Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Shtus!

I am not a sheltered person who has never watched a movie or been exposed to the big, dirty secular world. I have been exposed to plenty, probably more than I would like to admit. And I do not pretend that the Orthodox world is free of anything that I've been exposed to. And I am both a proponent of free speech and recognize the value in blogging as a conduit for expression that may not have another venue.

That said (and that was one whopping disclaimer), I am really unimpressed by some of the things I've found floating around in the Olam HaBlog. Call me an unsupecting observer, call me a prude, but there are things I just don't want to hear about and that I don't expect to find on frum blogs.

I recognize that one of the most appealing parts of blogging is the ability to state one's opinions and experiences in anonymity without fear of stigma or retribution of any kind. And I realize how valuable it is to have a mode of expression. I also realize that many things that have long been considered taboo within the Orthodox community because they made for unsavory shabbos table discussions need to be discussed and talked about in order to effect social change that is so necessary in our community.

But, people, fellow bloggers, there are certain things that have remained taboo within the frum community for good reason, and there are things I just don't want to know. I don't want to know about someone's sexual frustrations. I don't want to know about people's sex lives, period. In Orthodox Judaism - very much unlike the rest of today's society - sex is a private, sacred act between man and wife, and quite frankly, we should leave it there.

Now, perhaps, all you bloggers out there say this is my problem and I shouldn't look, and I certainly don't deny anyone the ability to say or post whatever they want, but I just feel a need for one exclamation: the shtus!!

There, I'm done. Continue blogging whatever you'd like wherever you want whenever you want (as I'm sure you will). I said what I had to say. I'm done.

The Sun Also Rises...

...when you have not slept, great as that injustice may be.

(This information is provided for all those unlucky people who did not have the oppurtunity to walk home as the sun was rising without having so much as touched their beds all night.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I Need Some Sleep, I Can't Go On Like This

"Dawn: When men of reason go to bed."

"Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep."

I don't think I ever appreciated sleep as much as I do now; it's 2:40 a.m. and it doesn't look like I'm going to bed anytime soon. I've come to the conclusion that college students just don't believe in sleep. At all. And I understand it. I mean, life is so exciting and so much is going on, who has time for sleep? Why are there not more hours in the day? Why even at this point in my life do I feel a need to do everything and get it all done? And why is Pepsi Max (with a huge dose of caffeine) not legal in this country?

Torah - A Liberal Bioethics Text?

God forbid.

I hate it when people use quotes or stories from Tanach to prove support of a position that has absolutely no approbation within Tanach.

For instance, in a class discussing the ethics of surrogate parenthood, my professor cited the case of Sara and Hagar as a proof that surrogate parenthood has been historically accepted. Umm, Avraham and Hagar's relationship was not exactly the same as the medical procedure which involves in vitro or artificial insemination and another woman actually carrying someone else's genetic baby.

I fail to see the comparison and it just gets Torah mixed up where it doesn't belong. (That is not to say that I don't think torah has a view on this - of course i do - I just don't think my bioethics class is the place for the Torah's view, nor my definitely not frum professor the right conduit of the Torah opinion.)

It bothers me because Torah gets degraded in the process. Torah in that class became a history book, or a folk story, or a reflection of the ideas of a time period, but Torah was certainly not there considered a gift to mankind, and specifically the Jews, of God-written law which is our ultimate path to righteousness. Torah was not the object of love and desire that people spend their lives striving to understand. Torah in that context became just another textbook, and that is appalling.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Identity Crisis

I almost exclusively go by my Hebrew name, however I have an English legal name. This causes lots of problems in lots of different arenas for me. Today I went to the bank to deposit a check made out to my Hebrew name and they gave me some trouble about it. All ended well, but I wonder what the use of English names are in today's society.

I think the world (at least NY which is said world's center ;) is really open and accepting of people regardless of what their names are. I am well aware that that was not always the case and that I have much to be grateful for because I live in this day and age. But the fact remains that in my secular college, in my various work places, and in my student activities, I go by my Hebrew name and have never once had a problem. (Pronunciation is sometimes a botched, but other than that...)

So I can't figure out what the purpose of having an English name is. It causes me more problems than it's worth. If the Jews managed to keep their Hebrew names while enslaved in Egypt, is it so much to ask for us to do the same in the very liberal, accepting, and tolerant US?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Housing Lottery: What's Your Number?

Columbia just released the housing lottery numbers for next year's dorm selection. I will not even attempt to explain to you how the housing selection system works here as it is an enigma to everyone I know and not completely relevant besides, but I will say that if Columbians are passionate and obsessed with anything, it is housing. For at least a month straight all you hear about is housing, who is going to live where with who...

Now partially this is because Columbia has some pretty bad housing. No matter what, people do get over theirlousy housing and survive, but the bottom line is, housing matters. A lot.

Where you live - in college and beyond - has a big impact on you. Whether it's a matter of who you're living with, who your kids associate with, how your loud neighbors deprive you of sleep (I'm not bitter at all, really), how dedicated to Judaism the shul is, how far your walk to shul is, what shiurim exist, what values the community holds, etc., your home has a great impact on who you become and who your family becomes.

I think that concept sometimes gets lost in between finding something affordable, finding someplace where you can find a job... And clearly all of those are important things, but I would think that people choosing where to make their homes should spend at least as much time and energy on it as do college students.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

I Think, Therefore I Am?

Every year the Columbia Hillel hosts a Yachad shabbaton, when developmentally disabled young adults are brought to our campus for a shabbos. I didn't stay in that shabbos this year, but I was at the shabbaton last year and I remember that it was especially striking to me.

After all, this is an Ivy League institution. A research university. A place that has the names of authors and philosophers engraved around the huge building that houses its library. This is a place that prides itself on intellect and intelligence. And here were these developmentally disabled people that were so antithetical to everything Columbia stands for who came to celebrate shabbos with these grade-obsessed, sleep-deprived students. It was beautiful, but very strange (as in striking).

I bring this up because on Friday I went with some friends to a home for the developmentally disabled. And honestly, I don't know what to think. Part of me was in awe of how the volunteers were able to deal with these children so well, and part of me was so sad for these people who lack so much of what I consider essential.

At this point in my life, I am engaged in a solely intellectual pursuit, and the patients in this home are not privy to the world that is so important to me: to the world of books and libraries and deep thoughts. And to me, that is the ultimate tragedy. I clearly do not go so far as upper-brain death proponents who claim that once an individual cannot think, they should be considered dead, but still there is something absolutely tragic about these people who can't really learn or think or understand the same way we do.

But then I wonder if that's at all a fair view to even have. After all, halachically life has value solely because it is life. Life is inherently something precious, and that has nothing to do with what you accomplish with that life. But even as I acknowledge that, it's so hard for me to accept. And maybe that's the real tragedy.

I Need a (Virtual) Slap in the Face

I love college. I really, really do. (Call me a masochist, but it's the truth.)

However, because all I spend my life doing is studying and reading and writing papers and stuff, and everyone I'm around does the same (I know, I know, my school is full of geeks) I get really caught up in it. And all of a sudden, I'm high on coffee, haven't slept enough or eaten well in an entire year and am obsessing over the little plusses and minuses after the letters on my report card as if they're going to absolutely determine the rest of my life.

And that is a sad, sad reality.

So, I've come to the conclusion that I need a reality check - a virtual slap in the face, if you will. I need something that will make me think outside of myself: a chesed, a job, a project, just something that will make me realize on a fairly regular basis that there are so many more important things out there than myself and my schoolwork and my grades.

Any ideas?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

In Honor of Purim: A Wedding Drinking Game

Disclaimer: This is sarcastic, in case you don't get it. I would not really do this - as appealing as it may seem...

My cousin is getting married this summer. Mazal Tov! This is all very nice except that my cousin is four months younger than me. Now, being a frum girl of marriageable age in the Orthodox community is not so fun. At a simcha it's less fun. At a family simcha it gets worse. At a family simcha when you're older than the bride who is your cousin, it's pretty bad.

So, I have three solutions to this dreaded wedding:

Wear a fake engagment ring just to avoid any 'Im'Yirtzeh Hashem by you's. (My mother threatened to kill me if I pull this one, because after all you never know who you're going to meet and where...)

Wear a sign that says 'Amen' in answer to all of the 'Im'Yirtzeh Hashem by you's.

Or my personal favorite (and Purim appropriate), play a drinking game that would go something like this: a drink for every time someone says 'Im'Yirtzeh Hashem by you' to me, a drink for every not so subtle glance at my left ring finger, a drink for every time a little old lady offers to set me up with her grandson who is 28 and has absolutely nothing in common with me - but hey all a marriage needs is a boy and a girl who are less than 30 years apart, right?

Now, in all likelihood, I will be the good girl that I am and go to the wedding and just grin and bear it. But please, vote for your favorite.

Happy Purim! (Almost)

"So if you’re the only kid in town
That doesn’t go trick or treating
Purim’s just around the corner
A holiday of drinking and eating"

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Behold, the Power of Prayer

In less than three hours (will I still be up by then? Possibly.) Taanit Esther will begin. Unlike all the other fast days (with the exception of Yom Kippur), Taanit Esther does not commemorate a tragic event in Jewish history. This fast actually commemorates another fast - the days that the Jews of Persia fasted in supplication to God for salvation from Haman's decree. And that fast ended well - with the victory of Purim.

So, Taanit Esther, unlike all the other fasts is actually a happy fast. While that may not be so easy to remember during those arduous near-starvation hours and while you listen to the Megillah, just waiting for the bite you'll be able to take when it's over. it is well-worth noting.

Tomorrow (well, today) may not be a particularly fun day, but it's also not a day of mourning. It is, in fact, a commemoration of the power of prayer.

On Terri Schiavo (But Don't Quote Me on This)

Disclaimer: If I ever seek public office, this is not a statement on my political opinions on the case of Terri Schiavo and should not be used as representative of my political leanings. (Just covering the bases to protect my future career options.)

Future bioethics lawyer that I may be, I feel a need to say something on the Terri Schiavo case that seems to have hijacked the thoughts, mind, and media of America. Honestly, though, I find the most disturbing part of this entire process the way the legal system conitnues to be manipulated as a life hangs in balance - as the feeding tube is removed and reinserted every other day. That, I think, more than her husband's request to consider Schiavo's quality of life so diminished as to be valueless shows a total disregard to the value of life.

Though medical evidence would suggest that Schiavo cannot experience pain, and she certainly has no understanding of what is going on, she is being used as an example, as a cause, by both sides. She is a person and at least for now is the possessor of a life that should be respected. Having people from both sides of the debate stand on soapboxes and manipulate the law that is the foundation of our democracy shows a total disrespect for Terri Schiavo's past and present life. Terri Schiavo the person has gotten lost in all the legal wrangling and media flurry, and that is a far greater loss than her parents or her husband or any one of us should be willing to accept.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Not Worth Reading (In My Humble Opinion)

Over spring break I read Naomi Ragen's most recent book, The Covenant, and was superbly unimpressed. Now, unlike some of her other books, I actually wholeheartedly agree with her opinion in this one; terrorism is bad. However, when an author relies on stereotypes instead of character development, she hurts her point. Ragen's point is valid, but instead of arguing with the facts, she uses one-dimensional stereotypes and a fantastical setting so that even someone who agreed with her going in came out skeptical.

I think it's really easy for us to rely on what we know is true, but you can't convince people of those beliefs without real info. It's really hard, though, when you grow up believing something is true to have a good grasp of the facts. I would argue that many of us (myself included) could not argue the facts well in the case of Israel, terrorism, Zionism, etc. because it's always a granted in the frum community that Israel is right and they're all out to get us. So Ragen had an excellent oppurtunity in this book to educate not only her secular readers, but even the frum readers.

However, I'm not really sure a novel is the best place to prove a point anyway. I used to be a big Ayn Rand fan and couldn't understand why every English teacher I knew despised the author. I've figured out that it's because she writes propaganda, not novels. I would argue that Ragen does the same thing in The Covenant - and less skillfully.

What's Black and White and Flowered All Over?

My wardrobe.

I've noticed that I own four different black and white skirts at the moment, and I wear lots of other black and white outfits. Am I sending myself subliminal messages? Hmmmm. What am I telling myself? If you have any ideas, let me know...

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Is 'Desperate' Scrawled Across My Forehead?

Well, is it?

This is going to be a very general, non-specific rant. I am not naming names or incidents to protect both the innocent and the guilty (hilchos lashon hara don't discriminate). So all I am going to say is this:

Yes, I am a 20-year-old frum girl. Yes, I would like to build a bayit ne'eman b'Yisrael (I really hate transliteration) at some point in the semi-near future. Yes, I know both friends and relatives that are engaged and/or married and blissfully happy. Yes, I too want to find marital bliss. No, that does not mean I am desperately seeking Mr. Right and will be miserable until I find him. I am quite happy with where I am and do not appreciate being looked at like a nebech unmarried 20-year-old!

Thus ends my rant (for now).

Honey, I'm Home

I am back from my brief foray in better weather, well rested with no sign of a (tznius) tan. And now back to blogging...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Your Regular Blogging Will Resume After These Messages

I'll be heading to the Sunshine State fairly soon and won't be blogging too much until I get back in a week. So, until then don't miss me too much. Your regular blogging will resume after my brief mindless interlude in some place warm and fun where Kant is not required reading.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Money Can't Buy You Love

I'm trying to pack for a week. I say trying because I am absolutely the worst packer on the face of this earth. I'm just not good at it. Somehow, I just cannot figure out all the things I want to have with me for a week. (An example of the dilemmas I face: if I only have room for a blow dryer or a hair iron, which one should I bring?) Why am I so bad at this?

I think the reason is because I have so much stuff; clothing, shoes, flip-flops (don't ask how many pairs I packed), hair stuff. And I feel like I NEED it all. How sad is that? How steeped in gashmiyut am I? Do I not know that "there are some things money can't buy" or am I stuck on the Mastercard bit? If I have one less coordinated shirt/flip-flop outfit with me in Florida or if my hair isn't stick straight the entire time I'm there will I be less happy? If the answer to that is yes, how did I get here? What's wrong with me?

Am I so enthralled with the consumer culture that is America, with this bastion of physicality that I can't focus on what's really important?

It's the Friends You Can Call at 4 am...

"Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods."

"A friend hears the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails."

I'm sitting in my dorm room at my computer looking at all the pictures of my friends that surround me, and it just made me think for a second how lucky I am to have such amazing friends and how grateful I am to each and every one of them. Friends are indeed worth everything and that I have no clue how I would get by without my friends. So often I forget just how much my friends mean to me and just how much I need them. Every now and then I need a reminder.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Not Supermen

The people in Tanach are humans, and as humans they are fallible. The avot are not perfect and they're not supposed to be, Moshe Rabbeinu is not perfect either, nor is Dovid Hamelech, nor is Rachel Imeinu. Clearly they are way above our level, but they also made mistakes and the Torah doesn't hide those mistakes from us. Tanach is filled with the missteps and faults of our greatest leaders. And that's ok. In fact, in a large sense that makes them more real. We can read the Torah and ackowledge that the people described are people, they are not superhuman, and they don't have to be. They are real people who through hard work and dedication to Torah scaled great heights.

We are not supposed to emulate the people in Tanach, we are supposed to emulate God, and God is perfect. But the people in Tanach, the people are oh so inspiring!

Change Is Inevitable - Except From a Vending Machine

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another."

At an interview recently for a frum program that is very much not focused on religion, the interviewer asked me with a kind of sheepish grin, "how will this program make you a better Jew?" It was on his list of questions and he was curious but he also acknowledged that the question was sort of strange, as the program is really not about religion. But maybe it wasn't really. I mean, shouldn't our goal in whatever we choose to do be to become better Jews, to change and come out different?

Change is good. I firmly believe that it is our goal in lives to change ourselves. But change is also scary, especially when you watch the world around you change slowly, person by person. There's always some comfort in the status quo, especially when the status quo is kinda nice. Which is not to say that I would like to stay where I am forever. I don't. But part of me is shouting as my head is spinning, "Stop! Don't change! I like things the way they are."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Department Stores of Yore

Admittedly, I like to shop. A lot. But there are limits! This article reads like a eulogy for department stores of yore (it rhymes!). How sad is that? I like to shop too and I even like specific stores sometimes, but I look elsewhere for my emotional relationships and satisfaction, thank you.

Not So Deep Thought of the Day

Deep thought of the day:

It is not fun to be sick. It is even less fun to be sick in a college dorm where there is no one to take care of you and you have to go out in the snow to buy your own tissues and orange juice. It is even less fun to be sick in a college dorm during midterms when you have tons to do and no energy to do it.

(Ok, so maybe it's not that deep, but it's the best my brain can do right now.)

Monday, March 07, 2005

Look Ma, No Hands (or Common Sense)

I've reached a whole new level of New Yorkiness.

I had to go all the way downtown today. I am sick and tired and stressed out and didn't know where I was going, so I took a taxi down. Not very New Yorky at all. But I decided to take the subway back, which I did successfully (for a much more reasonable price tag). Here's where my New Yorky moment came in: now, being a New Yorker, I learned a long time ago how to balance on the moving subway without holding on. But today I balanced on a moving train in four-inch stiletto boots!!

My feet may never forgive me.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Hillary, Martha, and Cockroaches

"When the world ends, there will be left only a few cockroaches, Cher, Hillary and Martha."

So says Maureen Dowd in her latest column. Her point basically is that women need to be broken to be successful. Meaning, nobody likes to see all powerful women, but once they've been broken and degraded and survived, we like 'em a whole lot more.

I don't think that's true just of women. I think that in general seeing someone suffer makes them more human, makes them easier to relate to. Martha Stewart always seemed too perfect, but now after we've all seen her sans make-up walking out of a jail cell, well you know what? She looks just like we do after a really, really bad day (or month).

Maureen Dowd would have you belive that this phenomenon only applies to women and that it's a bad thing. I'm not so sure on either count. People do not have perfect lives, it's really hard to remember that when all you see of a person is an hour on television after she's had a small army making her look good. It's really hard to remember that someone is real, that she or he suffers too, that money and popularity do not make someone happy despite the smiling images you see on TV. I think it was a pretty valuable lesson to see Martha in that ugly gray sweatshirt and if that makes us like her more (or at all), that's not a bad thing.

Quality Not Quantity

During Birchat Hachodesh today in shul I thought of a dvar Torah that I heard a couple of years ago. So, in blessing the upcoming month we ask all sorts of things of the month: we ask for lives of peace, happiness, etc. And then there's this really weird passage where we ask for long lives. Now remember, we're asking for this all within the context of the month. So, it makes sense to ask for happiness for the month, but a month is only 30 days (give or take a few) no matter what. You can't ask for longevity within the context of 30 days, it doesn't really make sense.

The answer I heard was that you're asking for the quality of those days not the quantity. True, there are only going to be x days in the upcoming month, but what you do with those days and how you do it and what they become truly gives value to those days. And it's that value that makes them "long." There may only be 30 days, but what you do with them entails what they're really worth.

Wishing y'all a long month. In a good way.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Marriage and Toilets

"Very few spaces in our society remain divided by sex," Professor Case said. "There's marriage and there's toilets, and very little else." This, umm, interesting quote from A NY Times article on People in Search of Safe (read: gender neutral) Restrooms.

I'm not sure what to comment on but I found it kinda funny (I snorted when I read it and you missed it Stx) and a little bit sad. Clearly I am no fan of sexual discrimination, but women and men ARE different, and you can't change that by changing the law - or changing the signs on restrooms.

The Perfect Man

I've found him.

My father informed me via e-mail yesterday that "the only perfect man I know is married (to your mother)."

He's humble too.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Cultural Divide

I am very proud of my Judaism, and very proud of being Orthodox; I think it's part of struggling to make your own choices that when you arrive at your conclusions, they're really important to you. (Which is not to say I've made huge, life-changing decisions...) And because I wear the typical frum girl garb, I always assume that it is balatantly clear that I am an Orthodox Jew.

Big mistake.

So it was funny when in my creative writing class we were discussing the play I'd written about a pre-wedding conversation between a bride and a bridesmaid, and everyone was like, "wow, those girls seem so young, you should maybe make them older..." And I was like, "well actually I'm an Orthodox Jew and it's kind of typical to get married when you're 20..."

Partially it was funny because they had no clue that I was Orthodox - I mean, NO clue. And partially it was funny because they were dumbfounded by the fact that 20-year-olds are getting married. But I guess both point to the same huge cultural divide.

I like the people in my creative writing class, and I generally like the students in school (that is, when they're not drunk or asking me to buy them alcohol), but there's a sense in which I feel like they just can't get me. No matter how much we can joke together and work together and learn together, I always feel like there's this part of my life that they just can't understand.

But maybe I'm not giving them enough credit. Maybe I'm the one that refuses to understand. Maybe I'm the one that just doesn't get it.

It's a Good Thing I Like My Classes...

...Because, I tell ya, Stern is looking more and more appealing. And no, I don't want to switch to Stern, and yes, as I've said before and will probably say again, I do love my secular college and believe I have grown from the experience, but sometimes I really do wonder if it's worth it.

Tonight (it's morning already but that's irrelevant) I was asked if I wanted to go to a dance party (umm, not really) and then was asked if I wanted to go buy "booze" for the office (no!).

And yes, I LOVE Columbia, and yes, I do believe it's the right place for me. And it's true that I am very overtired and slightly frustrated, and may regret this post after a good night's sleep (in which case, it'll take a while), but is this really where a good frum girl belongs? Should I be here? Sometimes I wonder. I really wonder.

AFTER SOME SLEEP, I re-read this post and I don't regret it and I don't even regret the fact that I felt this way. I think it's important that I'm forced to re-evaluate my decisions on a semi-regular basis and don't just go with the flow and be happy with where I'm at. If being asked to go buy alcohol (which by the way, I couldn't do anyway since unlike most college students I don't have a fake ID) means I re-think where I am and how I got here and whether this is where I should be, that's a good thing. It's ok if I come to the conclusion that I'm happy with those decisions, but it's important for me to think about them and to make sure I'm in the right place - booze or no booze.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Mazal Tov to Me?

I got an e-mail from my father today, it said: "Eli7, mazal tov on your engagement. I saw you on"

The first thought that ran through my mind upon receiving the e-mail - even before it occured to me that I am not engaged and even if I were it would be slightly odd for my father to find out from a Web site - was what is my father doing on OnlySimchas? That is not his terrain!

Now, while there was indeed someone with my exact name on OnlySimchas today, I think it might have something to do with the fact that I have a relatively common Jewish name. But I'm thinking my father was trying to tell me something, what I'm not sure. That I should call home more? That I should get engaged? That he's an OnlySimchas addict?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Delusions of... Having It All

One of my classes was cancelled today; not because of the weather (I think it would take something close to the apocalypse for Columbia to cancel class) but because my professor had to take her daughter to the doctor. Now, in and of itself there is nothing super-strange about this - parents have to take care of their kids - but it's funny because this particular professor told us pretty recently that her job is one of the best jobs for a woman because it does allow her time for her family (and is intellectually stimulating and interesting, balah, blah, blah). Except that here she was cancelling class and depriving her dear students of an intriguing discussion on Marx and Engel.

And then the question becomes for me: can a woman really have it all? I want to be a lawyer and I want to work even when I have kids and I am constantly being told that it's not possible, that sooner or later I'm going to have to choose between a family and a career. Is that true? Am I not going to be able to have both. Now, as my blog-header would suggest, I do know that it is at least semi-delusional to believe I can have everything, and I do rationally know that family is a bigger priority for me than a career. But part of me wants to scream like a two-year-old, "I want it all! I can have it all, I know I can!" But a little voice has been lingering since I got my professor's e-mail this morning, asking "Can you really?"

Harvard's Chicken and Egg Question

In a NY Times letter to the editor: "What many Harvard faculty members are saying about Dr. Summers's leadership is that his peremptory, arrogant and self-promoting behavior has repeatedly gotten in the way of his ability to understand..."

Um, I hate to break it to you, but the students ain't much better. The only question I have is which came first, the students or the president?