Saturday, December 25, 2010

MO Jews and Food

I know this isn't exactly a revelation, but the way Orthodox Jews eat, especially on Shabbat, is GROSS!

The shul TH and I joined a year ago has "hot kiddush" on Shabbat, meaning that kiddush includes Cholent (a kind of beef stew made in a crockpot so as not to violate the laws against cooking on the Sabbath). Everyone always runs at the food, and I can't say I haven't been guilty of this, too. I guess one difference is that TH and I consider a kiddush with cholent lunch, but many of the people at shul don't. They go to another meal afterwards! That is grooooooossssssssssssssss. I realize that some people don't eat that much at kiddush, and that those who do may not eat that much at lunch--either or both can be attending primarily for the socializing, especially by women--but isn't there something wrong with sending a message that the holy Sabbath is primarily about stuffing your face?

I grew up in a Reform home in which politeness and decorum, in shul or elsewhere, was prized. I realize that the Orthodox world, and even the Modern Orthodox world, does not necessarily put a very high premium on either quality, and I have gotten pretty used to davening while kids are running up and down the aisles. As long as they are not screaming, I'm okay. And I realize that this rushing at the food is about a lack of decorum almost as much as it is about a generalized lack of mindfulness regarding the advisability of face-stuffing. (Wasn't that last sentence beautiful? I have a doctorate, you know).

A possible source of my frustration may be what I learned as a kid about keeping kosher. We kept kosher at home (kosher meat, two sets of dishes, etc., except that we did not insist on kosher supervision for canned vegetables and other processed vegetarian food). This came largely from my mom, who grew up Conservative. Kashrut is very fraught in the Reform Movement, and people would ask my parents why we bothered. For those who wouldn't back away after the "Katrina's mom's parents have to be able to eat here" explanation, my dad, who had not grown up in a kosher home, would launch into a speech about kashrut and holiness. This is something most of you have probably heard, but the general point was that kashrut is about kedushah, or holiness. Even though human beings have animalistic appetites, we do not have to give into them all of the time. We can choose which foods to eat and which foods not to eat, and we can say a blessing before and after eating, and this all reminds us that we are not animals but special creations of God, that food comes from God, and that we should be mindful of, and thankful for, that.

Because I went to a Jewish school that was kosher, many of my friends kept kosher, and I never felt entirely comfortable in the homes of Jewish friends who did not keep kosher. It was a cultural divide, really, and sort of a surprise, which I assume is what people who don't keep kosher feel in a kosher home. But I guess I always assumed that people who did keep kosher did so at least partially for the reasons that my dad outlined, which had something to do with holiness and mindfulness. So belonging to a Modern Orthodox (MO) shul has been kind of a shock. My family and many of my Jewish friends in college and many in the Jewish community in GradSchoolTown thought a lot about why they performed various ritual mitzvot. Part of joining an MO shul, which really has smart, friendly rabbis and a nice community, has been seeing, in person and in a very concrete way, that so many of our fellow congregants are going through the motions of doing the mitzvot. I always assumed that being Orthodox was hard, and so those who do it must be on a higher spiritual level (or something) than I, but it has pointed out to me that in NYC, being Orthodox isn't that hard. There are kosher restaurants and employers who may have a vague idea what Sukkot is and your pick of Orthodox day schools and synagogues, etc. So if Orthodoxy is all that you have ever known, the theory goes, and you like the community aspect, then you do the mitzvot because you have always done them, and you don't think about why. It's not my job to decide how other people do mitzvot; this whole thing has been a culture shock, though. Plus, it means that "why do we do this mitzvah?" discussions at Shabbat meals tend to fall very, very flat.

And since Orthodoxy tends to look at kashrut as more of a mechanical issue than an ethical/moral/mindfulness one, I suppose that, for many, even among the modern Orthodox, there is no inherent contradiction between keeping kosher and stuffing your face with sugar and fat for three hours at a time, at least twice, on Shabbat. But that doesn't mean I can't think about my own behavior and, God willing, in the future (but not in nine months), my kids'.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It Shouldn't Be a Secret

The "it" to which I am referring is chesed (kindness) and/or tzedakah (charity).

When TH and I decided to join a Modern Orthodox (MO) shul (synagogue) here in NYC, I thought a number of things would bother me, chief among them the mechitzah (divider between the men's and women's sections) and associated non-participation of women in the service. What I was not expecting, though, was to be so disturbed by the shul's approach to chesed and tzedakah (I am using these terms more or less interchangeably).

I admit there is a certain amount of understandable culture clash on this subject between Orthodox and non-Orthodox shuls. I grew up Reform, and the Reform Movement very heavily emphasizes social justice. At the shul where I grew up, there was always one, and most often more than one, tzedakah project going on at any given time. The youth group volunteered at a food pantry, many of the holidays were accompanied by food and/or money drives of some sort, the shul had a partnership with a school in a disadvantaged neighborhood, etc. The Solomon Schechter school I went to also had frequent tzedakah projects, although I have to admit that without one particular, somewhat strange, rabbi, who started a social action committee and spoke in his classes and at davening (prayers) with great passion about the importance of helping the poor, I'm not so sure we would have gone beyond the occasional food drive.

At our MO shul, however, there is . . . nothing. Well, not quite nothing, because there are announcements every week urging us to engage in bikkur cholim (visiting the sick). The sick in question, though, are members of our own shul. The "nothing" refers to what we do for those sick and/or poor people, Jewish or not, who are not members of the community.

I have a few caveats here: First, it is a small shul, both in terms of its space and in terms of its population. It has no religious school, although there are Shabbat morning services for kids. One of the rabbis works for very little money and has a fairly demanding day job. It is not very organized. Second, I realize that many of the "tzedakah hours" my Reform Temple performed were on Shabbat. As a youth-group member, I was driven, along with the other members, to the food pantry on Saturday morning, while the adults were still in services. All of the rituals, including daily minyan (services), that people in the shul have to do of course takes time away from potential tzedakah projects.

But, fundamentally, neither of these are acceptable excuses. If a MO Jew can look at a Reform Jew and say, "You are mechalel Shabbos (desecrating the Sabbath) when you drive to do acts of chesed on Shabbat morning," that same MO Jew should consider whether he or she really thinks that Orthodoxy has a monopoly on Torah. The Torah "speaks" in pretty absolute terms about the need to pursue justice (Deuteronomy 16:20) and to help the widow, the orphan (or fatherless), and the proselyte (Deuteronomy 10:18, e.g.). If MOs want to claim a monopoly on Torah, I think they have the responsibility to follow all of it (with the exception of the laws only applying to Beit Hamikdash, of course), not only the strict ritual parts. If they are willing to admit that other Jews may pursue Torah in their own way, they might want to see what they can learn from those other Jews.

Don't get me wrong here. I am Shomeret Shabbat and (mostly) kashrut, and I wish that many more Jews were as well. I just think it shouldn't have to be an either/or in either direction.

You might ask, "Katrina, what is all this about the post title and secrecy?" The answer is that, a few Shabbatot ago, I asked a few friends of mine and TH's, also pretty recently married and without kids, whether they agreed with me that the shul should be doing more tzedakah. One answer I got shocked me: "I'm sure that many people in the shul perform acts of chesed regularly; you just don't know about it." On the one hand, I believe she is correct. But the premise is crazytown. Tzedakah should be a secret? The shul (and especially the rabbis) have no duty to (at the minimum) urge us to do tzedakah and (even better) organize, or urge others to organize, tzedakah projects in which everyone is urged to participate? The rabbis give hardly any mussar (moral instruction) from the bimah (pulpit), but maybe in this case, for the sake of Torah, they can make an exception.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Is Halloween Okay?

I went trick-or-treating as a kid. I really enjoyed it, especially before I was ten or so. Sometimes when I think about having kids (God willing, but not within the next nine months, if you catch my drift), I think about taking them trick-or-treating, and so does TH.

But I really think it might be seriously assur (prohibited) to do so. I mean, first of all, this is a holiday that began as a Christian holiday (eve of All Saints' Day, November 1) and is now seriously observed by some as a pagan holiday, although obviously most people don't celebrate it in any kind of religious way. If there were no pagans anymore, that would be a different issue, but there are people who claim that they worship the devil or the sun or what have you. How is dressing up on Halloween different from observing XMas or Easter in some way? I am not including going to church in that, because going to church is so obviously not okay that it is not analogous.

Last year, I read what R. Student had to say on Hirhurim about just passing out candy to non-Jews. I realize that R. Student tends to be way to the right of me hashkafically, plus I live in an apartment in NYC and don't have to deal with it. I also don't get the point of adults dressing up for Halloween (I try to get into it on Purim, but it's hard), so I'm not worried right now. But I am curious.

So what do you guys think, beloved readers? How comfortable are you with Halloween? What does halakhah as you understand it have to say about it?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Polishing the Silver

Every Erev Yom Tov (day before a major holiday), I polish the silver items in the apartment that are looking tarnished. Lest I sound like Lady Di (l'havdil) or something, I would like to clarify that I am talking about three items: a kiddush cup, candlesticks, and a candy dish. A dear friend gave TH and me the kiddish cup for our wedding, and it has our Hebrew names engraved on it. The other two were my grandmother's.

The holidays, and especially the High Holidays and Pesach, remind me of my grandparents. Both sets of grandparents lived in the same state, about an hour apart, so we spent one day of Yom Tov with my mom's parents and one day with my dad's parents. (Yes, I used to ride on Yom Tov). Aunts, uncles, and cousins lived nearby, so holidays were filled to bursting with family. These celebrations go on today, but without my grandparents, z"l (may their memories be a blessing).

I loved all of my grandparents, but I was especially close with my grandmother, my father's mother. One of the reasons for this is that she lived the longest, until I was 27. This gave me the opportunity to have a relationship with her as an adult. When I was in grad school and she had to spend a lot of time in the house because of her health, we used to talk on the phone three times a week. In the process of this relationship, I figured out the other reason: We had a lot in common. We both loved foreign languages and reading fiction, old friends and long conversations, and we both had old-fashioned taste. We were also both deeply committed to Judaism. None of that captures the fact that she got me. She got me. It is very rare for people to get me, but she did. I don't know if this has ever happened to you, Internet, but when I look at my father's maternal side of the family (my grandmother and my great uncle and his children and grandchildren), I think, "So THAT'S how I got this way." Everyone's family is pretty crazy, and so is mine. My extended family is made up of people who are crazy in different ways, but my grandmother's family is crazy sort of like I am.

My grandmother did many things for me. Right near the top of that list is the fact that she accepted my becoming more observant. She grew up nominally Orthodox, with a traditional father and an adamantly American mother, for whom I am named. She went to a type of American cheder, and I once found her first Hebrew primer, or maybe it was her prayer book. She never lost her ability to read the prayers or her deep commitment to Judaism, but Orthodoxy did not make a lot of sense to her. It meant no role at all for women, something that her own mother could not abide, either. So she and my grandfather, who had little Jewish upbringing, joined a Reform congregation after they got married. She was active in the Reform movement for the rest of her life, giving it both her time and her money, and she eventually became the grand old lady of her Temple, the one rabbinical candidates had to impress if they hoped to have a shot at getting hired.

My increased observance was incredibly puzzling to her. There had always been an observance gap between her and my grandfather on the one hand and my nuclear family on the other, because we kept kosher (as did my mother's parents), and they didn't. By "kept kosher," I mean that we were kosher at home but ate out vegetarian in restaurants, and when my brother and I were younger, we were allowed to eat meat out as long as it was not mixed with dairy (I stopped doing this around the time of my Bat Mitzvah). But there was still a big cultural difference there, and seeing my grandparents eat shellfish was pretty weird. My parents sent my brother and me to a Conservative Day School, and so we had a fair amount of Jewish knowledge that my dad's parents didn't have (but my mom's side of the family did), which was also a bit strange. When I stopped eating meat out, I just ate something vegetarian at my dad's parents', but observing Shabbat was in an entirely different league. Unlike keeping kosher, observing Shabbat is, in my opinion, a marker of Orthodoxy in American Judaism. My grandmother didn't get that.

But she adapted, and she did so after the age of 75, which I think is remarkable. Starting after I graduated from college, I used to stay with her for the weekend every once and a while. Friday afternoons involved a trip to the bagel store to get bagels and lox and one to the supermarket to get kosher cold cuts and any other food I needed for Shabbat. We made sure to cook everything before sundown (toward the end of her life she had someone to help around the house), and we lit candles and had Shabbat dinner together. Saturdays we slept in, I davened (prayed), and then we took it easy, resting, talking, and reading. Her apartment had a terrace, and we used to sit on it, while I would ask her questions about her childhood and young adulthood. She was reluctant to answer many of them, as was and still is common among many people of her generation ("That's all in the past now. Why worry about it?" is something you may have heard, Internet, from your own parents and grandparents), but she did answer some. Then, after Havdalah, we would watch TV. Sunday we would go to a bookstore, of course, and then I would head to the bus station. She would sometimes make a crack or two, but they went very smoothly. I did not realize how special that smoothness was until my father pointed it out to me when I was frustrated with TH's family's resistance to my observance.

I loved those weekends, and I miss them. Shortly before she died, my grandmother gave me the candlesticks that I light every Erev Shabbat and Yom Tov. They were not the ones that she lit every week, but, rather, a spare set, which she had been given by her father around the time of her Bat Mitzvah. (I got the candy dish after she died). I think of her when I light them, and when I polish them.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Need to Get a Life

Duh. A friend asked me to help her with a piece she is writing on independent minyanim. I started referring her to various blogs in the Jewish Blogosphere and their recent posts on the subject. Then I asked, "Do you read blogs in the J-Blogosphere?" She responded, "Now I do. It's my job." And I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice to get paid for all of this expertise, instead of having acquired it because I don't have a life?"

NOTE: This post is a joke. It is NOT an extension of my previous post about being lonely.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Poll: New Template

So what do you guys think of my new template?

I really wanted something new, something academic, and not one of the more popular templates, because I like to be a little different.

I'm not thrilled with the colors of the post dates, titles, and links, but there weren't a lot of choices.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Asking for Help

I am a very private person.

I have always been this way, I think because my nuclear family is private as well. From a young age, it was made clear to me that it was inappropriate to talk smack about the immediate family to most people. It is obviously the case that if my brother and I had been abused or something of the sort, that would have been inappropriate in the extreme, but we weren't. Our home was a loving and supportive one. My parents just weren't the kind of parents who tell perfect strangers in the supermarket (or even friends) about all their kids' problems and inadequacies. So my brother and I followed that model.

When I was first dating TH, I realized, with the help of a friend, that I was not letting him into my inner life. I got a lot better at doing that, but it is still a struggle, even as our one-year anniversary approaches. I am used to talking to my parents or BFF (pretty much the only person outside the family I feel comfortable letting in) about problems, and once I have done that, it seems almost beside the point to tell TH. This is not particularly healthy, I know, and I am working on it, but it is not easy.

This summer has been a tough one for me. I am about to start a postdoc that will have me teaching my own lecture courses at the college level, and it is pretty terrifying. What is more terrifying is the state of the job market in academia. Last year, there were six jobs in my field in the entire country, and two of them were in rural Ohio. In theory, an academic is supposed to be willing to go to rural Ohio, and her husband is supposed to follow dutifully behind, eager to open a new branch of his money-printing business. Real life, however, is different. ( I don't blame TH for this. He has the kind of job that you can't do in rural Ohio. He doesn't have to do it in NYC; any city would do). I predict that this year there will be fewer. Each job that opens up gets 300 applications, at least. Meanwhile, in theory, I am supposed to be writing articles to publish and thinking about how to turn my dissertation into a book, because otherwise how can I compete in this practically non-existent job market? But my stubborn penchant for realism (bad for academia, I know) is slowing me down. It keeps whispering in my ear, "What is the point of writing that article, Katrina? The odds are incredibly high that you won't make it in academia. The article may be good and get accepted, but what's one more article on your CV if your competition for this year's five jobs has a book coming out next year?"

This post is not really about the completely destroyed market in humanities academia. (If you want to read more about that, I refer you to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Reader, beware, though: If there was a Pulitzer Prize in desperate academic columns, these guys would win hands down).

This post is about the fact that I am going through a difficult time now. My job prospects stink (this post-doc is for two years, though). Also, I am incredibly lonely in NYC, because while I have made some friends, it's not the same as GradSchoolTown, where I lived for six years and got to know lots of people. I talk to BFF on the phone almost every day, but it is not the same as living two blocks away and going over to her house just to sit together and work, keeping each other company without saying a word. TH works all day. I'm glad of that, because he makes money, but when he comes home he is zonked, and it is not easy for me to open my mouth and tell him what I am telling you, Internet. I have told him, but I can hardly tell him every night. In an additional hilarious piece of irony, my not asking for help means that other friends call ME and ask for help! It's not their faults, because how do they know how I am feeling, but I am getting to the point where I am not eager to answer the phone.

Do you have any supportive words for me, Internet? You can say whatever you want, but I have to admit that I am less interested in being reassured that I will find a job in academia, since probability tends to be against it. But other supportive words would be good. For me, this level of asking for help is a sort of breakthrough. Really. So, please . . .

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Off Our Rockers

It's the 8th of Av. That means the Jewish people only have 24 hours to finish going completely off our rockers.

Is it just me, or does it seem to you guys as well that Tisha B'Av brings out the serious crazy in Am Yisrael?

All this discussion about Jewish sovereignty and Jerusalem brings out the pro-Israeli-settler nutbars. The highlight for me came two Shabbatot ago, when my shul's young associate rabbi gave a drash (homiletic speech) on the chapter on Zachariah about Jewish fasts. Zachariah, the rabbis of the Talmud, and the major medieval commentaries, discuss the circumstances under which fasting on Tisha B'Av would be nullified. The sources are not exactly clear, but our living in a time of "peace" is a precondition, though not the only one, and not everyone agrees on what "peace" means. He innocently asked the congregation whether Jews currently live in a time of persecution, a time of peace, or a neutral time. Imagine in his surprise when a few people independently piped up that we currently live in a time of persecution. The rabbi pointed out that even the Rishonim (medieval commentators such as Rashi and Maimonides), who lived at a time when they were officially second-class citizens, when Jews were physically attacked by Christians with impunity, when Jews were forced to listen to sermons in their shuls by Christians who wanted to convert them, thought that they lived in a neutral time. The rabbi realized his mistake when someone said, "But if I can't build a house wherever I want in Yerushalayim, how can you say that's not persecution?" The rabbi quickly said, "No politics," and continued to something else. Our rabbis do not talk about politics from the bima (pulpit), since a modern Orthodox shul in Manhattan will have a range of political opinions, and what is the point of stirring the pot? We'd all kill each other. So, since the rabbi can't answer, allow me to:

Persecution is when non-Jews try to kill you, convert you, tell you what clothes you can wear and by what religious laws you have to live. Not being able to build a house anywhere you want in Jerusalem in 2010 is the democratically-elected government of a sovereign Jewish state in the Land of Israel denying you a building permit. SEE HOW THEY'RE DIFFERENT?

Another difference is the one between what you CAN do and what you SHOULD do. Your better-raised 9-year-olds know this. Do you think maybe they can tell the settlers? (I am not saying that Jerusalem is a settlement. The Jerusalem stuff is merely a symptom of the larger alternate universe in which the settlers are living. You know, the "What do you mean there's a demographic problem?" universe. I'm saying that throwing Palestinians out of their homes in full few of the international media is a stupid idea, and, of course, and immoral one, though if the "immoral" doesn't convince you, just try to focus on the "stupid").

Also, talking about the Messiah ("Moshiach") makes people crazy, too. How could it not? We have no idea what will happen, there are many conflicting sources, almost all of them written during a time in which monarchy was considered the best form of government, bar none, and women were, shall we say, not yet liberated. DovBear has done a better job than I, of course, in talking about some of the problems that come with traditional Jewish ideas about the Messiah, so I will direct you to his post.

It's not always easy for the modern Jew to relate to Tisha B'Av, as the Orthoprax rabbi points out. For me, the exile of the Shekhinah (the Presence of God) from Jerusalem and, therefore, from the midst of the Jewish people, at the destruction of the First Temple, is plenty to mourn. I will leave building permits and the question of what denomination of Judaism the Messiah will represent for another day.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Stop Locking!

Another blog that I read a lot, which shall remain nameless, has been locked. It is now "open to invited readers only." Why do people do this? More specifically, why do they do it without warning their readers? If you're going to lock your blog, is it really too much to ask to throw up a post a few days before you plan on locking it, asking your interested readers to contact you if they want to continue to read your blog? You might get a few hostile e-mails from your usual online enemies, but it will be over in two days.

I also think, now that I am on the subject, that bloggers need to get over themselves. I realize that getting over oneself is pretty much the opposite impulse from the one that leads to blogging. But how important do you think your little blog is? Also, if your blog is controversial, how do you not expect to get negative comments? Nobody reads my blog, and I never say much that is controversial, and I'm fine with both. But if you can't take the heat . . .

I realize that sometimes hate blogging can cross the line into harassment, and I am in no way condoning that. But anything short of that . . . deal with it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Material Maidel, Where Art Thou?

Does anyone know what happened to Material Maidel? She and I don't have much to be in common on the surface, as she is a modern-Chassidic, music- and shopping-loving woman, and I am none of those things except a woman, but I like reading her blog. She has funny/snarky takes on shidduchim and Jewish womanhood in general, and she links to a lot of the blogs I read. But for the past five days or so, clicking on her URL has resulted in an error message from Blogger ("Blog not found").

Where is she?

Material Maidel, do you copy?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Does Ruth Do It for You?

I am not a big fan of Shavuot. I am a huge fan of Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah), but I think that Shavuot as we celebrate it is kind of lame. And by "lame," I mean that it does not have enough rituals to cover even one day, let alone two, and it really should, because it commemorates the most important event in Jewish history. (You could argue that the Exodus from Egypt was the most important event in Jewish history, because Israel could not have received the Torah without leaving Egypt, but the general point is the same).

I like the custom of Tikkun Leil Shavuot (staying up all night to study Torah), even if individual tikkunim can suffer from poor preparation in the part of the teachers. I heard one excellent and two pretty good shiurim this year, which is a good number. A funny thing I noticed is that since, in NYC, unlike in GradSchoolTown, people have jobs and are kind of accustomed to going to bed at a reasonable hour, talks after 1:00 a.m. or so are poorly attended. That is fair enough, and, in fact, I think that there should be organized Torah learning during the first and/or second day as well, since Torah study is always better when the person studying is conscious.

But then, after the first night, what are we supposed to do? Pray and eat. That's it. And read the Book of Ruth in synagogue. But what is with the Book of Ruth, anyway? I love the Book of Esther--it is a fantastically well-written, bawdy satire of Jewish life in Persia in particular and the Jews' relationship with God in general. Lamentations is an incredibly moving tale of woe and desperation after the destruction of the first Temple, and Ecclesiastes, though way too long, can be read (according to Yeshayahu Leibowitz) as a meditation on the few material rewards enjoyed by the dedicated follower of God and halakhah. I'm not going to touch Shir HaShirim with a ten-foot pole because I have never studied it and do not really understand it. (BFF is welcome to chime on this front if she wants).

So I am not a Megillah-hater or anything. But what is with Ruth, anyway? From a literary perspective, it is not very well-written. It is too short to get to know the characters. Ruth makes the most important decision of her life, and the book, about 12 verses in, and we have no idea why she does it. Whoever wrote it was either ignorant of the laws of Levirate marriage or was living in a time when the Jews observed that law completely differently than either the Torah or the Talmud requires. If I were a cynic (ha!), I might think that the main purpose of the book was to declare Davidic lineage to be dubious.

Help me out, readers! What does Ruth mean to you?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Making Me Look Bad

As your standard Type-A, overachieving, perfectionist freak, Katrina does not like meeting people who are apparently perfect. (She also doesn't like meeting people who talk about themselves in the third person all the time, so she's switching to the first person now).

I realize that most people are not as perfect as they seem, since some people insist on thinking that MY life must be perfect, which is funny. But, it turns out that after getting married, graduating with a the humanities from an Ivy League university, and getting first a research job and then an honest-to-goodness postdoc, I still sometimes feel bad about myself. Some of that is textbook overachiever low self-esteem, resulting from insufficient experience with failure early enough in life to adapt to it. Some of it is that fact that I have a back problem that is preventing me from exercising vigorously, and so I feel like a blob. The third reason is that I keep meeting [drum roll] . . . The People Who Were Put on the Planet to Make Me Look Bad. Here are some examples:

--marathon- and half-marathon runners and triathletes: Why are so many of my Facebook friends taking up these kinds of physical challenges? Why are all of the graduates from my undergrad university, who then insist on sending in pictures of the finish line to the alumni magazine?

--people from my year in grad school who got assistant professorships right away: Ok, some are crazy smart, but others are indistinguishable from me except luckier, I guess. But nothing succeeds like success in academia, and so as I write this they are advancing by another increment in their careers.

--people from my year in grad school who have deals with publishers already: The next person who asks me about my book manuscript is getting a patsch.

--people (okay, women) who work as much as I do and STILL make a huge Shabbat dinner and/or lunch every week, especially if they also have 1 or more kids pulling at their skirts as they do it: I am a perfectly adequate but slow cook and need to put at least some of my life on hold in order to make a meal.

And, finally:

My sister-in-law (TH's brother's wife): I like SIL personally, I really do. She is not very demonstrative, but I think that she likes me as well. Here is what SIL does:
--works full-time+ for a major corporation (you have definitely heard of it)
--has two kids, 3 and 5
--kids are in daycare, but SIL has no other help (housekeeping, etc.) other than a cleaning lady every other week, and BIL works all the time, so she does almost everything for the kids and the house
--plays the piano very well
--makes a tasty cake from scratch for her family members, including MIL and FIL, on their birthdays, to the birthday boy/girl's specifications
--goes running regularly

This is why it doesn't pay to be a Type-A, overachieving, perfectionist freak. Someone you know will always be better at it than you will, and instead of accepting that and moving on, you feel bad. So I urge Type-B-ness on my readers.

But while we're on the subject, readers, who makes YOU look bad?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Purim Lessons Learned

So, I'm a little late. Shoot me. Actually, please don't shoot me. I just wanted to share with you guys a few things I learned on Purim. I have even summarized each lesson at the bottom of its paragraph for those who may not have time to savor my scintillating prose.

--In the "duh, how did I miss this?" category, there is a fair amount of intertext between Megillat Esther and the Haftorah we read the Shabbat before Purim (1 Samuel 15), about when Saul is supposed to kill Agag, King of Amalek, but doesn't and is punished with losing his throne. When Samuel, relating a prophecy from God, tells him he will lose his throne, Samuel says that God will give it "to your fellow, who is greater than you," לרעך הטוב ממך. When I heard this in shul on Saturday, I thought, "Wow, that sounds like a familiar turn of phrase." Then, at Megillah reading Motzei Shabbat, I heard that Achashverosh's advisors suggested that he dethrone Vashti for disobedience, "and the king shall give her throne to her fellow woman [yes, an oxymoron, I know, but I couldn't think of another way to translate it], who is better than she," מַלְכוּתָהּ יִתֵּן הַמֶּלֶךְ, לִרְעוּתָהּ הַטּוֹבָה מִמֶּנָּה. So THAT's where I heard it? Also, the Megillah is careful to say, more than once, in chapter 9, that the Jews did not touch the spoils when they killed their enemies. This seems a clear reference to 1 Samuel 15, when Saul is told that he and his troops must kill everyone in Amalek and not take any spoils. But the people, presumably with good intentions, take the best spoils and sacrifice them to God. This is another reason Saul was punished.
Lesson: Pay attention to the Haftorah! It's not just for bathroom breaks.

--I really need to stop drinking on Purim. I virtually never drink, and on Purim I don't drink very much, but I cannot hold my liquor at all. And drinking depresses me. I really need to keep that in mind for next year. I say this every year, but this year I mean it.
Lesson: Alcohol depresses me, but potato chips make me happy. The choice is obvious.

--TH's favorite minyan is even snottier than I thought. This was only TH's second full Megillah reading ever, and did the minyan take 5 minutes to write a handout with the verses that the congregation says before the reader, or with the words to Shoshanat Ya'akov? Did they make any announcements about either? Noooo.
Lesson: Snotty=bad.

--Now that I am not living in GradSchoolTown anymore, my pithy costumes are less appreciated. This year, I revived a favorite costume of mine, Plato's Philosopher King, which consists of me wearing all black, with a crown on my head. Get it? Get it? While this costume was a hit in GradSchoolTown, it kind of bombed in NYC. Most people I was celebrating with this year wore wigs or funny hats.
Lesson: Become less dorky (ha!).

--TH and I are making friends! Yes, finally, some good news as opposed to non-stop complaining. We were invited to a Purim seudah (feast) by a couple we have become friendly with at shul (the Orthodox shul I like in our neighborhood), and we sat with another couple we vaguely knew from shul and had a good conversation. I really miss the community in GradSchoolTown but feel much better about living in NYC now.
Lesson: Look at the good things in life.

But then what kind of blogger would I be?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Am I Still Conservadox?

New York City is weird. Yes, I realize this is not the most stunning revelation in the world. The Naked Cowboy is a local treasure here, for Pete's sake.

But it is Jewishly weird as well. One of the weirdnesses is that the frummy-ness of the frummies (Orthodox Jews) tends to move some Conservative Jews further to the right, since the default level of Jewy-ness (I have a Ph.D.!) is higher, but, in reaction to that, it also moves some Conservative Jews to the left, in protest.

So where do I fit in?

I am the sort of person who tends to move right. Meanwhile, TH and I have been going to a few shuls (synagogues), but most often to Ramath Orah (RO). A fellow congregant described it as the most-left-wing actually Orthodox Orthodox shul on the Upper West Side. What he means is that there are a number of minyanim (prayer communities) that are arguably halakhic but not actually Orthodox, in that they don't affiliate, and they follow some version of the Shapiro teshuvah. So, women lead Kabbalat Shabbat and other non-halakhic parts of the service, some read Torah, but there is still separate seating and a mechitzah (partition) between the men's and women's sections. But RO isn't like that. It affiliates Orthodox, its rabbis went to YU as opposed to Chovevei Torah, women don't lead anything, etc. The other shul that we go to is traditional Conservative egalitarian. We hear divrei Torah there, of course, and I have also had the opportunity to talk to at least one Conservative rabbinical student, which I realize is not exactly a wide sample size, but she reported what sounded to me like a deep dissatisfaction with halakhah among rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). It seems to boil down to the fact that none of the rabbinical students want to be told what to do, halakhically, and the JTS leadership largely capitulates to that, aside from a few hard-and-fast rules.

I am not trying to paint the Conservative movement, or even JTS, with any kind of disapproving brush because of one conversation, even though that conversation echoes one I had with a high-school classmate and then-JTS-student about five years ago. I am really only attempting to describe my own experiences. And they boil down to: I think I feel more comfortable in an Orthodox setting than in an Conservative one.


One of the earliest posts on this blog, and still one of my most-read, was called "Conservadoxy and its Discontents". It was about what Conservadoxy meant to me. Virtually all of the beliefs and practices I mentioned in that post still hold true for me. I am still Shomeret Shabbat and kashrut (in my home, for kashrut, but I eat fewer and fewer things out, but I still eat out--BAD Katrina--but modern Katrina--I struggle with this a lot), I still wear pants, I still daven once daily and more than that on Shabbat, etc.

Now that I am married, a brief update: I cover my hair in shul only (WARNING! WARNING! As ever, do NOT take halakhic advice from Katrina--she is just being descriptive) and observe Taharat HaMishpachah in a way that is none of your business. How many Conservative people can say they do both of those things, even on the Upper West Side of NYC? Or maybe especially on the Upper West Side of NYC? Is that my fault, or Conservative Judaism's? Well, it's both, of course. Taharat HaMishpachah and hair-covering, even in shul, are, IMHO, largely Orthodox practices that some Conservadox/Conservative people have adopted. But if regular Conservative people get the heebie-jeebies at the idea, I don't really blame them. Shabbat and kashrut are different. The Conservative movement is supposed to stand for both but often, it seems to me, doesn't necessarily any more. So to some extent I moved right, but to another Conservative Judaism moved out under me, took a left turn, and hasn't really looked back. There are lots of things I don't like about Orthodox Judaism:
--mechitzah and all women-are-separate stuff
--insane pro-settlement positions on Israel
--stupid The-Midrash-Says/how-dumb-do-you-think-I-am divrei Torah
--creeping Republicanism, partly as a result of the insane pro-settlement-position above
--IN GENERAL, lack of commitment to social action as compared to the liberal movement (I know, I know, there are a few hundred young Left-Wing MO people in NYC who are in Uri L'Tzedek. It's a positive development, but it's where the liberal Jewish world was on this issue in about 1900. At RO, there is a Bikkur Cholim Lunch 'n Learn group. TH and I went recently. We have to eat lunch, sing Shabbat songs, and study Torah BEFORE we visit the sick, because otherwise we would be Reform or something).
And yet . . . and yet . . .

I find that Orthodox communities on the UWS are often more friendly and less clique-ish than Conservative (including traditional Conservative) ones. And if I want to talk about Jewish texts, or halakhah, outside the loving bosom of Hadar, which has the insane clique-ish problem just alluded to, it's far easier to do it in an Orthodox setting, even as I am gritting my teeth over the mechitzah and wishing TH was sitting next to me.

So, Internet, am I still Conservadox?