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Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, March 31, 2005


Sorry for the lack of posts. Life has been crazy. I have been stressed out, overwhelmed, anxious, sad, frustrated, angry and really annoyed. I haven't been dealing well (or at all) with life. I haven't been able to formulate any of the thoughts rolling around in my head into a coherent post this week. I try to keep reminding myself that this happens every semester at some point, it is normal. Doesn't help. But my new favorite artist, Howie Day, keeps reminding me (as I play his song "Collide" over and over): "Even the best fall down sometimes." I'm not saying that I am the best, but it does make me feel better.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Doing It

Last week, I read articles from the Jerusalem Post and the Ha'Aretz reporting on a landmark symposium held in Jerusalem on Monday, March 21 to discuss religious singles who are having premarital sex (though apparently the word "sex" was too scandalous to actually be spoken during the meeting). I debated writing this post, because it is a topic that many feel, for many reasons, should not be discussed openly. I also debated writing this post because I have extremely mixed feeling about the topic. But as a religious single who has many single friends, I can tell you that even though people are extremely hesitant to discuss this matter in a public forum, it is discussed extensively in private. Because it is something that does affect singles, whether we like to believe it or not. As an individual gets older, it is harder and harder to refrain from physical contact with members of the opposite sex. Sexuality is a perfectly normal instinct for humans, and it is not something that you can turn on when you get married and keep turned off until that time. So singles struggle with doing what is correct halachically and what their normal physical urges are pushing them towards. The problem with not discussing this issue is that many individuals, if they don't have friends with whom to discuss these normal issues, feel like they are evil or wrong for even having these urges, and having difficulty with shomer negiah. But the truth is, it is not normal to NOT struggle with it. But those who struggle alone feel guilty and I honestly believe that can cause damage for their future marriages. I don't want to get into whether I think shomer negiah should be discarded, whether single women should be permitted to use the mikveh, or what we should do about the situation at all. Because I don't have answers for those questions. What I do believe, though, is that the issue needs to begin being addressed in public, not to legitimize premarital relations, but to make singles feel more normal about their struggles. People are having real, painful struggles about whether or not to engage in premarital relations. And I don't believe they should be made to feel like this is an unnatural struggle. I don't think that open dialogue will encourage singles to engage in sex more than they are currently doing. I think is very similar to the debates about making condoms available in schools. Personally, I think they should be available (note that I say available, and not handed out) to teenagers because they are going to have sex whether anyone likes it or not. And if they are going to do so, they should do it in a protected manner, so that they will not have to consequently have to deal with even bigger issues than just having sex, such as pregnancy, STDs, etc. I do think that dealing with problems that are present in the religious community is the way to handle it, rather than covering it up and acting as if it is not happening at all. The meeting last Monday was a good start, and those who condemned its occurrence (see some of the completely inappropriate comments to the Jerusalem Post article) are trying to stick their head in the sand and close their eyes to real issues that need to be addressed. Discussing issues openly does help, and often is the first step in developing solutions.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Paper Clips

Last night I went to see the movie "Paper Clips". For those who have not heard about it, it is the true story of a middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee who embarked on a project to teach their students about tolerance, using the Holocaust as an example of what happens when prejudice goes unchecked. This school in Tennessee is almost completely made up of white Protestants. The administration, in recognizing this, decided to do something about it. They sent their assistant principal to trainings to get ideas for diversity training for his students. The ultimately decided that Holocaust education would be an appropriate topic. While in the initial stages of the program, one of the students asked her teacher to try to demonstrate what 6,000,000 (for the 6 million Jews who were killed) looked like, because she was having a very difficult time imagining it. The teacher told her to come up with something that she would like to collect 6 million of and they would attempt to accomplish it. The students did research and decided on paper clips. And they wanted paper clips from others. They wrote letters, ended up being featured in the Washington Post and on NBC Nightly News and they eventually received an amazing 29 million plus paper clips. What struck me the most about this incredible project was that the school's administrators took the initiative to combat stereotypes, prejudice and hatred. They didn't have to. They wouldn't be faced with it on a regular basis. But they recognized that they didn't know what diversity looked like, and they didn't want their students to write off others because of their ignorance. And in doing this project, they also realized a lot of the prejudice that they held and make inroads into combating it. The other thing that struck me was on the reverse side. This school, and eventually the entire community, used the Holocaust as a basis for fighting discrimination and hatred. But what is the reverse is what I see on the Jewish side of things. Just this past Shabbos, I heard someone complain about the "shvartze" on the Sprite bottle and how he didn't think it was appropriate for his Shabbos table. There were also a couple of comments about "goyim" and their values made. This is not present among every single Jew, but it is prevalent. So why does the Holocaust inspire tolerance among non-Jews and intolerance among Jews? I am sure there are many reasons, fear among the highest. But I personally would like to see more Jews take from the Holocaust the lesson that they wouldn't want what happened to them to happen to anyone else. That as horrible as it was to be persecuted for their religious affiliation, they wouldn't dare stand for it happening to anyone else. For negative stereotypes to stand in the way of getting to know another person, or giving that other person a fair chance at being an upstanding human being. I think the lesson that "Paper Clips" teaches - that intolerance and prejudice lead to evil and hurt, is the lesson we should all try to learn.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Happy Purim!

I thought, for once, in honor of turning things upside down for Purim, I would do what everyone else is doing. So... Go hear the megillah,

Dress up as your favorite character,
Enjoy some yummy hamantaschen (my favorite Jewish food - yum!),
And have a wonderful, fun, joyful Purim!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I think trust works in two ways. For some, when meeting new people, trust must be earned through time and experience. As you get to know someone, and they prove themselves capable of following through, and of being reliable and trustworthy, trust builds. When you tell them things that you don’t want shared, and those things are kept private, the trust grows. Eventually, you end up with trusting relationships that you can count on, and you know who you can trust with what. And you know who you can’t trust. This approach is hard because you have to give people some chance to gain your trust, and if you don’t trust them, it is hard to give them that chance. And if they let you down, forget it, it will never happen. So you can sometimes end up not trusting people, and relying on only yourself. The other way that trust works is when you trust someone immediately, and only when they disappoint you, do they lose that trust. You will depend on them from the beginning; you let them in on secrets. Only when you find they are not dependable, do you stop giving them trust, and start drawing back. The second approach can end up with a rubber band effect. As time goes on, you draw back and pull close. You find that there are some things you can trust a person with and some things you can’t. And sometimes the rubber band snaps, and there is no longer any hold on the relationship at all. The trust has been worn to the point that it can no longer be brought close, the last thread breaks. I think I use a mix of the two approaches. There are some things that I have an innate trust of others about. I assume they will follow through and not let me down. Sometimes I am disappointed, sometimes I am not. But then, for the deepest things, it takes time (a lot of time) and some kind of proof that shows I can bare myself and not be scared to be left hanging. And sometimes, even after waiting before letting someone into my “trust zone,” I am still disappointed. Because people are human. But whichever way you go with trust, or whether, like me, you use a mixture of the two, it is hard when there are few people who you do trust. It is lonely to have a lot of things inside with no one who you can reveal them to. I am not sure if that means I should be quicker to trust people with those deep things, because history has shown that it can backfire. Or maybe I just need to work harder to find people I can trust. Or maybe I should just enjoy the feeling of trusting while it is there, and hope for the best. All I know is, it’s not always easy to find the right balance.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Quotes on Individuality

“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” ~ Apple Computers “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn't work, don't buy it.” ~ Mitch Albom “Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night of the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare Sigh. Can you tell I am feeling like Howard Roark these days?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Paint By Numbers (Or Not)

The other night, I got together with a couple friends and we enjoyed a fun activity - Paint By Numbers Care Bear posters. When complete, mine should look a lot like this:

Aside from the fact that the paint that came with the set was not the best, and the paintbrushes we were using were not incredibly adequate for the intricate details of the poster, there was another reason mine didn't turn out as the kit intended. I don't believe in painting by the numbers. As an adult, I feel like I can choose which colors go where just fine all by myself. It's funny, my friends had no problem following the numbers - it makes life easier to not have to think about and decide which colors to choose. Having someone else tell you what to do just gives you one less decision to worry about. And when it comes to something like paint by numbers the stakes are not so high and the autonomy (word-of-the-day) given up is not so critical. But when the stakes are higher, it becomes more of an issue. How can a person give up their decisions and let someone else make choices for them? I see this a lot in the Torah world - a person runs to a rabbi with the most basic of situations. I am not talking about things that have real halachic significance here - I am talking about the daily minutiae of living life. How can one become an adult when all the hard decisions are made for you by someone else? I am not saying that everyone should follow my lead and not follow directions at all, that would probably make the world unstable, but I think part of being an adult is making your own decisions and learning how to deal with those decisions. It is great to get advice from others; and to be able to talk to a wise person and receive input. But I have a problem with leaving decision making to someone else. Only you can really decide what is best for you. And I think the process of making difficult decisions allows you to really get to know and form who you are, and offers opportunity for major personal growth. I know I don't always make the correct choices; many times I make mistakes. But the choices I make are my own, for better or worse.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What You Don't Always See

You never really know what is flowing beneath the surface of a person. Which makes it really hard to be sensitive and not hurt others. This past week, I received an e-mail which, in responding to it, I couldn't hold back my tears. I tried several times to respond, found myself crying each time, and finally just had to type out an incomplete, not particularly eloquent response. The person who wrote me this e-mail had no idea it was going to elicit such a strong emotional response within me. I am sure that even now, having received my response to him, that he still has no idea what I went through to e-mail him back. It just happened that the topic he instigated is a very touchy one for me, and I couldn't help but feel pain at having to deal with it. I don't hold it against him, or feel that he is insensitive because of this. He had no way of knowing that the topic is one that is difficult for me to deal with. But it made me think about how so many interactions between people are probably misunderstood, and how so many grudges are probably initiated because one person had no idea what would trigger another. It is hard to not ever trigger these kind of emotional reactions in others, because you can't see what is not presented, and you have no way of knowing what is deep inside another. It makes me sad that I might have inadvertently caused such in others without any idea that it happened. It makes me want to think even more about the things I say, and what the potential response could possibly be. But you can't know everything. I guess the balance is to try to be as sensitive as possible with others. And give others some leeway when you feel hurt, because they can't possibly know what might cause it, nor do they instigate it intentionally. There is so much to people below the surface that you might never see.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Nice People

Can I just say that I really like nice people? I was just on the phone for twenty minutes with a woman who searched through every box in her office to make sure that she had everything she needed for my graduate school application. She went out of her way, and was so pleasant and gracious about it. Her manner and effort made me feel so much better and has put me in a good mood. And her wonderful attitude elicited the same in response from me. It doesn't take much to be nice, and when it is reflected in return, it is so worth it. So, be nice to someone today and see where it gets you!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Advice Requested

Here's my quandary (a very rare peak into the details of my dating life) - I spoke to a guy on the phone this past week, and based on our correspondence up to that point, and our phone call, I decided that I don't have any interest in continuing to talk to him. The reason that I don't want to continue is something that I feel he could work on, and if changed, would make him a much better marriage prospect and would allow women to see him in a much more positive light. (Just so you know, this has nothing to do with physical matters like losing weight or dressing better.) The question is, do I simply tell him that I don't think that we are for each other without specifying the reason? Or should I be specific and take the chance of possibly hurting him, and making him think I am critical of him, in the short term; but with the possibility that if he listens to what I have to say, then it really would be beneficial in the long term? Reader advice would be appreciated.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

So True

I heard this quote yesterday from a friend, and the more I think about it, the more I realize, it is so true. "Normal people are the ones you don't know."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Differences Between Men and Women

I came across this week's issue of Time Magazine yesterday. The cover article was about the (possible) disparity between men and women's science and math aptitudes. There has been a lot made about this topic ever since Harvard's Lawrence Summers made a controversial statement regarding the fact that there might be inherent differences between men and women's ability when it comes to science and math abilities. I found the article interesting for several different levels. One of the things that is interesting is the fact that the data shows that men have more of the extreme values when it comes to ability in math and science. Yes, they have more of the extremely high scorers, but they also have more of the extremely low scorers. You average these out, you still end up in the middle. The article also talked about the differences in brain functioning between men and women. Some studies have shown that men and women's brain function in very different manners. Women's brains typically seem to be more interconnected throughout the brain - they use all parts of the brain together. Whereas men seem to use their brains much more specifically, and tend to compartmentalize processes within. The other difference in brain functioning mentioned in the article was that men and women's brains mature at different rates, and the optimum time for teaching men and women different skills comes at different stages of their lives. This is interesting because if you are teaching both men and women the same things at the same times, you could be hitting one of the genders with something that their brains are not currently ready to handle, which could turn them off for life to that specific subject. The final point that I found interesting that the article touched upon was the suggestion that gender-separated schools might be in the best interest for students, for many reasons. First, the presence of men and women together in the lower levels of school can be a socially impacting event. From personal experience, I remember "dumbing down" in order to feel normal and interesting to the guys in my school. No guy in junior high and high school liked the smart nerd or the girl that was always doing better than him (those fragile male egos, to throw in just one more stereotype). The other reason for separating the sexes in school referred to the fact if our brains do, in fact, develop at different levels, then separate schools would enable teachers to focus their curriculum separately on those subjects that would be most beneficial to the students at specific ages. It would be interesting to see curriculum developed along these guidelines, and if the results showed that the disparity between achievement in the math and sciences between genders was narrowed by high school graduation time, it would go a long way to showing a point I think is important in more ways than just the gender difference - that the route one takes towards reaching a goal is not nearly as important as whether the goal is met at the end. I wish I had the opportunity to be in on the research of this blossoming area. For now, I will have to be content reading about it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Sad Reality

"My name is Shoshana, I am a Muslim" The above is a search term that led someone to my blog recently. I got a bit of a kick out of it, considering that anyone who reads my blog on any kind of basis would know that I am Jewish, and that Judaism is a huge part of my life. I think the person got to my blog using this search term because I have written in the past about my friend from school who is a religious Muslim. This semester, we have gotten to know each other even better and have been having a lot of fun comparing and contrasting the different rules and regulations of our respective religions. What has been even greater is that our classmates around us have gotten very comfortable asking us questions, and also find it highly interesting to hear the similarities and differences between Judaism and Islam. My Muslim friend and I happen to be graduating together in May. Both of us know only a few other people who happen to be graduating when we are, and so we talked about sitting together during the ceremony (a plan that was dashed when someone told us that we have to sit in alphabetical order). Yesterday, we were discussing with a few other people what we are going to do to celebrate our graduation. I mentioned that I kind of want to have some kind of party, but I don't want to have to plan it. She said she would want a party also, but doesn't know what exactly. I jokingly said, "We should have a party together." Everyone around laughed, and then we spent a few minutes tossing around the idea of a room full of Muslims and Jews, and the awkwardness that would ensue. My friend and I said that we could be a great example for the others in the room - we get along, why can't they? What was sad was that, at the end of the conversation, though the idea was highly entertaining, we both knew it could never happen. That the majority of the people involved would not be able to look beyond their differences and just enjoy and celebrate the graduation of me and my friend. They wouldn't be able to stand in a room together and just enjoy the accomplishment of their daughter, sibling, or friend, and her classmate, just because of religion. Religion, which I believe should teach love for our fellow human beings, keeps us apart.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Every Woman Should....

I have a lot on my mind these days, and am not doing a good job at organizing my thoughts into blog posts. So sorry for the lack of thoughful insights from me, but here is an e-mail I liked, so I thought I would pass it on.... A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra... A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE one friend who always makes her laugh... and one who lets her cry... A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family... A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems, and a recipe for a meal that will make her guests feel honored.. A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE a feeling of control over her destiny... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... how to fall in love without losing herself... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... HOW TO QUIT A JOB, BREAK UP WITH A LOVER, AND CONFRONT A FRIEND WITHOUT RUINING THE FRIENDSHIP... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... when to try harder... and WHEN TO WALK AWAY... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... that she can't change the length of her calves, the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... that her childhood may not have been perfect...but its over... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... what she would and wouldn't do for love or more... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... how to live alone... even if she doesn't like it... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... whom she can trust, whom she can't, and why she shouldn't take it personally... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... where to go... be it to her best friend's kitchen table... or a charming inn in the woods...when her soul needs soothing... EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW... what she can and can't accomplish in a day... a month...and a year...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Seeing Your Reflection, Except Better

It is amazing to me how other people can see your mistakes so much more clearly than you can. And learn from them. Maybe it is because others have a more objective perspective, but it seems that those around me sometimes tell me what mistakes I am making before I can recognize them. Or I recognize the mistakes, but refuse to do anything about them, because I just don't want to. I guess the fact that they are a step away from the situation, and the emotions associated with it, that they are able to recognize those things that I am blinding myself to. I think this is why it is important to have good friends who are honest with you, even when they know that you don't necessarily want to hear something. They still can't force you to make decisions that you don't want to make, but they can sow the seeds in your head that you need to seriously think about something you are doing. The problem is that it is hard to be honest with a friend, because you care about them, and you don't want to hurt them, even if you feel that the eventual outcome would be positive. And then there are those people who are too stubborn to listen to anyone else, and because you are their friend, you know that they are stubborn and won't listen, so why waste your breath. But when it usually hits me is when I see a friend who is in a situation similar to one I have already gone through, and she is making the right decisions, even though it isn't the easy way, or the fun way. Because she has watched you go through pain, and she refuses to make the same mistakes. She has obviously learned from watching you make bad choices, and has decided that she won't make the same ones. Even though the short-term results are not fun and cause pain, she has seen what the long term result is and she has become wise from watching you. And then the mistakes you have made hit you more squarely, and you see what you should have done. Does seeing this cause you to make the right decision in the future? Maybe, maybe not.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Black Ink

I am so bad at following directions. I applied to two schools for graduate school (both applications are done now - yay!!!). For the first application, about a week after I sent it, I realized that I had forgotten to include a check for the application fee. I called the school and explained that I have forgotten the check, and the woman over the phone responds, "I guess you didn't follow the checklist on the front of the application envelope." I kind of stammered back to her something to the effect of, "Yeah, I guess not." Okay, so following the checklist would have been a good idea, but obviously, too late for that. Check sent off under separate cover, just a little inconvenience, no problem, right? I was finishing up my second application yesterday, preparing it to be sent away, out of my hands, and taking a big load off my shoulders. I was writing out the check for the application fee (not going to make that mistake again), when I glance at the application and notice that it says across the top, in big, bold, black letters: "PLEASE TYPE OR WRITE ALL INFORMATION IN BLACK INK."

Oops. You would think that this wouldn't pose much of a problem. But for me, it is. I have this philosophy that using blue or black ink for writing anything is boring. So I don't, unless I absolutely have to. Every semester, my treat for the beginning of school is going to Target or Office Depot and picking out an assortment of different colored pens - pink, green, purple, gold and silver. Scented, sparkly, with feathers or flowers on top. Anything pretty and fun, absolutely no boring blue or black.

My professors have gotten used to this quirk of mine and have never had a problem with it.

Now, I understand that there are some things that are fairly official and professional that you just can't write out in sparkly gold pen. And in those circumstances, I usually choose blue ink, and some kind of special pen, not some Bic cheapo thing.

I knew that my applications required something a bit serious, so I had chosen a very special blue pen that a friend of mine had brought me from Israel. It has my name in Hebrew on it, and it is one of the few pens that I like, regardless of it's boring ink color.

As I stared at the instructions requiring me to fill out my application in black ink, I panicked a bit. I couldn't find a black pen. Any other color, no problem. I finally called a friend who brought me a nice black pen. I rewrote my entire application. Sent it off this morning. All done.

But really, now I am not sure I want to go to a school that required black ink. Don't they have any creativity or imagination?