lundi, octobre 31, 2005

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorranie Hansberry

"What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And the run?
Does it stink like rotten meat
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it jyst sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode? "
-Langston Hughes

It seems like it dries up, but then when it gets the tiniest piee of hope, it can well up in a person and just explode from the happiness of it.. the burst of emotion, becuase one just can't contain the deferral anymore...

I just finished the play I began reading for my sukkot trip. By far, _A Raisin in the Sun_ (ARITS) is one of these rich and deep, painfully poignant and oh, so, true portaryals of what life in America is. What is horrendous is that the message of the play, written in the mid to late 1950's, is still so true today. It is true today not just for the Blacks, but for the Hispanics, and in some ways for the various kinds of Asian Americans, who despite their model minority status, really do suffer from a macabre and grotesque racism.

I find myself profoundly struck by this play. It is set in Southside Chicago, which right now makes it drive home all too clearly the point -- how we force people into ghettoes. There is a neighborhood in Skokie where no houses could be sold to Jews. It was a "Gentleman's Agreement" that the houses could only be sold to white protestants... Asagai in ARITS talks about how the minorities are just assimilating to fit in and shedding their heritage and identity to be white. The snubbing of George Murchison who really is parroting what whites do, so as to appear like them, but missing the point that and education is for thinking and knowledge.. a poitn that Beneatha actually gets, but hasn't the moeny to capitalize off of... The pride in Walter of Mama and of ruth when he stands up to the injustices, stands up to the putrid racism, and stands up for a dream on having their own home...

I'm reminded of the time when my father decided we were building our own house. He wanted a beautiful house. He wanted a house of his own desires so that he could prove to the world that he had finally made his dream come true. For years my uncle wanted to pull him down and criticized one thing after another. My uncle was one of these compete and pull down people. He nnever let up on telling my father how the white people were out to get them and that my father would never get his certification. I never remembered how much the Willy Harrises of our world hurt until I read this passage in ARITS when Willy steals Walter's money and his dream, totally bankrupting the family and destroying their dreams. I remember when my father finally passed the exams that allowed him to be properly certified in English, his pride in having achieved his dream was amazing, and it came between the hard knocks that life dealt to him... but still a dream is a dream! I had forgotten how much being beaten down and trodden on was actually a part of our consciousness. I had forgotten too though how much our family's dreams matter to us... even when we forget becuase we are trying to be individuals and express who we are... there are still the dreams. Mama's dreams of a garden and her claim that the little plant is her expression of herself. Bennie's expression of herself in photography, music, and horseback riding as she searches for soemthing that speaks out and says who she is... what amazes me so deeply is that self-expression is so vital for those who dream. If you have a dream, it seems that creating and creativity are vital for staying alive... what we keep alive is our internal hope for the realization of our dreams.

When Cindy said, we marry white people to sanitize ourselves... we marry whites so that they can make our dream that we have become white true, I was struck by the implications. When Walter and Beaneatha tell Mama why the whites don't want them to move into Clybourne Park, they reply to her wounded cry "what do they think we're gonna do?" with the annswer "marry them." Maybe that wasn't so awful and wrong after all. Eugene says Chinese should marry Chinese. My father wishes that his children would marry others who are just like them. My mother recognizes that this isn't possible. Deep down inside, I see finally how powerful and how painful this statement is... I always wanted to marry someone who would learn to speak some chinese for my parents. I watched my parents curb their tongues to speak in a language foreign to them, so as not to exclude the white people, but never saw the Israelis curb their tongues to speak in a language that would include those who didn't speak Hebrew. My parents fought to preserve something of their culture and identity for their children, but fought and dreamed... their dreams lost out time after time, because they were polite and had manners that were in accordance with their culture. I feel an acute pain because this play raises so many questions and so many problems. Asagai's comment to Bennie that there are always going to be bad people in every culture and every people is so true. I remember now what he said and how it applied to Jenny's comment that the thieves in china had no pity. I think of the terrible Jews who betrayed their own to get ahead and recall Lil's mentioning to me her theory that the best of the Jews died, because that was the only way to survive. Only the ones who could survive would do so...

As Walter Lee Younger cries out and I would paraphrase... the money that paid for my education, that paid for my life, my food my sustenance is made of the flesh of my father and mother, the flesh of my grandfather and grandmother, the flesh too of those who pay taxes and those who struggle to live and those who luxuriously live... that money is for our dreams. Ultimately, Mama quote Walter Younger the Elder and something brightened for me in my understanding of the world... " Seem like God didn't see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams --but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while. (pp.45-46 Vintage Books 1994 edition)"

I think of all this and my heart cries for my parents, for my family, for my world... I, too, am a part of this world. One by one all we can do is "be the change we wish to see in the world."

I can only hope that someday, I, too, like Walter Lee Younger will come into my adulthood and find that ground upon which through my own heritage I can stand tall and be the person I was amde to be. A Confucian saying is that the tree grows leaves and the leaves reach to the sun, but in the end the leaves fall back to the roots. No matter what I will never forget that I am Chinese. I will never forget all the flesh and blood that was paid so my life could be here. My freedom comes at a dear price... and it would be wrong of me not to remember and not to honor that which has come before me...

jeudi, octobre 27, 2005

wow, so much has happened over the past few weeks...

How do I begin to relate my thoughts of the past week. I suppose there are primarily three topics that I want to touch upon.
1) women and torah reading, my personal quandry
2) reflections on yehuda as the yahrtzeit draws near
3) trekking 'round, lessons and thoughts from my wanderings during sukkot

In true cat-fashion, we will go in reverse order now... beginnning with topic three...

Sukkot is a time of change according to most religious leaders. they all prattle on about how it is timme to dedicate oneself to doing something about change. I think that probably evolved out of some frustrated rabbi's need to get his community moving back onto the derekh. Sometimes people can be so incredibly stubborn and cling to things which are old --refusing to renew themselves and refusing to grow. Sometimes they don't even know about their own stubborn refusal, it is so deeply imbedded within other things -desire to get innto grad school, desire to get out of grad school, desire to move from one city to another, desire for a different job, desire for a wife, desire for a spouse, etc.- that the person cannot even tell where he or she has lost the core things that direct him or herself along the path that matters to him or her.

Sometimes, I suspect the chagim interfere with out lives so much so that we are forced to take an accounting of who we are and where we are.

Over the past two weeks, I have watched friends raising their children and reflected on their efforts as well as the children themselves. The children, for example, there are the ones who push and push their parents to the brink of distraction -and i recall those wise words of one parent to his son... saying a your children will give back to you the worry and anguish you gave to me... (this makes me worry about my children, oy! and boy do I regret how much I made my mother and father worry! Do I have it coming to me someday?! Yipes.) ... There are the ones who get out of bed, when they are supposed to be asleep. The ones over whom parents fret to themselves, thinking, is she eating enough? The ones who pull pranks in a mischevious manner and tease their parents. Children who need boundaries, who need to be pushed lest they think they can act willy-nilly without thinking of anyone else. It's amazing to me to see how each child grows and develops. Shoshanah was telling me how amazing it must be to have a new life growing within one's own body. I cannot help but marvel at what amazing creation humans are. How HaBorei (the Creator) chose to make us all as we are... that a woman can bear a child and feel the sensation of a new life growing within her body... that a man finds himself creating with a woman this new life and if one is so blessed one life after another life... I know a lot of people who obsess over how lonely they are. I know a lot of people who talk about how they want children. I wonder often if those people have short-sightedness beyond description in that they do not really see how having a partner means a tremendous amount of responsibility --to the other person's feelings, thoughts, needs, desires, and a tremendous amount of responsibility to the growth annd development of another human being -to whom they will sacrifice so much of their own needs, wants, hopes, and lives... Are people who are just lonely and wanting to move already into the next phase of life really aware that they are not going to find succor for their loneliness? Another human is no salve for lonliness.

Truly happy is the person who has peace within him or herself.

That said, I find each person hashes out his or her own burdens throughout his or her life.. let me explain in slightly better detail. For example, consider a fictitious character Plonit bat Foofoo v'Bumbum. Foofoo is (besdes another fictitious character) a controlling woman with boundary problems and issues regarding her own self-esteem. Bumbum is (also another fictitious character and) a recalcitrant and selfish, perhaps even abusive, womanizer. Bumbum nnever had much of a habit of talking and his tendencies were to boost his own ego, make himself seem more important and grand --too take offensive more often for his own honor than for Hashem's honor... He was hardly an ideal father, but as with any person, he was hardly all bad. He had good traits, taught and valued hardworking effort and core traits of honesty, intelligence, creativity, --and as a result nurtured in his children those things which can be encouraged through education and teaching from books. His faults were that he was so inwardly displeased with himself that he had to push others down and to keep chinging things around so he was always the top dog. Hitting his children was a means of putting them in his place.. not just a power boost to establish his sense of how people depended on him and his own strength, it was also a means to assert his authority - a illogical means to proove that he deserved more, but wasn't getting what he deserved. He could assure himself that he was doing what was right by showing how others were not as good. Foofoo had been attracted to both Bumbum's show of strength and his show of weakness, like many women who love and admire both the vulnerabilities and the strengths of their mates. She had no idea of course that it would become the horrid life it became when she agreed to marry him. Her own difficulties were with self-esteem, too. She struggled to keep herself afloat as her life revolved around raising her children. Her own sense of self was eroded by her husband's disrespectful stance. Though she had a job, she found it gave her little strength and independence since her husband always belittled what she did. No matter how hardworking she was, nor how much she gave to her work, she earned no recognition from those who mattered most. Her focus then became her children and their successes. Foofoo's major needs then were for her children to be extensions of herself, so their successes were her successes and her needs were their needs. Classic boundary issues. She could never see how when she needed something it could be anything but the desire of her children to fix or help or handle her issues. She could likewise not see how when her children needed soemthing she could standby and allow them to struggle if she could do anything about that. Not only did her efforts perpetuate a sense of disrespect and disregard for an individual's dignity, but it propagated a sense, too, of low self-esteem and a very subtle sense of self-hate in her children. Plonit herself suffered for her father's womanizing. He was on his third wife now. She could think of him only as a selfish man. Little did she notice in herself the traits that he had impressed upon her own mind. Her own disrespect towards others was manifested in other ways, but clearly there. Her own selfishness was reflected in her behavior with those she loved or wished to love. Her lack of boundaries, an inheritance from her mother, showed up in her relationships, her workplace, and her sense of loneliness. All in all, one might say --what a mess ! Poor Plonit! How unfair is it that Plonit be born into such a family and given such a bad upbringing! One might say Plonit has every right in the world to be envious of others in the world! (Chas v'shalom!) Plonit might say she has a right to be depressed, so much is wrong in her life. (But then, depression is such an expression of selfishness we might say that she has only learned the lesson from her father all too well, and in fact, so well, she has blinded herself from the truth of the matter.)

I would say something slightly different. It is the combination of our parents that determines our trials, burdens, and life's work. The combination of their expreiences and personalities can teach us what our life's work is... we are to learn how to see them and overcome our own tests and trials. They pattern us with a set of traits which are good and bad... the bad ones are to be learned from and overcome if possible. The good ones used for the great things for which such talents are needed in the world. Rather than pity Plonit! We might marvel at what a tremendous gift she has received. This set of trials are hers to master and to gain from in order to help to build and fix the world (tikkun olam). There is no perfect rearing of children.
If one pays a lot of attention to a chld, she becomes assured that her needs are important, but omits learning where her needs fall with respect to another human. That lesson must come later in her life. If one pays little attention to a child, she mmust learn later in life that her needs are important and how to prioritize them with respect to the needs of others. One could say. ah, but strike a balance! That balance must be struck though in conjunction with the needs of the parent who is her or himself on his or her own journey towards her or his own growth. Such a balance is impossible. Indeed, such a balance is undesirable. In fact, if one could strike such a balance as to grow oneself, perfectly well, and raise one's child perfectly so, then that life itself would have no part of tikkun olam and no reason to be alive or kept alive. Perhaps it is for our potential for tikkun olam that HaKadosh Baruch Hu keeps us alive...? I doubt that is the only reason, nor do I warrant that this is the primary reason, but I rather suspect that it is part of why we are permitted the miracle of being alive every day --having porous bodies which work so fantastically wonderfully as they do...

Anyway, the point is that every human inherits a series of problems in a combination uniquely his or hers. The manner in which he or she deals with those problems are part of that person's piece of tikkun olam. Every person he or she interacts with then at each stage along the way is touched by the person's growth and struggles and that touching of worlds is integral to the existence of the world as it is the further weaving of the fabric which creates and sustains the world. In truth, each person is incredibly important then for the world to evolve as it does, is, and should. Each person is s incredibly important to tikkun olam. Our actions are in response to the inheritance we gain from our parents, siblings, extended families, spouses, children, and friends. In this way, though we may choose how we behave at each moment, we are also programmed and it is no wonder to me that Hashem may know who we are and how we will be and act throughout time. It is as if one could focus in finely on the interwoven threads at a certain point in a rich tapestry.. like the unicorn at the Cloisters in New York.. and know that one particular part is a life innteracting with countelss others... and step back to see the whole thing and know that perhaps this is a fraction of a miniscule taste of what it means to be all-knowing...

ultimately, too, perhaps this is why a child comes born into our arms with his or her own personality --several children of the same parents will take different lessons from the same event... each one has his or her own path to travel and piece of the tapestry to weave and createas he or she must... so when a child takes your hand, or a fellow asks for a hug, or a lover needs you to listen... in each position you are primely situated to create, both to destroy and to heal, the world.

And so I transition to my thoughts regarding Yehuda.
I still miss Yehuda. I still think of him often, probably still almost every other day or every day... I think of how powerful life is and how vitally important the very breath I breathe is to the world.. to my thoughts, to my actions, and then in ripple effect outwards to others whose lives i might touch without knowing it. I know that Yehuda's life touched so many others' without his ever knowing it. Nothing we do is wasted or useless, no matter how it seems to us. Losing hope is a failure on our part to recognize all that we have and all that we are able to be and to do even still. Those who do lose hope though cannot be blamed or held accountable, for the road they have to travel is arduous and fraught with pain and difficulty. The courage required to have hope and to believe when one has been pushed deeper and deeper into the mud is hard to muster... and many people never do muster up the strength nor the courage.

So then what of my thoughts regarding the death of someone I loved so very very much? I don't judge it at all. I don't even dwell upon it except to learn that all life is precious --precious to someone... maybe not to that person, but to someone. I learn from it that maybe Yeti was right deep down inside that the greatest thing to do is to live so that we honor our friend.. and live so we live passionately and deeply aware of our life. It doesn't matter how or why he died, but that his death created a huge hole and a huge wound for which we all want succor.

The honor we give to him by living fully our own lives.. by being the best people we can be.. growing at our best, by living our lives with integrity, courage, discipline, and love.. is actually the greatest of honors. If we learn more on his account, if we work more, love more, live more,... we have helped him to fulfill his piece of tikkun olam, because his life mattered to us. His life affected ours and changed us. His life is woven into the tapestry. We (perhaps we are the threads around him?) will always have been touched by his existence. This is the honor that life accords to another life.

So it is that I believe that connections from one to another are the greatest thing we people can create and do here.

Finally, I would come to my discussion of womena torah readings but alas it is late and i need very much to take myself offlline to do other tasks. I beg the indulgence of my readers... if I have any. ;) To wait for another day to hear what my tremendous internal debate over women and torah reading is.

May we all have a good year full of blessing, good life, tremendous growth, deep insight, and peace within, without, far and near.

lundi, octobre 24, 2005

last year shemini atzeret/simchat torah

Last year was the first year in about a string of 8 or more years that I wasn't at Ol'Nass' for the Jewish holiday of Shemini Azteret/Simchat Torah... in retrospect I think it was for a good reason... that was the last chag I got to spend with my friend Yehuda z"l. He had suggested that one of our meals be a hot dog meal. ;) I miss Yehuda. I think perhaps this shabbat I will have a hot dog dinner at home just to remember him in my own way.

I am glad that I was here instead last year. We had a lot of fun and it was really an amusing chag (chag being the Hebrew word for the pilgrimage holy days). It was a fluke that I was here, but in retrospect it was so much fun to have that time with him. I remember him dancing to make up for Matan not being here. I remember him offering to be my wedding planner... and my laughing as I asked if everything was going to end up being in black leather if I took him up on his offer.

Now that I'm back at Ol'Nass' for shemini atzeret and simchat torah. It is as if my life has resumed. Perhaps, it is that I feel as if the cycle has come around full circle.

I remember Yehuda making fun of a very spooky way of saying the words in Rosh Hashana/YK davening/prayers that talk about who will die by fire, who will die by water, who will die by hunger, who will die in various manners... my chavruta reminded me of this and I can't help but think of the disasters this past year has contained for all of mankind.

I am so aware now of the power a year of mourning has... no wonder a year was instituted by our rabbis for mourning. Over the course of the first year, we are called by all sorts of things to think of all the things that have gone on. I think somehow a lot of the events this past year went by in a blur. Though I thought of him, the blue hair and the yetziat mitzrayim shtick... I hardly remember Purim at all. I think I barely did more than simply hear the megilla, but I know I sent shalach manot, and had a seudah... I just don't recall the details like I would have in normal years. At Pesach, I wrapped up the book and took it to his family. Telling myself when it would hurt less that I would return to finish writing in it, but that at least his family would have it for comfort during Pesach, which was a chag they missed Yehuda a lot when he was in Israel, and now will have to miss him forevermore. The long summer days came and went, I'd have imagined him working in a lab downtown, but thoughts of him came less frequently and less painfully. With Elul and the return of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, my thoughts again turned towards him and my memories. In the end, though, my awareness has returned to me. I am returning somehow to the world in a way that isn't steeped with the flavors, colors, and songs that make up my memories of a life wherein Yehuda made things brighter. I still think of him, but somehow the edge of it is lesser and my acceptance of the world that keeps turning and moving withut Yehuda is more solid.

Somehow coming full circle in the year has made a huge difference, but the year mattered greatly to me. The passing of a full year of all the memories that are attendant upon that year, its holidays, and its memories was important for healing and growth. I'm not terribly sure why. Somehow though I am saddened still, I am not without joy and hope for the future. I want to remember and to live.

A part of me wonders if I am doing him an injustice and part of me is reassured that I am doing what I should be doing.

lundi, octobre 10, 2005

nothing calls my heart like a good story

really, nothing calls my heart like Israel... I wish, oh, I wish for some reason tonight that I were in Israel.

I was originally going to write this post about the book _What Zeesie Saw on Delancey Street_ because I thought it was such a wonderful and gorgeous book, but somehow instead I can't write about that, but feel instead that somehow a wolf-like howl in my heart. Somethine else is afoot in my soul and I don't know why or how this is the case, but...

Somehow I breathe the air and it's not like I don't appreciate how nice I have it here chutz la'aretz, here I have internet access easily, here I have a decent job, not too many worries or responsibilities... I'm fairly happy here, I think. Truly, if I lived in Israel I'd probably be scraping by and really scraping by... but, somehow my heart wants to see the land again, to touch the soil, to inhale the fragrance of trees and flowers... I am homesick for Israel. tonight.. why? maybe it's that I took out my havdalah candle from Tzfat and smelled the wax, I took the vial tonight of half dirt from Yerushalayim and half sand from the Negev and remembered that in my heart is the Golan and the Galil, and that I belong somehow rooted in the land... i can't bear the idea of leaving here on one hand because i have it easy here --I know how to live here, know how to survive here, know how to get up and go to work here... and I am afraid of not being able to survive in Israel, not being able to make it ther, but some how.. some how... I feel my heart being called by the land. I feel some pull that I can't resist.. I just can't let go of this thought that has been in my mind since Rosh Hashana when I davened with the Israelis ... I miss Israel. I am so homesick ofr Israel. Israel is in my prayers very week motzaei shabbat when I pray for all of the kehillot in Eretz Yisrael and I can't help but feel tears sprinng to my eyes as I worry that I can't figure out how to survive there, but want so despereately to go there... I know my sentimental soul, simply wants to touch and kiss the ground again... All I want is to be back in the land of Israel again... touching its dirt & stones, breathing its air, and singing songs to its trees and just knowing that there is no where else my heart feels so called as Israel. there's this raw hunger in me to be there... and an urgency I do not understand. I just know somehow that for the past few days since rosh hashana, I have felt a very very very deep need to go to Israel and to be there ... I am so silly. I can't explain why or how it is that I feel this way.

l'shana haba birushalayim
all I can say is that I desperately want to be in Israel... right now... I have no idea why.

the word shut up

Please don't use the word shut up... it's so rude

Hashem sees every detail and holds you close to His heart...

So my sister sent me a card today that had this pasuk from Yeshayahu on it "Search the book of the Lord and see all that He will do, not one detail will He miss... for the Lord has said it and He will make it come true..."

I'm curious... if Hashem speaks at our conception the name of our bashert ... is it ordained that we are matched up with another person?

I have often heard a lot of other people discuss their opinions and takes on bashert, zivugim, shidduchim... and never actually come up with anything serious on my own end regarding this as I find this sort of affairs to be significantly less the type of topic I can contribute anything to as opposed to my philosophy and halacha type of studies and mental inquiries... I remember once a shiur in which I heard that every person has a number of possible people that he or she can be set up with as a match. I believed at the time that I had met three of the possible number, but knew, too, that when I met each of them it wasn't appropriate, because of the timing and where each of us was with our lives. That take on shidduchim, zivugim, and bashert makes sense to me in many ways. I recall, too, that a very good friend of mine Rabbi Josh Yuter (if anyone knows Josh, you'll have to let him know that I actually called him rabbi!) had a lovely machshava shiur on bashert that I encourage anyone who knows Rabbi Yuter to ask him about it. It was very well-thought out and beautifully put. Perhaps my own thinking falls in line that whatever happens to fall in place is what is ordained to fall in place, but it can only do so by your choices and actions. Your choices and actions are like the quantum choices of an electron to be spin up or spin down, like the choice of a particle to be here or there, like the ability of an electron cloud to statistically exist in any of these spces but never at the nodes of an orbital, and like light to be both particle and wave. When one begins to see how these phenomena are possible and okay, one begins to see that he quandary of balancing free will against the belief that Hashem knows all and that somethings are ordained by Hashem is very much like the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle and the principle of statistical distribution of a particle's existence. We cannot know all the particulars until we sample.. at the moment that the quantity is sampled and tested, we know where it "is" but know nothing else about it, because it is always in flux and actually morphing as we continue to move. Our very organic world... is so extraordinarily beautiful.

Luckily, I find today that I am counting my blessings for having crossed paths with friends who have also been teachers, companions along the journey of life, and fellow avadim Hashem. To all of you who are fellow travelers... thank you so much for walking with me when we have been able to walk together and for walking on your own when we have not. I think I finally realize what Shimon menat when he said that it helps to know those people are out there doing their thing and holding down their piece of the world even if I'm out of touch with those people... I, too, am grateful even if I'm not in touch with thse people who were key to my life in so many ways that you are out there holding down your piece of the world and continuing to touch other lives.

Today is a day to recall that everything we do and everywhere we go, we are touching another person's life and that we are entrusted by Hashem with a great and powerful ability to influence another's life simply by a smile a hug or some expression of love and caring. Too little do we realize and take advantage of this. You whose paths have crossed mine in this past year are too many to be named and I am sorry for this. Please know how much I treasure your existence in my world. You have all taught me so very very much.

I don't know anymore where Asher ben David, Ephraim ben Israel, or Michael ben Adam are anymore as sadly, I've lost touch with you three, but for what it is worth, I am grateful and nostalgic today over the times we have spent together and over all I learned "in the dust at your feet."

All people are my teachers. All the world is my bechina b'torah u'v'ma'aseh. My examiner is Hashem. As Mori Ephraim ben Israel taught me: I will only know the score when I stand b'shamayim bayom hadin, so until then there is no point in counting the score, but only in continuing to do my best at the bechina. I wish that we should all succeed at our own bechinot and that we should continue in taf-shin-samekh-vav to grow to strength and greater wisdom.

Thanks to Michael who wrote that this year be filled with brachot that are revealed and not hidden. I second that wish. May this year of taf-shin-samekh-vav be filled with brachot for all of Am Yisrael that are revealed in their goodness and not hidden.

As I watch the world suffering one by one regionn after region seeing calamity and more calamity, I pray in these aseret yemei tshuva that Hashem grant that we might be allowed to see our geulah bimheirah byameinu.

G'mar Chatima tov
v'hatzlacha b'yadeikhem


vendredi, octobre 07, 2005

the gribenes debate

so some of you have heard about my great debate since rosh hashana regarding what i'm going to do about dinner two shabbatot from now... i got invited over rosh hashana to have dinner with one of the coolest Ravs/Gedolim ever on the planet and to have gribenes and i can't decide what to do... because i've always wanted to try gribenes and one really can't say uh, no , i don't want to have dinner with the coolest rav ever on the planet, but my friends Yetispotter is coming back to town and I haven't seen him in a while and I have been looking forward to hanging out with the Yeti. It was a huge quandary as I went back and forth and thought, oh, geez, I've always wanted to try gribenes.. I mean it's in so many of my stories, I always feel a tad guilty giving a dvar torah with gribines in it, becuase I don't know what gribenes tstes like or how it smells... sigh... and so I've always wanted to try it... and of course I got offered the opportunity because it so happens that Mr. Coolest Gadol shlita is also a big fan of gribenes.. one wonders how he has lived to his ripe old age...considering how many people have been telling me I'll die fromthe gribenes ever since I began debating this quandary... anyway, Yetispotter pointed out this entry at Wikipedia to me (I had to go look for myself to see if he was pulling my leg)
one finds this entry under jewish cuisine, under the soups heading, finally one gets to this entry...

"Gribenes, or "scraps," form one of the best liked foods among the Jews of eastern Europe. It is eaten especially on the Feast of Ḥannukah. So much do the Jews share in the belief "that there is no flavor comparable with the tawny and well-watched scraps," that it is often suggested as an inducement to friends to make a visit."

how cool is that?
inducement, indeed!
one Rav, gribenes, an offer that is hard to refuse...
but I still might.
I think cats must like gribenes.

Meet Merman, he's a cream-colored Persian cat, who loves gribenes. So much so that he is willing to employ mice to bring him gribenes in exchange for their lives... ooh that sounds like a dark story, no more of that one!

a really powerful book with a really powerful idea women and feminism and raunch culture

I'm stunned, impressed, shocked, wowed... having read the review pasted below, I'm floored perhaps. I have been wondering for quite some time now as I noticed and tried not to notice the rise of pants with words printed on the tuchus, the increase in shirts which had minimal sleeves and minimal cloth to cover the bellies of the women wearing them, the increase in skirts that didn't even cover the bottom curve of the tuchus of many women, ... who wears these clothes, why do they wear them, and what are we supposed to do about it?
obviously, not look?
er... as a once-upon-a-time friend of mine, Marcel once said, "if women dress that way, aren't we supposed to look and think what they are trying to say with those clothes?" I wanted to bash him in the head, becuase I thought it was the stupidest question ever. I didn't think that many women think wen they put on a v-neck shirt, "ooh, I hope all the guys will look down my shirt." Heck, my darling 11th grade bais yakov girls wear "tznius" clothing, that well, honestly, it's so tight I don't want to close that itty bitty gap and figure out what any random "she" might look like without her clothes on, but in some cases ... it's nearly impossible... and those girls are TRYING to dress modestly.
I think this world is getting sick and sicker.
Anyway, I think I'm finding myself in agreement with Ariel Levy, but I'm not sure what to do about it. Read on...
Friday, October 7th, 2005

A review of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy

Girls Gone Wild
A Review by Christine Smallwood

A quick glance at the T-shirts ought to be enough of a clue that all is not well in American mass culture. Girls no more than 14 saunter down the street with their low-riders jammed down below their thongs and, snugly fitted over their brand-new breasts, piquant words of wisdom: "Everyone loves a Jewish girl." "What boyfriend?" "Save a Horse: Ride a Cowboy." A picture of a rooster above the word "Tease."

In another life, wearing a garment advertising the favor you wish to do the cowboys of the world might be degrading or, at the very least, embarrassing. In another life -- say, in a radical feminist compound of the future where no men exist and we rely on frozen sperm for breeding -- it might be ironic. In this one, it is simply the thing to do.

Enter New York magazine writer and editor Ariel Levy. Her new book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, examines the rise of this American "raunch culture," that amalgamation of pornography and porn signifiers -- the single entendre T-shirt, implants, excessive waxing, cardio pole-dancing classes, Playboy bunny keychains, Howard Stern and Robin Quivers, Girls Gone Wild, The Man Show and its ever-present "Juggies" -- that has popped up all over television, music videos, fashion, advertising and publishing.

Levy traces the ascendancy of this peculiarly porn-tastic culture to the ashes of the feminist movement, which famously split 30 years ago into "sex-positive" and anti-porn camps. People like Candida Royalle fled, frustrated that an emphasis on the politics of sex had done away with its pleasures (Royalle went on to direct adult films for women), while the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon became anti-porn crusaders. Both sides believed they were radically sex-positive/pro-sex, but saw the conditions for sexual liberation in radically different ways. Levy defines "raunch feminism" as the legacy of the unresolved contradictions between the two sides, as well as the continuation of rebellion against uptight movement mothers. Only instead of supplementing political lobbying or social work with sexual liberation, these days we believe that the work ends with sex. As Erica Jong, whose Fear of Flying advocated the enjoyment of consequence-free sex for women, says to Levy, "Sexual freedom can be a smoke screen for how far we haven't come."

The picture that Levy paints is more than a little grim: raunch culture, which is essentially misogynist, callow, simplistic and ubiquitous, breeds women-hating-women who angle for power with men and propagate more raunch under the deceitful guise of feminist empowerment. Thus women are burdened with the usual demands to be sexy, come hither, and look like you want it -- only now, "because we have determined that all empowered women must be overtly and publicly sexual, and because the only sign of sexuality we seem to be able to recognize is a direct allusion to red-light entertainment, we have laced the sleazy energy and aesthetic of a topless club or a Penthouse shoot throughout our entire culture." In this way, the dominance of raunch has superseded all other sexualized behaviors, creating lesbian bois who fuck and chuck one-night stands and straight girls who test their dates' mettle by bringing them to strip clubs.

Levy goes further. "In this new formulation of raunch feminism, stripping is as valuable to elevating womankind as gaining an education or supporting rape victims," she writes. "Throwing a party where women grind against each other in their underwear while fully clothed men watch them is suddenly part of the same project as marching on Washington for reproductive rights." This unlikely feat is possible because in 2005, there's no consensus on what feminism, or a feminist, is -- there are S/M feminists, radical lesbian feminists, NOW and Planned Parenthood feminists, even some pro-lifers who call themselves feminists. While the big-tent approach to feminism has created space for everyone, it has also allowed for conservatism, exploitation and commercialism to pollute women's hard-won gains.

The biggest lie of pornography's ascendant place in American culture is the notion that it has somehow made us all more free. Levy looks for the "new feminism" in raunch culture -- for the proof of freedom and power -- but all she finds is the "old objectification." What's unusual in her telling, though, is that women today have only themselves to blame. They produce HBO's G-String Divas and work for Girls Gone Wild; they gobble up porn diva Jenna Jameson's book; and if they don't audition for Playboy's 50th anniversary casting call, they read the magazine, which is run by a woman, too.

Playboy empress Christie Hefner, Hugh's daughter, sees no contradiction between her stable of bunnies and the two women's organizations -- Emily's List, a fundraising tool for pro-choice candidates, and the Committee of 200, a mentoring and scholarship group -- she founded. She identifies the increased female readership of Playboy as a sign that "the post-sexual revolution, post-women's movement generation that is now out there in their late twenties and early thirties ... has just a more grown-up, comfortable, natural attitude about sex and sexiness that is more in line with where guys were a couple generations before." (Because of course admiring someone wearing a tail who's serving you cocktails is natural, not to mention grown-up.)

For some women -- those who are turned on by other women, for example -- the license to consume Playboy is unquestionably an advance; for others, though, you might wonder what they get out of page after page of identical bodies with identically parted lips. For instead of celebrating the diversity not only of shapes, but of desires, Playboy and its kin have commodified female sexuality into a series of recognizable poses that have been reproduced and repeated until they are now the very definition, the only definition, of sexiness. Hefner argues that female Olympians posed in Playboy as a way to tell the world that they "don't think that athleticism in women is at odds with being sexy." Interesting then, that to prove their sexiness, these athletes posed as soft, sedate pin-ups, not in action on the court.

Critiquing -- let alone complaining about -- pornography has become very old-fashioned and, worse, a real killjoy. Better to become a "female chauvinist pig," to mimic men -- have casual sex, check out girls, show a little skin of your own. (Of course, unlike their male heroes, female pigs still "parade around in their skivvies as a means to attaining power.") An FCP, in Levy's definition, "is funny. She gets it. She doesn't mind cartoonish stereotypes of female sexuality, and she doesn't mind a cartoonishly macho response to them. The FCP asks: Why throw your boyfriend's Playboy in a freedom trash can when you can be partying at the Mansion? ... Why try to beat them when you can join them?"

Levy talks to Erin and Shaina, two sisters who have a pile of magazines like Playboy and FHM on their bedroom floor (they share a room at their parents' place). Erin's been known to make out with another girl in public cause it "turns guys on." (She thought it would be like being on TV, but the real experience wasn't as sexy as in her fantasies.) Shaina thinks that getting your ass slapped at a bar by a stranger isn't harassment -- just flattery. Although Erin feels "conflicted being a woman" and tries to "join the ranks of men," she owns a copy of The Feminine Mystique -- but she would never try to push her ideas on someone else. The meaning of feminism for today's FCPs is a private affair. Another FCP, Anyssa, a struggling actress, likes to fantasize about what it feels like to be a stripper, with dozens of eyes on you. When Levy suggests that stripping was more a parody of female sexuality than an enactment of it, Anyssa's friend Sherry snaps. "I can't feel sorry for those women," she said. "I think they're asking for it."

Ultimately, FCPs want power. They equate power with being like men, and being liked by men. They're the kind of girl who's always felt more comfortable with boys, who doesn't really like other girls. Raunch is one way for them to gain access to that circle of men and to separate themselves from other women. Annie, for instance, used to enjoy Howard Stern because "it's humor masking a pretty woman-hating thing -- which I've got a good amount of in me, I guess, because I take pleasure in it."

"Yeah, we're all women, but are we supposed to band together?" asks Anyssa. "Hell, no. I don't trust women."

Yet as Levy points out, being the exception that proves the rule -- the girl who gets raunch, who laughs at Howard Stern -- just means the rules are still intact. As long as "acting like a man" is valued, acting like a woman will be devalued. And regardless of how you understand gender, being a woman -- having breasts, bleeding once a month -- will be a handicap.

Levy extrapolates from her research subjects to all women, relying on a "we" without clearly defining who she's speaking about, or for. We revel in the porn aesthetic. We fetishize strippers. We do cardio striptease workouts. We have no real erotic role models. We are female chauvinist pigs.

But are we? It's clear that "we" live in a culture permeated by raunch and pornography -- at least white women do. Levy doesn't take account of black, Asian or Latino culture. She doesn't look at booty shakers pouring champagne on themselves, dripping with gold on the music videos on BET, or thumb through Confessions of a Video Vixen, the bestselling book about a hip-hop video dancer. She doesn't think about Japanese anime and manga, with their double-D heroines. After second-wave feminism was accused of being a white movement, women of color assumed an important position in academic and activist debate. "We" could have a lot to teach each other about the ways that we are uniquely, and commonly, misused across media. Female Chauvinist Pigs ignores that possibility.

It also neglects any mention of class. Male-identified FCPs are financially successful. Even if they're not at the top of the ladder, if they're bartenders or registered nurses, they're not struggling to get by. They would never be forced to strip for money, for instance, which is one reason it's easy for them to dissociate themselves from women who do. So you have to wonder why Levy doesn't take the time to interview strippers or sex workers. She quotes Jenna Jameson, but she doesn't get an analysis of raunch from the perspective of an actual sex worker. Presumably such a thing falls outside the scope of her subject matter, but you'd think that a G-string diva would have an idea or two of her own on her new role as cultural heroine.

Raunch, whether or not we like it, is tangled and complicated, fraught with pleasure, voyeurism, mimicry, excitement, revulsion, exploitation -- a whole host of contradictory impulses. (There's a reason this stuff tore the women's movement apart.) But all is not a matter of false consciousness. Many women are savvy enough to recognize those contradictions and see through the charade that is broadcast into their lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The ways that they consume and digest endless streams of newspaper stories, television shows, magazine covers, books, advertising campaigns, billboards and Internet pop-up ads would have been worth investigating. After all, being a woman faced with infinite images of other women taking their clothes off, gyrating, tittering, moaning and pushing product can be exhausting and demoralizing. (Shockingly, there are those rare mornings that the New York Times online goes down better without the Victoria's Secret pop-up ads.) Raunch, like so much of mass culture, is both out of our control and impossible to ignore. We must develop a smarter strategy for living with it than simply wishing it would go away.

Levy's book diagnoses, but it doesn't prescribe. After carefully documenting the sale of female sexuality, Levy closes with the call for readers to believe they are "sexy and funny and competent and smart." Apparently the solution to a system of objectification in which women themselves are complicit, in which feminism has been co-opted by and for profit, is for us to be ourselves. It's a little hard to swallow. Unless there is a political dimension to our personhood that extends to other women, we will never be more than marketing niches. Levy has done the good work of documenting raunch culture. What next?

Christine Smallwood is on the editorial staff of The Nation.

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jeudi, octobre 06, 2005

rosh hashana from Elisheva

For those who are interested, (I'll certainly not be offended if you choose not to continue to read!) I have endeavored below to provide you with words of Torah, but as I'm inadequate for the job, let me say in advance that I offer you a few words belonging to other people cobbled together with my own poor reasoning. It's a bit long, for which I apologize. Had I more time, I would edit it properly and make it more concise.

As always, if I make any errors, misinterpret the stories, or falsely retell the stories --any errors are my own fault and not to be blamed on anyone else. I believe I learned once that HaRav Auerbach zt"l once said to a student, "it is better that you should tell my ideas as your own then to tell your ideas as mine." So if anything sounds terrible or incorrect and is attributed wrongly, blame my poor intellect instead. I'm hardly the scholar. Also, if anything strikes you pleasantly and you feel good from what I've written below, I'm glad for it, but if however, what I write strikes you as non-sensical or simply bad thinking, I beg of you to forget these words immediately.

If I may be so bold as to begin with an idea I heard from Jeremy Meisel, who repeated the words of a rebbe at Lakewood Yeshiva, and use it to my own devices, I would say as follows: The Lakewood rabbi told a story that on one day in the court of a great king, all the carpenters were lined up to present their requests for materials they needed. One man was ushered to the front of the line, listened to attentively by the king, given what he requested, and allowed to leave to begin his work immediately. The other carpenters wanted to know what this carpenter was doing that gave him such preferential treatment. The answer given is that this carpenter was doing work for the king and so all his requests were granted so he might do a good job. I believe that the Lakewood rabbi's vort is that the Rosh Hashana tefillot is our chance to put Hashem as our King/Melekh and if we choose to serve Hashem in our deeds and actions then our requests during the year are listened to more attentively and granted more readily.

I would begin to add to this idea with the remark that often I hear people talk about making resolutions at Rosh Hashana like one might discuss New Year's resolutions around Jan 1st. I've pondered this connection briefly every once in a while and would like to take a brief moment to stab at a possible answer as to what those days of repentance/self-reflection, those days of standing before the King of Kings, and those days of asking for a good life might -in some tiny aspect- be about.

One might think that this is our time to look our best, since we are coming before the King. I would counter that by saying that every day, we are before the King. No one can hide from Hashem. What makes this time so much more special? At another moment, we might think perhaps the more slichot one can say the better so as to be in a proper mood for seeming repentant enough to merit a good year. Some kind of self-flagellating sense may lead some of us to think that if we might be properly penitent, we might do better next year. If so, we and our co-religionists seem to be proponents of an idea that the more you beat the horse the more likely it is to get up and walk properly --which experience can prove doesn't work. If it doesn't work, then why do we do it? What about those who sit in shul and simply endure -or even sleep through- the long litany of rote words and chantings? What do they get out of it?

We spend a great portion of the davening talking about Hashem as melekh and a great portion of time in appearing repentant so as to sweet-talk(?) HaKadosh Baruch Hu/HKB"H (Hashem) into granting us a good decree, yet when one admits that Hashem is the master of all, the One who controls everything, does all that self-flagellation do any good? Hashem knows better than we do even which bad things we will do this year, what of the list in the vidui we are not truly penitent over, ... How can we really stand there and say the vidui if we know we may within the next month do at least one of the sins on this list? --and that timeframe if we're all highly optimistic people! Hashem certainly knows we probably will. We say these things each year no less, so it's fairly guaranteed that our penitent repetition of this year after year might get a bit old for Hashem. Hashem and we both harbor no doubt that we are going to do these things again! Why not stop here, wait until the moment before death and just say the vidui then and have it over with at a moment we might truthfully be able to say, "we're sorry, we won't do this again"... !? The answer to me is nicely put in the _Shadowlands_, wherein the character of C.S.Lewis says, "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God, it changes me. " What a great thought, prayer changes me. It's actually reflected in the Hebrew itself the verb to pray is a reflexive verb, meaning we do it to ourselves.. Usually this grammar is reserved for things like I dressed myself, etc. ... how does one pray oneself? Hah! Is it that prayer changes us? Let's say this is so. Even if you don't have the concentration and intention for the prayer, don't understand the prayer, don't like the prayer, halachically, we say --pray anyway. Perhaps the act of praying will change each one of us.

Why then a special holiday? Why not just presume that shabbat or daily tefillot can do this all the same? If one is praying for praying's sake to change oneself, are not all prayers equal?

Perhaps Rosh Hashana --if one feels like getting out on a limb with connotations-- is a connection between the real "Rosh" the Ribono Shel Olam, HaBorei, the Creator, and time -"Hashana"- for us finite (er, mortal) beings who count our lives in years, weeks, days, hours, minutes, ... even for some of us nano and picoseconds in a slightly different manner. Time is of the essence to our very existence and is the manner in which we measure our very presence in this world. At Rosh Hashana, we mention life and death, which are conditions very much connected to our sense of time.

Certainly we see time counted every week with shabbat. A.J. Heschel called shabbat "a palace in time." Ehad Ha'Am is credited with penning the line "more than the Jews have kept shabbat, shabbat has kept the Jews." Marking time through shabbat and remembering what holiness can do for our lives at least once a week has helped us to retain our identity -our purpose in life, our connection to HKB"H, among lots of other things. Shabbat, that palace where we meet to affirm that HKB"H created the world --is it not enough to bring us to set our eyes upon the King and remind us that we serve Hashem? I would venture a guess not.

Perhaps Rosh Hashana itself lends us a marker on a grander scale, of once a year, to remember that we who count our days, whose lives are bound by time, are connected to that "Rosh," who doesn't count time. Rosh Hashana, rather than counting time like shabbat, might be a means of stopping our counting of time. At Rosh Hashana, standing before HKB"H and discussing our character flaws in shul together, we stop -we halt the business of time- to reflect on what is really important.

Simply put, it may be that we are reminded that there is more to our lives than the petty surface things we hold in front of ourselves when we worry about time. The Ba'al Shem Tov wrote something lovely that I can only paraphrase awkwardly as "the world is new to us every morning, that is Hashem's gift, and we should believe we are reborn each day." This is difficult to do. Rarely when we go about our days, --teaching, attending classes, working, going to meetings, picking up the kids, or whatever else we are doing, -- do we think about what we would do if this one or that one of our loved ones -bli ayin hara- were to die. We tend, also, not to live with that awe and delight as if each day were are first or with that love and savoring taste as if each day were our last. As several people have pointed out to me over the past year, we just can't live our lives like that. If we did, we might never get anything done. So we resume counting time outside the bounds of Rosh Hashana.

At Rosh Hashana, when we recommend ourselves to Hashem more with our character, our hopes, or our intentions and less with our resumes, our station in life, or our job titles, we remind ourselves, however subtly, of the important things in life, which cannot be seen by the eyes. We remind ourselves of whom, perhaps, we aspire to be through the prayers we pray at Rosh Hashana and thus are we changed by that raised level of awareness. We stop for a moment in time -sanctifying that time- to renew our awareness that beneath the surface, in the depth of ourselves, who we are as humans matters to the Ribono Shel Olam. Knowing this may subtly alter how we act for however brief a period of time before we are so immersed again in our daily lives that we forget. Maybe that's why we need to do it every year? That this time is connected to our requests for a good year, for a good life, is no silliness. What matters to us about a good life and a good year is connected to what matters to HKB"H about whether we are looking internally and trying to be good people and good av'dim (servants of) Hashem. So really in the end, our Rosh Hashana tefillot whether or not we consciously think so, are focused on this moment when we place Hashem in front of us to remember that HKB"H is king, and that what really matters is who we are inside and not what is on the outside.

... and that maybe, just maybe, is what links New Year's resolutions, serving the King, and prayers for a good life all together. I don't know, but this is my guess for now.

N.B. The idea of "the important things are invisible to the eyes" is from my recent reading of _The Little Prince_ by Antoine de St. Exupery.

dimanche, octobre 02, 2005

continuation of _The Little Prince_ post

we are so lucky to be able to love...

even when we have brief moments with another person ... we are "tamed" for ever so brief a moment,... we "tame" another for ever so brief a moment,... we are so lucky still to have loved and to have been loved. We really hurt when we are bbetrayed and we really hurt when we lose a loved one... but we are so lucky to have loved and held this precious thing in our hands.. I was really so happy to see this underlying statement in Le Petit Prince regarding what life is.. it is as if le prince is an angel or a prophet come to share his wisdom... and all too interestingly, one doesn't read this tiny children's book as if it were a revelation of some madman, but rather we coo over how adorable a story it is.. such subtlety is precious. We find in our minds hat we absorb pieces of what Antoine wished to teach us regarding his own outlook on life and on what is important.. and how he wishes for peope not to forget the idealist within... the person a little naive, a little innocent, so very precious who loves... with all his or her heart. This person who knows that what really matters is the person within and not the stupidity of the surface...

I thought that what he showed us about how death is a travel to another place was an interesting idea, introduced so cleverly into the mind, without much ado. The idea that love endures past death was also so interesting, becuase I recal reading how CSLewis also dealt with this thought... interestingly, the Problem of Pain was written at about the same time as The Little Prince. One has to wonder if CSLewis ever read/saw the book. More notably, though is that the themes overlap a bit better with those in _A Grief Observed_ and that AGO was written after TLP. Obviously, WWII and the tremendous expereinces people had with love and loss around that period of time brought out many of these ideas.. the climate was just so.

I'm reminded of Jack's comment at the end of _Shadowlands_ ... which goes something like..."why are we given the ability to love...? ... I was given the chance twice in my life... I chose one way early on, to close myself off in books and thought, never to be hurt again, and the second time I chose the other way..."

more accurately from three quotes we might see better:
Harry: Christopher can scoff, Jack, but I know how hard you've been praying; and now God is answering your prayers.
C. S. Lewis:
That's not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God, it changes me. "

"Joy Gresham: We can't have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That's the deal. "

"C. S. Lewis: Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world. " "the pain now is part of the happiness then."

and one which makes no difference to this particular debate, but which amuses e nonetheless: C.S. Lewis: "He comes; he sleeps; he goes. So the plot thickens."

Indeed, as one particular yahrtzeit comes up soon, I find that I am at peace with the fact that we endure our pain now as part of the package deal for havinng loved then. I find, too, that I pray, because the prayer changes me. I find that I trust now that all love extends past this physical shell of humman frailty and that it is connected to eternity. I find, lastly, that what is most important about life, is that which is invisible to the eye. It is not one's career or accmplishments in the grown up serious world which matter most, but the connections we made and the taming that was done, by far... it is the love we learn to show here and now.