Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reminders of Jewish Morality

I encountered two incidents in the last week that drove home how many commandments in the Torah protect us from emulating the moral shortcomings of other nations.

First, I was walking down the Avenue, and kept finding myself in shops that a particular non-Jewish woman was also frequenting. I happened to notice her because aside from her loud attire, she was yelling into the phone. As we went up the street after exiting another shop, we passed a fruit stand. She was still on the phone, but grabbed fruit from the stand and kept on walking. One of the owners happened to be outside the shop and told her she had to pay for the fruit. To which she yelled, "So call the police then". Then she continued walking, and for a full 2 blocks kept muttering loudly, "Pay for one cherry. One cherry! Damn fool!". To be honest, I was astonished that she couldn't comprehend that yes, even for one cherry- which are currently $4+ a pound- you do need to pay. If you take anything, even a pea, without paying for it, it's called stealing.

Then today I was on the metro going uptown. I made my connection and was glad to see that there was one seat available if I squeezed my little butt in between the two guys who were sitting, legs wide open, on the given bench. I consequently put my foot between them, pivoted and dropped myself into the space. Because I had put in my foot before pivoting, the men moved their legs and I was able to sit just as the train yanked itself out of the station. I had barely rested my back against the seat when a man and his female companion started in. "She doesn't say 'Excuse me', she just puts her foot there and sits down. No excuse me! Just puts her foot.", etc. etc. For 5 minutes. To be honest, perhaps I should have said "Excuse me". But in my mind, they were the ones being rude by hogging the space! In other cities, saying "Excuse me" gets you somewhere. On the MTA, good luck. Yet the irony was that, like the Cherry woman, this guy had no clue that it is actually very rude to keep your legs wide open when people are entering the train looking for a spot. But even more importantly, he felt that it was acceptable to attempt to publicly humiliate/embarrass me. Not that he succeeded, but the difference between his mindset and the frum mindset (aka that embarrassing someone is tantamount to murder) was apparent.

Let's just say that I'm really glad that I'm a Jew right now.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Antidote to Anti-Semitism

A quick note on Parshah Balak, in honour of the bar mitzvah of my friend's eldest son (Mazal Tov!).

In Parshah Balak, we read how the King of Moav (Balak) summons the national prophet Bilaam to curse Bnai Yisroel. The Parshah then ends with the recounting of the episode involving Zimri and Cozbi.

The question that comes immediately to mind is why Balak summoned Bilaam at all. The Moavim knew that Hashem had commanded to refrain from attacking Moav (Devarim 2:19,19). Logically then, there should have been no fear of attack. Instead, Balak is so unnerved sheer magnitude of the approaching nation that he forms an allegiance with Moav's sworn enemies, the Midyanites, in an attempt to take down Bnai Yisroel (Rashi).

Morevoer, who was Bilaam? Bilaam was a relative of Lavan, from whom he learned black magic (Midrash/Zohar). It was, in fact, from Lavan that Bilaam learned how to discern the precise time of day when Hashem sits in judgement. By issuing a curse at that moment, Bilaam was able to obtain an unfavourable ruling from the Heavenly Court upon the cursed individual(s). That Bilaam is eager to curse the Jews indicates how he, like Lavan, enjoyed inflicting misery upon Hashem's people.

So what is really going on here? From the incident of Bilaam and Balak we learn how anti-semitism operates: an irrational fear/hatred of yiddin incites a rationalisation for one's hatred, and in turn, serves to justify in the anti-semite's mind any anti-semitic action s/he takes.

Yet, as always, Hashem provides the antidote to the problem with problem. Thus, we see that due to the piety of the Bnai Yisroel, Hashem was unable to find fault with them, and in turn cause Bilaam to bless instead of curse three times. As we know, the number 3 is a number with positive spiritual ramifications: Three Patriarchs, Three Matriarchs, Three Annual Festivals, etc. In Parshah Balak, with each attempt to curse, the given blessing that Balak utters proves greater than the previous blessing.

To underscore this point, the parshah ends by recounting the story of Zimri and Cozbi. Because of his supreme hatred of Bnai Yisroel (not to mention a blatant display of self-interest that is consistent with the legacy of Lavan), before leaving after issuing the curses, Bilaam attempts to curry favour (and monetary compensation) from Balak by telling the latter how to cause Bnai Yisroel's downfall. That Pinchas stops the plague by killing Zimri and Cozbi underscores that zealous adherence to Hashem's moral code (versus falling prey to moral squalor, i.e. consorting with the Midiyanite and Moavite women), we can continue to merit Divine Protection as individuals and as a nation.

Good Shabbos.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Long Time Coming

Since I have become more lenient recently in my frumkeit, I felt it was high time to write a post on the circumstances that lead to my frying out.

As I have highlighted in previous posts ad nauseum, I grew up extremely modern. We kept everything, but I wore t-shirts and jeans, and attended Hebrew school several times a week in tandem to going through public school. We belonged to a Modern Orthodox shul, and whenever I went there (aka Shabbos and Yom Tovim), I felt the glory and splendour of Hashem in both the services and in the respect that people showed to being in shul (read: no kids running amok and total silence during davening). The net result was that while I felt free to be me, I also possessed a profoundly strong, warm, and emotional connection to Hashem.

I first went to a Litvish shteibel as a teenager. The experience was startling; everything struck me as severe and rather cold, from how people dressed to the matter-of-fact drone of the davening. It basically looked like people were simply going through the motions in order to do what was right, what was expected. Granted, when I went to the Rebbetzin during the week wearing pants, she never said a word. And when I helped her in the kitchen preparing the shteibel’s Kiddush every week, she would occasionally smile a broad smile that shocked me with its warmth. Yiddishkeit was suddenly a complex thing.

As a Yekki, I am never going to be the profoundly spiritual, hippie-dippie type. But that lack of *joy* that I felt when keeping Shabbos as per the Litivish shul created a lack, a void within me. In stark contrast to my personal connection to Hashem, which had hereto been a source of wonder and strength for me, the definition of what was proper as per the rebbeim left me cold and unfulfilled.

So by the time I got to university, you could describe my mindset as being that of "frumkeit is the right thing to do". I did not obtain greater fulfillment by attending the Modern Orthodox Machmir shul in my speck of Small Town Canada. Indeed, the general atmosphere at MOMS was of civil tolerance for deviance from their norm. I recall spending one seder where the hostess took me aside after the meal and gave me stockings (from Israel! It’s a mitzvah to support Eretz Yisroel!) so that I could wear a skirt next time. While well-intentioned and certainly understandable given my having worn dress pants to her house, let's be honest: frumkeit began to feel a bit oppressive. Too many negatives, not enough positives. All these machmir stuff was getting in the way of my love of Hashem.

And so, gradually, unexpectedly, I began to find my personal relationship with Hashem, in jeopardy. I consequently took the course of action that I felt would best preserve my relationship with Him- I ditched being frum. A most misguided decision it was.

Yet at least I remained consistent. When did I begin to return to frumkeit? After spending a good week or so truly doubting whether Hashem existed. That scared me straight, as they say, and I began actively seeking out ways to become more anchored community (I attended shul during my frydom, but sporadically). The rest is, of course, history.

So why am I sharing this with you now? Because of late, I have been feeling the same degree of discomfort against all the chumrahs and so forth that disillusioned me to the point of jumping overboard. So you will excuse me if, both now and in future posts, I dwell more on cultivating my relationship with Hashem in a way that is personally meaningful to me. Because I can guarantee you that saying Tehillim and all the other frummie frumstein avenues posited around these parts will fail to net the desired effect for yours truly.

And the alternative is not a road I wish to travel down a second time!

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Note on My Local Library

So yes, the BPL is planning on closing several branches and reducing hours across the board. Perhaps my experience with my local branch yesterday demonstrates why. It's called lack of customer service.

First, for some unfathomable reason, my new branch does call my home phone, as specified under my account preferences to indicate that my holds are ready. However, their automated system fails to leave a message. I have subsequently become familiar with all of their numbers in order to note when my holds become available.

Next, upon entering the branch to pick up my hold yesterday, I decided that I would only take one of my two holds. I proceeded to the Customer Service Desk to check out the one book and return the one I would be relinquishing.

As I arrived at the Desk, one of the volunteers took a patron's card and checked out all of her holds. Such was not my luck. No, instead I was served by Mr. Lazy, who attempts at all costs to avoid working by turning your attention to any and every automated gizmo available. Since the scanners at the Self-Checkout at my branch tend to fail when reading my card, you can imagine some of my previous dealings with him.

I gave him my card and indicated which book I would be checking out and which I would be returning. He proceeded to waste 3 minutes on why I should use the Self-Checkout and that he would help me this time only because the library wasn't busy. I then told him that I had heard his sermon in the past, he needn't bother showing me how to use the Self-Checkout as I had tried and failed in the past, and he should simply check out my book in order to save time. To his repeated grumbling I let out an audible: This is why branches are closing. Lack of customer service! He said it was due to people not paying their taxes.

Of course, he proceeded to check out both of my books, to which I told him the precise reason why I came to him was because I only wanted the one book. His response? To have me go put it in the Return bin.

Listen, if people found friendly, helpful staff (ah, the librarians of my youth!), perhaps they would want to frequent the library more often. Maybe not, but certainly, getting attitude and having to service everything yourself is annoying. I pay my taxes. Now give me some service!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

To Tell or Not To Tell

As could be expected from residing in Brooklyn, my "new" place poses its share of neighbourly challenges. There is the schizo cat collector downstairs, the dysfunctional Israelis behind, and my upstairs neighbour. It is the last party who inspired this post.

The stated woman is the epitome of petite: she stands perhaps 5 ft tall, possesses a tiny frame, and has delicate features. What accentuates her diminutive size beyond anything, however, is the fact that I see her flitting up and down the stairs with her huge black lab. The dog, if rendered vertical, stands taller than and weighs significantly more than his owner.

Now why might I care, you are asking yourselves? Because the said dog, one Jose, is left leash less during these ventures in and out of the building. My neighbour is delusional enough to believe that she can control Jose with a simple call of "NO". You will note that I say call, as Jose scampers ahead of his owner, glad to be free of his two bedroom pen. Indeed, whenever I have met Jose and his matron, it is because Jose has come within an inch of me before his owner tells him to stay and what not. She actually got offended after one early run-in when I told him "No". I mean really- how much longer was she going to wait to issue the command? Yet whenever I have seen her after the stated incident, she gives me the lemon eye!

Since I am invariably clothed in either work or Shabbos attire during such encounters, I am getting rather annoyed. I run into them at least a few times a month, and her iciness towards me on top of friendly Jose practically jumping on me each time is wearing rather thin.

So I am contemplating asking the super to post a sign in the lobby advising owners to please leash their dogs. Thoughts? Suggestions?

Monday, June 14, 2010

What's a Girl to Do?

I once informed someone who was contemplating divorce: "You have no idea what divorce does to you spiritually". In short, contemplate staying married, because the spiritual ramifications of divorce are quite dire.

What I was referring to in that long-ago conversation is how,post-divorce, you typically get to a point within the first year where your tayvahs come to the fore. Indeed, it happens in such a linear fashion that you unconsciously start questioning where you have been holding and start adopting all types of koolahs. To wit- my current trading in of stockings and long skirts in favour of ankle socks and knee-length skirts, not to mention my wearing pyjamas instead of a nightgown if my laundry situation permits.

Granted, according to many poskim, my wardrobe choices are 100%permissible. Still, I cannot help but heave a sigh of relief that my shenanigans seem to have stopped there, because I know plenty of divorcees who became full-on pleasure seekers. I have even known a handful that frequent clubs of the "exclusive, adult-only" ilk. (Shudder.) Still, I wonder/worry about just how much further down the road I might wind up going.

Motzei Shabbos, during a bout of insomnia (and fueled by my neighbours' audible argument concerning a particular shidduch), I read online that it is an aveirah if you do not wish to marry. Now, while I assume there is some leeway for persons such as myself that are recently divorced, I had to question my present mindset. After all, do I want to remarry? Do I rush to fulfill that unspoken expectation from the frum community? No. Instead, if my mind happens to even go there (which is basically never these days), I see such a situation transpiring only many, many, many, many (you get the idea) years from now. In short, I can hardly state that my objective is to get married anytime in the foreseeable future. Heck, given my apathy towards dating, the venues left for "finding my basheret" basically include the sidewalk, street corner, metro or shop. Mind you, given my track record, maybe that's not a terrible thing...

To be honest, the most troubling aspect of my single status is that I have zero interest in dating because I have zero interest in dealing with men. Sometimes even my male friends manage to peeve me off due to their male mindset/behaviour. Moreover, since spent my 30s navigating the gender divide, I am ready for an extended break from it. Additionally, the dating pool that I dove into twice before is not exactly offering me anything new and enticing. That renders the prospect of dating and remarrying even more unappealing.

Thus, while I am thoroughly enjoying 1. being single, and 2. devoting my limited energy and resources to yours truly (for the first time in my life), should I be worried? Is the impetus for my behaviour simply self-nurturing or does it stem from a more insidious, evil source?

I suppose only time will tell. In the meantime, I am attempting to straddle the divide between spiritual vigilance and a life that I enjoy living. Since the universal enemy of yiddin is the yetzer hara, and in turn every yid faces the same challenge, that approach is pretty much all I can expect to do, for now.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"I'm a Mommy First"

On my way to work today, I witnessed a familiar scene: two mommies on their porch steps, adorned in tichel and tights and their favourite accessory- their children. As I walked by, their conversation was utterly predictable, namely what time little Shmueli went to bed last night and what time he woke up this morning. I was mentally thankful that I had missed the required discussion of his bowel movements.

Now I believe that it is only natural that a woman's primary focus be her children, except perhaps when her spouse is present. And I also understand that mothers need to discuss what is happening with their children with other mothers. There seems to be an inherent need to benchmark what is normal and to seek out advice with parenting issues or concerns. More to the point, due to the fact that parenting is the world's most difficult occupation, like any worker, a mommy needs support. She needs to gripe to someone in a similar position. Fair enough.

So, while I am not myself a parent, I can empathize with the impetus for the witnessed scene. That said, it would seem that mothers fall into one of two camps:
  1. Those who identify themselves solely as a mommy, i.e. being a mother becomes their sole reference point for who they are.
  2. Those who remain individuals despite having children.
In other words, some mothers retain a self-image of themselves that goes beyond being a mother; others do not. Where the frum world is concerned, at least in Brooklyn, you do tend to encounter the "I'm a Mommy" group frequently. In a way, how could you not? After all, this self-image is an extension of the Torah concept that a woman's primary role is as teacher and caregiver of her children.

Still, when you read someone's online dating profile and the first sentence is "I'm a mommy first", doesn't that make you feel just a tad sorry for any guy she may date? Maybe she is capable of making room in her life for a man, but the sentence does not create that impression. To be fair, my view on relationships-any relationship, be it with your spouse or with your children- is that you remain separate entities who come together and form a common ground called The Relationship. By definition, a relationship is the connection between one part or entity to another.

Growing up, I never once heard my mother discussing my bowel movements or other features of my development with guests, friends, or family. Rather, topics discussed included the arts and culture, with the men veering off on occasion to discuss the economy or politics in a light-hearted fashion. So when I witnessed that the majority of conversation on the women's side of the mechitzah revolved around their children (or outfits for their children's simchas, if they were already grandparents), I was dismayed. I recall distinctly telling my first husband that I *hated* the kiddush at our shul, because there was only so much patience I could muster for sheitel and baby talk.

Recently I went to a family for Shabbos. The hostess had been in a high-powered position prior to getting married and having children. On the one hand, she seemed to be very proud of her previous career, yet on the other, she was now compensating by making her entire life about her children. As she had been involved in arts and culture, I tried to converse with her on those topics. She responded by ignoring my attempts and instead telling me what age each of her children had been potty-trained. Indeed, she spent 99% of the time I was in her house ignoring me and instead playing with her children or otherwise occupying their space. By the end of the evening, my impression was of a woman who had made her children her top priority, to the detriment of herself, her children, and her marriage.

Thus, while parenting is an all-consuming job, one where a mother can feel overwhelmed and require support, I worry about the women who seem incapable of remaining a self-contained person after having children. Because it strikes me as unhealthy to not have any concept of yourself beyond someone else, even your children (the ten-cent psychological term for that phenomenon, by the way, is co-dependency). So, while a child is naturally co-dependent to a degree on their parent, I cannot say that the reverse is necessarily productive, for either the child or the parent.

But then again, I am not a mommy, right? What do I know?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I'm Becoming Dumb

Between my mind-numbing new job and my lack of time to read, my spelling has deterioriated. Lately I actually have to pause and contemplate the potential spelling of certain words. Sure, I inevitably remember, but still.

I would qualify this as an intellectual emergency, no? Time to start refreshing the old noggin' with some of those library books, methinks!

Bring on the Ts!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of eating Shabbos lunch with a family whose acquaintance I made recently. They are a fave of mine already due to their refreshing take on Brooklyn frumkeit, i.e. we concur on the topic. :)

After lunch, the hostess and I retired to the couch in order to talk away the afternoon, as has become our custom. She then reminded me of a tznius point that I had long forgotten, due to my current surroundings.

Next year her daughter is entering a modern high school out-of-town. Her daughter is thrilled that she can now wear shirts to the elbow and show her collar bone. I then recalled how, when I was returning to frumkeit after my time off the derech, I had a conversation with a fellow shul-goer who was "notorious" in the community; she was an FFB, had been raised ultra-chassidish, and became modern as a result. She would, in fact, turn up at shul in short sleeves, and despite the shul being full of fry yiddin (who everyone knew wore shorts the rest of the week- men and women alike), people went tsk-tsk.

In short, yesterday's conversation triggered my recall that she once gave me a beautiful short-sleeve shirt and told me that there are different definitions of tznius. I had worn the short-sleeve shirt on a few occasions (it had a very conservative line and fell halfway to the elbow), but sensing the community's disapproval, I stopped wearing the offensive item. My biggest concern at that period in my life was the concept of tznius that one should blend in with the rest of the community, i.e. the point of tznius is to not stick out, whatever your surroundings. That is actually the same reason why, while I initially worn hats post-Marriage #1, I started wearing a sheitel when attending a Chabad shul.

Anyhow, my new friend reminded me that the minimum standards of tznius are as follows:
  • Armpits must be fully covered at all times
  • The top of knees must be covered when sitting down
  • Closed shoes can be worn without stockings/socks
  • Open toe shoes should be worn with at least an ankle sock, if not more.

I gave a very hearty mental cheer, let me tell you. Especially given the current heat wave.

To be fair, I was wearing stockings over Shabbos, because I had expected to visit an ultra-Yeshivish friend of mine, and I wanted to respect her standards. In short, I am not advocating rocking the boat and wearing something deliberately to rebel and make others uncomfortable. I would not, for example, go stocking-less to a Yeshivish school or Yeshivish host/hostess. That would be disrespectful and, in turn, completely inappropriate behaviour.

But having been reminded of a minimum that I can live with, I do not see why I need to hold to a more stringent standard when I go about my business. Shopping, visiting modern/open-minded friends, lounging at home, etc.- under such circumstances, I should be allowed to wear the minimum.

To put it differently, I will respect your standards when I am in your home. Therefore, please respect my standards when you encounter me on the street/in my realm.

Now, who wants to go with my to Conway to check out their collection of killer graphic Ts?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Look

Yesterday during my train ride home from Manhattan, a guy stared at me for a good part of the trip. He was, naturally, a goy and I was, to be fair, all dolled up in a suit and makeup. Still, it got me thinking...

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I noticed two related, yet equally perplexing inter-gender phenomena/rituals: As a woman walking down the street, if I
  • Wished a male "Good Shabbos", he didn't respond.
  • Approached a male on the sidewalk ,the man would look up at the sky or otherwise make a grand display of not looking at me.
(Granted, some of them probably weren't looking, if my getting pushed over on the sidewalk/into the gutter when they passed is any indication).

My ex-husband used to say to me, "Don't worry. They look! All men look". :) But I will admit that these encounters continue to disturb me. Perhaps my reaction is due to my never having had such an experience before moving to Brooklyn. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am mildly insulted by the experience.


When you begin to live in the hermetically-sealed environment that is ultra-frum Brooklyn, you begin to notice that there is, like it or not, an "Old Boys" mentality to the men. It permeates everything, from when you're doing your shopping to when you are at work to when you attempt to park your car at the end of the day. Men rule here.

Now, I go on record as saying that I like men to be men and women to be women; I am most comfortable when in a traditional feminine role. Indeed, I have zero interest in the "freedoms" of feminism, because I find feminism to be a flawed ideology that has actually worsened women's lot. Instead, I want to be equal with a man but remain a woman. Hopefully you can grasp the distinction without labelling me "oppressed". :) But despite yiddishkeit's innate equality between genders, gender inequality does exist around these parts.

As a result, when the men do their song and dance pretending that I am invisible, I feel that inequality. And when they don't move out of the way, but rather expect me to step aside! Well,that actually upsets me. I may be a woman, but there's no excuse for chivalry to be dead.

You can consequently imagine that now, almost 5 years into living in Brooklyn, it comes as a surprise when non-Jewish men look at me on the street (or cat call, depending on their culture, lol). And while yes, I am being acknowledged in a way that is sexual and therefore not empowering, I *am* being acknowledged. In short, is the act of frum men ignoring me any more respectful than the non-Jewish men staring/making comments?The answer is no.

I guess it would be fair to say then that if I were choose how I prefer to be disrespected, it would be in the goyishe style. Because I just don't buy the claim that pretending I am invisible is actually about tznius. Jewish men may sing the praises of the righteous woman layl Shabbos, but you will note that in order to sing her praises, they are acknowledging she exists.

So stop pretending you don't see/hear me, guys. Because the nicest take on it is that you're being rude. And the last thing we yiddin need is more fodder to be twisted into "evidence" of the misconception that Judaism is misogynist. At least, that's my humble opinion.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hi Ho, Hi Ho...

I will admit it- I was quite resentful that I had to work Memorial Day. Granted, my mind told me that I was being unreasonable. If you factor in my getting all the chagim and Chol HaMoed off, then that more than compensates for my working all legal holidays.

Of course, understanding that I needed a mental adjustment didn't make it any easier to drag myself to work today; I was literally the only person I know who had to work the holiday. So there I sat, finding work to do and otherwise feeling sorry for myself as I got through a quiet phone day. I left promptly at 5:15, when the cleaning lady finally departed and I was able to lock up.

My attitude evaporated when I opened the door to my apartment post-6 PM. I would even go so far as to say that I practically fell on my knees in gratitude to Hashem for having sent me to work this morning. Turns out the Israeli family that lives behind my building was having a colossal birthday party. The noise level was, as is their custom,deafening.

Now let me tell you, it took a lot of energy to tolerate the vibrations/noise until things finally wound up at 10 PM. All I can say is, 4 hours of the experience was plenty; if I had been required to endure the tactile intrusion from the party's start (which I place at early-to mid- afternoon, given where they were in the BBQ when I arrived home), I would have probably resorted to filing a noise complaint. Because people, there is socialising/holding a party, and then there is having the noise from your get-together affect the ability of your neighbours to function.

So a hearty TODAH HASHEM for dispatching me to work this morning. You saved me, the Israelis and their guests, and Brooklyn's finest a whole lot of trouble! Say it with me, everyone: Gamze L'Tovah!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Boy

About a month ago, I had a 3 minute conversation with "A Boy" recommended by the Yeshivah Rav (see A Tall Order). He seemed like a nice enough sort, but really just rang to decide how we would communicate. Since it had taken him a week after the Rav gave him my number and our schedules seem mutually exclusive, we hit upon emailing for the time being.

So we exchanged a "breaking the ice" email, and so far, still good.
But during that initial 90 second exchange, I got a "vibe". Then , dafka, the next day the Rav rings to see how "things are progressing". I told him that we had only just spoken the day before. "What, he just called you?", the Rav said. Instead of saying "Hey, he obviously doesn't make dating a priority", I just muttered a mmmm-hmmmm. Then I asked the Rav if "the Boy" had ever been married for.

No, of course not! And there I found myself, set up with yet another guy who was (well) into his 40s and never married. Not a very palatable option, given my history.

Then a week goes by, and I hear zippo. Same thing the next week. Granted, I would have been lukewarm at best if he had made contact. Finally I get a long email from him, stating we must have had a "miscommunication", he thought I would call him, but he's been oh so very busy (and listed all the various simchas he was involved in during the previous weeks).

I then became royally ticked. Here's a guy who makes dating a low priority, but convinces himself that the real issue is miscommunication and that he's been incredibly busy. I quipped to a friend of mine that he should save everyone the trouble and stop pretending he's marriage material. She, in turn, stated that the "logical" way of viewing his email is that he was simply explaining why he hadn't contacted me. She made me feel, like everyone else involved in "shidduchim" that I was being unreasonable.

Yet I remained skeptical, because, let's face it, I'm pretty much damaged goods at this point. One thing I have learned is that sometimes, you just can't give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Sure enough, he still couldn't find time to email me after I responded to his "miscommunication" email. Indeed, the pattern has been that he takes 1-2 weeks each time to respond.

By the end, I decided to stop being diplomatic, and just put the truth out there: Sorry buddy, but I am really not interested in dating, because I have zero interest in getting married in the near future. If only everyone was honest about their intentions, eh?

The kicker? He urged me to not wait too long to date, and wants me to keep him in mind when I do. Why? Because he has gotten the impression that I'm a fun, kind, giving type of girl. I of course refrained from mentioning that he only seemed interested because I was taking myself off the market. If he had gotten such a favourable impression, why not pursue our relationship a bit more fervently? We can all surmise the psychological reasons; I needn't bore you by itemizing all that gibberish.

So, my sincere apologies to my friend, but it would seem that my gut instinct proved correct on this one. And, for the foreseeable future, I am looking forward to fully focusing my attention on me and getting my life back to how it used to be.

I am, after all, worth it!
Wish me luck, y'all!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I went to the doctor recently, and he diagnosed me with a few syndromes. After all that I've been through medically the last few years, believe you me, I was thrilled to locate a doctor who gave me an actual diagnosis; instead, most doctors I've seen related to my current issues have told me it's "all in my head" - versus simply acknowledging that they don't understand what's going on with me (due to their own medical incompetency). While in his office, the doctor drew blood to get a snapshot of my health before sending me for some extensive testing.

As it had been over a week since his office sent in the blood work, I rang his office the other day to ensure that I could go ahead and book the tests. Oh no, said the medical assistant. My blood work is a horror. Not only am I in seriously bad shape (chasve shalom), but they need to run several more tests, to rule out some pretty serious stuff. I was, quite frankly, shocked.

Now surely, I understand intellectually that my body's inability to absorb nutrients adversely affects my health. In fact, I have finally accepted that I will most probably never regain the level of health I had prior to my car accident(chasve shalom [again]). But to get the news that I was already in the health dumpster? Pretty harsh news, to say the least.

I am now in the midst of taking all necessary measures to address each medical issue. And I can't say that I'm not nervous; both the best case and worst case scenarios they're positing aren't good. Yet I'm remaining positive, following my general strategy of remaining optimistic until I have concrete evidence that I should tone down the optimism.

After all, in life, you've got to roll with the punches. And where will being all Eeeyore-ish get me anyway, even if I did decide to be all "it's my birthday and nobody remembered"? Not very far, that's where. Better instead to be a Tigger, trust in Hashem no matter what the outcome, and hope for the best.

It is, after all, His World, B'H".

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Count with Me

I am now notorious.

I went shopping at my local pharmacy and the cashier that checked out my items said "I know you" with a laugh. Well, I remember her as well. :)

A few weeks ago, I shopped at the said pharmacy with a rain cheque. Actually, since the given shop almost always runs out of sale items by the time I go shopping on Sunday, I typically have rain cheques when they ring up my purchases.

However, the rain cheque that day was unusual. Rather than stating a sale price, the rain cheque was for 40% of the regular price. I had the same cashier as I did today, and she said, "Oh, I'm not good with math". She called the assistant manager. While we were waiting, I said to her, "Look, 10% of $21.99 is $2.19, right? So $2.19 x 4 = $8.76". She said, no that wasn't right.

By then, the assistant manager arrived. I went through my calculations again with her. She said, no, it should be something like $18. When I started doing my calculation yet again, the cashier decided they should call one of the guys from the back. "_____ is good at math", said the cashier; "_____ is real smart", said the assistant manager. They decided to call both guys to the front to assist.

Mr. Good with Math said it should be $7-ish. I started yet again chanting out loud, when Mr. Smart decided to whip out a calculator. He announced that I was right. The assistant manager then said that no, I had been saying $8.76, when the amount was $13.23.

That's when I realised: I had been stating the amount to be deducted from the full price. So I said to her "I'm sorry, I wasn't clear: I meant that we needed to subtract $8.76 from the original price". She then softened and we all made nice. We had both been right. ;)

Now the part of this whole saga that disturbed me is that these were all college-age workers. That they had gone through the New York school system and remained unable to do basic calculations in their head was, well, shocking. Maybe I'm naive, but that it should have taken 4 workers 10 minutes to calculate what to charge me is a complete disgrace. At fifteen, my very first job involved bookkeeping. And you'd better believe there were no digital devices involved: I calculated in my head or by long-hand.

To their credit, the people who work at the pharmacy are really nice. Certainly more cordial than another pharmacy on Kings Highway, which shall remain nameless. So while it's selection may not be on par with yet another pharmacy on Kings Highway, the rain cheque pharmacy remains my preferred shopping location. Why deal with snippy cashiers if you can deal with nice ones?

Still, where the 3 Rs are concerned, I think Mr. Bloomberg might want to reconsider that teacher budget cut he just announced, if my experience that Sunday is any indication. Because do we want another generation of New Yorkers who are handicapped where basic life skills are concerned? I sure hope not...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Laugh Too Much

A tidbit from my weekly shopping expedition.

I was in the pet shop, getting tchatchkis for Ms. Furry Furball. As I was waiting for the cashier to ring up my purchases, there was a boy playing with a dog toy. The toy emitted an obscene and annoying sound, as the boy squeezed the toy at least a dozen times.

Since the sound was so bizarre, I kept laughing. And while the cashier rang up my purchases, he rolled his eyes. I said "That sound could get annoying" and laughed again.

After he finished up with me, a woman came into line behind me. Inexplicably, the cashier walked away with my receipt. So I stood there waiting for him to return. It was during this minute or so that the woman spoke to me:

"You laugh a lot".

I realised that she was offended and I tried to figure out why. Then it occurred to me that perhaps the boy was her son, and she didn't like that I had been laughing. So I said "The toy makes a funny sound" and laughed a bit again. She hadn't taken the bait.

"It's funny to you?"

At which point I had the seichel to just ignore her.

What I found interesting about the entire exchange is that she was so offended. How could she interpret my laughing as an affront to her son? It seemed bizarre. But even more to the point, it was obvious that she is so miserable that she deemed me a nutcase because I could laugh at something so simple as a dog toy.

It occurred to me then that people in New York don't laugh. In my hometown, people laugh a lot. I suppose it's part of our mentality; you laugh off all the absurdities that come at you in life versus getting all tied up in a knot. Evidently Ms. Pet Shop hadn't learned that skill yet. And how sad for her.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Resumes and What Not

It would seem that more than on Rav at the yeshiva is involved with shidduchim. In fact, during his last stay in America, none other than the top poo-bah spent several hours of his (and my) time contacting one donor whose children are "in shidduchim".

One email that was involved in this mission included on those "resumes" that I had kept hearing about the last 4 years. A question that had always plagued me was, what type of resume could a 19 year-old have? What exactly were the contents of such a resume? Well folks, that there mystery was solved today.

It turns out that these all-important documents, which parents put together with much heartfelt anguish and concern, contains nothing more than:
  • a list that includes the names and ages of the shidduch's family members (mother, father, siblings),
  • a description of the child's personality and core middot, and
  • a few quotes from people who know the child describing him/her
Given my (extensive, lol) experience with both dating and shadchanim, I was left with the strong impression that "the resume" was a wasted exercise. What is the relevance of this document? What information of value does it provide the reader? Yes, understanding where the child fits in the family is good information. And yes, it certainly is feel-good to have acquaintances say complimentary things.

But in the end, how much better do you really know the given person by having read this two-pager? So while I understand that the purpose of the document is supposedly to provide a summary of the "boy" or "girl" so that one can evaluate them for a potential match, I would have to weigh in by saying that unless more details of substance are added, one needn't lose too much sleep over their resume.

Because at the end of the day, they all read the same anyway. And isn't that the point? We wouldn't want our son or daughter to sound unique, after all! ;)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cool Rav

Since I moved to Brooklyn, no matter which shul I attended, I stuck with one Rav in particular for my numerous shailahs.

One of the reasons why I like the given Rav so much is that, for a Gadol, he has an excellent sense of humour. More to the point, he's a straight shooter; if what you're asking is a problem, he'll just tell you. And, while he's doing so, he'll even give you a very brief explanation of why. Efficient and educational. My type of guy.

So tonight while cooking I ran into a confusing situation, as often happens when you are trying to balance both milchig and fleischig in a small apartment kitchen. As luck would have it, the incident occurred during the last 30 minutes of the Rav's phone time. So I rang him and behold! I actually got through!

I explained my situation and apologised for calling but wondered if there might be a problem. "Not really", he said, and proceeded to explain why in under 15 seconds. And thus, he calmed my fears and gave me food for thought while remaining amusing to boot (his tone when he said "Not really" was hilarious).

Definitely a keeper. :)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Plugged In

Now that I'm working in a yeshivah, I feel like I'm plugged into the yeshivish community. More to the point, the community is suddenly incredibly accepting of me. Because whereas previously, when asked "What do you do?", people were befuddled by my response; they became perplexed because my unusual job prevented them from easily categorizing me.

Now, because people know the yeshivah and recognize my job title, they accept and remember me. Indeed, my first day back to work after Pesach, one of the Rebbeim mentioned that he had run into someone at mincha who had eaten a meal with me. Funny thing is, I don't remember eating with the person in question, but they remembered everything about me- name, workplace, place of origin. I guarantee you that such instant recognition was lacking in my pre-yeshivah employment period.

I understand that most people are only comfortable with what they know. Therefore, when faced with an unknown commodity, they try to find a connection to something familiar. That’s why, for example, people will ask you ultra-personal questions within seconds of meeting you (“Where are you from?”, “What do you do?”, “Where did you go to school?”, “Do you have kids?”, “Are you looking for a shidduch?”, etc.). I find these questions offensive, but I understand that they, having grown up within a very narrowly-delineated corridor, do not mean to be rude; rather, they are hoping to find a common meeting point, an opening into their world of experience.

Now, suddenly, I am perceived as run-of-the-mill. And the benefit to that is I am no longer asked impossibly rude questions.

It’s all good…

Monday, April 19, 2010

No Slits! Bare Calves!

Since my recent move, I found myself making the acquaintance of several new families, B'H'. And while I certainly love ad infinitum my existing roster of friends, I have been feeling the need to be more sociable and expand my social network. You know- become known in my new neighbourhood.

So there I found myself the last days of Pesach at yet another new family and was being my usual chatterbox self. In attendance was a large family, all 3 generations of them. I was busy playing Jewish Geography with the grandmother ("Do you know so-and-so from X community?"), who was attired like a real Bubbe: calf-length skirt and matching grandmotherly blazer, tights, and orthopedic shoes. In the midst of our tossing names/places around, I mentioned that when I lived down south, the communities were very open/accepting. Case in point, one Young Israel had a yeshivish Rav, yet the women in his congregation could come with a sunhat and short-sleeves and nobody would blink or comment. I said that such openness wouldn’t fly in Brooklyn.

When the topic ventured into the territory of skirt slits, things got particularly interesting. I noted that I had never understood why, if I had sewn up the slit on a skirt so that the slit is far below the knee, i.e., a few inches from the ankle, the slit was still deemed unacceptable. The Bubbe then crinkled her face into that "I'll be nice and educate you, poor thing" expression. She proceeded to tell me that once, at a shiur, the Rebbetzin had explained that it was because of how the fabric moved (when the skirt features a slit). When she said "moved", the Bubbe gestured with her hands to drive home the point as she gave me a meaningful look.

Did I mention that the long skirt I was wearing had a slit in it? :p

I must admit that it took every ounce of effort in my being to keep from erupting in convulsions of laughter. And then, to add to the carnival, the hostess concurred by proclaiming for all to hear that nobody thinks slits are okay. I think I deserve an award for maintaining decorum under such circumstances. But as a Yekki, when you're a guest in someone's home, the only acceptable reaction to anything is respect and politeness. I am proud that I stayed true to my Yekkish upbringing.

On an ending note, a second tale from the last days. I went to my long-time friend's house, and she was livid. Turns out she had spent the morning running around trying to hear 1. Yizkor, 2. Bircat HaKohanim. During her shul hopping, she wound up at one place where there is a small hallway when you enter the women's entrance with two doors; each door leads to a different shul. The one shul is ultra yeshivish, while the second is modern. Guess which shul she wound up in? Meanwhile, she was steaming mad because when she made it to the yeshivish shul after going to the modern one, the Rav was busy talking about tznius. Her point? That he should lecture to the ladies in the shul across the hall; my friend found it, quote, disgusting that women could go to shul without their legs covered. I was pleased that her daughter reminded her that "that is the type of shul it is", i.e. modern. If you don't like it, don't go there!

And that basically sums up my view of both stories. There are numerous flavours of frumkeit, some more lenient than others. Hold where you want to hold, but do not slam others for holding differently. If you disgree, then think for a moment about how the Beit HaMigdash includes 13 doors? We're a rainbow, y'all, not a shoebox. Let's all act accordingly with achdus and acceptance, and maybe we'll merit to see Moshiach. Today.

A Tall Order

One of the "features" of my latest job is that I interact with all Rebbeim. Sure, they're all old-school, and their mental frame of reference causes them to refer to me as "the new secretary". I mean, what else would a woman in a yeshiva be, right? Yet they are for the most part all good-intentioned, pleasant individuals.

Alas, one Rabbi informed me almost immediately after my arrival that he does shidduchim and may have a few "boys" for me. At first I was just vaguely amused, since:
  1. How could anyone refer to people in my age bracket as boys or girls?, and
  2. Why did he want to set me up? He barely knew me.

Indeed, it would seem that part of the reason for his determination was the previously-mentioned mindset: frummies can't seem to grasp how anyone could be almost 40 and unmarried. Sure, I was married before. But that anyone over 35 should be alone? That deeply unsettles people around these parts, and it often has less to do with a sincere desire to help versus the need to get everyone to conform to the party line. Think about it- if someone can be older, single and fulfilled, well what does that say for everyone else? Something's just got to be wrong then, right?

I realised that I was going to have to go along with the whole kit and caboodle. I do work there and I do try to be accommodating. So I figured maybe it would be a good way to ease back into dating. Go on a few dates with his "boys" and go from there.

Now, this Rabbi did call me a couple of times and subject me to the third degree. And because I understand that such behaviour is par for the course, I sucked it up and answered his questions (many of which were more intimate and embarrassing than any inquiries made by my own mother in recent memory).

But you see, the part that got to me is that he poo-pooed my desired criteria:

  • Working
  • Modern- versus yeshivish, like my workplace ;)
  • Previously married
  • Grew up out-of-town

In fact, he basically went so far as to intimate that I should have no criteria, since at this point, I should be happy to get any shidduchim! I mean, really- who on earth would possibly be willing to go out with me, once they read my "resume" (more on resumes in a different post). I literally had to say "It's a tall order, I know", in order to placate him and prove that I'm reasonable.

The entire exercise was, in short, downright belittling. And not particularly sensitive, to be honest, given my recent return to single hood.

So maybe I'm shooting myself in the foot here, but I'd like to hear from my readers: what is, in your opinion, the greatest red flag when you read my resume? That I've been divorced twice? That I have no children? That I have had health issues as of late?

Because, in the words of my first husband when he learned of my remarriage, "he's a lucky man". Having a Hubby #1 who's willing to voice my virtues post-divorce? Now doesn't that just say it all about my "value" in the shidduchim market? Put out the rest of it with the trash, I say!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ankle Socks (And Less)

Growing up, as I've mentioned previously, I was modern: I went to public school, wore pants, and spoke to guys. Not that I wasn't frum, mind you. I just wasn't *extremely* frum.

Over Pesach I was at a friend's house when a mutual friend showed up with her kids for some playtime. The said mutual friend was sporting sneakers, ankle socks, and zeh hu. Did that even remotely register with me? Only for me to think that I appreciated her dress code.

I'll save two other tznius stories from Pesach for a separate post, but suffice it to say that I loathe the Brooklyn attitude that if you aren't frum within the narrow confines of what is Yeshivish Brooklyn frumkeit, you're doing something *wrong*. That's a tad sanctimonious, no? Why must everyone fall within a tiny little box? And why is ultra-Yeshivish the only form of yiddishkeit deemed acceptable?

In fact, since I saw Ms. Ankle Socks sporting her bare legs, I must admit the temptation to follow suit. If everyone finds my dress code questionable (COLOUR? ANTI-SACK-OF-POTATOES? HORROR!!!), despite my wardrobe being 100% kosher al pi halacha, I do have a hankering to push the envelope. I'm not going to dress Bais Yaacov-y ever, so everyone else can just start looking the other way, as far as I'm concerned. Ban the "bump", I say. Heck, ban the snood outside the house, while you're at it...

So I'm requesting comments from you all about what you feel the minimum standard of tznius is. How much of the knee must be covered sitting/standing? How much to/past the elbow must the sleeve go? How much hair must be covered after marriage? And, perhaps my personal favourite, where do you hold on the stocking/tights issue? In short, what could a woman be wearing before you start tsk-tsking (not that you should, of course)?

Fire away, people!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

B'H' and Bli Ayin Hara!

So, in case you hadn't noticed, I haven't really been posting the last several months. For those of you who I've become friendly with online, you know the gory details. For random readers, let's just say that I was going through some major, uhm, life changes.

Divorce, job search, apartment move. It's been interesting. I'll start with the highlights since my post all the way back in late November.

My divorce was finalised. Yup, that's divorce #2. I actually have a future post about shidduchim related to that point, but I'll save that juicy missive for future reading.

I found a job, B'H', and bli ayin hara! The funny part is that I'm now working for a yeshiva. And not as a tech writer either. Yup y'all, I'm now part of the Brooklyn establishment. Indeed, post-Pesach, when I returned to work, one of the Rebbeim noted that they met someone who had been at a meal with me. Work for a yeshiva, and suddenly everyone pays attention to you. It's kind of hilarious. More on the career switch at a later date as well.

I decided I needed a change of scenery. Plus, let's be honest, my previous apartment was WAY outof control. Summons to the landlord taped to the wall? Neighbours who were so loud that they might as well have been my drunken roomates? Mentally unstable potheads as my other neighbours? And lest we forget: the illegal playgroup in the basement, the never-ceasing honking, etc. etc. It was oh so long overdue. So I moved to a different neighbourhood. And I'm looooooooooooving it. Sure, it has its pros and cons, like everywhere else. And yes, the apartment has some real doosies in the con department. But overall, I can only say B'H' and bli ayin hara!

Actually, that last sentence basically says it all!

A final development of note: I adopted a cat. She is HILARIOUS and really does brighten up my time at home. I mean, she bleets like a billy goat. No joke; she doesn't meow she bleets. And she is so smart, she literally rings the bell on her collar to get my attention. I should be blessed with such intelligence! ;)

Phew. This post was much longer than I expected. I may add a few posts to backtrack, but if not, these have pretty much been the pertinent developments. Very heady stuff indeed.

Oh, and in keeping with the theme of my blog, I've also been investigating further my comfort zone within yiddishkeit. Case in point, I wore a skirt today that just covered the knee. I enjoyed the change of pace, as did the various latinos and teenagers that I passed en route to and from work, lol.

That's all folks. For now...