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Isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I finally got around to seeing the movie Ushpizin last night. I had many reactions to it. First of all, the most superficial reaction I had was that I can't wait to be in Israel. Seeing Jerusalem in the movie, hearing the Hebrew (and even being able to understand a little of it) got me so excited. I was a little disappointed because the movie is set during Sukkos, and I would love to be Israel for Sukkos, but I am not complaining at all - I can't wait to see all the beautiful menorahs during Chanukah. So watching the movie really reinvigorated my excitement and anticipation for my trip. Watching the movie really brought back memories of being in Israel. It really is such an amazing place, and there are certain holy characteristics that are naturally brought out by the Holy Land. The sincerity, the faith, the lack of materialism. The incredible piousness that flows from living Torah, and the amazing hospitality and sense of family that flows from Israel's inhabitants makes its way straight to the core of one's being. All of these were illustrated in Ushpizin. I don't want to give away the whole movie, but the couple at the heart of Ushpizin showed such incredible faith in Hashem throughout the entire movie. Whenever difficult things came their way, instead of blaming others, they took it as a lesson for themselves. A lesson and a gift from Hashem to work on themselves and strengthen their character. They are both baalei teshuvahs and the lessons they learned in becoming religious were very obviously ingrained in their hearts. They believed in Hashem, plain and simple. Every time any difficulty or fortune came to them, the first thing in their mind was Hashem's plan and thankfulness to Him. They completely trusted that whatever would happen, was in His hands, and that He would take care of them, and provide whatever they needed. I don't know if I could ever be on that level. So, in that way, it was truly inspiring to see this couple, who I have no doubt have many, many others just like them living in Israel, and their simple faith in God. They were human, and they struggled, and they didn't always do the right thing. But they persevered, and refused to give up. They worked on themselves and their relationship with Hashem. It was a beautiful movie, and I am really happy I saw it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My Trip to Alabama - Shabbos and After

Shabbos in Alabama is always a challenge. The are a couple frum families in Birmingham, but I always feel guilty spending such a chunk of my short visit away from my family, so I usually end up trying to make it work at my mom's house, which it just doesn't really. It's a very strange feeling to spend Shabbos alongside the phone ringing, the cars coming and going, TV blaring and computer being typed on. I told my mom that this was the last Shabbos I will spend there - in the future, I will either schedule my visits not over Shabbos or I will spend Shabbos somewhere else. Friday night basically sucked. I ate alone and went to sleep early. Done. Saturday was better. My relatives came over for lunch and hung out for a while until it was time for them to catch their respective flights. I read a lot and when my mom got back we played a couple games. We took naps, and then I got up in time to have shalosh seudah, again by myself. When Shabbos was over, I went over to my dad's house. It doesn't sound like such a big deal, but it was because during my last visit I was informed that I was not welcome in my father's house, because my stepmother was upset with me over an event I didn't remember from three years before. This visit was to be an apology session to clear the air and mend lingering hard feelings. I arrived and sat down, my stepmother not in sight. One of my stepbrothers, who I hadn't seen in several years, was buzzing around, preparing for his departure. My stepmom came downstairs and acknowledged my presence as she was helping my stepbrother pack up. My stepbrother has a lot of personality and charisma. My dad likes to say he has never met a stranger (I have a brother who is similar, but can't quite manage the same level, so at least I am kind of used to it). He's actually managed to form a really nice relationship with my youngest brother, so it was nice to see them getting along. As he was leaving, he forcefully requested a hug from everyone, so I had to oblige. After he left, my father vacated the living room so that my stepmother and I could "talk." After sitting there for a couple minutes awkwardly, I told my stepmom that I didn't remember the incident, but that I was sorry about it if it did happen, and that I would like to put it behind us and feel welcome in her home. To my surprise, she told me she had gotten over it long ago, and that I was always welcome there. That it was my father who thought that I wasn't. She said she accepted my apology, and appreciated it, and assumed I had moved on as well, which of course I had, long ago. I was surprised by this, but very glad. I still am not sure where all the confusion came in, but am grateful to put it in the past and move on. I don't know that I will ever have a very close relationship with her, but it made me happy to know that she was able to put the incident behind her. I left my father's house with a big weight lifted from my chest. I hate feeling like I don't know what to do about a situation and that someone is upset with me about something I can't fix. I returned to my mom's house, we played a couple games before bed, and then I was back to New Jersey early the next morning. That's the story of my trip - some wonderful times, some thrilling times, some difficult times and some relieving times. We'll see what happens next year!

Monday, November 28, 2005

My Trip to Alabama - Leap of Faith*

On Friday, I woke up early in order to embark on my big adventure with my brother. First things first, I needed coffee and some kosher food in order to survive the day. We quickly trekked to the grocery store where I realized how incredibly spoiled I have become when it comes to kosher food. So many of the items that I take for granted that are always available, brands that I buy regularly, were not present in the grocery store. But I persevered, and managed to load up on all kinds of fattening carbs to last me through the weekend. Something I really miss about the South was evident in the grocery store. As I was checking out, I was compelled to buy a magazine (come on, who could pass that one up?) and the woman checking me out engaged me in a conversation about the magazine and all the people who had been purchasing it. She was so friendly and nice, and after she finished ringing me up she wished me a good day. That kind of interaction happens almost everywhere you go in the South; I really miss it. Anyway, on to my adventure. After I had food, coffee, and of course, my magazine, my brother and I set out for Georgia, which is to the East of Alabama for those of you who are geographically challenged (I know the South is a hard place to keep track of). My brother managed to get along the entire hour and a half journey, my brother playing a favorite comedian of his on the CD player for me, since he knew that I wouldn't like most of his choices in music. We arrived at our destination and there we encountered this sign:

Yep - skydiving was our adventure for the day! Good ole' brother-sister bonding while hurtling ourselves off a plane and towards the ground. I was supposed to go a couple months ago, but my friend backed out on me, but luckily my brother was up to the task and Thanksgiving Day weekend seemed the apropos time to do it. (After landing, we certainly were thankful for many things.) We filled out many pages of releases and forms stating that we wouldn't sue anyone and that we were voluntarily take a 2-1/2 mile leap out of a plane. After turning in our forms, we stepped up the counter and they called out our instructors. My instructor was a guy from Ohio with a bald head and a goatee. He was a little crazy, but I suppose you have to be to make your living as a skydiving instructor. He quickly went over the process, got me all strapped into the gear, and a few minutes later we were headed towards the plane. Besides my brother and myself, our group included a guy who looked to be about 20 years old, and an older woman. When questioned about her age, this older woman explained to us that she had told herself that she would go skydiving before she turned 85 years old, and her 85th birthday was the next month, so there she was. I was amazed and blown away by her tenacity. Kol Hakovod to her. So the plane took us up to 14,000 feet high (that's 2-1/2 miles) and then people on the plane started getting on their knees and headed towards the open door. One by one, either by themselves or in pairs, they jumped out of the plane. My instructor and I were last to go, and after watching each person, you would think I would have been nervous, but oddly, I wasn't. I was just so excited. The first minute after jumping is when you free-fall through the air. It's kind of like being on a rollercoaster - you are going so fast and you just feel the wind rushing by. My instructor had told me how to pull the cord to open the parachute, but I couldn't quite reach, so he pulled it himself. After the parachute opened, you just float towards the ground for several minutes. It was so beautiful, I can't even describe how amazing it was to see the world from such a perspective. I could see miles in every direction, it was a totally clear day. The wind was still rushing past, though at a much slower pace. It was cold up there! My instructor apparently likes showing off, so we did some spins in the air so I could see all around. It really was just incredibly peaceful being up so high, with no one else around, being able to see fields and trees and little roads meandering through the hillside. As we approached the ground, my instructor told me to pull my legs together and up so that I would land on my bottom. We landed as gently as we could, and I just sat there for a minute, kind of collecting myself before getting up. My brother was there on the ground waiting for me. We wandered back into the office, where our gear was stripped and we gave each other big hugs, happy and sad to be at the end of our adventure. It was an experience I will never forget, and possibly never repeat (but you never know). All in all, what an adventure. My brother and I drove home to Alabama in time for Shabbos. What an adventure. *Title hat tip goes to Ze'ev, who suggested it very fittingly.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

My Trip to Alabama - Thanksgiving Day

I flew into Birmingham on Thanksgiving Day. I was worried about traveling on such a busy day, but I guess everyone decided to leave the day before - LaGuardia Airport was the calmest I have ever seen it. The staff, all having to work a holiday, were actually in great moods, everyone being really friendly and nice. I had a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I first began to sense the Southern feeling that I miss up here in Yankee territory. In Charlotte, I managed to get myself switched to an earlier flight into Birmingham, with fee waived because of the holiday. My brothers picked me up at the airport, and it was so good to see them. As we were driving towards my mom's house, I requested a quick stop to see "The Man Who Moons Homewood," also known as "The Vulcan." The Vulcan, which Birmingham boasts as the largest cast iron statue in the world, had been down for repairs the last few times I had visited, so it was nice to be reunited with him. As you can see, he happily posed for pictures so everyone could take part in his sentry. Shortly after arriving at my mom's house, the family began to arrive. It was a celebration of Thanksgiving and my grandmother's 80th birthday, and she had no idea I was coming. Along with my visit, three sets of great-aunts and uncles joined us in Birmingham (all surprising my grandmother as well) for the festivities. It was really nice seeing all the family. I sat down and had a wonderful talk with my favorite of my great-aunts, who the Princess likes to point out doesn't really suit her name (but that's another story). My great-aunt teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) and she was telling me about some of her students who are refugees from Africa. She was saying how they don't even know minimal things like to sit in desks and many basic American courtesies. She mentioned how difficult it was to integrate these students into the rest of the school; to keep the other students from giving them a hard time and steering them wrong. But she also mentioned that it just really takes a lot of patience and care to get through to these students, and a lot of understanding about the fact that they just come from a really different culture. It was interesting, because there were parallels between these stories and the stories my great-aunt tells about her step-daughter and family. Her step-daughter and son and their eight children live in Brooklyn in some Chassidish community, I am not sure which one. She kept saying how there were certain topics and books that were "assur" for her to mention around them. She loves them, and really makes efforts to be able to relate to them, but, like her African students, in some ways, they are just part of a different culture. After a great Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to hang out with my brothers a bit. We took a trip to my dad's house, then my oldest brother (who is still quite a bit younger than me) and I went to a bar to hang out. It was weird to me that my brother is old enough to hang out in a bar, and that we could sit and have a drink together. We had never done that before, and it was great to just sit back and relax and enjoy my brother's company. We got home late and went to sleep, to get ready for the next day's adventure - stay tuned...

Friday, November 25, 2005

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I used to think it wasn't true - I was more loyal to the adage of "out of sight, out of mind." But in certain circumstances, like with family, absence apparently does make you really enjoy their company. I am having a lot of fun. Lots more later, when I get a chance to play on the computer for an extended, uninterrupted amount of time - possibly Sunday when I get home.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Heading South

I'm heading out to Alabama tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I haven't been with them for Thanksgiving in several years, and this year things are a bit different. My grandparents recently moved to Birmingham, it's my grandmother's 80th birthday. So several of my great-aunts and uncles are coming in to celebrate. And it's all a big surprise - my grandparents know nothing about it! So, it should be a happy, fun occasion. I don't go home so often anymore. It's far, I don't have so much vacation time from work and school, and it's difficult trying to keep kosher and keep Shabbos while I am there, since my family is not religious. But I do what I can, and my mom tries to be as helpful as possible. As I was talking to my mom last night about the trip, she told me such an amazing thing. A friend of the family, who I was very close with when I lived there, who is actually our pediatrician as well, bought my mom a second microwave. Just so I would be able to use it without a problem, when I visit once a year or so. What incredible sensitivity and kindness, I was really blown away by her thoughtfulness. It's also always weird being in Birmingham, which used to be my stomping ground, because it's not so much my home anymore. I haven't lived there in so long, and the homes I lived in are no longer a part of my family. Things have changed so much since I have lived there, it always startles me to see that things keep going even while I am gone. I am excited to see everyone - my brothers are awesome and I don't spend nearly enough time with them. They are just so much fun. And I have my big adventure planned - stay tuned for details of that one. I have lots to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I have my friends and family. I am heading towards warmer weather, a nice and needed reprieve before the real winter sets in. And I have lots of blessings that come my way every day. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 21, 2005

I am Me

There are times in your life when who you are is put to the test. When you are asked if you could be someone else. When you are asked to stretch who you are, and possibly try to mold yourself based on someone else's dream. If you can manage to stretch yourself, it would lead to many possibilities. But it could also lead to unhappiness and the prospect of not being true to yourself. When faced with this kind of thing, it's not easy to stand strong and say - I am me, and I can't be anyone else, no matter who is asking me to do it. There are many reasons to try to be someone who I am not. But I just can't do it - I have to be true to who I am. And in facing this decision, I learn about myself in so many ways. Recently, I was asked to look at myself and really see who I am and who I could be. I can be many things that I currently am not, and there are many things that I someday hope to be that I am not today. But there are also a lot of things that I can not, and will not, ever be able to be. Though sometimes, like in my recent experience, I kind of wish I could. This experience was painful in many ways, but in many ways, it also gave me a lot of strength and I learned a lot of things from it. I learned what my boundaries are. I learned that I know who I am. And I learned that I won't, and can't, be someone who I am not. That I can't force myself to not be true to who I am, no matter what temptation is set before me. No matter how strongly I would sometimes like to. I can't be something I am not, because I know that the ultimate result would be my unhappiness. I don't think I knew myself and could have made the same decision a few years ago. Actually I know that's the case. I used to try to please others, and in the process, compromised who I was. I can't do that anymore, and while that makes some things harder, I think I am better off for it, and will be better off, in the long run. I am Me, and I won't apologize for that. It doesn't make everything easy. But I am proud of who I am and I am proud of the fact that I know who I am. And though this recent event was difficult and it hurt, the lesson I learned of knowing those things was worth it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


A Simple Jew asked and got a response the other day about whether one's emunah (faith) shines through when saying a brocha (blessing). It made me think about brochos and my relationship to them in general. My initial thought about brochos is about receiving them, and how much I really like it when someone gives me a brocha, no matter what language it's in. Any person that invokes G-d to bless me is my friend. I am often jealous when I am in the home of someone for Shabbos and they give their children a brocha and I don't get one (though my old roommate used to give me beautiful ones to compensate). I love Birkas Cohanim, because standing there in front of all the Cohanim, with my head down, knowing that the verses they are saying are meant to be a blessing unto me just touches my soul and makes me feel special, regardless of the fact that the entire congregation is receiving the same blessing. I am not sure what power these brochos actually have, but I do know they have the power to make me feel blessed. So does my emunah shine through when I recite a brocha? Unfortunately, because I say so many of them, so many times a day, it's often hard to remember to step back and really think about what I am doing when I make a brocha over each piece of food I put in my mouth. It's hard to stop and really concentrate on the words I am saying. But I do say those brochos. I do hesitate, if even for a second, to thank Hashem for the things I eat, after using the restroom, in the morning. I often use the words "Thank G-d" in conversations with other people when I speak of situations that turned out well. I do think of Hashem daily in my life, and in that way, I think that my emunah does shine through, even if it isn't as deeply and meaningfully as I would like. I would like to think my emunah is stronger than those brochos I make. And I hope that the fact that I love receiving brochos so much compensates in some way to show that I do have that emunah, that faith. Because if I didn't believe in them, and have emunah in Hashem, then those brochos wouldn't mean that much, I don't think. I hope I soon manage to put as much importance on making brochos as I do in receiving them. The fact that we can thank Hashem and show our faith in Him in so many otherwise mundane tasks during our daily life does elevate us and remind us what life is about. Brochos are a gift to us in so many ways. And just like gifts - both giving and receiving them can mean so much.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Waiting for Happiness

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about "Waiting." I have had similar thoughts lately about this stage of life before marriage, so I went back and read that post. My thoughts now are similar but I am now seeing something different. When with some of my singles friends, I often hear things like, "When I am married" or "My husband would deal with this." I hear "If I was married, then..." and "Im Yirtze Hashem soon..." I hear these things from women who didn't wait - women who are independent and successful. Who have professions and busy lives full of activities. But they just are not happy. And they expect to be happy once they marry. They expect marriage to work some kind of magic and make all the unhappiness and difficult times in their lives go away. They expect their spouses to take care of all problems, and even if their potential spouse can't do that, then just the state of being married should make things so much easier. They feel they can't be happy with their single, same-sex friends, they need someone of the opposite gender to fulfill their lives. It's not that I don't want that - I really do. I can't wait to come home to my husband, to share the details of my day-to-day life with someone. To take care of someone and have someone take care of me. To really love. I want it very badly. But not to the point of being unable to enjoy anything else in life. Not to the point that when I am out with my other single friends, I am unable to have fun because I am wishing that I am there with my spouse. And not to the point of feeling that marriage will make all the challenges go away - I know that there will be different challenges. I think it is detrimental to a single to be unhappy because of their status and to depend on the hope of a changing status to fulfill them in life. I think being unhappy only makes getting married harder - a desperate and unhappy person is not someone that I want to date, and it does come across in one's attitude as you are getting to know a person. I am not saying someone should be content being single - they should want to get married. But to be miserable to the extent that they can't enjoy their lives and friends while they are single, I think is a huge problem. And I think it is going to carry over into married life as well. The expectation that marriage will solve everything and that your spouse will fulfill everything you are missing is unrealistic and destined to fall flat. Which is scary. It scares me. Because if my spouse thinks I am going to solve all his problems, I am going to fail him. Because I'm definitely not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. So I guess what I am seeing now is a different kind of waiting - a waiting to be happy. With oneself, with one's life, with one's friends and with one's accomplishments. And I refuse to wait to be happy. Because only I can make that happen.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Being Southern

There is something different about being from the South. When people find out that ask. I assure them that there are a few of us. Then they ask me what the South is like... For some reason, people take their time in the South. They take their time to be polite, genteel, friendly. There is a respect shown, especially to those older than you. But the warmth is what makes such a difference. The warmth shown to each person as he walks by - a friendly "Hi, how you doin'," just really makes a person feel at home, wherever you are. The fact that store clerks thank you and talk to you while you are in line. But it's more. There is something ingrained in a person from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas or Louisiana. (Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas and Virginia count also - but not Florida.) There is a bond when you meet someone else from the South, and there's more to it than comparing accents. There is a pride in being a Southerner, I think it's almost like being a Jew. There is that bonding point, knowing that someway, somehow, you have something almost undefinable in common. But it works (especially when you are in a place like New York, and outside of your comfort zone). I get asked such questions about the South - questions about cows and trailers and traffic signals. I assure people that you can find those things in the South, but you can also find them in rural Pennsylvania so they aren't as much a symbol of the South as people would like to think. I get told I talk funny, and am asked to "perform" on occasion (to which I politely decline). There's something more to it than grits and biscuits, warm weather and being polite. There is something that is a culture, that you just can't understand unless you spend quality time there, which I recommend everyone do. It's really cool to meet others from the South, because they just get it. At this point, I feel that, no matter how long I am gone, it will always be a part of me.

Friday, November 11, 2005

My First All-Hebrew Siddur

I bought my first all Hebrew siddur* yesterday. I have been dragging my backpack around with me every day, mainly in order to carry my Artscroll siddur, which is just too big and heavy to carry in my purse. But I was tired of doing that and I realized that I daven in all Hebrew in the mornings anyway, so I don't really need such a big siddur. It was a big step for me to let go of my Artscroll. When I first started to be interested in Orthodox Judaism, my Hebrew was really rusty. I went to Hebrew school growing up, but hadn't had the need for Hebrew since I had been 13. So I have been using Artscroll since I first became religious, first davening completely in English and adding more and more Hebrew as time went on. With the shomeneh esray , I learned it bracha by bracha in Hebrew, adding one more as I became familiar with the one before it, until one day I was reading the whole thing in Hebrew. It was a big accomplishment the day I picked up an all-Hebrew bencher and managed to locate the appopriate page. And when I could walk into shul after services started and located where we were, without having to ask someone or having the page number posted. So buying an all-Hebrew siddur is a big step for me. And I have to say I am a little proud of the fact that I have come this far, even if my Hebrew still needs an incredible amount of work. Davening from it this morning was actually nice. Because it was a different siddur, everything was on different pages, so it really caused me to stop, slow down, and really look at the words and make sure I was saying the right thing. It made me contemplate my davening more, and think about how far I have come from the time when I didn't know what the words "davening" or "siddur" meant. I am happy that such a small purchase could show me the progress I have made - and I hope that it continues. Maybe one day I will be able to pick up the all-Hebrew pages that a friend from Israel sends me, and read them by myself, without needing someone to help me. But then again, that wouldn't be nearly as much fun. *I realize there are a lot of Hebrew words used in this post. For those who don't know them (and I know what it feels like, because that was me for a long time), "siddur" means prayerbook, "davening" means praying, "shemonah esrei" literally means 18, and is the major portion of our praying that consisted originally of 18 blesings, "bracha" means blessing, a "bencher" is a book that we use that has prayers for after eating.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Perspectives on Dating

Last night in class, we were practicing counseling each other once again. We are starting to get more comfortable with each other, and really opening up, which actually makes it more interesting and realistic. It's hard to open up because we have the dual relationship of being classmates and trying to counsel each other, which wouldn't be the case if it was a traditional client-counselor relationship. But last night we really seemed to break some barriers down and discuss real issues. My group consists of four single women, all in our 20's. One other girl in my group is both my age and Jewish, though not religious. Of the other two women, one is Hispanic and one is Italian, both in their early 20's. It was interesting because as we started discussing real issues, the topic of relationships came up. I hear about the shidduch crisis so often and most of my friends are also Orthodox Jews, so I know all about the difficulties of dating in the frum world. But listening to these other women talk about dating, I actually felt lucky in many ways. The first thing that struck me was that these women have the same fears, frustrations and desires that I do. They spoke about wanting to be in a relationship, wanting to have a family and the fear of getting older and not being able to do so. They spoke about the pressure they get from friends and the envy they sometimes feel when they see happy families. The loneliness of being alone. The desire to find the right one while battling worried about being too picky or scared to make a committment. The things they expressed I certainly could relate to. The part where I actually felt lucky was in listening to the difficulties these women have when it comes to meeting men. I realized that I actually do have a lot more networking capabilities and better support systems in place when it comes to dating. I don't have to rely on randomly meeting a man in a bar or club - which is how these women said that they often meet dates. One of the women mentioned that she has a date coming up, but then she corrected it by saying that it wasn't an official date - it was two people "hanging out" but that was the same thing. At least I usually know if a date is a date or not. She also told me about a guy she had dated for four years who broke up with her via a typed letter on company letterhead sent to her home. What a jerk. Dating is frustrating no matter what, but last night did give me some perspective on the fact that in many ways, it could be much worse. I am actually grateful for the positive factors of Orthodox dating, and will try to remember that from now on.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Life Orientation

Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions about prayer. Just so everyone knows, I am not depressed. I think it's more like what e-Kvetcher said - I don't understand why some prayers seem to be answered and some don't, so it's sometimes difficult to believe that it works. But I now have lots of material to help me try to understand it, so hopefully I will gain new perspective. Now on to other topics... In an effort to actually be prepared for class tonight, I opened my textbook on the way to work this morning and began to read the chapter that we are covering. It was talking about how different cultures have completely different life orientations, and how it is important to understanding these in order to be an effective counselor. It spoke about how, in general, the white Euro-centric orientation is very independent, self-understanding focused. It said that the Afro-centric culture is interdependent, emotionally focused. And that Asian cultures tend to be family-oriented with a emphasis on strength and suppression of emotion. In my own experience, with myself and others I have known, I have found these orientations to be generally true. I know for myself, the Euro-centric focus certainly describes the orientation that I know. All of that made me wonder how it happens that different cultures do relate and orient so differently. And whether when you bring together different cultures in a place like America, whether those cultures will eventually merge together to make a hybrid of what they began with or whether, in one place, they will become more polarized in order to protect their unique qualities. To use a simpler model, I have always wondered about different accents. I understand that today different accents are because we parrot what we hear, and of course if what we hear growing up is one way of speaking, that is the way we speak. But I wonder about how particular accents came to be to begin with - why Bostoners began to draw out their "r"s and why Southerners ever said "y'all" to begin with. What it was about certain locations that inspired the differences in pronunciation. Living in New Jersey, this has become even more pronouced, as my roommate keeps pointing out words that I say "funny" that I never had any idea I said differently from anyone else. But I know that the longer I have been away from the South, the more my accent has gone away, and the longer my family has lived there, the stronger theirs has gotten. We meld with those that we are around. So I wonder if orientation to life is the same way. If I were to move to Japan, if my orientation, or my children's, would mirror those that they were growing up around, by osmosis. As my book said, understanding these differences is important because to effectively understand and help a client, you must know what their worldview is. You have to orient yourself to them, so you don't miss out on important details and underlying issues that might really make a difference to someone else, even if it wouldn't necessarily have an impact on you. As the world becomes more internationally connected, I wonder if these differences will eventually fade. Part of me hopes that it doesn't, because I love the diversity of people and the fact that you can learn from everyone because everyone is so different. But part of me hopes that the differences do fade, so that we can understand one another more easily. But if that happened, would we still be who we are? Would we still be our unique selves, if the vibrant colors of our different cultures blend?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Thoughts on Prayer

I am having a lot of trouble believing in the power of prayer lately. I daven, but I think it is more for me than anything else. I actually don't doubt that there is a lot of power in prayer, but the power I see in it is more for the individual to gain strength from it rather than it changing any sort of outcome. Maybe that's cynical, which I hate to be (idealist that I am), but I have a hard time with the thought that asking Hashem for something is going to make it happen. I think prayer gives an individual many things - peace of mind, the feeling that Hashem is listening and supporting you, the feeling that you are doing something in a situation that may seem out of control. All of these things will calm a person and give them some measure of strength. And that is great. But I have a hard time believing that prayer helps bring something to fruition that isn't meant to be from the beginning. For example, I can ask Hashem for strength to get my through a difficult situation. And I might end up having the strength to deal with the situation in the way I want to (and I hope that I do). But if I do have the strength, I don't think it is a gift I received from Hashem specifically because I prayed for it. It is something that Hashem gave me from the day I was born and through all the experiences I have had since then. The act of my praying for strength very well may help me channel my energies into having greater strength and therefore "answer" my prayers that way. But I don't know that Hashem is actively giving me strength because I ask for it. I guess I feel that prayer is in the mind. It absolutely can not hurt. It can strengthen a person immensely and channel their energies. But the outcome, I feel, is up to individual. It is up to free will. I have always had trouble with the concept that Hashem always answers prayers, there are just times when the answer is no. I think we answer our prayers, that we have within us the power to make things happen and that those prayers can help and give us the knowledge of what we need to do. I just think we have to make up in our mind to have the resolve to enact change before we can expect anything to really happen. It has to be up to us to do for ourselves. It's weird, because I still believe in miracles. I just don't know if those miracles are the answers to prayers, or if they are just what Hashem means to happen. I know all this doubt in the power of prayer goes against much of what Torah says. And I don't have a way to reconcile that. Part of me knows that this doubt comes from the feeling of being helpless, of struggling day after day, asking and praying to Hashem for things and not feeling that I am getting answered. It makes me so sad that I don't believe that I am getting answered; I want desperately to not hold this cynical view. It's just hard sometimes to fight against it. Does that mean that I don't pray? Of course not, I pray every day. I can't imagine my life without my daily dialogues with Hashem. But when I want something to happen, I think I need to do something about it. I think I need to gather my courage and strength to make it happen. I think it is within me, and that it is part of the gifts Hashem has given me and I just need to utilize, to make the changes that I want to see. I guess I think we all have the power within ourselves to answer our prayers. Maybe prayer helps me gather these gifts together, maybe my prayers actually get answered. I hope it's the latter.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

So Gorgeous

The leaves here are changing and turning so many amazing colors, I just can't take it. I have a real post in the works, but it's not ready, so here are some pictures to enjoy:

Friday, November 04, 2005

You Never Know Who You're Going to Meet

Since it's Friday, and a very short one at that, I didn't feel like putting any kind of special effort into getting dressed this morning. So I threw on my usual denim skirt and pulled out my favorite sweatshirt - a crimson red, comfy, huge sweatshirt with the word "Alabama" across the front. Yes, yes, Roll Tide. (For those of you not conversant in Alabama politics, and yes I do mean politics, Roll Tide is the battle call for the University of Alabama football team.) I guess it's not such a common sight to see someone with an Alabama sweatshirt walking through the streets on Manhattan. But I have to say, it's not such a weird sight either, compared to a lot of the things I see. Anyway, that's the topic for a whole different discussion. So I'm walking down the street, listening to my I-Pod, and all of a sudden a man with a walker is standing in front of me, saying something to me, extremely excited. I turn off my I-pod so I can hear what he is saying, and I realize he is asking me about whether I am actually from Alabama. I reply to him that I am, from Birmingham. We tells me he is from Wetumpka, which is a tiny town outside the state capitol of Montgomery, which I have been to several times because the grandmother of my college roommate lived there. Well, it didn't stop there, because this man likes to talk, and is extremely friendly, though a bit on the inapropriate side. He asked me what I was doing in New York, wished me luck and showered me with flattery. He told me story after story about his elbow-rubbing with celebrities, which I am naive enough to believe, but cynical enough to have a grain of doubt in my head. But I guess you never know. He told me about his spoiled puppy, who sounds adorable. He asked me to leave my address at his building, so he can send me a "nice to meet you" card. He told me he is a photographer and wants to send me some kind of photo. All in all, it was a fun and amusing exchange. I guess the South really brings people together. I don't think you would see two random people from New York bump into each other and have such an exchange, no matter where in the world they met. I feel like if I had had more time to spend (I was late for work as it was), we could have found people in common that we knew - as it was, he told me at some point he lived in Birmingham in the neighborhood where all the Jews live (and he shared the same sentiments for that neighborhood as I do). You never know who you'll meet on a New York street. These exchanges certainly add color to my day. Have a good Shabbos!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Back to School

I went back to school last night after missing four straight weeks of classes because of all the holidays. In many ways, it was like I hadn't been gone for so long, but there was definitely a different feel to the class than when I had left. Walking into my building, I continued on my experiment to see how long I can go before I actually get asked to show my ID at the door. I think I am up to six or seven entries now, and not once have I been stopped. I guess I'm just have a trustworthy, non-threathening look. But still, I think I would feel a bit safer if I felt that security did their job. When I got onto the floor where my class is, as I walked down the hall, I realized I had forgotten the room number of my class. Thankfully, I saw a couple familiar faces just ahead of me in the hallway, so I followed the crowd. When the holidays started, we had only been in class a few weeks and everyone was just starting to get to know each other. As I walked in last night, there was a very different vibe to the class. It was obvious that during my absence, friendships had been established, bonds had been made, alliances had been created. Because we work in groups a good amount of the time, rapport and trust had obviously developed. And I felt very left out of that, like I was an outsider looking in. But people were actually really nice. After a few minutes of feeling left out, a classmate came over and asked about how my holidays were. Then another classmate came over and gave me handouts that she had collected for me. When the teacher started class, she welcomed me back. And during our break, a couple people came over and they were asking me about the different holidays and about being an Orthodox Jew. Like I said, the feel of the entire class was very different, but it was nice, because I definitely could see that the class has come together over the last few weeks to become a unit rather than individual students. We are practicing doing counseling on each other. I had definitely missed a bit in that part of the course. My group had developed some rapport and knowledge about what was going on in each others' lives, which enhances the counseling relationship that we are working to build. But my group partners were also very encouraging and nice; they welcomed me back and helped fill me in on those things that I had missed. I also got my first project back. It was a 10-minute counseling session that I had to transcribe and critique. The comments I received were helpful and positive. She said I was on the right track, which was encouraging. All in all, I had been dreading missing a lot with so many weeks away from school. I did miss quite a bit, but to the credit of my classmates, they really helped me feel like I was part of the group even while I was gone. Now I look forward to the rest of semester, and hopefully learning a lot while getting regular work on the development of my counseling skills.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Why I Won't Join Saw You At Sinai

At least one of the reasons. I was on Saw You at Sinai (hereinafter referred to as "SYAS" to save my fingers some typing) when it first was being developed, but cancelled my membership around the time they went to a system where payment was required. I think that was about a year and a half ago, but I don't remember clearly. My cancellation had nothing to do with the requirement to pay - I quit for various reasons, such as the fact that it had garnered me exactly no dates, no phone calls and only a couple guys who I would even consider going out with. But I also quit because of the mistreatment I received from several of the shadchanim on the system. Not every shadchan on SYAS was rude and mean. There are some who really are well-meaning, helpful and making real efforts to make shidduchim, which I definitely agree is an important task. But I had a couple of interactions where the shadchans made rude comments to me about my declination of dates and about my profile on the site. What I didn't receive, but what I have heard story after story about, especially recently, was grief about the pictures I posted on the site. I count myself lucky. In the past month or two, I have been told numerous stories from friends about shadchanim on SYAS berating pictures on the site. I have heard requests for professional photos, suggestions on better photos and I have heard of rude criticism being sent to singles about the photos they chose to post. But last night's story is the absolute worst. A friend was telling me about a friend of hers (who I have met several times) who recently got dressed up, put on make-up, did her hair, and had someone take a very nice picture of her. She posted this photo on SYAS and received an incredibly rude e-mail, completely unsolicited, from a shadchan on the site. This e-mails subject line itself was "EW." The e-mail consisted of berating and ridiculing remarks regarding this woman's picture. Name-calling was even resorted to. The woman who received this e-mail was in tears after reading it. This is the worst e-mail I have heard of, but not the only one. Who on earth gave the shadchanim the idea that it is okay to treat anyone in such a manner? Who taught these supposedly frum individuals that it is under the guise of Torah to give unsolicited criticism in a mean and cruel manner? What on earth was this woman thinking in writing such an e-mail? Just because a person is single entitles no one, not even a shadchan who is "helping" that single, to be rude and cruel. I know many shadchanim received less than grateful responses from singles, and that is absolutely not justifiable either. But calling names and breaking down the self-esteem of women, for no reason that I can fathom, is ridiculously disgusting. What worries me the most is that this is not an isolated incident. As I said, I have heard numerous stories of my friends being criticized for the pictures they chose to post on the site. I have also heard stories of shadchanim who badger women into going out with guys that they are uninterested in, and who make abusive remarks to my friends regarding their decisions. One of my friends questioned whether men on SYAS get the same treatment, considering the fact that I have heard there are many more women on the site than men. I honestly don't personally know any men who are on SYAS, but I would be interested to know whether any of them have received such e-mails. I don't like being critical of a program that whose mission I do believe in. I do think it's important to make introductions between singles and to encourage marriage. I do personally know of a couple or two who was introduced through the site. But I think they need to be doing something in order to make sure these abusive e-mails are not being sent, especially since it seems to be a regular occurrence. I think the shadchans need to remember what it was like being single, and to use sensitivity in their treatment of the singles they are trying to help. I hope something changes soon, for the sake of my friends. Because for now, I stand firm in my decision to refrain from joining SYAS.