Thursday, December 31, 2009

December Thirty-First, Two Thousand And Nine

December 31, 2009. A day that will live in...disappointment. And, hopefully, growth.

I remember the day I turned ten. My whole life prior, I told people I was a single digit years old. That magical single digit. I was one, I was two, I was three, four, five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Those years where only the children belong. I only had that for nine years. Then I left it behind forever. I turned ten. I joined the ranks of the double-digits. For most of the rest of my life, I would be double-digits years old.


Ten is the beginning of a new kind of growth. You're still an innocent, carefree little kid...except then you become eleven. You are a preteen. You have preteen angst, even as you turn twelve, and then at thirteen you leave even that behind and turn into a teenager. Fourteen and you're in high school. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. College.

The new millennium is about to turn ten. And where am I?

Two summers ago, I started working on a project. A piece of writing. It was just a little piece of writing then. I didn't even think it would mean anything more than an email venting my frustration in the form of a two paragraph story.

But this piece of writing grew. For a year and a half, I have written - and not written - around that first email. I'd spend many, many days - weeks - not writing anything at all. And then inspiration would strike and I'd churn out another little writing episode. That's all it was. A collection of writing episodes.

But by the end of this year - by the end of December 31, 2009, I'm supposed to have a first draft of a novel. And I don't. Not even close.

So I'm sorry to anyone who was expecting me to have completed that draft. And I'm sorry to myself, because it's myself who I've let down the most.

I really dislike being disappointing. And I'm sad that I have to end the year feeling like I did not accomplish what I should have accomplished.

One thing I learned through months of experience now is that it is extremely difficult to write creatively when you are not inspired to. And that is what being a writer is all about - writing under all conditions: when people are around, when people are not around, when it's too loud, when it's too quiet, when it's too hot, too cold, when you're exhausted, or when you really want to get out and do something. Being a writer is not writing whenever the fancy takes hold of you. It's writing even when you don't feel like it - because you have to. You have to for you and you have to for your story. And I desperately want to be that kind of writer. A real one. One who is primarily writing, not occasionally writing. It's a lot harder than I thought.

I don't want to give up. I can't give up. I'll never forgive myself if I do. So I hope that no one loses faith in me, even if I am disappointing right now. It's about to be 2010. A new year for writing. If I've learned anything, it's that you can't be a writer based on talent alone. I don't have a natural skill for perseverance, but I sure am going to try and develop one.

And one thing that redeems this post is that it is part of my novel, too. And it's 637 words.

Here's to a new year of writing, and of reaching any goal just within your grasp. I hope you all accomplish everything you set out to do, and remember, even if you fail, a new fight starts tomorrow. Make it count.


My ical alarm just went off. A little message popped up on my screen saying, “300 pages of novel due.” I wish so badly that I was there. I’m so sorry that I’m not. So disappointed.

But…I am closer every day to finishing this ever-growing piece of writing. And I am at least a hundred pages closer to having a real novel than I’ve ever been in my entire life. That’s not nothing. I hope my book continues to grow and develop as it should, and at a more regular, steady pace.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Everything we feel is born out of the perspective we come from. There is some truth in what everyone feels - even if different people feel contradictory things.

When I was in high school, Stern was seen as the "frum" college choice. When I was in Stern, I met people who came from the opposite end - they came from worlds where Stern (and YU) was seen as a more "modern" college choice. The same Stern and YU.

In certain circles, I hear people complain about YU and how it's growing so much to the right. In other circles, people are afraid of YU shifting too much to the left.

So which is it?

YU (and the CJF) has many different kinds of events: the seforim sale, Torah Tours, etc. Sometimes, YU has events that are more questionable or more "to the left." The Gay Panel was one of those events. Here are my thoughts on the gay panel event.

1. I believe that we have an obligation to be sympathetic to the plights of any of our Jewish brethren. Jewish homosexuals have a particularly difficult struggle in that they can never really get married and have children.

1a. Getting married and having children is only one major aspect of living a Jewish life. Devoting one's self to Torah and to the community can be another. There is more than one way to find meaning in life, and there is more than one way to have a fulfilling Jewish future. That said, I am completely sympathetic to the pain of knowing you will never marry and raise a family.

2. As harsh as this sounds, there is nothing the public Jewish community can do to help homosexuals. All we can do is feel sympathy. We cannot decide to make something halachikly okay when it is clearly not. We cannot turn a blind eye to any halachik transgressions because we feel bad. As R' Twersky said, there is such a thing as having too much sympathy. The more sympathetic a person is, the more that person wants to lessen someone else's pain, and then the more that person might allow certain things to slide that should not. Our sympathy has to remain only in the "feeling sensitive" category, not "feeling so bad that we'll do anything to lessen the other person's pain." We just can't make things okay that are not okay, no matter how badly we feel.

2a. Therefore, a public event like the panel serves a confusing purpose. It brought about some good - I have heard a bunch of people say that they used to not have any feelings towards the homosexual issue and now they feel sympathetic, which is a valuable outcome (if it is a healthy amount of sympathy). It also has the potential to bring about harm - someone might feel that YU is condoning homosexuality, that YU students support homosexuality, and/or that this is just one step forward down a tricky road of possible serious halachik transgressions. Do we really think the subject of homosexuality at YU will remain in the area of just discussing how difficult it is for Orthodox homosexuals? Or is this only the beginning towards a questionable future? I don't know. I don't think anyone can know. It remains to be seen. Am I offended by the event? No. Am I angry it occurred? I wasn't. After reading the notes of R' Reiss's speech, however, I feel his deep sadness that something like arayos needs to be discussed in this manner at YU - a makom Torah. I do find it upsetting that we should need a reminder that such a thing is not allowed. But I also believe that not all the panelists, and certainly not the people who organized the event, or R' Blau, or those who attended the event, ever intended to give off the impression that acting on homosexuality was acceptable. Such a perception grew out of the reactions of those against the panel. Now that this perception exists, however, YU and the Orthodox world must combat the idea that an Orthodox institution could ever condone such a thing, and we all must remind ourselves that no matter how sympathetic we feel, we can never be supportive of actual homosexual behavior.

3. Homosexuality is a private, personal issue. A person dealing with homosexuality 100% should receive guidance and inspiration on how to continue to lead a frum Orthodox life while grappling with this struggle, but that person should be turning to rabbonim, friends, and family for this guidance and support.

Saying homosexuality is a private issue is not the same as sweeping it under the rug. When something is accused of being "swept under the rug," it is when there is something that ought to be exposed and is not. This goes for abuse, molestation, etc. When it comes to homosexuality, there is nothing to expose that is being hidden away. There is no evil we as a community ought to bring out into the open in order to deal with and protect people from. Homosexuality is a personal issue. It involves the person and the people in that person's personal life. Such an intense struggle is something sensitive that ought to be treated as such, not by airing it out for the whole community to hear but by dealing with it discreetly and respectfully. That is also the most productive way to deal with it: the way a person will actually receive the most help and guidance.

4. There has been a lot of outcry about the direction Orthodoxy is headed. Some say it's heading too much to the left, some say too much to the right. I say this: Throughout Jewish history, we as a religious entity have had to deal with various difficult issues. We have survived and survived and survived. And we will survive this, too. Orthodoxy will not disappear and it will not turn into something unrecognizable. Things change all the time, but our core values are always the same. The Torah is truth and that is what guides us. As long as the Torah and halacha is still the focus of how we live our lives, we will be okay. The thing we have to watch out for, which is something that R' Twersky mentioned briefly, is being true to what halachos really are, not reinventing them to make things okay that are not actually okay just because we would like them to be okay.

And that's another thing. We are not entitled to anything we feel like we ought to have. As Orthodox Jews, we should know better than to think that way. This extends far beyond the issue of homosexuality. You know the slogan of Hebrew National - "We answer to a higher authority?" Well, they might not, but we do. We can't forget that there is a higher purpose in life than getting everything we want. As a nation that is kadosh, we have been given specific guidelines for how to live a life of kedusha. We are so lucky that most of us grow up aware we have meaning and a purpose in life. So many people in this world don't have that. We do. We should cherish that and try to live the way we are supposed to.

5. I don't think YU is a bad place. YU is a very good place trying to figure out how to deal with its wide array of students. Perhaps a lot of what they do is for money and image. But I really do think there's this understanding that YU students are a major part of the Orthodox future - certainly the Modern Orthodox future - and the institution tries to cater to the different kinds of students there are. Maybe that is part of the problem. Maybe YU as an institution ought to do some self-reflection and philosophizing, coming up with a real hashkafa that it stands by. If something does not abide by that hashkafa, then YU should not stand behind that thing. Then there will be no, or less, confusion, and YU will not find itself in quite as many situations as this. The argument against that is that YU wants to keep its diverse university face, as well. But I do think lines need to be drawn anyway, while still leaving room for productive intellectual discourse.

I'm just one Stern alum and these are my thoughts.

Monday, December 28, 2009


From a website, reiterating the words of a close friend:

Sinclair Lewis was invited to talk to some students about the writer’s craft. He stood at the head of the class and asked, “How many of you here are really serious about being writers?” A sea of hands shot up. Lewis then asked, “Well, why aren't you all home writing?” And with that he walked out of the room.

Goodbye for now!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Past Life

I've always felt it was stupid to judge people based on where they went to school or similar things of the past. You never know what that person was like then, what the person is like now, etc. I know I don't like being seen in certain ways just because I've gone certain places in my past. I'm nothing like what one would associate with the places I've been.

And yet I find myself doing it to others. I find that I have a particular aversion to dating people who have been certain places because I don't want to go back there myself. I've moved forward from those places and I want to continue moving forward and away, not back.

I feel terrible for doing what I would hate for someone to do to me. So why am I doing it? It's instinct almost. I know in my head that this is not something I agree with, but emotionally I am saying, "No, no, no, I don't want that!"

For the first time, I have really begun to feel comfortable with where I am religiously and I want someone who will help pull me further along this path, not bring me back to where I once was. So maybe that is why I am so wary of certain things about people. I don't know.

Does this justify it? I know it doesn't. But I wish I could somehow get it through to people that I'm not looking for what they think I'm looking for. Unless I'm just being completely thick about the whole thing.

I guess being so quiet and introverted really does not allow people to see who I am, what I believe, and what kind of person I've become. I just do it to myself - all the misunderstanding people have. And then I go and misunderstand other people. Or do I? I don't know. I don't think I do, except I must, because I know people don't know me, so that must mean that when I think I know something about someone, I really don't know them either. Especially if I've never met them.

Oh bother. Why do I have to form opinions?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

True Colors

I think this song is beautiful and really speaks to me.

(And Glee does such a good job with its songs. Yes...I know this is an old song. I love this version, though.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is Anyone Still Out There?

Is anyone still there? Reading? Listening? Thinking?

Somehow it feels like the days of Erachet have passed. I don't know. Something just feels different. Maybe I'm not Erachet anymore. But how could that be?

Are you all still here?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ordinary Inspiration

What I am about to write came from a specific conversation, but the ideas apply to life as a whole. Many times, people ask authors where they come up with their stories from, or they get impressed by a storyteller's imagination.

Good writers make good stories, right?

I'm not so sure about that.

Life is what makes stories. Speakers and writers just take the time to notice them and tell them over. But I think more people should notice such things.

I was in a sort of speech class where everyone had to give a two-minute inspirational speech. We were told that we should speak as though we had two minutes to pass over some lesson or piece of inspiration to the whole world. Yet so many people's stories were about death and tragedy and hardship. This bothered me. Such stories can be extremely inspiring - and those particular ones were - but I decided I really did not want to go that route. There is what to be taken from all moments in life, and even the most ordinary thing or moment or person can be inspiring. The inspiration gained from major events, like tragedies or difficulties, shouldn't end with and be defined solely by that event. It should be then carried on into the rest of your life, like a catalyst for actually seeing the things in your life. The ordinary days in our lives are not filler in between the major events. We spend most of our lives having ordinary days. Would you really want to see most of your life as filler? Our ordinary lives have a greater significance than we give them credit for.

That's why I picked something more ordinary to speak about: a moment of ordinary friendship. I think we - general we - need to learn to actually see the things in our lives and realize their value, even - or maybe especially - the non-cataclysmic ones.

Too many people spoke that night - and too many people in general say this - about how they regret not showing a person they care before that person died or they regret not speaking to their father for five years or not resolving a fight with someone or not paying enough attention to someone, etc. etc. etc. And I really think we shouldn't wait to have those regrets. Relationships should be treated with care, respect, and love, not because you're afraid you might lose them but because you have them now. When things are really great, or just average, we should still appreciate those people in our lives who we really care about, for no reason other than that we care about them. It shouldn't always have to be the big stuff that wake us up and say, "Hello you idiot, remember you care about this person?" Why should it have to get to that point? Why do we take people for granted? We never should. Not every moment has to be heavy with inspiration, but that's just it. Inspiration doesn't have to be heavy. It's just that feeling of, "I really appreciate having this person in my life. It's making me really happy right now and that feeling of happiness is giving me a positive attitude towards life."

Sometimes, the best moments are sitting in a car with someone, or walking with someone, or just being in the same room as someone, and not saying anything, just thinking, but knowing that you're with someone you really care about, and who truly cares about you, and how it doesn't matter that you're not having a deep conversation or going anywhere exceptionally exciting or doing anything spectacularly life-changing. At a certain point, you don't need those big things in order to have truly important moments. The importance doesn't lie in what you're doing or saying. It lies in the bond you have with your family and friends, no matter what.

What I really mean is - I like to recognize those smaller moments. During the speeches that night, I didn't like how everyone seemed to juxtapose "inspiring" with "tragedy." Tragedy can lead to inspiring stories - but we can't live our lives off of tragedy or major obstacles. We have to live our lives off of our lives and the regular people in them. Because to us, those "regular people" are the most special people we know.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Respect is like
The way flowers grow up
Towards the rain
And rain trickles up
Through the roots,
The way cliffs of the ravine
Reflect each other's majesty
In their clear mirror faces
So that each mountain seems
A hundred miles deeper,
The way birds sing to the clouds
In their mellifluous warbles
And clouds blanket the birds
In their pillow-like cottons,
The way the Earth circles the Sun
Declaring all its brazen splendor
And the Sun warms the Earth
Lifting it upon golden smiles.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


- An Exercise In Expression From Once Upon A Time -

I sit here and try to write a poem, and I wonder, as I am forced to begin - with only five minutes left to class - if I shouldn't have used "compose" instead of "write" because "compose" sounds stronger, more poetic, more like music, and yet more serious, and so less in the business of trampoline-ing me off to nonsensical heights. So I leave it as "write" because that feels right, though don't know where to go from there, and I stare at each word as it blurs and runs into the next, as the rules muddle to a puddle of rainbow while over it I splash towards that fantastical composition played on the Olympic-sized bandstand growing in the blue-green grass, the musicians like a rolling sea of sunflowers. Their magic-wand instruments spray glitters of red and green and yellow and blue, sparking the heavens into morning as I run through the air, my legs cartwheeling on the wind. I don't even have to touch the ground to move - how freeing that is! It no longer matters whether I use "write" or "compose" or "construct" or "create" or any word at all because I fly through a place called Intuition, where everyone sees me as my entire self, that unique paradox that is me, that kind of knowing that one knows except when one is asked what they know - and where it doesn't matter that "they" is the wrong kind of grammar there - because such knowing transcends words. In this place that is truly mine, I pass by The Phantom Tollbooth's orchestra which plays the sun's journey - its rising, its setting, its middle-of-the-sky sojourn - only now it's still morning and the twitters of the flute make me want to spin and twirl and dance. I give a schoolgirl's skip to a cowboy seated on the concrete steps of a paint-peeled house with a worn wooden porch. He wears a wide white hat that - if you squint - could be made out of hardened snow - and chews on a toothpick that - if you tilt your head - could perhaps be a broken piece of hay. He strums his dirt-stained banjo and calls me Suzannah - with a Z, not an S, and that's part of Intuition too, knowing these things - and then I am Suzannah, with my hair in two braids tied with red ribbon and my dress earthy-green, my shoes too dusty to be black anymore. I step softly aground and give him a curtsy. He gives me a candied apple. It looks like a sticky balloon on a stick and I trot away licking it, the finale of noontime's march lifting me back in the air. And now it is after noon - when the band from the field plays the sun's intermission, a soft hum of nap time for the toddlers and the old. I slow to a walk as I come to the village square patched with yellow-green grass worn thin with wear. An aging woman is crying there. I instinctively know (don’t forget where I am) that she lives in a show, and by lives I mean lives. Every day she must act as a weather-worn granny or provocative maid or a cold-hearted nanny – or drunken schoolteacher (that is today’s) – the poor woman’s life is polluted with plays. She knows her parts better than she knows herself, for she’d never been asked to perform as herself. But the Love Interest – that’s who she’d love to be cast – but her prime, as all primes end up – past. A curious thing – she can’t think of my name. And, come to think of it, I feel the same. My name – what’s my name? Alice, she decides, and it’s true. No more braids, my dark hair hangs neatly-brushed down my back and I’m holding a tea-cup and blue-flowered saucer. How confusing! I place it upon the stage and take my leave of the old woman who lives in a show, for she makes me tremble. When – tiptoeing in is the orchestra again! Have you ever seen an orchestra tiptoe? All in blue and silver uniforms and their march slightly stooped in a hushed sort of way, the warm gwee gwee of their violins yawning violet rays as the sun circles westward and the cello hums a father’s slow lullaby, stretching orange ‘cross the sky. The clouds blush at the nighttime wooing of the French Horn and I wear purple pajamas, illuminated in the waking moon. In struts the cowboy, plucking his banjo to the plunks of pink hiding behind the reddening sun. There are dancers waving sashes and dinner-time picnickers with blankets and baskets. The conductor, brandishing his silver baton, waves it and makes everything freeze – the people, the music, the sunset, and me. Then he points that baton at my purple nightclothes and declares, “Maggie, compose.” Compose. Compose? Does he mean write? Write what? Music? A poem? Who knows? Intuition? What is my name again? I blink and I’m back and – have I written prose?

Do I know anything anymore?

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Change is difficult. It's like I have to reorient the different things and people in my life in order to both keep the old and make room for the new. This is both because of what is happening in my life and what is happening in the lives of others. Some of that reorienting can really be kind of wrenching. But I guess no matter what, certain things of the past will always remain with you (with me), even if they do not seem as present anymore.

I wanted to write a whole post about change, but I find that I can't. In any case, I'll leave you with this scene from The Lion King that I have always liked:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Writing As It Was

A long time ago, speech was the main mode of communication. Few people knew how to read, let alone write. Those who were literate were held in high esteem, and only works of great significance were actually written down. Everything else was oral.

Even once most laypeople knew how to read and write, they wrote with care. Letters were often well thought-out chronicles of a person's life and thoughts. They were things which were treasured. Writing was not cheap, either. Ink cost money, paper cost money - a person used these things prudently and conscientiously.

Today, we approach writing differently. Everyone writes. Everyone sends text messages and IMs, people write status messages and emails in shorthand. Whole words are a thing of the past, grammar is ancient history, and how much thought actually goes into most texts and emails? How personally can we actually take a thing of writing addressed to us? How much care goes into those words?

Everyone these days seems to have a blog. The entire world has turned into one big party of journalism. Some aspects of blogging are an imperative part of what brings society together: open communication. The more we are able to communicate with one another and - even more important - the more we are able to actually listen to one another, the greater our understanding will be of those different from ourselves.

Hirhurim linked to an article that has some fair critiques of the blogging world, but that also makes an excellent reminder about what good writing ought to be:

"Writers who expect sustained public inspection tend to think long and hard before publishing. Readers who assume writers have thought long and hard tend to read with intense attention. This leads, in general, to good writing, good reading, and good thinking. Such an environment is a precondition for vigilant citizenship and a civil society vibrant with critical intelligence. What is more, this environment disciplines speedy, prolific, lively writers, ultimately to their own advantage.

Of course I have no idea what policies, programs, or movements could plausibly revive what Postman calls the Typographic Mind. The only solution I know is a slow, personal one: It is the painful discipline of changing my own detestable habits of inattention, sloppiness, and waggish opportunism in daily conversation, whether written or oral, and of writing with the assumption that my reader's attention is generous and his time valuable.


Certainly, indolence, cowardice, or vanity can hide behind pretended reverence for words, but irreverence seems quite obviously the more pressing danger. A little care and humility is in order, for words are the main vehicle of culture and science, and the vital medium of a free republic. They bind the living and the dead, God and man into a communion of love and knowledge. Words are not lifeblood, except in the sense that they are."

We clearly approach the written word differently today than we did centuries - or even merely decades - ago. But perhaps it's good to remember that writing is a thing which used to be shown respect, that reverence was given to those who were good at it, and that thought and care used to go into every stroke of ink on the page. Maybe we can still treat the written word that way now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Sometimes a person might behave in ways he or she regrets - ways that are not representative of who he or she is. Sometimes a person portrays an image of him or herself to the world that is not who that person truly is. This can be frustrating. What's even more frustrating is letting such a thing bother you when really you ought to just go on behaving the way you feel you should. Eventually, people will either get it or not get it, but you'll know you're still you. Even if the whole world is blind to who you are, you know who you are. If you are true to yourself, you have the right to stand tall and look people in the eye because you are not hiding anything. You are presenting to the world your true, majestic self.

Hirhurim linked a dvar Torah by R' Twerski that I think is worthwhile for everyone to read. Excerpt:

Today, we vote in blocs and think in blocs. We are influenced by the mass media, major corporations and by the leaders of educational institutions. Indeed, the educational system has been criticized as forcing all students into the belly of the bell curve, resulting in mediocrity as well as uniformity. We yield to whatever fad prevails. Our minds are made up by everyone except ourselves.

There are indeed rules and principles by which we must all abide, but there is ample room within these parameters to be oneself. What is my goal in life? What do I think happiness is? What are my unique abilities that I should develop? What kind of lifestyle do I want?

Rebbe Shalom Shachna, the father of the Rebbe of Rhizin, married the granddaughter of Rebbe Nachum of Chernoble. The latter’s chassidim did not approve of Rebbe Shalom Shachna’s ways, which did not conform to the Chernoble practices, and complained to Rebbe Nachum. When Rebbe Nachum asked his grandson why he was not conforming, the latter answered with a parable.

The egg of a duck got mixed up with the eggs of a hen. When the chicks hatched, the mother hen took them for a walk. When they passed by a stream, the duckling jumped in. The mother hen panicked, shouting, “Come out of there! You’ll drown!” The duckling responded, “Have no fear, mother. I know how to swim.”

Rebbe Nachum told his chassidim, “Leave him alone. He knows what he is doing.” Thence came the dynasty of Rhizin, famed for its uniqueness.

Listen to the words of Rav Shlomo Wolbe. “Every individual, like Adam, is an entire world. The existence of billions of people does not detract from each person’s uniqueness. Every individual is a one-time phenomenon.

Every person should know, “I, with my strengths and talents, facial features and personality traits, am unique in the world. Among all those living today and in all past generations, there was no one like me, nor will there ever be anyone like me to the end of time. Hashem has sent me into the world with a unique mission that no one else can fulfill, only I in my one-time existence” (Alei Shur vol.2 p.71),

And again, “How distant from reverence for Hashem is the person who seeks only the approval of others, and is ready to imitate whatever he sees others do.” (Alei Shur vol.1 p.132).

God created us all with sechel, intelligence. With that intelligence, we have the ability to make decisions and form opinions. If I cannot be certain of myself and my own decisions and opinions, how can I be certain of anything? We have to take the time to strip away the voices and opinions of everyone around us and really figure out who we are, what we want, where we are, and where we wish to go.

I recently read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. One of the characters in the book, Howard Roark, discusses the concept of Second-Handers. Second-Handers are people who live not motivated by what they truly want but by how they wish to be seen by others:

They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask: “Is this true?” They ask: “Is this what others think is true?” Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull. What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? Those are the egoists. You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands. When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life. Second-handers have no sense of reality. Their reality is not within them, but somewhere in that space which divides one human body from another. Not an entity, but a relation—anchored to nothing.


After centuries of being pounded with the doctrine that altruism is the ultimate ideal, men have accepted it in the only way it could be accepted. By seeking self-esteem through others. By living second-hand. And it has opened the way for every kind of horror. It has become the dreadful form of selfishness which a truly selfish man couldn’t have conceived. [...] Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men. He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion—prestige. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: “This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me.”

If one spends her life overly concerned with what others think, she will never get to learn what she thinks. In essence, she will never really exist as a unique individual - only as the member of a throng, of a collective opinion. Then one day, she will wake up and wonder, "Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? What have I done in this life and why have I done it?" And there will be no answers. Until that point, she has not existed without others informing her how to exist. She has not lived as an individual.

We have to value our own worth and feel confident in the competence of our own minds. And if you make a mistake, even a big one, absorb it, make it part of you so you can learn from it and understand how to behave in the future. Recognizing something as a mistake means you understand proper ways to behave. Take confidence in that. You cannot erase, but you can build. Mistakes are precious - they show us the paths we should be careful around next time, they help us understand others who are as imperfect as we are, and they help guide us towards more correct behaviors and decisions in the future.

You are a being created by God. By putting yourself down, you are putting down one of God's creations. If God created you, there must be worth to you. A good friend once said, "Only you determine YOUR self worth. That's why it's called self."

We're all unique and we all have something substantial to offer. Remember that. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


There was this moment of transition the minute I entered the airport. Only a few moments earlier, I was in a cab shooting along the Israeli highway; the grainy hills flashed by, swirled in brown, green, and white like a strange sort of souffle. Haven't you ever noticed that Israel has the same green, brown, and white colors everywhere? Except in the Old City where it's all stone, that is.

What I love about Israeli scenery is that you can see for miles upon miles; little towns - or big ones - nestle in the hills and you can stand by the side of the road and say, pointing, "That's Efrat, that's Neve Daniel, that's Elazar." As the sky darkens for night, you can see little lights popping on, like fireflies, until the hills are glittering with this community and that, and you can watch it all from your little spot on the side of the road.

There's something liberating about standing on an Israeli hilltop and feeling like you can see the world. There are no tall, smoggy buildings to impede your vision. If you wanted to, you could just jump off your hilltop and land on the next one, and the next, and the next, as if you were playing hopscotch. Hopscotch across the land of Israel. Wouldn't that be funny?

Everyone in Israel could get up on their hilltops and wave to each other. That's what I like. And when everyone else is indoors, you could sit on your hilltop and just think. You could look out at your country and feel that it's yours, that it's ours. The whole world is yours, then: the azure sky, the brown, green, and white swirled hills, the trees that cleanse the air so directly you can smell it.

As soon as I stepped into the airport, I was no longer in that Israel. That Israel exists outside the windows, but not in here. Now I am sitting in Ben Gurion airport, about to leave to my gate. I think boarding just started. I have no idea when I'll be in Israel next, but I'll sure miss it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Holiday Season

Although, sadly, Sukkos is over here in Israel, I am currently sitting in our Sukkah. Why? Because I'm super frum.

Just kidding.

It's because Mavis discovered that we can actually get internet in our Sukkah. It's not amazing internet, but it's enough that I can write the past few blog posts!

Israel has been incredible - I love coming here. In the distance, I can still hear the music and singing from hakafot shniot in Baka and in Gan Hapa'amon (although what I'm hearing is probably the ones in Baka). For those who don't know, in Israel they have hakafot shniot with music and dancing after Simchas Torah is over. It's like a community-wide chagiga. On Yissachar street, they're having hakafos now for Baka and in Gan Hapa'amon, it's for all of Yerushalaim.

After coming to Israel two years in a row for Sukkos (not to mention my year in Israel when I was here for all Shalosh Regalim), I cannot help but point out the distinct difference between chag in Israel and chag in America. In Israel, the entire country is saturated with festivity. Chol hamoed feels like a moed. On Hoshana Raba night, there are shiurim and people learning. All throughout the chag, there are shiurim, activities, chagigot... The holiday is in the air. You breathe in the experience of Sukkos just by walking down the street. On every street corner, teenage boys are calling, "Aravot! Aravot!" by their little aravos stands. Everywhere, everyone is wishing each other a chag sameach. Signs are telling you to have a shana tova. Ads and commercials are about sukkos, lulavim, and etrogim. The stores that are actually open have Sukkos specials. Concerts are everywhere. Sukkos are everywhere. It is impossible to be in Yerushalaim and not feel the chag around you. The smell of the Etrog is the country's perfume.

Isn't it so nice when holiday season is about our holidays?

(Picture: An Etrog tree we saw in Ne'ot Kedumim)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Ultimate Relationship

There is a specific pasuk in Ashrei that I have always liked: Karov Hashem l'chol kor'av, l'chol asher yikreuhu b'emet. God is close to those who call Him, to all who call truth? Sincerely? Translations are always messy. But I always felt that this pasuk was saying, if you strive to be close to God, then God will be close to you. But how can you strive to be close to God?

Tonight I went with my mom and my sister to a shiur in the Great Synagogue that, happily for me, addressed this question. The shiur was given by a Rabbi Gottlieb who once attended Shaalavim and is now on sabbatical in Israel with his family. He first spoke about Sukkos and the discussion in the Gemara about what the sukkos were that B'nei Yisrael sat in in the midbar. Rabbi Eliezer said the sukkos were really the Ananei Hakavod while Rabbi Akiva said they were actual, regular sukkos. But why, asked Rabbi Gottlieb, would we have a chag to celebrate living in regular, ordinary sukkos? How can we understand Rabbi Akiva's opinion in the context of having a chag?

Rabbi Gottlieb then focused on the Shemonah Esrei that we say every day. At the end of Shemonah Esrei, we say the paragraph of Elokai Nitzor. In that paragraph, there is a pasuk (also one I have always liked) that goes, "Petach libi b'toratecha, u'vimitzvotecha tirdof nafshi." Rabbi Gottlieb pointed out that this pasuk is originally written somewhere - I think in the Gemara but I don't remember exactly - as "acharei mitzvotecha tirdof nafshi." That would be translated as, "after Your mitzvos my soul should pursue." As in, we should chase after Hashem's mitzvos. However, in Shemonah Esrei, we don't say "acharei mitzvotecha, " we say "u'vimitzvotecha." With Your mitzvos my soul shall pursue. But pursue what? Rabbi Gottlieb suggested then that what we are pursuing is God.

In the first translation, our pursuit is after mitzvos. Mitzvos, then, are the object, the goal. But the way we say it when we daven, we turn mitzvos into the method. We use mitzvos in order to chase. They become the means to pursue something higher, something greater - God.

Rabbi Gottlieb quoted from a hesped of Rav Soloveitchik where he talks about what his mother taught him (emphasis mine):

"Most of all I learned from [my mother] that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to the mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life - to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders." - A Tribute to the Rebbitzen of Talne

Torah, Halacha, Mitzvos - they are all important. But partnered with them needs to be a quest to become close to God. One should not go around performing mitzvos in order to have a collection of them, but one should do mitzvos because through Torah and mitzvos one can enrich his relationship with God.

This, said Rabbi Gottlieb, is how one can understand Rabbi Akiva's opinion. The sukkos can be regular, ordinary sukkos and still be worthy of having a chag about them. Grand miracles are great - we celebrate them on Pesach. But Sukkos is the holiday of our every day relationship with God. It is not about extraordinary gifts. It's about the ordinary gifts we receive from God every day. It's about our simple closeness to God.

I remember learning when I was younger that we have Shemini Atzeres because God wanted us to stay a day longer with Him on this chag. This idea fits in beautifully with everything I just wrote about. If we work on becoming close to God, if we use Torah and mitzvos in order to enhance our relationship with God, then God will also be close to us, we will merit to feel "the gentle pressure of His hand" resting upon our shoulders, and God will want us to stay with Him.

We can't forget that everything we do in Judaism is for this ultimate goal - becoming closer to God. If we keep this in mind, hopefully all the other nonsense everyone worries about (you know what I mean) will dissipate. Don't you see how that stuff doesn't matter? We're not in this religion to impress anyone or to be holier-than-thou. We're not in it to collect chumras or to show off our mitzvos - as wonderful as they are - to anyone else. We're in it because we are God's people and, as God's chosen nation, the one relationship we ought to worry about most is our relationship with God. Every time we make a choice, we should remember that we are part of God's nation. How should one with a relationship with God behave?

And another thing. The simple nature of our relationship with God that we celebrate on Sukkos is such a beautiful thing to celebrate. It is on this chag specifically that we have an added day, a Shemini Atzeres, because God did not want us to leave Him. Not on Pesach when we celebrate the great miracles God performed for us. Not on Shavuos when we celebrate receiving the Torah. No. Only on Sukkos, when we celebrate our simple, every day relationship with God. The simplicity, the ordinariness is what enriches the relationship. Not the majestic nissim and niflaos. To me, this is a model of all relationships we have. Family, friends - the best moments are the most simple ones, aren't they? Not the big parties. I'm talking about the times when you go for a walk or stay up late talking or read together in the same room and don't even talk. The times when you drink hot chocolate together or get ice cream in the middle of the night or get really silly for no reason at all except for the fact that you're with someone you feel comfortable enough to be really silly around.

We have to work at these relationships - karov Hashem l'chol kor'av. God is close to those who call Him. Relationships take work, they take initiative, they take thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and sincerity. But the kind of work they require is not anything elaborate. It's the simple every day stuff. It's the ordinary times people spend together that are the strongest treasures.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Breakfast: The Most Important Meal Of The Day

[Side note: Apparently, this is a very tzioni blog. If you google "l'shana haba'ah b'Yerushalayim" (in all various spellings, and even leaving out the 'haba'ah' part, except if you write 'leshana'), this blog is the first hit that comes up!]

We have a tradition in my house that each time we break our fast (except the daily morning breakfast), we have Entenmann's doughnuts (my favorite: a tie between cinnamon powder and white powder). This year, we forgot to get doughnuts on Friday. We still had bagels, but after we were finished with those, I said, "Does anyone else want...dessert?"

"I could use a piece of cake..." said my mom.

"Alright Erachet," said my dad. "Go to 7-Eleven and get us one of those nice crumb cakes."

"Well...Ima, do you really want?"

My mom shrugged.

"Hmmm. But I'm all in pajamas and everything!"

"I'm fine with whatever you decide," said my dad. "If you don't want to go, don't go."


"Mavis, you go with her."

"Mavis has a math test to study for," my mom reminded everyone.

"And I have grad school essays to write!" I protested.

"Alright, nobody go. We don't need Entenmann's."

"Yeah, it's not even good for you, anyway! Who needs that stuff?"

"Well, I didn't mean that," I corrected hastily. "I just mean that if I can go, he can go."

"Okay, I'll go," my dad relented.

"No, no!" I said hurriedly. "I'll go."

After all, it was right after Yom Kippur!

"How about you both go," said my mom. "One of you drives, the other runs out."

"Well, I mean, I'm okay with not having..." I said, really not wanting to go out. "I mean, if no one else really wants anyway... I think I'd rather not go."



"Unless, of course, someone really wants."

Everyone sort of shrugged.

"Whatever you want to do," said my mom.


"Okay, raise your hand if you want Entenmann's," said my dad.

Everyone's hands slowly rose into the air - each of us with a somewhat guilty, apologetic expression.

"Okay, let's go," I said to my dad. "Before we change our minds and get too lazy. I'll drive, you run out."

"What?! That's not how it's supposed to go! I'll drive and you run out!"


"Actually...we'll both go out because I have to make sure they have the right things..."


And so we went.

...The things we do for Entenmann's.

Monday, September 28, 2009

We Are Keva: Post Yom Kippur Thoughts

"Thus far, we have spoken of Aseh toratekha keva in two senses: 1) making Torah primary in terms of values, and regarding our relation to Torah - and to God via Torah - as all-pervasive in our lives; 2) making it a fixed element of our day, with the attendant commitment and discipline. But there is yet another sense of keva which is implied in a baraita:

'Aseh toratekha keva' - how so? This teaches that if a person heard something from a sage in the beit hamidrash, he should not regard it as transient but rather as permanent. And what a person has learned, he must do and teach others to do, as it says (Devarim 5:1), 'You shall learn them and keep them to do them.' And so it says of Ezra (7:10), 'He prepared his heart to study the Torah of God and to perform it.' and afterward it says, 'And to teach statute and justice in Israel.' (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 13:2)


The latter portion of the beraita presents Ezra as an example of someone who made Torah keva. What was it that Ezra did? Above all, Ezra ensured the permanence of Torah. During his time, the Jews returning from the Babylonian exile had a very tenuous relationship to Torah. Chazal tell us (Tanna De-bei Eliyahu Rabba, Chapter 31) that when the Jews went into exile in Babylonia, they came to the prophet Yechezkel and said, 'We are now exempt from Torah and mitzvot, because a slave whose master has sold him is no longer obligated to do the master's bidding.' The prevalent conception in classical antiquity was that religion was only a function of geography and society: you worship the local gods of the country and society in which you find yourself. All the more so was this the feeling among the Jews in exile, since their entire national fabric had seemed to disintegrate. When they went to Babylonia, they felt they were finished with avodat Hashem.

We read in the books of Ezra and Nechemia that there was a great deal of assimilation and intermarriage among the Jews in Babylonia. Moreover, those who returned to Israel were certainly not of the more established strata, nor members of the intellectual or social elite. Ezra was faced with a tremendous challenge: to ensure that Torah would become permanent within that community. He made it clear that Torah is part of the essence of Klal Yisrael; it is not dependent upon geography, history, or society - it is keva, permanent and essential. He did not just explain and extend Torah through rabbinic enactments, but saw to it that the people understood that adherence to Torah was not negotiable; it is part of what being Klal Yisrael means.

This is what Ezra did, and this is what each person needs to do within his own environment, as part of his or her historical and social responsibility. If you have learned some Torah, 'ya'aseh vi'yelammed acher' - observe it and teach it to others. If you are in a community where Torah is in danger of disappearing, see to it that it does not disappear. Make it kavu'a. Make it clear that there is no vanishing American, English, or French Jew. Judaism is here to stay. It is your responsibility to make it clear to yourself and to others that Torah and avodat Hashem are the very backbone of Judaism. Prove that all the sociological projections about the end of the Jewish people are nonsense. We are keva." --By His Light: Character and Values In The Service Of God (pgs. 64-66)

I would also like to point out that Torah and avodas Hashem are not just things like "keep Shabbos" or "wear tznius." They also include behaving with integrity - both in business and in your personal life, treating others with respect (which does not mean agreeing with them. It just means, simply, respecting them), trying not to speak lashon hara, etc. We can't forget that we are members of the Jewish nation - the chosen nation - and, as representatives of that nation, we ought to behave accordingly.

One of the Rabbis in my shul spoke about respect. He mentioned that even someone you disagree with deserves your respect. For instance, Moshe went to speak to "Pharaoh, Melech Mitzrayim." Why did it need to say "Melech Mitzrayim?" We know Pharaoh is the king! But it's reminding us that Moshe addressed and treated Pharaoh the way one should a king, even though Pharaoh was enslaving the Jewish people.

There is always a way to do something and a way not to do something. Respect, aside from being the proper thing to give to a person (generally), will also gain you respect in return. And guaranteed, whatever you wish to say will be heard and taken seriously if said with respect much more so than if said disrespectfully.

Another Rabbi in our shul spoke before Yizkor. His speech was incredibly powerful - about seizing every moment you have with people, especially parents. There was one line that struck me more than the others - perhaps in light of the various tragedies that have happened over the last few years to people I knew, knew of, or heard about. He said, "Don't assume the laughs are always going to be there tomorrow. They can just be taken away." I think that's another thing we really need to work on: appreciating other people. Our family, our friends...they're gifts. Yet so often we treat them much more poorly than they deserve. I don't mean that every second you have to be kissing their feet, but I think we can treat each other, in general, much better than we tend to. Even people we love (maybe especially people we love).

This story might sound a little morbid, but it made me feel this exact idea very strongly. A girl in a class I'm taking told a story about her and her friends on vacation. There was a particular guy on the trip who was a good friend of hers, but she was really annoyed at him for whatever reason and so was ignoring him. That day they went to the beach and this guy slipped off a rock and drowned.

The girl said the biggest lesson she learned from that was never to hold a grudge.

Another sad story:

My Latin teacher from a few years ago wrote me a super nice recommendation letter for a summer internship. I actually had no idea what was in it at the time, but I was so grateful to her for writing it because I knew she was about to go away for the summer. However, I waited a while before emailing her to thank her.

She was killed in a car crash before I ever emailed her. I didn't know until later, but she never even got my email.

I know that most of the time, we don't lose people unexpectedly like that. Especially not young, healthy people. But the message of those stories, and of the Rabbi's speech today, was that you really have to (sorry for being cliche) seize the day and the moments you have with other people.

If you ever watch or read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, he talks about exactly that. Realize your dreams, strive for your potential, seize the moment, and appreciate the people in your life.

Wow...this post has gone in a very different direction than I originally intended. But okay!

On yet another tangent, a number of our tefillos today mentioned our being in exile. It made me feel extremely privileged to be able to go to Israel this year for Sukkos. I am leaving on Thursday, so I wish you all a chag sameach in advance!

I hope all your Yom Kippurim were meaningful and that your fasts went well. I have a funny story about our breakfast - maybe I'll write it up tomorrow (though it might have only been funny because it happened right after the fast when we were all a little light in the head, if you know what I mean).

L'shana Haba'ah B'yerushalayim!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Soaking It Up

Sometimes it's amazing how much you can learn just from watching your friends. It's not that you learn something so obscure - most things are rather obvious. But when I really feel that people I know are behaving in admirable ways, it makes me feel good: about them and about good habits I am picking up from them.

I think in general, it is good to surround yourself with people who help you become a better you. They don't even have to know that's what they're doing, and they don't even have to be trying.

On the flip side, sometimes you can learn how not to behave from observing people behaving incorrectly.

I know this is all super obvious, but I was just thinking about it tonight. Well, I've thought about it before, but I decided to write about it tonight, anyway. Sometimes I feel like I'm becoming a richer person by surrounding myself with good people, or just by encountering them during my day, even if I don't actually know them for longer than five minutes. I like soaking it all up. And I like deciding not to behave in certain ways. All this makes me feel like I'm learning to know myself better. :) (A bit late, huh? I'm already 23.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Subway Story

The thunderous rumbles of the subway are much louder than the steady hum of the LIRR. This is why it is somewhat difficult to listen to an ipod while on the subway. But today I stuck the little green buds of my earphones into my ears and put my ipod on shuffle, figuring I would give it a try.

As V'havienu's Hamalach Hagoel swam around my ears, creating a soundtrack in my head, the sudden sharp rhythms of rap beat themselves against my otherwise peaceful listening experience. I glanced in the direction of the sounds and saw that a rather gangster-looking rapper was sitting a few feet away from me. He, too, was listening to an ipod, but he was shouting the lyrics of whatever song was playing for the entire subway car to hear.

Across from him sat a little blond girl. She looked about three years old and she watched the rapper curiously, nodding her head along whenever he bobbed his to the beat.

Suddenly, I heard, "Stand up, Israel!" Pause. "Stand up, Israel!"

I paused my song and listened. That's when I first could tell that the rapper was not speaking coherently. Either he was incredibly drunk or there was something seriously off about him - or both. But for an instant, he spoke clearly. "Who are we? Israelites!" Then he went back to his slurring.

All the time, the little girl nodded her head to the beat as her mother napped beside her. I turned Hamalach Hagoel back on and the subway chugged onward, the strange ensemble playing in my ears for the rest of the ride.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Forgive Me, Humanity

Imagine what it would be like if you climbed to the top of Mt. Everest, looked out onto the expanse of the entire world, and shouted, "Forgive me, everyone!"

We're in the aseres yemei teshuva right now: a period when we're supposed to be thinking seriously about ourselves, our attitudes, our behavior, and our actions. We have ten entire days devoted to doing teshuva. In addition to doing teshuva before G-d, we're supposed to realize the wrongs we have done to other people and ask them for forgiveness. Really ask them, I mean. I am just mass text messages really count? What about facebook statuses? Gchat?

There is a fear in actually asking someone for forgiveness. Doing so means facing the fact that you did something wrong. It means admitting to another person that you have wronged him/her. But what is teshuva? Is it not turning towards something wrong you did head-on, grabbing it by the ears, and cleansing yourself of it? Is it not looking at yourself and really seeing who you are? What you've done? What you haven't done? What you should have or should not have done? Admitting, "Yes, these great characteristics are me, but I have also done this wrong behavior?" It takes a certain amount of lowering of one's pride to do that. It takes strength to apologize. It takes even more strength to apologize with conviction, and to really try to improve your behavior, your attitude, or whatever it is that needs improving. And then, by the way, you can build up your pride again, for you can feel proud that you had such strength and acted on it.

It takes no thought at all to make your facebook status, "I'm mochel everyone, I hope you're mochel me!"

True - we may have hurt someone without even realizing it. But sending out a mass text message or a status on facebook is not asking for forgiveness. The sentiment is nice - and, honestly, it really is commendable to want to be able to ask everyone for forgiveness. I just don't think doing so in the form of a mass text really counts.

Of course, someone could say - how can I go over to all my friends and ask for forgiveness? That would take forever!

I don't know. I don't know what's correct or incorrect in such circumstances. I would try, for myself, to ask people who I think it is most likely I may have hurt or wronged in any way. Or who I know I for sure did. I doubt I've done anything specifically wrong to someone I haven't spoken to in a number of years, for instance.

Sending out mass texts is like walking around with a t-shirt that says, "Mochel me - I'm Jewish." Mochel you? For what? For being Jewish? For being on my friends list on facebook?

I'm sorry if this post sounds a bit harsh. I just think we all ought to consider how impersonal status updates and mass text messages are. I hope that for every mass text, there are at least a few personal forgivenesses being asked for, as well.

Besides, on the flip side, don't put yourself down so much. You probably don't need to ask all of humanity for mechila. :)

On the topic of teshuva (and to lighten the tone of this post), I read a nice, short article by R' Twersky called, "Teshuva: In Your Mouth And In Your Heart." It's a couple of years old, so it's possible a bunch of you have already read it, but it discusses how teshuva is not something completely out of our reach: that even if you think you've been immersed in sin for so long, your teshuva can still be accepted and that is not a reason not to try and do teshuva.

I believe this can extend to anything you wish to do in life. It is never too late to learn something new, to try something're never too old to start something. My music professor at Stern had only just started learning to play an instrument, even though he had gone so long without knowing how (it was not a class in playing an instrument, clearly). So many great, classic writers did not start writing their magnum opus novels until they were well past middle age.

If there's something you wish to do - go for it. Who cares if you're not ten years old anymore? Or twenty? You don't have to have been a child prodigy in something in order to accomplish - or to simply enjoy yourself. And it's never too late to learn something new about yourself, too - like discovering a new talent. You'll never know if you don't try - and you only live once, you know!

I find that while I'm looking at myself and who I have been until now, I like to also look at who I can be in the future. But, of course, that is something that must be discovered, and it can only be discovered by taking chances, trying to new things, thinking about new ideas, etc.

I hope you all had an amazing chag the past two days and that you had/are still having an easy fast today!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Welcome To The Kitchen

"Has anyone been listening to me?" asks Ima, the menu for all our Rosh Hashana meals on a pad of paper in front of her at the table.

"Yes, yes," says Straight Man.

"Alright," Ima smirks. "What are we having tomorrow night for dinner?"

"Umm...challah, apples, honey..."

"New fruit!" Mavis exclaims. "What are we having for our new fruit?"

"I dunno..." Ima says teasingly.

"You know...what is it?"

"It's a surprise."

Mavis flings open the fridge and pulls out something long and green.

"It's this!"

"Mavis!" cries Ima. "That's a cucumber."


Shana tova, everyone! May you all have a meaningful yom tov with inspiring tefilla and tables surrounded by warmth, camaraderie, fun, family, and friends. May you all be written in the book of life and may your tefillos be answered.

Thursday, September 17, 2009



Oh yes, I have what to say about birthdays.

Birthdays are those days when you wake up and you feel like the sun should be shining especially for you (and wearing sunglasses and a sunny grin, just like in the pictures) and perhaps a rainbow or two should shoot across the sky, so you can walk over them and have adventures.

You feel like there should be a fireworks show, or at least some recognition from the very earth itself that today is a special day. And perhaps there is, for no matter what the weather, you appreciate it all the more because of how important you feel.

For some people (like me), feeling important is not a usual occurrence, so you look forward to it greatly; you look forward to that one day a year when you can unguiltily feel great about yourself. You smile and say, boy, I'm really glad I was born.

When you look on your phone and see the date, those numbers have a very familiar, friendly sort of look to them - they're the numbers that have gotten your heart trembling with excitement your whole life; they're your numbers, and now they're here! They're really here!

But, of course, as a very wise friend reminded me last night, birthdays are really just like any other day of the year - which is true. There is nothing inherently special about September 17th. It is the day I, along with many others, was born, but really, it is the anniversary of my mother giving birth to me. So perhaps it's my mother who should be getting all the happy birthdays!

In any case, today is Thursday, September 17th, and the only way this day will really be special is if I make it so by doing things I feel would make today a great day. Just like any day of the year.

So this post is not to celebrate my birthday, but it is to celebrate days in general - starting with today. On your birthday, you might walk around with this feeling like it ought to be written all over your face that it's your birthday - and you wonder why every passerby in the street doesn't notice. Right? Except they do notice: when you walk around with a huge grin for no apparent reason and shine it on everyone around you. They notice, even if they don't know why on earth you seem so chipper, and it makes them feel happier, too. And why can't that be every day?

Let's use the energy of birthdays to carry over to the rest of the year and make every day we can into a great one.

Have a great day everyone. :)

P.S. There is something especially apropos about my birthday (Hebrew birthday, too) always being right around Rosh Hashana. It inherently becomes a day of self-reflection, a day of hoping that I am headed towards furthering my potential (as opposed to off in a wrong direction somewhere), a day of wondering if I have been living the past year (and years) properly, and a day of making sure that I am a good person.

In addition, re: the fireworks video - I do not believe that wishes come true if you believe in them hard enough. However, I do think that true ambition begins with a wish. Wishes are what get people going (hopefully). Ultimately, if you let your wishes drive you forward, they will hopefully come true. And they'll have come true not because some genie granted them to you - those kind of wishes are somewhat unearned. They'll have come true because you granted them yourself. Because you made them come true by acting on them.

The other kinds of wishes are the ones you pray for, and they come in all various forms. I hope that we all have a meaningful Rosh Hashana where our prayers are heard and answered favorably, and that you all have a k'siva v'chasima tova.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tired Conversationalist

SJ and I return rather late from our various sojourns of the day (classes, really). N is sprawled on the couch in our living room (living room? living area), our new floor lamp on so she can read.

"This apartment smells like cooking. Like peppers," says SJ, glancing curiously around for what might be causing the smell. "Did you make dinner, N?"

"Yeah," says N. "By the way, I love this floor lamp!"

"Oh, thanks," I say (for I had bought it). "And I made dinner, too! But I didn't eat it yet."

"What did you make?" asks SJ.

"A peanut butter and jelly sandwich," I say matter-of-factly.

SJ rolls her eyes at my idea of dinner.

"Where did you get it?" asks N.

I stare at her.

"My peanut butter and jelly sandwich?"

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Prayer

Please God, allow me to have clarity in my thoughts and my emotions. Give me the wisdom to know what to do in a given situation and the strength to be able to do it. Please allow me the understanding to know what is right and what is wrong, even when the two are heavily clouded in shades of gray. Let me make good choices and give me the koach to be the best person I can possibly be.

Please give me the strength not to focus on the negatives in any situation, especially ones regarding other people, but to see the positives much more clearly. I wish to never dwell on other people in a negative way. I hope I can be able to remove myself enough from situations in order to see them objectively, and therefore not take anything anyone does or says personally. I hope to always give benefit of the doubt, and sincerely, not with any bitter feelings.

I only want to do good in this world. I know I am not perfect and that I will make mistakes. Let me recover gracefully from those mistakes and learn from them. Allow me the ability not to make the same mistake twice.

I wish to be able to face the world with wisdom and bravery, so that I might always know the right thing to do and have the strength to do it. I hope that I am happy with myself and the choices I make, and that I make them with the utmost integrity.

Most of all, I hope I rise to my greatest potential in order to be the best person, and the best Jew, I can be.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Sometimes life is like a carousel. You hang on to your seat and get pulled round and round: a never ending cycle with the same scenes, the same faces flashing by. You become sick and dizzy of going round in so many circles, but you can't seem to let go of your seat. Your seat is what grounds you, what lets you know where you are. But it, too, is dragged in the cycle. Yet because it grounds you, you won't let it go.

Sometimes life is like a lazy river. You lie in your inflated tube and let the current carry you whichever way it goes. You drift without really getting anywhere. Occasionally, the river carries you under a waterfall and you get wet. Sometimes you like this, sometimes you don't, but you don't bother trying to steer your inflated tube. The waterfalls don't last too long anyway.

Sometimes life is like a roller coaster. You make a choice and throw yourself into something - a powerful thing which vehicles you upward. You're excited, filled with bubbling anticipation, like a pot just beginning to boil as you slowly climb upwards, away from the familiar scenes below. The higher you climb, the more silent the world becomes. You leave behind the regular buzz of the park and enter into your own universe where you're aware only of the wind, the approaching sky, the rumbling of the wheels on the track, and your own chugging thoughts. Everything else in your life up until now seems to have fallen away, behind, and you surge upwards.

Then, just as you're thinking about how you have to tell your husband, wife, friend, sibling, kid, parent about this wonderful, free, powerful yet frightening feeling you're experiencing, you reach the top of the climb - and then you go. With a giant whoosh! you're thrown into the ride, and you're moving so fast you can't even think about anything other than the wind in your face that makes it hard to see, and you try not to open your mouth so you don't choke on that wind, and everything flashes by so quickly that you hardly register you saw anything before you've missed fifteen other things that came after it, and you don't know how to make anything stop, but it's such an exhilarating feeling that you almost don't want it to stop, and yet somehow you desperately do, and you know that you're overcoming certain weaknesses (yet gaining others), you know you're growing strong (yet becoming increasingly tired out), you know you're getting ahead by light-years, and you know you're living in this moment, and no other moment, not in the past, nor in the future, because there's no time or energy to live anywhere else.

Sometimes you feel like you can't get ahead, and sometimes you feel like you're moving too fast. Sometimes you can't catch up, sometimes you can't fall back into step with everyone else.

Sometimes you don't know where you are - you're both too far ahead and too far behind, and you're amazed that such a thing is possible.

In all rides of life, what I find most comforting is that no matter how quickly or slowly I go, no matter if I'm ahead or behind, no matter where I am, when I get off the ride, I have family and friends who love me, and who loved me even while I was too busy in a different pace of living to keep up, or stay back, with them.

I find, so far in my life, and I think this applies to life in general, that the ones who are still there at the end of the ride - they're the ones who will stay with you during your whole adventure at the park (or, if you'd rather not think metaphorically, your whole life's adventure). They're there to go on other rides, both together with you and separately, and to always be there when the rides are done. They're the people really in your life.

So I suppose that at different moments in our lives, we feel we might be moving at different paces. This can be scary, or wonderful, or overwhelming, or exciting, or a mix of all different emotions. But no matter what, we should always recognize that we still have beside us the people and the things that matter, and we should make sure never to lose them. We should make sure they know that we are also there for them (to the best of our ability) - no matter how slowly or how quickly we are going.

It's good to have people we can trust. It's good to know there are people who, no matter how far or close, how quick or slow they are or we are, will always have that connection to us, so that at the end of it all, you can always pick up the phone or send an email or pay a visit, and it will be like you were never out of sync. Because you never were, really.

And it's good to remember that if we are making good use of our time, if we are making good choices, and if we are around good people - life is good. But sometimes it can be a wild ride (or a not so wild one). :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Painter

We sat, the four of us, on a yellow sheet in the middle of Fort Tryon Park. The field was filled with people on their day off from work: a father and son playing baseball with a plastic bat, a toddler grasping fiercely to his mother's finger as he took a few steps, a couple with an actual picnic basket romantically eating squid on crackers.

"Look!" hissed my roommate, pointing to the road behind me. I turned my head and watched as a late middle aged man slowly walked by. His face was wrinkled and somewhat sad looking. His scraggly gray hair hung in streaks down the sides of his face. And in his arms, he carried one of the most beautiful paintings I had ever seen.

"Oh, I love Pointillism!" my roommate exclaimed, nearly jumping up in excitement. I did not know what Pointillism was. I assumed it meant the dotted way the painting was colored. Two trees stroked carefully and precisely in blends of pink and red stood on either side of a golden-colored road. Other pastels floated about in the background trees, as though the scene in the painting was a soft entryway into a magical fairyland, each dot a fairy come to help make up the picture.

The man with the painting passed by, and we returned to our picnic.

As the afternoon passed, it became time to go. We walked alongside the fortress wall of Fort Tryon Park, winding our way back towards the entrance. It was time to re-enter the world of cars, school, work, and responsibilities. Surrounding us was a brambling ensemble of shrubs, flowers, trees, and stone, with the bluish white sky shining overhead.

Suddenly, in the distance, we could see a man at an easel.

"It's the painter!"

We walked eagerly, yet cautiously, up to him. His painting was on an easel now and a paintbrush was in his hand. He had rested a few jars of paint on the fortress wall.

"Excuse me," one of our party suddenly spoke up. "We just wanted to let you know that we love your painting. You got us talking about Pointillism for about half an hour back there."

"Well, not quite half an hour."

"Is Pointillism common nowadays?"

"No, it's not very common," the man said. His voice was hardly a hoarse whisper, like it had not been used for a number of years and was trying to remember how to make sounds. "I'm glad you like my picture! I'm going to show all my pictures soon. This is my ninth one."

"Do you come here often?" I asked shyly.

"Every day," he answered, looking not at me but at the trees around him. "For about an hour or two. You see these trees here?" He pointed.

I looked where he was pointing and saw. There were the two trees from the painting, and where we were standing must be the road.

"How long have you been working on this painting for?" asked someone else.

"About four months now."

Four months!

We thanked the man and began an ascent up stone steps. As we walked, I thought - four months. Imagine working on a painting for four months and still not being finished.

Patience, I realized, really is a virtue. Because in order to have perseverance, one must have patience. And if one has patience, one can do things like paint one of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen. If one has patience, one can really do anything in the world.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First Day On The Job

I have a job. It's an unpaid job so far, but that could always change with time. This job entails charging my computer, going to the park, finding somewhere nice to sit, and writing. What do I write? Well, anything I would like! I can write about people. I can write about nature. I can write about the boats on the Hudson river.

You know why I don't title this post "first day of work?" Because this is not work. It's not play either, but it's certainly not work. I'm not quite sure what it is. Some combination of productivity and pleasure. And isn't that what a dream job ought to be? Doing what you do best and enjoying it? Sure, not every minute is going to be a party, but the overall idea of it should be what you really want to be doing.

And I really want to be a professional writer. So I am. Today is my first day. I'm just waiting for my computer to charge a bit more, and then I'm off to the park! I have no idea what I'm going to write about, but I have a feeling I'll figure it out when I get there.

Wish me luck!

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Told Tale Of The Charted Road Of Credible Love

How I Met My Wife

Jack Winter, the New Yorker, July 25, 1994.

It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.

I was furling my weildy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way.

I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I’d have to make bones about it, since I was travelling cognito. Beknowst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn’t be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behavior would do.

Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable. There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion.

So I decided not to risk it. But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make head or tails of.

I was plussed. It was concerting to see that she was communicado, and it nerved me that she was interested in a pareil like me, sight seen. Normally, I had a domitable spirit, but, being corrigible, I felt capacitated—as if this were something I was great shakes at—and forgot that I had succeeded in situations like this only a told number of times. So, after a terminable delay, I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings.

Nevertheless, since this was all new hat to me and I had not time to prepare a promptu speech, I was petuous. Wanting to make only called-for remarks, I started talking about the hors d’oeuvres, trying to abuse her of the notion that I was sipid, and perhaps even bunk a few myths about myselfs.

She responded well, and I was mayed that she considered me a savoury character who was up to some good. She told me who she was. “What a perfect nomer,” I said, advertently. The conversation became more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail. But I was defatigable, so I had to leave at a godly hour. I asked if she wanted to come with me. To my delight, she was committal. We left the party together and have been together ever since. I have given her my love, and she has requited it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Familiar Faces

I just spent my first Shabbos ever in the Heights.

In some ways, I liked it much better than I thought I would. I was incredibly nervous to stay in for the first time - and alone. None of my apartment mates were in for Shabbos. After the last one left, I really felt emptiness settle in over the apartment. It wasn't like being alone at home - the Heights is still very new to me. It was like being alone in a new environment.

When I first realized that I was going to be alone in the apartment and that a lot of people were going home this weekend, I was sorely tempted to do the same. It would be easier. I wouldn't have to agonize over finding meals (which were hard to come by, since most people were not going to be in the Heights), and I wouldn't have to face the Heights on Shabbos for the first time alone.

But then I got annoyed with myself. Was I so insecure that any time Shabbos proved a bit difficult, I would go running home? What kind of independent young woman was that? So I made myself stay and I'm glad I did. Nor was I as alone as I felt I would be - at least, not most of the time.

Though I had never been to Mt. Sinai (the shul) before, I had heard a lot about it. I'd heard it described as "overwhelming," "such a social scene," and even "meat market." I have friends who "don't like Mt. Sinai" because it's too much of a "scene."

I have no way to compare it to anything because the only time I was there was last night. To be honest, I liked the fact that I was in a completely new place and yet knew so many people when I walked into shul. It made me feel less alone. And I feel like the scene is only there if you stick around for it and make sure you get in on it. Otherwise, who cares if there are a lot of people around? If you don't like it, you don't have to socialize with everyone there. No one's making you, you know? But then again, like I said, I was only there for last night's davening and it was kinda an off week - a lot of people were away because of Labor Day Weekend (side note: when I was in Israel for the year, the British girls were so confused why we had a day called Labor Day. They thought it sounded like a day when all women go into labor or something. Other side note: my bat mitzvah was on Labor Day. This year will be 11 years since my bat mitzvah. Yikes).

Anyway, I felt a lot better (and I mean a lot) when a particular friend walked in. You know how sometimes, when you're in a new place, or a strange place, and a friend from a much more familiar place in your life walks in, you just feel all your nerves rush out of you like jelly? And everything suddenly feels completely safe? Well, that's what it felt like. I was so astonished and happy and relieved.

Then I went to C2 for the Friday night meal. Two other girls were there and it was really, really nice. What was funny was that all Shabbos, I kept meeting people who are in school for education, which is what I want to do - and not only that, but in the two particular schools I'm looking into.

Night was harder. I was alone in my apartment, which wouldn't have been so bad except I felt awful. I really felt sick. I felt so bad that it actually kept me up nearly all night, and for the two or three hours that I slept some, I had really bad, detailed dreams where I was getting bitten by scorpions and other unpleasant things that hurt a lot. I remember pinching myself in my dream to see if it was real or not and actually feeling the pinch, but somehow knowing that it didn't feel quite right, that I didn't really feel awake, that I thought I was awake, in a filmy sort of awakeness, but...wasn't really sure.

Consequently, at around seven o'clock I finally fell asleep for a while (still with some weird dreams) and missed shul. I got up just in time to go to D2 for lunch.

D2's lunch was also really, really nice. A bunch of other people were there - but not too many, so it didn't feel crowded. One girl had just moved to the Heights and knew absolutely no one. She had been planning on eating by herself when one of D2's other guests met her in shul and insisted she come eat lunch with us. She turned out to be a really nice girl, and so was everyone else who ate there (aside from D2, I was not good friends with/didn't really know the other girls there, but we all had a really nice time together).

And some friends who are reading this will be pleased to know that I was not as shy at these meals as these friends might be used to or expect. In fact, I came away from them with more friends than I had before Shabbos started. And that is one thing I really do love about the Heights. I love the opportunity to meet new people and become reacquainted with others. It's like everyone is starting over in the Heights, so someone I never spoke to at Stern is suddenly someone I could speak to now. Girls whose paths would never cross mine in Midtown are suddenly in my path Uptown.

Due to the fact that I was still not feeling amazing - and I'm sure the fact that I barely slept on Friday night did not help - I went back to my apartment after lunch and didn't leave it again the rest of the day. I humored myself and the fact that I was not feeling well by spending the late afternoon lying on the couch reading a book from my childhood. (Those sort of books are always a source of comfort for me.) I suspect I felt worse because I felt a little lonely and little disoriented. I didn't quite feel like I was in a place I could identify. I know that doesn't make much sense, but it was like I didn't have a good grasp on where I was. Everything is too new here, too unfamiliar. For instance, even though I was not at my house, I would still feel at home when I stayed in for Shabbos at Stern. I even feel more at home when I go away to close friends, like when I go to SerandEz. But not here. Here I don't know how I feel, but it's not a feeling of being at home. Not yet, anyway.

I read until it began to get too dark to comfortably make out the words on the page. Then I reached a dilemma. I had forgotten to look up when exactly Shabbos ended. The only way I knew to find out would be to go online or call someone - neither of which I could do until Shabbos was over! Hmmm.

I figured I would just wait until I could see three stars, but the sky was really cloudy. At a certain point, I could make out two, and it was already really dark by then. It seemed really late. I couldn't imagine Shabbos wasn't over yet. I waited a bit to make absolutely certain it was late enough, and then figured I would make Havdalah for myself (another thing I didn't really prepare was sort of makeshift) and then take a chance and go online to make sure Shabbos was really over. I had done the math based on when candle lighting was, but I couldn't really trust myself. What if I was wrong? What if Shabbos wasn't really over yet?!

It's one of the oddest things to go on your computer and check myzmanim to see if Shabbos is over. Luckily, it had been over for a while already.

Anyway, that was my adventurous Shabbos, which followed an adventurous Thursday. I've been having a steady stream of adventures on my own lately. It's interesting how that happens.

This post is more like a journal entry, huh? Well, I guess that's how it goes sometimes. I'm still feeling somewhat disoriented here, like I don't quite know where I am. But I really am making myself face this new place head on. Hopefully this disoriented feeling will go away soon, and then Heights will start feeling like home.

Though at the moment, the familiar feels like a breath of fresh air.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Behind The Door

They say you should answer when opportunity knocks. They say locked doors lead to adventure. The girl stood in front of the locked door, raised her fist, and knocked. It was a white door with a gold lock. There was a square sticker on the front of the door with the number 07 on it. Behind the door, she could hear movement. Scuffling. Zippering. She knocked again - louder. The scuffling did not stop. Someone was zippering - or maybe unzippering - ferociously.

She glanced around the hallway. It was a long hallway with an old tiled floor and white walls. Embedded within the walls were rows of locked doors, most of them unlabeled - not even with a number for an address.

A bit stumped, the girl turned away from door number 07 and leaned against the wall around the corner so she might think what to do. A minute or two passed. Still, no one opened the door. Each time the noises behind it got louder, the girl would hold her breath, bracing herself for the door being flung open - but it never happened. The noises merely returned to the zippering sounds.

Suddenly, she heard the tinkling of music begin to emanate from around the corner. Curious, she stepped lightly in the direction it was coming from, cautious not to make any noise. Then she saw it, more than heard. A slow fog of music, so tangible that if someone had asked what color it was, the girl would have answered that of course it was green, floated ethereally through the thin cracks between door number 07 and its door frame. She listened.

I will come to you...I will come to you...

Voices filled the music like a church choir.

The girl stood there for a moment. Then something - that thing that always knows when there is someone following you, even if you haven't turned around to look - that something inside her jumped, and she turned abruptly and near ran down the hall to the elevator. She jammed her finger into the elevator button and waited anxiously for eons before the elevator reached the tenth floor from the lobby. As soon as the doors opened, she jumped inside and pressed "door close," as though someone else was about to jump into the elevator with her.

Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. Lobby.

Quick, nervous steps to the open doors of freedom. A hurried "thank you!" thrown back over her shoulder to the man behind the front desk. And then she was through the doors and outside once more.

Once she could breathe again, the girl set off towards other adventures. Ones that didn't include long white hallways, zippering noises, or unidentifiable church music.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Full House?

Tonight my brother Mavis said something that really hit me. He said, "Tonight all four of us are sleeping here, but tomorrow night it's just me."

It's true. Tonight is the last night for a while when all four kids are home at once. Tomorrow night I'll be in my apartment in the Heights, Straight Man will be in YU, and Trademark will be on the plane to her year in Israel.

It's funny - when I went to my year in Israel, I was leaving a completely different kind of house behind. I'm the oldest, so everyone was still at home while I was away. I was incredibly homesick for months after I left, and it would get worse when I went to different families for chagim and Shabbos. We have many friends in Israel who used to live in my community and although I loved going to them for Shabbos, and though going there gave me some of that family feeling that I didn't have at school, I would feel even more homesick in some ways. There was family life going on around me, but I wasn't part of it. I felt somehow...outside. I would be reminded of my own family and how I wasn't there. I would get jealous of the siblings bantering with each other and play-wrestling. I would feel this dull ache that seemed like it would only get soothed by going over to my own little brother and punching him in the shoulder or having my own sister tell me how to wear my clothes. What was worse - I knew this sort of thing was still going on at my house. It's just that it was going on without me. A whole year of sibling camaraderie went by, a whole year of everyone in my family growing, both physically and as people. A time when I called home one day and an unrecognizable male voice answered who turned out to be my brother.

I remember being jealous of the British girls because it was so easy for them to go home - only a five hour flight! Compared to ten or eleven hours, that felt like nothing! Like flying from New York to California! Both New York and California felt equally like home at those times, even though I'd never even been to California. I felt like if I could at least be in the same country as my family, I'd feel better. I never got homesick in camp. I wasn't the homesick kind, I thought. But it was this feeling that my family was so far away, that I couldn't even call them any hour of the day I wanted because sometimes it was the middle of the night for them.

I know how Trademark feels when she does things like beg me to keep her updated on all my dating adventures.

"But, Trademark, going on one date with a guy is not that exciting."

"Okay, but if you start going on a few dates, you have to tell me!"

One time when I was in Israel, I called home and was so upset that I asked my mother to just tell me what they all were doing. She described what they were having for dinner and how everyone was sitting around the table...

In some ways, Trademark is leaving behind a different kind of house. We're not all going to be sitting around the table on a random weeknight. Though Straight Man and I are not too far away, we're not really living at home anymore either - especially me. Most of the time, it's just going to be my parents and Mavis. And what if Mavis goes away for Shabbos?

My family is at the point in our collective family life where everyone is off doing his or her own thing. It's not one person away and everyone else still in the status quo as far as home life. It's everyone coming and going at various frequencies.

More than ever before in my house, there was a lot of packing and moving going on this summer. For me, I'm really looking forward to having Straight Man live in the same city as me. For a while, we were hardly in the same country. I know we probably won't see each other a lot - especially as he's on a rigorous YU schedule, but it's nice to know he's there, all the same.

For Trademark - I hope she has a spectacular year in Israel, whatever kind of year it turns out to be. And I will miss her a lot. Our house is going to get a lot...quieter...

And for Mavis - He should enjoy having the house to himself, and everything that comes with it. :)

So tonight there are six people in this house. Tomorrow night, there will be three.

...My family is growing up.