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

Mornings are Good

"It's hard to be mad at someone who misses you while you're asleep."

~Calvin and Hobbes

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Don't Have To Apologize Because My Life Isn't As Wrecked As Yours

Something that I've noticed happens often on the blogs (and particularly on my blog over the course of the past five years) are the angry commentators who come along and start yelling at me because my life isn't as wrecked, unhappy, miserable or otherwise awful as theirs is. Due to this (according to their logic), I have no right to write.

You are correct. I am not:

-Dying in Rwanda
-A victim of the Holocaust
-A victim of a terrorist attack
-Divorced and/or dealing with my partner's infidelity
-Related to cruel or unstable people
-An apostate/ heretic because I was molested by a Rabbi

And the list goes on.

At the same time, this doesn't mean that I cannot feel. I feel pain at times. It may not be pain that ranks particularly high on your radar. It may seem shallow, superficial or unimportant to you. But that's why you're not living my life for me. I don't have to apologize to you because my life isn't as wrecked as yours. You're not the one who gets to determine whether or not my feelings are worth feeling or writing about or otherwise discussing. Your attempt to say my feelings aren't valid makes you just one in a long line of people who have tried to sell me on that message.

I've been called stupid, pathetic, melodramatic, snob, braggart, crybaby, flirt, cruel, unfeeling, cold and so on and so forth. Do you really think your saying it, at this point in my life, will make any difference at all to me? Judgment (and judgmental crap) colors the air around me. People have chosen to pass judgment on me for all manner of things, ranging from the way I plan to cover my hair to the short stories I write to the fact that I attended North Shore Country Day. My best friend judged me and found me lacking, then cut off the friendship. One of my favorite teachers told me she was disappointed in me when I wrote the transsexual articles in The Observer. You think that didn't bother me? Sure it bothered me. But I refuse to let judgmental crap dictate my approach to life.

I won't apologize for my life. I won't apologize for living it on my terms. I won't apologize because my life isn't as sad, depressing and wrecked as yours is. I won't apologize for feeling because my feeling seems unimportant and invalid to you. In short, I won't apologize at all.

And I think it's time more people started taking that attitude toward their lives rather than cowering in corners and saying sorry in an attempt to please others. You don't have to please people who are acting inappropriately. And those who decide your feelings don't count because nothing "bad enough" happened to you are definitely not those whose opinions you need to respect.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"You're Never Going to Get Married"

I figured it would be amusing to recap all the reasons that supposedly I was "never going to get married." These were all told to me by various people: parents, friends, teachers and so forth.

1. You went to a non-Jewish high school! And you switched out of Bais Yaakov to go there!
2. You're too well-read.
3. You're too intelligent.
4. You're too intimidating.
5. You walk outside in the street in a jean skirt thrown over pajama pants and a big comfy sweatshirt with ratty hair done up in a pony tied with a rubber-band while wearing flip-flops
6. You're not frum/ Charedi enough
7. You're too particular
8. You're not interested in going to a shadchan
9. You don't want to date all those boys you're friends with- what about what's-his-name from the Medical Ethics Club?
10. You're not interested in dating at all
11. You believe in fairy tales and this is reality
12. What you write is too controversial
13. You don't like the whole resume/ references/ research system
14. You read all of Shakespeare
15. You scare guys away (I didn't really understand this one but I guess the person thought that I take out my fangs and turn into a vampire on dates)
16. What you write is too graphic/ explicit
17. You're looking for something that doesn't exist
18. You live by your own rules/ march to your own drummer and boys don't like girls who don't want to live by their rules and in fact you ought to listen to your husband
19. You're too stubborn
20. I'm the one who really loves you and you won't date me, ergo.
21. I hate you and you ruined my life and therefore I hope etc.

Were you ever told you weren't ever going to get married? If so, what reason were you given?

Addendum: My mother would like me to clarify that she never told me I wouldn't get married, rather that I simply wouldn't look attractive in my shlumpfy clothes.

Things That Are Not On My Radar During Decorative Gourd Season

I am a bride. Possibly an unconventional one at that, but a bride nonetheless, and ye shall hear me roar.

1. Wigs. Are not the "desire of every kallah and her mother." Get a new tagline.

2. On the most recent episode of "Grey's Anatomy," Meredith remarked that her uterus is hostile. You know what else is hostile? Every frum store that sells beautiful, formal clothing, lingerie stores, shoe stores- you name it. Why? Because invariably they close at 5 or 5:30 or they're open till 7 but they're very far away in Brooklyn and thus inaccessible. They're hostile because they clearly don't take into account that there are people who work and are busy from 9-5. Actually, busy from 7:30-6ish if you factor in commutes. Therefore, those people can't get to your store/ boutique especially because you choose not to be open on Sundays.

3. I know that this will come as a positive shock to you, but I don't care about every fourth-cousin-once-removed who is in your family tree line. In short, if they can't understand me and are not likely to become my friend, it's highly unlikely that I will remember their names. I remember people who made an impression on me (read: people with whom I had a meaningful conversation), not faces.

4. I'm SICK OF THE FACEBOOK ADS that are geared toward engaged couples! They're so annoying. I want to punch the woman who consistently shows up on the righthand side of my facebook inquiring "Are you engaged?"

5. In my perfect world, people would actually give logical, clear, thought-through instructions that they do not choose to contradict moments later. It would be most exciting if this were to happen sometime in the near future.

6. If one more person remarks on shallow material things that I'm going to get, Heshy's going to get or that someone is dissatisfied we didn't get or decides we shouldn't get, I will absolutely scream. For example, this post is beyond awful because it demonstrates that the man has no idea what goes into a marriage or what he should be feeling for his wife; he's too busy being jealous of her possessions. It is shocking that your immediate reaction to hearing I'm engaged is "Oh, you're going to get so many nice things."

7. Dear People Who Flip Out About Nothing: A woman tore my incredibly expensive bridal veil while I was trying it on in the fitting room. I am talking about a foot-sized-hole where expensive fabric should be. I did not flip out about it. I simply stated that I would not be purchasing the new veil and either she or the store would be doing so. If I did not flip out about that, you certainly don't need to flip out about minutia. Calm down now.


1. It's decorative gourd season! It's time to carve and shellac some pumpkins and get the creative juices flowing.

2. All the ingredients for the creation of French Toast are currently sitting in my fridge.

3. My job includes asking people to donate $1000 prizes to my organization. It's a lot of fun.

4. Heshy came over and, with the assistance of his friend, built 2 bookcases, one chair, 1 kitchen cart, 1 four-wheeled cart, 1 curio and disassembled and disposed of numerous cardboard boxes over the weekend. This was thrilling. My future husband is amazing.

5. It smells like pizza in my office.

6. A blind man from Spain called me "Madame" and it was really exciting.

7. My shoes have sequins on them. They're sparkly. I love sparkly shoes.

8. I was warm when I woke up this morning! The heating works in my apartment, praise be to God.

9. They're showing "Killing Kazstner" at YU tomorrow night and I'm really looking forward to seeing it.

10. It's almost winter and that means it's almost my birthday and time for my Birthday Masquerade!

11. I bet most people don't get to have three different versions of their wedding invitation. This is very unique. Also ludicrous, but mostly unique.

12. It's kind of fun to say I'm marrying a man who will walk around with a big furry wrap on his head, kind of as if he got confused and decided the mink stole that belonged to his wife really ought to perch precariously atop his hair.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Go Ahead And Laugh

Go ahead and laugh.

God knows I am. Hysterically. Mostly because I can't fathom how I'm going to drag all that down five flights of stairs. I don't suppose any of you are moving and in need of moving boxes?

I should be happy about this. Intellectually, I'm thrilled. It's very nice of everyone to give me gifts and the boxes are a consequence of the nice gifts. However. I can't handle it. It's overwhelming. And I think my super is starting to dislike me, mostly because this castle of boxes ends up where the garbage is at and he's upset because it's blocking the passageway. And I kind of wonder whether he thinks I'm Hermione and know magical shrinking spells. Although in truth, he's been super nice about the whole thing.

In any case. Point being: have a laugh. I am Queen of a Castle of Cardboard.


I need:

-Places I can buy gowns for more formal Sheva Brachot

-Names of JEWISH TRAVEL AGENCIES and their phone numbers so I can get them to donate flights to a Chinese Auction

If you can provide either of these things, please comment. Thanks.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Lion King

Tonight I saw "The Lion King" on Broadway. It was absolutely magical. Visually stunning, the exquisitely trained voices of the performers, their incredible costumes and beautifully choreographed dance moves and fight scenes were mesmerizing. I was completely blown away by the way that Zazu and Timon were presented. Each of them has an actor behind them who is mostly meant to fade into the shadows and indeed, these actors are supremely talented. Even while they speak, they make their character move so that you believe it is the character who speaks.

What is more, the voices of those performing on Broadway matched up to the voices of the characters in the film (especially by Mufasa, Zazu and Timon). Simba was played by the incredible Dashaun Young (whose voice is to die for). And the special effects were out of this world. Ranging from Scar grabbing a real mouse out of a shadow upon a curtain to Mufasa's ghostly visage appearing in the sky while Simba peers into a pool to an incredibly vivid wildebeest stampede, the special effects light up the entire show. The scenery, costumes, acting, dancing, singing and gymnastics, in addition to the brilliant way in which every inch of the theater was used (characters walked or danced down the aisles on their way to the stage in several scenes) was dramatic and gorgeous.

I've never seen such a colorful, vibrant show. "The Lion King" is bursting with life and energy. It's haunting, intense and simultaneously marvelous. The grandeur of the stage and set is unparalleled. The show also incorporates extra parts, such as a psychology lesson where Timon holds on to a tree-branch while over a plunging waterfall, reminiscent of Simba's hold on the branch during the wildebeest stampede. While watching the musical, I was powerfully reminded of "Hamlet." It wasn't much of a surprise to learn later on (while passing a gift-shop) that "The Lion King" was actually based on "Hamlet."

It also occurred to me that so many motifs range around the forbidden. Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Beauty goes to the West Wing and Simba goes to the Shadowlands. The allure of the forbidden is powerful. Somehow, through watching this very real rendition of the story of the boy-king who carries a powerful burden of guilt, so many beautiful themes really came home to me. Simba tries to evade responsibility, living by the motto of Hakuna Matata, but in the end must embrace it. Rafiki is the one who shows him this, hitting him on the head with a staff and then telling him "but it's in the past" to which Simba replies "but it still hurts!" Precisely. Just because something is in the past doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. But it's despite that hurt that one choose to change and one must remember, as Mufasa adjures, "You are my son." Simba must reclaim the Pridelands- and his own pride- for the sake of honor but also of personal growth. The messages are true and relevant for children and adults.

The audience went absolutely gaga over the show and we all applauded and offered a standing ovation to the incredible performers. This is easily one of the best Broadways shows I've ever seen- and it's great that it's family-friendly as well.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

My Future Husband

My future husband is loving and touching and endearing and sweet. He's thoughtful, determined, kind and encouraging. He relates to God as though God were his eternal bride, much as the Rav speaks of his own romance with the Creator. His words are laden with sincerity. He's genuine and real and when he speaks, he means what he says. He has never lied to me. He has never broken his word. He cares deeply about God, about me and about us. There is a depth and a quality to his caring that is remarkable. It strengthens and emboldens me. I feel empowered because of him and because of his belief in me. It reminds me a little of the scene in "Finding Neverland" where everyone is urged to assert: "I do believe in fairies- I do- I do!" and to clap loudly in order to ensure that Tinkerbell survives. There are some people who never become what they truly are unless they are believed in, for that belief is the blood that flows through their veins, the elixir that strengthens them and allows the pink flush of health to warm their cheeks. I am such a person.

He is also playful. I am playful, too. The two of us have raced each other across opposite Moving Walkways in O'Hare International Airport, gotten stuck in an elevator together at the Marriott Hotel, lain on a blanket of grass underneath a starry night sky and sipped wine from champagne flutes, driven to Connecticut to observe a shechita, had water-fights with hoses in industrial-sized kitchens (Camp Stone's kitchen, to be precise), tried on lots of different wigs (ranging from rocker to bright pink to orange) in Abracadabra, eaten dinner and sipped Cokes on open rooftops, taken a tour of Pomegranate at 10PM, accidentally ended up in Queens one evening and purchased ice cream from Max & Mina's, have eaten Shabbat meals consisting mainly of cookies, have attended segregated Shabbat meals where we spoke with our eyes across a very long table, challenged one another to rhyming duels, avidly defended our interpretations of films, wandered through Barnes and Noble and Macy's while he's wearing a hat and bekishe, include double entendres and special meanings in nearly every conversation while suppressing the urge to break into hearty laughter, walked through Fort Tryon park together and so on and so forth.

He has many tones. I like the way his voice unconsciously sweetens when he speaks Yiddish to his younger siblings; he doesn't even realize it. He's made a habit of locating various and sundry chocolatiers in an effort to ply me with every single type of chocolate known to man (he likes to give me gifts for no reason) and a wicked twinkle comes into his eye when he stoutly informs me that he has a "surprise for me" (it's a book from my favorite series).

Well-meaning people used to call me to ask what I was looking for in a husband. At first I was flummoxed by the question- I couldn't describe what I was looking for because I was interested in so many different types of people! But at some point I came up with an answer (and it was my stock answer) and it went like so:

"In Bereishis, when Avraham sends Eliezer to look for a bride for Yitzchak, Eliezer asks for a sign. The sign should be that when Eliezer asks a maiden to allow him to drink, she not only gives him water but also waters his camels. Now, why was that an identifying sign? Because it shows Rivka's kindness. She was kind, not only to a stranger, a wayfarer, but also to his beasts of burden, who were also tired and thirsty. So we see in the Torah itself that the quality that one should look for in a partner is kindness. The most important thing to me is that he should be kind. Kind, honest, loyal and truthful- but most of all kind."

And that is the essence of Heshy. If Heshy is your friend, he will give you of his time, his money and his devotion without qualms- because to him, friendship is a sacred bond of the spirit. He is utterly loyal. And he is also very kind. Heshy's perception of the world and of people is that it is a world of growth. It is our job to grow, to work on ourselves, create ourselves and recreate ourselves so that we grow and become better people. He is very realistic about his expectations. He doesn't expect himself or those he cares for to change overnight. He realizes that to grow takes work, hard work, and effort and skill. People must want to change and change happens gradually. Heshy rejoices in this rather than feeling frustrated by it. To him it is a marvel, just as all of God's creations- and His world- is a marvel. When Heshy walks outside, he sees a beautiful world: one that is full of potential.

At the same time, Heshy has a very strong attribute of justice. He deals with people as they have dealt with him. Measure for measure and middah kneged middah resonate strongly with him. His personality is such that he could officiate over disputes- he is not swayed by emotions but rules via logic. To him, justice and righteousness are synonymous. You may love someone very much, but that does not make them correct. It's interesting that the same lips can speak words that act as paintbrushes, creating the markers and streetlines that one sees on the pavement, borders and boundaries. Out of his lips come these yellow and white painted markings on the black concrete...and then, light words that sparkle also come from his mouth. It only depends on his focus at that moment in time.

My future husband has been handed equal measures of sweetness and justice and he must determine which quality is correct according to the time. The seat of power is the tongue and all that it expresses.

I feel lucky that God bound me to a man who is so understanding. It's unique for one and the same person to be logical, kind, playful and loving. He balances me when I am caught up in dreams I never realize by pointing out that the mundane practicalities of life are important and, alongside him, could even be made fun. I love his complexity and the secret parts of his personality, the depth that is hinted to but never fully realized. I admire his ability to comprehend my attraction to darkness and to validate how I feel even if he disagrees. There is in Heshy a boundless ability to give. All the stars spinning throughout the milky way, the vastness of the known universe, the ineffable nature of God- none of these metaphors could express how much he is willing to give and how deeply he cares for others.

Which is why I'm lucky: because he's my destiny.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Epileptic Peat

Today I was coming home from work and detoured to Times Square 42nd Street Station. There I saw a man in a gorilla mask playing the electric guitar accompanied by tunes that he had recorded and manipulated with his foot. I stopped, totally entranced and listened for a good 10 minutes. I wasn't the only one. There was something in this man's music- his strange ability to combine so many genres- that was deeply appealing.

I bought his CD. His name is Peat. He goes by the name Epileptic Peat. His CD is called "The Minstrel and the Shill" and it's a strangely beautiful mixture of guitar, drums, cello, violin, piano, bagpipes, banjo and the glockenspiegel. To me it seems reflective of many different parts of my nature. The album is also beautifully designed/ is rather artistic, courtesy of Luke Rains (

In short, it appeals to me...and it's amazing to me that each track is able to touch on so many emotions. This is like the tune the Pied Piper played to ensure the children would be captivated by him.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Simchas Torah in Bobov

Bleachers, to me, are reminiscent of a baseball game. I imagine Wrigley Field and the few Cubs games I have attended, the scent of popcorn, hot dogs and sweat in the air. People are cheering, loudly attired in the colors of their team. They bounce their children on their knees, dandling them there while they carefully introduce them to the intricacies of the game. Their expressions rise and fall with each pitch, hit or home run. The throng of people bands together in their shared concern and joy over the sight that takes place below.

As I look out over the sea of black, the flesh-colored hands clapping rhythmically, ecstatically together in joy, I am awed. Bleachers line all three walls of the shul and men and boys sway, stamp and jump ecstatically. Their hands are expressive, the outlet for their unified euphoria. The air is celebratory; below, in an expansive square bordered by tables draped in sparkling white cloths, fifty-two men hold fifty-two Sifrei Torah. They march together around the edge of this dance-floor, clad in their finest bekishes and shtreimels, some with young children in tow. In the middle of the dance floor, the king who presides over all, is the Bobover Rav.

The Rav, or Ruv as it is pronounced in the Hasidic dialect, wears a talis that is crowned by a silver atara. He pulls it over his face so that his eyes are completely covered and it hangs like a holy cowl; only his white beard remains uncovered. He wears a bekishe, white socks and black shoes. The energy in his manner and his dance is unparallelled. The tallis flies out behind him as he dances, forming the letters of the alef-bet with the patterns his feet trace across the floor; he looks like nothing so much as an angel. He holds out his hands before him and claps them vigorously, all the while dancing across the expansive floor, his men marching around him with their Torahs held loftily in their hands. The men in the bleachers focus on him; they clap in time with him. The energy that fills the air is explosive, combustible. This is not just joy; it is transcendent. The hall has been dipped in the elixir of ecstasy.

Those who are not jumping on the bleachers but stand outside of the white tables form a circle (really, it is more of a square), widthwise, five men across. Hundreds to thousands of men join this circle, each one putting his hands on the shoulders of the person in front of him. They bob up and down, jumping and singing passionately, their whole souls contained in these moments. They are carried forward by the momentum, a sea of black with brown shtreimels and black hats dotting the horizon. Children ride on their fathers' shoulders or scramble along within the crowd, thrilled by the rapture that fills the room. They are transported by the experience, taken to another world, a piece of heaven that is solely theirs.

These multitudes are observed by thousands of equally moved women, who fill two balconies that curve into an L-shape. The women stand atop chairs or shtenders; they clamber to the highest bench on the set of bleachers. They crane their necks, struggling to catch sight of the tremendous foray into exaltation below them. Their white kerchiefs make them identifiable to the onlooker, as does the sparkle of their jewelery. They lift up their children and struggle to locate their husbands, brothers and sons in the crowd. A curious sense of pride swells their hearts; they too vicariously take part in this fervent dance before God, the celebration of the gift of His holy Torah.

The hakafos go on till the wee hours of the morning. Men, boys and women are seen walking the streets till 4 or 5 AM, their menfolk having only just returned from the joyful celebration. While the Chasidim perform hakafos on Shmini Atzeres night and day as well, it's nothing as compared to the transcendent rotations they describe on Simchas Torah itself. That is the night when all is uncovered, the normally quiet man who is shy of demonstrating his feelings for God is lost in the incredible experience of being one with many in a blessed union with the soul of the Torah. Like an orchestra that is divided into many sections and yet all have their parts, so too this Simchas Torah celebration. The percussion section is perhaps equivalent to the jubilant men on the bleachers who stamp their feet, jump and clap together while singing joyfully. The strings section is comprised of the men within the white tables holding the Torahs, marching in a dignified fashion while still expressing their gladness. And the flutes and windpipes can serve as the men outside of the tables who form the mass of humanity that pushes, leaps and gambols forward with an intense, fervent concentration upon the holiness of the day. The Rav, of course, is the conductor.

The ecstasy does not end here. At the conclusion of the Shalosh Regalim, all of Bobov, men, women and children, gather outside of the Rav's house on 48th street. This ritual is called Neilas HaChag. The streets are shut down and police monitor them to ensure that nothing untoward happens. Usually it takes about 15 minutes, although this time the wait went for about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The Rav then steps out onto his porch to applause and singing, after which a shamash holds up his silent and the crowd goes silent. He speaks in Yiddish, wishing them a good year, a good winter, warning them against the evils of the outside world, telling them to be kovea itim (learn at set times) and wishing them joy in their smachot. He is their leader and they gather before him in nothing so much as a modern-day Hakhel. Instead of reading Sefer Devarim, however, he speaks to their hearts.

I am conflicted by these scenes. I am drawn to the beauty in them, the holiness, the spirituality, the transcendent and irrepressible joy. It calls out to me and my heart answers, for there is much in this that speaks to my soul. But the warning against the "goyishe velt" in which I live, the casual references to "my goyta" and what she has or hasn't done, the fact that shidduchim are determined at least in part based on "levush" and a b'sho generally involves having met only two or three times before one's marriage, the preeminence of white socks and beige socks in marital decisions, the idea that one marries the child of geirim as a last resort, if that- these things make me breathe a sigh of pleasure when I return to Washingon Heights, which is more of my home.

But it does not make me forget the sight that I saw in the twilight of Boro Park, the joy and ecstasy that filled the room, the creativity and beauty resplendent in their sukkot and the miniatures that fill them. Similar to the Macy's and Lord and Taylor Christmas windows, Bobov creates miniature figurines that portray Jewish scenes and displays them in their sukkot, although this year only the sukkah on 45th had them. These are masterpieces of artistry and creativity created by unprofessional bochurim who have never been taught art in a formal setting and they are beautiful.

The beautiful and the ugly lodge side-by-side, and in the night tinged with the scent of smoke from Yom Tov cigarettes, I find myself both moved and perplexed by what I see.