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Isn't it pretty?

Friday, May 25, 2007


Over Shavuos, I finished reading "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston. It's the story of a mixed race (part-black, part-white) woman and her life and loves. I was supposed to have read it in high school, but like many books I was supposed to read in high school, I skipped it. I was missing out.

The main character, Janie, is a beautiful woman who learns about herself through her relationships in life. She marries three times, the final marriage being to a person who really loves her, though doesn't offer the financial rewards of her previous spouses. To her, the love is worth more than the money.

There is an interesting passage in the book. It describes another character who is of mixed black and white heritage. This character holds herself higher than those of all black descent, and she states this position very clearly. She asks Janie numerous times how she can stand to associate herself with those who don't carry white blood in them. Janie doesn't pay a lot of attention to this, she doesn't judge others by their percentage of whiteness. But it's clear that the other woman doesn't agree with this lack of racial bias.

I read this passage shortly before having an interesting conversation with the cousin of my Shavuos hosts. This cousin grew up in Israel, in Bnai Brak. She is a Sephardic Jew. She told me how she grew up wishing that her skin was lighter, because the Ashkenazic classmates she had made her feel like she was not as good as them. She met her husband and left Israel, partially because she thought that she would not encounter such attitudes in America.

This cousin has a 3-year old daughter, who is absolutely precious. When trying to find a school for this daughter, my friend's cousin had a few priorities - mainly a good education and a good religious foundation. She didn't want to compromise on either one. So she spoke with the administration at several schools, both predominantly Sephardic schools and predominantly Ashkenazic schools. At one of the Ashkenazic schools, she was questioned about why she, as a Sephardic Jew, would want to send her daughter there. When explaining her reasons, the administrator told her that they wouldn't refuse her daughter, but it wasn't the first choice. She was made to feel like she was not as good, because of her Sephardic heritage.

She decided not to send her daughter there, because she felt that they wouldn't be teaching her daughter good values and attitudes, even if the education might have been better than at another school. I don't blame her one bit.

It's the same thing as in the book - judging based on the color of skin, rather than the inside of who a person is. Disregarding another person based on what they look like. And it bothers me so much in the story of my friend's cousin because we are supposed to be bound together by the fact that we are Jewish, not separated by our different factions and customs. But it unfortunately doesn't seem to work that way.

In the book, Black people had it rough. They worked hard with little money to make it, whether they had a little black blood or a lot. In life, Jews often have it rough - there are many who don't like us very much. We should, at the very least, help strengthen ourselves by supporting each other, rather than dividing ourselves and causing the chains to weaken link by link.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wedding Fun

I attended the wedding of a friend last night. It was a very fancy wedding out on Long Island. My friends and I got all dressed up, ate lots of really yummy food and then danced like crazy. We got home around 2:00 AM, so I'm a bit tired today.

It was one of the most interesting weddings I've ever been to.

Part of the reason it was so interesting is that the guy my friend married is a Sephardic Jew. The customs at Sephardic weddings are a bit different than at Ashkenazic Jewish weddings, and I had never before been to a Sephardic weddings, so it was cool to see the differences.

Most of the differences in customs happened at the chuppah (marriage ceremony). In contrast to Ashkenazic weddings, the bride and groom are allowed to see each other before the wedding. In Ashkenazic weddings, right before the chuppah, the bride sits in a beautiful chair with her family surrounding her and the groom is ushered in to see the bride and to put her veil over her face (the badeken). This is the first time in a week that the bride and groom have seen (and sometimes even spoken) to each other, and is usually a very moving moment. This isn't done in Sephardic weddings (though last night they did do this, because the bride is Ashkenazic and wanted to).

What was really different, though, was the ceremony itself. A large number of the bride's and groom's family members walked down the aisle and took place under the chuppah (canopy). (In Ashkenazic weddings, it's usually only a few members, and they don't stand under the chuppah.) At this wedding, there was probably 30-40 people standing up there. What I really liked was that when each person walked down, the crowd clapped for them. I had never seen that before, and it was so much fun. Also, the bride was walked halfway down the aisle by her parents and then the groom came down and escorted her the remainder of the way. The rest of the ceremony was fairly similar, with the exception of the absence of the bride circling the groom seven times

After the ceremony, the guests were invited to eat lots of food and enjoy great music and dancing.

While all these things made the wedding fun and festive and quite interesting, what made it so special was the diversity of the guests. Both the bride and groom have become more observant as adults. The bride is, as I said earlier, Ashkenazi and the groom is Sephardic. So the guests were from all kinds of backgrounds - all different observance levels from Chasidic to non-observant, Sephardic and Ashkenazic, from all over the United States. The music was a mixture of traditional Jewish wedding music and Sephardic music and some Israeli rock thrown in. And everyone danced together and made sure the bride and groom were happy and enjoying themselves. And it didn't matter that there were differences between them - we were all there for the same purpose.

I wish there were more events where Jews from all different backgrounds and customs and practices came together and enjoyed themselves so much. It was truly an example of Jewish unity in that room. And it was great.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Semester in Reflection

As the last couple weeks have gone by, I've been asking myself what I learned this past semester. I took three courses, none of which I was terribly enthusiastic about, so I had to really think about what I have gained in the past four months.

Interestingly, I think I learned a lot more outside of class than inside (but that probably is often the case). I had a horrible schedule this semester, chosen purposely to avoid a professor that I didn't want to have a second time in a year. In hindsight, it was probably the wrong decision. I would have probably been a lot less stressed out and more rested had I chosen the professor I didn't want. But I also probably would have dreaded class each week. Trade-offs.

The big lesson I learned this semester, which gave way to other lessons, was that I just can't do it all. I found myself stretched beyond my limits when I tried to work full-time, have a very tough class schedule and have a social life. I was dragging myself to work almost in tears from exhaustion, and something had to give. So, I accepted help from a friend and I cut back on my work hours. And it was okay. No one criticized me for not being superwoman and not being able to do everything. In fact, most of the people who know me well congratulated me on doing something to relieve some of my stress. It's still not something that was easy for me, but I saw what a difference it made and I don't regret it, and I will remember it in the future.

I also learned this semester that it's okay to accept help from others and to admit that you need help. This has always been a challenge for me. But I got desperate, was offered help from a friend, accepted the help and it's fine. I don't think it made me less in that friend's eyes. It probably won't make it easy for me to ask for help in the future, but I hope it will make it a little easier.

I think the last big lesson I learned this semester is that it's okay to do for yourself, to give yourself what you need, and even some of the things that you want. It's not selfish, it's about staying sane sometimes. I needed time this semester, and though it was hard to say no at times, I had to do it, and the end result was a stronger me. And now I feel more capable of doing for others.

So I'm super happy that this stressful semester has come to a close but I know that while it was really incredibly difficult, it was also, like most of the challenges that I've faced, really a growing experience as well.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What a Day

It's been such a nice day. I think Lag B'Omer is becoming my favorite Jewish holiday. Despite it being slightly chilly and being unable to wear my flip flops, I went to the parade. There were lots of people marching and mingling. Surprisingly, I only saw a couple people I knew.

After the parade, I had two barbecues conveniently located at the same park to attend. Between the attendees of both barbecues, there were a large portion of my friends, a few guys playing guitar, football, and ridiculous amounts of food.

What a day.

The day brings back the memory of Lag B'Omer a few years ago when I was living in Baltimore. At some point in the afternoon, my friends and I decided we should have a barbecue. We bought a little barbecue, put it together, grilled some chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, and veggies, all on the front porch of the apartment. It was a day that lies in the memory of all of us, and it was memorialized by a picture that each of us still has. It was the beginning of the halcyon summer in Baltimore, the one we all recall fondly and wish could exist again, but it can't quite. But today gave us another breath of that summer.

Things are a little different these days. A couple of my friends are married or engaged, some of the participants have changed. There were more of us today than there was a few years ago. A friend or two is still in Baltimore. But these snatched of contentment and fun remind me why I'm not in Baltimore.

You can't go back, and I wouldn't want things to be stagnant forever. I'm in a different place now than I was, I've seen some of the harder parts of life. I've made big steps in accomplishing some of my aspirations. And I've managed to keep these friends and grow with them. And I'm happy.

What a day.