Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two, Two, Two Memes in One!

I've been tagged! Yay! This makes me feel like a real part of the J-blogosphere. This may mean that someone occasionally reads my blog.

Anyway, according to Frum Single Female, who tagged me, here is the first meme:

Pick up the nearest book (physically) to you, turn to page 56, and write down the 2nd to 5th sentences.

Lucky for you guys, I am sitting on my bed, so the nearest book is the one I am reading now, David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System. A blurb says this is metafiction (although I think Foster Wallace himself, may he rest in peace, may have hated that term) at its finest:

"Mr. Lunberg: The Great Ohio Desert.
"Governor: The Great Ohio Desert.
"Mr. Lunberg: Yes.
"Governor: Joe, a super name. I take my hat off to you."

Here is the second meme: "next state 7 facts about [yourself] and then tag others and link [to] them . . . and . . . leave a comment on their blog saying they've been tagged."

I read on another blog that some of the seven facts are supposed to be weird facts and/or details of your neuroses (oh, where do I start?), while others are supposed to be not-so-weird (ok, honestly, where do I start?). Here goes:

1. As you can tell from my punctuation and brackets in this post, I am a grammar freak (what David Foster Wallace called a SNOOT). If you think you are a bigger grammar freak than I, you are incorrect.

2. I schedule my life around the TV show House. Unless I have to be somewhere for grad school (ha!), I insist on watching it when it first airs. My parents, BFF, and TF know not to call me, and if they do by accident, or if someone else calls, I do not answer the phone.

3. My favorite sport to watch is American football.

4. I can recite the American presidents in order, and if you give me the number of a president (e.g., 23), I can tell you the president with a less than 5-second delay (e.g., Benjamin Harrison).

5. I don't like shopping for clothes.

6. My favorite food is chili.

7. I am a shameless punster and deliverer of one-liners.

Most of the people I am thinking of tagging have already been tagged. But I will tag: Knitter of Shiny Things, Miryam (Mama o' the Matrices), Apikorsus, Alg, Shira (On the Fringe), Michelle, and Sunkist Miss .

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Well, That Sucked

By "that," I mean my academic job search for 2008-2009. (I can't think of anything nicer to call it than "that." Nor can I figure out why a bunch of hyper-educated graduate students in the humanities refer to anything relating to the job market as "job stuff." Maybe the stress just obliterates any articulateness that we might have had).

Anyway, I just heard my last "no, thanks," so it seems that my first season on the job market has ended without my getting even one preliminary interview. To be fair, I did get long-listed (in the final 6) at a school that does not do preliminary interviews, so that is perhaps the equivalent of getting one preliminary interview, but that was it. And I did not get short-listed (in the final 3, who get on-campus interviews) for that job.

Some background on the academic job market in the humanities for the unitiated: The fall before a humanities Ph.D. student will get his or her dissertation, he or she typically goes on the job market. He or she doesn't typically get anything, since schools don't like to hire people without completed dissertations. Instead, he or she generally gets a preliminary interview or two at the annual meeting of his/her discipline's major conference and emerges, dignity more or less intact, with some materials to use next year when no longer A.B.D. (All But Dissertation). Meanwhile, students who have graduated from the same prgram in past years get jobs, thus preserving faith in the overall viability of the job market, while at the same time taking the new job-finders off the list of the colleagues the A.B.D. will have to compete against next year. A.B.D.'s often get postdocs.

That was before the market fell through the floor.

This year, two of the nine jobs I applied to had hiring freezes before they even thought about interviewing anyone. Two were not exactly in my field (I would have had to interview at a different conference altogether) and came under the "cast a wide net" just in case they have no other candidates they want and would hire a Jew to teach a subject that Jews don't normally teach). So, that left five. That's not very many, considering that the top five programs in the country (mine included) will be graduating about 15 Ph.D.'s this year. That does not account for people who went on the market last year and now have postdocs. One long-listed me, and the others . . . nothing. Well, I got a fairly nice rejection e-mail from one. The others didn't get in touch, but I learned from other people that those schools have been in touch with THEM, which is as close as prospective academics get to rejection. That's a post for another day. Many in my field, including some who are a year out, are not even getting preliminary interviews because they are competing against Ph.D.'s who have been on the market for a few years and may even already have book contracts. That increases competition for postdocs and for jobs next year.

You might be thinking, "Katrina, if the market is so bad, and everyone is getting slammed, why are you so upset? Also, didn't you know this might happen when you started grad school?" I have this to say:

1. It's very hard not to take this personally. I had to write letters to schools telling them about my work--often giving samples of my work--and my approach to teaching, and my next project. Note all the "my"s. I have been working on my dissertation for 3.5 years. If no one even wants to talk to me about any of this at a conference they will be attending anyway, it's personal. Of course there are other factors--maybe they want to hire a specialist in a different country than the one I study--but clearly my work has failed to wow.

2. I'm embarrassed. I have a bit of a reputation in my department as a superstar. I'm not 100% sure where this comes from. Part of it is the confidence I exude, because I believe one should exude confidence about one's work, even if one doesn't feel it. And I do think that I am erudite and do fine work.

3. Relates to 2: I don't like to seem vulnerable or uncertain about my work, even to friends in my department. People aren't going to know the extent of my sucking--people only find out if you got an on-campus interview or not. But I will, and now I have to fake it. Also, my advisor knows, and I think this must diminish her view of me, even if she would never admit it.

4. I go to a top-five program in my field. Depending on who you ask, it might be a top-three program. That's supposed to be worth something at job-searching time. It doesn't get you a job in a top-flight program, but, again, it should be good for something, a small, second- or third-tier liberal arts college looking for academic polish. Maybe a preliminary interview there? (To be fair, only one liberal arts college had a job and no hiring freeze, and it wasn't in my subfield, but I applied anyway. So it's not a representative sample). If I seem obsessed, I kind of am, but this is much worse than I expected to do.

All this is made worse by the situation with TF. He is looking for a job, and now it looks that my only postdoc-ing options may be at my current university. That puts a lot of pressure on him to find a job in my city, where he doesn't currently live, in another difficult market (he's not an academic, but all job markets are bad right now). He is looking for a job anyway, but my city isn't a natural choice.

So I am sad and mad and feel bad and don't feel like I can really talk about it, except to my parents and TF and BFF. And you guys, since you don't know me. If you do know me, please don't mention this, since it's pretty painful right now.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Is It Just Me?

The attacks in Mumbai and the news reports about them, plus the reactions in the blogosphere, have gotten me thinking about a number of issues. Some of these really concern me, and I was wondering if I am the only one. If they concern you, too, please let me know. If you know the answers to Question 1, I would love to hear from you as well.


1. Why don't Chabadniks (or some members of Chabad, anyway) get tested for Tay-Sachs? Since they will not do pre-natal testing or get abortions, why not do the testing and tell two carriers they can't get married? My cousin died of Tay-Sachs due to a faulty genetic test, and it really, really sucked.

2. How can I learn mishnah for every dead Jewish person, or even every murdered Jewish person? When a friend died last year, that was one thing, but I just received an e-mail from someone in my community proposing we learn mishnah for Rabbi and Mrs. Holzberg z"l. This is the sort of thing that can easily get out of control, in my opinion.

3. What is with anti-Zionist Jews living in Israel, anyway? Let's not try to claim they don't benefit from the State (who, for example, pays to pick up their garbage? Whose military protects their children?). I hear there are lovely anti-Zionist enclaves in New York, Virginia, London, and Vienna, just to name a few.

I am not trying to besmirch anyone's memory. All who died because they were Jews deserve to be mourned by us, and may their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. I just have all these questions . . .

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Read Any Good Blogs Lately?

With all due respect to my blogroll and secret blogroll, I have been bored lately by the blogs I am reading. I think I have just gotten used to them. So I'm looking to add new blogs to my blogroll. Any suggestions? I'm pretty open as long as the blog is clean, not Republican, and not about a particular hobby, such as computing or cooking, since if I don't share the hobby, it's not that interesting to me.

So, read any good blogs lately?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Katrina's Guide to Middle-East Peace

I know I haven't been around much lately. Most of my concerns, to be honest, are about wedding planning or my dissertation, and no one wants to listen to other folks whine about either of those subjects.

But now that the election is over, I have some thoughts about the new administration and Israel. Since most of my 11 readers are J-bloggers, I thought this would be a suitable post.

To: President-elect Obama
From: Katrina
Re: Israel

Since you are not even in office yet, Mr. President-elect, and since you have neither much foreign policy experience nor the wisdom of Solomon, you are probably confused about how you can improve the situation in Israel. Your predicament may be complicated by the fact that a loud minority of right-wing Jews spent the election season implying or outright saying that you are a friend of terrorists who want to wipe Israel off the map. But take heart! They didn't vote for you. Over 70% of Jews did, so don't be afraid to be the president of the moderate majority of Jews.
You are probably also thinking, Where do I start? Well, that's where Katrina comes in. YOU NEED TO STOP THE QUASI-CIVIL WAR GOING ON BETWEEN SETTLERS AND THE ARMY/GOVERNMENT. Here's why:

--You don't need the US army to do this, which is convenient, since the army is over-extended in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how are you going to stop the Iranians anyway, if you don't know where the factories are?
--This quasi-civil war is a HUGE threat to Israel. Israel's survival depends on a two-state solution, and these "hill youth" who are trying to settle the wrong side of the fence are putting that solution in jeopardy. Since they are just kids, however, and neither the government or the so-called leaders of the dati leumi community is doing anything to stop them, I can't blame them too much.
--Not that this should be THE determining factor, but the image of settlers taking on their own army and winning is not exactly a public-relations victory for Israel, or for you, its strongest ally.
--You are best equipped to do this, because you control the money. Let's face it. The Bush years taught us that no matter how big a friend of Israel a president is or thinks he is, he won't have any effect if he just lets the Israelis do whatever they want. The US government gives the Israelis bilions of dollars in loan guarantees. That gives them, as personified by you, the right to go over there, or send Bill Richardson or John Kerry or Bob Gates or whomever, over there to bang some heads together. You could have your diplomats say or imply that at least part of the money depends on the government taking down illegal settlements, with a bonus if the army at least attempts to protect Palestinians when settlers attack them.

So, think about it. It may be a 2,000+-year-old problem, but Israel needs you now. We don't have 20 years to get serious about solutions, given the demographic problem. How's that for a legacy?

Why We're BFFs

The actual reason why BFF and I are BFFs is that she saves my life several times a week, and she knows this. But here is a less sappy anecdote, which I offer as evidence that we have many of the same quirky interests:

Katrina and BFF are having a conversation about lesbian activism, which is ok, even though they are heterosexual. This reminds Katrina of something--
Katrina: Hey, BFF, I just read a story last night by David Foster Wallace about lesbians and Jeopardy!
BFF: I read that story!
Katrina: Really?
BFF: Yes, in high school, in literary club.
Katrina: What are the odds?

Weird, huh? Thanks for everything, BFF!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Shavua Tov (and by Shavua [week], I mean the remaining day before Shabbat). I hope that your fasts were meaningful and not too physically taxing, and that you had good davening (praying) experiences.

The big news is that TC and I are engaged. So, his name on this blog will now be TF (The Fiance, of course). I am really excited. I'm also kind of freaked out. With both of us looking for jobs, and my trying to finish my dissertation, there is a lot of uncertainty right now, and I don't deal that well with uncertainty. But I can't complain. I love him. I want us to be together.

I'm not sure what the future of this blog holds. I guess I can change the name, or not. I don't want it to be the kind of blog where I complain about wedding planning, since if any blog had featured such complaints a year ago, I would have been really annoyed by it. I also think I should tell TF about the blog if it continues to be active, but I would have to sanitize it if I did. There's stuff about his mom and our earlier relationship. Also, even if I did sanitize it, I don't know if my usual kvetching about all things Jewish would seem incredibly snarky to him (he is virtually snark-free). I'm not saying I would modify it just on his say-so, but I'm trying to pick my battles, since he has been very accomodating about those aspects of the wedding about which we have already talked.

So I won't make any decisions right now, but that's what's currently going on. Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shanah Tovah!

Shanah Tovah tikateivu, everyone. Have a happy, healthy, and sweet new year.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


I am sick to my stomach about the cowardly bomb attack this morning on Zeev Sternhell, the Israeli professor and winner of the Israel Prize whose "crime," apparently, was being against West Bank settlements. The Times reports that the police found (Hebrew) fliers in his neighborhood offering $320,000 to anyone who killed a member of Peace Now.

Way to get into the spirit of Elul, you cowards.

To my readers: remember all of those starving children in Israel to whom you're supposed to donate before Rosh HaShanah? I get e-mails about this constantly. Do you have any idea how much food $320,000 can buy?

I hope you will join me in posting your condemnations as well. I'm not naive enough to think this will change anything in real life. But I wouldn't be surprised to see some aspects of the J-Blogosphere talking about how we have to understand what the poor bomber was going through (see, Baruch Goldstein, "heroic martyrdom" of). Those 12 of us who are still moderates (two-state solution, Arabs need to stop terror, Israelis have to stop settling the wrong side of the fence[not that #2 and #3 are comparable, but both stand in the way of any kind of solution in which the demographic problem can be prevented from turning us into South Africa in 20 years]) should make our voices heard, at least in the blogosphere.

Yesterday, some frum bloggers I read, including Dov Bear, whom I greatly respect, expressed admiration for a certain post by West Bank Mama called "A Tale of Two Sons." I was really mad when I read it and didn't want to comment, but I'm ready now. Hey, Westbankmama and other yishuv-niks: Want to know why the Arabs are angry? BECAUSE YOU'RE ON THEIR LAND. Get on the right side of the fence. (P.S., I don't know for sure if West Bank Mama lives on the wrong side of the fence, but I strongly suspect that she does, since she says she lives in Shomron). I realize that large, established settlements such as Maaleh Adumim are going to be part of Israel in any peace solution, and that's fine. But that doesn't mean it's okay constantly to set up a new illegal settlement on the next hill. The Israeli government is partly to blame, too, since they don't throw these law-breakers out immediately. Have you noticed that the settlers don't mind accepting protection from the government's army? It's just the rest of the government and its pesky laws that bothers them.

Another note to the Israeli government: When you catch the bomber, don't let him get married to the president of his fan club and have conjugal visits in prison, like you did with Yigal Amir.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Question for those who know something about computers:

Overnight, I got about seven "comments" on various recent posts on my blogs. They turned out to connect to a "blog" that is really an online gaming site.

Is there any way to prevent this in the future, short of restricting who gets to read my blog?


Friday, August 29, 2008


I consider myself to be something of a politics junkie, although I'm not a wonk. I don't usually discuss politics on this blog (with at least one exception). But I have a bunch of thoughts about this week's Democratic National Convention and McCain's VP choice:

--Hillary supporters: Vote for Obama. A lot. This isn't about being right about a sexist society. Of course there is sexism in society. I would like to suggest that it is a mistake to try to prove your feminism by facilitating the election of someone who has promised to appoint ultra-Conservative Supreme Court justices. Did you know that John Roberts thinks that unmarried women shouldn't have access to birth control?

--McCain's VP choice (Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska) reeks of desperation. The night after Obama gives a fantastic speech (policy AND inspiration), the day of McCain 72nd birthday, the only rationale I can think of for picking someone who has no experience at anything and is about as qualified to be president as Martin Sheen is that McCain has decided he can't win without Hillary's supporters.

--Hey, McCain campaign: If you release your rebuttal to Obama's speech BEFORE the speech is actually finished--or the second it's finished; I don't have the exact timeline nailed down--people might get the idea that you didn't actually watch the speech.

--Don't believe the smears! This week, McCain's campaign has been beating the drum of "Obama has all of this lofty rhetoric, but he isn't offering specifics." First of all, in last night's speech, he did. Second, on his website, as a number of people pointed out in this comment stream on DovBear, he spells out his policies in excruciating detail. If you want to hear about his health care plan AND HOW HE WILL PAY FOR IT (oh, how I will miss Bush's unfunded mandates), it's all there.

--John Kerry gave a great speech about McCain not being a maverick anymore. He shares the malady of Al Gore and others, who give their best speeches when their presidential hopes have already been dashed.

--The Clintons did better than I expected in not screwing the convention up completely for Obama, but not as well as they could have. I liked Bill Clinton's speech, and I always enjoy his oratory. I thought that the second half, when he attacked McCain, was excellent; the first half, when he was praising Obama, was less enthusiastic than I would have liked, but not terrible.
--Hillary gave a good speech endorsing Obama, but the next morning she undercut herself by not ordering her supporters to vote for Obama and avoid the preposterous roll call that happened. Don't believe her "I can't tell them what to do" garbage. OF COURSE she can tell them what to do. They're HER delegates. And she didn't even try. She said that she would vote for Obama, but that they could vote for whomever they wanted. Way to be a leader promoting unity!

--Biden gave a great speech. He came across as approachable and one of the guys (which, from what I have heard, he is), and he attack-dogged it to infinity! Democrats should have been more enthusiastic about it. Democrats, be happy already. Our ticket is awesome. Their ticket sucks. Enjoy yourselves for once! This brings us to the "Biden corallary": Obama's speech rocked! It kicked! So if you're a Democratic political writer, don't say, "Well, yes, it was good, but I'm uneasy about . . .", or "The problem was . . .". Try to stay on message for once! The Republicans don't do this, and they have won the last two presidential elections. Coincidence? I think not.

--I was moved almost to tears by Ted Kennedy's speech and his presence at the convention. I admire his service to our country so much. (I also consider it a kind of repentance for his shameful act at Chappaquiddick). I can't imagine the Senate without him.

--Snarkiness is NOT the answer to everything. I usually enjoy reading Wonkette, a political blog that is about 90% snark. Generally, I find their take on the mundane politics of the day pretty funny, but they were very ill-equipped to deal with real news, particularly the inspirational speeches at the convention.

And, finally,

THE MEDIA IS OUT OF CONTROL. They spent so much of their time at the convention finding the ten crazy Hillary supporters who are voting for McCain. Conflict, or the appearance of conflict, makes for a better story than unity. There were real problems with the Clintons (see my comment above), but the amount of time the MSM devoted to it was unreal. I watched CNN the most, so I am madder at them than at others. Their answer to every Democratic speech was to have a Republican operative on to "reply," let said operative prattle on, and not challenge him or her at all. Do you call that journalism??? And where's the critique of McCain? (The New Republic had something on this, says my dad, but I think it's only accessible to subscribers). The critique better come next week, media. I'm putting you on notice, Stephen-Colbert style.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Most Recent Post

. . . is actually here. It started as a draft, and I can't figure out how to change the date. It's about novels, which I haven't talked about yet. Can't decide what to read next? Maybe I can help.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Katrina Discovers Her Compassionate Side

. . . and yes, she has one.

Katrina would like to apologize to anyone whose feelings she might have hurt with her "How Not to be a Jerk 2: Being a Shabbat Guest and Host" (hard to believe, isn't it, that she might have offended anyone?).

It's not that anyone has complained, but this week, for the first time in a long time, Katrina did not have Shabbat dinner plans. It did not feel good. It did not feel good at all, especially since she had such a crappy week. That made her think that she had been too harsh on people who invite themselves over to others' places for dinner.

She stands by most of the content of that post, but she feels the tone was probably uncalled for, and for that she is sorry. She went to Chabad, which is was actually quite pleasant.

Next time . . . Katrina stops talking about herself in the third person.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Oh, Crap

Things have been going kind of crummily for me this past month. I have to secure some kind of income for myself for next year, which involves convincing people I don't know that I am somehow more worthy than the other 800 applicants. My dissertation-writing group is a waste of time. TC and I have been mutually cranky lately (mostly because he is looking for a job, too).

The problem is that when I am feeling really stressed, I have trouble talking about it. LOTS of trouble. So I withdraw. I tend to stick to my apartment. I work from my apartment, so I'm not totally unproductive here, but still. Not that anyone except BFF (and TC from out of town with his phone calls) is coming by, by the way. But I don't blame them for that. Everyone is busy with their own stuff.

So I'm taking the step of putting this on my blog, even though some people I know read it. Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Post-Tisha-B'Av Musings: Kinot

Kinot (mournful poems focusing on the destruction of the Holy Temple or other tragedies; they originated ca. in the 6th-8th century, but many more have been composed since then) pose a special problem for Conservative and Conservadox synagogues and minyanim on Tisha B'Av. There is a tradition to say Kinot both at night and in the morning (although more in the morning since most congregations read Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, at night). The problem is that, even for those who have had 13years of Jewish day school, plus some camp or other supplementary education, Kinot are REALLY HARD to understand. They are often written in medieval Hebrew, and the genre encourages allusions to biblical and other texts which many people have not read.

In Orthodox shuls, as I have seen once or twice personally and as I understand from anecdotes, the congregation "reads" the Kinot silently, which means that some people get what they're talking about and most people don't. That doesn't mean that no one cares if people understand; it's just that the middle of Shacharit (morning prayers) isn't considered the best time to explain. Some shuls have shiurim (study sessions, often led by the rabbi or perhaps a well-educated layperson) after services, and the Orthodox Union has a video shiur on its website every year. On Tisha B'Av 5767 (aka last year), I was at my parents' house on Tisha B'Av and didn't have a morning shul option, so I watched OU Executive Director Rabbi Tzvi Hersch Weinreb's Kinot shiur. I was very impressed by its simultaneous sophistication and accessibility.

Conservative and Conservadox shuls or minyanim have more flexibility in terms of integrating Kinot into the service. I go to two different minyanim (don't ask) on Tisha B'Av, and both have the custom of "introducing" Kinot. That means that one person in the minyan, usually someone in a leadership position, gives a summary of the main themes of the Kinah before the congregation reads it, either out loud or silently, in Hebrew or English.

I heard some really well-thought-out introductions this year, but I think that the system needs tweaking. First of all, because people have to volunteer in advance to introduce Kinot, the same few people usually do most of them. I give kudos to those folks. I was asked to introduce a Kinah this year and said "no." But I fear that this phenomemon tends further to integrate those few people and to leave the rest of the congregation outside the circle of knowledge. Second, after the Kinot are introduced, it's time to "read" them. That means in most cases that, led by the writer of the introduction, those who can read the Kinah, either silently or out loud, often in Hebrew and often very quickly. I have had approximatley a bazillion years of Day School education, and I minored in Jewish Studies in college, and I couldn't get more than a sense of the text before we moved on. This is particularly ironic, I think, because, as I have observed it, Shacharit on Tisha B'Av is mostly about killing time. Unlike on Yom Kippur, when there are many, many, many prayers to get through before people need to take a nap, on Tisha B'Av, some congregations have the custom to stay in shul until chatzot (halfway through the daylight hours, this year around 12:45 p.m.), and there just aren't that many obligatory prayers to say. So the Kinot part of the service could (easily, in my opinion, although I realize some people have their favorites) devote much more time to individual Kinot, which just means fewer being read overall. There's plenty of time between Shacharit and Mincha (afternoon prayers) for indivual study by those die-hard Kinot devotees.

So, here are a few humble suggestions for integrating Kinot into Conservative and Conservadox minyanim in as relevant a way as I can think think of (Note: I said minyanim instead of shuls, bcause lay-led minyanim often have more flexibility than shuls led by rabbis. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? That's a topic for another post):

1. (see above) Decrease the number of total Kinot to be covered, thus allowing more time for each individual Kinah.

2. Supplement introductions of Kinot with more inclusive discussions. Divide minyan-goers up into groups, probably with a leader of the introduction-giving type. Give each group a Kinah to study, in Hebrew or English, for about 10 minutes. (Both Conservative and Orthodox Tisha B'Av prayerbooks provide decent introductions and English translations). Encourage each group member to say something about the Kinah text. When discussion time is over, give each group (or the whole congregation together) enough time (could be up to 4-5 minutes) to read the text silently in English or Hebrew. There's no rush, here, people! I tend to think that silent reading is more meaningful than reading aloud, but there's room for disagreement on that.

3. If you're feeling really ambitious, have one person from each group "report back" to the larger minyan on something the group found paticularly interesting about the Kinah.

4. Let's be honest about what most people find relevant: That means more Holocaust Kinot and fewer Crusades Kinot. IMHO, it is not necessary to go in chronological order.

I know that this sounds a little hokey, especially for those of you who know me personally. "Oh, sure," I can hear you saying, "but if I had suggested that, Katrina would have made vomiting noises." Perhaps. But these and similar group efforts are the only ways I can think of to include more than 5-8 people (and the minyan that I went to for Shacharit had at least 30 for Kinot) in the Kinah part of the service. The discussion-group method won't necessarily make less work for the leader types; it might make more, since Kinot have to be selected in advance, people have to be divided into groups and kept moving along, etc. But the result, I think, would be more participation and less boredom or mental opting-out overall.

So, what do you guys think? What other ideas do you have?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How Not to Be a Jerk 2

. . . or, Katrina's Quik 'n E-Z Guide to Being a Shabbat Guest and Host

The Jewish community in which I live has a big Hakhnasat Orchim (welcoming-of-guests) problem. Maybe I'm noticing it more now because it's the summer, and I have less to do, or perhaps the problem is getting worse, but I feel I have to say (or at least blog) something.

My Shomer Shabbat community has many graduate students. Many of these are single, and also, because they're graduate students, poor and car-less. This makes it harder for them to obtain kosher meat, or at least kosher chicken, and, let's face it, it's a lot more fun to cook when you're cooking with at least one other person. (Because TC has a job, when he visits for a weekend, he doesn't get here until Friday, late-afternoon, so I still have to cook meals alone, and it's lonely). Of course, there is also clique-y-ness, so within each social group, even fewer people cook on a regular basis. Some people, of course, enjoy cooking more than others, and some like to dictate the guest lists at their meals, but, in general, there are not a lot of conditions here that are conducive to these single graduate students cooking.


I say this because most of the cooking, especially for Friday-night dinner, is falling on a disproportionately small number of people (often married couples) in the community. Singles who don't have anywhere to go tend to find out where the dinners are and invite themselves. This is the wrong attitude. It's rude, and it's not mentschlich. Just because a married couple is making dinner every week does not mean that the members of said couple always want to make dinner. Our community is sufficiently young and informal that virtually no one, pre-kids, cooks every week. It just means that they have to eat, and no one else has invited them over. If people invite themselves over, then that means more cooking for said already busy couple (or single, or collection of roommates--I realize there is more than one model here).

Now, I'm not saying that if you are moving, and your dog died, and your oven broke, that you shouldn't call a good friend and ask to be included in a Shabbat meal. I'm saying that: 1) you shouldn't do so consistently without reciprocating; and 2) you shouldn't think that you are the only person who is busy and stressed out; everyone is.

My parents were very strict about manners when I was growing up. When we went to Temple, and they introduced my sibling and me to new people, we had to shake their hands, look them in the eye, smile, and then answer the obvious adult questions (How old are you? What grade are you in now?). Letting the adult know we were grievously annoyed and would rather be home reading The Babysitters' Club was not an option. When we had guests over, we were not allowed to take food until all the guests had been served. AND, when someone invited my parents or the family over for dinner, my parents always invited them back. This had nothing to do with being frum, of course. We were not frum. I first head about Hakhnasat Orchim (or Hochnosos Orchim) on an Uncle Moishe cassette tape in someone else's car. So the fact that many Shomer Shabbat people around here did not grow up that way is not an excuse either. It has to do with being a decent, polite, well-brought-up human being.

In case you have read this far and are still not sure what I'm getting at, or in case you're saying, Well, Katrina, of course I would like to reciprocate as a decent, polite, human being, but I just don't have time, here are my quik 'n e-z tips for being a mentschlich Shabbat guest:

1. Make at least 1 meal for every month (or so) that you are in town and eating at someone else's house for at least one Shabbat meal per week. Try to invite as many of your hosts as possible to your meal. It's very unlikely that they will all be able to make it, and I would suggest inviting a few at a time if you're nervous about numbers. You can always get 'em the following month. Don't worry about not competing with the regular Shabbat dinner makers. It's the thought that counts, and everyone knows there's a learning curve

2. Consider making lunch if dinner overwhelms you; it's summer, and you can get away with a bunch of cold salads.

3. If you honestly feel that you cannot, for whatever reason (and there are a very small number of people out there with good reasons), host a meal and reciprocate, I would suggest one or more of the following:

A. Going to Chabad. That's what they are there for. They don't care if you reciprocate, since they always have a place to eat. They don't care if you don't RSVP, if you're late, if you're early. If you're Jewish, they will take you, and they have already cooked.

B. Going up to the Hospitality Person at your minyan, admitting you don't have meal plans, and letting that person match you with someone offering a meal. Yes, it can be uncomfortable for you, but you're asking for free, no-work-for-you food; uncomfortable is not the end of the world.

C. Organizing a potluck. People who cook a lot (or even a little) will tell you that it is MUCH easier to make only one dish, even if they have to host the potluck, then it is to plan out, buy the ingredients for, and make, an entire meal. The annoying thing is not the cooking, but the organizing. If you can't contribute more than a side dish, donate your time to making the potluck happen. Donating time is how some poor people pay their shul dues, and this, IMHO, is similar. And it's summer! There's an eruv! You don't even need a host; have a picnic in the park instead.

D. Cooking with your friends and/or roommates. This is similar to a potluck, I guess, but maybe all of you have been invited over for Shabbat by the same three couples for the last few months, and neither feels up to reciprocating individually. It's so much friendlier with 2 (or 3, or 4).

Katrina has sometimes been guilty of breaches of etiquette where Shabbat meals are concerned, but she's working on it.

Next time you're thinking of mooching, please consider my advice. Shavua Tov!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Novels! (I knew I'd get to it eventually)

(Psst . . . There's a list of books at the bottom if you want to skip all the reflective stuff)

My loyal readers (all dozen or so of you) may notice that in the "subtitle" (what's that called, anyway?) of my blog, I say, "Dating (or not even dating), weird approaches to Judaism, academia, and novels." Well, dating and weird approaches to Judaism I talk about a lot. I have occasionally made reference to my dissertation and how stressed it makes me feel, but I decided that posting too much more about academia wouldn't be good, since some of you guys know who I am. Keep it close to the vest, that is how I feel about blogging about one's work. But there is no good reason for me not to talk about novels.

I love novels! I love them. When Shabbat starts, I like to have at least two novels in my apartment, plus a magazine. Ideally, I would have started reading one book, so I know I like it, lest I be rudely surprised. The magazine could be either new or not, as long as there is something left to read in it. But I digress.

Where do all these novels come from, Katrina, you might ask? Well, first of all, I spend a fair amount of my disposable income on them. Since that's not much, I try to cut back on costs by: 1) borrowing books from friends (this rarely works, since I have idiosyncratic tastes); 2) buying remainders at my local book store, which has yielded more good books than I would expect; and 3) charging everything on my Amazon Visa and then spending the reward gift certificates on books. I also got my love of novels from my dad, so, whenever I'm home, he usually buys me a couple.

How do I have time to read all of these novels? Shouldn't I be reading for grad school? Well, Shabbatot in the summer are LONG, so even if I go to shul and then lunch, that leaves 6+ hours of reading. Even if half of that is taken up by napping, that's still a lot of reading time. And I am a fast reader. Also, I spend a fair amount of time with my books and my computer, so when I go out to or host dinner on Friday night and interact with all the people, it's cool, but it makes me kind of hyper. Even if I get home at midnight, I often have trouble calming down, so that's another reading opportunity. Then (gasp!) I read a little during the week.

Of course, the most important question (if you're still reading this after the thrilling previous paragraphs) is, what do I read? I happen to have very specific taste in novels. I used to feel bad about this, but then I figured, hey, it's my escape, so eat it, Dostoyevsky! I like to read books originally written in English because writing style is very important to me. I prefer contemporary fiction (within the last ten years, usually), and most of the books I read are by women*, which I think is a style thing. Not that men can't write in the kind of feminine style I like, but I think there is this pressure to be Hemingway. When I go to a bookstore, I will pick up a book that looks good and read the first few sentences. By that point, I can usually tell if it's a "no." People probably think I'm crazy because I can pick up a book, look at the back or page 1 for a few seconds, then put it down. If it's a "maybe," I move on to other books, repeat, and decide at the end, unless I'm in a rush. When I order online, I usually stick to authors I know, with some attention paid to reviews.

So, here is a partial list of books and/or authors I have really enjoyed these past few years. Maybe you'll decide to read one or more of them and tell me what you think. The authors are in alphabetical order to avoid appearance of favoritism:

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and The Yiddish Policeman's Union: No, I am not comparing the two. Kavalier and Clay is a FREAKING MASTERPIECE. I felt blessed to be reading it and hoped it would never end. But YPU was still quite good as a book and, to borrow my father's adjective, "brilliant" as a satire. I know that opinions on the book were mixed. If you want to know what I think it was about, leave me a comment, and I'll tell you.

Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss: This is one of the first post-colonial novels I have read that understands the mind-blowing complexity of the post-colonial world.

Junot Diaz, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Yes, I read it BEFORE it won the Pulitzer, and I couldn't put it down. It's part story of a nerd, part window into Dominican-American culture, part mystery. Afterwards I read Diaz's first book, a collection of stories called Drown. Not as good, but pretty darn good.

Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Like Yiddish Policeman's Union, it's probably only funny if you're really Jewy. The first two stories in particular blew my mind.

Keri Hulme, The Bone People: Really weird in terms of style, plot, and everything else, but worth it. It's about an artist (with almost the same name as the author) who lives in New Zealand and meets a Maori boy and his foster father and befriends them.

Gish Jen, Mona in the Promised Land: Another hilarious book for Jews to read, I think. It's about a Chinese-American teenager growing up in Scarsdale, her Jewish friend (boyfriend?), and her interactions with the Jewish communnity. It seems the two groups have something in common! Fancy that.

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake, and Unaccustomed Earth: I can't really decide which is my favorite. They are all different. IofM is a collection of interconnected short stories, set in an apartment building in India, UE is short stories and a novella set in the States, and Namesake is a novel set in the States. The part of Namesake in which the narrator explains why the main character is nicknamed "Gogol" is particularly good.

Andrew Miller, Oxygen: I picked it up for $5 at the bookstore, really enjoyed it, then realized I had read another of his books in a similar fashion.

Denise Mina, Field of Blood: Totally accidental borrowing from BFF, and now I practically keep her in business. Her first book is the real thing, though--it's the thinking woman's mystery. Gory.

Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried: a semi-autobiographical book of interlinked short stories about the Vietnam war. I thought there was nothing more anyone could do with the subject post-Apocalypse-Now and Born-on-the-Fourth-of-July, but I was WAY wrong.

Ann Patchett, Bel Canto: another beautifully written book. It's hard to explain her way with words if you haven't been there.

Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker: It's the Korean-American immigrant story, beautifully told.

Marilyn Robinson, Housekeeping (warning: this book is for style fiends only; it has a plot, but the cool part is that every single word was chosen with care to be the perfect word for its sentence--wow).

Lionel Shriver (who is actually a woman), The Post-Birthday World: A really creative set-up. A woman has the opportunity to kiss an acquaintance of her husband's. Then the book continues in alternating chapters based on whether she did it or not. Shriver has a very unconventional way of looking at the world, to say the least, as you will find if you read We Need to Talk about Kevin (not just another school shooting book, that's for darn sure) and the satire Game Control.

Zadie Smith, White Teeth: Really unusual and really good, it tells the story of two inter-connected immigrant families in the UK. But I totally can't do it justice by describing plot.

Colm Tóibín, Mothers and Sons and The Heather Blazing: I'm a sucker for Irish fiction. I think as a Jew I identify with all the suffering and yearning for a homeland. Toibin is an artist.

What do you guys like? I'm always looking for recommendations . . .

*Funny story: After I compiled the list, I realize there are an awful lot of men on it. Hmm . . . Have to think about it. Also, the number of books that take place in different countries surprised me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The J-Blogosphere: Good for the (Frum) Jews?

Lately it seems as though every New York media outlet I read has something to say about subjects related to shidduchim or other topics of frum interest.

DISCLAIMER: I do not identify as frum; I identify as Conservadox, which is American for confused. Nevertheless, I have frum friends, and I read frum blogs, and I have common sense, so I think that I can sketch this out broadly. Please let me know if anything seems horribly off-key.

First, there was the New York Jewish Week article in which one of my favorite bloggers, Bad4shidduchim, aka Bad4, was profiled. I think that the article failed to capture Bad4's wit but was otherwise pretty positive. Bad4's regular posters, some of whom know her personally, agreed. Then, taking her shidduch article to a paper that some people actually pay for and read, the same journalist who interviewd Bad4 wrote a more general article for The Wall Street Journal called "Single Jewish Female Seeks Stress Relief." That article highlighted some of the less pleasant aspects of the shidduch process (all of which the writer seems to have gotten from reading Bad4's blog, but who in journalism cares about attribution?), including that there are more dating gals than guys, which creates: 1) a series of women who can't marry and are considered old maids at 25; 2) really demanding "learning boys" and their even more demanding mothers, who sometimes insist on interviewing the "girl" before they will let their sons interrupt learning to date her; and 3) male "serial daters" who can and will date women as young as 18 for years because they can, and because they are afraid of making a mistake and ending up divorced. I am skeptical about the last one, since what 18-year-old would date a 30-year-old? As far as I understand it, 18-year-old girls are considered quite marriageable, and 30-year-old "bochurim" are considered, at the very least, weird. Anyway, the seemingly insane degree of background checking and labeling that goes on before the first date is also mentioned.

Charedi/yeshivish bloggers' reactions to The Wall Street Journal article seemed to range from "yeah, that's us," to "yeah, can you believe that's us? G-d help us." MY reaction was, Isn't this bad for the Jews, at least for Jews who participate in the shidduch "System"? And what about the Jews, like me, who are considered "Orthodox" by their non-Jewish friends--and some of the Jewish ones as well--because they are Shomrei Shabbat, and they don't live in New York, and people are ignorant? Now, instead of asking me whether I am going to have a million (read: 3) kids, since I can't use birth control (yes, I have gotten that question), people will ask me whether I put my boyfriend through a CIA background check before our first date. (Oh, yeah, JDate has that extra James Bond application).

Does anyone think that shidduchim would have made it into The Wall Street Journal without the J-Blogosphere? I don't. The J-Blogosphere provides too many research-free opportunities for journalists to get quick articles before their deadlines (on posts from Bad4 overlapping with subjects in the article, see here, here, and here).

I would also like to point out that, where I live, I have a number of out-of-town Modern Orthodox, Conservadox, and Conservative (labels are helpful sometimes) friends who read Charedi/yeshivish blogs and discuss them at Shabbat meals. By "discuss," I mostly mean that they say, "Can you believe these crazies?" Favorite non-shidduch internet proof of craziness usually centers on issues of: kashrut (keeping kosher), tznius (modesty), and chumrahs (customary stringencies that many people, including rabbis, now treat as halakhah, Jewish law) in general. When I say kashrut, I don't mean actually keeping kosher; I mean water-filtering, avoidance of raw fruits and vegetables even without the CDC scare, and Chalav Yisrael. By "tznius," I don't mean wearing long skirts and long sleeves; I mean Israeli "mehadrin" buses, Israeli women in burkas, and total separation of the sexes before marriage. By chumrahs, I mean what FrumSatire calls "the chumrah-of-the-month club." I think that's self-explanatory. I wouldn't know about 90% of these "crazy" things without the J-Blogosphere. I try to avoid these conversations, but they are going on. I predict that this Shabbat, the New York article on the woman who left Kiryas Joel will be the J-Blogosphere-inspired topic of conversation.

I know that Jews have found ways to hate each other for millenia without the help of the Jewish Blogosphere. (And in case anyone wants to accuse non-Orthodox Jews of hating the Orthodox for the fun of it, let me assure you that it's mutual. If I had a dollar for every time I read a hateful comment directed against Conservative and Reform Jews on a blog, I could drop out of grad school and eat bon-bons all day. These discussions also take place at dinner tables and would continue to occur even without the J-Blogosphere).

I also know that the J-Blogosphere provides much-needed outlets for frustrated people to express their frustration and anger, often at their own communities. The Charedi/yeshivish community, of course, is not monolithic: there is a silent majority that wants change, just as there is in every community. And I firmly believe it's their business, at least in the US. The taxpayers don't pay guys to learn full time, and people are free to leave.

But will it really remain their business if they are broadcasting it to the (at least Jewish) world?

Monday, July 14, 2008

This Is Why People Have Blogs

. . . so that they can rant about things that were bothering them last month (June) and will not be even remotely revelant until next June. So here it is:

If you are even remotely considering advertising a June jazz event with the words "We jazz June," please consider the poem from which it comes, "We Real Cool." The African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) published this poem as part of a collection in 1963:

We Real Cool

We real cool.
We Left school. We

Lurk late.
We Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We Die soon.

Take-home point: Promoting your family jazz celebration in the park in June with a poem about the urban racialized poor and their imminent demise=bad.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Boyfriends and Blogs

TC and I have been back together for about two-and-a-half months, and I felt for the first time on Sunday that it is serious now. Please get your minds out of the gutter; this was not because we had sex or anything. I was visiting my parents, who live near TC, for a few weeks, and we were able to see each other more often than about once every two weeks, and things just feel . . . intense, if I had to sum it up in a word. This isn't bad. It's weird, in a good way, not to mention good, in a weird way, and it's kind of overwhelming, but, humble reader, I have an even more important (in cyber-space terms) question for you:

Do I have to tell TC about my blog?

He doesn't know it exists yet, which I tend to think is a good idea, since I have already blogged about: 1) our previous relationship; 2) my conflicted feelings for The Shaigetz, which I realize now didn't amount to anything but a certain type of frustration; and 3) his mother. I don't know if he would care about 1), and I could delete posts pertaining to 2) and 3), but then what's the point of having a blog? If I had a diary, I don't think I would share it with him. If I talk about him to my parents, brother, or BFF, I don't necessarily tell him. I realize there is a difference, though, because others read this blog, and a few even know who I am and therefore who he is, although many don't. I could keep my blog and limit my posts to those relating to Judaism and politics, but I have gotten kind of attached to sharing my not-hugely-interesting dating stories in the blogosphere.

So, I wasn't thinking of telling him right away, but what's the etiquette on this? I am not worried about "getting caught" because he is very NOT computer-savvy and never reads blogs; this is more an issue of mutual respect. How serious does it have to get before it's inappropriate for me NOT to tell him? And then I guess I should sanitize my blog first?

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I realize that much of this is not new, but it's pretty new to me. My experience, my blog, you know.

Usually, when I visit TC in New York over Shabbat, we go to his regular minyan for Shacharit. In that minyan, most of the people are old enough to be my (or TC's) parents. I also happen to know a few of these parentally-aged types. They are pleased that TC and I are together, but it's pretty low-key. I enjoy meeting TC's co-minyanites, just as I hope, when he is in town, he likes to make the acquaintance of my friends.

Last Shabbat, though, the regular minyan was having a special service that we (or at least I) didn't want to go to. So we went to Hadar (a post-denominational but essentially Conservative minyan founded by young people who are now in their mid-30's, although there are younger folks there, too). I had gone to Hadar when I lived in NYC right out of college, and I had never found it particularly friendly. I knew a few people from college and around the Upper West Side, but I never felt like I had an "in" there. I ended up going to another minyan (or two) regularly.

This time, when TC and I went to Hadar, the place had a totally feel. I felt like people were finally treating me like a whole person, now that I was part of a couple. I had several long conversations with people (people I already knew, but I still felt like I belonged). I knew more people there than I had before (people from where I live now who had moved to NYC, mostly), and of course I was more confident, with boyfriend in tow. I realize there are a number of variables here. But I still think that people closer to my age treat me differently now that I am "coupled." I told this to one of my Charedi/yeshivish friends, who is also old enough to be my mom. She was surprised, because she thought that since Hadar is all egalitarian and everything, people wouldn't be hung up on that. Ha! We're still Jewish, right? But it does raise of the question: if we're so egalitarian and progressive, why do we think women are missing something if they don't have a man?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Shavuot Musings, or Lack Thereof

Shavuot is coming up on Sunday night. This is the holiday on which we celebrate the Revelation and giving of the Torah at Sinai (I believe in the Revelation; in terms of exactly what was given, I am not touching that on this blog with a ten-foot pole).

Anyway, I have noticed from reading blogs and seeing people's Facebook status updates--hey, I'm a grad student, so I don't always go outside--that some people are talking about readying themselves for Shavuot, preparing to bring their neshamot (souls) up as high as possible for the time when they will receive the Torah again. Even though I am a (religious) rationalist who would rather think of mitzvot than her neshamah, not that the two are mutually exclusive, I find all this talk of musings and preparations for the holiday quite nice.

I also find that it makes me feel guilty. When I think of Shavuot, I think of: 1. where I will eat meals, and how many dishes I have to prepare beforehand for me and/or potlocks; 2. how disgusting my hair is going to be on the second day; 3. how bored and or/hot (temperature-wise)I will probably be by Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes I also think about and get kind of excited for my community's Tikkun Leil Shavuot (staying up all night to study Torah) and a few of the shiurim (lessons) that I have seen on the tentative schedule, so that's good. But then my mind wanders to logistics: Should I go for mincha (afternoon prayers), or wait to go over until dinner and then stay for some shiurim? How late will I be able to stay up? I should really make a donation to the sponsoring group, etc. Not exactly elevated thinking.

I talked about this with my BFF this morning, and she said that it is only natural to feel this way, since that is how our ancestors thought about the holiday, too. Even though we now have modern technology, money, and butcher shops, only really special, high energy people who are not writing dissertations can do both. That reminded me of a d'var Torah I once heard from a woman who used to be yeshivish and married to a yeshivah bochur (full-time Talmud student) and now is not religious like that anymore. She talked about slaving over holiday meals for her husband and his fellow yeshivah bochurim and then having one of them say at her table, "I really enjoy yontif (holidays) because they're so relaxing." She thought, "Yeah, right, for those who have food served to them."

My mom told me that this was an anti-feminist statement when I said something similar in a slightly different context, but I think that the traditional division of labor is not particularly conducive to women having deep thoughts about yontif in the days before. Now that many men in my community help with food preparation and so forth, one possibility is that both parties feel like they have a little more time to reflect. The other possibility is that, now, everyone's head is full of blintzes and logistics (mmmm . . . logistics), and only those who are teaching at the Tikkun are thinking about texts, and it is largely because they are forced to. (Although I realize that some people volunteer for the Tikkun in order to motivate themselves to study texts and think about the holiday, which I think is very admirable).

So, does anyone else feel this way? What do you do about it? (Please don't tell me that I CAN, in fact, wash my hair on yontif. I'm not doing that right now, and it's not the point, anyway).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Enough already, Hillary!

I don't usually blog about political issues, because everyone else is doing it, but I am getting to be crazed (I hope not literally) by Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama has won the nomination. He has the requisite number of delegates. What is Hillary doing? She's "considering her options." What options are those? I hope she's busy writing a speech in which she says something like, "I encourage all of my supporters to support Senator Obama in the fall, since we have to take back the White House, AND ANYWAY OUR POLICY POSITIONS ARE NEARLY IDENTICAL!!!!" I just watched the beginning of the Today show, and one of her staffers was on. Matt Lauer showed him the headline from the Washington Post today. It said something like, "Obama Wins Nomination," and asked, "Is this headline accurate or inaccurate?" The staffer couldn't give him a direct answer, even when Matt asked him again.

A few weeks ago in the New Yorker, Hendrik Herzberg wrote that the Clinton campaign had reached an almost mystical phase, in which her decision to drop out no longer had anything to do with the change she had to win. And that was before Obama had actually clinched the nomination! And they still won't concede. Incredible! AND, I think this vice-presidential thing is just a distraction by her people to get more attention.

Hillary Clinton, please concede gracefully and urge your supporters to support Obama before you do even more damage to his campaign. McCain was already starting to recruit your supporters last night!

ON AN UNRELATED NOTE: Since I'm in the realm of politics, I would like to wish Ted Kennedy a refuah shleimah (full recovery). He did something horrible a long time ago, and, it's true, if he were not a Kennedy, he might have gone to jail, although he would not have done that much time. I believe in teshuvah (it's a complicated term, but let's go, in one word, with "repentance"), and I think that his tireless work in the Senate over the past four decades has demonstrated a commitment to be an upright, contributing citizen who advocates on behalf of the poor, disenfranchised, and usually ignored. As I heard on TV, it's hard to imagine the Senate without him.

On his surgery: The cable news networks have been tying themselves into pretzels trying to explain his surgery, and the fact that he was awake. Maybe I remember too much old TV, but it seems simplest to me to compare it to the surgery that Dr. Mark Greene had on the TV show ER 5-7 seasons ago. He, too, had a tumor in Broca's area, which controls speech, and he had experimental surgery in which he was awake the whole time. I think that a good number of TV viewers remember that episode. That would have been my idea for a news segment, anyway.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Misheberach Issue

In case you are wondering what happened to TC and me at his parents' this weekend, you can see the post here.

Now, onto something else I have been thinking about on and off lately:

I try to add the names of people needing misheberachs (prayers for the sick) to my prayers (I pray once a day on weekdays and 2-3 times a day on Shabbat). I sometimes get these names from e-mail lists I am on, Facebook groups, or newspaper articles about Israeli terror victims. The problem is that, since I don't know many of these people or their relatives personally, I don't know when they no longer need the misheberachs, either because they (God forbid) died, or because they are well. (For example, does Nadav Eliahu ben Hadassah, the victim of the Mercaz HaRav yeshivah attack, still need the misheberach that was requested 2-and-a-half months ago?). The truth is, even when the misheberach is for the grandparent of someone with whom I am friendly, I can hardly go up to the person and say, So, is your grandfather still alive? Obviously, I could ask how the relative is doing, but I am afraid of upsetting the person.

Do other people have this problem? And, if so, what do you do about it? Should there be a six-month cut-off point or something? I am of the opinion that even if someone has a chronic illness, I will not say a misheberach for him or her indefinitely--only if he or she is in the hospital or otherwise gets worse. But that is more information than I usually have.

I will open this up to responses and suggestions from the gallery (and please, nothing cheeky about how the majority of people on synagogue misheberach lists are dead--that's not helpful).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Omer: What is a Conservadox Woman to Do?

Every year, I struggle with the Omer. The two questions I have are: 1. For How Long? 2. What do I do (other than counting the Omer)?

Question 1 was answered convincingly for me by the husband of a friend a few years ago. He said that it makes no sense to observe the Omer, a mourning or partial mourning period, in Nissan, the month of Passover, traditionally associated with the Redemption. (Observing the Omer on Chol HaMoed Pesach in particular seems dumb to him). If there is no tachanun (a prayer of supplication that is omitted on happy occasions) in Nissan, why should there be Omer observance? Furthermore, there is no tachanun on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, so he starts to observe the Omer on the third of Iyar (the Hebrew month after Nissan). He continues to observe it for about three more weeks, until Lag Ba'Omer (the thirty-fifth day of the Omer), and then he stops. His reasoning is that the official reason for observing a mourning or semi-mourning period during the Omer is that, according to the Gemara, Rabbi Akiva's students started dying during the Omer, and they stopped dying on Lag Ba'Omer. He thinks that the custom arose to observe the Omer as a mourning period from the thirty-sixth day of the Omer until Shavuot only for the maintenance of symmetry between the first and last halves of the Omer. In true Conservadox style, I follow this minhag (custom), since it makes sense to me, although I feel kind of guilty about not observing the Omer (other than counting it) after Lag Ba'Omer, since everyone else is doing it.

The question of how I observe the Omer is a much harder one. My friend's husband is (wait for it) a guy, which means that he can observe the Omer very visibly by not shaving. Since he is hirsute, his observance is quite visible. But what should women do? There is no historical connection between mourning and not shaving legs, and I have to be seen in public, so that's out. In the past, I have not listened to recorded music, but this year is a bit of a challenge, since with the exception of one train ride in the near future, I wouldn't normally listen to music anyway. I'm also not convinced that listening to recorded music during the Omer is not allowed. Listening to LIVE music is not allowed, and going to weddings is not allowed, but I don't do those things at this time of year anyway. That is my question, I suppose: Does it "count" (no pun intended, but it's still funny) if I don't do what is forbidden if I wasn't going to do it anyway? Is the idea only to avoid the forbidden--assuming I even know what that is--or do I also have to make a separation between Omer and not-Omer?

I have considered giving up TV, or some TV, but it's hard to convince myself that that is necessary. Even the reason about Rabbi Akiva's students dying seems insufficient to me as a reason why all Jews shouldn't be allowed to have any fun (a gloss from an old acquaintance) for three or six or seven weeks. Is this a situation where the mourning custom, which had developed but whose origin had been forgotten, had to be explained retroactively by the rabbis?

What do you guys do? I am open to suggestions.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Well, I'm Still Conservadox . . .

. . . but as for the single thing, not so much. I'm back with the Ex.

Now, before everyone goes crazy, I haven't told you guys that I had been thinking about the Ex and me a lot lately. I decided that the primary obstacle to our relationship previously was the difference in our positions on the religious spectrum, and, after dating some and trying to date some over the last six months, that was not insurmountable, since we are compatible in so many other areas. (There are lots of guys out there with whom I am SO not compatible). We have decided on some minimim religion-in-the-home prerequisites in case the relationship progresses, and I am satisfied with them. I also realized that I was way too hard on him in our past relationship. That was due largely to my inexperience, which led to the belief that if we were right for each other, everything would be perfect from the beginning. Ha! I am trying patience, patience, patience.

He has also changed, in the sense of having matured, knowing what he wants (including me!) and going for it. I have been missing him lately, and he was missing me, too.

We will still have to be long-distance for a while, but in the summer I will have more flexibility in terms of my location.

I am pretty happy. It feels as though very little time has passed. I'm nervous, too, because relationships are hard, but so is everything rewarding.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Feast or Famine

Another dispatch from the hilariously unpredictable world of dating:

After a March that might charitably be called slow (and, uncharitably, dry as a bone) I am suddenly faced with: 1) two dates this week; and 2) two unsolicited messages of interest from promising-looking JDaters in the metro area where I live. This is not bad news. I realize that things are cyclical. In February, if you remember, I had three first dates--and, sadly, no second dates. When things are bad, I tend to get really really pessimistic and sad, never remembering, of course, that they will probably improve. By "improve," I don't necessarily mean that I will start dating someone seriously--only that I will get a date or some interest from people on JDate or Frumster. I know intellectually that after Pesach, a lot of people join JDate, because who wants to be single at a seder with his or her mom, aunts, and grandma there? My family is actually extremely tactful about this, but I know that is not the norm.

So, Katrina, you might ask, is there a problem here? Thanks for asking. Yes. After over a month of feeling bad about myself (and gaining some weight as a result), I'm not sure how to switch over to confident Katrina, the super dater. I don't know what to wear. I think that maybe I should lose some weight before contacting the JDaters, although I actually know that is ridiculous, since it's Pesach, when coffee cake is considered breakfast. I am really stressed about being judged, appraised, given the once-over, etc., although of course I realize that I will be doing that to the guy as well.

If anyone wants to help me get psyched--I have a date tonight!--please feel free.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Another 5,000 Down

Or that's how it seems, anyway. In the last two or three weeks, it seems that a lot of friends or acquaintances or random people I read about on blogs have been getting engaged or married. On one level, I am certainly happy for them. Some are older than me (although some are younger--back to that later), and they must be happy and relieved to have found their other halves. On another level, though, I have to admit that I'm bummed out, not for them, of course, but for me.* I have lived in the place where I attend grad school for 4.5 years now, and as I look back at the single people I met when I first got here, a surprising percentage are engaged, married, or in serious relationships. Or maybe it's not surprising. Maybe it's more surprising that I'm not in a relationship, even though I have been (once) in the past. This fuels a common fear that I have about being left behind. As I have talked about in at least one previous post, I have never exactly been at top of my class in terms of social skills and relationships. High school was not good. I had a few close friends in college, but I didn't have a circle of friends until a year or two into grad school, i.e. when I was 25 years old, younger than the age when some people I know are getting engaged and married now. Since then I have felt ready for dating, but things haven't really been going that well for me, and I worry about being the one left standing alone. Sure, there will be a few others, but that doesn't make me feel better, nor should it.

In case you were thinking, "But Katrina, you're only 28; that's not that old," I would like to respond. Objectively, no, that is not that old in this day and age, given my demographic. But, the older I get, I have observed, the more discouraged and semi-closed-down the members of my (already so small) potential dating pool get. As I was discussing with one comically mismatched date in December--since we both realized we were comically mismatched about 10 minutes in, we were free to ruminate on the larger dating situation--it seems that the older people get, the more narrow their criteria get, when in fact those criteria should be getting broader. Call it the "I waited for this?" syndrome. This is only matched, on the guy front, with the "I'm suddenly tired of dating and will marry the next girl/woman I see," which is frustrating for the clearly smarter, funnier, cutier girl/woman whom you wouldn't even think about dating a year before because she wasn't a supermodel.

So, I open this up to the floor. Please don't all tell me it's okay, because I don't feel okay, and teh reality isn't okay, as we could all see from the article Shira linked to last week. The New York Times also has an article today about the reasons behind the man shortage, but I won't link to it here. Single people, do you share any of these feelings? I am trying to date (not too successfully, but I'm trying), so this isn't about my being depressed and hiding in a corner. Guys, is there some kind of faux pas that women commit that turns you off every time? And for pete's sake, people; if someone writes to you on Frumster, write back, even if it is just that form letter. Not knowing is worse.

*And I really don't believe, except in my really down moments, that not being happy for someone guaranties poor results in the dating/marriage department. It's hard to imagine that life is that clear-cut.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The US vs. Europe: A comparison based on experience and, of course, blatant generalizations

By "the US," I primary mean the Northeastern US, and by "Europe," I primarily mean western, continental Europe:

US: Jews of lots of different types
Europe: unaffiliated Jews, charedim, kiruv-niks, Chabad

US: kosher food
Europe: not so much, although Chabad is happy to feed you

US: eruvs
Europe: yeah, right

US: sense of humor
Europe: varies greatly; Italy=yes, Germany=no

US: awkward Mulim/Christian dynamic caused by Republicans
Europe: VERY awkward Muslim/Christian dynamic caused by everyone

US: factory farming
Europe: grazing sheep, horses, goats, etc. visible from trains

US: Suburban sprawl
Europe: When you leave a city, there are actually green fields and the aforementioned animals

US: some interest in climate change
Europe: small cars--very small cars; very thin aluminum foil; those new futuristic windmills

US: speaky English
Europe: Dave Barry: "your average German speaks better English than your average US Congressperson"; Katrina: this is depressingly true, although it says more about Congress than Germans

US: decent toilet paper
Europe: yeah, right

US: public transportation outside NYC? Who ever heard of such a thing?
Europe: excellent public transportation

US: college professors who almost always know that women can walk through doors and put on their own coats-unassisted
Europe: this knowledge is surprisingly lacking

US: I often sleep
Europe: I am writing a blog post at 7:00 am when I have to be up at 8:30. Bon soir, folks.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Grappling with Purim

When I was a kid, I never liked Purim. It seemed like a bunch of people running around in costume for no obvious reason. Halloween seemed more fun and more likely to result in candy for me, personally. Despite not being frum, my family has some Litvish tendencies, so my parents didn't even like the service at our synagogue.

There were some positive developments along the way, such as my ninth grade class at Schechter, where we studied Megillat Esther as literature. I really enjoyed it and discovered that it much less silly than I had thought. In 11th or 12th grade, I spent Purim with some friends in NCSY (the Orthodox youth group), and with them I heard my first complete Megillah reading and had my first Purim seudah (festive meal).

College was less good, but that was only because I didn't really like my college's Hillel, so my dissatisfaction wasn't limited to Purim. Also there were some girls who liked to dress up in theme costumes, and I was somehow never included. All those girls are married now, and I'm not, but I don't draw any conclusions from that.

But, when I moved to where I currently live, I fell in love with Purim. Lots of dorks in dorky costumes! A choice of Megillah readings, including one where people do voices! Parties with my friends! Candy! (OK, there was always candy, but candy is so much better when you're already having fun).

So, I'm still here where I live, but this coming Purim has raised a lot of issues for me. First, there was the attack on the Mercaz HaRav (Kook) Yeshivah in Jerusalem. It horrified me beyond words. Some insane Arab terrorist killed teenagers in Jerusalem while they were studying Torah. And someone said up a Facebook group in his honor! The reaction, alas, left something to be desired. According to The New York Times, which isn't the best source necessarily, but this doesn't sound so far-fetched, the Israeli government is trying to figure out whether it would be legal to demolish this guy's house, which I'm pretty sure won't help. Then the Rosh Yeshivah of Mercaz HaRav, whom I acknowledge must be suffering terribly, said in his eulogy, "The murderers are the Amalek of our day." Since we just passed Shabbat Zachor, I think we know what that means. I am very worried that right-wing Israeli religious nationalists will kill Israeli Arabs and/or Palestinians this Purim. We're not that many years removed from Baruch Goldstein, who is still treated like a hero in some circles, most visibly in Hevron. Please don't do it, guys. Purim is confusing because Megillat Esther and much of the Jewish tradition clearly glorifies killing our enemies. (Skipping those parts of the Megillah in some non-Orthodox shuls won't make that go away). I think that modern Jews, regardless of whether they are frum or not, can draw distinctions between previous times and now, and can assess what makes long-term geopolitical sense, which is also a part of our long-term survival. Killing Arabs won't help with that. But not all Jews are modern (which is their choice), and not all Jews are sane (and I am not equating non-modernity with insanity--these are two separate categories), as Jewish tradition also attests, so I'm very concerned.

Second, a friend of mine was killed this week. He was just about my age. Many communities are in mourning. He and I often attended the same Purim seudah. My friends and I cannot figure out what to do. Some sort of seudah will take place. HaMotzi (the blessing over the bread, which is necessary in order for a meal to be considered a seudah) will be said, mishloach manot (gift baskets of food) will be exchanged, and probably everyone will cry. Great, right?

So, I'm seriously trying to figure out how to view this Purim as anything other than a disaster. Something I heard a few weeks ago is part of what I'm thinking about. My father has been reading (Former Israeli Chief) Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Lau's guide to Jewish law (a best-seller in Israel in the '70's, still in print). It was designed for the average Israeli and thus is good for American Jews, in English or the language of your preference. My father, an owner of a Jewish calendar if ever there was one, was reading the section on Purim, and he told me that Lau talked about the aspect of the holiday that is "the world turned upside down."

A brief excursus for those of you who aren't grad students, and who don't use the word "excursus" in any context, ever: A number of scholars, most famously Mikhail Bakhtin, author of Rabelais and His World, have discussed the role of Carnival (part of which we now know today in America as Mardi Gras) in Europe before the advent of modernity. Basically, his thesis was that because medieval and early modern society were so unequal and generally depressing, regular people needed an outlet to avoid setting everything on fire. So, for a fixed period of time before Lent, there were rowdy, costumed, alcohol-soaked parades and other celebrations in which people dressed up as or otherwise mocked the king, the local lord, the tax collector, or all three, with no consequences as long as they went home when it was over. Commoners "turned the world upside down" and pretended that they were the rich guys with all of the money and power (and food). It's not a secret that Mardi Gras and Purim occur around the same time (unless there is a lunar leap year and the solar calendar is off), and that certain themes--the costumes, the booze, the not wanting to be able to differentiate between the good guy and the bad guy--are similar. After hearing about Bakhtin in my first year of graduate school, I did what I usually do when I hear these things. I said to myself, "Okay, Katrina, so there is a basic need in society for turning the world upside down, and it probably predates Christianity; we have turned this need into something Jewish, as we do, which is a good thing." And I left it at that.

Lau had quite a different perspective. The turning the world upside town, or turning oneself inside out, gives one the opportunity to truly and openly let oneself experience the pain of the Golah (exile--it used to refer to the loss of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel AND the absence of God's presence from the Holy Temple and the sacrifices; now, although opinions differ, depending on what you think "Jewish sovereignty" means, it refers primarily to the latter) and the suffering of the Jewish people that has resulted. Lau's statement really struck me, not least because it made Purim seem much more Jewish to me than it had since I read about Bakhtin. I heard this before my friend died, but I think that if we look at Purim as also perhaps a time of anguish (that's why lots of people drink, of course)--something the rabbis touched on in reverse when they said that Yom Kippur, Yom ha'Kippurim, is meant to be a Yom ki' Purim (a day like Purim), it can make sense even amidst our suffering. And if you look at the sweep of Jewish history, of course, Purim was often far from happy; Jews "celebrated" it amidst desperate poverty and persecution, and perhaps even while being locked into their ghettos by the government for their own protection during Carnival, which did happen. There is always a thin line between comedy and tragedy; to take a more modern example, just think of how many people are afraid of clowns. So that's the best I can do right now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Things That Piss Me Off

I thought I would share. These are in no particular order:

Hillary Clinton and her "kitchen sink" tactics (great if you want to repeat 1972, Hillary!)

That a not-insignificant number of my cousins (first and more distant) are marrying non-Jews

Tall, blond, skinny women (whether or not they are marrying my cousins)

Even the thought of Pesach cleaning

That Provigil, which I don't take, but which has legitimate therapeutic uses for some, is now apparently a performance-enhancing drug (NYT requires registration)

That Saturday Night Live should have any effect on the presidential election whatsoever

That I sometimes can't resist the clarion call of JDate, despite my efforts

The disastrous economic policies (or rather lack thereof) of the Bush administration, and the crushing effects it is having on the country

Insane homicidal Palestinian terrorists and the lefties who love them (Sure, watch Unsettled, but how about some balance, people?)

The Israeli goverment's incredibly ill-advised settlement policy, which is not justified by the insane homicidal Palestianian terrorists

NOTE: It surprises me how much better it makes me feel to get this out. The fact that these things piss me off does not mean that there are other things that don't piss me off. That just isn't what I want to post about today.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Memo to the American Organized Jewish Community

To: The organized Jewish community

From: Katrina

Re: Bad for the Jews

It has come to my attention that certain Jewish leaders have been making ninnies of themselves and, by extension, all of us. These leaders, who happen to be Republicans (I have no problem disclosing that I am a proud Democrat), have been saying as loudly as possible that Obama is bad for Israel, AND that American Jews agree with them (Many of this was quoted first in the Jerusalem Post, which, to its credit, also has a campaign section about Israel with a variety of views on Obama). Although certain other Jewish leaders, who are Democrats, have spoken out against this, it may be too late, since I saw a news story on CNN's Situation Room this evening about what Israel thinks of the American candidates. The fact that there even was such a story (as though the US should care what Israel, or any other allied country, thinks of their individual candidates, as long as neither one of them is an axe-murderer) indicates that certain people in media also take seriously this idea that "American Jews" are evaluating Obama solely on his position on Israel. Furthermore, the implication is that there is a substantive difference between his views on Israel's and McCain's, of which there is currently no evidence (other than, as CNN reported, that Obama might talk to Ahmadinejad--that's talk to, folks, not sign a mutural non-agression pact with--without preconditions instead of bombing first and asking questions later).

Remember 2004, Organized Jewish Community (OJC)? Republicans said the sky would fall if Kerry was elected, and then Bush proceded to: 1) do nothing for 3 years, and then 2) do something, which many of our friends in New York who had been so vehemently against Kerry nevertheless thought was totally unacceptable because it might result in peace (although no one seriously thought that it would result in peace, but, you know, it's the principle).

So, OJC, these are my requests: 1) Regardless of your party affiliation, stop portraying "American Jews" as a giant monlith whose behavior is identical with yours, or yours and your other New York friends; there are Jews all over the country, and the majority (including some in NY) both support peace in Israel, including with some symbolic concessions on Jeruslaem, and think that a candidate's fitness to be president involves his or her views on domestic and general foreign issues, in addition to his or her views on Israel; 2) Stop making the Jews look bad, traitorous, selfish, etc. This is related to 1), of course, but this Israel-centric behavior RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE TV CAMERAS OR NEWSPAPER REPORTERS just plays into the hands of the The Israel Lobby folks and everyone else who thinks that Jews control the government and/or don't care about anything other than Israel; and 3) Do some research on the remaining candidates from both parties and think about domestic policy for a while. You live here--and here's kind of a mess right now.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Must-See

UPDATE: Here's the link!

So I was watching the newly-returned SNL tonight, and Tina Fey was hosting. At the end of Weekend Update, which she used to co-anchor when she was on the show, she did a bit about Hillary Clinton and why people in Texas and Ohio should vote for her. As an Obama supporter who used to support Hillary but doesn't think she's electable, I appreciated it. As an assertive woman who has been called (mostly behind her back) a bitch, I idenified with it. As soon as it's online, I'll link to it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Taking a Break

After consultation with a few people, and reassurance from alg (a member of my approximate demographic) that it's not totally nuts, I have decided to take a two-month-to-10-weeks break from dating. I have been so frustrated lately (here is just one example) by my unsuccessful efforts to get from a first date to a second date that I think I am doing no one any good by going on more first dates. I think guys can tell how pissed off/frustrated/nervous I am. The key is that this is not an indefinite break or a sign of giving up--it is a mindful decision to concentrate on other things to the exclusion of dating, online or otherwise, until Pesach or right after Pesach.

Also, I am trying to declutter my life in general, since I am deluged by a number of treatises in a language other than English that I have to read within the next month for dissertation purposes. It's hard for me to admit that I need de-cluttering, since I pride myself on being a very competent multitasker, but when a trusted person who knows me well suggested it yesterday, it made a lot of sense. I felt very relieved, so I'm pretty sure it's the right thing to do. I don't know yet how this will impact blogging. Right now I'm not intending to take a break, but if you don't hear from me for a while, you will know why. Thanks.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I Tried to Date the Law . . .

. . . and the law won. Or whatever. The analogy doesn't quite work. The lawyer, aka Date #3 from my 3-date bonanza of a few weeks ago, told me tonight that he didn't feel a click after the first date. So he doesn't want to go out again. I told him I was confused because he called after the first date, and normally when guys do that, it means they are open to a second date. He said that he "doesn't like it" when guys don't call, so he called to "feel me out" regarding the situation. What does that mean? Maybe I was too eager on that phone call. There are different freaking rules for every date and every guy, it seems.

So, that means I have officially gone 0-3 on the date front. And there isn't much waiting in the wings. I have a lot of work to do, and I'm really discouraged, so my instinct is to take a break. My parents are constantly telling me that I can't take breaks, but they don't have to deal with the emotional consequences of the aftermath. I would also like to add that I have difficulty taking breaks myself, but the lack of prospects should help. I can go onto J-Date as much as I want, but I think I have run out of people until the next mass-joining. So, if you need me, I'll be working on some sort of arcane treatise and feeling, at best, inadequate.

Blogs and Privacy

Happy Monday. (I am, of course, kidding; it's raining, and I have just started my taxes).

Anyway, my blog is pretty new, and I have been interested in figuring out how many people are reading it. Naturally, I thought of Site Meter, and, on the advice of the BF's DH, Google Analytics. But I have been troubled by the ethics of tracking people. I worry about the extent that all of these great software tools infringe on privacy. Right now I'm leaning towards not tracking.

Has anyone else worried about this? Any thoughts? As a new blogger I am always looking for advice on these matters. Thanks.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Conservative Judaism??

I have been thinking a lot about Conservative Judaism lately, and I have been getting quite frustrated.

First, some background: I went to a Solomon Schechter school for an undisclosed amount of time, but let's just say it was a lot of years. I have also audited a bunch of classes at List College at various times and in a whole bunch of different subjects (Talmud, Midrash, Jewish history and philosophy, Hebrew literature, etc.). When I lived on the Upper West Side for a year after college, I occasionally went to Hadar and more often went to an actual Conservative shul that had been partially taken over by young whippersnappers. When I came to grad school, the first minyan that I attended (I now attend more than one) was Conservative in a way pretty similar to Hadar. Despite all of this, I was not brought up in the Conservative movement, so I never identified with the movement or felt it was "mine." When I was in college, the Conservative minyan was lame, so I went to the Orthodox one and found I could tolerate davening with a mechitsah. I tend to "affiliate" as Conservadox because I find it is the label that fits me best and most accurately conveys to others, in one word or less, what my beliefs and practices are.

While I was growing up, my family and I used to make fun of the Conservative movement. In our defense, my father's job brought him into contact with the Conservative movement and its officials, whom my father experienced as fence-sitting even on very important issues, such as the recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis and synagogues by the Israeli government. Lo those many years ago, in the '80's, there was still a fair amount of what my friend calls, "But if we do that, what will our friends at Yeshiva University think of us?" in the movement. My teachers at school who were modern Orthodox also often made fun of the indecisiveness of the Conservatives. My fellow students who identified strongly as Conservative (often the children of Conservative rabbis) did not make too many of these jokes, and I figured that that made sense, since it was their movement.

That was why I was so surprised when I got to graduate school and the Conservative minyan that I go to, where most of the other attendees could be described as self-loathing Conservative Jews. Many were brought up in the Conservative movement but find it ridiculous, as I learned when we had a Koach (the Conservative movement's college organization) speaker for a Friday night dinner, and we were talking before she got there about whether we should mention our lack of enthusiasm for the movement. Some want to become Conservative rabbis, although usually not pulpit rabbis, but view any time they might have to spend at the Jewish Theological Seminary (to say nothing of an actual, real-life, non-New-York, Conservative shul) as some sort of purgatory. They do tell jokes about the Conservative movement, particularly about the Dorff-Nevins-Reisner homosexuality teshuvah, although they hope the new Chancellor will improve matters. At a recent Shabbat dinner, some of the more involved undergraduates were saying that they will probably not end up in a Conservative shul when they get older, unless it is a minyan like Hadar, because it will not be "frum" enough.

As a non-Conservative Jew looking at this at least partially from the outside, I often think, What is WRONG with these people? I may be yet another unaffiliated wonder, but I know lots of committed Reform Jews, for whom Reform is not a synonym for "nothing," but rather a particular set of beliefs about Judaism, Torah, and mitzvot. Although the key to this is "informed choice," and so it only involves mitzvot on a very uneven basis, these Reform Jews proudly go to Temple, attend movement conventions, send their kids to Reform summer camps and NFTY (the Reform youth group), etc. They are also pretty happy with the national movement, despite all the usual Jewish kvetching. Most of the self-loathing Reform Jews I have come across are the LEAST committed (they say things along the line of, "Well, I'm Reform, I guess, but I don't see why I should do anything, unless you, Rabbi X, can PROVE to me that I have to/that God exists, etc."). Any movement will have trouble attracting/retaining its marginal members. What surprises me about Conservative Judaism is that, from my own experience, it is the MOST committed people who are dragging themselves, kicking and screaming, to identify with the movement, rather than to become un-affiliated, post-denominational, or whatever. I think that is partially because the national movement is so fractured. USY (the Conservative youth group), JTS (the Conservative rabbinical school), and the Solomon Schechter schools teach one thing, but if it doesn't seem replicable, and not too much is being done about that fact, I see how that could be depressing.

I am less qualified to talk about modern Orthodoxy. Of course it is different from Reform and Conservative; it has a weak national movement, but people like that. Its leaders seem to have an incredible hold on some members (in the Northeast and California) and much, much less of a hold on some other members (everywhere else). I don't know if Modern Orthodoxy has much of a future in the New York area, where it's "Centrist or bust!," but in other parts of the country it seems to be doing pretty well. One can hardly underestimate the importance of NCSY (the Orthodox youth group) in attracting new members.

So, what's my point here? I guess it's that I don't know what the future of the Conservative movement is. It seems likely to break in half, with one half at least trying to hold onto halakhah, even at the expense of pretzel-ing sometimes (see, above, Dorff-Nevins-Reisner), and the other half, which has basically admitted that on some key issues it is most concerned with "meta-halakhic" issues, which is, as far as I can tell, a fancy way of saying, "non-halakhic" standpoints. With these messages coming out of New York, how can one expect people at a Conservative or sort-of-Conservative shul to realize/accept that some questions have to be answered with halakhah firmly in mind, even at the risk of hurting someone's feelings? Ideally, the halakhic types would remain at JTS, with a few decamping for Chovevei (a relatively new Orthodox rabbinical school that is to the left of Yeshiva University), which is not abnormal (just as a few students at Hebrew Union College, the Reform rabbinical school, over a given decade will decide they want to study more Talmud and go to JTS), and the "meta-halakhic" types would go to Hebrew College or AJR or somewhere else not-so-denominational. One of the things that metaphorically kills me is that I think that, hashkafah-wise, the "meta-halakhic" rank-and-file, if not the leadership, would be happiest in Reform congregations, where at least they might meet a rabbi who has something in common with them. But then there is the difficult issue of the wide liturgical differences between two movements whose practices are, on the ground, quite similar. Maybe the new Reform siddur will help bridge the gap, or maybe, as often happens, the folks on the ground will do EXACTLY what they have been doing for years, while bloggers like me obsess about this online for the benefit of their 12 readers.

So, what do you guys think? I am especially interested in hearing from people who DID grow up Conservative on what they think the future of their movement is, but, please, everyone, feel free to let loose. One more question: Does this sort of post qualify as Lashon Hara?