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Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Plight of the BT continued

Poor Ezzie. He goes away for a couple days and his blog is hijacked by his friendly guest posters.

In relation to the article I cited in this post a few days ago, David from Soccer Dad responded with the other side of the coin, to which I had to counter.

Check it out!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Public Schools or Jewish?

When I tell people that I am working towards my Masters Degree in School Counseling, one of the first questions I usually get is - "Do you want to work in Jewish schools?" My answer, typically, is no. But I'm starting to rethink that decision.

I have set my sights on working in public schools for various reasons - the pay is better, the benefits are great, I wouldn't have to deal with the same politics that I would in a Jewish school. Additionally, I've always feared that my not quite "toeing the line" attitude wouldn't be looked upon so favorably in Jewish schools, and that I would have more freedom to practice and guide students in a public school. I also have felt that I am working so hard for my degree, that I would prefer to practice in an environment that requires it, which many Jewish schools don't.

But recently, several people have made points that are quite astute and gave me pause. First of all, I know the frum community, and while I don't necessarily agree with everything that goes on there, I do have an understanding of how it works, and the pressures specific to the lifestyle. In this way, I could offer an understanding of Jewish students that a counselor without such a background can't.

Conversely, the fact that I didn't grow up in an Orthodox environment means that I experienced the world and understand the pressures and desires and enticements of the non-Orthodox world. I can relate to those students who either wonder what they are missing, or maybe are already experiencing it. I wouldn't judge those who are curious, or maybe succumbing to their temptations, but hopefully I would be able to give them a bit of strength and support in order to live the life they truly wish to, whatever that is.

It's an interesting thought, working within the Orthodox community. I'm starting to consider it more and more. I wouldn't want to work within whichever community I end up living, because I feel that the dual relationships (for example, counseling a student in school and running into their parents in synagoge) become too complicated and the pressure to disclose confidential information and otherwise compromise ethical standards is too great, but I am starting to become open to the idea of working in a school not in my own community. It might even make my dad happy - he works in the Jewish communal services field and has always encouraged me to do so as well (though I wouldn't be following directly in his footsteps).

For those who do work within Jewish communities, what do you think are the positives and/or negatives of doing so?

Thanks to Semgirl, amongst others, for putting these considerations in my head.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

My Very First Guest Post

Ezzie is shirking his blogging duties because he's busy with some other stuff, so he asked me to guest post at Serandez for the next couple weeks. Check out my very first guest post!

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Plight of the BT

I've had too much reading about Baalei Teshuvah* this morning. First, this article at Beyond BT, which I just don't agree with. I respect so much that man for getting up in front of a congregation and making those mistakes. Because, most likely, a year or two ago, he couldn't have even tried. So instead of being looked at with awe at how hard he has worked in order to even try, he get snickered and laughed at because he is not perfect.

Then, this post from Kallah Magazine's blog, which discusses an article in a jewish "family" magazine (some family values they are espousing, certainly not Ahavas Yisrael*) that apparently disdains every ounce of character that many Baalei Teshuvah should feel proud of. (I have a good hunch as to which magazine said article was published in, but upon checking their website, found that the articles are available only for a cost, which I choose not to support. And I refuse to give them publicity in this blog also, since they obviously like to denigrate part of the future of the world they supposedly are proponents for.) If this is the attitude out there, then I might as well completely throw off all the work I have done, because even my children don't have a chance at being look at as normal. I'm doomed, my kids are doomed - to when does it go until the future generations of my family will be accepted? You know what? If that's the attitude, I'd rather they were never accepted.

My question is, since when is it the baal teshuvah's responsibility to completely forget his past and where he came from, and what brought him to the point that he is now in, and "blend" into the "frum"* culture. Why should he? Hashem* created each person with his or her own unique personality and talents and I believe we should use these to serve Hashem rather than subdue and deny our uniqueness in order to "pass" for FFBs*, especially if the attitude that we will receive is that we will never be good enough anyway.

I occasionally get comments from people saying that they didn't realize I was a baalas teshuvah, because I seem so normal and balanced in my frumkeit*. Those comments are not necessarily something I take pride in - why should I blend? I know how hard I have worked to get where I am and I think I should be proud of that rather than try to hide it. My non-religious past, the fact that I grew up in tiny Jewish communities, made me work harder at and have a stronger Jewish identity than many I know who grew up frum. It's not something I feel I should hide, it's something that I think I should be proud of.

Sorry, I had to rant for a moment. But give me a break - these people who believe in the "purity" of frumkeit need to think again. Because if they don't stop looking for ways to keep people out, then they are going to no longer have anyone to keep in.


Baal teshuva, baalei teshuvah, baalas teshuvah - someone who is not born into an Orthodox Jewish tradition

Ahavas Yisrael - love of your fellow Jews

Frum - Orthodox

Hashem - God

FFB - someone who is "frum" from birth

Frumkeit - religious practice

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Similarities Between Dating and Blogging

Over Shabbos, I was musing about how blogging and dating are similar. Let's explore.

In dating, you see someone who seems attractive. You start to talk, and find them interesting, maybe find some things you have in common with them.

In blogging, you browse the blogs until a certain title or template looks cool. You start to read, find them interesting, maybe find some thoughts you have in common with them.

In dating, you start out formal, putting on a brave face, being on best behavior, dressing up, doing your hair and makeup, being extremely careful about what you reveal.

In blogging, you often start out being extremely careful not to reveal who you really are. You are circumspect, only publishing your best, most carefully crafted thoughts. You edit and edit to have the perfect post.

In dating, as you get to know each other, you reveal more and more. You start to rely on the other person, opening up to them, showing them your true colors. You look forward to seeing the other person, missing them when you are not together. You start to show true emotion in front of them, both happiness and sadness.

In blogging, you start to build your own blog community with regular readers and commenters. As you get more comfortable with those who read and comment on your blog, you get more real, more open. You may start to expose more of yourself, even possibly revealing your true identity (for those who start out anonymous). You come to look forward to blogging, to writing posts and receiving feedback. You miss it when you can't access your computer for a time. It becomes a support in your life.

In dating, hopefully, you really build a deep relationship with the other person, making them a big part of your life. In blogging, maybe you do so as well, exchanging e-mail, phone calls and maybe even meeting other bloggers in real life.

Sometimes, the outcome is even the same.

The other thing that I find the same in dating and blogging is where, at least for a while, you are only seeing certain sides of a person, but not the whole person. It takes a long time to get the whole picture. It's one of my frustrations with both venues - people think they know who I am by reading my blog, or going out with me briefly. And they definitely attribute things to me that aren't there, because of their own biases. But it takes time, and a lot of exposure to really see who I am. Who anyone really is.

There ya have it - dating and blogging - one and the same.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rosh Chodesh Elul

It's Rosh Chodesh Elul. I feel it this year. Last year, I had just moved to Passaic and was having a very tough time adjusting, and I remember wondering what had happened to the preparation I was supposed to be doing for the beginning of the year. This year, I feel it. I'm thinking about what I should take on, what I should work on, and what I've learned over the year.

I think this year has been about defining who I am, regardless of my relationship to any other person. I haven't quite found it yet - it's not something simple. And it's always changing, so that probably makes it a little harder. And I have to say - it's hard being yourself sometimes. Sometimes you just don't want to do it, but there is no other way. And in the long run, it's for the best.

It's amazing how much happens in a year. This past year, I've built new friendships and relationships. And I've lost a few. I completed a year of graduate school. I traveled to Israel, and forged a connection there that I was aching for. And now I miss it so much. I went sky-diving, which could be alternately viewed as extremely brave or just dumb. It's probably a little of both. This year, I've clarified and confused. I laughed and smiled and hopped up and down with happiness. And I've cried some tears as well.

I've realized how much I love the people in my life. I think I somewhat took that for granted before. But what I now know is that when I spend time with those I love, I leave with a full feeling, a knowledge in my heart about what love is. And I am so lucky to have so many that I share that feeling with. Though I wish more of them lived closer. But I don't know if I would appreciate them as much.

What will I work on in the coming day, week, month, year? What will I do to make the most of each day, to make sure that next year at this time I will look back and be able to say that I've grown?

First and foremost, I want to work on my relationship with Hashem. I do think it has strengthened this year, but it's not what it once was, and it's definitely not where it could, and should, be. I want to work on it every day, and I'm starting now, with Rosh Chodesh Elul. Through this, I hope to feel more strength in myself, with the knowledge that Hashem has my back, and is watching out and caring for me. I wish it was easier, but then I probably wouldn't appreciate it as much.

Elul is about working on ourselves, and I am here to rise to the challenge. What are you working on?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Following the Crowd vs. Attention Grabbing Behavior

I posted a quick summary on my other blog of a conversation I had with my Shabbos hosts the other night. Some popular musician was mentioned that sparked the conversation, and my host questioned what makes certain things popular - why so many people follow along, when oftentimes, there isn't much reason for doing so other than the fact that it is popular. He asked why so many people follow the crowd without thinking.

So I challenged him. I asked him why he wears a dark suit to shul on Shabbos. He replied that you are supposed to wear something special in honor of the Holy Sabbath. I asked him why he doesn't wear a red suit, that would certainly be special. He said it wouldn't be appropriate. I asked him why not. He said it just isn't. I asked him who says it isn't appropriate. He didn't really have an answer. In other words, he's just following the crowd without thinking.

To be fair, we did discuss how wearing a red suit certainly would cause someone to stand out in a crowd, and to draw attention to oneself, which could certainly be considered inappropriate, especially in shul. There is certainly a fine line between being yourself, not following the crowd without thinking, and drawing attention to oneself by attention-grabbing behavior. Apparently, I have not quite figured out where this line is.

The truth is, I'm not sure if I haven't found the line at all, or if it's just that the company I keep varies so much so that I either don't or do cross line depending on who I am with.

To explain a little more, I enjoy colorful things. I play with make-up and nail polish colors. I have a tendency to wear purple or blue nail polish and glitter eye liner on occasion. It's honestly not done with the intention of drawing attention to myself - I enjoy the colors and glitter. It makes me happy to wear them and I find it fun. When I'm at work in my Manhattan office (which is super-casual) people either think absolutely nothing of it, or they think it's cool. But in a frum community, depending on the community, apparently this is not the norm, and some people (probably ones who don't know me especially well) think I am doing it to draw attention.

I was called out on it this past weekend. The way I was called on it was done in a very sensitive manner, and I heard the explanation and could understand it. But in the end, it still irks me. And I can't decide whether it should irk me. Whether it's my immaturity and rebellious nature that caused me to go ahead and put my glitter eyeliner on when I was getting ready for work this morning. Or whether I have a valid point, that there is nothing wrong with my wearing it, even being a part of a frum community.

I'm struggling with this. I'm not an attention-grabbing person by nature. I hate being in the spotlight. So I really don't think I wear these colors in order to draw attention. But if I do draw attention by it, even inadvertently, should I stop wearing my glitter and purple nail polish? Because I do understand, and desire to embody, the concept of tznius as a frum woman. But if I do refrain from wearing it, I am just following the crowd blindly and letting go of my unique self? Or can I be myself without needing to wear purple nail polish? Is there a middle ground?

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I'm tired of my commenting system not working so I have enabled blogger comments. I apologize to those people who have tried to comment without luck recently - it certainly isn't anything personal. For now, I'm going to leave both kinds of comments up, but will probably take down the old ones soon, which means I'll lose all the old comments unless I can figure out a way to export them. I hate to do it, but I can't think of a better solution, and I'm tired of being frustrated by it. Please use the Blogger comments from now on (that's the option on the left). Thanks.

Dating Differences

e-kvetcher asked me recently (in private correspondence): "I don't know if you were in any non-trivial relationships prior to becoming Orthodox. If you were, how would you describe the differences (obviously other than the blatantly obvious ones)." I did have a couple serious relationships prior to becoming frum, and have thought a bit about his question. The truth is, I don't think that the differences in secular dating and Orthodox dating are so severely different as the frum world would want you to believe. Now, part of that is because of the circles that I associate with - I am not in the FFB, yeshivish, shadchan-using, teenage dating circle. I would imagine (since I don't know first-hand) that that world is significantly different. I think it's quite different from what my current dating circles. Just to give some background, I tend to date by being set up by friends, through the Internet, or by having met someone in a social situation. If there is a shadchan involved, it usually doesn't last past a couple dates, and often there is not one at all. I tend to think that at my and my date's age, assuming that we are mature enough for marriage, we are mature enough to communicate with each other like adults about whether we do or do not wish to continue dating. And so far, I can't say that not having a shadchan has seemed to make a lot of difference. I also don't tend to do an extensive background check on the person I am dating before I speak with them. I have found them to be fairly unhelpful, especially before meeting a person. After a date or two, I sometimes do choose to speak with a person who is close to the guy I am dating, because I have found that at that point, I have a clearer idea of those issues I think might be presenting themselves, and I find I get better information when I know what to ask about. Before meeting a person at all, I find that I am told that the guy is nice, sweet, helpful, a mensch. When asking specifics about personality or interests, I am told that they are smart, nice, a mensch. I don't usually get information that distinguishes them from any other guy, and this is even when I have someone asking for me that knows me extremely well and knows how to ask. So I have to admit that I do go into things fairly blindly at times. In general, I try to have my non-negotiables met before meeting someone - the guy is reasonably intelligent, mature, open-minded, seemingly a mensch. The big difference that I have found in Orthodox dating and secular dating is the focus. In Orthodox dating, most (and I do mean most, not all) of the people you date do want to (or think they want to) get married. In the secular world, that isn't necessarily the case - a lot of people just date to date. But in the Orthodox world, where the majority of the people aren't sleeping around, dating isn't so much fun, and most people want to get it over with. That doesn't mean that the Orthodox world is devoid of the singles who are commitment-phobic, but I do think that there is a greater focus on actually progressing the relationship along. But this focus does seem to speed dating along at a faster pace than in the secular world. The other huge difference that I have found (though I have to admit that I have not experienced being single in the secular world in a long time, and when I became frum it was at an age where I certainly wasn't getting pressure to get married yet) is that the community really does make an effort to get me married off. When meeting people at Shabbos meals, at shiurim, or just randomly, I can see many people's minds spinning in effort to think of a guy for me. Many ask me straight out what I am looking for, what my background is, and some even follow up on it. The community feels for its singles, and wants to see them married. I don't think it's the same in the secular world. But again, it comes back to the issue of focus - focus on marriage as an ideal station in life. Dating itself hasn't seemed to be too terribly different. The main difference in dating itself, at least for me, and again, this is probably due to the fact that I was pretty young and not focused as much on dating before I became frum, is just in the way that I meet guys. Before I was frum, I found that I was much more dependent on just meeting someone randomly in a social situation, and I didn't date nearly as often. I have to admit that I didn't have a ton of dating experience before being frum, and I wasn't terribly focused on marriage beforehand either. So, e-kvetcher, that's the best I can do. Anyone else think there are big differences?

Honor All Your Failures

My newest at Beyond BT - Honor All Your Failures - enjoy!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sweet Home Alabama?

Got back from Alabama really late last night. It was a really good trip - I spent quality time with both my parents, saw my grandparents (who are hilarious, thought they don't really mean to be), and unfortunately only managed to see one of my brothers. I purposely chose to not visit over Shabbos this time, and it was a really wise decision. The way my mom put it - this way we were able to do whatever we wanted to. It was weird though, being in Birmingham again. I feel a bit displaced, because it's just not really home anymore. I guess I'm from there, at least that's what I tell people, because that is where my family lives. But the feeling of going home just doesn't really seem to apply anymore. It just seems as if there are more things that have changed than have stayed the same since I left. It's vaguely familiar, I still kind of know my way around, but not comfortably. There are so many new shopping centers that my family takes for granted that weren't there when I lived there, and many of my old stomping grounds that have been abandoned in my absence. But where is home? On the plane last night, I kept thinking and wishing for my bed, which usually signifies home for me. But it's not, really. It's just an apartment, and a bed. Some of that could be due to the fact that I've only been living in that apartment for a week. But part of it is that New Jersey has not yet become home. Baltimore has the closest feeling to home - but I don't have family there, only friends. And no stuff, no bed, no dwelling. Can a home be a place in one's mind, where you just feel it, rather than actually are? If that's the case, then in some ways, Israel would be home also, because even though I haven't spent that much time there, it just has that enveloping presence of belonging, of comfort amidst the chaos. But teh truth is, I just kind of feel homeless in a way. Of course, I always have a place to sleep. But no where to really feel is mine, is me. That's hard. And being in Alabama just highlighted that to me. I'm going to have to rethink my answer for when people ask me, "Where are you from?" Because I just don't know. I don't mean to be so melancholy - I also feel happy to know that there are so many cities in which I am welcomed with open arms by family and friends. But I guess I just am ready to put down some roots and imbed myself in the soil of one place. I don't know if that will happen until I am done with school, but I'm ready to be there.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Good Shabbos!

It's been a busy week. I'm almost unpacked and my apartment is looking pretty darn good if I do say so myself. I managed to acquire a bed for myself, so no more sleeping on the floor. The one big thing I have left to unpack is my books, and I have to say I really miss them. But in general, the apartment is really nice and my friend who came to visit last night gave it her two thumbs up. I'm looking forward to a relaxing Shabbos with friends. It's time to catch up on sleep and just hanging out with friends, without the feeling that I should be doing something else. I'm headed to Alabama early Sunday morning for a visit with the family (at least some of them, two of my brothers actually are not going to be there). I'm quite annoyed with the stupid, idiot terrorists who have ensured that I must check my luggage at the airport instead of letting me get by with bringing my (gasp!) contact solution on the flight with me. It'll be an adventure. I'll have Internet access while I'm there, but don't know if I will be blogging. But I'll definitely be checking my e-mail, can't live without that. Anyway, I hope everyone has a wonderful Shabbos and weekend!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Weekend Wrap-Up - AKA Incredible Appreciation

I've been a bit overwhelmed with my move, and work has been quite busy, so my blogs (especially the other one) have been suffering for it. Things will hopefully quiet down soon, but for now, between unpacking, and an upcoming trip to Alabama, I think my plate is going to be a bit full. Which is fine, because I like being busy. I wanted to write briefly about the Beyond BT Shabbaton, because I really enjoyed myself. A full recap is here, but I just want to add my two cents. It was really fun putting faces to all the writing and comments, and e-mails, that I have seen over the past several months. Special thanks to Ezzie (I'm outing myself here, but thanks Ezzie for attempting to secure any anonymity that I have left), his wife Serach and their beautiful baby Elianna for hosting me for the Friday night meal, and introducing me to their friends, who were really nice. They made me feel totally at home, and we managed to successfully play Jewish geography throughout the weekend, including mentions of various bloggers, which is a whole new level of Jewish geography. Mark and David, and their families, put in an amazing amount of effort to pull off a beautiful Shabbos day. What I found so amazing about the whole weekend was the incredible friendliness of everyone there. I think the word achdus really defined the weekend. I had several people offer to host me for Shabbos in various neighborhoods if I ever desire, so I guess I have some more Shabbos travelling to do in the future. The whole Shabbos was just really laid-back and nice, and everyone was obviously really there for the purpose of being real and building a community together - no judgments, no sizing each other up, just being a whole. I unfortunately didn't get to stay at the melave malka for long, because I had a lot of packing to do for my move the next morning, but the fact that so many people came together to make music together. Special thanks to the Kew Garden Hills community in general, not just those on the Shabbaton, for housing participants and being friendly the entire weekend. Sunday was my big move. I moved into an attic, which is no fun. I don't think I'm ever leaving, or at least, not with my stuff. There were tears involved only once, which is pretty good for a move, which is just a stressful event no matter what. I have such incredible gratitude to the four people who helped me move - they didn't even let me help with any of my heavy things, and made it 10 billion times easier. And the whole time, there was no whining, or complaining or giving up. The attitudes were amazing, and I honestly don't know how to thank them enough. I absolutely could not have done it on my own, and I feel incredibly lucky to have such generous people in my life. And I'm glad it's over. That's my wrap-up of quite an eventful weekend.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

In My New Home

I'm blogging from my new home. It feels good and will be even better once I get unpacked. Two issues from the move, if anyone can help - 1) I can't get my wireless internet to work. It will connect, but then when I try to open any pages, I get an error message. If anyone knows anything about configuring these things (because I know virtually nothing) I would love the help. 2) We couldn't manage to get my box spring up my stairs. So I am left with only a mattress. If anyone has any suggestions for putting a bed together with no boxspring, let me know. It was quite a weekend, including the Beyond BT Shabbaton, where I met quite a few faces behind the posts and comments I have been reading for some time. Will write more about it later, for now, I'm going to go rest my tired self.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tisha B'Av

It's already Tisha B'Av in Israel - right now I am in the middle of an IM conversation with a friend who is there visiting. She said she is either going to go to the Kotel tonight or tomorrow morning for sunrise. I'm really jealous. My thoughts are certainly there. I just told her to say some prayers at the Kotel on my behalf, that there is peace in Israel and that we are all there soon. Have an easy and meaningful fast, everyone. UPDATE: I don't have words to respond to it, but I want to draw attention to Jameel's post on the Leadership in our Holy Land. Please read.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Three Years of Blogging

Today is my blogiversary. Three years ago, I was incredibly bored at work and inspired by the likes of Unbrokenglass and Protocols into starting Sweet Rose. The blogosphere landscape was quite different in those days, as were blogs. Mine had no comments for the first six months or so because Blogger didn't offer them, and I know my template wasn't nearly as pretty. And the blogosphere, especially the JBlogosphere, was much smaller, more cozy. And as mentioned above, Protocols was the big bad wolf of the Jblogs, with their long list of links and group of formidable guys blogging together to cover the current Jnews around town. As has been typical of my life, I started blogging before it was the thing to do, before all the hit counters, and aforementioned comments and pretty templates were in. Before all the magazines and newspapers were quoting blogs, because, let's be honest, the bloggers get to the news before anyone else. Before there were more bloggers out there than you could count, many popping up each day, and some dying a quiet death quickly. I've seen many come and go, and have wondered at times why I continue. But I've come to the conclusion that I like it - for good and bad. My life has changed considerably as well as my blog in the past three years. The day I started my blog, I had finally decided to go back to school to finish my Bachelor's degree. I accomplished that (and it felt good!), and have now begun on my Master's, with a career goal in sight. I've moved from Baltimore to the NY area, and while not in love with it, finally feel like I am settling in. But more than the that, I think I've changed a lot as well. I think I've become somewhat of a writer. It still surprises me when people compliment me on my writing. I never considered myself a writer, and still really don't. Before I started my blog, I had never written anything besides a couple papers for school. I'd never kept a diary for more than a few days and while I've always loved to read, I always just left the writing to others. But through my blog, I've learned to love writing, to really enjoy putting my thoughts into words. I enjoy crafting paragraphs and pictures and analogies, and working out my dilemnas - it really is therapeutic. And with the addition of having readers who can offer their own thoughts and perspectives, blogging is cool. I've met some wonderful people through my blog - a side benefit I never even considered. Some I know only through their comments, some whose own blogs I read, some e-mail correspondents out of public view, and some even in person. The people of the blogosphere are really the diamond hidden in the rubble. Three years have gone by with lightning speed, but when I look back, it seems to have been forever since those first days when I was still figuring out what my blog would be. I've changed a lot, and so has my writing. And it probably will continue to. There are days when I think about walking away from Sweet Rose, but then I just can't. So for now, I'm at least starting another year of blogging. And I'm looking forward to it!