Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Like an island of tranquility in the middle of a disaster area

That's how it feels in this neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Last hurrah before Hurricane Sandy

We spent this past Saturday night at the annual Carlebach Yahrzeit Concert at the West Side Institutional Synagogue.  Here's my only video.  I was too busy dancing to shoot any more.  :)
Dr. Elli Kranzler (Baal Tefillah/Prayer Leader at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale) and Eitan Katz had a good time singing together, and the audience had a good time listening.  Afterward, the master of ceremonies joked that "Dr. Kranzler is a psychiatrist.  He can prescribe medication, but he doesn't have to--all he has to do is sing."  :)  Would that it were that simple.

Hurrican Sandy's aftermath

I've seen the coverage on TV, and all I can say is that the devastation is unbelievable.  Whole neighborhoods under sand, walls torn off of buildings, subway stations flooded up to the tops of their escalators, children swept out to sea . . .

Having rachmones (mercy) on the chazzan (cantor)

With all the worrying about, and preparing for Hurricane Sandy, I knew there was something that I forgot to blog about.  Oy, what happened last Friday night . . .

My husband, though still recovering from bronchitis and sounding like a foghorn, insisted that he was well enough to go to services, so off we went.  Our appearance "rescued" the cantor from an awkward situation--the only other people there were one congregant who, despite never having learned to read Hebrew, always sings at the top of his/her lungs, and another congregant who's so frail that her/his singing is nearly inaudible.  Since my husband couldn't really sing, I tried my best to avoid singing harmony, as I usually do, and stick to the melody, so as to keep the chazzan company, musically speaking, especially since I've been known to find myself in a similar situation.

Ever since one of our most reliable Friday-night attendees developed a serious health problem, I've been practically afraid not to go to Kabbalat Shabbat, lest no one else show up.  This incident simply confirmed that my concern is not misplaced.  Sigh.  This is one service that I actually prefer to pray at home so that I can (a) pray at my own speed and (b) not have to skip Ana B'Koach and (those parts of) Bameh Madlikin (that I choose to say), neither of which is included in the old Silverman Conservative siddur/prayer book that our synagogue still uses.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vacation video and photos (finally)

As long as the subway system is currently flooded and we're stuck at home, I might as well have fun.

What we did on our summer vacation (slightly belated):

Canadian Falls up close, Niagara Falls (Ontario), Aug. 15, 2012

An outlying building of Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands, Aug. 19, 2012

Street scene in Vieux (Old) Montreal

 Centre d'Histoire de Montreal, Vieux Montreal

Mall (I forget the street's name) toward the end of Rue St. Jacques in Vieux Montreal, Aug. 22, 2012

Statue of Maisonneuve, a founder of Montreal, its silhouette cleverly projected onto a building behind it

 Lake Champlain, NY, Aug. 23, 2012 (a narrow shot but with a nice clear mountain view)

 Lake Champlain (more lake, more but mistier mountains)

 Caught in the act:  Roofer at work (Lake Champlain?)

 Straight from the main street, into the park, and down to Lake George

Lake George, NY, Aug. 23, 2012

Lake George

Post-hurrican report from some lucky NYC bloggers

Conservadox is fine, and so are we.

Wish we could say the say for the rest of New York City, the NYC metropolitan area, the eastern United States (and possibly Canada) and the Caribbean.  :(  The damage is extensive, and the loss of lives tragicSome of the damage in New York City alone is more extensive than this city has ever experienced.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Parshat Lech L'cha--my husband's view

You can read the basics here.

My husband's decided to do something new this year--he's studying the commentary in the Plaut chumash instead of the good old Hertz.  I think this change of books may be encouraging him to view the parshiot/weekly Torah readings from a more modern-scholarship perspective, rather than from a traditional rabbinic perspective.

We have several stories in this parshah, according to my husband, and they appear to be from several sources or traditions.  He thinks that there were probably more stories that didn't make the "editor's cut," so to speak, and don't appear in the Bible.

  1. The first sentence of this parshah is already a departure from the end of Parshat Noach.  As yours truly mentioned, Terach was already en route to K'naan/Canaan when he died in Charan/Haran.  (I think that he may have settled in Charan because he was too old and frail to continue the trip.)  Now, in the first sentence of Lech L'cha, HaShem is talking to Avram alone and telling him to leave his country, which, in fact, he'd already done.  As for going to a land that HaShem would show him, Terach had begun the family's trip to K'naan.  So this story does not appear to be the same story as the story of Terach leaving Ur Kasdim/Ur of the Chaldees and heading for K'naan, and appears to come from a different source.
  2. How was Avram chosen?  No indication whatsoever is given in the written text.  What was G-d looking for?  My husband says that we should look at the story or stories thus far for a possible answer.  Prior to the flood, there was no conception of law or social control, and society as a whole was chaotic, to the point that HaShem felt it necessary to destroy what He'd made and start from scratch.  This time, HaShem instituted the beginnings of social order and law, and chose to participate in history.  He began with such basics as laws against killing another human and eating the limb of a living animal.  But the flood did not change humanity's rebellious, self-centered nature, and HaShem's vision of a just world didn't seem imminent.  Enter Plan C:  G-d would create a nation that would be role model for all humanity, and Avram would be that nation's progenitor.  My husband is convinced that the choice of Avram was not random, but rather, that there was a back story that didn't make the final cut.
  3. The parshah goes almost directly from Avram's entry into K'naan to a departure for Egypt because of a famine, a non-sequitor that appears to be (from a) completely story.  My husband comes up with the rather wild notion that Sarai had to be taken by Pharaoh, just as Chavah/Eve was "taken" by the serpent, in order to give G-d an opportunity to intervene to prevent temptation and/or evil, which he did not do with Chavah.  He says that he was probably influenced in coming up with this wild notion by his earlier reading of Subversive Sequels in the Bible::  How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other, by Judy Klitsner, a book which we both recommend strongly.
  4. The side-trip to Egypt also seems to be the source of Avram's wealth, which was never mentioned before.
  5. The next story shows Lot separating from Avram and going to the east.  Now it's my turn to come up with, well, not a sequel, but, rather, a prequel--later in the Torah, two tribes and a half-tribe choose to stay on the east of the Jordan River because it's more economically beneficial, which was the same reason for Lot's choice.
  6.  Where the did the story war of the kings come from?  It's seems to be of little relevance, simply showing that Avram is (a) capable of staging a war, (b) cares enough to rescue his family members, (c) cares about his reputation and doesn't wish to be seen as taking advantage of a challenging situation.
  7. Hagar.  (a)  Since we never heard of her before, it's not unreasonable to assume that she was part of Avram's booty from Egypt.  (b)  According to my husband, it was important for her to have a son with Avram because other tribes in the area claimed descent from Avram, and a son by a concubine was necessary to maintain the alleged superiority of the still-future Yitzchak/Isaac's descendants.
  8. Not much to say about circumcision, other than that it was a common custom in the ancient Near East, but it was usually done at age 13, so the change to eight (8) days after the boy's birth is something new.
 See also:

Plenty of blogging time, thanks to Hurricane Sandy :(

CNN gives the overall picture here.

NY1 gives the local picture here.

The subways, buses, and commuter trains in New York and the surrounding areas have been shut down, so we're not going anywhere anytime soon.  We (and half the neighborhood) stocked up on food yesterday, and, since we're not in an evacuation zone, we're hunkered down in our apartment, waiting it out.  We're neither on a low-enough floor to need to worry about flooding, nor on a high-enough floor to need to worry about high winds, so we consider ourselves pretty lucky.  Our son's called a couple to make sure we're fine, and we are.  I'm more concerned about my uncle, who lives in South Jersey, probably close to where the storm is expected to make landfall, and my sister, who called to say that she's counting on help from a local senior center that has since been closed.  Aside from possibly losing electricity and dealing with plenty of downed tree limbs, we expect to be fine.  We hope that all those more directly in the storm's path remain safe.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


I was sitting in synagogue minding my own business in the few moments between the end of the Torah service and the beginning of the d'var Torah ("sermon") when a fellow congregant and frequent attendee came over to me and whispered in my ear, "Shabbat Shalom, Shira Salamone."

As I said, eek!

For lack of a better alternative, I smiled and made a "keep it quiet"/"shhh" sign.  But I was pretty surprised, given that I've never even told any current congregant that I have a blog, much less my blog name or URL.

After the Musaf Kedushah prayer, when we were both out in the lobby, he waved me over so that we could have a private conversation, and explained.  Apparently, his father had seen complaints on the Internet that intermarried people weren't supposed to get aliyot or other kibbudim (honors involving being called to stand on the bimah during the Torah service).  So the party in question did an Internet search, and--my luck--came up with the one post that I wouldn't have wanted him to see.

I must say that he not only took it very well, he even asked whether there were any actual halachic texts forbidding an intermarried man to be given kibbudim.  He said that he's been given p'tichah on Yom Kippur, and also aliyot, in synagogues where his intermarried status is known, so he's curious.  My husband thinks it's all a matter of an individual synagogue's minhag/custom.  Please post a comment if you are aware of anything "official" that you can quote by chapter and verse, and/or by rabbi's name.  Thank you.  Now that this congregant has become a reader of my blog, I'm sure he'll be very interested in reading your replies.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A "must-read" by Daniel Gordis

Check out today's post "The EU, the Peace Prize, and Israel's Marginalization" on his blog.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Arrested for Wearing A Tallit While Female,round _?

Is Anat Hoffman a victim of religious persecution at the Western Wall?  Orthodox Rabbi Eliyahu Fink says "yes."

You can read about an earlier round here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Parshat Lech L'cha thoughts for 5773/2012

You can read the basics here.

Did Avraham Avinu (Abraham Our Father) swipe the name Kel Elyon, G-d Most High (or pick your preferred translation), from Melchizedek, King of Salem?  (See B'reshit/Genesis, chapter 14, verses 18-20.)  The phrase koneh shamayim va-aretz, Maker of heaven and earth, appears to be borrowed from him, as well.

Some previous posts:
Writes Rabbi Natan Slifkin, "Abarbanel pulls no punches in his formulation of the question. “What kind of noble person chooses to live via such a terrible disgrace, seeking advantage and benefit from his wife being taken by others?! It is more befitting to choose death rather than committing such a disgrace!"
"Their perspective ties in with my unhappiness with Genesis, chapter 16, verse 6. It seems to me that Avraham was simply refusing to defend his wife against his concubine's disdainful behavior and insist that the concubine behave with proper respect, saying, essentially, "You deal with it." If you gave me a puppy, and the puppy bit someone, should I hold you responsible?"
"Why did HaShem choose Avram? No reason is given in Genesis, chapter 12, verses 1-3

Why did HaShem insist on this weird sacrifice (Genesis, chapter 15)? What was the point of killing those animals, since Avram wasn't going to eat them?  (Suggested answer:  "this was a typical way of establishing a treaty in the ancient Near East")

Why did HaShem not bother telling Sarai/Sarah that she was going to have a child before she offered Hagar to Avram/Avraham as a surrogate mother? Did HaShem want to create strife?"

Conservadox shares a few thoughts on Parshat Lech L'cha.

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Stores"?! An English-language-watcher's report

Yep, as previously mentioned here, the English language keeps evolving.  Remember the old days, when pods held peas, rather than tunes?  :)

The latest change that I've noticed is the relatively-recent trend of calling bank branches "stores."  Does this usage reflect a change in the attitude of banks--are they now selling products rather than providing services?  And has this language change gone nationwide, or is it confined to the New York metropolitan area?

P.S.  See yesterday's update to my 2012 Parshat Noach post.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Orthos re women's participation in Ortho services

Some interesting conversations regarding the role of women in Orthodox religious services were and/or are taking place on a few Orthodox blogs.  I'll let the bloggers and commenters speak for themselves:
Lots of comments!

Too much of a spread

Seen on the subway:

  • A guy with his attache hanging off of one knee and with his legs so far apart that he was blocking the seat next to him.  Sure, he moved when asked.  But why should anyone have to ask?  Where do people get the chutzpah (nerve) to take up two seats in the middle of rush hour?
  • A gal, obviously Orthodox and married, wearing the requisite fall (partial wig) with the requisite wide headband in front covering all but half an inch of her own hair, as well as the requisite white shell covering her front up to and including her collar bone, sitting with her knees about six inches apart, apparently oblivious to the fact that what Heshy would call "the upskirt view" was almost impossible to miss.  Yes, Virginia, there's a reason why I prefer 30-inch-long skirts and avoid pencil skirts like the plague--both shorter skirts and what we used to call straight skirts tend to pull up when the wearer is seated and reveal a bit too much leg.  (Besides, I can't dance in a straight skirt, and shorter skirts reveal too much leg when the wearer is dancing, too.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Parshat Noach thoughts for 5773/2012

You can read the basics here.

And here's a link to many of my previous Parshat Noach posts.

My question for this go-round:  Why was K'naan (Canaan) punished for his father Ham's sin?  (See B'reshit/Genesis, chapter 9, verses 22-27.)

And now, for something totally different.  Back in prehistoric times, before my foot surgery and my balance problem, I did a little choreography, and one of the dances was set to a song that quoted a couple of verses from Haftarat Noach.  I can't link directly to the video, since my office blocks YouTube, but you can view the dance that I choreographed to Mark Skier's Aniyah Soarah by going here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012 update--also weighing in on Parshat Noach are:
Sunday, October 21, 2012 update:  Give Avraham's father, Terach, some credit--according to chapter 11, verse 31, Terach left Ur Kasdim (Ur of the Chaldees) with the intention of going to K'naan (Canaan), though he died in Charan.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Not mean, just too buried in ebooks & iPods to notice

"Good grief," quoth the older woman standing in the subway with a cane slung over her elbow. A woman with a child in her arms was standing right in front of her. Why hadn't anyone given her a seat?

The older woman pulled the earbuds out of her ears, turned to the woman standing with an armful of child, and said, "You may be proud, but I ain't." Then she tapped the seated man in front of her on the shoulder and said, "Could you please give this woman a seat?" The man stood up immediately, and Ms. Cane-Enabled told the woman carrying the child to take the just-vacated seat.

People are so wrapped up in their electronic devices that they don't even notice when a person needs help anymore. :( But they do help once they realize that help is needed.

[Cross-posted on Kindness Happens.]

Friday, October 12, 2012

R'galim round-up (and Parshat B'reshit post)

Hoshana Rabbah
Knowing that the likelihood of getting a minyan at our own synagogue was almost nonexistent, a small group of hardy congregants met in front of our shul building an hour before our usual Sunday morning service and piled into a taxi for a trip to my old "kaddish shul" (where I commuted to morning minyan to say kaddish for first my mother, then my father).  We arrived just barely in time for the beginning of the service, and found a nice-sized crowd already there (estimate:  50 people by the end of the service).  The cantor, who's an expert in nusach, did an excellent job of leading the service from the Birkot HaShachar (Morning Blessings) right up to the Torah reading, which was leined/chanted by a congregant.  The rabbi took over for the Hoshanot processions, and, at the end thereof, we all went outside into the sukkah to beat our willow branches.  Nut case that I am, I insisted on staying behind while the others took a taxi back to our neighborhood--why miss an opportunity to grab some pastries at the local kosher bakery and eat in a local sukkah?  Yum!  'Twas a fine end to Chol HaMoed.

Sh'mini Atzeret--Round 3
Our congregation "hosted" our would-be High Holiday "cantor" again, since our regular cantor was undergoing medical testing.  Okay, I guess he "faked" Tefillat Gefesh/the Prayer for Rain well enough, but it would have been nice if he'd bothered to learn the traditional nusach for the chatimot (concluding words) of the b'rachot (blessings) of the Amidah prayers.  :(  Which he could have learned by doing an Internet search for "nusach," as I just did (see above)--there's a snippet of Shalosh R'galim nusach at the linked website.  But, of course, the few of us who care have been overruled, as usual--everyone loved his gorgeous voice, and almost no one either knew or cared about how limited he is in his knowledge of the Ashkenazi liturgical tradition.  It upset me that we were paying him to lead the services, yet my husband ended up leading Hallel from the side, for free.  I repeat--we needed a leiner/baal koreh/Torah reader, not a cantor.  My husband could have done a better, albeit not as gorgeously-sung, job as a baal t'fillah (prayer leader) leading than this "cantor" did.  Sigh--I simply have to get it through my thick skull that almost no one in this congregation knows or cares how many mistakes the leiner makes or how well the baal t'fillah knows the nusach--they just want someone who sounds good.

Simchat Torah
Well, the regular cantor came back just in time to go fetch his family to help make a minyan on Erev Simchat Torah so that we could do some hakkafot.  We never had more than 14 people, and felt lucky to have even that number.  The morning was better--though we didn't have a minyan yet for Chazarat HaSha'tz (Reader's Repetition of the Amidah prayer), we did have one, after some waiting, soon enough to go ahead with a full Torah reading with hakkafot.  We ended up with about 20 people, and managed to have a very nice Yom Tov celebration.

One of the reasons why I stopped spending Simchat Torah at our local synagogue (back when I was still traveling by subway on Sabbath and festivals) was that I was tired of feeling like the unpaid entertainment--even a decade ago, when we were all younger, few people would join me and my husband in dancing (which is why we gave up on dancing in the street on Simchat Torah--we couldn't even get people to dance in the aisles).  I've now come to the conclusion that I should just accept my position as the in-house entertainment as "ordained," and not let it bother me.  So I ignored the relative lack of company and enjoyed myself.

Hope your holidays were happy.  Shabbat Shalom.

Speaking of which, here's a D'var Torah regarding Parshat B'reshit from Conservadox.

And one from our son.

Ah, to heck with it--I don't have time to set up separate links to my Parshat B'reshit posts, so just read them here.

Friday, October 05, 2012

&now/something completely different:Hoshana Rabbah

Hoshana Rabbah will take place this Saturday after sunset and Sunday before sunset.  The following is copied from my (updated and reorganized) "What to say when" file in Word (with apologies for being unable to copy the original formatting):

• October 19, 2011 update: Hoshana ends with the letter Aleph, while Rabbah ends with the letter Hay, so, according to the rules of transliteration (such as they are), Hoshana should not be written with an H at the end, but Rabbah should be written with an H at the end.

In addition to doing seven Hoshanot, as opposed to the usual one Hoshana, and beating the aravot/willows:

• We use the the Shabbat and Yom Tov version of P’suké D’zimra, rather than the weekday (Chol) version. October 18, 2011 update (thanks to Larry Lennhoff’s comment here: We do say Mizmor L’Todah, which we usually don’t say on Shabbat or Yom Tov, but we don’t say the Shabbat and Yom Tov section starting with Nishmat Kol Chai and concluding with U-v’makalot—we continue the service again at Yishtabach.

Larry Lennhoff said...

Re Hoshana Rabba: We actually do a synthesis of the weekday and Yom Tov pesukei d'zimra. In particular, we say Mizmor L'Todah, which we don't say on Yom Tov.

Hoshanna Rabba is a last chance Yom Kippur which is why the baal Musaf wears a kittle and we say kadosh v'norah shemo as we do on YK. We also use the nusach of YK in various places.

TUE OCT 18, 01:25:00 PM 2011

• We use the Shabbat and Yom Tov version of Seder Hotzaat HaTorah, rather than the weekday (Chol) version.

• We recite “Adoshem, adoshem kél rachum v’chanun” as we do on Yom Tov, rather than omitting it as we would usually do during Chol HaMoed. October 2, 2008 update: I think this prayer is only recited if there’s a minyan.

• During Seder Hotzaat haTorah, we recite “kadosh V’NORAH sh’mo” (even if it's been omitted accidentally from the siddur/prayer book that you happen to be using [update October 7, 2012]!).

• The baal tefillah wears a kittel during Musaf.

• We recite the Musaf K’dushah for Yom Tov (Naarits'cha), not the one for Chol haMoed (N'kadesh).

• We sing Ein Kelokénu and Adon Olam. (Is this an optional minhag?)

• Some have the minhag to recite HaShem Ori V’Yishi for the last time of that Yamim Noraim season at the Shacharit of Hoshana Rabbah. I don’t know what the alternate custom is. October 2, 2008 update: I think the alternative custom is to recite HaShem Ori V’Yishi for the last time of that Yamim Noraim season at the Shacharit of Shemini Atzeret.

• October 18, 2011 update: I think I overhead [my husband] confirming with Cantor ___ that the Hoshanot of Sukkot and Hoshana Rabbah can only be recited if one has a minyan.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Festival follies

The first night of Sukkot was a "bad news, good news" story.  On the one hand, we had to schedule our Maariv/Arvit/Evening Service for 8:30 PM in the "Dungeon" (the windowless basement chapel) because there were renters occupying both the sanctuary and the lobby in which our sukkah is located (under an openable skylight).  On the other hand, once the renters cleared out, we had a delightful time.  We and a bunch of  folks whom we've known for years brought our own dinners, homemade and/or from several friendly not-so-local kosher stores, and we ended up passing around a lot of good food.  Both the food and the friends made for a delightful first night in the sukkah.

The second night was, um, interesting.  One of the local characters showed up and regaled us, as usual, with an earful of his opinions, this time of a partisan political nature, largely "inspired" by the fact that that night's sanctuary renter was the local Democratic Club, whose members moved in with laptops, cell phones, etc. to make calls seeking support for Obama.  After an entire meal spent listening to his rants, I finally begged him repeatedly to change the subject.  In typical fashion, he got ticked off and threatened to leave and go bentch (say Birkat HaMazon/Grace After Meals) at home.  At that point, I got ticked off and handed him his head on a silver platter:  "You're not going anywhere [said I to this self-described ex-Chassid].  It's Sukkot.  We eat in the Sukkah, and we bentch in the Sukkah!  It's the din (law)!  Sit down!  I'm going for the bentchers (Birkat HaMazon books.)"  Much to my pleasant surprise, he did sit down and bentch with us.  But toward the end, when we were singing our praise to HaShem as the one who makes peace, he started ranting about supporters of Obama being against peace.  After we were finished bentching, I went after him with both barrels blazing.  "How dare you interrupt a prayer just to rant!  Chutzpah (nerve)!  Have you no respect?!"  The senior Shabbos Goy, having heard a good bit of the man's monologue and witnessed our reactions, was highly amused--'til the guy stormed out and bent his ear for five minutes.  Oy, what a Yom Tov!  But, hey, the leftovers were good.  :)
<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>