Sunday, April 29, 2007

In midst of spring, a Xmas tree?! :)

But seriously
I don't know what else could be said
of bush with leaves green, branches red :)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Three hours' sleep

And an earful of thunder
It's no wonder
I hate these storms in middle of night
that split the legitimately darkened sky
with blasts of flashing, fleeting light
and sudden, loud noise that makes me fear.
It's hard to sleep with finger in ear

(And Shifra's probably asking: "Why
must I continue to bail this 'bounty' from on high?)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Kindness doesn't always just happen

See here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

His and hers Judaism (a mixed marriage, of sorts)

This post was inspired by this one, by Holy Hyrax. He's ambivalent about having becoming less observant than his wife. My problem is the opposite.

It was the luck of the draw.

My in-laws were completely non-observant, and frequently changed synagogue memberships for their own convenience. It was just my husband's good fortune that they happened to have been members of an Orthodox synagogue in the years immediately before and after his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. It was his further good fortune that the rabbi who was teaching the Bar Mitzvah class singled him out as having a particularly good ear for nusach (traditional prayer tunes) and made him the only boy in his class to lead Musaf (the "Additional" Service, commemorating the additional sacrifices in the Holy Temple on Sabbath and/or holidays) at his Bar Mitzvah celebration.

To this day, my husband's synagogue and Hebrew skills are better than mine. Even after my recent year of Ulpan Hebrew classes, I can't chant a haftarah without prior practice. He can, and frequently does. His Hebrew vocabulary and grammar skills have always been more advanced than mine, though I caught up somewhat as a result of my recent studies. And he has the ability to sit down and read a page of commentary, albeit in English, while I just get antsy.

I, on the other hand, didn't get the best Jewish education on earth, but I came from a family that observed all the major holidays, and some minor ones, albeit not in accordance with Jewish law (halachah). So, while my husband got a fairly decent Jewish education (as Hebrew School education goes), he had no experience being in a home in which Judaism was actually, actively lived.

In short, he's always been more learned, and I've always been more observant. The result is that I've always been the one to concern myself with maintaining Jewish practice at home, as is traditional for a Jewish wife and mother, but I don't think that traditional Judaism's different roles for men and women have much to do with this--it's just a result of our divergent family backgrounds.

Lately, though . . .

Over the past few years, I've become increasingly observant, though I can't imagine that anyone with my radical theological perspective and hard-core egalitarian views could ever become Orthodox. Nevertheless, it did come as something of a shock to me when I realized that my husband had already lost track of his Omer count before even the end of Chol HaMoed Pesach (the Intermediate Days of Passover, on which one is allowed, if necessary, to work), and that it was largely my fault.

Some rituals that should be part of a religious service had always been a family thing for us. Punster, Son-ster and I would gather in the livingroom and take turns making the brachah (blessing) over, and waving, the lulav and etrog (the color in the photos may be "off"--an etrog is usually yellow), without benefit of Shacharit (the Morning Service), or even Hallel. The same was true of Sefirat HaOmer, the Counting of the Omer--we would sing a "hineni" introduction, recite the brachah, and count in unison, without benefit of Maariv (the Evening Service). Even when my husband was freelancing during tax season, I would call him, and we'd say the brachah and do the count together over the phone.

It didn't occur to me until a couple of days into Chol HaMoed that, since I'm now saying Sefirat HaOmer as an integral part of Maariv (which is the way it's supposed to be done), I hadn't thought to call my husband out to the livingroom to join me.

I felt terrible. Because of my decision to start saying Maariv every night, I'd completely forgotten to include my husband in the ritual of counting. This is the first year I can remember in which one of us is continuing to say the brachah and the other is not. (Once a person misses an entire day of the count, forgetting to count both in the evening and during daylight the "next" day, that person is supposed to resume counting, but is no longer allowed to say the brachah.)

Trying to respect one another's different learning and observance levels can be a bit challenging, at times. Seriously, what happens in a case such as ours, in which one spouse, already more observant (by comparison), becomes even more so? Sometimes, on weekdays, we have to decide whether the Punster is going to "the office" (the Son-ster's bedroom) so that I can davven in the living room or whether I'm going there to davven so that the Punster can watch television. And it does feel a bit strange seeing my resident CPA dash out to the 8:30-AM-pick-up mailbox, tax return in hand, without davvening (praying) first, while I'm still in tallit and tefillin.

It's an odd, and not always comfortable, balancing act.

Al HaNissim (for the Miracles)--for Yom HaAtzmaut (Siddur Sim Shalom)

For Israel Independence Day, from Siddur Sim Shalom, the Conservative Movement's official prayer book:

We thank You for the heroism, for the triumphs, and for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors, in other days and in our time.

In the days when Your children were returning to their borders, at the time of a people revived in its land as in days of old, the gates to the land of our ancestors were closed before those who were fleeing the sword. When enemies from within the land together with seven neighboring nations sought to annihilate Your people, You, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of trouble. You defended them and vindicated them. You gave them the courage to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge, and to free the land of its armed invaders. You delivered the many into the hands of the few, the guilty into the hands of the innocent. You have wrought great victories and miraculous deliverance for Your people Israel to this day, revealing Your glory and Your holiness to all the world.

An Ulpan story, in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut

Some of you may recollect that I recently studied Hebrew in an Ulpan class (concentrating on contemporary spoken Israeli Hebrew) for about a year. I was unable to continue, but my studies certainly did have a salutory effect on my Hebrew comprehension. It's amazing how much of my prayers I can now translate without looking at the English side of page. ('Course, all I have to do is go to our office's Women's Tehillim [Psalms] Group to be reminded of how far I still have to go.)

One fine day, I was listening to my favorite Aron Razel CD "Live in Jerusalem," as I'm doing now--I've concluded that one can't mourn and say Hallel on the same day--when it occurred to me that perhaps I was being too easy on myself: Maybe if I really put some effort into it, I might actually be able to understand what he was singing. I was having only limited success until I started listening very carefully to song # 6. "Hey, wait a minute, that's not a nonsense syllable--'ech' means 'how'! 'Elech'? Walk, go? 'el avi, to my father.' 'v'hannaar enenu iti, and the youth is not with me.' Bleeping Hebrew! Why is it sometimes iti and sometimes imi, when they both mean 'with me?' They're doing it just to confuse . . ."

"Holy Moses! 'How can I go to my father when the boy is not with me?'" (!!!) I practically got chills down my spine when I realized that not only did I understand what he was saying, I was listening to a quote from the Torah's greatest cliffhanger! (That's Parshat Miketz, Genesis 44, 1-Parshat Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-45:3, more or less.) Okay, it's "e-eleh, go up," not "elech," walk, go." But I was thrilled both to be able to identify a biblical quote and to be able translate it on my own.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A nation of soldiers (for Yom HaZikaron)

Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers
Sons and daughters, nephews too
Nieces, spouses, friends and others
Every chayal fights for you
For a place for every Jew
And at every chayal’s grave
Prayers for sacrifice he gave
Parents weeping for their sons
Fighting for our lives with guns
A state at war since it was born
Children from their parents torn
Widows weeping, now forlorn
Hopes for children from them shorn
Chayalot at Western Wall
Praying ‘twixt their nation’s call
Hair tied back,
in uniform’s pants, but no one tries to hold them back
as they approach with quiet chants
Rifle slung atop her shoulder
Face upon a sacred boulder
Praying for a captured friend
G-d in heaven, when will it end?

Israel's Fallen Heroes - One Personal Story

A correction, of sorts: My apologies to those who really speak Hebrew--I realized, after the fact, that I wrote this poem with the word "chayal" accented on the wrong syllable. Sorry. My heart's in the right place, but I guess that's what happens when my heart's in the east, but I'm in the west.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A blended-family ballet

To my ex-sister in law:

"Someone in the family spread a rumor a while back that there's some kind of family connection to a group called [Jewish rock band]. So I bought their ___ CD, since I'm getting into Jewish rock music lately. Whoa! These guys can play! Not to mention sing . . . This is good stuff! So what's the story with the family connection?"


She's been wonderful to my parents, especially in light of the fact that it was my brother who ended the marriage. She's constantly inviting them for Shabbat and holiday dinners and sending them home with leftovers, and she keeps an eye on their health. So how am I supposed to explain to her that the reason why I can't figure which member of the band is related to her boyfriend of at least two years is that my mother, who "spread" the "rumor," still doesn't know his last name?

My ex-sister-in-law's reply:

______'s son, _______ ________ is the lead singer of ________--glad you like them so much!"

Um, er, how shall I put this?

"I'm a bit confused about _________ _________. The CD liner notes . . . seem to indicate that he's the lead guitarist, but not necessarily the lead singer. This seems to be a trend in Jewish rock groups, whether by the accident of talent-distribution or by design (in an attempt to keep one person from hogging all the glory)--many Jewish rock groups seem to have one person as lead guitarist and another as lead singer. . . . One way or the other, ______ certainly knows his stuff. ______ is a group of wonderfully talented musicians."


It embarrasses the bleep out of me to have to correct your knowledge of your own boyfriend's son.

But hey, he's not your son.

Can you imagine this conversation after a future concert of theirs in New York City? "Hi, I'm [real name]. We're kind of related, more or less--your father and my ex-sister-in-law have been hanging out with each other for the last couple of years. It's nice to meet you."

Nope--I can't imagine it, either.

Situation: Awkward to the nth degree. I heard this "rumor" many months ago, and shouldn't even have asked, but curiosity finally got the better of me.

P. S. Lead guitarists, don't even ask--I have no idea whether the party in question is aware of his father's relationship with my ex-sister-in-law, and it's not my place to break the news.

Free artwork

Little leaves, green
And flower buds, white
Against a lovely blue sky, bright
in the full sunlight
Such beauty, there for all to see,
literally priceless, free,
makes my spirit soar
Give me more
days like today,
Hashem, I pray

That'll be 1 lamb, 2 birds, please: The literal price of "sin"

Yesterday, because of the vagaries of the Jewish calendar, we read a "double parsha, " that is, two parshiot (a parsha is a weekly Torah reading), namely, Parshat Tazria and Parshat Metzora, Leviticus chapter 12, verse 1-chapter 15, verse 33. Here's last year's post on what's probably one of my least favorite sections of the Torah.

I'm working with the Hertz Chumash here, so please pardon the translations, which are a bit old-fashioned.

Re childbirth (Parshat Tazria, Vayikra/Leviticus chapter 12)
"6. And when the days of her purification are fulfilled, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtle-dove, for a sin-offering (chatat) . . ."

Giving birth is a sin (chet)?

"8. And if her means suffice not for a lamb, then she shall take two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt-offering, and the other for a sin-offering . . . "

"Tsk, tsk, what a pity that poor Miriam can't afford a lamb--Sarah always brings a lamb." Can you imagine what a whole lamb would cost? Zeesh, why don't we just humiliate literally-poor Miriam in public by making her parade her poverty through the streets of Yerushalayim, all the way to the gates of the Bet HaMikdash/Holy Temple? Now you now why I'm adamantly opposed to "card-calling," the practice of calling out potential donors' names at a fund-raiser and making them announce publicly the amount that they're pledging.

Okay, I'm going to get lazy and just link you to Mechon-Mamre for the texts.

Parshat Metzora, Leviticus chapter 14, verses 1-6: So let me get this straight--in order to be declared cleansed from leprosy (or whatever "tzoraat" really is, there being some debate about the translation), the "leper" has to let a cohen (priest) take two birds, kill one, and dip the living bird in the dead one's blood?!

Parshat Metzora, Leviticus chapter 15, verses 25-30:
If a woman "spots" between periods, she has to have a cohen sacrifice a bird as a sin-offering (chatat).

1. It's a "sin" (chet) for a woman to "spot?"

2. The cohen earns a living from her "sin?" (As my husband said in response to yesterday's k'riah [reading], Judaism has a caste system. In the old days, we supported the Leviim [Levites] by paying tithes and the Cohanim [Priests] by bringing sacrifices.)

With apologies to my more traditional readers for possibly causing offense, I honestly don't understand why Orthodox Jews pray sincerely (I just pray as a quote, out of respect) for the literal restoration of the sacrificial system. For openers, why should an animal pay for my sin? I think that "teshuvah, u-tefillah, u-tzedakah/repentance, prayer, and charity" (see the Machzor l'Yamim Noraim/High Holiday Prayer Book, U-n'taneh Tokef section) are vastly better ways to atone. For closers, why are some perfectly natural, normal, necessary, and/or unavoidable human bodily functions deemed sins for which we must literally pay?

Friday, April 20, 2007


A flowering tree
And, there, windblown, among the blossoms,
A plastic shopping bag
A tag
of desecration
against the G-d of all creation.
Must this be?


Putting words in someone else's mouth

Naturally, because it's Sefirah, and I'm not listening to instrumental music (for the time being--I may change my mind), I'm thinking about a song.

And I'm thinking that there may be some advantages to being a Jewish songwriter . . . but only if you stick to the pre-written texts. You'll never find yourself in this rather dubious position--sitting there, shtum (silent), strumming your guitar, while the other person sings about the guy/gal who broke your heart.

Maybe I just don't understand the creative process. How can you write a love song for someone else to sing?

A conflict of halachot, or . . . ?

The other day, a co-worker and I were talking about the horrifying events at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in which an emotionally-deranged student massacred 32 people (students and faculty members) in a meticulously-planned mass murder-suicide.

One of the dead is Holocaust-survivor Liviu Librescu, an Engineering Science and Mechanics Department professor, last seen blocking the classroom door in an attempt to save his students, many of whom escaped almost-certain death by jumping out the second-story window. The killer, y'mach sh'mo (may his name be blotted out) shot him dead right through the door.

My co-worker expressed reservations about the nature of Prof. Librescu's sacrifice. "It was a suicide." (Suicide is forbidden by halachah, Jewish religious law).

"Yes, but he saved all those people."

"But do we know whether any of them were Jewish?"

I was so shocked that I just stood there with my jaw hanging open, stunned into silence.

Finally, I managed to snarl, "What does that have to do with anything?," and stormed away.

Another co-worker who'd overhead me took the first opportunity to ask why I'd raised my voice. When I told her what co-worker A had said, her jaw dropped, too.

Later that day, when I'd had time to cool down and consider an appropriate, and, I hoped, convincing response, I found an opportunity to speak to co-worker A again, and said, "Hashem m'rachem al habriyot (the L-rd has compassion on the creatures [of His creation])--why don't you?" She hedged, saying, "Of course, it was a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of The Name [of G-d])."

I'm not sure whether it's exactly a halachah, a Jewish religious law, to sanctify G-d's name under such circumstances, but it comes darned close. I'd like to believe that co-worker A was sincerely conflicted between the law against suicide and the principle of sanctifying The Name, but . . .

It doesn't seem to have occurred to co-worker A that bigotry is a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of The Name. It also seems to have escaped her notice that the Torah commands us to love the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

(Link>) Chartreuse

Bright green leaves a-way up high
shout "Joy!" against the sunny sky

"Halleluhu . . . etz pri v'chol arazim"*
Days like this are like a waking dream
Praise the Maker ba-m'romim

*Psalm 148: "Praise Him . . . fruit trees and all cedars . . . "

ba-m'romim--in the exalted heights

This is the first poem written on the subway in the new notebook. I need one with a spiral-bound top, though--I need to be able to flip the pages easily.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

This evening's view from the elevated subway train

Fluffy coral clouds float in a pale blue sky
In just about half an hour, the sun will say goodby

('Tis long gone, but it took me a while to get home
and post this miniature tome :) )

Man, I gotta start carryin' a notebook--this is something like the fourth poem I've written in my head on the subway since roughly February (and the third one today). The original draft of that February one is still on the only scrap of paper I could find in my backpack at the time.


Too much information :)

This changeable weather is so annoying
It really gets my goat
I was so overdressed on the way home from work
That my sweat could have floated a boat

Okay, go ahead and fire away
Even I would have to say
Such foolishness probably takes the prize
as the single most tasteless post of the day
But I couldn't resist hitting "Publish" anyway :)

Just let this blogger
have an occasional guilty pleasure
And I promise that my next poem will be better

See above--
the next one's dainty as a dove.


"Baby greens"

Tiny bright green leaves on bushes--
Baby leaves on baby trees
Designed by the Divine to please

Designed min d’Oraita to please

Min d'Oraita--from heaven

Pick one. "Divine" just works better in the poem.)

Correction: Bob commented "oraita = "Torah". Oh well, it was a good try.

Looks like "the Divine"
will just have to be fine. :)


Rosh Chodesh music fest

I spent the evening listening to the Moshav Band's latest recording, "Misplaced." I thought Elf's logic made sense (see comments to this post)--you can't say Hallel and mourn at the same time. As my favorite quote from Hallel says, "Ze hayom asah HaShem, nagilah v'nism'chah bo, This is the day that the L-rd made, let's rejoice and be glad on it."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sh'chorah ani v'navah :) *

The Maggid of Bergenfield presents The Chocoholic's Song of Songs. Read it and drool (between giggles). :)

Oops--the link's not working: It takes you to the right blog but not directly to that post. Just scroll down to the April 08, 2007 post.

*Okay, okay, I'll behave myself: See chapter one, verse five. Sure sounds like dark chocolate to me. :)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Our turn: Major errors on the USCJ calendar

Speaking of errors, my husband pointed out last night that the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's calendar displayed incorrect dates for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel Remembrance Day for Soldiers), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day)--all were listed as taking place a day too late.

Sigh--I've already sent an e-mail to the USCJ.

Thursday, April 19 correction:
Commenter Bob is partially correct: "Earlier this year the Israeli rabbinate announced that these three holidays should be postponed by one day each from their calendar date so that their observance would not conflict with the end of shabbat."

The USCJ in their reply received via e-mail on Tuesday, April 17 (see copy below), said that it was the Israeli government that had made the change, as Agnoxodox reminded me in posting that link in the comments. Does that mean that it wasn't the rabbinate's idea? One never knows, in Israel. Either way, I still don't understand why the change was made. Why should Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron be postponed to prevent them from beginning right after havdalah when neither Tisha B'Av nor Purim, both also later-established holidays, is ever so rescheduled (to the best of my knowledge)? What's the problem with mourning on a Saturday night?

Agnoxodox's answer: Security preparations would have had to begin on Shabbat. Okay, now I understand.

This year's art/engagement calendar lists the correct dates for Yom HaShoah, which was yesterday, Yom HaZikaron, next Monday, and Yom Ha'Atzmaut, next Tuesday. Our small calendary diary does n fact have the dates wrong -- in that calendar they are lsited for Sunday, Sunday, and Monday.

That's because the government of Israel changed the dates of the commemorations this year, after the calendar diary had gone to print but before the art/engagement calendar was sent to the printer. The government made that choice so that neither Yom HaShoah orr Yom Hakiron would begin right after havdalah.

The change in dates had nothing to do with editorial control, stringent or otherwise.

I am copying the relevant paragraph from our most recent United Synagogue Review:

Changing Dates on Our Pocket Calendar

The Israeli government has changed the dates of this year’s observances of Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut. The change was made in order to keep Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron from beginning on Saturday night, just as Shabbat ends, and of course Yom HaAtzmaut is the day after Yom HaZikaron, so a change to one is a change to the other. This year, Yom HaShoah will be Monday, April 16, Yom HaZikaron will be on Monday, April 23, and Yom HaAtzmaut will be Tuesday, April 24. The change came too late for our pocket calendar to be amended, although our Art/Engagement calendar, which was printed later, is correct.

Thanks for taking the trouble to write.

With best wishes,

Joanne Palmer
United Synagogue Review
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
212.533.7800, ext. 2601 or direct at 646-519-9320
646 519-9388 (fax)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

(Link>) Aiding Shoah surviors since 1939

The link embedded in the title is that of an organization that introduced itself at our community Holocaust Commemoration.

Six Yahrzeit lights are burning on a metal tray on our dining room table, in accordance with our family's minhag (custom).

I'll say no more, and let a survivor speak for herself.

Azaleas in the pouring rain

Make a colorful refrain
Abloom to break the gloom

(Oops--methinks they weren't azales
As usual, my knowledge of flower names fails)
[Sunday, April 29, 2007 correction]


A major error by the OU

This past Shabbat (Sabbath) afternoon, Saturday, April 13, my husband pointed out this conflicting opinion on Sabbath candle-lighting time for the previous evening:

Orthdox Union "Z'manim" (times) page: 7:32 PM (Yes, I have my weekly pre-Shabbat print-out to prove it.)

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism calendar: 7:13 PM

Eek! So did we light the Shabbat candles on time or not?

I just went back to the Z'manim page and checked out April 13, 2007. The candle-lighting time has been corrected to 7:14 PM. A lot of good that does, after the fact.

My husband says that, from now on, we should check two different sources for candle-lighting time, and not rely on the OU Z'manim page exclusively. Sadly, I don't think we have much choice. Oh, well, even the rabbinim (rabbis) have been known to make mistakes.

I've just sent a slightly-edited version of this post to the OU via their "feedback" e-mail form. It's possible that there was a computer glitch and they didn't even know about the error. Now that they know, I hope that they'll take steps to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

It's tulip time

The flowers are sublime
They cheer my heart in this chill clime
But I want a warm and sunny day
I'm tired of all the rain and gray
I want to go outside and play
It's springtime, darn it--winter, go away!

On the last day of Pesach, I was in Manhattan, davvening (praying) at Ansche Chesed. It occurred to me that, since one is permitted to carry in public on a holiday (provided that it isn't also a Sabbath), I could take the opportunity to go for a walk in my favorite parts of Riverside Park. As luck would have it, my favorite spots are a) right around the 96th Street playground, under the trees, and b) the promenade down by the Hudson River (which is on the west side of the West Side Highway), but the Upper Manhattan Eruv cuts off east of the West Side Highway, and while it extends considerably farther north outside of Riverside Park, cuts off at 95th Street inside the park. Well, famous last words. The flowers are in bloom, but the leaves are not really out yet, so the trees still looked bare, and--my luck--it was too cold for me to sit by the river for too long.

Next chag is Shavuot, and it might be too hot
I really hope not

For the time being, though, I can forget about that warm and sunny day--it's going to be pouring buckets for the next three days. !#$%!!!!!!

We already have May's flowers
I'm tired of April showers!


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thoughts on prayer (links to this series)

Apparently, I'm on a roll today, which is not such a bad thing, so soon after Pesach. :) I hope you find these posts interesting reading.

The key

Internal consistency

Aiming a bit high, to say the least

HaShem, close my lips

Ani (lo) maamin

Binyan olam

Friday, May 4, 2007 addition:
Karov Hashem l'chol kor'av?

Binyan olam

"V'liY'rushalayim ircha b'rachamim tashuv, v'tishkon b'tochah, kaasher dibarta. U-v'nei otah, b'karov, b'yameinu, binyan olam, v'chisei David m'heirah l'tochah tachin.

And to Jerusalem, Your city, in compassion, return, and dwell in its midst, as You spoke. And build it, soon, in our day, an eternal structure, and the seat of David quickly establish." (Translation approximate.)

This magnificent obsession has helped preserve the Jewish people lo these 2,000 years or so.

I've recently come to understand that this belief (which I don't share) in the coming of Mashiach Ben David (the Messiah, Son [Descendant] of David), the return to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), and the rebuilding of the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple) is the "security blanket" of the Jewish People.

In additon to the problem that I don't hold this belief, it also comes with baggage--baggage with which I'm not entirely comfortable.

"L'fanecha, HaShem, yichr'u v'yipolu, Before You, L-ord, may they bend the knee and fall (prostrate) . . . " (Aleinu)

Perhaps it's unavoidable, to a certain extent. Perhaps it's part of the human psyche to believe that one's own way is the best way, the only way, that all others should drop what they're doing and join.

The problem, of course, is that the other guy also thinks his way is the only way.

We want our binyan olam, our eternal structure. We hope for it all day. (Li-y'shuatcha kivinu kol hayom.)

But can't we have our security blanket without tearing it out of the hands of others?

See also some related thoughts of mine from one of my earliest posts.

Ani (lo) maamin

Speaking of paying attention to what I'm saying when I'm praying . . .


Let's take it from the top, folks.

" . . . u'meivi goel, He will bring a redeemer . . ."

I don't believe.

" . . . m'chayei hameitim, He restores life to the dead . . ."

I don't believe.

" . . . rofei cholei amo Yisrael, Who heals the sick of his people Israel."

Well, like chicken soup, it can't hurt, but why only the Jewish ill?

"V'hasheiv et ha-avodah li-d'vir beitecha, restore the (sacrificial) service to (d'vir means what, exactly?) Your house . . ."

I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in the restoration of the sacrificial system. Personally, I think prayer is a great improvement.

Not to mention, leaving the Amidah aside for the moment, the infamous (for someone who still has half a foot in the Reconstructionist Movement) ". . . asher bachar banu . . . , who has chosen us . . ."

Nope, I'm not big on the Chosen People concept, either.

So much for perfect faith.

As my first rabbi in New York advised, if I can't believe, I consider it a quote and say it anyway, out of respect for my ancestors. Sorry, but that's the best I can manage.

HaShem, close my lips

". . . v'limkal'lai nafshi tidom, and to those who insult/curse me, let my soul be silent" (from Elokai N'tzor, after the Amidah).

I'm tired. Tired of insulting people and tired of being insulted. That's one of the reasons why I'm spending so much time praying at Ansche Chesed--it seems I'm always getting myself into some argument or the other at my local synagogue. I confess that much of my problem has come about because of my own arrogance--I didn't endear myself to my fellow (and, especially, sister) congregants by being publicly disrespectful to our current rabbi. Never mind that he and I will never see eye to eye on much of anything--there's simply no excuse for being obnoxious. I did apologize to him before Yom Kippur and ask for his forgiveness, but I think it was too little, too late. I now have an unfortunately-well-deserved reputation for rudeness which, added to my minority perspective on women's participation in synagogue ritual, has made me feel even less welcome now than I felt three or four years ago.

So I'm trying to see whether just learning to shut up and take whatever grief people care to dish out to me, or, perhaps, not taking some of the "insults of the moment" so much to heart, will improve my perspective, not to mention my reputation. A couple of days ago, I got up on the bima and led Ashrei for the first time since the "gunfight at the OU corral." One of the women who'd given me grief on that occasion was not there (which is one of the reason why I was finally persuaded to volunteer), but the other one was, and I was pleasantly surprised when she shook my hand afterward. There's something to be said for silence, and letting trouble die down, rather than stirring it up.

". . . to those who insult me, let my soul be silent." This is another prayer that I must learn to take not only seriously, but, perhaps, sometimes, depending on the circumstances, literally, as well.

Aiming a bit high, to say the least

As I said in the previous post, "The words found in our siddur (prayer book) . . . have the power to influence our thought patterns and/or behavior, if we let them, if we pay attention to what we're saying."

So how about this one:

" . . . u'k'doshim b'chol yom y'hal'lucha, sela, and holy ones every day laud You, sela." (Amidah)

Okay, you can say that the term "holy ones" refers to angels and the like (ofanim and chayot hakodesh, not to mention seraphim, whatever any of these terms means). But if you're not such a believer in angels and the like . . .

I'm stuck. Since I don't believe in angels, I haven't much choice but to apply this phrase to myself. "K'doshim," holy ones?? How on earth is a mortal being supposed to become a holy one??! Mitzvot bein adam l'Makom, commandments between a person and G-d (such as keeping kosher), are hard enough. But mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro, commandments between a human and another human (chaveiro--his/her companion, friend, or, depending on context, study partner)? This year, I didn't even remember to give maot chitim (rough literal translation "wheat money," meaning a contribution to help the poor celebrate Passover)! How's a thoughtless, egocentric person like me supposed to achieve holiness? How am I supposed to live up to this statement?

By comparison, praying three times a day is easy.

I'm really going to have to work on this one.

Internal consistency

In recent years, the thought has come to me that, if I ever became observant (by either Orthodox or Conservative definition), it would be because of this: ". . . vaasitem et kol mitzvotai, vi'h'yitem k'doshim l'elokeichem, and you will do all My commandments, and you will be holy to your G-d."

The words found in our siddur (prayer book), whether quoted from the various books of the Torah (Bible, and by extension, later rabbinic literature) or written expressly for prayer, have the power to influence our thought patterns and/or behavior, if we let them, if we pay attention to what we're saying.

There's a reason why, since Rosh Chodesh Adar, I've been making an effort to pray three times a day plus the Bedtime Sh'ma, even on Sundays (so much for my only day to sleep late ):). Again, it's the siddur. How can I say, ". . . erev v'voker b'chol yom tamid, paamayim b'ahavah, Sh'ma omrim, evening and morning, every day always, twice, with love, they say the Sh'ma" unless I actually say it every evening and every morning? "Ashreinu sheh-anachnu mashkimim u'maaravim, erev vavoker, v'omrim paamayim b'chol yom, 'Sh'ma . . .' Happy are we that we arrive early and stay late, evening and morning, and say, twice every day, 'Sh'ma.'" I'd been feeling more and more like a hypocrite--I prefer to do what I say that I'm doing.

The key

One fine day, some months ago, I was reciting the response to Kaddish, on auto-pilot, as always, when it suddenly dawned on me that I actually understood the words.

"Y'hei sh'mei rabba m'varach . . . .

May Your great name be blessed . . .

l'alam u-l'olmei olmaya . . .

. . . (roughly) forever and forever"

So I started trying to listen to the rest of it. That's virtually impossible during Kaddish Shalem (Full Kaddish), because (at least in the Ashkenazi nusach) it's sung at top speed. But during Chatzi Kaddish (Half Kaddish) or, sometimes, when they say Kaddish Yatom (Mourner's Kaddish) slowly, the slower speed enables me to translate from Aramaic into English without looking at the translation.

"Blessed and praised and glorified and exalted (extolled?) and er, 'yitnasei'?, beautified (?), um, elevated?, and lauded be Your holy name, blessed is It (the Name), above all blessings and songs/poems, er, praises (?), and consolations that are said (?) in the world (?), and let us say Amen.

So that's what it means!

I was unable to continue with my Ulpan Hebrew class (long story), but those few recent semesters of Hebrew have made a world of difference.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Hair Surgery" :)

David Bogner, of Treppenwitz, just posted about family traditions and stories that one wants to pass on to one's children and grandchildren--he wrote out the lyrics of a song that his wife used to sing at their children's bathtime, so that her version wouldn't be forgotten. So here's one for our grandchild(ren), assuming that we ever have the good fortune.

When the Son-ster was a pre-schooler, his favorite bath-time game with his father was one that he dubbed "hair surgery." It consisted of filling a "bucket" (usually a recycled cottage-cheese container) with water and dumping it on Daddy's head. :) My husband still cherishes fond memories of this "surgical procedure." :)

Thanks for the idea, Trep.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, chapter 2, verse 4: . . . " v'diglo alai ahavah, and his banner over me was love."

You're 58 years old, you've been married for almost 30 years, and it took you this long to figure out what that meant?!

Shira, you idiot!


(In my defense, some translations are just plain fabricated: ". . . he looks at me with love." Huh? Even I know (now) that "diglo" ("his banner") is a noun, not a verb! Cowards! Censorship!

Cramping my style

There I was, sitting on the couch at the Shir HaShirim song-a-thon when I suddenly got a terrible leg cramp and had to stand up for the rest of the "show." I've had a bazillion cramps in my lower extremities over the years--in my toes, feet, calves, and thighs--but this was a first: Never before have I had a cramp in the inside (as opposed to the usual back) of my thigh. No matter how I moved, I couldn't figure out how to stretch that muscle enough to get it to stop cramping. I finally gave up and just started limping around the apartment. Yes, I've already tried quinine sulfate--it lost its effectiveness after a few months and aggravated my occasion dizziness problems (the poor Hubster married a dizzy dame :) ), so I gave it up. Any other suggestions would be appreciated.

And that was on my good leg. I'm still having some trouble standing for long periods of time on the other one from having aggrevated the surgical site, which is not responding very well to twice-daily ice packs and anti-inflammatories. My husband suggested that perhaps it wasn't so much the folk dancing that had created the problem as the shoes in which I dance. I think he's right--they're comfortable, but too loose, and all that sliding around in my shoes may have cause the inflammation. It seems likely that there'll be a cortisone shot (which I'd really like to avoid) and a pair of real dancing shoes in my future. Any suggestions for (A) curing the inflammation without a cortisone shot, which I've heard bad things about, and (B) real dancing shoes (place and type) would be appreciated.

Too pooped to party

Our first seder (at our local synagogue) ended at 11:30. That was just for the three and a half of us who actually stayed to sing most of the songs that come after "chasul siddur Pesach," the "official" end of the seder. I don't think the cantor had ever before heard Chad Gadya with sound effects--"woof woof" for the kalba (dog), meow for the chutra (cat), baaaa for the gadya (kid, meaning baby goat), etc.--and he certainly seemed to be getting a kick out of them. Thanks to our 2nd-seder's then-kids for teaching us that minhag/custom. It's fun to be a little silly after all that seriousness.

Speaking of the second seder and the former kids (both of whom were there), we got home from that one at about 1 AM, after lots of singing and talking, about the seder and otherwise. (The baalat habayit and I go way back--I've known her for longer than I've known my husband). We had a wonderful time.

On Friday night, we got home at about 1 AM after having a delightful Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach (roughly, the Sabbath that's on an Intermediate Day of Passover) dinner and yack with some friends.

Yesterday, I went to a "Shir HaShirim Songfest" at which we sang just about every song we could think of--folk, Israeli-folkdance, choral, whatever, in Hebrew, English, and even one in Latin--from the Song of Songs, which was read in synagogue yesterday, Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, at Shacharit (Morning Service), in accordance with tradition. Since the chap running the show was very happy to say that he usually learned a new song at every Shir HaShirim "marathon," I contributed a solo (a cappela, of course) of Chaim Dovid's "Brach Dodi," from MOChassid's "U'Shmuel B'korei Sh'mo" CD. The host said it was a beautiful setting, with which I heartily agree.

I left while they were still singing, and still got home too late for Mincha (Afternoon Service). (From now one, I'll have to remember that, if I hang around after kiddush long enough to get to someone's house in mid-afternoon, I should do Mincha before I leave the shul.) But by the time I was finished Maariv (the Evening Service) and havdalah (the prayer to end the Sabbath formally), I felt like a limp, not to mention limping (see next post) dish-rag. So, instead of going to the Klezmatics concert, I hit the sack (with a resounding thud) at 10. I must be gettin' old, or somethin'. Oh, well.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A "Three Stooges" seder at the RenReb's

Go here for a good chuckle. Pajamas, anyone? :)

Sefirah: Holding by a heter?

See also Sefira confusion, not to mention my "Carlebach clause" post on Sefirah.

The other night, after Mincha/Maariv (Afternoon and Evening Services), the rabbi gave a standing-on-one-foot rundown of the rules for Sefirah. No haircuts, no weddings, no live music. Some listen to recorded music. (Elie said the same thing in a recent comment. Hmm.) Some say there’s a heter (permission, leniency?) for live music during Chol HaMoed. I’ll take it! Klezmatics concert, here I come!

But seriously, folks, the more I think about the mourning customs of Sefirah, the less sense they make, especially for those who observe the “early” mourning period (Pesach through Lag B’Omer) as opposed to the “later” mourning period (Lag B’Omer until, um, Rosh Chodesh Sivan?). To the best of my knowledge, we don’t say the Tachanun repentance prayer during the entire month of Nissan, in which Passover takes place, because we’re rejoicing in our liberation from slavery. How can we rejoice and mourn at the same time, as a people? (As individuals, obviously, a death in the family can take place at any time.) Then, too, as DovBear points out in this post on Sefirah, why do we mourn for a month for the victims of (depending on your opinion) the plague in Rabbi Akiva’s time or the victims of the European blood libels and pogroms, and only one day for the victims of the Shoah (Holocaust)? Some say that the victims of the Shoah should be remembered on Tisha B’Av, the traditional day of mourning for the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people since the destruction of the Temples. Why, then, should the victims of earlier tragedies not be commemorated on Tisha B’Av? Three weeks (plus a few miscellaneous fast days) for the destruction of the Temples, a month for the victims of the pogroms, and one day for the victims of the Shoah?

I’m seriously considering returning to my previous custom of observing only the restriction against getting a haircut between Pesach and Lag B’Omer (at least in private--not sure what to do about work). Your thoughts/interpretations, etc. would be appreciated.

The sandwich generation at the seder

When you have young kids, you have to make your seder short and sweet, lest the wee ones get too antsy and/or fall asleep, literally.

It turns out that seniors prefer their seders short and sweet, as well, because they’re not fond of walking home at midnight. And, unlike little kids, they might find it slightly undignified to sleep on the floor.

So if you want a seder where’s there’s lots of discussion and lots of singing, it pays to have it with folks from 14 to 74 (roughly).

Not always easy to arrange. Besides, it’s important to teach our kids, and to make memories for them, as well.

But while our shul seder is run on a stopwatch (or tries to be), our seder with our old friend, whose youngest is 22, is now at the “we have time for commentary” stage.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Bonfire of the Vanities (so to speak)

There's something to be said for tossing the chametz into the backyard garbage can, throwing newspaper on top, and starting a bonfire that attracts every kid on the block. I have fond memories of my father's annual chametz burn-a-thon. Our son definitely missed out on that--there's no drama in dumping the chametz down the compactor chute. (Boring.)

On that note, here are some last-minute links. Enjoy The PT's percussion-enhanced rehearsal for the Four Questions ("Ma Nishtanah") and the video that inspired this post, Mark's/PT's parody masterpiece (from last year) on the Four Children, plus a little last-second music before Sefirah.

And now, for a thirty-second nap before the synagogue's seder.

But first, let me (and TorontoPearl) leave you with this wish: Happy Pesach to all, and to all a good night.

Rabbi Student's Pesach quote & post

See "The Festival of Faith, " by Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, and Rabbi Gil Student's own "Barebones Seder."

More Pesach reading (this by DovBear)

And don't forget to check out the links in his Chaval Siddur Pesach post, too. Thanks, DB!

Sign up for Sefirah reminder (thanks--I need that)

Strongly recommended: Sign up for the OU Sefirah reminder email. If not for this daily reminder, I'd never have gotten through the entire count last year without missing a day.

Pesach kasher v'sameach--A kosher and happy Passover! Enjoy your sedarim (seders).

Passover reading (courtesy of Elf)

Now that I've decided to throw caution to the wind (to a certain extent) and blog (as discretely as possible) from the office, I’ve found that I’m writing more and reading less. So I promised myself that I would make the rounds of the blogs today and not post. But the links posted here make such good Yom Tov reading material (assuming you’re still awake after a Seder or two) that I thought you should know about them, so that you could print them out in advance. Thanks, Elf!
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