Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You Say It's Your Birthday...

It doesn't take much to instigate a dark and dreary middle school or high school flashback. It seems that the most innocuous statement can send the ego spiraling back in time to former days of social ineptitude and adolescent awkwardness.

In other word, it doesn't take much to remind a geek of her innate geekiness!

What's this about? Birthdays. Mine in particular. I received an email today from the Sunshine Committee. This is a committee we have at work whose sole purpose is to make people feel included, important, and loved on the annual celebration of their entry into this world. The email was asking for any individual whose birthday falls in the month of February to identify him-or-herself. A seemingly beneign request, no?

No! I mean, yes, it is seemingly beneign...and no, it sent me over the edge. Now, we all know that I've had a stressful few days and so perhaps this was the proverbial straw. I've got another theory however...

Remember the really popular girls at school? The ones who would be greeted by birthday signs on the front of the front gate? Who would arrive at lockers decorated gaily by "best friends?" And who would prance around school all day with a balloon bouquet? Yeah...well so do I. And that was not me! I was the one whose birthday would go unnoticed. Not in the disturbing Sixteen Candles way. I mean my family is many things...and we may have held a birthday celebration or two on an alternate day. But no way would our parents actually *forget* our birthdays. Somehow, though, it was never enough. And when school friends would discover that it was my birthday (or that it had been my birthday), they would say things like "I can't believe you never said anything!"

Seriously now, what was I going to say? "Um, in case you didn't know -- because we obviously aren't as close as I thought we were -- my birthday is actually today and I feel like a complete dork because no one noticed." What is the right thing to actually say here? And if you tell people a few days ahead of time, their felicitious wishes seem contrived.

Skip ahead a couple of decades and I have yet to discover a comfortable and natural way to spread news of my birth date. I would think that in the workplace, there must be someone in the HR department in possession of such knowledge. Wouldn't it be less clumsy for the HR Dept. to communicate said information to the appropriate people...say the Sunshine Committee, for example?

So I deleted the email and figure that if people are meant to know, they know. And if they don't, then they don't.

Monday, January 30, 2006

What's Jewish About Valentine's Day?

Considering that "St." is part of the name of the holiday? Maybe nothing.

Or maybe something...

I've always liked Valentine's Day. I feel a certain affinity with this holiday due to its proximatey to my own birthday. [Actually, there is another holiday closer to my birthday but it involves a furry animal and math...so for obvious reasons, it's not high on my list.] I still remember the first Valentine's Day gift I received from a boy. A pink elephant and a box of chocolate. I was about eleven and thought that it was the sweetest thing...

The most perfect Valentine's Day gift? TiVo (Valentine's Day 2004) was just about the sweetest gesture ever! I know how it sounds, but seriously...I love television and I'm a mother of two. With TiVo, I always have my kids' favourite shows on hand and can zip through my favourites any time of the night without having to remember to set the VCR.

But I digress...

I've never had a theological problem per se with Valentine's Day. It was never a big deal in my family of origin and we've never really made a big deal about it our relationship. It's been downplayed in our house simply because Beernut and Poppyseed have been at JCC preschools where it is not acknowledged.

This year, of course, will be Beernut's first exposure to Cupid and it's got me a-thinkin!

Is Valentine's Day an approprite celebration for Jews?

I feel certain that for most of my readership there is no question that Valentine's Day does not conflict with the tenets of our faith. In fact, I reckon that most of you can't even figure out why I'm even asking the question.

Christmas. That's the reason.

Stay with me here...

Valentine's Day is in no way a religious holiday. Yes, there is a saint distantly associated with the day, but we all know that it is a completely secular holiday. And it is one that celebrates love. Hey, Judaism is in favour of love. So not only should there be no conflict, maybe we should embrace it.

And lo and behold -- that's what the Orthodox have done! Ascribing to the "if you can't beat them, join them" philosophy, the Orthodox Union’s [national youth movement] National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) is “initiating a campaign timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day about the importance of dating and marrying Jewish.” Since kids are being inundated with hearts, valentines, plush animals, and (kosher!) chocolate anyway, NCSY will take this as an opportunity to reinforce the traditional views of dating and marriage.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, for generations, our Sages have taken behviours and practices of our people and given them a Jewish spin. Take the dreidel. Not exactly Jewish in origin, but definitely Jewish now.

But it's very easy for me to strip Valentine's Day of any religiosity it might have had in earlier times. And that's when I begin to worry. Because this is the same line of reasoning I hear today regarding Christmas.

"It's not a religious holiday, Rabbi, it's an American holiday." "We don't go to church or anything. It's just a family celebration." And so on. As Steven Bayme, director of Jewish Communal Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said, "When people contend Christmas is a secular holiday, they're missing the historical framework here. Christmas is a holiday of another faith, rooted in historical events in which Jews reject their theological significance." Not just historical events, but religious ones as well. And we don't have the right to secularize someone else's holiday just because we are experiencing an acute case of tinsel-envy.

Are we not venturing too far on this slippery slope by observing a seemingly secular holiday simply because it's what our neighbours are doing and it doesn't seem to detract in any way from the authentic practice of Judaism?

Probably not. But I think we need to have the discussion. We need to consider our actions and decide where we draw our own lines. Because if we don't, we might find ourselves slipping down that slope...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

We are the Jews, the mighty, mighty, Jews...

The way some people fear us, you'd think that we are super-duper powerful. It's a heady feeling, really. If you believe some of the propaganda out there, we are responsible for the war in Iraq, 9/11, the tsunami, and the Civil War. (And probably a slew of other calamities as well.) We control Hollywood, the media, and the economy. For a group that comprises just 0.2% of the global population, we certainly seem to be disproportionately mighty.

It gets tiring. No, not being so powerful. For we really aren't responsible for such things. It gets tiring being blamed. It gets tiring being hated by so many. To be the world's punching bag.

Two weeks ago, author Andrew Klavan wrote a wonderful op-ed piece on this very topic. I thought that he raised some really valid points and even kept a sense of humour about a subject that is extraordinarily serious.

At the end of the day, it seems as though we are destined to be blamed for anything from a meteorological disturbance to the economic fluxuations of the Free World. Despite the best intentions of the Amalekites, Babylonians, Romans, and Nazis, we're still here.

They're not.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I luv Jewish Boys!

I always have. When the other girls had a thing for Tom Cruise, Kirk Cameron, and Scott Baio, my head was filled with visions of Jonathan Silverman, Matthew Broderick, and Robby Benson.

I luv Jewish boys. I think that they are adorable, funny, really cute, sexy, smart, and just plain good solid folk. It's just what I'm used to, I suppose.

My dad is a nice Jewish boy. PC is definitely a nice Jewish boy. I have not one but two nice Jewish boys as brothers. And Beernut is a nice Jewish boy.

See, all nice Jewish boys.

I've just got a thing for them...

So, my latest little crush is on Andy Samberg. He's a featured player on SNL and one of the reasons that I adore him is because I'm friends with his sister. She is a very, very nice Jewish girl and since things like this tend to run in the family...well, I feel pretty confidant about this guy. Plus he's super cute!! Even though I haven't been a regular SNL viewer for years, my TiVo now records weekly in hopes of catching a Samberg sketch here and there.

How excited was I to see that his latest sketch "Chronic of Narnia" is available online? I've watched it several times and each time I think the same thing: this is a really cute Jewish boy who has been trying to break in to the business and is finally being recognized. Hooray for the nice guys!!

Then today, during my www travels, I came upon a West Coast version starring one of other favourite Jewish boys, Mark Feuerstein. He is super cute too and very, very funny in "lazy monday." This short is what he and his "posse" are calling "the West Coast response to SNL's 'Chronic of Narnia' rap." (via Annabel Lee)

Any actual point to this entry? Not really. Pure entertainment once-in-a-while isn't so bad :)

Beware things that bite in the night...

According to a recent article in the LA Times, Dengue Fever is the most common cause of fever in returning travellers.

Beware the mosquito carrying Dengue Fever!!

I must admit that when I hear of such warnings...well...I ignore them. After all, do you actually know anyone who come down with one of these strange afflictions while on vacation?

I do. Yes, I actually do know someone who contracted Dengue Fever and on her honeymoon no less!! (She is recovering, thank God.)

Dengue Fever is contracted from an infected mosquito and symptoms generally appear four to seven days after the bite. Symptoms can include severe headache, joint and muscle pain, high fever, nausea, vomiting and rash. It is a serious disease and, in its most severe form, can be fatal.

Unfortunately there is no vaccine at this time to prevent Dengue Fever and since it is a virus, there is no treatment. International health agencies encourage people travelling to the affected areas to take precautions against being bitten, such as wearing long sleeves and applying repellents with DEET (diethylmetatoluamide).

In other words, the best defense is a good offense.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Forget WWJD. Never mind WWMD. It's time for "WWGS?"

That's right -- what would Grandma say?

I read a book this weekend and I just knew as I was reading it that my Grandmother wouldn't like it. She wouldn't like it for the same reason that she didn't like The Red Tent. You see, my Grandma doesn't like to air our dirty laundry in public. Thus any book that suggests that our Biblical ancestors are anything less than exemplary citizens is akin to airing the aforementioned linens.

I enjoyed Rebecca Kohn's Seven Days to the Sea. Like Anita Diamant's Red Tent, this book is a wonderful example of modern midrash. The author masterfully weaves text, Rabbinic midrash, contemporary scholarship, and imagination to compose a story that breathes life into previously flat characters. This is one person's idea of what might have happened. I do not believe that it is meant to "tell it like it was." Rather, Ms. Kohn provides us with one more way to understand our family's story.

I do understand, however, my Grandmother's reluctance to stories that mess with our heroes. This Miryam (Kohn's spelling) is unlike Debbie Friedman's Miriam who dances so triumphantly and joyfully, with timbrel in hand. This Miryam reflects the bitterness of her name and is quite deserving of tzora'at as punishment for her deep-seeded resentment and jealousy. In this account, it is clear why Miryam alone receives God's judgement.

Throughout the reading, I was aware of a discomfort I had with the story. I just didn't like this Miryam. She certainly did not possess the qualities I had attributed to her. And in this book, she was not likeable.

Having left Genesis for this year, I know that each time I read Miryam's story throughout the remaining four books, my perception of her will be changed. Ultimately, I believe, for the better. I now can imagine a three-dimensional character that is more like me than I had ever envisioned. I can understand the pettiness and resentment and relate to it far more personally than to the whirling dervish I'd taken her to be.

WWGS? She's say that she didn't like the book.

As for me? The grain of sand causes discomfort for the oyster. In the end, that same irritant produces a pearl.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


So in the end, it wasn't even shilshul. The shilshul was rapidly replaced by violent and never-ending vomiting. Before you get too excited, dear readers, it was also accompanied by an explosive pressure throughout my face, puffiness, disorientation, and malaise.

Diagnosis: Severe dehydration brought on by a sinus infection.

Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently, the pressure in my ears were causing my ear drums to exert pressure on the Eustachian tubes -- the center of balance and gravity. This caused an initial sensation of nausea. And everything just unravelled from there.

Were it not for the kindness of a congregant, I would surely have ended up with an IV in my arm, pumping me full of fluids.

Instead, a strict course of Gatorade, water, and BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) and I am on the mend.

The antibiotics are doing wonders as well!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Shilshul by any other name...

I can't recall the precise origin of this word. I actually think that it might be Talmudic. I seem to remember something about an earthworm?? And maybe it originally meant "lower" before taking on its current definition of "Montezuma's Revenge?"

Whatever its etymology, it seems that PC's 10th wedding anniversary gift to me is shilshul!

Not an inspiring blog. But I think that it is interesting that different countries and cultures have such interesting terms to describe the excessive frequency and consistency of a BM, don't you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

To blossom like a palm & flourish like a cedar

It is no blessing to be brilliant. I can say this unequivocally because I am not so blessed.

I say it because I find that incredible intelligence can often inhibit one's ability to find great joy and substance in experiences or exchanges that those of average or slightly-above average intelligence appreciate.

Case in point:
A 19th century Chassidic text teaches that when a rabbi is teaching Torah (which we will understand to be any Jewish learning), the intention of the rabbi is to raise the student's awareness even at the expense of the rabbi's own growth. The understanding is that if the rabbi is focusing on his/her own growth, the student, who is at a lower level, will be left behind. The prooftext: "The tzaddik (understood here to mean not just righteous but enlightened as well) blossoms like a palm, and shall flourish like a cedar in Lebanon (Ps. 92:13)."

A palm tree is the shorter of the two trees, but unlike the cedar, it bears fruit. So we are taught that if we aim too high, we might grow intellectually but we will not bear fruit. We will not help our student grow. But, if we set aside our own learning, we will in fact merit both blessings; we will grow higher and higher and see Torah grow in our student.

The text continues to warn that although we must be cognizant of our student's limitations, we must not be brought down to his/her level. In other words, we must stand still, rising neither higher nor lower.

I am not brilliant. I know a little more than my students in a great deal of areas. A general practitioner rather than a specialist, if you will. For me, the interaction with my students is almost always elevating for them and for me.

This particular text also quotes one of my all-time favourite (and oft-quoted) Talmudic teachings: "I have learned much from my teachers, and even more from my colleagues, but from my students have I learned the most (B. Taanit 7a)." And for me, it is a very true statement. I highly value the incredible textual knowledge held by my teachers and so many of my colleagues. A lifetime of study will bring me to the outer edge of their erudition. That being said, the truest moments of insight for me come from my students as they make their ways through the varied paths of our Tradition.

I asked a classroom full of 40 people why they thought a blessing over the wine was said during a wedding ceremony. I was looking for someone to make the connection between kiddush and kiddushin. For someone to point out that we use the kiddush as a ritual to mark holy space or holy time. Instead, Plonit conjectured that wine was used to encourage fertility. She reasoned that just as wine comes from fruit so too do we hope that this union will bear fruit. Certainly not the answer for which I was looking. And not an explanation I had heard previously. A modern midrash! And even if it's way-off-base, it's a Jewish way of thinking. And who I am to discourage such thinking.

I don't think that all of my colleagues approach their teaching this way. They see it as drudgery. A chore. A lackluster part of their work. They would rather delve into the text with peers of equal knowledge and skill. And there is something to be said about furthering one's own pursuit of Torah.

But then again, it isn't enough to just flourish like that cedar. Without blossoming like the palm, we'd miss out on one of the greatest gifts of our calling -- bringing people and Torah into an intimate relationship.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Math has never been my strong suit. They tell me that 82.5% is more than 2/3. I always have to rely on "they" when it comes to anything numerical.

How do you know when a dream has come true? Can numbers actually tell the story?

At approximately 11:30am this morning, my home congregation named me Associate Rabbi-elect. If that was the entire story, dayeinu. If I had been elected by only a 2/3 majority and not 82.5% of the membership in attendance, dayeinu.

The metaphor must end here for the most essential part of the dream has come to fruition; the opportunity to have the congregation invite me to join my father in God's sacred work. Not only will I have honour of serving as the rabbi in the shul that helped me grow into the type of Jew and rabbi that I am today...but I will serve alongside their beloved rav. My rav. My father.

So you see...the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Are You Google-Worthy??

What a world. Just yesterday, my friend Carolyn mentioned the name of a well-known Jewish philosopher and then said, "he is definitely Google-worthy." And we believed that she had coined a new phrase. So this morning, I Googled the term "google-worthy" and learned that not only had a new term not been coined, but that exactly one year ago from tomorrow, Felice Cohen wrote a column about this very subject for the Jewish World Review.

I enjoyed the article but then I got to thinking (which is never a good thing!). Ms. Cohen writes:

"I Googled you," my Uncle Mark said to me. "There were lots of results. Then I Googled my brother and there were even more. Then I Googled myself and there were none." I looked up. "So you're not Google-worthy," I told him, "It doesn't matter." But for many people, it does.

The notion of being Google-worthy. Is this just some sick extention of junior high where some people are deemed worthy of attention and others are not?

Some might see it that way, but I just don't think so.

I Google everybody! From my Junior year prom date to the author of my latest literary discovery...and everyone in-between. I've even Googled myself just for fun. Thanks to Google, I've reconnected with old friends, discovered what long-forgotten classmates are doing with their lives, learned that PC was once quoted in Brand Week, and much, much more.

Google can, and should, be used as a search engine and nothing more. It should not act as a barometer of a person's worth. Nor is it any indication of one's MQ (mentchlikeit quotient).

But since we're on the subject -- who do you think is Google-worthy? The individual who was the subject of Carolyn's mention and got this entire conversation started was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel -- who is definitely Google-worthy by anyone's standards.

Join the conversation...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Definition of Irony

Through the baby monitor, I heard PC saying the following to Beernut:

"Beernut, how many times do I have to tell you the same thing before you start listening? Mommy and I are tired of saying the same things over and over again."

And then I saw that there was no toilet paper on the shelf in the bathroom.

Indeed, PC, Mommy is getting tired of saying the same things over and over again.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Sad news...

From the NY Times:

Hold the Mustard, Maybe Forever
The Second Avenue Deli has survived turbulence and tragedy in its 51 years. The decline of the Jewish enclave on the Lower East Side did not kill it. The broad-daylight murder of its beloved founder, Abe Lebewohl, in a robbery in 1996 shut it down but briefly. Dietary fashion campaigns against artery-clogging fare like brick-thick pastrami sandwiches and fat-saturated potato latkes seemed only to make the lines of defiant fans longer.

But the deli seems to have met its match in that implacable beast, the real estate market.

On Sunday, facing a $9,000 increase in his $24,000-a-month base rent, the deli's owner, Jack Lebewohl, Abe's brother, pulled down the grates on the glimmering restaurant at East 10th Street and Second Avenue. The closing was described as temporary, but Mr. Lebewohl said yesterday that the next time the place opens it might very well be to clear out.

The rent increase is actually built into the lease that Mr. Lebewohl negotiated with the previous owners 15 years ago. The new owners have volunteered to come down $3,000 in the new rent, but no further.

"If I don't get this resolved in x number of days," Mr. Lebewohl said, "I'll vacate." He declined to say what "x" equaled but implied that it was a one-digit number. "Less than weeks," he said.

And so the mourning has begun.

"It's almost like wiping out Carnegie Hall," said the comic Jackie Mason, whose $10,000 reward for the capture of Abe Lebewohl's killer remains unclaimed. "A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a Gentile."

To Joan Washington, a community activist who has been going to the deli since shortly after running away from home at age 15 in search of the radical life on the East Side, the deli was about a lot more than a sandwich.

"It's not just a pastrami palace," said Ms. Washington, who is now 58. "It's the history of Lower East Side Judaism."

For all its legendary status, the Second Avenue Kosher Delicatessen, as it is formally known, is an odd sort of New York institution: It was already an anachronism the day it opened in 1954. The Yiddish theaters - Second Avenue was once known as the Yiddish Broadway - were mostly dark, and Jews and their businesses were leaving the East Village.

But Abe Lebewohl, a concentration camp survivor who had come to the United States just a few years before, was determined to make a go of it, and he did, eventually expanding from 10 seats to 250. Along the way, he fed countless homeless or otherwise hungry people at no charge and built a Yiddish Walk of Fame in front of the restaurant.

Even as the restaurant steadily raised its prices - the mammoth Instant Heart Attack, a pile of meat sandwiched between potato pancakes, is listed on the menu at $19.95 - Jack Lebewohl kept the place full and kept up the restaurant's tradition of helping out the less fortunate. Last year, he hired a down-and-out former pornographer, Al Goldstein, as a greeter.

"I have not eaten so well since I lived with my mom," said Mr. Goldstein, who was fired after he was found sleeping in the restaurant's basement. Mr. Goldstein, a noted gourmand until a recent stomach-stapling operation, declared the deli's shuttering "almost as sad as the closing of Chock Full O' Nuts," though he added, "I never thought Jack's pastrami was as good as Katz's. It's kosher. It was bland."

Mr. Lebewohl pointed out that he was not the only restaurateur on Second Avenue to fall on hard times. Across the street was a recently shuttered French bistro. Next door to it, workers were pulling down the sign from a pizzeria that had been in business for all of several weeks. Down at the corner of East Ninth Street was a closed Japanese restaurant with a "Store for Rent" sign in the window.

Mr. Lebewohl said that he had already received several offers to relocate, including one of a larger space a few blocks away at half his current rent.

One of the deli building's new owners, Martin Newman of Jonis Realty, said yesterday that he had tried to accommodate Mr. Lebewohl, who was a real estate lawyer before he was a deli man.

"All we know is we bought a lease that has this rent provision in it," he said. "Listen, we didn't want to put him out of business. I thought we were pretty fair."

Mr. Newman said he did not know if Mr. Lebewohl would really be unable to manage the higher rent. "I only know when you go in there at noontime, it's crowded, and he's charging $17.50 for a tongue on rye," he said.

Across from the deli, the general manager of the Telephone Bar and Grill, Karyn Seltzer, bemoaned the deli's apparent demise.

"It would be a really sad statement to make that, basically, if you are not supported by a huge corporation, then you can't survive in New York," Ms. Seltzer said, ticking off the banks, the Dunkin' Donuts and the Starbucks that have sprouted on her stretch of the avenue. "That's certainly not what the East Village is about."

Yesterday, the stars in the sidewalk in front of the deli shone untarnished - Hymie Jacobson, Zvi Scooler, Max and Rose Bozyk, and the rest. But the restaurant, with its ancient-looking white-tile floor, was dark, and the silver tables were bereft of their heaping bowls of mustard and free pickles.

Mr. Lebewohl said that if he had to close the deli for good, so be it.

"This is life," he said. "Life goes on."

Jackie Mason, however, questioned whether it would be worth living.

"If the pastrami sandwich goes down the drain," he said, "there's no hope for this country at all."

As They Say In Chicago...

vote early and vote often!!

The first round of voting for the JIB awards has now commenced and you really should do as they say in Chicago.

Really...you can vote every three days between now and 19 January 5766 for your favourite Jewish and Israeli Blog. Click here for a complete set of rules.

If you like what you read here in Frume Sarah's World, vote for me! If not, vote for someone whose words inspire or delight you.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Happy 10th!!

Is it possible that it has been 10 years since PC and I met under the chuppah?? This past Shabbos marked our 10th wedding anniversary. It was observed in our typical fashion -- extremely understated!!

In all fairness, my dear husband has been fighting a stomach thing the past several days and spent the majority of dinner in the lav. Our very kind waiter brought a class of bitters and then one of ginger ale. To no avail. Dinner was rather wasted on the dear man.

Plans for a movie were thwarted when it became obvious that any event not within a 5 yard radius of a commode would be a foolish endeavour. And so we returned to our humble abode, only to find our two darling children still awake. Beernut took just a few minutes to quiet down while his adorable sister was geared up for some serious romping around the house. PC fell asleep, leaving me to entertain our little sprite for the next hour or so.

That's OK, I reasoned. We still have tomorrow morning...

With Beernut was off to Religious School and Poppyseed happily esconced at Bubbe's house, PC and I made our way to our favourite breakfast spot. It became perfectly clear, however, that my foul mood earlier in the morning was really a precursor to the HUGE migraine that was about to entrench my entire cerebral cavity. Oy...where is my Imitrex???

Needless to say, I barely made it in the door before losing the anniversary breakfast. Took the Imitrex and retreated beneath the covers.

The upshot --

We don't need an extravagant way of marking what has been a wonderful 10 years. PC and I talked at dinner about what the past 10 years had been like for each of us...whether we'd done what we'd hoped...and things we'd like for the upcoming 10. We do hope to take a trip this year in order to celebrate the first 10 years and to relax and unwind before embarking on the next 10. The fact that it didn't happen on the exact date is just fine with us.