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Isn't it pretty?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Whirlwind Weekend

This past weekend was quite a full one. I went to Alabama! A couple weeks ago, I realized my father's 60th birthday was fast approaching, and I decided to give him a special surprise treat - me! Unfortunately, I don't have any extra days off work, so I had to make it a quick trip - here's my recap:

Since I can't take time off work, I decided to make my trip from Saturday night until Sunday night. The first kink in my plans were that there are NO flights that go to Alabama that leave late enough Saturday night for me to get to the airport after Shabbos (that's because there are NO direct weekend flights to Alabama). The best I could do was get a flight to Atlanta, which is two hours away from Birmingham. So I decided my best bet was to fly to Atlanta, rent a car there and drive the two hours to Birmingham.

The next kink in my plans was getting to and from the airport. I was flying out of LaGuardia. In order to get to the airport in time, I would have to have a friend drive me from Passaic the minute Shabbos was over. I wouldn't have time to park my car AND catch my flight. The only problem was that I was scheduled to get back into NY very late Sunday night, and I hated to ask anyone to pick me up. Some brainstorming later, my friend who had offered to drive me to the airport came up with the idea that I should spend Shabbos in Kew Garden Hills, which is a nice 10 minutes from LaGuardia. Yay! Excellent idea. SaraK was contacted and kindly offered to host me for Shabbos. The SerandEz (and Elianna) family hosted us for a meal, I met lots of very friendly people in Kew Garden Hills, and got to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

Until I realized that I locked my keys in my car. Uh oh. Well, my friend who originally had offered to drive me to the airport has a spare key to my car, so I called and left a message explaining the situation and apologizing profusely that she would now have to drive to LaGuardia the next night, exactly the situation we had attempted to avoid, in order to help me unlock my car. I sat down at my gate about an hour before my flight was scheduled to depart and I called my dad to wish him a happy birthday, so that he wouldn't wonder why I hadn't called him.

As I sat there, waiting for my flight to board, I kept thinking about those stupid keys. I figured it was worth a shot, so I found the closest security guard and employed his help. I explained the situation and he told me that there is a BP gas station on site at the airport that does towing and will unlock cars for poor people like me. He wasn't sure how much they would charge, or their phone number, but he said it was worth a shot. I called information to get the phone number, the kind guard wrote the number down for me, and I called the BP station. While watching the minutes tick down until my flight was scheduled to depart, the guy at the BP station told me to go to my car and they would be there in five minutes (yeah, right, likely story). But they actually were! About three minutes after my call, they arrived at my car, and performed the complimentary service of unlocking my car. YAY! I had my keys!

I ran back to the terminal, went through security again, and arrived at my gate just in time to run onto my flight about five minutes before take-off. After an uneventful flight to Atlanta, I picked up the rental car and drove the two hours to Birmingham, where my mom was waiting for me. I gave my mom a hug and fell fast asleep.

The next day, my dad still none the wiser about my arrival in Birmingham, I coordinated with my three brothers (two of them traveling from Tuscaloosa, about 45 minutes away) to arrive at my dad's house for a delicious brunch prepared by my step-mom. We pulled up to the house and almost managed to surprise my dad, who saw us getting out of the car from inside his house. We walked in to a very happy dad who was shocked to see all of us in his home, a day after his birthday. You have to understand what an undertaking this is - the frequency with which myself and all three of my brothers are under the same roof at one time occurs approximately once every two years. It is quite a rare event.

We had a very nice brunch, catching up, taking lots of pictures and managing to be mostly civil to each other (come on, what are siblings for if not for the small teasing and taunting?).

We all then took a trip to visit my grandparents. We sat and chatted with them for a little while until my brothers visiting from Tuscaloosa had to return there. A little while later, it was time for me to go. I went back to my mom's house, picked up my stuff, and set back out for Atlanta. Drove the two hours back to Atlanta, returned the rental car, flew back into LaGuardia, where I was able to unlock my car, drove home in the snow, and was safely back in my own bed by 1:00 AM.

It was a crazy, fun, wonderful weekend - happy birthday Dad!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sex Survey

Ezzie posted a link the other day to this survey, which is being done in order to discover attitudes and actual practices in regards to the sexual restrictions and proscriptions that Judaism places on intimate relations. There was also a lot of discussion on the Yahoo Group from my community about whether this survey is appropriate and whether the results will lead to negative views of Orthodox Jews from outsiders.

There are separate surveys for single and married people. Out of curiosity, I looked at both (and completed and submitted the one for singles), because I was interested to see what the differences were between the two surveys.

The big differences in the two surveys were about practice, which is understandable, as the survey for married people focuses on the niddah* restrictions and mikvah* immersion, whereas the survey for singles was focused on shomer negiah* and whether or not singles adhere to it.

The differences that I was surprised about was mainly in relation to the attitudes towards the different sexual acts. Questions included on the survey for people who are married include the following items (with the participants being asked whether they agree or disagree):

  • "Within marriage, participation in sexual activities solely for pleasure is a sin."
  • "Within marriage, participation in sexual activities other than penile vaginal intercourse, such as oral sex, would not be approved of by God."
  • "Within marriage, sexuality is a gift of God and as such should be enjoyed."
  • "Within marriage, God regards reproduction as only one purpose of sexual activity, it is also for mutual enjoyment and pleasuring."
  • "Within marriage, any sexual activity that is agreeable and pleasurable to both partners is approved of by God."

These questions are not on the survey for singles. Which surprised me, because I think they are definitely pertinent, and I think it would be interesting to see whether there are differences in attitudes about such topics between single and married people.

One of the other big differences, was that on the survey for singles, there was a lot of questions about sexual activity (or lack thereof) before marriage. These questions were not asked on the survey for those who are married. Which again, I think is a shame, because it would definitely be interesting to see whether or not there is a correlation between those who abstained or limited themselves from physical contact before marriage and how strictly they adhere to the laws of niddah once married.

The Yahoo Group that I subscribe to had a whole debate questioning the reasons and validity for doing such a survey and exposing the sexual practices and attitudes of Orthodox Jews. I will admit that I didn't read all the comments posted but in general, I think these kind of surveys are important and that while I understand that sex is a sensitive issue that many are not comfortable with discussing openly, I don't see anything wrong with it, especially since the survey is confidential. In general, I think the attitudes towards sex amongst many religious individuals (not just Jewish, but in other religions as well) is unhealthy and leads to unrealistic expectations and spouses who do not generally see eye to eye on the role sex should play in a marriage. Additionally, the reluctance of individuals to discuss sex at all before marriage feeds into this and makes it that much harder to discuss it later.

I think it is very confusing to a girl to be taught her entire life that she must cover herself in order to keep men from thinking impure thoughts about her and then asking her to turn around, and overnight, make sex a healthy part of marriage. The message girls receive growing up is that sex is something that is wrong and bad and that she need to avoid it as much as possible. But then once she gets married, she is supposed to transition all those lessons into having an open physical relationship with her husband. I think it must be extremely difficult to do this, and probably a lot of marriages really take a lot of time and effort to be able to build a comfort level where sex can be a good thing between the spouses, if they are able to do so.

That's why I think this survey is important, and why I think the above questions should be asked of singles and well as married people. I think it's time for us to know what the real attitudes are towards sex and whether we need to be doing something differently in order that couples can have healthy attitudes towards their sexuality. It IS a big deal, and people are too scared to talk about it. I don't know if this survey will make all the difference, but I think it's a start.

*Niddah - laws of spiritual purity and impurity that involves a women's menstrual cycle and the laws surrounding this, such as abstention from physical contact with one's spouse during this time.

*Mikvah - the ritual immersion in order to regain spiritual purity in order that a couple can reengage in physical contact.

*Shomer negiah - the abstention from any physical contact with members of the opposite gender, excepting specific close relatives.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Platonic Relationships Revisited

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about whether platonic relationships can exist. There were a lot of interesting comments to the post, but unfortunately, they are lost somewhere in cyberspace between my old commenting system and blogger. Basically though, I am of the opinion that, despite the famous Harry and Sally, men and women CAN be friends. I don't think that every man and every woman can be friends, but I think, with open communication and understanding between male and female, it absolutely can be done and can add a lot to life. I really enjoy my friendships with males, I think it enhances my quality of life and sometimes it's nice to get away from my female friends. The dynamic and perspective is just different than between two people of the same gender, and I think it can be extremely beneficial.

What I'm currently having problems with is jealousy and/or discomfort issues. Here's the scenario. I have a male friend with whom I am JUST friends, nothing doing of it going anywhere else. I enjoy his company, but there are very big reasons that it will never be anything beyond friendship. This is very clear to both of us.

The problem is that significant others sometimes aren't so comfortable with our relationships. Specifically, the women that my friend dates are not always so enthusiastic about the fact that we are friends. (The guys I date don't seem to get as bothered by it.) These issues are despite the fact that, when he is dating someone, I specifically make efforts to stay out of the way and to not be in touch with him as regularly, because I have no desire to be an issue or a problem in his relationships. When I have met women he has dated, I have gone out of my way to be friendly and nice to them, and to make it clear that I am no threat to their relationship.

But despite these lengths I go to, there have been occasions where the women he has dated haven't been comfortable with the fact that we are friends. Why is this such an issue? Why does it seem to be more of a problem for the women he dates then the men I date?

I have dated guys in the past who have had female friends. I have to admit to certain moments of slight jealousy or discomfort, despite the fact that I knew they were unfounded and unreasonable, but I don't think I have ever let it get to the point where I would really make a big deal about it. The only time I could see myself doing so would be if these female relationships took precedence over me with a guy that I was dating, which just hasn't been the case. I could understand having a hard time with it if the guy I was dating was spending large amounts of time with a female friend, or if the time he spent with her was at the expense of the time he spent with me. But this has never been the case, so it's never been a real issue. And I have made sure that it's not the case with my male friend - I have always made sure that the woman he is dating comes way before me.

I would think these women would be happy that he has female friends - it means he knows how to relate to and interact with women. It means he has a female to turn to in order to understand the female perspective. But it doesn't seem to work that way.

Why are platonic relationships so threatening?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Inferiority Complex

I have a new post up at Beyond BT - check it out: Inferiority Complex

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

No Education Too?

Ezzie linked to an article from Haaretz which discusses a ban recently placed on continuing education programs for Ultra-Orthodox women.

I have to say, my most persistent thought on the matter is that I just don't get it. I don't understand why women should be barred from continuing education classes, especially ones specifically designed for these religious women. I don't comprehend why anyone would not want to encourage teachers from being educated. I can not fathom why leaders of the communities would put so many roadblocks in the way of families being able to support themselves. There are so many problems with this proclamation that I barely know where to start.

The adherents of Ultra-Orthodox factions in Israel are trying so hard to do the right thing and to follow their leaders. But, as Krum facetiously pointed out, the leaders' decrees seem almost specifically to cause people to want to leave the religion. Could they possibly make things any more difficult for their followers? I feel as if everything they are encouraging is antithetical to anyone being able to succeed in life.

For example, all men are being encouraged to learn full-time. Which they get paid extremely little for. So, who's supposed to earn a living? Their wives. But of course these livings should only be specifically approved and those professions that are approved are, of course, not ones in which someone is going to earn a decent salary. Then, the families are encouraged to have many children, as many as possible. But the husbands are learning full-time, which means the wives have to work, which means there is no one at home with all those children. But now, if a woman should want to advance her career with continuing education, so that maybe she can work a limited number of hours but earn a higher salary for doing so, she isn't allowed. And many of these women were going to continuing education courses to improve their teaching skills. Now that they are barred from doing so, guess what's going to happen to the education system? The next generation of students, being educated by uneducated teachers is going to suffer, and in the generation after that there is going to be little hope. A self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and ignorance. Great, I'm sure that's the point of men learning Torah full-time.

This paragraph just stood out because it makes no sense to me whatsoever:

The new directives completely cancel the programs equivalent to B.A. studies, as well as the programs for education consultants and didactic diagnosticians, who trace learning impairments. Graduates of teacher seminaries will be able to apply for teaching certificates only after a hiatus of at least one year - to enable them to get married.

Put aside the fact that now women can't, once married, have the equivalent of Bachelor's degrees in order to possibly know what they are talking about. But instead of working for a living to possibly help out their, most likely, overburdened families, or to maybe save a little money before marriage in order that they start out married life not in abject poverty before having as many children as possible in the same number of years, now they can NOT work. Instead, they should date. Great idea.

I could probably go on and on about how this reeks of the subjugation of women and and how it binds so many from success, putting unnecessary burden where it doesn't have to be, and how these kinds of decisions make me mad and sad and make Ultra-Orthodox Judaism seem more and more like a cult, with its fear of having educated women who might actually think for themselves. But I'll finish here with this - I have, in the past, been afraid to proclaim myself a feminist. But when these kind of announcements are made, I am proudly one - meaning I am all for educated women being able to make their own decisions and choose their own paths, not a world in which women's options are obliterated. And if that means I'm a bad Jew, and don't give proper respect to our so-called leaders who apparently don't really want anyone to succeed and be happy, so be it.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

I know I'm a few minutes late, but I just spent the first moments of 2007 with friends watching the ball drop (on TV).

Happy New Year!