7.28.2006

Innocent Laughter and a Delightful Sabbath

I wrote this a few weeks ago, but I thought it was particularly apt for the erev Shabbat before Tisha B'Av, as it deals with both Shabbat and fasting, at least somewhat. A peaceful, relaxing, safe, nourishing, calm Shabbat to all! May we know of no more sorrow...
"For I do not believe God means us thus to divide life into two halves--to wear a grave face on Sunday, and to think it out-of-place to even so much as mention Him on a week-day. Do you think He cares to see only kneeling figures and to hear only tones of prayer--and that He does not also love to see the lambs leaping in the sunlight, and to hear the merry voices of the children, as they roll among the hay? Surely their innocent laughter is as sweet in His ears as the grandest anthem that ever rolled up from the 'dim religious light' of some solemn cathedral?"
--Lewis Carroll (1832 - 1898)

Isaiah 58:
ה הכזה, יהיה צום אבחרהו--יום ענות אדם, נפשו; הלכף כאגמן ראשו, ושק ואפר יציע--הלזה תקרא-צום, ויום רצון ליהוה 5 Is such the fast that I have chosen? the day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
ו הלוא זה, צום אבחרהו--פתח חרצבות רשע, התר אגדות מוטה; ושלח רצוצים חפשים, וכל-מוטה תנתקו 6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
ז הלוא פרס לרעב לחמך, ועניים מרודים תביא בית: כי-תראה ערם וכסיתו, ומבשרך לא תתעלם 7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
ח אז יבקע כשחר אורך, וארכתך מהרה תצמח; והלך לפניך צדקך, כבוד יהוה יאספך 8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.
ט אז תקרא ויהוה יענה, תשוע ויאמר הנני: אם-תסיר מתוכך מוטה, שלח אצבע ודבר-און 9 Then shalt thou call, and the LORD will answer; thou shalt cry, and He will say: 'Here I am.' If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking wickedness;
י ותפק לרעב נפשך, ונפש נענה תשביע; וזרח בחשך אורך, ואפלתך כצהרים 10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in darkness, and thy gloom be as the noon-day;
יא ונחך יהוה, תמיד, והשביע בצחצחות נפשך, ועצמתיך יחליץ; והיית, כגן רוה, וכמוצא מים, אשר לא-יכזבו מימיו 11 And the LORD will guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make strong thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
יב ובנו ממך חרבות עולם, מוסדי דור-ודור תקומם; וקרא לך גדר פרץ, משבב נתיבות לשבת 12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places, thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called The repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.
יג אם-תשיב משבת רגלך, עשות חפצך ביום קדשי; וקראת לשבת ענג, לקדוש יהוה מכבד, וכבדתו מעשות דרכיך, ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר 13 If thou turn away thy foot because of the Sabbath, from pursuing thy business on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy of the LORD honorable; and shalt honor it, not doing thy wonted ways, nor pursuing thy business, nor speaking thereof;
יד אז תתענג על-יהוה, והרכבתיך, על-במותי (במתי) ארץ; והאכלתיך, נחלת יעקב אביך--כי פי יהוה, דבר 14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD, and I will make thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Compare and contrast. Especially the bold parts from Isaiah, where he, like Lewis Carroll, reflects on the sort of Sabbath that he thinks God wants. Is calling the Sabbath "a delight" analogous to "see[ing] the lambs leaping in the sunlight, and [hearing] the merry voices of the children, as they roll among the hay"? Both Lewis Carroll and Isaiah also point out serious inconsistencies in people's behavior. In Carroll's case, the problem is people who "divide life into two halves--to wear a grave face on Sunday, and to think it out-of-place to even so much as mention Him on a week-day," and in Isaiah's case, people who "fast for strife and contention, and to smite with the fist of wickedness," instead of fasting "so as to make your voice to be heard on high."

More on Isaiah, but not Lewis Carroll:

Isaiah 58:8 is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible. Like a love-struck girl, I copied it into my notebook in high school, when I first learned the book of Isaiah. I think my love of this verse is at least partially because I love the word "yeevaka." To me, it sounds like what it means ("will break forth"). It sounds like something cracking wide open. I also love the way this verse divides the passage in two--the first part being all of the things that people are doing wrong, and the second part being what they can expect if they do right, and what doing right entails.

Isaiah 58:9 is also pretty cool, because God says "hineini," or "here I am." This is what Abraham says to God in Genesis 22, what Jacob says to an angel or God in Genesis 31 and 46, and what Moses says to God in Exodus 3. Later in the Bible, Samuel says "hineini" to God in 1 Samuel 3. This is the way that mankind responds to God's call.

What is more unusual is for God to respond to humanity that way. Such a simple statement:
"Here I am" -- "Hineini"
Yet how much so many of us would give to hear those words from God , especially in these scary times!

These verses tell us that only after we "deal [our] bread to the hungry" and "bring the poor that are cast out to [our] house" and cover the naked when we see them, will we merit to hear God say "hineini," "here I am." I'd say that we have a long way to go. Sigh...

Unnecessary speculation

I think it's pure speculation to suggest, as this New York Sun article does, that Sarah Adelman committed suicide because of pressure to wed. I don't find this kind of speculation useful at all, and it bothers me deeply. Unless you know the person well, it's wrong to speculate,.

Furthermore, it strikes me as inappropriate to suggest that the reaction to a suicide should be to alleviate or just discuss the over-discussed "singles crisis." (Maybe it's not over-discussed. Discussing it certainly does nothing for me.)

Marriage is a great thing, and I wouldn't be surprised if married people committed suicide at a lower rate than single people (since I think that their health is better in almost all respects than single people, unless they're unhappily married, in which case it tends to be worse). (Even if that's true, you would have to control for age and possibly other things to assume causality. Young people and old people commit suicide more than middle-aged people, and young people and old people are probably also more likely to be single or widowed.) I also wouldn't be surprised if most people who committed suicide were lonely, since depression and loneliness go hand-in-hand. Depression makes you feel really, really lonely, even if you have friends.

That doesn't mean that the reaction to this should be "let's make it more socially acceptable to be single." It should be "let's take care of our neighbors and friends, and reach out to people we interact with, whether we know them or not" or "let's raise awareness about depression in our community and make sure people know how to get the help they need." I'm not saying that people aren't doing that in this case, because I think they are, but bringing the "singles crisis" or the ridiculous shidduch dating scene into it just pisses me off. (Can you tell?)

Sorry for all the rambling. This just bothers me and I wanted to post my off-the-cuff thoughts before Shabbat. Thanks for listening.

7.27.2006

Suicide

I thought I might have a lot to say about this suicide of a 25-year-old Orthodox woman from St. Louis who lived in my neighborhood, but it turns out that I don't. (I didn't know her, but still.)

Let me just say this: Suicide is horrible, tragic, and entirely preventable. Very, very few cases of depression are untreatable. Most depression can be alleviated and sometimes even cured with the aid of good psychotherapy and good pharmaceuticals. People who commit suicide are people who did not receive the help that they needed when they needed it. And that is sad, since the resources are out there, and in many cases, would have been available to them.

I received the following information from two different shul lists, which might be useful to anyone living in the neighborhood. (As far as I know, these are open to the public, although some of them are directed more towards those who knew Sarah.)
Dear Friends,

As many of you know, the Upper West Side was shocked this week by the tragic suicide of a young member of our community. Tragic events often cause numerous and varied emotions to emerge. Talking through these feelings can be both comforting and healing.

In response to the many people who have asked for guidance and direction in this time of grief, the rabbinic leadership of The Jewish Center, Congregation Ohab Zedek and Yeshiva University have initiated the following programs:
  1. Safe Spaces: Beginning tomorrow night, Thursday July 27th from 8:30-10:00pm at The Jewish Center, 131 West 86th Street, you will have the opportunity to drop in and participate in small group discussions facilitated by mental health professionals. This is a safe space for you and your peers to express any thoughts or feelings you may be experiencing.

  2. An Evening of Conversation: On Monday, July 31st at 8:30pm at Congregation Ohab Zedek, 118 West 95th Street, Dr. David Pelcovitz will deliver a lecture on "Depression in Our Community: Recognizing, Reacting and Reaching Out to Friends." This will be followed by an open roundtable discussion.

  3. Safe Spaces: Continued. Tuesday, August 1st from 8:30-10:00pm at The Jewish Center, 131 West 86th Street, you will have the opportunity to drop in and participate in small group discussions facilitated by mental health professionals. This is a safe space for you and your peers to express any thoughts or feelings you may be experiencing.

Safe Spaces™ is a program developed and coordinated by the Social and Organizational Leadership Training group of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future.


I wish this kind of support and information were available all the time, not just after someone commits suicide.

7.26.2006

Interesting op-ed from the New York Times

From Monday's New York Times. This op-ed by psychologist Daniel Gilbert shows the effects that psychology can have on the escalation of violence, whether between siblings or between neighboring countries. I don't think that this solves the Israel vs. Hezbollah thing in any practical way, but it is a slightly different way of thinking about things.

While looking online for more information about Daniel Gilbert (I don't like to link to articles written by people until I at least know something about them, lest I link to articles written by serial killers or what-have-you), I discovered this. It's basically an ad for his book Stumbling on Happiness, but I found it to be a persuasive ad. If I had more time to read, I might even buy the book.

Deferred gratification is an interesting issue. I sometimes think about how hard it is for me to save even a small amount of money these days, and how quickly that small amount will be gone when it's time for the next big purchase, whether that is a $1500 vacation or a $5000 car or, I can't even really think about this now, a down payment on a house. It almost seems not worth it to save such a small amount, but since the only other option is to save a large amount, and that's not possible, I guess I have no other options. I guess I could foreswear all large purchases and just live in the moment, but that's not a realistic thing for me to do, either.
Although I do think that there is something to the "mindfulness" movement, something we could all stand to learn a lot from.

The back rub heard 'round the world

I've been following this incident of President Bush giving German chancellow Angela Merkel some sort of backrub with some interest. I first heard about it here. Then I read this New York Times article. I guess there's not much to follow, since the whole thing lasted a few seconds. (You can watch it here.) So I guess I've been following people's reactions to it.

With all the horror that's going on in the world these days (at least 8 Israeli soldiers were killed in Lebabon today; a young Orthodox woman who lives on the Upper West Side committed suicide on Monday--will post on that later), it almost seems silly to comment on this.

But unwanted touching is a subject dear to my heart so I just have this to say: Don't initiate intimate contact with anyone unless they specifically tell you that it's okay. (If you think that massaging or rubbing someone's neck and/or shoulders is not intimate, then I'm sorry for you.) And be extra careful with how you touch the leaders of nations.

That is all.

7.24.2006

Ten Curses of Eve (updated)

There are many, many arguments made by various Orthodox Jews against feminism and equality for women. Trust me, I've heard them all. Or at least as many as I can stomach without puking. Some of them are based on "“And he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16), which is part of the curse that Eve got after she ate from the Tree of Knowledge. This article by Professor Berel Dov Lerner points out, as others have, that this is a curse, like the curse of painful childbirth and having to eek out food from the earth. Like these other two curses, this curse can be overturned through various forms of human ingenuity. The article also presents sources that have Eve receiving ten curses, some of which may also be overturned. Prof. Lerner also debunks the myth of the "traditional view of esteemed womanhood," or whatever you want to call that "but women are homemakers which Judaism views as the most important task of all!" apologetics. He draws on some fairly disturbing (from a modern point of view) sources, but the way he weaves them together, and his analysis of them, is fascinating.

(Sorry for the long silence. I have my usual batch of posts waiting to be posted, but this one--originally written on from May 3--is the only "quickie." The rest are sort of serious and require more editing and thought and such, and I'm also trying to get more sleep than I've been getting. So more longish absences may be expected in the future as well.)

7.14.2006

War

I don't feel like I can let the beginning of a war in Israel go unmentioned, for fear that someone will misinterpret the lack of posting on the subject.

On the other hand, I don't know what to say except that Hezbollah's unprovoked attack of katyusha rockets on Israeli cities including Haifa, Nahariya, and Carmiel is horrific, and that it would be crazy to expect Israel not to react with force. I'm no hawk on Israeli politics, but it beats me how anyone could think that Israel should react to kidnappings, murdering soldiers, and rockets launched against it with diplomacy. What nation in the world would react to violent, unprovoked attacks on its land and people from another country with diplomacy?

Having said that, I hope that all of this ends soon, with as few deaths on each side as possible. Israel has no choice but to respond and to try to keep Hezbollah back off of its borders, but war is never a good thing in my book. Sometimes necessary, as when someone clearly wants to kill you and your people, but never good.

Wishing you, all of Israel, and the entire world a Shabbat shalom.

Here is the prayer for the soldiers of the State of Israel, should you be so inclined as to pray (thanks to NotANewYorker):



I probably won't blog more about the war unless I have something substantial to say. But that doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about it, about Israel, and particularly about my relatives in Haifa and Carmiel.

I wish there was this much public sympathy for sick people

Although I have never personally had a pet, I've learned to like my various relatives' cats (even though I'm allergic to them) and dogs, and I am all for taking care of sick animals and sparing them pain. I wish Barbaro a long and healthy life. But this article made me wonder why sick animals draw such outpourings of love and sympathy and sick people often don't.

7.13.2006

Living in the layers, not the litter of our lives

On May 14, 2006, former poet laureate of the United States (and Massachusetts native), Stanley Kunitz, died at the age of 100. This is one of the poems that he left behind.
The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written,
I am not done with my changes.

I love it. I think I could read it again and again. Go ahead--read it again!

It's a poem written from the perspective of someone older than I, but its message transcends age.

Sometimes I, too, feel that "I am not who I was," but feel that, still, "some principle of being/abides, from which I struggle not to stray." What is that "principle of being" from which we each individually struggle not to stray thoughout our lives? What principles of being, what core centers, would we stop being ourselves without?

What are the "the abandoned camp-sites" of our lives? I think we all have them, because everyone changes and leaves things behind. Sometimes fear of those abandoned camp-sites keeps me from making changes. What will it look like from afar, those lives that were picked up and discarded? The losses that are inherent to growth and change frighten me.

One day, I hope to be able to say that "I have made myself a tribe/out of my true affections," even though, like Kunitz, I fear that the tribe will be scattered.

And what does it mean to "Live in the layers,/not on the litter"? I feel like this poem sort of points to a way to do that, but the rest of the journey is up to each of us to take as individuals. It may be something that it takes a lifetime to learn.

May we each, in our own way, learn to live in the layers of our lives, and not in the litter, the abandoned camp-sites, the lives that we've walked through to get to where we are today.

7.06.2006

Warren Buffet on the failure of the free market system

Now, for something a little more serious.

According to the Freakonomics blog (which I enjoy reading), on the Monday, June 26th Charlie Rose Show, Warren Buffet said that "A market system has not worked in terms of poor people."

mjbigelow of The Entre Blog points out that "Free market theory depends on people being physically and intellectually mobile in order to avoid poverty. The model predicts poverty for people that can’t do that," but then he adds, "so I’m not sure why Buffet is saying it’s not working correctly."

I don't know squat about economics (or is it "I do know squat about economics"?), which is unfortunate, so don't jump on me if I don't make sense here. (Not knowing anything about something never stops other people from pontificating about it on their blog, so why should it stop me?) (I never took Ec. 10 in college, although I probably should have. I was scared of the math. Why am I scared of math? Because I'm a girl and I've been inundated with "girls can't do math" messages since early elementary school. But we can leave that discussion for another time.)

I really have no idea what Warren Buffet said or didn't say on the Charlie Rose Show, since I didn't watch it on TV or on Google Video and don't want to pay $9.95 for an e-mailed transcript.

But from that one quote alone, it doesn't seem that he's saying that it's not working correctly, only that it doesn't work (i.e., it doesn't make money) for poor people. And mjbigelow's statement supports that it wouldn't work for poor people, if we can assume that poor people are not as physically and/or intellectually mobile as non-poor people, and that by "working," we mean "making people money." (I'm using "non-poor" instead of "rich" because I mean both middle and upper class people when I say "non-poor.") Is that true, though? Are poor people poor in a (relatively) free market economy because they lack physical or intellectual mobility? I think I understand physical mobility and why it is important for a free market economy to work and why people who don't have it can't make money--the ability to travel to a different town or city for college, the ability to travel to a different city or state or country for a job, the ability to commute within a geographic area for a job, etc., but what is intellectual mobility? Is that just double-speak for smart? Are non-poor people smarter than poor people? Or were they just given a better start at an earlier age?

This is getting away from the heart of the matter, but how do we measure or compare intelligence if people weren't, for whatever reason, raised with intellectualism as a supreme value? Did the fact that my parents read to me and encouraged my artistic and literary creativity from a young age make me a better student in school? Someone, I think my great-aunt, gave me a diary with a lock and key on Thanksgiving when I was 9, and I haven't stopped writing for myself since then. If someone--someone who valued writing--hadn't given me that gift, would I have written as much as I have? If someone hadn't taken me to the library for story hour and to take out books every Sunday, would I have read as much as I did? Those things, those gifts of diary, time, and chaufeuring, are a luxury that not everyone can afford. Do you need to already be financially comfortable to afford to encourage creative and intellectual achievements? It is true that this country is blessed with great public libraries that are accessible to everyone, but in poorer communities, they are not open all the time. (In my neighborhood, for example, which abuts some very expensive housing as well as several housing projects, the public library closes at 6 pm most days and is not open on Sunday.)

I guess I really wonder why so many people are poor, and what it would take to get them out of poverty. Maybe the free market alone can do it, but not if the free market only works for people who are intellectually and physically mobile. I mean, surely we all agree that from a moral perspective, someone's gotta' take care of those people, but in our fractured, asocial, anti-front-porch society, that doesn't seem to happen within families and other natural community structures. I guess that I am against a purely free market economy, without any artificial intervention by the government, because I don't think that a free market system takes care of poor people, and I think we already know that we can't rely on individuals to take up the slack. Like my good friend Warren said.

7.05.2006

Generation gap on the information superhighway

I am guessing that this esteemed Alaskan Senator is over the age of 40. Otherwise, I don't think he would say this, as he argued against a provision that would have made it illegal for an ISP to handle its own VOIP packets faster than a competitor's. (Hat tip: Gmail web clip.) Go read it.

I think what astounds me the most is not that he doesn't really know how the Internet works (because who really does? I mean, except for some of the readers of this blog and other assorted friends).

It's not that he thinks that there's something called "your own personal internet" (and he's not talking about an intranet or networking your home computers to one another).

It's not that he uses the word "internet" when he means "e-mail."

It's not that he says that the internet is made up of a series of "tubes" (the concept isn't far off, as I understand, just the word "tube" instead of "fiber optic lines" or "cable lines"--correct me if I'm wrong).

As the kids say, "Whatever." He could learn the right lingo in a few minutes if he would take the time to.

What astounds me the most is that he thinks that "We aren't earning anything by going on that internet." Speak for yourself, Senator, but a lot of people are earning something by "going on that internet."

And, of course, the overall level of ignorance--the aggregate of all of those statements--is simply amazing.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I thought that Senators had people who primed them with information they would need to make decisions like this. I mean, isn't that what aids and interns and whatever else are all for? To make sure that Senators have the information they need to make the decisions that they make? Even if they make the wrong ones, I would at least like to think that they know something about what they're making a decision about.

I'm so tired of finding out that things that I had some teeny tiny bit of idealism about are not true... It would be nice to be informed that something about which I am already cynical does not merit cynicism!

7.04.2006

Nice reflections on the 4th of July

Despite all the things that are wrong in this country, I still believe most of this to be true. I especially liked the way he ended the post:
So lift a glass of an American beverage (Coke, beer, wine, whiskey), and be thankful that a bunch of patricians in Virginia and New England had the foresight to see a world where the freedom to challenge the government was the norm, and fought like hell to build it.
Hear, hear!

7.03.2006

Happy birthday to me!

Last year, I wrote this. I've gotten over being embarrassed about tooting my own horn on my birthday.

I still think that viewing one's own birth on a DVD is a modern marvel. I still can't get over the absolute heart-stopping awesomeness of witnessing your own first few moments of life, more than a quarter-century (yeah...) later. I want to dig up that DVD and watch my first few moments alive again later today.

But first, let me briefly recap my 27th year, which concluded on July 2. My 28th year began on July 3 with my 27th birthday.

My 27th year was overwhelmingly happy and overwhelmingly sad, and almost everything in between. I said hello to a new roommate, a new job, and a very special "young man" (as the relatives call him, as in "your young man") (hiya! no further details will be disclosed on this blog, as per my blog rules: no blogging about personal relationships, work, or living relatives). I said goodbye to my old job (no further details will be disclosed about this matter either, as per above rules), my great-great Aunt Marian, and, most tragically, to my cousin David.

I hope this coming year brings more of the good stuff and less of the bad.

And have a happy 4th tomorrow!