Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Le Collier

What a weekend.

This week marked two years since my husband and I met on what was supposed to be our first and only date (according to us both. Hashem had other plans, obviously). So this weekend we were looking forward to having a mini celebration. My husband mentioned a carriage ride through Central Park, but that seemed too extravagant given both our current circumstances and the occasion. We hit upon a compromise: some dinner one evening, a day trip either Sunday or Monday, and and a visit in town the remaining day to a museum, show, or the Botanical Gardens.

Unfortunately for us, motzei Shabbos we were up to almost 4 AM; we rented Babel (not bad, despite my complete loathing for all things Brad Pitt) but did not begin watching before almost 1 AM. After all, an "anniversary" celebration requires sufficient snacks, so we made the obligatory ShopRite run. Anyhow, we were consequently moving slo-mo on Sunday. Once we managed to actually exit the house midway through the afternoon, we combed through a local Judaica shop. Very cute place, with nice choices for the different categories in its inventory. And, G-d bless him, my husband bought my an adorable Choshen Mishpat necklace. It adds just the right touch of colour to the obligatory Brooklyn all-black outfit. I have worn it every day since. :=)

Our weekend then took a further turn for the worse. We went for said dinner, but the place we wanted to go to only accepts cash. Being a modern couple, we swipe versus carry rolls of cash, so we wound up eating around the corner. BIG mistake.The proprietor tried to seat us by the bathroom, the food was tasteless, the waitresses literally stood around glaring at customers, and the final straw, the busboy decided to sweep under the table while we were sitting there. The end result? My new stockings, which are an unusual colour that I sought high and low to find, were torn.

I am sure you are familiar with the term "the gift that keeps on giving"? Such was the meal. The next day I had a full-blown case of food poisoning. The last day of our long weekend ended up being spent inside as we watched some TV until I finally felt ready to eat the obligatory potato...

Plans generally fall short of expectations. I say, so what if we ended up having a much quieter weekend than we thought. So our mini-celebration really was scaled back exponentially. In the end, the main best part of the celebration was that we got to spend a whole weekend together. B'H'...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bug-gety, Bug

So, my husband was concerned about some symptoms he was having, and he asked if I could google it for him. While I found the much-needed information (B'H', nothing serious), I also managed to click an innocuous-looking link and BLAMMO. Hello Virus City. Again.

You know, I like to think of myself as tech-savvy; I have worked most of my life in techie fields, most recently software. Yet, my good ol' laptop seems to just eat up these viruses/trojan horses/malware wherever they can be found. And, yes, I do keep all my protective software up-to-date (am I not Yekki, people?). I am consequently beginning to suspect that part of my slew of recent computer problems is due to my ISP. I mean, I never had these problems before living in Brooklyn. Indeed, despite power failures resulting in lack of telecom due to hurricanes during my time in the south, I never had problems with telecom either until I came here and started using digital phone service. But then I began to experience service outages that lasted days, people stealing my service, etc. Hmmmm.

It just goes to show you: fork out the necessary cash to equip yourself with all the security bells and whistles. Because when push comes to shove, on the internet, anyone can be the enemy, including the very source, your beloved connection.

Now, it's time for me to run yet another full scan with Norton Anti-Virus...If anyone has tips who lives in the NYC area and has experienced similar problems, please let me know.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lost in Corporate America

One thing about my current place of employment; they tend to use all of the Corporate America cliches. I'm sure you're familiar with the language: "Take ownership", "Be a team player", "add value to the company", etc. However, it would appear that adding value, being a team player, and so forth is equivalent to bragging about how hard you're doing.

Maybe it stems from my attempt to avoid any social contact with my non-Jewish co-workers (see my earlier post, "The New Word" to get an idea of why) . Or, maybe it's a question of tznius. Whatever the reason, I spend most of my day glued to my computer. I get in around 8, leave at 6, and barely stop typing the whole time I am there. Yet during a recent conversation with my boss, which I initiated because I have been at my current job several months and wanted to ensure I was meeting his expectations (I was being proactive!), I heard the following "advice": in Corporate America, he reminded me, everyone is busy being concerned with how much work the other person is doing. In other words, people are preoccupied with where they fit in relation to everyone else, and take every opportunity to subtly undermine any advantage posed by fellow "team members". The conversation reminded me of one of my catch phrases: the older I get, the more every social encounter resembles high school. Or, in this case, kindergarten.

You know, maybe things aren't so different in Corporate Canada. But my general attitude there as here is that I am here to do a job, and I will diligently work with you to provide any help you need. I am here as a resource, and feel free to consult with me about any documentation assistance you may require. But don't expect me to go tooting my own horn; don't expect that I will be the person you overhear loudly proclaiming how hard they worked on Project ____ to ensure that objectives X, Y, and Z were met. I figure I would rather concentrate my energy on doing a good job. Quietly. Expeditiously. Correctly. Here in America though, I hear this rhetoric about how important it is to constantly sell yourself and the value you are bringing to the company.

So, bli ayin hara, everything should remain good, and I should manage to remain free of all this political nonsense. Politics occur in every place of employment, I know; the key seems to be finding a way to dodge the pitfalls such politics create. Hashem should please continue to protect me, so that I can successfully avoid these pitfalls...not to mention my two-faced, self-aggrandizing co-workers. After all, a little shalom goes a long way...

Monday, May 19, 2008


I find the symbolism of shemittah just fascinating; by letting the land rest/rejuvenate, we remember that our every success in life is reliant on Hashem willing it to be so. In turn, shemittah reminds us that our primary purpose is simply to serve Him. Hashem says work, we work; Hashem says let the land lie fallow for a year, and we place our utter faith in Him that He will provide for us over a three year period. It is hard to find a more blatant symbol of how in this world, we use the physical/tangible (food, clothing, property, education) as tools to amass spiritual objectives.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I ate Shabbos lunch by some vegetarian friends. By coincidence, the Thursday night before we had lunch there, I had seen an interview on Nightline with a currently in vogue Food Guru. You know the type: the new breed of specialist who is able to comment on the effect of the food chain/agriculture industry on our health. Anyhow, this gentleman stated that the soil in mainstream agriculture basically functions to hold plants erect; the soil itself is devoid of nutrients, as exemplified by the fact that in order to obtain the nutritional value imparted in 1923 by a single apple, we would nowadays have to eat three apples.

So, post-lunch, you will excuse me, but I actually found myself pondering both shemittah and soil quality. I consequently quipped to my husband: maybe that's why people are overweight these days. The food chain provides fewer nutrients, so the body craves more food, and we consume more calories to meet our physical requirements. More to the point though, because we have to eat more, we have to cook more, and how many people really cook from scratch these days? So the benefit to the food industry increases, since we consequently eat more convenience foods, which deliver fewer nutrients than whole food, and which cost more while simultaneously costing more, and so we eat even more food. Quite the cycle, no?

With shemittah, Hashem requires us to let the land rest, and if we follow this commandment we are told, the land will continue to yield its tremendously delicious, plentiful bounty. By valuing the spiritual with this mitzvah, we simultaneously support the physical infrastructure of our existence. Thus, by keeping shemittah, we can circumvent this vicious cycle that we see perpetuated by the food industry here in America.

In Hashem's world, He makes the rules. According to those rules, the spiritual worlds form the the foundation for this physical world we inhabit. If we follow shemitta, we benefit not only spiritually, by demonstrating to Hashem that we understand our very existence lies solely in His hands, but we also benefit physically, by maintaining the natural world. If we choose to go the other way, chasve shalom, Hashem removes His protection from us, and we become susceptible to the whims of the natural laws: the land rebels, the people are expunged from the land, etc. etc.
Let's remain humble enough then as a nation to say, "We are but Your servants Hashem" and remain vigilant during shemittah. After all, if we do so, we can rest secure in knowing that Hashem will remain our constant Protector. And in His World, it does not get any better than that!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ginger Ale

I got a call from our legal assistant yesterday, who informed me that I still have enough to cover another emergency room visit, LOL. Actually, what she told me was the amount I have left under no fault; I did the math myself, calculating for Brooklyn as opposed to Manhattan rates, so to speak. She also called to inform me that she is diligently combing around to find me a gastro. Unfortunately, I have to admit that the way I've been feeling the last two weeks, she'll probably find a gastro for me after I wind up in the emergency room again, chasve shalom.

To put it bluntly, I've been feeling lousy. Nothing I eat, drink, or do to clear out whatever is built up in my digestive tract is granting me relief. Which is not to say that I'm complaining. Heck, I narrowly missed procedures that would have required me to use a colostomy the rest of my life, Baruch Hashem. But try as I might, i.e. deny as I may, there is always the chance that I have another obstruction forming. Then again, with all the aggravation I've been having at work, maybe it's just my ulcer acting out...

On the PLUS side of things, I've made a wonderful discovery: Green Tea Ginger Ale. Yes, I too was skeptical at first: green tea and ginger is a natural pairing, but mixing green tea into ginger ale? Fizzy green tea? Yeah, right. Well, excuse me as I reach down for some dirt to eat. Because let me tell you, this stuff rocks. Amazingly tasty. So, try a bottle of i this next Shabbos. You'll be happy you did.

And now, you'll excuse me as I go sip yet another cup.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Virgin, The Widow, but not the Gerusha

There has been much controversy over the years as Kohanim marry later in life, and consequently encounter a dearth of permissible marriage partners. Let's face it: if you had to wait until your thirties to marry, the majority of "singles" are in fact divorcees. Given this reality, many Kohanim resort to "giving up" the kehuna in order to marry women who are ineligible to Kohanim for marriage.

I use this controversy as a starting point for discussing Parshah Emor, because much of the talk surrounding this passuk in that parshah is about the psychological reasons why Kohanim cannot marry a gerusha. However, I humbly suggest that this prevailing focus is perhaps misplaced. Certainly, most men in general are hesitant to contemplate dating the gerusha, and the reasons for this are psychological. However, I think that it sells Kohanim short to speculate that they would be preoccupied with the status of their wife if she was a gerusha; if the Kohen exhibits a level of consideration for his fellow yid, such "judgmental" behaviour is incongruous with the true nature of a Kohen. Indeed, if the issue is that their wife has a "history", why would the same hesitation be absent in the case of the widow?

That question, I believe, touches upon the true reason for why a Kohen is unable to marry a gerusha. If we look at what precedes the list of eligible versus ineligible partners in the parshah, we note that the parshah starts with the description of how the Kohen who is metamay from the passing of his closest relatives can eat first bread after one week and mikvah before moving on on the eighth day to korbanos.

Why is the point underlying this description? The Kohen has had to separate himself from his priestly duties, and in the timeframe between mikvah and resuming his duties in the Beit Hamigdash, he can eat bread. He has been, in other words, on a lower level spiritually, and prior to returning to his full spiritual level as exemplified by korbanos, he partakes of bread. However, during his week of separation from service, the Kohen also ate bread. Thus, this emphasizes the three spiritual levels that the Kohen experiences under these unfortunate circumstances. This second bread, to rephrase, emphasizes the fact that this second bread is a segue between the tumah of his relative's passing and his resumption of his temple duties.

This juxtaposition of the food consumed by the Kohen and the women that a Kohen can marry accentuates that the reason for the gerusha being unsuitable for a Kohen is predominantly spiritual. In brief, a Kohen personifies ahavah, and his duties rely upon his always evidencing a phenomenal degree of love for his brethren. A virgin obviously represents a clean slate, someone that the Kohen can have a fresh start in his journey into married life. Such a connection is conducive to the Kohen and his spouse developing a pure love for each other. A widow, while not physically pure, represents devotion, in that she still maintains positive feelings for her prior spouse; their separation was physical, and she has only fond memories of this prior partner. Such a connection is similarly rooted in ahavah, and therefore renders the widow suitable for marriage to the Kohen.

But the gerusha, unfortunately, will always have a tiny smudge, albeit possibly imperceptible even to her, on her emotionally with regards to her previous relationship. No matter how amicable her divorce, the gerusha became separated from her previous spouse because of their incompatibility. By extension, even when the warmest feelings still remain, a disconnect between the two prior spouses is apparent due to this incompatibility. And, on a spiritual level, a divorce is precisely the severing of two neshamas that were united.

It is this severing, both emotional and spiritual, that is spiritually damaging to the Kohen. The Kohen cannot be with a woman who has encountered this negative separation, since the Kohen must always bridge the gap between people. To be spiritually connected to animosity, even minutely, is inappropriate for the Kohen.

Thus, this parshah underscores not only the sad state of affairs for Kohanim in terms of finding a suitable partner, but also the tragic spiritual blemish that divorce places on people. With Hashem's help, this parshah should act as a cautionary reminder and prevent us from becoming blase about the ever-increasing number of divorced individuals in our communities.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Emigrant versus Immigrant

Home sickness. It's an all-encompassing feeling sometimes. And, at my stage of life, it is an odd feeling to have, because I associate it with young girls and boys who are at camp, or away at yeshiva/seminary, or otherwise not in their normal element.

But I suppose that's the point. When you are from a different country, you always sense that tie to where you are from. Perhaps immigrants to America possess that sensibility to a lesser degree due to the cultural emphasis here on "being an American", i.e. the melting pot approach.

In contrast, back in Canada, immigrants identify themselves as Canadian, but live the culture of whence they came in parallel to life in Canada. They live amongst others from their given nation, eat their national dishes, speak their national language at home, and label themselves ___-Canadian (e.g. Chinese-Canadian, German-Canadian, Turkish-Canadian, etc.). There is consequently no conflict in their sense of self, i.e. they live in Canada, and savour all that Canada offers them, but still consider themselves predominantly of their native land. That is what it means to Be Canadian: to be both simultaneously, and to celebrate each other's differences.

My husband came to America just at school age. He has, in other words, spent all but a handful of years in his life here in New York. Yet he vehemently insists on referring to himself as Israeli, despite being overwhelmingly American. I mean, you should just hear him say particular words; not an ounce of Israeli in that pronunciation (e.g. idea = i-deer, horror= hawrur, etc.). I understand the mental/verbal emphasis however, since it stems from an attempt to retain a connection, which fades more with each year, to the land where he was born.

My husband and I are at different points in the process, but our sentiment is the same. I desperately long for "home" even though I am at an age where home is basically wherever I find myself. My father is gone, my mother is in a home, and while my older brother maintains the house of my teen years for the day when my mother is finally able to return there, I am in principle without a physical residence in Canada. Yet my emotional self-definition remains solely Canadian, my mindset solely Canadian, my every memory- even of my years in the US- is filtered through my Canadian-ism.

At this juncture in my adulthood, I doubt that I will ever switch over to an easy sense of myself as an American, or even of myself as a resident of the United States. Rather, despite my American passport, I see my future self continuing to define myself as a "foreigner" for perpetuity.

We all make choices in our lives. I chose to move to the United States for work, and while I wrestle with surprisingly large set of cultural differences between Canada and the US, I do appreciate the positive aspects of living in the United States. But I need to also give credence to the fact that while my physical/spiritual self enjoys the opportunities here, my emotional self will continue to feel a sometimes overwhelming sense of loss and displacement. Maybe the International Bureau of the Canadian government has me registered as a non-resident of Canada, and maybe I am currently without a Canadian passport, but I assure you: my heart and mind rests there.

To all of you who are from somewhere else and now live in America, I salute your continued efforts to define a life here that is meaningful and fulfilling. It is a constant, yet necessary process.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sam the Porcupine

I mentioned in my last post that my husband and I managed to get to the Queens Zoo last Sunday. Since then, my husband has been singing a little ditty he composed, which goes something to the effect of "Sam, Sam the Porcupine". (I think my husband missed his calling; he was obviously meant to compose theme songs for children's shows.)

The song came about because we were both amazed by the creatures at the zoo. While our favourites lists differed for the most part, we found that the porcupine ranked #1 for us both. Which begs the question: What was so fantastic about a porcupine? After all, to quote the response my mother used to give whenever my childhood self would try to convince her that I should get a hamster/gerbil/guinea pig as a pet, "they're rodents!".

It just goes to show you that you cannot judge someone or something by their family. Maybe the porcupine is a rodent, but there are evidently differences between the rodent family's members. I mean, do you view the beaver the same way you do a rat? While I don't find rats offensive as some do, I would admit that they are not my favourite creatures. I mean, at least I can find a field mouse kind of sweet, unless he's gnawing away at my bedroom wall.

We saw "Sam" the porcupine right at feeding time. There he was, nose to the ground, wiggling about slightly because he had something on one of his quills, which bothered him. The zoo worker came over, gingerly removed the offensive item off of him, and laid out a long branch for Sam's dinner. And then it happened. Now, I would have put money on Sam eating like a guinea pig: nose down, on all fours, chomping away with gusto. However, Sam, feeling like a mentsch now that the item was off his back, sat upright on his haunches, took the branch delicately between his front paws and started to methodically yet gently eat his way down the branch. After each leaf, he stopped and munched each leaf thoroughly before moving down to the next leaf. He was so docile, so elegant, that I am not ashamed to admit that this porcupine had better table manners than me!

Encased in his barbs, the porcupine instills unease in all who see him. Instinctively we understand that he may be small, but the porcupine can inflict mortal harm. And so, looking at his built-in armour, we tend to keep our distance. The true nature of the porcupine though is to only fight when self-defense is required; he is not a belligerent creature, and will not attack other animals randomly. My husband and I were consequently reminded that sometimes first impressions can be misleading. After all, if an armoured animal can end up being more sweet and peaceful than, well, many humans, maybe we should appreciate that Hashem's universe is full of surprises.

Most of us are woefully ignorant of the animal kingdom, and the traits of its various citizens. Indeed, because we are taught to view animals as tools that Hashem has provided us, we overlook the opportunity to learn from their "example". Each animal/creature is an example of a particular positive or negative trait. So, maybe I need to spend more time at the zoo. Because, after making the acquaintance of good ol' Sammy, I acknowledge that animals could teach me a thing or two, both in terms of what I should and should not do.

When a porcupine puts your eating habits to shame, it's time to admit that in Hashem's universe, we all have purpose and relevance. I'm sure that the sooner we start learning from all of Hashem's creations, the sooner the world will be better for it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

On the Edge

This week was quite difficult. Probably it was simply the all-consuming exhaustion of post-Pesach coupled with going back to work, but I felt as if I was almost crossing the threshold into needing a vacation for the sake of my sanity.

Thankfully, my husband's minhag is to start the issurim of the omer on the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, i.e. tonight. Now, in general, my husband and I do not take time out to relax and enjoy ourselves. While we may often acknowledge to do so is critical for our health, and while we often make plans to spend a Sunday afternoon enjoying ourselves out and about, historically, for a multitude of reasons, our plans fall through. In brief, I do not remember the last time we took a day trip anywhere, or even just went to see a movie.

You can imagine my delight then that we actually made it to the Queens Zoo an hour and a half before it closed; we had adequate time to make it once around and for me to pet a goat at the petting zoo part before they closed the gates. I was deliriously happy, bli ayin hara. To quote my husband, I looked more relaxed than I had looked in months. Small wonder.

We learned an important lesson today, namely that Hashem wants you to take care of yourself. My husband and I both realized how critical it was to all levels of our health to get out today. And Hashem responded: just when we had given up on finding the zoo yet again (today was our third attempt in the last year to locate the zoo in the park), when my husband made a turn and lo- there were the animals. Then, another beracha: despite the throngs invading the park for Cinco de Mayo, we found street parking right around the corner. I could go on...

Going forward, I am going to try to alway remember how restorative the day was. The next time I push myself to the breaking point to clean the apartment for Shabbos (i.e. every week), I may stop and ask myself: yes, you're exhausted, but if you clean will you go over the edge? If I can answer affirmatively, then maybe I should subsequently recognize that while Hashem appreciates my cleaning in honour of Shabbos answer, that appreciation is dampened when I am placing my health in jeopardy.

To all my friends out there (you know who you are) who similarly push yourselves to the point of madness, let's remember that point, which I am dubbing the Lesson of the Zoo for future reference. If we do not do for ourselves in terms of our health, we cannot expect Hashem to do so. In other words, let's make a kayli for our health and sanity just as we do for parnassah, for shidduchim, for everything. Let's help ourselves, so that Hashem can respond in kind.

In the end, health and happiness are everything. And both start with ourselves.