Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Over 200 new Anglo-Israeli future bloggers!

Welcome home to the more than 200 people, including (yay!) over 70 singles, who made aliyah today on a specially chartered Nefesh B'Nefesh/ Jewish Agency flight. May your absorptions into Israeli society be swift, painless, and complete.

This flight brings the number of American and Canadian olim to almost 3,000 for the year 2004. This is the highest number since 1983, folks! Of course, given that America alone has more than 5.5 million Jews, it's still pretty sad. But the good news is that of those who have made aliyah from North America in the last three years, almost all are still living here (yes, there are records for this). In fact, of the olim who came with Nefesh B'Nefesh just in 2002, almost two-thirds have already bought homes, and almost all are employed.

So if you are thinking about joining the club, now's the time to open that aliyah file and start making plans! We'll keep a spot warm for you!

Pictures from the airport here.

Arutz Sheva coverage of the flight here (includes radio coverage; links are after the article).

Articles about North American aliyah in general here.

Only Simchas page which should announce today's flight here.

Brand New Michlalah Baby!

Mazal tov to Rena (nee Maslansky) and David Lewis on the birth of a baby girl, their first child, this very morning!

(kiddush, kiddush!)
"To forget all the tormented present"

Last night I was talking with a friend - who will remain anonymous at least for now, since I didn't ask for her permission to mention this conversation- about our mutual depression over death and mortality. I don't want to write about this at length because she'd do a better job than I would. But I'll summarize, because I've been thinking about it a lot and because it leads me to a link I want to share. For both of us it isn't just about the tsunami victims, it's about the incredibly high number of people our own age, our own friends, acquaintances, peers, who have died over the last few years. I wondered: is it a natural phenomenon that as we age, of course more of those in our circles will get diseases and die? Is it because we know a lot of people, and so we're statistically more likely to know those who suffer at tragically early ages?

And I answered myself: It's all one piece with the tsunami and the intifada and 9/11. It's even one piece with the singles crisis. I suspect now that God is turning His face from us, that there is no such thing anymore as "bashert," that we are on our own. There is something wrong with the world. It's as if . . . .

She: . . . something is broken.

Yes, that is the word I was looking for. The world is broken. And we are helpless to do anything about it other than our best to rebuild, to fix.

Tikkun Olam.

Today I checked the blog of my friend Sara, who reflects on the death of her daughter Timmi "Five Years Later," and she has posted about Timmi's yahrzeit and about her poems, the writings that have been lost and those that have been set to song. And Timmi's song expresses exactly what I'm feeling.

To live this moment
To breathe this time
Not to think what the future will bring, if anything
Not to remember what hurt, what was missed, what was lost
To enjoy the here and now.


To move away from what is
To glide out of time
Toward a dream that was, that will be, that can be
And to forget all the tormented present
Because the truth is unthinkable.

Allison, of An Unsealed Room, vouches for my “maternal talents.”

Yes, I had the privilege of visiting with her for a little bit. Allison is a very intelligent and classy lady and it was nice to get to know her better in person. Amazing, the variety of people who have come into my life through this blogging adventure.

Potential suitors, take note: Allison’s baby was crying until I picked her up, at which point she relaxed immediately and smiled contentedly while I kissed her and blew gently into her adorable little face. Tamar is so cute!

Allison’s older children are cute too, despite what she wrote in her post. Of course, they are normal children, and they had cabin fever – so I don’t think I saw them at their best. But Allison’s post reminds me of a phenomenon I’ve been experiencing lately in my life. A nice Michlalah girl like me is not supposed to say this out loud, but here goes:

It used to be that when I visited my friends for Shabbat, I’d come home feeling sad and envious. I’d think “Sigh. She’s so lucky. Her husband is so good to her. She has people in her house to love. And the baby is so precious. When will I have a life like that?”

But now, many of my friends have multiple children. The kids are often too young to take care of themselves, but old enough to whine, manipulate, and bicker. My girlfriends cannot have an adult conversation without a toddler attempting to put his hand down her chest or pull off her hat, or two older kids interrupting with “Tell her to stop touching me!” My close friends, God bless them, say things like “Stop that right now” and “Get out of there this instant” or “if you don’t quit it by the time I count to three you’ll have a time-out.” They are constantly surrounded by noise. Their floors are sticky, their furniture is full of crumbling cheerios and molding raisins, and their clothes all have spit-up on them.

So now I come from those weekends to my clean, blissfully quiet home and think “Thank God.”

No, a nice frum girl is not supposed to think this way. And so I say: let he who enjoys screeching and whining cast the first stone.

Sarah Smile tells me that “it’s different when it’s your own kids.” Most of me hopes that I’ll have a chance to confirm that myself someday. Most of the time I would rather be a tugged-at Eema than noise-free and child-free. But a lot of me is grateful that I can, for example, blog away whenever I want, without another person whining or crying or pulling at me. No one is going to wake me up at 6 am. Or 3 am. I can hear myself think. I can go out whenever I want, wherever I want. I’m living the life that many of my married-with-children friends have confided that they often wish they could have, and that they sometimes regret giving up.

Note to God: I appreciate everything you have given me, and I appreciate what you have not given me. And whenever you choose to give me more people to love who happen to live in my house and perhaps even share my genes, I’ll welcome and appreciate that, too. But don’t think I won’t remember this post when they spit up on my Shabbos clothes.

Note to potential suitors: What, would you rather have a woman who knows how noisy and messy kids can be and is willing to have them and raise them anyhow, or a naive Pollyanna who says "oooo, I want to be just like my Rebbetzin and have eight of them!" and then turns out to not be able to handle it and is a shrew with your progeny? You decide.

***UPDATE 2***
Guess I'm still not in the best of spirits right now. :-(
Bah, humbug.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Monday, December 27, 2004

From the Things My Shaliach Never Told Me file

As many of you know, many Israeli cities and towns have a cat-control problem. Jerusalem, for example, often feels overrun by streetcats. They live in dumpsters, duck under cars in the dead of night, scaring the bejeezus out of you, and have a particular penchant for mating just underneath my window while I'm trying to sleep.

I personally have a non-intervention policy regarding the cats, at least those in my neighborhood. I'm told that they eat the scorpions and whatever mice or rats would otherwise be sharing living quarters with us, and I'd rather have a cat-control problem than a rat-control problem. I also happen to think the ones who live in front of my building are cute, and have mentally named my favorite one Mikki. On the other hand, it bothers me when people leave food out for them. The food gets messy and just adds to the number of cats making noise under my window.

Sometimes Mikki and the others get bold, and I'll come home to discover one of them sitting directly in front of the building entrance, as if he's waiting. When I approach, he'll meow, and suddenly another cat will come leaping down from the second floor. They actually know to place a lookout! Unbelievable!

Anyhow, most streetcats around here not afraid of humans, but rather range from a "stay out of my way, and I'll stay out of yours" attitude to outright mean, nasty, hissing catness.

But every once in a while, there is some mutant kitty who is born with a love-the-humans gene. At my ulpan in Baka, one of the kittens- a completely gray little guy with one white paw- would stand in front of the gate every morning, like a sentry, so that no student could enter campus without passing him. During recess he'd walk among the students, meowing. Eventually someone started bringing him tuna fish, and by the end of the term one of the students had adopted him. He's probably living in Tel Aviv right now, snacking on kippers every day and thinking smugly about the home-boys he left behind in the Ulpan Etzion parking lot.

Anyhow, a few days ago I was heading toward the Bank Leumi on Chananya Street, just off of Emek Refaim, and this young black-and-white kitty leaps from behind a dumpster and starts following me and trying to paw at me. From my position at the bank's ATM, I could see her (him? I didn't check) doing the same to a group of soldiers, who stopped to stare at this over-friendly streetcat. She nuzzled her head against their shins and even tried to crawl up one of their legs. Later, she did the same to the guard in front of the Ne'eman Bakery, who said aloud "this cat is begging to be taken to a nice home."

When I left the bank, the cat was sitting on a low wall in front of the bakery, purring, while an older man was carefully patting and stroking her head. The man was disheveled; in New York I would have assumed that he's homeless. Perhaps he wasn't "all there," or perhaps he was very poor; in any case he clearly is living on the fringes of society. But he picked up this kitty and rocked her and talked to her, and the cat rolled around in his arms, loving the attention. Two lone souls in Jerusalem who just needed a little TLC, and got it from each other.

So, one might ask: How can Chayyei Sarah be blogging about her much-anticipated financial windfall on a day that over 20 thousand people have died in a horrible natural disaster?

We are whistling in the dark, dear friends. Just whistling in the dark.

A young married woman I know here invited me to attend a concert with her last night. Yesterday morning she called; someone in her family with whom she'd been very close had died, a woman in her 40's with several small and teenage children. But she still wanted to go to the concert, to take her mind off it. So we went, but not before having an emotional conversation in which she told me all about this wonderful woman who had died. She was crying a little and I didn't really have much to do but listen, you know? I mean, I'm happy to do that, but it's not easy.

Then, we went to the concert, where her husband met up with us, but the concert wasn't really "happening," and we were hungry, so we went to get something to eat. The three of us are in the restaurant, and the husband, who, it turns out, is clinically depressed but won't admit it, starts telling me all about his issues. His wife is sitting there as if it's perfectly normal for her husband to be unloading his emotional concerns on a woman he hardly knows. I had this deep feeling once again of having gone down a rabbit hole. And once again, there was nothing I could do but listen, particularly since the husband admitted, when I questioned him, that he doesn't really want to feel better and doesn't really want any help. So, I just listened. Again, I'm happy to do it -- that's what friends are for-- but it's hard.

Meanwhile, I found out that an old NCSY friend of mine, who has breast cancer, is having a mastectomy today. As I right this, actually. She's just 32 years old. ::sigh:: She has to survive the cancer, she just has to, because I'm tired of my friends dying on me.

Not to mention that Saturday was the second anniversary of the death of my friend Jenny. Who, yes, was a Truly Popular Girl.

Oh, and I'm worried about Getupgrrl's twins. Amazing how invested one can become in the story of a woman one has never met.

And then I check JewishWhistleBlower (whose site I check occasionally but never believe unless he's got a reliable source listed to back up his claim), and we find out that Adam Wexler, the bassist for one of my favorite musical groups, Reva L'Sheva, has been indicted for sexually abusing a little girl in his community - and apparently has confessed to at least some of the charges. (Translation of the article in the comments here.) Time to throw away 2 of my favorite CDs, which I'd never be able to enjoy the same way again.


The only thing that cheers me up is Telma's white chocolate "Click" bar with chocolate nougat, which I would be nibbling at morosely if I had one right now (so it's a good thing I don't), and Manolo's Shoe Blog, where I can gaze enviously at these and these.

Whistling in the dark . . .
Good Windfall Tidings

Mazal tov to Noa for finally getting her wages from August-October 2003. Noa had been working for a company that went bust and had lots of, shall we say, unpleasant issues with the owners, and so the employees had to go through a lengthy process for receiving their back pay. Noa now is seeking advice from readers about what to do with the money. :-)

Which brings me to an update about my own potential windfall. As you may recall, the INCOME TAX OFFICE told me in September that "we certainly owe you money," and to come back with more paperwork. A few weeks ago I did go back. Again, I spoke in Hebrew. Again, the clerk - a different one this time- looked at my file and said "You were so overtaxed! We certainly owe you money!" Unfortunately, once again I will have to wait for more paperwork. Since I no longer work for the newspaper that took out too much tax money, I have to wait until 2005, when I'll get the Israeli version of the W-2 forms, and take those in for a formal "din v'cheshbon" ("calculation and judgement") by the INCOME TAX OFFICE.

I hope that Noa's happy windfall karma will come my way!

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Last post in the Coolness series

What I learned from my Heather exercise:

1. At the age of ten, I’d given away, to Heather, the power to decide whether I’m cool or not.

In some alternate universe, Heather reacted by saying “wow, stickers! Great!” So does that mean that over there stickers are cool, and in our universe they are not? No, of course not. It just means that I still loved stickers, and Heather didn’t. To me, they were still cool. And even if all the other girls in the class didn’t feel the same way, they were still cool, to me, because I thought so. The coolness of stickers waxes and wanes when I decide it does, not when Heather decides it does.

Same thing with my Return of the Jedi cards.

And my bunny slippers.

And same thing with me, if a guy decides I’m not his type. I’m still my type. I have the power to determine my own value. And I’m going to (try to) stop giving that power away!

(Go, Different People!)

2. There are two kinds of popular girls.

Heather was a Mean Girl. She drew her power from making other people feel small, and dividing the class into “cool” people (who did things she liked) and “not cool people” (who did things like trade stickers). I’m sure she did not do this consciously, but that is the effect that she had.

Then there is the Truly Popular Girl, who draws her power from acknowledging the good of others. The TPG is the poised, confident girl who everyone thinks is their best friend, the one who is liked by the cool kids, the dweebs, the jocks, the artists, everyone, because she genuinely likes them. Instead of rolling her eyes, she’d say “hey, you guys have a great time trading stickers! Rock on! Do your thing! And when you’re done, come to my place to watch a movie, okay?” She’s the real-life feminine version of Ferris Bueller.

As Shimmy says: “No one remembers what you say to them. But they’ll always remember how you made them feel.” A Mean Girl makes people feel afraid and sad. After graduation, everyone hopes they never see her again. A Truly Popular Girl makes people feel valued for who they are. Not because she’s fawning and needy, but because she really does think they are valuable. And that is why she’s Truly Popular.

If you had a TPG or TPB in your school, please post about it. These folk should be celebrated.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Hebrew epiphanies

Sorry I haven't written any "proper" blog entries (if there is such a thing) lately. I promise, I've got my what-I-learned from Heather thing swirling in my head, and a few thoughts about "big, important, political" issues that maybe I'll write about later.

But for now, in the 1/2 hour before Shabbat, I just want to share with you the following epiphanies I've had:

1- The Hebrew word for "Christians"- notzrim - comes from Natzeret- "Nazareth."

Whoa! Deep!

And, moving on,

2- the word magen (shield), as in "magen David" comes from the same root as hagana (defense).

Oh, also, I've been enjoying all the "we can't help but notice that it's Christmas" posts on J-blogs in America. Guess what tomorrow is in my corner of Jerusalem? A very special day! It's . . . Shabbat! Yeah, just Shabbat!

I actually saw a house yesterday in the German Colony, where there is a small and not-very-visible Christian community among all the Modern Orthodox Jews, and it had twinkling Christmas lights (thankfully, just white ones, not the horribly tacky twinkling colored ones). But the lights weren't so visible from the street because there are tall bushes blocking the view. So it was, like, a surreptitious nod to Christmas. I feel a little sorry for those people. Their big day will come and go, and no one around them cares.

But, I'm not thinking so much about that. What I'm mostly thinking is "na na na na na na, I live in Israel!" :-P

As RenReb would say: Ahem.

So, happy not-our-holiday-season to all my American J-friends, and merry Christmas to my Christian readers, and Shabbat shalom to one and all!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Wazzup with the Haloscan comments?

Can anyone please explain why, for many posts on my blog, the number of comments reported under the post does not match the number of actual comments? For example, it might say there are zero comments, or only one comment, but when you click on the number there are actually 5 or 6 or 10 comments! Wazzup with that?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Pre-order Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Here or here.

Anyone flying to Israel shortly after July 16 who could bring me my copy?

My bunny slippers. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Linky Love

OK, so I was totally gonna post about it this morning and be the first one, but I had to be all responsible and go meet my new accountant and then go to my Hebrew class, so Allison and Renegade Rebbetzin beat me to it. But the point is, that Getupgrrl's twin babies are doing OK! Thank God! All that bleeding was not a miscarriage, it was a subchorionic hematoma (no, I didn't know what that was before Googling it, either). The babies are definitely alive and their hearts are beating and this is so great! But as RenReb says, don't think for a second that you're allowed to stop praying for these people!

On a side note, I was really excited when Getupgrrl chose "Sarah" as the pseudonym for her gestational surrogate. However, now it is starting to be a little creepy, seeing statements, right on my screen, like "Sarah's beta doubled nicely this morning" and "Hoping now that Sarah stops bleeding soon so she can save her strength for the babies." It's a little weird. But hey, if Getupgrrl wants to use my name, it's the least I can do for her!

Onward. Odd Todd has posted this year's holiday cartoon. And there is a new episode (#14) of Making Fiends.

And from the "better late than never" file, Lisa ("On the Face") wrote a wonderful post about shopping at Tel Aviv's Carmel Market. So vivid, I feel like I'm there! Plus, she also beat me to the punch by posting about this Bark Mitzvah article from the New York Times. (Really, I really was going to post it when the article first appeared! I promise! I had other things to do!)

Gilly tells us that the Israeli Army is discontinuing its custom of serving "Loof" to the soldiers, a fact which may disappoint David (Treppenwitz), who, unlike Gilly, likes the stuff. But, hey, David can now go and buy the 66 tons of surplus Loof which the army is trying to offload for just 3-5 shekels a can! Guess what I'm eating when I go there for Shabbos?

Thanks to the creaters of JRants for making it easy to see when Jewish blogs are updated. JRants sent me a lot of traffic during the Shabbaton Chronicles period, and I appreciate it. I'll be adding them to my blogroll soon.

If you really want to be made to appreciate life and all you have, stop by sometimes at Seraphic Secret and Five Years Later- both writers have been producing consistently beautiful and heartbreaking posts about the grieving process after the deaths of their respective children.

On a lighter note, Noa loses her Star Wars virginity. Yes, it's true, at her party a couple weeks ago I creamed the big strong men who dared to think they could triumph over me in Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. It occured to me while I was wiping the floor with them that it's a good thing all my competitors were "taken," because otherwise I might have had to choose between fighting the good fight or feigning Star Wars stupidity in order to spare the ego of some cute guy. Of course, there's no question what my priority would have been . . . I feign Star Wars ignorance for no one.

A Hint.

Washington Times



(wink, wink)

Monday, December 20, 2004

You Can't Get a Man With a Blog

To the Tune of "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun"

(with apologies to Irving Berlin)

Oh, my mother can't turn on a computer, they say
That's why I thought I'd give blogging a shot.
I'd be out in cafes just a writin' away
And now tell me what have I got?

My popularity's clear, see the sitemeter here,
Among linkers, I'm the head hog.
But my rank with the fellers
Is lower than a cellar
Oh, you can't get a man with a blog.

My grammar's in gear, the emotions sincere
Yes, I shine like a ray through the fog.
But my syntax don't rate, when I'm out on a date
Oh, you can't get a man with a blog.

With a blo-og! With a blo-og! No, you can't get a man with a blog.
I don't live in a hovel. I can edit your novel.
You'd have a bestseller when the job was done.
But when I go for the hottie, he always gets snottie.
And you can't attract men with a keyboard or pen.
No you can't get a man with a blog.

I'm cool, brave, and daring with political airing-
My opinions lift us out of the bog.
But a look from a mister will raise a fever blister
Oh, you can't get a man with a blog.

Gals whose thoughts aren't gellin' are out kiss-and-tellin'
With the gentlemen and with the dogs.
But a man never humors a girl who might post rumors
Oh, you can't get a man with a blog.

With a blo-og! With a blo-og! No, you can't get a man with a blog.
When it comes to the letters, there ain't no one better.
My readers are often agog.
But a man won't propose on the merits of your prose
And you won't get a spouse or a house with your mouse.
Oh, you can't get a man with a blog.

(copyright 2004 by Chayyei Sarah)

Sunday, December 19, 2004

There's something in the air.
Heather Revisited

(continued from last post)

Note: The Global Relationship Center of Connecticut will be hosting another Understanding Yourself and Others class in January. Obviously I highly recommend it. You can contact Bruce Price, the owner of the Connecticut Center, here. Tell him Sarah from Israel sent you. To find other Centers around the USA, click here.)

All the women in the course – the female students and course assistants – arranged the chairs into rows, just as if they were sitting in a 5th grade classroom. I was instructed to choose the woman who, to me, could stand in for Heather. I chose a woman in her early twenties who is blond and pretty and seems sure of herself – just like Heather did. (This woman, by the way, chuckled and said “if you only knew how uncool I was in school . . . . “)

I grabbed a notebook to stand in for my sticker collection, and class began. “Heather” came in and introduced herself as the new girl, oozing with self-confidence, and the other women started saying “Heather, come sit with me!” and “Heather, let’s play during recess!” and “Heather, do you want to come to my house after school?”

Feeling almost as shy as I did in fifth grade, I approached the gaggle of women-girls, with Heather now in the middle of it, and quietly said “Heather, do you want to trade stickers during recess?”

“Heather” rolled her eyes and said “Oh, come on, that’s for babies. I haven’t traded stickers since third grade. Really!” and turned away to the other women, who continued chatting and fawning over her.

The female instructor, Eve, asked “Is that how it happened?”

Feeling absolutely miserable – just like I did when I was ten-- I said “pretty much, yeah.”

Then, from behind me, the male instructor, Bruce, said “Sarah, look at this dry-erase board. I’ve got some sentences here for you to finish, based on how you are feeling right now.”

Bruce: Life is . . .
Sarah: Sucky.
Bruce: Women are . . .
Sarah: Mean.
Bruce: Men are . . .
Sarah: Incomprehensible
Bruce: I am . . .
Sarah: Small.
Bruce: Therefore I must . . .
Sarah: Retreat.

Believe it or not, that’s how a lot of my life has been. Oh, not all of it, of course, or I never would have had the chutzpah to, say, start a blog. In particular things got a lot better when Heather left after 8th grade, and I joined NCSY where my presence and leadership skills were appreciated. I got onto Regional Board and edited the school yearbook, and in college I led clubs and did OK, popularity-wise. And I certainly have lots of girlfriends, and don’t always think men are incomprehensible. What else would women talk about if we didn’t think men were absolutely predictable? (Just kidding. Mostly). But . . . . well . . . Heather taught me well, and in some part of my mind I’ve been carrying around this idea that everyone else has a secret that I don’t know . . . . And if the comments to the last post are an indication, I’m not alone in this . . .

Eve had the other women do the scene a second time. Again, the other “girls” sat at their “desks.” Again, “Heather” entered and introduced herself, to cheers of “sit with me!” and “come to my house!” Again, I slowly approached Heather and invited her to trade stickers.

But this time, the other “girls” surprised me. One of them said “Oh my God! Sarah has the best sticker collection of anyone in the class!” [And it’s true, I really did, actually.]

“Yeah,” said another woman, “Trading stickers with her is so much fun!”

“Sarah’s so cool!” “And, she’s really smart!” “Can I see your stickers now?” “Here, come sit with me, Sarah!”

“Hey, Sarah, um, can I trade stickers with you too?”

By that last, I was beaming. I could hardly believe it. And I said “Sure! How about we ALL bring our sticker collections tomorrow and we’ll ALL trade TOGETHER?”

“Wow! That’s a great idea!” “That sounds so fun!” “Hey! Let’s have a sticker party!”

And I was just about to say “A party? How about a slumber party? At my house! I’ll ask my mom!” when Bruce said . . .

Bruce: Sarah, again. Life is . . .
Sarah: Fun!
Bruce: Women are . . .
Sarah: Fun!
Bruce: Men are . . .
Sarah (looking around at everyone in the room): Irrelevant!
Bruce: I am . . .
Sarah: Fun!
Bruce: Therefore I must . . .
Sarah: Throw a slumber party!!!! Woohoo!!!!

And, lest you think that the “UYO Glow” goes away completely, I still have that “Let’s have a sticker party!” feeling (of course, this wasn’t the only exercise they did with me – I was up there for a few hours). Not every second of every day, but a lot of the time. I still feel more like I’m fun, that whatever secrets there might be, I know just as much as anyone else.

Before I post what I learned from this little experiential lesson, I’d like to know what you think about it. Imagine yourself in that moment when you first thought you weren’t cool. Put yourself back in the moment. And imagine how your life would have been different if the other kids had reacted differently, if they had reacted with warm enthusiasm to your hobbies, your clothes, everything about you.

What does that tell you? (I’ll let you know what it tells me in the next post)

By the way, after this program I went back to Manhattan. Before the weekend, I’d been petrified of bumping into He Who Must Not Be Named. But after this, you know what? I realized, if I bump into him, I’ll be cool. It won’t matter. I’ll just smile and say hi and ask how he’s doing, and probably be more poised than he is, because he doesn’t have any secrets about being cool that I don’t know. And if I don’t bump into him, that’s OK too. Our meeting or not meeting has no power over me anymore. You know why? Because it’s irrelevant.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Do you remember the moment you started to feel uncool?

I do. I was in fifth grade at a Jewish day school, and a new girl joined our class – I’ll call her Heather, after that movie, because that’s what she was like. We were all really excited that a new girl was coming, because the school was small, so anyone new was like a breath of fresh air. Anyway, Heather shows up, and she’s 10 going on 17. Not for one second was she shy, like new kids often are. Oh, no, she took the class by storm. Today they would call her a “Queen Bee” or an “Alpha Girl,” but back then those words didn’t exist, and anyhow it wouldn’t have occured to me back then that anyone my age could be a “Mean Girl.” All I knew is that she was new, and seemed fun, and I wanted to make her feel welcome and be her friend.

Some time during Heather’s first day in my school, I heard her tell one of the other girls that she had a sticker collection. I was so happy! I collected stickers! In fact, I was very “into” my sticker collection – at that point I had at least one whole album full of them, neatly divided into “puffies,” “smellies,” “holograms,” “Hello Kitty,” “My Melody,” etc.

So, on Heather’s second day, I brought my collection to school to show Heather and invite her to trade. Trading stickers was a fun “girl” activity – anyone who grew up in the 80’s would remember that. I shyly approached her before recess and said “Heather, I have a sticker collection too! Tomorrow do you want to bring yours, so we can trade?”

Heather looked at me, and looked at my sticker collection, and then she rolled her eyes, snorted, and said "Oh, come on, I don’t trade stickers anymore.” Then she walked away and joined some other girls to laugh about something.

Today I’d have a few choice words for her, but I was only ten. I just stood there in shock, feeling very small.

That was the exact moment that I learned that there is something called “cool” and I wasn’t it. I realized that, it was true, very few of us still traded stickers . . . I’d started in second grade and still traded with my sister and a few friends . . . when had everyone else given it up and I hadn’t noticed?

A few weeks later, all the girls in my class showed up to school one day wearing mini-skirts, except for me and one other girl. Wearing mini-skirts was against school rules. I do not remember whether I knew that Heather had been cooking up this scheme that all the girls would break the rule on the same day. Maybe I’d heard but ignored the plan, or maybe I was so out of the loop that I hadn’t even heard about it. What I do remember is the principal calling all the fifth grade girls out of class, and all of us standing in a circle, getting a "mussar shmooze" about modesty and school rules.

You’d think that I would have been happy that I was not in trouble, because I was wearing a long skirt. But what I actually was thinking, looking around that circle, was: I don’t even own a mini-skirt. You mean all these girls- every single other girl but one- own them? Why? Where do they wear them to? What was I doing while everyone else was buying mini-skirts?

That settled it. There was something going on with these girls that I totally did not understand. My fate was sealed. Never would I ever feel that I understood other girls, as a social group. I never “got” the latest styles or how to wear my hair or put together a trendy outfit. Even now, I think one of the reasons my tastes run to the “simple and classy” is that there isn’t any guesswork about what looks good together or whether an outfit is cutting edge. I’d read Seventeen and think “I don’t understand why people wear this.” And every August I’d go clothes shopping and feel pressure to buy stylish things, but I always knew that whatever I did, my peers would be one step ahead. I bought those stupid neon socks and goomy bracelets, hoping it would make me “in,” but I always knew there was something more to being cool than just the socks, and I couldn’t figure it out. Heather had taught me well.

And it wasn’t just clothes. In seventh grade I found out that I was the only one in my class who still subscribed to Olameinu, the kids’ Torah magazine that was distributed in schools. Again, it hadn’t occured to me to stop reading it. I liked it. I liked reading the letters from girls in Brooklyn named Rivki and Chaya Rina, and the Mendel the Mouse feature. When did everyone else outgrow it? Why hadn’t I noticed?

No, I was definitely missing something. Or so I thought.

At UYO two months ago, we re-enacted the Heather story.

Stay tuned for Heather Revisited.

Meanwhile, please share in the comments: When did YOU start to feel uncool?

Read 'em in order

Thanks so much to everyone who linked to my Shabbaton Chronicles. I appreciate the "linky love." Starting to feel warm and fuzzy again . . . . Maybe I'll actually leave my house this Shabbat . . . .

Special thanks to Esther Kustanowitz, who posted a chronological list of links on her Jdater's site for the Shabbaton story. Go over there, and you'll be able to link to each part one by one in order, rather than having to scroll upward. Thanks, Esther, for going to all that effort.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

You lika the story?

Come back tomorrow, and I'll tell you another one. (Not a dating story, but it's a good story).

Love to you all.

Shabbaton Chronicles: There and Back Again (Epilogue)

I’m still trying to emotionally process the Shabbaton experience. Writing about it, and getting all the comments and emails from my readers, has helped more than you’ll ever know.

I’ve been to other singles Shabbatons in the past, both in the US and Israel. Some are better than others; the one I attended a few months ago in Karnei Shomron was actually pretty good, as far as these things go. The people there were socially competent, and nice, and close to my age. Sometimes the risk of going pays off.

But I think, after this, that I’m done with Shabbatons, though I would love to go back to Tiberias for a vacation. I have not given up (yet) on internet dating, and I’ll still get out into the world and try to meet people through friends, at parties, in shule, etc. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even try a shadchan.

But, bli neder, I’ll never attend another singles shabbaton as long as I live. The Veela, The Wallpaper, and the Winner’s Circle girls will have to march on without me.

Thus ends the Shabbaton Chronicles.

Chazak chazak v’nitchazek . . . .

Shabbaton Chronicles Part 22

Don’t look at the container . . . .

Saturday night, 10:30 pm

I know a lot of people, and I like to hang out with those who, as one friend put it, are “not white rice.” I gravitate toward people who think creatively, are intellectually honest, are unusual in some way, and who push envelopes while still being grounded in healthy values and preferably some sort of religion.

One thing I’ve learned from my friends is that it is useless to make stereotypes about Orthodox Jews. It’s so easy, especially for Jews of the non-Orthodox stripe, to say “oh, look at her. Hair covered, elbows and knees covered . . . poor oppressed woman who doesn’t know the fun she’s missing.” Or “Ick. A guy in a black hat. Close-minded religious snob. I hate those people. They are all alike.” Or “Great, another right-wing settler. She probably wishes all the Palestinians were dead. I have nothing to talk about with her.” Or “Yep. A cutesy little JAP from Flatbush. What does she know about the world?”

But underneath those modest clothes and black hats, you never know what a person’s story is. Especially in this day of baalei teshuva (formerly non-observant Jews who become Orthodox as adults), mass media, and Jews moving from one community to another, you never know about people.

There’s the guy I dated – black velvet kippah, glasses, sweater vest – who used to be in a motorcycle gang.

The hat-wearing Orthodox Brandeis alumna who used to be an anti-Semitic evangelical Christian.

The soft-spoken midwife with several children who lives in a right-wing Orthodox community . . . whose immediate and extended family is comprised of a tangled web of Jews, gentiles, and baalei teshuva. And they all get along.

The intelligent, friendly, but otherwise unremarkable Modern Orthodox woman who is a rape victim and came out stronger.

You just never know.

On the way home from Azzam Azzam’s house, the conversation turned to the story of how Moshe and Chani met and how their relationship developed.

It turns out that the story of how they both came to be Orthodox Jews, and married to each other – a story of profound courage and faith and love-- is so amazing, so dramatic, so surreal, so impossible, so mind-staggeringly not what you would expect, that the visit to Azzam Azzam is nothing compared to this couple’s history.

For security reasons, I cannot go into details. I mean that literally. I’m really sorry, but they told us the story on the condition that it never make it into the media, though I have permission to tell my friends one-on-one. They don’t want TV cameras in their house. For me, as a journalist, not to be able to pass this story along is incredibly frustrating, let me tell you.

Suffice to say that when I told Yael and Chava about it, even after they oohed and aahed over the visit to Azzam Azzam, both of them were rendered speechless. “No way. No way.” That’s all anyone can say. As Chava remarked, “Sarah, I know you are not making this up, because no one is that creative. But in the morning I will probably wonder whether this conversation is just a dream. No, I won’t. Even in my dreams I’m not that creative.”

So what we’re saying is that on Friday I checked into Hotel California, and ended up on a Saturday night car ride through the Twilight Zone. It was that bizarre.

“Hashem has his reasons.”

“You never know who you’ll meet.”

“Don’t look at the container, rather at what’s inside it.”

I think . . . . I need a drink.

Part 22 1/2

Azzam Azzam: The Good News and the Bad News

The Good News: I called Big Impressive American Newspaper X and offered them a story about my visit to Azzam Azzam, and they actually said "yes," which just goes to show that the difference between freelancers who have work and freelancers who don't have work is that the former know how to dial the phone.

The Bad News: They want exclusive print and internet rights, which means that until the story is published by them, I cannot put it anywhere on the internet. Which means that our Shabbaton Chronicles will have a hole, right here, where the Azzam Azzam story is supposed to go, until further notice. Sorry.

The other bad news is that they are offering me only $100 for it, a price so low, especially considering how Big and Impressive they are, that even the editor said "if you want to call other Big Impressive Papers and sell it higher, I wouldn't blame you. But we don't pay anyone more than that for an Op-Ed story, not even prime ministers. Sorry."

So I'm going to call Big Impressive Newspaper Y and Big Impressive Political Magazines A and B and see who might offer me the most money for my little vignette (here I go, the Word Whore.) But meanwhile, I can't jeopardize my chance to publish the story for pay, and in a Big Impressive Paper. So, you're all gonna have to wait . . . I'm sure you understand . . .

What I can say here is that visiting Azzam Azzam together with three West Bank residents, all of us dressed up very Orthodox-y, in an Arab-Israeli village in the Galilee was an eye-opening and wonderful, if quite surreal, experience. It was definitely a kiddush Hashem, and made me feel very proud of, and hopeful for, Israel.

OK, now on, in the next post, to the final bizarro episode of the weekend, though I must warn you that this one also has a gaping hole. There will be information that you want, but that I won't be able to provide. So, you may ask, why am I printing a tempting piece of the story if I won't be able to come through with the climactic information? Well, because part of the point of this whole Chronicle is to share/offload/vent about my crazy crazy weekend. And so I'm going to share/offload/vent as much as I can.

I went down the rabbit hole. Unfortunately, right now, I can't tell you what's in there.
Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 22

Saturday, 6:50 pm

I’m outside the hotel with Moshe and Miriam and Levi, waiting for Chani. Officious Cohen Man suddenly appears; he’d been MIA all day. Turns out he wants to get onto the Jerusalem bus even though he hasn’t paid for it, and feels perplexed about what to do. I tell him he can have my seat. Through the window, we see that Avi has brought out more sufganiyot to the folks in the lobby. I tell Officious Cohen Man “now is your chance to atone for yourself.” Two minutes later he has come out, sufganiyah in hand, and says “this is for you.” Much better!

Miriam, Levi and I pile into the back seat of Chani and Moshe’s car. Miriam says “What do you say about visiting the grave of Rabbi Akiva?” I suspect that she is hoping to delay or prevent our visit to the Druzes, but we all like the idea, and Levi, the new immigrant, happens to have been there once and remembers the way well enough to point us in the right direction, before we drop him off at a bus stop so he can get back to Safed.

Rabbi Akiva is buried, along with Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (the Ramchal) on a hill overlooking the Kinneret. There is a beautiful gazebo-type structure built over the graves, and the view is gorgeous.

The Ramchal’s tomb is above ground, very stately-looking. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, was buried 2,000 years ago (or so) in a little underground cave whose entrance is now covered with glass. It’s basically a glass-covered hole in the wall with the gazebo and terrace built around it. I try to look through the glass but just see the first couple of feet of what looks to be a tunnel, and feel a little spooky for a second.

Rabbi Akiva was known as a loving person, and his spirit permeates the place. There aren’t people crying to God, like you find at, say, the Western Wall or Rachel’s tomb or the tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness. In fact, a religious family has come to Rabbi Akiva’s grave and set up cakes and sodas and pretzels, to provide a festive Melave Malka (traditional post-Shabbat party) for all the visitors at the tomb, directly next to Rabbi Akiva’s resting place. It’s actually a beautiful evening to have a picnic with a night view of the Kinneret. I wonder what Rabbi Akiva would think about Jews of 2004 having a Melava Malka at his gravesite.

Rabbi Akiva was truly a righteous dude in every way. Somehow I think that he would be happy, if he knew. Maybe he does.

There is a poster with a prayer to say, and Chani and I stand together and whisper the words. Happily, my Hebrew is now good enough that I understand almost all of it even though the text is new to me. There is an entire paragraph devoted to a prayer to find one’s partner and raise God-fearing children. I hope that saying this at Rabbi Akiva’s grave will help, because the Shabbaton certainly has not.

The four of us climb back into the car, and start out for the home of Azzam Azzam.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Request to my readers

One of the things I learned about myself at the UYO I attended while in the States 2 months ago is that I'm pretty darn good about articulating my needs. (Potential suitors take note! I don't expect people to read my mind! I even posted my Chanukah Wish List, for Pete's sake! No game-playing in Chayyei Sarah!)

Anyhow, one thing I need right now is for people to post comments on my blog. The Shabbaton was . . . emotionally a lot . . . and while writing about it is helping me to "process," the interaction with other people out there helps a lot too. Even if you don't think you have something profound to say, please say something, even if it's just "nice post" or "this gave me something to think about" or "you have a typo." Writing about the Shabbaton is dredging up a lot of the feelings of isolation, and your feedback helps me to not feel like I'm blogging in a vacuum.

So, thanks so much to those of you who have commented (some of you multiple times! Thank you for your time!).

And if you have been visiting and have not commented, please, if you would be so kind, go back to some Shabbaton post that struck you particularly, and let me know that you were here.

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 21

Saturday, 5:35 pm

The rabbi is saying havdala. It goes on forever. He makes many heartfelt embellishments to the text, even beyond the lengthy traditional Sephardi havdala service, inserting prayers that everyone here should find their true soulmate, etc. Someone has brought out fresh mint leaves to use as b’samim. If I weren't so relieved that Shabbat was over I'd enjoy the rabbi's exuberance more.

Then we go to the breakfast room to light a chanukiyah. Miriam’s chanukiyah is where she’d last left it, looking a bit charred. The Shabbaton organizer, Avi, is setting up a chanukiyah, but he’s putting the candles in the wrong side; they go on the right, not the left. I wonder whether maybe the Sephardim do it differently. I decide that if the rabbi is OK with this situation, then I’ll be OK with it too. Sure enough, I look again and the rabbi is setting up another chanukiyah with the candles on the right. We start to sing Ma'oz Tzur, but they skip some of the verses. Another Sephardi-ism? I realize I have a lot to learn about their culture and traditions, but am certainly not in the mood to start now.

Chani and Moshe are leaving in about an hour. I go upstairs to take a shower and wash the Shabbaton off of me.
Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 20: Taking the Red Pill

Saturday, 4 pm

Moshe and Chani have come to sit with me and Miriam. Suddenly, Moshe – the black hat settler with the wife from Brooklyn– says “Sarah, Miriam, is it OK with you if we stop at an Arab village on the way home to wish Mazal Tov to Azzam Azzam? I do not care to go so much but my wife really wants to.” Chani explains that the residents of Azzam’s village are having a “chafla,” which is some sort of party. I envision a 3-day village-wide festival with music and Israelis of all stripes coming to the Galil to celebrate. I am psyched! I've never been in an Arab village before, and the "role" of Israeli Arabs within Israeli society is something I think about relatively often, compared to most of my religious friends. Miriam, however, is beside herself. She has no love of Arabs, not even pro-Israel Arab Israeli Druze people, and wants to get home. But she’s willing to try, since the only other choice is to take the bus home with the other Shabbaton participants.

I tell Chani that I think it’s important for Jewish Israelis to show up at the chafla, because Azzam was either a spy or he wasn’t. If he was, he risked his life to help Israel. If he wasn’t, then he’s an innocent person who spent 8 years in an Egyptian prison because he is Israeli, and his suffering and his Israeliness should be acknowledged. Either way, going to see him is the right thing to do.

I am starting to like Chani and Moshe very much. They clearly are not run-of-the-mill. Black-hat-wearing settlers who are making a point of visiting Azzam Azzam? I am impressed.This is very open-minded of them. I like people who think outside the box.

Saturday, 4:45 pm

Chani and I are talking about prayer and my short attention span. She is sincere about her love of prayer and God and Judaism. Simple and smart and strong. The real deal. I don’t know whether I’ll suddenly start loving to daven, but talking to her inspires me to try a little harder.

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 19

Saturday, 3 pm

Lunch is served. I am at table with Miriam, Levi, Ronit (the woman with developmental disabilities), a man in his early 50’s or so, and three youngish women I haven’t met yet. The three new women are having fun at this event because they’d come together as a group of friends. One of them suggests that I must write for the Jerusalem Post, right? Still, they seem normal and nice and I wonder why I haven't seen them yet. It feels weird to be eating chicken and cholent at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I start speaking with Ronit about where she lives. She used to have roommates, she says, but it didn’t work out so she moved back in with her parents. I know where she’s coming from and tell her some of my roommate stories. I feel bad for Ronit. She has a pathetic, shriveled look about her and walks and talks funny. But she is sweet and can laugh at herself. It must be really hard for her. Everyone looks at the container first, not what’s inside it, including me.


There is a relatively handsome man, probably in his early 40’s, who has been catching my eye all of Shabbat and smiling at me. Once he even winked. I have smiled back, but not once has he approached me. He's been hanging out with one of his buddies, probably smiling at all the women but --come to think of it-- approaching nobody, just being Mr. Smile Player so he can go home and tell his Mamma that he's really trying to find a wife, and he even went on this Shabbaton, see? Maybe he and his male friend have, uh, something else going on, and they've come on this Shabbaton to keep up pretenses. Or maybe he's a smily wimpy man, who is brave enough to smile but petrified of an actual relationship. Or maybe he's "just not into" any of us.

Whatever. Shabbos is almost over. Yala kadimah!

Singles Shabbaton Part 18 (Am Yisrael CHAI!!!!)

Saturday, 1 pm

I am walking around Tiberias by myself. I am wearing a light sweater set, but feel only a little chilly. The city feels exactly like any slightly-run-down beachtown in the US. There are fancy hotels and tired hotels, plain homes and fancy homes, messy construction sites and abandoned, crumbling buildings. The old hotels are decorated with turquoise trim and tacky pictures of dolphins. There are palm trees everywhere, and dressed-up religious Jews taking Shabbat walks. A sign says “Tourism is Good for Tiberias.” In a lot next to a well-kept school, about 25 very dark, sweaty men are playing soccer, screaming and cheering at each other. The city is hilly, and from every corner is a different view of Lake Kinneret.

I lean against a railing at a scenic overlook, gazing over the water, and feel happy. Thank you, Hashem, for creating this beautiful lake. I think about my ancestors who lived here thousands of years ago, and smile at the thought that perhaps in a former life I lived in these very hills, drawing water from the lake and milking cows and teasing my brother the goatherd and seeing my father off three times a year when he left to bring sacrifices to God in the Temple in Jerusalem. Perhaps I was standing right here, barefoot, some time before anyone knew the words "pogrom" or "inquisition" or "holocaust," and my mother told me to quit daydreaming and get back to my chores.

I remember a line from a book about Jewish history, suggesting that back then, the Jews were known as “the odd people who worship the sky.” I laugh. The people have come back, and we still worship the heavens. Thank heaven for this lake, this water, this Jewish state.
Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 17

Saturday, noon

Up the street from our hotel is the synagogue and yeshiva of one of the direct descendants of Rav Kook. The rosh yeshiva’s wife, Rebbetzin Kook, has a reputation, I have been told, as a wonderful speaker. Officious Cohen Man had said that she fills arenas with women who have come to hear her lecture.

One of the older ladies has told Miriam that around this time each Shabbat, Rebbetzin Kook gives a little talk to ladies. I leave the Shabbaton program with Miriam and Chani, and walk up to the synagogue. We climb to the second floor, to a tiny room filled with bookshelves, tables, and chairs. Inside are a few women with their hair covered, whispering over their books. No sign of the rebbetzin yet.

I have mixed feelings. The room reminds me of the synagogue of the Bostoner Rebbe, which I attended often growing up, and of which I have fond memories. This room strikes me as a nice, quiet place for women to escape to and just be spiritual. On the other hand, my attention span is low and few things gall me more than the thought of sitting around saying psalms.

I grab a prayer book from the shelf. It does not contain psalms, but I find Ethics of the Fathers. I start learning. Then I daydream. I learn, daydream. Learn, daydream. Short attention span. But I feel comfortable here.

I look around at the other ladies. One of them is repeating the weekly portion with the Aramaic translation, a popular custom. She is rocking back and forth and waving her hands and clenching her fists. I acknowledge internally that she may be a spiritually lofty person, but all the rocking and hand gestures and pained facial expressions feel to me like ostentatious displays of fake spirituality. I hope I’m wrong.

I study another woman who is reciting psalms at one of the tables, her little boy playing in her lap. She is saying her prayers with quiet concentration, moving over the lines with one hand and stroking her child’s hair with the other. There is something very simple and classy about her. She is modest and spiritual and, I sense, understands what she’s about. I can admire this woman. She is strong and soft at the same time. She is the real deal.

After about an hour, the Rebbetzin has not come yet. I decide to go. But, this was nice.

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 16

Saturday, 11 am

The Shabbaton crowd stormed the breakfast buffet before anyone made kiddush, though it looks like no one has actually started eating until afterward. Miriam and I had saved seats together. We wash and start eating. I have tried as best I can to approximate the American type of breakfast I’m used to. I stay away from the herring and potato salad, and stick with a roll, eggs, and – to facilitate my assimilation into Israeli society- some tomatoes.

Soon, we are joined by the same people I’d had dinner with the night before. It seems the concept of “strategizing” one’s way through a singles event – that is, sitting with different people on the second day so as to, well, meet different people – is a New York sophistication unheard of here. Miriam and I soon leave to join the non-Shabbaton couple I’d met earlier. I feel bad about being rude, but there it is. It’s time to take care of my own needs.

The couple whose table Miriam and I move to are Moshe and Chani. They seem to be in their mid-twenties. Chani is a beautiful American woman from Brooklyn, very sweet and down-to-earth. Moshe is tall and dark, very Sephardi looking, a native Israeli. He wears a black hat, black jacket, and tzitzit hanging out. They are a very handsome couple and very nice to us. They live in a settlement south of Jerusalem, near where Miriam lives, and they offer to drive both of us home after Shabbat, an offer that Miriam and I both accept with gratitude.

Moshe and Chani were supposed to go to Safed for Shabbat, but didn’t make it before sundown, so they had checked into this hotel in Tiberias. For the first time since Miriam introduced herself, I feel that Hashem has sent someone to the Shabbaton that I am really happy to meet. I eat my breadroll and feel relieved.

We interrupt these chronicles . . .

To bring you American Comedy Network's My Menorah.

We're burnin' down the house!!!! Yeah!!!!!

(Hat tip: Ephi)
Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 15: It's waky waky time

Saturday 10 am

I have davened (prayed) in my room; most of the synagogue services around here start too early for me to make it, and the Shabbaton davening will be long and unfamiliar. According to the written schedule, kiddush and breakfast are at 10. For once in my life I am on time.

I walk downstairs into the lobby and see 15 older ladies -- older than my mom-- sitting in a circle, talking. They invite me to join them. I ask what they are talking about. They say “blind dates.” I notice that Fascist Control Freak lady is talking at length. I say “No, thank you. Shabbat Shalom” and walk off. I don’t care any more about being rude. I want to go home.

The Shabbaton prayer services are still going strong. Breakfast is laid out but I don’t want to eat until I hear kiddush. A 50-something man with a British accent (who had attended shule elsewhere) starts helping himself. While downing his traditional Israeli-hotel breakfast of cottage cheese, yogurt, green peppers, corn, eggs, tomatos, herring, and potato salad, he tells me that this Shabbaton “is not my type of crowd” and “I’m an independent thinker” and “I’m going to do my own thing today.” I can’t say I blame him. I also can’t say that I like him.

A young married lady, who turns out to be a non-Shabbaton guest at the hotel, hears me say that I’m waiting for kiddush and says, in perfectly-accented American English, “My husband will be back from shule soon; you can hear kiddush with us.” I am filled with gratitude. I guess she sees that I am suffering, because she invites me to sit with them at lunch, as well. Then she starts her own praying, so our conversation is at an end.

Twenty-four hours ago I was ready to try to “connect” with people, even people who are not for me, because the world is a fascinating place and everyone has something to offer. But now I’m in survival mode. I have only one goal: to make it through Shabbat without bursting into tears again or ripping my hair out.

I don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t go in the lobby, because that’s where Hairbun is talking about her blind dates. I can’t go upstairs, because I might miss kiddush. If I stay in the dining hall, I’ll have nothing to do but make small talk with British Independent Thinker guy who is as old as my father.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 14

Friday 11:45 pm

I am in bed. Miriam has stayed in the lobby to talk some more to Levi. Finally she comes back upstairs and, as women will do, we dissect every moment of the Shabbaton.

Miriam tells me that when she went into the breakfast room just now to make some coffee, her chanukiyah – the one which had been ambushed by the Sephardi men – had suddenly burst into a conflagration, the hardware nuts popping off the base with little ping! ping! ping! noises. She’d run to tell the front desk clerk, who poured water onto the chanukiyah.

Miriam and I agree that we have unwittingly checked into Hotel California.

. . . And now that I’m writing this, I wonder how it is that Miriam’s candles, which were meant to burn only 45 minutes or so, actually burned, starting at about 4:15, long enough to explode at 11:30 at night . . . another chanukah miracle? . . . . this is all so creepy . . . .

***** End of Friday Night Chronicles. Stay tuned tomorrow for a more reflective Shabbat day and the after-Shabbat Twilight Zone. *****

Singles Shabbaton Part 13: These are the people in your neighborhood . . .

Friday, 10:45 pm

I’m in the breakfast room, making tea. Two older ladies from the Shabbaton walk in and ask me where I’m from.

One of them says “Oh, you are from America! I have a son who lives in Miami!"

Chayyei Sarah: Oh, there is a man in the Shabbaton from Miami.

Lady: Really? He’s here from Miami?

CS: Well, he made aliyah, and now lives in Safed.

Lady: So, he’s going back?

Chayyei Sarah: No, he immigrated. He made aliyah.

Lady: When did he immigrate?

CS: Two months ago.

Lady: And where does he live?

CS: Safed.

Lady: How long has he lived there?

CS: Two months.

Lady: So he’s going back?

CS: No, he immigrated. He’s not going back except maybe to visit.

Lady: So he’s here on a visit?

CS [thinking to herself]: Who’s on first.

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 12

Friday 10:30 pm

Miriam and Levi are sitting in a corner of the lobby. I greet them, and briefly consider sitting with them until I notice that they are sharing a bottle of wine . . . . but when I politely wish them goodnight, they both heartily invite me to stay and have wine with them. Meanwhile, Officious Cohen Man comes over to join what he has coined “the English-speakers’ Club.” I mention that I would really like a sufganiyah, but don’t want to go back into the dining room to face the Control Freak Fascist Lady.

Cohen Man asks, referring to my doughnut craving, “Is this your yetzer hatov or your yetzer hara talking?” [“your ‘good inclination’ or your ‘bad inclination’?”] I say “Both. For once they are in agreement.”

He says “Fine, I will bring you a doughnut. Notice I just said I’ll bring the doughnut. I choose my words carefully.” After he’s gone, Miriam and Levi and I wonder aloud what the heck he’s talking about. Is he going to bring a doughnut and then not give it to me? Eat it himself? What the heck?

Cohen Man returns, jelly doughnut in hand. He stands there, not moving. We look at him and Miriam and Levi say “Nu? What’s the situation? Is it that you want the doughnut? Are you going to give it to Sarah or what? What in the world are you on about?” Cohen Man does not answer. After a minute of this, I decide that really he wants it himself, and if he was going to pretend to be chivalrous he could at least have brought out two doughnuts instead of just the one for himself. I get up and start walking toward the dining hall.

Cohen Man is immediately repentant and says “No! Wait! Wait! We can split it!” He starts ripping pieces off the sufganiya. He says “We’ll each take an equal share.” I look into his hands and say “that is really unattractive. I’m going to get my own doughnut” and turn away. He says “Wait! No, really! Here, you can have the whole thing!” I look at his hands full of mangled sufganiyah, and then at him. I roll my eyes, turn on my heel, and get myself a goddamn jelly doughnut.
Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 11

Friday 10:15 pm

I’m in the hotel lobby, talking to Officious Cohen Man, an American who seems to be in his late 30's. He lives in the Old City, in order to be near the action as soon as the Temple is rebuilt. He tells me that it’s very important for me to get to know him, so that I will have connections in the priestly family. He is 100 percent serious.

I ask him where he is from, and he says “Jerusalem.”

Chayyei Sarah: Yes, and where are you from originally?

Officious Cohen: Jerusalem.

[C.S. is confused]

Chayyei Sarah: But you speak fluent English with an American accent; where did you learn to speak English like that?

Officious Cohen [smiling smugly]: Ah, you see, you were asking the wrong question. I’m from Israel. Ultimately, all Jews are from Israel. If you ask me where I am from, I will always say Jerusalem, you see?

Chayyei Sarah: I see. [sighs] Fine. Where in America have you lived?

Officious Cohen: Ah, that is much better.

Chayyei Sarah is not surprised to learn that he is from – sorry, lived in- Flatbush.

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 10: the handwriting on the wall

Friday 9:45 pm

The chairs in the dining hall are in a big circle. We are supposed to have a speaker, a rabbi who was the first person to go down into the caves of me’arat hamachpela (where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rivka, Jacob, and Leah are buried). Miriam is excited about this. I am curious, but also tired (on many levels) and I know that, being so tired, I may not be able to focus enough to understand the Hebrew. But Miriam persuades me to stay, promising to translate. A 40-ish man with red hair and beard approaches us: He’s a very very new immigrant from Miami and hardly speaks any Hebrew. He heard us speaking in English. Could Miriam translate for him as well? But of course!

We sit down, and shortly one of the older ladies gets up to start the program. I’d noticed her on the bus from Jerusalem. She seems to be in her 50’s, and has a very severe facial expression, severe glasses, and a severe hairbun. She explains that we are now going to play some get-to-know you games. [“What happened to the rabbi?” Miriam wonders aloud. But we never find out.]

Hairbun distributes little slips of paper to everyone. I look at mine and see that it says “rather at what is inside it.” Thanks to my ulpan program, I recognize this as the second half of the Israeli version of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” the idiomatic

Don’t look at the container, rather at what is inside.

Aha! Each person has half of an idiom on their paper! We will have to get up and mingle, and find the person with the other half! I’ve done this kind of thing before. It’s not fabulous for getting to know people, but it does provide an excuse to get up and move around, talk to someone who catches your eye- however briefly- and, for me, to learn new Hebrew idioms. OK, I’ll go along. I’m game.

But Hairbun does not tell us to get up and mingle. Instead, she calls out the beginning of each idiom, has us yell out the second part, and then the two people with that idiom come up to give in their slips of paper. Excuse me? How is this a mingling game?

People start to have side conversations, since once you’ve given in your paper slips, there’s not much to do. Hairbun is getting annoyed that people are not paying attention. And she’s right, you know, because the last thing you want at a singles shabbaton is for people to be talking to each other.

Then, Avi brings out two boxes of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts, the traditional chanukah food in Israel) and puts them on a table in the middle of the circle. I comment to Miriam that it’s little touches like this that indicate a lack of event-planning experience. You don’t put out two boxes of doughnuts into the middle of a group of Jews and expect them to pay attention to the program. But I digress.

Hairbun, it turns out, is a graphologist, and had come to the Shabbaton as a speaker for Shabbat afternoon. Since the Me’arat Hamachpela speaker didn’t work out, she would speak tonight instead. So, she starts telling us about her amazing talent at analyzing handwriting. Meanwhile, people are still having little side conversations, and Miriam is behind me, translating for Levi (and having a side conversation). Happily, I'm able to understand the gist of the speech without any help.

Hairbun tells people to shush, and then asks Miriam to be quiet. I say “She’s translating.” Hairbun responds by rolling her eyes and saying “Don’t translate now. You can translate later.”

Well, humph. It’s true that I don’t need a translation, but I also do not need to sit here and listen to Control Freak Fascist Lady tell us about the secrets behind the truncated “kuf” and “nun.”

So I leave for the lobby . . . .

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 9

Friday 8:30 pm

If one more person says “Oh, you are a journalist! from America! So, do you write for the Jerusalem Post?” I will pelt them.

Friday 9 pm

We have visited a few scenic overlooks by the Kinneret. We can see lights from the Golan twinkling on the other side of the Lake. It is beautiful.

Daveed, the man with the burn wounds, is following me around, obviously interested. We talk a bit, and it’s hard for me to understand him; in addition to the language barrier, he doesn’t articulate his words very well. And once again, there is an intellectual gap, though I’m impressed to find out that in addition to his regular job, he is studying to become a martial arts instructor. That’s cool.

I am flattered by the attention but also confused. I do not think it would go anywhere and don’t know how to communicate that. I also feel like a lousy hypocrite, because I’m afraid to think about why I’m not interested: Because of his scars? Or because I’m just not attracted to him anyway? Or because I don’t understand half of what he says? I realize that part of it is that, like I explained two posts ago, I recently dated someone with a physical disability, and I don’t want to become “you know, the woman whose boyfriends are always physically deformed in some way.” And then I feel like a horrible, hypocritical person for feeling that.

I decide to be kind by being cruel, and ignore Daveed as best I can. I wish he would go away so I wouldn’t have to feel so awful about not giving him a chance.

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 8: Breath of Fresh Air

Friday 7:20 pm

Miriam has come upstairs to tell me that the group is going for a walk around Tiberias, and I’ll feel better if I get outside. I gaze out the window, at our view of the Kinneret at night. I always feel peaceful near the water. I wash my face and get dressed again. My eyes are red but I don’t care. I have nothing to lose anymore.

Friday 7:50 pm

I am walking with Avi, the Shabbaton organizer, who tells me that 60 people never showed up, and now he’s got a problem over how to pay for the food and the hotel. I thank him for the effort he has put into planning the event. I also suggest that there are women, especially the younger women, who would like it better if he said “Anyone who wants to pray is invited to come now” instead of “Men should come, and also any women who want to.” At first he does not get it, being a Moroccan man in his 50’s or 60’s. But once he gets it, I see the lightbulb go on over his head, and am gratified when he says “Aha! You learn something from everyone. Thank you for pointing that out to me.”

Friday 8 pm

The group is looking at a scenic view and talking about Israeli geography, and I am on the side with Paz, the twenty-something hottie with the huge, expressive blue eyes and long eyelashes. He’s spending a lot of time with me and, unlike most American men, actually looks me in the eye. It’s hard for us to communicate because his English is worse, by far, than my Hebrew, and intellectually we are in completely different places. But he is a nice guy. Being in the fresh air, hovered over by the young Israeli stud with big eyes and long eyelashes is . . . nice.

Before I go on

I need to explain something about where I am regarding men with physical issues such as disabilities, burn scars, etc. I’ve gotten emails from people expressing anger over my last couple of posts, including one beautiful and heartfelt letter from a woman who herself is a burn victim. Thank you for pointing out that I have some explaining and qualifying to do. I apologize to the people I've hurt.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I’m perfectly willing, even happy, to date people with physical disabilities, or people with issues that are asthetic, such as burn scars. Indeed, I have dated such people. One of my more infamous dating stories involves a man, paralyzed from the chest down, with whom I went on two wonderful dates. I really liked him. I did a lot of soul-searching about what I wanted, and what I could handle, and I really wanted to date him more. But, of course, he dumped me, ostensibly because I’m older than he is, which just goes to show that the able-bodied do not have a monopoly on superficiality. But I digress.

Shortly before the Shabbaton, I went on several dates with a very cool guy who happens to have a very obvious disability – not just an asthetic issue, but a functional one, a disability that would have necessitated certain lifestyle adjustments on my part had the relationship gotten more serious.

Perhaps it was this recent experience that soured me, for the time being, on men who have something “unusual” about their appearance. Let me give an analogy to illuminate the situation:

Let’s say a woman has recently been in a relationship with an ER doctor. He’s a great guy but they had problems working out certain issues between them, including his long and often unpredictable hours at work. She appreciated that he was saving lives. But it drove her crazy that they constantly had to cancel plans because he’d be called into the hospital or have to stay late. She felt like he was always at work, and wondered if she could really handle being with someone who is almost never around. Is that what she wants? What is important to her? How can she begrudge someone who is saving lives? Etc. She’s been doing a lot of “heavy thinking” about this. Meanwhile, the relationship ends because of some combination of other issues. Basically, they were not meant to be, but she’s invested a lot of time into untangling her confusion about his work issues.

A few weeks later, her friend wants to set her up with a new guy, and says “and guess what, he’s also an ER doctor. A lot of women can’t handle that, because of the long hours, but I know that you can, because you just went out with someone for a long time who is an ER doctor.”

Well, can you blame our girlfriend here for saying “Normally I’d seriously consider it, but I’m tired of dating doctors. I’m tired of dealing with their long hours. I’m tired of having to think about it. Right now I want to find someone with a 9-5 job so it will be easier and I won’t have to make heavy decisions.”

Does this make our friend “anti-doctor”? No, of course not. She knows that this other ER guy is a different person, and maybe they would work through their problems better than she did with the last boyfriend. Or maybe he’d simply be better suited to her and suddenly the long hours wouldn’t matter to her as much. But right now she does not want to deal with it. Right now, she needs a break from doctors.

That’s how I feel about men with disabilities. I need a break. I’m tired of thinking about “can I handle this? Do I care what other people think? How would this affect my lifestyle? Can he have children? When is it safe to ask that? Etc etc” It doesn’t mean that men with disabilities aren’t datable in my book. It just means that I’m tired of dealing with that issue at the moment, and would rather deal with some other issue, like a crazy mother-in-law or a bizarre obsession with Legos. In a few weeks, maybe I’ll be back to being OK with disabilities. Sometimes these things are about timing.

I recognize that everyone has flaws, and everyone has disabilities. They just aren’t usually obvious before the person has opened their mouths. But for now, I’ve had enough of dealing with obvious flaws and would rather take my chances on the hidden ones. Get back to me in 2 weeks and I might tell you something different.

None of which really addresses Daveed- the guy with the burns – because in this case we’re not talking about a physical disability, but rather an asthetic issue.

Regarding asthetic issues, I have two things to say:

a) Like any issue of asthetics, there’s no explaining why some people are attracted or anattracted to certain things. Some women love beards, I happen to hate them. Some women can’t stand balding guys, others think they are sexy. One woman’s teddy bear is another woman’s “ew.” I once had a huge, huge crush on a man so, eh, unusual in his appearance that my friends openly told me that they don’t understand how I could possibly think he’s so cute. And yet to me he was adorable. Some things are about timing, and some are about taste and can’t be explained in any logical way. Maybe I'm turned off by burn scars, but would happily date a man who is missing an arm. And maybe my best friend feels the opposite.

And yet, there is another issue:

b) I cannot speak for all women, but I can speak for myself when I say that the more confident I feel about my own looks, the more likely I am to be open to a man who is somehow “unusual” in appearance. There is an inverse relationship between how happy I am about myself and how much I need a man to “validate” me in some way. I don’t think I’m alone. There’s a reason that supermodels seem to date short, bald, overweight men more than you’d think: Being secure in their own beauty, supermodels are free to date men who make them laugh, share their values, whatever – no matter what the man looks like. They have nothing to lose by dating someone “ugly.” For them, there is no "what will people think" factor, because these women know what people think: They think "let's put her on the cover of Cosmo."

But a woman who feels bad about herself will be less likely to overcome the “what will other people think” factor, which is her loss. I know absolutely that to the extent that my non-interest in Daveed may have been because of the “what will people think” factor, I may have lost out on a great guy. But I was in a bad place, emotionally, on this Shabbaton, and I don’t think it’s fair to call me superficial because I knew my own limits at that particular time. Realistically speaking, a woman who can be seriously interested in a man who cannot get from point A to point B without a wheelchair can’t be an inherently superficial person. I just don’t believe that about myself.

Do I hate it when men look for trophy women to “validate” them? You betcha. So, am I being a hypocrite? Yes.

But I’m working on it. I struggle with this. And like I indicated before, maybe in 2 weeks I won’t be a hypocrite about it anymore.

And I dare any of my readers to claim truthfully that looks truly don’t matter to them. The people who say that “looks don’t matter to me” really mean that “my taste in looks is different from most people’s.” But everyone has some sort of “taste.” Of course it matters to everyone! It’s just that there are some people who go to Baskin Robbins and decide they are picky about their flavors and there are only two flavors they like. They are hard to please. And other people are more open and like 37 of the flavors (and therefore are much happier customers of the ice cream scene!). But no one likes all 39.

And yet, each of the 39 flavors is liked by someone, or Baskin Robbins wouldn’t be selling it.

Is this metaphor still making sense or have I lost you?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 8: From the depths I called to you

Friday 6:45 pm

I have eaten my dinner but not enjoyed it. The food was OK, albeit too spicy for my bland Ashkenazi tastes. No one at my table has said a word throughout most of the meal. Each of us ate his meal with his eyes on his plate. Finally I say “so, what is everyone’s name,” and we go around the table. I try to liven up the conversation but no one else picks up the cue. I am still enraged at the crazy old lady who was so rude to me. I’m beside myself and start feeling tears welling up.

Friday 7 pm

I’m in my hotel room. I am weeping bitterly. I get into a nightgown and sit on my bed, hot angry tears spilling into my lap. Why did you bring me here, God? Why am I trapped with rude, primitive, ill-mannered, crazy people, most of whom are either my parents’ age or have some obvious physical deformity? What is the point? I know you have some plan God, but I can’t begin to imagine what it is. Is this all there is? Did I have to come to Tiberias to learn that truly, there are no good men left? I am angry, so angry, and afraid. I am crying so hard I make no sound.

Shabbaton Chronicles Part 7: The Last Straw

Friday 6:25 pm

I am standing in front of the buffet table, with a plate in my hand, waiting behind one other person to get to the “hot food station.” A short, dark woman in her 60’s whom I’ve never met comes over to me, puts a slightly gnarled hand on my arm, looks into my eyes, and, without so much as a “hello,” says “Go on a diet.”

Stunned, I simply turn away from her to get my dinner. But I’m not hungry. I’m feeling something like a spiral of colors, orange and purple and puke green, moving through me in slow motion.

At that moment a man and a woman come to the buffet, and both push in front of me in line. The waiter says “Hello, don’t you see someone was in front of you?” but they just shrug and hold their plates out.

Back at my table, there is no room for my plate because there are so many salads, soup bowls, salad plates, etc everywhere. I start clearing dirty dishes and putting them on the table next to us. The only one who helps is Burn Victim man. The 50-plus woman next to me hands me her dirty plates without looking at me, like I’m a waitress.

Singles Shabbaton Chronicles Part 6

Friday 4:45 pm

Great. The prayers are following the rituals and tunes of Edot Hamizrach (Jews from the Middle East and North Africa). Intellectually I have no problem with this, but I’m not used to it and feel unsettled to be “davening out of order.” In the middle of the services, someone (I can’t see who, through the partition) makes an appeal for his organization, which helps religious teens who have “left the path” and are now on the street. They are auctioning off tomorrow’s aliyot for charity. Boring, boring, boring to listen to this through the mechitzah.

My mind wanders. I survey the other women. The old ladies are behind me. In front of me are a few other women in their 30’s. None of us is stunningly attractive, but Miriam and I are the most put-together in terms of clothes, hair, nails, shoes, etc. One woman seems to be wearing no makeup other than blue eyeliner on the bottom lid only; she could use some mascara and lipstick. Another woman, also without makeup, has her hair back in a scrunchy. It would look prettier down around her shoulders. I think of what a friend once told me: There are no ugly women, only lazy ones. I think about the fact that “it only takes one,” that beauty is skin deep, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that any one of these women could end up with their bashert at the end of the Shabbaton, if she happens to match up with someone who likes her looks and personality (and vice vesa). But how many people bother to look beyond the “not stunningly attractive” to the “perfectly normal and attractive person”? How dare I let myself feel superior in an Israeli group because I’m displaying some degree of Manhattan-style sophistication, when some of these people have never set foot outside of Israel? How dare I compete with other women, when we all want the same thing, when they are more like me than not like me?

And what difference does it make to me, anyhow, when most of the men here are at least ten years older than I am? And the ones my age . . . how many speak no English? how many have never gone to college, or have never been to America, or for whatever reason have no clue where I'm coming from? What are the chances of a man being here who "gets" me, when here I'm the alien?

I’m starting to feel depressed and tired.

Friday 6:15 pm

I’m sitting at a table with the following cast of characters, listening to kiddush:
A woman in her 50’s
A woman in her 30’s named Ronit, who has a developmental disability of some kind.
Two relatively normal-looking men in their 30’s.
A scrawny guy, Daveed, with a shaved head who clearly has suffered from facial burns at some point.
A young hottie named Paz who looks to be around 23, with huge blue eyes and long eylashes. I wonder what he is doing there.

None of us looks very happy to be here.

The rabbi makes kiddush. One of the 30-ish men has been holding the kiddush wine for our table. He pours from his glass into the glasses of the two people next to him, then takes a sip. The rest of us make startled noises, like "hello, what about us?" and he looks surprised, like he'd forgotten that we were there, and then pours for us from the glass he'd just drunk from.