Carried in His Hands

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"Don't tell God how big your storm is; tell your storm how big your God is."

I believe in God.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

And...This is really happening.

And...this is really happening.  I am really and truly going back to school.  By this time three (or possibly four, depending on how you count) days from now, I will be on the road with my father and my luggage.  A few short hours after that, I will be standing in my new dorm room.  I will know such things as: river view or street view? How big is it? What's on my Eastern wall? Where will I put my books? Which way does my bed face, and do I have a wall on my right or my left when I'm sleeping? How deep is the windowsill? These are all important questions, and I can't wait to find out the answers.

It's been a long and boring summer.  I planned absolutely nothing for myself to do.  Always before I've had to take incompletes and finish schoolwork over the summer, and I was convinced that a summer without any responsibilities would be fun, fun, fun.  Boy, was I wrong! It might have been different if I had a job and were working a good bit of the day, but jobs are scarce and I couldn't find one.  In short, I had nothing to do all summer, which is not good for a 22-year-old!

I chose to do most of my packing today.  I can't pack on the Sabbath, for that would be work, and we are leaving too early Sunday for me to do all my packing then.  Initially, the plan was just to do my laundry today, and my packing tomorrow, but once I got into prepping-to-go-back mode I couldn't stop.  So far, I have filled my big suitcase and my medium suitcase.  I have a small suitcase I can fill, as well, and then it's cardboard box time.  I will also take a backpack, a laptop, and a purse.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Second Post of the Day: About my Taste in Music

My three favorite Youtube playlists right now, are, in no particular order: Yeshiva Boys Choir, Lev Tahor, and Steven Curtis Chapman.

Yeshiva Boys Choir is an Orthodox choir comprised of prepubescent boys.  They sing their songs with a very Ashkenazi (Jewish from Eastern Europe) pronunciation, which I find obsolete, as do most non-Orthodox Jews, but they also sing with an unrivaled spirit and passion, and this is what draws me in.

Lev Tahor is an Orthodox mens' group.  (In case you were wondering: yes, in the Orthodox world there is a problem with women singing, at least in front of men.  There is a quotation in the law codes which reads, "The voice of a woman is nakedness," and too many men take it seriously.)  They also sing and play their instruments with great passion and joy; you can tell from listening to them that they really love their Judaism.

Steven Curtis Chapman is perhaps the singer who will require the most explanation, for his songs are very Christian.  It is in his work, however, that I find a spirituality most like mine.  I do screen his songs carefully before adding them to my Youtube playlist, not so much because I care for myself as because I care what people who might overhear through walls or door think of me.  Any song containing the words "Jesus," "Christ," or "Savior" doesn't get listened to again; anything else is fair game.  At the end of the day, we all worship the same God, and that is what counts.

Look up any of these singers/groups on Youtube for a meaningful experience.  The Yeshiva Boys Choir songs I most recommend are "Adir" and "Veahavto."  For Lev Tahor, I recommend "Deaf Man in the Shteeble" and "The Ninth Man."  My favorite songs by Steven Curtis Chapman are "God is God" and "Moment Made for Worshiping."  Enjoy!

The 28th Kippah


This past Saturday night, I inherited this lovely kippah from the family kippah drawer.  I have wanted it for years, and in fact I forget whether I asked for it and someone said no, or rather I just never asked for it.  It is Bucharan-style (aka very large), giving me another option for Friday nights and holiday nights.  With all the holidays in the Fall, I got this just in time; I plan to debut it on Yom Kippur eve, for the Kol Nidre service (considered one of the two holiest services of the year; the other is Neilah, when the gates of Heaven close at the end of Yom Kippur).  We are supposed to wear white on Yom Kippur, and I have a white skirt and a smaller white kippah to wear during the day, but I didn't have a white kippah for the evening and that didn't sit well with me.  But now I guess I do!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tzedakah Box

I am excited.  At the beginning of the school year, I plan to sell back a couple of textbooks that are obsolete to me (hopefully they're useful to someone, or the bookstore won't take them back), and then I will have some spending money.  I had planned to buy yet another kippah, but have decided instead to buy a tzedakah box.

Tzedakah is a difficult word to translate.  It is most often rendered "charity," but that doesn't quite do it, somehow.  Charity is something done purely voluntarily; tzedakah carries a sense of obligation.  I have also seen the word translated "justice" and "righteousness," but somehow those don't really quite get it, either.  A tzedakah box is a special place to save money to donate.  Up till now I have been using an old medicine box; hopefully that will soon change.

Tzedakah boxes come in all sizes, materials, and prices.  I bookmarked some as low as five or ten dollars because I really don't know how much money I'll have to spend.  The ones I bookmarked only went up to thirty dollars, for I know I won't have more than that to spend, but I saw some handmade works of art selling for several thousand dollars.  It's unclear to me what the point is of spending so much on a tzedakah box when you could be donating the same money to tzedakah, but I don't know; maybe that's just me.

I have also changed my plans about where to donate when the box is full.  Until yesterday, I thought I was going to make a donation to Reece's Rainbow, every time.  Now I have decided to change the organization to which I donate each time I donate, and I know where I am donating first.  I am very excited about it.

While Googling "tzedakah box" yesterday, I came across a girls' orphanage in Israel, Lev Lalev (Heart to Heart).  It is an Orthodox organization--I can tell by  how modestly the girls in the photos are dressed, and the fact that there is a separate fund set up for weddings (traditionally it is a HUGE Jewish value to help poor and disadvantaged brides have a wonderful wedding and a successful first home)--but.  But but but.  They also have a separate fund for the psychiatric and therapeutic needs of their girls with PTSD and other mental health needs.  Given my own health history, I cannot ignore this.  My first tzedakah boxful of money will go to the Lev Lalev mental health fund.

You might be wondering where I am getting all this money.  It is true that, as a college student, it is difficult to find money to give to others, but this became very important to me around the middle of last year, so I devised a clever system: every Friday evening, and on the eve of a holiday, I empty the change in my wallet--be it one cent or three dollars--into my tzedakah box.  When the box is full, I take it to the bank, deposit the money, and make a donation for that amount.

Giving tzedakah becomes especially important during the Aseret Y'mei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  After all, as we say in U'N'Taneh Tokef, "But repentance, prayer, and deeds of kindness can avert the severity of the decree."  The Hebrew word used for "deeds of kindness" is--you guessed it--tzedakah.  (I told you it was hard to translate!)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Straight Out of my Journal

PLEASE NOTE: I very rarely blog straight out of my journal.  It's usually much too private for that.  This time, however, I knew it would work.  Enjoy!

When I look at it with a clear and analytical eye, it is astounding to me how much of my day is taken up by Judaism.  My day does not feel right unless it is punctuated with the fulfillment of mitzvot (commandments) at the proper times.

I start my day with ritual hand washing immediately after I get out of bed, using a beautiful cup and towel that I spent real money (eight dollars for the towel and 37 for the cup, plus shipping from Israel) on, specially for this purpose.  Even as I get dressed, I am doing Jewish things, donning a tallit katan (undergarment with holy fringes) over my bra and skirt and a kippah atop my ponytail.

My day would not feel right if it were not punctuated by prayer--hopefully, usually all three times, but certainly at least once.  When I pray in the mornings, which is the time I am most likely to make, I wear a tallit gadol (prayer shawl, with the same holy fringes as the tallit katan) and, during normal weekdays, tefillin (phylacteries: square boxes of black leather, with scripture inside, on long black leather straps).

Now that we have entered the Penitential Season, which runs from Rosh Hodesh Elul (start of the month of Elul) through Hoshanah Rabah (last day of the week-long festival of Sukkot), there are extra Jewish things to do, as well.  There is a special psalm (Psalm 27) to be recited at the end of morning and evening prayers, and I have my precious U'N'Taneh Tokef Youtube recording by the Israeli group Gevatron, which I allow myself to listen to from Rosh Hodesh Elul through Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).

And here are my own photographs of the objects that focus in my daily ritual life, in the order in which they were mentioned here:

This is my hand washing cup.  It is made of brushed metal that shines in the light, and it is purple.

And here is the towel, draped over the cup.  The Hebrew reads "...on the lifting of the hands;" these words end the blessing that goes with hand washing.

Tallitot k'tanot come in two different styles now.  This first one is the same kind that men and boys wear.  I wear this kind, in size extra small, under my t-shirts and polos and such.

This second kind was designed and made by women, for women.  The company that makes them, Netzitzot, is very new.  The women who make these start with an H & M undershirt, slit it to make corners (a tallit must have corners, that is the whole point) and then tie the fringes.  I wear this kind when I am dressing up for the Sabbath, holidays, or other fancy occasions; it looks prettier under a dress or blouse, and allows me to feel graceful while still fulfilling this important commandment.

I couldn't photograph the kippah atop my head, obviously, so I did the next best thing: photographed the one I plan to wear tomorrow.  Kippot come in all different sizes, materials, and styles; earlier this summer I did a post showing off my whole collection (I have 27) one by one.  This one here is hand embroidered silk, by designer Yair Emanuel.  It is one of my favorites in my whole collection.

This is my tallit gadol, in its bag.  This is the one I have had since my Bat Mitzvah, ten and a half years ago.

Here it is out of the bag...

...and here it is partially unfolded.  I didn't want to unfold it all the way when I wasn't going to use it, but I did want to show you some of the important details.  In the upper left, you can see a portion of the atarah, or neckband.  The stripes running vertically actually run horizontally across the sides when the tallit is unfolded.  In the upper right, you can see a corner square (the corners of my tallit have the names of the Four Matriarchs--Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah--embroidered in Hebrew; not sure which corner that is) and the all-important fringes.

Here is my tefillin bag.  I wanted a pink one, but not enough girls and women wear tefillin for there to be pink bags on the market.  This was the closest my parents could get.  The bag is velvet; the embroidery is of a crown, some branches, and the word "tefillin" in Hebrew.

And here are the tefillin themselves, in their cases.  Again, getting them out just didn't seem right, somehow.  On the left is the headpiece; the Hebrew lettering says "tefillin for the head."  On the right is the armpiece; the Hebrew lettering says "tefillin for the hand/arm."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rosh Hodesh Elul and U'N'Taneh Tokef

Today (and yesterday) is Rosh Hodesh Elul, the start of the new Hebrew month of Elul.  Because Rosh Hodesh is traditionally a women's holiday, I have sought ways beyond just the extra prayers to make it extra special.  Here is what I have come up with, so far:

  1. I wear jewelry, not just the plain Jewish star brooch I wear every day, but special jewelry like that which I wear for the Sabbath and holidays.
  2. I use my fancy, Sabbath-holiday-and-special-occasion bobby pins to keep my kippah attached to my hair.  (On normal days I wear plain black hair barrettes or bobby pins.)
  3. I spritz one small spritz of cologne on.
  4. This is my newest one, that I just figured out yesterday: On Rosh Hodesh, regardless of what day of the week it falls out on, I wear my ladies' tallit katan in order to feel graceful and pretty while fulfilling a commandment.  It doesn't get much better than that.
Now, because it is now Elul, the month leading up to the High Holidays, I am listening (through headphones, so I don't wake up my brother) to--what else?--U'N'Taneh Tokef.  To me, U'N'Taneh Tokef is the most beautiful piece of liturgy there is, possibly (though I'm not sure on this one) even more beautiful than Kol Nidre, which begins the Day of Atonement.  (U'N'Taneh Tokef comes during the daytime part of the Day of Atonement.)

Because this is at least my second time talking about U'N'Taneh Tokef on this blog, I thought I had better explain it a bit more.  Here is a link to the Youtube recording I love so dearly:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yspXvbBPrXc&list=FLepRB322n9YoP4R1aATG8Vg&index=3

And here is a translation, so you can see why this piece is so important to me.  This translation is taken from Mahzor Hadash, "The New Mahzor," a High Holiday prayer book put together most recently in 2009.  Even that translation is out of date, but it's the one I grew up on, so it's the one I'll put here.  Here I go.

U'N'Taneh Tokef
"We proclaim the great sanctity of this day,
A day filled with awe and trembling.
On this day, O Lord, we sense your dominion,
As we envision You on the throne of judgment,
Judging us in truth, but with compassion.
You, indeed judge and admonish,
Discerning our motives, and witnessing our actions.
You record and seal, count and measure;
You remember even what we have forgotten.

"You open the Book of Remembrance,
And the record speaks for itself;
For each of us has signed it with deeds.

"The great Shofar is sounded, and a still small voice is heard.
Even the angels are dismayed; in fear and trembling they cry out:
"The Day of Judgment has arrived!"
For even the "heavenly hosts" sense that they are judged,
And know that they are not without fault.

"On this day all of us pass before You,
One by one, like a flock of sheep.
As a shepherd counts sheep, making each of them pass under the staff,
So You review every living being,
Measuring the years
And decreeing the destiny of every creature.

"On Rosh Hashanaah it is written,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed:

"How many shall leave this world, and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die, who in the fullness of years and who before; who shall perish by fire and who by water, who by sword and who by a wild beast; who by famine and who by thirst, who by earthquake and who by plague; who by strangling and who by stoning, who shall rest and who shall wander; who shall be serene and who disturbed, who shall be at ease and who afflicted; who shall be impoverished and who enriched, who shall be humbled and who exalted.

"BUT REPENTANCE, PRAYER, AND DEEDS OF KINDNESS 
CAN REMOVE THE SEVERITY OF THE DECREE.

"We offer praises to You, for You are slow to anger, ready to forgive.
You do not wish that the sinner die;
You would have the sinner repent and live.

"You wait for us to return to You, even until our final day.
You welcome us, O our creator, whenever we repent, 
Knowing the weaknesses of Your creatures;
For we are mere flesh and blood.

"Our origin is dust and our end is dust.
At the hazard of our lives do we earn our bread.
We are like a fragile vessel, like the grass that withers,
The flower that fades, the shadow that passes.
The cloud that vanishes, the wind that blows,
The dust that floats, the dream that flies away.

"BUT YOU, O SOVEREIGN OF ALL,
ARE THE LIVING AND EVERLASTING GOD."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Preparations

For the first time, I may be starting school in a flare-up of one of my chronic conditions (in this case, RND).  To prepare for that circumstance, today I drafted a letter to my instructors (not all of them are professors; actually, I think only one is!) about my disability and what it looks like in the classroom.  I will not send the letter until the 25th.  I hope to be better by then, but I don't think I will be, and now I have the letter ready to go.  I would like to share it here, as well; here it is.

                           Dear Professor _____________,
             My name is Sarah ____________, and I am in your ____________ class for Fall semester 2015.  You may recognize me by my yarmulke atop my brunette hair (usually pulled back, but not always) and my skirts long enough to cover my knees: I am certain that I am the one and only _____________ student who wears both those things to class each day.
             I am writing to alert you to my two disabilities.  I do have paperwork for everything and I will naturally present it to you at the first opportunity.  This will not, however, be until after the first class session.  You will therefore meet me before you receive any paperwork, and I wanted you to be prepared.  Additionally, the paperwork does not reveal diagnoses; I think it should, and I am going to tell you mine.
            I have the bad luck of being diagnosed with two chronic conditions: Bipolar Disorder and Reflex Neurovascular Dystrophy (henceforth referred to as RND).  Bipolar Disorder is common enough that I will assume you have encountered it before and understand it, and I will therefore not go into it here.  RND, however, is sufficiently rare (striking two to four in 1000) that I will presume you would like an explanation.
           As the word "neurovascular" suggests, RND strikes the nerves that control the blood vessels.  The blood vessels in the affected area then constrict, causing lactic acid build-up, which causes burning pain.
           Because RND is a condition affecting the nervous system, I can hurt any time, anywhere, for any reason or for no reason at all.  At present, I am in a "no reason at all" flare-up; this past Friday marked six weeks and there is no telling how long the pain will last.
          You need not fear that I'll disrupt class; I never do.  I do take notes on a laptop when my hands are hurting, and I stay out of school when things get really bad, though in my entire ____________ career (this is my ninth semester) I have missed four days for Bipolar Disorder and one day for pain.  I simply wanted you to be aware of and alert to my needs and situation.
          Once again, I do have paperwork that covers all this, and I will present it to you at the earliest opportunity, most likely immediately after the first class session.
           If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me directly at: [email address]
           You can also get in touch with my Disability Services coordinator, Mr. ____________ ______________, at: [email address]

                              Very Truly Yours,
                 Sarah ______________

P.S. (FOR FIRST YEAR RUSSIAN ONLY) Is there a TA for this class, or something similar, and does that person need to read and sign the paperwork, too?

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I am a bipolar, Jewish teen who also suffers from RND. I love life and I live for my best friends: they are my purpose and my reason for trying so hard. I remain passionately devoted to those I love; I will not let my disorders make me totally self-centered. I like to read, write, and sew. When I grow up, I think I might like to be a Rabbi. Scratch that; I AM going to be a Rabbi! Please note: I am currently maintaining only Carried in His Hands. Enjoy!