8.31.2007

Blattella germanica

On Wednesday morning, there was a [singular] skittering little blattella germanica in the empty top drawer of my dresser when I finally went to start unpacking my suitcases after three weeks of wandering. Ew! Gross! I slammed the drawer shut and went out to buy some boric acid, which I applied liberally under and behind the dresser. (I had read somewhere that it is best applied liberally, but further research indicates that it works best applied as a thin film or pushed into cracks in the flooring.)

I haven't seen any others anywhere in the apartment, including under either of the damp, leaking sinks. I hope that this one came from the storage place (where my furniture and boxes were for three weeks), and that it has no local friends.

This morning, I saw it again, in the same drawer. I grabbed a plastic cup and trapped it under the cup, then slid a piece of paper under the cup and moved the whole thing out of the dresser drawer and onto the top of the dresser. Then I wrapped tape around the edge of the cup, where it hits the paper, so it's really trapped now.

But what to do now? Clearly, the blattella germanica must die, but do I really have to be the one to kill it? And how?

It's a very fast little bugger, and there's no way to let it out of the cup and step on it without risking its escape. I thought about drowning it, but that's both a bit more hands-on than I'd like and also maybe not possible given our drain configurations. Someone suggested that I just throw it out the window, but then it will just go into someone else's apartment. I don't want that. It's currently trapped in a sealed cup, so I could just take the whole thing outside and put it in the trash outside. I think I did that with some other bug that I trapped at some point. It might get out of the trap when the garbage is collected or compacted, but by that point, I'm not so worried about it getting back into someone's apartment. I thought it might asphyxiate pretty quickly, but apparently, bugs don't asphyxiate quickly at all.

So, there he remains, sitting trapped in an upside down plastic cup on top of my dresser.

[Update: Just by way of explanation, I caught him on Friday morning and was going away for Shabbat, and didn't have time to figure out what to do with him before I had to pack up my stuff and go. If I had been sleeping in my bedroom on Friday night, I would have disposed of him before Shabbat. When I came home late Saturday night, I immediately took him, in his contraption (still very much alive) to a corner trash can a block away from my apartment and across the street. Perhaps I will write another post about why things that other people think are gross I don't find gross, and vice versa. Or maybe that's something best kept to myself. In any case, I am extremely grossed out by blattella germanica on the loose, and not too grossed out by trapped blattella germanica.]

I've never had a blattella germanica in any apartment I've lived in before, and I hope that, one way or another, this is the end of him.

* * * * *

On an entirely unrelated note, except perhaps that the article mentions the competition between SF and other cities to be the first large American city to offer free WiFi and blattella germanica seem to be particularly fond of large cities, this ("EarthLink Abandons San Francisco Wi-Fi Project") is too bad. I hope it will happen anyway.

And this ("Are Your Jeans Sagging? Go Directly to Jail") is timely, since just the other day I was wondering how these guys who wear their pants down below their tushes manage to walk without their pants falling down around their ankles. It's a little gross to see someone's underwear-covered butt with pants belted below their butt on the subway seat next to you, but I don't think it should be illegal unless you're also going to make showing bra straps and all other undergarments illegal. (Someone in the article justified the attempt to pass such laws by saying, "'You can’t legislate how people dress, but you can legislate when people begin to become indecent by exposing their body parts,' " but I haven't seen any body parts, just a lot of boxer shorts.)

8.29.2007

Schizophrenic law professor, paleolithic diets, and loss of faith

  1. Schizophrenic law professor: Fascinating, scary, and inspiring. Read it here.

  2. Paleolithic diets: This post by Jo, but even more so, the ensuing comments, especially Jody's, fascinated me. Really, Jody's comments almost made me want to go back to school. So, leaving aside PCOS/insulin-resistant people, are carbs like poison for us because paleolithic people didn't have access to a lot of them? Or have our digestive tracts evolved to be carb-happy in the past 10,000 years, since agriculture began?

  3. Loss of faith: Cecily's post is beautiful, and who among us can't identify with it? What I identified with most strongly is jealousy towards people who have faith. Cecily writes: "And I realized that I envied them all that simple trust and faith--I miss it." Emuna peshuta--simple faith. I don't know if I ever had that kind of faith--I remember always having questions. But sometimes, it would be nice to believe that we are cradled in God's hands, wouldn't it? I really loved this paragraph, also:

I don't like feeling this way; I was much happier when I really felt like I was cradled in God's hand, safe and cared for. Shit, who wouldn't? But I feel now that if there is a personal God (personal to me, that is) he or she is kind of an asshole, and full of arbitrary moods and inclinations. A God like that is impossible to trust. It's like trusting an abusive parent. Seductive, compelling, and impossible.
I also identify with Cecily's writing about acting as if one has faith.

* * * * *

I realize that I never updated my reading public about the apartment situation.

So, I moved in last Wednesday, August 22! It was exhausting, even though I didn't lift a thing. (Well, I rearranged boxes and furniture after the movers had gone, but they put most of it where it belonged.)

There is so much to do in a new apartment, as opposed to someone else's pre-existing apartment that's already all set up. The last time I moved into a previously-vacant apartment was August 2002. A week later, I'm still eating off of paper and living out of suitcases, which sucks. But I do have: window shades (well, one didn't fit and the other is falling down and both need some modification, but at least no one can see in at night), a working toilet-paper-roll-holder, a properly-tipped super and super's brother, a place to put my shampoo in the shower, a brand new dead bolt lock for the front door, healthy food (yogurt, cheese, fruit, milk, hummus) in the fridge, and a thoroughly cleaned-out closet with clothes hanging up in it. I also have a kitchen sink that leaks a medium amount and a bathroom sink that leaks a small amount, which have taken up an extraordinary amount of my time.

Question: Is it possible, from the third floor, that I hear/feel the subway moving? I think I can hear the subway from my bathroom. It's kind of weird.

It may be a little bit longer before substantive posts resume. Enjoy these links in the meantime!

8.23.2007

Noah Feldman and other "at risk" youth

Yes, I'm a bit late on this. I wrote a post on July 22, the day that the article ("Orthodox Paradox") appeared, but I never finished it, and it has languished among my other unfinished posts for the past month. This week, I read a post by mama o' the matrices that I really liked, so I was inspired to link to that and share some of my month-old reactions, some of which feel quite out-of-date at this point.

A brief preface: I don't know Noah Feldman but I did go to the same elementary, high school, and college that he did, I think about eight years after him. I don't know him, but I do know his father (who was active in the only Orthodox minyan [prayer community] in college town I lived in for five years) and brother (with whom I worked on the literary magazine in high school). Both of them are lovely people. Because I share these communities with Dr. Feldman, some of the sort of nit-picky, private issues he had with his high school are things that also bother me.

However, overall, I have difficulty with his main problem, which seems to be that Modern Orthodoxy is particularistic rather than universalistic. That's what religions are: particularistic. If you have a problem with that, then you can opt out of the religion entirely or out of the more particularistic manifestations of it, which Noah Feldman did by marrying a non-Jewish woman who chose not to convert.

Some initial reactions:
  1. I didn't like how the art depicted only men, although I doubt that was Noah Feldman's decision or at all under his control. It was a co-ed school, with male and female students and teachers. That changes perception of the article.

  2. Regardless of what else one may think of the article, what he did was not very nice. Sometimes, it's okay to do "not nice" things if there is a greater good, but I have a hard time seeing the greater good here. As a friend of mine said, "Why does a famous, well-regarded professor of law still have a bone to pick with his high school?" The New York Times is not an appropriate forum, in my opinion, for airing concerns about the relationship one has with one's small, private, parochial day school. He wasn't alleging systemic abuse--he was alleging that they were not willing to accept him as one of theirs after he married a woman who was not Jewish. They happened to have signified their non-acceptance in some pretty terrible ways [this was before I knew that the photo was not actually cropped]. Yes, that's true. But that's the story, for the most part.

  3. The Baruch Goldstein thing was particularly ridiculous--I doubt Baruch Goldstein would have accepted the "Modern Orthodox" label for himself when he committed his atrocious act or even for years before that.

  4. I do think that Maimo could learn to respect people even when it doesn't respect their decisions. The way they treat people who don't fit the mold of what they expect is problematic at the very least, and has been for at least 20 years. (I hope that it has improved in the past ten.)

  5. Another improvement that Maimo could make is a better balance between pushing academic achievement and giving spiritual and intellectual life to Judaism and to halacha in particular.

  6. The idea that Noah Feldman would be surprised that Maimo would fail to accept his intermarriage is ridiculous. He was not surprised, and it was disingenuous to pretend that he was in the article.
Other good posts about this topic have been over at Chayyei Sarah's blog. You may see my comments there.

* * * * *

One of the more interesting things that the article pushed me to think about is the two kinds of "at risk" groups in the Orthodox community. There is a lot of talk, especially in New York and in both Modern Orthodox and hareidi circles, about the "at risk" youth who fall prey to drugs, sex, and rock 'n roll. (I never heard about such problems in Boston 10-15 years ago, when I was in high school which may be because I had a particularly academically-oriented class in high school, there are fewer such problems in Boston, or people talk about it less. Or maybe the world has just gone to hell in a hand basket since I graduated high school ten years ago.) These kinds of "at risk" youth are the ones that NCSY is designed to corral and contain ("For more than four decades, NCSY (grades 9 - 12) and Junior NCSY (grades 6 - 8) have been reaching out to at-risk youth by offering them social, recreational and educational outlets in a safe and nurturing environment.") in the Modern Orthodox community and that the Agudah's Project Y.E.S., among many other organizations, is supposed to corral and contain in the hareidi community.

But there is another group of "at risk" youth who fail to be challenged sufficiently by Judaism when they are adolescents and find more and better intellectual things to grapple with when they get to college. In high school, they may have questions about things like balancing universalistic and particularistic values, or about (ahem...not that I would know anything about this) gender roles, feminism, and Judaism. Maybe they have trouble accepting that the the Five Books of Moses were given, verbatim, from an incorporeal God to a corporeal man named Moses on a hill in the desert. Maybe they can't accept that any God that they could believe in would essentially forbid hugging your brother despite its not technically being forbidden (see Maimonides, Hilchot Issurei Biah, 21:6: "ו המחבק אחת מן העריות שאין ליבו של אדם נוקפו עליהן, או שנישק אחת מהן--כגון אחותו הגדולה, ואחות אימו, וכיוצא בהן--אף על פי שאין שם תאווה ולא הנאה כלל, הרי זה מגונה ביותר. ודבר זה אסור הוא, ומעשה טיפשים הוא--שאין קרבין לערווה כלל, בין גדולה בין קטנה: חוץ מהאם לבנה, והאב לבתו."). (This particular halacha was one of the stupider things that was taught to me, and a direct reason why I stopped learning Jewish stuff for several years in college.) Maybe they find being told that, "Yes, one can believe in evolution, but God buried the dinosaur bones," to be an insult their intellects. The solution for stemming the tide of this latter kind of "at risk" youth is not NCSY or Project Y.E.S. It's not telling you that "Hashem loves you" or offering thin theologically-questionable answers to complicated, profound questions.

The focus in the Orthodox community seems to be on the former kind of "at risk" youth, because they are clearly in greater physical danger, and perhaps because the solutions are more obvious. I don't disagree that we should be helping kids who are in crisis and who have gotten into sex and drugs for all the wrong reasons. (Let's leave the rock 'n rollers alone, though.) I don't want to minimize the importance of providing social services to families ripped apart by abuse and mental illness. I don't want anyone to think that this isn't a growing and important problem in the Orthodox world, or that these kinds of problems--substance abuse, physical abuse, mental illness--don't plague all sectors of society. We ignore these issues at our own peril.

But when we ignore the latter kind of "at risk" youth, we make Orthodoxy into something that it is impossible for smart, critical, questioning people to believe in and adhere to, and the problem only intensifies. This latter group of "at risk" youth may abandon Orthodoxy in favor of more intellectually-open branches of Judaism, if any exist. (Do they? I have yet to be convinced that Reform or Conservative Judaism have fewer problems than Orthodox Judaism. Post-denominationalism may be the answer.) They may limit their thinking selves to the secular, academic world, and be non-thinking in their lives as Jews. Or, if they are lucky, they may succeed in finding like-minded, open, intellectual peers, friends, teachers, and mentors, from across the Jewish political spectrum, with whom they can be thinking, critical, open-minded, observant Jews. I have so many smart friends who either stopped being at all observant (one told me in college, "Religion is for stupid people") or stopped thinking sometime during high school or college.

I am not interested in keeping these at risk youth frum or Orthodox, per se. I am interested in helping all of us find ways to be authentically Jewish without giving up our critical, thinking, questioning minds. If that means being Jewish in a non-Orthodox way, yasher koach! (Just please let me know the secret.) I just don't believe that Judaism, in all of its multi-faceted complicated multi-colored hues, is too weak to satisfy our deepest, most basic, intellectual and spiritual needs. It makes me sad when smart people give up on Judaism entirely, at least in part because it makes it easier for me to contemplate doing so.

* * * * *

Mama o' the matrices linked to this recent post over at DovBear, which is, indeed, sort of related to this discussion. Only sort of, though. Day schools' inability to relate to children as individuals with different learning styles is a whole other kettle of fish and deserves its own post. The "at risk" youth that I'm writing about here can handle going to school from 8 am to 6 pm every night, and staying focused in class, or they find ways to compensate when their attention wanders. They excel in the high-pressured academic Modern Orthodox day schools that they attend. They just have no interest in being frum afterwards. I'm not 100% sure what to do about that. I sort of had to find my own way on this issue, and I don't know how to help other people find their own way.

8.21.2007

משנה מקום משנה מזל: Seeking davening, exercise, and learning buddy/buddies

The first part of this post's title, "משנה מקום משנה מזל," which means, "A change of place brings a change of luck," became known to me through the Israeli song, "Yo Ya," by the Israeli rock group Kaveret (כוורת). Here are the lyrics in Hebrew, and here are the lyrics in English and in transliterated Hebrew.

It is quite a clever, punny song, but the source for the phrase is, according to Hebrew Wikipedia, actually the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashanah, 16b, where it says:

אמר רבי יצחק: ד' דברים מקרעין גזר דינו של אדם אלו הן: צדקה, צעקה, שינוי השם, ושינוי מעשה
....
ויש אומרים אף שינוי מקום דכתיב (בראשית יב) "ויאמר ה' אל אברם לך לך מארצך והדר ואעשך לגוי גדול" ואידך ההוא זכותא דארץ ישראל הוא דאהניא ליה

The rest of that piece of Talmud is kind of nice. Maybe I'll write about it some other time before Rosh Hashanah. The main point, though, is that one thing that can avert an evil decree is changing one's place, as proven by the verse from Genesis 12, where God commands Abram to leave the land where he grew up and go to a new place where he will become a great nation. (It seems, based on the verse and the explication that follows, like this "change of place averts evil decree" only works if you are going to the Land of Israel, but the Talmud seems to ignore that distinction. Perhaps I will look into this more.)

I don't entirely buy the idea that a chance of location can bring a change of luck, but I do think that anything that gives you a kick in the tush (preferably metaphorically) can be an impetus to change yourself. A change of place is neither necessary nor sufficient to change one's luck (and I don't really believe in luck, so let's replace luck with "predicament"), but it can help just as a lot of things can help. It helps if you really want to change something anyway--this inner desire to change things is certainly necessary and possibly sufficient to actually change. Like changing location, other things that are neither necessary nor sufficient to create change but can help prod you along, include: the start of the month of Elul (shouldn't we always try to do good deeds? yes!), the loss of a job or the start of a new job, the beginning of a new school year, or moving to a new place where your schedule is going to be different.

All of this is a long, roundabout way of saying that I do think that "משנה מקום משנה מזל" is possible, but would prefer to say that "A commitment to change, sparked by moving to a new place, can make it easier to bring about actual inner change." I'll grant you that the first is shorter, catchier, and easier to remember.

Why do I bring this up? Because Elul just started, I am moving to a new neighborhood this week, and there are a bunch of things that I would like to start/restart doing on a more regular basis. If I did these things, each of which I have independently previously proven myself capable of doing, my life would be much improved. Amongst them are: davening, exercising, and learning. I want to do these things without sacrificing: my professional work, my time with friends, my meals, or my sleep. Impossible? Maybe, but I hope not. I'm hoping I can accomplish all of this by sacrificing the monstrous category known as "time wastage."

I think that I would more likely to daven and exercise, in particular, if I did them every single morning and if I had people who expected to see me every morning for davening and exercise. Learning is a bit different, since I am open to doing that at night, with different people on different nights, and not every night, since I often learn Torah during the course of my day at work anyway, which more or less satisfies that particular need.

Why the need for a buddy? Is it because I am weak?

No, it is because I have followed the advice of the ancient Greek edict: "Know thyself."

I know that even though I profess to hate structure and schedules to the extent that I can't willfully impose them on myself (is this part of the fallout of years of day school attendance, wherein every single minute was carefully scheduled? perhaps), I do much better when I have them.

The only times in my life that I have successfully davened regularly have been when I have attended weekday minyan at least five times a week. Sometimes this has been shacharit; at other times it has been mincha/maariv. Every time I get tired of going to shul and promise myself that I will daven alone every day, I last for less than a week. Hence the need for regular minyan attendance.

As far as the davening buddy goes, going to minyan regularly has lasted the longest when there have been people at shul who I have looked forward to seeing who have looked forward to seeing me with whom I could exchange pleasantries with for five minutes after davening. This was a huge motivating factor for getting me to minyan, and thus davening regularly, for four years in college. This didn't work at all when I tried it on the Upper West Side, because no one acknowledged my presence in shul, nobody said as much as a "Thank you" when I held the door for them (him) after davening, and I felt intensely excluded from the convivial atmosphere that appeared to be the norm on the men's side of the mechitzah. Maybe I only imagined it. Maybe the men also felt like they were alone, and lonely, at shul. I have no idea. But I need minyan even if minyan doesn't need me.

It has been well-established that those who are most successful at exercising regularly are those who exercise at the same time every day, or however often you exercise. I have found this to be the case for me. I went to the gym regularly (2-3x/week for 6+ months) when my work schedule was such that I was out of there by 5:45 or 6 pm each night, and I went home, changed, and went straight to the gym for 1.5 hours before eating dinner. If I was hungry, I might grab something light to eat before the gym, but basically, it was work --> gym --> dinner. This schedule fell apart when I started at a new job where I got out at different times each night, and often not until 7 pm. I also exercised regularly for a whole semester in college, when I exercised first thing in the morning, before davening or anything else. It was really a great way to start my day. (Other practices of successful exercisers include exercising with someone else and doing something you actually enjoy. Also, exercising regularly over exercising for a long time if you're going to pick one of the two, and if you're at all busy, you probably are.)

Learning? That's easy. It's much more fun with someone else than alone. Learning with a chavruta is the original buddy system, long before elementary school teachers made their students pick a buddy for field trips so that no one would get lost. My gemara chavruta is going to be in Israel this year, so I'm looking for someone to learn gemara with. I am also looking for someone to learn halacha with, but only if you're willing to be particularly pedantic about it. Also open to other things, including Rav Kook's Orot HaTeshuva, which I started learning in 1999, I think, but never got very far in.

These three things--davening, exercising, learning--should also have the beneficial side effects of encouraging me to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, and getting to work at the same predictable, relatively early hour every morning. The times when I have been most successful at getting to work (or class) on time have also been the times that I have gone to minyan in the morning. I can't say much for being successful at going to sleep and getting up on time, since those have been a struggle for me pretty much from the get-go, but if I get up earlier, I will probably be more tired by the time a good time to sleep (11 pm) rolls around.

So, the general details for these buddies are:
  • I would prefer buddies who also think that the buddy system would work well for them, so that the needs would be more balanced, as opposed, you know, to some superhuman person who is intensely self-motivated and couldn't understand anyone who wasn't.
  • I could definitely have one shul buddy and a separate exercise buddy.
  • I would prefer to have the same davening buddy and the same exercise buddy for every weekday. Weekends off.
  • I don't care what gender you are.
Scheduling details:
  • I think I would probably go to shul in the morning, then go home to switch into exercise pants and eat something light/quick, and then exercise. I do wear pants to shul on principle and in practice, but I think that exercise pants might be lacking in kavod. They're too casual, even for super-casual me.
  • I don't ever expect to be able to go to minyan before 7 am, and even 7 am is stretching it. 7:30 am is ideal. If I could go to shul at 8:00 am and still exercise, shower, and get to work at a reasonable hour, I would, but I think that would probably not work. Maybe I could exercise and shower before shul and go straight to work from shul. That would be great, actually, although I might be really, really hungry by the time davening is over. I have to investigate local (Washington Heights) minyan times to see what will work.
  • I would like to be active for 30-40 minutes every morning.
Exercise details:
  • I exercise in t-shirts and non-legging pants (not tight but not baggy) that cover my knees if that makes a difference to you. I don't know why it would, but far less consequential things have been known to make a difference to people.
  • I would prefer to exercise somewhere close to my apartment, like the bike/running path near the Hudson or Fort Tryon Park. If there was a decent gym nearby, I would consider joining that also/instead. I am afraid to ask about local gyms on the Maalot Washington listserv since I might be lynched for admitting to exercising in the presence of men. (I am not opposed to women's gyms, but that hasn't been practical, thus far, in NYC.)
  • My exercise of choice is walking fast, running slowly, or biking if/when I purchase a bicycle. I am also open to learning to rollerblade, although given my historic lack of physical coordination, I don't know how likely that is. It sure looks like fun, though!
  • My fitness level is middling. I am not, nor have I ever been, a jock. I am an active person--for awhile I was walking 2-3 miles every single day, and I can do things like run up the stairs from the subway to the street without getting winded. I have worked up to being able to run for 20-30 minutes on a treadmill or 20 minutes outside, but not very quickly and starting out again, I don't think I could do more than run slowly for ten minutes. I don't want someone who is going to make fun of me for needing to go slow.
Learning details:
  • It's true that the Torah has 70 faces, but I'm pretty tired of Moed (did parts of Shabbat, Beitzah, Taanit, Pesachim, all of Rosh Hashanah), and most interested in Nashim at this point. I would definitely consider other sdarim/masechtot, though.
  • My level is "high for a typical Orthodox woman, low for an Orthodox man who spent time in yeshiva." I don't know how I measure up to the typical liberal Jew, which is why I stuck the word "Orthodox" in there.
  • I am most interested in learning with someone who is at about the same level as me, but that's not a prerequisite. In things other than Gemara, I am much less picky about the person's level.
  • In the past, I have learned out of a regular Vilna edition with Jastrow, Frank, and a Tanakh for reference. This is my preferred way of learning, with peeks into Steinsaltz (or asking a more well-versed person for help), if other assistance is needed.
  • I prefer to learn in the original language of the work, or in English if it was written in a language I don't know, like Arabic or Latin or German.
  • I own the first (i.e., least machmir) edition of Shmirat Shabbat KeHilchata (thanks to my grandfather, z"l), and I would love to learn hilchot Shabbat from it, looking up as many footnotes as possible (of course).
Let me know via e-mail if you want to buddy up for some or all of this. Thanks!

8.20.2007

Monogamy and relative sizes of males and females

This story, about the discovery that homo erectus apparently did not descend from homo habilus, but existed concurrently, broke over a week ago, but I didn't get a chance to read it until just now.

I wasn't terribly surprised. When I did some brief research on evolution to try fortify myself with specific facts in discussing, with P-Life, why observant Jews should not dismiss evolution, there were already hints that some scientists felt that way. It seemed to be a growing trend, as more and more fossils were found and classified as either homo habilus or homo erectus. Scientists still agree that one or the other of them evolved into homo sapiens, i.e., us. I really, really don't understand why some people read this news story and immediately felt justified in saying, "See, evolution isn't right after all!" Anyway, I don't want to get into that discussion again.

What I thought was interesting in this AP article were these lines:
That caused researchers to re-examine the 30 other erectus skulls they have and the dozens of partial fossils. They realized that the females of that species are much smaller than the males -- something different from modern man, but similar to other animals, said Anton. Scientists hadn't looked carefully enough before to see that there was a distinct difference in males and females.

Difference in size between males and females seem to be related to monogamy, the researchers said. Primates that have same-sized males and females, such as gibbons, tend to be more monogamous. Species that are not monogamous, such as gorillas and baboons, have much bigger males.

Among modern humans, men and women are of roughly the same size. Although the average male is, of course, taller and heavier than the average female, there is some overlap in the middle of the spectrum.

I'm not entirely sure why I feel this way, I think there's something nice about monogamy being more pervasive in species in which males and females are closer in size. I guess that I associate monogamous societies as ones in which men and women have more equality, and so the fact that males and females are also closer in size where monogamy exists jibes nicely. It just seems fitting, somehow.

* * * * *

I'm sorry that I've been posting so irregularly. Since I started blogging, I have never had so many contiguous months with so few posts. In looking back over the past few months, I see that my blogging quantity, and possibly quality, declined precipitously starting in May. (Actually, June had some very nice posts, so perhaps I shouldn't leap to make that claim.) I attribute this to the news I got in May of my grandmother's very short life expectancy, followed by my last visit to see her at the end of May, and her subsequent death at the end of June, followed by going to the funeral and shiva. (I wrote this post in mid-May, when it became fully apparent that my grandmother did not have long to live. I wanted to thank her, while she was still alive, for at least some of the things that I've received from her. Likewise, this post had been languishing in the draft box since Pesach, and I finally polished it up and published it because I knew that it would be weird to publish it after my grandmother died, when I would be consumed with sadness and thoughts about the entirety of her life, and not necessarily little details about yom tov in her house over the past few years. Finally, this was, in many ways, meant to be a tribute to my grandparents for the incredibly mind-expanding summers that they provided for us. I wanted my grandmother to know how I felt, and, in fact, my mother read this post to her on one of her last "good" days, a week before she passed away.)

Oh, yes. And then there was the subway incident, which took place the day after I returned from visiting my grandmother for the last time. July and August were particularly strenuous months at work. And the moving...oh, the moving! I am still nomadic, but hope to be settled into my new home sometime this week.

So, what I'm trying to say is, "I am still here and I am still thinking interesting things once in a rare while, I just don't have the energy to sit down and write thoughtful posts right now." I hope you will forgive me and remain loyal readers (all three of you!).

8.15.2007

Chodesh Elul tov! !חדש אֱלוּל טוב

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul (אֱלוּל), and the second day of Rosh Chodesh. This is part 2 of an occasional series.

Etymology

  • From Akkadian ululu or elulu, meaning "the time when [the produce of the land] is brought in," i.e. "harvest time," from a verb meaning "to bring in" or "thrust in"
Biblical names
  • "the sixth month"
  • Called "Elul" in Nehemiah 6:15:
    טו וַתִּשְׁלַם, הַחוֹמָה, בְּעֶשְׂרִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה, לֶאֱלוּל--לַחֲמִשִּׁים וּשְׁנַיִם, יוֹם.
    15 So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days.
  • A rabbinic tradition derives the source of the name Elul from part of a verse in Song of Songs (6:3):
    ג אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי, הָרֹעֶה בַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים. 3 I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine, that feedeth among the lilies.'
    "Ani L'Dodi v'Dodi Li," "I am my beloved and my beloved is mine." The first letter of each of these words in Hebrew spells "Elul." This is interpreted as describing the relationship between God and His people during this auspicious time preceding Rosh Hashanah.
  • Another rabbinic tradition derives the source of the name Elul from part of a verse in Esther (9:22):
    כב כַּיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר-נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם, וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב; לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים 22 the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.
    "Ish L'Rei'eihu UMatanot L'Evyonim," "Sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor." The first letter of each of these words in Hebrew spells "Elul." The connection between this verse and the month of Elul is that we are supposed to increase our good deeds during this month. (I'm not a huge fan of this one, but since I just heard it for the first time this past Shabbat, I thought I would include it.)
Customs and Associations for Elul
  • Because it precedes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the month of Elul became connected to repentance.
  • There is a custom of sounding the shofar daily during the month of Elul, as well as reciting Psalm 27.
  • There is a Sephardic tradition of reciting selichot, or special penitential prayers, early every morning during entire the month of Elul. (Ashkenazi Jews recite selichot as well, but start only about a week before Rosh Hashanah.)
  • Is it customary to begin or end all letters written during the month of Elul with wishes that the recipient have a good year. The standard blessing is "K'tiva V'Hatima Tova" ("A good writing and sealing [of judgement]"), meaning that the person should be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.
What Happened in Elul?
  • On the 25th of Elul, the Israelites rebuilt the destroyed walls of Jerusalem under the prophet Nehemiah's direction after they returned from the diaspora of Babylon (Nehemiah 6:15).
Other cultures
  • Eylul is also the name for September in Turkish.
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the following correspond to the month of Elul:
  • Letter: yud (י)
  • Zodiac sign: virgin
    One explanation is that the virgin symbolizes G-d's beloved bride, Israel, the bride of the
    Song of Songs who says to her groom, "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me." Another explanation that it is an allusion to the verse in Jeremiah 31:20: "Return, Maiden Israel! Return to these towns of yours!" (שׁוּבִי בְּתוּלַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, שֻׁבִי אֶל-עָרַיִךְ אֵלֶּה) and Elul is traditionally a time for teshuva, which is understood as repentance but literally means "return."
  • Tribe: Gad (גּד)
  • Sense: action
  • Controlling organ/limb: left hand (Lefties, rejoice!)

8.10.2007

Still kickin'

I don't have time to blog right now, nor any almost-complete draft posts to polish up and publish, but I just wanted to assure everyone that I am still alive and kicking.

The latest in my overly-long apartment saga is that the apartment won't be ready* on August 15, which is the date on the lease that we signed and, not coincidentally, the date by which the broker promised it would be done. We signed the lease on July 16. I think a month should have been enough time to fix up the apartment. I think this was a problem caused by lack of communication.

Anyway, the upshot is that I am bumming housing off of friends and relatives for one more week than planned. Two weeks without a real home seemed so doable. Now, three weeks sounds much less palatable. See this post for the original schedule. Also, my parents were supposed to stay with me starting on August 22. Now, that's obviously not happening.

I was told on Monday that the apartment would not be ready by August 15, and that they didn't know when it would be ready. August 20? August 22? September 1? Who knew?

As of yesterday, the word is, hopefully-but-no-promises, August 22.

I want to write more about this whole housing and moving thing, but I think it has to be when I am settled and have the room of one's own that Virginia Woolf so astutely points out is necessary to write.

Note to self: At some point, I would like to blog about the crumbling New York City infrastructure and why we lose Internet access at work every time it rains. This week, I found myself writing e-mails in Outlook, printing them up, and faxing them to people. I used to be quite fax-illiterate--no longer! (Don't press "9" for an outside line, do put all the pages in face up.)

And now that my shoes and pants are finally dry, I must go back out into the rain.

Shabbat shalom!

______________________________________________
* Ready = up to code and with a new kitchen and bathroom. I think that the previous tenant must have lived there for 30-50 years. It looked like the kitchen had its original cabinets--which would have been gorgeous if they had been stripped, sanded, and refinished, but will instead be ripped out and replaced with something faker containing more plastic. The bathtub was worn through to black. I counted at least three ceiling leaks. The window sills were crumbling where the air-conditioners. The electrical work was crazy--wires plugged into outlets that then snaked out through small holes in the wall to other rooms. Etc. It basically needed a lot of work.

8.03.2007

rent-stabilization, glass high-rises, demise of small indy toy store, and more on NYC real estate

  • First, moderately good news, from June, for people in rent-stabilized apartments. I mean, it could be better and it could be worse.

    By the way, "people in rent-stabilized apartments" will soon include me! I am happy to report that Phase I of my move is now complete. I am presently in what shall be called the "homeless period," during which I will stay with various friends and relatives and be very grateful that I have local friends and relatives, such that I am not truly homeless. Just a bit nomadic.

    Phase II takes place on August 15, when I move into my new rent-stabilized place in Washington Heights, where I will be paying 55% of my previous, Upper West Side rent and have one less roommate. The apartment is still converted (1 bedroom to 2 bedrooms with 2 occupants and 1 bathroom), but it will be better than my previous apartment (2 bedrooms to 3 bedrooms with 3.75 occupants and 1 bathroom).

    Of course, the cost of moving, storage, and broker fee is equivalent to a little over 2x one month's rent in my Upper West Side apartment or 3.9x one month's rent in my new Washington Heights apartment, so I won't see that 45% savings for quite some time. Also, just to avoid making you all jealous of my 45% rental savings (and one less roommate! or 1.75 fewer roommates, if you count the .75 roommate in the old place!), I should add that my new apartment is next door to the Cross Bronx Expressway and a dark-and-slightly-scary underpass. I am four miles farther uptown, and no longer walking distance from work or Central Park or my grandmother's apartment. I also no longer have a part-time doorman who lets random strangers into the building. Make of that what you will. I liked having him there so I could get packages delivered, but I can't say he made me feel that much safer than a locked door would have.
  • In less personal coverage, a New York Times article ("High Anxiety") from several months ago ago about the new high rise condos on the Upper West Side. Here is one letter in reaction and online comments, many of which are quite reasonable. I saw another letter online, but now I can't find it, which pointed out the environmental benefits of denser living, such as is provided by high rise residential buildings.
  • The latest Upper West Side real estate news is, of course, the collapse of the retaining wall during construction at the 808 Columbus Avenue construction project. Or maybe that's old news already, since it happened in July. In any case, more people are talking about that project than about the Ariel Towers, which were sort of old news even in June, when the NYT article came out.
  • Little Extras, a cute little independent toy store on Amsterdam Avenue, went out of business in June, due to rising rents. They had high quality wooden and fabric children's toys, as well as a small assortment of children's books. It was started by a woman who retired after years of office work, who then decided that what she'd really like to do was open a toy store. It was a nice story, and I was sorry to see it close.
  • Remember how I said that I heard that West Side Judaica was going to have to close because of rising rents? Apparently, their monthly rent had been $8K and it's going up to $18K. However, they're going to stay open until the fall and then decide. If you want them to stay open, go buy something there. (At least, that's what the local shuls are recommending.)
  • Here's a fun read. (I think that this is the best comment of them all: "Disparaging other places is a frequently used means by which Manhattan residents attempt to offset the cognitive dissonance of paying exorbitant prices for unappealing living spaces.") I've linked to individual Curbed posts before, but now I see that they have tags by neighborhood, so you can read all of the articles with references to real estate on the Upper West Side.
  • Finally, I added a "real estate" label (tag), so you can read just those articles about real estate, should you so desire. Expect more coverage of Washington Heights real estate, in addition to Upper West Side real estate, from here on out. Also, possibly an ode to my departed apartment.

8.01.2007

Just the thing for relaxing after four hours of packing.

This is neat. I wish it went a little bit slower so I could really see the faces (and remember where more of them come from), but maybe the speed is part of the point.



I am happy to report that in four efficient hours tonight, I packed seven boxes (five large, one medium, one small) tonight, in addition to stuffing some more into and sealing three already-mostly-packed boxes. I even managed to eat a somewhat balanced dinner! (God bless my freezer.) I am also happy to report that I have continued to add things to the Goodwill pile throughout the evening.

I am sad to report that there is still a lot to be done. Those of you who are following along at home, please send efficient packing thoughts this way! Thanks.