Tuesday, March 28, 2006


A few months ago, I encountered a new type of human being while blogging.

Or then again, maybe not.

Maybe I've encountered people like this in real life, but it's just more obvious in print.

This particular individual was going through some tough times in her/his life, so I made some sympathetic, supportive, and, I hoped, helpful comments.

Much to my surprise, and initially, my dismay, I was roundly ignored.

But, after further consideration, I realized that the response, or lack thereof, was consistent with this particular individual’s approach to life in general.

Back in my parents' hayday, there was a song called "The Sunny Side of the Street." I can't remember all the words, but this sample fits me like a glove:

"Some people walk in the shade
with their blues on parade."

When we went to Israel this past August to see my parents, my ex-sister-in-law expressed her concern that I seemed always to be talking about the challenge of finding full-time permanent employment, and never about anything enjoyable. I hadn’t realized just how negative I sounded.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. By nature, I'm a "cockeyed pessimist, " a worrywart. I tend to think in terms of worst-case scenarios, and to imagine bad or sad things happening to good people, myself and my family included. I always expect the worst.

Some other people are, in the words of that old Rogers and Hammerstein song from the musical South Pacific, "cockeyed optimists." They take this approach to life:

"Just direct your feet
to the sunny side of the street."

"Cockeyed optimists," or "sunny-siders," take an approach to life that's the opposite of mine. They don't want "tea and sympathy." Whenever possible, they prefer to deal with their responsibilities and problems with a shrug of the shoulders, a wry smile, a roll of the eyes and a chuckle. And they prefer to have their friends and acquaintances approach them with the same wry attitude. They’d rather make people laugh than sigh.

When I returned from Israel, I made an "Elul resulution" to try to develop a more positive attitude. I haven't had much luck, thus far. But that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been making an extra effort to say brachot (blessings). I’m hoping that being more aware of all the things for which I can be grateful will help improve my outlook.

Truth to tell, I'm jealous. I can't help thinking that, if only I were a "sunny-sider," I would have been a much better mother, and I'd be a much better wife, as well. Who in their right mind would not want to bring more joy into the lives of those they love?

This post was inspired by this post. I hope that the kid in the vid grows up to have an attitude as positive as the one expressed in the song that she's singing.

Monday, March 27, 2006

"User-resistant packaging"

That's what an old buddy of ours calls it. It just took me 10 minutes to open a Piamenta CD.

Small Wonders

The good news jumped off the screen
and made me smile
So when I found a quiet spot to davven Mincha
I thought about that when I got to the words
Al nisecha sheh-b'chol yom imanu
For your miracles that are daily with us

It was such a beautiful day today
I went out to buy a yogurt,
and on the way
to a park bench,
I passed a stand of miniature daffodils
as small and wondrous as a newborn baby girl
Elianna Rachel

B'rucha habaa
Welome to the world
And to our nachalah

For Serach and Ezzie, the proud parents


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Vanished from the face of the earth: An e-mail crisis

As of about half an hour ago, every e-mail that I've sent from my Yahoo blogger e-mail account since March 17 has disappeared from my screen. So, if you should happen to reply to something I've sent, please give me extra time to respond. I'll have to reread what I sent you in the first place, to refresh my memory, before replying.

Update: I've lost everything that I sent between March 17 and literally 10 minutes ago. Go figure.

Update #2: Okay, let me give Yahoo the benefit of the doubt. Here's a lovely item from my e-mail window: "Save Sent Items is ON: [Turn Save Sent Items OFF]". I probably hit the "Turn Save Sent Items OFF" link by accident. Will someone please turn my brain back on? Sigh.

YCT Shiur on Kitniot: If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck . . .

This is where I went last Wednesday night:

YCT Rabbinical School's Pre-Pesach Shiur
Wednesday, March 22, 2006 at 7:45 p.m.
Given by: Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh HaYeshiva
Topic: The Kitniyot Controversy in History and Halakha
YCT Beit Midrash
606 West 115th Street
New York, NY 10025
Telephone: 212.666.0036

Hey, don’t look at me if you missed it—I already announced it in this March 10 post of mine.

Okay, here’s one of those rare occasions on which I think I have a grasp of a rabbinical interpretation. It’s called “siyag la-torah,” which means, roughly, “a fence around the law,” I think. It’s a precautionary measure added to ensure that one doesn’t violate a halachah (Jewish religious law) by accident. The siyag that comes most readily to my mind is “the 18 minutes.” One is not permitted to kindle a fire on the Sabbath, so one lights any fire that one needs before Shabbat, which, technically, begins at sundown. Thus, one lights candles (and, these days, turns on any electric lights that one needs left on during Shabbat) before Shabbat. But, in order to ensure that one doesn’t accidentally kindle a fire on Shabbat, one kindles all necessary fires/turns on all necessary lights no later than 18 minutes before sundown.

Ashkenazi Jews (meaning almost all European Jews not descended from those expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492, who are known as Sefardi Jews) observe a special prohibition not to eat such foods as rice and legumes, known as kitniot, during Passover. I’d always assumed that that prohibition was a siyag against accidentally confusing the flour from such carbohydrates with the flours that must be under strict rabbinical supervision for Pesach to ensure that they do not become leavened. (Strictly speaking, the grains in need of such supervision are wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt, to the best of my knowledge.) Not so, said Rabbi Lerner, if I understood him correctly. Apparently, the prohibition was established for the purpose of not standing on a technicality. True, kitniot are not chametz, foods of the five grains specified that have become leavened. But the flour made from them looks like chametz flour, and they ferment like chametz. Therefore, the Ashkenazi rabbinic logic goes, we should treat them, to a certain extent, as if they were chametz, and not eat them during Pesach.

As Rabbi Linzer pointed out, the kitniot prohibition creates a number of problems.

1. For openers, in the days before the European discovery of that great Peruvian carb called the potato, people actually went hungry during Pesach because there was very little other than matzah and meat that was available that was kosher for Passover, and the less fortunate simply couldn’t afford that much of either.

2. Second, since the prohibition against kitniot, particularly in the pre-potato days, forced Ashkenazim to eat a lot more matzah, as it was practically the only form of carbohydrate that wasn’t on the “forbidden” list, the chance that they might accidentally eat a grain product that had become chametz was greater. Though the introduction of the potato has alleviated that problem considerably, there’s still some possibility that, because Askkenazim eat more grain products during Pesach, we could end up accidentally transgressing a biblical commandment (halachah min d’oraita?)—a major no-no—in order to observe a chumra (added rabbinic stringency). The chumrah, it could be argued, makes Ashkenazim more, not less, likely to violate the law against eating chametz during Pesach.

3. Rav Kook, first Chief Rabbi of (then-pre-statehood) Israel, argued that the more strict the rabbinate was in enforcing the chumra against kitniot, and chumrot (stringencies) in general, the more likely it was that the rabbinate would lose the trust of the community.

Here’s fellow blogger Dilbert on that very subject (copied from his March 7, 2006 e-mail to me regarding his post on kitniot and other disagreements concerning minhag (custom):

"When faced with something new, like the copepods in the water, hadash, yashon, wigs from India, etc., many people who identify as MO [Modern Orthdox] will react with "that can't be important if no one thought it was important up to now," or "I never learned about it so it can't be important," or "its just another new chumra from the right wing". Truth be told, frequently it is my first response as well. And, freqeuntly it does turn out to be just another chumra (opening soda cans on Shabbat is forbidden because one is making a cup). The instinct to disregard the new question goes back to mimetic Judaism, if it was good enough for may parents, if 80 years of very orthodox rabbis didn't care about the water.... But I think that a new concern deserves at least a little thought, make sure it isn't something important, and then dismiss it with a snort and a wave of the hand.”

How much weight do we give to “the letter of the law,” and how much to later chumrot (stringencies) or other minhagim (customs)? When does rabbinic interpretation take precedence over the traditions that we learned in our parents’ homes, and when does it behoove us to stand up for our right to cherish mussar avicha (the ethics teachings of your father) and torat imecha (the Torah as taught to you by your mother)?

How much should health and/or wealth count in observing a chumrah such as kitniot? Should the rabbis have insisted that even the poor stay away from kitniot, even though that violated both Judaism’s insistence on the requirement to care for one’s health and the tradition that the chagim (holidays) should be joyful? Should there be some leeway for vegetarians and for those who can’t eat wheat, rye, oats, barley, and/or spelt for medical reasons (celiac, gluten intolerance, etc.)? What about us lactose-intolerant people who depend on tofu products (soybeans are considered kitniot)? What about Ashkenazim in Israel, a country in which such an overwhelming majority of the population does not accept the prohibition against kitniot that it’s difficult to get kosher for Pesach products that don’t contain kitniot?

Are we Ashkenazim just a bunch of fanatics?

Sigh. ‘Scuse me while I go nosh some dairy-free dessert, while I still have a chance—tofu “ice cream” with peanut butter mixed in, anyone?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Kisui Rosh (head covering)

On the one hand, I’m feeling increasingly uncomfortable wearing any kippah that isn’t clearly specifically designed for a woman and/or wasn't knitted or crocheted specifically for me by a friend. For the life of me, I can’t decide whether a kippah is or isn’t beged ish, a man’s garment. And even aside from the fact that wearing the clothing of the opposite sex is against Jewish law, why would I want to wear a man’s garment? As the old song says, “I enjoy being a girl.” I buy pants in the women’s department only.

On the other hand, I can’t find any other head covering that doesn’t feel like “false advertising.” The easiest thing to carry around, other than a kippah, is a snood, a kind of extra-thick crocheted hair net designed to be either completely opaque by itself or lined with woven cloth so as to be completely opaque. I have the same problem with a snood as I had with a scarf, which I gave up wearing to synagogue some years ago. They’re both female garments, all right, but they also scream “Orthodox.” I stopped wearing a scarf to shul because I felt as if I were wearing false advertising and/or choosing my head covering (kisui rosh) under false pretenses.

So I have a problem. I picked up a strong minhag from my years in an egalitarian synagogue: I won’t enter a synagogue or study sacred texts with my head uncovered. [Oops, major error: It was my parents' rabbi who insisted that all women and girls, married and single, cover their heads in synagogue. By the time I was in my teens, the habit of covering my head for shul or for reading sacred texts was so ingrained that I would as soon have entered a synagogue with my head uncovered as I would have eaten a ham and cheese on rye during Pesach.] But exactly what the heck can I use as a head covering that isn’t either debatably beged ish or a garment that’s practically the uniform of a married woman who’s Orthodox? Two weeks ago, I was the only woman at the pre-Purim shiur at YCT who was wearing a snood. Boy, did I feel stupid! Sigh. What’s a non-frummie who wants to keep her head covered and doesn’t feel comfortable in a standard-issue kippah supposed to wear? What am I going to wear to tomorrow’s shiur?


Prejudice hits the dance floor

“I don’t like those Intifada dances.”

“What do you mean, ‘Intifada dances’?”

“They’re Turkish or something, but they’re not Israeli.”

I was stunned into silence.

Some 20 years ago, I had a Yemenite teacher for my first attempt at Ulpan (modern Israeli Hebrew). When she gave a spelling test, it was easy as pie: In her classic Yemenite-Hebrew pronunciation, she distinguished quite clearly between a vet and a vav, between a chet and a chaf, between a tet and a tav. I took it for granted that Yemenite Hebrew, being much closer to the source than Ashkenazi Hebrew, was probably the closest thing we had to the original pronunciation.

I’ve since learned of other pronunciations of Hebrew among the B’nei Edot HaMitzrach, the Jews of the Eastern Communities (not sure whether that’s an accurate translation). Some apparently pronounce the vav like a w and the tav like a th. That’s certainly news to me. But it doesn’t detract from my original premise, namely, that those whose communities of original are closest to the Land of Israel are more likely to have maintained pronunciations echoing those of our ancestors.

The same is true of Israeli folk dancing. Many Israeli folk dancers are well aware that the hora is a dance of southeastern European origin. The “mayim” step is also known, among international folk dancers, as the Greek “grapevine” step. Again, I think that the Israeli dances that are probably closest in style to what our ancestors danced are the dances of Yemenite and Middle Eastern origin.

So when the session leader played an Israeli dance choreographed in the Greek manner to Greek-influenced music , I commented to my buddy, “Well, that one’s Greek-style. Is that any more Israeli?” No, but I like the music better.” At that point, I was tired of her offensive remarks, and hit her right between the eyes with both barrels, exactly as she deserved: “That’s Ashkenazi prejudice.”

Okay, okay, so call me a hypocrite: I had to make nicey-nicey to her later on because I see her at Israeli folk dancing all the time, and also (full disclosure) because she sometimes brings her car into Manhattan for Haim’s Sunday night Israeli folk dance session and gives us a ride home. But I don’t think I’ll ever think of her with quite as much respect again.

To the best of my knowledge, I’m 100% Ashkenazi. But I get upset by negative attitudes against half the Jewish people. Are we one or aren’t we?!

Matisyahu, et., presumably, al.—What kind of job is that for a nice Jewish . . . (oy): Calling all Jewish musicians—please chime in

This rant was inspired by, in chronological order:

Chaim’s Sunday, December 11, 2005 post, “How the Moshav Band changed My Life.”

Fudge’s Saturday, March 04, 2006 post, “The Matisyahu Phenomenon: Good for the Jews or Bad?”

And this conversation with one of my co-workers, who insisted that she didn’t want to go to a recent Matisyahu concert until she knew more about Matisyahu.

“He’s Lubavitch. What more do you need to know?”

“I just don’t know whether that’s the right kind of work for a Ben Torah.”

“So do you think talent is a matana min hashamayim (a gift from heaven) or a michshol (a “stumbling block” [leading to sin]) from the sitra achra (the Other Side [also known as Satan])?”

I’m afraid that attitudes like the following probably sound depressingly familiar to many Jewish musicians. How do you deal with this sort of abuse, and what keeps you going?

You sing/play _______________________ (pick as many as apply: rock, reggae, rap . . .)? That’s not kosher.

You play ____________ (pick as many as apply: rock guitar, folk guitar, . . . .)? That’s goyish.

Why are you doing all this modern narishkeiten? Isn’t good old-fashioned simcha music good enough for you?

Why are you singing in Ladino? Isn’t Yiddish good enough for you? So what if you’re Sefardi?

That’s no job for a nice Jewish boy.

No respectable Jewish girl is a professional musician.

Jewish rock music is treif. A synagogue is no place for a Jewish rock music concert.

Why are our children going to nightclubs to hear Jewish rock music? A nightclub is no place for a Jew.

From a July 29, 2005 e-mail to a Jewish rock musician:

“[One day, at my office], I started playing [a Jewish rock song]. But a [black-hat Orthodox visitor] who was hanging around with the [some of our part-time employees] heard Mendel's opening segment, and immediately said, "That's not kosher." "How can it not be kosher? He's singing from Yishaya [the prophet Isaiah]!"

As Chaim was saying, "One of the sad things about the frum world is that certain types of music are looked down upon.Anything that doesn’t involve an Oy or a Vey or a combined Oy Yoi Yoy Vey is considered “goyish music”.

A comment:

PsychoToddler on 8:24 PM
You're preaching to the choir here, Chaim. OOPS! GOYISH!-
Moshe Skier
Banned in Yeshivos for 20 years and going strong

“So vhy don’t you play something ve can dance to, already?”

To all Jewish musicians: Kol havod! Keep the music coming, please, for heaven’s sake—and for Heaven’s sake!


Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Out of Step Jew goes out of business (sniff)

The Out of Step Jew in Kfar Saba recently decided to stop blogging, much to my dismay and that of many others.

His blog was one of the first that I discovered when I became acquainted with the Jewish blogosphere. He was also one of first bloggers to add me to his blogroll. I owe him, big-time.

More important, OOSJ has always been one of the voices of reason among Orthodox bloggers. How could I not like a guy who lamented the failure of the Israeli Orthodox public school system to provide a Torah education to his daughter that was equal to that being provided to her twin brother? (He and his wife hired a tutor for her.) What’s not to like about a guy who’s happy to hang out in the kitchen with the other guys while, in another room, his daughter serves as baalat koreh (Torah reader) for a women’s tefillah group on the occasion of her becoming a Bat Mitzvah? He was also among the vocal opponents of the rabbinate’s indifference to the plight of agunot (women “chained” in dead marriages because their husbands refuse to give them gittin, Jewish religious divorces). He wrote of politics, both secular (the withdrawal from Gush Katif) and religious (the relationship of the Hesder yeshivot with the Israel Defense Force), and of books and scholars, with links in his sidebar to excellent reading material. (I strongly recommend the article by H. Soloveitchik, “Rupture and Reconstruction.”) Here’s a person who recently asked whether there’s such a thing as too much Torah learning, questioning how it came to pass that there are so few doctors among Israeli Orthodox Jews, and too much money, questioning whether American Jews are too spoiled for our own good. I miss him already, and I hope he posts occasionally. Kol hakavod.

Ad lo yada—a non-drinker still has trouble telling the difference between the hero and the villain

Berel Dov Lerner, in his Saturday, October 08, 2005 post, No Happy Ending for Esther (On Purim's tragic heroine), stated, “In his own hour of truth, Mordecai feels free to risk all, including endangerment of the community, in order to avoid idolatrous prostration before Haman. Esther enjoys no such luxuries of conscience. She simply must sleep with the gentile Ahasuerus and drink his wine, lest the Jewish people be destroyed.”

Personally, I’d like to go farther than Prof. Lerner. You see, I’m a “p’shat” (literal interpretation) kind of person. This is partly for lack of an alternative—since I’m a bit short on a decent Jewish education, I simply don’t have sufficient knowledge of any traditional texts other than the Tanach (Bible) itself. But it’s also by temperament. By nature, I’m a point-blank, blunt-spoken, shoot-from-the-hip, pragmatic, “just the facts” type of individual. So, much as I enjoy and learn from the tapestry of tales woven by the rabbis in the midrashim (interpretative stories), when I look for the meaning of a text, I look at the text itself, rather than the “rabbinic spin” thereon.

Here’s my problem: There is absolutely no reason whatsoever given in Megillat Esther itself for Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman, as was the law of the land. So why, exactly, did he find it necessary to endanger his own life, and, if he’d been thinking about it, possibly the life of his first cousin Esther, as well?

This doesn’t get Haman off the hook, by any means. There’s simply no excuse for the kind of sinat chinam, baseless hatred, that would lead one human to target for mass murder an entire people simply because he was angry with one member thereof.

Nevertheless, the result of Mordechai’s behavior was the targeting of the entire Jewish community of Persia for slaughter. Mordechai got us into this mess, then left it to his first cousin to clean up after him and rescue us from the sword.

So here’s the final score:

Haman, no slouch in the figurative and literal overkill department—villain.

Mordechai, on the one hand honoring the king by saving him from a plot on his life, and, on the other hand dishonoring the king by refusing to show due respect to Haman in accordance with the law of the land—hero?


In Prof. Lerner’s words, “The evil Haman, we already know, is dead. Ahasuerus is busy exploiting his subjects, and Mordecai basks in the glory of his political success. One wonders: What became of Esther? Does she not live happily ever after? No; Esther’s happiness and even her personal piety are expendable. She remains trapped in the palace and bedroom of a drunken Persian king. It is her part to absorb the story’s shocks and tensions, to physically bear and be worn away by the inherent political contradictions of Jewish survival in the Diaspora. There is no happy ending for Esther.”

In the final analysis, the only one who comes out of this story smelling like a rose is Shoshanat Yaakov.

Matanot la-evyonim—min ha-evyonim

One of the requirements of Purim is that we give matanot la-evyonim, gifts to the poor. Occasionally, though, a gift to the poor comes from the poor, min ha-evyonim. One look at this post made me stop kvetching (complaining) about not getting much by way of mishloach manot and remember how fortunate I am to have what I have. Thanks, Mrs. Balabusta, I needed that.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Purim pluses and minuses this year

Ezzie, of SerandEz, asked “How was your Purim?

The answer is too long to post as a comment.

We had our very first Seudat Purim (festive Purim meal), and had a wonderful time. We did a little talking, both serious and funny, about Purim, and a lot of talking about synagogue politics (all three of us are Board and Ritual Committee members, heaven help us, and the three of us constitute roughly ¼ of the people who chant haftarot at our synagogue).

On the other hand, there was this.

In his Thursday, March 16, 2006 post, “Al ha'mar v'hamatok,” DovBear said, “It's two days after Purim, and we still can't see my dining room table, which is sagging under the weight of approximately eight metric tons of miniature candy bars.”

Thirty-four comments concerning bottles of booze and wine, savory foods, and candy and pastries by the pound exchanged among friends.

And us?

There was one thing that we did not discuss with our guest, because she was kind enough to give us two mishloach manot packages (the second a huge basket of real and junk food that she brought to our seudah). (It’s obligatory to “send” (mishloach) at least two “portions” (manot) of food to two people [hope I got the minimum requirements correct] on Purim.) The year that we decided not to go back to our old synagogue for Purim but to attend the Megillah reading at our local shul, we got a bit of surprise. At our former shul, where, as I once explained to a be-sheiteled co-worker at a former place of employment, we “davvened with the apikorsim [prayed with the heretics],” people knew exactly what we were doing, and why, when we handed out mishloach manot, and they were tickled. Here, the first time we handed out mishloach manot, our fellow and sister congregants looked at us as if we had three heads. This year, I accidentally underbought, and discovered, too late, that we had only about 20 hamantashen (Purim pastries) with which to make the mishloach manot packages. At first, I was quite upset. But after further consideration, I concluded that that wasn’t such a bad thing. After all, we’ve been giving out mishloach manot here for well over a decade, and yet, every year, there are rarely more than two congregants (always the same two) who ever give us mishloach manot. I guess that, combined with all the other narishkeiten (nonsense) that's been making me feel unwelcome in my own shul , it finally hit me this year. Hard.

And they call themselves traditional Conservative Jews.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Shushan Purim Saméach: Here's a link fest in honor of our very first Seudat Purim

Okay, so I’m a day late and a dollar short. (The "dollar" was donated on Purim itself to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, for matanot la-evyonim, gifts to the poor.) Anyway, here’s some interesting reading for, er, well, next Purim. I printed some of this for our good friend from synagogue—we managed to clear away just enough of Hubster, CPA’s tax-returns-in-progress to invite her to our very first Seudat Purim ever (talk about “better late than never,” I’m 57 and my husband is 64)!

Let’s begin with a little “Purim Torah,” a delightful parody by Skippy, also known as Tzipster91, (posted on her proud mom tuesdaywishes' blog) concerning ArtScroll’s newest publication, “Mesechet Exercisim.”

From one extreme to the other, here’s an absolutely serious reconsideration of the Purim story from Lerner’s Jewish Bible Blog, “No Happy Ending for Esther (On Purim's tragic heroine)."

In the middle, DovBear presents his usual fresh look at tradition in the following posts, past and present:

Monday, March 13, 2006
"The Fast of Esther: Pop Purim Quiz—Why do we fast today?"
(Don't forget to follow the "costumes" link to a Purim post of his from last year.)

"Purim Reading"
(A link to "A.P. Kores's" 2005 series on the Book of Esther—this "Purim Torah" (i.e., parody) is long, but well worth the read.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006
"Why do we rattle noisemakers at the mention of Haman's name?"

"The original Purim Parody"

Here's one from Bloghead's Miriam from last year:

Thursday, March 24, 2005
Purim Sameach
(A lament concerning the vilification of Vashti.)

Check out this "Purim Torah" from Sheyna Galyan:
In honor of Purim, a delightful parody of Megillat Esther (the Scroll [Book] of Esther) and the reasons why, and ways in which, we celebrate Purim. t

This not exactly "Purim Torah," but go see funny post with Cro Magnon Man in Purim costume. For Purim, Cro Magnon Medicine Man decide take literally old saying, "Talk softly and carry a big stick." This not his usual shtick. Usually, either he talk softly and carry a patient's file or he sing loudly and carry a big bass. :)

If you have any other recommendations for good posts concerning Purim, please chime in—I'm sure I missed some.

Update: Check out Ezzie's Blog Roundup, Pre-Purim: Things To Keep In Mind and Ezzie's Blog Roundup: PURIM!!!!! How silly of me, not to have thought of checking Ezzie's blog—he's one of the J-blogosphere's "round-up" specialists. I would say I was too drunk to think of it, but getting drunk on Purim is one tradition that I refuse to follow. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go stock up on Kedem grape juice for the Four Cups—I've never been able to understand how a person can even stay awake at a Seder, let alone learn anything serious, while plastered out of his/her mind. Discussing the exodus from Egypt and asking questions are at the very heart of the Seder, as the haggadah states, "V'chol ha-marbe l'sapeir biy'tziat mitzrayim, harei zeh m'shubach, the more one tells of [discusses] the exodus from Egypt, the more that one is praiseworthy." If you end up "ad lo yada" (so drunk that you can't tell the difference between the hero and the villain) at a Seder, you end up being "sh'eino yodeia li-sh'ol" (one who doesn't know [how and/or enough] to ask [a question]), and, therefore, you miss the point of attending a Seder.

Update #2
My job is of the "feast or famine" type—either I have so much work that I e-mail my last document at 8:19 PM, or I sit around all day reading other people's blog's between answering the boss's phone calls. Today, I got a lot of reading done. I went through my entire blogroll looking for more Purim posts. Here's what I found (in alphabetical order by blog name):

First up is DovBear. His Wednesday, March 15, 2006 post, Magilla Meme, is his response to the Renegade Rebbetzin's "new and exciting meme: Things I think about during magilla reading (besides Russel Crowe)." (Not to worry--we'll get to Ren Reb's. Don't forget to follow the links in the comments--there are more goodies to be found. ) While you're there, have a look at his "Post Purim Worries," "Re: Mishloach Manot--Are you a lunatic, or a lazy bones?," and "DovBear FlashBack--Here's a blast from the past in honor of Shushan Purim! (of which he says we should ignore the fact that the counter says there are no comments--not true!). These posts are also dated March 15. Too wiped to put them in order.

I lost track, and I'm too tired to go back and check, but I think I found this post via one of the links in the comments to DovBear's post described above. Charley Hall's Sunday, March 12, 2006 post, "A lesson from the Megillah," a bit of Purim Torah, most definitely comes from left field, being both unexpected, and . . . well, read it and see for yourselves. It's a real treat.

Next up is Elie, who posted both the serious "But Not Including" (a plea to avoid Purim drunkenness) and the parody "Transliteration Made Easy" on Monday, March 13, 2006. Check out both.

Eliyahu posted "Purim Torah" [a serious post despite the title], by Rabbi Avraham Arieh & Rachel Trugman (?). I don't agree with all of it, but give it a look.

Orthomom really went all out with Purim posts. In addition to the "Purim Politics" post (to which Ezzie linked in his Ezzie's Blog Roundup: PURIM!!!!! [see first update]), a screed against "the endless battle of one-upmanship," she also wrote another Sunday, March 12, 2006 Purim post, "Purim Perils," protesting against the drinking and smoking allowed by boy's yeshivot on Purim. A couple of days later, on March 14, she continued her protest in "More on Purim and Underage Drinking," then, in "A Few Purim Points, put in a good word for separate Megillah readings for women that allowed women to leave their screaming toddlers at home with their husbands, who'd already heard the main reading.

The comments (both the guests' and Mark's/PT's, are the best part of "Your Virtual Shaloch Manos." :) Enjoy! And while you're there, don't forget to check out the PT posts recommended in Ezzie's Blog Roundup: PURIM!!!!! I confess to being particularly partial to the "Cro Magnon Purim Special," since I had so much fun goofing off in the comments.

As promised, we now take you to visit the Renegade Rebbetzin, to whose Thursday, March 09, 2006 post, "Things I always think about during Megillah reading, the seudah, and on Purim in general," DovBear referred, as mentioned previously. Then there's her Monday, March 13, 2006 post, "Au freilichin Purim!! (in which I wax poetic in an attempt to make myself feel better about fasting)" and her Tuesday, March 14, 2006 "Mmmmmm......" Purim recap.

Back at Ezzie's SerandEz, Ezzie asks for Matanos L'Evyonim, the gifts for the poor that are mandated on Purim, for a family of ten children (one a baby), who lost their mother in an auto accident last June. He also asks, "How was your Purim?" in his "Purim Recap," so go on over and comment, if you're so inclined. Then, tagged with RenReb's meme by DovBear and Romach, he recounts "Megillah Thoughts (Mine)." Whoa--he's tagged four other bloggers! Let's see what happens.

Must . . . sleep. Here are the last two. I'll try to add more details tomorrow night, when I'm more awake (as if!).

Treppenwitz writes about "Unsuspected Holiness," telling us, as he watches non-Orthodox university students help youngsters from troubled homes whom they'd "adopted" celebrate Purim, "I am constantly being surprised by a Jewishness here in Israel... even among the ostensibly non-observant (perhaps especially among this segment of the population)..." Definitely recommended reading.

And, last but far from least, here's the Velveteen Rabbi's "Purim homily," reminding us that holiness can be found even where Hashem's name is not mentioned, whether that's in Megillat Esther or in the patient who just wants a listening ear, rather than a prayer, from a chaplain.

Update #3
Oops! Forgot to mention Elie's Tuesday, March 14, 2006 parody in the Jeff Foxworthy manner, "You Might Be Yeshivish," definitely good for a grin. :)

Do check out DovBear again to see his three post-Purim posts, one on all the mishloach manot loading down his table, one on Matanot La-Evyonim (gifts to the poor, a Purim requirement), and, from Robbie (but with no hyperlink--DB is being bad), more on Purim costumes.

There are some Purim "goodies" over at Elf's Apikorsus Online. Recommended reading: her Monday, March 13, 2006' post, "More Charedi Book Banning," a wicked parody, and her Wednesday, March 15, 2006 "Post-Purim Fun" (if you want to read the whole parody from which she quotes, just follow the link).

On Wednesday, March 08, 2006, Mrs. Balabusta chimed in,

"Shaloch Manos...or

"(2 prepared foods) x (6 kids) x their/your (50 closest friends)?"

Do the math - no credit if you don't show your work."


Happy reading, everyone. :)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Schlepping to shul on Shabbat by subway (one for the frummies, one for the apikorsim—that’s the story of my life, in a nutshell)

Friday night, I washed dishes with a brush, so as to avoid violating the Sabbath by squeezing water out of a sponge.

Saturday morning, on the other hand, speaking of violating the Sabbath . . .

Here’s the background. I’m linking to the comments because they’re actually more relevant to the matter at hand.

Shira Salamone said...
"Shira, IMO you need to consider long-term whether you'd be better off being miserable that everyone around you is LESS committed to observance than you are, but willing to allow you to be intellectually curious and intellectually honest, rather than now, where people seem to be forcing you away from an active, committed, inquisitive, learning Judaism."

In our shul, we can count the number of people who are both hard-core davveners and egalitarians (believers in equal rights for women in terms of participation in ritual) on one hand, literally. I guess that's my bottom line. I'm tired of constantly duking it out with hard-core davveners who are non-egalitarian and, frankly, barely tolerate my attitude, in some cases, on the one hand, and hard-core egalitarians who hardly ever set foot in shul, on the other hand.

To be fair to my current shul, it has come a long way since I first became a member. Women are now not only allowed on the bima when the aron kodesh ("ark" storing the Torah scrolls) is open, we now also have the privilege of chanting haftarot, Ashrei, Ein Kelokeinu, Adon Olam, kiddush, and birkat hamazon. We are also now counted for a minyan, though that's by necessity, rather than by the members' preference. But, on the other hand, as our shul hires rabbis who are farther and farther to the right, I feel less and less that I'm actually a member of a Conservative synagogue. The sad truth of the matter is that I've never felt truly at home in my current shul in my over 20 years of membership. Not only am I a hard-core egalitarian, I'm also, as someone whose belief in tradition teachings is not as literal as that of most shul-going Jews, someone who tends to interpret tradition in ways that clash with the hashkafah (religious point of view) of most of my fellow and sister congregants.

Much as I'm not fond of the thought (and much as this will upset my Orthodox readers), I may have to give serious consideration to getting back on the subway on Shabbat to go davven at a shul where there's a higher percentage of people who share something reasonably resembling my hashkafah. Minyan Ma'at (or perhaps the Westside Minyan, or one of the other minyanim that meet in the Ansche Chesed building) might be a possibility. Or perhaps I might just go back to my old stomping grounds, a certain dual-affiliated Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue on the Upper West Side. I could always davven out of the Siddur Sim Shalom while the rest of the gang is davvening out of the Kol Haneshamah. I used to do that all the time anyway (after they switched from the Birnbaum, which was my preference, aside from the "she-lo asani isha" part).This is something that I'm really going to have to think about, because it would mean that we'd become a two-shul family. My husband, as head of the ritual committee and one of the few members of our current synagogue who knows how to chant a haftarah, feels obliged to stay put. It's a sad business when one must choose between davvening where one's spouse is and davvening where one's soul is.
Thu Feb 23, 11:36:30 PM 2006

That’s the long story. This is the short story: This past Shabbat (Sabbath), I got on the subway and went back to the Westside Minyan for the first time in roughly a decade.

And I’m not sorry.

It’s been years since I’ve felt so totally at home at a Shabbat morning service.

Everyone in the room—kids excepted—was actually davvening.

Not talking.


No one yacked through the Torah reading. (Okay, it was one of those “trienniel-cycle” one-third-of-the-parsha readings—one can’t have everything.)

No one had to be shushed during the chanting of the haftarah.

A layperson (the Westside Minyan is a chavurah, a lay-led prayer fellowship) got up to give a d’var Torah (Torah discussion) and everyone listened voluntarily, not because the rabbi gave everyone who was talking dirty looks and waited until they shut up to begin speaking. In this particular Ansche Chesed chavurah—I think it’s one of two or three chavurot that take place at more or less the same time in different rooms, along with a rabbi-led service in the main sanctuary—a discussion takes place after the d’var Torah, and that was also a pleasure.

Did I mention that the baalat tefillah—oh, well, I guess the Hebrew-speakers can already tell that I’m about to say that the prayer leader was a woman. Also, several of the baalei koreh (Torah readers) were women. The maftir, (chanter of the haftarah), was a man. Gender was a non-issue. Aside from noticing that the baalat tefillah was wearing a beautiful crotcheted tallit (presumably homemade), I didn’t even notice how many other women were wearing tallitot (prayer shawls). In a place where gender is a non-issue, counting female tallit-wearers is also a non-issue. What a joy, just to be able to davven and not have to deal with either the yacking, the self-censorship, or the constant battles over a woman’s role in services! It was a kick, to be asked, after a woman who knew me mentioned that she’d heard me lead services, whether I wanted to lead a service. But it was almost as much of a kick to say that I’d rather wait, knowing that I was not volunteering just yet simply because I wanted to get a feel for the minyan’s local variation on nusach (traditional prayer tunes), rather than because I was worried that people would think that I was showing off. I really and truly felt free to be myself. After over 20 years in a traditional Conservative synagogue, I’m so used to standing out like a sore thumb that I don’t think I’d even realized how much I missed davvening in a place where I could be totally unselfconscious.

I hope to go back next week and try the other minyan that alternates with the Westside Minyan. I hear tell that they do a full Torah reading, but don’t have a discussion after the d’var Torah. (You win some, you lose some.)

One of the Westside Minyan members suggested that it might be time for us to consider moving back to Manhattan, and advised us to look for an apartment further uptown and/or east than we ever would have considered living when we lived in Manhattan. She said that even lower Harlem, in the 120's, is becoming gentrified enough to be safer, but perhaps not enough to be quite as expensive as the pricier areas of the Upper West Side. The Punster tells me that he's heard interesting things about El Barrio, or Spanish Harlem, north of 96th Street on the Upper East Side. I don't think we can possibly avoid moving at some point within the next decade, because, by that time, there won't be a single synagogue left in our entire neighborhood. So if anyone has any real estate info about Manhattan, preferably above 96th Street, please pass it on. I'd love to live within walking distance of a shul that I can live with.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A brush with Shabbos

Young elementary-school student of an Orthodox Jewish day school to his grandmother, a member of our synagogue, at the shiva (condolence visit) after the death of his grandfather several years ago:

“You’re not allowed to use fresh lemon juice on Shabbat (Sabbath) unless you squeeze the lemons in advance, because you’re not allowed to squeeze a lemon on Shabbat.”

Those of you not interested in the details of Sabbath observance might prefer to skip the next few paragraphs—there’s some other good stuff toward the end of this post. Follow this asterisk.*

Let’s face it, folks, it’s a lot easier for someone with a limited Jewish education to locate the 39 kinds of work that are forbidden on Shabbat here than in the Shulchan Aruch (a book explaining Jewish law in brief).

I don’t see “squeezing” on that list, but I’ve heard of this prohibition since, so I’m sure that the kid wasn’t making it up. Question: Is using something absorbent also forbidden (which would make even splashing some cold water on oneself on the Sabbath problematic, as one couldn’t use a towel afterward), or is it only squeezing, wringing, or pressing liquid out of something that’s forbidden?

Since I had to go to Westside Judaica (2412 Broadway, on the East side of Broadway between 88th and 89th Streets, 212-362-7846) to get that missing ner havdalah (hmm, better buy two nerot havdalah, one for us and one for the synagogue—the shul’s havdalah candle is on its last wicks), I thought I’d try some of those “Sabbath brushes” that I’d seen. We are now the proud owners of three “Kosher Scrubbies,” one red one with the word MEAT printed on top, one blue one with the word DAIRY printed on top, and one green one with the word PARVE printed on top. The packaging describes a “Kosher Scrubby" as a “color-coded pan & dish nylon brush with a built-in liquid soap dispenser," and states that "Shabbos use is permitted according to halacha.” (Advice to those going kosher: Try to choose a color code that’s in common use. I chose the “patriotic-American” color code of red for meat, white for dairy, and blue for parve. As you can imagine, I’m very glad that the blue Kosher Scrubby has the word DAIRY printed in nice large capital letters on the top, or I’d certainly forget and use it on our parve cutting board by accident. Stick to red, blue, and green.) Verdict: The brushes work best on flat surfaces, such as plates. They’re a bit clumsy with silverware, being considerably broader, and difficulty to impossible to fit inside of drinking glasses.

*The balance of this post is for those of you not interested in the details of Sabbath observance, and for everyone else, as well.

Here’s some other neat stuff that I got at Westside Judaica:

Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu’s “Live at Stubbs” CD. Review, standing on one foot: Matisyahu's talented, and much of the music is quite enjoyable, but when I say music, I mean music—as for the words, I wish I had a lyrics sheet.

The Best of Moshav Band: Higher and Higher CD. Review, standing on one foot: I haven’t heard the whole CD yet, but I’ve enjoyed almost all the songs I’ve heard thus far. Some of their songs just blow me away. I think I’m really going to enjoy this group’s music, and I hope to buy more of their CDs in the future.

Friday, March 10, 2006

In which an "am ha-aretz" goes to rabbinical school, so to speak


(To the tune of "Barbara Ann." Yeah, I know I'm showing my age. :) )

we think you're swell,
You got me yearning for the learning, reaching for the teaching, 'barbanel
ba ba ba ba banel.

Went to a shiur
Thought it would be queer
Saw Abarbanel, now I'm learning for a year,
You got me yearning for the learning, reaching for the teaching, 'barbanel
ba ba ba ba banel."

(Courtesy of Lenny Solomon and his Shlock Rock Band.)

I haven't gone to a shiur (study session) since M. was transferred to another office and was no longer available to give a weekly shiur during my lunch hour. So when I read the ad in the New York Jewish Week about a shiur being given at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School --which I've been dying to find out about, anyway--I just had to go, even though, as an am ha-aretz, a Jewishly-illiterate person, I feared that I wouldn't be able to understand most of what was being said.

YCT Rabbinical School's Pre-Purim Shiur
Wednesday, March 8, 2006 at 7:45 p.m.
Given by: Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, Chair, Department of Bible & Jewish Thought
Topic: Hide and Seek - Uncovering the Central Characters of Megillat Esther
YCT Beit Midrash
606 West 115th Street
New York, NY 10025
Telephone: 212.666.0036

The shiur, standing on one foot:

Rabbi Helfgot spoke of knowledge and command. In the early parts of Megillat Esther (the Scroll [Book] of Esther), Mordechai had all the knowledge, and told Esther what to do. But, after two years in the palace, Esther was the one with the inside scoop. She understood that the king lived in constant fear of a palace coup (and rightfully so, as we see from the book's account of a plot foiled by Mordechai), which accounted for what Rabbi Helfgot described as Achashverosh's "shoot first, ask questions later" policy concerning visitors. So she played on his insecurities, flattering him and making him wonder what there was about that Haman fellow that the Queen kept singling him out . . . In the end, it was Esther who had the knowledge and was doing the commanding, first ordering her cousin to have the Jews of Shushan fast, then giving orders to the king himself, who seems to have been almost completely dependent on the advice of others, letting his advisors, then his Queen, dictate his behavior.

Apparently, I've been spending too much time among the "black-hats" (right-wing Orthodox Jews)--I was pretty surprised to see that not only was there no mechitzah (divider separating men and women), women and men were sitting next to one another. Then I remembered going to lectures at the Modern Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue (so long ago that Rabbi Riskin was still the rabbi there--this was long before "Stevie Wonder," a magnet for ba'alei t'shuvah/returnees to Orthodox Jewish practice, moved to Efrat and become Shlomo) where the women and men sat "mixed". Mind you, this was only for lectures, not for davvening (praying). Same at YCT. We moved down one flight to the fifth floor for maariv (evening service) in the synagogue, which had an opaque mechitzah about five feet high, topped with a curtain about six inches high . The amud (?) ("leader's" stand) was right next to the mechitzah, the Torah-reading table actually in front of it (still in the men's section, but visible to the women). Maariv, I knew, was going to be a major challenge. Oy, was I right! I think I mangled or accidentally skipped over quite a few words in my attempt to keep up with the baal tefillah (prayer leader). I skipped Elokai N'tzor altogether--I had barely finished the preceeding brachah (blessing) when the baal tefillah began kaddish. Speaking of kaddish, that was my biggest surprise--Kaddish Yatom/Mourner's Kaddish was recited by one of the women, alone, and the men responded Amen and Y'hei Sh'mei. Verdict re YCT: Mixed shiurim, high and opaque mechitzah where I thought I might see a lower or translucent one (I had thought that a sheer curtain or smoked-glass divider sufficed for a mechitzah, but perhaps I was wrong), male minyan (hey, it's an Orthodox rabbinical school, so of course they counted only the men) but one that responded en masse to a woman saying kaddish by herself--an interesting mixed bag. Personal verdict: My davvening speed is still "not ready for prime time."

Next shiur:

YCT Rabbinical School's Pre-Pesach Shiur
Wednesday, March 22, 2006 at 7:45 p.m.
Given by: Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh HaYeshiva
Topic: The Kitniyot Controversy in History and Halakha
YCT Beit Midrash
606 West 115th Street
New York, NY 10025
Telephone: 212.666.0036

Frankly, I'm nervous about this one--the only reason why I was able to follow most of the untranslated Hebrew at this past shiur was that I have a reasonable knowledge of Megillat Esther--but I'm game to go anyway, and hope for the best.

For those in the New York City area, here's the hyperlink to sign up for YCT's mailing list.

"Higher," ecumenical version

"B'shem Hashem, Elokei Yisrael,
mimini, Michael,
u-mis'moli, Gavriel,
u-mil'fanai, Uriel,
u-meiacharai, R'fael,
v'al roshi, sh'chinat Kel.

In the name of the L-ord, G-d of Israel,
on my right, Michael
and on my left, Gabriel
and in front of me, Rafael
and above my head, the presence of G-d."

On my left, an Asian man
His eyes closed tight,
his hands on his knees, palms up
engrossed in an Asian

In front of me,
a woman making the sign of the cross

In my head,
the sound of the Moshav Band
singing Shlomo--
"L-ord, get me high

Get me high

Get me high"

My feet were on the floor
My hands holding the pole

But my soul was soaring on the subway


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Alphabet Soup, part 2: Who's Lita?

Following up on my December 14, 2005 rant, I present this latest list of terms seen in the J-blogosphere that I don't understand. If my readers would be be so kind as to enlighten me, I'd be most appreciative.

  • Moycheh (mocheh?) (?)
  • "Het ich velt ich"
  • bal korcheynu
  • sheker (related to "shikur, drunk," or spelled differently?)
  • Kefirah lehumra crowd
  • Machshovo (machshava ?)
  • kesovim (ketovim?)

And, last but not least, in honor of our favorite "thermonuclear" telepath from the late lamented TV sci fi show "Babylon 5":

  • lita

Periodic updates of this list may follow. You have been warned. :)

Baruch shehecheiyanu: "Spring is bustin' out all over" * (er, well, it's a start, anyway)

(*I think the quote is from Rodgers' and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma.")

I saw my first crocus today
Spring is on its way!


Alright, that's enough rotten poetry. :)

To all the bloggers in the frozen northlands and Lake-lands, hang in there. Your turn will come.

Speaking of "Baruch shehecheiyanu," assuming that I haven't messed up the automatic numbering in my Word archives again, this is my 301 post. Way cool. :)

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Hesh, Inc.: “Soul in Exile”—a CD review, and a lament for a lost way of life

Okay, so I’m more than a little late to the party—according to the copywright, this CD was recorded in 1999. But I just picked it up at the Ruby Harris CD-release party on February 11, at which The Hesh was the pianist, so it’s new to me.

There’s a simple pleasure in listening to a singer/songwriter going solo, accompanied only by himself or herself. The Hesh sings along with his own piano-playing, occasionally dubbing in a harmony or an extra keyboard (presumably also sung or played by him), only occasionally bringing in a drummer and bass player. My only major complain is against the Hesh’s (and/or his sound engineer’s) all-too-frequent attempts to “do something interesting” by electronically altering his voice. The words are half the point of a song. What’s the point in deliberately making them difficult to understand? Heshy, just sing!

The songs on this album deal with two themes. One is the Hesh’s apparently then-recent break-up with a girlfriend, from which he was still in considerable emotional distress when he wrote these songs. The other theme is that of the destruction of the old way of life of a town on the Jersey shore (the Hesh having, apparently, spent many years living on New Jersey’s Atlantic coast) by greedy land developers.

I know that story all too well.

Several times, every summer of my childhood, we would pile into the family car and head east to our dream town. We’d throw our towels down on the sandy beach and head into the ocean, splashing one another, swimming, and turning somersaults underwater, eyes closed tight against the salty sea. When our lips turned blue from cold, we’d lie down to bake in the sun, snoozing or reading the books we’d brought. Or we’d build sand castles, or bury Dad up to his neck in the sand.

After a few hours, tired of swimming and fearful that, if we “baked” any longer, we’d be “french fried,” we’d change clothes and head for the boardwalk. The boardwalk! Miles upon miles, or so it seemed (and probably was) of wide wooden walkway, with tacky touristy shops selling souvenirs that our parents wouldn’t let us buy (too expensive—we had to stick to postcards), fast-food and junk-food stands, amusement rides . . .

Rides! Yes, of course we had to go on the rides before we ate, so that we wouldn’t get sick to our stomachs. The ride that I remember the best was the bumping cars. These were small, one-person vehicles completely surrounded by fat rubber bumpers. They weren’t designed to be safe for small children, so one had to pass a minimum height test, indicated by a line painted on the entrance, in order to ride. Eventually, all four of us kids reached that magical height. In we scrabbled, hopping into the cars and waiting for the ride operator to flip the switch. Then away we’d drive, yelling and laughing in delight as we deliberately crashed into everyone in sight. The bumping-car ride must have been the only place on earth in which a head-on collision was the ultimate goal.

After the rides, we’d head back to the boardwalk to continue our stroll, noshing all the way. (My parents hadn’t gone kosher yet, so we ate just about everything.) As we walked, we were passed by the local version of slow-moving vehicles. I think we called them “rolling chairs.” If memory serves me correctly, a rolling chair consisted of (from the ground up) three wheels, a platform, and a bench wide enough for three. But the crowning glory of a traditional rolling chair was the beautiful wicker basketry in back of the bench. Woven in the shape of a seashell, the wicker was as wide as the bench, and curved over the top of it to serve as a sunshade for the riders. In back of the wicker was a horizontal bar, and in back of the bar, the power source—a man. The traditional “rolling chair” was strictly a leisure vehicle, designed not for speed but to allow the riders to take a load off their feet and enjoy the scenery. Who cared that the “driver” couldn’t see where he was going? The chairs moved so slowly that pedestrians had no trouble staying out of their way. Not so with the modern motorized version of the “rolling chairs” with drivers up front, their constant “beep, beep,” shooing pedestrians out of the way, adding to the general cacaphony.

There were two places on the boardwalk of which I have particularly fond memories. One was the Planter’s Peanut store. With a “life-sized” Mr. Peanuts statue out front, the Planter’s Peanut store was a nut-lover’s heaven, containing row after row of peanut products. Almost invariably, we left the store carrying pounds of peanut brittle and other goodies.

The other place that I remember was the Freilinger’s Saltwater Taffee store. Sure, there was another saltwater taffee store, but everyone knew that Freilinger’s was the best. We would stand in the store for several minutes, watching the machines pull the taffee, memorized. Then we’d buy enough to, well, stock a store. :) (To this day, I have absolutely no idea whether Freilinger’s was/is kosher. Not knowing anything about hechsherim [rabbinical symbols indicating that a product is kosher] at the time, I was like the fourth child of the Haggadah—I didn’t even know to ask.)

Finally, tired, happy, and stuffed to within an inch of tummyaches, we’d pile back into the car for the drive back across the state, virtually coast to coast, going from the Atlantic Ocean to a mere twenty-minute drive from the Delaware River. Home.

After we got old enough to stay home alone—or, more likely, after my older sister was old enough to babysit me and our two younger brothers—my parents took to making a day-trip to the ocean a romantic outing for two—in the dead of winter. They insisted that they preferred the boardwalk when there was less of a crowd and they could really enjoy the sight and sound of the ocean. Bundled up to here, they’d walk the boards until they got too cold, then stop off at a seaside restaurant, split a fish dinner, and head home.

Years later, my husband, son, sister and I used to take the bus there, occasionally. We had no desire to see what was left of the town. It was just a convenient place for our aunt and uncle, who then owned a home nearby, to pick us up. The trip itself was depressing. The dream town of our childhood was gone, swallowed by greed. The entire town had turned its back on the ocean. Dominated by tawdry gambling palaces, the beach and boardwalk were shadows of their former selves, all the innocent entertainments gone, replaced by roulette and gaudy spectacles. There was even a rumor that the casino owners had persuaded the local government to ban the “rolling cars,” lest people should, heaven forbid, be tempted to venture outside. No more walking the boards, soaking up the sun and taking deep breaths of the salty ocean air. No place, either, for those with little money for gambling, the city slums starting, if memories of those bus rides serve me correctly, a mere 20 blocks or so beyond the glitzy glamour palaces.

The dream town of my youth is long gone, but it lives on in blessèd childhood memory.

I’ve never forgotten the real Atlantic City.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

My second ever Kiddush Levanah!

The one and only time that I’d ever participated in Kiddush Levanah, the sanctification of Hashem’s name as creator of the moon, must have been easily twenty years ago, at a National Havurah Institute (a week of Jewish study, usually housed on a college campus, that’s organized every year by the National Havurah Committee. The ritual had been led by the wife of one of the Orthodox rabbis in attendance.

Recently, I decided that it was time to try this myself. Unfortunately, I got the timing mixed up, and missed the last permissible day last month. So I thought I would try again for Adar. The rabbi, despite the fact that he was yakking with a congregant and making no effort to spare his voice, begged off, using the dumb excuse that he had a sore throat. (Yeah, right.) So I rounded up a few other willing souls. After Mincha-Maariv this past Saturday night, the chazzan (cantor), one other congregant, and my hubby stopped off as I zipped up to our apartment to pick up an Artscroll Siddur (prayerbook). (For some unknown reason, Kiddush Levanah does not appear in the old Conservative Silverman Siddur used by our shul/synagogue). Then we headed down the block to the local playground. I didn’t even give anyone a chance to volunteer. It was pure self-preservation that led me to start reading the prayers myself: Since either the cantor or the Israeli-American congregant would have been the most likely leaders of the service, I knew I’d never be able to keep pace if anyone but me did the reading! With a bit of help from the Israeli-American, I managed to read almost the entire service myself without cracking my teeth too much on the Hebrew. We exchanged “Shalom Aleichem—Aleichem Shalom” greetings, read through “siman tov u-mazal tov,” then went our separate ways home. It was delightful. With luck, next month, same time, same place.

Lest I fail to give credit where it's due, I must say that even one of a singer/songwriter's sillier songs can inspire observance. I can hear the Shlock Rockers now, adding Yiddish-accented "schtick" to the end of the song, after the "official" lyrics:

"Sholom aleichem."

"Aleichem sholom."

"Sholom aleichem."

"Aleichem sholom."

"Sholom aleichem."

"Aleichem sholom."

"Move your car. I'm gonna miss 'Star Trek.'"

"Ach, you've seen them all already."


Wednesday the rabbi slept late

So there I am at some ridiculous hour of the night in the shul office, having come straight from overtime at work, trying to do the last of the editing and formatting of the synagogue’s quarterly bulletin (already overdue at the printer because of my illness last week). The president, who’s often at the shul at even more ridiculous hours, calls the rabbi on the phone to discuss something or other, and I ask him to ask the rabbi whether he has any comments or corrections to my bulletin section on the laws of Passover. The president tells me that the rabbi said that he hadn’t seen the bulletin that I’d e-mailed him at least a week before, because he was too busy studying. Okay, so let me get this straight: A congregational rabbi is too occupied with his own personal studies to answer sh'eilot (questions concerning Jewish religious law) that affect the entire congregation. How odd. I thought that answering sh'eilot was one of the principal responsibilities of a rabbi.

Overconfidence—a cautionary tale

I’ve known Haftarat Terumah for probably at least a decade, having learned it roughly three rabbis ago. And I do have some trouble with practicing repeatedly because acid reflux disease does tend to make my throat get sore much more quickly and easily than it did in the good olde days. Still, I was asking for trouble when I practiced only twice, and I got way more than I imagined was possible: This is the first time in over thirty years of chanting haftarot that I’ve accidentally skipped an entire line and had to go back and chant the pasuk (verse) again from the beginning.

The folks in my current shul are pretty forgiving. “It happens.” “You’re human.” But I can imagine what the man who was my rabbi when I learned the haftarah cantillation, a man of uncompromising standards, would have thought. He would have thought that I’d disgraced myself and my congregation in public. And he would have been right. "T’nu chavod laTorah—give honor to the Torah."

Don’t let this happen to you.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Catholic Woman Wore a “Kippah”

There she sat, across from me
I tried hard not to stare
But how could I not look at it
It really was right there
Muslims in headscarves, Hindus in saris
I see in my neighborhood
Sikh men with their hair in turbans
Tucked in and hidden but good
But it’s not every day a non-Evangelical Christian
So blatantly announces religiosity
Yet there it was, a cross drawn in ashes
On her forehead, for all to see

That must be what it’s like
For an Orthodox man
Every day, his whole life long
He needn’t say
a single word
His “cap” gives a dance and a song


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