Friday, October 31, 2008

On not wishing to stand out like a sore thumb :(

I was really tickled when I saw MOChassid's announcement of a Yosef Karduner concert in a synagogue in his area tomorrow night. But my husband doesn't want to go to concerts in the mostly-(right-wing?)-Orthodox Five Towns anymore. "I don't belong there," he said. As disappointed as I am about missing the concert, I can imagine how he must have felt the last time we went to one there, when he was just about the only guy in the room wearing both a colored shirt and a colored kippah s'rugah. Ironically, Ms. Tallit-and-Tefillin-Wearing Egalitarian can "pass," but he can't.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jewish guilt--our son re Adam and Eve

I keep forgetting to post this at the right time (around Shabbat B'reshit, when the story of Adam and Eve is read). It's actually from an e-mail that I saved several years ago in Word.

Subject: Jewish guilt

Date: Sunday, March 09, 2003 3:16 AM

[Our son] and [his dear olde dad] had an interesting conversation tonight on the subject of western attitudes toward the human body. [Our son] insisted that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all uptight about the body because of the story of Adam and Eve. He finds it very noteworthy that the first thought that came to Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit was that they were naked and that that was bad, and wants to know why the fact that they were nude would make them feel guilty rather than the fact that they had disobeyed God. [Dear olde dad] attempted to explain to him that one had to look at the context, which is that Judaism was trying to get away from pagan practices. But [our son] insisted that those who take the Bible literally don't care about context--as far as they're concerned, if the Bible says that nudity is bad, then nudity is bad. I was going to chime in about the psychological explanation being that Adam and Eve had been "children," but had grown enough to develop sexual awareness, which would account for the more-rapidly-maturing female being the first to become curious, but I concluded that he would have said that the literalists would reject that explanation as well, which is probably true. (A little P'shat can be a dangerous thing. :) ) This discussion was the highlight of his time home between academic quarters, as far as I'm concerned.

!#$%^&*!!!!!!!!!! meetings!

It seems as if I have a meeting practically every week, lately, and tonight's is keeping me from going to the Soul Farm/Moshav concert. Major bummer. :(

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Doesn't anyone speak English anymore? :(


First, there was the subway advertisement for "The School of Allied Health." Um, hello, doesn't the name of that school have one word missing? Wouldn't it make more sense to call it the School of Allied Health Sciences?

Then, there was the radio ad for a "Graduate Open House for Education." Grammatically, that's just plain inside out, in my opinion. I think that the college in question was trying to advertise an Open House for Graduate Studies in Education.

Even my sister-in-law, whose kids went to allegedly excellent schools, complained that American children are not being taught grammar anymore. My grammar is better than my son's. Why?

Why is it now common to hear grammatical errors from news anchors, and even to read them in the so-called "paper of record," The New York Times? These kinds of errors would have been unthinkable forty years ago. What's become of the teaching of the English language in the United States? Why is poor grammar now so common that I fear it's becoming acceptable?

Bloggers, beware. There are still a few of us left who know darned well when you're making grammatical and/or spelling errors. Not only does it drive me nuts, it flabbergasts me that some bloggers are so indifferent that they don't even care that they're displaying their own ignorance to a worldwide audience.

For the record, I've certainly made my share of errors, human that I am. But, if I find an error in a recent or old post of mine, which sometimes happens when I go back to reread, check comments, or create a link from an old post to a new one, I correct the error, even if it's been up on the 'Net for several years. The bloggers who drive me nuts are the ones who make errors so often that it's clear that they don't care, (or, dan l'kaf z'chut, to give the benefit of the doubt, those whose yeshiva education in the English language was so poor that they don't know the difference, which doesn't say much for their teachers.) When you write a blog post, you're not having a casual conversation (as you would be if you were Instant Messaging,"Twittering," or the like), you're writing, and your readers should be able to tell the difference.

Monday, October 27, 2008

More fall foliage photos

Seems to be my favorite tree :)

Bush ablaze

Golden glory

Last hurrah

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Garbage in, garbage out

Newer and/or more patient readers of my blog may be interested in finding out what I do for a living.

Sometimes all goes well, and sometimes it doesn't.

A few years ago, I was asking to edit several documents being sent to some outside organizations. I had to correct almost all the punctuation on one document, and correct numerous omissions on another. A word to the wise: Don't use abbreviations in official documents being sent to persons whom you don't know, as you can't assume that everyone knows what the abbreviations mean. Also, those from the New York City metropolitan area would do well to remember that, since New York is, ya know, a state, not just a city, it's hardly sufficient to type "New York" as the only words indicating a location.

The document that I completed today takes some kind of a prize for the most poorly edited document on which I've ever had the extremely dubious privilege of working. We found out almost by accident, while seeking other information, that some of the information we'd been given hadn't been valid for several months. Getting updated and correct information out of the person in charge of this particular affiliate was like pulling teeth--I don't think I've ever heard my boss and the project director spend so much time on a conference call trying to get one individual to answer a few simple questions that could have been answered in mere minutes. And, to top it off, the affiliate's head honcho complained, after I'd e-mailed the completed document, that the document still contained errors, even though the information we used came from documents sent by the affiliate just last week! Zeesh, they couldn't be bothered making the effort to check their own facts? I hate to break it to our affiliates, but if you're gonna put garbage into your document(s) without bothering to tell anyone that it's there, you're gonna get garbage out.

The completed document that we sent back to the affiliate was a vast improvement over the version that they'd sent to us, mostly because some of my colleagues are experts at taking whatever we're given and making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. But doing something the right way without cooperation is a major pain in the butt.

Bi-coastal, of sorts :)

This past summer, I edited and reformatted a more-than-fifty-page document for one of our west-coast affiliates. I just finished doing the same for one of our affiliates on the other west coast--western Europe. I get around. :)

A shocking reminder that we're aging

When I first saw the e-mail, I misread it. "Oh, what a shame that his father died."

Then I looked again.

It wasn't his father who'd died, it was him?

I called my husband over to read the e-mail. He couldn't believe it, either.

The friend who'd passed away was a year younger than my husband.

Apparently, we're now at to the age at which it's almost as likely that the deceased will be a friend as that the deceased will be the friend's parent.

It's a frightening reminder of our mortality.

Update, later the same day:

The funeral was standing room only, as befit a man who'd spent most of his life as a professional classical musician. And the apartment was packed for tonight's shiva minyan, a fitting tribute to a fine man, and, I hope, a comfort to his family.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A slippery slope of the annoying kind

I've heard that, according to halachah/Jewish religious law, a commandment that must be fulfilled more frequently takes precedence over a commandment that must be fulfilled less frequently, under most circumstances. I wish an exception had been been made for putting on the tallit and tefillin. Since a tallit must be worn every day, the ruling is that one must put on the tallit first, then put on the tefillin, which are not worn on Shabbat/Sabbath or Shalosh Regalim (Pilgrimage Festivals). If the person who came up with that ruling were alive today, I'd shoot 'im. Almost every weekday morning, my tallit slides off my shoulders while I'm laying tefillin. This morning, first, the tallit slid off one shoulder, then, just as I was starting to wind the tefillin strap around my arm, it slid off the other shoulder. At that point, I just "lost it," and let fly with a few choice words. This was a double no-no, since I've been told that one isn't supposed to say anything but the brachot/blessings and traditional texts between the time one begins putting on the tallit and the time one finishes putting on the tefillin. So nu, do tallit clips work with a below-the-waist tallit--I refuse to wear one of those "bandaid" tallitot frequently worn in non-Orthodox synagogues--and/or does anyone have a better idea?

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Second Generation": On understanding my rabbi

Sitting around in the synagogue sukkah on Shabbat/Sabbath, I was describing to some fellow and sister congregants my understanding of the rabbi's approach to Judaism--"They're out to get us, and we're not going to take it anymore"--and my dislike for his constant negativism and my wish that he'd discuss something joyful about Judaism more often.

"You don't understand," said a sister congregant. "You were born here, and your parents were born here. They don't know what it was like to live through the Holocaust. My parents didn't live through the Holocaust either, but I know that when they cry on Tisha B'Av, they're not just crying for the destruction of the Temple--they're also crying for the lives they left behind." [Her family was expelled from a Muslim country when she was a young child, and she was raised in a maabarah (see photo here)]. My grandparents used to try to tell us about the lynchings, and my parents would whisper in Hebrew, 'Shush, don't talk about it in front of the children!' Because of his mother, it's a central part of his identity. You just don't understand."

I guess I don't. Maybe I've misjudged.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Too much stuff, not enough hands, + oops = ouch

This morning, I forgot to take off my tefillin before Hallel. Have you ever tried to hold a lulav, an etrog, and a siddur (prayer book) while wearing tefillin? Good luck. It certainly didn't do my carpal tunnel syndrome any good, lemme tell ya--ouch, literally. Maybe, in addition to showing respect for the holiday, there's a practical reason for taking off tefillin before reciting the Hallel on Chol HaMoed Sukkot.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Making a spectacle of ourselves :(

Friday morning, my husband, who's fortunate enough to have a more flexible work schedule than I have, took our Shabbat/Sabbath dinner to our local synagogue so that we could eat it in the shul's sukkah without carrying our food there on Shabbat (which is prohibited in a neighborhood without an eruv). Imagine our chagrin when, after Arvit/Maariv (the Evening Service), we went into the sukkah with the other folks who'd attended services to make kiddush and discovered that, for the first time, we would be the only ones eating Shabbat dinner there. Not even the rabbi's or cantor's families were there, and no, neither family has its own sukkah. With only the kindly Shabbos goy keeping us company, we did a quick Birkat HaMazon/Grace after Meals so that the poor fellow could turn off the lights and go home.

Next year, Sukkot begins on Shabbat, so there won't be a Shabbat Chol HaMoed on which we must eat in the sukkah. (We don't always eat in a sukkah on nights when we're not required to eat bread/make a motzi, but, when not eating in a sukkah, we avoid all grain products except corn [which is considered a vegetable, not a grain, in Jewish law], so as not to eat grain products outside of the sukkah.) But, in future years in which there's a Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, we'll try to arrange to eat dinner in a friend's sukkah or in another synagogue's sukkah. It's a sad business when one has to hop on a subway and/or train to enjoy a Yom Tov because there's no real community left in one's own community.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The irony is not lost on me

The photo on the front page of the October 17-23, 2008 Manhattan Jewish Sentinel is captioned "Young girls attend a create-a-Torah workshop at the Yeshiva University Museum in New York City to prepare for the Simchat Torah holiday." I can't help thinking that the make-believe Torah scrolls that the yeshiva-uniformed girls are holding may well be the only Torah scrolls they'll ever touch in their lives.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

All a-Twitter*

A certain blogger, who will remain nameless, has a link to his/her Twitter page on her/his blog. Okay, I don't really do much of this "online social networking" stuff, but I figured I'd have a look, just to see how it worked.


For openers, I hate to seem anti-social, but, I honestly don't care if you just went to the gym/dropped your kids off at school/are headed for Starbucks/whatever. Do we really need to know what our friends and relatives are doing every minute of every day?

For closers, this strikes me as the functional equivalent of submitting to a personal GPS tracking system, and is way too reminiscent of "Big Brother Is Watching You" for my taste. Why on earth would anyone do this voluntarily?

I just don't get it.


Friday, October 17, 2008 update:

Hey, check this out. I started writing this post before one holiday or the other, but didn't get around to publishing it until yesterday. Look what Brian Blum had to say about Twitter, etc., today.

Riots in Akko (Acre)--two views

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Prayer post, poem, and picture "sandwich"

Early Friday afternoon, October 10, 2008

Same tree from across the street, two days later

Leaves are falling from the trees
Drifting earthward on the breeze
Auburn leaves reach for the sky
Fleeting beauty makes me sigh
Coat-free days I bid goodbye
Brick-red blooms 'gainst a red brick wall
Yet another sign of fall
Another is the coming of Sukkot
(For which folks in colder climes may already need a coat)
But first, see Elie's post right here
Making Ushpizin order a bit more clear
(Also, I don't want to make a scene
So you're forewarned--this Sukkot post of mine is at best PG-13)
Then feel free to use my posters on the walls of your sukkah
To one and all, Moadim l'Simchah!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My "G'mar Chatimah Tovah" story :)

Some years ago, when I was a relatively new employee of the Orthodox non-profit organization for which I work, a co-worker wished me a "G'mar Chasimah Tovah." It took me a whole weekend to "translate" that phrase from Ashkenazi to Sefardi Hebrew pronunciation and figure out what she'd said. :)

G'mar Chatimah Tovah--May you be sealed for a good year (and a blessed one, too, as I said in my previous post), and have an easy fast.

U'vareich sh'nateinu ka-shanim ha-tovot

I've been struck, in the past few days, by the brachah/blessing in the Amidah prayer asking HaShem to "bless our year like the good years." It seems to me particularly meaningful to ask for blessing for a good year just as we begin a new one.

G'mar chatimah tovah/may you be sealed for a good year, and have an easy fast.

HaBocher b'shirei zimrah

(This post is related to my previous one.)

I'm not even sure how to translate the words of prayer in my title.

(Praised [is the One])
  • who chooses musical poems
  • who chooses songs of, er, song (?)
What I do know is that this phrase is in the plural.

So, a while back, it occurred to me, in a rare moment of brilliance, that, since this brachah/blessing closes P'sukei D'Zimrah, maybe it would make sense to say at least two psalms therein, rather than just Ashrei, as a minimum.

A former rabbi of ours had recommended that, if I wanted to chose another psalm to say in P'sukei D'Zimrah in addition to Ashrei , I should choose Psalm 148, Halleluhu min ha-shamayim (praise Him from heaven). I checked out that psalm because he'd recommended it, and found that it was a very nice psalm indeed, so I learned it. But it didn't seem quite logical to say, as my only choice, a psalm that was smack in the middle of what was obviously a group of psalms intended for recitation together. So I chose the last psalm, Psalm 150, the last of the group as well as the final psalm of Sefer Tehillim/The Book of Psalms. I was pleasantly surprised when Rabbi Hammer confirmed that I'd made a good choice.

Bottom line, in my certainly-non-binding and not-particularly-educated opinion: It's not the end of the world if one says Ashrei as the only psalm in P'sukei D'Zimrah. For openers, I don't know that there's any halachic signficance to "b'shirei" being plural, and, for closers, one could make a case that, since Ashrei as currently recited actually includes not only Psalm 145, but also Psalm 84:5 and 144:15 before and Psalm 115:18 after, you've actually said at least bits of other psalms. But if you can, it might be a good idea to sneak in Psalm 150.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

HH, etc.: All prayed out—re “davvening overload”

I suppose I should probably forewarn you that this post will be of interest mainly to those serious about praying. Others may find it a bit technical, Jewishly speaking, and I don't wish to bore you.

The Punster and I had an interesting conversation over Shabbat dinner. I told him that I’d decided to pray a lot of the Yom Kippur services in English, because my efforts to pray the Rosh Hashanah services in Hebrew had been counterproductive, putting a major dent on my kavvanah (focus). It's hard for me to focus on the meaning of words when I don’t understand many of them and am attempting to keep up with the cantor in a language that I don’t read particularly quickly.

My husband said he’s been having similar problems. So we got into a whole discussion about who reads what, and why. I told him that I’d once asked an Orthodox blogger buddy what was the halachic minimum that I could get away with, and that he’d said Birkot HaShachar (Morning Blessings), Baruch Sheh-amar, Ashrei, Yishtabach, the Matbeiah shel Tefillah (the core required parts of the service, from Barchu/Yotzer Or through the Amidah), Ashrei (the repetition thereof after the Matbeiah), Aleinu, and Shir shel Yom/Psalm of the Day. I decided on my own to interpret the basic requirement of Birkot HaShachar to mean reciting all the brachot/blessings in that section of the morning service, meaning from “al n’tilat yadayim” through “gomeil chasadim tovim l’amo Yisrael,” and again from “l’olam y’hei adam” through “m’kadesh et shimcha ba-rabim,” though I know that some “minimalists” start at “asher natan la-sechvi vinah” and finish at "gomeil chasadim tovim l’amo Yisrael.” Here’s my P’sukei D’Zimrah, standing on one foot. (I've been known to davven less of P'sukei D'Zimrah than stated in that linked post on such occasions as forgetting to set the Shabbat alarm clock, or just being too tired to get up when it rang. I was recently told that a rabbi's-kid friend of mine said that one should say at least two psalms before and one psalm after Ashrei for P'sukei D'Zimrah, and, by pure coincidence, that's what I've been doing as my Shabbat and Yom Tov minimum--Psalm 34 [three songs--see paragraph after next] and Psalm 136 ["Hallel HaGadol"] before, because they're special for Shabbat and Yom Tov, and the last Halleluyah psalm, Psalm 150 after, because of its importance as representative of the whole Sefer Tehillim/Book of Psalms.)

(For the record, during these Aseret Y'mei T'shuvah/Ten Days of Repentence, I've followed the advice of my commenters here and added a very brief Selicot service, consisting of "Sh'ma Koleinu and the short Vidui/Confessional [Ashamnu . . .] and ending with "sarnu mi-mitzvotecha . . . ," before Birkot HaShachar. I've also added Avinu Malkeinu and the parts of Tachanun I that would usually say to both Shacharit and Mincha, plus "L'David, Hashem Ori v'Yish'i" to both Shacharit and Arvit/Maariv.)

It was actually our attempts to discuss who did what in P’sukei D’Zimrah, standing on two feet, that got interesting. It turns out that my husband also divides this section into subsections, but his divisions are different from mine. He considers certain psalms to be parts of groups, and will generally say those psalms as a group, whereas I chose my own preferred psalms, to a large extent, because I knew songs written to all or some of the words thereof. He’s more influenced by the structure of the service, whereas I’m more influenced by nusach that I know and/or by Shlomo Carlebach, Mark Skier and his current and former band-mates, Lenny Solomon and Shlock Rock, the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, Debbie Freedman, Blue Fringe, Gershon Veroba, Nochi Kron, Shlomo Katz, Yossi Piamenta, etc. (among other songwriters whose names I don’t know—does anyone known who wrote the tune to “Torat Adoshem Temimah”?).

I’ve already posted previously about the “prayer-overload” problem in my Morning Madness and “Midnight” Madness posts.

I’m curious to know how others who have a serious commitment to prayer but can’t quite manage everything in the book make their choices.

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