Monday, August 28, 2006

Elul Musings

Inspired by McAryeh's Elul post, I was also surprised to find that Elul has snuck up again. I knew it was coming, and I tried to start planning for it last week, but you know how it goes... Every year, I wish I had made a daily plan for improvement and teshuva before Elul started. That way, I could properly utilize the potential that this time of year has to offer. Kind of like sefirat haomer, taking one day at a time and using it to it's fullest.

Better luck next year on the preplanning i guess, but one thing I actually did do was to go to shul for Shacharit on Friday - to hear the shofar being blown for the first time this season. In my shul, they blow after the recitation of L'David Hashem and I wasn't quite finished with the mizmor when I literally jumped, as a strong blast of the shofar hit me. A loud wakeup call, as Rambam calls the sound of the shofar.

This year, I feel like I am focused, not neccisarily on teshuva per se, but on myself and my future (kabalah al ha'atid?). I have yet to really feel the intense koach of this time of year, but I had pulled my old standby, Rav Avigdor Nebenztal's Sichot L'Rosh HaShannah, which I hope to get back into soon. I feel like I need to curl up in a warm corner, with the hood of my sweatshirt over my head, where no one can see me and just do some hard thinking. This year is bringing new challenges and I want to meet them head on, while taking advantage of all of the opportunities that they present.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sweet New Year?

Why do we wish people a "sweet" new year on Rosh HaShannah? And what's with eating all that honey? I know there are lots of symbolic foods eaten on Rosh HaShannah - in my house we eat them all - but "apples and honey" have become the most famous. Why not "healthy new year" or "peaceful new year?"

Good Times on the Train

Last night, as I was sitting on the subway on my way home, once again I was entertained by a New York moment.

Here's the scene: I was sitting on the right side, in the first of the set of 3 seats. The two seats facing backwards we occupied by a man and a boy about 10 years old, holding a giant stuffed banana doll. (I kid you not. It was great.) Accross the way, in in other set of two seats was a woman who was sleeping, and a boy about 11 (Boy #1). His friend was sitting in the 3 seat set across the way. (boy #2)

Boy #1 seems a little bored and starts whispering "banana!" at the boy accross the way. "Banana! Banana!" His friend cracks up. Banana boy sets a firm look of determination, and turns to stare fiercely out the window (which on the subway I was on, will give you a nice view of blackness in the tunnel).

The train stops and a man gets on and sits down 2 seats away from me in my set of three seats. (You can figure out where that is yourself). He pulls out a street map of Manhattan. As the train leaves the station, he asks the Man next to him if the next stop is 42nd St. Alas, that would have been the downtown train. Unluckily for him, this train was expressing to 125th St. New Man shrugs his shoulders and settles in for the trip.

By this time, the Boys have lost intrest in Banana boy. Boy #1 decides that New Man is his new prey. He starts a game of "shadow" - New Man crosses his legs, Boy #1 crosses his legs, etc. New Man catches on to the game and after moving his hands several times, does the unexpected - he slides over the to seat directly next to me. Boy #1 however, has no where to go! He tries sort of sliding around in his own seat but realizes that won't really cut it. So in a clever twist, he and Boy #2 switch seats, allowing Boy #1 to then slide over one seat, now facing New Man with a triumphant look on his face.

New Man grins, and flashes Boy #1 the Vulcan/Birkat Kohanim sign.

Boy #1 is confounded. He tries and tries but fails to replicate this gesture. Boy #2 is laughing, as he shows Boy #1 that he can do it quite easily. By this time, even Banana boy has turned to watch the show and is grining. Finally, he pries his finger apart with a big smile.

New Man isn't done. He then does the sign with BOTH hands! Boy #1 has to struggle quite a bit but finally gets his fingers in place. New Man responds by wiggling his ears. This time, Boy #1 just can't do it. He tries wiggling them manually but realizes that New Man has won.

We pull into the station, where New Man gets off to catch the train back downtown. "Good night," he says, as he flashes us all a big smile.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Creative Sparks

For the past two days at work, I have been working on a certain project which finally requires me to be creative. But now that the chance has been given, I am feeling up against a wall. I can't find the proper exciting pieces I need to get the job done well. I have tried to approach the task from different angles, etc. but nothing really inspired has as of yet been produced. Finally, perhaps a lead today?

Which leads me to think about the other creative tasks I have been assigned since starting this job. While doing everyday drudgery, I yearn for the chance to work on more exciting things. But when I finally get a chance, it seems like I am not doing the fabulous job I believe I could. Why? I'm not sure. I don't think it's pressure; I don't feel an urgent supervisor breathing down my neck.

I wish I had an answer.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Merciful Assistance

I visit daily. Why not give free food to hungry people? After you click on the "Help Feed the Hungry," a thank you page comes up, which also lists their sponsers. Recently, I noticed that one of the sponsers was the MercyCorp, who were providing aid to people in Lebanon.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of helping the Lebanese people who don't have clean water and housing. But since I was feeling a bit contrary, I sent them the following email:

"I noticed that you are providing aid kits to displaced Lebanon refugees. What about those displaced in Israel? They are also in need of aid. Both sides of the current crisis deserve your help. Thank you."

I pushed "send" and promptly relegated that email to the back of my mind. I didn't really expect to hear back from them and besides, I had done my part in writing a letter in support of Israel.

So, a few days later I was very surprised to recieve the following:

"Thank you for your questions about Mercy Corps' response in the Middle East. One of the conditions for Mercy Corps' involvement in an emergencyis the local authority's inability to respond entirely by themselves. Israel has a highly sophisticated emergency response infrastructurewhich includes well-established medical, social and health safety nets. So far, Israel seems to be handling the current demands well. MercyCorps is a registered NGO in Israel and we have deep sympathy for the victims of violence and terror there. Should needs arise in Israel that require our expertise, we would mobilize to provide assistance.

In Gaza, a humanitarian crisis has been developing for many weeks and Mercy Corps has been providing food and medical supplies directly to the people who need them. These very vulnerable populations include the elderly, the disabled, orphans and the poorest of the poor. In Lebanon, both the UN and local authorities recognize the need for international humanitarian aid and the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs has specifically asked for Mercy Corps' support. In Lebanon, we have been providing food, clean water, and hygiene and infant supplies directly to those who need them. We want to be clear that Mercy Corps does not provide assistance through the Palestinian Authority, Hamas or Hezbollah.

Please see for a comprehensive list of humanitarian relief agencies working in Israel, Gaza and Lebanon.
Katie Moriconi
Mercy Corps"

This was a very interesting response on several levels:
1. "So far, Israel seems to be handling the current demands well." I have heard an overwhelming number of stories about the response to the Northern residents' plight, including a special delivery with help from Treppenwitz. A special Russian millionare, Arcady Guidamek, set up a camp for Internally Displaced Persons. Elite/Strauss and HAS Advantage sent "hugs" accompanied by chocolate bars to soldiers. The list goes on and on. The people of Israel (both Israelis and Jews around the world) sprang into action to help their fellows in a genuine outpouring of care. If a Jew in Kiryat Shemona is suffering, his brother in Australia suffers with him. Apparently, the Lebanese have yet to develop such a brotherly bond.

2. "Israel has a highly sophisticated emergency response infrastructure which includes well-established medical, social and health safety nets."
Israel stands out once again as the most developed country in the Middle East. Lebanon is unable to take proper care of it's citizens; it needs outside help in providing health care.

3."In Gaza, a humanitarian crisis has been developing for many weeks and Mercy Corps has been providing food and medical supplies directly to the people who need them. These very vulnerable populations include the elderly, the disabled, orphans and the poorest of the poor."
This to me is the most interesting point made here. Who was talking about Gaza? They had advertised their help for Lebanon, I had asked about Israel. But the humanitarian crisis in Gaza? Left field!
Well, not quite...It seems like no one can miss their opportunity to harp on the "humanitarian crisis in Gaza." Those poor Lebanese! Israel bombed them after they kipdanpped their soldiers! Oh, hey, Israel also wasn't very nice to the Palestinians...Those poor Palestinians!..."

Let's stay on track here - by all means, help the people of Lebanon. But leave the people of Gaza out of this.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Current Soundtrack: "Al Ahavatcha" by Yehoshua Engleman (a beautiful piyut composed by Rabbi Yehuda haLevi about how he counts down the days until Shabbos. See it here, althougth the song has slightly different words and doesn't have the last two verses.)

Back from a Shabbos with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. It is amazing to watch my nephew explore the world. He is at the really cute toddling stage. He can point to "nose" and "knee" and loves taking "bath." He keeps himself busy by purposfully toddling over to an object, picks it up, looks at it, sticks it in his mouth and bangs it on the nearest surface.

Watching him discover the world by in such a tactile way got me thinking about my own worldly explorations. How do I percieve the world? I too test things out - not by sticking them in my mouth! - but by cautiously easing a toe into the water. Slowly, slowly. I like to develop plans rather than just take the plunge. That way I am less frequently surprised and can also try to use the experince to it's fullest.

But still, how I'd love to throw caution to the wind for once and just impulsively jump on a plane for a last minute weekend getaway or dance to the music like I really meant it. But my sense of propriety, caution and need for structure holds me back. In part, this is also because of my sense of tzniut - I feel like it might not be so tzinus, even in an all female venue, to reveal yourself in such an exposed way, like really dancing. Male or female - tzniut is about your personal modesty, which is between you and God. Even if no one is there, there is still a need for humbleness and modesty before God.

A good friend of mine (who grew up thinking the way to board a plane was to run for the gate because the plane was about to leave) has helped me see that spontinaity can be fun! Cook without a recipe! Try something new! You can figure it out as you go along!

So for now, I still arrive on time (which I think is a good thing!) and I still have an itinerary for my vacations, but I admire the adventuresome spirit of those who sail forward boldly into the unknown, eager for the challenge and heedless of the potential pitfalls.

Friday, August 18, 2006


A slow year at work led me to discover the jblogosphere. I've read things from Serandez to Beth to Elster's Storytellers. I kept up with the war in Israel with daily visits to Jameel. Some posts made me cry, some made me laugh; many made me think. Until now, I've been a silent reader. I hope this blog will inspire others to do some thinking themselves.