Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Term: Cultural Fusion!

This is so simple and so brilliant simultaneously. I feel like someone switched a light on in my head...

Doug Morgan: Would you say either side wins this kind of confrontation in the lives of your chief characters?

Chaim Potok: In culture fusion something is yielded by both sides. The ideal would be that out of the fusion something new would result. You hope when you give something up that you gain something back. It is impossible to fuse totally with a culture for which you feel a measure of antagonism. The problem always arises when there is something in an alien body of ideas that attracts you. If nothing attracts you to it then you simply walk away from it.

Doug Morgan: As you are engaged in that kind of confrontation, trying to sort out how the fusion would take place, how do you decide what to discard and what to retain? Are there principles to guide you in that process?

Chaim Potok: Well, one hopes that if you're really related to the core of your particular culture, you have profound commitments to it, and that you are aware of how much you can strain it before you do violence to its essential nature. I'm dealing with individuals who are really familiar with the worlds in which they live.

The principles to use are the principles of one's own heart and mind.

~page 57 of Conversations with Chaim Potok of the Literary Conversations Series, edited by Daniel Walden


This has been what has claimed me since the time I first began to feel and think. From my inception, this was the problem that troubled me. The Rav struggles with this and that is why I relate to him. He claims in the end that the yeshiva and the secular world can never be perceived as a synthesis. This is the same Rav who believes in dialectical schisms. Thus, it is in keeping with his theory that he will utilize techniques of the secular world and analyze in accordance to them, but will not allow actual content to infiltrate his carefully created world. Hence his article in Light magazine.

This is also what R' Aharon Lichtenstein refers to when he states:
    I know of few poems that express so forcefully the moral idea that binds us to the beit midrash.[1]The narrator's life would have been far simpler had he dismissed the lure of nature: "What all the fuss? Snow, ice, trees, woods – they are all worthless! We're here today, gone tomorrow. Let's get on with it!" Rubbish can be dismissed without a second thought. But in order to have a "lover's quarrel" with the world, you must first see its value. Frost appreciated the hues and colors of the world. Though the narrator is attracted by the aesthete's passive contemplation, morality's voice within him eventually wins.

    So, too, is it with us. It is easy to devote yourself to Torah if you are convinced that everything else is nonsense. Nonsense is easy to give up. But one who sees the beauty in God's creation, who comes to love it, must be strong in order to devote himself to learning Torah. One must not divorce the world, but rather bear in mind one's "lover's quarrel with the world."
And this was what Chaim Grade wrote of when he depicted the feeling for beauty.

For those who claim all morals, ethics, that which is beautiful and that which is true comes from the Torah, this struggle need never occur. As Potok explains, if nothing attracts you to the alien culture "then you simply walk away from it." However, as Rav Lichtenstein notes, "one who sees the beauty in God's creation, who comes to love it, must be strong in order to devote himself to learning Torah." He is, after all, lured by something beautiful- and something Rav Lichtenstein even sees as being valid in its beauty.

My difficulty is that aspects of both worlds attract me. There is much that is valid, that which R' Lichtenstein would support, that fascinates and calls to me. It is simply a question of priorities. But there is also much outside the pale, forbidden, exotic, and pleasurable to the mind, that sings to me. I am torn, not because I am choosing between good and evil, but because I am choosing between my good and God's version of good. And my good is not necessarily synonymous with total evil. I long to find the way to fuse the many cultures that comprise me so that they create one strong and sturdy system of religiosity that enables me to keep to my Orthodoxy. But as I mentioned before, I have not been successful in my quest thus far; I am only afraid. My response has been to flee in the face of what I am not equipped to handle or to resolve. The Rav wrote about surrendering one's mind to God. Alas, I feel that is often my only option. And yet it is not satisfying; it does not please the soul. I am trying to fuse magnets that exist at opposite poles; they repel one another! So of course it is impossible. Of course the only way to continue is to bow to God. But sometimes I become so frustrated by this entire endeavor and angry with God for forcing me to continously choose that I wonder what would happen if I allowed my mind free reign for a day...the consequences of such a day make me tremble!

Jordan knew this about me instantly; he believed that no matter what I did I would somehow end up serving God through it. But I have less confidence than he does...they say the seal of God is truth and yet I find that I must block out what seems to be the most convincing truth because it totally contradicts my Judaism. This is, of course, vastly due to the fact that my truth is created by emotion as opposed to logic and it is what people feel that matters to me more than anything else. And so I try to fuse the culture that seems concerned with people's feelings- that preaches codes of tolerance and acceptance and humanism- with one that has clearly defined limits, no matter what one may feel- a kohen cannot marry a gerusha, a woman is an aguna until she receives her get, the homosexual act is forbidden. I simultaneously believe in an absolute truth and draw back in horror at the wreckage I perceive this causes the human being who must abide by it. I am caught in a place between and I cannot fuse these two cultures- I cannot- and yet I cannot let one go to wholly accept the other!

Of course this problem would never have come about to begin with had I been raised in a totally insular community where they would have taught me never to explore. Then, I would have been taught from the get-go to place God before my own perception. Yet they tried to teach me this and did not succeed...I had already been calibrated to be too sensitive, to thrill and thrum at the slightest sweep of the bow across the delicately laced strings...there was no way for me to escape. And in the pursuit of honesty, I never could have truly chosen escape as my option. I would have had to face the clash, to stand before it, to consistently have this vague sense of doing something wrong but to be unsure of whether I truly was wrong. And thus I cultivated my philosophy of 'Torah Through Tears.' I cannot accept that one must serve God with joy when one hurts another. I think it should kill you to hurt the other but you serve God despite this, not because of it. It should kill us to watch the homosexual struggle because he desires to sleep with another man. But the law is the law and it has been given by God. We must cry bitter, bitter tears, for it is through this that we attest that we are still human and that divine justice is not human justice.

Is this, then, my resolution? Clearly it cannot be. I have only solved how I can feel as I do and simultaneously keep the law. I have not yet discovered whether it is permissible to ignore texts in favor of common sense, which I strongly feel must be but cannot prove (platonic relationships, anyone?) My entire modus operandi is called into question by today's suspicious society, created in 'Rupture and Reconstruction' mode, because modern man has been taught and guilted into not trusting himself. Or as one of my esteemed rabbis and professors once stated, and only now do I finally understand what he means, "The heresy of the Moderdox is the idea that if you can't find an explicit prohibition it's kosher. The heresy of the Haredim is...well, it's the same thing, most of the time, except when they decide that everything not commanded is prohibited." How to live in a world where you must work to fuse elements that seem impossible to be fused? Two competing creeds, each of them worthwhile, with elements of goodness and purity scattered through like mica's a wonder sometimes that we are sane. The great tragedy- and simultaneously the great challenge- of our world is that it is not black and white. It is a great and glorious multicolored tapestry and the question is whether the thread I select when I weave my portion has been dipped in poison or not. If it has, then not only do I erase myself but the caustic, toxic potion shall eat away at the entire portrait. If it has not, then I create something beautiful...and the difficulty is that I can never be sure.

Cultural fusion is the perfect term...but alas, I am so torn, so very, very torn, that I have no idea how I shall fuse anything at all, or what will even happen with me in the end. All I can do is request that God guide my path and desire Him to have compassion upon me should I err. But that does not feel like anything near enough...I want clarity, I want answers; I don't want to have to work this damnable fusion on my own!

Chaim Potok on Comedy

S. Lillian Kremer: Many Jewish-American writers have turned to the comedic tone. Do you feel the comic is an inauthentic voice in which to render twentieth-century experience or does it hold no appeal for you?

Potok: No, it isn't that the comedic doesn't appeal to me. I've thought about this often because people have pointed out to me that the comedic tone really is not the way I write and I've come to the conclusion that the reason for that is that I was brought up in a yeshiva, and things are very, very heavy in Jewish parochial schools. Your friends might have certain interesting and strange senses of humor, but the models, the teachers and the rabbis, really don't. If you go to yeshivot from the time you are five or six years old until the time you are twenty-one, which was my span of yeshiva education, and you retain any sense of humor at all, that has to border on the miraculous. I think for many the comedic tone may be the only way to handle the twentieth century, because to handle the twentieth century seriously may lead one to lose one's mind. Humor is essentially one of the ways the secular humanist responds to an essentially impossible world. He doesn't have the heaviness of sanctity to fall back on, or the heaviness of mystery [emph. mine]. There are no mysteries to the secular humanist. Something is either potentially capable of being explored and answered or of no interest whatsoever. There are no mysteries to a logical positivist. Now, in this new book, The Book of Lights, there are comedic tonalities, especially in one of the characters. The reason for that is that for him not to resort to the comedic would be for him to be incapable of handling the particular dilemma that confronts him. That is precisely the dilemma of the twentieth century. How do you live with the insanities that we have created? This particular character can only live with it through a screen of the comedic.

-pages 40-41 of Conversations with Chaim Potok of the Literary Conversations Series, edited by Daniel Walden

To Be A Jewish Artist

Elaine Lindsay: In Asher Lev you suggested that if the Jew becomes an artist it is incumbent upon him to become a great artist, this being the only way to justify what he's done to everybody else's life. Is this applicable also to the writer?

Chaim Potok: I think that writers pay a terrible price for what they do; they pay it in loneliness, and very often they pay it in the harm that they do to other people by opening up images of reality that people would prefer not to see. I think the only justification for this kind of activity on the part of the writer is that he do it as honestly as he can, and that he try to do it better each time, with greater skill or for a greater purpose.

I don't want to make it sound as though life is all gloom and doom for an artist- there are great moments of joy, a kind of soaring that one rarely feels in normal life. But the artist feels that not very frequently- most of it is hard, gritty work. The only compensation for the hard work, for the pain that he sometimes causes people is the truth that indeed there are people who are grateful for the honest mirrors that they are shown of themselves. That makes the hard work of the artist, a person like Asher Lev, more than worthwhile- if he can create a really beautiful work of aesthetics that can at the same time be a truth.

~page 30 of Conversations with Chaim Potok of the Literary Conversations Series, edited by Daniel Walden

For His Soul Is Bound Up: Innocent Blood & Egla Arufah

ל וְעַתָּה, כְּבֹאִי אֶל-עַבְדְּךָ אָבִי, וְהַנַּעַר, אֵינֶנּוּ אִתָּנוּ; וְנַפְשׁוֹ, קְשׁוּרָה בְנַפְשׁוֹ. 30 Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad is not with us; seeing that his soul is bound up with the lad's soul;

~Genesis 44:30


Radak/רד"ק בראשית פרק מד:
ונפשו קשורה בנפשו - מרוב אהבה ואם לא ישוב הנער אתנו תצא נפשו ותהיה האשמה רבה עלינו ועליך שסבבת את מיתתו. ואם תאמר כי חטא לך והלא אתה אמרת ואשימה עיני ואיה השמת עין, אם לא חטא לך אינו צריך להשמת עין אבל אם חטא לך, כמו שאתה אומר, כי הוא לא לקחו, אבל אחר שנמצא באמתחתו לא נוכל לכחש, ואם תשא עונו זו היא תשומת עין. ואם תאמר למה אדבר אני עליו יותר מאחי:

Seichel Tov/ שכל טוב (בובר) בראשית פרק מדל:
ועתה כבואי אל עבדך אבי והנער איננו אתנו. כשיראה אביו כך, מיד ונפשו קשורה בנפשו, כשתי תרנגולים שקשורים זה בזה כיון ששומט השועל אחד מהם הרי חבירו אחריו נמשך, כך כשיראה הנער נפרד ממנו, הרי נשמתו יוצאת מן הגוף והולכת:

Otzer HaMidrashim/ אוצר המדרשים (אייזנשטיין:
מעשיותוגם לא זה שאמר לכם להניחו ואמר שהוא הרגו מפני שהוא אוהב אותו ונפשו קשורה בנפשו. אכן אדונינו הניחו לזה ולא יהרג נקי, כי אני הרגתיו וטוב מותי בעוה"ז ולא אמות בעוה"ב.

There is a Midrash that states that Joseph sent wagons to Jacob to show that it was really him because they had learned up till the portion of egla arufa. But I think that if you look at the actual text you realize something else in addition to this. Joseph had originally planned to keep Benjamin away from his father in his quest to test his brothers. However, his brothers (especially Judah) rose to this challenge and defended Benjamin, stating that their father Jacob would die without him because "his soul is bound up" with that of the lad. Otzer HaMidrashim makes the point that Joseph would thus be guilty of spilling innocent blood. An egla arufa is brought because innocent blood has been spilled.

Thus, for Joseph to send Benjamin back with the wagons symbolizing egla arufa would connote more than one thing. Not only is it a reminder to Jacob that he had learned up until the parsha of egla arufa with his son Joseph but it also symbolizes the fact that Joseph is not guilty of committing the sin for which one would bring an egla arufa. Through sending Benjamin back, he has not caused his father to die. Indeed, in a literary twist of compelling genius, he sends his agalos to ensure that innocent blood will not be spilled because he is sending for his father to come back and be made whole again upon meeting him, Joseph, once more. Jacob had mourned and mourned for Joseph and refused to be comforted (the understanding being that one is not comforted regarding the loss of someone who is not dead). A part of him had been lost. When Joseph sends the agalos to bring Jacob down to Egypt, he is planning to revive his father and ensure that not only will no innocent blood be spilled but in fact the complete opposite shall happen! Jacob shall be whole anew.

So sending agalos to symbolize eglah arufa is brilliant because:

1. It shows Jacob that it really is Joseph who is alive due to the symbol of where they had learned up to in the Torah portion. (Like mother, like son- Rachel had symbols and signs with Jacob, now Joseph does...)

2. It suggests that the "innocent blood" Jacob had thought had been spilled (i.e. Joseph's) will be requited because Joseph is still alive.

3. It shows that Joseph has refrained from spilling innocent blood himself (keeping Benjamin behind and thus killing his father.)

So the agalah/ eglah connection is a literary masterpiece. Huzzah for the Midrash! And for anyone who thinks the Torah is not a love story, that's because you have yet to truly read it. Every emotion in the world is there in some form.

Eishes Chayil (Foil Painting!)

This is an experiment done in the style of Mrs. Esther Soloveichik (this concept of foil painting is all hers). I like the effect. She did some really beautiful things with this.

I think next time I will use smaller lettering so it will be prettier still. Despite that, I think The Little Old Lady will still like it. I hope so, anyway, because I love her and she's wonderful.

The Girl & God

Face down in the dirt, she said, "This doesn't hurt."
She said, "I finally had enough."
One day she will tell you that she has had enough.

~"Face Down" by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

Friday, November 27, 2009

La Tristesse Durera Toujours

My mother's gift to me was Sunflowers by Sheramy Bundrick. It's an incredibly vivid, beautiful, sad book. It's historical fiction about the life of Van Gogh.

There's an excerpt I really like:

"It was peaceful, Mademoiselle, you need to know that. He lay there smoking his pipe, and we talked. About our childhood in Holland, about Jo and the baby, his paintings...and he told me about you. How important you were to him and how he wanted to marry you." A long silence, as if Theo was summoning the strength to continue. "Sometime after midnight, he said very quietly, 'La tristesse durera toujours,' closed his eyes, and it was over."

The sadness will last forever. His last words.

~page 379

Bundrick created a much more beautiful version of "Pretty Woman" for this book. It has everything I love in a story...passion, madness, brilliance and struggle.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

61 Things

This is my list of 61 Things I Am Thankful For! They are not listed in any particular order.

1. God.
2. I love and adore my family. My mother is so sweet. She ensures that none of her children ever feel alone or forgotten. Months in advance, she sent me a package and told me to only open it on Thanksgiving. I just opened it. It contains a delicious mousse chocolate bar and a new book for me to read. My little sister can drive and has driven me everywhere. But aside from that, she entertains me on Facebook with her photographs. She'd make an excellent cheerleader. The boys never cease to amuse me with their general awesomeness. And Daddy is a whole story unto himself.
3. Children! My favorite people in existence. Especially Noam and Brayden.
4. Chocolate! (Whether it's Godiva, Hersheys,'s amazing.)
5. Chocolate ice cream! (And gelato...hurrah for Scream!)
6. The entirely random and wonderful people I meet via this blog/ at Tanakh Yemei Iyun/ on the subway/ on the bus/ in the airport.
7. Music. All sorts, whether it is soundtracks to movies, Plumb's incredibly lyrical renditions, Anya Marina's elevated dirtiness, Britney Spears' "Three" or Lightman's incredibly gorgeous classical compositions- I love all music.
8. Clothes that have sparkles/ glitter on them. Thus, the store entitled "Conway."
9. Borders and Barnes & Noble.
10. My digital camera.
11. My laptop!
12. The fantastic NCSYers whom I know and who shed so much light upon me.
13. The Adept! I am so lucky to be in his class. God bless The Adept forever and ever.
14. Rebbetzin Sarah Greer. I don't speak to her so often, but whenever I do, she is a marvel.
15. The Little Old Lady. I love this woman with all my heart.
16. Every book that I have ever read. This year, The Quiet Room and Still Alice are still on my mind.
17. That I am not in a mental institution because, thank God, I have my faculties and can walk through this world still.
18. That I am not homeless.
19. That I am not a drug addict.
20. That I have not been diagnosed with a fatal illness.
21. In 10th grade, my teacher wanted to stop me from dancing. Apparently I was not acting appropriately for a Bas Yisrael. Abergakames saved me, as she usually does, by writing: "And, Chana, you have to realize that you CAN do things that are important to you. It's true that you may not always be able to change things, because people are people, and all people have their own values, and they won't want to be changing them, most probably, but you can do so much, you just don't know. You do so much just by wanting to do so much, because you're a better dreamer than I, for I make up characters that I wish to be like, in some crazy form of denial of the real world, while you, on the other hand, are the best dreamer and doer there is. And sometimes there will be people who stop you from dancing, and sometimes you have to listen, and sometimes you don't, and so Chana, even when someone stops you sometime or other, never forget to keep dancing - dancing with the horses of the carousel, the horses of the wind, the horses that I like so much and love to ride, because a horse will always listen and never tell one's secrets.” You said that years ago and I still try to live by it every day. I'm so lucky that I had you to listen to me when I was navigating that place.
22. North Shore Country Day. Every day, when I wake up in the morning, I thank God for giving me my life and for ensuring I went to North Shore. It's extremely apropos to remember this school on Thanksgiving because they accepted me just before Thanksgiving. It was one of the best presents I ever received.
23. For all my memories throughout New York with Jordan. These cheer me often.
24. Sephora and the brand of cosmetics called "Hard Candy." They have glitter eyeliner and makeup and thus they rock my world.
25. For my adopted family AKA the rollicking awesome Queens people with whom I have davened at Landers on Rosh Hashana and otherwise partied hearty.
26. For Ari Greenbaum & Yoni rescuing me and Dana back at the beginning of the summer, and the fantastic friendship I now get to have with the Canadian.
27. For my Titian-Haired Goddess AKA the most fabulous layout editor ever, Sarah Clyde.
28. That Daughter of God & The Man With the Colored Coat are happily married and I got to attend the wedding!
29. That Brown & Brunette have a little baby boy named The First Man!
30. Tanakh. And thus, elements of Revel.
31. The Pond at Bryant Park.
32. Subway trains when they pull up just as you swipe through the turnstile. I breathe an "Ahh," of satisfaction and happiness. This is made even better when I actually get a seat on the train.
33. My Scarsdale Cousins!
34. The cousin who reads my blog and comments on it (hurrah for JawsBlog!)
35. For the many Shabbatot I have spent in The Golden-Haired Girl's company (because she hosts me so often! Thanks, doll.)
36. Hugs and kisses in any form, when bestowed upon me.
37. The fact that Sam is having a wonderful time in Israel! And has been transferred to a tank unit. And that he called me chamudah.
38. That I own ice skates!
39. That I got to meet Elie Wiesel!
40. That I got to meet the Anderson Twins (and watch them play saxophones plus exhibit their gallantry in paying for our taxi and eating overpriced bagels with us.)
41. For figuring out I can cook!
42. For knowing Jay, who fixes computers and set up our Internet.
43. Dunkin Donuts Coffee- not for me, who doesn't drink it, but for Dana, who loves it so.
44. This apartment/ my roommates and our various parties.
45. The fact that Dana bought me three pairs of Minnie-Mouse Socks and they are warm and comfortable.
46. The fact that Dalia lets me live off of her Advil. I may exhaust the bottle soon.
47. For having a New York Early Thanksgiving this past Tuesday night (because my Aunt & Uncle are attending a cocktail party tonight.)
48. That my mother and father are employed in this economy.
49. That Spock rescued me from my unhappiness this past summer. I enjoyed seeing Star Trek/ eating at Taboun/ going to the Botanical Gardens, etc, with you.
50. Isaac's Bake Shop in Brooklyn. Also, Eichlers.
51. All the beauty in the world. Whether it's waterfalls, glitter, neon lights or something else, all that beauty makes me glad to be alive. And that is a good thing.
52. Every single film or TV show I watch. But if I had to pick one, I would say CSI:NY. They are the most likable, fantastic characters. If I wanted to have friends like those who appear on television, I would want to have people like the ones on CSI:NY as my friends.
53. The people in my life- there are too many of you to list- who make it fantasmic. If you're on my listserv you're included in this, and if I've been to you for Shabbat, you're thricely included.
54. The word "spluck." Alexis, Malka and I made this up on the way to Rochester. Now, whenever we are mad, we can just say, "Spluck you!" and burst out laughing.
55. Orchard Corset. Because that store is the lingerie Ollivanders of the world. Plus it's hilarious.
56. Getting stuck in the elevator in the Marriot with my friend and only later realizing that a DIFFERENT guy who reads my blog was stuck in the elevator with me as well. He introduced himself to me via Facebook a couple days after we had partied in the elevator together. I love the randomness.
57. The fact that Perel is happily ensconced in her new pad.
58. Friendly's and outlet bakeries (also vestiges of our trip to Upstate New York.)
59. That I was chosen to go on Shaker Mill this year! Booyah!
60. That my sister is graduating at the end of this year. This one makes me tear up a little. Dustfinger darling, how did we get so old?
61. Fairy dust. Because I believe it's there and they say it shimmers all around me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yechiel is Fabulous: Last Year's Thanksgiving

Last year, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, my handsome, brilliant and incredibly wonderful cousin Yechiel Szeinuk (of the generally awesome and always venerated Scarsdale Cousins) sends me an email that reads as follows:


So I need to do a mitzvah thing. I thought I would feed the homeless for Thanksgiving. So wanna come over?

You can bring one of your friends, a real one, or two. Make sure they shower first and look a little decent and are known for not robbing people.

Um mom said it was ok.
Yechiel Szeinuk

P.S. Don’t eat the garbage anymore; it's not safe.

I write back:

Hahaha- thanks- I would love to come! Maybe I'll invite my cousin JawsBlog to come with me (he's really nice) if he's not already taken for Thanksgiving?

Yechiel counters:

Mom: If JawsBlog comes, what about The Socialite (JawsBlog's sister)?
Yechiel: They're her fake friends; it doesn’t matter.
Mom: Ask her.
Yechiel: Fine, but if they turn out to be real, what will the neighbors think when they see many poor homeless people outside our house? And think of the property value.
Yechiel: *stares*
Yechiel: *walks away*


Oh Yechiel, I love and miss you so much! I miss your teasing and I wish you were around. On the other hand, you're off being a brave soldier in Israel, which is amazing. I just miss you. I even miss getting stranded in the Bronx or watching skimpily-clad CGI Angelina Jolies in "Beowulf." (And cmon, if you had been here this year, I would have dragged you to "New Moon." *insert evil laughter here*) And playing Guitar Hero and watching Smores eat you alive. And finding out about how you shower with waterbottles in the middle of parking lots. Aw, man, I miss you. I hope you have the happiest Thanksgiving in the whole wide world and are having a beyond thrilling time in the Holy Land. And I hope I get to see you really soon because you owe me a bearhug. Even if I do have to trek all the way out to a foreign country to get it...

P.S. Update your blog, dammit! It's the only information I get on you and you don't write fast enough!


One of my friends dedicated Nick Lachey's song "Beautiful" to me. I think that is one of the most gorgeous things anyone has ever done for me! (Lyrics here.)

When it comes to Thanksgiving, among the many things I am thankful for, I am so grateful that I have a friend like that! Thanks so much to my friend Joseph the Dreamer.

Yaelle's Observer: Issue 3!

My dear readers,

Yaelle Frohlich has been working diligently away at The Observer and has just put out a very impressive issue. Here are some articles worth checking out.

Suppose you go to Yeshiva University, in which case you've seen his name plastered on all the buildings, but did you ever know who Sy Syms really is and/or was? Now you can.

Have you benefited from a YU scholarship? Or do you have friends who are working through school to support themselves, whether via the work-study program or other initiatives? Read about them and those like them here.

There's the fun and playful 'Let Them Eat Cupcakes!' which explores the variations of this colorful iced muffin. Or maybe you're more interested in a different kind of brownie, in which case you'll like learning about medicinal marijuana and the legal/ halakhic ramifications. What's that? You prefer reflections on the holiday spirit. Thanksgiving ruminations coming right up.

Did you quit smoking after seeing Bodies? That might be great for you, but not necessarily so great for those featured in the exhibition...

Attend a lecture at the 92nd Street Y about Holocaust survivors (in spirit), discuss Maharat Sara Hurwitz, read a poignant piece about the need to discuss children with autism (huzzah my uncle!) and otherwise dance through this jam-packed issue.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Letter To The Lady Who Desires To Be Touched

Dear Nice Jewish Girl,

I read your initial blogpost and I wanted to write to you. You see, you wrote the following:
    The Orthodox Jewish world does not encourage frank expression of sexual desire, except in marriage, and I am healthily skeptical that those conversations occur in very many marriages. The Orthodox Jewish world further portrays to (single) women the notion that (single) men are fairly filled with lust, and it is the responsibility of a woman to restrain not merely her own desires, but those of men as well.

    There is no place for a non-anonymous confession: to openly admit that I long to lie in a man's arms at night, to desire and be desired, to stamp my name on such yearning, has no place in the public Orthodox sphere. Passion is the prize of marriage, nothing less.

    Still, I believe that these things I want are the necessarily secret hope of many observant women, and I would like to believe that this blog will not merely be my voice, but the voice of those many women who long, as I do, to be valued through touch.
This is what I wanted to tell you. I believe there is a great difference between what people will verbalize in public and in private. In part, this has to do with the confines of the community in which we live. But in another way, this has to do with the great sanctity of the topic being addressed. Because it is something so special, it shall only be discussed in private. The question arises as to whether there is a point in time where we should trade in that sacred privacy in order to help others. You argue that we have reached that time. I am more hopeful - I believe that the people who need to speak or to be heard know that there are listeners out there and they find us when they need us.

Regarding your point: Is there anyone human who doesn't long to be touched and loved? The two are synonymous. Touch is an expression of love. To touch another person is to convey how you feel about them. How sensitive and exquisite are the padded tips of our fingers! Soft and delicate and incredibly crafted through the kindness and precision of a wonderful God. Within these hands, so much exists. The artisan, the craftsman, the labourer and the worker- all of them are men and women of their hands. These hands can create worlds or destroy them. And yes, through touch, these hands that all of us share in common can awaken people to everything pure within themselves. Of course, it is the body as a whole that desires to be loved and touched, not merely our hands. But I choose to discuss hands specifically because of how much we accomplish with them.

To me your point is obvious. Who could live without passion? Everyone wants to desire and be desired, loved and appreciated. We long, as human beings, to give to others. We overflow with this desire. Judaism is a religion of self-restraint and thus it is very difficult. Sometimes it is impossible. So what I wanted to tell you is quite simple. Of course you are not alone! It should not even be a question. Everybody, man or woman, wants to be valued through touch and wants to be loved. So, my darling, the question is not what we want- but how we get there. What do we do with this passion? How do we channel it? Sanctify and uplift it? Your premise is absolutely right- there is no question that it is right! But what do we do with all that courses through us- who do we become- who are we as people? I believe that our mission in this world is to throw off light, to glitter so brilliantly that our souls shine through. Thus, passion is a tool in creating that person. The question is what you will do with all the longing, yearning, passion and desire that courses through you. They are powerful tools. I hope you are loved, entirely so! I would simply reframe your words. Rather than passion being the prize of marriage, I would say that the fulfillment of passion is the prize of marriage. But what do you do in the interim?

Ah, my friend- that is what we each get to figure out for ourselves! Tis our unique combination of talents, qualities and longing combined that makes us incredible. And one more point- it is not just the craving to be loved and touched that is important. It is the desire to give back- to love another. It is not enough to desire only on behalf of oneself. Yes, human beings are passionate and giving and divine. But all that longing builds up to enable you to do something aside from longing. You must create something or else you will go mad. So what is it that you shall do with these strong, strong feelings within yourself? I do not know. That's your magic to employ. But you shall do something- you must!


I woke up in the morning so happy today! I am not quite sure why but I figured it would be appropriate to write a love song to God.

Good morning, God! Thank you for...
my waking up!
my waking up so happy!
all the beautiful people!
and the wonderful books!
and the magnificent heat that heaters can make.
and the sound of the clouds as they move across the sky.
and the dark turning softly into day.
the pigeons warbling outside the window.
and the joy and the joy and the joy and the joy!

Bruises The Eye Can't See

She's beautiful as usual
with bruises on her ego
and her killer instinct tells her to
be aware of evil men.

Pretty Girl by Sugarcult

I can't do this,
I can't do this,
I can't do this by myself.
I can't do this,
I can't do this,
Oh God, I need Your help.

They're the overachievers, the motivated kids, the ones who are supposedly brilliant, talented, gifted beyond all measure. They're exquisitely sensitive, incredibly attentive, and trust people implicitly. They expect people to keep their word, require honesty, and find themselves confused when confronted with evil. They prefer to take the blame upon themselves as this will enable them to fix it. If everything is somehow their fault, then they'll be able to change it around so that it is okay. It is impossible for them not to take something personally. The world in and of itself is a personal place. All things relate to them. They relate to their world by feeling rather than thinking. This is difficult for people to understand because they are so talented when it comes to critical thinking and analytical skills.

What happens to our beautiful, sensitive girl with the golden soul? She expects to be understood in the same way that she understands others. This expectation is unfair because she has tools at her disposal that many others do not. She has a quick eye and a keen heart that smarts under the blows inflicted upon another. Her sense of justice is finely honed and razor sharp. She deflects pain from others and becomes indignant when injustice prevails. She expects to be taken seriously regardless of her age. She is frustrated by those who will not listen to her because she is too young. But more than anything else, she wants to find a friend who can return her constant, unwavering, outpouring of love.

She is a child who was born to be in love with all things. Everything in the world excites her joy. Love is her natural state. She loves God, her parents (unless they have neglected or abused her, in which case she is conflicted) and people. It is extremely difficult for her to blame others for anything that happens to her due to the conflict that arises when she simultaneously wants to love the person. It is easier for her to excuse others and to pile all mistakes and misunderstandings upon herself. She is extremely harsh when it comes to herself but very generous with others. She believes in magic. To hurt another person is akin to hurting herself, and thus almost impossible for her own sense of physical self-preservation. She is astounded by those who can hurt callously or without thought.

It takes a very long time for her to trust people. Her worst hurts come from people she trusted who failed to come through for her, or worse, betrayed her. It is better never to be vulnerable. To expose onself to another is to risk having them mock or hurt you for the most precious things you have, hold to be true or are. Thus her brilliant acting ability. She wears masks, juggles identities, throws off flame and glitter and glitz in order to protect her core self. The majority of the people she knows believe they know her, but all they know is her glitter. A select few would know her true self.

Despite her careful deceptions and webs, she cannot evade the repercussions of having people hurt her. Her emotional core is fragile. The bruises run deep and infiltrate the bloodstream. Self-doubt, anger, recrimination, censure and loathing run paramount in her head. To look in the mirror is a problematic exercise. Her high standards will never be good enough for Person X. She finds it very difficult to discount the opinions of others. It is easier not to try at all. Thus, her decision to deliberately fail. No one can motivate her if she has decided she doesn't care. She refuses to care about most things. Caring requires openness, vulnerability, and she can only be open to people she is certain won't hurt her. She shuts down the rest of who she is around most people.

Words are weapons. They can shatter her, cut her to pieces. She will remember the words of children who were eight years old and they will still hurt. She will remember moments everyone else has forgotten. The words scar, an interlacing, interlocking web of intricate scarring that covers her skin. And woe betide her if she loves the wrong person. The person has the ability to wreck her self-image, self-esteem, sense of self-worth and the whole way she perceives herself. She is so open that even if they don't intend it, they can hurt her.

She can be very lonely. She doesn't belong in a world comprised of cynical and bitter people. She will retreat from that world, whether via the form of fantasy, imagination, living in her thoughts or creating an alternate means of existence. In her healthy state, she can be amazingly productive in her choice of alternate worlds- a fantastic actress, a wonderful writer. In her unhealthy state, she is very bitter, angry and hateful. She needs to feel like she is doing something with her life and that it is productive. If she doesn't feel productive, she loses all will to live. If she finds that a particular venue (for example, school) is forcing her to be around people who are shutting off her productivity or her way of existence, she will lash out against this trigger. This will take the form of cutting ties with this place.

When you look at her you see a confident, brilliant, with-it person. Underneath it, depending on whether she is healthy or unhealthy, she can be falling apart. There are bruises the eye can't see that may have significantly messed her up. She needs people who believe in her and who will never doubt her. She needs people who love her without conditions or strings attached. She needs people who will never put her in a position where she feels like she's not good enough for them, or can't please them by being who she is, or is somehow inadequate. If she respects the person and feels like she isn't good enough for them, it will kill her. Rather than shifting blame to others, she puts it all on herself. She will hate herself for not being good enough.

She hates being called crazy or any derivative of that. She is not weird or a fruitcake or any form of that word. People who call her names like that don't understand her. There's no such thing as it just being a joke because it's not funny. This is her life and mode of being that you are insulting. It's not the way most people live. That's why people call her names. People dislike what they don't understand. If you call her names, she'll shut you out of her life. There are no second chances. She doesn't forgive.

Be careful with her. She's fragile, delicate. If she loves you, you'll be the luckiest person in the world. If you hurt her, she'll remember it. Be careful with your words around her. Just one moment with your lips and she'll write you off- because she can't be around people who are toxic to her soul. She's had her share of toxic people. In general, she doesn't trust people at all. She trusts God.

That's my portrait of our bruised girl. She's always going to be hurting; it can't be undone. You can just choose to be a person who hurts her further or who is special, different, in a world where she has learned not to expect too much- or anything. To be loved by her is to bask in a light so brilliant and so beautiful that it blinds the eyes of everyone else. But very few are truly loved by her. It's a rare honor and it's earned- and most people, by virtue of the ideals they choose to uphold, will never be able to be the kind that she can love.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Girl With The SuperPatch, Teasing & Crying

I saw a girl on the crosstown bus today. She couldn't have been more than five or six. She sat beside her mother but wore a patch over her left eye. It looked a bit like a pirate's patch, rakish and exciting, except it was emblazoned with the Superman insignia over a 'P.'

I looked at her. She and her mother were engaged in a counting game. Obviously her mother wanted to ensure her daughter worked her eye appropriately, so she was having the girl count each person who entered the bus. The reward for this endeavor was that the girl would get to play a game on her mom's iPhone.

I watched the little girl for a while. I couldn't resist speaking to her.

"Hi," I said. "My name is Olivia. My sister's name is Sophia. My little sister had to wear an eye patch just like yours. But hers wasn't as cool as yours. Yours is so cool! It's like you have superpowers or are supergirl!"

The girl smiled at me. She took this all in stride.

"Yeah, my sister had to wear one, too," her mother answered. "She just had a clear patch. They make much cooler ones these days." I nodded and smiled at her.

"I just wanted to tell you that yours is so cool," I continued to the girl. And then I sat back down and wondered.

Do they tease you at school? I wondered to myself. How do you deal with it? Does it help that your patch is cool and emblazoned with super powers? Maybe people think it's cool instead of teasing you. How does it affect you when people make comments that aren't so nice? Or when they stare at you? Are you too young to notice? Or has your Mommy trained you with what to say? Or maybe you go to a really good school where the kids have all been taught to be socially accepting. I really wonder. There's not much I can do because I'm not there to make them be nice to you. The only thing I can do is tell you how cool the patch is and hope that on some level you hear the words and they'll be your armor for the day, if you need them. I hope you don't, though. You seem okay. But then, who knows?

Later on today I came across a book called The Shabbat Box. In it the main character has a mishap and his class' Shabbat Box falls into the snow. He gets very upset about this and cries because it is ruined. Later on he makes his own Shabbat Box and brings it in for Show & Tell. He shows it to all the students and tells them about how the class' Shabbat Box fell into the snow. But, the book mentions, "he didn't tell them about how he had cried. He didn't want them to think he was a baby."

Lesley Simpson, shame on you. You write a book for kids, in which a child is very upset when he ruins his class' project, and he understandably cries. Yet you then include the fact that he doesn't tell this to the class because he's worried they will think he is a baby. That'd be fine if you later addressed this in the book and talked about how that would be inappropriate on the children's part. But you leave it alone, so that the message the kids get is they shouldn't cry or talk about the fact that they cry because they'd be considered a 'baby' if they did so. And that's considered an appropriate and successful children's book? It's a book I would never read to my kids.

In total contrast, look at an excerpt from Taylor Mali on "What Teachers Make." (Thanks, William.)

"Hi, this is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven't called at a bad time. I just wanted to talk to you about something that your son did today. He said, 'Leave the kid alone! I still cry sometimes. Don't you?' and it was the noblest act of courage that I have ever seen. I make parents see their children for who they are and who they can be."

That kid was a kinder person than you, Lesley Simpson. You fed into the typical understanding of tears and sadness as something shameful and helped propagate it for everyone else- that boy stood up for someone else. You had an opportunity to have kids talk about tears and shame openly and totally let it fall to the wayside- that little boy defended his classmate. Let no one ever say that adults know what they are talking about- I'd choose children over adults 99 times out of 100. And the only reason it isn't 100 times out of 100 is because kids can be some of the cruelest bullies you'll ever see- and that's the reason I can't always pick them. But you should know - in general, kids look out for my welfare a whole lot better than the adults I know.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


It's nice that the Jewish community has woken up to the problems that sexual abuse causes. I'm glad it's being addressed. I think it's wonderful.

That doesn't mean that our community should focus explicitly and especially upon that kind of abuse to the exclusion of all others. There are a lot of different types of abuse. There's domestic abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse and so forth. It's great that we've been concentrating on sexual abuse, but all the other types I have mentioned also ruin people's lives.

If you have teachers in schools who are abusing the kids in any way, and that's not limited to sexual abuse, you should think carefully about what's going to happen to those kids they teach. I can assure you it's not going to be good for them. It's a lot to live through and to live with and it's hard if not impossible to put broken people back together again. An abused kid is someone who got hurt and she/ he has to live with that for the rest of their life.


I'm alive! This is fabulous. Lots of thanks is owed to many people but most of all to Yair Shahak, who is a wonderful friend. In the course of my sickness, I discovered a brilliant Christian artist who goes by the name Plumb. (I heard her song "Cut" air during this Vampire Diaries scene.) I've fallen in love with all of her music, but here are a couple of her pieces I decided you might enjoy listening to (in no particular order.)

1. I Can't Do This
2. Hang On
3. Nice, Naive and Beautiful
4. Jekyll & Hyde
5. Stranded
6. God Shaped Hole
7. Damaged

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Things I Need, Please

All right. I am sick enough that I am actually asking for something (yeah, I know, who stole Chana and replaced her with this zombie girl?) I could really use the following things:

1. Shower cap (one of those plastic ones you can buy at the drugstore).
2. Thermometer (I know I am burning up but don't know my exact temperature except that it is crazy high because I am freezing and shivering). The under-the-tongue kind is fine.
3. Thermometer covers (so I don't infect the thermometer for everyone else.)
4. Chicken soup and/or any kosher soup mix you can find (onion soup mix or vegetable soup mix is grand. A couple of boxes, please.)
5. A loaf of whole wheat bread (for toast.)
6. Tissues (we ran out of tissue boxes and now I use toilet paper and it is chafing my nose, which is already as red as Rudolph's.)
7. DVDs to watch (because I cannot concentrate on anything else) - but know that I might infect your DVD cover so you should Lysol it later.

If you are able to provide any of these items, please let me know (I would get them myself but I can't move, in all honesty) and I will be happy to pay you back for them. Also, let me know so that I am not suddenly inundated in three shower caps, etc.

And now I'm going to try to go back to sleep because it is, after all, 5 AM. Also, your incentive for getting these things for me is that I'll love you forever. Don't y'all want to be loved by the incredibly sick red-nosed zombie girl wallowing in toilet-paper-turned-tissues? Doesn't sound so appealing? Can't imagine why not...

The Flu Devoured My Brain

This is a rant. It seems preferable to me to write it down as opposed to attempting to explain it when I am in a snarly, irascible, irritable mood.

I am not a typing machine.

I will say that again. I am not a typing machine. You don't insert coins, press 'Play' and then expect me to spit out results. I know that I am home sick and ostensibly there should be nothing in the world I would rather do than type up all of your projects. But guess what? I can't concentrate that long. I also stop every five seconds to mop my nose or heave dry coughs and whimper unhappily. The only thing I can currently concentrate on is television shows. You want to know why? Because they are distracting and pretty. There is color involved. Pictures. Bright and shiny things. I have also noticed that when my brain is being fed these pretty images, my coughing lessens. And this is a good thing.

So you are quite right, I am a lazy bum who is sitting at home in my pajamas watching television and not doing any of the work that you want me to do. Absolutely. You know what else I am? A really sick little girl. So leave me alone and stop assuming I am a machine.

And if you do get everything typed up by some miracle? Know that it's only because I've been focused on Anya Marina's "Whatever You Like" while typing. My brain requires the distraction so that I can type without coughing/ mopping every five seconds. So you only got your Torah because I was listening to a filthy song. I find it oddly soothing. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Irony is a witch, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Birthday (Plans!)

I figured I would ask for your involvement in this endeavor.

I want to find a really beautiful, classy place (bar, lounge, restaurant- it doesn't matter to me) with gorgeous ambiance where they'll card me when I buy my drink. It will be no fun unless I'm definitely going to get carded (either when I buy my drink or to get in.) Thus, every kosher restaurant in New York is out, because they don't ask your age before serving you drinks.

And this mystery place gets props if they've got kosher champagne and/or real kahlua (for White Russians.)

So what are your recommendations?


Happy Birthday, Daddy!

There's two things I know for sure:
She was sent here from heaven and she's daddy's little girl.
As I drop to my knees by her bed at night
She talks to Jesus and I close my eyes and
I thank God for all the joy in my life
Oh, but most of all
For butterfly kisses after bedtime prayer;
sticking little white flowers all up in her
hair; "Walk beside the pony, Daddy, it's my first ride."
"I know the cake looks funny, Daddy, but I sure tried."

Butterfly Kisses" by Bob Carlisle

Well, I don't talk to Jesus and Daddy's never done anything wrong that I know of, but the rest of it seems accurate. *smile*

For the Daddy who spends all of his life trying to make ours better, is selfless and dedicated and devoted, active in communal affairs and nonetheless modest, and most of all the one who is always there to pick up the phone when I need him, I give thanks. God blessed me when he made me your daughter. You are always sweet and gentle and if you are upset, it's because you are worried about my welfare. And you never made fun of me, ever, the way some fathers do, no matter what I said or did or said I wanted to do. Plus, you chose the best mother for me. I am so lucky that I was born with you for my father.

And you know what? The rest of what I want to say is private, so that's the end of this post. But I hope you have a marvelous birthday!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yona the Advil-Man

Yona is the nicest person ever because he found me in the library and brought me Advil to attempt to quell my fever. Yona, you rock.

Inarticulate Scream

I hate being sick.
I hate being sick.
I HATE being sick.

God, why, why, why?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dammit, I'm Going To *Be* Deaf and Blind

I have an amazing friend named The Golden-Haired Girl. She has Usher Syndrome and is an unbelievable person. She is also very kind and The Titian-Haired Goddess and I enjoyed a wonderful Shabbat meal at her house on Saturday.

She informed us that on a recent trip to Ireland with her friend Charlene (I adore the name Charlene. I adore all those names spelled 'Ch' and pronounced 'Sh' so that you have Shar-lotte, Shar-lene. It's so pretty to me) they flew BMI.

"Never fly BMI," The Golden-Haired Girl instructed.

"Why?" questioned I, not comprehending.

"Well, we found out that you are only allowed to have one piece of luggage per person," The Golden-Haired Girl replied.

"And we had all these pots and pans and tons of food in order to keep kosher in Ireland," Charlene added.

"So we had to pay 400 euros for our overbaggage. That is equivalent to 600 dollars."

"Oh my God," I said, my jaw dropping.

"Yeah, she had a fit," Charlene explained, nodding in The Golden-Haired Girl's direction. "I was quite calm. But on the way back we were flying out of England. That meant we were going to have to pay for overbaggage in pounds. It was going to come out to be well over a thousand dollars. So we were sitting in the airport and lamenting this and The Golden-Haired Girl suddenly exclaimed, 'Dammit, I'm going to be deaf and blind.'"

"So I took out my walking stick," The Golden-Haired Girl explained, smiling hugely.

"And she turned off her cochlear implants," Charlene added.

"No, no, I didn't," The Golden-Haired Girl explained. "I just pretended like I didn't have them on."

"So then I went to the lady checking us in and said, 'I'm sorry. My friend is blind and deaf and I'm her facilitator," explained Charlene. "And the Golden-Haired Girl is pointing to her lips and motioning like, 'I need to read your lips.'"

"You did not," The Titian-Haired Goddess said, laughing uproariously.

"Okay, not really her facilitator, but the lady only spoke to me. And so I mimed everything while talking to The Golden-Haired Girl, like passport. I made huge exaggerated gestures and drew a passport in the air. And the lady at the booth only talked to me, not to her."

At this point in time I am dying of laughter. To me, this is like a scene out of a movie.

"And she let us through," The Golden-Haired Girl stated merrily.

"And the thousand dollars?" I questioned.

"Well, I was standing there waiting to be busted," Charlene stated, "but the lady just let us through and even though we had huge signs marked 'overbaggage' on our luggage we didn't have to pay a cent."

"No way," I breathed. "That's hilarious!"

"I knew we weren't going to be busted," The Golden-Haired Girl stated. "After all, I am legally blind and deaf. I could prove it to her if you asked. And you only get walking sticks from the Comission for the Blind so it's not like you can just use one as a prop."

"Wow," I said. "It's such a fantastic story. You took something which is normally viewed as a disability, where people pity you and you turned it into a complete advantage."

"That's my revenge on society," she laughed alongside me. "If people want to pity me, I'll just take advantage of them. I don't want anybody's pity."

I shook my head, amazed by her sheer cheek, pluck and wit. "The part I like best is the 'Dammit, I'm going to be deaf and blind,'" I stated. "This is just the kind of scene you would see in a movie. It's the kind of thing the whole audience would be laughing at, because of how you've turned the suppposed disability on its head. It's totally brilliant. Can I write it up?"

"Sure," she said. "This story is all yours."

So thank you, dear Golden-Haired Girl, for showing me that you can have the last laugh in a world that does not favor you. This makes me happy.

I Welcome(d) The Shabbat Queen, Part 8

This Shabbat was utterly wonderful! We had the Titian-Haired Goddess, Menachem Butler, The Golden-Haired Girl and her friend, SJ, Erachet and The Book Thief. The Titian-Haired Goddess brought cinnamon babka and amazingly gorgeous long purple candles that I must light at some time, Menachem Butler provided treats from Gruenbaum's (black-and-white cake and chocolate chip cookies), The Golden-Haired Girl and her friend made whole wheat amazing challot, SJ and Erachet brought fruit and The Book Thief provided drinks.

Now to the food. I must inform you that there was a large vegetable-filled salad which you will not see pictures of due to the fact that it was made, dressed and spice on Shabbat proper. But here is everything else.

We begin with the chicken soup:

And matza balls, which were later added to said soup:

Then I decided to create a Thanksgiving theme. We had Chicken Charlie:

And this was meant to be eaten with fresh, homemade cranberry sauce:

Then there was pumpkin pie!

And Lokshen Kugel:

And then Sweet & Sour Chicken (and it looked much prettier on the platter than just taken out of the oven like this):

And this is why y'all should come over.

The A Train At 3 AM

Things that are awesome include:

-Saturday night plans!
-Wandering through Hersheys/ the M&M store
-going to My Most Favorite Food and buying awesome dessert!
-The View at the Marriot Hotel (the 48th floor) and the rotating bar.

But best of all is the A train at 3 AM. Everyone is either sleeping or reading. It is quiet and peaceful and just...nice.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tzror HaMor

I pass this book in the library all the time. So who wants to clue me in: What's the Tzror HaMor?

Olly, Mesopotamian History, Key Food & Maccaroni

This morning began advantageously when I overheard a teenager talking to his mother on the train. "I refuse to live under these conditions," he stated, his face turned up in a snarl.

From what I could glean from the conversation, he had to switch high schools (to a less expensive school) and his mother expected him to get a job. He felt, for his part, that she ought to look into getting a better job. He was also quite angry with his father, whom he claimed had never worked a day in his life. I was simultaneously shocked by the way he talked to his mother and sad that he was so angry.

Fortunately, when I switched over to the bus, two lovely ladies were having a most entertaining conversation. Part of this included this lady with corkscrew ringlets stating that she had been traumatized at the age of three when her mother took her to Macy's to meet Santa.

"I remember pushing through layers of tulle," she informed her friend. "And then when I got there to sit on Santy's lap, I started screaming. Shrieking my head off. Traumatized by that experience ever since. As I told my mother later, it doesn't even make sense that we went- we're Jewish!"

At the end of my busride I went up to her and her friend and thanked them for being so entertaining. "I've been staring at your skirt the whole time," the lady frankly admitted. "I love it! I love the sparkles and the glitter."

But that's nothing compared to sitting in class in Revel and laughing out loud (after failed attempts to stifle my glee) at Lightman's advertisement:


-Consonant Clusters
-Feeding gods optional
-Come meet your friends! Nebuchadnezzar, Zechari, Shmuash-ashmi-ukun-Shashim and the rest!

To explain the reference to beer, it has to do with the fact that date beer was drunk by Hittites and I was laughing at the idea of using that in a sentence. I could just see it...DATE BEER, the Hittite Special, now available in all Hotel Lobbies for use during the anything-but-blind-because-I've-checked-you-out-so-thoroughly dates.

Here's an interesting answer the professor provided to one of my questions this evening:
    Theogony- all of these cultures believed in the birth of the gods. Stories of how the gods came to be born but basically they usually have derived as a result of watery primordial mass which was identified by two names: teamat and apsu (spelling? sweet waters and salt waters, one male and one is female) and the waters commingled and then the gods came forth from that union. The world was created out of the carcass of Teamat when Teamat and Marduk waged war against the younger gods. So gods are born into the universe and thus are subject to all biological forces, etc. Lesser gods used to serve the older/ more powerful gods. That became very tiresome so they had man created to keep the younger gods happy. There’s magic in the world and gods can be affected magically- spells can be put upon them, you can force them to do certain things and they are not the source but rather Shamash, who is god of justice/ law does not create the laws. Laws are part of the cosmic order- they are from the beginning. He just has access to them in the same way that Aea who is god of magic doesn’t create it but he knows that force intimately and therefore he knows what those forces are and has a way of controlling them but not to a certain extent- guardians of the law. Don’t create those forces, those forces superseded them – forces of fortility with Inana is not that she gives fertility or creates it but rather she is involved in the forces of fertility. So you have to access her to release those forces. Because gods are governed by biological forces/ rhythms they grow old, die, can be killed. Gods eat, procreate, give birth to younger gods.
After class, I decided it would be an intelligent idea to sling my laptop over my back, walk down a frightening hill (187th on the way to Broadway) in heels and go shopping for Shabbat at Key Food. Whilst there, I consistently ran into a good-natured blonde lady named Ilana.

"I'm sorry; it seems like I am stalking you!" I told her after having to walk past her again.

"If only you were male!" she joked. "Those are the kinds of stalkers I need!"

I laughed and we struck up a conversation. She had an interesting friend standing beside her. He has a sweet tooth and the lady tried to convince me to persuade him not to buy Yodels. However, since I have a sweet tooth, that wasn't going to work out. Curious, I then inquired as to who this man was and discovered that he is fantastically interesting. He's lived in lots of places (Baltimore, Ohio, Israel, New York, Toronto, etc), done lots of things (everything from Jewish History to engineering school), and best of all was fun to talk to. So of course I invited him over for Friday night dinner but alas, he shall be in Brooklyn.

However! It happened to be that I ended up behind this fine fellow in line at the register. When the Key Food man made the unfortunate mistake of charging The Engineer for my chicken, I paid The Engineer the requisite $11.02. I then proceeded to ring up my groceries and noticed the man standing as I packed them up.

"How do you plan on getting those home?" he inquired.

"I figured I would carry them all," I admitted.

"Would you like help?" he inquired.

"Oh," I breathed. "Could you?"

"Absolutely," he smiled and hoisted three bags instantly while I worked with the other two or three. We trekked up the Hill of Death (you try walking up from 187th and Broadway in high heels) while I discussed what I was going to do to repay the man. So I suggested feeding him hamburgers, but he seemed to be more the type of person who enjoys dairy food. Thus, upon his carrying my groceries all the way to my door, I had him sit down, introduced him to my roommates and vice versa and made some fresh maccaroni and cheese. I even foisted an apple upon him, all the while lamenting that he was not coming over for Shabbat when he could really have taken advantage of my culinary talent. I'm allowed to say that because said talents are really all taken from my mother, who, there is no question, is a chef.

Since it's Olly and The Engineer that we are talking about, of course he and I got to talking about God, his philosophy, the fact that he studied at the Cardozo Institute (Yona, I think you would like this guy!) and so on and so forth. Between quizzing him about his life and interests to exploring his theology, I had a mightily enjoyable time. And he was an excellent sport about it!

But lest you think the story is over yet, let me's not. Far from it! For after he walked out the door (I had to make chicken soup, after all, and watch "Glee" and "Grey's Anatomy"- I'm all caught up now) I realized that he is related to a guy who asked me out at one point in my life. And then I cracked up, because how random is that?

Huzzah for Thursday evenings and the nice people you meet at Key Food.

In other news, I really like Menachem Butler's way of referring to me, namely, as "Sister Chanah'lah." I feel like a cross between a nun and a Carlebachian. It is awesome. Menachem Butler, you rock my socks off.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sparkles and Glitter

Brayden, Cy, Caleb, David, Noam, Matthew, Yonah J., Tali - if I could have you with me always, I think I would be the happiest person in the world. I love you guys; you make me so happy! And Brayden, today, with a smile and three words, you actually made my day. I can't wait to tell The Little Old Lady all about all of you! But in the meantime I shall just smile and admire the glitter, sequins and sparkles in my hair. My creative, adorable friends, how glad I am to know you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm Good At Making Circles

So one of my professors said something hurtful to me tonight (and amazingly, despite the provocation, I did not burst into tears. Clearly that Chana has really disappeared for good; it's a wonder what bullying and yelling will do to a child. Indeed, I even laughed it off! Then again, my professor- probably because he felt bad- also dedicated the Midrashic portion of the lecture to me, since he knows I appreciate Midrashim.) I resisted the desire to cry once everyone was gone and instead thought of a maxim I admire from a book entitled A Smile As Big as the Moon.

One of the parts I love most about this book is the following- the students have trained and arrive at Space Camp, only to be informed they have to take a test. It's a test they weren't expecting, one they did not know they were going to be taking. The students are upset that their teachers hadn't informed them that they had to take this test. Well, the teachers themselves had not known about it! One student with Down's Syndrome, however, named Ben, responds in this way:
    “Don’t worry, Coach. We’ll do good.”
    I smiled. “I know, Ben.”
    “This is multiple choice, right?”
    “I think so.”
    Ben’s face lit up.
    “Give me a pen! I’m good at making circles.”
    I had never been happier to have Ben as part of our team. He was unflappable, irrepressible, and his attitude was almost always upbeat. I pulled him close. “Thanks, Ben.” (201)
Some people think that if at first you don't succeed, you should try, try again. Sometimes that's an effective solution. But I also think that if you don't succeed, you should find something else you're good at.

"I'm good at making circles," Ben said. He focused on what he could do - color in ScanTron dots- as opposed to what he could not control- the fact that he had not known there was a test. Well, I did something similar. I pulled out my phone, called up the girl I am to learn with and finalized exactly what we would be learning together (Megilas Rus and the Haftorah of the week, for those who are interested). And she doesn't realize it but she just made me happy- because even though I may be the stupidest person in the world in one subject doesn't mean that I can't do something worthwhile in another arena.

Or, more simply, I'm good at making circles.

The Baal Shem Tov's Love for Every Jew

These are excerpts from A Passion for Truth by Abraham Joshua Heschel. The book is beautiful and fascinating. It offers much more background for the Kotzker who is mentioned in Chaim Potok's The Chosen. But I am particularly fascinated by the Baal Shem Tov, and it is his depiction by Heschel that I want to give over.


Love of Israel Precedes Love of Torah

The Baal Shem had the genius of discovering ways to live in accord with the world, with people. He thought of the holiness and beauty every man's soul contained, and whenever he met the plainest man, he would offer love first and only then ask him to divest himself of the shackles that prevented him from being in love with God.

He related to people as if everybody were his equal. The glory in being human, in being a Jew, enchanted him. He could discover jewels in every soul, and wherever he went he sought to foster conciliation.

The most important prerequisite of love is appreciation. The Baal Shem, who treasured the excellence of Israel, fostered a new appreciation of the people, opening up fresh wells of love.

Love of Israel is an old concept, mentioned in the Talmud as a quality possessed by Moses, the greatest of all Prophets. The Baal Shem's decisive contribution was that he raised it to a higher rank in the hierarchy of religious qualities. Judaism, as implied in the Zohar, has three essentials: God, Torah, Israel. According to a tradition, the Baal Shem said, "I came to teach love of God, love of Israel, and love of Torah."

The change in order is important. In contrast to the view of many scholars that love of Torah should precede love for Israel, the people, the Baal Shem gives primacy to Israel: the Torah was created for the sake of Israel, not the other way around.

The test of love is in how one relates not to saints and scholars but to rascals. The Baal Shem was able to sense an admirable quality in every human being. In fact, he recommended a conciliatory attitude toward sinners and evildoers, true to his conviction that God loved all men. This concept was later expressed by Rabbi Aaron of Karlin in this way: "I should like to love the greatest tzaddik as God loves the lowliest villain."

The Baal Shem's influence on Hasidism was reflected in the eagerness of tzaddikim to befriend, even to feel love for people who had become estranged from faith and observance. They were convinced that Jews who sinned also had a place of honor in God's world.

The Baal Shem related lovingly to sinners who were not arrogant and kept his distance from scholars who were. He explained his attitude:

Sinners who know that they sin are humble. Therefore the Lord remains close to them- who "abides with them in the midst of their uncleanness" (Leviticus 16:16). But he who is arrogant, though no evildoer, alienates God, for He says of him: "He and I cannot live together in the same world." (Arakhin 15b)

The Seer of Lublin also preferred the sinner who knows that he does evil to the tzaddik who knows he is a tzaddik. For the sinner who knows what he is faces the Truth, and God is Truth and is called Truth. But the tzaddik who is certain of his own virtue is mistaken, since "surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Indeed, he is far removed from the Truth.

Reb Borukh interpreted the Baal Shem's tenet thus: is a man who leaves the righteous path ever a total villain? Part of him remains honest and pure. "When I look at such a person," he said, "I sense what is good in him without seeing the evil."

The Baal Shem Tov established an important maxim: when we detect a mean quality in a man, we do so because we possess it ourselves. Heaven wants us to become aware of it, thereby hinting at the need for our repentance.

Jews had for generations firmly assumed that scholars and tzaddikim should be treated with deference, while the lowly, the untutored, could be readily ignored. The Baal Shem challenged this assumption. He knew that one could be a scholar and a scoundrel, and that the lowly man could perform an action that justified the existence of the whole world. An evildoer ought not to be abused, since his prayer or his mite of Torah was often more welcome to God than those of the tzaddik.

This thought, expressed by Reb Pinhas of Koretz and the Maggid of Kozhenitz (Polish: Kozience), stems in essence from the Baal Shem Tov. There are two kinds of people: those who are wholly bad and those who are convinced that they are wholly good, who study diligently and mortify their flesh. But the latter experience no ecstasy; they do not really know how to study, to pray, or to carry out a commandment for the sake of Heaven. The difference between the two kinds of men is that the bad one may undergo a spiritual awakening and do penance, whereas there is no hope for the self-styled tzaddik. It will never occur to him to be contrite.
    One day a man complained to the Baal Shem about his son. He had discarded the path of piety. His conduct had become un-Jewish.

    "What shall I do, Rebbe?" he asked.

    "Do you love your son?"

    "Of course I do."

    "Then love him even more."

    "Even the most impious of men is as dear to me as your only son is to you," the Baal Shem Tov once said to a disciple.
When Reb Zusya of Hanipoli was in Mezeritch, he saw a man who had committed a serious transgression entering the Maggid's house. Reb Zusya was extremely upset that this man should have the impudence to stand in the Rebbe's presence without shame. The Maggid sensed what Reb Zusya was thinking and blessed him, so that from that day on he would see no evil even when a man acted dishonorably. He would only perceive that good might come of it.

The finer qualities of simple people were often valued and praised by the Baal Shem Tov and other tzaddikim, but only rarely in Kotzk. The Baal Shem's change of order, placing love of Israel before love of Torah, was not compatible with the Kotzker's scale of values. Reb Mendl would have followed the original order: God, Torah, Israel, as mentioned in the Zohar.

~pages 65-69

Being Aflame or Having Fire Within

There are activities that man performs with delight, passion, and fire. In contrast, acts of ritual and worship can sometimes be carried out without zest, without relish. There are people who pray absentmindedly and often act as if the service of God consisted of manual labor. Obedience is holy. But does God ask for only automatic conformity?

The Baal Shem was one of those souls who thought that to love God was the natural state of man. He believed that man was prone to love God as the seed was to grow. It was the most delightful act, and without it man was stifled, a burden to himself.

The Baal Shem thought of the Jew's relationship to God as a romance, and it disturbed him to see how many rituals had become routine rather than rapturous acts, exercises in repetition rather than gestures of surprise- a hand without a heart. Faith was fire, not sediment. Did not a pillar of fire serve as a guide when the people Israel roamed in the wilderness? And fire was the beginning of light.

The Baal Shem stirred the fervor that slumbered in the ashes, and as a result of his inspiration, a new feeling of potency flowed into communities and drew people along in a stream of enthusiasm.

One of his contributions was to awaken a zest for spiritual living, expressed in hitlahavut, which literally means "being aflame"- the experience of moments during which the soul is ablaze with an insatiate craving for God, when the memory of all other interests and the fear of misery and persecution are forgotten. In such instances a man seeks to give himself to God and delights in his being a gift to God.

Exaltation may last an hour, but its flower, joy, the jewel that wins the hearts of all men, lasts forever. The garnered fervors of great moments can flare forth again and again. In the new light that came from the Baal Shem's fire, the pressures of daily life no longer encumbered. People made of sighs and tears were remade into people of awe and joy.

Obedience to God in carrying out His commandments is fundamental to existence. The Baal Shem, however, thought that obedience without passion, conformity without spontaneity was but a skeleton, dry, meager, lifeless. A Jew should serve God with ardor. It was necessary, vital, to have fire in the soul. Far from resembling an iceberg or glacier, one's inner life is a hotbed of sinful desires, occasionally mixed with cruelty and self-destructive passion- a hotbed that can be purged only with Holy fire.

~pages 47-48