Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chag Sameach!

As you may recall, Shavuous is my all-time favourite holiday, for numerous reasons. So to say that I'm psyched is an understatement.

Anyhow, here's wishing everyone a Chag Sameach! May we all have a happy, healthy, safe, spiritually productive chag!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Oh No They Didn't!

Tonight, I decided to finish up my designated shopping by zooming into Moishas. Surprisingly, I hit the place during a lull, and made it to the express checkout. After a couple of minutes, it became evident that the cashier was on break, yet nobody was covering the express lane and the light was still on. Just then, the manager strolled by, and told me that the aisle was in fact closed. Since I found his tone to be rather rude, I decided to point to him that if that was the case, perhaps he should shut off the light. There was a nice line forming behind me by then. So I informed everyone that the line was in fact closed, when the manager decided to throw us a bone: the cashier would be back in 5 minutes. Ok? I told him in a clear as a bell tone that I personally didn't find that acceptable but whatever.

Really, having worked my share of minimum wage jobs, I certainly understand about a cashier going on break. That was not, imho, the issue. Rather, his lack of concern for customers was the part that got my goat. Then again, with the exception of the one shop that recently opened up in our neighbourhood, one can't make a case for ANY of the shops being customer-friendly. It's like, yeah, you work hard for your money and there's not enough time in the day. But just give us the money. I suppose I'm getting old and nostalgic for when citizens were considerate of perfect strangers, let alone "loyal" customers. Welcome to Brooklyn, everyone!

Friday, May 22, 2009

It's the Company You Keep

Since I have not composed a dvar torah in a long while, I felt it high-time to record a thought on this week's parshah, Bamidbar.

In this week's parshah, we learn that the 4-line formation of the tribes around the tabernacle mimics the formation of angels around the Heavenly Throne in shemayim (Badmidbar Rabbah). In turn, the colour of the tribal flags corresponded to their tribal stones on the Choshen Mishpat. In light of these associations with the divine, the question remains: how did the formations provide insight into the core qualities of the tribes?

When we look back at the beracha that Yaacov/Yisroel bestowed upon each tribe on his deathbed, the over-arching impression is of rebuke. Here, in his final moments, a father was summarizing each of his son's various shortcomings, with the occasional allusion to a son's potential strengths. Yet the true meaning of each "rebuke" was in fact to illustrate where each son's strengths lay. To rephrase, if a given son overcame the middot that caused these previous shortcomings, the son would find strength in that same quality. It is the channeling of the given energy, and the turning a negative into a positive, which is the wish of any parent for their child. So to was this true of Yaacov/Yisroel's portraits of each tribe.

These key characteristics of the tribes carries over into their formations around the mishkan. Each line included three tribes, and these lines were the same as the ones drawn by Yaacov himself for escorting his body to Eretz Yisroel for burial (Rashi). In essence, the alignment of the tribes was prescribed by Yaacov through ruach hakodesh in alignment with the key characteristics of the various brothers. Who else but a parent is capable of recognizing which alliances between his children will reap them moral and spiritual benefit? And it is these alliances that we see alluded to in these formations.

To briefly summarize, the four formations were/are the following:
  1. Yehuda (Monarch), Issachar (Torah), Zebulun (Support of Torah)
  2. Reuven (Repentance) , Shimeon (Men of the Sword), Gad (Strength)
  3. Ephraim, Menasheh (Spiritual Strength/Descendants of the Patriarchs), Benjamin (Fearless Warrior)
  4. Dan (Hidden), Asher (Illumination), Naphtali (Beautiful [Spiritual] Sayings)
The tribe of Levi surrounded the mishkan in the centre of these formations.

What becomes apparent immediately is that in each of the four categories, the characteristic of one supports/counteracts the characteristic of the others in their respective formation (Ramban). In turn, the ranking (1, 2, 3, 4) implies the relative status of each in the klal (monarchy versus army versus commerce, and so on). Each brother played their respective part in the family's story, as it were, and together formed a cohesive unit by following their "destined" paths.

Yet how does a parent instill in a child a sense of urgency regarding their destined lot in life? How can a parent encourage their child to flourish versus throw away their ingrained strengths, chasve shalom? To paraphrase some thoughts from Rav Twerski, shlita, it is by demonstrating to each child, in the way that is appropriate for the child, what the parent feels is important. And in order for these teachings to resonate with the child, the parent must demonstrate that the parent sincerely believes in what they are espousing by consistently, genuinely remaining true to their viewpoints. By understanding that each son was unique and needed to be spoken to in a manner befitting the son's mode of understanding, Yaacov helped each son focus on their assigned mission in life. These multiple missions were in turn associated with one another, as illustrated by the formations, to help each tribe to adhere to their respective mission after Yaacov's passing.

By drawing on these lessons hopefully even in this generation, when permissiveness and indulgence runs rampant, we can nurture the generations that follow to use their individual gifts to serve the klal, and by extension, Hashem. Good Shabbos!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Baruch Dayan Emet/ Mazal Tov

In the last 24 hours I've heard news worthy of a mazal tov and a Baruch Dayan Emet. SIGH.

First, the good news! I recently got back in touch with a school friend of mine who made aliyah a while back. When we were in school together, I stayed at her house one Shabbos (I was living in the dorm), and had the pleasure of meeting her family. B'H', all but one are now married, and she is a Bubbe many times over. As for her youngest, who reached bar mitzvah the last semester of school, I recall him to be a very sweet, heimshe, bright boy. Well, I'm now officially old, because she emailed me his wedding video. It was a pleasure to behold. P, MAZAL TOV!

This afternoon I caught up with a friend of mine down south. She unfortunately informed me that a mutual friend of ours passed away right before Pesach. She said she had spoken to her two days prior, and our friend was fine and predictably in the middle of Pesach preparations. Then, in a blink, she was in the ER and never made it home. Unbelievable. Leah was so full of life, so outgoing and kind. And just like that- gone. The world has truly lost a good soul with her passing.

In light of these events, I decided I should shelve any grips I may have had throughout the day, and instead focus on feeling gratitude to be alive and well. And that, dear readers, is that. For now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Calling All Health Care Workers

I recently learned some news concerning my health. So I was thinking about visiting a physical therapist (or PT, as my university friends used to call it). If anyone could refer me to a good one here in Flatbush, I would be most appreciative.

Thanks in advance!

A Few Cases of Broken Telephone

I'm sure most of my readers played broken telephone as children. I personally loved the game, since from a very young age I understood that it was a prime example of how anything you say can be misinterpreted in a heartbeat. I was reminded of the game on all fronts this week.

Due to recent events in my personal life, I had to revise my W4. In my infinite stupidity, I figured I would go low-tech, i.e. print out the form in order to complete it. The main snafu with that method however is that my printer stopped printing back in September. And yes, that is on the top of my list of To Dos; I just need to find a day where it is not raining and I am energized enough to carry the thing 15 blocks home. Anyhow, I was going to be on Avenue J, so I planned to drop by the library and use their printer. Great right?

I arrived within an hour of closing (maybe I need to stop doing that?) and signed up for a spot. I didn't mind that I would have to wait 45 minutes for a reduced time slot. After all, how long does it take to print two pages out? But I of course ran into a few technical issues due to my card. First, the reservation terminal refused to read my card. Then, when I was finally logged onto a workstation at 5:43, my print out didn't happen. I got up to ask the librarian for assistance, and would you believe it- I was barely 3 steps away from the workstation when a woman got up and logged me off! I told her to scram, logged myself back on, and managed to get the librarian's attention upon reaching her desk. That's when she told me that in order to print, I need to go put money on my card, then go back, log back on, and redo my print.

I decided thanks, but no thanks. My question for the BPL though is the following: Why is there not a sign over the printer informing patrons that in order to print you need to have money on your card? I'm sure I wasn't the first person surprised after waiting a nice period of time...

In the end, I completed the form the high-tech way. And believe me, I think I learned my lesson.

I managed to get a hold of the landlord yesterday. He asked me why I hadn't called him sooner; he had been by the building that afternoon. To be honest, I had thought that I had heard his voice, but figured I was simply confusing all Israeli accents together, LOL. I decided to take the peaceful route, and failed to inform him that he was supposed to have called me. Instead, we made various arrangements to address the issues of repairs, rent and so forth. While I could tell he was ticked off, I'm glad we were able to hold the discussion. Too bad I had to chase him down, is all I can say.

I have more examples, but you get the idea. What can I tell you? Life, as of late, is nothing if not interesting. :p

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Weekly Funnies

I had two funny experiences on Lag B'Omer this week, the Haircut and the Quip.

The Haircut
First, I was on Kings Highway and wanted to get a haircut. The last time I had my hair professionally cut was a few years ago, shortly before I got married. I figured it was time, especially given my hair had some excess weight that I'm not adept enough to trim on my own. So I had been planning to make my way down to Adam's, which I've heard from several people provides good haircuts for a reasonable price. But as I was walking down the street after dropping off my Change of Address form, I happened upon a place with a sign: Haircuts $10+.

I walked in and knew I was in Little Moscow right off the bat. Maybe it was the massive flat-panel tv that was front and centre blaring out some kitschy Russian fare. Or maybe it was the crazy short and dyed hairdos on all the women in the joint. Yet somehow I decided that I was ready for a sociological experiment, and proceeded to ask about a haircut. I was told to hang up my coat and then go to the shampoo section.

Of course, the coat rack was overflowing, and after choosing the spot that would least result in my jacket getting covered with hair clippings, went over to the "Shampoo Girl", who was easily over 50. Yet despite her age and lack of English, she was very pleasant and agile. So far so good. Then I was waved into the hairdresser's seat and the real fun began. The woman had zero customer service intentions, and spent most of my haircut attempting to get the other workers to change the channel on the tv (I seem to be picking up a bit of Russian since I moved to Flatbush!). About 80% of the remaining time she stopped to chat with her co-workers. Her only comment to me, in fact, was to ask who had been cutting my hair because it wasn't even. When she heard me confess that I had cut my hair, she was downright derisive. But I chalked it all up to part of the sociological experiment and she wound up doing a decent job. I even didn't mind in the end when, despite my indicating I didn't want a blow-dry, which turns my curls into an '80s throwback (helmet hair, anyone?), she blew it dry anyway. It was part of the "pampering myself" theme. Although I still have to wonder why, not matter how close together I put my fingers to indicate I want a minuscule trim, they always end up lopping off a few inches...

Anyway, upon going to the cashier to pay, I was surprised when she told me it was $18. I figured the haircut would be maybe $15, what with the length of my hair and curls. So I asked how much the haircut was, since I figured she had charged me extra for the blow-dry. She repeated $18. I mentioned the sign, and she informed me that was for men's haircuts. That's when I really understood Brooklyn shopping for the first time- insist on learning the price before you do anything, and if you don't like the price, tell them so. Not that $18 isn't still a cheap haircut, but you get my point.

The Quip
Also on Lag B'Omer, when discussing about whether or not I'm moving with my landlord, he uttered a truly hysterical line. To his suggestion that I get a roommate instead of moving, I told him that I would make a lousy roommate, because I'm crying all the time. He responded by saying "Why cry? It doesn't help anything". So I told him that I guess I should be a guy, then I wouldn't cry. And that's when he said this gem:

"Oh, we men cry more than women. We just do it in the car, where no-one can see".

The man has more wisdom than he'll ever realize, it seems. :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

No Thanks

I was on the phone with movers today, and I kept thinking about the apartment I rented. And the more I thought about it, the less happy with my decision I was.

Perhaps the upshot was the window situation. There are two extremely small windows in the basement, both of which are too small to accommodate air conditioners. More to the point, they have a security bars, and would require a stool to reach them. So on top of proving to be a fire hazard, they were also looking like a real problem in terms of humidity/air quality.

I started thinking about maybe offering to pay for a locksmith to replace the bars on one of the windows with the safety security bars, ones that you push and turn to open. And then it hit me: why the heck was I planning on moving into what basically constitutes an illegal dwelling with security hazards? For the few hundred dollars extra a month I'm paying at my current residence, isn't safety and air quality worth it? Yes, I'm unemployed as of the end of the month. And yes, I'm worried about making ends meet. But shouldn't I instead be focussing on finishing my allotted hours at work and then devoting my time on unemployment to looking for work and finding a more suitable apartment?

I must admit that I was sadly disappointed that I rushed into this basement apartment. But at least the situation was reversible. I called the "new" landlady and informed her I would be picking up my cheque tomorrow. As for my current landlord, while he had arranged for new tenants, he was thrilled that I'm staying. I guess clean, quiet and conscientious is hard to find in Brooklyn, tee-hee. :p

So for now, I'm planning on staying right here, and devoting my attention to procuring work. And if I find another apartment, so be it. And if not? Heck, I can always get some Touro girl as a roommate come fall, right? But maybe it's time that I embrace my current dwelling and get used to calling it home sweet home. :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Moving Saga

Yesterday I looked at several basement apartments here in Flatbush. And let me tell you, Brooklyn is a whole different level of filthy. I mean, the proprietors had zero problem showing off their places for rent with pride, and the amassed dirt on average was truly grotesque to behold. I finally elevated a cute studio to the top of my list: it had enough room to be cozy once my essentials were in, seemed pretty private (not to mention relatively quiet), the price was decent for all-inclusive (more on that in a moment), and the place looked like it had been cleaned since last year- albeit not up to my standards, which are admittedly pretty high.

So when I heard that they accepted me as their new tenant, I was most pleased. I went over earlier to drop off the cheque for June, and that's when the groisse gedilah started. First, there would be no lease, which actually suits me fine at present. Next came the refusal to issue a receipt for my cheque. I then decided that a receipt for my security deposit would suffice. The death knell sounded when I heard that a) my mail would be delivered to the family upstairs versus me directly, and 2) the "all-inclusive" price was only in effect if I kept my use to a minimum. She even asked me if I kept my computer on all the time, and while I don't, let's face it- computers don't suck up many kilowatts.

I arrived home feeling very apprehensive, and decided to nip things in the bud by calling the new landlady. She proceeded to get most insulted at my requests, but eventually acquiesced to providing a receipt for the security deposit and a mailbox at the front of the house with my name on it. I'm still not feeling hunky-dory about the situation, but figured that you get what you pay for. Oh, and we determined that minimum cost meant less than approximately $50/ mth. That seemed fair. Of course, it goes without saying that these negotiations entailed multiple calls back and forth, including one with her husband.

Then came the parade of would-be renters at my current apartment, since I had informed my landlord earlier today of my intentions. The parade was a motley crue, who insisted on leaning on/touching everything (including my nightie, which was hanging over a chair), neglected to wipe their feet upon entering(isn't that a common courtesy anymore?), and overall lowering the sanitation level in my little slice of heaven substantially. Even after mopping the floors, and wiping down a few key surfaces (multiple times, because there kept on being "just one more" group who needed to see the place), I swear to you that my skin is still crawling. I hope the punks didn't bring in creepy-crawlies. That would just be the last straw.

In short, welcome to moving in Brooklyn. It's not treat, that's for sure. But when you're faced with no alternative, it's time to just suck it up and try to manage the best you can.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All the Mommies in Hashem's Kingdom

Chalk it up to anthropomorphism if you will, but I found this article about animal moms fascinating. Especially since two of my faves, the cheetah and the polar, made the list. :)

Happy Greeting Card Day, everyone!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Stare

When I left the house this afternoon, I was dressed a tad unconventionally for Flatbush. Not that I was dressed improperly mind you; I had the heavy stockings, sensible shoes, neutral colour, etc. Yet within one block of the apartment, going in the opposite direction to where I might actually meet people I know, I crossed paths with two wives that I know tangentially. One of them gave me a rather blank stare, although that might be attributed to the fact that she was pushing a stroller with her two youngest sons (I think she's up to child #6 at least). The other woman however, is the notorious "standards" lady. When I walked by her, in her Plain Jane sheitel and all-black garb, I got the famous Flatbush stare x 9 million.

Since she was so openly ticked off by my appearance (did I mention I was wearing a glossy lipstick? HORROR!), I decided to take pause and contemplate her reaction. First, I personally found her blatant disapproval inappropriate. Even if I had been dressed completely inappropriately, which I wasn't, what gives her carte blanche to judge me? If a major concept in yiddiskeit is accepting our multiplicity, aka ahavat yisrael, then who cares about whatever "violation" she felt I was committing. If I hold differently than her, why is it acceptable in her mind to stone me with her look? What if I had reacted by becoming embarrassed versus simply offended in my own right?

In short, it was another instance of the typically warped existence that is Brooklyn. It's either the ultra right way or the highway. But what this mindset neglects to note is that there are actually many different types of yiddin in Flatbush. Yes, most of the people in this neighbourhood are yeshivish, but not all. And to expect everyone to act yeshivish is downright insulting, not to mention elitist.

So while I suppose it's all par for the course, I just have to ask what this holier than thou attitude is accomplishing. Yes, we have an obligation to ensure that our brothers and sisters stay on the derech, but without propagating embarrassment or disharmony. And I guess it goes to show that most of the time, those who cling to standards so vehemently are simply hiding behind them. Because if they were deep-down frum, they wouldn't be ticked off by others doing differently than them. Instead, they would choose to reflect on the positive versus the negative, to give proper weight to their fellow yiddin who are, just like them, tzelem elokim.

Connect The Dots

If you think about it, the brain is a pretty amazing; it is constantly making/deleting/referencing a repository of connections to help us navigate our way through life. Most of those connections happen on an intuitive, unconscious level. But even with emotions, such connections play a large role. That's why, when you get to be my age, you're pretty much guaranteed to have a set of what we politely call "baggage".

It occurred to me earlier today that I had made an emotional connection that had, until recently, guided me to making various decisions. What's fascinating to me about this realization is that I finally see clearly how I specifically made the choices I did because the choices awarded me with comfort through the said emotional connection. So while I like to think that I'm of average intelligence, both intellectual and emotional, I was obviously unprepared until now to see that connection, rethink it, and let it go.

Of course, I now have to settle for the outcomes of the choices I have made until now, both good and bad. But I suppose that's what life if all about. So here's to recognizing associations in due time, so that health on all levels- emotional, mental, physical, spiritual- can prevail.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sad Day

Such a sad, sad day today. Maybe one day I'll be willing to talk about it. But, until then, just pass the Kleenex- and a beer while you're at it...

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Sometimes, no matter hard you try, a situation resolves in a way other than you had hoped. At such junctures, it's often difficult to come to terms with the fact that things aren't as you'd like. Indeed, most of us wind up wasting precious energy, mental/emotional/physical effort, time, and/or money at such junctures trying to force the situation to revert to an ending that's to our liking. And so, instead of surrendering ourselves to the ending that Hashem determined we deserve, we instead waste our resources trying to "control" our destiny.

But when we do so, we're really forgetting Hashem at that moment, because it is He who runs the world. How often, once we simply stop fighting and surrender ourselves to the situation that our pain and suffering is eased? How often do we realize in hindsight that the situation resolved in a way that was ultimately in our favour? And, in turn, how often do we realize that our kicking and screaming about the situation only wound up hurting ourselves?

So, here's to remembering that sometimes Hashem is saying (as our parents used to say, before it went out of fashion) "Because I said so!". Since He is the Father of Us All, who are we to change the inevitable? Try as you might, in the end Hashem's judgement always wins out-whether you like it or not...