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Isn't it pretty?

Monday, July 31, 2006

Fanning the Flame

Hope everyone had a good weekend. My newest article is up at Beyond BT (and check out their plans for a Shabbos Nachamu Shabbaton this coming weekend): Fanning the Flame Check it out, enjoy and have a great day!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

My Life in a Nutshell

Blogger hasn't been liking me for most of the day - apparently, we have worked out our difficulties and Blogger is my friend again (I bribed him with chocolate - works every time). This isn't going to be a terribly well thought-out post anyway, because I just don't have much to say these days. What's going on in Israel is awful, and that's where my thoughts are much of the time these days. But I'm almost to the point of oversaturation with it now - how many more times can I hear about the rockets pounding the North, how many more innocent people are going to be hit, how many more poor kids who have had guns thrust in their arms are going to suffer? It's my people and my homeland that is being affected and I really care, but I can't do much, and I'm far away and it's hard. So I just keeping davening and paying attention and caring and hoping it will end soon, with peace. Because it's all I can do. I think I'm also a little undirected because I've been out of school for a month now, and without school, I kinda feel a bit aimless. It's nice to not have the stress, but I've kind of made getting my degree my purpose in life at this point. The attainment of my graduate degree will lead to the career I hope will last a lifetime, so while I do have a life outside school (really I do), I do focus on that and like taking classes in pursuit of that goal, because it makes me feel like I am achieving my goal, at least in one realm of my life. So while it's nice to not be so overwhelmed with work, I'm kinda ready to go back. Another month until I get to do that. In the meantime, I have been taking some Jewish education classes for the past month, which concluded last night (really, what am I going to do with myself in August?). They were really interesting classes with a very diverse group of students. I took the classes at a left-wing Modern Orthodox institution, and it really was fascinating to see the mixture of people who came. What was even more interesting was to see how religion charges people so much and how each person there had a different agenda, very much based on their prior experiences with religion. It was a world I hadn't really experienced before, and I got a lot out of it. There is a huge world out there, and I think most people really bury themselves in their own little corner of it. I want more (ok, now I have the Little Mermaid song in my head). I'm moving in a week and a half and I have a ton of packing to do, but little motivation (what's new?). I'll be living alone for the first time in 4 years, and I am really, really looking forward to having my own space. And decorating (I've already been spending way too much money on stuff for my new digs). Ok, that's my life in a nutshell (or a blog post, but that seems way too literal).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pray for Israel

I've fiddled around with my templated until I figured out how to add a link on my sidebar to Torah.org's "Pray for Israel" campaign. Check it out, join their list, and saya prayer and learn Torah in honor of a speedy resolution to the situation in Israel. It certainly can't hurt, and it might help in many ways. And I think if you click through my blog, I get entered for something as well. Check it out.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Guarantees in Life

Yesterday, in shul the rabbi spoke about what we must be working on personally in order to fight what's going on in Israel. He offered a 4-prong tactic: 1) Shabbos 2) Tefillah (Prayer) 3) Bein Adam L'Chaveiro (Conduct between Man and Man) 4) Tznius (Modesty) I agree that we all need to work on ourselves, but I had a hard time with what he had to say, and not for the reasons my friends assumed. The rabbi said two things that I had a very hard time with, both falling under the topic of tefillah. The first thing he said was that you can't rely on segulahs...but there were rabbis who have come out to say that if a person says "Adon Olam" with total kavannah then they are guaranteed that their prayers will be answered. He then told a story about a woman who had been married for eight years and had not yet had children. Her father took her to see the Chazon Ish to receive a bracha. While in the home of the Chazon Ish, the woman broke down into tears, sobbing. The Chazon Ish came out and told the woman that, due to her tears falling from such real, true emotion, she would have children. I found myself in tears listening to the sermon. Not tears of being touched by the thought that if only I followed these instructions, then I would have my prayers answered. But tears of frustration, especially due to the second story. Because how many times have I cried real, true, honest tears...and still many of the things I have cried and pleaded for have not materialized. In general, I don't like stories like the ones the rabbi told - because I believe it gives false hope. I believe it causes people to get their hopes up for things they really desire, and to pin those hopes to things that aren't so solid. And when the things they are wishing for don't happen, I think it's quite easy to have your faith diminish. I believe in Hashem. I know that He chooses for me what's best. I try hard to hold on to that faith, no matter how hard it sometimes seems, how many challenges He throws my way. And I'm not complaining, I really have a lot to be thankful for, and I know my life is quite easy compared to many - I wouldn't trade burdens. What I fail to believe in these days is easy fixes - tears here, a prayer specific there, some ritual with no basis in reality "guaranteed" to bring your every desire. I believe in Hashem, I believe in working on myself, and accepting my lot in life. And sometimes that's not so easy. But I keep going.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Solidarity Rallies

Check out the JBlogosphere for information about solidarity rallies for Israel that are going on. There are lots of rallies all over the world, and it's important for everyone to come together in support of our Jewish state. Sorry I don't have more to blog about - my mind is mainly on Israel and packing for my upcoming move. Israel you can read about in much more detail elsewhere, and packing isn't terribly interesting to write about. Have a good Shabbos everyone!.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Thoughts on Israel

There is a lot going on in life right now, but it's not all sorted out in my head yet, so it's not going to make a very compelling blog post. Highest in my thoughts is Israel, also not sorted out, but very prominent. Ezzie sent me an e-mail with a link to the JBlogosphere post that is being constantly updated with links to live-bloggers, aggregators and information on events in support of Israel. Please check it out regularly, as well as the many blogs and news sources that are focused on what is going on in Israel right now. (There's also a nice graphic that could be added to my sidebar, but I am currently lacking the technical know-how to figure it out, though I have recently pickedup the ability to include color in my posts.) As far as the situation in Israel, I have several friends visiting there at the moment, as well as others who live there all the time. The war is scary, extremely scary, but honestly, I feel weird being here, safe(?) in America. Part of me wants to fly to Israel right away, to show my lack of fear, even though I know that there really is nothing I can do there to help. I went to a shiur last night and was speaking to a friend and he emphasized that all we can really do is increase our mitzvot. I guess wherever I am, in America or Israel, he's right. I can daven hard to Hashem, give tzedakah, and increase my mitzvos through many avenues. I'm happy to say that I have been engaging in Torah study as one attempt to do that. One thing I have noticed as a positive offshoot of the situation is Israel is that many Jews seem to be coming together in alliance for their fellow Jews. Yes, there are those splinter groups who do not support Israel defending itself and attempting to ensure the safety of its citizens, but they seem to be few and far between. Much more, I have seen Jews coming together for rallies, saying tehillim, learning Torah and discussing the news in general. To be able to see any good in such a situation makes me proud to be part of this Jewish people. I think it's important for us now to make alliances and become a united group in order to secure the safety of the Jewish nation, for our own future and the future of generations to come. I am constantly checking updates, it's just about the first thing I do in the morning, and the last thing before I fall asleep, with many updates in between. Even though I am not there, I feel it, in my heart and my veins. And I have pride as well as fear for the kids (because they are kids) fighting this battle, as well as all the residents of the communities in Israel who have been targeted. When I was in Israel in January, a friend gave me a necklace. It is a glass tube with five different colors of sand in it - each color of sand from a different region in Israel. Since I returned from that trip, I have been wearing the necklace, though inside my shirt for the most part. The last few days, I have been proudly wearing it so everyone can see it, everyone can see that I hold a little piece of Israel with me wherever I go, at all times. It's part of me. Hashem, please take care of my family in Israel, please let there be peace.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Incredible Generosity

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. ~~~Ralph Waldo Emerson I spent the weekend in Baltimore visiting my friends there. It was a wonderful weekend, and I realized what incredible generosity I am the recipient of from my friends. I was touched from beginning to end by the outpouring of warmth from my friends who I haven't gotten to spend time with in much too long. From those who had Shabbos meals in my honor, filled with my friends, to those who opened their homes to me and welcomed me with open arms and hearts (and the incredible, amazing, loving hugs from their children, whom I've missed so much). I really was just absolutely blown away by the generosity of everyone. I was given books, a map, pepper spray (when describing the slight scary conditions near my office), crackers, drinks, a picture frame, traffic advice and friendship from so many over the weekend. And the love that accompanied it all just blew me away. I feel so incredibly blessed to have so many caring friends. I have one friend in particular who was a classmate of mine at the University of Baltimore. She is a constant giver and has done an incredible amount for me, from specially buying kosher food and plastic silverware so I can eat in her home, to giving my cat a new home when he needed one. This weekend she was the first person I visited and the last person I saw before I left. And before I left, she slipped into my purse a card with the above poem on it, and an inscription inside saying that I am a great friend, a tribute which, in her shadow, I hardly feel worthy.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's Not Easy...

Being Jewish. I'm not talking about all the restrictions of keeping halachot, though that certainly isn't easy either. But what's so hard is watching the news lately and seeing Israel trying to desperately to defend its citizens, and hearing the world denounce them for it. And it all boils down to the fact that we are Jewish. First, I will admit that I wouldn't feel as strongly or have such a difficult time if it wasn't Israel that was going through this, if it was some other country on some random continent whose citizens have nothing in common with me. Maybe it's not right, but it is just the way it is (and it happens every day, which just goes to prove it). But it hurts to know that there are those out there who want to wipe out Israel because it is a Jewish nation. Who want to kill other human beings due only to the religion that they were born into. That they would stoop to kill civilian children, kidnap teenage soldiers (when will they release them?) and any other person just because they happen to be Jewish. It sucks, to be blunt. And it sucks sitting here with nothing that I can do other than read the news online and pray as hard as I can that it will be over very, very soon.


I was talking to a friend last night. She's in the middle of breaking up with her boyfriend of several years. They've been living together and have realized that it just isn't working. I hate saying that I'm not incredibly surprised, but the truth is, every time I speak to her (we only talk every few months) I'm always a bit afraid to ask about it, because I had a feeling it was coming. Not that I'm psychic or anything; I've never even met the guy, but from the way she has talked about their relationship for the past year or so, I had a feeling that things were heading south. It's funny because she was telling me that two of her co-workers are in the process of moving in with their boyfriends, and she is very fearful for their relationships. We discussed the difference between moving in together and actually getting married. She said if they had gotten married after a few months of knowing each other, when they were still flying high and so infatuated, that she thinks they might stay together now. That the committment of marriage might be enough to hold them, to push them to work a bit harder. But it's not there, and she just doesn't see a way at this point to make it work. Her boyfriend says they need space and to not to live together in order to improve their relationship; but she correctly points out that in order to get married, you have to be able to live together. She's right. She asked me about the married couples I know, since she told me she doesn't really know many married couples to look at as role models. I told her that I know a few happy married couples, and even those just take a lot of work. Marriage just isn't easy, relationships aren't. Many times being single is easier than being married because your problems only affect you - they don't affect another person that you love and their reactions and responses to your problem don't have to considered also. Another friend of mine has been building a relationship lately, and it's been extremely hard work, though the work seems to be paying off as she is heading quickly towards her goal. Her most recent insight I found extremely interesting. Her issues, her walls are being reflected in the guy she is dating. His reactions are starting to become the ones she has shown him, for better and worse. We take and feed so much on what we are given, and consequently, others give us back what we give them. Especially so when you really care. Which is why it's so important to make sure that we work on ourselves, rather than blame the other party. Life ain't easy, and relationships certainly aren't either. As I told my friend last night, as soon as I figure out all the secrets, I'll share them with her. But I told her not to hold her breath.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Should We Attempt to Make Our Family Frum?

My newest article is up at BeyondBT - Should We Attempt to Make Our Family Frum? Check it out and enjoy!

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Path of My Own

P-Life posts an important article that I'm fairly certain I read quite some time ago, which made an impact on me back then. For those of you who, like me, have difficulty reading long articles on a computer screen, let me sum it up quickly. The article discusses how Torah, when used incorrectly, can stifle those for whom individuality is extremely important. When used as a tool to create conformity amongst its adherrents, it can lead many off the path. But Torah and its rules are not necessarily about conformity - Hashem didn't make each of us exactly the same - there is certainly room for individuality within the confines of halacha. And while halacha gives us a framework for our lives, it is just that - a framework rather than an absolute system of making each of us indistinguishable from the next. It seems that individuality is scary for many. I guess it's difficult to control what's going to happen when you encourage people to explore for themselves who they want to be. It's very easy to be led astray, especially if one doesn't have the proper foundation set down to use as a platform. But once this foundation has set, I think it's important to encourage people to explore their unique talents and interests. I spoke to a woman once who had grown up in a Chassidish community, but had left because of her frustration with the map set out for her. She still adheres to halacha, but she chose a path other than being a teacher, which for her family, was somewhat devastating. Here was a woman with a successful career, who held onto her frumkeit, but was looked upon negatively because she had chosen a path less taken (and not so much less taken - her career wasn't anything terribly weird or unusual, just not a teacher). And this path, while not what her family desired, brought her a lot more happiness than what was expected of her. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the path she had taken other than it wasn't what was typically done. So why does it cause so much disruption? Does anyone consider themselves typical? I once challenged a professor to point to an average student. Because once you look at someone upon closer inspection, it's difficult to find someone who is "normal," who completely walks the line and fits right in. They may appear to on the surface, but on the inside, I usually find they are hiding a lot, and attempting to hide who they really are in order to fit in. Which I think is such a shame - because we each have such amazing, innate, individual skills and talents, that to deny them is a detriment to the world at large. I think our individuality is our precious gift from Hashem, and should be encouraged, again within the framework of halacha. Halacha isn't monolithic; it doesn't demand one path to walk - it offers a multifacted array of colors from which to choose, all valid. I do understand why individuality can be scary. I think of the book "My Name is Asher Lev" by Chaim Potok, which gives a slightly disturbing account of a boy with unique artistic talents. He is both encouraged and discouraged (by different people) to develop these talents, and it is a difficult struggle to find a balance. But balance is the key, and I think that the focus on turning all into one image is dangerous, and alienates many. It's important for each person to find their own voice, their own color and their own path, because that is the only way for them to actualize their unique reason for being here. This reminds me of the poem by Robert Frost "The Road Not Taken." Perhaps if we encouraged more people to take the roads that are not as well-worn, this world will be more comfortable with each person being himself. I know I can't be happy following the lead of those who walk the straight path - I need to find my own way. And that doesn't necessarily mean that my way is not well within the borders of Judaism.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Foundation of Belief

Since my visit and discussion with my hairdresser, who expressed her disbelief in G-d due to her father's death, I've been thinking a lot about the nature of belief and what causes people to have faith in G-d's existence. I always believed in G-d. I don't think it was because of what I was taught growing up, because I distinctly remember the Reform rabbi whose Temple I attended in high school telling us that it was fine to be both an atheist and a Jew. I knew plenty of people who were agnostic, questioning G-d's existence, including my family members. But somehow, it was never much of a question for me. I looked around at the world and just couldn't imagine how it could all be without a G-d. That's not to say that my belief always extended to feeling that G-d watched over every thing that happened, and had a hand in every event and life. Before becoming religious, I often questioned whether G-d cared about my personal life or whether He put the world in place and then left it to spin out of control. It's funny, because writing these words now seems odd. My beliefs have changed dramatically, I realize. I certainly understand those who question or have their beliefs fail them in times of hardship. When life seems completely out of comprehension and we have an inability to understand what's going on, I think it's easy to assume that G-d doesn't know what is going on either. When looking at tragedy, it's extremely difficult to reconcile the belief that a G-d who cares could also let these things happen. But, interestingly, my most difficult times are when my faith is strengthened the most. When I am stressed and on edge, or dealing with personal hardship, I call upon G-d to help me. My prayers are ten times as intense, and He is who I turn to. So what is the factor that determines whether hardship will turn someone towards or away from G-d? That's what I can't figure out. Is it a foundation of belief upon which to deal with those hardships? Once in place, incredibly difficult to crack, and what is left to fall back on when everything else is gone? As they say, the foundation is the most important part - so if it's not strong, maybe it's easy for everything else to fail. But why would my faith be so strong, when it's not what I've grown up with? And why would someone who did grow up with a strong tradition (and I know of those in this situation) be able to let go of their roots and put their belief in G-d behind them? I don't know the answer to this one. I feel fortunate to have my faith, because it certainly is something that gives me strength through difficult times, and I can't imagine if I didn't have it; how much more difficult life could be without the reassurance that there is something, someone who cares.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth!

In my attempts to have a relaxing day away from New York City (because I've had enough of it to last me a lifetime), it appears that I am first going to the most insane mall ever (but for a good purpose) and then hosting a barbecue. Hope everyone else enjoys their holiday (at least those of you who are here in the U.S.)! Just a reminder to continue praying for the safe return of Gilad Shalit to his home and family. I can barely read the news these days, it's so scary.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Live Life

I just went to get my hair cut and as always, my hairdresser said something that really made me think. (In addition to doing an amazing job with my hair, she's quite an "interesting" personality, apparently unafraid to disclose quite personal information with her clients.) She grew up in my neighborhood, before it was so predominantly Orthodox. She told me that her father actually attended the shul that I do now, before it switched from being Conservative to being Orthodox. She knows a little bit about Orthodox Judaism and, as I'm finding to be the case with many in the NY area, has a strong Jewish identity, probably just because it's so easy here. Everytime I go for a haircut she tells me something that leaves me a bit surprised to hear from someone I've only met a handful of times. I guess since I trust her with my hair, she trusts me with what I think most people would consider fairly personal information. I was telling her, for some reason, about a story I recently heard about a girl who was sitting in a dentist's waiting room when a car crashed through the window and she was injured pretty badly. To me, the story says that you should really live your life without being scared - you never know what's going to happen when, so you shouldn't live in fear of experiences that some consider slightly dangerous, such as driving a car, flying in a plane, going to Israel, or my favorite, skydiving. In response to this story, my hair dresser said she agreed with me - then she told me that her father had drowned when she was a kid. They went for vacation to the beach, and he died. She said that the experience taught her the same thing; you can't be scared of living, because you never know when you're going to die. (She also told me that the accident caused her to lose her belief in G-d for a long time, and she still isn't sure if she believes or not, but that's a different post that's brewing.) I think it's foolish to live in fear. Yes, there are some things that are just stupid. David Blaine comes to mind as an example of someone who likes to attempt those things. But most activities, even the slightly dare devilish ones, are about having fun with your life and making the most of each moment. And I don't want it to take a bad experience for me to learn that. So, life is for living and I plan on doing that, without fear. (Except the fear of driving in Manhattan - still not ready to overcome that one.)