Sunday, February 28, 2010

Purim Day--the afternoon and evening were great!

Larry was kind enough to invite us to crash a Seudat Purim at the home of friends. (See the comments to this post.) So off we went to the wilds of Central Jersey, where we received a royal welcome, along with umpteen other guests. The last time I saw a dining room so tightly packed was the last time my parents held a Passover Seder in South Jersey, before they made aliyah. There was a certain amount of wine making the rounds, along with plenty of delicious food; several guests, plus our host, presented divrei Torah; one of the younger guests played several Jewish and non-Jewish tunes on the violin quite well; and there was also plenty of singing, included a Purim song in Ladino sung solo by a female guest and multipart harmony involving host, hostess, and guests both male and female. We had a wonderful time! Rav todot/many thanks to our hosts, and to Larry for arranging for our invitation and driving us from and back to the train station.

Monday, March 1, 2010 update: Here's Larry's Purim report, for your amusement.

Purim Day--the morning was mixed

This morning, not only did we get a decent crowd for Shacharit/Morning Service, we got a minyan early enough that we were able to do the Bar'chu prayer, much to my surprise. The service itself went pretty well, with only a bit of extra speed to the Megillah reading (chanting of the Book of Esther from a megillah/scroll).

But the breakfast afterward was problematic. For openers, between the Torah reading and the Megillah reading, we were running so much later than usual that our regular Sunday noon renters were already getting started while we were still doing Birkat HaMazon/Grace after Meals. For closers, I made the serious tactical error of giving out our Mishloach Manot packages at the table, rather than calling people aside and giving them out privately. The result was that one woman actually asked for a Mishloach Manot package, which I thought was rather chutzpadik (nervy), but made sense, since she thought I was giving one to everyone. I was actually pretty ticked off that the recipients all thought it was so wonderful that my husband and I give out Mishloach Manot packages, but couldn't take the hint when I complained that, in roughly 15 years of giving out Mishloach Manot, we've gotten very few Mishloach Manot packages in return. This year, we got exactly two packages from our sister congregants (none from the fellows). For the record, one of the reasons why I stopped attending our local synagogue on Simchat Torah was that I got tired of feeling like the in-house entertainment--when it got to the point that my husband and I were the only ones dancing, it was time to go elsewhere. I've reached a similar point with Mishloach Manot. Starting next year, the only people who'll be getting nice Mishloach Manot packages, with hamantashen (tri-cornered Purim pastries) and fresh fruit, will be the two people who've returned the kindness almost every Purim. The rest of the congregation is getting cookies and tortilla chips.

Machatzit HaShekel: What I learned this year

The minhag/custom with which we're acquainted is to collect Machatzit HaShekel on Erev Purim (Purim Eve), so I was confused when I heard that the guys at our office's Mincha (Afternoon Service) Minyan (10-man minimum for certain prayers--it's an Orthodox minyan, so they don't count women) collected Machatzit HaShekel on Taanit Esther/the Fast of Esther. But, on the other hand, it occurred to me that we would have a problem this year: We couldn't collect money on Erev Purim because it came right after Shabbat/Sabbath this year, and none of us would have any money with us, since it's forbidden to carry or use money on Shabbat. So when could we collect the Machatzit HaShekel (and, for that matter, the Matanot LaEvyonim/Gifts to the Poor also required for Purim)?

Chabad to the rescue:

"On Taanit Esther - the "fast of Esther," before the Mincha prayer, we give the Machatzit HaShekel. A Machatzit HaShekel is half of the standard currency of that particular country.

• It is customary to give three coins, since the word Terumah (lit. an offering) is mentioned three times in the beginning of Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35). If one did not manage to give it before Mincha, then he can give it after Mincha, or before the Megillah reading on Purim night or before the Megillah reading on Purim morning."

I now have one Kennedy half-dollar (since the minhag in our congregation is to give only one half-"shekel") in my tefillin bag, for use tomorrow morning before the Megillah reading at our local synagogue, where my husband and I have each been chanting a chapter of Megillat Esther/the Scroll ("Book") of Esther for many years.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Purim weekend--thus far, better than expected

Contrary to previous weather forecasts, it was not only not snowing this morning, it was warm enough that the snow was starting to melt. So we got 24 people at services this morning, and about 19 for the Megillah reading tonight. And the reading wasn't faster than usual, probably because, since Taanit Esther/the Fast of Esther took place on Thursday (since, except for Yom Kippur, fast days aren't permitted on the Sabbath, so they're moved to another day), we didn't have a break-the-fast dinner, so we didn't have to rush to finish by 8 PM. We'll see how it goes tomorrow.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Possibly our worst Purim ever :(

First, our kind-hearted and concerned Shabbos goy informed us, last Saturday before Mincha (Afternoon Service), that some yo-yo in the synagogue office had rented out our sanctuary on Purim at 8 PM. Sure, we need the money, but now we'll have only an hour and a half to davven Maariv/Arvit (pray the Evening Service) and chant Megillat Ester/The Scroll ("Book") of Esther. So, instead of having a nice leisurely Megillah reading, with plenty of time to make a commotion at every mention of the villain Haman's name, we'll be speeding through the reading as if it were a weekday morning and the cantor (our Megillah reader) had to get to his day job.

Then, at about 6 PM last night, I got a Voice Message from my oldest girlfriend saying that she and her husband wouldn't be able to attend our Seudat Purim because her ex-husband's mother had died, and, since her daughter wanted to spend Purim with her father, Mom would be needed to drive her there.

Next, I was called by a sister congregant and informed that our synagogue's Purim party had been postponed to Monday afternoon due to the snowstorm. You'll notice that I called it a Purim party, not a Seudat Purim. That's because our board, in its infinite wisdom (quoth she sarcastically), had voted that all Chanukah and Purim parties are to take place on Shabbat/Sabbath afternoon after the Shabbat morning services. The reasons are that (a) we can't afford to hire a singer anymore anyway, (b) it's more convenient for the congregants, since they're already in synagogue, and (c) we won't have to ask our usual Sunday-afternoon renters to reschedule. (So much of our synagogue schedule is built around avoiding conflicts with our renters that I can't help wondering who really owns our building.) The result of the postponement to Monday afternoon is that none of us working stiffs will be able to attend this so-called Purim luncheon, which is being held after Purim. Yes, Monday is Shushan Purim, but that's pretty irrelevant outside of Eretz Yisrael/the Land of Israel.

Saving the "best" for last (minute), our other Seudat Purim guests called at about 10:30 PM last night to let us know that they would also be unable to attend, due to poor health.

Who were we going to call at 10:30 at night, less than four days before Purim and less than 24 hours before no-phone-calls-allowed Shabbat, to invite to a Seudah?

So this is how our Purim weekend looks:
  • Probably fewer than 20 people will show up on Shabbat morning in this snowy weather.
  • Probably fewer than that will show up for the Megillah reading--I wouldn't be surprised if we don't even get a minyan, despite the fact that we count women therein.
  • Adding insult to injury, the Megillah reading will be a speedy-Gonzalez special.
  • The shul's Purim party will take place the day after Purim.
  • And despite my careful planning, we'll still end up with no one with whom to share a Seudat Purim. :(

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Mitzvah Girls"--social education into Chasidut

I recently finished reading "Mitzvah Girls: Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn," by Ayala Fader. I found it an interesting study of the social education of girls that turns them from mainstream babies into Chassidic wives.

One of the more interesting aspects of Chassidic culture that I learned from this study was the ambivalence of the girls (and women, and apparently, in some cases, the males as well) toward those both more and less stringent in their religious observance. For example, Chassidic girls' camps might hire Orthodox counselors who were more "modern" to liven up the place, because Chassidic girls had so thoroughly absorbed their community's teachings that they should be not only modest in dress, but also quiet in their speech, and not draw attention to themselves with their behavior. Group cheers, for example, were better led by a "modern" counselor. On the other hand, while the extra-stringent religious observance of the Hungarian Chassidic women (Satmar?) was admired, their poor education was look down on, and while they were admired for their fluency in Yiddish, they were also disdained for speaking a version of "Hasidic English" so strongly influenced by Yiddish that they had difficulty communicating with non-Yiddish-speakers. In addition, while it was considered admirable for a girl to agree to a higher level of modesty for the sake of a "good" marriage, it was also acknowledged that a girl who agreed to "go beige" (trade her non-see-through but not black stockings for thick, seamed beige stockings) or to cover her hair, after marriage, with a scarf instead of a wig and hat was making a major sacrifice in terms of her personal appearance.

I was surprised to learn that there is such a thing as an "unaffiliated" Chassid. Little did I know that the singer Matisyahu was not the only Chassid who did not follow a specific rebbe.

I was also surprised to learn that, in the Brooklyn Chassidic community, a person can't change levels of stringency without permission from "an authority." (See Chapter Six, "Ticket to Eden.") A first-grader had to "ask her mother nicely" for permission to switch from wearing knee socks in the summer to wearing tights all year round a year earlier than is traditional for girls in her family? A wife had to get her husband's permission to switch from a wig and hat to a scarf? Someone should explain this concept of getting permission to become more machmir (stringent in observance beyond what's required by halachah/Jewish religious law and/or minhag/custom) to Modern Orthodox young people who go off to study in an Israeli yeshiva (for men) or seminary (for women) and come back "Yeshivish," much to the dismay of their parents.

What did not surprise me was the contention of the women with whom the author spoke that, no matter what language Chassidic people were speaking, it should be a Jewish language (hence, "Hasidic English," a mixture of English, Yiddish, and "loshon koydesh" ["holy language," that is, Hebrew and Aramaic]). (See Chapter Four, "Making English Jewish.") This pretty much confirms Miami Al's contention, in the comments to my "'Yeshivish' as a second language" post, that a deliberate mixture of English and Yiddish as a daily language pattern is "self-ghettoizing."

I found this book quite interesting, and recommend that you consider adding it to your future-reading list.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Sure, said our rabbi in his sermon this past Shabbat (Sabbath), you fulfil the minimum halachic requirement for mishloach manot by giving just two different types of food to two different persons of your gender. But what about hiddur mitzvah, the concept of fulfilling a commandment as beautifully as possible? All of you people who give bags full of pretzels, instead of the gorgeous baskets given in other neighborhoods, said he, making a face . . .

Well excuse me!

(A) A good chunk of our congregation is retired on a fixed income.

(B) Too few of our congregants give mishloach manot as it is. Are you going out of your way to discourage them from performing this mitzvah (commandment)?

When a person gives you a present, you don't complain publicly that it's not expensive enough and/or not in a nice enough package. And you certainly don't insult people from the bima for fulfilling a mitzvah.

If our mishloach manot isn't good enough for you, maybe we just won't give you a mishloach manot package at all this Purim.

Too lazy for listserves

A little over a year ago, I subscribed to the Conservative Movement's Shefa Network--see the comments here. I'm sorry to say that my enthusiasm didn't last long, but that's my fault, not Shefa's.

Here's my problem:

Someone sends in something interesting--an article, some commentary, etc. Later that day, someone responds. There's another response the next day, and the next. And for each response, I have to open yet another e-mail.

I'm a blogger. I publish a post, and all the responses can be seen by clicking just once. No matter whether the commenter posts that day, the next day, the next week, or even, occasionally, months or even years later, all the responses end up in the same place. Even when a far-better- known blogger publishes one of his/her more popular posts and gets over 200 comments, they can all be read with one click.

With apologies to Shefa, I'm just too much of a blogger for listserves.

Technology trumps sociability

Technology has certainly improved our lives in many ways, and given us new opportunities, of which blogging is an example--I can now get my jollies writing for readers from around the block to Australia.

But technology seems to have a price. Since blogging is easier than actually catching people between tasks on the phone, I blog more than I talk to my friends.

Even folk dancing has been changed by technology, partly for the better and partly for the worse. Once upon a time, a folk dance session leader had to haul boxes of records, cassette tapes, and/or CDs, in addition to the machinery to play all of the above, to a session. Now, all that's needed is a laptop computer with a ton of music downloaded or uploaded unto it, plus some speakers. So it's a lot easier for the leader to manage the gear. On the other hand, using a computer can actually result in less socializing--instead of the half a minute or so between dances that we used to have for gabbing while the leader searched for and set up a recording, dancers rarely get more than about 5-10 seconds now, if that, to talk while the leader finds and clicks on the next selection.

Who would have thought that making life easier could actually make "having a life" harder?

See also the AARP Magazine March and April 2010 issue's article "Where Conversation Goes from Here."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A social activity turned anti-social?

Recently, we ran into Haim Kaufman, leader of the Rikudey Dor Rishon (Dances of the First Generation) Israeli folk dancing "nostalgia" sessions, on Shabbat (Sabbath) at our current favorite egalitarian Conservative synagogue in Manhattan. He complained that Israeli folk dancing isn't what it used to be. But he wasn't talking about the dances, he was talking about the attitude of the dancers.

We got a live demonstration of just how right he is this afternoon, when we walked into Sasha's International Folk Dancing session at the Workmen's Circle--and heard people talking. My heavens, when was the last time we'd heard that? Whatever happened to the good old days when people went to folk dance sessions not only to dance, but to hang out with the other dancers and yack? I hadn't realized why I don't enjoy Israeli folk dance sessions as much as I used to. The dancing part is still great fun, but the social aspect, now that people barely talk to each other any more, has practically disappeared.

Israeli folk dance sessions used to be a wonderful place to make friends. Those days seem to have vanished. I used to enjoy hanging out with my friends at folk dance sessions. Now, my old folk dancing buddies no longer live near enough to participate in New York City Israeli folk dance sessions, and many of the folks currently involved in Israeli folk dancing here seem to have little interest in socializing with anyone whom they don't already know. So now, instead of hanging out and enjoying the company between dances, I just dance for an hour and a half or so and leave, having hardly been spoken to or spoken to anyone. How sad.

Maybe it's not just a coincidence that we've changed our "category" for folk dancing in our Quicken financial records from "Recreation expense" to "Fitness expense," because that's what folk dancing has become.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hypocrites, including me

I spotted not one, but two guys whipping out combs in synagogue this past Sabbath. These gents scored two sins for the price of one--not only were they carrying in public on Shabbat without an eruv, which is prohibited, but they were also violating the law against tearing, since, if I understand correctly, one is not permitted to comb one's hair on Shabbat lest one accidentally tear a hair (tearing being forbidden under most circumstances).

But I can't say a word, because I'm still taking the subway to synagogue on the Sabbath.

And, given the rate at which we're getting out from under our ever-growing pile of bills--next up are a replacement for my husband's four-year-old laser printer, used for his accounting business, and a new external hard drive for me, substituting for the new computer that we can't afford--I'm beginning to wonder whether we'll ever be able to move to a neighborhood in which I won't have to take a subway on Shabbat to get to a shul where I enjoy davvening.

Holy cannoli! (Or kosher, at least)

Boy, do I ever have egg on my face--since I've been trying to behave myself by not going to the kosher bakery near my "kaddish synagogue," I completely forgot that they sell cannolis! My husband and I were in that neighborhood this past Sunday, and scarfed up some good kosher pastries. Yum!

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Presidents' Day post

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One type of egalitarianism vs. another

Buried somewhere in this ancient post of mine is this statement: " . . . someone--I forget who--complained to the rabbi that I had the unmitigated gall to honor my father by adding his name to my mother's name when saying a misheberach for my sister (a fact that he hadn't noticed at all until it was brought to his attention)."

I'm too lazy to look for the post(s?) in which I discussed this issue further. Suffice it to say that the rabbi's argument was that, while the way I recited the names when I prayed silently was my own business, the recitation of names as part of a "mi-sheh-berach" ("May the One who blessed . . . " prayer for the ill) was the Ritual Committee's business because the mi-sheh-berach prayer, since it's recited in conjunction with a Torah reading (which can be done only if there's a minyan), is a communal prayer.

Recently, I've begun to wonder whether reciting the name of the ill person's father along with the name of the mother is a good idea--but I'm wondering for a totally different reason.

The problem is that reciting the father's name highlights the status of the person who's ill.

I feel uncomfortable enough giving my husband's name as "ben Mom and Dad ha-Levi" (and would feel equally weird omitting the "title" Levi/Levite as long as I'm including my late father-in-law's name).

But I feel at least as uncomfortable--if not more so, under the current distressing circumstances--giving the names of several people on my list as "ben/bat Sarah v'Avraham." My understanding is that it's against Jewish tradition to call attention to a Jew's conversion. And once one gets beyond the first couple of mentions of "ben/bat Sarah v'Avraham," it becomes pretty obvious that one is speaking of converts.*

So if I don't mention the fathers' names, I feel that I'm insulting the fathers, who are/were just as concerned about their children's health as the mothers are/were.

And if I do, I'm calling attention to differences in status, which seems inappropriate when praying for the ill.


Could anyone give me some help, here?

*The traditional "family name" for all converts is ben (son of) or bat (daughter of) Avraham Avinu v'Sarah Imeinu (Abraham Our Father and Sarah Our Mother).

"Confectioner's Sugar"

The view from our livingroom window
Shira's Shot, Wed., Feb. 4, 2010

The snow fell down
Shifting softly to the ground
As I walked to the subway
To go to minyan today
Most local schools are closed
And most folks would suppose
That the kids are all eager to go out and play
It's a snowball-fight day!
They'll have quite a lark
In the local park
'Til it gets too windy for them to stay

The "mechitzah" version
It didn't occur to me that the screen would ruin the shot--I had to take another photo through the unscreened upper window, holding the camera above my head.

[Informal label: Poem]

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Just so you don't get too excited :)

See the comments.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Conversion:Is my nightmare--& worse--coming true?

Rabbi Jeffrey Woolf, of Bar Ilan University and My Obiter Dicta, makes the following complaint in this post of his:

"Consider, once again, the case of concersion. According to information published by Rivka Lubitsch, the Israeli rabbinate now has a policy of not recognizing qualified conversions, and keeping converts on probation forever. Such a policy flies in the face of and [sic] explicit Gemora, which is accepted by EVERY MAJOR POSEQ [religious decisor] ever since, that after the convert emerges from the miqveh [ritual bath], he is a Jew even if he subsequently worships idols (B. Yevamot 47b).

That's not a violation of סוגיא דעלמא. [Er, "sugyah d'almah?" Translation assistance, please.] I'm not sure what it is. Orthodox Judaism, it isn't!"

Here's the introduction to the shocking, in my opinion, story to which Rabbi Woolf linked:

Rivkah Lubitch

The secret code of repealed conversions

If you converted to Judaism and also got divorced, check the divorce documents that you received from the rabbinic courts. If it says 'the son of our forefather Abraham'? You're not in bad shape. If it says 'convert'? You're on your way to a repealed conversion. Rivkah Lubitch studied the opinion paper submitted by the Rabbinic Court to the High Court of Justice and discloses how converts are being marked

Published: 02.03.10, 08:28 / Israel Jewish Scene

I sent the link to this article to my Israeli brother and ex-sister-in-law with the warning that it's possible that she and their children have already been declared non-Jews. I later noticed that one commenter to the article asked whether it's (now) possible that a conversion could be challenged even after a convert's death.

Sadly, this is even worse than what I predicted and feared would happen.

Update alert: Another "Yeshivish" goodie

You might find today's update of my February 2 post, "Yeshivish" as a second language interesting.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Comment of the day

Hesh said, " . . . a rabbi is someone who you talk over for 10 minutes on Shabbos and a little longer on Yamim Noraim [the Days of Awe/High Holidays].


(From the comments to this not-otherwise-amusing post explaining why Orthodox Judaism doesn't accept women as rabbis.)

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Back to the future, unfortunately

It's not my girlfriends' fault that their adult Bat Mitzvah celebrations will take place on Erev Shabbat/Sabbath Eve/Friday night--the organization from which their synagogue rents space has other activities scheduled on Saturday morning in the shul's rented room. But it's been years since I attended an Erev Shabbat Torah reading voluntarily, and I think I was not yet a Bat Mitzvah myself the last time I went to an Erev Shabbat Bat Mitzvah celebration. I'll go, because I'm happy that they're celebrating this long-delayed simchah/happy occasion, but I feel a bit weird about it.

Drilling for oil

. . . would have been a lot more fun (and easier on my wallet) than getting a tooth drilled by the dentist this morning. On the plus side, at least he's skilled with a needle--his anesthesia injections are probably about as painless as a needle in the gum can possibly be. Ah, the joys of visiting medical professionals, the only folks who can "shoot me up" legally. [Insert roll-eyes emoticon here.]

Here's a referral to a much more amusing post on the subject: The Dentist Sketch, by Mark/PT.

Behind closed doors

See here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

"Yeshivish" as a second language

I did not have the privilege of attending a yeshiva, nor was I raised in the Orthodox world. So "Yeshivish" is a new language for me. Here are some of the expressions that I've learned--and, frankly, don't appreciate.

"Mommy doesn't let"
MoChassid's daughter's expression was one that I'd never encountered until . . . , well, until I read the linked post.

The proper American English way of saying this would be "Mommy doesn't let me." The Yeshivish version results in an incomplete--and grammatically-unacceptable--sentence.


Since when does the word "by" mean the same thing as "at the home of" in English? What's all this "I ate 'by' my brother," or "We stayed for Shabbos 'by' his parents" nonsense?

Referring back to the MoChassid post linked above, I agree completely with commenter Tesyaa that " . . . if she says "by" in the Yiddish construct at a college interview, she will be going to community college." . . .

"Give over"

Since when does a person "give over" a Torah discussion? Whatever happened to the plain English "give"? This is another expression that I read for the first time within the past month or so, and I don't like it one bit.

I'm a "language person." I have a BA in French, with about 12 credits in English and 9 in Spanish to my name, and have studied, at various times, American Sign Language of the Deaf and Israeli Hebrew. I don't take kindly to distortions of my native language by people who actually believe that they're speaking English.

Sunday, February 7, 2010 update: And the winner from yesterday's d'var Torah (Bible discussion) is . . .

"Bring down"

. . . as in "Rashi brings down a teaching from midrash . . ."

Honestly, that phrase is so far removed from Standard American English that I wouldn't even have been able to understand it, had it not been for the context in which it was spoken. I gather that it means "presents" or "gives as an example or explanation," more or less. But I think that this is an example of what JDub meant when he commented (below): "If you can't translate it, you don't accurately understand it." For the record, my husband can't translate "bring down" either.

Monday, February 01, 2010

An attitude problem

See here.


In the last 14 months, I've broken both wrists and lost my mother. At this point, I'm just happy to be alive and well. I consider it a privilege to have reached the age of 61 today, even though that's a relatively ancient age for a blogger. :)

I must confess, though, that not since I turned 21 and was old enough to vote and drink did I ever think the day would come when I'd actually look forward to getting older. But, with a dental bill of over $2,000 due this week, and bills for my two wrist surgeries and for my post-surgery home attendant still yet to be received, I'm actually looking forward to turning 65 and having Medicare pay most of my medical bills.
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