Sunday, February 29, 2004

I just found this on the JTA website. Boy, those North Koreans sure are sumpin'!

Report: Anne Frank twisted in N. Korea

Anne Frank’s diary is being used to promote hate in North Korea. On Sunday, CBS’ “60 Minutes” is slated to air a report featuring a Dutch journalist who went to North Korea who says the famous diary is being used to tell students that the Nazis have a current counterpart in the Americans and that President Bush is akin to Hitler. Also, the children are taught that war with the United States is inevitable and that Anne Frank is not a hero because she was weak.

A couple things:

1. Apparently, now that spring is coming, Jerusalem's snails are starting to come out of hibernation. Every night there is at least one snail blocking my path on my way home. These are the grandmothers of all snails. They are easily 4 inches long. You know that giant snail in the film "The Never-Ending Story"? Well, these snails are like that, only bigger and uglier.

2. Cafe Hillel, my favorite hangout, has eliminated my favorite salad from their menu, and I'm peeved. Being lactose intolerant, I don't have many choices of what to eat there, since almost all their salads and sandwiches have either feta, mozzarella, or roquefort cheese (however you spell that). Their desserts all have either butter or cream cheese. It's sort of sad, how those sandwiches and desserts look at me wistfully. Anyhow, there are three things on the menu I can eat: The salad nicoise, the salad "mikomi," and the soup. That's it.

And now they have eliminated the salad nicoise! Apparently, all those cheese-eaters out there didn't like having eggs and pototatos instead of their lactose-rich feta. Feta. Pheh-ta. Pheh.

In its place, they've created a health salad, with carrots and almonds where once there were eggs and potatos. It looks good, but I'm suspicious. I told the manager, Edan, that the next time I come in and try this new-fangled health salad, it better be as good as the nicoise or I'm going to insist that they go out and buy some potatos just for me. He laughed, but little does he realize that Sarah can be extremely serious about her salad.

I'm in a bad mood. First this whole thing-making-me-angry that I can't write about here, and --oh, yeah -- I had three dates last week with three different guys, and none of them worked out. And --oh, yeah-- the last was with this really great Italian guy, I had a really really really good time, and apparently so did he, but he doesn't want to go out again . . . no wonder he's 37 and not married yet . . . And, oh, yeah, I have an application for a major fellowship that must be postmarked tomorrow morning, but I haven't written the essay yet.

And now Cafe Hillel kills my salad.


Friday, February 27, 2004

Judah sent me a great response to my posting about Orthodoxy, homosexuality, and constitutional law. Since he's having computer trouble, he couldn't post it in the comments section. But when I went to do it for him, I discovered that my comments section only lets you post 1,000 characters at a time. I got sick of cutting and pasting, so, since I really like what he wrote, I'm posting it here. Enjoy, and please feel free to comment yourself! If your comment is too long, you can either send your thoughts in a series of postings, or send me an email at

And now for our guest blogger, Judah:

Regarding the gay marriage thing, I have many thoughts, not all in agreement with my esteemed, fellow-Republican, president GWB:

- I do not believe it is the job of the federal government to determine how to define marriage. When the federal government has previously tried to amend the constitution to incorporate moral judgements (prohibition comes immediately to mind) it has failed miserably. Moral judgements, as ridiculous as it might seem to a Jew whose moral code is by definition immutable, are, in a secular society subject to the mores and interpretations at a particular point in time. To change the constitution therefore, does not make sense because you are inevitably leading to changing it back at a later point in time.

- That is not to say that you cannot clarify and codify a law at a specific point in time. Laws are meant to be changed at the whim of legislators which are elected (or voted out of office, as the case may be) every 2-6 years. The electorate of a given municipality can choose how it wants its elected officials to create laws. If the people choose lawmakers who want to define marriage as between a single man and single woman or between a single man and single man, single woman and single woman, single man and multiple women, single woman and multiple men, man and sheep, woman and horse, brother and sister, grandfather and granddaughter (or grandson, of course), mother and son (or daughter) or including/excluding any combination thereof, that is fine, no matter how absurd or abhorrent I personally may consider any of those combinations to be. One concern I would have is that once you start expanding the definition beyond the "traditional", it becomes difficult to determine where to stop and the other combinations I have proffered are all equally defensible. But if the constituents of a given jurisdiction accept the inclusion of some or all of those combinations, so be it.

- The problem today in California is that the citizens of the state voted via public referendum as recently as 2000 that marriage includes a single man and single woman and none of the other combinations (including man/man and woman/woman). In outright defiance of that determiantion by the general public, the mayor of San Francisco (and the courts of Massachusetts, in a similar case) has decided to sanction gay marriage anyway. To my mind, that is an impeachable offense. Why should any elected official be above the law? There is no difference in my mind between what is being done by San Francisco's mayor today and what would be done by a hypothetical state governor who is embezzling funds from the state that elected him/her. For an elected official (or an appointed official such as a judge) who swears to uphold the law as a function and prerequisite of the job, defying the law (no matter how relevant or just one believes it to be) is completely and totally unacceptable and should be met with unrelenting vilification. When President Clinton committed perjury, he was rightfully impeached and should have been convicted, for violating the law he was sworn to uphold. The fact that he may have perjured himself for what some considered a trivial matter is irrelevant. Similarly, when the judge in the Supreme Court of Mississippi chose to keep a monument of the 10 Commandments displayed prominently in the courthouse after a federal appeals court ruled that the monument should come down, the judge was rightfully removed from office for defying the law he was supposed to uphold even though many other constitutional scholars may have thought the display was constitutionally acceptable.

- Why do Orthodox Jews think it is incongruous for someone to be both gay and Orthodox? Ok. That's a flawed question. Better would be to ask why an Orthodox Jew thinks its possible for someone to wear tefillin every morning and solicit prostitutes in the evening (or cheat on taxes, launder money, beat his wife, etc.) and still be considered Orthodox while someone who is honest in business, a kind and understanding person, keeps Shabbos and Kashrus, davens 3 times a day, etc., but happens to be homosexual is not Orthodox. I see an incongruity there. All Orthodox Jews make decisions at various points in time as to what to follow and what not to. I personally am embarrassed to admit that I do things / don't do things that do not conform to normative Orthodox practice. Yet I still consider myself (and I would venture to say that many friends would also consider me) an Orthodox Jew. I think homosexuality should fall into a similar category. Nevertheless many people think it does not. It might be homophobia, it might be that no one has presented the argument in this way, it might be that laundering money is private (until it hits the front page of the NY Post) while homosexuality is publically "flaunted" (not that I agree entirely with the latter characterization).

I happen to think your points are very well stated and make a lot of sense.

Best regards,

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Efrex, the Orthodox Jewish Straight Theatre Queen, has posted such marvelous observations about gay marriage, I decided to cut and paste an exerpt from his posting right here, for your convenience:

Looking at the amendments made to the US Constitution over the years (I'm ashamed to admit just how little I've looked at this document in my life), I'm struck by just how ludicrous President Bush's proposed amendment is. The US Constitution has been amended 17 times in the 200 years since its original publication. Of those amendments:

2 deal with Prohibition (enacting and repealing it)

1 deals with the clean-up of the aftermath of the Civil War

7 deal with purely procedural issues (elections and successions)

5 expand rights and give protections to different groups

1 grants states limited immunity from lawsuits

and one gives the federal government a power that it didn't have before (Number 16, allowing Congress to levy a national income tax).

Now, apparently, we need a second such amendment, giving the Federal government the right to tell the states what they can consider "marriage." Apparently, marriage, despite being an essential social stabilizing force, is such a fragile one that making it more inclusive to a minority population will completely ruin it.

Three-plus years ago, I received the most wonderful gift that I could ever ask for. Someone agreed to join my life permanently and accept the responsibilities of sharing my future existance, in exchange for my doing the same for her. My family loves me because that's part of their responsibility. My wife chose to love me and make my struggles and despairs a part of her life, and still thinks she got a good deal. To think that anything anyone else does will somehow diminish the staggering magnitude of that reduces the divine to a matter of competition.

Yes, I am an Orthodox Jew. Yes, I believe in the divinity of the bible, and yes, I've read Leviticus. I have many beliefs which are not reflected in American society, and Bush's amendment isn't based on the morality of homosexuality anyhow (I'd have much more respect for him if it were... I might disagree, but at least there would be some consistency in his arguments). Marriage might well need defending, but it needs it from those who break it, not those trying to join it.

You go, Efrex.

I've been pretty amazed, actually, at the number of Orthodox Jews who are spending energy and time being actively upset about the new circumstances in California and Massachusetts allowing gay marriage. First of all, I'd think that Orthodox Jews would be the first people to say that the government should not get involved in family life. If the government can define marriage for us, then next thing you'll know, they'll define religion. And they'll take away our right to abortion when the mother's life is in danger. And they'll decide that kosher slaughter practices are evil, and outlaw them. And all sorts of other bad things for the Jews. I would have thought that Orthodox Jews would be very happy to keep the government out of our lives as much as possible (Oh, God, I sound just like a Republican! Morpheus, what's happening to me?)

Second, given that these laws affect civil marriage, and are not an attempt to force Jews to allow gay marriage within our communities (or to force Christians to allow gay marriage within the Church), then I can think of only three reasons that so many religious Jews are upset:

1. Being devoted American citizens, they are worried that America is going the way of Sodom and Gemorrah, which, according to Jewish legend, were destroyed in part because they gave homosexuality a free reign. Perhaps there's a worry that America is "going to pot." Well, my answer to that is: Make aliyah. Come live in the Jewish state, where there is no separation between church and state and where our traditions about Sodom and Gemorrah, and other things, actually have an influence on what goes on. Maybe not the way you'd always like, or to the extent you'd like, or to the un-extent you'd like, but at least here in Israel you can stake some sort of claim on religious grounds. Doing that in America is like trying to solve a problem like Maria.

2. Being traditional and somewhat isolationist, they are worried that if everyone else in America says that homosexual marriage is OK, then pretty soon gay people will demand all sort of recognition and marriage and stuff within Torah Judaism. This is pretty much the same argument that was used against feminism for decades, and to a certain extent the argument is true: The more tolerant that American society becomes toward homosexuality, the more tolerant American Jews will expect their rabbis and religious institutions to be. It is true that in all likelihood, eventually there are going to be gays and lesbians demanding that they be allowed to hold a chuppah in an Orthodox shule, similar to the calls from feminist circles that Orthodoxy allow women to become rabbis.

I have two arguments against this:

a. This trend is already happening, even without a Constitutional amendment protecting heterosexual marriage. Perhaps it hasn't happened in a shule, but I can tell you that one time that I interviewed Sandi Dubowski for an article, he had just come back from the wedding of two lesbians who had grown up frum, and whose Orthodox relatives, including some rabbis, attended the ceremony. There are already Orthodox gay couples having/adopting children and attempting to integrate into Orthodox neighborhoods. So, whatever evil in America has influenced Orthodox young people to take the step of coming out of the closet, the evil is already there, and the law in Massachusetts will neither stop nor hasten the snowball that is already rolling.

b. OK, so the fear is that Orthodoxy will have to grapple with homosexuality on a heightened level, much as it has been grappling with feminism. Now, the analogy to feminism only goes so far, because few of the Jewish laws that define women's roles in Jewish life are written in black and white in the Torah itself. The conflict between Orthodoxy and homosexuality is extremely difficult because , well, it's all written out in Leviticus. But . . . and I say "BUT"!!! . . . since when does Judaism shy away from difficult questions? Since when have we tried to tell other Americans what they can or cannot do, because we are so afraid that it might, maybe, somehow make us look ourselves in the mirror and ask some tough questions? Since when do we tell people, who are living together anyway and raising children together anyway, that they can't have a piece of paper allowing them to share health insurance and a tax return, simply because we are nervous about who might try to influence our community? Or, perhaps more frightening, because we are nervous that our children might suddenly tell us the truth about themselves?

3. Being good Jews, they want to catalyze American's dedication to the seven Noahide laws, one of which governs illicit sexual activity. This, actually, is the one reason I respect, because it fits into Judaism's own traditions about the holiness of non-Jews, and the idea that we Jews have a responsibility to be a light unto the nations.

However, until I see those same Jews who get all flustered and angry about gay marriage ALSO get flustered about the importance of teaching non-Jews to, say, not commit adultery and not to engage in pagan practices such as, say, Wicca, well then . . . I have to assume that this isn't about being a light unto the nations. It is just homophobia.

I just got back from the shloshim ceremonies for Mikey Butler, z"l. I feel so lucky that the event took place in Jerusalem and that therefore I was able to go. I'd been feeling sort of isolated in my mourning for Mikey, even though I knew that thousands of other people miss him at least as much as I do. It was cathartic to be in the same room as Mikey's parents and friends and hear them speak beautiful words about him and the legacy he left us: the inspiration to appreciate what we have, and thank God for everything He has given to us -- day by glorious day.

Mikey may be playing the drums in the next world, but the ripples he created are still spreading. Just today a new friend of mine here in Jerusalem, Miriam, called to offer me a ride to the Shloshim. I declined since I live only a few blocks from the synagogue where the event was held, but since Miriam grew up in England I was interested to know how she knew Mikey.

"I didn't," she replied. "You told me about him a few weeks ago, and I want to go to the Shloshim and show support for his parents."

As Mikey's mother wrote in a recent update, even from beyond, Mikey is inspiring ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

The main theme of the many moving eulogies is our desire to continue the traditions that Mikey started. To appreciate the privilege most of us have to live normal lives, with all the standard annoyances -- at work, in marriage, in school-- that Mikey could never experience because he was too sick. To thank everyone who ever does a kindness for us, even if the kindness is to stick us with a painful needle so the medicine will make us feel better. To understand that we don't understand God's plan -- and that therefore we must assume that anything that happens in our lives is a gift from Him.

Pretty intense. Afterward, I was so happy to be invited out to dinner with Ari and Sarah Beth and their kids. We went to Yoja, an Oriental (I hesitate to say Chinese because really I think it might be Thai or Vietnamese or something) restaraunt on Emek Refaim. It felt so good to be with a whole family whom I love so much and whose love for me I feel so strongly. They always welcome me like I'm part of their family, and it's hard to express how much that means to me.

Yaakov G., who used to be an NCSYer of mine, also ate with us. I wouldn't have thought it, but it was strangely comfortable having him there. It was nice to see how he's grown up; he's been through a lot in the last few years, and what he paid for with pain, I can see he gained in maturity and depth. From a nice kid, what a nice man he's become! Plus, knowing that he's also done UYO made me feel a special kinship with him. The whole thing was so nice, me and Sarah Beth and Ari and the kids and Yaakov, in our little circle of mutual understanding and respect. It's nice to have people with whom I can just be myself.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Well, I just found Ari Baronofsky's blog, and it seems that Hyim Baronofsky is engaged! Mazal tov! Last I checked he was 16 years old, but I guess time travels more slowly for us fourth-generation NCSY advisors (by which I mean, my NCSYers' NCSYers' NCSYers are now advisors).


Monday, February 23, 2004

So last night I'm reading the New York Times' coverage of yesterday's bus bombing, and lo and behold, a friend of mine is quoted:

"It was a fireball — smoke, windows shattered," said Moshe Matitya, 38, who witnessed the attack from his car about 15 feet away. "People fell out, bodies fell out, parts of bodies."

Then, he said, "People started pushing their way out, a lot of them with blood all over them."

Wo. Moshe! Moshe and his wife, Rivka, and 3 adorable kids comprise one of my favorite local families. They are the family I call if I haven't been invited to a Shabbat meal by Thursday night. Moshe and Rivka were crazy enough to come to my Star Wars party. They are two of the most good-natured people I know. Moshe! Only 15 feet away!

Today I called them and physically Moshe is fine. He went to the hospital afterward because, in case you later suffer something like ringing in your ears, it's important for insurance purposes to be on the list of bystanders to a terrorist attack. He told me that he was on his way home from dropping off one of his daughters at school, was about to make a left turn and was watching the bus when it blew up.

Can you imagine? You're looking at a bus to see if you can make your turn, and boom. It explodes and body parts and blood are everywhere.

The thought of it makes me feel tired and sad.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Just woke up. They are saying on the radio that there was another bus bombing this morning. The announcer says that there are 30 casualties; I'm not sure how many of those are fatalities. All that and have online right now is that a bombing happened in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rechavia, and that there are casualties.

The fact that I'm posting this obviously indicates that I'm OK. I can't think of anyone I'm close with who may have been on a bus in Rechavia at this hour. Hm. Except one of my coworkers. I'll check to see if she's OK.

This is going to put a sort of surreal damper on the interviews I will conduct this morning with TelAviv-area hotel managers about the proms they'll be hosting in the spring. Proms have become a trend in Israel's central region over the last 5 years -- it's probably the only time in an Israeli's life that they wear a tuxedo or ball gown.

Welcome to Israel. Blown-up bus and conversations about the prom on the same day.

I'm personally doing OK, but when I think about how many people out there have a loved one who got onto a bus this morning that goes through Rechavia, and right now do not know whether that person is alive, or dead, or hanging between the two, it's really sad.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

My friend Chava directed me to this fascinating article in yesterday's New York Times, about a man who has never eaten in a restaurant. A Jewish man in New York City who has never eaten in a restaurant. But wait till you see why.

I'd also like to direct you all to this great site that has a hysterical series of short movies about being laid off. It is highly entertaining. Just click here and then press the big "start" button to watch "Laid Off: A Day in the Life." I suggest that you then follow the links (under "Cartoons") to "Laid Off: Help Wanted," "Laid Off: Annual Report" and "Laid Off: Vacation Day." They are all great. (However, they do get somewhat progressively off-color, so if you are extremely frum about these things, then don't bother watching this.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Here's a site that made me feel a lot better.

And, in a different vein, here are some sites with photos of the world's ugliest wedding gowns and bridesmaids' dresses. Pretty unbelievable.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Judah notified me that he's coming to Israel for a visit, and that he'd like to take out me and our mutual friend Beth (also a new immigrant! Go, us!) and her husband for dinner. After consulting with another friend, Chava, who knows restaurants, we chose a beautiful Indian place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel called Kohinoor.

Uch, this place is fabulous. The service is impeccable. They warm your plates for you before bringing the food. The tamari chicken is to die for. The lamb in cashew sauce was divine. Everything from the appetizers to the coconut sorbet for dessert was heavenly.

And, it was very nice to spend time with Judah, Beth, and Simcha. So, thank you, Judah, our rich American friend, for treating your Olim writer friends to a fabulous dinner!

Note: Judah would like me to mention that he is in his early thirties and a "good looking, successful, eligible widower." I would like to add that he's also a really quality person and fun to be with. If any single Orthodox women in the metro New York area want more details, let me know.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Oh. My. God.

This site is both fascinating and deeply disturbing.

This world is inhabited by some really, but really, strange people.
One of the things I realized at UYO was just how few tools I have to deal with anger. Other feelings – fear, love, sadness, joy, pride, affection, disappointment, self-pity, depression, loneliness, guilt – I can deal with pretty well once I acknowledge that it’s there. But anger . . . even when I acknowledge that it’s there, I still don’t know what to do with it.

I’ve rarely seen people who are role models for dealing constructively with anger. Most people either swallow their anger and try to avoid it, or they take out their anger on everyone around them, destroying their relationships. Isn’t there a third way?

Usually, I’m able to acknowledge to myself that I’m angry, and I try to talk myself through it, figuring out: what is bothering me exactly, and how can I solve the problem? But I get stuck in the feeling of it, and have a hard time climbing out of the quicksand of my anger or rage. I may not be yelling – thank God, I’ve learned to maintain an outward appearance of calm, to give myself time to think over what I really want to do – but inside I’m suffering.

Tonight I’m thinking that anger is a tool, and how destructive it is depends on how you use it.

I remember learning in an NCSY session a long, long time ago that anger is a form of selfishness, because it comes from a feeling that “my needs and my ego are more important than any other consideration.” That’s why some people, when they get angry, yell at others. They are forgetting other people’s needs and egos in the process of defending their own.

It’s also probably why some people try to swallow their anger, or push it aside. If deep down they feel that their own needs are meaningless and unimportant, then they tell themselves that their anger is unjustified, they are wrong to feel it, and if they can just stop feeling it, everything will be OK.

But I think that really, anger is a warning bell. It’s basically the mind’s way of saying “Beep! Beep! Someone’s trampling on my dignity! Someone’s forgetting my needs! Someone is hurting my ego!” Sometimes, it’s possible to manually override the system by telling oneself “yes, my needs are not being met, but this time it’s OK. I’ll get the need met some other way, or live without it, because there’s some other goal I’m reaching for that is more important.” That goal might be being considerate of a loved one, or keeping peace in the home, or keeping one’s job, or not making a scene at a fancy cocktail party.

The problem with that solution is that it means that one’s needs still aren’t being met. It takes someone on a really high level of emotional maturity to consistently deal with one’s anger that way. Often, people who try to deal with it that way all the time are ignoring the warning bells in dangerous ways, and eventually they “blow up,” or start doing passive-aggressive things to express how they really feel. (I say “they,” but of course I include myself in this.)

So sometimes, it’s better to heed the bell. When one’s ego is saying “hellooooo out there! I’m here! What about me?!?” it’s not always a matter of selfishness to protect oneself. Self-fulness, but not selfishness.

If you had a child who was being insulted, you’d have a few words with whomever was hurting your child, right? You’d stick up for them. Maybe, anger is the cry of one’s inner child, a way of the little kid – the ego?—in each of us to say “I need you to stick up for me now.”

“What about me?”

Tomorrow, I’m going to be talking to someone who has made me very angry (see the previous posting about this below). I’m going to stick up for myself.

But I’m worried that my self-fulness will turn to selfishness. It’s a fine line. I’m worried that I’ll get so wrapped up in defending my ego and my needs, that I’ll forget about the other person’s ego and needs.

I’d really welcome comments about this, as I’m feeling sort of lonely about it. How do you deal with anger? Or, if you don’t deal with it well, to what extent does that fact bother you? How are you trying to deal with it?
Thanks to the good folks at the Protocols blog for linking to me on their site! Now I'm officially part of the world-wide Jewish attempt at total dominion over the Blogosphere.

Have you linked to me on your site? Let me know and if I like your site, I'll link to you, too.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Mazal tov to Matthew Cooper and Mindy Tanenbaum on their engagement!

A few years ago I saw a woman on a Manhattan subway wearing a cap that said:

I'm a reporter. Trust me.

It’s funny how people are really suspicious of me when I interview them. I’m not talking about their care in choosing their words, or their desire to make sure that I completely understand what they are trying to communicate, or their requests for me to read quotes back to them to make sure I got it down accurately. Frankly, in their shoes, I’d do the same thing, because being quoted innacurately sucks.

What I’m talking about is the assumption that I must be looking for dirt. Now, it is true that I’ve written a few “expose” type of articles, in which I brought other people’s bad behavior to light. When I interview the people who are guilty of bad behavior, they have every reason to be defensive. I may be striving to be fair and balanced, but ultimately, they are in the hot seat.

No, what makes me laugh is when I’m interviewing people for, let’s say, an article for a Jewish newspaper about wedding bands, and they act as if they are George Bush at a press conference about Iraq’s WMD. If they say something off the cuff that is less than nice, they fall all over themselves saying “please don’t print that.”

Really, when I write these little service pieces, my goal is not at all to cause trouble for people. I’m just writing about, say, the pros and cons of different kinds of bands. Nothing terrible. In fact, I enjoy the fact that I’m giving free publicity to the bandmembers I interview. They are usually nice people, and I like knowing that maybe they’ll get more business from readers who have learned something new. If there are disadvantages to a band, I might include it, but only in the context of educating the readers about who might be a good fit for the various bands.

I understand people’s anxiety. They don’t know me. And there are a lot of reporters out there who would blithely print someone’s off-the-cuff comment, even after the interviewee says “if you print that, my wife will divorce me.”

So, I’m here to give you all a service. In case you, my dear readers of Chayyei Sarah, are ever contacted by a reporter, please keep the following in mind:

1) My first piece of advice is, don’t speak to reporters. Ever.

2) Exception to #1: If you are running for public office, have a business you can publicize for free in the story, are aware of a little-known problem that is making people lose their health or their money, or if you are being paid by someone else to do PR for them, then definitely speak to reporters.

3) If you are tempted to speak to a reporter for the attention, see #1.

4) If you must speak to a reporter, first find out what publication this is for, get the reporter’s full name, and find out where else this person has published. Then, look up their work to see if you like what they do. If it bothers you, decline the interview.

5) Don’t say anything you don’t want to be printed verbatim.

6) If you must speak to a reporter, and if you must say something that you wouldn’t want printed verbatim, remember that if you want anything to be “off the record,” you have to say beforehand that it is “off the record.” If in a moment of bad judgement you say “Yeah, my wife has really bad breath in the morning,” then saying afterward “Oh, God, please don’t print that” does not help you. The reporter might be nice and not include it (I, for example, would not include that in an article, unless I really hate the person I’m interviewing), but the reporter is not obligated to honor your request. Your mistake, your problem. However, if you say “off the record, my wife has bad breath in the morning,” then according to the rules of journalism, you are off the hook. But before relying on this, see #5.

7) If you must speak with a reporter, begin the interview by saying that you’ll only talk if the reporter promises to read your quotes back to you, or email or fax them to you before sending the story to the editor. Technically, the reporter is not obligated to do this, but if you make it a condition of the interview, most will honor the request. However, most will not honor a request to send you the complete article for your review before it goes to press. The reporter is busy and already has an editor who is paying to see the article first.

8) Remember that reporters are not obligated to “clean up” your quotes by fixing your grammar or word usage. In fact, most reputable papers strongly discourage the cleaning up of quotations. So, if you talk like an idiot in person, your words, when written down, will still make you look like an idiot. Speak slowly and carefully.

9) According to New York State law, a telephone conversation can legally be taped as long as one of the people in the conversation knows that the tape recorder is running. That person, of course, can be the reporter. So, if you are being interviewed on the phone by someone who is in New York, or if you live in New York, you might be on tape, and they are not obligated to inform you of it. (By the way, I almost never tape conversations. I type fast and why should I double the time I have to spend listening to someone talk to me about the latest developments in Kosher pet food?)

10) Don’t ramble. Unless the article is about you, remember that the article is not about you. It’s about, say, why you hired a particular band, or why you insist on using kosher pet food. Stick to the subject at hand. Also, you are more likely to actually be quoted if you give short, well-expressed sound bites. So get to the point!

11) Exception to #10: If you know of an interesting story, such as a little-known problem that is making people lose their time or money, then by all means, at the end of the interview, tell the reporter that you have a tip for them. Or ask permission to send her a press release about your business, or whatever. But then, don’t take it personally if the reporter doesn’t follow up. And don’t harass the reporter by calling or emailing repeatedly, asking when she’s going to write about that story. Find a different reporter to harass.

12) Don’t offer gifts to the reporter. It’s unethical for him or her to take them.

13) It’s fair for you to ask for a copy of the article after it’s printed. However, the reporter is very likely to forget to do this (I, personally, never promise to do it, because I know I would never have time to arrange it—remember, I might be interviewing 15 or 20 people for the same story). Your better bet is to ask how you can access the article online, or ask for the phone number of the publication so you can call yourself and ask for a copy to be sent to you.

14) If after ignoring #1 and #7, you discover you've been badly misquoted in a newspaper or magazine, write a short letter to the Editor explaining what you really said. They might print the letter, which would help in decreasing the damage done to you. But if you really did say this horrible thing and now you regret it, suck it up. I told you never to speak to reporters.

Have any questions for Chayyei Sarah, the roving reporter? Click on “comment” and ask!
Let's imagine that someone in your life made what you believe to be an error in judgement. And then, let's say, that in order to help this person, you spent a lot of time and effort to make sure that things stayed OK for that person, despite their making this judgement call that anyone could have told them would maybe not work out the way they would like. Let's say that, hypothetically, you went above and beyond the call of duty in making everything as OK as it is in your power to make it for them, making some sacrifices that this person hadn't even asked you to make, because you saw that for things to be OK, the sacrifices would have to be made. And let's say that, in fact, the end result was that everything turned out alright, even though it meant that you were under quite a bit of pressure, because you really wanted badly to make things OK for this person.

And then, let's say that, theoretically, this person does not thank you in any way. Let's even imagine that this person in fact berates you for not making things OK sooner than you did. Let's say that, in order to make things OK any sooner, you would have had to break the laws of physics.

Well, that would be annoying, wouldn't it?

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

In which I admit what is really bothering me

It’s been a “blah” sort of week in general, but today I’ve graduated to “grouchy.” I managed to keep my feelings in check at work, even though we had a staff meeting when I really needed to be finishing this project, and now I had to take work home with me to make sure it gets finished on time (I wasn’t told to take it home, but if I don’t meet the deadline, guess who will be in trouble?). I’m not grouchy because of work – my job is pretty good, all things considered-- but going to work is a nice way of exacerbating grouchiness that is already there, especially when a deadline is looming.

Not even my Thursday afternoon dance class (I take a women’s class called “Contact Improvisation” every Thursday for 2 hours) made me feel better. I even left early because I was like “I cannot do this. I’m sick of making ‘contact’ with this floor, I’m sick of staying in tune with other people, I’m sick of being touchy-feely. I’m leaving.” I’m usually so not like that. Usually I’m really sorry when the class is over.

Then, tonight, I cancelled my invitation to Friday night dinner and decided to host a meal of my own, because my would-be host had said that it would, other than me, be a “very couple-ly and kidd-ie meal.” I just cannot sit through one of those, not now. I cannot, this week, stand watching other people be all happy happy family-oriented “let’s talk about playgroups and our search for a 4-bedroom apartment in the suburbs.” No way am I participating in such a thing. No way.

You wanna know what one of the things is that is making me grouchy? Well, for starters, my dating life is one long, expansive wasteland of men who turn out to be sexist, boring, alcoholic, or simply not in possession of enough good taste to want to date me more than once. Plus, since moving to Israel, I’ve contacted approximately 25 men on, one of the local dating websites, and not one, not one, has turned into an actual let’s-sit-in-a-restaurant-and-talk-over-gnocchi date. Here’s the breakdown (numbers are approximate):

 10 men never wrote back
 7 men said “Your profile is nice but I don’t think it’s relevant.”
 3 men wrote "Your profile is nice but I'm seeing someone."
 1 man wrote “Your profile is nice but I don’t live in Israel anymore.”
 1 man wrote “Your profile is nice but you are too short.”
 1 man wrote “Your profile is nice, but you said that you are ‘spiritual and deeply religious,’ and I’m really not, so good luck. I hope the fact that you wrote so much about yourself in your profile doesn’t turn other people off.”
 1 man wrote back, and we emailed for a while, and then suddenly I never heard from him. I even wrote to ask him the status, and he never responded to that, either. Loser.
 1 man I’ve been corresponding with for weeks, and today I finally wrote to him that maybe it’s time we talk on the phone. I have few hopes for this one, since I was the one who had to chase him for phone contact. Which probably means he’s either not so interested in me, or not so interested in a relationship, or both.

I need to face it. I learned, or thought I had learned, a long time ago that “a man who is not asking you out is a man who is not interested.” But there’s also a sub-category of this rule, which is “a man who doesn’t write to you first on an internet dating site is a man who won’t really be that excited about meeting you.”

To be fair, a few men have contacted me since I made aliyah, through the same dating site. Here’s an approximate breakdown:
 8 men were well into their 40’s, divorced with children, or both.
 1 man was in his 50’s. Grrrrrrooooooosssss.
 5 men were not religious at all. (However, one of those was 24 and really hot. What an ego boost! Yigal, whereever you are, thank you so much.)
 3 of the men were extremely yeshivish/chassidish, “you must cover all of your hair, end of story” “I want someone who is willing to have all the children Hashem will give us” type of people.
 Of the men described above, several had not attended college.

And then there was “Petach Tikva guy,” who, despite being 39 and not my physical type, seemed normal enough to go out with. Oh, that things were what they seemed. I was in Petach Tikva anyway to visit Cousin Meir, and met this guy for Friday-morning brunch. We were out for 2 hours, of which –and I mean this quite literally, without any exaggeration—he spoke for 1 hour and 50 minutes. It was rather impressive, how he went on and on. When he finally would ask me a question, he’d let me talk for one minute and then interrupt me to start up with his own stories. Plus he wore dirty sneakers on a date. Plus he didn’t offer to carry my bag as we were walking to or from the restaurant. Plus he walked me to the station where I’d catch a bus to Jerusalem, and didn’t stick around to make sure I found the bus OK. I don’t think he’s actually a jerk, just completely, completely clueless.

Plus—man, I could go on forever, will I EVER find the right guy?—the man I’ve been crushing on is, I’m 98% sure, homosexual. The other 2% of me thinks that maybe he’s just metrosexual. It makes no difference because he’s not asking me out. With my track record, he’s probably straight and, now that I am interested in him, he will get engaged to someone else within weeks. Typical.


I think I’ll go eat a box of chocolate cookies, now.
Hello, people! Just want to point out that after each posting is a place to click to add your comments! The whole point of moving the blog here was just for this purpose, so please, give me feedback! Share your experiences!

Quick update: Yesterday's earthquake measured 5 on the Richter scale. A few people were treated for shock, and one construction worker fell from the scaffolding and broke several bones, but other than that -- no serious injuries! And no buildings collapsed either.

Overall, a very cool experience! Much nicer than a terrorist attack, I have to say.

Last night I went to Yael's place to do my laundry, since my washing machine is still broken (long story). While the second load was in the machine, I fell asleep on her couch. Apparently she put my clothes in the dryer for me, and tried to wake me up when it was done, and I wouldn't wake up! I don't remember this at all. Yael and her roommate decided that I was immovable, so they put a blanket on me, and the next thing I knew, it was 7:15 in the morning. I must have been really tired.

Gotta run. I have to be at work early today-- we're spending an hour all at the same time cleaning up computer files, and then there's a staff meeting. I wouldn't mind except that we all have a major project we're working on, due on Monday, and I think it's a little dumb to be cleaning up computer files when there's a deadline in a few days. But, you know, it's not up to me. I'm just along for the ride.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Hey, I just experienced my first earthquake! Or, the first I've felt, anyway. I'm sitting at my computer and at first I thought there was a really strong wind outside. But then, my whole building started to shake, and I thought "Oh, my God, there must have been a terrorist attack really close by if my building is shaking like this." But then I realized I hadn't heard any explosion, and was really confused.

Sure enough, on the radio they just said that 8 minutes ago we had an earthquake, and they are playing "I feel the earth move under my feet."

Heh heh, they are interviewing people from different cities to find out how strongly they felt it. I suppose the seismological reports will come in soon.
Ghosts of Relatives Past, Part I

[I wrote this last night, and was going to wait to finish it before I posted it, but now I don't know how quickly it will get done. It might take a while. So, here is the first part, and whenever I get have the time and inclination to continue, I'll post more of my thoughts about this. It's a little deeper than, say, the post about Duplex.]

I was in my 20’s before I realized that not everyone who is Jewish has family who was killed in the Holocaust.

It’s not something that comes up very often, but I’m always shocked when, upon hearing that my grandmother’s family was almost completely wiped out in the Holocaust, other Jews give me a sympathetic look and say “that must be so hard.” Apparently a lot of my friends’ families arrived in America long before World War II, and so for them, the Holocaust is a little more academic than it is family history.

I’m shocked because, just as my mother, who grew up in post-WWII Vienna, assumed that part of being Jewish meant that you have no grandparents, I grew up assuming that part of being Jewish is that you are a descendant of at least one Holocaust survivor. The fact that my mother’s parents had met in a labor camp, after my grandfather’s first wife and son were killed, was something I took for granted. The fact that before the war my grandmother had had six brothers and sisters, and after the war she had only one, was a fact that I absorbed as part of the natural course of the world. We’re Jewish. We eat kosher food. We use vacation time to take off for Rosh Hashanah. We pray in Hebrew. And Omi’s family was killed in the Holocaust. It was as normal as breathing, as much a part of my family’s landscape as the fact that my other grandparents lived in Arizona, or that my grandfather, the one whose first wife had been murdered, earned a living after the war making special shoes for people with disfigured feet and died of lung cancer in the late 60's. It wasn’t something to analyze or feel sorry about, it just was.

I did wonder sometimes about my mother’s dead half-brother. We have a photo of my grandfather with his first family. His wife was a moderately attractive woman, friendly-looking and fashionably dressed. Their son had straight hair – I hear that it was red, like my grandfather’s, and my mother’s – and that he had a bad arm. In the photo he’s about five years old, and his weak arm is resting on a ball. He and his mother were killed shortly after the photo was taken.

I wondered about them, that woman and the boy, the people whose death freed my grandfather to remarry and produce my mother, and in turn me. I wondered about them, and I felt sorry, too, for my Omi, who never talked much about her dead siblings, because it hurt too much to remember.

But I myself never really considered what the Holocaust meant for me until about a year ago, when my cousin Danny married a Catholic girl. I attended the reception, and sat with my uncle and a few other relatives of my uncle’s wife. At one point, my uncle whispered to me “Look at this! Practically the whole wedding is from the bride’s side! There are a few tables with friends of Danny and his wife, and one table for our family, and everyone else is from her family!” I looked around, thinking it over, and said “Right. Because her family wasn’t killed in World War II. Imagine if there’d been no Holocaust, if Omi’s brothers and sisters and all their children hadn’t been killed. You’d have a ton of cousins.”

At the time I felt pretty matter-of-fact about it, but later, when I was alone, it hit me that Hitler killed my family. I would have scores of first-cousins-once-removed, and who knows how many second cousins, except for the fact that one day, when by a twist of fate my grandmother was away from her Polish village, everyone in her family was taken away to Treblinka.

Now that I’m in Israel, I feel very keenly the lack of family. My grandmother’s one surviving brother, Simcha, moved to Israel after he was liberated, and his son, Meir, is my only relative here. Meir and his wife and two boys are very nice to me, but between their living a little far from me and not being Sabbath-observant, it’s hard to find mutually convenient times to get together. I’m envious of those who have family to visit for Shabbat and holidays. For the first time, in my early 30’s, I feel a sense of rage against Hitler, and whoever the faceless Germans or Poles were who killed my relatives, killed the family I’ve never had a chance to meet, the dozens of cousins I’ll never have.
The last time I lived in a place with a TV and cable was last June, when I lived for a few weeks with my parents before moving to Israel. The time before that was . . . let’s see now . . . 1998. It’s not that I have any particular religious objection to television. It’s just that I think it’s a waste of time. And besides, it’s mesmerizing. If I had one, I would watch it all the time, and never get any work done. It’s bad enough, how much Solitaire I play, but if I had cable, I for sure would never do anything interesting or productive (such as this blog).

Tonight I went to babysit for some friends, and was so excited to find that they have TV! Because sometimes, you know, a girl wants to be mesmerized.

So I watched TV for about 3 hours. Of that time, 30 minutes was spent watching a rerun of Friends, which was funny. And I caught the last five minutes of an intimate interview with a career General in the Israeli army, about how he balances his work with his family life, which was engaging in its own way because the interviewee was thoughtful and intelligent. Other than that, I was appalled to find that out of all those cable channels, none were offering anything that was entertaining or informative in any way. It was all drivel. Overwrought detective stories; fashion shows; drama programs in Arabic, French, Russian, and I think Spanish and German; tonight’s winning lottery numbers; a Hebrew version of Who Wants to be a Millionnaire; soccer and basketball games; an old episode of “Behind the Music” about Britney Spears; and an interview – I am not kidding – with Heidi Fleiss. I sat there flipping through 30 or 40 channels, feeling my brains turn to baby food.

If this is what people are watching for hours every day, no wonder the world is falling apart. We’re becoming stupider, and we like it.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Did any of you see the film Duplex, starring Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore? If so, my heart goes out to you, but please tell me how it ends, because I have no idea.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Yael and I decided to go see Mona Lisa Smile. Since I went to a women’s college and have some interest in feminism, I figured it would be interesting. Unfortunately, Yael and I did not count on how many other Israelis would want to see it, too, and we failed to buy tickets online. That was our first mistake.

We get to the theater, and at about 7:20 they open the booth to sell tickets for the 7:30 movie (I know that sounds dumb, but in Israel one’s movie tickets come with assigned seats, so once you buy it you don’t have to scramble for a good place to sit. You can kind of mosey to the concession stand, get your KOSHER popcorn, and then find your seat, with time left over to watch the commercials for Egged buses that they play before the previews). Anyhow, Mona Lisa Smile sold out by 7:25. Luckily, I’d looked up the other 7:30 films beforehand to see what our options were, so we knew that the second choice was Duplex and got tickets to that, instead. That was our second mistake.

Allow me to backtrack here to explain that I am a big fan of movies that are “stupid funny.” For example,Superstar, the movie featuring SNL character Mary Catherine Gallagher, is one of my favorite movies of all time. So when I saw the synopsis of Duplex, I figured “Ok, so it’s not high art, but it will be good for some laughs, or at least smirks, and it’s better than sitting at home playing solitaire.” If I’d only known.

Duplex is about a young couple from Manhattan who buys a beautiful brownstone duplex apartment in Brooklyn. The problem is their tenent, an old lady on the second floor who seems very sweet but in fact makes their lives miserable.

The movie lived down to my expectation of “stupid funny,” and at first I did quite a bit of smirking and even some laughing out loud. But sometime after the first 40 minutes or so, the film devolved into a gross-out fest, complete with Drew Barrymore vomiting onto Ben Stiller’s face. It was so disgusting I literally gagged. Yael said later that she was angry at the film because “it was insulting.” Indeed.

So, during intermission, we left. I was worried that if we stayed, I’d throw up. That’s how bad it was. (Yes, in Israel they have an intermission after the first hour or so of a movie.) This was only the second time in my life that I walked out of a film (the first was Flatliners, which might be an OK film but I found it too disturbing).

What a horrible waste of 33 shekels. If hell has a movie theater, they are showing Duplex.

Luckily, the movie I saw last week with another friend, Chava, made up for the nauseous movie of the week before. We saw Girl With a Pearl Earring, and it was phenomenal.

Now, this is the farthest from a “stupid funny” film that one can get. It is neither stupid, nor funny. It takes itself extremely seriously, and it works. The movie, based on a recent bestselling novel of the same name, tells a fictionalized account of the story behind one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings. In real life, no one knows for sure who the girl is in “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” but the story in the film is done so well, you come away hoping that reality was something like this. It is neither happy nor depressing, just really engrossing. I really liked that most of the story is told not in dialogue but in glances. It’s a very quiet film. I also like the fact that they play around with the lighting, so the whole film has the look of a Vermeer painting. I like the music. I like the fact that it’s clean. And I like that the sexual tension between the main character, Griet, and Vermeer, is there but not overdone. It’s just a terrific movie-going experience which I highly recommend.

But, I don’t know how Duplex ends, so if anyone out there managed to sit through the whole thing, please click on “Comments” and tell me what happens. I'm mildly curious.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

I’m a 31-year-old religious Jewish woman (named Sarah, duh) who recently moved from Manhattan to Jerusalem, Israel.

“Chayyei Sarah” started out as an e-newsletter I sent to my friends once a week for about a year. That was, oh, eight years ago. Each week I included an update of what had gone on with me that week, a list of “mazal tovs,” and a quote-of-the-week. It actually got forwarded around quite a bit, so in addition to the navel-gazing I did every Thursday night while writing it, I also got the ego boost of meeting new people and having them say “Wait a second, you’re Chayyei Sarah!” That was so cool.

When I moved to Israel, I started posting updates about my life, under the title “Chayyei Sarah,” on my personal webpage, so that my friends and family back in the U.S. could share in the experiences in my new life. But I realized that:

a) I was uncomfortable having my blog on the same site as photos of myself, and my full name and

b) I wanted my readers to be able to comment; what fun is a blog if it isn’t interactive?

Thanks to Blogger and Blogspot, Chayyei Sarah has officially entered Internet Land. Thanks for visiting! In the future, I’ll post not only updates of my goings-on but also my political opinions, media watches (I’m a freelance journalist by trade), fun links, and more. In other words, I’ll post whatever I feel like writing about, that my clients wouldn’t publish. There’s always something new in Chayyei Sarah.