Sunday, November 30, 2008

להגיד בבקר חסדך ואמונתך בלילות

"A siddur that's falling apart probably belongs to someone who isn't."

My brother realized on the way to shul on yom tov (this post has been a long time coming) that he had forgotten his machzor at home. To which my father responded, jokingly: "Your brother doesn't need a machzor. He just lets the words flow." (Which was funny because my brother is 12 and not, um, particularly spiritual.) 

I have a hard time with a structured tefilah that tells us how we should build our relationships with Hashem, but I think I would have a harder time without it. 

Within the realm of Shemonei Esrei, I can have kavanah; without it, I don't think I would even know how to try. I prefer davening in shul, but I have a hard time motivating myself to go. I had an insanely long but beautiful and inspirational Yom Kippur davening, and I loved it, but it was ... exhausting. 

I have a hard time making time for tefilah and a hard time doing a good job of davening when I've made the time, but when I do it right I know. I find my tefilah to be a statement about me and where I stand religiously. It is about finding myself in a way, getting in touch with where I am at and where I am headed. I just heard that the verb "mitpallel" is reflexive because tefilah is fundamentally about self-judgment and self-discovery. 

A friend who is going through a hard time recently told me she has become skeptical of the power of tefilah to change things. She said that asking Hashem for things only begs the question, "Why didn't Hashem listen to me when He could have prevented this?"

And yes, of course, the point of tefilah is not to ask for things but to build a relationship with Hashem, but what does that mean really? 

I ask for things in my tefilah because I believe Hashem can make them happen. I heard at a shiur that tefilah is a direct expression of emunah. It is a recognition that after all is said and done, we are ultimately in the hands of Hashem. The question, I guess, is how much power our tefilah has to make things happen. 

Another friend said that the approach she has always heard is that through tefilah, you can transform yourself into someone who is deservant of whatever it is you are asking for. Which I like conceptually, but is hard on a practical level. Do we truly change ourselves that much through tefilah? Self-discovery yes, but change?

This post has been in a draft for quite some time because while I have been thinking about tefilah, I have not been sure--am still not sure--what I want to say about it. I know that tefilah is important and I find it meaningful, but I am not sure how it is meaningful and how to work on it and how to reconcile all that with my dislike of and discomfort with all things fluffy. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

On Writing, or Ripping Your Hair Out

"I have made this letter longer because I did not have the time to make it shorter."

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."

"I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters."

"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair--the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Links: The New Low Edition

Depressing. Intriguing. Genius.

The procrastinating got so bad today I itemized my freezer. It's a definitive new low.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Deep Thoughts: The Herpes and Borscht Edition

Stuff I found interesting, or, more specifically, stuff I found while procrastinating:

  • Herpes is cute. Well, this stuffed herpes. (And, yes, a Web site that sells stuffed microbes is sort of bizarre in its own right.) Chalk that up to one of the only times you'll ever hear that sentence, though. I thought that it would be a googlenope, but "Herpes is cute" appears nine times on the Internet already. At least some of those are also in reference to the stuffed variety. 
  • Borscht is in the AP Stylebook, which on first glance seemed ridiculous, but considering the word has appeared in The Times 1,041 times since 1981, maybe it's not so crazy. It's certainly not on my top-10 list of most-useful words. Or top-1,000 list.
  • A Republican deer
  • On whether this election reinforced negative stereotypes of women and set feminism back. Not sure I agree but interesting.
  • This looks like the best game ever. Too bad it's $70. But it might diversify my Trivial Pursuit collection. 
  • Am I a bad person if I am considering donating blood mostly for the $5 Starbucks card?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

All the Fake News That's Fit to Print

I was handed one of these on my way out of the subway this morning. I suspected it was a hoax before even reading it—the New York Times doesn't come free. Though, I will admit, it seems at least a little less funny after knowing that a Columbia publication did this years ago.
Also, while I'm at it: the NYT's ridiculous headlines; the business media's "disappointed stock broker" photos; and a fight with the Times copydesk.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stressball, What?!

Carmen: I am mad at my dad. I am mad at my dad. Why is that so hard for me to say, Tibby? I have no problem being mad at you. 
Tibby: I noticed. 
Carmen: I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Tibby. What I said, it was not nice. It was awful, and I'm sorry. 
Tibby: Well, maybe sometimes it's easier to be mad at the people you trust. 
Carmen: Why? Why is that? 
Tibby: Because you know they'll always love you, no matter what.

Six essays to write, five envelopes and one odd-shaped present to mail, one Shabbos meal to find, (life) plans to make, e-mails to send, phone calls and apologies to make, arguments to finish, people I need to be better to, a paycheck I need to track down, a sister I snapped at for no apparent reason. And, oh yeah, I need to train myself to be ready to edit at 6 a.m. Six a.m. Also, I am quoting from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and that list makes no sense, and I am blogging instead of doing any of those things. This is not good.

Deep Thoughts: The Barnes & Noble Edition

First I wasted time by perusing  Barnes & Noble instead of being productive. Now I am blogging about my bookstore adventures (or something) instead of being productive.

  • Presidential Scrabble. Think on it for a minute. At first, it seems like an awesome idea, then you try to figure out how it works--and even with the box in hand this proved difficult--and you ask, Why? The board is roundish and you can play words to win states' electoral and popular votes. It sounds sorta fantastic, so I'd say the jury is still out until I play it. (Though the box says you're playing to be the country's 44th president and so is already outdated. Also, apparently John McCain is older than Scrabble.)
  • I have this thing for leather-bound books. In fact, I've already claimed as my sole piece of inheritance the set of leather-bound classics in my parent's house. But that's just it--classics should be leather-bound. Not contemporary popular fiction like Wicked and Son of a Witch. And is anyone really going to spend $300 for a signed copy of Giuliani's Leadership
  • I saw a picture book on Obama, which I considered getting for my woefully uninformed siblings. Then I read the back--and as soon as I found that the author personified hope, I gave up on the book. But I did discover a whole slew of inspirational books about politicians and politics for children. Shudder. I mean, I am sure some of them are fantastic but do you really want to scare your 7-year-old with a Dick Cheney biography?

Sunday, November 09, 2008


I went home to vote Tuesday, being the good citizen that I am, and while I was home, I asked my 12-year-old brother who he would vote for if he could vote. He's not generally particularly interested in politics or current events, so I didn't expect anything profound from him; I was just curious. Without blinking, he responded, "McCain." 

In his Jewish day school, he said, they held a mock election. Obama got 70 votes; McCain got 700.

When I asked him why, his response was pretty much "Israel" without any more explanation.

He went on to add, incredulously, that our 6-year-old brother "voted" for Obama, clearly indicating that he does not care about Israel--and that all my siblings made fun of the 6-year-old would-be Democrat all the way home from school. By the time I spoke to him, my 6-year-old brother had reneged on his Obama support and wouldn't even admit that he had cast that vote in school.

And I was reminded of an e-mail sent out in a frum community that slammed Bush for abandoning Israel in his last State of the Union address. Bush supported a two-state solution there but he--and every other mainstream U.S. politician--has been supporting a two-state solution from the get-go. Surely that does not amount to abandonment of Israel.

The election is over, and I don't really want to discuss politics here. But this is not about which candidate any one person voted for. There were plenty of good reasons to vote for either candidate. I just didn't hear many of those good reasons in the frum community. I didn't hear much discussion or debate about the election in the frum community at all. 

Citizens have a responsibility think for themselves and do their own research. That's what a democracy is all about--having an informed electorate--and what good is your vote if you have no real reason for it, if you haven't even really thought about it? 

Democracy is not about voting the way your rabbi told you to or the way your parents are voting. It is about participating in your government, grappling with the issues, and thinking for yourself.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Happy Election Day

Some quotes to read while you wait to vote or for election returns or for a concession speech or for the end of the world as we know it.

Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it's something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles. –Abbie Hoffman

Elections belong to the people. It is their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters. –Abraham Lincoln

Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people. –Harry Emerson Fosdick

Democracy cannot be forced upon a society, neither is it a gift that can be held forever. It has to be struggled hard for and defended everyday anew. –Heinz Galinski

The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don't agree with. –Eleanor Holmes Norton

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government. –Thomas Jefferson

Elections are a good deal like marriages. There's no accounting for anyone's taste. Every time we see a bridegroom we wonder why she ever picked him, and it's the same with public officials. –Will Rogers

As a rule, dictatorships guarantee safe streets and terror of the doorbell. In democracy the streets may be unsafe after dark, but the most likely visitor in the early hours will be the milkman. –Adam Michnik

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. –Benjamin Franklin

The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. –Robert M. Hutchins


Monday, November 03, 2008

The End of the World as We Know It

Pre-Election Day thoughts:

People should care enough to be informed and to vote. (Also, you get free things if you vote.) 

I need people who care to watch the election returns with. I was invited to a college election night party, but somehow I feel like that is not the best place for me. 

Still, this will be a historic election and I'd like to be with people who care, people who are informed enough to know what is happening and its signifigance. 

In an un-Downie-esque move, I will vote tomorrow and I have known for quite some time who I will cast my vote for. But still, I do believe there are good reasons to vote for either candidate. And it annoys me when people have decided who they are voting for and have no good reasons to articulate. 

The whole point of democracy is to have an informed citizenry, not to have people who go to polls to get free stuff.