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7.14.2020

The carceral state


This, too, is part of the carceral state. (Google it if you don't know what that is. That's what we here in these United States live in. If you don't think so, I think you can thank your white privilege for that.)

I recommend reading the whole thing. But I'll pull out some salient points below.

The short story here is that this teenager had had previous interactions with the criminal justice system for stealing a fellow student's cell phone (which she subsequently returned and expressed remorse for taking--the other student's parent wanted to press theft charges) and having fights with her mom (which had escalated to the physical).

Then, she violated the terms of her parole for not doing online schoolwork in April 2020. (Remember April 2020? When there were lots and lots of cases of Covid-19 in Detroit? Also, in many other places? I honestly barely remember April, other than calling Hatzalah, benching gomel online, and observing Pesach.) She has ADHD and a mood disorder (for which she has an IEP in school, but did not when school moved to online-only) and 
said she felt unmotivated and overwhelmed when online learning began April 15, about a month after schools closed. Without much live instruction or structure, she got easily distracted and had difficulty keeping herself on track.
So, she went to juvenile detention ( = jail for kids).

Jail, you say? Isn't jail or any congregate setting a terrible idea during a pandemic?

Indeed!
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order in March that temporarily suspended the confinement of juveniles who violate probation unless directed by a court order and encouraged eliminating any form of detention or residential placement unless a young person posed a "substantial and immediate safety risk to others."

So, what threat did she pose?
In her ruling, [Judge Mary Ellen Brennan, the presiding judge of the Oakland County Family Court Division] found Grace 'guilty on failure to submit to any schoolwork and getting up for school' and called Grace a "threat to (the) community," citing the assault and theft charges that led to her probation. 
"She hasn’t fulfilled the expectation with regard to school performance," Brennan said as she sentenced Grace.

Wait, was she really not doing schoolwork at all? And for how long? Was she doing much less work than her classmates who were likely also overwhelmed and finding the "new normal" difficult?
Grace’s teacher, Katherine Tarpeh, responded in an email to [Grace's court-appointed caseworker] that the teenager was "not out of alignment with most of my other students."
In fact, the whole thing was "based on a comment her mother made to her teacher, which Charisse testified she said in a moment of frustration and was untrue."

Was this an ongoing problem? One lasting months? No.
Grace and her mother testified that she was handling her schoolwork more responsibly — and that she had permission to turn in her assignments at her own pace, as long as she finished by the end of the semester. And, Charisse said, Grace was behaving and not causing her any physical harm.
Do white children go to jail in Michigan for stealing a fellow student's cell phone or fighting with their parents, followed by falling behind on their schoolwork? No, not really. Kids of color "are more likely to be arrested, less likely to be offered any kind of diversion, more likely to be removed out of the home and placed in some sort of confinement situation."

Racism is integrally bound up in the carceral state.

I recommend reading at least until you get to the letter that Grace sent her mother from juvenile detention. Prepare some tissues. It's devastating.
 
Done with this and have emotional energy to educate yourself some more? You can read this, about face-down restraint at Illinois schools. Also part of our carceral state!

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11.22.2019

Midtown Manhattan Coffee Reviews! Part 1

Since I last posted in August, my professional life has changed dramatically. I am no longer a full-time day school teacher. I now work half-time as an office manager in Midtown Manhattan, as well as part-time as a DSP (direct service provider) for kids on the autism spectrum (doing CommHab work, if you know the jargon) and part-time as a freelance editor of halakhic writings. It's a lot! Coffee helps me get through it all, or at least most of it!

Thus, my current life goal: find the best-tasting cup of coffee, at the best price, between Penn Station and W. 28th and Broadway

Some of the prices may include tax and others may not. I'm not sure I was consistent in my pre-coffee-consumption morning haze.

Stumptown (W. 29th St. between Broadway and 5th Ave.) ☕️☕️☕️
Paper Coffee (W. 29th St. between 7th and 6th) ☕️☕️
King’s Street Coffee (W. 30th St. between 7th and 6th) ☕️☕️☕️☕️
7-Eleven (6th Ave. between 30th and 31st.) ☕️
Of this batch, King's Street Coffee was the clear winner! It gets four ☕️s.

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8.06.2019

An urban metaphor for...something?

Scene: Trader Joe’s in Manhattan, 12:00 pm today.

A man with a basket of groceries dodges and weaves through the line to beat all of the women with carts and children who are making their way to the front more slowly.

He isn’t exactly cutting, since the laden women aren’t precisely in line yet, but he isn’t exactly not cutting, since it is clear that the entire mass of people is heading towards the two lines and splitting up into them. The net result is that this guy (white guy in his 30s?) ends up ahead of people carrying or pushing bigger burdens. It pisses me off, but not enough to say anything. I end up right behind him in the left-hand line, with my (laden) cart. (Laden because I have selected a basket’s worth of groceries at TJ’s, but have the cart to hold two bags of groceries from Fairway purchased earlier and also a backpack, with provisions for the day from my morning run to camp drop-off in downtown Brooklyn. This guy has himself and a basket, so he easily sprinted ahead of me into the line.)

Then, the person who directs people to cashiers from the two lines accidentally sends three people in a row from the left line to the cashiers, so left, left, left, instead of the usual left, right, left. This has the net result of making the dude later to check out by one person. He misses ONE turn. (It’s true. She made a tiny mistake of almost no consequence to anyone present. At most, it sped the left line up by one person and slowed the right line down by one person. This happens on occasion. I usually get annoyed for a second or two and then remember that all people are humans who make mistakes and that any customer-facing job has got to be really hard and that this one, in particular, must be so boring, and so I am just grateful that anyone is doing this at all! Because the line definitely moves quicker with that person directing people!)

He angrily says to the Trader Joe’s employee, “Hey, you just sent three people from that line to check out and no one from this line!”

She ignores him, continuing to scan the checkout people for someone who is free to take a customer.

“Hey, I’m talking to you! You can at least acknowledge me when I’m talking to you.”

She continues to ignore him.

I have had enough. I say, “Lay off it, would you? No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, and I’m sure you’ll survive the wait.”

I make eye contact with a man in the left-hand line and say, “I think he’ll survive this, don’t you?” The man nods and agrees and rolls his eyes at the guy yelling at the Trader Joe’s employee.

He says to me, “She has to at least acknowledge that I’m talking to her!”

“No, she doesn’t,” I counter. “Not when you’re being aggressive for no reason at all.”

He sputters and stares at me for a few moments and then she directs him to the next check-out person.

I don't know if I gave him something to think about, but at least I got him to shut up. Yay?

I am directed to the next checkout person. As I walk by her, I tell the Trader Joe's employee, “You’re doing a wonderful job and he is a jerk.”

I’m mildly afraid that the guy will follow me or act aggressively towards me, but I never see him again (so far).

I am glad that my line was slowed down by one person, if only to stick it to the jerk who dodged and weaved through the mass of shoppers heading to the lines to beat everyone who had more to manage.

I think there might be a metaphor here for toxic masculinity, male aggression, unnecessary aggression in modern society, who bears the burdens in society, people (men?) who feel cheated out of something even though they are the cheaters, or the Nine Days, but I don’t know what it is!

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3.10.2019

משלוח מנות: two different brachot or two portions of food/drink?

This comes up every year or almost every year.

I was taught that it has to be two items on which two different brachot are made. This is how it is currently taught and has been taught for a long time.

However, that does not appear to be the halachah, it seems to be more of an urban legend that has had incredible staying power! I was told this a few years ago, by someone I trust, but then it came up again in discussion at work, so I finally looked it up, in case I was wrong about any of it.

The basic sources upon which halakhah is determined are here, below, and they all say that it has to be two portions of food, not two different foods with two different brachot:
  1. The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, written 1170-1180 CE), see halakhah 15 in Scroll of Esther and Hanukkah Chapter 2:
    https://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%A8%D7%9E%D7%91%22%D7%9D_%D7%94%D7%9C%D7%9B%D7%95%D7%AA_%D7%9E%D7%92%D7%99%D7%9C%D7%94_%D7%95%D7%97%D7%A0%D7%95%D7%9B%D7%94_%D7%91
    Specifically, he writes: "וכן חייב אדם לשלוח שתי מנות בשר או שני מיני תבשיל או שני מיני אוכלין לחבירו שנאמר ומשלוח מנות איש לרעהו שתי מנות לאיש אחד." Two portions of meat, or two types of cooked food, or two types of food. Two portions of meat = they can have the same brachah.

  2. The Tur (written c. 1330 CE) and its commentary, the Beit Yosef (written 1522-1542 CE):
    https://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%98%D7%95%D7%A8_%D7%90%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%97_%D7%97%D7%99%D7%99%D7%9D_%D7%AA%D7%A8%D7%A6%D7%94
    Specifically, the Tur says: "צריך לשלוח מנות איש לרעהו, לפחות ב' מנות לאדם אחד. ואם החליף סעודתו בשל חבירו, יצא."
    The Beit Yosef: "וצריך לשלוח מנות איש לרעהו לפחות ב' מתנו' לאדם א' נתבאר בסימן תרצ"ד:"
    (But it's actually תרצ"ה.)

  3. Shulchan Aruch (written 1563 CE) and its main commentaries (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayyim 695:4): https://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%A9%D7%95%D7%9C%D7%97%D7%9F_%D7%A2%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%9A_%D7%90%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%97_%D7%97%D7%99%D7%99%D7%9D_%D7%AA%D7%A8%D7%A6%D7%94_%D7%93
    Specifically:
    חייב לשלוח לחבירו שתי מנות בשר או של מיני אוכלים, שנאמר: "ומשלוח מנות איש לרעהו" (אסתר ט יט; ושם, כב), שתי מנות לאיש אחד. וכל המרבה לשלוח לריעים, משובח. ואם אין לו, מחליף עם חבירו, זה שולח לזה סעודתו וזה שולח לזה סעודתו, כדי לקיים "ומשלוח מנות איש לרעהו":
    הגה: ויש לשלוח מנות ביום ולא בלילה (מדברי הרא"ש פ"ק דמגילה). ואם שולח מנות לרעהו והוא אינו רוצה לקבלם או מוחל לו, יצא. ואשה חייבת במתנות לאביונים ומשלוח מנות כאיש. ואשה תשלח לאשה ואיש לאיש, אבל לא בהפך, שלא יבא איש לשלוח לאלמנה ויבואו לידי ספק קידושין. אבל במתנות לאביונים אין לחוש:

  4. And, finally, for a modern take, the Arukh HaShulchan (mostly published 1884–1893 CE), סימן תרצה סעיף יג-יד:
    https://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%A2%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%9A_%D7%94%D7%A9%D7%95%D7%9C%D7%97%D7%9F_%D7%90%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%97_%D7%97%D7%99%D7%99%D7%9D_%D7%AA%D7%A8%D7%A6%D7%94
    Here, he says explicitly that you cannot send two portions from the very same food, but can send two different kinds of meat, or two different kinds of drink, etc. Those would obviously both have the same brachah, in many cases (shehakol or hagefen, etc.).
I'm sorry for the mishmash of transliteration, Hebrew, English, different Hebrew fonts, etc. If I find the time/energy, I'll try to go back and fix it later. (I find Blogger to be a much worse experience in 2019 than I remember it being in 2009, in terms of user control of these things!) I trust that most people who are interested in this can make heads/tails of it as-is.

If anyone has a source from the traditional halakhic corpus that says that it has to be two different brachot, I would love to see it! Since that is also what I was always taught in school...

Since (nearly) everyone is taught that it must be this way, of course I make sure to give two different foods with two different brachot, lest I be mistakenly thought an am ha'aretz! I, too, went to day school and learned incorrect halakhah! I can be just as "frum" as anyone else in this matter. (And so on and so forth.)

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3.03.2019

What do I believe?


In light of the fact that someone recently asked me what I believe, here are some of the things that I believe today (in no particular order), on March 3, 2019:
  1. That God speaks to me through the text of the Torah.
  2. That the Rabbis who wrote the Mishnah, Midrash, and Talmud were creative geniuses to whom I am eternally grateful.
  3. That worthwhile relationships require hard work.
  4. That children are both amazing and impossible, often at the same time. 
  5. Taking care of children, teaching them, and raising them to become respectable, responsible adults requires untold sums of patience, hard and boring work, inspiration, and perspiration. (This is true even for proponents of free-range parenting.)
  6. That things (habits, manners, ways of being in the world) that weren't modeled for us as children are more difficult to acquire in adulthood.
  7. That human bodies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and that no one shape or size is better than any other shape or size.
  8. That the things that we love the most often cause us the most pain: our family, our friends, our romantic relationships, our communities (Jewish or otherwise), our religion... The list goes on. It is very long!
  9. That everyone (everyone!) can benefit from both individual and group therapy.
  10. That nature is both beautiful and cruel.
  11. That the ability to feel deep gratitude is an enormous blessing.
  12. That we improve at things through practice.
  13. That all of us struggle with things that are often/always/sometimes invisible to others.
  14. That time spent outside in nature, standing still in appreciation or meandering while lost in thought, is never wasted.
  15. That the myriad, unending series of individual choices that we all make in life are constrained both by things that we understand and know and things that we don't know or understand.
  16. That the Torah contains beautiful wisdom and really, really challenging verses.
  17. That the Talmud contains beautiful wisdom and really, really challenging pericopes (that's the fancy English word for sugyot).
  18. That the Midrash contains beautiful wisdom and really, really challenging passages.
  19. That it's normal to go through periods of feeling energized and excited by things (concepts, communities, hobbies, practices) and then distant from and alienated from them. Even bored by them. Things wax and wane. That's how it goes. Sometimes, we push through and continue our practiced commitment to them even during periods of waning interest or outright alienation, and sometimes we don't. And that's okay!
  20. That there are multiple authentic ways to practice Judaism and that different ways work for different people. Maybe even for the same person at different times of their life.
  21. That racism and sexism (among other -isms) are ubiquitous in the United States today (and probably elsewhere, but that's where I live). They are sometimes insidious and sometimes really blatant and in your face. The impact each one of us every single day.
I am quite sure that there are many more things that I believe, but that's what I have for you today!

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2.25.2019

Hello, world!

After, ahem, 20 (?) months of complete radio silence, you may have noticed that I am back!

Why?
  1. For awhile now, I have been feeling the need for a creative outlet other than long Facebook posts.

  2. I was looking back over some of my favorite old blog posts recently, and saw Part 2 of this series ("My Life in Talmud Torah") and that someone had asked, back in 2009, if I would ever publish Part 3. In October 2009, I wrote, "There will be a Part 3 (eventually). Have no fear!" But in 2019, I no longer remembered that I had written and saved Part 3 only six days later. There it was, in my "drafts" folder, along with 149 (!) other saved drafts of blog posts. 149! Surely it was time to hit publish on that Part 3 and to see what other genius lurked in that tremendous pile of drafted posts! (There were also 524 published posts, and it seemed a shame to write 524 posts in a blog and then just give it up, cold turkey, in 2017 after publishing a series of incredibly boring posts about the experience of having coxsackie as an adult. Is that how I want to be remembered as a blogger?! No!)

  3. Someone asked me what I believe and the only (or at least best) answer I have is this blog! It is here where I have written the best, deepest, truest things in which I believe. And, at this point, a lot of it feels old, dated, and incredibly young (looking back at my 25-year-old self from the ripe old age of 39), but a lot of it still reads true to me. And that is a beautiful thing!
This blog is currently a very interesting snapshot of my life from 2005-2009, when I was firmly settled into life in NYC (having moved there in 2003), moved from the Upper West Side to Washington Heights (in 2007), became interested in learning Torah in a serious way again, and uprooted myself to go to Israel for a year and pursue that learning. Then I came back and learned for another year. Those are also the years in which I began and ramped up my freelance writing and editorial work. I started dating. I gave up on ever finding someone to be my life partner. I dated again. Lather, rinse, repeat. I found new roommates. I lost grandparents. Lots of stuff was going on! I wrote after 2009, especially in 2011. But, overall, I wrote a lot less after 2009.

See this screenshot of my annual archives, before this post is published:

(Note that of the four pieces published in 2019 before this one, two were actually written in 2009 and one was actually written in 2011, with the final piece written in 2017.)

But things are happening now, too. Different things, but those are things, too!

So, we'll see what I write about. I have many thoughts and opinions and this seems like as good a place as any to spill them out into written form.

Somehow, Google made enough changes to Blogger that the title/heading seems to have disappeared from my blog. I see it in the editor side, but not on the published blog. I have no idea why, and it's annoying me! But probably not enough to migrate this blog and all of its content (and comments) to some other platform.

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2.24.2019

Why I cried at the (Summer 2009) Kolech conference

Draft written and saved in July 2009. Re-discovered in February 2019. Published after some light editing.



I cried (at least) three times at the Kolech conference today [July 2009] and I don't think I've cried at a JOFA conference since the first one in 1997, when I realized, at the tender age of 17, that I wasn't all alone in the world!

I don't know if that's because things are so much worse here in Israel, or so much better, or if it's just because I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all the women (and the very few men) who are doing so many amazing things.

What made me cry?
  1. I went to a session on "גופנפש" (one word--"bodysoul"? I dunno) and a woman who runs a women's only dance studio told the story of a woman who had wanted to dance since she was a little girl, but the men in her life (father, teachers, etc.) always told her that it was not tzanua and she couldn't. So she never did.

    Finally, later in life (when she was already "אישה מבוגרת," I won't hazard a guess as to how old that is), she decided to dance. Specifically, flamenco. And she participated in a performance that men could come to (at the studio's annual recital, men are invited to the first half but not the second half, and women can choose before whom they perform--some want their husbands, sons, etc. to be there and don't care if others' husbands, sons, etc. are there, too). And she danced. And it was great.

    The point was, she wanted her husband to be there and see her, and he was, and was supportive.

    And I cried out of happiness that she got to do that, finally, and anger that she couldn't for all those years. (Uh, this should be a blog post.)

    And then she told another story, about a Chabad rebbetzin who had also wanted to dance, but never could (not tzanua, etc.), and when she was a bit older, and had eight children, she also studied flamenco. And she decided to share it with her female relatives at their annual family thing where the guys and gals shared stuff--songs, jokes, divrei torah, whatever--in separate rooms. And she danced, and her husband came in to watch. And he started laughing at her. And soon the whole room was laughing at her. And she kept dancing until she was done with what she had started. And she still studies.

    And I cried out of anger for all the women whose men/families laugh at them when they express themselves fully. Fuck that.

    Then I was crying because of the things that people told me that I could not or should not do that I've therefore not done for years and year and years, or done and then felt bad about. Like dancing and singing. (I was told to stop coming to pre-ballet when I was five because I couldn't hop around the room and my family has always reinforced their strongly-held belief that I should never, ever, ever sing because I can't carry a tune, even though I love to sing.) And then I started thinking about all the things that I have done because people said I could or should. And I've been working, for awhile, on doing what I want to do, but it's sometimes hard to figure out, when what others want/do not want you to do feels so ingrained that it has become a part of you.

    That was all the first episode of crying.

  2. There were some stunning, Three-Weeks-appropriate performances in the evening that also made me cry. And for some reason, a woman who had always wanted to be a professional singer but decided that it would take her away from her family too much, so instead became a music teacher, also made me cry when she said that in the dati (Israeli) schools, they don't let female music teachers sing in front of 5th and 6th grade boys (who should be ages 9-12) because of kol isha. That made me cry. Then she performed these absolutely stunning piyutim and I'd never heard a woman sing (Morrocan) piyutim before--I always associate traditional liturgical singing, be it ashkenazi or sephardi, with men--and it was so stunning, coming from this plain-looking, 50-something Israeli kibbutz woman in her pants-skirt and old lady sandals, that I cried again.

    There was also a stunning (Orthodox) chazanit who made me cry, and a theatrical performance that was heart-stopping.

  3. And then they announced that arvit (maariv) would be after the conference, and I went to the shul to daven, and there was me and another young woman (younger than I) and a 50-something year old man, and he was like, "There are no women here and there were very few women at mincha, too!" in a very accusatory tone, and I wanted to shout, "You tell them that they can't sing or dance and you wonder why they don't run to daven mincha?! For shame!" but I didn't. And then he wandered off and six other women showed up and the eight of us davened together and then I really cried and couldn't stop. (It was actually kind of horrible.)
Basically, a lot of pain and a lot of beauty. I cannot imagine raising a daughter in this world even though not doing so might mean missing out on some of the beauty.

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