny Solomon, the leader of the pack, is a master parodist, and brought many smiles to our faces. Not only is learning good (to paraphrase the name of Shlock Rock’s first album), but, with Lenny and company in charge, it’s a lot of fun, too. You haven't lived until you've heard the doo-wop version of "Baruch haGever", and, if your kids are old enough to have seen Disney's "The Little Mermaid," they (and their parents) will get a real kick out of "Into the Sea."

The audience was singing and dancing along, with much encouragement from the friendly folks onstage, who spent half of the intermission signing autographs and taking song requests for the second half of the concert. Fortunately for the audience, Lenny’s frequent sidekick, Etan G., the Jewish Rapper, was on hand to present (or “represent”) the importance of wearing a kippah and making hamotzi, and was being so nice about giving the kids autographs during the intermission that he had to be practically dragged back on stage with a hook! :)

If you’re fortunate enough to have an opportunity to attend a Shlock Rock concert, run, do not walk! Take your kid(s), grandkid(s), niece(s), nephew(s), your neighbor’s kid(s), yourself, your spouse or your boyfriend or girlfriend, your best friend, the "morning minyannaires" and the whole gang from shul/synagogue. Take your chevruta/learning partner, your classmates from shiur/Jewish religious studies or Ulpan/Hebrew class. Just go!

Never in my life have I had so much fun on, you should pardon the expression, xmas eve.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Stillborn: Thoughts for the sister he never had

I have no words. Just go there and read.

A believer writes a letter to his daughter

A Simple Jew writes of the importance of being there for one's child(ren).

A doubter's request--G d phone home: See Reva HaShotah's post "Maybe God Should Seek Us"

"Well, why not? Are you tired of knocking on heaven's gate and being ignored? Are you fed up with praying, only to be put on hold (and no Muzak to listen to while you wait, too)? So let Him find you. "

Read the rest here. A bit irreverent ( and a tad political), but I like it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A minor "machloket" (dispute): Minhag (custom) versus personal initiative

It's customary for a person who wears a tallit (prayer shawl) to pull it over one's head for a moment after saying the brachah (blessing) for putting on a tallit. Much to my considerable surprise, I learned only about six months ago, after over 30 years of wearing a tallit, that there's a quotation to recite while the tallit is over one's head. You'll find it at the beginning of Orthodox and Conservative siddurim (prayer books). (I don't know whether it's in the current Reconstructionist or Reform siddurim.)

"Ma yakar chasdecha, Elokim . . . How precious is Your kindness, L-rd. The children of Adam take refuge in the shadow of your wings. May they be sated from the abundance of Your house, and from the stream of Your delight may You give them to drink. For with You is the source of life. In Your light will we see light. Continue Your kindness to those who know You, and Your charity to the upright of heart." (Psalm 36: 8-11)

Gorgeous, isn't it?

This is yet another quote that I learned from Mark, who was kind enough to point out to me where in the siddur the lyrics to his "Ma Yakar" were found. If you want to hear the song, you'll have to shell out some challah--it's on his "Rock of Sages" CD. Believe me, the CD's a good investment.

Ahem--Enough with the 20-minute introduction, already. Here's the machloket (dispute on a matter of Jewish tradition):

Me: Why don't you want to learn to say "Ma yakar?"

My husband: Nobody ever showed me that.

Three-second silence.

Me: Well, I was twenty-four when I began wearing a tallit, and nobody ever showed me that, either!

In the course of the ensuing discussion, we concluded that my hubby was simply not willing to take on a minhag that he didn't remember ever having seen as a child. In his defense, let me state for the record that, after several attempts to learn to lay tefillin (phyllacteries) from various people left me, as a former rabbi used to say, "confused on a higher level"--apparently, I was doing half Sefardi, half Ashkenazi minhag at one point--I finally asked my favorite Punster to teach me, and have been following his minhag ever since.

I confess to being highly amused. If I'd ever refused to take on a new practice simply because I'd never seen it as a child, I would never have learned to wear a tallit or tefillin.

Rosie the Davvener and a discussion concerning Conservative Judaism

Thanks to Rachel of Velveteen Rabbi for the hyperlink. Yours truly, Ms. Technology-Challenged, isn't even going to attempt to "import" this illustration. Just hop on over to Batya's Jerusalem Syndrome and check out the Tuesday, December 13, 2005 post, "Rosie the Tefillin Wearer."

Commenter Steg pointed out that the woman in question is left-handed, which is evidenced by the fact that she's wearing her tefillin on her right arm, rather than on the usual left. (Speaking from experience, I can tell you that it's difficult enough to "lay tefillin" [strap on phyllacteries]with one's good hand!). It's always a pleasure to encounter another woman who wears tefillin, and this one's a sister "southpaw" (lefty), too. :)

While you're there, check out the comments, which concern themselves mostly with recent issues within the Conservative movement. When I'm awake, I may post a comment there, myself.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Here’s a related post from Dr. Bean on the standards--or lack thereof--currently governing sexual behavior

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The Religion of Consent

I think you’ll find this post, and the comments thereto, a very interesting read.

Two: A Jewish mother looks at the Shidduch Crisis from “Both Sides, Now”

I promised myself that I wouldn’t blog anymore on the “shidduch” (marriage, or rather, lack of same) crisis in the Orthodox community. For one thing, as my husband ever so delicately pointed out to me some time ago, I’ll lose readers due to boredom if I keep blogging about the same topics. For another thing, I’m not Orthodox.

So why am I back here again? Well, for one thing, the Renegade Rebbitzen sent me here. Between Orthomom and her commenters and RenReb and her commenters, there’s been quite a conversation going on. What’s the cause of the fact that so many Orthodox Jews who want to get married don’t seem to be able to find suitable marriage partners? Is it the increasing tendency of the right-wing Orthodox community to forbid most interaction between the sexes? Is it that there are more women than men? Is it that men tend to marry younger women, thus depriving women who’ve “passed their expiration date” of most possible partners? Is it that men tend to marry younger women in the first place because women tend to mature at a younger age? Is is that the influence of modern western civilization's romantic ideals has made potential partners pickier? Is it that singles, their parents, and/or their shadchanim/shadchanot (matchmakers) are now being pickier about such picayune matters as whether a man wears a kippah or a black hat or whether a woman will cover her hair with a scarf or a sheitel (wig) after she's married? Is there any solution to the problem?

Perhaps more important—and I should have realized this months ago—is that I’m working for an Orthodox organization, and, consequently, I see the shidduch crisis up close and with my own eyes. On my floor alone, there are at least three Orthodox women who work at least part-time who are over 26 and still unmarried against their will. It gets worse, folks. One of them has a sister in her early thirties who’s also unmarried.

So I’m seeing the problem "from both sides now," to quote singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. I’m seeing it as a woman who didn’t marry until she was 28. And I’m seeing it as the mother of a 22-year-old unmarried son and the colleague of several unmarried women in their late twenties, and wondering whether any of them—including my son—will ever luck out in the marriage department. (Mind you, my son still has grad school to go, so I’m in no hurry. But still . . . )

Two. What’s it like to be the parent of two unmarried daughters over the age of 26 in the Orthodox community? Is one the subject of pity? Of condescension? Of mockery? Does one look at one’s daughters and ask oneself, “Where did I/we go wrong?”

How does it feel to have an unmarried daughter—or more than one unmarried daughter—in the Orthodox community who’s old enough to be “past her expiration date?” How does it feel to know that the odds are very good that your daughter will never marry, no matter what she, you, or anyone else does or doesn’t do? Nobody ever talks about that, do they?


By way of full disclosure, I'm seven years younger than my husband. At the time that we were dating, there was a woman in our synagogue who was much closer to my husband's age. It bothers me to this day that she never married.

Here's a further thought that I've been trying to avoid for years: How do my own parents feel about the fact that two of their four children never married (one voluntarily, the other, well, we've never discussed whether that was by choice)?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Alphabet Soup (Rant Warning)

Several months ago, I was assigned to work on a special project that involved the submission of résumés, among other things. I was more than a bit surprised to discover that the possession of a Ph.D. did not necessarily guarantee that the holder thereof knew how to write a résumé. One of the biggest problems with which I had to deal was the fact that some of the résumé-writers took it for granted that governmental and non-profit organizations knew what they were talking about. I spent several hours on the Internet trying to get the full names and/or addresses of organizations. “Schneider Children’s Hospital, NY?” You’ve got to be kidding! How about “Schneider Children’s Hospital, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, NY?” Noch besser (even better), some organizations were mentioned by acronym only. BJE?? Have you never had to submit a résumé to a non-Jewish organization in your life? Try “Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.” And by the way, submitting a résumé full of acronyms isn’t acceptable even if the recipient can be expected to know what the acronyms mean. A résumé is supposed to be a formal, official document, not an e-mail to your boyfriend.

I found the same problem when I started posting on science fiction television message boards some years ago. The posts were full of such gems as “ROTFLMAO,” “IMHO,” and “BTW,” which turned out to mean “rolling on the floor laughing my a_ _ off,” “in my humble opinion,” and “by the way.” (This is a cordial invitation to my readers to submit as many of these “Internet abbreviations” as you can think of—I’d love to learn more of them and to share this information with my readers.)

Now I find myself in an even more interesting position as I read my way around the Jewish blogosphere. I must have been blogging for close to a year before some kind soul took pity on me and told me who RYBS was. Yes, I’d heard of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, but I didn’t know his middle name (Bear in Yiddish, Dov in Hebrew). It gets worse, folks. Exactly who is included in what I gather is a “collective name” known as “Chazal?” Has anyone in “Olam HaBlog” (the world of the blog) other than me ever explained the meaning of the acronym “Nach” (N’viim/K’tuvim, Prophets/Writings)? And what should I know about Anshé Knesset HaGedolah, the Men of the Great Assembly, which I’ve never seen anyone in the J-blogosphere even bother to translate, much less describe?

Paul Shaviv, this is your last warning: So help me, if you use the acronym BAYT one more time without bothering to explain what it means, I’ll smack you upside the Bloghead. Or knock your Bloghead off. I’m kidding, obviously. But not by much. The Jewish blogosphere is not for Orthodox yeshiva graduates only. It’s full of seekers, late-learners, Baalei Teshuvah (“returnees” to Orthodox Judaism) and Jews by Choice (which, for those not familiar with that term, means those formerly known as converts to Judaism). So why is it that so much knowledge is assumed? Yes, I’ll freely admit that I’m an “am haaretz,” a Jewishly-illiterate person. But that doesn’t mean that I particularly appreciate the constant reminders of that fact. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of having my nose constantly rubbed in my own ignorance. I would very much appreciate it if those among you who were fortunate enough to have received a good Jewish education would show a little derech eretz (common courtesy) and rachmanut (compassion) to those of us who were not so lucky and explain what and/or whom you’re talking about. By failing to explain, you prevent the less learnèd from learning, and hence, you violate the rabbinic interpretation (midrash halachah, an interpretation that becomes law?) of the statement from Torah she-bi-chtav (the Written Law/Five Books of Moses/first five books of the Bible), "lifnei iver lo titen michshol, in front of a blind [rabbinic interpretation: ignorant] person, do not put a stumbling block" (Parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 11).

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Ghost Busters have nothing on the Stereotype Busters

Exhibit A—My boss: A “black-hat” Orthodox Jew. (I think the proper description of his place on the Orthodox “spectrum” would be “yeshivish”). With an earned Ph.D. in math. “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.” (Quote swiped from my Saturday, September 10, 2005 post No more anonymous kippot.”)

Exhibit B—“The Wiz”: Computer programming genius. Expert in the use and teaching of computer applications. (Has given me more formatting tips for Word than I can even remember. [Not to worry—I have all those tips saved in—what else?—a Word file.]) Wears clothing fitting the following description every day all year round—nearly-floor-length skirt, turtle-neck top, vest. Rumored to be Lubavitch.

Exhibit C: Black pants. White shirt. Long beard. And, on his head, what Etan G., the Jewish Rapper, of Shlock Rock fame, would probably describe as a “Yarmy [that] covers all of Memphis Tennessee.” Did I mention that he’s a rock guitarist? With a Ph.D.? See here. Hear here.

Hey, wait a minute—there's such a thing as a Jewish Rapper? I guess Etan G. is Exhibit D.

And how about that Lubavitcher reggae singer? Matisyahu, Exhibit E.

And, in case you think that the stereotype-breakers belong exclusively to the Orthodox community, here are a few from different points along the Jewish-observance spectrum.

Exhibit F: Long skirt. Modest top. And a rabbi who thinks that she dresses like a Beis Yaakov girl. Except for her kippah, her tallit, and, on weekdays, her tefillin.

Exhibit G: Female visitor to my synagogue. Long skirt. Hat—Rabbi can’t understand why. Considering that she also wore a tallit. And chanted today’s haftarah. And is rumored to be an ordained Reform rabbi.

What can I say? My rabbi has his stereotypes and I have mine.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

. . . v’hashkamat bet hamidrash shacharit v’arvit: Did Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1450 rescue Jewish women from illiteracy?

Talmud, Shabbat 127a: "These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him in the world to come, and these are they: . . .early attendance at the house of study morning and evening . . .”

I am by no means a historian, so this is pure speculation on my part. Nevertheless, I think it might be interesting to consider the possibility that women's opportunities for learning may have been limited in the days before the invention of the printing press. After all, when all books had to be handwritten, who could afford them, except the very rich? Since most of the populace couldn’t afford to own their own books, the only way to study was to go to the bet midrash (study house), because the bet midrash was the only public library in town. This explains why the Talmud made attendance at the bet midrash such a high priority.

I may be under the wrong impression, but I assume that the bet midrash was reserved for men. The closest thing that I have to an actual proof text for that assumption is from Philip Birnbaum's siddur (prayerbook), in which he states, in a footnote, that the women's brachah/blessing Praised is [the One . . .] who made me according to His will (Baruch she-asani kir'tzono) "is mentioned by David Abudarham (fourteenth century) as a recently introduced blessing to be recited by women." So, were the women in the centuries between the era in which Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, the Men of the Great Assembly, composed the main prayers and roughly the fourteenth century just skipping the men's blessing—or were they not using the standard prayers at all, because they had nowhere to learn them?

Assuming that women were not welcome in the bet midrash, where, exactly, were they going to learn to read? And even if, by good fortune, they’d been taught the alef-bet, where could they go to get books?

It was only with the invention of the printing press that books came to be affordable for the common person. Nowadays, any woman who wants to study can buy herself a text and learn in the privacy of her own home, or with a chevruta (study partner), without setting foot in any place where a woman might not be welcome.

Perfect timing

Leave it to my employer to pick the perfect time to hire me as a full-time permanent employee after I’d been working there as a temp. on and off since December 2001. They hired me retroactive to November 1. That means that they missed having to pay me for the High Holidays by mere weeks. It also means that I was made a full-time permanent employee only weeks before the senior assistant was scheduled to go out on vacation. Hmm, methinks that’s the real reason why the boss got me my own computer so quickly: The senior assistant won’t let anyone else use her computer—too much confidential information therein—and the boss couldn’t have had me answering phones as long as I was still working on the public-access computers at the other end of the hall.

In plain English, I’m going to be up to my ears in the boss’s phone calls—not to mention questions from the new junior assistant that I probably won’t be able to answer—for the next two weeks.
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