Sunday, November 28, 2010

"I Light It" - NCSY Chanukah Musical Remix 2010

What most people do the week before their wedding:

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

What Olivia Friedman does the week before her wedding:

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tears & Toiveling

I love my husband.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Which Science Catches Up To Fairy Tales

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Overcoming Adversity

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

You probably also remember my frustration regarding Dates & Disabilities.

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

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

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Welcome To The First Day Of Your Life

This is me.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Married Married Married MARRIED!




Sunday, November 14, 2010


Dear God,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost Bride

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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Little Chana

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

Monday, November 08, 2010

There Are No Hats In Heaven

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

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

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

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


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

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

Whoa, that was a long wedding.

And then I jumped.

"Holding hands?" I asked.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



Dear Devory,

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




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

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



Sunday, November 07, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This appears in Even Ha'Ezer Samach-Gimmel.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Jury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Free Candy for College OU Alumni

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

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

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hello Mind

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

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

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