Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My label-limits lament

Yesterday night, I undertook a major blogging project. I opened my Word archive of poems that I've posted, printed out a copy of the table of contents, and begin methodically labeling every single poem on my blog. If there's a faster way to do this, please enlighten me. The way I labeled my poetry posts was to click on the archive of the month in which a poem was posted, scroll to the post, click on the edit icon, type in the label, click publish, and, unfortunately, start all over from scratch, since hitting the Publish button takes one back not to that month's archive, but to the top of the blog. With interruptions, the project of labeling 36 posts (containing 40 poems--two of the posts contain three poems each) took me roughly two hours.
Imagine my dismay when, upon completing this time-consuming project, I clicked on the "My poems" label in my most recent poetry post, and only 20 of the 36 posts appeared. I clicked again on the "My poems" label in the last visible post, but instead of seeing the remaining labeled posts, I found myself back at the most recent one. Apparently, there's a limit either to the number of posts or to the amount of text that will be displayed when one clicks on a label. Does anyone know a way around this?

Cane enabled--hubster takes a trip . . .

. . . so to speak. In the height of irony, my husband twisted his ankle on the way to the doctor, and end up seeing two in one day. His general practitioner sent him straight to the same podiatrist who just put me on a cane (or two). Diagnosis: Sprained ankle. In yet another case of Hopalong Cassidy, the Hip-Hop Artist, hubby is hopping around the apartment with a cane and some kind of support "boot" that's velcro-strapped all the way up to his knee. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was contagious.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Coercion, part three

See parts one and two.

I got a taste of my own medicine on Shabbat/Shabbos/Sabbath.

And I didn’t like it.

Someone had the brilliant (not) idea that we should sing just the Shir HaMaalot introductory psalm and the first paragraph of Birkat HaMazon/Grace After Meals and recite the rest individually and silently to ourselves. M. and I weren’t too thrilled about that—hey, it’s Shabbos, where does anybody have to go so quickly?—but we were both wary of making a fuss again, having discussed, ad nausem, just two weeks ago, the question of how Birkat HaMazon should be prayed. So I found myself in the interesting position of having to remain silent while one or two folks at our table who pray more slowly than I do finished the prayer. And I will admit that I felt a bit stifled at not being free to talk. That was odd, since I don’t feel stifled while waiting for other people to finish the Amidah. Go figure.

So now that the shoe has been on the other foot, I've given the matter of how to pray Birkat HaMazon some further thought, and this is my conclusion:

Most of the people objecting to “enforced” Birkat HaMazon are senior women. Most were raised Orthodox. Many never learned to read Hebrew. Most were not really expected to participate fully in Jewish ritual, but were raised to care for a husband and children. Most never learned many of these prayers. And—key point—I think that many of the senior women object to being “forced” to take on rituals that they were never taught and never expected to know, on the grounds that what they did, and do, was and is in accordance with the way they were raised and is good enough. I suppose that's pretty much the same objection that I have to the recent report that the Conservative rabbinate may raise the bar on kashrut observance.

So the resentment works both ways. The senior women don’t wish to be made to feel that the way they've practiced Judaism all their lives isn’t good enough. The younger women resent being treated as if we have to apologize for being better educated and/or more interested in prayer. It would be a stand-off were it not for the facts that there are more of them than there are of us and that they're our elders.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

A senior has her moment

The poor chazzan (cantor) is up on the bima (in modern Israel Hebrew, "stage," but here, a "stage" for leading prayer) chanting the usual unbelievably long list of names of the sick for whose recovery we're praying ("mi-shehbérach" list) when out of the blue comes the voice of one of our senior ladies: "No wonder there's nobody here." Needless to say, the whole place cracks up.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sad news: Steg's father has passed away

Baruch Dayan Emet (Blessed is the True Judge).

Steg posted the sad news here, and Mark/PT was kind enough to post further details. Condolence wishes via personal contact, e-mail, or comment to Steg's post would be much appreciated.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Special-parshiot reminder

See here.

The leader of our women's Tehilla (Psalms) group says that women are required to be present in synagogue for the reading of the special parshiot (weekly Torah readings) of Shekalim (tomorrow), Zachor (Shabbat/Sabbath before Purim), HaChodesh, and HaGadol. [February 20 correction, thanks to Elie's eagle eyes: Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and HaChodesh. Memory tricks only work when one's memory is not playing tricks. Elie also points out that Shabbat HaGadol doesn't count as one of the special parshiot of this time of year because . . . well, see quiz question.] (I assume that halachah/Jewish religious law would require a man to be present for every Torah reading, or at least those on Shabbat and Yom Tov/Pilgrimage Festival.) Question: Is this a minhag (custom), or is this requirement (?) considered as binding as the requirement to hear the reading of Megillat Ester/the Book (Scroll) of Esther?

Pop quiz: For which two parshiot that have special names do we not read a separate scroll?




Shabbat HaGadol and Shabbat Shuvah. It's amazing what one can pick up from a few years on an activist Ritual Committee.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Dashing through the snow"--or not :)

(Written on the subway on the way to work this morning. To the tune of "Jingle Bells" [vu den/what else?].)

Dashing—not!—through snow
Fast one cannot go
Bundled without grace
Wind is in my face
'brella did a flip
In the wind's wild grip
Lucky that I caught a bus or surely I would slip

"Ding-dong" bell—subway hell:
"Watch the closing doors!"
Subway steps are slick with slush
I wish they'd clean the floors

But why curse? Could be worse
This, of course, we know
New York City goes berserk
With just one inch of snow

:) :) :)


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Coercion, part two

When I was 23, a couple of friends did me a big favor and made me a baked ham. It was delicious!

That was the first time I'd ever eaten baked ham.

It was also the last.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I think I was still in my twenties when I decided to give up eating what some of us call “hard-core treif,” meaning pork and shellfish.

I was not raised in a kosher home. In point of fact, it was we kids who started it. One fine day, we came home from Hebrew School and laid down the law to our mother: “Jews aren’t supposed to eat pork.” There went our bacon for breakfast.

It would be years before Mom and Dad stopped bringing home shrimp salad, and I was already in my twenties when my parents finally kashered the kitchen. You can imagine the confusion when I came to visit. “Um, Mom, which one’s the dairy drawer?”

That’s why I decided, after our son was born, that a kosher-style kitchen—one without separate dishes, etc., for meat foods and dairy foods—would no longer suffice. I figured that it would be a lot easier for him to keep a kosher kitchen as an adult, should he choose to do so (we hope), if he’d grown up with a kosher kitchen as a child.

I didn’t make the final big move, though, until about eight years ago. I had been eating non-kosher beef, lamb, and poultry ("soft-core treif") in restaurants and in other people’s homes. But, when one of our rabbis packed his bags for greener pastures, I gave him a rather unusual farewell present: I promised not to eat non-kosher meat anymore. Well, after the second or third time that I accidentally bought chicken salad at a salad bar, thinking that it was tuna salad, I concluded that I could never buy “tuna salad” in a salad bar again. And, to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t eaten treif meat since.

Now, Rabbi Paul Plotkin, of the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards, is trying to end a long-standing practice among many Conservative Jews of eating cooked dairy food in non-kosher restaurants.

And now it’s my turn to complain about coercion.

I started out completely treif (non-kosher).

Then I began to observe what some call “biblical kashrut,” avoiding pork, shellfish, and meat and dairy combinations, in accordance with laws that appear in the Bible (Torah sheBiCh’Tav) itself.

Then I began to keep a kosher kitchen, taking on the further rabbinic laws requiring kosher slaughter and the complete separation of meat products from dairy products, which entails the use of separate pots, plates, utensils, tableware, etc.

Then I gave up eaten non-kosher beef, lamb, and poultry altogether.

I’m sorry, Rabbi Plotkin, but I’ve already taken on as many dietary restrictions as I’m willing to accept in the name of tradition.

With apologies to Shlock Rock, I’m not ready for the Kosher Police. When I choose to observe certain aspects of Jewish tradition, I choose of my own free will, not because someone's watching me.

Coercion, part one

. . . or, "the continuing saga of Birkat HaMazon."

Last Shabbat (Sabbath), I tried to explain to some of the women in my local synagogue who’ve been giving me such a tough time that the Conservative Movement has tended to bring what were private and/or home-based rituals, such as Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) and the Passover seder, into the synagogue to ensure that people actually perform the mitzvah (commandment).

One woman pointed out that, years ago, we only did Birkat HaMazon communally when someone sponsored a sit-down Kiddush. After thinking about that for a minute, I realized that she was right. Ouch.

Okay, moving right along . . . .

“You’re right. But when we do do Birkat HaMazon together, why do people complain that I’m singing too loudly when I lead? You don’t complain when the cantor sings loudly enough to lead the entire congregation in prayer. So why do you complain when I do?”

“Because the cantor’s leading a congregational prayer, and you’re not. Birkat HaMazon is a private prayer. Not everyone wants to join in. We’ve just been davvening (praying) for three hours. Some of us would rather talk. You should show some respect for us.”

"We don’t want to pray under compulsion,” said another woman. "We don't want to be coerced."

You missed the point, apparently. The whole idea of making Birkat HaMazon into a communal ritual was precisely to make sure that everyone said it.

Okay, moving right along . . . .

“So when we bring out the bentchers (Birkat HaMazon books), we should just ask those who want to bentch (say Birkat HaMazon) to join us at one or two tables, and ask everyone else just to keep the conversations a little quieter until we’re done.”

“No, don’t tell us to be quiet. We don't want to be told what to do.”


No one wants to be told that they should be praying.

No one wants to be told that they should be quiet when someone else is praying, even—or is that “especially?”—when they’re supposed to be praying, too. That would be like praying under compulsion. And who wants to be reminded that Grace after Meals is obligatory?

Essentially, those of us who wish to fulfill our obligation to say Birkat HaMazon have to do it almost on the sly. I feel as if I’m expected to apologize for doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

Later, I asked the Hubster, “Why do they give me such a hard time when you and the cantor do the same thing when one of you leads Birkat HaMazon? Don’t you both sing loudly enough for the whole room to hear you? Don’t you ever ask for quiet, or bang your hand on a table to get the yackers to quiet down?”

“Yes, but you do it that much more often. You’re like a drill sergeant.”

What, you too?


The verdict is in: Shut up (sing more quietly) and put up (learn to ignore the noise).


Friday, February 09, 2007

Review: Entering Jewish Prayer (Hammer)

This post's real title should be "Book review: 'Entering Jewish Prayer,' by Reuven Hammer." Unfortunately, in the bleeping new version of Blogger, my sidebar's Previous Posts list cuts off blog titles of more than roughly 40 characters. !#$%^&*!!!

Okay, enough kvetching. On with the show.

Back when she was still blogging on a reasonably regular basis, NaomiChana, of Baraita, recommended Entering Jewish Prayer, by Reuven Hammer. (If memory serves me correctly, the recommendation came in a comment on my blog. If not, it came via e-mail.) I recently got around to reading it, and found it packed with interesting information.

Here's one of the highlights, in my opinion:

"The synagogue was the place where for the first time in human history, some sort of communal worship divorced from sacrifice was institutionalized. Never before was there an institution as a gathering place for religious worship in which sacrifice not only would not but could not be offered, an institution that could be housed anywhere, did not have to be in a spot that had some sacred connotation, did not have to conform to some rigid architectural pattern, and was not run by a group of specially sanctified clergy." (Page 62)

And a mystery cleared up (see pages 128-129):

"We know, for example that the ancient method of saying the Shema was quite different than our own. At a public service, in the presence of a quorum at least ten adults, the Shema was not merely read; it was 'proclaimed' (pores al shema). [The footnote refers us to Megilla 4:3.] The leader of the ceremony would proclaim to the people that crucial first line: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!' . . .

Upon hearing that verse, the people would respond, using the response that was then commonly used whenever the the name of God was recited:

Blessed be the name of His glorious Majesty forever and ever! [Footnote: Yoma 6:2.]

This response appears in every Siddur [prayer book] and interrupts the reading of the biblical passages. The appearance of those words right in the middle of the Torah selection has always seemed strange, but it is understandable when seen as a response to a proclamation."

Since we Jews are a stiff-necked people and have been known to hang on to a custom even when it no longer makes sense, the call-and-response pattern remained even after the practice of "calling" disappeared.

More interesting tidbits, not necessarily in order:

Did you know that the heart of Pesukei D'Zimra (the Verses of Song/"Introductory Service") is the recitation of Psalms 146-150, which are meant to be a stand-in for a recitation of the entire Sefer Tehillim/Book of Psalms? (See page 111.) So maybe it is a good thing that I try, whenever I literally have an extra minute, to recite Psalm 150, instead of skipping directly from Ashrei to Yishtabach, in my standing-on-one-foot weekday-morning service.

Oh, so this is why we don't say Psalm 100, "Mizmor l'Todah, (A Psalm of Thanksgiving)" on Shabbat/Sabbath: "'Todah' is also the name of the sacrifice brought to acknowledge God's kindness. A rabbinic midrash connects this psalm with that sacrifice. . . . In some places the custom grew up of not saying this psalm of the Sabbath or other times when the thank-offering was not sacrificed in the Temple." (Pages 115-116)

It's only a psalm like any other. Why all the repetition, and why twice in every Shacharit (morning service)? "Regarding the psalm [Psalm 145] itself, the Talmud states: "Whoever recites "A Psalm of David" three times a day is assured of a place in the world to come." (See page 117.) Oh. Not to mention hmm. Is the recitation of Ashrei (Psalm 145, introduced by a few verses from other psalms) one of the earliest known "segulot," (which I think means a practice intended to influence God in an almost magical way)?

Here's an explanation good enough to persuade me that the Aramaic portions of Kedusha D'Sidra are not a waste of time for non-Aramaic speakers (see page 204):

"The 'translation' [from Hebrew into Aramaic] of the verse from Isaiah [6:3] . . .["Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of legions, the whole earth is filled with His glory] is also an interpretation in which any Christological reading of the verse is polemically refuted:

"Holy"—in the heaven above where His Shechina [Presence] dwells;

"Holy"—on earth where His power is manifest;

"Holy"—throughout all eternity."

And here are some important definitions (page 236):

"Blessings are words of praise for what God has done. Prayers are requests for God to help us. Sanctifications are those that hallow the name of God—kiddush ha-sham. Havdalot would be those in which a distinction is drawn between categories such as light and darkness, day and night, the holy and the profane." [I prefer the word "ordinary"—some of us tend to use the word "profane" to indicate something less neutral.]

A historical note appears on page 239:

"The recitation of the Hallel—Psalms 113-18—is unique to the holidays and festivals. This is one of the oldest prayers in our liturgy, not only because the text is from the Bible, but because we know that it was recited as a unit in the Temple during Second Temple times."

Those of you who are fluent in Hebrew may want to skip the frequent translations, but others not so knowledgeable may find them helpful. In either case, I think this book is well worth reading for those interested in understanding Jewish liturgy from both a theological and historical perspective.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

You Could Always Hitchhike! (by the Son-ster)

Did I happen to mention that our son is a reporter for his college student magazine? Here's his December 12, 2003 article, just in time for frostbite season.

You Could Always Hitchhike!

Getting Around this Winter

It's time for us to hit the typical [city in upstate New York] weather pattern: snow, ice, freezing rain, and bone-chilling cold. One of the worst things about winter just might be trying to get around in the midst of it--particularly, getting to class. Difficult enough for those of us without cars [note: he now owns a car] in the civil months, getting to class in the winter becomes downright unbearable. Have no fear. Read on for some advice on how to get to class--regardless of the weather.

There are several methods you could use to make your way across campus in icy, snowy, rainy, windy, and altogether bad conditions. There is the old standby, the shut-up-and-slough-through-it method. I think that one is self-explanatory. Then, there's the bus. Unfortunately, the buses here suck, so we are going to pass it over in favor of more interesting methods. After all, you should be creative if you intend to get anywhere in life, so be creative in getting just a short distance.

Creative Solution 1: Hijack a tractor and make them drive you to class. This is not very practical and will probably get you arrested shortly after you arrive at class, so it pretty much defeats the purpose. I for one would rather lose a toe to frostbite than spend a few years in jail.

Creative Solution 2: Construct a tunnel to the academic side. This one assumes that you live in the dorms. [Note: The walkway from the "dorm side" of the campus to the "academic side," where the classroom buildings are located, is so long that it's known as "The Quarter Mile."] People have been whining about it for years. If you want to try, be my guest, but don't be shocked when you wind up in an asylum. That is, if you don't hit a hot water pipe and fry yourself first. Not recommended.

Not So Creative Solution 1: Get a bunch of people together and construct some sort of teleporter to the other side of campus. If you can do this, congratulations, you are the new most famous scientist ever. Otherwise, you're a loony who will probably fail to graduate for a lack of contact with reality.

Creative Solution 3: Ice Skates. This only works in certain conditions, and is more than a little likely to get you in trouble when you get where you're going and carve up the carpet just by walking. Since it's nearly impossible to skate with any kind of weight, you'll need to leave all your books and supplies behind. This is not too practical, especially if you're an art student. Oh, and then there's what happens if you hit a dry spot. Student health insurance ain't gonna cover that.

Creative Solution 4: Move to a warmer climate. Then you'll only have to deal with flooding, drought, and the occasional tornado or monsoon.

Not So Creative Solution 2: Magic (Not the card game, the real stuff). You should only attempt this if you are very good. Teleportation spells should not be used lightly. The smallest mistake could land you in another reality, a nuclear reactor, or just splattered across half the state of New York ("splinched," as they call it in Harry Potter). Or worse, you could end up like my friend Sarah. She now has way too many arms, has to walk backwards, and molts. I take no responsibility if you go this route.

Creative Solution 5: Cross Country Skiing. You might have a problem with the hill between the SAU [Student Alumni Union building] and the Library, but otherwise it's a pretty good idea. Campus Safety doesn't like it, but unless they commandeer a tractor (or, duh, use their cars), you shouldn't have any problem out-running them. As long as you are wearing a ski mask, you can probably fight them off even if they do catch up with you, since we all know that ski masks immediately endow the wearer with super kung-fu powers. Once you get to class, you can just say that you're in one of the Wellness skiing classes. I would try this myself, but I can't ski.

There you have it, some tips on how to get to class. Don't let these limit you, though. Expand your horizons. Reach for the farthest star. "Be all that you can be" and all that. But, in the meantime, stop stalling and finish your homework! It won't do you any good getting to class if you get an F anyway.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Dancin' the night away at Makor

Here's the dance I performed tonight at Girls' Night On. I had a great time--I get really energized, dancing in front of an appreciative audience. Eventually, I'll run out of dances and have to bore the audience with some of my so-called poetry, instead, but, for the time being, I'm having a blast kicking up my heels. :)

A new blogger in the family

Here's the new line-up for what's probably the family with the most bloggers in the entire Jewish blogosphere:

Abba, aka PsychoToddler

Mom, aka Mrs. Balabusta

Daughter # 1, aka Fudge

Son # 1, aka 30cal

Son # 2, aka Rafiki

Son # 3, aka OutOfAmmo

Daughter # 2, aka Iguana (the newbie—welcome!)

Mom’s Dad, aka Glazerbeam

Mom’s sister, aka TuesdayWishes

Mom’s sister’s daughter, aka Tzipster91

"This is not a drill!"

One of the supervisors on our floor came running into our office and told us to grab our bags and leave the building immediately--the fire alarms were ringing for real, this time. Chicken and/or fool that I am, I stopped to put on my boots, sweater, windbreaker, and coat before grabbing my backpack and clearing out--I just couldn't deal with the idea of being outdoors in this weather without all my layers. (The backpack doubles as an extra layer for my back.)

Picture several hundred people heading down a flight of stairs while a dozen or so of New York's Bravest headed up, with the usual outrageous number of pounds of fire-fighting equipment strapped to their backs. Picture hundreds milling about a Manhattan sidewalk in 16-degree-Fahrenheit/8 1/2-degree Celsius weather with 17-mile-per-hour winds for about 20 minutes before we got the all-clear. Not my idea of fun. I'm happy to report that there were no injuries. There was some damage to the building, however. No doubt, we'll be hearing more about that.

NYC-area women, come see me dance!

Come join all the Jewish Women rocking Makor at...

Girls' Night On!

An open mike night for women, by women.

Monday, February 5th, 8 PM
Doors open at 7:30
Act, sing, dance, play, read, joke, filibuster or come watch.


35 West 67th Street
Admission: $10
For more info: call 212-865-0085 or visit
Sorry guys, this event is only open to those with two X chromosomes.

I'd like to thank "Girls' Night On" founder and organizer Leslie Ginsparg for giving us this opportunity to praise Hashem for the gifts that He's given us.

"Frozen Apple"

(Original version published on a science-fiction-television message board on Jan. 19, 2000.)

The sun shines bright
It bathes us with light
But the sunlight does no good
It’s COLD in the neighborhood
It’s 4 degrees Fahrenheit
You heard what I said—that’s right!
(I’ll take a wild guess
at Celsius
About 15 degrees below?
Bleep, good grief, oh man, it’s COLD
Didn’t I tell you so?
(Canadian bloggers, don’t be bad
No teasing from the Northern folk
Good grief, it’s cold enough for me
I tell you, that’s no joke!)
It’s colder here than it’s been in years
New York
, the “Big Apple,” is frozen, my dears
Out on the platform
One train comes and goes
Then two, then three, then four
Packed like sardines
You know what that means—
I can’t get in the door!
I’ll have to wait, but I’m already late
So late it’s almost a sin
But what can I do?
I’m practically turning blue
And still, I can’t get in!
Good thing I wore gloves, a hat, a scarf
A sweater and a hooded coat
Not to mention knee-high boots
With my warmest woolen suit
(There’s a sight to give one pause—
I look like a Jewish Santa Claus!)
The fifth train arrives, my spirit revives
I’m finally in the door
We’re so crammed in, there’s hardly room
For my feet to touch the floor
Don’t ask how late I got to work
You really don’t want to know
Don’t rub it in—I felt like a jerk
And on Thursday, it’s supposed to snow

(The current temperature, my friends, is 12 degrees Fahrenheit
I'm bundled up from head to toe—I'm sure I look a sight)


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mark/PT discusses one of my pet peeves

Kol Isha.


Never too married to enjoy a date . . .

. . . on Tu BiShevat. (Made you look, didn’t I? :) ) Hope you enjoyed the fruit fest yesterday.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hey, great, I'm 58!

Happy birthday to me
Fifty-eight--golly gee
There's life in this gal yet
Gonna make it the best it can be
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