Monday, March 31, 2008

A Bedtime Shema?

At Sushi Shabbat on Friday there was a guest speaker who chose to discuss the Bedtime Shema to the crowd of 20s and 30s. Now, I'd like to start by saying this past Shabbat reminded me why I loathe going to such events. The lack of, well, seriousness irritates me. Or maybe it's just the lack of seriousness by certain people. Either way, I don't know if I'll show up at another one. I just don't have the patience anymore. But that is neither here nor there.

I was always of the understanding that before one goes to bed, they're required to say the Shema (שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד) This comes from Deuteronomy 6:6-7 -- "These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart ... when you lie down and when you rise up."

I did not know, however, that there was actually a specific set of additional texts for the Bedtime Shema (BS) -- K'riat Shema al haMitah. So imagine my surprise when we got the handout and read through the BS (pardon the crappy acronym).

Master of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or who sinned against me — whether against my body, my property, my honor or against anything of mine; whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly, or purposely; whether through speech, deed, thought, or notion; whether in this transmigration or another transmigration — I forgive every Jew. May no man be punished because of me. May it will be Your will, HASHEM, my God and the God of my forefathers, that I may sin no more. Whatever sins I have done before You, may You blot out in Your abundant mercies, but not through suffering or bad illnesses. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, HASHEM, my Rock and my Redeemer.

On a first, simple read, there are myriad disturbing aspects of this. The first one that struck me was the "I forgive every Jew." What about everyone else? Secondly the "whether in this transmigration or another transmigration" struck me as particularly odd, as it implies incarnations, which is most certainly not a necessarily Jewish belief. Then there's the idea that for the sins committed during the day, G-d would punish one "through suffering or bad illnesses" -- I've always understood that there is not a cause and effect relationship, hence books like "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People." Also noted is "whatever sins I have done before you," which in truth muddles what the idea of sin in Judaism is (it should be understood that sin is what one does not do, such as not speaking out when witnessing abuse or mistreatment, not what one particularly DOES).

The BS is to be followed by the Hamapil, and after this is said, one is not to speak until rising in the morning. Many, though, will remove G-d's name from the Hamapil for fear of conversing post-prayer, and this is sufficiently acceptable from what I can tell. Though for those (like me) with a rough time sleeping, are permitted to read, recite the Shema over and over, or to read a sefer or think Torah thoughts. It's important to note, then, that the BS and the Hamapil should be read together, because the BS itself leaves out some other significant things one might expect to hear in a prayer, such as prayer to encourage peaceful sleep and healthy awakening, not to mention blessing the family. Thus, the Hamapil says,

Blessed are You, HASHEM, our God, KING of the universe, who casts the bonds of sleep upon my eyes and slumber upon my eyelids. May it be Your will, HASHEM, my God and the God of my forefathers, that You lay me down to sleep in peace and rise me erect in peace. May my ideas, bad dreams, and bad notions not confound me; may my offspring be perfect before You, and may You illuminate my eyes lest I die in sleep, Who illuminates the pupil of the eye. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who illuminates the entire world with His glory.

The BS, therefore, seems negative, almost begging, pleading. Whereas the Hamapil emphasizes G-d's blessings. Yet, there is never thanks given for the day in either portion. Why do we not give thanks for the blessing of the day? Instead, we only ask for forgiveness and apologize. Should there not be thanks? Or is it implied? There is also much more to the BS, which can be found here (it includes various Psalms, etc.).

According to a rabbi at, "Rav Yehuda Segal, the late Rosh Yeshiva in Manchester, used to actually fall asleep while reciting the bedtime shema, and he would wake from time to time and carry on exactly from the place he left off!"

I find myself eternally curious when the Bedtime Shema was developed. So I'm searching the Internet, far and wide, trying to figure out who codified this "set" of prayers, when it was formally settled, etc. Maybe this is something for graduate school, who knows. But there's a little write up about how it helped one man sleep better over here. Then there's Chabad, that encourages getting into the BS routine. tells me that the practice goes back to Talmudic times and was meant to protect the sleeper from nighttime fears and dangers. And finally, there's the Jewish Heritage Magazine  Online that quotes Talmudic scholar Adin Steinslatz saying essentially the same thing as, but provides the precise sources for the arisal of the BS. They are BT Berakoth 4b (which can be seen here) and 60a (found here).

Yet even looking through these, I'm not gathering how precisely the words I have in my handout (aside from the actual Shema) were codified. There is plenty of conversation about when it is to be said and the disagreement therein (Rashi seems to have gotten pretty upset about this), but these words were composed by someone, yes?

Anyhow, perhaps that's for another time and place. The search continues!

Child abuse.

This morning on the Red Line, a woman got on at Sox-35th with her child. This woman proceeded to smack the child around for the next few stops until I got off at Garfield. The kid was playing with a newspaper, and this woman was hitting him, slapping him (or was it a her? I couldn't see). People on the train just stared -- what do you do?

I got off the train and went up to the train conductor, who upon my talking to her gave me the nastiest look.

There's a woman on the train smacking her kid around
----She just got off the train, whatchu want me to do about it? (Points to a woman walking by with two kids)
No, she didn't, she's sitting in the back of the train, hitting her child.
----Where she at?
In the back of this train car, the first train car.

The conductor gave me a nasty look and then went to check it out. As I was riding the escalator up, she was back in her position, driving the train car away from the station. She did nothing. She just wanted me out of her face. I was distressed.

I couldn't get out of the train and go about my day without saying something. I didn't know what else to do, and I thought perhaps the lady would stall at the station, call to the security upstairs (there's always security at the Garfield station), and maybe they'd hop on the train and watch. Call child services? Something. Anything.

If this woman was willing to beat her child in public -- and, I'll be honest here, my parents spanked me in public all the time, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it, but this woman was just wailing on the child for no reason -- imagine what she does in the privacy of her own home. Child abuse is such a serious problem, but -- like those on the train -- we mostly remain mum about it.

I didn't know what else to do. But the image of that child being smacked around while the passengers looked on in horror is going to stay with me all day, if not longer. Sigh.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Four Hundred Posts -- Hoor-ah!

Well, folks. This is my 400th post! I've been blogging for two years on this account (though I had many incarnations of a Livejournal blog since around 1998 or 99). That's a pretty good tally, I'd say, considering that I'm much more active now than I was a few years ago, I think.

It's also the perfect post to say that I hope each and every one of you are observing Earth Hour. I clicked over to today (I'm using the Firefox 3 Beta 4, which unfortunately Google toolbar is not compatible with -- yet) and for a moment was worried something was wrong with my computer. But it's pretty snazzy. So check it out before the day is done! My intention was to go out and enjoy the darkness, so I put on my coat and grabbed my camera and headed outside, and I walked about a half a block and turned around and came home. I was pretty upset; no lights out. I mean, I know most people don't care and a lot don't know, but I was hoping for a little bit of darkness. So I came back in, lit my candles, and am running on battery power here for at least the next 20 minutes. I thought I'd share a photo of what the living space looks like, if, of course, we were to revert to a lack of electricity (okay, okay, this doesn't count the laptop, but I can't read in such dim light!).

So happy Earth Hour, save the planet, and YAY for having 400 posts -- even if this 400th post is a little self-serving :)

Jewish Christians.

I overheard the most absurd thing this evening at Argo Tea, and although there's still a few more minutes of Shabbat, I fell off the wagon sometime last night when I stumbled home after an evening of Karaoke (after shul, of course), and got on the Internet. So I had to share this, because of the level of absurdity.

I'd been at Argo for a while, and this group of folks had settled near me, discussing missionary work and other things, I wasn't paying attention really until I heard them mention the Passover seder. They were conversing about whether their churches did seders for Easter and about the Jews in their congregations. So I put my iPod on pause and listened in, casually, while exploring a cookbook I'd picked up.
"So there's a few Jews at my church, and they keep all the traditions and stuff, and this one guy was telling me that in the seder, when they hide a piece of the matzo, the matzo is supposed to represent Christ, and when they find the matzo, it is like finding salvation through Christ! It's called afikomen or something, and I guess it's really a new thing and is really supposed to be about Christ."
It took everything I had to restrain myself from blurting out "You've got to be kidding me!" Now, I know that the seder is different for everyone, and that people garner all sorts of messages and meanings out of them -- some are feminist, some emphasize vegetarianism, etc. This is why there are a million different haggadot! But this? This, well, absolutely outlandish idea of the afikomen symbolizing Christ and that the whole addition of the afikomen to the seder was actually Christian, is shocking.

Rabbi Shraga Simmons says, "The hiding of Afikomen is a rather recent custom, of a couple of centuries. It is based on Talmud Pesachim 109a which describes a Matzot grabbing, so that the children stay alert and do not fall asleep - (source: 'Ta'amei Minhagim' 529; quoting 'Chok Yaakov' 472:2)."

I guess, I didn't know that the Talmud made revelations and connections to Christian thought.

Seriously. How absurd.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A News Roundup!

It's Thursday here in Chavi-land, and both of the bosses are out of the office (and country), so things are quite slow, considering the scanner doesn't work and there's not much paper-pushing to be had. So I thought I would post a couple news stories of interest. Eat it up, folks!

+ Jewish Groups Placed on Security Alert: It would appear that a variety of incidents and threats have caused a U.S. Jewish security group to warn its members to be more aware and on the look out. There have been 7 threats/attacks since mid-February, not to mention that the 40-day mourning period for the Hezbollah leader killed in Syria has ended. Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security has instructed officials to inspect Jewish sites. No rest for the weary?

+ No Tam Tam Crackers for Pesach: This was going to be my year to give them a try, but it looks like there will be no Tam Tams for Chavi during Passover. For the first time in 68 years, the crackers won't be available -- because of oven problems.

Books, books galore!

The little brother and I went to Myopic Books yesterday, as I attempted to show him one of the more "well known" neighborhoods in Chicago -- Wicker Park. He tracked down a copy of "Wicked," the story that's now the play, which he saw when he was in Chicago last May. I, on the other hand, hit the Judaica section (this is the place where I tried to sell some of my Judaica and they said "Sorry, they're just not selling well").

I left with a copy of Maimonides' "Mishneh Torah," the abridged edition, annotated with an introduction by Philip Birnbaum, published 1974 (from what I can tell). The true selling point (other than its usefulness) was a tidbit in the introduction that read,
"Anyone reading this book carefully will greatly help reduce our generation's painful ignorance of the contents of Judaism's traditional literature."
That, folks, is plenty a reason to pick up this book.

I also picked up a copy of "Living Judaism" by Rabbi Wayne Dosick, which means I can pull it off my Amazon Wish List. I kept seeing this book everywhere I went, but I couldn't bring myself to pick it up fresh. So here was a used copy, in perfect condition for $6.50. Hot dog! What a steal.

Of course, neither of these purchases helps with my overflowing book problem. Luckily, I returned many books to the library (mostly those that I'd checked out for reading-up for the class I attended while checking out schools last year). Right now I'm reading "Heat" by Bill Buford -- a non-Judaic book, but an amazing book that I can't seem to put down (it's for a bookclub, actually). I'm still into "Constantine's Sword," but I'm about ready to just give up on that and pick it up in another lifetime when I have the time to sit down with a 700-page giant. There are about five other books that are sort of sitting in the wings that, well, aren't super high on my list of priorities to indulge in. I am, however, going to start putting some books on hold at the library (the pocketbook thanks me), since I finally paid off my $1.50 fine (a late fee for CS, of course). Did I mention that the library is literally around the corner? Yah, I'm just slow.

Here's to books, read, unread, and piling up all over my studio apartment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Grad School Adventure, 2008

So here's a little video adventure of Chavi heading east, being sleepy, and all that jazz. It's long and probably boring, but I know that sometimes, people like to see real people. So here's a treat!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Peep Show! Happy Easter :)

I've been busy/away since Wednesday, but I wanted to wish my Christian friends out there a very happy Easter (though it's pretty much over). And I thought I'd share this very tasteful photo (okay maybe not). It appears the Washington Post had a peeps contest, so check out all the entries over here.

I'll have a video blog post documenting my trip out East, as well as a lot to say about Graduate School and Jewish things and meeting random Jews in Argo (again) and how much I enjoy talking to strangers :)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why can't we all just get along?

Seriously. Can we quit trying to out frum each other? I'm sure someone's trying to prove something to the Israeli community by FREAKING OUT about the Hasid who was starring with Natalie Portman in a new movie.

This is just ridiculous. More here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I faltered, but hey, Kosher for Passover! W00t!

I'll just say this: I succumbed to the pull of the computer around noon today, after becoming unsettled by the silence in my apartment. I subsequently went out and bought a radio today (people buy radios!?). Luckily, there isn't a "say 300 hail Mary's" kind of thing on my plate. Phew! Dodged a bullet there.

I have a video blog in the work about my myriad books, my stacks of books, my bags full of books that I schlepped across the city and spent nearly five hours at the Argo Tea tonight. You see, I'm going to Brandeis on Thursday and attending a class taught by Antony Polonsky, so what have I been doing? Yes, reading the required readings for the class. Lots of stuff about Jewish-Polish relations and the apologetics surrounding the whole ordeal. I have to say, of all Holocaust research, I find the Polish-Jewish conflict the most troubling and fascinating. I find the Polish-sympathizing papers to be frustrating. ARGH! But yes, video blog coming up.

So I just wanted to stop in and say ... I went to the store tonight and they had miniature AISLES set up with Kosher for Passover stuff! We're talking dressings and candy and meat and ... my G-d. I'm *actually* going to be able to be fully Kosher for Passover, folks. (Note: I've been doing the Passover thing for several years, and I really don't hate Matzo, and I avoid chametz entirely, but having actual, certified products? Exciting!) And the gigantic boxes of matzo? I mean, hot. I don't think I need to buy a 12-pack, but I do love my matzo pizza. And when I say love, I mean, LOVE. I fully intend on eating it for at least one meal a day throughout Pesach. The only thing that really took me by surprise was ... well ... gefilte fish patties, in a box. Ew :(

You can color me EXCITED, is basically what I'm saying. Yipee! This means I won't have to trek up to Skokie to get my Pesach goods. The only thing I didn't see on the shelves, though, was the Kosher for Passover soda -- but this is okay, since, well, I don't drink soda but once a month or so.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Can you sense the struggle in my words?

It was suggested that my e-free Shabbats would be easier if I planned out in advance what my plans were. I thought, "Geepers, that's a great idea," and here I am at 1:30 p.m. on a Friday with no clue what the Sabbath will hold for me. I thought, I should make Friday nights my dinner/movie night, since I've removed myself from regular shul attendance (an ordeal and issue all its own that I might touch on in a second). But what about Saturday? The days are getting longer. I can't spend all day napping, and I sure as hell can't spend all day at the tea shop reading. My attention span is that of a toddler. The weather has been outstanding, but it's supposed to drop a major 15-20 degrees over the weekend, so a stroll along the lake isn't completely out of the question, but doesn't sound as appetizing as it would have yesterday or today (where we've topped out in the upper 50s).

What do people DO on Shabbos?

I mean, people who A) Aren't Married or B) Don't Have kids or C) Spend all day at Shul or D) Sleep all Day. There's a lot of hours in a Shabbat day, folks.

I was reading this week's Torah portion last night, and mind you, we've hopped on into Leviticus, that great book of do's and don'ts that bring us into living a life of priests, a holy nation. There was a little spiel on how the book opens in the singular and slowly moves into the plural, and the author draws on this to come to the conclusion that attendance at shul is much like this -- one enters the sanctuary as an individual, but through prayer in community, one transcends to become a part of the larger Jewish community. I read this and felt this momentary rush of utter guilt.

You see (here's where I touch on my absence at shul), I'm just struggling with this idea of the shul as a social circus. The rabbis as bureaucrats. The entire thing as a production. I want organized chaos, not organized organization. I think I'm still struggling with missing my small shul back home, where it was comfortable, close-knit, where the people wanted so very much to be there, where it felt genuine. And ever since I read that book on Conservative Judaism, well, it reminded me of all the things I've always loathed about organized religion, why for so long I was devoutly religious, but in the sense that I believed, and I prayed, and I felt connected, but I didn't need a space or people. But then I think back to how lonely it was.

It's a very confusing, very heartbreaking thing I'm feeling. I'm so strong in my Jewishness, so settled into the ground I stand on, and yet, for some reason, something is just not completely right. So I'm exploring, evaluating, doting on me, to see what it is. To see what will make it better.

I keep telling myself that once I go off to school and have Hillel, it will be much like what I am used to, a small community over Shabbat dinners and services, holiday meals and festivities, something close, something personal.

Indeed, it's frustrating.

So it's now 1:42, and I'm still stuck on my plans. I should have told the Kosher Academic I was going to invade her place tonight, but I know her husband isn't well and I don't want to catch anything with my trips coming up. So maybe I'll just pick a movie, grab a nosh, and then read. I'll force myself out of bed, try to find some way to fill the space, reflective and full of prayer.

I'll get the hang of this Shabbos thing at some point.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


This morning on my way to work I popped in the iPod and hit play. I'd forgotten that the last music I was listening to yesterday was Incubus, while at the gym. I find Incubus to be the perfect "amped up" music for getting down and dirty on the treadmill, and while it isn't exactly my cup of tea for the morning commute, it fit today. About three songs and four El stops in, the song "I Miss You" came on. Now, I don't know how many of you out there are Incubus fans (listen, I have and have always and will always have a crush on Gavin Rossdale), but in case you have never heard the song, I'm posting a YouTube video from a live concert in 2001 of the song. The song doesn't really start until about two minutes in, though.

See, I'm a sap. This song was first brought to my attention by my high school boyfriend, the first love of my life, Kevin. It was summertime and he was heading off on a dig with his father in what I remember was Utah (his dad was a geologist), and he was going to be gone for several weeks with no contact. I, being a sappy high school, was devastated and incredibly upset. So the morning he was leaving, he got up and sent me an e-mail in the wee hours with the song "I Miss You" as an attachment. When I checked my mail that day, I cried. I played the song probably 5 million times on repeat, thinking of Kevin and crying. It was really pretty pathetic, but I mean, I was really, really in love with him. We dated for about two years, and he was the sweetest, smartest, most awesome high school boyfriend a girl could have asked for.

So I'm listening to this song on the train and just smiling, hugely. It brought back this rush of memories of he and I standing on the balcony of the student union my junior year (his sophomore year) looking at all of his (and my) sophomore friends outside the union, waving at us (see, it was only a junior-senior prom, so his friends couldn't go, but he could). It reminds me of that special moment when I felt like a princess. In truth, I'd die if I lost any of the memories I have of that part of my life. Kevin meant the world to me, and I was fully integrated into his life and the life of his friends and family. I remember the split and how hard it was for me, especially when he started dating a close friend shortly thereafter (let it be known, that close friend is someone I haven't spoken to since high school and now she's married, though not to Kevin).

I love how music has this affect on us. A simple set of memories, brought rushing back by one, cheesy song. It's so magical, and it really helped me get started on a positive note this morning.

I still talk to Kevin every now and again. I have frequent dreams involving him, which then usually results in me sending him an e-mail making sure everything is fine and dandy. I think he's off in Costa Rica or something right now. It's so strange, though. He was this 6-foot-something redhead -- completely outside the realm of anyone else I've ever dated. His height was one of my favorite things. He's also the person who tipped me off to Weezer and the Pixies and all those other good bands I still listen to. So here's to Kevin, and my memories of us, and that one summer that he made me feel so lucky, so special.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Shabbos Watch!

So after last Shabbat, when I realized I had no idea what time it was -- ever -- because I rely so heavily on my iPod or cellular phone. So after feeling moronic asking the time (who does that in this digital age where everything you own tells time), I decided I needed to buy a watch. I went to Target, and made sure to call Kosher Academic to make sure there weren't any special watch restrictions on Shabbat, and then I bought a watch -- albeit, one I didn't even like.

So I was thinking about it and realized that I've watched a Swatch watch since winter 2003 when my freshman honors seminar visited Washington D.C. You see, in Union Station there was this Swatch store and man oh man I fell in love. But I had no just cause for spending the money on a nice watch -- I had my cell phone. So now, now I have just cause! And it's sort of a celebratory note for heading down the path of Shomer Shabbos. I always wanted a crazy, hip watch and they had one that felt so light that you could barely tell it was there ... but I couldn't bring myself to drop a 100 bucks for it. Especially because the face had no numbers, and I haven't worn a watch in, well, years and years and years. So this is the one I ended up with:

Interestingly, the woman at the store was Jewish, and we were discussing observance and stuff and she became mesmerized at the fact that I'd converted on my own accord and not for a guy. I love getting that reaction :) I love having done this for me, gall darn't! Anyhow, it was nice to run into a Jew on my Shabbos watch shopping adventure.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Prove you're Jewish.

So I just posted a hastily written blog over at about a story in the New York Times -- How Do You Prove You're a Jew? I won't post the whole blog here, mostly because I know I have plenty of non-Jewish readers who probably are occasionally sent away by my constant Jewish ramblings. So I thought I'd leave it over there. But let's just say that the story is about a Jewish woman who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel who went to get married and was told she's not a Jew simply because her mother hailed from the U.S. of A. Every day there is another story about converts being questioned about their Jewishness by the courts of Israel, and today, today we have the absolute limits -- a Jew-by-birth with a long, long history of a big, fat, happy Jewish family being questioned by the courts, unable to marry without proving that she's Jewish.

It's never been easy, and it never will be. But here, let me show you my conversion certificate. No, not really. It's quite beautiful. I keep it packed away in an envelope with my important documents and bills and passport and birth certificate. Either way, it's really not accepted by much of the Conservative movement and none of the Orthodox -- especially in Israel. I'm okay with this, and I have full intentions of jumping through the hoops again someday to really solidify in the eyes of the ignorant that I'm 100 percent kugel-eating Jewish.

But until then, I read these articles and shake my head and watch children be killed for studying Torah and I think -- really, couldn't we be doing something better with our time than arguing over who is a Jew? I mean, how many people willingly CLAIM their Jewish status like some kind of out and proud Star of David on my chest, please don't hate on me kinda person? It isn't like it was in the 1880s or the 1940s or anything. It isn't like someone's going to shoot you for being Jewish nowadays in most parts of the world. Or is it?

I don't know. I just know I'm frustrated.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A rest, and a realization.

I turned on the TV to the Southside Irish Parade here in Chicago -- a prideful, celebratory day of drunkenness and revelry to honor St. Patrick's Day (still a week or so off). I flipped a few channels away and I'm now watching the Jewish Americans on PBS. The portion celebrates the Jewish integration into American society in the 1950s. And then ...

I'm trying to figure out how I missed it. The massacre. The small scale destruction of my people, that surely represents the desires, the need for the complete destruction of my people. It happened on Thursday night, in Jerusalem. On the other side of the world, away from where I was. They were boys, mere children, studying in the library of the Mercaz Harav yeshiva when hundreds of rounds of ammo were sprayed, killing eight. The oldest was 26, the age of my older brother, the rest were 15 or 16, the age of my younger brother.
[The killer's] family said that although he had been intensely religious, he was not a member of any militant group, and he had planned on marrying this summer. But he had been transfixed by the bloodshed in Gaza, where 126 Palestinians died from Wednesday through Monday, his sister, Iman Abu Dhaim, told The Associated Press.
It is with this that I wonder, I rack my brain and clench my fists wondering -- WHY then? Why must you kill these youths to avenge the completely unrelated deaths of 126 Palestinians? Why, why would you target students!? Studying, over Torah, studying the historic texts of our people, and then there you are spraying bullets, murdering them. Murdering the learning. It boggles my mind, it shatters my spirit, it makes me scared. It reminds me that as a Jew, I am not safe, for there are those who wish to remove my mark from the map. It's the response to history, and it's the response to extremism. I'm still reading Constantine's Sword, watching as the Catholic Church permitted the destruction of Jews throughout the ages, and here in the present there are Islamic extremists who condone the destruction of the Jews. Will there be rest?

Sigh. I'm supposed to go Israel this summer. And still, I will go.

It devastates me to see this, and to not have seen it before Shabbat, and now I feel guilty that I did not know. That I could not reflect, think on, pray for the families of this situation. But I turned off and shut down on Shabbat and it was amazing. It was inspiring and reflecting and it makes you conscious of those other aspects of Shabbat that should be kept.

I did not use my phone, my computer, my iPod, and I did not write. I did not kindle a flame (despite wanting to light candles to create an aroma in the apartment). I read quite a bit, took a nap, went to a movie, and enjoyed silence and stillness. I turned on my television for 15 minutes, because briefly I was feeling a little pent up in the apartment. I realized how wasteful and pointless it was, so I shut it off. I became more conscious of aspects of Shabbat, like carrying money, carrying at all, turning the lights on and off, cooking. My mind was more at ease. And I have to say taking the day to turn off was outstanding, and I intend on continuing the trend (sans when my little brother is here, since, well, that's a complicated situation). I think that it will ease my mind, and it will allow me to calm myself a bit. I look forward to this ... and taking on more mitzvot in the process.

And now, the mourner's prayer, the Kaddish.

Friday, March 7, 2008

She's going e-less.

Well folks, I'm doing it.

You will neither see nor hear hide nor hair of me during Shabbat. I'm shutting off the computer, the cell phone, the television, and everything else electronically connecting me to my e-life. I imagine it will be hard, but I think I can do it. I let my mother know and she responded "You're a crazy woman, but thanks for letting us know." She then insisted I keep the phone with me just in case I "fall down and can't get up."

Very cute, eh?

Anyhow, Shabbat Shalom -- may it be peaceful, restful, thoughtful and reflective. And please, pray for my non-connected sanity!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Traveling to Make Grad School Happen, I think.

Sorry for the heavy posting today, but I just wanted to post another update on graduate school stuff (because you're all so very invested in my graduate career, I know).

I decided to buy a ticket to go out to the Boston area March 20-21. I'll spend March 20 at Brandeis and March 21 at UConn, intermixing that with getting to see my once-upon-a-time-bestest friend Andrew, who I miss desperately. Rumor has it I'll even get to sleep on a roll-away cot! I haven't done that since, well, since Edward family vacations that ended eons ago. Then I'll trek over to Storrs, where I will spend that Friday, making it to the airport for a 6 something flight to arrive in Chicago about an hour before the little brother, Joseph, is meant to arrive in Chicago for five days of merrymaking and fun-having. It's little city kid goes big city. A week after that I go to Philly to spend the weekend with my three closest friends in the world -- John, Heather, and Ananda. So it's going to be a long, long, long couple of weeks.

I also have to find a time to drive to Ann Arbor and visit, I think. I know that stepping foot on these campuses will make all the difference, so I'm saying "Goodbye Tax Refund" and "Hello Decision-Making Process."

Oh -- and rumor has it that I might *actually* have gotten a scholarship at Brandeis. I'm still awaiting the official letter's arrival. But, well, I think there's something. Let's hope I'm not getting my hopes up, eh?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Everybody get High ... on Sinai!

I have to thank Cesar for pointing this story out to me. And now, I share it with you. It's brief, so I'll post the whole thing here for your viewing pleasure.

Was the Bible written while high?
From correspondents in Jerusalem
March 05, 2008 12:01am
Article from: Reuters

THE biblical Israelites may have been high on a hallucinogenic plant when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, according to a new study by an Israeli psychology professor.

Writing in the British journal Time and Mind, Benny Shanon of Jerusalem's Hebrew University said two plants in the Sinai desert contain the same psychoactive molecules as those found in plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca is prepared.

The thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet which the Book of Exodus says emanated from Mount Sinai could just have been the imaginings of a people in an "altered state of awareness", Shanon hypothesised.

"In advanced forms of ayahuasca inebriation, the seeing of light is accompanied by profound religious and spiritual feelings," Mr Shanon wrote.

"On such occasions, one often feels that in seeing the light, one is encountering the ground of all Being ... many identify this power as God."

Mr Shanon wrote that he was very familiar with the affects of the ayahuasca plant, having "partaken of the ... brew about 160 times in various locales and contexts".

He said one of the psychoactive plants, harmal, found in the Sinai and elsewhere in the Middle East, has long been regarded by Jews in the region as having magical and curative powers.

Some biblical scholars were unimpressed. Orthodox rabbi Yuval Sherlow told Israel Radio: "The Bible is trying to convey a very profound event. We have to fear not for the fate of the biblical Moses, but for the fate of science."

Yes folks, we were just hallucinating!

Just two things.

Happy Wednesday everyone! It's hump day. So here's a few quick Web links for those out there with nothing to do but click around the internet ...

A Simple Jew has posted an interesting Q&A with Mottel of Letters of Thought about Overcoming Lethargic Davening. It's an interesting read, go check it out.

And for the politician in all of us -- check out GOOGLE MAPS, with primary results. Freaking awesome! Not only that, but you can park the code on your website/blog. I have to say last night's results are disappointing. This means another two months of dragged out political junk. I can't wait to see what kind of mud-slinging begins today :(

Oh, and just for kicks and giggles -- if you have an AIM account, MSN account, GChat, and more, you can talk across platforms with Pidgin. I like having it all in one place, no lie. Plus, my little brother doesn't use AIM or GChat, so if I ever want to talk to him, well, I have to thrust myself into MSN messenger. I hate that thing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Crazy Busy -- Shutting Down and Zoning Out.

I'm finding it easier to listen to Jewish music right now than any other, except maybe French music. I find that listening to music where the words are more or less sounds (in that, I can only understand bits and pieces) is easier on the heart and the mind. Plus, it's easier to get things done when you aren't listening to the words very carefully like I do. I think I put far too much weight on the words, anyhow. But I'm a sap, I can't help it.

I just saw this bit over on LifeHacker about how Modern Life Inhibits Creativity. I think this is sort of a given, but the tidbit features the book CrazyBusy by ADD expert Dr. Edward Hallowell. LifeHacker says:
"... Hallowell argues that Crackberry culture leads to ADD-like symptoms in people that don't officially have the disorder — a problem he calls Attention Deficit Trait (ADT). While Hallowell's fondness for making up words like "gigaguilt" and "screensucking" can be annoying, the overall message of CrazyBusy is that we all need to slow down and think in order to innovate instead of being constantly on the go in a frenzied (dumb) state of mind."
I'll admit that getting a BlackBerry probably hasn't helped my over-active state of mind, which plays into my inability to sleep, keep a single thought, or be calm for more than a few seconds. Is it ADT? Or ADD? Maybe I should read that book.

The more I think about it, the more I think that I'd be better off to REALLY turn my world off on Shabbat -- not just to not work (though this isn't a problem since I've been reassigned, I don't even check my work e-mail at night or on weekends), but to not check e-mail or use the computer at all. Of course the problem with this is that I have e-mail on my BlackBerry and while I could easily log out, would I also want to detach myself from my phone? Or rather, would I physically be able to?

I think everyone -- Jew or not -- needs a break. A chance to turn off and spend 24 hours un-clutched from the world of technology. One hundred years ago, even 50 years ago, people filled their time well enough, so why do we have so much STUFF and why do we feel like we need to be occupied 24/7? What happened to a good book, sitting, thinking, pondering?

In Shabbat in the Age of Technology, Menachem Wecker writes,
"Aish HaTorah’s Web site calls Shabbat the 'one final parcel of absolute and unconditional silence' in an 'era of Blackberries and Bluetooths,' where peace and quiet are 'basically extinct.' Chabad’s Web site compares Shabbat to 'an island of tranquility in the maelstrom of work, anxiety, struggle and tribulation that characterizes our daily lives for the other six days of the week.' "
In Wecker's article are comments from Carla Rolfe, a Christian blogger, who makes a poignant observation:
"When someone is afraid of silence, it’s often because it forces them to think about things they are normally able to avoid through external stimulation or distraction."
I'll admit that there is a 100 percent truth in this. But it's a chicken or the egg situation. My mind is a rumble, perhaps from the constant e-universe that I reside in, and the only way to quell such a neurotic existence is to take the time to turn it all off, but in turning it all off, I'm left with my thoughts. Is it a practice-makes-perfect situation? If I abstain from technology and the things that keep me tied up for well over 80 hours a week over an extended period, will I find calm, peace, and will my thoughts finally rest and settle? Or it is just a vicious cycle that all the Shabbating in the world cannot cure?

Of course with the idea of "shutting off" comes the need to contact everyone I know who calls me on Shabbat -- okay, maybe just my parents -- to say "listen, don't call." I could well enough leave the calls to my voicemail, and calls would go immediately there, but then my parents will get worried. They'll also forget. Luckily, my phone isn't heavily trafficked by callers. It seems a lot more difficult than it is. And then there's the Internet. To turn my computer completely off is, well, it hurts to think about it.

But so much of observance is taking things one step at a time. You can't just dive right in (or maybe you can, but I'm not willing to do this, it's too difficult and would probably shock my system and send me into some type of withdrawal). So maybe this week I'll turn off my phone, and we'll start there. Then maybe next week, I'll turn off the computer. And then the next week? Who knows. I think the hardest thing to cease and desist from would be writing -- I'm a constant note-taker. I'm sure there's a ruling against using sticky flags in books on Shabbat, as well, but I suppose that would aid a little bit in that problem (and I'm also a compulsive sticky-noter, too).

So now that I'm done rambling about rest, Shabbat, turning off and shutting down -- how do YOU break away? Is it just a few hours? A whole day? Have you achieved zen through ignoring the world? Tell me how you do it, folks. I'm in need of some help shutting off and zen-ing out.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Finally finished: Conservative Movement in Judaism

So I finally finished "Conservative Movement in Judaism" by Daniel Elazer and Rela Mintz Geffen. It only took me forever. I'd been doing well, then I happened to just stop reading on my way to and from work out of an inability to focus. So I'm going to attempt to concisely go through some of the things I flagged as I was reading that caught my eye. My favorite bit of text from the book is probably the following statement about the concentric circles when you map American Jewish affiliation, with a small mass at the center and circles that get larger and larger until the outer circles are self-loating Jews or those who do not know or understand their affiliation because of intermarriage or assimilation:
"This is the condition of American Jewry and, increasingly, of all diaspora Jewry: a magnet at the core pulls those who contain within them the iron fillings of Judaism closer to the center, more or less according to the degree of their iron (i.e., Jewish) content."
+ "As recently as the 1950s, Louis Finkelstein, the then Chancellor of the JTS, was quoted as saying privately that, 'The Conservative Movement is a gimmick to bring Jews back to authentic Judaism.' "

+ "Some mitzvot ... have been ignored altogether, neither accepted nor advocated."

+ "Another dimension of Conservative religious observance was the transformation of the worship service into a programmed production rather than a spontaneous experience. This trend has been characteristic of non-Orthodox movements since their inception over 150 years ago. ... This has not happened in all congregations, nor at the same pace, nor to the same extent, but the trend was widespread and powerful."

+ (In reference to the idea of the elite -- rabbis/observant Conservative Jews -- and the mass -- the general lay community who doesn't adhere to traditional observance.) "One of the reasons the havurah movement attracts elites is that many among the masses do not want a synagogue that requires efforts on their part; they want a "service station."

+ "... 89 percent of those currently Orthodox were raised in Orthodox homes." -- Amazing!

+ "Israel offers a great challenge to the Conservative Movement, since in our times any Jewish movement that does not have a strong presence in Israel will never be part of the overall Jewish picture in a serious way. Today, the Masorti Movement in Israel is still struggling. It is not getting the support that it deserves from its big brother in America, yet it is making strides."

+ (In a list of ideas for what the Movement can do to bolster its hopes of survival.) "The change of the Movement's name to Masorti has several advantages. In the first place, it is a Hebrew name and thus can be comfortably used by Jews affiliated with the Movement and others worldwide. Having a Hebrew name, also gives the Movement a certain advantage."

+ (The crux of my "problem" with the movement.) "In the present situation, there seems to be a great ambivalence towards halakhah. The Movement is indeed 'Conservative,' in that it wants to conserve its halakhic commitments and responsibilities, but m any of its members and some of its leaders are not really prepared to face up to the implications of those commitments and responsibilities in its day-to-day affairs. In short, it presents a public face as a halakhic movement, but with much private inconsistency." -- Note, the author goes on to offer several solutions, citing that the Movement must commit to something, either strictly adhering to the halakhic face that it fronts or even acknowledging that there are varying degrees of halakhic observance and embracing these camps of observers among rabbis, lay community, teachers, etc.

+ "Conservative Judaism cannot be both halakhic and responsive to every politically correct demand of contemporary liberalism. It must place the requirements of Jewish law and tradition and Jewish peoplehood first and foremost. This does not mean becoming Orthodox with a different name. There is or should be a place in the world of traditional Judaism for those who do not accept the contemporary Orthodox view of humrot (stringencies), that is, who measure Jewish fidelity by making Jewish observance more difficult."

And finally ...
"A Conservative Judaism that properly embodies a firm attitude toward the Torah as a sacred constitution, along with a flexible attitude toward its codes, will be in a position that will enable the Movement to maintain genuine halakhic demands as norms and boundary setters for its members.
This shall strengthen the Movement in the long run. Evidence from scientific studies of religion points clearly to the fact that in matters religious, the greater the demands, the more faithful and dynamic are the adherents who accept them. We believe that the Conservative Movement will become stronger as it becomes more demanding, even if it has to be come somewhat smaller in numbers in the process."
Note: I fully intend on elaborating why I chose these specific points to share, but I will do this later. I think that in essence, the author pegs the problems and answers pretty accurately. The struggle of not knowing where the central "power" in the Movement in is one of the most catastrophic aspects of the situation. Additionally, the idea that the Conservative Movement arose out of a desire to maintain tradition but in a modern construct needs to change. This stance of "what" Conservative Judaism was worked well for the first and second generation of Conservative Jews, but it no longer applies.

In essence, the Movement needs to become worldwide, defined, and represented in order to thrive and sustain itself.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Graduate School MADNESS. Sigh.

Okay folks. Do you want to start donating to the "Chavi Needs to Go to Grad School" fund now? Or later?

I got an e-mail today informing me a postal letter is on its way from BRANDEIS ... with a big, fat acceptance! Eeeeeeeeep! Accepted at BRANDEIS! The Jewish ivy league, folks. I could meet my besheirt! I mean, the odds would, indeed, be in my favor. So that means Michigan, Brandeis and UConn are in the bag. The problem? Money.

It's always about money.

UConn has promised me an assistantship, with tuition remission, and a stipend, among other things. Michigan has said there will be no financial aid, nothing, nada, niet. And Brandeis? Well, I haven't gotten the official letter, so I can't say whether there is any type of funding aid, but from what I've heard the school is infamous for not offering any funding to its masters students.

The latter is having an open house day on March 7 for accepted students, and I want to go more than anything on the planet, but the late notice means flights that exceed $300. Even to drive, well, as it turns out it would be way too expensive and would require too much time off of work. So what to do? Sigh.

I think I've ruled Michigan out, actually, simply because there's no aid and the PhD program is not through the Judaic studies department, but requires applying to the department of focus (religious studies, history, etc.). I have yet to hear from Boston U, but I'm not necessarily leaning toward that. So I'm trying to figure out what is more important to me -- a no-cost Master's degree at an institution w/o a PhD program that is a decent school, but that has a very young program and professors with a focus on literature OR an expensive, loan-filled Master's degree at an institution that is incredibly Jewish, with a PhD program and is a well-known and profound school with more professors in the areas that I intend to focus on.

Prestige vs. Free.

An incredibly Jewish campus vs. a normal, Northeastern campus.

I know that I shouldn't be bitching about this, but come on. This is seriously a very *AGH* kind of moment. Do I want to take on more loans than any human should for a master's? But I feel like if I had the chance to visit Brandeis I could sit down with the faculty and with the financial people and see what they think -- should I stick it out for a master's at Brandeis? Should I go to UConn for the cheap degree? Should I just reapply to Brandeis for a PhD in a year?

AGH. I want to cry.