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Isn't it pretty?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dear Glamour

Throughout my life, when I have gotten worked up about something I read in a newspaper or magazine, I've had the habit of actually writing in a letter to the editor (I think this was drilled into me by my father - have to blame someone). Last week, in an act to read something light-hearted and not related to school, I bought a Glamour magazine for the first time in a few years. I was dismayed by (a lot) of what I found inside the cover. Here's the letter I just sent to them:

Dear Glamour –

I recently bought your March issue, in part because I was drawn by the huge letters on the cover advertising your article “Sexy at any size!” Your editor’s letter spoke about the scariness of the super-skinny, size-zero models who are starving themselves to death, literally. And the article itself, on page 306 did highlight the protruding bones and concave bodies of models that resemble concentration camp victims. It spoke about the trend from twenty years prior, where the average model was a thin but healthy size 6 or 8, to now, where the models are expected to be an emaciated size 0. All in the name of fashion.

What bothered me, however, about your magazine, is that before reaching page 306, I encountered your fashion section, from pages 121-138, which was plastered with these same skinny models, all being described as “gorgeous” and “pretty” and “chic.”

Talk about a mixed message! It’s one thing to pay lip service to the growing group of those who are alarmed at the fact that models are sickeningly thin. But to place such models all over the pages of your magazine, and to describe them as “gorgeous” tells me that you aren’t nearly as serious about your mission to make women feel “sexy at any size” as you proclaim to be.

If you are really disturbed by the models who are dying for the achievement of being the thinnest, then stop using their images and stop praising their looks. I understand that the runways are inundated with such skin and bones, but make a statement by really doing something, rather than just writing a couple pages in the far back reaches of your magazine. It would give you a lot more credibility and maybe it would even make a difference to a reader who emulates your fashion pages or to a model who is not pushed to starve because there would actually be magazines out there looking to feature someone who is healthy, rather than wasting away. Follow the lead provided by all the innovative and amazing women you feature every month and stand up for what you are saying you think is right.



Sunday, February 18, 2007

Narrow Pathways

A day I expected to be fairly uneventful and possibly boring ended up being full. I have a friend who lives about an hour away that I hadn't seen in over a year. She has a two-month-old I hadn't yet met, so I thought it was about time. I called her in the morning to see if she would mind a visit. She didn't mind, so I headed on over.

It was really nice seeing her. It had been quite a while. Her kids (three of them now!) have grown up so much since the last time I saw them. As we were talking, I realized I've known her for eight years, much longer than most of my friends. We've both changed tremendously in that time. I kinda wonder what she thinks about all the changing I've done, from city to city. In eight years, I've watched her go from just out of seminary to having three kids. She's watched me move up the coast.

She was telling me about her brother-in-law, who is learning in one of the "top" yeshivas in Israel. He's not very happy about it. The learning isn't really working for him; he doesn't find it to be so stimulating. He says he can't see the forest for the trees. He also has some major philosophical issues, but can't get answers to his questions. His yeshiva isn't exactly the kind of place where you bring up questions about general faith - they're learning gemara. He was sent to speak to a prominent rabbi who does deal with those kind of questions, but it didn't help very much.

He realizes that he isn't really cut out for full-time learning, and doesn't want to be there. He is taking some college courses to attempt to branch out a bit. But his parents don't like it, and want him to continue learning in yeshiva for a few more years at least. He's tried several different yeshivot, but none of them have been a good fit. He knows he would probably be better off leaving learning at this point, but again, his parents don't want him to, so he's kind of stuck in a difficult place.

YM commented on my last post saying:

One of the things that is hard for you I am sure is that in school, and also the way you and I were brought up, is that you analyze ideas from the outside. There is you over here, and over there is the idea or concept that you are analyzing, and you have every right to agree or disagree with that concept or idea. In Judaism, it doesn't work like that at all. You are the Torah; the Torah is you. There is no having an "opinion" about it, it is emes (truth) in the deepest and truest sense. Your job and mine, is simply to identify Torah and then try to understand it, and regardless (of whether we are successful), to live by it as much as we are able. And if we make mistakes or slip on one day, to get up the next day and start again.

I find this difficult. For several reasons. One of them is probably because, as YM pointed out, I wasn't raised to accept something as truth if I don't understand it. I was raised to disagree with things at will. But another reason is that I see so many paths to Torah, so many different permutations in practice, that I find it very difficult to figure out how they can all be the truth in the deepest sense. Especially because I do feel like each person needs to find their own path within Torah, I think it makes it even harder to accept it at face value. Though I do, as YM suggests, "live by it as much as [I am] able." It's really the only thing I can do.

I think this must be part of why my friend's brother-in-law is having such a hard time. He's being given one path, and it's one that he can't walk so well, that he finds himself slipping from. But despite his attempts to walk a different one, even within Torah, he's not being given the opportunity and he is being made to feel like, at least at this point in his life, it isn't acceptable. He's struggling to find a way to accept Torah as truth and to live it, but maybe he isn't being shown the whole picture of Torah.

I feel for my friend's brother-in-law, and his struggles to find his place, and please his parents. I don't think that he wants to be outside Torah, he just wants to take a slightly different path than what he's being placed upon right now. And in that push for a path he doesn't want to walk, his connection to Torah is being damaged.

And maybe that's the key to the problem. The Torah is supposed to encompass the world, and everything in it, but it's rare that I see people feeling that different paths than the one they have chosen are acceptable. The banning of continuing education, the Internet, denim, and Miami seems silly if you suppose that Torah offers and answers everything the world has to offer, if only we live by it as best as we can. These restrictions upon restrictions that seem only to make life harder and more difficult, to pushing past the breaking point for many seems like it misses the point of Torah, and limits the Torah from encompassing everything it can. And in making what is acceptable within Torah narrower, people are pushed off the road altogether.

I wish we could get a glimpse sometimes of the big picture, because I feel like these details would fall to the wayside and become swallowed up by what's important. And what's important is what I feel like is being missed a lot. Because honestly, I feel like I've largely lost sight of it in my frustration and struggles. I can't articulate any more exactly what the point is, besides striving to serve G-d, doing the best I can each day. But I can't necessarily tell you what that means.

I do ask G-d for guidance on a daily basis. I wish His voice was louder and clearer, because sometimes it's hard to hear and sometimes I just don't listen, nor probably want to. But I think His voice is probably more accepting than the audible ones we hear with our ears.

Monday, February 12, 2007

In Response

I had some interesting reactions to my last post (and my blog in general lately), interesting because they spanned the spectrum. I was called "The Man" by Daboys (try "The Chick" next time ;), I was linked to by Ezzie and Jack, and the post sparked a number of very thoughtful and interesting comments. On the other hand, I had a few people privately contact me and express their concern about my post and the fact that they were detecting anger, discouragement and frustration in my blog of late.

I was annoyed by these latter reactions to my post. I'll be honest about the fact that the post wasn't particularly easy for me to write, along with several of my posts lately. I used to strive very hard to avoid any topics that could possibly be considered controversial, because I didn't want my blog to be the a place of contention, with commentors striking venomously at each other. And while my last post wasn't extremely controversial, I know just from my hesitancy to write it, that it wasn't the most conflict-avoidant post either. But it was honest. And that's what I've been working hard to achieve lately - less political correctness, and more honesty, whether it is pretty or not. Because life isn't always pretty and easy. And lately, I've been struggling with many things.

In the last episode of Grey's Anatomy (no spoilers, don't worry) there is a scene between Meredith and Izzy that goes as such:

Meredith: "You ever feel like you're disappearing?"
Izzy: "All the time."
Meredith: "Why can't I just be that happily ever after person? Why can't I just believe in that."
Izzy: "I don't know what I believe in anymore."

That scene might be a bit melodramatic to illustrate how I've been feeling lately, but when I was watching it last week, it did strike home a bit.

As was probably evidenced in my last post, I am struggling with what I believe in. I have a lot of questions about faith and religion, and most of them don't come with easy answers wrapped up in sparkly ribbon for me. Most of them require lots of thought, contemplation, introspection and sometimes, sighs. And answers don't always come from all that.

After having a conversation the other day with an acquaintance struggling with very similar issues, I also know that my frustration and difficulties in the spiritual arena are probably compounded by the fact that I don't really fit in with the community in which I live. The people in my community are very nice, and have welcomed me warmly, and they don't do anything explicitly to make me feel like an outsider, but inside, I feel like an one. And I feel like, similarly to my blogging, I hide my true feelings and opinions in order to avoid judgment which again, is probably more in my mind than the minds of those who I interact with - but it's still there and it affects me.

I'm also struggling with life at the moment. I have a very heavy school load, in addition to working full-time. And I've been overwhelmed. I don't ask for help easily, instead usually attempting to do it all myself, no matter what, my indepedent streak injured by not being capable. But I'm starting to see that it isn't always possible, which is hard for me to admit.

There's not an easy solution to these struggles; they aren't going to just disappear next week if I ignore them long enough. So please bear with me while I work on them. I do appreciate the concern of those who have expressed it - the sentiment and kindness does touch me and it actually does help to know that people care, even if I'm not always capable of letting them know that. But if my posts seem to come from a place of frustration, sometimes they are. I do try to not let it show so often, because I hate to be the person who is always complaining and can't see the good, but once in a while, I need an outlet, and what better outlet than a blog?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Should All Jews be Orthodox?

This post by Jewish Atheist gave me a lot to think about, much of which I left in the comments. But it gave me pause because many times I think similar thoughts when reading posts such as the ones he highlights. I have also had conversations with friends about this topic - what would we do if out children went "off the derech"? or "should everyone be frum*?"

My family isn't halachically observant, nor do I believe they ever will be (a statement which, on a date, got a shocked and reprimanding response of "Don't say that! You never know!" to which I responded, "Yes, I do."). And that's fine with me. I don't think everyone is cut out to be frum (and when I say that, I'm not saying that I think those who are are necessarily better or greater than those who are not - I just think people have different paths that are right for them), nor do I think they have to be.

As someone who follows halacha, I guess I'm supposed to feel like everyone else should also. But I don't. In my perspective, it's a choice and people should make educated choices that they believe in, rather than blindly following what someone else tells them to do. Now, I realize that makes me, in some ways, a hypocrite (which I HATE to admit) because I don't know all the background to all the laws. But I try to understand them as best as I can, I ask lots of questions, and I try to wade through the things that are stringencies and those that are actual law. For me, this is the best way I can serve Hashem. But I think it can be very different for different people - both those more observant and those less observant than myself. But I think the choice is the key.

I have sat amongst friends while one is describing how her relatives have started taking on mitzvos - keeping kosher, keeping shabbos, covering hair or wearing a yarmulke - due to the example of the person telling the story. The group exclaims and awes about how amazing it is and how incredible that these relatives are making such changes. But I have mixed feelings about it. Do these relatives really know what they are getting into? Have they thought it all through? Why are they making these changes? I don't know the answers to these questions, and if these people have considered everything and make a conscious, educated decision to change their lives, that's great. But if it's something they are blindly forging into, not considering how it's not easy to be Orthodox, I'm concerned for them.

To be really honest, I think my concern is due to the fact that I know I personally didn't really do my due diligence when becoming frum. Which is normal. But it has caused a lot of discomfort along the way. Trying to really find my place within Orthodox Judaism. Sifting through the different layers and opinions and observance levels within Orthodoxy; trying to figure out what really is law and what is extra doses added on for "safety." What kiruv* organizations are leaving out. It's been many years, but I think I'm still figuring my way through it, and have gone through many permutations. I think I'm a lot closer to owning my decisions, and I've definitely gotten more comfortable questioning something that is presented as fact, but might not actually be such, but I think there's probably still a lot that I was once told in the name of "mikareving"* me that isn't nearly as clear as presented, and which I haven't yet sorted through.

So, I guess I'm saying that I agree Jewish Atheist in a lot of respects. I don't think Orthodox Judaism is for everyone, and certainly not one stream of it. I wouldn't feel comfortable pressuring others into taking on halacha if they don't choose it for themselves, and honestly, I think each person should feel free to make their own decisions. If people ask me questions about why I choose to do what I do, fine, I'll explain it to them. But when I watch my Jewish co-worker eating a bacon sandwich, I'm not going to give him a lecture, nor am I going to refer him to a kiruv organization. I'm going to be his friend, and get along with him as best as I can - and hope that he respects my decisions to live my life the way I choose as I respect his. Because in many ways, I think Jewish unity across the board is more important than making sure everyone is Orthodox.


*Off the Derech - literally "off the path" or "off the way" - of Torah observance.
*Frum - following Orthodox Judaism
*Halacha or Halachically - Laws from the Torah
*Hashem - God
*Mitzvos - commandments
*Kiruv - outreach, specifically groups that encourage Torah observance
*Mikareving - guiding someone towards Torah observance