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Isn't it pretty?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Accepting Ignorance

"For in much wisdom is much vexation; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."
---Koheles (Ecclesiastes) 1:18

I went to a shiur last night. The topic was Koheles (Ecclesiastes), specifically about the balance between desiring and pursuing knowledge and knowing the limitations of the knowledge that you can expect to obtain. The speaker was very good; my friend who encouraged me to come was worried about me enjoying it until she saw me take out a pen and piece of paper and start taking notes. Then she knew that I was at least interested.

The speaker was saying that it is important to use our intellect in order to try to understand the ways of the world and our place within it. But...it's also important to know the limits of our ability to comprehend everything. For example, she said that there is no way for us to understand G-d. He is beyond comprehension, and we shouldn't not even attempt to understand the whys of what He does.

She also spoke about balancing our wisdom with the opposite - of being accepting of those things that we don't know, and being able to admit them, of having humility. She used the quote from Pirkei Avos that the wise man is he who learns from every person. This is because there are so many things that each of us do not know that someone else does. If we just take some time, we will discover these things and learn from our fellows.

This balance between striving for knowledge and wisdom and acknowledging those things that are beyond comprehension brought me to the topic that bothered me a bit - and that is blind faith. The speaker said that because we can acknowledge the fact that G-d's ways and reasons can not be comprehended, we also have to accept Him and His rules with blind faith. Without even trying to understand, because He is so far beyond what we are capable of.

I don't know if I agree with this approach. But I'm not sure if I totally disagree with it either. To me, there is definitely some leap of faith that one must take in order to accept G-d, and especially to accept all His commandments and requirements in life. But should we step back and say that we should not even attempt to understand? Doesn't that take the meaning out of it? Doesn't that make us into zombies, and as many would say, a cult?

It's a very difficult balance. G-d gave us amazing brains, capable of understanding so much. So why would He want us to give up on that and say that some things are just too tough? I think the effort, the attempt at understanding, is important. And that is makes the jump you take smaller, and hopefully easier. Though maybe not.

In many ways, I agree with the quote from Koheles above. With knowledge, does come pain. Thinking and wondering doesn't come easily, and certainly it's not without its cost. But does that mean we should shirk from it and give up? Accept ignorance without a fight? Should we avoid all pain in life? Or can it lead to the greatest reward?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Happy With What We Have

I hope everyone had a wonderful, meaningful Rosh Hashanah. I spent my holiday in Providence with wonderful friends. The community there is wonderful - it's a little, tight-knit community where everyone knows each other. And they also know who's a visitor, because it's a new face. I was warmly welcomed by many members of the community there, and all in all, it was a great way to start the new year.

A few weeks ago, I hurt my foot. Actually, it was hurting for a while before that, but one morning I woke up in a lot of pain, barely able to put any weight down on my foot, which makes it a bit difficult to walk. After visits to my general practitioner (for a referral) and a podiatrist (boy that made me feel old!), it was determined that walking for miles through Manhattan in flip flops is not the best idea if you want to be able to continue to walk. (What women do for fashion!)

Since then, my footwear selection has both expanded and been restricted greatly. Restricted because I am now forced to wear the small variety of shoes that actually are supportive of my feet. And expanded because, due to the few pairs of shoes I have that are good for my feet, I decided it was time to invest in a bunch of cool socks.

One thing that frustrates me greatly is being limited. So, for the past few weeks, I have been frustrated both by the fact that I can't wear the shoes I want to wear (which also restricts the outfits I choose) and the fact that I can't just walk and do all the activities I am accustomed to and feel like doing. For example, the other night I went for a walk with a friend to get some air and exercise, and I was forced to slow us down several times from a pace that normally would have been slow to start with.

I feel like I should be able to look at this with gratitude - it's a fairly small thing, it's good to wear supportive shoes anyway (I do only have one pair of feet), and at least my pain has greatly subsided (though it continues to persist slightly). But to me, it's just annoying that every morning I have to put pads on my feet, make sure I have some socks handy (and that they match) and then I have to choose from the two pairs of shoes that aren't really my favorites (ok, sometimes I cheat, but I pay for it).

Why can't I look on the bright side of things and see all the myriad activities that I still can do? Why can't I be grateful that this episode led only to non-favorite shoes rather than surgery (which I am terrified of)?

In some ways, I think this is natural. Look at prayer. Yes, we thank G-d for the many things that we have. But I, and I assume most people I know, also ask for many things that we don't have. No matter how much we obtain, there is always something more that we feel we need. Is there ever a way to just be happy with what we have?

I guess in a way, I'm lucky. Because of the pain in my feet, hopefully I will be able to appreciate it when I am no longer in pain and I can wear whatever shoes I want (though I will probably be more wary in the future when I buy shoes). And I will be able to appreciate something that most people take for granted (and that I know I did before this) - being able to walk without restriction. But will I take away the greater lesson - to not desire what I don't have? And to know that whatever Hashem gives us is what we need, and no more.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Shana Tova!

It's that time of year again. When I think back to last Rosh Hashanah, I can not even believe how much has happened in one year - I've met so many new people and gone through an enormous amount of experiences. And I like to think that I have grown as a person a bit also.

I want to wish everyone a wonderful, happy, joy-filled New Year! Shana Tova!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

I starting watching the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" last night. (I haven't finished yet, so don't spoil the ending for me.) Filmed in 1967, it's the story of a white 23-year-old woman who brings home a 37-year-old black man as her fiancee to parents who aren't especially happy about the situation. Additionally, they have known each other for 10 days, and are planning on getting married shortly.

It's interesting to speculate about whether there would be similarities or differences in the reactions of her parents today, 40 years later. In some families, I think there would be a huge difference and the parents would not have trouble with the racial disparity between the two; in some families, the reaction would be the same as 40 years ago. When you add on the age difference and the fact that they have known each other all of 10 days, then I can imagine most parents would be a bit upset about such a situation.

My parents have always been extremely open-minded. Growing up, I had friends of all differents faiths, races and backgrounds. My best friend in high school and college was a black girl who considered my father the dad she didn't really have (she had a very difficult relationship with her own father). Whoever I brought home was welcomed warmly. My parents always taught me that it was WHO the person was that counted rather than the color of their skin. I even worked for a number of years in an organization whose mission was race relations and diversity awareness. I feel very fortunate to have learned such lessons from my parents.

One of the things I found interesting about the movie was the fact that the woman, "Joey," doesn't see any reason why her parents should have issues with the racial differences between herself and her intended spouse. Because, even with being open-minded, it still is an issue. I think it's blind to pretend that society, especially in 1967, would have absolutely no problem with an inter-racial couple. Today, things are very different, but there are still implications and difficulties with such a relationship.

I actually encountered a similar situation a while back. A guy was suggested for me - religious, well-educated, good personality, stable job history. All the makings of a good shidduch. Except that he was black. Part of the reason that he was suggested to me was that my friends knew that if anyone was open-minded enough to even consider it, it was me.

I took the suggestion seriously, and gave it a lot of thought. In an Orthodox Jewish community, the racial difference is unfortunately not something that can be completely ignored. I thought a lot about the implications and the reactions that would most likely be received. Personally, I didn't think it would be such a problem for myself - I don't care that much about what people think and if they disapproved of such a pair, they aren't the kind of people I would want to associate with anyway. And I didn't think that any of my friends would have such problems, because again if they would, they are not the kind of people I tend to be friends with.

The thing that did trouble me about the situation was the thought of what my children would have to go through. I knew that there would be challenges and they would have to deal with the difficulties of the decision I had made. But I hoped that I would be able to raise children strong enough to deal with such challenges (though I am still not sure it's easy to give children that strength at the young ages they would have to deal with it).

Anyway, ultimately my decision was that the racial difference wasn't enough to stop me from dating someone who sounded like he had solid character. In the end, obviously, things didn't work out. But I'm glad I was forced to deal with the issue, and I'm happy that something external, under which a person has no control, didn't stand in my way.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Shoshana & Sara K's Erev Shabbos Adventure

Background - Sara K was coming to Passaic for Shabbos to see a friend from Baltimore, who I am also friends with. We'll call her Ephraim's mommy (and we LOVE Ephraim). Unfortunately, I had plans to be in Lakewood for Shabbos, so I was going to miss Sara K, but she had asked me about getting home on Friday and after I explained the bus schedule to her, we decided to meet at Port Authority and ride to Passaic together. Once in Passaic, I would take Sara K to Ephraim's mommy's house and be immediately on my way to Lakewood, where I was spending Shabbos with 6 of my friends for a "Girl's Shabbos."

Keep in mind that candle-lighting time this week was 6:43 PM. It's also important to note that the bus trip from Port Authority to Passaic typically takes 20 minutes and has, in the past, taken as little as 15 minutes.

3:45 PM - Sara K and I leave our respective offices and head towards Port Authority.

4:00 PM - Sara K and I meet at Port Authorty and head inside to catch the 4:08 bus.

4:04 PM - Sara K and I board 4:08 bus, stow Sara K's suitcase, find seats, and prepare for our ride.

4:08 PM - Bus still sitting at Port Authority, a few more people are still boarding and having to stand because all the seats are taken.

4:12 PM - Bus leaves Port Authority. I'm a little concerned because it's raining and I'm cutting it a little close as it is, but figure I'll be okay. (All times after this are approximate.)

4:16 PM - Bus emerges from Lincoln Tunnel, into heavy traffic. We start inching our way towards Passaic, the rain falling hard. I'm hoping the traffic will clear out quickly and we will be on our way.

4:20 PM - Still inching along. The bus driver apparently has a fondness for the slowest lane. The frum man behinds me apparently thinks the bus is his office and is having a business meeting on his cell phone. Extremely loudly.

4:25 PM - I'm starting to get nervous as we have not gotten very far. We are still near the Weehawken Library, which is a really cool castle-looking building. I remind myself to check it out one of these days.

4:30 PM - I call my friend in Lakewood and ask her to look online at traffic.com to see whether it would be faster for me to take the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway. She can't find any info for the Garden State Parkway.

4:35 PM - I call my friend who is coming from Baltimore to Lakewood and ask her if she has any info for the Turnpike. Not really, as she is getting off the Turnpike as we speak.

4:37 PM - Sara K hands me her cell phone with the information number for the New Jersey Turnpike. I note the fact that not only does Sara K know everyone, she has all the info you would ever need at her fingertips as well. I mentally note that for whatever occasion I find myself without an internet connection.

4:40 PM - The info line tells me that traffic will be bad on the Turnpike where I need to drive. I'm getting quite nervous now.

4:50 PM - Bus still inching along. After 45 minutes of driving, we have reached Route 3, which is completely and totally backed up.

5:00 PM - Man behinds me finishes his business conversation. I try to get rid of the headache in the few minutes of silence he is affording me.

5:05 PM - As we are still creeping along (in the slowest lane of course) I realize there is no way I can make it to Lakewood for Shabbos unless we pass whatever accident must be in front of us immediately. I start getting sad.

5:10 PM - Still inching along, in Secaucus now.

5:15 PM - I ask Sara K which meals she is eating at Ephraim's mommy's house. She tells me they are eating all their meals there. I ask is she thinks they would mind if I join. She says not at all, and asks if I want her to call Ephraim's mommy. I tell her that I will.

5:17 PM - I call Ephraim's mommy and explain the situation. She tells me, "The more, the merrier!" I make a mental note that I really like people from Cleveland.

5:20 PM - The guy behind me gets on the phone again, with what sounds like a friend this time.

5:25 PM - One of the standing passengers is bored so he starts a pool to guess what time we will get into Passaic. He managed to collect approximately $15 from different passengers who participate in his pool. He is entertaining.

5:30 PM - Still in Secaucus. I call my friend in Lakewood to tell her I'm not coming. That I'm still on the bus. She is disappointed. And then she realizes that she needs challah! (I was supposed to bring the challah.)

5:35 PM - I call the friend who I was supposed to take home from Lakewood and tell her I'm not coming. She's is quite distraught.

5:40 PM - The frum man behind me is telling his friend on the phone about a woman he met on Jdate (purposely leaving out all kinds of incriminating details, because I'm nice). I remind myself why, if you must talk on your cell phone while on the bus, it's important not to speak so loudly. It could end up on a blog.

5:45 PM - Around the Meadowlands now. Still creeping. Am sharing rolled eyes with the black guy standing up in the aisle in regards to the guy who is having his way-too-loud-for-public phone conversation.

5:50 PM - The bus driver decides he is tired of the traffic and pulls off the normal route and heads through Rutherford. We passengers are quite relieved.

5:55 PM - The bus is barreling through Rutherford on its way towards Passaic.

5:57 PM - I call my friend in Lakewood. She tells me she managed to get challahs right as the bakery closed. When the person working there gave her a hard time for being so late, she explained that her challah was stuck in traffic

6:00 PM - A minute to Passaic. The winner of the pool collects his $15.

6:03 PM - Almost a complete 2 hours after we boarded, Sara K and I get off the bus.

6:08 PM - I drop Sara K off at Ephraim's mommy's house. (I skipped the part where Ephraim's mommy has already called twice wondering where we were, because she couldn't believe that we were still on the bus.)

6:12 PM - I drive up to my apartment, race inside to get the place ready for Shabbos, since I didn't clean up beforehand, not expecting to be there.

6:43 PM - Candlelighting in Passaic. Phew. What an adventure.

Lessons learned:

1) If going to Lakewood for Shabbos, make sure you have a LOT of time to get there.

2) People from Cleveland rock. (That's for Ezzie, and Jack.) I was already, but am now even moreso, a huge fan of Ephraim's mommy.

3) Sara K is MacGyver.

4) Don't talk so loud on your cell phone in the middle of a bus.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Who Reads Me?

I'm pretty sure I read (but of course can't find it now) on Jack's blog that an informal survey of posts revealed that the posts that get the most comments are those written about blogging. My last post about blogging got quite a few, so here's another.

One of the things I said in my post was that one of the reasons I sometimes feel weird about blogging is because I both know and don't know who reads.

I will admit that one of my guilty pleasures is checking my stat counter. Not necessarily to see how many hits I have (and I honestly can't tell you how many I average per day, like some bloggers can), but to see who is reading. For those who have e-mailed me or who comment regularly, I can look at their hits and know who they are.

But there are also numerous hits from those who I have NO idea who they are. Some of these are from random Internet searches that lead people to my blog. Mainly searches for Jewish terms, but also some for the song lyrics I post or the books that I write about. Those I don't wonder about so much, because they are mostly one-time visitors that go back to Google.

But I get other anonymous hits as well, some on a very regular basis. Some from NY, some from Baltimore, some from New Jersey. For these, I often wonder whether I know the people in "real life" and if that's why they read (and wonder why they don't comment and share their input). Others come from all over the world - Chile, Africa, the Netherlands, Japan, Norway. I wonder about these folks who are out there reading my blog from other parts of the world, but never speaking up to share their input on my posts, why they come, if they can relate to what I'm saying.

And I wonder about all these anonymous readers who never comment, never e-mail - why? Why do they keep coming back if they don't have anything to say? Are they shy? Do they just like reading? Do they have blogs of their own? Do they completely disagree with every word I write, but are just too polite to say so?

Anyway, this is my call out to those readers who don't comment or e-mail - I'd love to hear from you. Just a quick hello. If you don't want to comment publicly, send me an e-mail. You can find it on my sidebar under "Links" or in my profile.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thoughts on "The Haredim: A Defense"

New guest post over at Ezzie's (I'm assuming he's going to be back to blogging soon, I know we all miss him terribly. Check it out.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Perplexities of Blogging

Blogging is wonderfully rewarding, and incredibly frustrating at the same time. A lot of the things that I would most like to blog about are the same things that I just can't.

The things that I NEED to write about, that crave being crafted into words in order to form themselves into recognizable shapes and coherent thoughts. The things that want sympathy and empathy and understanding. The things that hurt and confuse. The things that sprout hope and lead to despair.

But there's so much that I just can't (or I guess won't) blog about. Because I know who reads my blog. Because I don't know who reads it. Because I don't want to hurt anyone. Because I just can't get too personal, it's too scary in such a public forum. Because there are certain things that I think are better left unsaid, especially again, in such a public forum. Because I feel like I have carved this "image" of myself on my blog and I would be afraid to shatter it.

So many of these struggles are the same as in life - what to say and not to say. Who you can trust and who you can't. Who you have to "uphold" your image for. Who you can let your guard down before and no longer worry about because you know they accept you regardless.

There are so many days when I think about walking away from my blog, just not writing any more. But I haven't yet been able to. But I reserve the right to do it, one day.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Israel - Still on my Mind

I haven't been blogging much about Israel lately. It's not because I've ceased to follow the news, or that I no longer care now that formal war has come to an end. It's because I just don't understand what's going on these days. Apparently, I'm in fairly good company.

It just blows my mind that Israel has failed to secure the return of the soldiers for whom they initially went to war for. And that in the meantime, without any such positive steps being made, they continue to give in to the demands of those who are evil and the antithesis of their mission. I can't comprehend, or even begin to understand, what is going on in Israel these days.

And on the other hand, I am overwhelmed by a connection to it all, by a feeling of wanting to be there, that I didn't feel before. A feeling of unity with my fellow Jews, and of being away from my homeland.

I can't explain why I feel more strongly about Israel now than I did before. Maybe it's because when the things you take for granted are threatened, you must all of a sudden fight for them. And that strengthens your connection to those things. And maybe it's because I don't know where my home is any longer, but I do know the connection I feel when I am in Israel. That feeling like I belong there, like nowhere else on earth. Even though I've only spent a small slice of my days there. But it does beckon somehow.

Which is another reason I can't understand why those in power in Israel seem so set on giving it up. Those who have been entrusted to protect, defend and strengthen our land seem to want to give her away, piece by piece, day by day. I don't understand it. Especially when they are giving it to those who hate, openly, their constituents and those they are supposed to be protecting. I don't have much more to say, because I am quite confused. For now, I'll keep reading quietly, and hope and pray that things turn around.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Is Creativity Lost from Education?

While Ezzie has been swamped with moving, he hasn't forgotten about his blog. In desperation, he spoon-fed me material with which to guest post about (and I decided to post it here as well). Luckily, he picked something that I strongly believe in - education. So...I took the bait.

He pointed me in the direction of this video by an organization called TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). The video is about 20 minutes long, which I have to admit is a bit long for my usual Internet attention span, but the content is definitely worth it.

Along with the video from TED, I received my copy of Newsweek yesterday. And the cover story was also about education.

Both the video and the article in Newsweek made some extremely important points. The video focuses on the fact that only certain kinds of intelligence are valued in education today, while the truth is different people are gifted in so many different ways - some classically academic, some artistically, some musically, etc. I've often felt that the educational system is deficient in making students who excel in areas other than math, science and writing feel like they can match up, when the truth is, it just depends on the specific arena in which they are performing.

The speaker on the TED video points out that today, due to the focus on specific areas of expertise, we are teaching students to be boring. Okay, he doesn't use that word, but he does say that we scare students from an early age from being innovative. We teach them that there is a right and a wrong. We don't teach them how to look at a problem and use their own logic skills and their own mind to creatively find an answer.

I don't complain about my education, because the truth is, I received an excellent one, and we were given a lot more freedom and encouragement to think than many (I was fortunate to be in a very good program), but I still experienced some of this. When learning algebra and calculus in high school, I would look at the problems and figure them out my own way. I would get the right answer, using my own logic. And my teachers would tell me that I was wrong, that I should specifically follow the steps they were showing me. Why? Why wasn't I encouraged to use my own brain to figure these problems out? Who knows, if I had been encouraged to do so, I might have learned a lot more, and come up with whole new ways for accomplishing math (okay, that could very well be an exaggeration, but I do remember being very frustrated by feeling like I was held inside a box and not understanding why I couldn't do it my own way).

The speaker from TED laid out three factors of intelligence - it is diverse, dynamic and distinct. Intelligence comes in many forms, it changes and grows throughout time, and it's different in each person. I think he certainly has a point.

The Newsweek article dovetails nicely with the TED video. The point of the article is that education has become so focused on basics, at such a young age, in part due to the No Child Left Behind Act, but also due to pressure from parents to "perform" from birth, that it has lost its flavor, its creativity and its appeal to even the youngest students. According to Newsweek, "instead of story time, finger painting, tracing letters and snack, first graders are spending hours doing math work sheets and sounding out words in reading groups."

The earliest years of education are being stripped of their fun. And I think that's incredibly detrimental to most. If a student learns at age 5 that school is about pressure, stress and sitting still while filling out a worksheet, why on earth would they want to endure a minimum of 12 more years of it? Much less continuing on to college?

Five year olds have a natural curiosity about the world, and I think the best form of education for them is one that doesn't bash them over the head with tests and facts. It's a more subtle education. For example, Newsweek speaks of a school in Chattanooga, Tennessee where "two weeks ago newly minted kindergartners were spending the day learning about the color red. They wore red shirts, painted with bright red acrylic paint. During instructional time, they learned to spell RED. Every week each class meets for a seminar that encourages critical thinking." That's education.

I remember my kindergarten teachers hosting units on a variety of interesting subjects - from astronauts to scuba diving to nursery tales. The lessons were made creative and interactive. We put on plays, we colored pictures of the topics we were learning and we put together books about these topics. I still remember it, because it was fun. The years I spent sitting still were certainly not imprinted in my mind, and I probably remember little that I "learned" during those periods.

It's not easy to balance everything that an education should be. I would love to see it much more individualized, and tailored to each child's unique needs, skills and talents. But that's not easy to do when you have a classroom of 25-30 (or more) students, each needing individual attention. I don't have the answers, but I do have to say that after hearing reports of the state of kindergarten these days, I wouldn't want to go back.

UPDATE: I was just talking to my co-worker who was ecstatic that her 3-year-old "got in" to preschool at the last second, after being rejected by five other preschools. The amount of time, money and stress that goes in to these preschool applications, interviews, tests, etc. is retarded. I wouldn't trust such people with my kids.

Cross-posted at Serandez.

Monday, September 04, 2006


To show that there aren't any hard feelings about the debate over at Ezzie's, I wish a huge Mazel Tov to Soccer Dad and Mom on the newest addition to the soccer family! You should go wish them a mazel tov as well. Hope everyone is enjoying their Labor Day. Will blog more soon.