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Loss and Memory

In the waning hour of the 10th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, I just want to acknowledge that today is my maternal grandfather's third yahrzeit, may his memory be for a blessing.

I had a strange dream about him over Shabbat. My grandfather appears in my dreams almost every time I visit my grandmother, may she live and be well, in California. In those California dreams, he appears in the house doing very normal things, and I know that he's dead and that I can't possibly be seeing him still alive, but there he is. Soon after his death, my dream narratives usually involved him somehow not having died, and that's why he appeared to be alive. In more recent dreams, though, I've been quite aware of his passing, but can still see him. Over Shabbat, one of these dreams involved me trying to ascertain if anybody else in the house could see him. They could not and they were upset at me for suggesting that I could see him. I found it very frustrating, since I knew and acknowledged that he was no longer alive. He didn't do anything in that dream, though, and that wasn't the weird one.

The weird one was that I was in Palo Alto with my grandmother and assorted other relatives--aunt and siblings, I think, although my mother may have been there as well--and it was time to say kiddush on Friday night. My grandfather wasn't there and it was clear that he had died sometime in the semi-recent past. Now, my grandfather always read kiddush off of photocopied sheets. I have no idea why, or where they came from, but when it was time for kiddush, he always put on a shiny satin kippah, fished one of these sheets out of the buffet drawer, and read kiddush off of it. This, despite the fact that the same buffet drawer was full of benchers that no doubt also had kiddush in them and despite the fact that he definitely knew kiddush by heart. In the dream, something had happened to these kiddush sheets. Maybe they had one too many run-ins with spilled wine. There was only one sheet left, but it was ripped, and you could only see the beginning of kiddush.

Someone tried to read kiddush off of it, but when they got to the part where the words stopped, they couldn't remember the end even though they normally knew kiddush quite well. Someone else tried--same problem. We tried to find a siddur (there are many in the house) from which to say kiddush, but kiddush had disappeared from all of the siddurim. I said, "This is ridiculous, I know Friday night kiddush by heart. I'll just say it from memory!" I started, but when I got to the part where the words stopped on the torn kiddush sheet, I could not, for the life of me, remember the rest. It was utterly gone from my memory.

Then I woke up.

It was really sad and somewhat freaky.

Maybe the dream was reminding me that when someone dies, we lose things that seem like they should be right on the tip of our tongues or sitting in full sight on our bookcases, but they've disappeared with the person.

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To be brought to Goodwill

(Speaking of sustainable vs. disposable clothing...)

  1. One long floral skirt, purchased at Machaneh Yehuda in the summer of 1996, during my first trip to Israel. It probably looked okay on me then. I was skinnier. In college, I wore it with a purple t-shirt from K-Mart that I still wear regularly. I only wore it a few times, though. Not more than four times, I think, in the past ten years. The truth is, it wasn't such a flattering skirt even then.
  2. One long floral skirt, purchased for $2.50 at the Hadassah Bargain Spot, circa 1995. Worn on many, many Shabbatot, up to and including two summers ago. Not worn since then, because I realized that even though it is very, very comfortable on both hot days and not so hot days, it is incredibly unflattering. I still love the pattern, though. It's just got too much elastic to be appropriate for a pretty 27-year-old to wear.
  3. One white and red floral pattern blouse, purchased at Sears at a date unknown, worn zero times. Much too large on me. I don't know if/when it ever fit me. It's a size L or XL, so maybe I just bought it without trying it on. Who the hell knows?
  4. Two linen skirts from Old Navy, circa April 2004 (purchased for Pesach), always on the larger size, now large enough to fall down with a quick tug. Therefore, no longer appropriate to wear. Anywhere. (I sometimes have trouble getting rid of clothing that's too big on me, since, I dunno, just because I haven't really gained the weight back over the past two years despite periods of little exercise and lots of junk food doesn't mean I might not gain it back sometime. My hard and fast rule, though, is if it comes off with a tug and no unbuttoning or unzipping, I get rid of it.)
  5. Two linen shirts from Old Navy, circa April 2004, now way too big. They went with the skirts. They often looked wrinkled. Not being a big fan of the iron, they spent a lot of time hanging in the bathroom when I was showering, in the hopes that the steam would straighten them out. Sometimes it helped!
  6. A pair of brown dress pants (by which I mean pants suitable for wearing to work). The lining is totally shot (by which I mean ripped in several places). I got them about two years ago, I think, and probably wore them weekly for much of that time. Also, I walk a lot and I think that takes a toll on pants and shoes. I went to get the lining of another pair of pants of similar vintage fixed at the local dry cleaner, and it cost me $25. Instead of getting these fixed, I went and got a new pair of pants on sale for $32. (That's probably what they were talking about in this article. It is much better for the world to get clothing repaired than to toss, or in my case donate, it and buy new stuff.) But these pants are also not that comfortable or flattering, so I'm happy to have replaced them with something nicer.
  7. One knee-length A-line jean skirt, worn occasionally. I don't have much occasion to wear jean skirts. This is one of three, and since I only wear them when I feel compelled, for social reasons, to wear a skirt to a casual event on a weekday, they don't get worn much. The other two skirts are much better for a variety of reasons. This one goes. Closet real estate is valuable in these parts.
  8. One peasanty purple shirt, suitable for hippy Shabbatot, purchased at K-Mart circa 1998 or 1999. Shoulder is worn out. Also, it looks like something I wore a lot in college. I guess it is.
  9. One hideous shiny purple blouse, never worn. Unclear why it was ever purchased. It must have been a bargain.
  10. One long, straight, light blue linen skirt. Purchased for a summer wedding and worn once after that. Reasons for donating: (1) not flattering (2) susceptible to wrinkling (3) couple to whose wedding I wore it is now divorced.
To be turned into rags:
  1. One purple t-shirt, purchased on the street in Manhattan for $5 in the summer of 1997. Long since relegated to the pajama pile, but now holey enough to be turned into a rag.
  2. One grey t-shirt, from OCS (Office of Career Services) at Harvard, acquired for free in September 1998. It has the periodic table information for oxygen, carbon, and whatever "S" stands for on the front spelling out OCS (selenium? sounds familiar from Tom Lehrer's "The Elements"; never mind, it's sulfur), and "Finding your element" on the back. Worn for a year or two as a regular shirt, then relegated to the pajama pile. Currently falling apart.
  3. One Disneyland t-shirt, silk-screened with four images of Mickey Mouse, purchased circa, shoot, I don't know, maybe junior high. When did we last go to Disneyland as a family? I think when I was 13. That would be, um, the summer of 1992. Yeah, that sounds right. I've only worn it for sleeping in for, I don't know, the past seven years or so. Maybe longer. It's finally starting to fall apart. Mickey is as clear as day, but holes are developing on the shoulder seams, as they will tend to after, um, fifteen years.
Decided to keep:
  1. A blouse from the Gap, purchased circa 1998. Worn only a few times. I have no idea why I didn't wear it more. It looks great. Like new! I think I might have thought it was too tight once upon a time, but it really isn't.

And that, my friends, is that. Looking over this list, it is clear that this purge of unsuitable clothing ought to continue.

I have whole drawers of clothing that is probably mostly appropriate to wear while painting a house. Seriously. Nobody needs as many t-shirts as I have. Nobody. It's partly that I still have a lot of shirts from high school and college, when I was a jeans and t-shirt and sneakers kind of gal. (Except in high school I wore some sort of skirt instead of jeans.) I don't really dress that way anymore--even when I wear jeans, which is whenever I'm not at work and it's not Shabbat--I usually wear something a little nicer than an over sized t-shirt. So I have drawers of t-shirts and drawers of "a little nicer than a t-shirt" and drawers of "things only good for exercising" and drawers of "things only good for sleeping in," and I should probably combine some of these categories, or at least have less of some of them. How many "things for sleeping in" does one need? Not as much as I have.

It's not clear why I didn't do this a long time ago. Well, that's not quite true. But, still, now that I've started I should not stop until it's all gone. All the unflattering, tattered or torn, too large or too small, or from high school, clothing should be donated, or, if truly in shreds, turned into rags. Pronto. Or as soon as I get around to it. After I'm done with this, then I can get to all of the paper that I've been traveling with all of these years.



How you found me, part 3

[Part 1 of this series is here.
Part 2 of this series is here.]

I'm clearly overdue for a third, but I'm sure you'll forgive me, as I've been busy blogging about more interesting things. Still, I think that this is sort of interesting, too, although it is by no means scientific or thorough in any way.

...by Googling "Why does eye strain occur when working form 6pm to 5 am?" My December 2005 archive was the second hit.

...by Googling "Zoroastrian view on birth control," you hit this post.

...by Googling "בנות ירושלים" someone in Haifa arrived here. I think this may be the first time someone has Googled something in Hebrew to arrive at my blog. It's a nice thing to google and get to me through!

...by Googling "female brain chocolate center" someone in Boston landed here.
If there was a winner, this would clearly be it.

...by Googling i want to convert to zoroastrianism in london (without quotes) someone in London landed here. I don't know if it's possible, but best of luck! It does seem like a kind of cool religion.

...by Googling male gaze (without quotes), you got here. Surprisingly, it was on the 13th page of links (it was the 121st of 4.9 million links--not too shabby!). If you Google halacha male gaze, that post is #1. [Updated to add: When I originally wrote this post in October, that was true. Now that post is #2. Yes, this one has beeen sitting in the draft pile for awhile.]

...by Googling "NYC" "superficial women," you arrived here. I don't know why I find it amusing that someone got to my blog by searching for superficial NYC women, but I do. (That person was Googling from within NYC, by the way. So it seems that they were Googling from experience, possibly seeking some useful advice. Like people-watching, Google-search-watching can lead to entire elaborate constructions of people's lives and motivations.)

People who come across my blog and live in unusual places:

Normal ways of finding my blog:

Sometimes, people actually look for normal things, and my blog provides answers. How cool is that?



Miscellany and links to New York Times articles

This website with resources for Israelis in the US was the "sponsored link" on an e-mail I got. I often get interesting ads when e-mails arrive that contain Hebrew. I didn't look at the website extensively, but I did learn that the way to say "FAQ" in Hebrew is "שאלות נפוצות." The website reminds me of all of the resources for Americans in Israel.

Recent articles of interest from the New York Times--I originally wanted to write a whole post about each of these, but quickly realized that I won't have time to do so in the near future.
And, finally, this article makes me feel like an old geezer. When I was a kid, we used to sit in the hot sun selling lemonade. (Actually, I think my brother sold lemonade and I sold hand-painted cards and hand-crafted jewelry.) Really, I've had regular access to a computer since I was six, but I still feel like a different generation than these kids. Am I? I mean, most of them are only 10-15 years younger than I am. But, geez, they sure do think differently than I did!



Breaking news about sponges

From CNN.com. (Now, go back to talking Torah or gender or something.)



More on "אוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא"

This may be of limited interest to most of my readers, but I'm finding it perplexing. I think it interests me for two reasons:
  1. it concerns something that I say every morning and am somewhat fond of, but have never given all that much thought to
  2. it calls into question all similar attributions that I have heard, and accepted prima facie, in the past
To reiterate and clarify the problem as described in an earlier post, we have this passage that appears in the morning prayer service, which is attributed, in at least one siddur (prayer book), to the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 127a.
These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principle remains intact for him in the world to come. They are:
  1. the honor due to father and mother [Shabbat 127a]
  2. acts of kindness [Shabbat 127a]
  3. early attendance at the house of study morning [Shabbat 127a]
  4. and evening
  5. hospitality to guests [Shabbat 127a]
  6. visiting the sick [Shabbat 127a]
  7. providing for a bride
  8. escorting the dead
  9. absorption in prayer [Shabbat 127a]
  10. bringing peace between people [Shabbat 127a]
—and the study of Torah is equivalent to (“k’neged”) all of them.
Yet this prayer contains words that don't appear in Masechet Shabbat, and omits words that do appear there, including ones I particularly like, such as והמגדל בניו לתלמוד תורה והדן את חברו לכף זכות. Similar lists appear in Tractate Gittin 39b and in ילקוט שמעוני תהילים רמז תשכב, but it turns out that they don't actually add anything that's not in Shabbat 127a. Specifically, providing for a bride and escorting the dead don't seem to appear anywhere, nor does staying late in the beit midrash (house of study). I misspoke in my last post, saying that "השכמת בית המדרש" was omitted, but that does appear slightly earlier on the page in Shabbat. Thanks to Rebecca M's suggestion, I searched http://www.responsa.co.il/. JXG suggested I try the Tosefta in the first chapter of Peah, and that's what I looked for first, but came up with nothing.1 I did find this in the mishna in Peah:
מסכת פיאה פרק א
א,א ...ואלו דברים שאדם אוכל מפירותיהן בעולם הזה, והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא--כיבוד אב ואם, וגמילות חסדים, והבאת שלום בין אדם לחברו; ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם.

Okay, well that doesn't add anything at all. Then I found these using http://www.responsa.co.il/:
פני יהושע מסכת ברכות פרק א
נראה לי לפרש בענין אחר משום דכל הני דקחשיב בשמעתין רובן ככולן הן מהנך דקחשיב בברייתא בפרק מפנין [שבת קכ"ז ע"א] שהן דברים שאדם אוכל פירותיהם בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לעולם הבא השכמת בית המדרש והכנסת כלה והלויית המת כו' והטעם מבואר סוף פרק קמא דקידושין [מ' ע"א] דהא דשייך...

שו"ת עטרת פז חלק ראשון כרך ב - יורה דעה סימן ח
מופע ראשון: עיקר, וכעין הא דת"ר (כתובות יז ע"א) מעבירין את המת מלפני הכלה, וטעמא דכבוד החיים קודם וכמ"ש השטמ"ק (שם ד"ה וכתב הרמב"ן), דאע"ג דהכנסת כלה והלויית המת תרוויהו מצות גמ"ח שוין הם שאוכל פירותיהם בעוה"ז והקרן קיימת לעוה"ב, אפ"ה כשא"א לו לקיים שניהם כבוד החיים דהיינו כבוד הכלה קודם לכבוד...

Well, there you have it (except for staying late in the beit midrash). The Pnei Yehoshua (1680-1756) quotes a version of Shabbat 127a that's different from what Mechon Mamre has, and the author of the Ateret Paz (R. Pinchas Zelig, d. 1770), seems to assume that הכנסת כלה and לויית המת are on this list, but doesn't seem to cite a clear source. But these are both kind of late. There must be some earlier version of this text.2 It's gotta' be somewhere out there, right? I hope it's something obvious and I'm just missing it. Is it as simple as a variant text of Shabbat 127a? How would one find out such a thing if one was, say, too lazy to get oneself over to the JTS library?

I'm not such a fan of the search feature at www.responsa.co.il, since I know that "והכנסת כלה והלויית המת" or "והכנסת כלה ולוית המת" appear at least twice and it's not always successful at finding them. I wish you could search for a term and include things that "sound like" it.

Okay, here's another one. I have no idea what/who this is, but I know that I'm still looking for something Tana'itic or Amoraic, and this isn't it.

ספר ליקוטי הפרדס מרש"י דין החתן כשהוא בשנה ראשונה
מופע ראשון: ששה דברים מאריכין ימיו ושנותיו של אדם בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא. ואלו הן השכמת בית המדרש שחרית וערבית והכנסת אורחין וביקור חולים והכנסת כלה ולוית המת ועיון תפלה והמגדל את בניו לתלמוד תורה וקידוש היין בערבי שבתות והדן את חבירו לכף זכות והבאת שלום לבין אדם לחבירו...

Alright, I'm done with this for now. If anyone comes up with any new leads, please pass them along.

1. Well, not nothing, just not what I was looking for. I did find the following in the Tosefta in Peah, which I thought was interesting:
מסכת פיאה פרק א,ב אלו הדברים נפרעין מן האדם בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא על ע"ז ועל ג"ע ועל שפיכת דמים ועל לשה"ר כנגד כולם.
Does "לשה"ר" mean what I think it means?

2. I checked out Ketubot 17a, just for the hell of it, and found this Gemara, which I recently heard quoted but had never read in the original. Those rabbis--gotta' love 'em!
דף טז,ב-דף יז,א גמרא
תנו רבנן כיצד מרקדין לפני הכלה בית שמאי אומרים כלה כמות שהיא ובית הלל אומרים כלה נאה וחסודה אמרו להן ב"ש לב"ה הרי שהיתה חיגרת או סומא אומרי' לה כלה נאה וחסודה והתורה אמרה (שמות כג) מדבר שקר תרחק אמרו להם ב"ה לב"ש לדבריכם מי שלקח מקח רע מן השוק ישבחנו בעיניו או יגננו בעיניו הוי אומר ישבחנו בעיניו מכאן אמרו חכמים לעולם תהא דעתו של אדם מעורבת עם הבריות

You can find a translation of this passage here.

The somewhat-related part of Ketubot 17a is: "
תנו רבנן מבטלין תלמוד תורה להוצאת המת ולהכנסת כלה" (my clumsy translation: "The Rabbis taught: One sets aside Torah study to remove the dead and to bring in the bride"), which is interesting in light of our "the study of Torah is equivalent to (k’neged) all of them" in the morning prayers.



Jerry Seinfeld and the Sabbath-Observant Real Estate Broker

No, there's no punch line. The story is here.

This is one of those stories that some enterprising kiruv professional will no doubt turn into evidence that being Shabbat-observant will lead to a financial windfall. What I learned from it is that you shouldn't try to cheat your real estate broker out of her commission just because you're a celebrity, have deep pockets, and think you can get away with it.

Shabbat shalom!

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Source Sheet: How Does Torah Study Affect the Rest of Our Lives? [Updated]

[I suppose that this could be considered the second in a series. First source sheet here.]

I have a few thoughts about this question, but first, are some traditional thoughts on the matter. (Thanks to EL for pointing me to these sources. All errors are my own.)

1. Torah Study and Freedom

אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי:.."והלחת מעשה אלקים המה והמכתב מכתב אלקים הוא חרות על הלוחות" (שמות לב). אל תקרא חרות אלא חירות, שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה.

--מסכת אבות, פרק שישי, משנה ב'

And it says: “The Tablets are God’s handiwork and the script is God’s script charut (engraved) on the Tablets.” Do not read “charut” (engraved) but “cherut” (freedom), for you can have no freer person than one who engages in the study of Torah.

-- Ethics of the Fathers 6:2

2. Torah Study and Peace

אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם שנאמר (ישעיהו נד) וכל בניך למודי ה' ורב שלום בניך אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך (תהילים קיט) שלום רב לאוהבי תורתך ואין למו מכשול (תהילים קכב) יהי שלום בחילך שלוה בארמנותיך (תהילים קכב) למען אחי ורעי אדברה נא שלום בך (תהילים קכב) למען בית ה' אלהינו אבקשה טוב לך (תהילים כט) ה' עוז לעמו יתן ה' יברך את עמו בשלום:

Rabbi Elazar said on behalf of Rabbi Haninah: Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said: “And all your children will be students of God and your children will have peace” (Isaiah 54:13)—do not read “your children” (“banayich”), but “your builders” (“bonayich”).
“There is abundant peace for the lovers of your Torah, and there is no stumbling block for them” (Psalms 119:165);
“May there be peace within your walls, serenity within your palaces. For the sake of my brothers and comrades I shall speak of peace in your midst. For the sake of the House of the Lord, our God, I will request your good” (Psalms 122:7-9);
“God will give might to his nation, God will bless his nation with peace” (Psalms 29:11)

­-- Bab. Talmud, Tractate Brachot 64a

ומפני דרכי שלום כל התורה כולה נמי מפני דרכי שלום היא דכתי' (משלי ג) דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום

And for the sake of the paths of peace is the whole of Torah. Here too [in the case at hand] is it promoting peace, as it says, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are paths of peace” (Proverbs 3:17).

­-- Bab. Talmud, Tractate Gittin 59b

3. Torah Study and Positive Actions

These are the precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principle remains intact for him in the world to come. They are: the honor due to father and mother, acts of kindness, early attendance at the house of study morning and evening, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, absorption in prayer, bringing peace between people—and the study of Torah is equivalent to (“k’neged”) all of them.

­-- Daily morning prayers (culled from various Talmudic sources)

Irritatingly enough, this passage from the traditional morning prayers does not appear anywhere in the Mishna, Talmud, or anything else I could find online. I believe that it is a combination of:Plus, clearly, some other stuff. None of these three sources mention the following as mitzvot about which it is said "תלמוד תורה כנגד כלן":
So I don't know where these four come from, especially the latter two, which don't seem to be mentioned anywhere at all (not that my check extended beyond Googling, but still). The first two are mentioned earlier on the page in Masechet Shabbat. Does anyone have any thoughts?

And one final source about Torah study and positive actions:

וכבר היה רבי טרפון וזקנים מסובין בעלית בית נתזה בלוד נשאלה שאילה זו בפניהם תלמוד גדול או מעשה גדול נענה רבי טרפון ואמר מעשה גדול נענה ר"ע ואמר תלמוד גדול נענו כולם ואמרו תלמוד גדול שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה

Rabbi Tarfon and the elders were reclining in the house of Nitzeh when the question was asked of them: “Is the study of Torah greater or are actions greater?” Rabbi Tarfon answered that actions are greater. Rabbi Akiva answered that study is greater. Everyone [finally] answered that study is greater, because study leads to action.

­ Bab. Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 40b

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My thoughts about Torah study are not all that complicated at the moment.

Mostly, I really enjoy learning Torah. Not always. (Certainly not in shul on Shabbat morning. I have an irrational dislike of divrei Torah given in shul. I much, much prefer to hear divrei Torah over lunch.) But I enjoy it, so I do it. I learn with BZ, I try to go to a Gemara class on Sunday mornings, and I putter around putting things like this and this together and sifting through paper and online sources in pursuit of answers to questions I have, because it makes me happy. It provides good grist for the ever-churning mill of my brain. Above and beyond that, I like the feeling of connection that it gives me to past, present, and future Jews. So, in summary, two reasons that I learn Torah: for the sheer intellectual joy of it and for the sense of community and belonging it provides.

The question I asked, though, was not why do I do it, but "How does it affect my life?" The answer is that it makes me happy and it connects me more strongly to Judaism and the Jewish community, as well as to a subset of the Jewish community ("learners" or whatever you want to call them--people who actually find Torah interesting, as opposed to people who engage in Torah study because they feel that they are commanded to do so). Perhaps more on commandedness another time...

I like the idea of Torah study promoting freedom, peace, and good deeds in the world, but I'm not sure I buy it. I'll have to think about it more.

In the meantime, Shabbat shalom!



Free to Be You and Me!

Overall highlights from LimmudNY here.

At LimmudNY, I heard Rabbi Yitz Greenberg (who, incidentally, is surprisingly hilarious) speak about people being created in the image of God, what that means, and what that means for human sexuality and Jewish sexual ethics. What I got out of it is not directly about sexual ethics, but rather a more simple message that should be obvious, and might be obvious to others, but was just on the brink of obviousness to me. This pushed the nascent, recently-developed thought over the edge into unalterable reality.

It says in the Mishna in Tractate Sanhedrin 4:5:
להגיד גדולתו של מלך מלכי המלכים, הקדוש ברוך הוא, שאדם טובע מאה מטבעות בחותם אחד, וכולן דומין זה לזה, מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא טובע את כל האדם בחותמו של אדם הראשון, ואין אחד מהם דומה לחברו
Translation provided by the Chief Rabbi of the UK's website:
"...to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, for when a human being strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow."
Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and we were all created from Adam and Eve. Yet, miraculously, we are all different from each other. No two people are alike. Our uniqueness and our Godliness are one and the same, since they come from the same place.

What of this uniqueness? Who cares?

When we love people, when we really connect to people, we love them because of their unique identities. We love them for precisely the things that make them different from everyone else we know. When Rabbi Greenberg said that, I realized that it was true in my own life, about all of the people I love. I know that I certainly wouldn't love them more if they were more like someone else.

Therefore, the person who will ultimately love me more than anyone else is also going to love me for what is uniquely me about me.

Ergo, it is absurd to hide or alter my essential one-ness, my essential uniqueness, for the sake of finding a lifelong partner. (I don't think I ever actually do this, but I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't help move things along in that department.)

I also realized that I only want to end up with someone who will love me for my singularity. I don't seek perfection in a potential partner by any means, but anything less than someone who loves me for who I really am is not acceptable.

Clarification: I'm not suggesting that someone has to love me for my singular ability to be late or for my singular ability to let papers accumulate until the piles are too high for words. No, what I mean is that I want someone to love me for all the things that I love about myself, even as I strive to fix the things that I don't love about myself.

Likewise, I want to find someone to love for all of the things that make him him, for all the things that he likes about himself. (I think that this is part of why it's so hard, or perhaps impossible, to fall in love with someone who loves nothing about himself.)

I think that I may be getting to a place where I can finally say that I like x, y, or z about myself, without worrying that that's a bad, egotistical thing. And for that, I am extremely grateful.

All in all, not a bad set of realizations for one weekend! Thank you, LimmudNY.

[Cross-posted to Jewschool.]

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Highlights from LimmudNY 2007

At the risk of blowing my (semi-anonymizing) cover, I am pleased to report that I am currently at LimmudNY. I want to blog about this more soon, but just so I don't forget...
Overall, I would rate this LimmudNY experience quite highly. I've barely touched on all that I got out of it. I don't think I've enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first LimmudNY that I attended two years ago (2005), but I think that's probably because:



The demise of the independent bookstore

Jody at Raising WEG writes about the demise of independent bookstores that the New York Times wrote about two weeks ago. Read the comments to her two posts, too, because they're interesting.

The Abstract and the Particular
Ruined by Reading

I'm tempted to largely agree with her reasoning, even though I do have a very special place in my heart for small, independently-owned shops of all kinds. I love independent bookstores, and I try to purchase books in the following order, all other things being equal. (Sometimes other factors come into play, such as how desperately I need the book, how short I am on money, or where I happen to be geographically.)
  1. used from an independent bookstore
  2. used from Amazon
  3. new from an independent bookstore
  4. new from Amazon
  5. new from Barnes & Noble or Borders
But since Coliseum Books and Ivy's Books closed, I don't even know where I would find an independent bookstore around here. Actually, I sometimes go to Posman's at Grand Central, which fits the bill nicely. But I don't have a good source for used books in New York City at all, since I find the Strand impossible. (Most of the books that I bought used at independent bookstores were purchased in Cambridge at my much-beloved Harvard Book Store, when I lived there, before that at the also-beloved Brookline Booksmith, or while traveling to other cities since I moved to New York.)

All of this, of course, is a moot point, since I'm trying to stop buying books entirely mostly due to lack of space. (Money plays a role, too, but if you get used to the price of a latte at Starbucks, books don't seem like so much in comparison, especially purchased used.) I find the library to be more trouble than it's worth most of the time, since it closes at 6 pm on most nights and isn't open at all on Sunday. Since I already own a lot of books that I haven't read, I'm trying to read those rather than take other books out of the library or purchase more books. Sometimes I can't help myself, though...

* * * * *

In other news, I think I just chipped a tooth. With my tongue, I feel a new rough spot along the top of one front bottom tooth that definitely felt different before, but my teeth look fine in the mirror. Should I be worried? Is this what I have to look forward to as I age?

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Could this be our future?

Now, this is worrisome. (More than the embryos.)

From the New York Times: Gas-Like Odor Permeates Parts of New York City

From CNN.com: Austin shuts downtown after dead birds discovered

I saw the first headline, from the New York Times (online), this morning, and it freaked me out a little bit, but I dismissed my worries as irrational. After all, "Authorities investigating widespread reports of the smell, which some described as a gas-like odor, said it did not appear to be harmful....City air-quality sensors around Manhattan did not detect high concentrations of natural gas, and officials were 'very confident' it was not dangerous, he said." Also, I wasn't close enough to Midtown to smell it, so I figured that I was safe from whatever it was. (I know, naive, but sometimes you gotta' grasp at straws. Especially after walking through Central Park this morning and seeing a film crew spread snow out on the walking paths, in an attempt to make it look like a proper New York City winter despite temperatures hovering in the 50s.)

Then, I just saw the Austin story, and all I could think was, "Is this what we have to look forward to? Bad, possibly toxic smells assaulting our senses? Birds dying en masse for unexplained reasons? We're screwed." I was no longer reassured by lines such as this: '"We do not feel there is a threat to the public health,' said Adolfo Valadez, the medical director for Austin and Travis County Health and Human Services." First of all, if they don't know what it is, how do they know it isn't a threat to public health? Secondly, anything that kills 60 pigeons and sparrows overnight can't be good for people's health!

And with that thought, I leave you, dear readers. Have a safe and odor-free night! May all the pigeons in your neighborhood be alive and kicking when you awake tomorrow morning...

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Embryos for sale?

Interesting discussion here in reaction to a Washington Post article about a new embryo bank.

I'm not quite sure what I think. I do agree that embryos ought to be thought of as more than "things," but I am also of the firm opinion that an embryo is definitely something less than a person. I don't quite see what thegameiam fears actually happening. I think it's a far cry from what this embryo bank in San Antonio is doing.

When thinking about this issue, don't forget that "embryo" refers to the potential-person during it's first eight weeks of existence. In this particular case, it necessarily refers to fertilized eggs, grown to between eight and about 150 cells, that have not yet been transferred to anyone's uterus. We're talking 5-6 days post-fertilization at most, and then they're presumably frozen.

I really can't see the justification for calling a pre-implantation or pre-transfer embryo a little person, as I'm sure some Christians are wont to do. It's like calling me a Nobel Prize winner. Hey, it could happen! But not without a lot of other stuff happening first.



What I Did on My Winter Vacation (Or, Notes from the Other Coast)

I have all of these interesting posts started--about incentives for being observant of mitzvot, about free will vs. determinism, about whether "beauty" is a natural or artificial state--but I can't seem to motivate myself to finish and edit them.

So, instead, I'll note a few interesting observations from my winter vacation.

Monday, December 25 found me up at the ungodly hour of 3:45 am, after only 1.5 hours of sleep, in time take the bus to LaGuardia Airport to catch a flight to California via Texas. The first notable thing that happened was that as I approached the check-in line, I saw that I was behind a woman and two kids. Then her husband and her third kid joined them (after I was already in line), and the mother said, "Excuse me, we're a big family." I found it quite amusing that she would think that three kids is a big family. Where I grew up (Modern Orthodox middle class America), two kids is a small family, three or four kids is average, and five kids is beginning to be considered a "large family." I am aware that in other places, two kids is a large family (China) or five kids is a small family (hareidi anywhere). Anyway, they went on speaking about how they were a big family, and the advantages and disadvantages. The three girls all thought it was great and a lot of fun. They were extremely well-behaved. More well-behaved than I wanted to be while waiting in line for forty minutes between 5:40 and 6:20 am!

(In general, I find it interesting to observe the highly subjective nature of words such as "liberal," "conservative," "religious," "not religious," "rich," and "poor." I could be considered all of these things, depending on whom you ask, but people often use these words as if they are absolutes. I also think this realization underscores the importance of defining yourself on your own terms, because someone else is always going to define you the way they want to regardless of how you define yourself.)

I saw two little girls on my cross-continental journey who were wearing notable t-shirts--notable either for being offensive or for being unintentionally humorous. Both girls were young enough that someone else purchased these shirts for them. (Maybe they requested/begged for them, but someone else made the purchasing decision.) One said:
What's wrong with you? (By "you" I mean "you, the parent.") What is it with dressing little girls in inappropriate t-shirts? I wouldn't call this "Gossip" t-shirt inappropriate, really, as much as not (a) promoting stereotypes of girls that I would want to promote or celebrate, even if there is some truth in them (girls can be very, very mean and catty in middle school) and (b) not promoting values that I would want to promote in general.

The second t-shirt read:
I defy ordinary.
Girl, you are ordinary! You're wearing a t-shirt with a company name emblazoned on it! If it just said "Abercrombie," fine! We all wear t-shirts with corporate names on them once in awhile. It was the juxtaposition of the corporate advertising with a claim to be something other than ordinary that made the t-shirt seem humorous to me.

In general, flying on Christmas is a great time to people watch. Flying on Christmas and spending time in airports in New York, Dallas, and San Jose with many families that were flying on Christmas was even more interesting. All the family dynamics and all manner of parenting decisions came out. I mean all of them. Kids being obnoxious. Kids being cute and sweet. Parents snapping at kids. Adolescents ignoring their parents. Adolescents getting along with their parents. Babies cooing at strangers. Babies crying. Toddlers being run ragged at the airport so that they would be able to sit still for the flight. Toddlers consuming Pepsi at the airport (felt bad for the people sitting next to those toddlers on the next flight!). Families that seemed happy together. Families that wanted to be anywhere but in an airport on Christmas.

Warning: Rash generalizations to follow. People are friendlier in Dallas than they are in either New York or California. Overall, it always seems like people are heavier in the middle of the country (Omaha, Dallas, Chicago). I don't know if that's statistically true, or where most of the people in a given airport live in real life, but I always get that impression. (Could just be incorrect stereotyping.) The people in New York seemed somewhat more harried/stressed out than the people in California, but it could have been the 5-6 am hour vs. the noon hour that made the difference, rather than the coast. But I think it was the coast. People in California always seem more relaxed that people in New York. More relaxed and happier. Alas, also far, far more dependent on their cars. The people in California were definitely more wrinkled, on average, than the people in New York. They probably see more sun.

After sleeping for three or four hours combined on two flights, I wanted to jog when I arrived in California! I've written about running before (here), and when the urge hits me, it's best to seize the sneakers and go for it, since the urge doesn't hit often. Perhaps "running" is too strong a word to describe the somewhat geriatric pace at which I jog. I ran 3.2 miles according to Google maps. It took me 30 minutes. You do the math. (Huh...That's actually not so bad. I run at 5.0 mph on the treadmill at the gym when I go, and this is faster than that.) Then I walked .6 miles home. It felt great. This is one of those things, that if you told me at 12 I'd be doing at 27, I would never have believed. When I was 12 I was asthmatic, out of shape, and hated gym class to the high heavens.

On Monday night and almost every night I was there, I watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune with my grandmother, something I've been doing for at least fifteen or twenty years. There aren't too many things that I can claim to have done for the past fifteen or twenty years--it was nice to do one of them.

I did nothing of consequence on Tuesday, except walk 1.9 miles to a salon and 1.9 miles back to get a haircut. (See: dependent on cars. It was fine. I like to walk. But I don't really drive and someone else had the car and I can walk 1.5 blocks to get my hair cut in NYC.) I love doing nothing on vacation! I got a fabulous (and inexpensive) haircut from a woman who didn't really look like she knew what she was doing, who told me that she would rather be doing fashion merchandising than cutting hair. It did not inspire confidence!

On Wednesday afternoon, I took the train to San Francisco to poke around Chinatown and a few bookstores. I love San Francisco, and it was a beautiful day to be there. I walked from the Caltrain Station to Chinatown (a bit over two miles, I think), where I happily picked up some cheap paper fans that will make my stiffling hot summer subway rides much nicer. I always see old ladies with fans, waiting in the station for the trains in the summer, and envy them. Now I can be one of them!

When I told my mother and my uncle that I'd walked that far, they were shocked. I think that's kind of funny. I walk two miles to work on many mornings. I walk a mile to the grocery store and back probably at least once a week.

After Chinatown, I went to the City Lights bookstore, where I bought A.B. Yehoshua's highly-recommended A Journey To the End of the Millenium. I never buy or read Israeli literature in English, because I always hope that one day I'll be motivated enough to read it in Hebrew. Of course, I never am, so I end up woefully under-exposed to Israeli literature. It's time to remedy the situation even if it means admitting to myself that I'll probably never get around to reading it in Hebrew, unless I fully immerse myself in Hebrew literature at some point and become much quicker at reading in Hebrew. (It's not so much the words I don't understand, although it is that, too. It's mostly the plodding pace of reading in Hebrew that dissuades me from even trying. And, yes, I know I would get faster if I just did it a bit.)

On Thursday, I spent the day with my mother. We went to Muir Woods, which was beautiful, and then to the Marin Headlands, which were less beautiful but we both wanted to see the ocean, so we were glad we went. I was horrified to see someone breaking off part of a tree branch at Muir Woods (in Muir Woods?), but then I went off the path a bit at the Marin Headlands, to get a better view (I wasn't walking on any plants, just on a dirty/sandy natural path, but still), so maybe I'm not much better than the woman who broke off a small branch. But, still! Who breaks off part of a tree in a National Park? I mean, isn't it entirely clear that that is a thoughtless, selfish thing to do? Why would anyone do that?

It's like when I see people throwing trash on the streets. I mean, who does that? I was once babysitting for my five-year-old cousin and we were at the playground. A classmate of her's showed up and was chewing some gum. She threw the wrapper on the ground and I asked her to pick it up and put it in the trash, which wasn't that far away. I always wonder about that. I know that some parents are touchy about other people correcting their children (I've gotten the "eye" from at least one mother when I asked her kid to stop physically pushing me in line). But I think it is reasonable, if you see a five-year-old throwing trash on the playground, to ask her to put it in the garbage. If she had said, "No," I would've picked it up and disposed of it myself. (She was there with her older brother and sister, not a parent.)

This past Friday, I was at Starbucks, and a 9 year old girl and 6 year old boy (possibly wildly incorrect estimated ages of a sibling pair) were sitting at a table while their mother was at the counter buying drinks. They each had a closed umbrella and they were fighting with the umbrellas, fencing-style. Or maybe sword-fight style. Could go either way. The motherly voice in me arose out of nowhere and I wanted to say, "Stop it! You'll put one of your eyes out!" or "This can only end one way--in tears." They were both to blame, but, of course, I blamed the older girl more than the younger boy. She probably could have ignored and he would've stopped. Of course, they were also both clearly having fun. I didn't say anything. Then, of course, the girl hit the boy in the eye with her umbrella and he started wailing. Wailing! He was probably okay, but it also could have hurt him. (Reflexes are pretty quick and he probably closed his eye before the umbrella touched it.) The mother, embarrassed, came back to the table and separated the kids, bringing her son to the front of the store. Then she hussled both of them out of there as quickly as possible. Should I have said anything? I think it was okay not to say anything, but if one of them had actually gotten hurt, I might have felt bad. On the other hand, I was fairly sure that one of them would end up crying but that neither one would end up seriously hurt, and kids will be kids, and they're going to fight with umbrellas at one time or another, and who am I to interfere? The older girl clearly felt both shame and embarrassment over having hit her brother in the eye, and maybe she won't engage in such games in the future. Unlikely, but possible.

Thursday night, December 28-Monday, January 1 is all a pleasant blur of shopping (new soft sheets from Macy's!), packing, unpacking, sleeping, eating, and going to shul. A highlight was the wine, cheese, and board game party I hosted on New Year's Eve. Plus, I'm boring even myself by now. So, to wrap up, during the rest of my vacation, I:
  • Watched a football game that I didn't really understand with my grandmother and uncle. Cal won. That was the important thing. Go, Bears!
  • Watched a lot of TV.
  • Ate a lot of good, home-cooked food.
  • Finished reading two books.
  • Read a magazine.
  • Read a few more chapters of another book.
  • I made a big pot of mushroom barley soup. Yum!
  • I made a big stir fry with fake meat and a pot of brown rice to go with it. Yum!
  • I ate a lot of ice cream. Yum!
And now, alas, I am no longer on vacation.

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How is this possible?!

I SO do not have a Boston accent! What are they talking about?!

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Boston

You definitely have a Boston accent, even if you think you don't. Of course, that doesn't mean you are from the Boston area, you may also be from New Hampshire or Maine.

The West

The Midland

North Central


The Northeast

The Inland North

The South

What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

[Hat tip to BZ, shamirpower, and Mobius.]

On the other hand, I believe that this is true:

You paid attention during 80% of high school!

68-84% Pretty good, you know that there are libraries and newspapers, and you remember what you've read. You were a child that wasn't left behind!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz



In Memoriam: A New Friend

"You know, you have to be really intelligent to marry a doctor," she said, suggesting that I didn't make the cut and that the medical student I was dating would break up with me due to my lack of intelligence. I will always be grateful for that comment. She is the only person (outside of my head, I mean), who has ever questioned my intelligence, and everyone needs that sometimes.

A.S. was one of two women I've been visiting weekly (when possible) at a local nursing home since July. When I went to visit her today, her name had been removed from the door and replaced with another lady's name. Sickened, and half knowing the answer to the question before I even asked it, I asked one of the nurse's aides where A.S. was.

"She died," was the response.
"Do you know when?" I asked, desperate for some information that would do me no good. "I was here and saw her a week ago Sunday."
"Sometime last week," was the only response. "They come and go. That's life." And she moved on to attend to her duties.

It's so strange. I went and visited my second friend there, but my heart wasn't in it and I couldn't stay long. It's so hard to see someone one week, and then they're gone and someone else is in their bed, and you don't get to say goodbye or even mark their passing.

I don't even really know how to explain who A.S. was to me, other than a new friend. I saw A.S. more regularly than I saw most of the people I know, with the exception of roommates, co-workers, and shul friends. I didn't get to know her that well, but we talked about what was going on in our lives. My boyfriends, my ex-boyfriends, my grandmother whom I went to visit in California whenever I could take the time off from work. She would tell it as she saw it, whether that meant saying that my hair was too long, that my ex-boyfriend was an idiot for breaking up with me, or that my shirt was very nice. She once told me that I had nice eyebrows, and praised me for not plucking them, lamenting her own brows that had long ago been plucked into oblivion. Nobody has ever complimented me on my eyebrows before! She told me about her bad days and I tried to empathize, although it's almost impossible to imagine what it would be like to be elderly, disabled, and live in an institution with no one but a stranger to visit you. I hoped that my weekly visits restored, at least in small measure, dignity to A.S.'s life. Her life was largely regulated by the nurses aides on whom she depended for everything--waking, sleeping, washing, dressing, and eating--and circumscribed by the walls of the bedroom she shared with a stranger and limited to the hallway and dining hall outside her door. When she was upset because someone had stolen her calendar, I brought her a new one. She showed me family photos and I brought some in to show her. She always wanted to hear about my parents, my siblings, and my grandmothers. She never married or had children, though she spoke lovingly of "my-nephew-the-doctor" in Washington state. She always put on lipstick and eyeshadow for my visits, and would be upset if I arrived before she was properly made up. She had beautiful blue eyes.

I love visiting people at the nursing home. I did it high school and developed very strong bonds, over several years, with a number of women and one man. I visited the same people each week, occasionally picking up new friends as the old ones passed away. By the time I got to college, I only maintained contact with those who I had visited in high school who were still alive. The news of their deaths always came the same way--I would go on my usual rounds, only instead of my friend's name on the door, I would see another person's name. I would ask the closest nursing home employee where my friend was, and the answer was inevitably "She died last week." (The one exception was a woman who had moved to a different facility to be closer to her family.) I wish there was a better way to find out.

I never found out in time to go to a funeral or memorial service, and there was never anyone to mourn with. I once asked for an address to send a condolence card to, but it didn't usually seem appropriate. Most of these people did not have children, and those who did had children who rarely visited. "I loved your mother," I thought about writing. "She loved you and talked about you all the time, and she lived for yourbi-annual visit. Maybe you should have visited more." Or I could have written, for the childless many, "Your great-aunt loved you like a grandchild. She wished you would have called more." Of course, I would never write these things. I don't know the circumstances of these people's lives, and their absence gave me the pleasure of the company of their mother, grandmother, and great-aunt.

It was clearly A.S.'s time to die. She was old and often immobilized by pain. Sadly, few will mourn her passing, and that is part of why I do what I do. Everybody deserves to have people in their life who will be sad and miss them when they die. Mostly, I visit these women because I enjoy their company, their sage wisdom, and their delight in my company. But a small part of me feels that there is no greater honor on earth than to be with someone during their final months of life, and that is another reason why I visit people like A.S.

And so, this week, I will ask the volunteer coordinator for the name of another nursing home resident--someone lonely, who receives few visitors, and who likes to talk. I will welcome his or her presence into my life, and mourn his or her passing when it inevitably arrives.


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