Sunday, May 31, 2009

Y'All Ready For This?

This is why it rocks to be home.


Urchin: (on his way to get his haircut) Am I a child or an adult?
Chana: You're over the age of 13. Obviously you're an adult.
Urchin: Yeah, but I mean, which coupon should I cut out?
Chana: Oh. Cut out both of them and ask the lady at the store. You're probably an adult.


Chana: Why haven't you got your haircut?
Taran: Iz, the guy who cuts our hair, moved to California. I called Daddy and he said he didn't want girls cutting our hair.
Chana: It's funny how I thought there was no possible way you could answer that question without my having to yell at you.
Taran: (shrugs) Well, we got plenty of exercise.


Chana: (after having a very sad conversation with Taran) So, what do you think?
Taran: (shaking head while folding laundry) You've gotta respect what people do.
Chana: Hmm. I hear. Any more words of wisdom?
Taran: There, on the radio. "Never say never." Those are words of wisdom.


Taran: You ever heard the ten percent luck, twenty percent skill song?
Chana: Yeah; what's that called again?
Taran: Never mind what it's called; see, that part of the song is good, but the rest is full of bad words.
Chana: Aha. I know "Dead And Gone" is your favorite song. Why?
Taran: Most of the lyrics are good.
Chana: Yeah? What's it about?
Taran: It's a guy who has done bad things but isn't going to do them anymore.
Chana: So basically it's about teshuva.
Taran: (nods sagely) Yup. It's about teshuva in the black world.
Chana: (laughs admiringly) Teshuva in the black world.


*Insert Dustfinger playing flawless piano by ear for half an hour- basically covers of popular songs currently on the radio, all of them majorly prettified*


I recently read The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology I., a book I borrowed from the Skokie Kollel Library (which is, by the way, fantastic.) The book I related to most of the anthology was probably If You Were God, from which I reproduce an excerpt that I found particularly fascinating:

Imagine standing naked before God, with your memory wide open, completely transparent without any jamming mechanism or reducing valve to diminish its force. You will remember everything you ever did and see it in a new light. You will see it in the light of the unshaded spirit, or, if you will, in God's own light that shines from one end of creation to the other. The memory of every good deed and Mitzvah will be the sublimest of pleasures, as our tradition speaks of Olam Haba.

But your memory will also be open to all the things of which you are ashamed. They cannot be rationalized away or dismissed. You will be facing yourself, fully aware of the consequences of all your deeds. We all know the terrible shame and humiliation experienced when one is caught in the act of doing something wrong. Imagine being caught by one's own memory with no place to escape. This indeed may be what Daniel is alluding to when he says (Dan. 12:2), "And many of them that sleep in the dust shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproach and everlasting shame."

A number of our great teachers write that the fire of Gehenom is actually the burning shame one experiences because of his sins. Again, this may be alluded to in the words of the prophet (Isa. 66:24), "And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled against Me; for their worm shall not die, nor shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be ashamed before all flesh." We find that evil leads to shame, as it is written (Jer. 7:19), "Are they angering Me, says God, are they not provoking themselves, to their own shame...Behold my anger...shall not burn, and shall not be quenched." The main concept of reward is that it be without shame, as we find (Joel 2:26), "And you shall eat and be satisfied...and my people shall never be ashamed."

The Talmud provides us with even stronger evidence that shame burns like fire. It states, "Rabbi Chananan says: This teaches us that each one (in the World of Souls) is burned by the canopy of his companion. Woe, for that shame! Woe, for that humiliation." We find that shame is a major form of punishment. In the Midrash on the verse (Ps. 6:11), "All your enemies shall be ashamed and very confounded," Rabbi Joshua ben Levi says, "God only curses the wicked with shame." This is also alluded to in the Talmudic statement, "It is better for Amram to suffer shame in this world, and not in the World to Come." Similarly, "Blessed is God who gave him shame in this world and not the next." When the Zohar speaks of future reward, it says, "Happy is he who comes here without shame."

Of course, these concepts of fire and shame, as used by our Sages, may also contain deeper mysteries and meanings. But taken literally, one says that a major ingredient of fire may be shame. How else could one characterize the agony of unconcealed shame upon a soul?

~If You Were God by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, pages 202-204


After watching "The Seal of Truth," a film about a man's near-death experience, and what he saw in the Heavenly Court after he died, this idea, which had formerly only intrigued me, totally gripped me and terrified me. Once I did something for which I have and continue to suffer the most agonizing shame; I have never felt forgiven even though I've been sorry. Now, imagine such shame multiplied tenfold, when the soul stands before God and realizes all it could have been in comparison to what it was, and who will have the ability to hold up his head? We shall all weep, tears streaming down, as we look upon who we were and what we had the potential to become...there is something truly terrifying in that; it frightens me.

Pretty Up My Heresy

This song is called "Prelude 12/21" and is by AFI. It is beautiful and otherworldly and you can hear the sparkles in it. It's an extremely short song (part of the longer "Miss Murder"), less than two minutes in fact, but it's the fact that he sings, "Kiss my eyes and lay me to sleep" that I like. It's like the Christian prayer redone.

Imagine taking this:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take

And turning it into this:

This is what I brought you.
This you can keep.
This is what I brought,
You may forget me.
I promise to depart,
Just promise one thing,
Kiss my eyes and lay me to sleep.

There's a pretty heresy in that.

To Be Sweet With Words Always

I once discussed how careful we must be with our words when mentioning the care we must take in discussing biblical characters or personalities. Yet there is even more cause to be careful with our words, phrasing and manner of speaking (and by this I do not mean speaking ill of others or taking care regarding lashon hara, but even one's conversation with a friend!), as explained by R' Hirsch below.


God has made sensitive man's soul, capable of being pained by every harsh touch, and yet He created this tender, sensitive instrument so that it may be the holder of the most sacred blessings of the human being, of honour and serenity, respect and love, of every enjoyment that life can provide, of every worth-while feeling of happiness, and of every emotion which links man to life and to his fellow-men. As long as it exists clear and serene within the human being, so long will he remain happy, however hard he may be hit by external events. But once it is wounded and saddened, and its peace disturbed, then the human being becomes sick and withers like a crushed flower. You should hold sacred man's inner sanctuary, consider it as God-given soil in which to plant your most beautiful blessings, wisdom and solace, love and kindness. And for this purpose you were given that most noble gift- the word.

But if you turn into a sharp and lethal weapon this word which is destined to bring life and blessings; if you seek pleasure in mocking the inexperienced and less intelligent, in deceiving and embarrassing him instead of teaching and correcting him; if you ridicule the unfortunate whose troubled mind is longing for comfort from your lips, and overwhelm him with useless reproaches; if you put your brother to shame in front of others even for the purpose of correcting him; if you degrade your brother's personality by calling him bad names; if with icy scorn and fiery disdain in your barbed words you shoot sharp arrows into your brother's heart and rejoice in his discomfiture- oh then, do not dare to look up to heaven! God sees your brother's heart convulsed by the daggers of your words, frozen under your icy scorn, humiliated under your ridicule. With Him the rejected soul will find refuge, to His Throne tears always find the door open. And you? The Almighty is just!

Youth and maiden of Israel! You to whom God's gift is still pure, whose hearts have not hardened, watch your word, keep it pure and devout, so that no heart may bleed, wounded by your word. Again, above all, watch it in your dealings with the unfortunate, the poor, dependants, servants; for doubly do they feel the slightest suggestion of scorn, indeed, their tender heart often feels a sting where you would not suspect one. And above all the female heart! Remember the teachings of our wise men who list as prohibited according to the prohibition of ona'ah (vexation): teasing, deceiving, embarrassing, needling, ridiculing; mocking, jesting with, and calling names, and then add: graver even than injury by action is vexation by words. The former only affects property, the latter the human being as a whole; the former can be repaired, the latter cannot; the tears of the offended find easy access to the Throne of the Almighty: fear Him, for His eye sees (Ch. M. 228).

Elsewhere it is said: He who puts his neighbor to shame in public is like a murderer; do you not see his blood flow? Three sinners descend into the Gehinnom and do not rise again: he who commits adultery, he who puts his neighbour to shame in public; and he who calls his neighbour names. Though all the gates of Heaven may be closed to prayer, no gate is ever closed to the tear of an injured heart.

~Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances, III Mishpatim Chapter 51, "Restriction, Oppression and Vexation", pages 257-258 by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

Hamlet & The Psalmist: What Is Man?

One cannot understand Shakespeare without the Bible.

The Psalmist writes, in Psalm 8:

    לַמְנַצֵּחַ עַל-הַגִּתִּית, מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד.1 For the Leader; upon the Gittith. A Psalm of David.

    ב יְהוָה אֲדֹנֵינוּ-- מָה-אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ, בְּכָל-הָאָרֶץ;
    אֲשֶׁר תְּנָה הוֹדְךָ, עַל-הַשָּׁמָיִם. 2
    O LORD, our Lord, how glorious is Thy name in all the earth! {N}
    whose majesty is rehearsed above the heavens.

    ג מִפִּי עוֹלְלִים, וְיֹנְקִים-- יִסַּדְתָּ-עֹז:
    לְמַעַן צוֹרְרֶיךָ; לְהַשְׁבִּית אוֹיֵב, וּמִתְנַקֵּם. 3
    Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou founded strength, {N}
    because of Thine adversaries; that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

    ד כִּי-אֶרְאֶה שָׁמֶיךָ, מַעֲשֵׂה אֶצְבְּעֹתֶיךָ--
    יָרֵחַ וְכוֹכָבִים, אֲשֶׁר כּוֹנָנְתָּה. 4
    When I behold Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, {N}
    the moon and the stars, which Thou hast established;

    ה מָה-אֱנוֹשׁ כִּי-תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ; וּבֶן-אָדָם, כִּי תִפְקְדֶנּוּ. 5
    What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou thinkest of him?

    ו וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְּעַט, מֵאֱלֹהִים; וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ. 6
    Yet Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

    ז תַּמְשִׁילֵהוּ, בְּמַעֲשֵׂי יָדֶיךָ; כֹּל, שַׁתָּה תַחַת-רַגְלָיו. 7
    Thou hast made him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet:

    ח צֹנֶה וַאֲלָפִים כֻּלָּם; וְגַם, בַּהֲמוֹת שָׂדָי. 8
    Sheep and oxen, all of them, yea, and the beasts of the field;

    ט צִפּוֹר שָׁמַיִם, וּדְגֵי הַיָּם; עֹבֵר, אָרְחוֹת יַמִּים. 9
    The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea; whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

    י יְהוָה אֲדֹנֵינוּ: מָה-אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ, בְּכָל-הָאָרֶץ. 10
    O LORD, our Lord, how glorious is Thy name in all the earth!
And then you see in "Hamlet," probably the most tragic play on earth, the exact same thoughts are expressed in Act II, Scene 2:
    I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
    prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
    and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
    wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
    custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
    with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
    earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
    excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
    o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
    with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
    me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
    What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
    how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
    express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
    in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
    world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
    what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
    me: no, nor woman neither
    though by your smiling
    you seem to say so.
Ah, Shakespeare, the Bible is your lens.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Fabulous Adventures of Olly Wiz

Some Announcements

1. My friend the Rocket Man (the one who enjoys Whiskey Sours and Jack Daniels and is a disguised roughneck) is preparing to blast off and head to the stars with a lovely companion of the female persuasion whom we shall refer to as The Flower Princess. Thus, I wish them lots of mazal, happiness, joy, health and a fantastic future.

2. My NCSYers have nicknamed me Olly Wiz, and thus, from now on, I shall be known by that name.

3. My sister was one of three first place winners in the Art Contest at Ida Crown, which means that she has won a larger cash prize than I ever have despite the fact that she’s still in high school. Huzzah for Dustfinger!

She explained that the assignment was to draw a shoe and a background that represents the path you will take in life. She chose to draw a loud background to represent all the brightness and obstacles of life. The shoe, which is 3D, at first seems to fade into the background, blending in with the other bright colors, in order to ensure that the viewer has to take a second look to see it. To understand Dustfinger, one has to look beneath the surface.

The best part? My sister did not even know she was part of the contest. Her art teacher entered her without telling her. It was a complete surprise when she won.

4. I counted Sefirah for 49 days with a bracha! I totally rock; so much for women forgetting to count. *smirk* Seriously speaking, the only reason I did it is because my father claimed I wouldn’t be able to, and you all know what a competitive streak I have…

5. I got my first and only B+ in English Literature, a situation I brought on myself as I neglected to ever attend that class, do the homework (write in Forums) and wrote the papers at 4 AM. Despite this, it was the phrase my English teacher used to dryly inform me of it that I found hilarious. "Olivia, your grades in no way reflect your intelligence," was what she told me. What was I doing while I was not in English Class? Take your pick: The Observer, hunting for apartments in Washington Heights, talking to the Academic Advisor about registering for summer classes, going to the actual New York colleges to register for summer class, going again once the college lost my application, sleeping potentially, completely losing my mind regarding other matters....The point is, I find this grade insanely depressing, but I suppose it shall be my reminder forever that all of us are human.

Orchard Corset

(Disclaimer: This is about lingerie. Men who do not wish to read on, you have been warned, and can skip to the next bold header.)

Hidden on the Lower East Side at 157 Orchard Street is the store affectionately referred to as the "Lingerie Ollivanders." Orchard Corset sells every form of underclothing with every type of trimming that is possibly available to women. With a storefront that features corsets and bras against a garish bright pink background, looking as though one is entering an Adult Entertainment Center or Video Store but an interior that is lined with shelf after shelf of seeming shoeboxes, one is surprised to find that this establishment has been written up by the New York Times, the New Yorker and this very May 2009 issue of InStyle Magazine.

Even more surprising is the description of Ralph Bergstein, a Hasidic Jew in his late 50s, who per the articles is able to look at a woman, determine the bra size she ought to be wearing, and fit her in a matter of minutes. It seems an odd talent for a Hasidic Jew...until you realize that Ralph's father was a tailor, and therefore taught his son how to actually make girdles, lingerie and all sorts of other clothing for women. A complete professional, Ralph's mother used to run the store, and then it was handed down to him and his wife, Peggy.

After The Tent-Peg Wielder told us about this place, I was obviously eager to go. Who wouldn't want to see whether this store was really as good as the articles claimed? One more point to mention: all the articles state that around 90% of women wear the wrong bra size unknowingly. Apparently the Bergsteins are extremely good at sizing people up and ensuring that they wear the right size.

My friends and I took the D train from Stern, entering into the old, forgotten New York, with handpainted signs and beautiful enclaves of oddities. Fascinated, we walked about, and I exclaimed over pickles, delis, the Tenement Museum and lots of other shops before we actually found Orchard Corset. To my surprise, after walking in I was shy, which is not usual for me.

Interestingly, since it was clear that we were all Orthodox, Peggy took care of us; Ralph merely rang up our purchases by the register. Both of them were incredibly professional. I went with a group of three other girls; Ralph's wife looked at us, very lightly touched our shoulders and backs, and amazingly, told us the bra size we were wearing while informing us of our correct sizes. Then, like a magician, she danced through the different shoe boxes, pulled out different bras for all of us, and in a matter of minutes we were all wearing the most comfortable clothing known to women. She offers bras and lingerie in all kinds of different styles, with lace, without lace, in different was really fantastic.

But you have to enjoy Peggy's personality. One of our group went up to her and said, a little apologetically, "I'm very may not have anything for me."

"Duh," she said, smiling. "But you're tiny in the back, not anywhere else."

Surprise! Apparently we were all wearing the wrong size bra, something which Peggy quickly rectified with amazing professionalism and expertise. Another amazing thing is that Peggy does not try to sell you lots and lots of her products; she will only sell you what she believes looks good on you...and she's very clear in her opinions of what does and does not suit you. We all walked out of there completely thrilled and really happy because we finally had comfortable and pretty "special clothes," as I termed the undergarments.

And best of all: It's inexpensive! You have beautiful brand-name clothes and they cost much less than they would if you were shopping at Bloomingdales or Victoria's Secret.

So ladies of New York, this is a public service announcement: Do yourself a favor and visit Orchard Corset. You won't be disappointed.

11 Boxes

My Scarsdale cousins, who rock my world, were informed that they had to come pick up lots of stuff from my dorm a whole week early. You see, I officially had to move out of my dorm on May 24th before 11:00 AM. However, at that point in time I would be attending Spring Regional Convention for NCSY at Camp Seneca Lake. That meant that I would have to move all of my stuff out of the dorms sometime before May 24. And it turned out that the time that was convenient for my fabulous Scarsdale cousins to come get my stuff was May 15, Friday morning at about 9:00 AM.

Now, the question became: how in the world was I going to pack all of my stuff?

Well, I called up my fabulous friend Estee and asked her whether she felt like neglecting studying for her finals in favor of traveling with me to The Container Store via the 6 train and then helping me shlep big plastic bins and boxes back to the dorm with me.

She said yes.

And thus began the saga of all time-the ride to The Container Store, my almost going to Russia, dragging huge plastic bins back to my dorm via the subway and finally my packing of said bins, at which point I had 11 boxes (we had bought a total of 5 plastic bins from The Container Store) worth of stuff.

Friday morning I brought all of my stuff downstairs only to be greeted by a bearhug from Yechiel, my fabulous cousin who is joining the IDF, and while I profusely apologized to him about making him take off from school to shlep all my stuff he smiled and said he didn't mind at all. That's because everyone in his family is completely amazing and I love them to pieces.

Taking the QM4 to Queens

Despite the fact that Yechiel & Co relieved me of 11 boxes worth of stuff, I had to figure out how to transport a huge, oversized suitcase to Queens, as I was getting a ride to Laguardia Airport form there after returning from my NCSY Convention. So I decided to take the QM4, which is the express bus from 3rd and 39th Avenue, to Queens. The only problem? My suitcase was literally falling apart in the process, shedding shards of spat-up plastic on the ground.

And then there's the fact that unlike a normal bus, the QM4 is formatted like a coach bus, which meant my suitcase would not fit through the tiny space meant for people. After huffing, puffing, panting and otherwise being unable to drag it onto the bus for a good five minutes, the lady busdriver got off her seat, placed her gloved hands on the suitcase and hoisted it onto a seat, where it sat happily and exhaustedly. I gaped at her in awe. MTA busdrivers are awesomely strong.

She also had to help me get it off the bus, and she looked askance at me as she did it...I don't think I'll be taking the QM4 to Queens again anytime soon.

NCSY Spring Regional Convention

Then came NCSY! There were several fantastic portions to the NCSY Convention.

1. It is probably one of the most unlikeliest places on Earth to meet a fellow blogger, but I happened to meet Steg at the NCSY Convention, and learned about his love for blowtorches and kashering kitchens.

2. I had a whole Dance Party! Steg can attest to this. See, we have this fabulous guy who plays the keyboard and sings and is basically a one-man band; his name is Aryeh. And when the NCSYers were down at a Kumsitz by the Lake, I, who had volunteered to basically do Toranut for every meal, stayed behind to help clean up. And then Aryeh started blasting "Who Let The Dogs Out" and I started dancing and from then on I danced for an hour straight, concluding with "Forever Young." Aryeh dedicated ABBA's "Dancing Queen" to me. He told me that in another life, he and I are coming back so we can do the tango. Huzzah for dancing!

3. I was in charge of Decorations when it came to Banquet. Banquet is this whole fancy shindig where the whole room has to be beautiful because the Seniors are being given awards and it is very exciting, and I love sparkly things and therefore Muffins decided it would be smart to put me in charge of decorating the room. So I wandered around giving people orders, telling one person to line the platform and the other person to prettify the wall and teaching people how to arrange the table settings and the room looked lovely and I was happy.

4. Several of my NCSYers (graduating ones) wrote me beautiful comments, and there are two that made me especially happy.

A) Olly, I will extract your DNA and clone the perfect woman.
B) With highly-appropriate guy love, *insert name of NCSYer*

Those comments made me extraordinarily happy because they suggest I actually accomplish something in my conversations with my NCSYers, and that makes me glad.

Other than that, I was crazy busy because I volunteered for everything because I wanted to be distracted from the thoughts on my mind, and thus I washed dishes, cut vegetables, served food, decorated rooms and otherwise was an excellent Kitchen Maid. Probably the best part was when, after chopping about 70 tomatoes, I was informed that if I bleed on the knife that is potentially considered "Ta'am Hekdesh" and could be problematic. Hurrah!

And as you already know, Reuven, Yoni and other Yeshiva people told me stories all the way back on the NCSY bus about Yeshiva University Rabbanim and Israel experiences. Some things I learned:

Coast-to-Coast means Yeshiva students who go from Friday to Friday without showering in between. Pleasant, eh?

(While talking of terms, my NCSYers taught me what teabagging means, and let's just say that is not a term I needed to learn.)

There is this Rosh Yeshiva at YU named R' Yitzchak Cohen who is famous for phrases that sound crazy out of context. These include: "Torah is not a Muffin, Say Yes To Drugs, and A Dot? A Dot?" In context, Torah is not a Muffin means that you cannot choose to like Torah the way that you like blueberry muffins, one says yes to drugs because Torah is a drug. When it comes to "A Dot? A Dot?" you have to hear the whole story. Once upon a time there was a yeshiva student who did not understand why God cared about the little details, like how you put on your shoes in the morning and which laces you tie first. Well, he emailed his Rebbe to ask the question, and his Rebbe emailed him back. The next time the yeshiva student encountered his Rebbe, he said, "Why did the Rebbe not answer my question?" "I did answer your question," answered the Rebbe, "I emailed you back. I must just have forgotten to put a dot in your email address, and that is why you did not receive the answer." Of course, that was the answer: details matter.

Then there is the tradition R' Hershel Schachter has for testing Semikha students; apparently he asks them questions and they dance out of their minds trying to figure out the answers, when in truth the answer is a simple pasuk. "Can a woman be a Nazir?" is an example, and the poor yeshiva students try to figure out the answers from Gemaras, giving fantastical and long-winded explanations, at which point R' Hershel Schacter finally informs them that the answer is a simple verse...and now I understand this year's Purim Shpiel a lot better.

Subway Rides

The subway ride to Queens was extremely eventful because there were so many colorful people on the 1 train. Included among these was a Hispanic boy and girl who were arguing over the book report drawing he was making for a book entitled Tunnels of Blood.

The girl claimed that she could draw the tunnels better than the boy, while the boy said otherwise. While they were arguing, another man walked onto the train alongside a group of people, and the following conversation ensued. First you have to realize what this man was wearing: it entailed shorts that reached the knee, a white shirt, a vest over it, a nicely trimmed goatee and a fantastic straw hat. He and his group were having some trouble defining the meaning of the word 'meniscus.'

Japanese Man: Isn't the meniscus the lowest part of water?
Man in a Straw Hat: The meniscus is in your knee.
Japanese Man: No, it ain't.
Man in a Straw Hat: Betcha 1000 bucks that it is. It's that jelly-like strip around your kneebone.

I thought about informing them that the Japanese Man was right, and then thought better of it.

LaGuardia Airport

The tale of LaGuardia Airport is a terrifying and awesome one. Strap in your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen, for you are about to be fascinated.

I arrived at LaGuardia Airport at about 5:35 as my father had requested I attempt to go Standby on a 6:45 flight to Chicago. Upon arrival, I am informed my suitcase is Heavy (that crime of all crimes) and weighs 69 pounds when it should only way 50. I fight with the offending suitcase, repacking lots of books and placing them in my bag, but can only wrestle it down to 50 pounds. Time's a'wasting, so I pay $50 for the privilege of them shipping my bag, then rush off to security.

Wouldn't you know it, the YU Medical Ethics track jacket that I am wearing is considered bulky, and so the man sharply calls, "Female assist" as he motions for me to stand in a transparent cubicle. I look anxiously over my shoulder and see that my stuff is sliding down the conveyor belt and my Crocs have fallen out of the plastic grey bin (why are they always grey?) into which I have placed them. The female comes and pats me down, doing everything but strip-searching me, then assures me that I am fine. I grab up my things, swinging a heavy backpack over my shoulders, donning a raincoat, slipping into Crocs and balancing my two purses on either hand and rush to gate D5. Not a moment too soon, for when I arrive they call my name, I exist and am guaranteed a seat on the flight.

We are boarding, but I stop to purchase a bag of Chex Mix because I have not eaten anything since lunch and it will be a long time till I get to Chicago.

But even I had not realized how long...

The Miraculous Savior of Laptops

Two minutes before my flight was scheduled to leave, at about 6:43, a man suddenly appears by my seat, 31F. He is a TSA employee and is wearing glasses. He is red-faced and panting. He asks me my name.

"My name is Olivia," I say.

"Is this yours?" he says, and I open my mouth in complete and utter confusion, because the TSA man is holding my laptop.

Holy gods, I think, completely and totally bewildered and astounded. Is it really possible that I left my laptop on the conveyor belt?

"Show me some form of ID," he orders, and I, utterly embarrassed (who leaves a laptop on the conveyor belt?) hunt through my trackjacket, purse, backpack and finally find the ID. The man looks at it, nods his head, hands me my labtop and someone else asks him, "Did you just run all the way here?"

He gives a curt nod and disappears before I can properly thank him, get his name or in any way redeem myself.

It suddenly occurs to me that I do not have my name anywhere on my laptop. Thus, this individual actually turned on my laptop, waited for it to load, found my name (because my computer is password-protected), searched for me on the airport registry, found my gate and begged the agent to let him on to the plane in order to give me the laptop. He went entirely above and beyond the call of duty and I, in my embarassment and confusion, had failed to get his name.

Most employees would have just placed the laptop in the Lost & Found Bin, from which it would be promptly stolen.

Dear anonymous man, I love you so; you saved me about $1000 dollars yesterday.

The Never-Ending Wait

As we are scheduled to take off, the pilot's voice comes on overhead and he sadly informs us that due to the fact that there are thunderstorms to the South of Chicago, we are unable to take off. You see, all the planes that usually approach Chicago from the South now have to approach it from the North, and if we come in from New York we also approach Chicago from the North which means that there is simply not enough air-space to allow us to fly right now.

"But," he says brightly, "we are prepared. We have a full-length feature film for you; it stars Jim Carrey and is called 'Yes Man.'"

Boy was I glad I had thought to purchase that bag of Chex Mix; otherwise I wouldn't have had any food for the rest of the night.

Flight attendants wander about asking if anyone wants to buy headphones or drink water, and I decide this would be a good time to try to find out the name of my anonymous benefactor. Sadly, none of the flight attendants seem to know, and tell me I should write a letter to LaGuardia specifying the time of day (6:45 PM), the flight number (347), the airline (American Airlines) and hopefully they can track the man down.

However, I did get into an incredibly interesting conversation with two of the flight attendants, who told me all about how they have flown on chartered flights (one lady said the Chicago Blackhawks comprise some of the toughest guys she's ever met), that they can tell which people are nervous flyers right from the outset, that they have protected unaccompanied minors from pedophiles, and in one incredible story, prevented a kidnapping.

"What?!" I said, astounded, my image of flight attendants as pretty people who serve drinks completely disappearing.

"Yes," said the lady. "There was a fair-haired woman with two children and a baby who was speaking Spanish who got onto the plane. Something didn't look right so I told her how cute the baby was and asked if I could hold her for a minute? I took the baby back to my Spanish coworker and asked what she was saying; the baby was actually saying, "I want my Mommy." She had been kidnapped."

"So you actually saved that baby."

"Yes," my flight attendant says, shrugging it off like it's no big deal.

"And what happened to the woman?"

"She was taken off the plane in handcuffs."

These flight attendants had spent 30+ years in service, and they had plenty of stories for me. I was utterly fascinated. They promised to tell me if the pilot was able to contact the agent at the gate, who might know the TSA man's name, and I went to sit back down.

Alas, the Tower kept on making contact with the pilot and thus he was unable to get in touch with the agent. Finally, we were supposed to taxi down the runway and take off but this time we had a mechanical problem with one of the engines.

Eventually, we all had to get off the plane and be re-ticketed so as to take flight 363 (ironically, this was the flight I had originally been scheduled for) which was now taking off at 9:35 as opposed to 7:35 PM. While waiting in line to be reticketed, I called Lightman, asked him what night of Sefirah we had counted the night before, and counted Sefirah.

Once on flight 363, we finally took off, and I got to Chicago in one piece. By the time we reached Chicago it was 10:55 PM local time and I was exhausted.

My father, wearing his Yom Tov Suit (since he had just attended a fancy dinner) was there to greet me, which meant I shrieked so high that I probably caused Avi's ear to fall off, and thus we were able to return home. Home at last!

And thus Olly has created another triumphant period of marvelous adventures before it is time for cheesecake and ice cream. Huzzah!

The Entire Purpose for Living

You've got the entire purpose for living in one short film right here...

Hat Tip: Michael Greenberg

Dating Parties in New York!

Jovo of the awesome chocolate chip cookies & his wife Tamar have compiled a guide entitled "The 101 Date Guide for 'New' Yorkers" which you can see here to ensure that all New Yorkers have an awesome time this summer.

Personally, I plan on using most of the places for fun parties, and everyone is more than invited to join. Viva la revolution!

Spotted: The Curious Jew Advertisement

Here tis.

They Can Never Find The Right Angel

"No, of course I don't. You two were crazy about each other. She was hearing the voices that killed her when she was a little girl. John Hardin hears those same voices. There's a kind of songbird too pretty to fly with the crows and the starlings. The other birds attack it in flocks and tear it apart when it starts to sing. Nothing soft endures. Nature loathes meekness and goodness. Shyla got hurt early and deep. You kept her from the bridge as long as you could, son."

"You think she and John Hardin're alike?"

"Same tribe. Both of them so full of love it causes an imbalance. They fall over with the unbearable weight of it. The fall becomes what they do best. They grow accustomed to great odds. Love floods them, overwhelms them, and makes them impossible to be around. They need love in equal proportion to what they throw off. Everyone disappoints them. Eventually, they die of the cold. They can never find the right angel."

~Beach Music by Pat Conroy, page 767

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Machlis Family: Ki Eshmerah Shabbat

My friend Reuven, urged by Yoni, decided to tell me this story of his experience at Rabbi Mordechai and Henny Machlis' house in Israel. I thought it was fantastic and that everyone would enjoy it.


Hidden within Jerusalem's Maalot Dafna neighborhood, Building 137/26, there is a family who has made it their mission to truly care for their brethren. This is the Machlis family. It doesn't matter whether you are a homeless person dressed in tattered rags or a yeshiva student who needs a place to stay; no matter who you are, you are more than welcome.

You enter their home to see bookcases lining the room from floor to ceiling. They are utterly filled with sefarim; in Reuven's words, perhaps more sefarim than the YU Gottesman Library. There are about five tables set up in the living room, and people pour into the house. There are Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Christians and those of other faiths, people of all skin colors and types of dress. Rabbi Machlis is a very trusting person who likes to believe the best of everyone. In one instance, he mentioned that he and his wife used to have these very elaborate silver candelabras. "Someone borrowed them," he said simply, "and never returned them." He did not wish to believe that anyone would have stolen them.

There are two rules for Shabbat participance at the Machlis house. Anyone is allowed to speak about any topic with the exception of:

1) Denigrating any religion or faith
2) Politics

The way that it works is that you stand up, speak your piece, and then sit down again.

Now, it once happened that a group of Teimanim (Yemenite Jews) came to R' Machlis' house for Shabbat. They all sat together; they did not speak a word of English, nor did they understand the language, and all they wanted to do was sing. At every single lull, pause, and whenever any individual stopped speaking, they broke out in song, slamming their hands against the table emphatically, closing their eyes and swaying at times.

A different man, one who clearly had something on his mind, arose and began to speak. In the course of his speech, he made the statement, "And Rabbis are low, like prostitutes!"


The entire room was silent, in utter shock. The speaker sat down, emphatically declaring that he had made his point.

"Ki eshmerah Shabbat el yishmereini," boomed the Teimanim, completely oblivious to the insult and the distinctly frosty reception of the speaker's remarks. The chill that spread throughout the room failed to affect them.

Men were getting up, overturning their chairs, angrily threatening the man who had dared to insult the rabbis, but the Teimanim sang on, blissfully oblivious.

R' Machlis kept his cool. "Perhaps," he suggested, "you understand prostitutes differently than I do? The way I understand prostitutes, and I could be wrong, is as something negative."

The speaker rose up once more. "Of course I mean that it's a bad thing!" he reiterated. "R' Moshe Feinstein was worse than Hitler!"

Again, a shocked silence filled the room. The Teimanim took this opportunity to continue the zemer.

"Bo emtzah tamid nofesh l'nafshi," they happily sang, their voices mingling to create a beautiful melody honoring the Shabbat.

People were shouting, antagonized by the speaker's remarks. A mixture of affronted remarks filled the air, made both in English and Hebrew. Reuven was laughing so hard (due to the response of the Teimanim) that he fell out his chair. Meanwhile, a different man took his chair and held it over his head, ready to throw it at the speaker who had made the offensive remarks about R' Feinstein. Reuven thought that there was no way the speaker could get out of there without being punched in the face.

But R' Machlis interrupted.

"You are upsetting my guests," he gently remarked to the speaker. "Perhaps after the meal you can stay and you and I can discuss your points?"

The speaker sat down, his dignity intact, and the guests begrudgingly decided not to punch him out. After the meal, R' Machlis sat with the man, listened to his grievances and answered his questions. At the conclusion of their conversation, a smile playing on his face, he began to sing "Ki eshmerah Shabbat" and the Teimanim, dazzling smiles lighting their faces, gladly joined in.

Only in Israel.

MES on National Television

For anyone who wanted to see Yeshiva University Medical Ethics Society students on television, please click this link to see our five minutes of fame. Please do not upload this video to Facebook or YouTube as we will get into legal issues if you do.

Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.

~"The Ballad of Reading Gaol" by Oscar Wilde

Friday, May 22, 2009


This is the last night that I shall be sleeping in the dorms during the course of the official school year while serving as an official student. Sure, I'll probably be back in order to see friends, but there is something oddly sad and nostalgic about this. I didn't expect to feel anything; I'm good at moving on when it comes to anything school-related. There are other things that impact me more. But here I am and it's 5 AM and I've woken up...realizing this is really the last time. Last time, our last play, and after tonight I'm gone, off to walk different paths and dance to different tunes.

How much I have changed since I was that student all that time ago who wasn't sure whether to come here or the University of Chicago...and cried upon losing a dream.

Remember this?

"Do I want the University of Chicago? Yes, I do. I love their academics, I love their people, I love their facilities, their amenities, their libraries. I want everything there. I want my dream-Chana. But the only way I could go there is if I weren't Chana."

In many ways, I'm a completely different person. And there's something painful in leaving behind an environment that so totally changed you- which isn't to say that I won't still be around, just that I shall be doing different things.

And God, in this I owe you thanks, for you have blessed my path thus far. I am awaiting a long walk yet, through candle-lit forests of gold, emerald and diamond. I am certain there shall be swan boats to greet me one day.

In other news, when it comes to goodbyes, my friend showed me a beautiful song entitled "Goodbye, My Lover" by James Blunt. I think it's lovely and sad so I am going to show it to you. (Lyrics are on the right side of the YouTube video.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Quiet Desperation

There is a beautiful song entitled "Quiet Desperation" from the musical "Pump Up The Volume." I only discovered it because Adam Lambert sings it (and he is brilliant.)


Quietly we’re taught to listen and resign.
Quiet desperation is our birthright, yours and mine.
And quietly the voice of expectation drowns the dream,
And quiet desperation chokes our soul, so we can’t scream.
Till we’re tearing at the seam, waiting…

Quietly we learn that life is just not fair.
Quiet desperation turns to silence and despair.
And quietly we ask ourselves: how could he choose that way?
While quiet desperation draws us further everyday
From the things we want to say.

And we’re waiting for a voice-
Waiting for the voice to call us home to your embrace.
And it doesn’t take an angel or some ministers of grace.
All it takes is someone who is saying
I hear you. I am here. I am here.

Something else is said
And the phone goes dead
And quietly it ends before it gets to start
Quietly the center fails
And things all fall apart

And quietly we hide our guilt
Each twinge and every pain
And quietly your life ends
With a whimper, not a bang.

And quietly we ask what songs we might have sang.

We’re waiting for a voice;
Waiting for the voice.
Waiting for the voice to call us home to your embrace.
And it doesn’t take an angel or some ministers of grace.
All it takes is someone saying
I’m sorry, Malcolm.


Hurrah for triumphing over quiet's the victory of all time.

We Were On TV Today!

The Yeshiva University Student Medical Ethics Society was invited by CBS' "The Early Show" to make up the audience today (as their news anchors film segments outside on "The Plaza.") Anyone who watched "The Early Show" saw all of us doing YU proud with our track jackets, BAM stickers, hats, lanyards and posters! The idea was to raise awareness regarding the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation in order to help Jake, a 19-year-old guy who was recently diagnosed with leukemia and needs a bone marrow match.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Just Don't Think My Heart Could Ever Have Lived With That

This was one of the best pieces of dialogue I have yet heard on a television show; it's a conversation between Jack and Renee on the television show "24," the Season 7 series finale.


Jack: I can’t tell you what to do. I’ve been wrestling with this all my life. When I see fifteen people held hostage on a bus, everything else goes out the window, and I’ll do whatever it takes to save them and I mean whatever it takes. You know, maybe I thought, if I save them, I can save myself.

Renee: Do you regret anything that you did today?

Jack: No. But then again, I don’t work for the FBI.

Renee: I don’t understand.

Jack: You took an oath. You made a promise to uphold the law. You cross that line, it always starts off with a small step. Before you know it, you’re running as fast as you can in the wrong direction just to justify why you started in the first place. These laws were written by much smarter men than me. And in the end, I know that these laws have to be more important than the fifteen people on the bus, I know that’s right. In my mind, I know that’s right. But I just don’t think my heart could ever have lived with that. I guess the only advice I can give you is [intake of breath] try to make choices that you can live with.

Renee: I don’t know what to say.

Jack: [sad, meaningful look] Don’t say anything at all.


While this is beautiful in and of itself, as it shows the way that Jack wrestles with himself and with existing outside the law, I think this dialogue is a beautiful metaphor for many of us, whether as human beings or Jews. So much of Judaism consists of wrestling with oneself, with what one believes to be true as opposed to what one feels to be true. Of course, in this particular episode, where Jack is positioned against the President, who makes the painful choice to try her daughter in accordance with the law as opposed to protecting her from its full force, we see a different kind of heroism as well. The President sacrifices her marriage and family in order to try Olivia as opposed to destroying the incriminating recording; to do otherwise would be the worst sort of hypocrisy.

"But I just don't think my heart could ever have lived with that."

I think, many times, this is the struggle between the religious and non-religious Jew. The religious Jew is like the President, giving up her family, taking her daughter to be judged for murder as opposed to giving in to the human urge to protect her. Jack, on the other end of the spectrum, put the entire FBI operation into jeopardy when it came to him to protect his daughter, Kim. Granted, Kim did not kill anybody, and therefore was innocent, as opposed to Olivia, but this demonstrates their two different techniques and methods. I think, at least sometimes, those who choose to become non-religious do it because their heart can't live with being religious, in accordance with a law which seems cruel per our human standards.

And as for me? I see both Jack's side and the President's side, and I think there is heroism incumbent in both choices. Jack's heroism involves action where he is actually allowed to get the bad guys, while the President suffers privately, trying her daughter because it is right, and not because she morally disagrees with her (after all Jonas Hodges deserved death). I respect both sides and I always have. At times I find myself very torn; there is a lot that "my heart cannot live with" in Orthodox Judaism. And yet, I have never been as rash, hot-headed and action-oriented as Jack. Sometimes I break the rules, but most of the time I am like the President; it is a quieter kind of pain. I think a lot of our religiosity comes down to that- how much of us is made up of Jack, and how much of President Allison Taylor. There are those of us who work outside the law, but it is only our love that makes us do so, and then there are those of us who are bound and resigned to the law, although it tears us apart.

there is irony in this somewhere, despite the fact that i can't see it

All year round I walk around exhausted, bags under my eyes, tired, wanting to fall into my bed and stay there forever...indeed, I make jokes about it; I tell you all that exhausted is the new sexy...and make up rhymes about how I'm a zombie...

Now, when I theoretically have all the time in the world to sleep, I can't. I've tried, failed, and I desperately want to...but it doesn't work. My mind has mutinied; my soul refuses to travel to God and scribble down an account of my day. Instead I stare into unblinking space, or into the dark, and try to will the closing of my eyes, the onslaught of darkness, soothing and peaceful and calm...

Somebody finds this highly amusing, but it's not me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Welcome to the Dance Party

I just took the last final I shall ever take at Stern College for Women. Yes, there are two more that I shall have to take at summer school, but Stern is DONE!!!!

Welcome to the Dance Party. Here are the songs on the roster:

No Leaf Clover- Metallica
Runaway-Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I Can Make You Feel It- Home Video
Stripped- Shiny Toy Guns
Affirmation- Savage Garden
Pretty Girl- Sugarcult
Everytime- Britney Spears
Carry On Dancing- Savage Garden
Someone New- Eskobar
The Freshman- The Verve Pipe
Paralyzer-Finger Eleven
Angels & Demons Soundtrack- 160 BPM
Add in various and sundry others from Yanni, Z100, other soundtracks I enjoy and various happymaking bands...and I shall dance the night away.

Jeremiah's Vanishing New York

Have you ever wanted to get to know New York- the parts that the guidebook doesn't show you?

Well, now you have that chance.

Welcome to "Jeremiah's Vanishing New York," a blog subtitled, "The Book of Lamentations: A Bitterly Nostalgic Look At a City in the Process of Going Extinct." It is completely fascinating and offers a journey though gilded-age New York, and the pockets that still remain.

The Violin Child

I adore violins. I always have. If there's music and I like it, it's almost certain that urgent violins are part of the piece. To me, violins are passion and poetry and the soul and the only music worth listening to; the godly, impossible music that allows me to taste a little bit of heaven is made with the violin.

For this reason, I love the "Angels & Demons" soundtrack. (I saw the film on Friday and it was FANTASTIC, a much better adaptation than "The Da Vinci Code" was.) Or as I put it earlier on Friday: "Lollipop Trees rock my socks. Also, real men sparkle (courtesy of Edward Cullen the Vampire Champ.) AND I love the Moulin Rouge dude in "Angels and Demons," otherwise known as the Camerlengo."

Here is the main theme, and here is the first song on the soundtrack, one I love because it has the *swoon* godly violins.

In short, if you love me, you'll remember the violins.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Damn Emma!

It occurs to me I'd rather write about Mr. Knightley.

In other news, I hate Jane Austen. Always have, always will. Give me Wuthering Heights, The Phantom of the Opera or Jane Eyre any day.

Aha! I have it. I shall write about all the reasons I hate Emma. *Insert evil laughter.*

UPDATE: Sam is fantastic. He inquires: What effect will garbage disposaling 70% of your grade have on you? An excellent question. Luckily, I have just discovered how to read Emma with a TWIST. Like a James Bond martini twist. Ahahahaha. AKA *facepalm, I'm dying here.*

UPDATE 2: It's DONE! The paper of death and doom has been completed, and I have to go to bed in order to study for my final tomorrow morning.

Teshuva Through English Literature

"There is a way to be good again."

~Main theme of The Kite Runner, which I read this Shabbat alongside A Class Apart: Prodigies Pressure and Passion Inside One of America's Best High Schools, This Lullaby, part of The Dante Club and the beginning of the sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Packing is Complete!

How one person can accumulate so much stuff, I do not know...but nevertheless, know it can be done.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Freshman

The Verve Pipe has a beautiful and heartbreaking song entitled "The Freshman." For reasons I can't wholly explain, it really touches me (I'm not alone in that; it was, and still is, a classic.) The most amazing part of the song is the way that it rises in pain to reach a crescendo...there's a lot of passion in the way he sings the lyrics.

The song is about a freshman couple, a guy and a girl. The girl becomes pregnant and the guy tells her to have an abortion. She does so, they don't get married, and while the guy goes off for a week's vacation to try to forget about her, she commits suicide by overdosing on valium. But it's not the story of the song that grips me so much as the way he sings the lyrics.

The way I interpret the song, despite the fact that he asserts "I can't be held responsible," in truth he is damning himself. To me it seems as though the song is his outlet to express his anger with himself, and the very fact that he is stating "I can't be held responsible" is his way of trying to deal with the bewilderment, confusion and pain. He starts out thoughtful, but gets to a point where he sings the verses with so much passion, and to me that expresses his anger...with himself. Also, the way that I see it, when he sings the lines, "I can't be held responsible/ 'Cause she was touching her face" that refers to the baby. So the baby was female and in the sonogram she was touching her face, but the man nonetheless forced his girlfriend into having the abortion. The second line, "I won't be held responsible/ She fell in love in the first place" refers, of course, to his girlfriend.

The saddest part of the song is the chorus:

For the life of me I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise
For the life of me I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen

And then the next section of poetic lyrics:

We've tried to wash our hands of all of this
We never talk of our lack in relationships
And how we're guilt stricken sobbin' with our heads on the floor
We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip, we'd say

I think that's a brilliant line.

We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip...

It's matched by a line of out Metallica's "No Leaf Clover:"

Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel/ Was just a freight train coming your way.

It's the same idea in both phrases.

There's something terribly human in the song; it reaches out and grips you, almost shaking you by the collar, telling you to wake up and listen because this is telling you the story of your own life. Not that we have necessarily made mistakes of this magnitude but who hasn't known everything when they were young? And our mistakes are generally major; despite our best efforts, we fell through the ice when we tried not to slip. But it's the lesson that I think is the most amazing part of the song...he works it through in his mind, protesting even as he blames himself, and to me it is almost mournful, lamenting...we were only freshmen; that should have protected us. And somehow, despite everything, this song is life-affirming. Perhaps it's just the way it touches me...perhaps it's the fact that the human condition is so beautifully expressed.

Who hasn't been guilt stricken sobbing with my head on the floor?

But we get up, move on and move forward- and perhaps it's the story beyond the song that I am envisioning that makes it seem so powerful and true to me. "The Freshman" doesn't end there; these freshmen grow up, and this event changes them- and I think, transforms them into better people. People are improved through encountering pain.

Team Edward/ The Sparkle Queen is Back!

I nearly died laughing...who wants to buy this for me?

In other news, yesterday I...

1. Packed half my life. PROOF:

2. Dragged THE MOST AWESOME GIRL EVER to The Container Store and the two of us manipulated huge boxes on subway trains. You wish you'd been there.
3. Saw Marc Salem and he read my mind.
4. Played counselor unto the masses
5. Studied for some finals
6. Watched "Gossip Girl" (oh, Chuck and Blair love) and "24" (and today, "House"- oh House!)
7. Learned about the existence of the following poem:

'Peace upon earth!' was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We've got as far as poison gas.

~Thomas Hardy

8. Attended Midnight Madness and enjoyed cookies and ice cream and pancakes!
9. Last but not least, Neil Gaiman would like you to know that George R. R. Martin (most fantastic fantasy writer ever) is not your b*tch.

Point is, y'all...when it's Finals Time and you're in pajamas, the most important thing to remember is that you've got to get your sparkle on!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Official Graduation Song

I think "The Pass" by Rush should be the official Graduation Song.


Proud swagger out of the school yard
Waiting for the world's applause
Rebel without a conscience
Martyr without a cause

Static on your frequency
Electrical storm in your veins
Raging at unreachable glory
Straining at invisible chains

And now you're trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring down into a heartless sea
Can't face life on a razor's edge
Nothing's what you thought it would be

All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars
Turn around and turn around and turn around
Turn around and walk the razor's edge
Don't turn your back
And slam the door on me

It's not as if this barricade
Blocks the only road
It's not as if you're all alone
In wanting to explode

Someone set a bad example
Made surrender seem all right
The act of a noble warrior
Who lost the will to fight

And now you're trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring down into a heartless sea
Done with life on a razor's edge
Nothing's what you thought it would be

No hero in your tragedy
No daring in your escape
No salutes for your surrender
Nothing noble in your fate
Christ, what have you done?


In short, not necessarily what you expected, but it's all going to get better from hereon out. That's my take and I am sticking to it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Glittering Pool

A vision

I remember him as a handsome man, his cardigan slung carelessly over his buttoned-down shirt, which was slightly open at the neck, extending slightly so that one could see a little of his chest hair. I remember his glad brown eyes as he laughed, the handsome smile that cut through so many potential admirers. I remember him at the prow of a boat, standing there jauntily, taking up a pose as he had taken so many formerly. His legs are crossed, as though in a single moment he will unbend them in order to dance. I can almost hear the laughter that radiates from his skin. He is glowing; he is caught in a moment in time. I see these visions in my mind, and then I look at him now, the man who is walking through our house. He is weighed upon, his eyes are filled with pain. He looks wild. His hair has grown out, a tangled mane, and despite my best efforts, it remains uncombed, a wild mess. He will not suffer me to go near him. But it is the look in his eyes that is like a knife; it overflows with pain, so that I cannot move; I am struck by the weight of it.

Sister and brother, I have lived with him forever. I am younger than him, with my brown locks and unhappy eyes, and I remember him comforting me about my beaus and suitors, assuring me that none of them were worthy of me. I remember him dancing with me on the ship, the pleasure ship we had enjoyed so well. And then came the dark times, the murders. Our parents had desired to emigrate from Russia and their visas had been denied; not only that, but in retribution for their having asked, the government had them murdered. And so we came home to discover that we were orphans and Aiden had always taken it harder than I have. He walked through the house, his step cold, firm, but what I did not know is that his mind was a camera, photographing all, so that it would remain imprinted upon his memory. And what I did not know is that everything in the future was to be replaced with that roll of film, the faint bloodstains- they were too polite to leave a mess- and the ugly letter they had left on our kitchen table, informing us of what was to be.

But now it is decades later and we live in America. One would think that it would no longer haunt him so much…but his eyes lost the blind look that once struck him, the fresh rage with which one can plan and achieve so much, and took up a pained one. He feels the pain of the slaughter of our parents, and he feels my pain in the fact that I have nowhere else to live except with him, in this grand mansion that we have kept clean for so many years but which is slowly beginning to fall apart. And so it is, that one day, he took upon himself a vow of silence.

“Vows of silence are for young women who are sewing shirts of nettles to throw over their young men,” I reproached him. “They are not for the old ones, such as we,” I cautioned. But he did not hear me.

“You cannot do this to me!” I protested. But I saw in his eyes that he could, and furthermore, he believed he was sparing me.

I took loose change, coins, and threw them at him. I did this so as to hear a sound, the coins falling to the floor, tinkles and splats as they fell. He paused seven times and looked at me; the look in his eyes was ghastly. And then he stopped no longer, and I could throw coins at his retreating back and even at his front, but he would not move.

I wanted to get him out of the house, to do something despite his silence. There was a grizzled old man who lived down the block, at the edge; his name was Efrom. Efrom was obsessed with his pool and the cleanliness thereof. He owned a beautiful outdoor pool with chlorinated water, pristine in the light of the sun, sparkling like jewels. I walked down the block to Efrom and saw him cleaning his pool.

“My brother could do that,” I called.

“Yeah?” he asked gruffly.

“Yes,” I said, though the tears stang my eyes to see my brother so reduced. Once he had stood at the prow of ships, the future written on his face, and now he would clean this man’s pool.

And so Aiden went to work the next day. He did not speak at all. He took the net and cast it into the water, looking for insects and bugs and dirt, casting it out. He scrubbed at the edges. After time, I saw that he had been replaced by a little speedboat that zipped through the pool, cleaning in its wake. However, Efrom was a stickler for perfect cleanliness, and so, after the speedboat had gone its way, Aiden walked carefully, almost like a machine, picked up the neck, cast it, took out the dirt, and cleaned.

I could not bear to watch it and so I would spend my time at home, or out. Once, a female friend came over, and as we walked about the block, she caught a glimpse of the blue water, deceptively calm. She wanted to see it, so we walked over. More importantly, I wanted to check up on Aiden, and make sure he was fine.

I saw the little speedboat zipping atop the waves of the pool, and I heard Efrom, laughing madly. But I did not see Aiden. Then, turning my eyes to the right, I saw another boat, this kind with a propeller, and a large sack of something underneath it. Strangely, the propelling was turning at high speed. I heard Efrom’s laughter grow louder.

“What is it?” I cried out in alarm. And as I ran toward the shape, I knew, somewhere within my mind, that it was Aiden.

Efrom had pushed him there, on the dock, unconscious, and the boat’s helicopter propeller blades had gouged themselves into his neck so that he bled. But his eyes were not glassy, free of pain; they held that same look, that same immortal look, and even in death, his eyes were full of pain. I screamed and demanded that the man who owned the pool help me, and my female friend who ran forward alongside me, and Efrom, grinning madly, put his hands underneath the propeller blades to stop them while I dragged my brother out from under that boat and onto the concrete that was next to the glittering, shining outdoor pool. But he was dead, and the water glittered mercilessly in the light of the sun.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Beauty of Human Justice: Thou Canst Not See My Face

So Student Council gifted me with a wonderful book entitled To Heal a Fractured World, written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The reason I'm particularly happy about it is that the book answers a question I wrote about two years ago in "The Meaning of Justice." (Although I have had the question for a longer period of time than a mere two years.) I reproduce the excerpt below:


God exists, therefore there is justice. But it is divine justice- justice from the perspective of one who knows all, sees all, and considers all: the universe as a whole, and time as a whole, which is to say, eternity. But we who live in space and time cannot see from this perspective, and if we did, it would not make us better human beings but worse.

To be a parent is to be moved by the cry of a child. But if the child is ill and needs medicine, we administer it, making ourselves temporarily deaf to its cry. A surgeon, to do his job competently and well, must to a certain extent desensitize himself to the patent's fears and pains and regard him, however briefly, as a body rather than as a person. A statesman, to do his best for the country, must weigh long-term consequences and make tough, even brutal, decisions: for soldiers to die in war if war is necessary, for people to be thrown out of jobs if economic stringency is needed. Parents, surgeons and politicians have human feelings, but the very roles they occupy mean that at times they must override them if they are to do the best for those for whom they are responsible. To do the best for others needs a measure of detachment, a silencing of sympathy, an anesthetizing of compassion, for the road to happiness or health or peace sometimes runs through the landscape of pain and suffering and death.

If we were able to see how evil today leads to good tomorrow- if we were able to see from the point of view of God, creator of all- we would understand justice but at the cost of ceasing to be human. We would accept all, vindicate all, and become deaf to the cries of those in pain. God does not want us to cease to be human, for if he did, he would not have created us. We are not God. We will never see things from his perspective. The attempt to do so is an abdication of the human situation. My teacher, Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, taught me that this is how to understand the moment when Moses first encountered God at the burning bush. 'Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God' (Ex. 3:6). Why was he afraid? Because if he were fully to understand God he would have no choice but to be reconciled to the slavery and oppression of the world. From the vantage point of eternity, he would see that the bad is a necessary stage on the journey to the good. He would understand God but he would cease to be Moses, the fighter against injustice who intervened whenever he saw wrong being done. 'He was afraid' that seeing heaven would desensitize him to earth, that coming close to infinity would mean losing his humanity. That is why God chose Moses, and why he taught Abraham to pray.

A Holocaust historian was once interviewing a survivor of the extermination camps. He was a hassidic rebbe (the name given by hassidim, Jewish mystics, to their leader). Astonishingly, he seemed to have passed through the valley of the shadow of death, his faith intact. He could still smile. 'Seeing what you saw, did you have no questions about God?' she asked.

'Yes,' he said, 'Of course I had questions. So powerful were these questions, I had no doubt that were I to ask them, God would personally invite me to heaven to tell me the answers. And I prefer to be down here on earth with the questions than up in heaven with the answers'. He too belonged to this ancient Jewish tradition.

There is divine justice, and sometimes, looking back at the past from a distance in time, we can see it. But we do not live by looking back at the past. More than other faiths, the religion of the Hebrew Bible is written in the future tense. Ancient Israel was the only civilization to set its golden age in a not-yet-realized time, because a free human being lives toward the future. There is divine justice, but God wants us to strive for human justice- in the short term, not just the long term; in this world, not the next; from the perspective of time and space, not infinity and eternity. God creates divine justice, but only we can create human justice, acting on behalf of God but never aspiring to be other than human. That is why he created us. It is why God not only speaks but listens, why he wants to hear Abraham's voice, not just his own. Creation is empowerment. That is the radical proposition at the heart of the Hebrew Bible. God did not create humankind to demand of it absolute submission to his all-powerful will. In revelation, creation speaks. What it says is a call to responsibility.

~To Heal a Fractured World by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, 22-23


The reason I am particularly pleased with this answer is that it suggests there is a unique task to being human as opposed to striving to be God. While imitatio Dei is a major part of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's thought, he also stresses the fact that we create yeish m'yeish as opposed to yeish m'ayin, a concept that is further elaborated upon by Rabbi Ari D. Kahn in his work Explorations. The idea that there is a particular role for the human being to fulfill sits well with me, and it also answers troubling places in the Talmud where we seem to override truth in favor of a false ruling perpetrated by human justice. This is an idea I have touched on in "Untrue Halakha." Assuming I accept the idea suggested by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, namely that there are specific realms for the human and the Godly and the two should not mix, this then makes sense. Why would the sages ignore a Bas Kol emanating from Heaven and focus on their own mortal and potentially fallible logic? Well, answers this idea from R' Sacks, it's because we are meant to be human and not God in these arenas. When we say, "The Torah is not in Heaven," what we are really affirming is our humanity and even our fallibility. It is our humanity that allows us to cry out to God at pain as opposed to accepting it all with eqanimity, stating that this is our lot and we should not tamper with it, as surely there is a purpose to everything. It is our humanity that makes us interfere and intervene when we see people suffering, as opposed to accepting it as divine justice. And apparently, it is that same humanity which must be allowed to reign when it comes to decisions of the law.

Now, the reason this idea is so amazing to me is that I have always been taught that we are supposed to be striving to be Godly in every single way. So it would seem to me that if we were given the chance to understand Divine justice, wisdom, logic, rulings and God, that is a chance we ought to take, something that would epitomize what a human being is trying to do! But Rabbi Sacks says no; we were placed on this earth to be human and we are supposed to be gloriously human and not to strive to become or be God. Yes, in certain ways we should imitate God, but we must never forget the glorious differences that make us human- the fact that we create yeish m'yeish, that we live and breathe, that we are fallible and can commit errors. We were placed on this earth to be human, not to attempt to be God.

Of course, with this idea comes questions, however. If Moses truly turned his face so that he could continue being human, moved by every cry and every sorrow, why is it that later he appeals to God to reveal His ways and divine justice to him?

יח וַיֹּאמַר: הַרְאֵנִי נָא, אֶת-כְּבֹדֶךָ. 18 And he said: 'Show me, I pray Thee, Thy glory.'

יט וַיֹּאמֶר, אֲנִי אַעֲבִיר כָּל-טוּבִי עַל-פָּנֶיךָ, וְקָרָאתִי בְשֵׁם יְהוָה, לְפָנֶיךָ; וְחַנֹּתִי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר אָחֹן, וְרִחַמְתִּי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר אֲרַחֵם. 19
And He said: 'I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.'

כ וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא תוּכַל לִרְאֹת אֶת-פָּנָי: כִּי לֹא-יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם, וָחָי. 20
And He said: 'Thou canst not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.'

~Exodus 33: 18-20

Why would Moses want to suddenly accept God's justice with equanimity, which would potentially result in his being unmoved by the plight of humans, when formerly he had protested it?

On the other hand, the famous story with Elijah and Rabbi Joshua ben Levi (see: GOD'S JUSTICE VINDICATED here) does suggest that Rabbi Sacks' idea is correct. Elijah, who understands God's ways and in fact carries them out within the framework of this story, expresses no pain at the fact that he has killed the poor people's cow, builds up a cruel rich man's wall, and otherwise does things that seem unfair. At each occurrence, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi is wholly astonished, and unable to hold himself back, begs Elijah for an explanation, even though he knows they must then part ways. Elijah explains how each of these actions was actually divine justice. However, from the human perspective and the human point of view, we are right for being astonished and upset, for thinking that the poor man has gotten the bad end of the deal when the cow is killed. That is who we are, who God created us to be. Had someone caught Elijah killing that cow, he would have been tried and would have had to pay for the animal according to the rules of the human court system, and that would have been right and proper for us to do- because that's the role we are supposed to play as humans.

Thus, to have heeded the Bas Kol declaring the Oven of Aknai to be tahor would be to stake out the domain of the Divine when we are meant to live in the domain of the human, when it is not our role to be Godly and not even something we are supposed to strive for! To feel compassion and sorrow for all creatures who are oppressed, to not accept the world with equanimity and claim that God's having a plan is the reason we do so, to be upset, moved and emotionally shaken by our encounter with life- that is our task. We should be human! At least, that is the answer that R' Sacks posits, and it's the best one I've heard thus far.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Whenever you're sad, or otherwise are having a difficult day, you should listen to "Affirmation" by Savage Garden, because it's a really upbeat, happy song with hopeful lyrics. And it'll make you feel a little better.

I believe the sun should never set upon an argument
I believe we place our happiness in other people's hands
I believe that junk food tastes so good because it's bad for you
I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do
I believe that beauty magazines promote low self-esteem
I believe I'm loved when I'm completely by myself alone
I believe in Karma what you give is what you get returned
I believe you can't appreciate real love until you've been burned
I believe the grass is no more greener on the other side
I believe you don't know what you've got until you say goodbye

I believe you can't control or choose your sexuality
I believe that trust is more important than monogamy
I believe your most attractive features are your heart and soul
I believe that family is worth more than money or gold
I believe the struggle for financial freedom is unfair
I believe the only ones who disagree are millionaires

I believe in Karma what you give is what you get returned
I believe you can't appreciate real love until you've been burned
I believe the grass is no more greener on the other side
I believe you don't know what you've got until you say goodbye

I believe forgiveness is the key to your unhappiness
I believe that wedded bliss negates the need to be undressed
I believe that God does not endorse TV evangelists
I believe in love surviving death into eternity

I believe in Karma what you give is what you get returned
I believe you can't appreciate real love until you've been burned
I believe the grass is no more greener on the other side
I believe you don't know what you've got until you say goodbye

[repeat ]

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Last Observer

Well folks, we've reached that amazing time of year. I have published The Last Observer (reference: Sara's 'The Last Doll' in A Little Princess) and here is what it contains...

As usual, we have a themed Features section. This time, the Features section is focused on the topic of abuse, whether it be emotional, verbal, physical, sexual and so forth. Among our articles we have an extremely comprehensive interview with Rabbi Yosef Blau on Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Community, a clear and thorough description of different kinds of abuse, a review of a film about domestic violence in the Orthodox Jewish community, and many more valuable, relevant articles.

In News, we have an expose all about Revel, the Graduate School of Jewish Studies, and absolutely everything that will be taking place there in the future. Then there was a fascinating talk delivered here by two well-known New York Times columnists, David Brooks & Gail Collins, on Obama's first 100 days. And for the scholarly folks, here's a very thorough delineation of new trends in biblical scholarship.

In opinions, we have the bold analysis of a debate about human trafficking under the title "It is Wrong to Pay for Sex," a lament about the Hebrew department, and a lady who is anti-bailouts, among others.

We have a fascinating interview with Rinat Gutman, an Orthodox Jewish female...rapper?

And then, last but not least, thanks to the entire staff, the purpose of life, and an introduction to next year's Editor-in-Chief!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Be Amused...Be Very Amused

So I am invited to all sorts of hot parties and bashes and Purim galas, not on my own merit but because one or another of my friends is cool, but this one is particularly amusing:

Hey Everyone,

May ____ is just around the corner and I wanted to remind everyone that the party is ____ at 10:30 at Stir, located on the Upper East Side. You don't have to be attending the YU senior dinner, or even be a YU student to come (although I'm sure the dinner will be thoroughly enjoyable). Make sure to bring your ID because they DO card. Here are the drink specials:

2 for 1 bud/bud light
$5 Cosmos
$6 Well Drinks
$6 Wines by the glass
$9 Martinis

We're going to have a good turn out, so if you're interested in having a fun time with your friends (and possibly make some new friends), then make sure you come out!

Hope to see you all there!


On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it that I would attend this party?

Aside from which, anyone who knows me at all knows I only drink White Russians, Champagne & Black Muscat. Anything else is for the plebeians ;)

falling is just a point of view

I write the quiet on my skin
the words take time to sink within
lost within the silence, I
struggle to relearn how to fly

I had my wings since I was born
lost them as I felt forlorn
but my song is one that carries on
I have the strength to greet the dawn


I think this is the most important thing I have learned this year. Falling is only ever a point of view.