.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Admin Notes

I've updated my sidebar links to include some new blogs that I have been enjoying recently. Check out:

Day Boys of 905
David on the Lake
Fancy Schmancy Anxiety Maven
I Hate the Earth
NY's Funniest Rabbi

Check them out and leave them comments!

Second piece of business is that SaraK is following the example I set last year and is traveling to Israel for Chanukah. I really wish I could join her, but it's not in the cards for this year. Instead, since she doesn't have a blog of her own, she has agreed to guest post about her trip on mine. So stay tuned for posts about (and maybe even from) the Holy Land in the next few weeks.

That's it, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Frum vs. Religious

I've been having an ongoing conversation with a friend about the difference between being "frum" and being "religious." It's still a working theory, so bear with me while I try to work it out.

According to my friend, being frum is about keeping up appearances. It's about the clothing, the hats, what other people see. It can also be about a mindset - that non-Jewish practices are not what we are supposed to engage in, that you shouldn't go to a movie theater, that Jewish music is preferable to secular.

Being religious is a different matter. It's about a spiritual connection, about serving God, following halacha with the correct intent. It's about living Torah internally and really feeling it in one's heart.

You can be both frum and religious, one or the other, or neither. I think there is some allegory to the four species on Sukkot, but I don't know it well enough to use, so I won't.

One can be frum but not religious pretty easily. You wear the right clothes and talk the right talk and play the part. But when no one is looking, things might change a bit. There might be a computer with a DVD player at home, maybe you feel skeptical about a lot of beliefs, maybe you engage in behaviors that you wouldn't in public.

I also know a lot of people who are religious without necessarily being frum. They have a very strong belief in God, in Judaism and a huge connection to Jewish life. Maybe they keep Shabbos and kosher; maybe a lot of other stuff. The important part is the intention and the connection they feel. They really desire to serve God in the best way that they can. This may or may not include being strict in many areas.

There are those who are neither - maybe they observe some jewish practice, maybe not.

And there are those who are both - they sincerely serve God and follow the Torah to the best of their ability, sometimes going above and beyond necessity. They put up fences around themselves and the laws in order to make sure they are not tempted to break them. They honestly and sincerely are frum, religious individuals and they care deeply about what their actions, both in public and private, say about them. I think it's a rare thing to see, but it is beautiful.

I've been trying to figure out where I fit in the matrix. I'm not sure.

Update - LT, one of "DaBoys" has posted his response.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I was mercifully released from work early, so I managed to get home before the insanity of getting out of Manhattan completely ensued. Depending on weather, I may or may not be attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade tomorrow, so watch out for me on TV!

I'm not able to be with my family this year, but am fortunate to have good friends to celebrate with and appreciated the invitation of a fellow blogger for Thanksgiving dinner (which it looks like I'm going to have to miss out on - next year, maybe).

Anyway, I'm wishing everyone a happy, fun Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Misdirected Intentions

Was tipped off to this article by Treppenwitz. I am SO annoyed by the article.

Okay, so the Jerusalem Post is probably, maybe, and hopefully a bit biased in their reporting, but, honestly, I don't get it, for so many reasons.

First of all, if the issue is with how women are dressed, then why on earth was the gathering to discuss this dress held for men? Why are the men responsible for how their wives and daughters dress? Don't the women themselves have any sort of responsibility for the clothing they put on, and don't they deserve the respect of being entrusted to pick out their own clothing and following the laws? Women are supposedly so much more naturally spiritual, so don't they also have such natural desire to follow the laws in spirit as well as letter?

"Each and every father and husband has an obligation to vigilantly ensure that his wife's and daughters' dress is in accordance with the laws of modesty."

Um, if my father or husband were to "vigilantly" deprecate and nitpick each piece of clothing I picked out, I would go crazy and rebel without regret in a second. It's this type of attention to the minutiae of external trappings that leads to people being driven completely away altogether. What's important here? The fact that a woman ensures that her shirt is "10 centimeters longer than the edge of the skirt along the waist so as to cover [the midriff] during all movements" or the fact that she is happy and comfortable with herself? The attention to these tiny details specifically expresses to women that it is NOT what is inside that matters, only the outside. And if you ask me, that is completely antithetical to Judaism.

In addition to women not being invited to this lecture, singles were also not welcome. I guess it doesn't matter what they do. I suppose single women (at least those who aren't carefully inspected by their fathers before leaving the house each morning) don't matter, don't tempt the men with their short skirts and low necklines.

There are so many problems in Israel, I just don't understand how wigs that are too long are what is being chosen to focus on. Let's start talking about the huge rift that exists between religious and secular, and between the different streams of religious people. Let's talk about the issue of agunahs, of the rising rate of divorce or the huge numbers of people who aren't getting married to begin with. Or poverty and lack of education. Those are all real issues, and they are going to affect the future of Israel in a huge way. I'm sorry if I can't get so worked up because my skirt is an inch too short, it just seems to pale in comparison.

And, if you have a problem with what I am doing, then I think it's just respectful to address it to me. Because I would hate to shoot the messenger :)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

100% Garbage

I recently had a guy contact me via Frumster. After reading his profile, I was concerned that we weren't quite on the same page religiously, so I questioned him a bit about his outlook about how the religious and secular aspects of the world fit together. He responded that he likes to dedicate his life to only Jewish studies, though he is open to television and movies, though well-monitored and screened. And then he wrote this statement:

"But - no reading of secular philosophy, no secular music or newspapers. Those are 100% garbage."

Well, obviously, he was writing to the WRONG person. I wrote back to him, and explained my point of view, which is diametrically opposite to his.

I explained to him, first of all, that many of our great Jewish thinkers throughout history were extremely well-read and versed in secular philosophy. That Rambam, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers ever, and one of the people who I personally think is amazing, had intimate and extensive knowledge of Greek thinkers, specifically Aristotle, and based much of his philosophy from Aristotle's writings. Throughout history, many of the people who have come to lead Judaism felt it their responsbility to have knowledge and understanding of all philosophy, secular or otherwise. To stick one's head in the sand and say anything outside of what you believe is distinctly garbage is to be ignorant, and I have trouble believing that anyone would say that being ignorant is a Jewish virtue.

I went on to further explain that I think there is a lot out there in non-Jewish music. I (pretty obviously) LOVE secular music and am not a big fan of Jewish music, which to me is just plain boring. I'm sure there is a place for it, but I don't like it. And when I listen to songs on my Ipod from my favorite (non-Jewish) music, there is so much that illustrates life in those songs that I just don't find any reason to separate myself from it.

Lastly, secular newspapers. Again, the issue of ignorance comes up. First of all, the Jewish newspapers are, for a large part, horribly written. They aren't journalism, they only report on a tiny sliver of what's going on in the world, and to read them just doesn't give a person knowledge about real life, and often offers a narrow-minded, prejudiced perspective on the world at large. I think they are more detrimental than good to most Jews. I must admit that I don't pick up and read newspapers on a daily basis (embarassingly because I don't like the way the ink rubs off on my fingers) but I make an effort to educate myself on current events via the Inernet, and I read the Newsweek my dad subscribes me to whenever I have the time.

To say that secular newspapers are 100% garbage is akin to saying that a person does not want to admit that they live in America. Whether they like it or not, they ARE affected by what goes on around them. To just let the world happen to a person, without any knowledge or forewarning, is ignorant and dangerous. I think it's extremely important to be well-informed, and most of the Jewish leaders throughout history kept themselves up to date on what was going on so that they could intelligently lead their students and followers.

So, as I'm sure you have already surmised, this guy isn't going to be the one for me. I like living in this world a little too much. Oh well.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Feminine Torture Beauty Rituals

I've been holding off on writing this post for a long time, out of respect for the guys who probably don't want to read it. So, guys, skip this one - you have been duly warned.

This morning, when I was getting dressed, my earring was almost ripped out of my ear when it got caught on my shirt (can you say "ouch!") (oh, but don't worry, I have three more, earrings that is, not ears), and I was once again transported to that place inside me that cries "WHY???" every time I go to get my eyebrows done or engage in other feminine torture rituals (oh, excuse me, "pampering").

The lengths that women go to be pretty - the waxing, the threading, the plucking, the shaving. The make-up, the heels, the pantyhose, the hair-straightening. I'm not at all immune, I buy in, but I often wonder why on earth we subject ourselves to it. Is it because men tell us we have to? I honestly don't think so - I think we put the pressure upon ourselves when we look around and want her eyes, or her skin, never quite happy with what we were given.

To the point of surgery, eating disorders (as Ezzie was discussing last week) and crazy exercise rituals, I've rarely found a woman who was happy with how she looks. Even those who are seemingly confident still desire this or that physical feature to be changed and perfected. I'm not sure if I've ever met anyone who was completely comfortable with her body.

As low maintenance as I am (and I am pretty low maintenance as far as most women are concerned), I still do it. I put on make-up (though I have to admit that I've come to view make-up as fun and artsy rather than a pain), I wear the pantyhose, I cut myself shaving every other day, I get my eyebrows torn from my skin (which HURTS). I spend the money for those "necessities" that I can't live without such as mascara, lipstick and waxing (and I spend far less than a lot of people - I saw a girl on the bus last night with a long receipt of items from Sephora, and I know how much that stuff costs!).

Why do we buy into society's demands? Why do we pressure ourselves and spend so much time to look "pretty" when we would probably look pretty without all of it? I'm not sure. All I know is, I'm probably not giving up my bi-weekly trips to the threading place any time soon. (They just do such a good job, how could I abandon them?)

All the pain - what's the gain? (Oh yeah, it's when a guy you like looks at you and says, "You look nice." I know that melts me.)

(Note - It's been suggested that my sarcasm does not come out via the Internet, so by the way, while I'm serious about the topic in general, the post is kinda tongue-in-cheek. Don't take it too seriously.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Being Jewish in Alabama

When people find out that I spent a large portion of my formative years in Alabama, I usually get pretty typical responses. "There are Jews in Alabama?" "Wow, did you experience anti-semitism growing up in the South?" And, "What was it like being Jewish in Alabama?"

Well, first of all, contrary to popular opinion, Alabama is NOT the middle of nowhere. It happens to be a fairly large state in the USA. Birmingham, where my family lives, is actually a decent-sized place, certainly comparable to places like Cleveland and definitely bigger than Lakewood. So, despite the idea that Jews live in NY, and if they can't live in NY, then they tend to congregate somewhere close by, approximately 5,000 Jews actually made their way, mostly willingly, down to the Deep South town of Birmingham, Alabama. And I am so glad that they did.

Despite this decent-sized Jewish population, I was the only Jewish student in my high school. This was mainly due to the fact that my parents didn't really want my brother and I growing up with the wealthy, spoiled kids who attended the high school a neighborhood away, where the vast majority of Birmingham's Jewish teenagers attended school. So, in being Jewish at my school, I was alone.

I honestly think that this strengthened my Jewish identity. Like those things you work for hardest in life, you also hold them the most dear. I was lucky, because I was never really the type who needed to fit in and be like everyone else - I was ok with being different and sticking up for what I believed in. I was very open to learning about my classmates and friends religions (and they were quite diverse) and sharing mine with them - fair and square. I was involved in organizations that promoted tolerance for differences and diversity. I surrounded myself with people who accepted me for who I am, and in that way, discovered more about what that meant to me, on a personal level.

It wasn't always easy. There were the Christmas concerts and Easter celebrations and Christian youth groups that my friends were involved in, but that I didn't feel comfortable taking part. Though I did go to church with my friends on occasion and they came to services with me. Just out of curiosity - it was interesting to see the differences. But there were definitely times I felt left out.

But in contrast to New York, where it is so easy to be Jewish, where Jews can be found in mass quantities, where half of my classmates at my Catholic university are Jewish, I think it actually makes you feel being Jewish more strongly. Because I had to work for it. Because it was different. I think my Jewish identity is stronger because I had to take stock and figure out what it really meant to me, why it was important. I give my parents a lot of credit for supporting us in that - being Jewish was always important to them, a huge part of their identity even though we didn't practice much. But it was a undeniable part of the fabric of my life, that I never even thought to conceal.

So, while it seems like it would be hard growing up Jewish in Alabama, and while it was at times, it also gave me the strength to proudly be Jewish anywhere. And everywhere.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Parades and Protests

There has been so much said about the gay pride parade in Jerusalem that I'm not sure there is really anything for me to add. Even the speech on Shabbos at my shul was about it. I'll be honest - I have very mixed feelings (what's new?) about the thought of a gay pride parade in Jerusalem, a city where the most holy site I know resides. Not because I think that gay people don't belong in a holy city - they have every right to be there, but because I have seen lots of pictures of these parades and the images they invoke are often less than holy. It's totally about the actions that are performed than the movement behind the parade that bothers me.

That being said, the actions that are being performed in protest of the parade also trouble me incredibly. The chillul Hashem (desecration of God's name) being engaged in is disgusting, especially coming from those who claim religious piety and are setting fires, destroying and using violence on their holy city in defiance. For people who call themselves religious, and who I suppose I should feel some kinship to, I'm honestly embarrassed. The news accounts of these protests alone are enough to make me want to turn my back on "Orthodox Jews." (Note that I said Orthodox Jews, not Judaism, big difference.)

I know it's not all Orthodox Jews who are joining in these despicable efforts. But it truly saddens me to see just how low supposedly wholesome, religious people will act.

Do I think the gay pride parade should be held in Jerusalem? I honestly have mixed feelings. Robbie says very well why it should be. Dreaming of Moshiach posts a letter from rabbis about why the parade should be protested.

But I think David at Treppenwitz puts it the most eloquently. Please read.

It's the actions that are speaking so loudly right now.