Thursday, August 30, 2007

Single on Rosh Hashanah


Every. single. word of this essay resonated with me.


Monday, August 27, 2007

"When Harry Meets Hebrew"

My latest feature story for the World Jewish Digest is finally online!

It is about the difficulties faced by Gili Bar-Hillel, whose job is to translate the Harry Potter books from English to Hebrew. The story includes examples of challenges created by differences in syntax, cultural and religious differences between Brits and Israelis, and challenges for translator generally.

As you can imagine, I had an incredibly good time researching this story. Bar-Hillel was very nice, and I had the good fortune of finding a graduate translation student who is writing her thesis on the Hebrew Harry Potter books! I love being a freelance writer and having the freedom to pitch stories about my hobbies!

The link is here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Inspiring New Blog

My friend RivkA (accent on the "a") has cancer, and she is writing about her treatment, feelings, and hopes at her new blog, "Coffee and Chemo." Check it out.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Too Little, but not Too Late

At least a few months before the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, I read a newspaper report -- in Haaretz, I believe -- about a special government report which had been presented to the Knesset. Everyone was worried that a disengagement might lead to an Israeli civil war, and the report was basically tips to the government of how to do a disengagement the most peaceful way, if they were going to do it. I remember clearly that the number one most important point was that the settlers who were being moved should be treated as heroes, that political leaders from across the political spectrum should laud the settlers for their commitment to Israel, for their Zionist ideals, for having been willing to live in a harsh security situation because of their commitment to the land and to the State. The public message should be, the report said, that although the settler movement in Gaza was no longer deemed to be in Israel's best interests, the people themselves were heroes who had made great sacrifices for the country and should be acknowledged as such.

As anyone can tell, this message went unheeded by most of the Israeli left and the media outlets that represent them. But some of us were paying attention. Though I supported the disengagement as a political and military necessity, I always said that the 9,000 Jews who would be forced to move should be treated well and given generous compensation packages, that the government should work with them to ensure that they can find new places to live, or rebuild their communities elsewhere, as quickly as possible.

This, too, has not happened. Though I don't have the statistics at my fingertips, many of the settlers of Gush Katif are still unemployed, not because they don't wish to work but because the promises they received that they could start farming elsewhere have not been fulfilled. Many of them are still living in sub-par temporary housing and are being given the runaround by the government, who won't let them break ground on permanent homes.

One of these communities is that of Shirat Hayam. They had been promised by Ariel Sharon himself that they could all move, together, to a new location in the Jordan Valley called Maskiot. Now, I personally think it is ridiculous on the government's part to promise that they could move to another location over the Green Line, in the West Bank. However, if this is what they were promised, I think it's in everyone's best interests, especially that of the Left, to show that when the government promises something, they deliver. Instead, the government has been giving the community of Shirat Hayam/ Maskiot the runaround.

Two years after the disengagement, the people of Shirat Hayam are still living in caravans in a community called Chemdat, which is near Maskiot. I don't have any knowledge of the relationship between the Chemdat hosts and their Shirat Hayam guests, but a friend who is familiar with the community told me that the Chemdat infrastructure was built to support one small community of 30 families. And now, suddenly, the community doubled as Chemdat "absorbed" the displaced persons of Gush Katif.

The Jordan Vally is extremely hot, and this doubled community has been praying together every Saturday in a caravan, packed like sardines. Did I mention that the Jordan Valley is scorchingly hot?

My friend Aviva is raising money to purchase an additional caravan before Rosh Hashanah, so that the people of Shirat Hayam can say the High Holy Day prayers together as a community, with somewhat more comfort both for themselves and for the people of Chemdat. After the holidays, the caravan will be used as a community center, and it will be moved to Maskiot once the people are finally allowed to move there.

A caravan costs $33,000, way more than the people of Maskiot/Chemdat can afford, but not so much if a lot of people each give a little. I urge you to consider showing your support for the displaced community of Shirat Hayam. Even if, like me, you supported the disengagement, even if, like me, you think that the whole idea of moving Jews into Gush Katif was misguided from the beginning . . . well, these are good people who moved there in good faith, with the blessings of the State of Israel. They are Jews who have been bounced around by our own government, who were promised homes and are still living in caravans and praying in a shule that is too small for them by half. As the Day of Judgement approaches, the least we can do is help ease their suffering -- not to mention that of the community of Chemdat-- from the heat and from the impermanence of their living quarters.

If you would like to help purchase a caravan for them (or get information about helping to build other future infrastructure in Maskiot, such as a mikvah and a permanent synagogue building), click here.

From the States, you can send a (tax deductible) check, made out to AFNCI, to Rabbi M. Strasberg, 179-10 73rd Avenue, Flushing, New York 11366, including a note stating that the donations are to be allocated to Shirat-Hayam-Maskiot.

Or, call Avivah Harbater at
050-874-3484 (Israeli number) or 1-516-515-95-92 (American number; rings in Israel). Tell her Chayyei Sarah sent you!

Best wishes to everyone in finding a comfortable seat for the long Rosh Hashanah prayers, and may your own community's davening be meaningful and answered!

(hat tip: Jameel, Jameel guesblogging for Dov Bear, and Avivah Harbader)
Bagruyot Redux

I've got a new article out in the Jewish Week's Education supplement. It's an explanatory article about the Israeli matriculation exams known as "bagruyot." The purpose of the story is to help American Jews understand this Israeli rite of passage, and to provide introductory information to people who are considering aliyah. You can check it out here. Have fun.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Wee Bit Star-Struck

New Nokia cell phone, to replace the dying phone I've been using for four years . . . 1140 NIS

New skirt for Yom Tov . . . . 179 NIS

Stopping at Tal Bagels on the way home to get an ice-coffee . . . 15 NIS

Recognizing Hillel Neuer at Tal Bagels, taking the chance to thank him in person for attempting to give the UN Human Rights Council a reality check, and finding out that he reads my blog . . . . priceless

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I say it's my birthday!

(And it's your birthday too, yeah!)

Yesterday I turned 35. The actual day was pretty boring: I stayed home reading an Agatha Christie novel. But on Friday, Yael took me to a very nice beach at Nitzanim, and I relaxed on the white sand. Then for Shabbat dinner, Chava and Mark invited me over and served several of my favorite foods: chopped liver (yes, I love chopped liver. Maybe I just always need iron?), awesome chicken, awesome cooked vegetables with rosemary, potato kugel (food for the soul), and -- thanks to Mark -- a Black Forest birthday cake! mmmmm!

Also, the possibility of good news: I put in a verbal offer on an apartment! Now, it's too early to get too excited. The owner may want to negotiate, I may not be able to get a mortgage that supports this offer, an engineer might tell me the building is falling apart and not to buy there, etc etc. Nothing is legally binding until I sign a contract, and there are about 800 things that could go wrong between now and then. However, it's a start! I saw an apartment that I really liked and am prepared to buy it if all goes well in the process. So, please pray that if I'm meant to live in this apartment that the owner accepts the offer, that my bank supports me, and that all goes smoothly.

A belated birthday wish list will go up soon! It's never too late to buy presents for Chayyei Sarah!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Go Forth and Book-ify

Like pretty much anyone who writes professionally, I've long dreamed of writing a book, specifically non-fiction. The problem was that I didn't have a topic. When I lived in New York I had an idea for a coffee-table book, but the research would have been very Manhattan-specific so I abandoned the idea when I made aliyah.

About a year ago, I was contacted by a literary agent, who said that she'd read an article I'd written in a Jewish magazine, and she felt that I "have a book in" me. How flattering is that? She said that whenever I think of a topic I'm passionate about, I would definitely be welcome to contact her. That was so cool. But where was the topic? Writing a book is a tremendous time commitment, and for all but about 6 authors in the world it is not a big money-making proposition. Whatever topic I chose, it would have to be something I'd be willing to research, write, and think about for a period of years. Not so easy.

But lately, it occurred to me that certain articles I've written could be expanded into a book. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. The topic is something I find inherently interesting. Even if I never sold a single copy, which would be disappointing (and expensive), I'd still be happy that I'd done the research, for my own edification.

Then, two weeks ago, I met Fern Reiss, author of The Publishing Game series, at a party. She's in Israel for a year or two. We spoke at length and I decided to go to one of her seminars, the first half of which I attended tonight. We discussed the pros and cons of using an agent vs. self-publishing, how to pitch an idea to an agent, and various marketing information. In addition to learning that, in my case, self-publishing is probably a more lucrative and sensible way to go, I determined that my idea . . .

a) is on a topic about which nothing has been published for several years
b) has a huge potential market , which furthermore is very active, with conventions and chat rooms and other places where I could sell a book outside traditional venues like bookstores and libraries. There is even a product which would lend itself logically to being bundled with such a book.
d) lends itself easily to updating the book every couple of years and issuing new editions
e) would itself serve as a credential for me to write, after the book comes out, for magazines in a related market which I've been trying to break into for a long time.
f) is easily researched from where I live

Obviously more research (about agents, self-publishing, my topic, and possible competitors) is required, but I think I can now say that my plan, definitely, is to make a plan. Meaning, I'm going to do this research and tweak my ideas , and if over the next weeks and months all continues to look logical, I'll go ahead and start the process of making a book!

Wow, I can't believe I'm at the point where I could finally write that. Life sure is full of exciting twists and turns.
A few things

1. I really hope the miners in Utah are still alive and that they will be rescued. The whole idea of mining scares me stiff, as does the idea of being trapped in the dark for 6 days. ::shudder::

2. Many people in the blogging world (or, more specifically, their commenters) have been calling on Orthodox bloggers to address the points that Noah Feldman made in his NY Times article (sorry to bring it up again). They point out, correctly, that whether Maimo cropped any photos or not, and even if the school chose the photo that didn't have Noah in it simply because it was the best photo, it doesn't mean that Feldman's other points/examples are incorrect. In the name of intellectual honesty, they say, we should be talking about the issues he raises: exclusion of the intermarried; the valuing (or not) of non-Jewish lives as something inherently important; incidences of religious fanaticism which produced, he believes, Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein. Did I miss anything?

It is true, these are all important issues to discuss. However, I disagree that I or any other Orthodox blogger should feel obligated to address them just because Noah brought them up. See, when these issues are brought up by someone who is asking respectfully, or innocently, or with genuine curiosity, or out of confusion, or with a sincere desire to hear an answer that sits well with him, then hey - let's talk issues!

But Noah is, and always has been, what one commenter on another blog called "the wolf in the classroom." If his essay was just about feeling excluded as an intermarried person, I might be more inclined to address it. But if he's going to compare tefillin to pain-inducing ritual objects of the Opus Dei, if he's going to talk about intermarriage and Baruch Goldstein in the same breath, then you know what? I don't have to respond to his points.

The bottom line -- and I've given this a lot of thought -- is that I do not want Noah Feldman to be part of my community, and so I really don't give a damn what his issues are. I know, I know. He's a Jew and so in some broad sense I'm supposed to hope that he reconciles himself with all the problems he currently sees in Orthodox Judaism, and start coming to shule and fulfilling all the mitzvot he possibly can, given that his wife and kids are not Jewish.

But I don't want him in my shule. Not because he's intermarried -- for all I care, an intermarried man is welcome to an aliyah -- actually, I wouldn't be surprised if an intermarried guy would get an aliyah in my shule -- but because he's a pompous . . . . ugh, I can't say it! He's pompous, OK, and I don't like him. If my shule were full of people who were intra-married but had his personality, I wouldn't go there. It would not be my community. Actually, I do know shules like that, and guess what? I avoid them. You know why? Because when I think about "my community," my standards are higher than simply demanding intramarriage and keeping Shabbat and other basic requirements of the Orthodox lifestyle. For me to want someone to be in my community, I also want them to be nice company, friendly, able to connect with me and with others.

So, no, I'm not addressing his points, and accept any consequences that might come from that. What could he do, anyway? Print an article in the New York Times maligning my faith?


3. What does it mean to be part of the Orthodox community? I am thinking of a friend of mine, whom I'll call Q because that is, actually, my nickname for her (hi, Q!), who is certainly part of MY community. Several of her close friends are Orthodox, including me. When I lived in New York, we often had Shabbat meals together at my place or at the home of other Orthodox friends. She came to shule with me once or twice. She knows all the Shabbat niggunim and why I'll drink milk from the local supermarket but our Cholov Yisrael friend wouldn't. I've slept over at her apartment when I needed a place to crash in New York, and we make sure to talk on the phone every few weeks despite her incredibly busy schedule. I quote her all the time, because she's really funny. She's not Orthodox at all, but I think she has an Orthodox community. There is a circle of Orthodox people who care about her just as deeply as she cares about us.

This happened because she is no more prejudiced against us than we are against her - and because we are very cool Orthodox people. Not all Orthodox circles are made up of warm folk. Some of them are full of people like . . . well, pompous you-know-whats. But coldness cuts both ways.

Orthodox people at a synagogue should realize that the new family standing in the corner -- the one that is maybe a one-parent family, or not observant, or is poor, or not white -- might be there for more than just prayer. They might want to make an emotional connection with others, with these people they are praying next to. And they won't keep coming to pray if they don't make an emotional connection.

By the same token, I find that often non-Orthodox Jews cast aspersions at the Orthodox because we "aren't welcoming." Well, when was the last time they were genuinely friendly to an Orthodox person? Instead of waiting for an invitation, how about calling them and saying "I'd like to get to know you. I know you can't eat in my house . . . but it's summer, and there's a nice park nearby. How about we bring bagels and blankets next Sunday and let our kids run around?" I love Q not just because she's funny and listens to my shtick, but because when she came to shule with me once, I left her to get a drink and came back to find that she was in an animated conversation with someone else. She can take care of herself. She made herself part of the scene.

I know, I know. There are going to be commenters -- with genuinely sad stories -- about how they tried everything and the folk at their local Orthodox synagogue never wanted to be friendly. And that is wrong and very sad. It's unfortunate that something like, say, Talmudic scholarship does not by definition inculcate good social skills. It's one of the reasons I am very careful about which shule I go to (or, rather, which shule I would go to if I made it to shule more often) and am extremely picky about my friends. It is true that being Orthodox does not, by definition, mean that one is warm or responds well to friendly overtures. It is also true that being Orthodox does not mean, by definition, that a person is insular or cold or unfriendly.

AND I'd bet that most of the people who walk around talking about the Orthodox as "those people" (as in "those people are so insular" and "those people are so racist" and "those people care only about themselves") have never done much to actually talk to "those people." To act toward "those people" the way they want "those people" to act to them. It might be no harder for them to be friendly to you as it is for you to be friendly to them. So let's not all be hypocritical here.

The Chayyei hath spoken.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm responds to Noah Feldman

. . . in The Forward. Here's the link.

Yes, I'm well aware that lately my blog has been all-Feldman, all the time.

As a former math teacher (at Maimonides) once said, "when Sarah takes umbrage, she takes it to Burma." Feldman's article struck a personal note with me because I'm not only Modern Orthodox, I also attended the very school which he complains about. It's a small school, and I, personally, never had any problems with it other than the enormous workload and extremely high academic standards - the same standards that helped catapault Feldman to Harvard and Oxford and NYU and back to Harvard. The New York Times article was a very public perversion of a shared experience which I see and live and believe completely differently.

And, as was feared when the article first came out, it is indeed sparking suspicion among non-Jews against their Jewish co-workers. Just what we needed. Just what we needed.


Well, on that lovely note . . . have a Shabbat shalom and/or wonderful weekend!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Orthodox Paradox" is actually "Ooopsidux Negligent Reportingdox"?

Last night I went to a very nice party to celebrate the occasion of my friend's father achieving rabbinical ordination. At the party happened to be a high-ranking administrator of Maimonides, the alma mater of myself and of Noah Feldman, and I asked him whether the school plans to issue a response of some kind to Feldman's article. He said "no," and I agreed that was probably the best plan on their part. He mentioned that some Orthodox rabbis in Boston had been approached by colleagues and asked "do you really believe this? That the only reason to save a non-Jewish life is to protect the Jewish community?" We chatted a while more about how my parents and sister are doing, where I've published recently, etc, and then I wandered away to get some cheese and crackers.

Later, I was thinking that I'd like to give him some feedback, as an alumna, to the effect that while I do think that Feldman's article is disingenuous in many ways, I do think it was silly of the school to crop him and his (non-Jewish) then-fiancee out of a reunion photo. After all, no one can realistically expect that ANY school will produce alumni who are 100 percent faithful to the ideals of the school. If I'd received that newsletter and saw that one of the alumni was engaged to a woman of Asian descent, I would have perhaps paused long enough to wonder whether she was a convert, a child of converts, or not Jewish . . . and I would have felt a mixture of amusement and bemusement at the thought of someone bringing a non-Jewish fiancee to a Maimo reunion . . . and then I would have turned the page and thought about something else. I seriously have better things to do than wonder whether this woman is Jewish or not, or question the personal life of an alumnus two years ahead of me, someone of whom I can't say I was ever particularly fond.

And I certainly wouldn't think that his intermarrying reflects on the school any more or less than do the incredible achievements within and for the Jewish community of Maimo's many hundreds of other graduates. I don't think any reasonable person would. So why crop him out?

But this administrator was busy talking with other guests, and I never had a chance to take him aside and voice my opinion.

Now I'm glad I didn't waste his time, because, assuming this article in The Jewish Week has the story straight, the entire lede to Feldman's article was moot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, many, many graduates' photos didn't make it into the newsletter, because the photographer couldn't get the entire group into the frame. About a dozen other people -- all Jews -- didn't make it into the picture either.

And most damning - for The New York Times, of which you all know I am generally a fan - the photographer who took the reunion photos claims that he offered the photos to The New York Times to run with the story, but the Times opted not to run the picture when it became clear that the problem wasn't Feldman's Asian girlfriend, it was the logistics of fitting 60 people into a photo that would look good in the newsletter.

I can wrap my mind around the idea that Feldman misunderstood the events leading to him being left out of the newsletter. I can wrap my mind around the idea that he and the photographer had a misunderstanding.

But I cannot wrap my mind around the Magazine editor at The New York Times neglecting to go back to Feldman and asking him to re-write his story with a different lede, one that reflects reality.

Of course, now who knows what really happened and who misunderstood whom?

I cannot wait to see the Letters section of the New York Times Sunday Magazine 3 days from now.

This story is like Wonderland, it just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.