Friday, October 31, 2008

Sheva Berachos

I have been so crazy busy with work this week that I literally did not exit the house for days at a time-- even to take out the garbage, which as you all know, if my "critical mass" point. Anyway, when I am in the house, I have my cell phone shut off for several reasons, not the least of which being that my lovely CPP (which shall remain nameless) is unable to provide me with sufficient coverage in my 70 sq meters of heaven, i.e. dropped call, dropped call, and dropped call. So, unless I am expecting someone to call me, I don't bother to check my messages.

Yesterday I got a call from my lawyer about the lawsuit, but she didn't leave a message or send me an email, so I figured I should check the cell phone. Sure enough, she had left a message there, and that's how stumbled upon the multiple messages left by my very-stressed-out Kallah friend (see Notes on a Wedding). Turned out there were going to be sheva berachos three hours later in Flatbush, and I had better hop to it. So hop to it I did, and practically ran my way over there. Listen, when you're Yekki, being late is tantamount to a cardinal sin.

Suffice it to say that while I may have arrived horrendously late by Yekkish standards (read 10 minutes), the Chattan and Kallah were on Sephardi time; the shindig got underway around 8:15 or so. I was sort of undressed, having forgotten that everything in Flatbush is an opportunity to be fancy; at my Sheva Berachos, people wore jeans! But, B'H', at least I had some make up and a sheitel on, not to mention a pretty necklace my husband bought me last year to mark the anniversary of the car accident- or specifically, our having pulled through it, with much gratitude to Hashem! The table were all beautifully set, the hosts' children were cute like anything, and the caterer very accommodating and cheerful.

I had arrived at the same time as another couple, and for the longest time it was us, a second couple who arrived about 20 minutes after us, and the host family. They seated myself and I staked out a seat. Noting the Chattan and Kallah's chairs, I decided to take an end seat at an adjacent table. The end result was that I was on a diagonal from the other guests, basically seating at the polar opposite end of the room. I entertained myself by speaking to the children, who were a hoot, and when the hostess came down, endured her awkward attempts to take my coat and chit chat me across the room to join the two couples. I politely sidestepped her "good" graces, retained my coat, and remained where I was.

There is nothing that I abhor more than polite chit chat, particularly because it is generally a thinly veiled attempt to be polite without any real interest in getting to know the other person. I prefer to be ignored and/or left alone to enduring the obligatory twittering over weather, schools, families in common and so forth. Yet, and perhaps I am being delusional, I do find myself be out-going. Rather my issue is that if I am going to converse, I want it to be with someone with whom I can hold an actual, friendly conversation. Divulging of intimate secrets is not required, simply a bit of warmth and good will. And, while I understand that chit chat is most often people's attempt to break the ice, the end result is typically that you exchange a few lines, smile a polite smile, and move on- a cold exchange indeed.

I was consequently most pleased when my table wound up consisting of the teenage girls and the hostess's mother. I have found, due to my preference for honesty, that I like the company of senior citizens and persons of school age, and I was not disappointed. The matriarch was a fascinating woman, and her grand-daughters and their friends were very warm and charming. When the Chattan and Kallah finally arrived, I was already having a grand time, which I subsequently punctuated with trips to the Kallah's table in order to dish a bit. All in all, it was a really nice time, as evidenced by the fact that it lasted much later than I expected, and despite my having a pile of work waiting for me at home, I didn't care. Then again, at such events, since kind attracts kind, chances are that you're going to enjoy the crowd.

The Chattan and Kallah are going out of town for Shabbos to have Sheva Berachos in the Chattan's hometown. I hope they enjoy themselves, and that when they return home and are finally able to enter into their peaceful life together, Hashem will only bestow blessing upon them.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Notes on a Wedding

I had the good fortune of seeing a dear friend of mine married off yesterday afternoon. I know her from back when I was single; she belonged to a crowd that I used to hang out with, and we spent many long hours in conversation. In short, I'm a big fan.

I wanted to record just two things that came to mind at the wedding, since I am officially at the point in my life where if I don't write something down, it's gone for-E-vah, as they say around these parts...

First of all, in true testimony to her endlessly giving nature, the kallah was only concerned with her guests: she worried about the hall, the caterer; she came down from the kallah chair to greet those who had difficulty walking; she fretted that people would be offended if she missed them during dancing, and consequently made a point of breaking out of the circle to dance where all of those who would not or could not participate were. I could only marvel at her tremendous generosity, that on "her night" she chose to make it everyone's night. It was a beautiful spectacle indeed, much like the kallah herself.

Next, it was amazing to see all that had changed in the few short years since I had seen everyone. People who were newlyweds when I last saw them were now parents a couple of times over, married women were divorced, parents were grandparents, singles were engaged. Life had moved on, and it was a bittersweet moment as I drank in all of the changes. One nice aspect of being back with everyone for an evening though was returning, albeit briefly, to the Me I was before I got married. I was free to be me, if you will, because they knew me from when it was just me, and there was something refreshing about seeing myself through their eyes for a little while. It was nice to get back in touch with my former, pre-accident self.

Anyhow, a tip of the hat to my dear friend and her Chosson. They should only live and be well, knowing only Hashem's abundant blessings, bli ayin hara. And, for those times when Hashem may throw a temporary curve ball, hopefully the wine glasses I got them will come in handy, LOL.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Finally, a moment to blog. Like just about every other frum lady within a gazillion mile radius, the chagim are over, the laundry is done, and we had a Shabbos to, well, rest. While I was working up until the very last second before benchlicht, I spent a blissful Shabbos sleeping in, davening leisurely, eating low-key meals, and catching up on some much-needed learning. Sure, I ate way too much cake, but it was a really nice day. I even treated myself to havdalah over apple juice, since grape juice just doesn't seem to agree with me lately.

As previously noted, Simchat Torah is my runner-up favourite holiday, and this year did not disappoint. First, while it isn't my minhag, I very much enjoyed eating in the sukkah over Shemini Atzeret, and it felt bittersweet when I bid the sukkah farewell for the year. All things have their time and season, I know, but despite the cool weather (and yes, everyone found it riotously funny that I wore my lighter winter coat for every meal), the company was first-rate, the food was delish, and somehow, the mitzvah seemed especially meaningful.

The first lunch, I had the pleasure of meeting up with an old friend of mine, a fellow blogger, and I literally jumped out my seat in excitement when I saw her. It's been too long, and I really enjoyed catching up with her. She is a most kindred spirit, and I always love being in her company; I leave feeling recharged. Our hosts for that meal were old friends whom I have not had the pleasure of eating by for quite some time. So it was lovely to be back in their fantastic presence. And finally, maybe the nicest surprise of the chag was that I got to hang out with our vegetarian friends, who I mentioned a few posts back. The wife and I had several long conversations until the wee hours of the morning over some excellent tea...if any of you get a chance, I recommend that you try the Rose Chai Wizzotsky puts out. Very yummy. So, not that I hadn't previously felt close to her or otherwise considered her a friend, bu this chag truly solidified the bond. At least on my end... :-)

Hakofos is always wonderful, as is watching all the men/boys get aliyahs. I went by our local shtiebel in the evening, where my husband davens. It was really nice to see all of our mutual friends together, and the emotional aspect of the evening was very gratifying. People were in high spirits, drunk if you will with Torah. And that's a beautiful thing. During the day, I went to my usual shul, toute seule, and maybe it was having said yizkor the day before or being alone, but I really noted how Simchat Torah is about family. Part of what I love about Simchat Torah is the memory of being a little girl watching the absolute splendour as the shul's many Torahs made a regal circuit around the shul. Such pomp! Such beauty! And, most of all, I remember how I would wave my little flag with its apple perched on top (apples are the local fall harvest in my native area, and I suppose apples also somehow allude back to Rosh Hashana) furiously whenever my Dad would go by me in the procession. And so I especially appreciated this year how the children seemed to drink it all in. That's the point: to instill in the next generations the beauty and glory of Torah by expressing joy over it.

Anyhow, now comes the long stretch between Simchat Torah and Pesach. Sure, there's Chanukkah and Purim. But it will be interesting to see how well we do in keeping the momentum up. Today in my davening, I tried to instill a bit of the fervour I had on Rosh Hashana into things. Hopefully, with Hashem's help, I can continue to do so going forward, ad infinitum.

Gut voch.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


During the first days of Sukkot, one of my hosts decided to read aloud from a sefer about waiting for Mosiach. Since most of what I had previously heard about Mosiach was wrapped in a Lubavitcher bow, I found it fascinating to get the yeshivish perspective.

In essence, the general principle I took away from that reading was that to the degree a person recognizes s/he is in galus and yearns for Mosiach, that is the degree to which that person will experience Mosiach once he comes. To reword, the degree to which we are sensitive to our being in galus is the degree to which we will experience/merit the joy that accompanies Mosiach. Our entire vocabulary for living and experiencing will have to be overhauled, and our perception will be sensitive to the same degree we perceived a lack previously.

Now, I don't know about you, but that message really drilled into my consciousness. I was lying in bed last night thinking about how most of us just go about our day thinking that things are normal; we generally live without truly recognizing that life as we know it is a sham. We're sheep!, I thought, being lead to the slaughter, and we just bah bah our way up the ramp to our miserable end. Well, that's got to end, I figured. So here is what I'm planning to do for yours truly.

First, I decided that the source of the problem in general is that I don't exist in a state of constantly understanding that my life is not as it should be. Case in point, this week we should all be in Yerushalyim, experiencing the Water Libation. Instead, I accept, albeit sadly, that we have no Beit HaMigdash and that I consequently find myself in Brooklyn. But what if I choose instead to constantly exist in the shadow of the fact that my life is actually miserable? What if I recognized that my daily existence was spiritually far below where it should be, and that my sole purpose in life should be to act in a way that will elevate not only my existence but the entire world's? I suspect that if I managed to live my life with that focus, I would suddenly find my life much more aligned with Torah and mitzvot.

That reading in the Sukkah then, acted as a peephole onto Things as They Should Be, as well as Things as They Are. Hopefully that little wake up call will cause me to change my life in a way that will, when Mosiach arrives, enable me to partake in that era in all its glory...while helping save the world at the same time. Now that's an existence worth living!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Welcome Relief

For years I lived without a TV. Despite having grown up with a little B&W set that got the Canadian public stations and a very fuzzy PBS from upstate NY, I spent most of my adult life TV-free. I just preferred to read, and found my life to be generally more fulfilling without the distraction that only TV offers.

That all ended with Hurricane Katrina. My friend was horrified to learn that I had endured the hurricane sans a set, and insisted on giving me one that was collecting dust in his apartment. Why TV was essential during a hurricane was beyond me, since once I had the set, it proceeded to die almost as soon as the subsequent hurricanes were even remotely within my vicinity. But whatever. I consequently inherited a set, and a colour one, no less.

Over the past year, despite my having only two shows that I consistently watched in my roster, the TV was frequently playing a bit each evening. I was in turn wondering just a few weeks ago during the 10 days whether I should just give up TV; how was it enhancing my life spiritually? I remembered how, while I was sitting shiva for my father, olev shalom, my husband (then fiance) had taken the set to the back room and closed the door, so that his friends from Kew Garden Hills wouldn't get the wrong impression of me. After all, to have a TV???? What type of yeshivish person was I?

Despite my combined mirth and annoyance when I remember that incident, I acknowledge that prior to my receiving the said TV set, my evenings were filled with learning. I designated an hour a day to different topics: parshah, midrash, mussar, etc. In contrast, this past year it was a struggle to get the koach to turn off the set and turn my attention to the books I bought months ago without cracking open.

So I was quite relieved when, this past Sunday, my husband came and took the set to his father's. True, I had, since Rosh Hashana, made a point of ending my day with learning, so that my day started and ended with Torah. But to have the set out of the house? That just provided fuel to my spiritual fire. Because when you get right down to it, you have to decide where you want your focus in life to be. For me, at least for the time being, I want my focus to be on spiritual improvement. Granted, who knows how long it may be before my focus shifts. But until then, I can relish in the idea that I got an inkling and Hashem helped facilitate my following through on it. When something like that happens so blatantly, you can't help but be inspired.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Slice of Heaven

Full-blown Sukkah madness has officially erupted. During my two Shabbos afternoon walks (yes, two- it was a beautiful fall afternoon, and I figured why waste it?), I saw piles of sechach in driveways, half-erected sukkahs by most homes, and makeshift Esrogim and Sukkah shops lining all the main avenues. Tonight, but an hour and a half post-havdalah, the honking began as the supermarket across the street opened with plans to stay open until 3 PM erev chag. I am beginning to wonder if I will get any work done tomorrow, between the harried supermarket shoppers and my neighbours pounding together their sukkahs.

I still remember the wonderfully sweet smell of pine that I associate with Sukkot during my childhood years. We used to sit in the sukkah in full winter gear, the very crisp air wafting around us as we ate steaming bowls of food in an effort to keep warm. Swarms of wasps who were enjoying a last hurrah before the arrival of winter killed them off completed the equation. It was consequently a simultaneously sublime and slightly frightening scene. I think the wasps were the main reason, truth be told, that Sukkot slipped to third place in my hierarchy of favourite holidays.

They're forecasting beautiful weather this week, which stands in stark contrast to last year's heat-soaked chag. I generally find Sukkot to be rather relaxing: davening is a nice length, Hallel is positively breath-taking to watch, and nothing beats kiddush in a sukkah. The only downside to the chag is that, being prone to burning to a crisp, I tend to be quite the spectacle, sporting a mixture of summer (floppy hat to protect from the sun) and winter (coat, skirt) attire. But that should be the least of my worries.

Since I foresee that I will be crazy busy up until the chag, i.e., without a chance to write another post, I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a chag sameach. And, having heard many stories this afternoon about signs that Mosiach is imminent, hopefully we will all make this chag not only a joyous one, but a spiritually meaningful one as well.

Good voch.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Rare Honour

I decided to change my davening location for Yom Kippur, which netted unseen benefits. The original reason for the change was the particularly drafty nature of my previous seat; who needs to fall ill on Yom Kippur? I also knew that an added perk was that my friend would be davening in the same row. A little chizuk via companionship is a good thing.

Anyhow, Hashem sent me a little messenger, in the form of an elderly European woman who was none less than a Holocaust survivor. When I entered the row last night, there were two open seats, and I chose to sit in the one that was closest to her. During davening, she noted that I was good at knowing where we were in davening, and asked me to help her keep her place. I didn't want to let her down, because the truth of the matter is that I am not the best person when it comes to keeping up; I find my mind often drifts, which results in losing my place. But since she seemed to be counting on me, and she was without companions, I decided it was a real honour to help her out any way that I could.

Whenever you find yourself in such a situation, it always seems that the one asking for help winds up helping you more than you help them. This woman was bursting with kavannah, and I found my davening being shored up by her fervour. By the end of davening today, I was so grateful to Hashem for the opportunity to sit by her, help her keep her place as best I could, and be rewarded a million-fold with her stories of Hungary/the Holocaust and her incredible gut-wrenching prayer. Right before Havdalah, she complemented my davening (if only she knew the truth!), and asked how her davening was; incredibly, she felt herself lacking because she doesn't keep up like the Bais Yaacov girls. I told her with much enthusiasm that she was wonderful, that she had such inspirational kavannah. To which she responded that yes, in Europe that's what they had.

Now if only we could find a way to meld the strengths of both North American and European davening, we'd really be getting somewhere! But I suppose that's what the "Praying with Fire" series is all about. Todah Hashem, for blessing me with such a wonderful gift, on Yom Kippur no less! May having davened in her company net us all a most glorious year (bli ayin hara)...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Angels Among Us

It being the Ten Days, I'm a little more stressed out then usual, especially when contemplating how few items there probably are marked under the "Merits" column for my name up in Shemayim. This Rosh Hashana, I heard numerous stories told over about what is happening up in the heavens, and most stories reference malachim of various types. These stories reminded me of something that I figured might be fitting to share this time of year.

A few years ago, while living in the South, a Rav suggested that I review the laws of Taharat HaMispacha with his wife- my then-husband and I had been married over a year and were childless, and that suggestion seems to be par for the course under such circumstances. So, of I went to study with her, and during our session I commented that I often wished that I was a malach, because then I would just do Hashem's will perfectly. Her response was that my purpose in the world was to accrue mitzvos, which is why I was created human. I found that comment really inspiring...

To sum it up then, since I'm not an angel, my challenge is to overcome my personal spiritual challenges in order to more readily and appropriately serve Hashem. I figure that in the coming days, I should focus on determining where my spiritual weaknesses. Once those are identified, I can then go about finding the practical strategies that will help me overcome those weaknesses. The end result will hopefully be that I can perform my "hard" mitzvos (and we all find some mitzvos harder than others to fulfill) better. So the possibilities are endless, if one chooses to devote some time and a whole lot of effort to that most humbling of tasks called self-perception.

May we all merit to have a most productive 10 days, and be sealed for a wonderful year!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mental Repository

During Rosh Hashana services this week, a thought hit me. I was sitting in the "free seats", and found myself amongst a group of young FFBs. They were an interesting group: they were very adept at davening and one girl even kindly relinquished her seat to a girl who was obviously much less frum so that the latter could rest. So I started thinking about what davening must be like from a Yeshivish girl's perspective.

While I grew up in a Modern Orthodox household, when I went away to university I fryed out. As a result, I have an archive in my head of film, art, music, etc. that takes up mental real estate. At the unlikeliest times, such as when I'm tired, upset, or otherwise easily distracted, I find my brain shifts over to that repository. I subsequently find that when davening or learning, I need to continuously exert effort in order to remain focussed on the spiritual matters at hand. In short, my davening is very often compromised. So I began to think of how much easier Rosh Hashana must be for my fellow congregants, because I know that personally I was exhausted and found my mind constantly drifting in directions it should not have drifted. Like the latest commercial for "Gossip Girl" I happened upon the other day...

Yet these girls, unburdened by such a mental library, can daven freely, consistently, with the correct kavannah- at least, they can if they want.While some of my davening was focussed and meaningful this week, it took tremendous effort on my part to maintain for an extended period of time. It would be so nice to be unfettered like these girls. That is why I was thrilled when my DH picked up a pamphlet containing an excerpt from "Praying with Fire- Part 2" as we exited shul. Just what I need, and not a moment too soon.

When all is said and done, I recognise that it is common to be distracted during davening. And while I wish I remained as mentally pure as these girls, I realise that like it or not, I'm not. So I concluded that really the choice I face is the same as theirs: I can focus myself on davening and enhancing my relationship with my Creator, or I can let myself be distracted. The reality is that I may have this library that could pop up and ruin my concentration- but everyone has such a library. Your job, your family, your best friend, your mortgage, your bills- a stack of daily life is ready, willing, and able to infiltrate our minds at any moment. Such is the nature of life.

So I decided this Rosh Hashana that maybe what I need to improve upon this year, bli neder, is my davening itself. And one tactic I'm hoping to try out is to remind myself that while I was formerly a patron, the library is unfortunately now closed. At least until after davening.