Thursday, July 31, 2008

Colour Me What?

During all my recent blabbering on about the lack of colour in Brooklyn wardrobes, I was busy reading up on colour analysis. And, while I am definitely not innately a girlie-girl, I admit to becoming obsessive about determining which of the colour analysis seasons I fall into: winter, summer, spring, autumn.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with colour analysis, a quick look at your combination of skin tone, hair colour, and eye colour enable you to categorize yourself as one of the seasons. Armed with that knowledge, you can then build your wardrobe/makeup around the colours included in the colour palette for your season. For you guys out there, this works for you too! For example, you could apply the colour palette when choosing ties, belts, cuff links, shoes, etc.

What's so important about colour if you live in Brooklyn and don't wear colour? Well, like it or not, we all wear some colour, and knowing the right colours to wear (for our makeup, for our ties, etc.), will add a bit of zing to our presence. In other words, one can remain tznius while looking one's best. Think about the boys in shul in their black suits/white shirts: the ones who wear the right coloured ties for their combination look the healthiest, the most vibrant. Now, if you're a married woman who wants to look pleasing to her husband, a single woman who wants to make a favourable impression on a shidduch, or a kallah who wants photos that she will be proud to show anyone and everyone, it's important to have an understanding of what colours suit you.

So, to put it differently, we are a holy nation, a nation that Hashem wants to lead the others spiritually. If we present ourselves well externally, albeit in a tzniusdik fashion, won't that further our intended purpose in this world?

As for me, my colouring does not fall easily into any one category (I always seem to be the exception in everything, LOL), so I'm still cracking my head deciphering my correct category. I think I'm going to just bite the bullet and get a book from the library. If anyone is interested in learning more, I have a bunch of links bookmarked, so feel free to post a comment and I'll be happy to share.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Little Date

I had an interview this morning in mid-town for a perm job. I was very excited about the interview, but even more excited that today was my DH's first day at his new sales job. I even texted him in the morning to let him know how very proud of him I was. Yes, gag, I know.

The day turned out in our favour: My interview finished around 1 PM (I had to meet with a bunch of people and write an aptitude test), which is when his lunch break was. So I ran over and we had spent his lunch hour together. It was so much fun. And it was a nice change of pace from always being either in Brooklyn or Queens.

I was the first person they interviewed, although they said that not many people got through to in-person interviews. So I guess we'll see how it pans out. I hope, bli ayin hara, that Hashem lets me have this job, because it would actually be very interesting, and the corporate structure (i.e., flat = minimal politics/back-stabbing) is right up my alley. And you know, maybe this is just too sappy, so please excuse me, but the best part of it all is that I would be just a few blocks away from my DH weekdays. And that would be excellent, bli ayin hara, for shalom bayis... and we know how important shalom bayis is to Hashem. :=)

So come on everyone, repeat after me: Pretty Puhhhhllllleeeeaaaassee. (BLI AYIN HARA)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

This Shabbos something simultaneously wonderful and disturbing happened.

We were invited to some friends of ours, and it wound up being a really nice group of attendees. The meal had very young-ish frummie hipster vibe as a consequence, as topics ran from current indie bands to the Jewish Renaissance Center to comments (by both genders!) on my husband's divar Torah. Then, in between courses, I found myself with our gracious hostess and the other married woman in the kitchen. The third woman was recently married and quickly advancing through her first pregancy, so the conversation naturally turned from food and walking in the heat to childbirth and the gazillion books the woman was reading to answer her gazillion questions. Despite her obvious trepidation at the unknown, she was admirably, remarkably calm.

I marvelled at both her "take charge" approach to her pregnancy and our hostess' personal pregnancy/childbirth tales, which were meant to offer informative encouragement. And then, as I stood there listening to them both talk it all out- the fears, the unexpected burden on their bodies, their husbands, the pain- I was most shocked and dismayed to find myself feeling, of all things, angry. I mean, I was thrilled to see a woman older than 19 who got pregnant right away and just amazed by her general demeanour. A most charming woman indeed. So what on earth was wrong with me?

In my life, I have made certain choices. I was a very mature teenager, more so then than now, and my Rav wanted to set me up with his prized talmid when I was but 15. I did chose to put off marriage until after university and a few years of working. I did only get married once I was thirty, but everyone told me I had lots of time left. A decade at least. No problem, right?

Today I had a doctor appointment and after more blood tests, etc., I seems that I still have 4 separate conditions that need to be rectified in order for me to bear children. Moreover, I recently discovered that due to certain facts about my infancy that I will not divulge here, I may, even once I return to "perfect health", be only half as likely as the average person my age to ever conceive. To say that I was alarmed by the confirmation would be an understatement. My husband had to drag me out of the house to cheer me up. And even then I am most embarrassed to admit that I still wound up crying.

I worry about having children, and the effect the worse-case scenario could have on my physical health, my mental health, and the health of my marriage. I worry, specifically, about how my health and ability to have children impacts my DH. Indeed, after a brief spat motzei Shabbos, during which he exclaimed "Why are you so angry about?", it came out that he had experienced the same "negative" reaction to the said young couple's happy state.

We are not bitter, angry people. We are actually a couple who generally experience tremendous joy when encounter other people's good fortune. And, most importantly, we do not in any way, shape or form want to give an impression of being ungrateful for everything that we do have. I mean, such miracles had to occur in order for us both to be alive and in the health we currently are.

I suppose what it comes down to then, is that I am human after all, LOL. While I can be happy for the young couple, I suppose it is natural to also have the nagging sense that I am running out of time to get better sufficiently to have a normal, healthy baby. Forget about having an active pregnancy, forget about natural childbirth: I just want us to have a baby who is healthy, and who can live a full life. And I want my husband and I to be sufficiently healthy that we can enjoy many decades with our little bundle of joy. Bli ayin hara on all accounts.

I hope the same for the young couple.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Today, my DH drives me to the local factory outlet shop for eyeglasses. We spent about 30 minutes going through the current stock, until we hit upon the perfect frames for me. Excited at the prospect of finally having some pretty eyeglasses that stay up on my nose, not to mention, are the right prescription so that I can see properly, I went up to the front to place my order.

Wouldn't you know, that's when things hit a snafu? First, I wait in line for a good 5 minutes, despite the fact that there are 5 people working the counter and only one person ahead of me. Then, once it is my turn, the woman takes my information and the soft selling of more expensive options begins. I decline, but I am already prepared for the soft selling. She calls over a young man to read my PD, since you'll recall that the OD neglected to include that in the prescription. No problem. He measures it and waits for the lady to return (she has in the interim gone off to handle another customer) and mark it down on my account card. I wait. And wait. Finally, a second young man comes over and asks if he can help me, then calls out to an older gentleman that I need a second PD reading. I try to explain that No, I am only waiting for Lady to return and mark it on my card. Older Gentleman asks to see my prescription. In classic fashion, he says, Who wrote this? When I pointed out the OD's name and address at the top of the script, he protested that the script was illegible (did I previously mention that on the script the OD had marked down some numbers and then heavily circled them out before writing down the correct numbers?).

I decided that enough was enough. I hadn't wasted any one's time, because I had genuinely intended to buy from these people. But I realized it was just going to be yet another uphill battle in my saga of the 2008 Eyewear Purchase. So I reached over the counter, took my account card and my script, marked down the PD and the dimensions of the selected frames, returned the frames to the showcase and left. I figured that it was the guy's loss; if he wanted to be difficult, then I would just take the information I had learned and put it to my own good use.

This evening, I found very similar frames online. With lenses, AR coating (which cost an additional $20 at the shop this afternoon), and shipping, not only will I receive the glasses sooner than if I filled my order in the shop, but I payed $40 less. I guess customer service really is crucial after all, eh?

The bottom line? When a yekki is feed up, get out of the way!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pens for the Cattle

I'm feeling a bit under the weather today, so you'll excuse me if my Torah Thought is briefer or more meandering than usual.

Parsha Mattos contains an interesting triangle of events:
  1. Moishe, despite knowing that he would leave the world once the war with Midiyan was complete, immediately began preparing to execute the battle.
  2. The tzaddikim who fought in the battle spared the Midiyanite women, including those who had incited the plague against the klal.
  3. The tribes of Gad and Reuven asked to inherit land outside of Eretz Yisroel proper.
The common thread between these three events is keeping a mitzvah in the forefront of one's mind. For Moishe, though he was in effect hurrying his own demise, ran to fulfill Hashem's word precisely as instructed. Conversely, the tzaddikim erred in the performing the mitzvah by sparing the women. They consequently focussed on compassion during the battle, which is a most admirable trait but not what had been called for in this particular instance. Rather, the purpose of this battle was to exact vengeance against Midiyan for the tragedy that the region incited in the klal. In turn, to spare the women ran counter to the intended purpose, and thus the tzaddikim sensed that they needed to offer sacrifices for atonement. Finally, for Gad and Reuven, while they were willing to fight with the other tribes to conquer Eretz Yisroel, they hastened to claim the first land they found suitable for their material needs. With a focus on their material comforts versus their spiritual advancement, they are taken to task by Moishe for valuing possessions over the generations, and indeed become the catalyst for Hashem's retribution against the tribe of Menashe.

To summarize, the differences amongst the three groups then are the degree to which they ran to fulfill the mitzvah and their focus while performing the mitzvah. Those whose focus was on the spiritual were rewarded accordingly. We are consequently reminded that not only should we rush to perform a mitzvah but we should focus solely on fulfilling Hashem's will while executing that mitzvah. In doing so, we can avoid being swayed as in the case of the tzaddikim and the tribes of Gad and Reuven.

On a personal note, this week I found myself davening later and later in the morning, cutting the time closer and closer to chatzot. Then yesterday I IMed with a friend of mine, who commented that it's a good thing chatzot is so late these days. I answered that I felt guilty, because let's face it, my primary focus upon getting up in the morning should not be to "prepare for davening" by having a cup of coffee and checking my email, etc. Rather, I should get up and start davening right away. Since I get up and daven immediately when I am working, what excuse could I possibly have to delay davening now that I'm unemployed. Sure, I'm tired; sure, maybe today my davening might be better if I have a second cup of coffee first. The reality is though, I'm supposed to get up and start davening, because even though I am allowed to daven until chatzot, that doesn't mean I should willfully delay my davening.

So this morning when I got up, I davened without delay. B'H'!

Good Shabbos!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We are Family

With my library book due today, I was forced out of my self-imposed hermitship and left the house. I decided to take out Camus in English; that seemed to be suitably mindless summer reading, since I have previously read Camus in French. Of course, considering how complex his language can be, I may have to reach for a dictionary, so we'll see in the end if I made a wise choice, LOL.

The line to take out my book was BH very short; an Arab woman with her child was putting away her books ahead of me, and another Arab woman was a few feet away from her. I diligently waited a few moments since I couldn't tell if they were together; why assume, after all? So I looked for some indication as to whether she was in fact in line, without actually looking her way (I didn't want it to seem like I was staring or anything). The funny thing is, that's when I saw that she was, in fact, staring at me. Hard.

I tried to figure out if she was staring because I was doing something wrong, or if she was somehow just offended by my mere presence. I decided it didn't really matter, since her stare gave me the clue that she was not waiting in line, so I walked up to the checkout.

Last week, my friend in Florida sent a very disturbing video that I'm sure you've all heard about, FINTA. In brief, the film quotes passages from the Koran and shows how they are interpreted by extremists. Basically, the film contains scene after scene of disturbing images and sound bites about the impeding doom for Jews, Gays, etc that these given groups of Arabs are propogating.

While I do make comments on this blog about Brooklyn, and perhaps make statements about behaviour that I have encountered here, I do not favour generalizations or stereotypes. Indeed, if I have made such generalizations and have offended anyone, I am deeply sorry, because that is not my nature or my intent.

That being said, I do not believe that Muslims = Arabs, Arabs = Terrorists. Nor do I believe that all Arabs or all Muslims hate Jews. Rather, as in our own communities, different people think differently from one another. To be frank, that is what I am trying to point out, albeit occasionally with strong language: that sometimes we behave well, and sometimes we don't. Certainly that is the case for myself personally, I have good days, I have bad days, and on both types of day I can do mitzvahs or the opposite, chasve shalom.

But I could swear that the woman in the library today did in fact hate me simply because I'm Jewish. At least, that is certainly what her stare conveyed. I am still hoping that I somehow misconstrued the meaning of the stare because contemplating the alternative would be a very sad endeavour. As I have mention ad nauseum in other posts, since we are always judged as being representative of all yiddin, I am particularly careful when I am outside about what I say and how I act. My actions, in other words, can contribute to generating a positive or negative perception of yiddin. Therefore, while I hope that the woman in the library is above stereotypes, I understand that most of the world judges different social groups based on stereotypes and other such shorthand. To put it differently, she probably did hate me because I'm Jewish, and that is that.

But you know, I guess that the experience was good preparation for reading Camus...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Things that Make You Go Hmmmm

Surprise, surprise.

I got a call from the OD's office today. They claimed that they couldn't make out my voice mail (naturally), but once I explained that I had found the doctor to be withholding medical information, he got right on the phone. As in, two seconds later.

All business now, he claimed that this was the first he had heard that I had a complaint. So I explained that I had found his prior suggestion that I just stick a trial pair of contacts in and see how I feel to be an unsatisfactory response to my question about whether the diameter of the given lens would probably suit my eye. I reminded him that while I could understand he wanted to make sales, that I had been upfront when I had called the three times prior to the appointment that I only wanted an exam and a prescription.

B'H', he volunteered that the lens should probably fit my eye sufficiently, and if I wanted him to take a look at my eye while I am wearing a trial pair, he will make sure to charge me a "reasonable" amount. Given the designer eye wear he carries in his shop, I believe this his idea of reasonable and my idea of reasonable are quite far apart price-wise. But I am happy to report that in the end, I got the confirmation I had be seeking.

On a totally unrelated topic, for those Americans out there, remember that everything is relative. Everyone and their dog lately is bemoaning the fact that in Saudi Arabia, gas is a pittance, i.e., costs cents a gallon, versus here. Well, I will have you know that in Canada, gas is sold by the litre, and for those of you who never learned the metric system, a gallon is equivalent to 3.7854 litres. That being said, the going rate for a litre of gas at Canadian pumps is currently hanging around the $1.28 mark. In short, each gallon of gas is topping $4.85. Perhaps now you all may understand why Canadians love compact cars; gas has historically been more expensive in Canada than in America. So, no more complaining, people!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Jury Duty

I was summoned to jury duty recently, and I had been dreading it. Now, dread is a strong word so I will qualify it: I have no problem with serving the community; I just hate the feeling I get whenever I interact with New York State, namely that I am either a moron or a criminal. This morning was no exception.

I don't know about America, but in Canada, you must not be late for anything that deals with the government, PERIOD. So I packed out early the morning I was to report and made my way downtown. On the metro, the tone for the rest of my morning was set when I found myself sitting next to an odd young man who keep yelping out loud with laughter at his book while scratching his head. Piercingly. Insanely. I decided that he just had the unfortunate luck of having a tic (Tourette's?) and left it at that as I tried to sip my coffee and calm myself. Because somehow I knew that calm was the last thing my morning was going to be.

I was unfortunately right. First, despite having read the notice and completed the sections as the instructions stated, I wound up going to the wrong building. How I misread that crucial piece of information is beyond me, but I will chalk it up to a combination of nerves and sleep deprivation. I was vaguely humiliated when the clerk gave me a look that was a brilliant combination of condescension and frustration while informing me of my error. To her credit, she gave me directions to the correct address, although I was embarrassed further by her yelling down the hall at me when I began to take the wrong escalator. At least she was helpful. I felt like less than an ant as I found the appropriate exit and scurried out.

Next, because I was going to be exactly on time, and for a yekki exactly on time is the same as being late, when I arrived at the address, I took the stairs up. However, the staircase does not have a sign telling people that the staircase only goes up one flight to the second floor. There I was stuck on the second floor and, unable to locate a flight of stairs up, I decided to hedge my bets and take the elevator. As I approached the elevator, two women arrived right after me and pressed the Down button. A few moments later, B'H', the Up elevator arrived.

Terrified at being late and assuming that the pair of ladies were not going to step onto the elevator because they had pressed the Down button, I went between them to enter the elevator. That's when I received my second tongue-lashing of the day. I'm going to record the said reprimand, because it was so rude, it wound up being comical:

Where do you think you're going? You can't just walk in front there! You got to let people get off first!

(stunned, because I certainly didn't expect to offend anyone)
Excuse me, I thought you weren't getting on because you pressed the Down button.

(People get off the elevator, and then the three of us board)
Barging all in like that. STUPIDITY first thing in the morning!

My ride was blissfully short with Ms. Short Temper, and I arrived at the Jury Duty Room as dreaded: on time.

After a short while, they ran a video that was all Rah-Rah-USA, i.e., America has the best judicial system in the world, a vast improvement over any other system, especially the British system. I suppose most Americans have a problem with the current system, because why else would they have to show such a PR piece? To help win us over, the video even contained celebrity news anchors for credibility. After all, doesn't Diane Sawyer always know the truth about everything?

Next we attended to the paperwork: the clerk walked us through completing the Jury Duty Summons, since evidently I was the only person who had in fact completed it prior to arrival. And then, the moment of truth came. Anyone who had preliminary questions about exemptions could form a line and ask before handing in their paperwork; everyone else, pass up your cards. I passed up my card, since I had neglected to bring a doctor's note. But, then it occurred to me- is jury duty an activity that could rob me of my Canadian citizenship?

As a dual citizen of Canada and America, I have to be careful not to participate in certain government-related activities that would jeopardize my citizenship. For example, I cannot work as a civil servant and cannot enlist in the military. While I was worried about the reaction I was about to get, I figured I had better make sure. I got in line.

The line was blissfully efficient, and within 15 minutes I was up at the clerk's desk. I was in a car accident and have lingering health issues, but I don't have a note from my doctor- not that I am unwilling to serve, I said. She gave me a most blase look. Ok, ix-nay about the doctor, even though other people had gone up and received a paper that their doctor could complete and mail in to exempt them. I suppose, to be fair, I looked too healthy; if it had been one of my kiddush levana mornings, as my husband puts it, she may have been more forgiving. So I moved on to my citizenship question. She opened her eyes just a sliver wider this time. "You're a dual citizen? That means you have no problem. Go take a seat". And so I did.

The beautiful part it all? I sat there for 4 hours and read my library book, before the clerk came out and announced that all the courts in our building and all the other court buildings had enough jurors for the day. So we were receiving our credit for having served jury duty and being released. I uttered an immediate, most heartfelt, "Todah Hashem"! And with that, my jury duty saga ended.

Going forward, if anyone makes a disparaging comment about Canadians, I can retort that at least I did jury duty; what have you done for Canada? And with that, I see that I came away from the ordeal with something of real value after all: the knowledge that I did my civic duty. In my mind, that's worth a bit of humiliation and suffering.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Where Oh Where Has My Little Girl Gone?

Since I am still basically voice-less (I have a followup appointment in 2 weeks with the ENT, who prescribed an outrageously expensive spray that I'm supposed to use twice daily for a month), I figured I had better type down a Torah thought so that my DH can read it at the Shabbos table tonight. It'll just be one though (really, I promise), since we had a crazy late night and I have to start cleaning the house.

It struck me that Tzelafchad's daughters provide outright evidence that women have rights according to Torah law, albeit not evidence in the way that one might expect. Rather, we see that daughters are entitled to property in the event that a father has beget no sons. Now, that's discrimination, some might say. However, when one looks at the underlying "logic" of this legal detail, we see that in fact this detail is most fair and that some might protest that the detail discriminates in favour of women.

In brief, the reason for distributing property is to keep that property within the family. Now, we will recall that women leave their own families to become part of their husband's family upon marriage. Therefore, for women to receive a portion despite the fact that they will become part of a different family later in life seems to be preferential to women. We note that when Hashem deems the claim of Tzelafchad's daughters valid, He instructs them to marry men from their tribe. The hope is to always keep property within family then, and the reason why the exception is made on the part of women is because Hashem, in His Compassion, felt that daughters should be entitled property to reward them for their devotion to their birth family. In other words, prior to marriage, women contributed with their labour towards the household. If there are no sons then, the bond with and role of the daughters to their father must be acknowledged.

We see therefore that Hashem, in His Infinite Wisdom, did not discriminate against women materially and indeed chose to reward them for their emotional and physical connection to their father. To do otherwise would deny their relationship with that parent and would be a grave injustice. As we know, Hashem is Himself a most Compassionate and Just Father, and could therefore only inbue Torah Law with those attributes.

Good Shabbos.


I recently was at a benefit, where I had the misfortune of witnessing a celebrity behaving badly. That incident got me started thinking again about love, specifically self-love as it is defined in the secular world versus according to yiddishkeit. In my mind, when someone exemplifies self-love as ego like this said celebrity, that self-love is counterproductive.

We often hear that in order to love someone else, we need to have self-love. But what is self-love? What does it mean to love ourselves sufficiently? I like to think that self-love is understanding that "I" have value because "I" was made in Hashem's image and infused with the ability to invoke positive change in the world through my relationship with Him, with people, and with the other aspects of Hashem's creation. That's why, for example, I love animals; they never fail to inspire awe in me because they are wondrous creations by Hashem.

So to a degree, self-love means self-respect. That is not the end all and be all of it though. After all, self-respect does not mean that we value ourselves above all else, i.e., we cannot give ourselves free rein. Rather, if self-love/self-respect means that we should feel regret when we do something wrong and should take steps to rectify the wrong-doing. We should forgive ourselves in order to move on and improve, to escape the self-defeating cycle brought on by endless guilt.

Now when we interact with others, we are experiencing love times X. In other words, either person could be having a good day or a bad day; that is certainly more frequently the case than both having the same type of day. So we need to have self-love to navigate the ups and downs that come with being in a relationship. That's where love versus in love plays a role.

When we are in love, we are often blind to the negative traits of the other person. Instead, we focus on all the marvelous qualities our intended possesses. We consequently tend to skew our perception of our partner and their actual personality. In contrast, when we develop love over time, we come to accurately perceive what is happening with our partner and are able to overlook and/or overcome, as required, the given bump in the road. Positive change is possible under such circumstances.

Finally, I have often stated that I don't care what other people think of me. If we go back to defining self-love, I believe that this statement summarizes the general concept of self-love. To reword, I love myself enough to do what I have to do without being swayed by what other people may think. If you think about it, this a basic tenet of yiddishkeit: we do what we have to, because it is what Hashem has commanded. By extension, when I say I don't care what other people think, what I mean is that I will do what I have to do. However, that does not mean that I do not contemplate the impact of my actions/words on others. If my planned course of action/speech will negatively impact someone else, then I will not act as planned. Thus, the statement I don't care what other people think of me means that I will do what I have to do if it is the right thing to do. It goes without saying that as a frum yid, the right thing to do equals following Hashem's laws. That includes avoiding maris ayin, or to put it differently, acting brazenly out of self-love.

Self-love then, is a combination of self-respect and awareness that while we may make mistakes, we can learn from them and improve, that we have innate merit and can do much with it to help others and the world at large- if we choose to stay on the Torahdik path. I really believe if we cultivate such self-love and have it operate as our guiding principle, we can bring Mosiach.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Potato, Potatoe

Being yekki, we grew up eating a lot of potatoes. My father adored when I made potato salad, and I would make it one of three ways for him, depending on his mood: with oil, with mayonnaise, or with oil and mayonnaise.

My eating habits have changed over the years and now I am more health conscious than in my youth. Here is the latest way that I have been making potatoes for Shabbos, which just happens to be low fat but tasty. Hope you enjoy!

2 cloves garlic peeled to each potato
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
parsley, to taste
Up to 2 tbsp olive oil

Boil the garlic and potatoes together in a pan until the potatoes are very tender. Remove from heat, drain and let cool slightly. While still warm, mash the vegetables together until smooth. Sprinkle parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. For a tangier taste, add two tablespoons lemon juice.

Suggestion: You can substitute 1/2 of small onion for each potato instead of garlic. Peel and chop the necessary amount of onion. Then, while the potatoes are boiling, fry the onions in olive oil. Once the potatoes are drained and cooled, add the onions and frying oil in to the potatoes. Mash, then add the seasonings.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Technology leads the path to California

Sometimes technology is a most wondrous thing. I've been having tremendous problems with my voice lately, and discovered yesterday (after losing my voice completely from overuse) that the problems are probably due to acid stemming from all my digestive woes. That being said, I am now mute (to my husband's delight, no doubt!), and forced to rely on text messaging/chat programs/the internet to communicate. Now just think about that: any other time in history, and I would be forced to injure my mangled vocal chords further by speaking because no other options would be available. As much as I hate all the problems that come with technology (mainly impatience on my part as I wait for my slow-as-molasses laptop to load whatever page I'm attempting to view, but also call waiting, expensive batteries, trojan horses, etc.), right now I'm just loving it. And yes, for all of you Jewish mothers out there, I've made an appointment with an ENT...

I've spent the last several days helping my husband cobble together a resume and cover letter. As someone who has worked primarily for himself his whole life, my DH was quite unfamiliar with the whole concept of resumes and cover letters. B'H', that type of writing is also up my alley, so I've adopted the role of Supreme Editor this past week, helping him whip his entries into shape so that he can properly apply for jobs. Like that one out in California (woo-hoo)!

Truth be told, it was precisely that job in California that made us put the peddle to the metal where his resume was concerned. It may be almost midnight here on the East Coast, but thankfully out in California, it's only mid-evening, since the deadline for my husband to apply for that position is tonight. I just sent my husband the final updated version of the resume, along with his references, so we made the submissions deadline with time to spare according to California time. And that's just fine by me.

So everyone, let's all daven really hard to Hashem that my husband gets this job. I've already expanded my current job search and started applying to jobs in California. Yes, very yekkish, but I can't help it, people. Anyhow, with Hashem's help and a good dose of mazel, it should all be for the best, bli ayin hara!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fan Fare

To quote the old Peanuts comic strip, I just can't stand it! Every checkout and web portal screams a headline about the arrival of the Jolie/Pitt twins...

I understand that you can't look to the popular media for staunch morality, and that instead pop media turns a profit by focussing on the latest grand displays of immorality. But enough is enough.

First, there was the ripping apart of Britney Spears in the media. The girl displayed blatant signs of post-partum depression or some other chemical imbalance long before her public fall from grace. Yet the press displayed nothing short of intense cruelty by its choice to detail her every misstep. Their actions were self-serving, and uncalled for.

And now we witness the flip-side, i.e., the current fawning by media over the Jolie/Pitts, as vile a duo as there ever was. While I can appreciate dear Angelina's work with the UN and on the part of disadvantaged children worldwide, such work does not negate the immoral nature of her pairing with Pitt. She is, to put it differently, only 1 for 2 in the moral ball game.

As I mentioned in my earlier post (The 7 Noachide Laws), Bnai Noach are required to both refrain from sexual immorality and promote justice. One aspect of the Do not commit sexual immorality law is to respect the sanctity of marriage and, by extension, to refrain from adultery. While adultery is technically defined as relations between a man and a married woman, enticing a married man into having an affair that resulted in the final death knell to his marriage would probably be universally understood as a sexually immoral act. Moreover, one aspect of pursuing justice is to refrain from making vows in vain. As a woman who has gone on record stating that she would never commit adultery because of the impact that her father's infidelity had on her family growing up, it would seem that her behaviour the last few years is misaligned with this documented "promise".

You may ask me, why do I care? These are just actors. So let me explain the root cause for the bee in my bonnet.

Back in 2000, Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe had a tryst. A married woman herself, Ms. Ryan suddenly found herself in the position of being dethroned as America's Sweetheart. In fact, while certainly her career came to a standstill after news of the affair broke, Russell Crowe was also affected professionally. A mere decade ago then, the public still viewed such behaviour as a scandal, and that public reaction was in keeping with the long tradition of Hollywood. To rephrase, up until a couple of years ago, the American public was intolerant of sexual immorality of various kinds: adultery, homosexuality, pornography, etc. And now, the media glorifies precisely that immorality, which fuels public insensitivity to common decency.

Where is the respect for marriage? For G-d? For basic sensitivity (see Britney above)? In an era where a couple based in immorality is the Golden Couple of the media, what is someone who is a Bnai Noach or a yid supposed to do? The answer is, of course, right in one's pocket book. We should elect to spend our entertainment dollars supporting personalities who exhibit moral behaviour and tasteful work. In other words, when renting films or buying magazines, spend your money supporting talent that holds him/herself to a moral code that you can stomach.

I have one friend who proclaimed recently that she doesn't care about an entertainer's personal life; she just cares about whether the entertainer succeeds in entertaining her. While I can certainly understand her view, I humbly choose to take a different path when choosing my entertainment. I believe that by choosing to support certain entertainers over others, we can help elevate the bar in terms of moral entertainment. If we keep choosing moral entertainment over immoral entertainment, then in the end the entertainment industry will be forced to recognize that the public demands stories with moral backbone.

Thankfully, many stars still exhibit morality, as evidenced by the concurrent trend in Hollywood to marry and have children in wedlock. Moreover, one can find solace in the fact that the most bankable star in Hollywood last year was Matt Damon, an actor who in his acceptance speech for his latest reward thanked the people for recognizing a "suburban Dad". While he can admittedly be quite fowl-mouthed during interviews, Damon's films are blissfully tznius, showcasing no nudity, no excessive violence, and nary a curse word.

Maybe if that trend continues, we can one day raise up the standards of popular media as well.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

We all know it and yet we tend to ignore the old adage: seek and you shall find. In Parsha Balak, we see that adage clearly demonstrated. In turn, the parsha reminds us that whereas Hashem always has our best interests at heart, and tries to steer us down the correct path, if we are dead-set to follow a different path, He will enable us to do so.

The parsha starts with Balak dispatching messengers from both Midiyan and Moav to Bilaam. These envoys are tasked with inviting Bilaam to Moav to curse Bnai Yisroel. As pointed out in Midrash, Balak and Bilaam were united by a shared hatred of Bnai Yisroel, and needed each other to achieve their common end; Balak was skilled at locating opportune places for witchcraft/magic and Bilaam was adept at using speech rooted in tumah to bless or curse. United by their common interest, Balak and Bilaam formed an allegiance.

It is important to note that this common interest was irrational. Balak knew that Hashem had forbidden Bnai Yisroel from attacking Moav, and in turn knew that his country was safe from attack. Similarly, Bilaam knew that Hashem Himself protects and indeed blesses Bnai Yisroel, and should therefore have surmised that any attempt to curse Hashem's people would lead to his own downfall. In the case of both Balak and Bilaam then, we see that their objective was predicated on finding an excuse for acting the way that they chose.

By extension, when one's judgement is clouded by hatred or other negative forces (greed, jealousy, ego, etc.), one will persist in taking an ill-fated course of action. In the face of both the evident obstacles that Hashem put in the path of these two rashaim (the strict prohibition, the she-donkey, the failure of the attempts to curse) and the subtle precursors to failure (the messengers from Midiyan departed), they continued on their merry way to self-destruction. In effect, they were so strengthened by their shared resolve that their perception of the events they encountered became skewed in their favour.

Often when we taking the wrong course, we similarly strengthen our resolve by surrounding ourselves with those who share our opinion. In turn, by having the words of our cronies to goad us on, we act in ways that we should not. Indeed, we are all familiar with the ill effects created by crowd mentality, xenophobia, racism, anti-semitism, etc. etc. We can, in turn, appreciate the utmost importance that words hold, and how careful we must be in terms of avoiding exposure to speech that could sway us away from Hashem.

Along those lines, I would like to conclude with another Midrash, namely that a yid must constantly be asking Hashem to take him down the right path. All to often, we find ourselves going a particular direction because we concentrate on the fact that Hashem ultimately has our best interests at heart. We consequently create our own suffering, because we fail to ask Hashem to guide us correctly and therefore ending up taking a wrong turn off the correct path. We must constantly beseech Hashem to make us cognizant of the correct words and action at all times. Only then can we rest assured that the path we are taking is indeed the righteous one, the one that will result in our spiritual betterment.

Good Shabbos.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bachelorette Corn Salad

I made a double batch of this salad the other week, and it was gone in one evening. Even better than having no leftovers is the fact that it takes maybe 3 minutes to make!

1 lb can/package corn kernels (if package, defrosted)
1 c red pepper strips
1/2 c sliced green olives
1/2 tbsp parsley
coriander to taste
pepper to taste
1 tbsp dried minced garlic
1/4- 1/2 c light mayonnaise

Assemble, add spices to taste, and stir in mayonnaise. Chill overnight.

  • If you do not have coriander available, you can substitute a sprinkle of oregano. I suggest you avoid substituting cumin, since its flavour will overpower the taste of the salad.
  • If the mixture is too thick, add 1 tsp of lemon juice, stir and repeat until the mixture is the correct consistency. Adjust the spices accordingly. If the lemon juice has caused the mixture to become too acidic, add a tsp of sugar at a time until you hit the right "balance".

Monday, July 7, 2008

T-Shirt Mania

It's only the second week of July, but I am already obsessing about buying a few new essentials for my wardrobe. To be frank, while I am neither a fashionista nor someone who enjoys shopping, I will bite the bullet and hit the shops if I really need something. Case in point: this past May, when I noted how my tichels from last summer were disintegrating into a mass of fringes, I went scouring the $ stores for bandannas. My current obsession with adding a few pieces to my summer wardrobe happened to crest this week, because my second "new" skirt (which I purchased this past December) finally went kaput after I subjected it to innumerable washings.

As I was combing the racks yesterday in Conway hoping to find just the right items (read tznius and age-appropriate), I noticed the most beautiful t-shirts: in the softest colours, made of very feminine fabric, featuring the most glam prints. My mouth practically started to water as I tried to convince myself that the tasteful nature of the print rendered the shirt appropriate for someone middle-aged like myself. After a 20 minute internal battle, during which I envisioned myself walking down Avenue J in the said shirt paired with a long-sleeved shirt underneath and my favourite jean skirt, my yekki nature won out and I put the shirt back on the rack. I am, after all, a Rebbetzin...

Anyhow, the ordeal convinced me that what I really need are two white and two black long-sleeved t-shirts for the summer for layering. So there you have it. In the name of tznius, my hunt continues...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

You've Got to Be Kidding Me

I have once again encountered a black hole in New York services, namely filling my eye wear prescription. Back in Canada, the standard procedure was to first visit an OD to get a prescription and then shop around to find a pair of glasses/contacts that suited you. My usual course of action was consequently to pay for the eye exam and exit with my prescription. No problems, no hard/soft sells, i.e., a done deal. I managed to follow the same formula down in the South without hassle. However, for the past two years, I have found that such is not the method followed in the Empire State.

Last year I tried my luck in Queens. I asked how much the eye exam would cost and was told $30. I couldn't believe the price, which should have been my first tip off that something was amiss. Since the given optician was my husband's though, I didn't ask any further questions. Upon arriving for my appointment, I went to the back where the OD was, and had a very low-key, thorough exam. She was, I will admit, one of the best ODs I had ever encountered. However, when I went to the front to get a copy of my prescription, I was met with a surprise: the proprietor refused to give me the prescription, claiming that he keeps the record on file, and that I had to buy at least one box of contacts, to make it worth his while. Not wanting to make any waves, I asked how much the box of contacts would cost.

The price he gave me was $100 for a brand that is sold elsewhere for no more than $50. I then informed him that I would just like to pay for the exam, and reminded him that I had been upfront in stating that I only wanted the exam. He said that I should have known, because that process of buying from him is a given. "Why should I give you the prescription so that you can just go buy online?", he said. We agreed to a compromise: he would return my $30, and I would leave without my prescription. He did subsequently try to get my husband to convince me to place an order, but my husband and I managed to exit the shop in a civil manner. Needless to say, my husband has refrained from any further dealings with that shop or its proprietor.

Last month, having learned my lesson (or so I thought) from the incident in Queens, and down to my final pair of contacts, I went for another eye exam. This time, I made sure to state outright in all communications prior to my appointment that I was only interested in getting an eye exam and getting my prescription; I was not interested in purchasing anything. No problem, they said. The combined exam (contacts/eyeglasses) costs $60. Great, I thought.

But it was not to be. During my eye exam, which I had to pay for before entering the OD's office, I was submitted to several attempts at soft selling (E.g., You're sure you don't want to look up front?) before being informed that my exam did not include glaucoma testing (which costs an additional $25 and is performed on a different day). Then, at the end of the exam, I was given a prescription that omitted certain key information. For example, what is the true diameter of my eyes, versus what it states in my old contact lens prescription? Or, equally important, what is my PD (pupil distance)? During a phone call the following week, the purpose of which was to obtain this missing information, I was instead told to simply order a trial pair of the lenses I want and "test" them out. Maybe they would work out, maybe not, he said. In short, once again I was refused information that legally an OD is required to provide patients, at no cost.

Thankfully, my husband's best friend is an optician. He agreed to order a trial pair of lenses for me, and has attempted to answer my questions in the process. Unfortunately, he also lives out-of-state, and I am consequently left without in-person follow up care. In the end, to ensure that any lenses fit my eyes properly, I am going to have to go to yet another OD and pay out-of-pocket for a fitting exam.

Buyer beware, as they say. Perhaps it's just my mazel, but I find it sad that the medical "industry" is such that every provider attempts to make a buck off "customers", potentially to the detriment of the customer's health. Next year, I am going to remember to ask what the eye exam includes, and whether I can receive follow up care at an additional price. Hopefully then I can do away with all this nonsense, and ensure that my eyes stay healthy for years to come, bli ayin hara.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Shidduch Q&A

I had such a flattering thing happen to me the other day. A male friend of mine, who is single, sent me an email with a shidduch question. It was so nice that someone actually thought I could help, especially on that topic!

Anyway, I gave my two cents, but thought it would be a good idea if I posted the question here so that anyone with any thoughts could comment. (I of course got permission first from the said friend, and modified the question slightly to conserve confidentiality.) So, if anyone has any thoughts, or even just wants to tell me how "way" of base I was in my response, please post a comment.

Here is his question and my answer.

The Question

Imagine for a moment you know an observant guy who meets a Jewish woman who:

  • Is very educated (works in university-level academia)
  • Is a feminist and likes the idea of female Rabbis
  • Grew up in a intellectual, anti-Jewish home
  • Keeps some Shabbat things but with a focus on "spirituality" versus observance (E.g., attends services that involve drums and chanting)
  • Is very spiritual

Now they really get along and even discuss the possibility of keeping Shabbat/Kosher. Is this a shidduch that the guy should pursue or is it just too much to ask for her to change to his observance level?

My Answer

Hey there! I appreciate that you ask for my opinion. But all I can offer you is a "it really depends" with the following "advice".

First, only you can find out whether she is sincerely ready to grow to the level of observance you would require. I know one woman very similar who remained spiritual versus observant and yet another who became a total frummie frumstein. I will also share that when I started dating, I was willing to consider someone less observant than myself but in the end, it always became an issue. We both know that people only change if they want to.

Secondly, what level of compromise can you see yourself tolerating before any resentment/ill will comes into play? If she remains spiritual, can you live with that? That's a reality you really need to consider. Also, what do you value more in a spouse? Is it more important to you that you get along right away or that you find someone who shares your core religious values but who you might need to coax out of her shell? If you answer the former, you might also want to determine how long you are willing to wait to see progress on the observance front and what you would do if you see no progress. Finally, and I hate to bring it up, but you should also determine what the impact could be on your son if he is exposed to conflicting levels of observance.

I don't know if this at all helps you; they're just my personal thoughts about the "issue". It really is up to you to decide. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss the matter further.

Take care!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Parah Adumah

First of all, Happy Fourth of July everyone! Yes, I am an equal opportunist; since you had to tolerate my Canadian pride earlier in the week, the least I can do is tip my hat to all you Americans.

Down to business. You know, Parshah Chukat is amazing; it's full of so many incidents that each carry a heap of lessons. But every year, for whatever reason, I always focus most on the Parah Adumah. I mean, even Shlomo HaMelech couldn't figure it out, and he knew Torah better than Moishe Rabbeinu. How awesome is that? Anyway, I had several "ideas" about why the heifer both purifies and contaminates.

Would it be conceited of me to post a few? Our Torah sages have been stumped and have only had certain elements elucidated for them, so why would my little thoughts be anything but worse than what Our Sages have already stated, I say. Then again, I'm sure that whatever I do say is simply a rehash of what Our Sage have said...Since it has been on my mind all week though, and I need a tidbit to say to my husband over dinner tonight, I will give a brief summary of some of the things I've been mulling over.

Since in this world duelling forces co-exist, it makes "sense" that an item and a ritual that purify are the result of an item and a ritual that produce contamination. Any heifer carcass would produce contamination, so why not the parah adumah's when it is prepared? Moreover, it is no wonder that while being purified, the person who is purifying the contaminated person becomes contaminated as well. We see by the very juxtaposition of the ritual of the parah adumah with descriptions of ways that one becomes contaminated that Hashem always creates both a situation and an antidote. Why then should the antidote not carry consequences for the purifier as well as the contaminated party? When purifying, the purifier comes into contact with tumah and consequently becomes contaminated until evening. We see the same process on Yom Kippur, with the goat sent to Azazel.

In this world, contamination of one easily impacts us all; the physical, spiritual, and emotional elements of life on this earth are inextricably intertwined, as are we all. Contamination, while a physical state, is also a spiritual state, and there are degrees, as with anything else: a tzaddik, for example, is at a higher degree of spirituality than myself or any other Ben Oni. The same goes for other spiritual states as well. When a wife becomes niddah, does her separation not contaminate her husband? How so, you might ask? Because the physical separation from his wife causes shifts in his emotional and spiritual being as well, since his soul and her soul are intertwined. By the same token, a person contaminated by the dead is impacted emotionally, spiritually, and physically. And as we see by the incidents of the striking of the rock and the death of Aharon HaKohain, the loss of one yid impacts us all and changes the dynamic of us as a people. Thus, when our brother becomes contaminated through death, the impact is felt around him. By extension, the purification process necessitates that one yid "sacrifices" himself for the benefit of his fellow, to transfer some of his "purity" to the impure person.

In other words, the purifier consequently takes the spiritual demotion in order to elevate the contaminated party. Since we are all intertwined as a people, it would be foolish to believe that one yid's suffering is unrelated to our life. To return to the concept of duelling forces, we can see how when one yid is up, another is down, and it is only by Hashem's current calculation of us that we are in the same boat as the one yid or the other. When we contemplate that reality then, we see how powerful the parah adumah really is, both as an actual conduit for purification and as a symbol of Ahavat Yisroel.

Good Shabbos!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Poisson au Haricot Lima

It's Wednesday, aka cooking day for Shabbos in my home. My husband has been loving what I serve for the fish course lately, so here is a new standby. I recommend using a mild flavoured fish, such as pollack or cod, but if you prefer a meatier fish, just adjust the cooking time.

1 lb frozen fish, thawed
1 10-14 oz package frozen lima beans
2 large tomatoes, chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp turmeric
2 tbsp parsley
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice to taste
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup water

Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil over medium in a deep skillet. Add the garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the fish, water, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Place the lima beans, turmeric and remaining olive oil on top of the fish, cover the pan, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until almost fully cooked, checking from time to time that ensure that the water has not completely evaporated. Add water as required during cooking. About 5 minutes before the fish is done cooking, add the tomato. When done cooking, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the parsley. Before serving, stir to mix and sprinkle with lemon juice before plating.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bonne FĂȘte du Canada!

So here I am in Brooklyn on Canada Day. In a show of national pride (and solidarity with my fellow ex-pats), I am sharing just a few tidbits about my fair and native land.
  • Population: 34 million. A nation that has always promoted immigration, Canada's population includes persons from more than 200 countries of origin. For the past 25 years, Canada has taken in more immigrants than either America or Australia.
  • Land Mass: 10 million square kilometres (4 million square miles)- the second largest on earth after Russia. This area is divided into 10 provinces and three territories:
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut Territory
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Yukon Territory
  • Capital: Ottawa, located in the province of Ontario.
  • Motto: A mare usque ad mare, which is based on Perek Ayin Beit (72) in Tehillim.
  • Symbol: The Beaver. Early Canadian commerce was reliant on the fur trade, with the beaver pelt as the trade's primary commodity.
  • Emblem: Maple Leaf. Maple products have remained staple exports throughout the country's history.
  • Colours: Red and White. As a colony of both France and England, Canada adopted the national colours of those countries.
  • Flag: The red maple leaf on a white background flanked by two red bars is recognizable internationally. Americans might be interested to note that there is no pledging allegiance to the flag in Canada, although no individual is prohibited from doing so if they wish.
  • Languages: English and French dialects. The accents for both are distinct, and the vocabulary includes many Canadianisms, E.g. chesterfield, tuque, depanneur. Many Canadians are trilingual, speaking the language of their family's country of origin in addition to English and French.
  • Sports: Lacrosse and Hockey. Hockey was officially legislated as the national winter sport in the 1990s; Lacrosse remains the national summer sport.
  • Anthem: O Canada. As befitting a bilingual country, the anthem can be sung in English or French. The standard practice in some provinces is to sing half of the anthem in French, half in English. You will note that Canada, unlike America, has no qualms about mentioning country and G-d in the same breath:

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

  • Constitution: Peace, Order, and Good Government. Canada's constitution consists of several documents, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. One important distinction between the Canadian and American constitutions is that the American constitution focusses on the rights and freedoms of individuals, whereas the Canadian constitution stresses the need to balance the rights and freedoms accorded the individual with the needs of the community at large. In other words, the greater social good is always the focal point, versus the wants and needs of individual citizens.
  • Political System: Parliamentary. The parliament consists of the Monarch, the Senate, and the House of Commons. Queen Elizabeth II currently acts as the monarch, and is represented at the federal level by the Governor General and and at the provincial level by each province's Lieutenant General.
Finally, why is today called Canada Day? On July 1, 1867, the Province of Canada was divided into two provinces, Quebec and Ontario, and joined together into a federation with the colonies (British) of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The day was referred to as Dominion Day until 1982, when Canada was granted its own constitution, thereby removing the British Parliament's ability to legislate for Canada. As mentioned above, the Queen still retains legal power in Canada, and acts as its figurehead.

Vive le Canada!