Saturday, September 30, 2006
Zeh Chalifasi.

So tonight we shlugged kapores. Here they are, our beautiful chickens. 3 roosters and 3 hens, one for each of us. It was done in the back of a yeshiva, after shabbos. Tons of people were there. There was a carnival-like atmosphere, when it really should be somber. I guess there's a level of excitement involved, I mean, how often do we get to see live chickens? While we were on line waiting to buy them (20 bucks a bird!), one of them escaped and ran through the yeshiva fence. I cheered him on while the bochurim ran after him.

I said the kapores passages for the girls and myself, while Yaakov shlugged the hens over our heads. He did it for the boys and himself. The good news is, nobody got pooped on. Then we stood on line forever, waiting to watch our chickens get slaughtered. There was a girl outside the yeshiva fence, arguing with a woman on line. She kept telling the woman she was cruel, and how could she be doing this? I got into a gentle conversation with the girl, explained the mitzvah to her and some chassidus behind it. I thought she was just randomly heckling, but it turned out she was yelling at her mother!

We finally
got to the shochet. It was visceral, intense. Yaakov got blood splattered on him when the schochet tossed the dead chickens aside. Well, I don't quite know if they were dead. It was disturbing. They were still kicking their feet and flapping, and I felt bad for them. I mean, those chickens could have been us! That's the whole point! So I wasn't crazy about that part. There's some things about kapores that definitely need improvement. It's a mitzvah, but tsaar baalei chayim (cruelty to animals) isn't.

And here's something really random: When we were walking back to the car, I looked up to a glass-windowed building. I saw firefighters trying to pry open an elevator! I'm terrified of getting stuck in one. I won't take one unless another adult is with me (or if I'm talking to Yaakov on my cell phone while inside). So we stood there and watched them struggling to open the doors. Finally, they did it. A guy walked out and slapped one of the firemen on the backside, like it was no big deal. He didn't even say anything, he just walked away! I mean, if that were me, I'd be hysterically crying. I'd be asking them for their addresses so I could send thank-you notes. Maybe I'd ask their names so I could name children after them.

So I thought to myself, how I come saw that? Isn't it interesting that I witnessed one of my greatest fears? I thought a lot about it on the way home. There's a basic level, confronting our fears and overcoming them. But I also thought about how "stuck" I've felt spiritually lately. Stuck in my little elevator of self, trapped inside and not getting out. I thought, growing spiritually isn't always having the elevator doors magically open. (Voila! Welcome to your floor!) Sometimes you have to pry your way out, sweating and heaving like those firemen. Or maybe it's that sometimes people have to rescue us.

Something to contemplate before Yom Kippur.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

13 things in my Ikea computer workstation:

1. stapler
2. bruchim habayim kitah aleph book
3. pacifier
4. stack o' bills (send us your money)
5. unplugged Dell mouse
6. Chai Lifeline calendar (send us your money)
7. box of miscellany - stamps, pens, checkbook
8. sticker stars for mitzvah charts
9. open pack of triple A batteries
10. patch to sew on Rivky's dress
11. yeshiva tuition schedule (send us your money)
12. Love and Logic workbook
13. Avraham Fried cd

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More pics of this unbelievable wedding here!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I went to a shiur tonight and the Rabbi related a funny story. The violinist Itzhak Perlman was in his house talking to a friend, when a painting fell off the wall. So Itzhak says, "I'll call the handyman." The friend said, "What? A handyman to hang a picture back up? Are you crazy? Just take a hammer and do it yourself!" So Itzhak wiggled his fingers and said; "These are international fingers! I'm not gonna chance it!"

Another rabbi heard this story and related it to Yidden. "We're international neshomas! First class neshomas! Galactic neshomas!" (Of course my ears perked up at "galactic.") If there's something we question, should I wear it or not wear it? Eat it or not eat it? Speak about it or not speak about it? Why chance it?

If that's the way Perlman feels about his fingers, imagine how careful we have to be with our precious Jewish souls?


The anthropologist in me has always been fascinated by other cultures and religions. I have always found Islam interesting. I wish I knew a friendly Muslima to talk with, to sit down with tea and cookies and schmooze. Except now is Ramadan, so no tea and cookies during daylight hours. I wonder if there's leniencies for pregnant or nursing women? There must be.

I wonder if they have a religious "class" system like we Jews do. Like maybe the women in burqas are the Islamic chareidi. The ultra-orthodox. And maybe the women in hijabs are modern orthodox. Maybe those who don't follow traditions - but identify as Muslim - are reform. I dunno. I just wonder if they look at each other and classify like we do. Are there different flavors of mosques and imams? I read about a cleric in Egypt who was very positive and friendly, he made a lot of muslim ba'alei teshuva. They chased him out. The Islamic Shlomo Carlebach.

Here's a Muslim idea that interests me: The 12th imam.
Apparently, he is the Islamic messiah (according to Shi'a tradition). He disappeared around 868 c.e. when he was 5 years old. One account says he concealed himself at his father's funeral (The idea of the messiah concealing himself and awaiting his subsequent revelation rang a few bells with me). Anyway, when he reappears, it will be after several years of horrific global violence.

The problem is that the Iranian head honcho wants to help things along!

Monday, September 25, 2006
One more thing.

I know I said I didn't feel connected to Rosh Hashana. The fact is, it's my fault. I did not make keilim (vessels) for it. I remember learning once that the energy of the yomim tovim is kind of like packages at a post office. They're waiting for you, but you have to pick them up. A brand new energy was permeating the universe on Rosh Hashana, but I didn't check my p.o. box. If I had da'avened or learned instead of being a bum, I might have received my mail!

As Yaakov likes to say, "If G-d feels far away, who moved?"

Sunday, September 24, 2006
The Rosh Hashana Revue:

All Rosh Hashana I kept thinking, I'm not into this. I'm not spiritually attuned to this holiday. Rosh Hashana is about crowning G-d as king, judgment for the entire year to come. You would think I would be trembling in fear, right? That's what Rosh Hashana is about - being in awe of Hashem.

Nope. I was tired. I couldn't wait to go to sleep Friday night. I did not da'aven. I did not learn. Shabbos day more of the same. Had a whole bunch of guests for lunch. Didn't go to shul. Didn't da'aven. Didn't learn. But I served a nice lunch for a nice family. I got to take a short nap.

Today I was assigned kid-patrol outside of shul for an hour. Didn't da'aven. Didn't learn. I looked at sheitels. I looked at other women's yom tov outfits. Yep. Very spiritual.

Tashlich came, and the kids were running their hands all up and down a metal bar near the canal. Then I found out it had bird poop on it. Thank G-d for antibacterial wipes, and thank G-d (!!!) I had some with me. That was fun.

Even though I wasn't "with it" this Rosh Hashana,
I asked G-d to cut me some slack. I've done a lot of chesed lately.

p.s. I got to try a fruit I've never tried before. I liked it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006
A Cingular Experience.

I was in the cell phone store today for like, over an hour. It wasn't because I was having a hard time deciding. It was because there were lots of customers and oh-so-few employees. This is really what I needed to be doing erev rosh hashana.

Anyway, I was there to buy a new phone. Although the one I lost was supposedly the hottest phone ever, honestly, I didn't like it. The buttons were hard to push, and the thing was so thin it got lost in my bag. I found it too confusing to program, and I didn't have the time/patience to figure it out. And the options! More than a Shoney's breakfast bar! It was like a mega-computer in a slick little cell phone body. Not to mention the color - hot pink. Barbie's dream phone. I had a hard time using it while I was busy with the rest of my life. And just having to open and shut the thing were 2 extra steps I didn't need. So I got the cheapest phone they had - a little Nokia standard.

I love it.

13 Things on my (Friday night) Rosh Hashana table:

1. round challahs
2. apples and honey
3. fish head
4. pomegranates and other weird "shechechiyanu" fruits
5. breaded gefilte fish
6. corn salad
7. green salad with strawberries, hearts of palm, and crunchy sprouties
8. beet salad with pumpkin and sesame seeds
9. matzo ball soup with noodles
10. raspberry chicken
11. candied carrots
12. kasha varnishkas
13. honey cake with icing (NOT making it myself, no no no.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I left my heart in San Francisco.
I left my soul in Crown Heights.
I left my cell phone at the JFK airport.

Yechi HaMelech.

Baruch Hashem, I'm home from Crown Heights. I'm so grateful to be back in my own space. I'm grateful to be home safely.

The trip was intense on so many levels, It was very emotive. Every time I turned around I saw a familiar face, another woman to hug. I keep thinking of the expression "ish echad v'lev echad" - "one man with one heart." This described the Yidden when they camped at Har Sinai before receiving the Torah. They were so physically and emotionally exhausted from their desert trekking, they had no strength left to fight. They could not fight with each other, they could not fight with G-d. They had to take whatever G-d laid on them. That's how this trip was for me. Right from the get-go I was zonked, and that made me receptive to a lot of experiences (both positive and negative). It made me "at one" with so many people and moments. I cried a lot.

I notice that being overtired is a little like being stoned. I lost some of my critical faculties, but I was very bubbly and verbal and open. I saw all the holy 770 freakazoids, the crazy Israeli ladies and the zealous tzedoka collectors. I saw friends everywhere. I got to spend an unexpected evening with the California Beauty Queen (who I'm guessing is in labor right now). I got to go to a mothers' support group. I got to see the black dude from Kingston pizza, his gold-tooth smile saying; "where you been?" I saw all the Israeli guests coming to Crown Heights for Tishrei. I ran up and down city blocks from morning 'til night.

I didn't accomplish everything on my "list," yet I accomplished more than I could have ever hoped. I experienced Crown Heights with all of my senses, and I'm totally worn out. Now I have to decompress and make Rosh Hashana.

And do lots of laundry.

Monday, September 18, 2006
Walk a mile in my shoes.

"When a person wears shoe leather, the whole earth becomes shoe leather." That's a Buddhist proverb, and I never really understood it. I think this trip has revealed the answer: We cover ourselves in the shoeleather of our lives, and everything we experience is filtered through it.

I need to start going barefoot.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

So I'm in Brooklyn. Last night I had a joint birthday farbrengen with a friend. A woman came - let's call her Tikva - and she was really intense. She kept saying things that were just off. Things that were hurtful. Like someone asked me what my maiden name was, and she said "Oh, that's grimey." What?! Grimey? I had a lovely, normal sounding Jewish maiden name. But Tikva said it was grimey.

I was talking to a friend across the table, and I was telling her about me being at her wedding. I said, "I was crying so hard by your chuppah, crying and shnotting." (You know - when you cry so hard that your nose runs? Does that ever happen to you?) Okay, I admit this may not have been the most decorous thing to say. But Tikva went nuts. She sharply rebuked; "Hello, I'm eating here! That's disgusting! We don't talk like that in my house. I can't even eat this piece of cake now." I felt kind of sheepish and I sorta laughed and defended myself at the same time. I understood that what I said could be considered inappropriate, but she came down on me so harshly.

But this is where it got intense. She was talking about her daughter - I was only half listening, but I heard her say, "I tell her she's stupid." I turned to her, startled. "Did you just say that you tell your daughter she's stupid?" "Well, she is," she replied. "You know, not everybody can be a brain surgeon. I call a spade a spade." I cannot explain the feeling that coursed through me. My body felt cold, yet my blood was running my heart was pumping hard. I felt shock. And then anger. I turned to her - full of emotion - and said, "I can't use the word "shnotting," but you can call my maiden name grimey and call your daughter stupid?" and Tikva replied, "Well, if you lived in my house, what would I call you?"

At that point I excused myself. I handed Zalman to a friend and went and sat outside the apartment. I mean, I had to sit down, my knees were starting to buckle. A friend of mine joined me, and I just heaved and sobbed. I didn't care about her nasty comment to me - I just felt horrified that she would call her daughter stupid. Even as I write this, I wonder why it evoked such a powerful response. I mean, I could think, "Wow, she's got a problem. She doesn't speak appropriately to her kid." But to really bawl about it, I'm not sure why I did.

And then the sob-fest opened up emotional doors between me and my friend, and we talked out some relationship issues we were having. Well - I did most of the talking. And I felt like I had a real catharsis, that all that crying wrung out my soul.

Tikva is a holy Jew, and for some reason G-d gave her holy weirdness to me.
I truly hope to have more clarity about it in the future. After all, that's what Tikva means: "Hope."

What, you thought I chose the name randomly?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

So I'm in the heimishe store and I've got Zalman in my arms. "Can the guy who works here help me to my car?" I asked. "You mean the one who's a little..." his voice trailed off as he wound his index finger towards his temple. "Here he is. Moshe! Can you help the lady with the baby to her car?" He took my groceries and out we went. "Thank you so much for the chessed (kindness)," I told him. "What's your job?" he answered. "I'm a mommy," I said. "Oh. I thought you were a therapist." I laughed. "Nope, I'm a mommy." "I thought you were a psychiatrist." If only you knew! "When two Jews get together and help each other," I said, pointing to him and then me, "When we show ahavas yisroel, that's the best therapy." "Yeah, but I need someone to talk to - one on one - for my stress." "Yeah, I have stress too - we all do." I wanted to relate to him, show him his sameness. He smiled as I buckled Zalman into his car seat. "Shabbat Shalom," I said as he started back to the store. "Shabbat Shalom," he waved.

13 Things I want to accomplish in Brooklyn:

1. Strengthen a friendship
2. Visit my Rebbe's grave
3. Meet my landlady and her daughter-in-law for lunch in Boro Park
4. And maybe I could find a nice shabbos robe while I'm there?
5. Da'aven in 770
6. Check in with friends
7. See lots of warm, familiar faces on Kingston Avenue
8. Get my wig cut by a Crown Heights professional (pray for me...)
9. Get more "Maven Family" notecards from the local printer
10. Have a soft-serve ice cream at Kingston Pizza
11. Take Chaya to the Jewish Children's Museum
12. Visit relatives in Jersey
13. Pick up a Colel Chabad pushka for a friend

p.s. The ground meat is defrosting for the "consolation dinner." Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Brooklyn, Here We Come.

Every year, I make an annual pilgrimage back to the Brooklyn Ghetto - Crown Heights. My home for 8 years. I became frum there, got married there, started my family there. It's a place full of friends and connections. It will always be a part of me.

I'm leaving Friday morning, and I'm bringing Zalman and Chaya. They don't know this yet.
I've been holding off on telling them because a) Rivky will be devastated, and b) I know Chaya will not stop talking about it. That will be like salt in poor Rivky's wound. Srulik won't care one way or the other, which is good. I only have to deal with damage control for one kid.

Chaya is 6 1/2 and this trip will be meaningful for her. She will really be able to understand and "grok" the significance of such a journey. Rivky and Zalman would not appreciate it - their time will come.

I was thinking about telling them on Friday morning, a couple of hours before we left. But I think that may be too shocking. So I've settled for Thursday night. I thought I'd make a yummy dinner that everybody likes (spaghetti and meatballs?). Yaakov or I will say, "Mommy and Tatty have something to tell you..." Then I'll have to make lame offers for fun while I'm away. "Just think - Tatty will take you swimming at Nana's!"

Any suggestions for softening the blow? I'll take them gratefully.


Monday, September 11, 2006
These Are the Days...

Today is Chai Elul. The birthday of the Ba'al Shem Tov. The birthday of the first Chabad Rebbe, Reb Schneur Zalman. A holy day of life and light, a day celebrating 2 venerable fathers of chassidus.

It is also September 11th. A day of attack and terror. A day Americans remember as sad and dark,
when thousands of lives were lost.

It's fitting that these calendar days coincide. As mentioned in an earlier post, chassidus teaches that what seems the darkest is actually imbued with the greatest light.

Therefore, I bless us all with the revelation of Moshiach. Only then will the darkness of September 11th unravel. We will see the Light of G-d permeate all things, nod our heads in wonderment when the truth is revealed.

Until then - L'chaim!

Sunday, September 10, 2006
The Upsherin Revue:

I went to bed Thursday night at 3 in the morning. Friday morning came and I was a zombie. Chaya still had a fever. Yaakov went to shul and I had to round everything and everybody up. Thank G-d mom arrived an hour early, she was a big help with Zalman.

It was raining. A total balegan getting kids into carseats. Please G-d, don't let too much rain get on my sheitl - I just had it washed. We managed to get to shul in more or less one piece, and the rain had tapered off. Chaya's fever was under tylenol's cherry thumb. Yaakov arranged the beautiful food. Egg salad, tuna salad, fruits, cake, bagels, dips...nice and
breakfast-y. Things were looking up.

It wasn't such a big crowd. People were going to work, ladies were home making shabbos. But it was sweet and intimate, and everybody thought it was just lovely. Srulik stood very nicely on his chair while people came and took snips. Then we came home and I prepared for the areinfirnish while Yaakov buzzed the rest of Srulik's hair. (He did it on 6 and it came out perfect!)

Now on to the interesting food prep: There is a custom to make a honey cake and also a hard boiled egg. Both are inscribed with Torah passages and are meant to be eaten by the birthday boy at the areinfirnish. The egg was easy - I used a ball point pen. The honey cake, however, was a total nightmare. I had tried engraving the words onto a store-bought honey cake, but that was a bust. The passage was too long and the cake was too short. Plus, the engraving wasn't visible in the moist surface. So I decided to bake my own 9x13 cake. Let me just preface: in 8 years of marriage, I have never once made a honey cake to my satisfaction. It's either too wet or too dry, and in this case; it flopped. The sides baked nicely, but the center was mush. I asked a friend - a veteran upsherinish maker - how she solved the cake conundrum. "Easy!" she said. "Buy a couple of honey cakes and put icing on top, and engrave through the icing." This, dear readers, saved the day.

Then to the areinfirnish! Srulik was wrapped in his father's tallis as we went to meet Rabbi R, the sweetest yeshiva rebbe ever. He and Srulik said aleph beis together and the 12 pesukim, and the kids in class ate up all the honey cake.

What a great day - I'll never bake a honey cake again.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Since tomorrow is the big day...

13 Upsherinish Wishes:

1. I hope a certain relative doesn't act obnoxious
2. I hope the food works out
3. I hope someone can read the Rebbe's letter in yiddish
4. I hope we have Cohen and a Levi for the first 2 snips
5. I hope that a certain family joins us
6. I hope Srulik doesn't take off his way cool tie
7. ...or yarmulke
8. I hope Chaya's fever goes away
9. I hope we get a nice turn-out
10. I hope Yaakov doesn't buzz Srulik's hair too short
11. I hope I can rally the kids to say the 12 pesukim
12. I hope mom doesn't freak out when we don't put Srulik in the yarmulke she bought
I hope nobody realizes I got my snazzy outfit at K-Mart

Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Crocodile Tears

I never heard of this crocodile guy Steve Irwin until he was dead. But I find the aftermath most interesting. Unfortunately, his stingray-death was caught on video, so now the big hoopla is whether or not the tape should go public. I think he died a fitting death (and I don't mean that cruelly). Apparently, he was Mr. Wildlife Adventure Man. Well - for him - what a way to go!

I have long thought the media has served up drivel, all in the name of "The public's right to know." Of course, the public has been noisily eating what we've been served. Sucking the sauce off our fingers, munching down to the rind.

I don't own a television, so I'm often immune to the worst of it. But even the headlines online sicken me. Like on CNN the other day, they were describing a tragic house fire that killed 6 children. What was the headline? "Children scream, "Save us, we're burning!" Hello? That's gross! How could you print that? True or not, it doesn't need to be said. A low-blow to get readership. It's undignified.

Last year I was waiting in an airport to get a rental car. The TV was on, and they were showing the Abu Ghraib abuses. I had to avert my eyes. What's it my business to see that? What happened to not sharing things in polite company?

In early Europe, crowds would gather to see justice done. They'd ooh and aah over public hangings, crane their necks to watch the guillotine behead. We haven't changed much over the years.

I hope Crocodile Man's family can destroy the tape before it gets into our grubby little hands.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Weird car schtick

Yaakov: Did you see that?
Me: Yep.
Yaakov: We should take a picture!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Do you love the beautiful clothing from this catalog? Need a new dress for yom tov? If this is for you, I'll get you the card.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

That's what the Alter Rebbe has been talking about in recent portions of Tanya. How it opens up heavenly chambers, helps us understand G-d more. But it's not enough to just give some change. You have to give of yourself. A kind word, a reassuring smile.

Which brings me to my dilemma: there's a local tzedoka collector who is mentally ill. He hovers around the shuls, the heimishe stores, the kosher restaurants. I have come out of kosher stores and he follows me to my car. He stands verrrrrry close to me and whispers - "tzedoka." It frightens me. Alone with my children in a parking lot, with a strange man a couple of inches away. I debated whether or not to mention it to the store manager - who wants to get a mentally ill schnorrer in trouble? What would the spiritual repercussions be? But after a couple of incidences, I decided to say something. "Yes, I've been getting a lot of complaints about him."

The other day I took my kids out for pizza. He was there. My heart sank. Would he follow me? I darted into the pizza store, watched him loitering outside. The whole time I was in turmoil. He didn't approach me. I was relieved.

Logically, one could say he's in the wrong. Wrong to follow people, wrong to approach a woman - alone - at such close range. But the Jew inside me is dissonant. Why does this tzedoka collector bother me so much? Why am I afraid of him? Surely the mitzvah of tzedoka would protect me. Where's my faith? What's the real reason behind my tribulation? Am I greedy? It's a fine line.

We're supposed to use our seichel - our brains - to sort things out. It's one thing to be aloft in the spiritual realms, and another to use common sense. You also have to trust that "voice" inside. And my inner-voice screams "DANGER!"

But still I want to know: Why?

Friday, September 01, 2006
The Elul Dream...

Last night I had a dream that I was running around disguised as a boy (I think that subconsciously deals with this week's parsha). There was someone who was constantly seeking me out, to both physically and emotionally abuse me. It was the mean blonde from the Karate Kid movie, who was constantly harassing Daniel-San. I kept thinking to myself, "Wait 'til he finds out I'm really a girl, then he'll regret all this."

The abuse continued. Until one day we were in a large room, set up like a coliseum. Round, with rounded benches going upwards. There were lots of people there. Something was happening. Someone was coming. And then Rabbi Jacobson burst in, with throngs of chanting chassidim. "Aha!" I thought to my tormentor. "Now your time has come!" I could sense his fear and confusion. He knew his reckoning had come as well.

Then we found ourselves in a smaller room. Rabbi Jacobson was sitting on the bed, surrounded by chassidim. I was sitting behind my nemesis, watching the back of his blonde head. I piped up to the rabbi, "This man has been so cruel to me, he hasn't stopped!" And Rabbi Jacobson turned and focused his gaze on him. It was a look of curiosity, full of compassion and wonder. No malice was in his eyes at all. And somehow Rabbi Jacobson's face became my Zalman's, watching the man with his blue eyes. Looking out at him with complete baby-trust.

And in my dream, I started to sob. I had completely missed the boat. All I wanted to do was tattle on my enemy. I missed the fact that he had no capacity for kindness - that there was something very wrong inside of him. I didn't shine on him with compassion or mercy, like Rabbi Jacobson did. Like my son did.

All I was thinking of was myself.