Thursday, December 30, 2010

Saints & Sinners: My 22nd Birthday Masquerade

The Enchantress of last year's masquerade did indeed get married to a friendly, charming Beast (who, entertainingly enough, found someone to love him before his 21st birthday). So it seems my dreams come true. This was the year of the Fairy Queen and the Hasid, now Mr. Curious & Mrs. Hasid.

I'm thrilled to invite you to my masquerade ball once more. This year I turn...22. It's my doppelganger birthday. I haven't been a palindrome since I was 11.

Tonight's theme song is "Welcome to the Masquerade" by Krutch. (Lyrics here.)

Let's melt the plastic.

Previous years' entertainment has included:

Masquerade 2009
Masquerade 2008
Masquerade 2007
Masquerade 2006

The rules, as always, require you to devise an anonymous handle for yourself (comment under an assumed name, not your real one and not that of your blog), create a costume and offer me a gift. The gift does not have to be tangible. Your costumes and gifts should be creative and expressive of various aspects of your personality. You are welcomed, of course, to my party. It is a gala event, opulent and expensive, the glittering ballroom complete with red velvet curtains, dim lighting, winding garden paths and delicious hors d'ouevres and canapes. This is one of the many rooms of my ball (like the Masque of the Red Death, the rooms go ever ever on).The food is unparalleled and the beauties are peerless. Enjoy yourselves...the question, as always, is who is the monster and who is the man? Or perhaps more importantly: what makes a sinner and what makes a saint?

The fun does not end until Saturday night, when you should return so that I can try to unmask you, especially if you are a frequent commenter to this site.

The Mrs. Miriam Lubling Hospitality-Bikur Cholim Room

Recently, a friend of mine took me on a tour of the Mrs. Miriam Lubling Hospitality-Bikur Cholim Room at the NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan. The room itself is located in Rusk, part of a hallway lined with tinsel, cheerful snowmen and happy Kwanzaa signs. I'm a fan of multiculturalism when it means that there's a plethora of colorful things involved.

Bikkur Cholim literally means visiting the sick. This room is set up so that Orthodox relatives of someone who is in the hospital do not have to fend for themselves in an effort to find food or a place to sit, lie down or eat a meal. There's a large table covered with a heavy-duty plastic tablecloth, a sofa, chairs, Jewish magazines and other forms of reading material. The fridge is fully stocked with all manner of items directly provided by the Satmar Bikkur Cholim (read an article about a day in the lives of these women here). There are cheese danishes, containers of pasta with meat sauces, various apple sauces, drinks, cakes and cookies...and that was on a day when they were entirely snowed out and thus not able to get to the hospital to restock the shelves. Ordinarily, my friend informed me, the shelves are bursting with all sorts of food products. Everything is provided completely for free.

In addition, this is a space where Orthodox patients can keep their food; all they have to do is label it with their name and room number and no one will touch it. The fridge is filled with those sorts of packages.

There are cabinets boasting kiddush and havdalah sets, a Sefer Torah locked up in a cupboard that is taken out during Shabbos, utensils, sinks and both dairy and meat microwaves- in short, everything a visitor or a patient might need during their stay at NYU. The amazing part is that at least three different organizations are involved in various aspects of Bikkur Cholim here at NYU. First, there's Satmar, who provides all the food free of charge in portion-sized tupperware containers. Then, there's a certain Rabbi Ridnick (Rudnick? Someone in Boro Park who knows, please correct me) who is a rabbi of a congregation in Boro Park who specifically provides delicious food for Shabbos. And then there are special people who provide apartments two blocks away (and imagine how expensive apartments are in the middle of Midtown Manhattan!) for men and women to stay at. There's a Ladies Apartment and a Men's Apartment so that family members have a place to sleep the night and especially over Shabbos and still be able to spend time with their loved ones.

A rabbi who knows my friend said something that to me resonated powerfully. I don't remember if he was quoting someone or if this was his original thought; he stated that, "All hashkafos make peace at the door of a hospital." And it's true. No matter the background- whether it's Satmar or a Modern Orthodox organization- everyone is able to work together when it comes to stocking Bikkur Cholim rooms or helping out people going through a difficult time. I think that's one of the most beautiful things about us as a people and I just wish we could get to a place where the kindness we express to one another during times of tragedy could become a norm during times of peace as well.

Erica's Response & IFYC

Hey all, just wanted to point you toward Erica's response to my questions about interfaith dialogue. I think it's an important and relevant response; go read and perhaps comment there! As an aside, she also pointed out that raising funds for the LGBT Jewish group was a project of Hillel's and "had nothing to do with IFYC."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What If You Could Help Me Realize Why I Care About Your Organization?

Yeshiva University's Alumni Affairs department is currently utilizing an extremely poor marketing strategy. Basically, it consists of bombarding alumni with emails with the titles 'What if you could help Nathan realize his dreams?' and the following image:

The idea is that if I simply give money to Yeshiva University, I'll suddenly be able to help this kid change the world. This is stupid on many levels:

1. Many kids dream dreams. How will my gift of money actually enable Nathan to do something that half the world has dreamed of doing at some point or another?

2. Why do I care about Nathan? What is he to me?

3. Where will my gift of money actually go? Does it go directly to Nathan? What's Nathan's email address and how do I get to see whether he actually follows up on what he is planning to accomplish?

Now let's explain what a good marketing campaign does. A good marketing campaign is relevant to me. It pulls my heartstrings. It makes me feel nostalgic for my college, which was like a good friend and which enabled me to take on the world. It makes me want to be back there. It makes me want to give back to my college because I want to thank them for everything they've done and everything they've enabled me to do. Case in point: my former highschool, North Shore Country Day, is currently running a 30 MILLION DOLLAR campaign (remember, this is a high school!). And they've raised most of that money. How did they do that? Well, for one, they made a fundraising video which speaks to the heart of what the school is, what it does, and makes me wish I was back there right now. Watch it here.

Alternatively, you can take the NCSY approach. Your focus is to inspire people. You show them how your program directly benefits the Jewish people. It benefits me and you. When I look at their brochures and see inspirational photos of teenagers who would otherwise know nothing about their Judaism praying, it touches something inside of me. Or at least NCSY hopes it does. Check out NCSY's National Chinese Auction taking place here. Or download the PDF of their Chinese Auction booklet here. Look how brilliantly they've interwoven photos and quotes about their relevant prizes with the photos. (See page 12 for an example). A lot of people are going to give money to them. Why? A) It benefits them. They might win a prize. B) Those are really pretty glossy inspirational photographs of real-life kids who are being helped by the organization. And everyone knows a kid who goes to NCSY.

So in short, marketing needs to touch or benefit me directly, it needs to emphasize the connection I feel toward your organization, and I need to see the direct positive effects of what you are doing for me or a larger extension of me, my Jewish people. So if I were Yeshiva University, I would work on putting out a video that emphasized the many clubs and extracurriculars they offer at their university (images of students fencing, performing plays, the Maccabeats singing, the science club at public school etc), kids talking about their positive experiences, and a diverse array of kids (Sephardi kids, kids from other countries, kids from very different Jewish backgrounds etc) in order to demonstrate exactly how YU benefited and currently benefits me. Maybe I'd even go further and include images of YU rabbis around the globe and so forth, really stressing that YU is everywhere.

But Nathan, whoever he is, just isn't going to cut it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Get Ready...Get Set...It's Almost Here!

So, as you folks know, every year I make a party on my birthday! It's my official birthday masquerade! Except this year it's even better because it's a birthday masquerade and also a this-is-the-year-I-got-married party!

Notable comments from last year's masquerade:

shadchan Says: My hands are cupped.
You know who I am, I need not disguise or disrobe.
In my hands is a dancing glow--
I present you with the other half of your soul.
ahh, but like the snitch (of quidditch) as I open my palms it zigzags away!
You saw the glow! Now catch that spark!

shadchan's cronie: amen! this year!

Your Secret Bochur: I walk briskly, peyos swinging, my black hat tipped over my face.
We're so different, yet so alike.
Will you marry me?
Happy birthday, Chana.


For the record, Heshy is not the one who wrote the "Your Secret Bochur" comment. I know this for a fact because he was on the train at the time/ had no Internet access there. So I'm still supremely curious about the identity of that commenter. Feel free to unmask yourself at some point.

In any case...get excited! Coming up soon this December 31st.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


This is a picture of me and my Grandpa, who passed away on the fourth night of Chanukah, which is also December 23rd. My Grandpa passed away when I was in tenth grade, just before my fifteenth birthday. Today is the English anniversary of his death.

I always wanted my Grandpa to dance at my wedding and it made me very sad that he could not. Heshy says that he was there anyway because the souls come down to witness. My mother's tradition is that they are by the Chuppah and Heshy's is that they are by the Mitzvah Tantz. Either way, they are there. It makes me happy that my sister was able to invite him to come to my wedding. It's very fortuitous that this happens to be the year she was in Israel so she was able to visit him in the cementary.

My grandfather was a wonderful grandfather who would take us on outings, buy us slices of pizza at Jerusalem, go with us to Metsuyan to eat Chinese and sip tea, bought me an amazing doll named 'Lydia' and who would shower us in presents and toys and checks. His name was Avraham. I'm named for his mother (at his explicit request. All of the wedding presents I received from my grandmother were also given with my grandfather in mind, so I feel close to him when I use those presents.

I often wonder what he would think of me and what it would be like if he were still alive or could see how my life is currently in the process of turning out. And I miss him.

So here's for you, Grandpa. I still stand and put my hand over my heart.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mad-Eye Moody Lives On In Me

Last night I went to The Container Store to buy- you guessed it- containers! Well, what I really wanted was a receipt sorter so that Heshy and I can make some sort of order out of the hoards of receipts that are living in our house. However, when I looked at the actual item, I was horrified by its array of gizmos and other wackiness which makes it difficult to use. So I got a stationary organizer instead for the same purpose. Hurray.

Anyway, that's not the interesting part. That happens when I went to check out.

Brightly-Smiling Cashier Lady: Hello! How are you this evening?

Chana: Good, thanks!

Brightly-Smiling Cashier Lady: (as she looks at my dry-erase board calendar) Oh, are you a student? It's good to stay organized.

Chana: Yes, I am.

Brightly-Smiling Cashier Lady: What are you studying?

Chana: Oh, well I have a Bachelors in English Literature and am working toward my Masters in Bible.

Brightly-Smiling Cashier Lady: (perplexed, confused and slightly traumatized look) Eyeball?

Chana: No- Bible!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Interfaith Movement

The two parts of my psyche- or perhaps of my soul- are warring again.

There's an organization called the IFYC, otherwise known as the Interfaith Youth Core. A female student at Brandeis who is Jewish and attended North Shore Country Day School with me is the one who alerted me to its existence. She and her fellow IFYC fellows are passionate, caring people who truly want to change the world and create a place of unity, togetherness, tolerance and understanding. They've put together a beautiful video you can watch below.

On one level, I think this initiative is beautiful. It's great that people from different backgrounds, religions and spiritual traditions are trying to work together in creating a less fragmented, more appreciative world. On her blog, Erica (that's my friend) tells over a beautiful story that illustrates the ways in which respect for different religious traditions can lead to wonderful results.

On the other hand, I feel deeply uncomfortable when I watch this video. There's a strong emotional response on my part that says: no. The question becomes: what is it that I'm saying no to?

And I think it's like this. I think there's a dramatic difference between respecting people's life choices, religious decisions and beliefs inasmuch as we don't express hatred or violence toward them due to these and deciding that religion must change itself to fit our cultural norms. I don't think that respect means that all of our religious differences should or must be embraced, nor must they all be tolerated. As a Jewess, I do believe in an absolute truth and I believe that Judaism is it. I also think that there is a great deal of spirituality and beauty in other faith traditions and admire them but I wouldn't want to incorporate them into my tradition, change or modify my tradition or otherwise agree that certain tenets of my religious tradition are outdated. For example, in today's world, being open about one's sexuality (and/or homosexuality) is embraced. I imagine that Judaism would be criticized within this IFYC culture for its strong stance that homosexual activity is forbidden by God and I would be told to be open to all sexual diversity. Now, I can respect people who happen to be gay, but I will not accept that my religious tradition ought to change to fit the Western culture of our time.

It also troubles me that many of the fellows in the film are not necessarily the most learned in what their faith truly entails. Of the Jews represented, are any of them Orthodox? Do any of them believe in a Bible that came from God rather than one formed by a Redactor? How can you really serve as a representative of your faith when you are following a modified version of your faith to begin with? This isn't to say I don't respect Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal or other devotees of different affiliations of Judaism. I just wonder what it means to represent a faith if you yourself don't understand many of the tenets of that faith- or understand them only inasmuch as your professor has explained J,P,D and E to you.

In short, I am troubled by this movement and this video representation. I think it is beautiful a la Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks' The Dignity of Difference. And yet I also wonder whether it is possible to remain part of an interfaith organization without compromising your own standards or indeed, your religious values. I, for example, while more than willing to learn from others with different faiths, would not be interested in raising money to fund a Jewish LGBT program. That would be deeply uncomfortable for me. And so I wonder whether one can truly serve as an IFYC fellow without comprising their identity- especially if they are observant or Orthodox- as a religious person, and in my case, as an Orthodox Jew.

The Purple Badge of Honor

Pretty much a year ago I told you about The Blue Badge of Honor.

Well, last night Mt. Sinai Shul here in Washington Heights held a blood drive and my iron was at 13.1 (yay for a good iron count) so I could give! And I got to wear the Purple Badge of Honor. The best part was when I asked my phlebotomist to tell me a story that happened to him due to his work. He told me that he met his wife at a blood drive! And now they are married and have a kid! I think that is one of the awesomest places ever to meet your wife.

Yay for Damn Sexy Blood Donors! Give some blood and join the Facebook group, or better yet, give platelets (I just found out about platelet donation yesterday and it sounds awesome!)

In other news, I hope you guys are still reading the Batya updates because Batya WALKED WITH A WALKER yesterday and it was awesome and the hospital staff cheered for her and basically life is fabulous.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010



I'm going to be in Princeton tomorrow. W00T.

Dear Random People of Princeton: Hi! Is your kosher cafeteria good? Come hang out with me. No, but seriously. Do any Princetonians read this blog?


Okay, scratch that- I'm not going to Princeton after all. But might be at the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday instead. Yippee.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I generally prefer to use a Chumash that has the English translation because I like to know what I'm reading, but all my fun insights always occur when I only have the Hebrew in front of me. Point being that two weeks ago an idea occurred to me in shul during Torah reading regarding bread.

When Joseph is described in Vayeshev within context of Potiphar, Genesis 39:6 states:

ו וַיַּעֲזֹב כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, בְּיַד-יוֹסֵף, וְלֹא-יָדַע אִתּוֹ מְאוּמָה, כִּי אִם-הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר-הוּא אוֹכֵל; וַיְהִי יוֹסֵף, יְפֵה-תֹאַר וִיפֵה מַרְאֶה. 6 And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and, having him, he knew not aught save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was of beautiful form, and fair to look upon.

Genesis Rabbah to that verse explain that "lechem" or "bread" is actually a euphemism for "wife." Rashi states: כי אם הלחם: היא אשתו, אלא שדבר בלשון נקיה: or 'That is his wife, but [Scripture] speaks euphemistically [Gen. Rabbah 86:6].' Potiphar gave everything he had to Joseph so that all of it was under his control except for his wife. This reading is supported when you look at Yisro's question to his daughters in Exodus 2:20 as to why they did not invite the kind Egyptian home "to give him bread," again a euphemism for a wife (hence Tzippora).

Now, as someone who favors the Midda Kneged Middah (measure for measure) approach to Tanakh, it occurred to me that there is a great deal of elegance in Joseph being imprisoned for not sampling the "bread" of his master, i.e. his wife. For it is Joseph who is then released from prison to save the bread of Egypt and prevent everyone from starving to death in the hunger that ensues. As the verses in Genesis 41: 54-55 declare:

נד וַתְּחִלֶּינָה שֶׁבַע שְׁנֵי הָרָעָב, לָבוֹא, כַּאֲשֶׁר, אָמַר יוֹסֵף; וַיְהִי רָעָב בְּכָל-הָאֲרָצוֹת, וּבְכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הָיָה לָחֶם. 54 And the seven years of famine began to come, according as Joseph had said; and there was famine in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.

נה וַתִּרְעַב כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּצְעַק הָעָם אֶל-פַּרְעֹה לַלָּחֶם; וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה לְכָל-מִצְרַיִם לְכוּ אֶל-יוֹסֵף, אֲשֶׁר-יֹאמַר לָכֶם תַּעֲשׂוּ.
55 And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians: 'Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.'

It's specifically bread that is mentioned in these verses. Not "ochel," food or "shever," corn, but "lechem," bread. It is only because Joseph refrained from eating the bread of his master (that is, sleeping with his wife) that he obtained the merit that enabled the bread of Egypt to be saved through him.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Niddah: On Achilles, Magic Springs & Temper Tantrums

When I was learning about Niddah, I was particularly reminded of two different concepts. One was the myth of Achilles. Basically, Achilles needed to be bathed in a special spring to provide him immunity from all weapons so that he would be invincible and could not be harmed or killed. However, his mother held him by the heel, so that when he was immersed, that one part of him was not covered by the special healing water. Therefore, his weakness was his Achilles heel and that is how he eventually was murdered. This story also appears in Norse myth by Sigurd, who was bathing in dragon's blood that would make him invulnerable to all weapons and indeed make him immortal; however, a leaf fell on his back so that one spot became vulnerable to the touch of steel. The same concept, I believe, applies to our concept of chatzizah and how there cannot be one.

Secondly, I think that the two weeks of separation from one's husband leads to a very important lesson in understanding and compassion for our children, especially our toddlers. A child who has had his toy taken away from him, either unfairly by a sibling or friend, or deliberately by a parent, will get red in the face and scream loudly and unceasingly, "But I want it! I want my toy; I want my dolly!" This could be exasperating to a parent, especially if one has to sit through five hours of this. But when someone has to physically separate from one's spouse for a period of two weeks every month, they understand what their child feels like. They too have had their spouse unwillingly taken away from them by a higher power (God). They too feel like throwing temper tantrums and screaming, "But I want my husband. I want it." And thus this experience affords them compassion for their child and thus the needed understanding and patience to comprehend what the child is going through even as you realize the necessity of depriving him of that toy at that particular point in time.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"I Light It" - NCSY Chanukah Musical Remix 2010

What most people do the week before their wedding:

-Frantically attend dress fittings
-Scream at their florists
-Break down in tears
-Call up all their friends
-Seem half-dazed
-Realize their wedding gown is actually a peculiar shade of magenta and therefore do a fascinating imitation of a charging rhino
-Realize they broke the heel of their white satin shoes
-Have dress rehearsals
-Frantically redo the menu

What Olivia Friedman does the week before her wedding:

-Wanders around the entirety of Manhattan (and the odd bit of Brooklyn) alongside Avi Stahler, Alisa Ungar-Sargon and Rachely holding huge signs that say 'Be A Part of Our Holiday YouTube Film.' For two days.
-Asks people to dance in said film and then dances alongside them when they are too nervous/ scared/ uncomfortable dancing alone. Is later edited out of the movie version except for the odd waving hand.
-Explains to people that the film is appropriate, G-rated and exists to support holiday cheer.
-Tells the group that they will get free t-shirts if they dance for us, which means she makes friends with lots of happy homeless people.

Check it out- it's the ultimate dance party!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tears & Toiveling

I love my husband.

It makes me happy to be able to say that word. Husband. I think: Really? I have a husband? I'm a wife? I'm his wife? How does that work? How can that be? And then I think: How did that happen?

And then I mostly reach a place of wonder and confusion. How bizarre that I should have wandered through Templars, attended North Shore Country Day, blazed my way through the Stern newspaper, met Jordan and reconciled myself more to the beauty that is also existent in the more Haredi world and finally encountered Heshy, another person who walks both worlds. How fascinating it is that the one decision to attend Stern College as opposed to the University of Chicago impacted my life so strongly. This one decision that I owe primarily to my father's tears.

Had I not attended Stern, I would never have met the many Jewish people who have become very close friends of mine, would not have been privileged to form the friendships that have sustained me, would never have encountered the Haredi world again, let alone left behind much of my bitterness, would not have found myself attending Revel...there are innumerable ways in which my life has been dramatically changed simply because of this move to New York.

And this leads me to think about tears. Because the whole reason I decided to attend Stern (aside from the scholarship, which was much appreciated) was because of my father having cried. We often speak of the power of tears and how they can penetrate anything. That God leaves the gates of tears open. But I wonder how often one can see a direct relation between the tears cried and the life path of a person.

In my case, however, it's pretty clear.

Heshy's a fantastic person and he's also a fantastic husband! He builds desks and bookcases alongside his awesome friend Yitzchok, runs back and forth to grocery stores to buy us food, lugs packages up five flights of stairs, went to the mikvah three times yesterday (in the rain! and up and down the huge hill!) to toivel things for me, returns items when I don't like them, doesn't complain about having to wander around half the world in pursuit of what we need, encourages me to actually eat food (something I generally neglect to do), is a great listener and is just in all ways the most helpful, kind, lovely person ever. And this, of course, is from the small things he does because we don't say a person's full praise in their presence.

The point is: Heshy's awesome, my father's tears led to my life working out in strange and mysterious ways and I am a happy person.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Which Science Catches Up To Fairy Tales

See New York Times article "A Safe Haven in Cartoon Confidants" (hat-tip Muffins) and compare to Brothers Grimm story "The Goose Girl," excerpt below:


Then came a blast of wind and carried off Conrad's hat, so that he had to run far away, while the maiden quietly went on combing and braiding her hair, all of which the king observed. Then, quite unseen, he went away, and when the goose-girl came home in the evening, he called her aside, and asked why she did all these things.

"I am not allowed to tell you, nor can I reveal my sorrows to any human being, for I have sworn under the open heaven not to do so, and if I had not so sworn, I would have been killed."

He urged her and left her no peace, but he could get nothing from her. Finally he said, "If you will not tell me anything, then tell your sorrows to the iron stove there," and he went away.

So she crept into the iron stove, and began to cry sorrowfully, pouring out her whole heart. She said, "Here I sit, abandoned by the whole world, although I am the daughter of a king. A false chambermaid forced me to take off my royal clothes, and she has taken my place with my bridegroom. Now I have to do common work as a goose-girl. If my mother this, her heart would break in two."

The old king was standing outside listening by the stovepipe, and he heard what she said. Then he came back inside, and asked her to come out of the stove. Then they dressed her in royal clothes, and it was marvelous how beautiful she was.

The old king summoned his son and revealed to him that he had a false bride who was only a chambermaid, but that the true one was standing there, the one who had been a goose-girl.


The iron stove is now an Antenas- that's about all the difference there is to it.

Overcoming Adversity

Many of you recall the posts I have written referencing The Golden-Haired Girl.

You probably also remember my frustration regarding Dates & Disabilities.

Then there's the part where my Golden-Haired Girl turned her supposed disability into an asset.

Well, my Golden-Haired Girl got married last night- exactly one week to the day of my own wedding.That was very special for me as it reminded me of the concept of Shemini Atzeres. We are taught that we have 7 days of Sukkot and then God wished to add on one more day because He loves His people so much that he doesn't want to let them go- so He creates an additional day of celebration in order to keep them near Him. It was amazing that Heshy and I were still in Sheva Brachos and then voila! We're attending our dear friends' simcha to hear their Sheva Brachos. It felt like an extension of our own joy.

The wedding was absolutely beautiful. The Golden-Haired Girl is the last child in her family to get married and so the celebration was truly intense. Whether it was the incredibly elaborate smorgasbord, the otherworldly feel (the entire hotel had been transformed into a wonderland complete with hanging votive candles, glorious flowers and glittering tablecloths) or the incredibly amazing magician-dancer- fire-eater who provided a great deal of the (wonderful!) shtick, the wedding was really lively, happy and a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the union of two people whom the world did wrong to pity.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Welcome To The First Day Of Your Life

This is me.

This is me with lots of Hasidim during my Mitzvah Tantz. Also, probably a picture you never expected to see on this blog.

Which just goes to show that life is a journey and you never end up where you think you will. That growth is imperative. That Heshy is wonderful. And that God decided I should be happy.

The hardest part of ending is starting again.
~"Waiting for the End" by Linkin Park

Just open up your eyes as I lay you down tonight
Safe on the other side, no more tears to cry
~"Open Up Your Eyes" by Daughtry

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Married Married Married MARRIED!




Sunday, November 14, 2010


Dear God,

You who formed me and who knew me throughout every period of my life, who saw me as I gurgled and played and sucked at the breast, who watched me grow and transform my toybox into a spaceship, who witnessed my impotent fury in the shape of my bully and the subtle savagery of my high school administration, who has seen me hate You, then come close to You, then rage at you again, who has indeed given me a gift of this it is my passion that allows me to walk at all...what shall we say now?

You listened to my prayer. I can't tell You what that means to me, to know that I was heard and answered precisely as I requested. You knew what I could and could not stand and You decided I had had enough exactly when I called to You and insisted upon the same. And now I stand before the threshold of the entrance to Your glory and You will come to dwell upon my marriage canopy. And Heshy and I will look up and behold of the radiance of Your countenance and we will feel glad and small simultaneously. For You are Awesome and yet you are loving and it is in You and with You that we commune. It is no coincidence, the day that we are marrying- the day when we first discussed You.

I love that You matched us so perfectly well. I love that he comes from a background utterly different from mine, that I can walk new vistas and new worlds with him. I love his stubbornness and pride and commitment to truth. I love that he found me on his own. I love that he loves You.

And I'm awaiting the fusion. There can be no joining of the physical without a union of souls, which is why the soul mourns so long and grievously for those they lose. You have caused me to grieve and you know I still do and perhaps I always shall because with each friend we form, with each loss we endure, we lose a little piece of our souls. But then you made Heshy. And you gave him a great and impossible grace, an ability to restore my soul to me and make it resemble a whole one once more. The broken pieces remain because without them, I would not be as You had shaped me and my life would not have been one worth its living. You made him clever with his needle and supple with the weft and loom so that he would be able to knit me back together and cause me to live again.

It was You who granted him to me and thus it is You that I must thank and to whom I should address the outpouring of my soul. You are the God of my tradition, my religion, my parents, forefathers, life and soul and you decided that Heshy and I should join together in order to become something more than we are when apart. My soul is both afraid of and thrilled by the prospect of rejoining its soul longs always, for that is how You created me, yearning. If I did not want, if I did not hunger, if I ceased to wish for that which is not yet, I would not be me. And while there is much good that comes of this, there is some evil as well, and that I must work on in order to rectify.

What is clear, though, is that this prospect of fusion, this terrifying and fascinating way in which the soul and body return to one another and become lovers once more, is one of the greatest gifts that You can give and it is one that is special and shall be treasured. My soul has always wished to be complete and now it can be (inasmuch as my soul can ever be) and in that lies a great and terrible beauty, a path so mysterious that I cannot fathom it.

Thank You for your compassion and for hearing me and please bless us to follow You in accordance to Your way and afford us the clarity of vision to know right from wrong and to learn how to repent fully for the harms and wrongs we have done each other and humanity at large.

An echo of a forgotten thought for You, God, if slightly bitter: "I hope I love You all my life."

And I hope you teach me peace and contentment and joy with the life You have chosen to give me. For you know, as Frost did:

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

I hope that now I can begin to become acquainted with sunshine. Heshy lights the darkness in my soul; he offers joy where I set a table of despair. My sweetmeats are made of sadness and his are of love; my bread and water is melancholy whereas his is gladness. I hope he saves me from the dark for a long time yet and I hope as well that You enable me to be worthy of him. May I illuminate his life as he does mine; may we be phosphorus to one another's fire. And may I love him. Amen.

Almost Bride

As an Almost-Bride, I feel excited. Happy. Formerly, anxious and nervous, but that's passed by now. And also very pure because of the beautiful waters that anoint me. And Heshy is going to be married to me! And life will be so happy and beautiful and I will be so glad because Heshy is an angel who somehow manages to make the sun shine no matter the situation. And I love Heshy. And he is fantastic. And I love that our wedding is going to contain a mix of streimels, kippot srugot and those with no headcovering at all. I love that we get to have a wedding where all of God's human creations sit side by side one another and we get to celebrate love, life and humanity together joyously. Which thrills me and makes me glad! Hurrah for the Acheinu that is our wedding.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Little Chana

This is me as a bride (my conception of one, anyway) many years ago.
It's exciting to think I'm going to be one next week!

Monday, November 08, 2010

There Are No Hats In Heaven

Today Mr. Dorron Katzin sent me an article with a link to Tablet Magazine and a review of a book called Hush written by a woman who used the pseudonym Eishes Chayil, Woman of Valor. I read the review, clicked to the book on Amazon and 'looked inside.' I then realized that this was a book I had to own, so I walked over to Borders during lunch break and bought it. And I have now finished reading it.

This book made me laugh and it made me cry. It made me sad, very sad, mostly because of how accurate it is. It is dead on. It's set in Boro Park and it contains the beauty, the joy, the excitement, the passion and the brilliance of Boro Park. But it also contains the darkness and the ugliness and the sorrow. The author's note is particularly powerful. She writes:
When I was twenty-three years old, I began writing Hush. It wasn't a book back then; it was only a story. My story. It became my story when I first learned what the words sexual abuse meant. I had known of the words, had heard of them, but wasn't quite sure how to define them- except that they defined something that happened by the gentiles. By us, the ultra-Orthodox, the Chassidic, the chosen Jewish nation living in Brooklyn, New York, it wasn't a term we needed to know.

Oh, there had been stories. As children and as teenagers, we heard them all the time- whispered rumors, murmured gossip, secret scandals- all made up by some desperate people who spread lies. People who, because of mental instability, hatred for our community, or perhaps the influence of Satan, were spreading blood libels- like the gentiles do- saying things that wouldn't have dared happen by us.

But it could happen. I was a young girl when I watched my friend being molested, though I could not understand what I was seeing. I was a young girl when an eleven-year-old boy from the community hanged himself. They said he did it because he didn't have any friends. Others killed themselves, ran away, fell apart, but we were young and ignorant and just ran outside with our friends, where we played and laughed and stared at passing gentiles, wondering at the evil they hid inside, wondering at the empty lives they led. Of this we were certain because that is what our teachers told us again and again- and that meant it was true, even if we couldn't understand why.
I think the best way to show you the power of this book is simply to give you some of the excerpts. This post, therefore, contains spoilers (although I haven't typed up the absolute best sections, excerpts or quotes because for those, you should read the book). Here you go.


Hindy swallowed the last of my Super-Snack, sighed again, and said, "Okay, this is how you get married. First, you have to get a diamond ring. Without that you can't ever get married. Then, a long time later, you have a wedding where the kallah- the bride- with the diamond ring has to wear a big white gown. Hashem can't know that you are married until you put on a white big kallah dress for the wedding. And if it's not at least this white," she said, pointing to her dirty homework sheet sticking out of her briefcase, "Hashem will get totally mixed up."

"Then comes the chuppah, the canopy," Hindy pointed her chubby finger at me for emphasis. "That is when you really get married. The chassan- the groom- stands under the chuppah shaking and mumbling, and then the kallah walks down the aisle with her mother and the chassan's mother. The kallah," Hindy explained, "must shake so that you can tell she is crying. The mother and the chassan's mother also must cry, but not too much, because they are holding torches in their hands and can't even wipe their makeup. When they reach the chassan they walk around him seven times, and then everyone in the family has to be very serious and cry at least a little, or at least wipe their eyes with a tissue and hold one another's hands. Then when they finish going around and around, the sobbing kallah stands near the shaking chassan and lots of different men say a lot of brachos- prayers- and after all that, the chassan has to smash a glass cup under his foot, and everyone screams mazel tov- good luck- and the kallah and chassan walk together down the aisle holding hands, and that's when Hashem knows that you are married."

Whoa, that was a long wedding.

And then I jumped.

"Holding hands?" I asked.

"Uh-huh." Hindy nodded her head hard, up and down. "Uh-huh."

Yikes. I looked straight ahead at the torn leather on the back of the seat in front of me, trying with all my might not to look too stupid. Truth be told, perhaps I could deal with holding hands, but I was really nervous about all that crying. Carefully I asked Hindy if I really had to cry and shake just so much in order to get married. Hindy said yes, absolutely. It was the main part of the wedding, and if I wouldn't cry Hashem would never guess I was married. I asked Hindy what happened then, and she said, oh, the rest was just food and dancing and everyone was happy, and forgot they ever cried.



Well, then," Devory said, "she isn't in heaven. Only Jews go to heaven." But Kathy insisted her mother was in heaven. She said that all good souls went to heaven and it didn't matter what religion you were. But we knew it did matter, and we told Kathy that the only way you could get into heaven was if you were Jewish and, of course, wore a hat. She laughed and said, "No, no, there are no hats in heaven, only souls."

We felt terrible disappointing her, but Devory whispered to me that she must know the truth. I agreed and earnestly informed her that there was just no way her mother was in heaven and if her father didn't wear a hat of some kind he wasn't there either.

Then it suddenly struck Devory that Kathy's father did wear a hat. She pointed excitedly to the picture in the album showing Kathy's father wearing the very bend-down kind of hat like the litvish wore. I was relieved and told Kathy that her mother could get into heaven after all

"Maybe," I mused gravely, "your father was a secret Jew who never told anyone but only wore the hat." But Kathy only laughed again and said, "No, no, everyone wore a hat then."

"But if everyone wore the hat," Devory said, puzzled, "it must have been awfully confusing to Hashem. How did He know who was Jewish and who wasn't?



Shidduchim was an important subject. In fact, it was the single most important subject in the community and was a traditional and passionate part of our weekly family conference.

"You wouldn't believe what Chavie Goldberg told me before Shabbos," my mother said as she settled down on the couch. "I'm telling you, you have no idea how angry she is with Mrs. Cohen. She told me that that lady thinks just because she is a shadchanta for thirty years, she could offer her the most ridiculous shidduchim.

Surela leaned closer to my mother. "Who did she suggest this time?"

My mother shook her head indignantly. "You know the Mandlbaums from Fifty-seventh Street- her sister davens in the Fifty-sixth Street shul? So Mrs. Cohen thinks that Mrs. Mandlbaum's daughter would be perfect for Chavie Goldberg's son! Could you imagine? Chavie was fuming and, boy, did she give it to her. She told me that she told her, "Would you take a girl whose grandmother was divorced? I don't care what kind of girl this is! You have no right to suggest my son for a girl whose grandmother was once divorced!"

My mother pressed the button that released the leg rest and leaned back.

"And she is absolutely right. I mean, if there had been a problem in the family, then I'd understand. Mrs. Teitlebaum made a shidduch with- what's his name, nebech, that poor boy who doesn't have a father- oh yes, Bloom, because her daughter stuttered. So she figured, the boy is a top one, he's smart, he's a top learner, so fine. She didn't have a choice and she took an orphan. But a prestigious family like the Goldbergs with money and good background yichus- good family- why would they ever take a family like that, whose grandmother was once divorced? I just don't understand that shadchanta."



"It is very important that you understand not to talk to anybody in the class about what happened. Nobody will understand and they will only bother you about it and most of all it is loshon harah- evil talk- because everyone will talk bad about Devory's family and you know what a big sin that is. Loshon harah could ruin people's lives, and there is nothing we have to be more careful about. You can talk to any adult you want, like me or your mother or father. They will help you as much as possible.

I'll tell the girls in the class that I do not allow anyone to talk about it. Devory was a very sick and sad girl and that's what made her do what she did."

"It's not true," I said. "Devory did it because she hated her brother."

My teacher cleared her throat and smiled hesitantly. "Gittel, we don't really know why Devory did it. But I just want you to try to remember what I said. It is very, very important not to tell any girls in the class anything about Devory."

She then gave me three chocolate chip cookies and walked with me back to the classroom.



Dear Devory,

Today we started seminary. Summer is over, and most of our class is attending Bais Yaakov Teacher's Training Seminar to learn how to become teachers for our schools. Today we learned that people who kill themselves don't get to heaven. Is it true? We also learned that children under eighteen can't go to hell. Where are you then? I am only asking you because I have no one else who is Jewish to ask. So I don't know.




I brushed my hair again. I touched up my lipstick. My sister, Surela, had applied the makeup earlier and my mother and I had sat in front of the mirror staring intently into my reflection, trying this lipstick then that, smudging on beige eye shadow then brown, until we agreed that it was just so- not too much so I looked modern and not too little so I looked too young. I put on the Versani shoes, my first $180 high-heeled shoes, and my parents had proudly watched as I clicked precariously around the room. Now was the time to spend, they said.

My mother warned me not to wear any jewelry for the fateful meeting. "The less your in-laws see you have, the more they'll buy you," she advised me, so I removed the necklace, watch, three rings, and large pearl earrings my father had bought me, and left only the simple gold earrings my grandmother had given me for my Bas Mitzvah.



Sunday, November 07, 2010

Guilt-Free Marital Intimacy: Spilling Seed Is Permitted Sometimes!

VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE - I was just informed today (March 9, 2011) that someone who discussed this with R' Moshe says R' Moshe understood 'shelo k'darka' to only mean anal sex and not any other form of intimacy (thus, not spilling seed). Hence this whole post may be invalidated. Please discuss with your LOR before working off of this idea.

I recently took a survey of many young couples my age in an effort to determine what exactly we had all been taught in our Chosson and Kallah classes. Were our lessons similar? Did they differ in any extreme way? I discovered something disturbing- namely, that nearly everyone was totally ignorant of two very important sources. To be completely blunt and very honest, I am going to discuss intimacy and sexuality here. If this troubles you, please don't read further.

The first source that people had not been taught is the Ri to Yevamos 34b.

The gemara is discussing various sexual practices and focuses specifically on Er and Onan and the fact that apparently they engaged in unnatural intercourse (shelo k'darkah). A question is raised by Tosfos: What of the gemara in Nedarim 20b? There it says:
R. Johanan said: The above is the view of R. Johanan b. Dahabai; but our Sages said: The halachah is not as R. Johanan b. Dahabai, but a man may do whatever he pleases with his wife [at intercourse]: A parable; Meat which comes from the abattoir, may be eaten salted, roasted, cooked or seethed; so with fish from the fishmonger.4 Amemar said: Who are the 'Ministering Angels'? The Rabbis. For should you maintain it literally, why did R. Johanan say that the halachah is not as R. Johanan b. Dahabai, seeing that the angels know more about the formation of the fetus than we? And why are they designated 'Ministering Angels'? — Because they are as distinguished as they.5

A woman once came before Rabbi and said, 'Rabbi! I set a table before my husband, but he overturned it.' Rabbi replied: 'My daughter! the Torah hath permitted thee to him — what then can I do for thee?'
The same way that a man may eat meat in whichever manner he pleases- whether it be salted, roasted, cooked or seered- so too may a man do with his wife whatever he pleases (as long as it is mutual and consensual). The question Tosfos raises is that there seems to be a contradiction- in Nedarim we say that a man can do whatever he wishes, yet here in Yevamos we are taking issue with Er and Onan and the fact that they engaged in "unnatural intercourse."

The answer is that in fact we are not taking issue with the fact that Er and Onan engaged in unnatural intercourse. Wherefore were these two brothers punished? The explanation we can offer is because A) one brother practiced this spilling of seed as coitus interruptus in order to ensure that his wife would never become pregnant, and this form of birth control is forbidden B) the wife of one's brother is generally forbidden to a man and the only case in which he may take her is if he plans to build up his brother's family through her= Yibum; the fact that this brother was spilling his seed showed he had no interest in actually fulfilling the mitzvah of Yibum and thus was guilty of one of the forbidden relations.

This means that shelo k'darkah (insofar as it may mean coitus interruptus) is forbidden when it is used as a method of birth control. However, as the Ri explicitly states, "if a man's desire is for his wife in this particular way (shelo k'darkah inasmuch as it means spilling seed) and he only does this sometimes, but not every time (i.e. not as a method of birth control, for instance) then it is permitted."

But what's more, this issue is raised by none other than the great Gadol R' Moshe Feinstein himself.

This appears in Even Ha'Ezer Samach-Gimmel.

R' Moshe explains that when it speaks of "motzi zera l'vatalah" - wasting seed, this is referring to a true waste of seed where there is absolutely no need for that seed to have been spilled. However, it is permitted to spill seed outside of the woman for the fulfillment of the mitzvah of Onah and in order to cause his wife to be joyous/ fulfilled (because then it's not l'vatalah, but rather for a purpose)! Because when it comes to the matter of relations between a man and his wife, the Torah permitted a man to do that which his heart desires which is shelo k'darkah because he considers it his need and it is not considered l'vatalah and in fact it is completely permitted. The reason it is only permitted sometimes (and not always), is because it will not always be a need or desire as oftentimes he will be satisfied from the k'darkah intimacy.

R' Feinstein goes on to quote the Ri and cites both of his provisions. The Ri offers two different opinions, one more stringent and one less so. 1) That he who deliberately intends to spill seed - it is assur (but if he comes to spill seed and had not intended it, that is fine) 2) If he commonly spills seed outside of the woman/ this is a regular thing for him to do, it is also assur because one does not crave this regularly. R' Feinstein follows the second approach of the Ri and explains that if someone sometimes desires to do this, it is muttar even if he does not have in mind that it should be for the sake of the mitzvah but rather only because it is a need between himself and his wife. That's pretty radical!

Now, why am I telling you this? Because Heshy's chosson teacher (if you want to learn with our teachers/ get their info, email me), who showed him these sources, explained that there are many couples who harbor desires to act with one another in a loving way that might also arouse the man to a point where he does not spill seed within the woman, but rather outside of her, and they believe they are bad people because of this. Alternatively, there are those who simply do as they wish and believe that they are breaking Torah law and halakha and thus struggle with a lot of guilt because they were never taught accurately.

What it comes down to is: Be intimate with your wife and make her happy and glad, and should you wish to sometimes (derech akrai) engage in behavior that is shelo k'darkah and which includes spilling seed outside of her rather than within her, that is perfectly muttar and fine. Just beware because if you do this every time or regularly it becomes a problem.

ADDENDUM: I thought this was obvious, but in case it wasn't: what I am presenting here are merely sources. Obviously you should ask your own rabbi, posek or halakhic decisor before following them, which is true of all my posts. Rock on.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Jury

The room offers a breathtaking view of a glittering expanse of water, Governors Island, Liberty Island and other famous New York landmarks. The cast of characters is comprised of a gay transvestite whose Motorola phone intones "Droid" as an irritating and frequent occurrence, a Macy's employee who dated a Macy's security guard and thus knows exciting code words that she teaches the others, an accountant, a social worker whose son is serving hard time in jail because he murdered someone, a professor at the New School, a Marine, and several others among which can be numbered...a Hasid.

My Hasid. For the past three weeks, he's been serving as a juror on a murder trial. Only now, when the case is over and the jury has declared the defendant guilty of second-degree murder, is he permitted to talk to me about it.

It's not what most people would do two weeks before their wedding. But then, Heshy and I don't really qualify as most people. Our motto seems to be (sometimes intentionally, but most of the time without even trying), "Anything But Ordinary." We like it that way.

I found the ways in which the lawyers selected the jury to be fascinating. For one thing, they had to make sure that all ethnicities were adequately represented. They also had to ensure that the people who were chosen as jurors would be able to remain objective even if the person speaking to them were a police man or someone commonly assumed to be honest due to their position and status in society. The group was also asked whether they would be disturbed if they viewed graphic pictures that would be presented as evidence. This is aside from the common questions, such as whether they themselves had ever been victims of a crime, and if so, whether they felt that this would impair their judgment.

The case on trial was a murder-suicide with the attempted suicide having failed. Heshy and his fellow jurors had to determine whether the defendant was guilty at all and if so, whether he was guilty of manslaughter or second-degree murder. In pursuit of this, the jurors heard from many expert witnesses and psychologists, handled the evidence (including the murder weapon) and looked at pictures of the victim.

The raw emotion and reactions of the defendant and the victim's relatives were the most powerful and striking parts of the experience, Heshy said.

"What I felt was the saddest part," he explained, "was when one of the victim's close relatives took the stand. This relative was the one who had convinced the victim to date the defendant and you could see that she blamed herself for the outcome."

The question is: how to interpret this experience in light of its proximity to our wedding?

The power of judgment came home to me (and possibly to Heshy as well) because of this. Here he and the other jurors had the power to determine whether or not a man was guilty. The sentence is the judge's domain and its severity is determined by him or her. Yet without Heshy and his peers, sentencing does not even occur. Heshy was troubled by the outcome of the case. "What I could clearly see from this is that people hurt others when they themselves are in pain," he explained. The cycle upsets him because he feels that prison does not resolve the issues that lead to the crime. The defendant had had a terrible, violent, extremely abusive childhood and it followed that his pain and anger expressed itself in this awful way. Does that make him not guilty for his actions? This jury decided otherwise. But it causes the entire scene to seem more like a tragedy and less like simple justice.

This afforded me insight into God's perspective. On the day of our wedding, Heshy and I will be judged. It is our own personal Yom Kippur. God looks at us and considers us in light of our former actions and also our new ones. Have we attempted to serve Him? In what ways have we failed and in what ways have we succeeded? Unlike the jury, God does consider us in light of our childhood and where we come from. Rashi says this when he comments to Rivka and Isaac both praying for children. Rivka was the daughter of an evil person while Isaac was the child of a righteous person. Rivka was given credit for how far she had come, yet Isaac's prayers were still answered first. If God considers the families and forefathers from which we descend when it comes to our prayers, how much the more so when it comes to our behavior! There are even sins that are described as "punishment" for the children to the third and fourth generation because they are sins that are inherited from our fathers. By punishment, commentaries suggest these refer to the consequences of behaviors modeled by or inherited by the fathers, some of which becomes ingrained, but others of which the child could have chosen not to follow.

I felt that the fact that Heshy was chosen to judge a fellow human being was a prelude to us being judged ourselves. It was a demonstration. "Do you see how hard this is to do?" it seemed like God was asking. "There is so much at stake and so much to determine. And yet you only decide whether you believe a man is guilty or innocent! How much the more so when it comes to Me, who is aware of guilt and innocence, where I must determine your income, happiness and the allotment of challenges and joys that I will give you this year. And I must decide whether or not to offer you another chance when My knowledge is absolute, while yours is only predicated upon probability."

Unlike a jury, God is one solitary Mind. He will not declare a mistrial if verdicts are not unanimous. The formalities and appropriate behavior of a man aware that he stands before his judge ought to appear at the wedding as well, specifically under the chupah. For who is God if not the ultimate Decisor? And it is we who are on trial for our lives.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Free Candy for College OU Alumni

If you or someone you know is a member of OU Alumni (meaning that they were a participant in NCSY, JSU or Israel Free Spirit) and they now attend a college within the USA or Canada, please have them sign up to get candy delivered to them on Jewish holidays!

Also tell them to check out the first edition of the OU College Alumni Newsletter!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hello Mind

I'm very happy but there's so much sadness all around me I have a right to be happy?

Right know I'm thinking specifically about RivkA of "Coffee and Chemo," who certainly wouldn't want me to be sad on her behalf. Her whole life's message was about love, joy, optimism, perseverance, determination and living inspired. But death is shocking, whenever encountered, and the question always arises: have I a right to be happy in the face of such sadness? People die and leave us and we become fragmented.

But surely we can't be sad all the time, so what then ought to be done?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Beautiful Mind: Jewish Approaches to Mental Health (YU Medical Ethics Society)

Today was Yeshiva University's Student Medical Ethics Society's fifth Fuld Family Medical Ethics Conference. It was entitled "A Beautiful Mind: Jewish Approaches to Mental Health." The conference featured Dr. Esther Altmann, Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, Dr. Karen Rosewater, Dr. Tia Powell, Dr. Trish Attia, Dr. David Pelcovitz, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, Mr. David Mandel, Rabbi Dovid Fuld, Dr. David Brent, Dr. Harvey Kranzler, R' Herschel Schachter, Dr. Victor Schwartz, Dr. Edward Burns and many breakout sessions. Their biographies are all available here.

Please understand that A) these are notes rather than verbatim word-for-word statements. I paraphrased and/or took down the concepts when people spoke too fast or I couldn't understand them. B) I am absolutely certain that I made mistakes so please remember that any and all mistakes are mine. If the ideas don't flow or there are absolute errors, it's my fault and nobody else's.

A Beautiful Mind 2010 Medical Ethics Conference

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Come To The Conference!

Don't forget...."A Beautiful Mind" is taking place from 9-5 October 31st at YU! Come learn about Jewish Medical Ethics when it comes to Mental Health.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Conversation Starters: Pick One!

Today is let's learn about the lurkers and people who comment to this blog day!

Therefore, pick a question (or pick them all) and answer them in the comments. You can be as anonymous as you like, just pick a handle so that I can distinguish you from a different anonymous.


1. What’s your relationship to God like?
2. What’s the first thing you would do if you weren’t Jewish anymore?
3. If you could have dinner with three people throughout history, which 3 people and which restaraunt would you go to?
4. What character traits do you value in your friends?
5. What are your pet peeves?
6. Do you consider yourself a private person? Why or why not?
7. Which is more important: the pursuit of happiness or the pursuit of truth?
8. Let’s say your friend had betrayed you- would you want to know? Or would you rather just stay friends? What if it weren’t your friend but your spouse?
9. What’s the hardest thing about being religious (for you)?
10. What’s your favorite book/ movie and why?
11. What’s your favorite inspirational story?
12. When was the last time you cried? Why?
13. If you could be any character in any fiction book, which character would you be and why?
14. If you could live in someone else’s body for a day (someone living currently), who would it be and why?
15. What was one of your most lifechanging experiences?
16. What’s your favorite quote? Why?
17. Would you say you have a motto? What is it? Do you live by it?
18. If you had to lose one of your senses, which one would you choose to loose? Why?
19. If the world ran out of Perrier, what drink do you think gently-reared girls would purchase on dates?
20. What would comprise your dream vacation? Why?
21. If you could eradicate one bad trait from the world, which would it be and why?
22. If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?

Oh, and of course, every University of Chicago application prompt possible to ask, as that school is fabulously awesome.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Crunching the Numbers

Last night I attended a Young Alumni meeting at Yeshiva University. I learned the following things:

-Yeshiva University is currently running on a 22 million dollar structured deficit; the prediction is that President Joel runs out of cash (not endowment funds, but cash) next year

-Due to this, the plan is to cut 12 million from the budget by next year. That way, President Joel will have cash to play with for four years.

For anyone who is interested in more information about these numbers, why it is this way and what you can do about it, email Barbara Birch at the Office of Alumni Affairs at

There was one point that President Joel made that particularly resonated with me. He asked us to image a world without YU. What would Judaism look like without YU? That's when it started to hit me- you'd have Boro Park and liberal Judaism, perhaps a few Jews drifting somewhere in the middle because they're graduates of Touro or TI-and nothing in between. Imagine a world totally untouched by YU: no college, no university, no RIETS Semikha program, no YU Rabbis, no YU Kollels, no Center for the Jewish Future programming, no Azrieli teachers in Jewish day schools, no doctors from Einstein, no psychologists from Ferkauf, no business majors from Sy Syms. Basically, imagine YU didn't exist at all.

If you're part of the circles in which I move, such a thing is almost impossible. Your everyday interactions revolve around some sort of Yeshiva University connection, whether it's a rabbi you respect, the fact that you were once a student there, the psychologist you see weekly, the doctor who gives you a check-up, the kid who donated bone marrow to you and swabbed at a YU Gift of Life event. Whether you realize it or not, you have been changed for the better because of something to do with YU.

What we have to realize is that the burden of supporting this institution falls upon our shoulders. It may not be everything that we envisioned and it cannot be all things to all people. But it holds a place of supreme importance in the Jewish world. And a Jewish world without YU and everything it entails is a scary prospect.

We give money all the time because we don't want to live in a world without the State of Israel. I'm not saying it's the same thing, because it's not (for one thing, because YU isn't a country) but it's still pretty important. Imagine America without Yeshiva University and you have dealt a death blow to committed, relevant Orthodox Judaism in the States. Whether or not you were a student at YU yourself, in some way, you've benefited from the institution. It's just good practice to say thanks.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bride

The bride looks at her parents and tears come to her eyes. She knows she shouldn't cry because she has contacts in her eyes and she's nervous that maybe she'll cry them out or they'll get stuck or end up somewhere behind the back of her retina, which will make her rather miserable. But she can't help it. Because the enormity of what's happening is suddenly dawning on her. These are the people who raised her, from the time she was a mere baby until this day. The people who made sure she was fed, well-rested, bathed, had a clean diaper and felt safe and secure.

These are my parents, she thinks. The ones who heard me crying on the baby monitor and woke up many times each night just to make sure I was okay. The mother who I mercilessly kicked in the womb, not realizing that I was hurting her. I forced her to go through the agonizing pains of labor and delivery. This is my father- who looked down at me with such joy when I was born. I always wanted to live up to their image of who I could be. The question is- are they happy with me? Or are they disappointed?

This is my mother, who painstakingly mashed up freshly cooked sweet potatoes, carrots and yams to make a mush that she could feed to her child. She didn't believe in giving her daughter food that came out of a can that could be purchased in a store. This is my father who sang to me and rocked me and read me innumerable books. Who read me "Hansel and Gretel" and who always held my hand when we walked home from shul.

These are my parents, who had such hopes and dreams for me. The ones who cried for me when bad things happened to me and rejoiced with me when good things occurred. These are the parents who were proud of me for accomplishments both acknowledged and unacknowledged. These are the parents who glowed with pride whenever I did something, who didn't know that secretly, I felt inadequate- like I could never live up to them. That's because they're pretty amazing parents and they've survived, worked on, worked through and gotten beyond a lot of pretty heavy stuff that would have felled lesser humans.

These are the parents who attended my kindergarten graduation, where I wore a beautiful lacy dress covered with blue flowers. Who celebrated my Bat Mitzvah with me and laughed happily as I motioned to the entire room and talked about idols and filth and Jeremiah. Who come to my 8th grade graduation and heard me say my part in the Ketata, something about a kettle, a river and a bird. Who attended my 12th grade graduation, where they had commissioned a custom-made white gown for me since that is what I was required to wear. Who sat in the audience on a Friday afternoon as Mr. Dachille called down blessings upon us and told us that he hoped Yahweh would turn his countenance toward us and shine down upon us.

They saw me go to college and listened to my triumphs and defeats at school. I went all the way to New York and they missed me but also kept in touch with me, always sending me packages and goodies and acknowledging my special events. They were thrilled with everything I did well and were there for me when I was sad and in pain. They've listened to me and given me their sage advice through everything. They told me that I would end up happy. That it would be okay in the end. That God loved me. There were times that I didn't believe them.

And here they are and they're going to walk me down to the canopy where my groom is waiting, hoping. We hope for a future that thrills us and makes us dizzy with joy. Where we choose to mutually respect each other and love each other and work towards a better tomorrow. We have thought a lot about this and we realize that it takes work, very hard work, to make a marriage work. Luckily, we both want to try- and we want to try with each other. Luckily for me, also, my groom is a saint. He never invalidates my feelings; he always tries to understand me and care for me, whether with his words or his presence.

The familiar, everything I've ever known, is contained within these parents, so much hope and good will written on their faces. They'll be looking at me and wishing me luck on this momentous journey. I'll be overwhelmed with emotion- with the thought of what I am leaving behind and what I am becoming a part of. I am happy to marry Heshy but sad to leave my parents- even though I know that I'm not really leaving, that I can always come back to them. I know they'll want to see me at various occasions during the year, whenever I am able to take the time off so that can happen.

It will be hard to leave them, these parents of mine. Although I love Heshy very much, there is always an element of uncertainty to a marriage. Just the newness of it, how it is different and I must get accustomed to it- all these strange and peculiar sensations that now can and will occur. I'm leaving my house and entering another house, one that will be created by the both of us together, by the giving of ourselves. This is a special thing and I hope for it to be a beautiful thing as well. But it is also a trifle awesome. I feel like I stand before God and I am judged- and I wonder, am I found wanting? Will You give me happiness, God, or will You test me before I attain that?

It is very special to me that God heard my prayer. I feel like You are listening, God. I know that I have not been perfect. I know that I have committed many sins, ranging from those I am aware of to those I am not aware of it. I know that I am not deserving of the goodness that You will bestow because no human can deserve the bounty that You bless us with. I try to serve You the best way I know how but I always doubt and wonder whether perhaps I am wrong in the things I choose. I hope that You will clarify things to me so that I can serve You properly.

The day that I will be married is the day that I will stand with God, really feel at one with God, as important a day as the one that I was born or the one that I will die. I know that I will sense this deep form of connection and trepidation, the fear that comes of the immensity of the journey that I am about to embark upon. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I really feel like Moses at the Burning Bush or perhaps like the Jews at their revelation at Sinai. The day that I will be married is the day that both Heshy and I will see God- and live. Because in a way we will die. Our old lives, our old selves, our old sins- all these will slough away and die. We will be reborn, reunited. Our souls will be rejoined. And so we will die and live again- and thus we will have seen God.

I am looking forward to seeing God. I have so many things to say to my Creator. I have so many questions to ask, so many "Whys?" There are so many things I don't understand. There is so much to pray for. There is so much to thank Him for. There are my grandparents who are not at my wedding - and it hurts me that they aren't there in the physical sense. I want my Grandpa and my moonlit grandmother to dance with me. I am very sad that they won't be able to do so in the flesh. Heshy says that they will come to our wedding anyway and they will look down on me. Maybe that is true.

God has given me such an amazing, twisting, confusing and special life. I have not understood it; nor have I thanked Him for it. Often I rebel against it. Often He has made me angry. Often I have felt that the struggles He gave me were far too much for me. But I feel very blessed that He gave me Heshy to see me through them. Heshy is a very calming influence on my life. He is like an anchor. He is very stable. This is good, because I am like a candle that flickers in the wind. One moment I am burning brightly and the next moment my light has been doused. Heshy is like the everlasting match.

So I will stand and look at them and the moment will seem surreal. Because these are my parents and yet I am leaving them. This was my life and now it is no longer my life. How many tears have my parents shed because of me! I am sure they have gone to serve some useful purpose in Heaven.

I think that maybe all the people I love, or who have loved me, will be there secretly, somehow. I think God will gather their spirits and make me a necklace to hang upon my neck that bears their love. It will be invisible and weigh very little and I will be the only one to know that it is there.

I am excited to be united with the other half of my soul. I am also awed by the immensity of what is and what will be and what has been. It's not for nothing that God is called "I Am That I Am" or "I Will Be As I Will Be." God is the everlasting cycle, the turning of the clock. I am very small in the scheme of things, and yet I feel as though the whole world will stop as I walk down the aisle. Because every step I take brings me one step closer to completion- as I walk the path to the Garden of Eden.

Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom

I sometimes feel like this.

But then again, what's life worth without a little heart-ripping?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Favorite Literary Quotes, Excerpts or Passages

What are some of your favorite literary quotes, excerpts or passages?

As you might imagine, there are many that speak to me, but one of the top contenders is definitely the following excerpt from A Ring of Endless Light.


"When are you most completely you, Vicky?"

It wasn't at all what I had expected him to say. I was looking for answers, not more questions.

"When?" he repeated.

Maybe because I was feeling extraordinarily tired I was thinking in scenes, rather than logical sequences, and across my mind's eye flashed a picture of the loft, with the old camp cots, and the windows overlooking the ocean, and the lighthouse at night with its friendly beam, and on the far wall the lines of the poem Grandfather had painted there, If thou could'st empty all thyself of self...

I was not really myself when I was all replete with very me. So when was I?

"When you first took me to meet Basil [a dolphin]," I said slowly, "and when I was petting him and scratching his chest..."

"Who were you thinking about?"


"Were you thinking about you?"


"But were you really being you?"


"So that's the contradiction, isn't it? You weren't thinking about yourself at all. You were completely thrown out of yourself in concentration on Basil. And yet you were really being you.

I leaned my head against Adam's shoulder. "Much more than when I'm all replete with very me."

His right hand drew my head more comfortably against his shoulder. "So, when we're thinking concsiously about ourselves, we're less ourselves than when we're not being self-centered."

"I suppose..."

"Okay, here's another analogy. Where are you when you write poetry?"

"This summer I'm usually up in the loft."

"You know that's not what I mean. When you're actually writing a poem, when you're in the middle of it, where are you?"

"I'm not sure. I'm more in the poem than I am in me. I'm using my mind, really using it, and yet I'm not directing the poem or telling it where to go. It's telling me."

His strong fingers moved gently across my hair. "That's the way it is with science, too. All the great scientists, like Newton, like Einstein, repeat the same thing- that the discoveries don't come when you're consciously looking for them. They come when for some reason you've let go of conscious control. They come in a sudden flash, and you can receive that flash, or you can refuse to. But if you're willing to receive it, then for that instantaneous moment that you're really you, but you're not conscious in the same way you have to be later on when you look at what you saw in the flash, and then have to work out the equations to prove it."

I heard every word he said. And I think I understood. At the same time my entire body was conscious of the feel of his fingers stroking my hair. I wondered if he felt it as strongly as I did. But I asked, "Has that happened to you, that knowing in a flash?"

"Not in the way it did to Einstein with his theory of relativity. Or to Dr. O'Keefe, with his work on limb regeneration. But in little ways with Basil, yes. He's taught me more about himself than I could have learned with just my thinking self. And Basil- Basil has taught you, hasn't he?"

"Yes. Oh, yes."

He lifted his hand and stopped stroking. "And you saw Jeb with Ynid."

Yes, I had seen Dr. Nutteley with Ynid. In the midst of his pain, Jeb had been wholly real.

"What I think"- Adam's hand began caressing my hair again- "is that if we're still around after we die, it will be more like those moments when we let go, than the way we are most of the time. It'll be- it'll be the self beyond the self we know."

At that moment there was a rip in the clouds and an island of star-sparkled sky appeared, its light so brilliant it seemed to reach down beyond the horizon and encircle the earth, a ring of pure and endless light.

~ A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle, pages 162-164