Friday, December 30, 2011

Yes, Virginia, there's such a thing as too discrete

Start here, and don't forget to read the comments.

I did, in fact, buy myself a camisole (in a modest style that, naturally, the vendor no longer sells). But I ran into the problem that a lingerie saleswoman had once explained, which is that women's "basics" are generally made for the majority of women who are taller than I. Consequently, we shorties have no choice but to tighten the straps (or have them shortened)--and when the straps stretch, the garment no longer fits properly. After a number of months, I found myself pulling the camisole way down in the back to force it to stay up in the front.

So I gave up and bought myself a couple of sleeveless cotton tank tops. This style is just about perfect. The non-stretch straps hide that other set of straps, and anything else above the "support system" that I don't want to flash in public, while still being barely low-cut enough, if I tug the tank down a smidge in front, to remain hidden under those blouses of mine that have a lower second button. (I refuse to choke myself by buttoning all the way up, but neither will I leave more than one button unbuttoned.) Since I bought the tank tops in "Light Eggplant," a pale purple (no longer available, naturally), they're also practically invisible even when worn under a white blouse, while still hiding the view completely.

Unfortunately, that near-invisibility creates a different problem--if the blouse gaps open between buttons, it's almost impossible to tell that what's directly under it is a tank top, not just my bare skin. I give up. This tzniut/modesty business is more complicated than I thought.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

'Twas the night after Chanukah (oops):1 more video

Here's another Chanukah video, slightly after the fact--this one's a rockabilly Sevivon, by Mark Skier (aka Psycho Toddler) and his Moshe Skier Band.

I decided several months ago, after careful consideration, that, during my year of aveilut/mourning for my father, I would listen to recorded music and music videos, but would not go to live music concerts or theatrical performances. Thus far, I've missed a Pharaoh's Daughter concert, a Soul Farm and Moshav Band concert, a Shlock Rock concert . . . Sigh. Well, aveilut isn't supposed to be fun.

I'm getting sick from minyan

No, that's not a mistake--I'm sick from minyan, not sick of minyan.

My father died in early June. By June 10, I was commuting to ye olde "kaddish minyan" again. Less than a month later, I got a cold bad enough to keep me out of work for several days.

Fast-forward several months. In early December, I was out sick with a cold again. I gave myself a couple of weeks to recover, then returned to minyan on the first day of Chanukah. Sure enough, by the seventh day, I had a sore throat.

My unfortunate conclusion: We won't be able to move to our friends' delightful Jewish neighborhood, full of kosher restaurants (meat and dairy), kosher grocery stores, and synagogues (here's theirs), all within easy walking distance of one another, until after I retire, because having to wake up at least 45 minutes earlier every weekday for the longer commute would wreak havoc on my health. (I'm waking up an hour early to go to minyan.) The next best alternative is a neighborhood with a commute only about 10 minutes longer than my current commute. There are enough Jews there to sustain an eruv, but, sadly, living within walking distance of a synagogue there will probably put us about a 20-minute walk (with shopping cart) from the nearest kosher grocery store. Oh, well. On the plus side, some of the local kosher restaurants deliver. It's almost impossible to get kosher food delivered to our current neighborhood, unless you're an institution ordering in large quantity (or you're willing to settle for whatever you can get from or freshdirect, neither of which sells kosher swiss cheese).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parshat Vayigash: Torah's cliffhanger resolved

You can read the basics here.

I read this parsha every year, and it still brings tears to my eyes when Yehudah (Judah) pleads with Yosef (Joseph) to let him take Binyamin's (Benjamin's) place as a slave, lest their father die of a broken heart (B'reishit/Genesis chapter 44, verses 18-34).

Portraits of the reunion of Yosef and Binyamin that show Binyamin as a teenager are a bit off, since Binyamin is described later in the parsha as already having children of his own.

The haftarah, Ezekiel 37:15-28, is a real beauty, speaking of the reunion of the Northern Kingdom, Israel/Yisrael, and the Southern Kingdom, Judea/Judah/Yehudah. Halevai (rough translation--it should only happen), we should live to see a reunion of Am Yisrael/The Jewish People, and an end to sinat chinam/baseless hatred within our community.

On a lighter note . . .

Three-year-old girl rants about toy marketing practices enforcing traditional gender roles. It's hard to tell how much of this was staged by Riley's parents and how much was her own initiative, but the kid certainly does look and sound genuinely ticked off.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fighting for the soul of Israel (the People & State)

See this important news from or about Israel:

Over 30 years ago, when we first visited Israel, my husband expressed his concern that, if Israel's enemies ever left it alone, there'd be a civil war. What neither of us ever expected was that the civil war might not be simply chilonim (secular Jews) vs. datiim ("religious" Jews), but also datiim vis. datiim. That some extremists among the Chareidi ("fervently Orthodox") would wage a verbal war of intimidation against more "modern" Orthodox Jews has really come to us as something of a shock.

The Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) and more moderate Chareidi communities certainly have their work cut out for them in trying to limit the damage caused by both religious and relio-political extremists. I wish them luck, because I think that whatever happens in the State of Israel will (continue to) influence Jewish communities abroad, as well. And I don't want to live in a Jewish world in which eight-year-old Jewish girls are called whores for wearing knee-covering skirts and shoulder-covering, high-necked tops that most "normal" people would consider modest.

I stand by what I wrote--I still think that the obsession with tzniut/modesty is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 update:

I guess there are enough Jews in New York City for the New York Times to publish an article on the subject--see their Israeli Girl, 8, at Center of Tension Over Religious Extremism.

See also:

Do you think the following comment to this post by Heshy is an excessive reaction, or do you think there might be some truth in it?

"zach December 27, 2011 at 5:38 PM

. . .

This is the future of Israel. Demographics will favor the charedim in a decade or two, and with it the collapse of Israel as a technical powerhouse as it transforms into a poverty stricken third world country. And when chareidim have the power, they will wield it just like the Taliban did."

January 9, 2012: Poster Child--Naama Margolese—an 8-year-old Israeli girl taunted by ultra-Orthodox men who think she is immodest—is the new face of Jewish women’s rights [re Beit Shemesh incidents involved the harassment of little Orthodox girls by "Sikrikim" (extremists among the Chareidim)]

Shlissel (Key) Challah: The Loaf of Idolatry? (Jameel)

- Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim19 of Mesora.Org [orthodox] teaches that:

The Torah teaches that Hashem punishes the wicked, and rewards the righteous. It does not say that challah baking or any other activity will help address our needs…When the matriarchs were barren, they did not resort to segulas, but introspected and prayed…Nothing in Torah supports this concept of segula; Torah sources reject the idea of a segula…baking challas with brachos cannot help…segulas are useless, and violate the Torah prohibition of Nichush [good luck charms]. It does not matter if the charm is a rabbit‘s foot, a horseshoe, a challah, key or a red bendel. The practice assumes that forces exist, which do not, and it is idolatrous."

Jameel of the Muqata has put together a nice screed against segulot/"lucky charm" objects or actions.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Awkward moments

Shabbat/Sabbath (Saturday) morning

The congregant not only didn't remember that it was her brother's yahrzeit, she didn't even remember that she'd had a brother. Her non-Jewish aide stood in her stead while the Kaddish Yatom/Mourner's Kaddish prayer was recited.

Shabbat afternoon
Another congregant's mental capacities have been declining noticeably in recent months. We have to be careful to remind him what time services will take place, lest he show up two hours late and miss the whole thing. But his behavior at Minchah/Afternoon Service still surprised us considerably. Our congregation may now count women for a minyan, but we're still a traditional enough synagogue not to allow the use of musical instruments on Shabbat or Yom Tov (major holidays). So you can imagine how taken aback we were when this fellow pulled a harmonica out of his pocket and began playing it in the middle of Minchah/Afternoon Service. At first, we tried to shush him, but it quickly became apparent that he had no idea that he was doing anything unacceptable. So, not wishing to embarrass him in public, we told him how nicely he was playing, and, since he was clearly pleased at his idea to play the harmonica for us, complimented him on his talent.


Sunday morning

It's a good thing I got to minyan on time yesterday. Just after we finished reciting the Birkot HaShachar/Morning Blessings, I snuck across the aisle, tapped a guy on the shoulder, and whispered, "You might want to get your kippah out from under your tefillin strap." (According to halachah/Jewish religious law, tefillin must rest directly on the body, with no clothing intervening.) As it happens, my friendly warning saved the man from a more public embarrassment--it turned out that he was the one who'd been given the honor of leading the matbeiah/required part of the service, and he would, no doubt, have been stopped and publicly corrected if he'd gone up to the amud/reading stand with his kippah stuck under the strap of his shel rosh/head tefillin. I haven't forgotten the time they stopped a guy who'd just started to recite the Chatzi Kaddish prayer before the Musaf Amidah prayer on a Rosh Chodesh/New Month because he'd forgotten to remove his tefillin first, as is required.

Sunday evening
I was the only person at the Chanukah party who was reciting b'rachot/blessings over the food before eating, covering my mouth in the hope that I wouldn't be too obvious. Oy.

Parshat Miketz: Reuven said *what*?!

You can read the basics here.

B'reishit/Genesis, chapter 42, verse 37:

"37 And Reuben spoke unto his father, saying: 'Thou shalt slay my two sons, if I bring him [Benjamin] not to thee; deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him back to thee.'"

First of all, if Yaakov's/Jacob's son Yosef/Joseph was already presumed by his father to be dead, and then Binyamin/Benjamin was taken from him, as well, of what possible benefit would it have been to Yaakov to have had two of his grandsons killed?

Second, where did Reuven get the unmitigated chutzpah/gall to offer the lives of two innocents as payment for a "crime" that they had not committed?

In my opinion, this was an impulsive, stupid, and immoral proposal. It's no wonder that Reuven didn't become the leader of the family.

Some oldies but goodies of mine:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rabbi Riskin's "Hanukkah letter to the hilltop youth"

To the “price tag” radicals, who’re making innocent people pay a price for attacks by others:

“You have turned the term "settler" into a dirty word. You have caused me to be ashamed . . . to be called by the same name as those whose love for the land has turned into hatred of human beings.“

Recommended reading.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Some Chanukah videos

I can't watch any of these at the office because those grinches block YouTube. Oh, well. Chanukah Sameach/Happy Chanukah.
Thursday, December 29, 2011:
  • 'Twas the night after Chanukah (oops!) . . . Well, if I plunk the video link into this post, at least I'll know where to find it next Chanukah. Here's a rockabilly Sevivon, by Mark Skier (aka Psycho Toddler) and his Moshe Skier Band.

For your Chanukah entertainment

Here are some oldies but goodies, recorded before the foot surgery and the two broken wrists. Enjoy!

The Tortoise and the Hare go to minyan

I think the reason why my husband gets more upset than I do when we're 5-10 minutes late for a weekday morning minyan is that, since he's a faster Hebrew reader than I am, he can finish all of P'sukei D'Zimrah if we get there on time, whereas I could never recite all of P'sukei D'Zimrah, even if we got there 5-10 minutes early!

To compensate for my slow Hebrew, I do a lot of praying before I ever get to minyan. I recite the Birkot HaTorah (Torah blessings), Birkot HaShachar (Morning Blessings), and Rabbi Yishmael at home, plus Psalm 30 (Mizmor, Shir Chanukat HaBayit , L'David), Baruch ShehAmar, Ashrei (Psalm 145), and Yishtabach on the subway, adding another psalm or two if I have time. Since I've already prayed the "minimum requirement" for the early part of the service before I get there, I can live with walking in at the beginning of the congregation's recital of Ashrei because that gives me just enough time to put on my tallit and lay tefillin before Bar'chu.

My husband, on the other hand, prays the whole service during the service, not before or after. (I do a ton of minyan-not-required davvening/praying on the subway-ride home, too.) So, naturally, if we get there late, he feels deprived of his prayer opportunity.

He's right, of course. I really should make more of an effort to get to minyan on time.

See also:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Parshat Vayshev, continued: More re Tamar

I guess I have more to say about Vayeshev. Start with this good commentary by Irit Koren.

I've been thinking that the story of Tamar is the "antidote" to the story of the rape of Dinah. In that story, we never once hear from Dinah herself. Everything is done to her, or, allegedly, for her, but nothing whatsover is done by her. Tamar, on the other hand, takes matters into her own hands, risking death in the process. Hmm, maybe I should read Subversive Sequels in the Bible again.

Don’t Tax the Rich. Tax Inequality Itself. (NY Times)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another good reason why we should move

Start with my A lesson in Middle Eastern politics learned from parenting.

Then read my Revenge of the downstairs neighbors, which is much shorter.

I always said that, if the downstairs neighbors couldn't stand the noise from an upstairs child, they had no business living in an apartment. This is particulary true for anyone living in an apartment with more than one bedroom. Since it's likely that a multiple-bedroom apartment will house a family, there's always the chance that one of the family members might be a noisy kid running around over your head.

I concluded recently that following my own opinion might be necessary for my health.

A little background is in order, for my out-of-town readers: New York City has, basically, two kinds of apartments, known as "pre-war" and "post-war." Pre-war apartments were built before World War II, when quality construction was, apparently, still standard. Post-war apartments, on the other hand . . . Let me put it this way: When my husband sneezes, our neighbors can probably hear him not only next door, but two floors away. While some of the "better" apartments are now built with better sound insulation, ours is most certainly not one of them.

Which brings me to the kid upstairs: After months of listening to the little heck-raiser tearing around the apartment, it finally dawned on us that something was missing--we weren't hearing any adult footsteps. Believe me, every time the late upstairs neighbor took a step, I heard it. This can mean only one thing--the toddler doesn't live on the floor above us, he/she lives two floors above us!

Holy Moses! If that's what a toddler sounds like from two floors away, it's no wonder our former downstairs neighbors couldn't tolerate our kid's commotion!

So I told my husband that we now have another good reason to move--we have to "trade down" to a one-bedroom apartment.

Ever the CPA, my husband reminded me that, in this rotten economy, there's no guarantee that a family with kids wouldn't be forced to settle for a one-bedroom apartment. Sigh. Where's a pair of alte geezers who are too broke to buy a house and don't want to move to a retirement community supposed to live, to get a little peace and quiet?

I'm afraid to think about what the noise level is likely to be when the vacant apartment upstairs is finally sold.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Electronic annoyances

I plug my Nook into the outlet and charge it fully. But I'm too tired to read on the subway for a few days, and am lucky enough to get a seat to snooze in. Several days later, I try reading from the Nook. It refuses to turn on, displaying a note that there's insufficient power.

Same thing with my iPod.

As with every other old-fashioned battery-powered device, these gadgets lose their charge, even when not being used.

You would think that all those tech geeks could have come up with a power system more efficient than the one in a flashlight. :(

This post is the latest addition to my "design" series.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Parshat Vayeshev

You can read the basics here.

Here are some oldies of mine:
I've said it before and I've say it again: "Tamar was nearly burned alive by Yehudah for committing the same sex act that Yehudah had committed, indicating that our Biblical ancestors thought that it was perfectly acceptable to seek a prostitute, but not to be one." Yes, I know I sound like the 21st-century western female that I am. So sue me.

Update, Thursday, December 15, 2011:
I forgot to mention the devious brothers--not only did they sell Yosef into slavery, they politely "forgot" to mention this to their brother Reuven, who had hoped to rescue him, leaving poor Reuven to believe that Yosef was dead, or, at best, kidnapped. Presumably, that was deliberate, since Reuven might very well have felt obligated, as the oldest son, to tell their father Yaakov/Jacob the truth, if he'd know it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An Israeli "home-style" restaurant in New York City

I got my first surprise when I asked what was the soup of the day.

"Kreplack soup?! I would hardly have expected such an Ashkenazi dish in an Israeli restaurant."

The guy behind the counter just smiled.

My second surprise came when the soup didn't.

"What happened to my soup?"

"You'll have to be patient. It'll take about five minutes."

This restaurant may look like a fast-food restaurant, but apparently, they don't believe in making food fast.

A further surprise awaited me when I bit into my first krepl (wonton/meat ravioli/meat perogi/dumpling/whatever): It had pepper in it! My Russian-American grandmother's kreplach never had pepper in them!

Yep, these were Israeli kreplach, all right!

As a general rule, neither my tongue nor my tummy has a particularly high tolerance for pepper. Fortunately, the kreplach and equally-peppery soup barely snuck in under my tolerance limit, or my husband would have ended up eating two bowls of soup! Equally fortunately, neither my baby-chicken shwarma--much less fatty than red-meat shwarma, which is usually too greasy for me to eat--nor the smidge of my husband's beef kofta kabab that I snitched had any pepper in or on them, and were delicious.

But more surprises were in store.

Two guys, both bareheaded, walked into the restaurant. One of them touched the mezuzah with his hand, then kissed his hand. I haven't seen that manoeuver from a bareheaded man since I left my bareheaded father's house.

The pièce de résistance, though, was the Chassidic man seated at a table with a teenage girl and boy, both in denim pants. Glatt for him, jeans for them. That was a delightful picture of family love and loyalty overcoming differences of haskafah/religious perspective.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Parshat Vayishlach--old and new thoughts

Sorry I'm late, but Iwas so loaded up with assignments at the office last week that I didn't have time to read the parsha 'til after Kabbalat Shabbat/Maariv.

Here's a link to the basics.

Old thoughts
  • Here's an oldie but goodie of mine, Vayishlach: A family of con artists benefits from a rape. Note especially the comment speculating that Dinah's rape may have been "statutory"--we don't really know how old she was, and the commenter speculates that she may actually have been a little girl going out to play.
  • I don't blame Esau/Esav for coming with 400 men to meet his brother Jacob/Yaakov--see my Midrash Madness.
New thoughts
  • Much has been made of the fact that Dinah went out alone, but much of the blame has been placed on Dinah herself. I'd flip that blame on its head: If it was dangerous for a female to go anywhere unescorted, why the heck could none of Dinah's 10 older brothers--or any of Yaakov's servants, if the boys were too young--find a free minute to accompany her? As my husband speculated, did Yaakov and/or his sons expect this poor girl/woman with no sisters to be content never to have any contact with other girls/women of her own age?
  • In the commentary to the Hertz Chumash, Rabbi Joseph Hertz notes that B'reishit/Genesis chapter 34, verse 7 , " . . . he had wrought a vile deed in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter. . ." is problematic: " in Israel" . . . is strictly an anachronism," because Israel, referring here to the Jewish People, did not exist until after the Exodus from Egypt. Until then, we can talk about B'nei (the Children of) or Bet/Beit/Beth/pick-your-transliteration (the House of) Yisrael (Israel, meaning Jacob), but not about Yisrael/Israel as a people. Hertz fudges over the issue by describing "a vile deed in Israel" as " . . . the reflection of Scripture on the incident . . . " Huh? I call Documentary Hypothesis on this phrase, which, in my opinion, was clearly written later.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Fashion fiascos # 2

The original is here.

You mean to tell me that some men actually pay for a "stubble trimmer" to get the same look that my husband gets for free every time he forgets to shave?

I suppose that a man having a "stubble beard" is no dumber than a woman wearing six-inch stiletto heels.
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