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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.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Christmas Season

So the dining hall at school played Christmas music non-stop for the last few weeks of the semester.

I get that we live in a Christian society, and I really don't mind.  Allow me the freedom to light my Hannukah candles in peace, and we're good to go.  But I remember repeating to a friend (I think it was a Jewish friend; I hope it wasn't a Christian friend), "If I hear 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer one more time, I'm going to punch something, preferably Rudolph."

You see, my problem wasn't with Christmas, or even Christmas music in public settings such as dining halls.  My problem was that for every three to four times I heard "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (and that's just that particular song!) I heard something like "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" maybe once.  Maybe.

Again, we live in a Christian society.  Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, and is a religious holiday.  In my opinion (and this is the opinion of someone who is thoroughly Jewish, so maybe it doesn't count for much), if you're going to play Christmas music, please, please play the religious songs that have  meaning and depth.

I am so over "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," but if you surprised me with "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," or something similar (sorry don't know all the carols), I could be happy.

Please play your religious songs.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Dressing for the Sabbath

Dressing for the Sabbath (usually with some music that is Jewish, Hebrew, spiritual or some combination from those categories playing in the background) just might be my favorite moment of the week.  When I dress for the Sabbath, I dress to impress.  My aim is really to please God, but/and I do that by dressing my fanciest.  I wear:

  • A fancy skirt.  My winter fancy skirts are a straight, long, black velour and a flared, caramel-colored suede.
  • A fancy blouse.  My winter fancy blouses are a pink lacy tank top with matching shrug, a silky blue button-down patterned with birds' nests, and a plain purple top and purple cardigan with gold buttons.
  • A ladies' tallit katan.
  • Tights to match the top.
  • Perfume.
  • A big (think hat-size) kippah.  My three big kippot are a wine-colored embroidered velvet, a similarly colored silk embroidered with pink and blue flowers, and a purple and white embroidered with multi-colored birds and flowers.
  • Jewelry.
This is my dress-to-impress master plan, so to speak, and I never tire of thinking up variations and combinations that I haven't used before, or not in a long time, and implementing them.  I can only hope that God appreciates my efforts.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht.

The Night of Broken Glass.

November 9th, 1938.

Considered by many to be the start of the Holocaust.

Kristallnacht was a pogrom carried out by the SA, SS, and related forces against the Jews of Germany and German-occupied lands 67 years ago.  For the first time, Jews were arrested just for being Jewish, and sent to concentration camps, where many died.  Others were released only after they promised to emigrate and transferred their property to Aryans.

And...that is all I have to say.  Just felt I should mark the day somehow.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

And...DONE!

Well, I have officially finished my Hannukah gift to myself, my purple flowered tallit katan! Now we wait till Hannukah...Hannukah starts on a Sunday night this year.

And here is a picture, for all who are interested:



Friday, October 30, 2015

"OCD" and the Making of a Tallit Katan

DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT ACTUALLY HAVE OCD.  I WOULD NEVER CLAIM TO HAVE A DISORDER WITH WHICH I WAS NOT ACTUALLY DIAGNOSED, HENCE THE QUOTATION MARKS IN THE TITLE.  MOVING RIGHT ALONG...

Yesterday I began tying the sacred fringes on my purple flowered tallit katan.  Very quickly, a problem occurred: I thought I had tied an invalid knot! I laid the project aside and checked with my father today.  Turns out any double knot is valid.

I also had the following thoughts:

  1. Judaism is made for the obsessive-compulsive.
  2. I am not going to enjoy this project if I let myself be too obsessive-compulsive.
  3. I refuse to not enjoy this project, which, after all, is my Hannukah gift.
So there you go.  I will enjoy this project, even if it means--and it does--letting go of familiar thought processes.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

MAJOR MILESTONE

I have finished all the sewing on my tallit katan.  I draped it over my bed for pictures; I don't want to actually put it on--certainly not under my shirt--until I'm ready to wear it properly, with the blessing and everything.  Here are pictures:



Next project: tie the holy fringes, known as tzitziot (singular: tzitzit).  I see no reason to rush; Hannukah's not until December, and that's when I want this ready by.  I think I will tie one corner per day.  Yes, that seems like a good plan.  And now, back to my homework.

Monday, October 26, 2015

MORE BREAKING NEWS

I have finally finished hemming the beged (body; literally "garment") of my homemade tallit katan! This was the longest, most arduous step.  Next up is cutting and hemming the head-hole, then cutting and whip-stitching the holes for the holy fringes, and finally tying those fringes (on which I need to do a bit of "how-to" research).

And here is a photo of that properly hemmed beged.  Do note the sharp, pointed corners.


BREAKING NEWS

I am feeling sick (dizziness when moving, throwing up, etc.) today, but I got up to post this news...


MY STRINGS CAME!!! 

I must have ordered them after all, because as a total surprise, they showed up in the mail.  Those are they up above, lying on top of the beged, or body, of the tallit katan.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

I Can't Even Begin to Have Words

Friday afternoon, actually probably right around the time that I was blogging, a beautiful old synagogue downtown near my college caught fire.  No one was injured, and that is always absolutely the most important thing; however (at least this is what I hear) out of twenty Torah scrolls, they were only able to save four.

A Torah scroll is next thing to a human life.  It is written by hand, and can take up to a year and roughly thirty thousand dollars to produce.  The Torah is so close to being a life that there are those who will count it as the tenth person in a prayer quorum.

Still, even knowing all that didn't really bring the tragedy of the day home to me.  What really brought it home was when I was leaving Chabad after dinner, and saw city police carefully watching the building.  It was the second time that night that I had noticed them, and all of a sudden it clicked that the city was carefully protecting its Jews because no one was sure how this fire had started.

I'm very glad the city in which I spend most of my time cares enough to send personnel to make sure its people are all safe, but I wish to God it didn't have to!

I can't even begin to have words.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Miscellaneous Updates

1. I changed my mind about taking my sewing on my "adventure" today.  I found that while I could not sew on the train, I could and did sew in the doctor's waiting room.  Therefore, I have turned a second corner and am close to turning a third.  I am being very careful to make my corners sharp and pointy; you may recall that a tallit--katan (literally "little", that we wear under our clothes), or gadol ( literally "big", that we wear around our shoulders while praying)--must have four distinct corners from which to hang the holy fringes.  I decided I am not going to post a photo with every update on the project--I want to save the photos for truly special milestones.

2. I had sushi for lunch today.  I found my doctor's appointment to be rather stressful, and my new-ish tradition after stressful doctor's appointments is to eat sushi.  What did I have? I had miso soup, an oshinko roll, and two yellowtail rolls.

3.  The doctor's appointment: This doctor's appointment finally brought home to me just how serious a case of RSD I really have.  I mean, I knew and know it intellectually all the time, but most of the time, I like to forget it emotionally, and I can do so quite successfully, if I do say so myself.  However, hearing phrases like "the severity of your symptoms" and watching how gentle and careful the doctor was while examining me changed all that.  What does she want to do about it? She wants to give me a ketamine infusion.  Ketamine is a powerful painkiller, given intravenously over the course of ten days, with a weekend to rest in between.  It does cause hallucinations (in most people, forget those who, like me, are separately psychiatrically ill); along with the ketamine, I would receive a drug of a type I can't spell to counteract that.  I obviously can't miss that much school, so we are looking to do this after I graduate.  That's in less than two months...I can make it.

4. Now it is time to get ready for the Sabbath in a whirlwind of activity, and then rest and delight in it.  I do have friends I only see on the Sabbath whom I will be updating on my medical status, and reading assignments I can't afford to skip, but I will rest and delight as much as possible.  Here's what my schedule looks like for the rest of the afternoon:

  • Put on spiritual music, not necessarily Jewish (Steven Curtis Chapman comes to mind) and clean my room.  That consists of putting books back on shelves, miscellaneous things back in drawers, making the bed, clearing off my desk, and putting out my battery-powered candles on their special cloth.
  • Give tzedakah.  Actually, I usually do this after I put on the music and before I clean.
  • Take a shower and dress up.  This week I am wearing a long black velour skirt, burgundy tights, and a pink blouse and jacket combo.  On Friday evening, I always wear a hat-size kippah; this week I will wear my embroidered, maroon velour.  I will also wear a ladies' tallit katan, perfume, and jewelry.
  • Call home.  I call home almost every day (I know, I know, most 22-year-olds don't...), but I especially make sure to before the Sabbath to wish everyone back home a "Shabbat Shalom" (literally "Peaceful Sabbath"; this is our conventional Sabbath greeting).
  • Go back to doing homework, if there's still time, until half an hour before services.  Today, that's 5 pm.
  • Set up all my electronics, turning on things I want on throughout the Sabbath and turning things off I want off throughout the Sabbath.
  • Leave for services and dinner.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hannukah Project Update

No picture today because nothing much happened...just worked a long time on hemming the first long side.  It should be exciting to see it all come together, but right now would be drop dead boring if I didn't love sewing so much.

I discovered last night that I had never ordered a set of those all-important corner strings.  I don't know how I thought I had, but I never received an email at either email address with receipt or tracking information, and the transaction is not on my bank account.  As soon as I have a working debit card, I will try again.

Tomorrow I have an appointment with doctor number ten for my pain syndrome.  She's a train ride away, and I'm of two minds as to whether to bring my sewing.  One "mind" says yes, it will be something to do on the train; the other says no, it's too important to do this neatly, and trains are not good for that.  Also, when I get to the end of the side I'm hemming now, I will have to measure for folding down the next side, and you can't really do that on a train.  OK, I just decided: I am not bringing my sewing tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Milestone Moment

I had no classes today, and in between this-that-and-the-other-thing got a lot done on my Hannukah project.  A major milestone reached today is that I turned the first corner on the hem, being sure to make it properly sharp and pointy.  Here is a picture:


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hannukah Project

Today my material and thread for my Hannukah project arrived in the mail, and I settled down to my ten-minutes-an-evening crafting stretches.  Here are pictures from today:

This is a picture of the material as it came, uncut, with the matching thread lying on top.

And this is after tonight's crafting session.  The broad borders of the garment are cut, and the hem on one end is pinned.  In this picture you can see the ruler, and obviously some pins, as well as the fabric.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Yesterday

Yesterday's outfit and accessories were really more for myself than for anybody else...which turned out to be a good thing, because I don't think anyone else noticed!

Today is also Rosh Hodesh, and I go back to my Rosh Hodesh plans.  That means I am free to wear any jewelry I want...I think I'll wear the large cameo inteiited from mygrandmotherl

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rosh Hodesh Heshvan and Embracing my Incides

Today is Rosh Hodesh Heshvan, the start of the new Hebrew month of Heshvan.  Therefore, as per protocol for myself, I am wearing:


  • A ladies' tallit katan
  • Jewelry (in this case, a bracelet I made, with pink, purple, and black beads)
  • A spritz of perfume
  • my fancy bobby pins
Today is also a big--make that huge--day for me because I am deliberately going out into the world saying "I am Jewish, and female, and queer, and it is all OK."  I am doing that by wearing:

  • A gay pride button in place of my usual star of David
  • A gay pride kippah (which has double meaning: gay pride because it is rainbow and Jewish pride because it is a kippah)
  • a pink skirt with purple shirt and tights
So I am acknowledging my femininity, my gay pride, and my Judaism.  I will let you know how today goes.

Monday, October 12, 2015

As Promised...

Today I had a really bad day emotionally, the kind of day about which I would like to curse up a storm, only that wouldn't be productive at all.  My day was going so badly that I decided I needed to do something nice for myself.  Immediately, I knew what that "something nice for myself" would be: rather than waiting until I had the fabric for the garment of my homemade tallit katan to order the  strings, I would order the strings today.

The first thing I did when I got online, after coming to this blog to reread the post I posted yesterday, was to put on one of my Youtube playlists--Yeshiva Boys' Choir, to be exact--in the background.  Then, just as I planned, I started comparison shopping for wool tziztit, because 24 dollars seemed like a ton of money to pay if I didn't have to.'

And, as it turned out, I didn't have to! I found a set of all sixteen strings for four dollars plus shipping! Even with shipping, I was only out ten dollars! Much nicer!

So.  I don't have any pictures to show you yet, but that is where I am with making my Hannukah gift.  Thought you might like to know.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Kippah Clips--In Style!

On Friday, I went shopping for kippah clips because I had lost all but one--that's one clip, not one pair.  I am always on the hunt for ways to make the "masculine" Jewish things I do a bit more "feminine," so when I went shopping for clips, I had that in mind.  Here are the results:


First of all, I did get a package of plain black clips--six pairs!--for days when I don't feel like being so feminine or for when the point is the kippah itself and I really need to draw attention to it.  With so many black clips, I will never run out.


Second of all, here are my Sabbath-holiday-Rosh Hodesh-and-other-special-occasion bobby pins.  I've had them for a while--like since last semester--but I don't believe I've ever shared a picture of them before.


And lastly, here are my every day feminine clips, minus the purple pair which are on my head right now.  I think having these will be fun!


Friday, October 9, 2015

My Hannukah Gift to Myself

This year for Hannukah I am taking a new turn: I am making my gift for myself! I would like to make myself a tallit katan, the holy undergarment with fringes.  My father is fabric shopping for me and I will use the remainder of the budget to buy the strings.

My tallit katan that I am going to make is going to be purple, and flowered.  I want to use wool strings because you are always allowed to put wool or whatever material you used for the body--but the thing is, I don't know what I sew with.

I will post pictures of every step of the process.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Indices of Me

WORD OF WARNING: In this post, I am choosing to make myself very vulnerable because I value showing readers the real me.  If I get nasty comments, not only will I not post them, I will take down this post entirely as well.  You have been warned.

I am bisexual, therefore queer.  I am also observant-Jewish, disabled, and feminine.  In my Lesbians/Gay Men and Society Class, I am fairly sure I am the only one bringing all three of those identity indices to the table of queer identity.

Has it been hard? Yes, it's been damn hard, and it continues to be hard every. single. day.

It is HARD to "tremble before God" (there's a documentary of that title about Ultra-Orthodox, homosexual Jews, and I find that's the best way to put it) knowing that Judaism as a system, if not the Jews I know in particular, disapproves of the choices I may one day make.

It is HARD to know that my two chronic conditions make me less attractive on the dating market. There are no two ways about it; they do.  People don't want to date someone who's "broken," certainly not at my age.

My femininity, on the other hand, I count as an advantage.  We've been talking a lot in class about "passing," both "passing" when/because you can and "passing" when/because you have to.  Either way, I can "pass" as straight with very little extra effort as to wardrobe, mannerisms, etc. and that is a distinct advantage--it shouldn't be, but it is.

So I guess in the end it's a mixed bag.  I have issues that make me less attractive on the dating scene, but I can "pass" as straight more easily.  And the religion thing? I can only hope it will sort itself out with time.  With God's help, and with time.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Not

I am in the closing moments before the beginning of Sukkot.  On this holiday we are commanded to eat our meals outside in booths and wave plant species in six directions.

We are also commanded to be happy.

Allow me to tell you why I am not happy.

I am not happy because I have nowhere to go for communal services with a prayer quorum of ten for this holiday: not tonight, not tomorrow, not the next day.  My options are hiking into the next town over or going to the local Chabad, and my pain syndrome will not allow the first, while my convictions on how Judaism should look will not allow the second.

On the one hand, at this moment I thank God for making me born a Rabbi's daughter so that I know how to do these kinds of things for myself, but there are parts of the Sukkot service that can only be done with that quorum of ten.

I will try to be content--no, more than that, I will try to be happy as we are commanded to be.

But I am not happy.

Not.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Poetry

I am having trouble sleeping tonight, I think due to pain.  I have been up for any length of time twice, and each time I produced a poem.  The two poems are called "Between" and :"God's Glory."  In this post I will also share a poem I shared a long time ago that is particularly appropriate for the Ten Days of Repentance (also known as the Days of Awe).

"Between"
He is all
Unfamiliar.
The smells,
The sounds,
The people.

The very texture of the air.

It is past bedtime,
But she cannot sleep;
She is nobody;s poem,.
She is nobody's victim.

Pain tosses him
Undifried;
Undivided between
Bully; victim.

There was between this of Mary's cause.



"God's Glory"
'Up again,' she thinks,
During the Days of Awe.
It's all for the glory of God.
She can sit with herself.

Nobody's bully;
Nobody's victim.
She's having a rough night;
She can sit with herself.

She'll always try her best,
It's all for the glory of God.

Sing of
God's glory
Halleluyah.



"Approaching Yom Kippur"
To everyone I've injured,
I am sorry.

To the limping,
The wounded,
The maimed and the bleeding,
I'm sorry.

Kol Nidre.
Vidui.
U'N'Taneh Tokef.
I'm sorry.
I'm sorry.

Forgive me?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dorm Room Judaism

The first of these photos was requested by my mother; the last two have been promised for a long time.  Without further ado:

This is a picture of my battery-powered Sabbath candles.  Here they are unlit because the minute I "light" them (screw in the light bulbs), the Sabbath or a holiday has begun and I cannot photograph them.

And this is my new tzedakah box! The Hebrew on the front reads--what else?--"tzedakah."

This is the side of the box, with the all-important, theft-preventing lock.

Now, to all my Jewish readers, and anyone else who would like, shana tovah u'm'tukah! (May you have a good and sweet year!)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tzedakah Box--Arrived!

My new tzedakah box arrived today.  I will post pictures when it is not about to be Shabbat and I have more time to dig around and find my camera.  Also, I just cleaned my room; messing it up a bit will matter less when it is not about to be Shabbat or a holiday.

My new tzedakah box has a hinged lid that closes with a little lock on the side.  It took me the longest time to figure out this lock.  There were two tiny keys; I assumed one was a spare for the other.  In fact, it turned out that they both go in the lock at the same time.

I had fun donating tzedakah money today.  I had lots of change from various transactions, so I decided to make a logical plan.  First, I thought, I would set aside eight of the smallest coins to donate during the week between Rosh HaShanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), considered an especially holy time and a good time to do good deeds.  I had exactly eight pennies, so I counted these out and put them back in my wallet.

The rest of the coins I divided into two heaps, as even as I could make them: one to donate today, before Shabbat, and one to donate Sunday night, before Rosh HaShanah.  Today's heap turned out to equal $1.45, so that is what I donated before Shabbat today.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Skirts

Today I purchased four skirts, three of them things I need for Winter and one a "just for fun" for now.  Actually, I purchased the "just for fun" for now and put the other three on hold, but that is another story.  Going in, I figured 150 dollars for three skirts.  I figured that was fair because a 100 dollar budget had worked out at the same store (a little Jewish store in my therapist's neighborhood) for two summer skirts,and I was buying three skirts this time; besides, everyone knows winter skirts are more expensive because they are made of thicker material.

I picked out my "everyday" winter skirts first: A jade green corduroy (with pockets!) and a caramel-colored wool (also with those all-important pockets).  The wool skirt is flared; the corduroy goes straight down.  Once I had these in hand, I picked out my dressy skirt, and I found the most beautiful skirt you can imagine.  It is caramel colored (again; can you tell yet that brown is one of my favorite colors?) and made of something like extra-soft, super-lightweight suede that swishes when you move.  (Sadly, no pockets this time, but I suppose you can't have everything.)

On my way to the fitting room, I saw some skirts on the rack that had been there late last Spring when I stopped in.  (Yes: same skirts, same price.)  They are A-lines, lightweight and stretchy; last Spring I got one in a coral pink.  Ever since I bought that one, I have been dreaming and fantasizing about owning the same thing in royal blue. and regretting not getting one then.

Well, I did not see royal blue anywhere on the rack, but I saw a very light khaki that I liked almost as much in several sizes, and I decided it would be more than adequate.  I added it to my pile.  When the shop lady picked it up, she said, "Medium? We have this in LOTS of colors..." 

Deciding to dare to push my luck, I asked timidly, "Do you have royal blue?"

And she said, "YES!"

So now (or at least, as of next week), I have four skirts I love, for $149! Feeling pretty happy!

And now I really must go do my First Year Russian homework!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Tzedakah Box--Purchased!

Well, neither of the books I wanted to sell back actually sold; the bookstore wouldn't take them.  But I needed that tzedakah box, and I was bound and determined to get it.  I thought for a while, then contacted my parents asking if I could get the tzedakah box as part of my Hannukah gift, but get it now.  Being the wonderful parents that they are, they said yes.

I am very pleased with the tzedakah box I picked out; I will describe it to you now, and show you a picture of it when it comes.  It is made out of wood, with a golden Jerusalem scene on the front and a golden lock on the lid to prevent theft.  It is rectangular, and it comes in three colors: blue, mahogany, or black.  I chose mahogany.

So excited!

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?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Change

I have completely changed around my Jewish reading schedule.  I realized that I was not consistently reading for an hour a day because I was not enjoying what I was reading.  Since the whole point of this project was to prevent boredom, it seemed silly to fight my way through boring texts.

For now, I have returned to old favorites.  At present I am rereading Kushner's River of Light; hopefully I'll understand it this time, but even if I don't, I know I'll glean some valuable new insight. After that I want to reread both my Gillman books, then possibly Hartman, or I might take my mother up on her offer to let me borrow This Is Real, and You Are Completely Unprepared in time for the High Holidays: Rosh HaShanah, our New Year, and Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement.  Rosh HaShanah, which kicks off our holiday season, falls in mid-September this year.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Gathering of Prayers (Not for Me)

Today is a "pray for 'Jacob'" day.  I know it, I can feel it in my bones.  Today is a day to provide all the details I can about my "Jacob," the Reece's Rainbow child for whom I am Prayer Warrior, in the hopes that someone somewhere will see, hear, and care.  Today is a day to try again.

I'll start from the beginning, with an explanation of Reece's Rainbow and their mission.  Reece's Rainbow is an organization devoted to finding homes for disabled orphans around the world.  They started out working with children with Down Syndrome from Eastern Europe, but in the intervening years they have branched out.  They now work in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, as well as in Eastern Europe; likewise, they try to help every disabled orphan they can.  I have seen children listed with everything from Down Syndrome, spina bifida, and paralysis to HIV, albinism, and the simple presence of an extra digit.

Reece's Rainbow also runs a program called Prayer Warriors, which is where I come in.  In this program, you sign up to "pray a child home," as Reece's Rainbow calls it.  All this means is that every day, for as long as it takes, you pray for your assigned child to "find a family," or for a family to find him or her.  You can choose a child from Reece's Rainbow's endless listings, or you can ask for a random assignment.  I am on my fourth child, and I have gone random every time, because I don't think it is my business to tell God where to send my prayers.

My first "prayer child," as I call them, was a two-year-old boy from Eastern Europe.  The website called him "Grady" (all the children listed have code names for security reasons).  "Grady's" disability was arthrogryposis, a condition affecting the muscles and joints.  I prayed for "Grady" for two months or so; just weeks before his third birthday, a family came for him.

My second "prayer child" was a girl from Russia whom the website first called "Erin," then changed it to "Rheann."  I am not sure how old she was.  "Rheann" had Down Syndrome.  I prayed for her for about a year and a half, until December 2012 when Putin shut down American adoptions from Russia.  Still I kept praying, until Reece's Rainbow reallocated the money in the Russian kids' grant funds (each child on the website has a sort of bank account where money can be donated to help with his or her adoption), because I like to go where my "rocks in the river" have a chance of hitting water and making a difference.

After "Rheann," I was assigned to another sweet girl with Down Syndrome, "Isabella" in Asia.  "Isabella" was six years old when I started praying for her, and she was living in a foster home, not an orphanage.  Within weeks of my being assigned to her, a family came for "Isabella;" I posted about it on this blog in a post entitled "Only the Best News Ever."

Now, as I said above, I am on my fourth "prayer child."  I am praying for a little boy called "Jacob," for whom I have been praying for exactly two years, two months, and seven days.  "Jacob" is in Asia, and he turned five in June.  (I do not know the exact day.)

"Jacob" is a difficult child to pray for.  He has heart problems, and probable Down Syndrome, but it is not certain.  He is described as restless and stubborn; the description also says that he does not like to be held.  Additionally, in all the time I have been praying for him, "Jacob" has not had new pictures, and the ones he has are not exactly flattering.

Even so, I am asking for your help.  I am asking you to offer up a prayer for "Jacob," or even better, to sign up to be a Prayer Warrior with a "prayer child" of your own.  I am asking for monetary donations to cover adoption costs if you feel you can possibly make them.  I am asking, I am crying, I am begging.

And here are "Jacob's" pictures, so you can put a face to a name:

 Jacob smJacob

Monday, August 3, 2015

Faith and Strength in Hard Times

I am still hurting a ton, but I am coping marvelously by leaning on my religious faith and practice.  (I figure God, unlike my friends and family, has the endless love, caring, and strength to take whatever I dish out.)  I had an epiphany about a week ago when I realized that I cannot say my religious faith carries me through hard times if I am not acting religious during those times.

So:

I have gone back to praying at least twice a day, and really trying for that third time.  (This means ritual prayer, not spontaneous made-up-on-the-spot stuff; yes, I do that too.  Also, the Yiddish word for praying, and the one I use in daily speech, is "davening;" that is the word you will see here from now on.)

I have upped my "required" daily Bible reading from a minimum of two chapters to a minimum of four chapters, to distract myself and give myself strength for the day.  Currently I am in the book of Proverbs.  I am almost a third of the way through (the Bible goes by fast when you read four chapters a day), but I am not sure what I think of it yet.  Proverbs was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, as was Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes).  On the one hand, Proverbs is written in a beautifully poetic fashion that sings to my soul and might just cause it to work its way into my heart and replace Jeremiah as my favorite Biblical book; on the other, right left and center, Proverbs is disparaging towards women, outright calling them evil, wicked, cunning, etc.  That's hard to take.

Having finished Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (I didn't like it after all), I am now patiently working my way through the 120-or-so page introduction to Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed.  I am almost done; I have fewer than five pages left, and then I can begin on the text itself.  I'm still shooting for an hour a day, though oftener it's half an hour and sometimes I don't read at all.  It's the summer; I picked this project up solely to keep myself from getting bored; I'm not being too strict about it.  If I don't finish this work by the time I go back to school, I will borrow both volumes (yes, it's that long!) to read in the early morning before I get to schoolwork or class, right before bed, and on Sabbath afternoons.  I don't know if I'll also bring back Heschel's God in Search of Man or not; for one thing, I don't know if my parents will let me (though we do have two copies, so maybe...), and for another, I don't know if I'll want to.

By the way, I noticed yesterday or the day before that I am the proud owner of seven, count them seven, works of Jewish philosophy/theology that I have aquired over the years.  They are:

  1. Theological-Political Treatise by Baruch de Spinoza, first published in the 1600s.  (I can't find an exact publication date,  but Spinoza lived from 1632 to 1677.)  This one is not exactly Jewish given that Spinoza was the first Jew to be excommunicated and not come back or become Christian, but we read it in my Jewish Philosophy class last semester, and the professor told us that all Jewish philosophy ever after was in response to this work, so I am counting it.
  2. The River of Light: Spirituality, Judaism, Consciousness by Lawrence Kushner, first published in 1981.  I love, love, LOVE this book! It might be my favorite Jewish book ever, although anything by Neil Gillman (I'll list his books later) runs a close second.  I first read this book early in my high school career, when I was undeniably way too young for it.  I read it again when I was a high school upperclassman, and again in college; I plan to read it again soon.  This book is so complex that I get something new out of it every time I read it, and it is beautifully written.  That is why I love it so.
  3. Halakhic Man by Joseph Soloveitchik.  The edition I have was published in 1983, but the first translation to English was done in 1979, and Soloveitchik wrote the book in Hebrew, under the title Ish ha-Halakhah, in 1944.  I put this book on my summer reading list for two reasons.  First, I had skimmed it (I was supposed to actually read it, but I didn't have time...you know how that goes ;-) ) for class and thought I liked it.  Secondly, whenever an Orthodox Jew hears that I'm reading Jewish philosophy/theology, they tell me to start with Soloveitchik.  I thought I had better read something by him and see what all the fuss was about.  The end result? I didn't like it.  Soloveitchik sounds like your typical Orthodox Rabbi; his basic premise is that "Halakhic man" is different from your typical "homo religiosus" purely by virtue of being Jewish.  That "Jewish superiority" complex is not an idea I buy into.  Additionally, Soloveitchik is supposedly a Modern Orthodox Rabbi, but because of the time period in which he was writing, I find his work dated and stilted.
  4. The Way Into Encountering God in Judaism, by Neil Gillman (who taught my father in Rabbinical school), published in 2000.  This is the first work of Jewish theology that I ever read, and the one that got me hooked on the topic.  It is quite possibly part of the reason why I want to become a Rabbi.  This book is divided by topic.  The topics include things like "God is Power," "God is Nice (Sometimes)," "God is Not Nice (Sometimes)," "God Can Change," etc.  It's a little too basic for where I am now, but I still turn back to it on occasion, and I used it (along with Lawrence Kushner [see number 2]) in my Rabbinical school application essays.
  5. Doing Jewish Theology, by Neil Gillman, published 2008.  This book was my Hannukah gift a year and a half ago.  I asked for a Jewish book; my parents knew I had read this one and loved it, so they decided it was a safe bet and they bought me my own copy.  The book is divided into three sections: "God," "Torah," and "Israel."  It's a harder read than my other Gillman book (see number 4), more suited to my level now.
  6. Radical Judaism, by Arthur Green, published in 2010.  This is another book that I bought for my Jewish Philosophy class.  It was OK.  I did not like it as much as Green's other book, Seek My Face, Speak My Name.  That is a book I voluntarily picked up on my own two or three times, though I never finished it.  Also, I never can get into Green as I can Gillman (see numebrs 4 and 5) or Kushner (see numebr 2).  Still, I rate Radical Judaism as a decent read.
  7. And last but not least...The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition, by David Hartman, published in 2011.  This book was a Jewish Life Award from my high school; as such, it will always be precious to me.  As a work of Jewish theology, it's all right, nothing special.  I rate it about the same as Radical Judaism (see number 6), though it is very different in tone and content.  Hartman considers himself a Modern Orthodox Rabbi; Green is much more liberal, I think Reconstructionist, though I am not 100 percent sure.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Life has certainly given me many metaphorical lemons recently, with which to make much metaphorical lemonade.

I am in a lot of pain again, using crutches most of the time.

This time, however, I remain in charge as much as possible, and I know I will emerge victorious.

Meanwhile, I am determined that even as I am immobile and laid-up, the important parts of my lifestyle will not change.

I am still praying regularly.  I may do it sitting down, but I am doing it.

I am continuing to read Halakhic Man for an hour every day.

I have also introduced extra Bible reading to my schedule: two extra chapters a day.

And I am rereading the "magic workbook," searching, always searching for a cure.

No matter how bad I feel physically, I am determined to find meaning in my life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Thoughts on Tisha b'Av

  1. Tisha b'Av is fast approaching (yes, yes, pun intended).  The actual day is this Saturday, but because the only fast day that supersedes the Sabbath is the Day of Atonement, Tisha b'Av will be observed one day late, beginning Saturday night at sundown and continuing all through Sunday.
  2. I am nervous about being able to complete the fast.  Sh'va Asar b'Tammuz was very difficult for me this year, and that was one of the shorter fasts.  how much worse will Tisha b'Av be? No matter how hard it is, however, I will do it.  I will.
  3. As I mentioned in a previous entry, last year I attended services at the local Orthodox synagogue on Tisha b'Av eve.  It wasn't worth it; the unequal seating etc. made me angry.  This year I am going to go it alone.  Nobody else in my family observes Tisha b'Av, so I will truly be alone, but after living in dorms where nobody else was Jewish, this kind of solitude simply does not bother me.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Jewish Reading Challenge

For the rest of the summer (about a month and a half), I have decided that I want to challenge my brain with sophisticated reading in a topic in which I am interested.  To that end, I have started reading difficult Jewish philosophy/theology for an hour every day.  Here is my plan:

  1. Currently I am reading Halakhic Man, by Rabbi Josef Soloveitchik.  Sololveitchik was considered a modern Orthodox Rabbi, but he wrote in the 1940's, so the book has an antiquated feel.  His basic premise, with which I do not think I agree, is that "Halakhic man" is different from your typical "homo religiosus" simply because he is Jewish.
  2. After I finish Halakhic Man, I plan to read Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed, in English translation.  A lot of Jews claim that this book should be read in Hebrew, but since even Hebrew was not the original language (the book was originally written in Arabic), I feel no compunction about reading a translation.  Maimonides was a thirteenth-century Jewish sage who revolutionized Jewish theology.
  3. Next will come a book by Abraham Joshua Heschel, because my parents tell me that is where to start with Jewish theology.  They also say all Heschel books tend to sound the same, so I only need to read one.  I will probably choose God in Search of Man, although we do have something close to half a shelf of Heschel in our living room, so who knows?
  4. Finally, if I finish all of that and still have time before I go back to school, I will turn back to my favorite author, Neil Gillman.  Gillman actually taught my father in Rabbinical school.  He has written many books, but the ones I like and know best are The Way into Encountering God in Judaism and Doing Jewish Theology.
And that, folks, is my plan for the rest of the summer.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Paradox of Av

Today is Rosh Hodesh Av, the start of the Hebrew month of Av.  Rosh Hodesh is always a day (or sometimes two days) for relaxation and celebration.  Extra prayers are added, which is always fun for me.  Traditionally Rosh Hodesh was a women's holiday, when they lightened their workload; in honor of that, I wear jewelry and use my Sabbath-Holiday-and-Special-Occasion fancy bobby pins to attach my kippah to my head.

And yet Rosh Hodesh Av is a paradox, because in just under a week and a half (nine days, to be exact) we will be mourning the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem.  The first Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE, the second in 70 CE, on the same day.  For 25 hours we will fast; abstain from washing, lotion, and jewelry; and refrain from wearing leather shoes.  We will read Megillat Eicha, the scroll of Lamentations.

Last year on the eve of this day of mourning (known as Tisha b'Av), I went to the local Orthodox synagogue, the only place where a reading of Eicha was happening.  I am the only one in my family who observes this day, and I did not want to go it alone.  I was angered, however, by what happened at that service.  Traditionally, we sit on the floor while Eicha is being read; because of the barrier between the men and the women (present in every Orthodox synagogue) I could not see a thing.  Also, the people who chanted the words could not do so in a compelling, gripping manner.

With all that in mind, this year I have decided to do Tisha b'Av on my own.  I will read Eicha out loud to myself, first in English and then in Hebrew, in the evening, and possibly again in the morning.  There is no specific commandment to hear Eicha, so I have room to maneuver and find what works for me.

Yet today is Rosh Hodesh.  Today we are happy; indeed, today we are celebrating.  I will put Tisha b'Av from my mind until the day is comes.  Time enough for that when it happens.

And that is the paradox of Av.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sh'va Asar b'Tammuz

Today is the fast day that falls on the seventeenth of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the day when we commemorate the breaching of Jerusalem's walls by Babylonian forces, the day that, for many Jews stricter than I, begins the three weeks of mourning before Tisha b'Av.  I am already hungry, but it will never do to think like that, so let's talk about the meaning and keeping of this day.

Sh'va Asar b'Tammuz is a minor fast, only sunup to sundown; it started while I was still asleep and will end at 9:14 tonight.  I have decided to wear the kippah that I was saving for three specific days of the year on all fast days, for they all mourn something, as well as on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron.

On fast days, we add a prayer called "Avinu Malkeinu" to our morning and afternoon prayers.  "Avinu Malkeinu" literally translates to "Our Father, Our King," and it is about how God loves us and guides us even through our sin.  We pray for God to bring us back to Him.

Sh'va Asar b'Tammuz gears us up for the major (25 hour) fast of Tisha b'Av that comes three weeks later.  Watch for a post on that closer to the time.  In between, of course, we have Rosh Hodesh Av, the start of the Hebrew month of Av.  Rosh Hodesh is always a happy occasion.

Friday, July 3, 2015

No Conclusions; Simply Passion

*NOTE: This is going to be a very long post.  There will be no pictures to help entertain you, just my words.  It's been a long, long time since I wrote a post of this sort.*

I simply love Judaism.  I breathe it in and out as I go about my day; my heart pumps Judaism to my veins.  My religion makes my soul sing, and my passion for Judaism is unequalled by my passion for anything else.

I am well on the way to becoming a Rabbi; I simply could not imagine being anything else.  I love God; God loves me; we walk this road together.

And yet I do not keep commandments simply because I am commanded to keep them.  In fact, I don't always believe that I am commanded to keep them.  A Jew does Jewish things because he or she does; God is mixed up in it somewhere, but not necessarily as commander.

Just as a parent's role changes as the child grows up, so too does our relationship to God stretch, grow, and change with the seasons of our lives.  When we are little children, God is our parent.  As we grow older, God becomes friend, cheerleader, confidante, but not parent anymore.  God does not command us to act in a certain way; our actions are up to us.

"Save a life and you have saved the world."  How those words resonate with me! One day I will save lives, and honor God through my work.  I am so excited.  I simply cannot wait.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

L'khod Shabbat, l'khod Shabbat, Shabbat ha'Malkah

(The title of this post is corrupted from a piece of a song I learned in kindergarten or so.  It means: "To honor the Sabbath, to honor the Sabbath, the Sabbath, the Queen.")

I have been thinking hard recently about how to better honor the Sabbath in my dorm room this coming semester.  One major thing I plan to do is start preparing for the Sabbath an hour earlier on Friday afternoons and spend that time cleaning my room.  I also found a beautiful piece of fabric--the most beautiful fabric I could possibly imagine--and hemmed it into a runner to go under my electric Sabbath candles.  I finished that project today, and here are pictures:



Monday, June 29, 2015

For Ritual Purification

Today my official, gorgeous hand washing cup arrived in the mail.  I was so glad it did not come on the Sabbath, so I could actually sign for the package.  Here it is in all its glory:


And here is the hand washing towel that goes with it.  I've had the towel for a while (I got it last Hannukah), but I decided now was a good time to show it off again:


And here is a close-up shot of the embroidery on the towel.  The Hebrew writing says "...on the lifting of the hands"; those words are the end of the blessing we say upon completing the ritual washing:


Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Exactly One Week...

In exactly one week comes Sh'va Asar b'Tammuz, the seventeenth of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, a fast day commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by Babylonian forces three weeks before the destruction of the first Temple.  Even if this event did not happen on this day, and some have argued that it did not, I feel the need to mourn the collective tragedy, and this day of the year is as good as any other.

The complication? I am the only member of my family who keeps this day, and my parents forgot about it when they planned our vacation.  On Sh'va Asar b'Tammuz, my parents and I will be on a road trip to Northern Vermont.  Getting me food after the end of the fast will be, well, interesting, to say the least.  We'll manage somehow, I'm sure.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Observing my Hebrew Birthday

I had a dream last night that made me start thinking, and I have decided that if it is OK with my parents, starting this year I would like to observe and celebrate my Hebrew birthday, not my secular birthday.  Jewish people in America observe two calendars--the Gregorian and the Hebrew--but all other important dates come from the Hebrew calendar.

The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar; therefore, a Hebrew date that stays the same year to year moves around on the Gregorian calendar.  In 1993, February 8th--my birthday--corresponded to the 17th of the month of Shevat, just two days after the holiday of Tu B'Shevat.  This should be easy to remember.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My Precious, Holy Books

I have several books that are considered holy in Judaism, and I am proud to own them.  Here they are:






Friday, June 12, 2015

Bought With my Own Hard-Earned Money

When my parents gave me permission to spend my baby-sitting money on my main, and only big, fun purchase of the summer (I also purchased one dollhouse miniature last week or the week before, but these two are it and the rest of the money gets saved for school) I knew exactly what I wanted: my long awaited hand washing cup designed by Yair Emanuel.

In Judaism there is a concept called hiddur mitzvah, literally "beautifying the commandment."  In this picture you can see the hand washing cup I've used every morning I've remembered to perform this ritual since the day I started.  There's nothing wrong with this cup--it is functional and durable--but it is certainly not beautiful:



Below is a picture of the cup I picked out on the Yair Emanuel site (with crazy shipping because it is coming from Israel):

Yair Emanuel Anodize Aluminum Nitilat Yadaim Cup Violet
This cup is purple, my favorite color; and I just happened to fall in love with their design of medium size (six inches high) and price (35 dollars).  My cup should arrive in the mail within the next two to three weeks, and I am excited!

It feels fulfilling to buy things with one's very truly own money, rather than with money bequeathed to one by one's parents, no?



Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Collection of Kippot (Yarmulkes)

A long time back, I think a couple of years ago, I took a group picture of my kippot/yarmulkes, which then numbered 12.  I now have 26.  I wanted to give each one its own moment to shine, so to speak: its own photograph, its own introduction.  In this post, I do just that.  With the exception of three which are not stacked with the others today, and two whose pictures would not load in the proper order, and which are therefore introduced at the end, the kippot/yarmulkes get bigger as the post goes on and I stack them one on top of the others.  Enjoy!
















 











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I am a bipolar, Jewish young adult (had my Hebrew birthday, the one I count, and turned 23 this past January) who also suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. 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. My Rabbinical school plans did not work out, and I am now hoping to go into the field of Early Childhood Education. Please note: I am currently maintaining only Carried in His Hands. Enjoy!