8.20.2008

Suicide on college campuses and thinking about long-term career options

I am taking a break from packing for Israel to tell you to read this. It doesn't surprise me. I only hope that colleges are starting to deal with this problem in a responsible way, through providing adequate (or better!) medical and mental health care, rather than trying to immediately kick anyone out who might have any mental health problems due to liability concerns. During my five years in college (a story for another time, I suppose), I saw the university shift in some positive and some negative ways, both towards more fear of liability but also towards a heartier array of helpful resources for students, and more interest in publicizing those resources.

Anyone who wants to read more on the topic can start with College of the Overwhelmed, by Richard Kadison and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo. I know Richard Kadison and was interviewed for the book.

I was very active in mental health advocacy in college, mostly on behalf of students to deans, advisers, and other university staff. I also worked on reducing stigma in the student population, and served as an informal resource for a lot of students who wanted to seek help for their mental health concerns and didn't know where to turn. I really miss that work. It was the first public speaking that I ever felt comfortable with. I thought that I might make a career out of it at one point, but I didn't get the one job that I applied for in that field, so, instead, I ended up doing something else for the last five years. (I did get an interview, though, which felt promising at the time.)

Part of me still feels drawn to some kind of career in public health/urban planning/environmentalism/anti-domestic violence. I don't know exactly how all of those things intersect in my brain, but they do, in interesting ways. For me, it basically boils down to this: People should live in environments (both macro and micro) that support their full potential as human beings and that allow them to be supportive members of larger communities, while engaging their minds and bodies fully, and in a way that is sustainable in the long term. That's the life that I want to lead and that I want everyone around me to lead. Now, how can we make that happen? I know it's a tall order, but I think it has to do both with how people interact on a micro level and how cities are designed and built on a macro level. Who gets to think and learn and write about this stuff, and how can I sign up?

I worry, sometimes, about getting fully sucked up into the wonderful world of Jewish learning, and setting aside all of these other nascent interests that I have, that have not-very-much to do with gemara or halakhah.

8.18.2008

For kids getting ready for their first day of school...

This brought back memories. Mostly of watching TV, not of going to school!

If you've got a kid on your hands who somehow already hates school (shame!), try this. (The "Teeny Little Super Guy" animator, Paul Fierlinger, animated this as well.)

And for those of you looking for a full-on nostalgia experience, this. I don't recognize most of the stuff after 1987 or so, which is understandable. I was surprised by how much of the old stuff I recognized, until I remembered that Sesame Street reuses old clips all the time. I wonder if they still throw stuff from the 1970s in just to shake things up a little?

8.16.2008

One day...

I hope to get married and be able to use this Alternative Gift Registry.

I truly enjoyed buying something or giving a donation off of this registry, since the celebrants wrote up a little bit about why it was meaningful or important to them. I am perfectly happy to donate a pizza stone and cutter to you in honor of your wedding, but it's so much more fun when you tell me why you want it! (Did you have pizza on your first date? Will it help one of you win a bet as to whether you can make vegan pizza taste good? Do tell!) It also seems infinitely customizable, which is appealing to me.

Mazal tov, EM and JN!

Who can tell me...

why the Mechon Mamre parallel Hebrew-English Tanakh website looks like this (see below, click to enlarge) on my Mac in Firefox now?

I don't think I changed any settings. What happened and how can I fix it?

This is how it looks in Safari, but I use Firefox almost exclusively, so all that helps me know is that it's a Firefox issue, not a computer-wide issue.

Other Hebrew looks normal in Firefox, and when I copy and paste from the funny characters into, say, a blog post, it comes out fine.

Does it have anything to do with this? I feel like it must somehow be reading this as a page of Hebrew instead of a page of English, but I don't know how to fix that.

Thanks, blogosphere!

On a related note, if anyone can give me a good workaround for using Word for Mac (2004) with Hebrew text, please share! I can paste into TextEdit or a gmail message without reversing all the words in the Hebrew, but when I copy and paste from a Hebrew website either directly into Word for Mac (2004) or from TextEdit or a gmail message, the Hebrew words appear in the wrong order. I would hate to have to buy Windows just to get around this problem. Plus, I would have to buy Windows and the Windows version of Microsoft Word, which would really be irritating. I love my Mac, but due to all the learning I am doing these days, I am writing more and more in Word using Hebrew text, and I need to be able to do that. Thoughts?

I was disappointed that none of my astute and well-versed blog readers had an answer to my kinah query. Oh, well. It probably isn't online anywhere, and the only way to get it electronically would be to type it out or scan it and find some Hebrew OCR software.

8.10.2008

Post-Tisha B'Av query

Does anyone know where I can find the full text of the kinah that starts with "אָז בַּהֲלוֹךְ יִרְמְיָהוּ אֶל קִבְרֵי אָבוֹת"? (It's a daytime kinah, listed as 27 or 28, depending on the book.) I thought that הזמנה לפיוט would have it, but they don't. I have it in print, but that seems so...useless.

Thanks!

Because your brokenness is as great as the sea: כִּי-גָדוֹל כַּיָּם שִׁבְרֵךְ

I was going to post, at one point over the past three weeks, about how I wasn't really in the "Tisha B'Av mood" this year, and how hard it wasn't particularly difficult to feel sad, but it was difficult to feel sad for this.

It is all too easy for me to read Eicha or kinot and feel sad for the losses that I have experienced personally. Experiencing communal losses, especially losses that took place so long ago, has always been more difficult. One of the challenges of Tisha B'Av for me is to move away from reading the lamentations of Eicha and personalizing them (as I tend to1), and to try to think about what it means for a community to be destroyed and what that destruction did to us, rather than how our lives might sometimes look as tragic as Jeremiah's lamentations.

I was sitting, listening to Eicha last night, and the second half of this verse suddenly blew me away with its beauty:

יג מָה-אֲעִידֵךְ מָה אֲדַמֶּה-לָּךְ, הַבַּת יְרוּשָׁלִַם--מָה אַשְׁוֶה-לָּךְ וַאֲנַחֲמֵךְ, בְּתוּלַת בַּת-צִיּוֹן: כִּי-גָדוֹל כַּיָּם שִׁבְרֵךְ, מִי יִרְפָּא-לָךְ. 13 What shall I take to witness for thee? What shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? For thy breach is great like the sea; who can heal thee?

I can't say that I love the JPS (1917) translation. I would translate it as: "For your brokenness is as great as the sea, who can heal you?" The implication clearly being: Nobody can heal you.

Hearing this verse read last night made me feel, as perhaps nothing ever had before, that things were so horribly undone with the destruction of the Temples and subsequent exile that they can never be done up again. My life was irrevocably changed by that event, and that the tragic events of those years somehow lives in on each of us. The brokenness of that time was so great that it, in fact, could not and can not be repaired. Somehow, instead of reading my personal life as a gloss over the text of Eicha, I was able to read Eicha as a gloss on my own life. Rather than "I am that," I felt "that is me."

I can't say what life would have been like had the Babylonians not sacked Jerusalem in 586 BCE or the Romans in 70 CE. If the prophecy of Deuteronomy 4:272 hadn't come about, how would the world be different? How wold the Jewish people be different? Would we still be sacrificing animals in the Temple? Would there be a priestly class and a class of Levites that ate special food (i.e., maaser)? Would instant messaging have been invented in the Land of Israel rather than the State of Israel? Would psychoanalysis exist? Would Hollywood? Would Spain be different? Would Germany? Some of these may seem like silly questions, but maybe they aren't. We would live in a different world if these two tragedies hadn't happened.

My life would certainly be quite different. I would not have spent the past five years working in the field of Jewish education in New York City; I would not have spent the past summer studying Talmud and midrash and halacha. I cannot calculate the extent to which my life, both inner and outer, is shaped by an ancestral history of exile, oppression, emigration, and immigration. I would not be who I am today without my dual status as both an insider3 and an outsider4 in the United States. Even if I had grown up in Israel and somehow didn't have this feeling of being an outsider in a majority culture, I would be a person entirely shaped by living in a state that arose during modernity, not a state in continuous existence from the time of the Romans.

Part of me wants to say that if that had somehow not happened, if our ancestors had not so royally messed up, Jerusalem might still be a "קִרְיָה נֶאֱמָנָה," a "faithful city," about which is said "מְלֵאֲתִי מִשְׁפָּט, צֶדֶק יָלִין בָּהּ," "she was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her" [Isaiah 1:21]. I do not mean to cast general aspersions on the modern city of Jerusalem; I wish to imagine, briefly, a world in which Jerusalem was now and has been for the past 2000 years the widely-recognized seat of righteousness and justice in the world. Can you imagine that? Could that have happened, or was that merely a dream of a frustrated prophet?

Something I've thought about a lot lately is that when we mourn, we mourn not only for the tremendous loss of life and the Temples, but for the losses that have plagued us since that time because of those tragedies and for the lost potential that evaporated when those tragedies occurred. This is a natural thing to think of when we lose a human being before his or her time (what they might have been! what they might have done!), but when a community is prematurely cut off from its homeland, it's less natural to think in those terms. But, in many ways, that is the heart of this tragedy.

The description of how deeply and irrevocably the ancient Israelites disregarded their eternal covenant with God up also struck me this year, perhaps for the first time. Rather than wondering how such total destruction could ever have been warranted, I felt myself channeling Isaiah and Jeremiah and railing a bit at the ancient Israelites. How could you have done that? And, having done that, how could you ask God to save you? I wondered how the text of Eicha could be so shocked at the destruction and plead so willfully for God to remember his covenant if the Israelites had so clearly ignored their half of the deal.

Because of a d'var Torah that was I gave several times during the Three Weeks, I spent a lot of time before Tisha B'Av reading Jeremiah 11:
ח וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ, וְלֹא-הִטּוּ אֶת-אָזְנָם, וַיֵּלְכוּ, אִישׁ בִּשְׁרִירוּת לִבָּם הָרָע; וָאָבִיא עֲלֵיהֶם אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַבְּרִית-הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר-צִוִּיתִי לַעֲשׂוֹת--וְלֹא עָשׂוּ. {ס} 8 Yet they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the stubbornness of their evil heart; therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did them not.' {S}
ט וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֵלָי: נִמְצָא-קֶשֶׁר בְּאִישׁ יְהוּדָה, וּבְיֹשְׁבֵי יְרוּשָׁלִָם. 9 And the LORD said unto me: 'A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
י שָׁבוּ עַל-עֲו‍ֹנֹת אֲבוֹתָם הָרִאשֹׁנִים, אֲשֶׁר מֵאֲנוּ לִשְׁמוֹעַ אֶת-דְּבָרַי, וְהֵמָּה הָלְכוּ אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, לְעָבְדָם; הֵפֵרוּ בֵית-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבֵית יְהוּדָה, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, אֲשֶׁר כָּרַתִּי אֶת-אֲבוֹתָם. {ס} 10 They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear My words; and they are gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers. {S}
And a bit later:
יג כִּי מִסְפַּר עָרֶיךָ, הָיוּ אֱלֹהֶיךָ יְהוּדָה; וּמִסְפַּר חֻצוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַם, שַׂמְתֶּם מִזְבְּחוֹת לַבֹּשֶׁת--מִזְבְּחוֹת, לְקַטֵּר לַבָּעַל. {ס} 13 For according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem have ye set up altars to the shameful thing, even altars to offer unto Baal. {S}

What were you thinking? What was so tempting about wood and stone? The feeling I had is also reflected earlier in Jeremiah (2:27):

כז אֹמְרִים לָעֵץ אָבִי אַתָּה, וְלָאֶבֶן אַתְּ ילדתני (יְלִדְתָּנוּ), כִּי-פָנוּ אֵלַי עֹרֶף, וְלֹא פָנִים; וּבְעֵת רָעָתָם יֹאמְרוּ, קוּמָה וְהוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ. 27 Who say to a tree: 'Thou art my father', and to a stone: 'Thou hast brought us forth', for they have turned their back unto Me, and not their face; but in the time of their trouble they will say: 'Arise, and save us.'

It wasn't only that they were worshiping idols. They were also being unethical in their interpersonal relations (Jeremiah 5:1: "שׁוֹטְטוּ בְּחוּצוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַם, וּרְאוּ-נָא וּדְעוּ וּבַקְשׁוּ בִרְחוֹבוֹתֶיהָ, אִם-תִּמְצְאוּ אִישׁ, אִם-יֵשׁ עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט מְבַקֵּשׁ אֱמוּנָה", Jeremiah 5:28: "דִּין לֹא-דָנוּ, דִּין יָתוֹם וְיַצְלִיחוּ; וּמִשְׁפַּט אֶבְיוֹנִים, לֹא שָׁפָטוּ"), which somehow bothers me more but is also more understandable to me.

After all, how often do I walk by a poor person on the street, asking for money, and give nothing? (Almost every day.) How often do I lie around, watching television or reading blogs instead of doing justice and seeking truth? (Too often.) And what am I losing and what am I at the risk of destroying, by my willful blindness and inaction? (I do not know and, I daresay, on most days, I do not care.)

The messages of Jeremiah and Isaiah are clearly very simplistic: Do not sin; if you sin you will suffer greatly; oh, no! you've sinned and now great suffering is happening. But it is also poignant and so often the way of the world. We don't like to think of the connection between sin and suffering, because of its implication that suffering means that someone has sinned. But I don't know if I have such a problem with the reverse, that sin leads to suffering. If you don't treat the widow and the orphan right; if you become corrupt; if you worship material goods rather than God; your society will fall apart and everyone--even the suckling infants--will suffer.

This year, after thinking that I wasn't really getting into it over the past three weeks, it was almost too much for me to bear in the end: the totality of the sin and then the graphic descriptions of the near totality of the destruction. It washed over me, the brokenness of the people Israel, then and now, that was as great as the sea, and I felt (Jeremiah 8:23):
כג מִי-יִתֵּן רֹאשִׁי מַיִם, וְעֵינִי מְקוֹר דִּמְעָה; וְאֶבְכֶּה יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה, אֵת חַלְלֵי בַת-עַמִּי. {ס} 23 Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! {S}

It all seemed so pointless and avoidable yet utterly irreparable, and I couldn't stop obsessing how vastly different the state of the world might be if it hadn't gone that way. What if, instead of Tisha B'Av, a day when we remember injustice and turning to false gods and the subsequent destruction, we had a day to celebrate this (Isaiah 1:17)?

יז לִמְדוּ הֵיטֵב דִּרְשׁוּ מִשְׁפָּט, אַשְּׁרוּ חָמוֹץ; שִׁפְטוּ יָתוֹם, רִיבוּ אַלְמָנָה. 17 Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.


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1. For example, I would have read [Lamentations 3:8]
ח גַּם כִּי אֶזְעַק וַאֲשַׁוֵּעַ, שָׂתַם תְּפִלָּתִי. 8 Yea, when I cry and call for help, He shutteth out my prayer.
and thought about times in my own life that my prayers have not been answered.
2. Deuteronomy 4:27:
כז וְהֵפִיץ יְהוָה אֶתְכֶם, בָּעַמִּים; וְנִשְׁאַרְתֶּם, מְתֵי מִסְפָּר, בַּגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר יְנַהֵג יְהוָה אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה.
27 And the LORD shall scatter you among the peoples, and ye shall be left few in number among the nations, whither the LORD shall lead you away.
3. a fully enfranchised citizen, a native, a literate person, someone who appears to be part of the mainstream
4. someone who eats differently, who celebrates different holidays, someone who grew up in a bilingual household

8.05.2008

Amusing recycling tip

This appeared at the top of my gmail today:
Film canisters can be reused to store nails, screws, buttons and pins.
I remember using film canisters for all kinds of great things1, but how many people use film these days? I feel like film, if used, mostly takes the form of disposable cameras left for the use of guests at weddings or purchased when one's digital camera was left at home.

I just got my first digital camera in May, and it's thrilling. I am taking far, far too many photos right now, but, still--how fun!

I wonder what other passe, no-longer-culturally-relevant recycling tips are out there? I think we need to recycle more than ever, but not things that we no longer use!

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1. Also, metal Band-aid boxes. I miss those--they were great for storing little treasures as a kid! I was sad when they switched over to cardboard boxes, although it was probably for the good of the world. (I am pretty sure that it takes less energy to produce cardboard than to produce metal, since its raw materials don't need to be extracted from the earth. On the other hand, metal may be cheaper to recycle, since it can be melted down.)

8.01.2008

Online Torah resources

I've added a new section on the right sidebar, called "Online Torah resources."

I've known about some for years (Mechon Mamre, E-daf.com), but others I learned about at yeshiva this summer (Talmud manuscripts from the Jewish National University Library). One more thing to add to the extensive list of things I got from yeshiva this summer!

Let me know if you have things for me to add to the list. I am always happy to learn about new sources of learning online. I far prefer full copies of traditional texts in Hebrew to either English translations or to websites with Jewish content, which I think are easier to find with Google. (I'm not saying that there aren't many good ones out there--myjewishlearning.com among them--but that I don't want to add a list of them to the side of my blog.)

Another thing that doesn't belong on that list but that I have found to be useful is the Wikimilon (wikidictionary in Hebrew).

Shabbat shalom!