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Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Reunited, At Long Last

I'd like to write a sonnet, but I have never been very good at poetry, so I will just try to express how amazing it is to be reunited, at long last, with John Mayer, The Counting Crows, clean laundry and hot showers. I had no idea how much I missed singing in my car on the way to and from work until yesterday, on my way home, when I finally got the opportunity to once again, sing along with John Mayer's "Comfortable."  Slipping into a clean skirt and shirt this morning was delicious. And taking a long, hot, steamy shower yesterday afternoon, and this morning (and knowing that I can take as many as I want), was such an amazing feeling. I know it was just three weeks since I last connected with Adam Duritz, Sheryl Crow and the Moshav Band, but my car ride is just not the same without them.  I am very happy to be reunited with my long-lost friends.  I guess it's true - absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Tribute to a Friend

I have had many people come and go throughout my life.  When I look back at those who have made an impact on me, I can see that Hashem always sent the right person to me at the right time.  Throughout my years in becoming religious, whenever I was standing in front of a wall, not sure whether I wanted to make the effort to climb it or not, someone new came into my life at exactly the right moment who gave me not only the motivation, but the boost up over the wall. Spiritually, the past year left me questioning a lot of things.  I was introduced to new challenges, and it caused me to think hard about what I wanted out of my life.  I was at a really weak point, and Hashem once again sent someone into my life.  That person unknowingly gave me the assurance that the path I am on is the right one and the hope to continue traveling along it. This person is truly unlike any other I have met.  His view of life and the things in it always surprise me – I never know what he will say next.  He has dedicated his life to helping others, though he keeps his identity disguised to ensure the dignity of those he helps.  He puts great consideration into every detail when honoring those he is helping, so they truly feel special and cherished, rather than pitied and shamed.  In his daily life, he often sacrifices his own enjoyment for those he cares about, and he is left with little that he does just for himself.  In exchange for the great caring that he gives to others, he gets little in return, and is often left feeling alone.  He does all of this with an incredibly joyous attitude, with constant gratitude to Hashem. I am fortunate to have become friends with this person.  He has inspired me and taught me a tremendous deal.  I initially thought he was coming into my life for a specific reason, but I see now that he had a very different purpose.  I am sad because I am not sure how long he will stay a part of life, but I do know that he has made an impact I will never forget, and in that way, he will never leave me.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av is the day when Jews commemorate the destruction of both of the Temples.  We are supposed to cry for the destruction, and dispersion of the Jews from Jerusalem.  While I this is absolutely something that is worthy of our mourning throughout the year, I have to admit that I have a lot of difficulty connecting to it, really feeling sad about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. I usually manage to find some tears on Tisha B'Av, but they are usually not for the right reasons.  I can muster up sadness, drawing from my own experiences, but I don't know that they are really because of the exile that we are in today.  I watch the videos about the violence in Israel, and feel very strongly for the victims, but I don't know whether I am focused on the appropriate topic. I find Tisha B'Av a wonderful opportunity to cry, to release the many emotions that plague me throughout the year.  But I am always haunted that I am not crying for the right thing, that it is more about me than Klal Yisrael.  Fasting often makes it harder - I am focused on my empty stomach, my thirsty palate and my aching head rather than why we are fasting.  This year, I hope that I can focus outward, less on me and more on the Jewish people.  Less on my personal nisayons, and more on the fact that Jews can't find it in themselves to like each other and work together.  Less on my being alone and more on the fact that we, for some reason, can't live together.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Calm at the Eye of the Storm - On Becoming Religious

I am sitting at the Inner Harbor, in my favorite spot, about a foot from the water while I write this.  It is cloudy but there is a great breeze and looking at the rippling water always captivates me.  Even though there are a lot of people walking around and lots of background noise, there is something peaceful about just sitting here and enjoying the beauty of my surroundings. I think becoming religious was similar to this feeling.  When I went to Israel the first time, my life was not very happy.  I was directionless and purposeless.  My parents had recently gotten divorced, I had few friends and no one I felt really understood me.  I often wondered about the meaning of it all, whether there was a purpose and reason to life. Then I traveled to Israel and was introduced to Torah and Hashem’s love for us.  I was taught that I have a special, unique purpose for being here, that Hashem put me here and gave me all my experiences for a reason.  To me, learning that made the background noise fade somewhat and led me strive for that inner peace that I find today sitting at the Harbor.  It gave me a solid core inside of knowing that all the hard things I was dealing with were for a reason; they were so I could grow and actualize my purpose.  And while those things were, and still are, difficult to deal with, I knew they were happening fir a reason.  And eventually, I would be able to look back on them and be thankful that I was given those challenges in order that I could grow.  I still find it incredibly difficult to view the challenges in my life in this way while I am dealing with them, but I try to keep this in the back of my mind and it does make things a bit easier to deal with.  So that is a little bit of why I became a baal teshuvah.

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Library

Today I visited the library for the first time in months, and I realized how much I has missed it.  The stacks of books, the kids running around, the feeling that I could browse for days and take as many books as I want home with me (the only problem is finding the time to read it all). Growing up, my father took us to the library each weekend.  He was part of a computer club and he would leave us to play with the games, to read books, to play with the computers set up.  I would take a huge stack of books home with me each week, and read them all.  And then I would read them again.  And again. The library was like home to me.  I loved all those books, I loved reading and learning about different things, I loved the fact that the other people there wanted to learn about new things also. It is amazing to me how many books are our there, on so many topics.  I love the idea that the library is there, with so much knowledge, and it is open to anyone who has a thirst for knowledge, at no cost. There is something there that I can't put my finger on, some incredible energy, maybe brain cells expanding.  All I know is, I could live there and never get bored, maybe hungry, but never bored. So, now I have plenty of reading material, and a rainy weekend ahead of me to look forward to.  Have a good Shabbos!

Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Mind as a VCR

Sometimes I wish my mind worked like a VCR.  If I didn't feel like dealing with something when it came up, I could pause it and handle it later.  The Record button would be great for memorializing conversations and I could use Rewind when I want to go back and prove to someone what they said in the past that they are currently denying.  The two buttons I would like the most though, are the Fast Forward button and the Power button. I think most people wish they could have a Fast Forward button.  It would be so great to know what is going to happen, it would probably alleviate a lot of stress in waiting to find out so many things.  I would love to know when certain things in my life would occur, because then I could stop wondering IF they are going to occur.  But I see why that is not possible, because if we can take a peek at everything that is going to happen, it would be harder to strive for growth.  And of course free will would be all messed up (but I am not going to start with that one here). But what I personally would really like is a Power button.  I often feel like my brain is working overtime, that I think way too much.  I would really love to have the preference of saying to myself, "Ok, enough thinking for today, time to turn off."  And I could just turn it off and not think anymore.  I think I would even be willing to give up some interaction time to have more non-thinking, sleep-like time (even when I am sleeping, my overactive brain creeps into my dreams, so sleep isn't really an off time).  I know I wouldn't be the same person if I could just shut off my brain, and I wonder if I would abuse that power by not giving myself enough time to think.  But really, sometimes it would just be nice to have a rest. If anyone manages to develop a way to transition a brain in to a VCR, will you please let me know so I can be the first in line for one?

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Reading Suggestions?

Starting Thursday, I have five weeks off from school.  I am looking for reading suggestions.  I want to read books that are beautifully written, thoughtful, but easily comprehensible (I don't want to have to think too hard during my break).   Any suggestions?

Monday, July 19, 2004

Independence and Family

I have had several conversations lately with several different people about the importance and specialness of having a relationship with one's family.  It is something that I have been thinking a lot about in the last few weeks since getting the rare opportunity to see my own family. An incredible emphasis is placed on the family in the frum community.  Shabbos, holidays, summers - many occasions are celebrated with one's family.  Outside of the frum community also, many milestones and moments are punctuated by the gathering of one's relatives.    I am not especially close with my family.  I see them extremely rarely.  I talk to my parents a couple times a week.  I don't typically share my day to day concerns, worries or issues with them.  When I get sick, I take care of myself.  I love my family, but we do not have the closeness that I see in many of my friends' relationships with their relatives.   This has given me some great advantages.  I have learned to be extremely independent, to manage things on my own, it has given me confidence that I can support myself and not have to rely on others.   But lately I have found myself envious of those I see who are close with their families, close both in proximity and in relationship.  Independence is a gift, but sometimes I want someone to lean on, who will be there for me.  I have friends whose parents drive to see them when they are having a bad week - my parents don't know when I am having a bad week, and even if they did, coming to visit wouldn't be an option.   I think this ability to support each other is so beautiful about families, and I hope that when I have a family of my own, my children will be able to lean on me and I will be within a drive for them when they are having a bad week.    I think the lesson of independence I have been given is not a bad thing - at some point I think children need to be able to support themselves.  But I hope that I will be able to improve upon my own experience and give my children the independence of being on their own, along with the knowledge that I am there to give them the emotional support they need whenever they need it.   As so many other things, it comes back to balance.  It has taken me a long time to realize that while independence is a wonderful thing, too much of it can be detrimental to many aspects of your life.  For me, it has meant a distancing from my family that I regret, and a certain type of loneliness from the difficulty I have in asking for help from others, because I don't like admitting that I can't handle something on my own, that I am not totally independent.    I hope that I will learn from my own experience and be able to pass on the right balance to my future family.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Crossing to Safety

I just finished reading "Crossing to Safety" by Wallace Stegner.  It was suggested to me as a book written for people who write.  And I have to agree, it was absolutely beautiful. It is the story of two couples whose lives are forever intertwined.  It describes love in so many ways - the deep, dependent, absolute love between spouses; the caring, comforting, giving love between friends; and the demanding, expectant love of parents for their children.  The couples depicted in the book are far from perfect, but their faults are part of what make them who they are, and what makes the characters love each other all the more.   The end of the book is a mixture of heart-breaking and uplifting at the same time, if that is possible.  The characters lives were not easy, and they consisted on many disappointments, and many what-ifs.  But they take everything in stride, and see how the struggles they had to endure actually grew them into something better, if not what they had expected for themselves.   The book flowed easily, as Wallace Stegner has such a gorgeous way of using words.  I could see in my mind the places he describes and the people he depicts.  But what is harder, and what he does so well, is makes you feel the emotion and the energy of each scene.  He makes you feel you are part of these characters lives, that you are a part of the family.  I definitely recommend "Crossing to Safety" to anyone who wants to read about a deep, imperfect, but totally human love between people.   Have a good Shabbos!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Learning from Experience

I wonder sometimes about the value of learning from experience. Because I believe that each situation must be taken individually, and each person must be related to separately. I am not sure how much can be learned from experience, especially bad ones. I am not saying that someone should put their hand down on a hot iron time and time again - that would be silly. But to generalize about a group of people based on a bad experience you have with one of a group seems silly also. As in a lot of things in life, I think there has to be some balance. Rambam, Aristotle, Montaigne - I have read things by all three this year about the art of moderation, or acting upon a mean. So, I think it can't be all or nothing. But I wonder what exactly we should learn from and what we should overlook. Bad things happen and they leave us scarred and scared. But time heals, and looking back often makes you realize that those bad things are often the greatest growing experiences that you had. I think the greatest thing I have learned from all my experiences is that Hashem has gotten me through all of them, and has been with me always. And I think He will continue to give me the experiences I need to learn from. So I guess at this point, I want to take the good I learn from experiences, and try to put a positive spin on the bad. I don't want to stop considering each person as an individual, because then I fear I might miss out on some of the amazing people who Hashem puts into my life to enrich it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


It has been very cloudy in Baltimore over the past few days. I was sitting out at the Harbor yesterday and looking at the clouds. My initial reaction when I see clouds is to say how yucky it looks out. But the truth is, the sight of clouds really fills me with a bit of awe; they really are pretty cool looking. When I was little I used to look up at the clouds and imagine all kinds of shapes in them. I would see people and animals and objects. I would imagine whole stories about the things I saw in the sky. I haven't taken the time to do that in quite a while. On my drive to work today, I was thinking more about the function of clouds - how they hold the rain that the earth needs to grow and flourish. Rain has never really bothered me (especially since being in Israel) because I know how much we need it, and all the incredible things that are provided by the drops that fall from the sky. So the clouds are really very important, because they are the carriers of the nourishing rain that the world needs so badly in order to grow. It made me think about the clouds in our lives. We often see clouds, or challenges, rolling into our lives and we get fearful and stressed out. These clouds bring the rain, or pain, into our lives. We go through the storm, it may be hard, it may cause some damage, we may need to seek shelter to get through it. But on the other side of the storm, when the clouds part, and the sun shines through again, we have been given nourishment and what we need to grow. And braving the storm, taking in the water, enables us to sprout and in turn beautify and fulfill what we are here to do. In the middle of the storm, it is difficult to see the beauty of what will eventually be the outcome. But if we make the most of every drop of rain we are given, and if we appreciate the clouds that roll through our lives as lessons and growth material, we can actualize the potential of the storms we are given.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Random Acts of Kindness

I was in line in a store this morning on my way to work, running a bit late. An elderly black man in front of me turned around and offered me his place in line. He told me that he was not heading to work so he wasn't in a hurry like everyone else. As I waited on my order, I watched him do the same thing for several other customers. It wasn't such a big thing to do, but it really showed so much thoughtfulness. Instead of worrying about getting ahead or getting through a few minutes quicker, this man was more concerned about easing someone else's daily stress. I think these small acts, if everyone put effort into making them part of their daily routine, would go such an incredibly long way in fostering love and unity throughout communities. I thanked the man several times for letting me in front of him, but more than saving me a few minutes of time, I really appreciate the kindness and thoughtfulness he showed his fellow human being. He inspired me!

Friday, July 09, 2004


In general, I try to focus on the positive, to hope for the best, and to give the benefit of the doubt. I sometimes wonder, though, how far that should be taken. Does it make sense to always believe in the good even if it means that often you will be disappointed? Does it help to hold onto hope in the face of evidence that leads one to believe that maybe it just isn't practical? What is the proper place between being naive and being cynical - is there such a thing as being realistic and if so, how do you find that balance? I always try to encourage others to look for the best of situations, to consider alternate reasons for seemingly bad attitudes, and I try to embrace this outlook myself. But often, I find myself being berated by others for being naive or blind to the way the world works. Many people I have encountered have a seemingly bleak view of life, though as someone pointed out to me, even though they speak of the dark side, they rarely act on it. Most people do act as if they care about others, even if they will say that they are out for only themselves. So, which do you do - always expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when things turn out better than you were planning, or expect the best and sometimes get disappointed? And is there a possible balance between the two? As much as I have been disappointed, I am unwilling and incapable of getting rid of my optimism, my belief in the fact that people really do care about others, just because they are fellow human beings. I believe, as Aristotle says, that we are inherently social beings who need each other to survive. And in needing each other, I think we would prefer to look for the good, and focus on the positive. Maybe I do get disappointed on occasion, but I feel that my overall outlook leaves me better off on a daily basis. And I would rather suffer the let-downs rather than have a negative view of the world. I hope that no matter what life throws me, I am able to maintain my optimism, even if it means that I don't get my scales tipped over once in a while.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

On Family

I spent this past weekend in Buffalo, where my extended family resides. We celebrated my great-aunt and uncle's 50th Wedding Anniversary. The last time I had been to Buffalo was eight years ago, and I hadn't seen some members of my family since that time. Moving around a lot growing up, and having moved away from my immediate family some years ago has left me distanced from most of my family members, both physically and emotionally. We were watching movies of when my mom grew up, just blocks away from her cousins, aunts and uncles, and I felt a bit of sadness that I don't have that closeness, that I never had the opportunity to get to know my relatives so well. I think family is largely what you make it, and I am very lucky to have made a family of friends, but is not quite the same as blood relation. It was hard seeing that some of my cousins, who are my grandparent's great-nieces and nephews, were much closer to my grandparents than I am, mainly because of the geography factor. I was very happy I was able to attend the celebration. It wasn't easy, as kosher food and Shabbos are not regular parts of my family's lives. But I made do, and I think my family was happy that I was able to take part, even in a limited way. I feel, in a small way, I was a kiddush Hashem for showing my family that even though I live this stringent lifestyle that is so different from theirs, that even though I couldn't eat the food they were eating, I could still be a part of the family, and participate in my own way. I hope that the next time I see my family is not another eight years away.