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Hello, world!

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

  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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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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My Life in Talmud Torah (With Emphasis on Talmud): Recovery (Part 3)

Written 10/15/2009.

Rediscovered 2/21/2019 when I remembered that I had a blog and decided to go back and clean up some of the drafts that have just been sitting here, for all this time, while I have been freelancing and getting two masters degrees and teaching first grade.

Almost ten years later! Technology is crazy.

Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

I. Autumn 2004

I find myself in New York City, working for the organized Jewish community starting in August 2003. How did I end up here? Simple. The economy sucked when I graduated college in January 2003, and after managing to land several job interviews but no job offers in my desired fields of public history, voting rights advocacy, mental health advocacy, or, well, anything else I was interested in, I was offered, and accepted, a job in Jewish education. I pretended, during my interview, to be vitally interested in the future of Jewish education in North America although, of course, I was not. I probably helped my case in being able to articulate, quite sharply, all of the shortcomings of my own Jewish education, which, on paper, looked to be stellar.

So, I was, in the words of a dear friend, "working for the Jews."

For some reason, I decided, that fall of 2004, to take a Talmud class at the institution where I had spent the summer of 1997 so blissfully enraptured with limmud Torah. It was low-key adult-ed. It was easy for me--I was in the intermediate class, which was the highest offered at the time--and I had fun learning with a friend. I felt smart for the first time in a long time. (I felt mostly respected at the college I had attended, but rarely smart.) I couldn't believe how much fun I was having!

II. September 2005

I decided, as a result of that experience, to start learning Masechet Makkot with a friend in September 2005. He was a contemporary of mine, but from a completely different Jewish background. Namely, he was baggage-less as far as women's place in learning Talmud went. It was fantastic. We learned once a week. I knew things that he didn't know; he knew things that I didn't know. I could ask any questions I wanted and articulate when things didn't make sense--a freedom I never had in any of the Orthodox institutions that I had attended, where anything that didn't make sense could be rapidly, if not always intellectually honestly, smoothed over by the smooth machinations of a rishon or two.

III. November 2006

Fast forward to November 2006. I was working at a different job in Jewish education in New York City. It was challenging and I loved interacting with students directly, which I had not done at my first job. The students were adults, voluntarily coming and studying Torah lishma, for it's own sake. My responsibilities included working closely with students enrolled in a certificate program, students who made a serious commitment of time to complete a thorough course of study. Many of these students were discovering the joy of learning Torah for the first time. They spoke about how it was changing their lives. They described their hours spent immersed in Torah as an island, a refuge from their stressful, hectic, workday lives. They articulated a newfound job and appreciation and connection to their Jewish roots.

Although I loved facilitating those conversations and the few times that I taught those students, I did not love everything about my job. I was bored and listless. It was not creative enough. The next step from my position, at the time, would have been to go back to school to learn to manage people like me, and the very thought filled me with dread. I never wanted to reformat another Word document or go through records in Excel again. The highlights of my life were the Torah learning and the writing that I got to do both in the course of my job and outside it, in my spare time. I felt most alive when I was blogging (here!) and when I was learning with my friend and when I had the opportunity to create and share Torah in the course of my job. Nothing thrilled me as much as hunting down obscure Jewish sources in the mostly-unused library at my workplace.

During that time, I reflected a lot on the learning I had done in middle school, high school, and before college. It had been a panacea--an escape from the turmoil of everyday life. I realized that one reason that I had avoided learning throughout college was because I no longer believed in that intellectual rigor should be used as a salve for avoiding life. My study of history through the lens of gender had been a unique way for me to deal, head on, with my own life and the lives of frustrated young women who lived before me. In reading the wartime ruminations of college students in 1917, I saw that I was not the first, nor would I be the last, to articulate frustration with my approved role within my social community. It was the connection to truth, not the avoidance from it, that I craved. The Torah that I was articulating and experiencing through this blog,1 and in my professional life, and in my learning, was not a way to turn my back on painful things, but a way of experiencing them in a safe, contained, structure way.

I was dating a handsome young man at the time, and he was extremely supportive of my professional life and frustration with my job. Thanks to his encouragement, I asked for, and received, a raise that I deserved.

But he also asked me what I really wanted to do with my life.

Unable to answer--I was interested in so many things! How could I ever choose just one to pursue?--I rephrased the question: I asked myself, "What makes me feel most me, most excited to be alive, most connected to the world around me?" The unequivocal answer was: "Learning Torah and writing."

I decided to find a way to spend some time learning Torah and writing, with the hopes that that would lead to a more personally fulfilling career path than educational administration.

1. Examples from this blog abound. A few of them are:
  1. Happy Passover! Chag Kasher v'Sameyach!
  2. Innocent Laughter and a Delightful Sabbath
  3. First night of selichot
  4. Second day of selichot
  5. To New Beginnings
  6. Homes: Temporary and Semi-Permanent (or what I learned from the sukkah this year)
  7. Julia Sweeney and ALG on God
  8. "Why?" Thoughts on Parshat Toldot
  9. "Because you have struggled with God and with people and prevailed": Thoughts on Parshat VaYishlach
  10. In Memory of Shira, a"h: R. Abraham Joshua Heschel on Prayer and Song
  11. Free to Be You and Me!
  12. Happy (?) Purim and the way things are taught in Jewish day school
  13. "אסתר קרקע עולם היתה" and how the Tosafists and selected acharonim understood women's sexuality
  14. אי מזה באת ואנה תלכי [or] What have I been doing with my life for the past 5-10 years and where will I eventually end up?
  15. חרב מקדשנו and we lost many special people
  16. Reflections on Chanukah: "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning."
  17. Happy Tu Bishvat and the power of fruitful metaphor
  18. The Lottery
  19. Prerequisites for redemption and culturally-defined props during Pesach
  20. Whatcha' gonna' do with all that learnin'?

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"Are You a Rabbi's Daughter?" and Halakhic Authority (or Lack Thereof)

Draft written 11/30/2011 about an event that took place earlier that month.

Rediscovered in 2019. I still remember this incident well! I think I saved it as a draft in 2011 instead of publishing it because it seemed terribly disorganized after I drafted it. It's not really any better now, but I think I'm going to hit "publish" anyway!

On a recent JOC hike, there was a call for mincha. When someone asked what we were going to do for a mechitza, I said that we didn't need one, since the woods in the state park are not a regular place of worship, and that standing off to the side would be sufficient.

Someone then told me that I had to stand in the back, since the women were permitted to see the men but the men were not permitted to see the women. He said that he was a rabbi--he did this "professionally," he added--and that I "had to" go behind the men.

I disregarded him and stood a good seven feet from the nearest man, decidedly off on the side and not "behind" any man. Afterwards, he came up to me and said, "You really know your stuff. Are you a rabbi's daughter?" I said, "No, I've just learned some Torah."

The idea that the only way a woman can acquire halakhic knowledge is through her father, or, if I had been married, her husband, is enraging to me. It is also often true--women who are the children or spouses of rabbis often have greater halakhic knowledge than those who are not. But one should not assume the inverse, that one who has a modicum of halakhic knowledge is necessarily related to a rabbi! She could have acquired that knowledge herself! Using her brain! And the Jewish education that her non-rabbinic parents scrimped and saved and impoverished themselves to provide her!

Any woman accustomed to davening with a minyan in sometimes strange settings (museums, airports, wedding halls, airplanes) would know about not needing a mechitza. Men presumably know less about this, since they more frequently daven at pickup minyans at which nary a woman is present or at which they just totally ignore the nearby women who are not davening. It's crazy/not crazy to me how you can be a frum man and not give any thought at all to the mechitza and have it be an invisible non-factor/non-presence in your life, while I feel like any time I go to shul, I am constantly being forced to see, confront, or literally bump up against it. You know, at shuls where the first row of seats in the women's section, which is behind the men's section, does not leave enough space for a non-dramatic bow during the Amida without literally bumping up against the mechitza.)

Any woman who doesn't want to stand behind men should know that standing next to men is perfectly fine. Gentlemen, just keep your eyes forward, towards mizrach, if you don't want to behold my womanly figure! I am stating this here for the record, as a public service.

Sigh. What a world. Also, don't pull your "I'm a rabbi!" business on me!

I wanted to say, "Just don't look if you don't want to see me" to the rabbi, but I didn't. I just stood there on the side and did my thing. But bullshit on the claim that in a non-mechitza setting (that is, a setting in which no mechitza is necessary), women have to stand behind the men. Seriously, bullshit. We'll stand next to you and you keep your faces in your siddurim/smart phones if our clothed-in-autumn-hiking-attire, several-feet-away presence is distracting/disconcerting/tantalizing to you.

I could also have said, when he said that I knew my stuff, "Well, you don't seem to know yours; where'd you get smicha?" but I'm too polite (except online, obviously) to even think of things like that at the time, not to mention actually verbalize it.

Do you know what else is bullshit? Pointing to your klaf to justify your ridiculous sexist beliefs instead of citing a source. I was all ready to go into simchas beis hashoeva from maseches Sukkah on him, but I didn't.

(Citing a source to support your sexist beliefs is also bullshit, of course. Hello, I am a walking, talking, cognizant human being, standing right in front of you!)

I noted that the other mincha-davening women opted to stand in the back, not in the side. Not sure what that means or says about the situation. More of an observation than anything else.

Note: For anyone who thinks this is atypical, it is not. It is 100% typical of my experiences with davening and learning in most Orthodox settings. Especially mincha/maariv. That really gets men upset! How dare a woman show up and try to converse with HaKadosh Boruch Hu in their holy space?

And, yes, this is what happens when women learn Torah on a high(ish) level. Also, when they combine that with a degree in history and women's studies from Harvard. It is a potent and dangerous combination.

Why put up with this nonsense? Why not daven alone rather than with a bunch of non-egalitarian men?

I think I put up with it to the extent that I do (and I don't always--I almost always opt out of tefilla altogether at this point in my life, and very occasionally daven in fully egalitarian settings) because I haven't yet seen a multi-generation egalitarian community with a high level of Jewish knowledge (meaning, my level would be about average or a bit more than average, but not above the 66th percentile) that retains a sense of rootedness and community. There are communities that have some of those things, but not all of them. And it's pretty rare in the Orthodox world, too. But somewhat more common. I think. I mean, I think more Orthodox communities hit more of those marks more of the time. Rampant, reprehensible sexism is one obvious cost.

I maintain some tiny shred of hope that interactions like the one I had on that recent day will create lasting change. He wasn't upset that I disregarded his "halachic" pronouncement and stood off to the side, instead of behind. He seemed impressed. It was more of an exchange than a confrontation. That suggests that change is possible. He will think (I hope) before sending women to the back next time!

Change is remarkably hard in a situation in which men have all of the power. Even "liberal" men are generally loathe to cede that power to women, even to smart, dedicated women. Some interesting things are happening on the leftward fringes of Orthodoxy (women learning at high levels in multiple institutions, Yeshivat Maharat, partnership minyanim) and in the non-denominational traditional egalitarian community (Hadar--Kehilah and Mechon/Yeshiva, Conservative Yeshiva, Fort Tryon Jewish Center, and other things I don't know about).

But as I said, I also skip communal davening and go to fully egalitarian options when it's too much to bear. I am glad that both options exist for me, and I hope for a world where nobody ever sends women to the back. Ever!

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Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease in Adults: Wrap-Up (Part 5)

Hey, it's February 2019, and I see that I never published this draft from June 2017! Here it is, at long last. The end of the coxsackie story!

However, as Day 6, Monday, January 2, progressed and after I took an analgesic, I was feeling decent and getting increasingly tired of my self-quarantine. Other than a few doctors and PAs, I hadn't seen another human being since Wednesday, December 28, and here it was, the evening of Monday, January 2!

I posted on Facebook:

However, it's apparently contagious for awhile (weeks) after symptoms disappear. I was a scrupulous hand-washer throughout this whole thing, and even carried around mini-bottles of hand sanitizer and antibacterial hand wipes, which I used regularly when I couldn't get to a sink with hot water and soap. (The wipes were the kind with alcohol, like hand sanitizer.) As far as I know, no one caught it from me. I went to a conference on January 8-12 and shared a room with someone (and disclosed to her my coxsackie experience) and went into the hot tub, and all was well. My hands got very dry from all that alcohol, soap, and hot water, so I had to apply moisturizer frequently.

One of my sores got colonized by some kind of bacteria and, as a result, did not heal for a long time.(Months.) It didn't hurt at all, but I finally went to my dermatologist. She cultured it (ouch! that hurt!) and gave me some mupirocin ointment, which I applied twice daily and covered with a bandaid, and that last sore healed within a week of beginning treatment. I'll probably have a scar there. There are no scars from any of the other various sores.

Oh, well! Just another battle scar of my saintly aunthood.

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