Saturday, January 31, 2009

Remembering Who's Boss

We learn that in this week's parshah, Bo, the final three makkos were meant to demonstrate to everyone, yid and goy alike, that Ani Hashem. These plagues are then interrupted by a discussion of Rosh Chodesh, the korban pesach/Pesach observance, and redemption of the first-born. What does this order suggest?

If we contemplate for a moment that the yid in Egypt who had survived the plagues (since most of the yiddin had been wiped out during the plague of darkness) and "made it to the final cut", as it were, and were included in the exodus, one might find the need to demonstrate Hashem's ultimate rule as unnecessary. The remaining Jews had seen that no-one, even the yiddin, escaped judgement; that they found themselves alive at that late stage should have simply filled them with amazement and unequivocable, whole-bodied devotion to Hashem.And yet Hashem reasoned otherwise.

In short, a major factor in stressing Ani Hashem was for the klal's benefit. That said, the purpose of introducing the other mitvos becomes clear: in each instance, the mitzvah serves to underline that Hashem rules all, and that we are but here to serve him. It is the nature of humans to believe that we control our dalet amos to a certain degree. We plan our day, we set up and maintain our homes, we create families. While we simultaneously recognize that all of these elements are in fact Hashem's doing, our yetzer hara is always trying to convince us that we actually have more control over our lives than we do. The fact of the matter is that while we do have free choice, and Hashem hopes that we will choose good, Hashem is Master and Commander of the minutiae of our days.

Each mitzvos cited in Bo is a case where humans are prone to attribute more kavod to themselves than is due. With Rosh Chodesh, we are reminded that our concept of time, days, weeks, months and years is governed by Hashem. With the korban pesach, we are reminded that the yiddin did not have enough merit that year for the exodus, that they required the additional details of the korban pesach that first instance to earn that merit. And finally, with the redemption of the firstborn we are reminded, at the precise moment when we feel most keenly like Hashem, that first true moment ever of "Look what I created", of the fact that ultimately life is His decision alone.

In this way, these mitzvot serve as constant defenses against the yetzer hara, and keep all honour and respect where they should be, namely with Hashem.

Good voch!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Preemie Giraffe

Giraffes are one of my all-time favourite animals to visit while at the zoo. So when my friend S sent me some pics of a preemie giraffe born last year in the Chester Zoo, UK, I just had to share my faves. Cute little Margaret only weighed in at 34 kilos and stood 5 feet even. Still bigger than my birth stats, but we won't go there people...


I'm Melting

Speaking of those stellar lip glosses I received earlier this evening, I was looking at them just now. And there, right as I was busy thinking "Ooooh! Pretty!", I was appalled by the next thought that popped into my head...which was, maybe I should save them for Pesach!

Toto, make it stop!!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tally Up

Following my mother's cue (see here for more details), I figured I would score my day.

As expected, much of my workday was spent dealing with office politics. Things have fallen (or escalated, depending how you choose to look at it) to risible levels. Adding insult to injury, as I was out the door late this afternoon (read 5 PM), I received several emails from my supervisor with changes to the deliverables I had posted that same hour. En route to my destination (the library, to return my 6 times renewed and never finished book), I stopped off at the metro to check the balance on my metrocard. This being Flatbush, the metrocard reader of course failed to read my card. After several attempts, I figured I would just let things be.


But then, surprisingly, the next hour was full of up-swings. I found a copy of my favourite Canadian authour on the bookshelf. There was no line at the checkout. Upon returning home and fetching the mail, not only was there only one bill but a package from my artist friend back home. Inside I discovered a lip gloss set and a journey necklace- exactly on time, since I had been contemplating a stopover while out to the lip gloss selection of the $ store. And finally, noting that my supervisor had called whilst I was out, when I rang her, not only was she in a cheerful mood, but she was swapping my existing assignment for a more interesting one.


And that, dear readers, brings the total tally to a whopping WOO-HOO for Team Poutine Cachere. So I will conclude, while the getting is still good, with a hearty B'H', and may things continue in this generally upward and onward pattern. (BLI AYIN HARA!)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pretty Vacant

A thought on President Obama and the election, in light of last week's inauguration.

I visited my friend late in the day on Shabbos, and as is our minhag, we were sipping tea and discussing America as it pertains to the Jews. My friend was voicing her fears about our favourite topic of late, namely what the next 4 years is going to bring both for Jews and "the Free World At Large".

It occurred to me, as I was listening, that Obama was the perfect candidate for Young America. Gen Z is all about gesture morality, a "one step removed" ideology that is based on an individualized sense of what is "Right For Me", as represented by a reactionary lifestyle. Both this generation and Gen X are galvanized over the environment, but respond differently: whereas my graduating class from university chose to spend a year replanting the northern tundra in order to restore the damage done by Big Lumber, Gen Z chooses instead to buy hybrid cars.

So, when faced with a candidate who spoke in reactionary terms, who mentioned change without specifying the particulars of what "change' meant for him and the country, Gen Z found their ideal candidate. Obama's strategy was undeniably brilliant: present himself as a vacant repository for whatever "change" meant for the given Gen Z-er, as a picture frame upon which they could project their individualized ideology.

In the lyrics of my favourite Sex Pistols song, Johnny Rotten rants about the "pretty vacant" ideology that was destroying the UK. Let's hope that the foreshadowing of that song proves irrelevant to America and its allies over the next 4 years and beyond.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stop the Insanity!

I was in Moisha's doing my shopping for Shabbos when I overheard a truly frightening conversation. I was busy trying to figure out what type of cheese I should try this week, and the cheese is located, for some merchandising reason I have yet to determine, in the case next to the charein/hummus/herring/salads. The man in question was on the phone and, of course, discussing his order with The Wife.

That's when I heard him utter the unfathomable phrase: "Do you have enough for Pesach?"

Listen people, I'm a Yekki. I thoroughly appreciate organization and foresight. I will even confess to having submitted assignments three weeks early in high school. But even by my standards, preparing for Pesach now, more than a month away from Purim, is premature. We haven't even hit Tu B'Shevat!!! Although I can pretty much guarantee that the woman in question already has her fruit plate cut and in the freezer.

Seriously, it's this type of behaviour that just feeds into the Pesach frenzy that I loathe so much. So everyone, please, do us all a favour- take a deep breath, and relax. And don't think about Pesach again...until after Purim, like the rest of us.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Happiness Is

I am highly caffeinated today, because
  1. I finally bought regular coffee (Maxwell House, courtesy of the weekly ShopRite sale)- I've been drinking decaf for the last week. Yes, horror indeed!
  2. I got 4 hours sleep last night, having done the said shopping.
  3. I received my next assignment yesterday at 5 PM, and it is of course due tomorrow and involves my working at break-neck speed today.
So, in the spirit of "Why the heck not?!", I decided to inaugurate my new teapot (thanks to the husband, who went to shul to toivel it for me), and am currently brewing my first round of Irish Breakfast tea in almost 2 decades. I am totally psyched, y'all!

It's all in the details. :)

Good or Bad

I must make a confession: until this evening, I hadn't left the house since Sunday evening. Oddly, I didn't mind being in the house most of the week. I hope I'm not becoming a hermit, because while I am more of a homebody than a party girl (I call myself a closet extrovert), I feel it's generally necessary health-wise to get out daily. Whatever.

Anyhow, when I went downstairs I was shocked that I hadn't received a single piece of mail. Not even junk mail, bills, catalogues, or solicitations for tzeddakah. For a moment I felt relief, since I basically have not enjoyed fetching the mail since my friends and I ceased to write letters back in the 90s; it's all stuff you can wait to see nowadays, if you know what I mean. But then I had to ponder whether this absence of stuff in my mailbox was indicative of something. Maybe I've been cloistered so long these last few months that even the mass mailers have taken note. "Don't bother sending her stuff. She just throws it in the trash- if and when she leaves the house!".

All I can say is that the experience left me with a nagging feeling. Let's face it: in this day and age, where everything is digital, nobody writes letters anymore, and to get anything in your mailbox that isn't a bill seems like a treat. Maybe it's a vestige of my generation, but I miss that tactile experience of collecting a fat envelope from my box and spending an hour reading a handwritten missive to keep me current with the writer's life-at-present. So when that box was empty this evening, it really hit me that those days are dead and buried.

I'm getting old. I suppose I'll just have to suck it up and adapt. :p

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lost Returns- Yawn?

I have been a rabid fan of "Lost" since I caught the rerun of the series premiere late in December 04. And I will admit that my devotion to the show has historically been at fanatical levels, as evidenced by my one friend who used to check whether the show was on commercial before ringing me.

Yet my recent loss of my tv set has had a fateful effect. Basically, I have gotten over my need to watch my two shows right away. Instead, I know that I have time to catch them online, and more to the point, enjoy reading all the blogs and viewing preview clips to whet my appetite before watching episodes.

My tv, to put it differently, has become dispensable to me. Not so my internet connection, as evidenced this last Friday when my connection was downed for a fretful hour and an half. Everything I do- working, finding zmanim, checking the weather, catching up with friends- is done 99% online. Tv has now joined the ranks of the rest of my life by becoming a subset of my online existence.

Still, I was slightly shocked to recognize last night, as I was reading posts on the return of the show after its 8-month hiatus, that I wasn't psyched. I mean, I've waited 8 months to see the next episode; I can wait another day until it's available online. What happened to me?, I wondered. And then I clued in- I've officially knocked a few years off my age, and defected from Gen X to Gen Y. Now, like my fellow Net Gens, my social nexus and entertainment is all about being plugged in. I'll watch, on my time, in my way.

My husband was quite funny when I shared with him last night that I wasn't excited about the return of my most blatant obsession. "Ok, sit down and stay calm. Hatzalah will be there shortly." But in the words of my new generation whatever. It's no big deal. Because in the end, with the power of time-shifting, I'll catch the new eppies sometime this week.

Until then, you'll excuse me, but I'm going to check out the boards to see what comments Losties have posted thus far. Catch you later!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Well I'll Be!

Almost daily it seems, I'll be chatting with someone when I'll get a pause or a look. I generally just chalk it up to my blatant Canadian accent.

Just now though I was reading some news online at the Daily Telegraph, and came across a word I didn't know. So I googled for a British Slang dictionary to look up the troublesome word, and aside from finding the definition to the word, made a discovery.

Now, I know that old-school Canadian English, aka what my generation learned as English, remains more closely tied to British English than American English. But I was **shocked** to learn that many of the words in my daily vocabulary are actually British slang. I wasn't aware that so much of Canadian English is in fact British English. I mean, I knew...just not to that extent...

So to everyone who has thus far been confused by my foreigner talk, I apologise. All I can say is that it sure explains a lot!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pearl of Wisdom

I was speaking to my Mom, and we were telling each other about how our days went, when my Mom dropped a real nugget. I was busy relating the ups and downs of my day and hit the highlight: I found a teapot in exactly the colour that I wanted, so now all I have to do is toivel it, since it's glass. Earlier in the week I found Twinings tea certified by the Beit Din of London, but have been waiting to drink it until I could get my hands on a proper tea pot. Now I'm all set!

Most people, when they review their day, tend to tally up the pros and cons before determining whether the day was "good" or "bad". Not my Mom! Upon hearing about the teapot find, what did she quip?: "Oh, so you had a successful day then!". There's the glass half full people, the glass half empty people, and then there's my mother. By virtue of one good thing happening in a day, the entire day is deemed good.

Now that's the way I hope I can begin viewing my life!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blueprint of Galus

In parshah Shemos, we learn of the birth of the redeemer of the klal and his life prior to assuming his destined role.

One thought has nagged at me about this parshah, specifically why were all Egyptians held liable for the klal's suffering? Weren't they simply following the orders of their king? While obviously one would hope that they would instead have defied their king, one can understand that they chose to prove their patriotism and allegiance to the king by going along with his numerous decrees. So how was it that the entire nation deserved punishment for the policies of their ruler?

As we know, a principle of Torah is that not a single word is wasted. Thus, the omission of details describing the specific deeds that warranted the downfall of the whole nation is telling. First, the lack points to the fact that the specific deeds are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Instead, one should take a holistic view of the situation and recognize that here was a nation that did evil to the klal and deserved de facto to be punished. Since all subsequent yiddishkeit looks back to our emancipation from Egypt as the cornerstone of our identity, the Egyptian galus and redemption acts as a blueprint, if you will, for all subsequent exiles. I therefore propose that a brief look at the behaviour that warranted the downfall of the ruling nation (and the klal's release) is important, and contains many clues about how one should view the rest of Jewish history, including the current galus, may it end immediately.

Midrash cites many immoral actions on the part of both the Egyptian men and women, such as:
  • Men: Following Pharoah's edict to refuse to give straw to the yiddin
  • Women: Taking babies into Jewish abodes and making the babies cry in order to elicit cries from any hidden Jewish babies
However, the parshah itself explicitly names the ultimate essence of the behaviour that warranted absolute punishment at the beginning of the parshah: "A new king rose, one who did not know Yoseph...And they appointed taskmasters over them...". The main issue was that the nation (they), not just Pharoah, forgot Yoseph and, by extension, Yaacov. Lest we forget, Yoseph was the reason why Egypt not only survived the famine, but prospered as a result of it. Moreover, with Yaacov's arrival, the famine ended. Thus, the Egyptians as a whole, in a desire to be free of gratitude to the descendants of Yaacov and his family, aka their redeemers, sought to degrade them. In other words, by degrading the yiddin, the Egyptians felt they could shirk all future indebtedness to the yiddin. Moreover, by forgetting any gratitude due yiddin, the Egyptians were simultaneously attempting to subdue Hashem's power- if His people were responsible for bringing blessing to the land, by subjugating His people, the Egyptians could feel that they were lessening Hashem's hold over them. Enslaving the yiddin was consequently a double reward for them, or so they thought.

In stark contrast, Basya is mentioned as naming Yocheved's second son Moshe. Indeed, this name is the only one by which the redeemer of Israel is mentioned in the Torah. Since Moshe had, in fact, 9 additional names, one might wonder why he is exclusively mentioned using Moshe, an Egyptian name? Again, the inclusion of this detail provides a clue that fills in for the outright mentioning of the transgression of the Egyptians. Basya, unlike the Egyptians, showed tremendous kindness to Moshe. While her handmaids refused to exert themselves to rescue the boy, she not only exerted herself to personally retrieve him from the waters, but went to great lengths to find a wet nurse for him, i.e. to feed him when he at first refused to feed. She continued to show kindness to him, despite his being a Jewish male child, by paying for his nursing for two years and then raising him in the royal palace. To reword, she provided him with every comfort, despite his being a Jew and in spite of her doing so being a danger to herself. Her reward was that Moshe is only referred to by the name she bestowed him.

In this way, the silence of the Torah answers the nagging question of the horrible transgression that merited the downfall of the greatest nation on Earth. By mistreating Hashem's people, the Egyptians not only sought to deny Hashem's power over the entire world, including Egypt, but also the wipe out the reminder that Egypt only existed due to the Jewish people. It is this total disrespect for a people without whom they themselves would not exist that belied the utter corrupt and evil nature of the Egyptian people. And it was this disrespect that in the end resulted in their downfall.

Finally, from the Egyptian's behaviour we also learn the essence of anti-semitism, a main component in every galus to date: a desire to eradicate the Jewish people, chasve shalom, in order to remove any reminder that Hashem runs the world.

Good voch!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

All About the Eyes

As noted previously, the past several months I've become interested in colour theory as it pertains to beauty/fashion. Specifically, I've focussed on learning the colours that suit me best based on my combination of skin tone, hair colour and eye colour.

Through this latest fixation of mine, I've made some startling discoveries. A recent one was that despite having spent my life wearing various blues because my eyes are grey, blue is not my best colour. In fact, my best colour seems to be- gasp- green. Even more shocking though if my discovery, courtesy of an artist friend of mine, that my eyes change colour depending on the light I'm in and the colour of the clothing I'm wearing. Once she told me this, I started researching eye colour, and found out that yes, grey eyes are known for doing just that. Imagine my surprise when I subsequently started noticing the startlingly different shades of grey, blue and green that my eyes change between.

I've decided that while my eyes are technically grey- and yes, I will argue with the DMV forever if they try to mark blue again on my driver license- they are actually mainly a turquoise/aqua colour. As usual though, I'd love to hear people's opinion about what colour they think they are. To that end, here's a photo:

Please enter your votes- blue, green, aqua, turquoise, whatever!

Mother of the Klal

In parshah Shemos, we learn that the Jewish midwives Shifrah and Puah defy Pharoah's instructions to kill all male babies, despite Pharoah's threat to execute them if they disobey his order. Midrash explains that Shifrah and Puah were in fact Yocheved and Miriam, respectively, and their decision to save the male babies was due to their fear of Hashem / heaven being greater than their fear of a mere mortal.

It was their profound Yirat Shemayim that provoked them to not only attempt to save all Jewish babies during delivery, but to spur them to follow every available path to ensure success in their decision. To that end, the pair davened to Hashem to not only spare the babies, but to have those previously destined for weakness or defects be born 100% healthy, as well as to have no woman die in childbirth or otherwise be harmed. In this way, they would be above suspicion and nobody would suspect them of attempting to carry out Pharoah's orders.

Yet they did not stop there. In keeping with the notion that "Hashem helps those who help themselves", their love of the klal caused them to take practical measures, such as gathering food from rich homes to distribute it to poor homes, so that all children could be fed. In this way they further helped the new mothers sustain newborns.

For her selfless efforts born of her ahavas yisroel and Yirat Shemayim, at the threat of loss of her own life, Hashem repaid Yocheved middah-kenneged-middah. Yocheved merited to become the mother of all future leviim (Moshe) and kohanim (Aharon)- the groups that similarly serve the nation at the expense of their own comfort, and whose members rely upon the good-will of the nation to survive. It is this trait that enables kohanim to bless the klal with a heart overwhelming with love and otherwise act as a crucible for Hashem's blessing of the nation. Just as through Yocheved the nation was blessed, through her descendants, the nation continues to be blessed.

Who else but the woman who personified an utmost commitment to Hashem and his people, a commitment based on awe and love of Hashem, could become the matriarch of the tribe that embodies selfless devotion to Hashem and his people?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dead Serious Matters

Today there was a pro-Israel protest in Manhattan. While we can all ascertain from reading headlines that most of the media is not on Israel's side- nor has it historically been- I find it glaringly obvious that this morning's protest is not yet covered in the media. In this day and age, such an omission is telling.

The sad fact is that I find the whole Israel-Gaza ordeal frightening. It is but a glimpse into how the Arabs, when given "autonomy" choose to act, namely group and scheme for one sole purpose: to eradicate Israel. Yet equally frightening, in my mind, are the headlines about the calls to target "high-level" Jews.

I have mentioned previously that growing up in Canada, I faced constant, open anti-semitism. While I chose to not dwell on it, the reality is that my father, olev hashalom, stressed that while I am Canadian, I am always foremost a Jew, i.e., when push comes to shove, don't expect Canadians to rally on your behalf. During my recent visit home, I encountered a dismaying development. The metro near our home has become the local hangout where dozens of Arab youth congregate in throngs. Since I was already well-aware that my neighbourhood had become overrun with this most recent wave of "immigrants/refugees", I found the volume of young people, all hormonal and generally unpleasant in that way that only groups of teenagers can be, unsettling.

I figured no reason to worry about things for the time being, since I was only in town for a few days and, B'H' and bli ayin hara, my mother is a few districts away, thereby saved from having to deal with this development exact on her infrequent visits home. On my second trip home on the metro however, the reality of the situation became a bit more personal. The protocol when using the escalators in the metro is that those who want to walk up the steps go on the left; those who stand are on the right. As I was tired, I decided to stand on the right, and ensured that I was standing all the way over, because many people are in a rush and I didn't want to impede anyone's progress.

A youth of about "bar mitzvah" age came up the my left and deliberately bashed - hard- into my elbow, then proceeded to block the left line by standing there and glared at me the whole way up. I look at him for a moment and thought, "Dude, you're so not worth my time. You want to 'win' the stare contest, go right ahead". So I just shook my head, and went my merry way. Did I have to navigate through dozens of Arabs to get out the station, because they were blocking the entrance/exit, i.e., inside and outside? But of course.

My point here is that obviously my metro saga is as much a product of teenager behaviour as Arab anti-semitism. But it would be naive to only consider the incident as a reflection of the former. And so, while as much as American Jews like to think that they are safer in America than Israel, Europe, or basically any other country in the world, I beg to differ. Anti-semitism is anti-semitism, and it is just as insidious in this country as anywhere else. To think otherwise and to act otherwise is downright dangerous, and does a disservice to yiddin everywhere.

So as much as my heart is breaking over what is happening in Israel, and much as I'm all for defending Israel because it is the only land that is unequivocally for the Jews if you will, I am equally worried about our safety here at home. With my father's words of wisdom ever present in my mind, we need to cultivate an awareness that as much as America "protects" the Jews, we need to protect ourselves. And that starts with our mindset.

That is why, in addition for davening for all Jews in Israel to be kept safe, especially the youth who are currently fighting on the front lines in the IDF, I am davening for Hashem to bestow his mercy and protection on Jews everywhere. Indeed, we all need Hashem's help in staying safe, wherever we are, in this pre-Mosiach world.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Horse, Mule, Donkey

A tidbit that occurred to me last night at the Shabbos table. :)

Commenting on the line in Yaacov's blessing for Yehuda that refers to a donkey (He will tie his donkey to the vine, to the vine branch his donkey's foal), Sforno contrasts a donkey to a horse: Whereas a horse is associated with war, a donkey represents "peaceful prosperity". The connotation is obvious- leadership, in the case of the tribe of Yehuda, will enjoy sufficient materialism and peace to enable them to focus on leading in a manner aligned with Hashem's ways. We see a parallel reference to a donkey in Yaacov's blessing of Yissachar (Issachar is a strong-boned donkey); since Yissachar is a tribe renowned for Torah scholarship, we see that the "strength" of the donkey, which outwardly is rooted in the material world, lies in its steadfast submission to its master's will, like the Torah scholar to his studies and, consequently, Hashem.

Earlier in the Torah, when learning of illegal combinations, a mule listed as one such prohibited mixture. A mule, as part horse and part donkey, demonstrates that when combined the positive traits of each becomes perverted: war and power (the horse), when linked to steadfastness (the donkey) results in the unceasing pursuit of materialism, which inevitably provokes disharmony. One only needs to look to the goyim to see that their leaders flaunt their power and wealth, to the detriment of their nations.

In sharp contrast, the secular leader of the Jewish nation must always steadfastly adhere to Hashem in his kingship of the land. By citing the donkey in his blessing of Yehuda, Yaacov reminds us all that adherence to a peaceful existence brings our lives to fruition both in this world- although we may not always see it- and the next. Only a nation that is ruled by a devotion to Hashem's values is a life, and a monarchy, worth having.

Gut Voch!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Some Manners, Puhl-eeeease

WARNING: Uncharacteristically long post.

So I'm back to work and it's amazing- after my first full day yesterday, I was already exhausted! I guess it's the project's timbre of complex work performed at break-neck speed. Sigh.

This afternoon, despite my already insanely heavy workload with accompanying overly optimistic deadline, I took a time-out to go to the dentist. I was referred to her a couple of years ago by my friend who lives in the area, and I ended up being very pleased with both her demeanour and skill. Plus, as someone who only recently obtained insurance, her rates were reasonable. The only downside to her office is that the receptionists tend to be inept and downright rude. However, since once I am able to explain to them my situation and have them assign me an appointment, my dealings with the receptionists is minimal and so I have continued to go to her.

Last week I made my appointment, and as usual ran into a few snafus. First, they insisted on requesting my social security number, despite my repeatedly explaining that the insurance company itself didn't collect that information when we registered, so my providing it was both unnecessary and unproductive. They finally settled, after multiple phone calls, on both my date of birth and my husband's. Next, due to the holiday last week, they were unable to confirm my eligibility. No matter, I figured; my appointment was almost a week away, so there was plenty of time to iron everything out.

Or so I thought. This afternoon when I arrived, the drama immediately began to unfold. The receptionist looked at her book and said that a woman had come by yesterday claiming to be me and cancelled my appointment. She said that they could still take me, but felt the need to comment: Do you have any enemies? Ha Ha. I thought to myself, she's only 19 and obviously more interested in her makeup than manners, so just let it go. I selected my magazine and took my seat.

After a few moments she called me over (without a "Please": ____, come here, which I again attributed to English being her second language), and she told me that they had been unable to confirm benefits because they didn't have my social security number. My question to her of "Why didn't you call me before I came to tell me there was a problem"- which I will admit was uttered in an exasperated tone, was "Why should we call you?".

That's when my patience and last shred of good-will went bye-bye. I demanded again: Why had a week gone by and only now, upon arriving for my appointment, did they inform me that they had been unable to confirm benefits? Especially given that I had provided all the required information and explained that the insurance company didn't have our SSNs, so it was not required. She kept insisting that our SSNs were required, and tried to convince me that they had called me subsequent to my last conversation with the other receptionist the same day that I had made the appointment. I explained that the only time I spoke to the office was the same day and asked to see her paper with all of the notes, i.e, our personal information. She refused. At which point I decided that she had crossed the line.

She must have noted that she couldn't bulldoze me, because she called the insurance to try to confirm benefits again. She got the automated system, and when the prompt listed the option for members registered in the last 90 days, I noted that we would be listed under that category. She responded that she knew what to do; she had to reach a live representative. I figured, okay Smartie Pants, let's just see. After a short while she demanded my SSN again, at which point I responded that I don't know my husband's SSN by heart, and more to the point it wouldn't get her the information she needed. Since she kept on insisting, I decided that my time was simply being wasted, and if they couldn't do their jobs before I arrived, forget it. I told her forget the whole thing, keep the appointment as cancelled, and left, warning her that they had better not attempt to bill me for a cancelled appointment.

I called my husband, who was just this past week at the dentist himself, and inquired if they had asked him to provide his SSN. He responded no. I then called customer service myself, and in under 2 minutes, with less information that I had provided the dental office, had them confirm my eligibility. As I was speaking to him, I went back to the dental office, explained that I had the CSR on the phone, and tried to hand the receptionist my phone so that she could speak to him and confirm benefits. She refused. She said that she had to process claims through their own system. Can anyone say Bizarr-o?

I decided enough was enough, and demanded that she give me my chart, because I was no longer planning to be a patient with them. She refused, with a smirk, saying that I had to wait for the dentist, and tried to continue with her generally superior attitude. I told her to just stop talking to me, that I wanted to speak to the dentist. I then stood by the window for almost an hour, watching her do basically no work. She evidently has the job through nepotism; having done her job back in Canada, I know that if you don't treat customers well, you're fired in a blink of an eye. When she began to peel an orange, I asked her if she would mind retrieving my chart while we were waiting for the dentist, since I had to return to work, and wanted to minimize any additional wait time. She began once again with the whole to-do that she needs to find me in the system by insurance. I told her that this was the first time I was visiting the office with insurance, so she could find me simply by looking under my family name. She smirked and tried to prove her case, at which point I told her once again to just stop talking to me.

Finally the dentist came. She recognized me and said, yes you're her patient, and I proceeded to tell her what had transpired. The funniest line? "Ok, she is rude, I'll speak to you and be polite". The receptionist just stood there giving the smirk and superior look. Sadly, the end result was the same: they record the SSN of everyone for billing, even when it's not necessary. As someone who recently had to close her accounts because personal information was leaked, I find that really frightening. She tried to make the case that only she knows the SSN of her patients, which, let's be honest folks, is a load of hooey. If that was the case, the receptionists wouldn't insist on you telling them that piece of information, would they? Anyhow, I politely declined, was told that my chart was already archived, and I told her that unfortunately I would be unable to remain her patient. Did I even get the piece of paper in the end that contained both my personal information and that of my husband? Most assuredly not.

The upshot is that while she is an excellent dentist, there are many excellent dentists, and for me it's more worthwhile to go to someone where the office staff is at least relatively pleasant. Let's see if I get a bill for a missed appointment anytime soon. Sigh. Perhaps the saddest part of the whole ordeal, beyond the supreme waste of time and the need for me to toe the line- was that it reminded me of what my Russian-born friend recently quipped to me about being within close proximity to non-Jewish Russians: "I moved here to get away from these people!!!" Whereas previously I viewed the whole Kings Highway to Brighton Beach scene as a fascinating snippet of sociology, I feel that I was inducted into the notorious anti-semitism festering in that group.

Wish me luck in finding a new dentist.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Operatic Meow-Meows

I'm sure that I have already mentioned the outside cats that come with my building. As all of you know, I am a sucker for animals. But recently, they have taken to behave in a way that is just too darn cute, albeit cat-like.

There are now but two adult feral cats left in the group. All the others are now in kitty heaven, (courtesy of their having lived on a very busy corner here in Flatbush), although they live on in their litters. Indeed, the kittens that are, you'll excuse the pun, dead-ringers for their deceased parent are mini version of their parent even in personality. I suppose Hashem replicates family dynamics in the animal kingdom.

I noticed recently that the grey cat set up shop on the futon that remained outside in my landlord's back yard post-Sukkot. From late morning until some point in the afternoon when its internal alarm clock sounds, there the kitty sleeps, all curled up in a circle. Being a Yekki and noting patterns, I started to look out the window every few days to see if the cat had deviated from its routine. But I suppose tzaddidim really do reincarnate into cats, because this one sure is a stickler for its schedule. Must be a Yekki tzaddik.

Anyway, this week I noted a new addition to the scene. I looked out, as usual, only to find that the other adult, a tabby, now joins the grey cat. Tabby has taken over the computer chair that is diagonal to the futon. However, Tabby is not patient with Yekki Grey cat, and so she has started to meow, meow to get Grey cat's attention intermittently. Yekki Grey cat, being a Yekki, usually ignores her. At which point, Tabby moves to the ground in front of the futon and continues the concert. When Grey cat departs, so does Tabby, like "monkey see, monkey do". What can I tell you? It's just too cute.

But then again, who am I to judge? This morning, I managed to capture the scene with my birthday gift from the husband, a camera. See for yourself.

I'm thinking I may just have to record it in video and post it on YouTube to get the full effect. Until then, hope you enjoyed this little slice of Brooklyn street culture. :p

Monday, January 5, 2009

Notes on the Trip Up

Since the details of my trip home are already fading (sniff), I figure I had better start recording them before my old brain sputters them all out to make way for other stuff.

After much contemplation, I decided to travel by train. Yes, the train ride would be in the double digits in terms of hours, but the relative comfort (human sized seats! aisles you can walk! bathrooms that are almost tolerable!) would enable me to arrive somewhat intact. The takeoff/landing of a plane and/or turbulence, or the constant lurching and hairpin turns/movements of the bus just didn't seem like a logical choice for someone with mid-section issues. Amtrak it was!

Having never travelled on Amtrak, only on Via Rail back in Canada (which is, by-the-by, extremely clean and spacious), I was a bit leery as to what was awaiting me. But Penn Station was much better than expected, and I arrived with just enough time to retrieve my tickets and be processed for Canada before getting into the long line to board.

Upon boarding I was pleased to see the general layout, and found myself a spot to nestle in. Hashem then threw me a mitzvah, in the form of a single mother and her cute-as-a-button daughter, who were unable to find seats together. Since I was the only one currently on my side of the aisle, I offered my seats and switched to the open seat behind then next to a young woman. It was a nice way to begin the trip.

All in the all, the trip up was memorable. First, it must be said how beautiful upstate New York is. I witnessed, among other things, a deer scampering across a half-frozen pond, and dozens of men out individually on frozen lakes ice-fishing. There is something particularly breathtaking about the scenery in winter: the frozen water with the brown tundra, amidst snow-covered mountains with pines adding a bit of colour to the scene. Just beautiful.

A note to other parents: the young daughter (I guess she was around 4 or so) was named London of all things. Call me sexist, but I view London as a boy's name, and Brooklyn as a woman's name. I mean, it has Lyn and Brook in it, two girls names. Whatever. In any case, she was incredibly well-behaved, and keep quiet most of the trip while she drew pictures and waited to speak to her mother in between her mother's frequent cell phone calls. In this day and age, it was nice to see a well-behaved, sweet child.

When I arrived at my fair city, I was able to catch the metro right at the train station and marvelled at how clean the system still is. Not only clean mind you- they have screens above the platform running the news and intermittently flashing the number of minutes/seconds until the next train arrives in either direction. Perhaps most incredibly, all stations had personnel to assist you, and when I asked how much I had to add onto my old ticket from my last visit, the woman allowed me to enter without adding fare. And, unlike my beloved F train, the train takes under a minute to go between stops. The end result? I was at my family's home in 15 minutes. What do you say to that, NY MTA???

That's enough reminiscing for now, lest I break out into cries of "I miss my Mommy!". And I do. Anyhow, more on the recent trip to come.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

5 Sets of Clothing

Since I had a lot of time to mull over parshah Vayigash this Shabbos (see Ah, Welcome Home), I had a thought that I considered rather "Duh", which I wanted to share regardless.

Rabbeinu Tam notes that upon dispatching his brothers home to fetch their father and respective families, Yosef presented two sets of clothing to all the brothers except Binyamin, to whom Yosef gave five sets. Given the fact that sibling rivalry was precisely the ulterior reason for the sin committed by the brothers against Yosef, commentators consider this blatant favouritism problematic. Reasons to explain the extra lavishing upon Binyamin range from the material (Aitz Yosaif / Iyun Yaacov Megilla, who state that the 5 sets were equivalent in value to the 2 sets afforded the other brothers) to the psychological (Maharasha, who states that the other brothers understood the special connection Yosef had with Binyamin since they were sons of the same mother).

I would like to pose a different explanation. Midrash describes in extended detail the efforts that Yehuda took to persuade Yosef to return Binyamin to his father, while the other brothers silently watched. The purpose of their silence is that once again, as with the sale of Yosef, the position of the brothers was aligned with that of their natural leader, Yehuda. However, unlike with the sale of Yosef, Yehuda undertook his tactics of persuasion because it was his chance to do teshuvah for having instigated the sale. In turn, the other brothers where complicit in Yehuda's teshuvah; since silence is taken as a sign of agreement, that they remained silent during Yehuda's displays of physical strength and emotional oration belies their allegiance with him in his efforts.

Moreover, the reason that Yosef subjected his brothers to trials and suffering in his dealings with them in Mitzraim was to a) ascertain whether they had purged themselves of the sibling rivalry that had caused his sale, i.e., to determine whether they were loyal to Binyamin, and b) help them do teshuvah in this world to avoid suffering in Olam Haba. Therefore, once his brothers had unequivocally done teshuvah and displayed nothing but filial devotion to his younger brother, Yosef was no longer afraid to show special affection to his only full brother, and the baby of the group.

In other words, since they had done teshuvah and effectively rid themselves of the defect of filial jealousy, Yosef correctly assumed that being lavish with their baby brother was not dangerous.

If you disagree, as usual, feel free to comment/disagree. Gut Voch!

Ah, Welcome Home!

After my 23-hour day Thursday, I was so very much looking forward to getting a long night's sleep last night. To that end, I promptly finished learning and collapsed around 8:30 PM- a reasonable hour, by Friday night standards.

Alas, my anticipated night of REM cycles was not to be. At 1:30 AM I awoke to find the apartment FREEZING. However, since the landlord controls the heat and often sets the temperature on the cooler side for Shabbos (translation- keeps the temperature a good 10-15 degrees cooler than my liking but still within the boundaries of the law), I expected that after an hour or so the heat would kick in. Such was not the case. It would seem that the heater was once again broken, as it has been in recent months on a few occasions, and the heat did not sputter on until 8:30 AM, at which point I assume they found a goy on the street to flick the necessary switch.

Since my teeth were chattering uncontrollably, despite my donning sweaters and pacing relentlessly in my apartment for well over an hour at a time, I finally decided the heck with it, said Modei Ani, and rapidly finished off all of my tea essence stash. The said tea was depleted by 7 AM, so I was most thankful that the heat returned a mere 90 minutes later. What ensued was an exhausting Shabbos, capped off this evening with my discovering that I am now running a low-grade fever. A fine Welcome Home indeed...

To end on a plus note, I managed to catch up with 4 friends over the course of the afternoon, two of whom I have only seen rarely at best since I got married. While I would have preferred to socialized with them when I was more "with it", Hashem wound up awarding me a nice Shabbos overall.

That said, I wish everyone a Shavua Tov, and I'm off to drink some tea and honey. Here's wishing everyone a wonderful week.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Back Home and...

This week has a been sparse on the posting front, but for a very happy reason: I made my first trek back to Canada since the accident 2 years ago. And, believe me, when you travel by Amtrak, trek is being kind.

The buzz of being back home is slowly wearing off, but suffice it say that home is good for me. Within a day of being there, my skin was glowing and my hair was shining like it used to prior to moving to New York. Regardless, it would seem that home makes me plain happy. All have noted what a great frame of mind Canada puts me in. My husband even commented that my eyes sparkle- in a way, I assume, that they have not in a very long time.

Since I am going on a couple of hours sleep, I will not commence the snore-fest just yet. However, I'm planning to extend my buzz a bit this coming week by posting on a bunch of events/happening of note that occurred during the trip. I hope you enjoy them.

Until then, I hope that everyone is enjoying the last few days off before the return to work/school. Shabbat Shalom!