Thursday, December 30, 2010

Saints & Sinners: My 22nd Birthday Masquerade

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

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

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

Let's melt the plastic.

Previous years' entertainment has included:

Masquerade 2009
Masquerade 2008
Masquerade 2007
Masquerade 2006

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

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

The Mrs. Miriam Lubling Hospitality-Bikur Cholim Room

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

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

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

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

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

Erica's Response & IFYC

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

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

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

Notable comments from last year's masquerade:

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

shadchan's cronie: amen! this year!

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


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

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mad-Eye Moody Lives On In Me

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

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

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

Chana: Good, thanks!

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

Chana: Yes, I am.

Brightly-Smiling Cashier Lady: What are you studying?

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

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

Chana: No- Bible!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Interfaith Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purple Badge of Honor

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010



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

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


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

Monday, December 13, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Niddah: On Achilles, Magic Springs & Temper Tantrums

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

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