Monday, December 25, 2006

Correcting the Rhythm

As it seems is the norm these days, I'm a little bit behind on the updates. Thankfully there are many wonderful and amazing people out there praying for my father who regular remind me that their still praying and desiring updates.

So here's the story, a couple weeks ago my father officially went with the second route [see this post] and got himself a defibrillator. In a more optimistic vain, he was able to use a external as opposed to internal defibrillator system (similar to the one pictured above - I think) which saved him from having to undergo another surgical process.

At this point he's now focusing on loosing the weight he needs to and treating his Hep C. B'Ezrat Hashem (with G-ds' help) this will all go smoothly and his waiting period will finally come to an end in about 6 months.

Thanks again to everyone who's been davening (praying) for him.
As a reminder, his name for Teffilah (prayer) is: Baruch Matan HaLevi Ben Miriam Sarah

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It's All in the Caption

Neturei Karta Celebrates the Recent CJLS Decision on Homosexuality

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Just in case it wasn't enough before...

I realized today that I'm passed due for an update on my fathers health when I was asked by a friend who hadn't heard any news in a while. It was a great reminder of the many wonderful, caring people who are out there praying for my father every day. I know I certainly appreciate it.

Anyway, a little over a week ago I went with my father to see the cardio-transplant specialist at Columbia-Presbyterian. We were given some not so good news. Nothing immediately threatening, or un-treatable, but something which could increase wait time significantly. (For those of you following, you know that waiting is the hardest part of this whole ordeal for my father.) It appears that during his childhood surgery he contracted Hepatitis C from one of his many blood transfusions. Back then they didn't screen or test the donor blood at all. Luckily, Hep C is a very slowly moving infection, and while it is attacking my fathers liver, it is at a very early stage, and certainly treatable. The problem is that he can't do treatment while also undergoing transplant. They are also very hesitant to do a transplant if there's still a need to do treatment. It's a bit of a catch 22.

At this point it would seem that there are really only 2 options. The first would be to go back to the original surgery idea hoping for success and being prepared to install a mechanical heart if it failed. Under this option he could proceed now, and wouldn't have to take the 6 month process of treating his Hep C first. In a scenario where he would get the mechanized heart, he'd be elevated to an emergency transplant status, and hopefully things would move rather quickly, but there are no guarantees. The surgery option at hand also carries a real risk factor, which is why they had been trying to avoid it before.

The second option would be to install a defibrillator by his heart that would automatically shock it back into rhythm if it stopped or murmured, or what have you. He'd then start treatment for the Hep C, and go through transplant once everything is all said and done. Apparently, though, the downside is that the body becomes dependent on the defibrillator, and it becomes a permanent fixture even after surgery. Therefore, in his mind at least, he can never be "fully recovered". And as discussed before this option also means a significantly longer wait time. The odds are marginally better though.

Regardless, he's got to drop 30 pounds before they can go either route. Dropping wait for a man with CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) and all his other issues is next to impossible because he has to avoid any and all strenuous, even mildly stressful, activity. The only chance he really has loose it is by starving himself slowly. It should also be noted that he is a man who really likes food.

So all in all, while his long term prognoses is still pretty good (70%), the journey is far from over. I'm just glad I can be there for him.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Contemplating the Nature of Bracha

I spent this past Shabbos in Upstate NY. Nothing too unusual there, but, this time it was not because of an NCSY Shabbaton. Rather, I spent a Shabbat at "home". I can't remember the last time I did this. My family never really did Shabbos together, at least not with any consistency, and certainly not with any care toward Halachic (Jewish Law) practice or family experience, we certainly never sang.

But a lot has changed since my tumultuous childhood, and life has a funny way of coming around. So this past Shabbat I found myself in my childhood home, with two of my younger siblings (one of my sisters is in Israel for the year), and my father, having Shabbos meals with conversation and even zmirot (songs). The meals were meager (Deli for Dinner, Lox for Lunch), but the Tikkun (Reparation/Healing) was tremendous. This is what brings me to my discussion, the nature of Brachot (Blessings).

For those who've been following this blog at all, you'll already be aware of two key realities. First, My father is in need of a Heart transplant, and his health is less then steallar. Second, My family was anything but stable, and until recent times I'd had virtually no relationship with my parents at all, often not even knowing their whereabouts. The question I toy with is whether or not the first is somehow an answer to the second, a Bracha coming from G-d in a manner least expected and most bittersweet.

I've posted before about how I view my current presence in America, a result of Aliyah (moving to Israel) falling through, as a Bracha in disguise because it allowed me to be in America for my father and the rest of my family during a time of need. Yet now I wonder if that feeling of self sacrifise is not short sighted. Maybe it has less to do with my ability to be here for him, and more to do with us being here for each other. Could this be the divinely mandated method through which a relationship long torn asunder can finally be repaired?

This is but a component of a larger question. Can suffering be considered a Bracha? Even blessed with hindsight can one ever say that suffering was the only solution, or even valuable given the justification of the means towards the ends. How does one weigh the benefit of regaining a loved one, a father, a friend, versus the cost of human suffering, sickness, and confrontation with mortality. Can I be thankful for this set of circumstances which allowed Tikkun, or must I compartmentalize, thankful for the renewed relationship, but mournful over the set of events through which it transpired. If we are to give thanks to Hashem (G-d) for the blessings he bestows on us, where do we draw that line?

Alas, I have no answer. Certainly there are growing pains as my relationship with my father slowly regenerates, but overall, I am ultimately thankful to have had the opportunity to rebuild it. At the same time I suffer with my father because of his health and seemingly endless wait, fearful that, G-d forbid, he may be snatched from me just as I'm starting to draw close again. In the meantime I pray.

Thanks to everyone who continues to Daven (Pray) on behalf of my father. His name again is: Baruch Matan HaLevi ben Miriam Sarah. May Hashem grant him with Nachama (Comfort), Refuah (Healing), and Koach (Fortitude). And may we all be blessed to see the blessing G-d bestows upon us every day through his own special ways.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I see Paris, But not in France, Now does Israel even have a Chance?

Just what Israel Needs...
Paris plans on giving Jerusalem their own mini Eiffel Tower.
Source for Story:

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Back after a long absence...

Well... Some of you may have noticed that it's been some time since my last post. This can in part be explained by a chain of events. Namely: Chagim (Holidays) computer blow-up (after 6.5 years the thing started sparking and smoking...) and finally, internet problems (aka, no wireless card in the new computer).

But I'm back. Not that I'll be posting very frequently, but I do want to keep the many who are praying on behalf of my father informed.

Anyway, here's the latest:

He just got back out of the hospital. This time he had to have his liver biopsied. They went in through one of the arteries in his neck. From what I understand they had to do this because of some possibly not so good results that came back from some of his blood work. Before they can do any actual transplant they need to be sure the rest of his body is in top shape. We now have to wait on the results of this biopsy to find out if he'll remain on the transplant list.

We're also still waiting on the LVAD surgery. They need to get his weight down before they can do it, and that means he needs to start a diet and exercise regimen which he can't really begin until after he recuperates from all the various minor probing surgeries they keep doing. So it seems it could be a while still before we can really start moving forward. Even though there are risks in waiting, it would seem that the doctors have evaluated and come to the conclusion that the risks are greater in not waiting. So once again we wait. This is probably the hardest part for him. All he wants to do is get back to work, to become independent again. Instead he needs increasingly more care and attention.

To make matters worse it would seem that his health insurance through his old job seems to be expiring shortly. He needs to start making payments on his own soon, which he can't really afford, in part because there is a legal freeze on his assets courtesy of court decisions having to do with child support payments between him and my mother. Lifting that freeze is also proving challenging, and while I doubt my mothers intention was to prevent him from receiving medical care, it would seem that may be the end effect.

It's tough to watch, but there's still hope yet. I thank all of you who are still praying on my fathers behalf. We've actually updated his name, not as an attempt to change his mazel toward refuah (a tradition that by changing the name one can change his luck - a step we may take later I suppose), but rather as a result of increased information. (We didn't know his mother had a middle name.)

The name for the sake of Teffilah (Prayer) is: Baruch Matan HaLevi ben Miriam Sarah
May G-d grant him with the care that he needs, and a complete and total return to health, and may he do so speedily.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My Dad made the List Everyone is Dieing to be on!

Sorry about the cheesy pun, but with such heavy topics, sometimes even very bad humor is called for.

So, this New Year brings with it good news and a new nikkuda (point) of hope. My father (thank G-d) has been approved for a Heart Transplant and has been added to the coveted transplant list. He's not near the top, but he's on it.

The issue is that he has a rare blood type and he's in better shape than a lot of other people who simply need it more (for that I'm thankful). His expected wait time is 18-20 months, but you never know with transplants.

In the mean time though he waits. It's clear though that his heart can't make that wait on it's own. His doctors have told him that he will require a surgical procedure within the next month or two. The lead option right now is for him to get a LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device), which will assist his heart in performing its daily functions until the transplant finally takes place.

So... Thanks again to everyone who continues to pray on my fathers behalf. (His name again is Baruch Matan HaLevi ben Miriam.)

May we all be blessed with a new year of health, happiness, simcha, and brachot. Shana Tovah! (Good 'New' Year!)

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Little Less Controversy

We all need a little less controversy in our lives. And, I've just recieved it. After much discussion with my yeshiva we've decided not to out source me to UTJ/ITJ for Gemara. [See older post Here] No politics. Just reality. Let the learning begin!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pondering the "What If's"

Half a year ago, if I'd been asked what I'd be doing right now, I would probably have said unpacking. And while, sure enough, I'm still in the midst of unpacking and settling into my new apartment, it is very far from where I thought I'd be.

See, yesterday (Sept. 5th, 2006) was supposed to be the day I was going to be making Aliyah with Nefesh B'Nefesh. Today would have been my first real day in Israel after a long, 2+ year, hiatus. And this time, it would have been permanent.

While an in depth reading of my blog would provide any reader out there with a cursory over view of the why and how I ended up in NYC instead of in my heart's home land (in so much detail as I'm willing to share in a public forum), what it cannot do is provide an adequate picture of the various emotions, thoughts, and inexpressible non-tangibles that I'm currently experiencing.

So too, while I truly believe that it is Yad Hashem (the hand of G-d) that moved me from my previous path onto the one I walk now, and while I'm thoroughly convinced that although my heart is still clearly etched in Israel, I acknowledge the overbearing reality that my Avodah (work and mission in this world) is here, non of these thoughts are enough to overcome the tinge of sadness that creeps up within me as I long to be Home (in Israel).

There are many things that I know I should count as brachas (blessings) that I'm still in the States, and possibly even in the city. Even today, I had the opportunity to join up with my father who is undergoing another round of tests at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, to provide him with the support, encouragement, presence, and physical hug, that I can tell he needs so much right now. G-d is constantly providing me little insights into why it is so important that I must be where I am right now. Yet, all of this too is not enough to keep me from thinking about what could have been.

In the end, I suppose this is just human nature. I'm under the impression that these feelings will quiet, and all but disappear with time. But with the passage of the moment that I'd viewed and longed for as a moment of redemption for so long, I'm also afraid of the implication that forgetting these feelings would imply. In a way, the sadness I feel keeps me connected, and severing that connection would be a fate much worse then sadness. Im Eshkachaich Et Yerushaliem - If I forget the Oh Jerusalem, while I certainly pray that day should never come.

**An update as to my father's (Baruch Matan HaLevi Ben Miriam) status:

Today was the middle of a 3 day marathon of tests that my father is currently undergoing. The initial surgery idea is almost entirely out. There were some new complications (medical stuff I didn't really understand or catch) that changed the odds of success for his surgery to some pretty intolerable levels. Once again, Thanks to G-d (and to all those who've continued to pray to him on my father's behalf) must go out, as, if he'd had the surgery when originally scheduled, the absence of this new information could have been fatal. Hashem YeRacheim (G-d Show's his mercy).

The barrage of tests he's currently undergoing stretch the gambit, even including substance screening and mental stability evaluations, as the board in charge of Transplants will be evaluating his status of eligibility and if eligible, where he will fall on the transplant list. They're also starting to explore temporary solutions like pacemakers that he can use in the interim while waiting for a transplant, should he be placed lower on the list and need to wait for a long time. The hope is that any surgery procedure will take place within the next month and a half so that his condition will cease its slow, but ever constant deterioration.

In theory, after the test results and board decision come back, he could be placed high on the list, and then if a compatible donor organ can be found he could already have a transplant completed by the end of the month. In reality though, it will probably be a much longer process, and I need to prepare myself for that mentally. Either way, I suppose it is good in the end that I can be here for him in his time of need. Maybe we can finally build the relationship we were never able to have while I was growing up absent of his presence. For now, we're going to take things one step at a time, and hope and pray for the best.

**In a interesting twist of fate, the google adsense ads at the top of my blog actually proved useful. Here is a link for the Heart Transplant Page at Colombia Presbyterian. It's actually full of helpful information, and explains a lot of things better then I ever could hope to do.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Secular Yeshiva? Oxymoronic or About Time?

This picture is not just a plug for HODS - Though you should check them out.

Hat Tip to Esther at Jewlicious for breaking this out first.

According to an Article in YNet! A new Secular Yeshiva is opening up in Tel Aviv. It's being pushed by an organization called Bina. I'll let you guys read the article on your own. I'll just bring up what will certainly be the big debate, especially in the many circles where any Torah learning outside the classical Lithuanian framework is opposed vehemently and seen as destructive and perversion. Namely, there will be those who argue that any "Yeshiva" operating outside the classical orthodox framework is: a.) Not a Yeshiva, and b.) A negative development that is to be condemned and invalidated.

Now, while I wish to preference my remarks by stating that I would never personally attend a Yeshiva not founded on a commitment to Halacha and the Halachic Process as classically defined. I strongly believe that institutions such as this are vital to our current Jewish community and the survival of our people. As such I fully support its creation, and look forward to seeing what kind of students it produces.

Why is it vital? Simple. There are many, many, many, of our brothers and sisters out there who simply have no connection to the larger community. Our un-affiliated Jews. They are the Rov HaAm, the majority. And, largely, the unfortunate reality is that they are unreachable by the community at large. Unreachable by all denominations, by all sects, and by all organizations. They are the Sh'Lo Yodeah Lishol of our Passover Hagada (The son who doesn't even know what question to ask), or worse, they are what the Lubavature Rebbe described as the 5th son, not mentioned in the Haggada because he isn't even present at the Seder (Passover Meal). These are the people that we need to find a way to re-connect in a stigma free, pressure free, warm, loving, and welcoming environment. These are the people that need us to come to them. To meet them at their level. To extend a hand and bond of friendship.

That, to me, is what this new Yeshiva can be. B'Ezrat Hashem (With G-d's Help) it will be a place that the many lost and wondering souls will be able to find serenity. Where they can explore themselves, and our collective history, traditions, and teachings. Even if they themselves are not affected to become active, observant, and passionate members of our community, the mere fact that they are no longer fully ignorant brings hope for the next generation.

(Just as a side note: While I was attending the NCSY Staff Training Conference last week, one of the things that was discussed was the continued expansion of the divide between the orthodox world and the rest of the Jewish nation, especially the unaffiliated portions of the population. It was sort of a consensus on the part of the Rabbinic leadership that something needed to be done, and that we, as the NCSY advisors and as modern orthodox individuals, served the vital role as the bridge between the two worlds.)

This venture and vision is of course not without hesitation. It is very important that what is taught be authentic. In my mind, there is a huge difference between this proposed secular yeshiva, and other streams and movements looking to provide their own substance and direction. The key to the success of this institution is going to be in it's commitment to study the classic texts. To involve themselves in the 2000+ year traditions of our people. To be presented with the unaltered, truth and beauty of our Torah. The exposure is what's important. What they do once exposed is their personal journey.

I am comforted by the fact that among the teachers the article mentions is Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, head of the Religious Kibbutz Yeshiva on Ein Tzurim and who also happens to be on the advisory board for my own Yeshiva (YCT). He's been involved in the starting of many wonderful centers of Torah learning, including Yeshivat Har Etzion (Gush). And hopefully, his influence will keep this new endeavor on the right path.

[The Yeshiva's Overview by Bina]
[Another Article on the Secular Yeshiva]
[And Another Article on the Secular Yeshiva]

On to the Update of my father (Baruch Matan HaLevi ben Miriam), we're still waiting. I'm going to be heading Upstate tomorrow for a NCSY conference/convention and will B'Ezrat Hashem get to see him and find out more what the latest is. I think at this point we're waiting either on the Insurance company or a test result. (Or both.)

Anyway, I thank everyone for their continued prayers on his behalf.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

No News Is Good News Right?

Still no word on my father's new surgery date, or even as to whether or not they still plan on moving forward with the procedure, or intend on going with the transplant option. As the song says, "Waiting, Is the Hardest Part." (His Name Again, for use in your prayers, is: Baruch Matan HaLevi Ben Miriam.)

Speaking of waiting, it seems like that's all I did this past week. I was at an all week conference/staff training for NCSY in New Jersey. It seems like all I was doing was waiting for the current speaker to end.

I certainly appreciated the idea behind the conference, and the accommodations, but I still feel that way too much time was put into convincing us to do the job that all of us had already signed on to do, and next to know time was dedicated to providing practical skill set training.

There was alight at the end of the tunnel though, as the last day was actually a JSU (Jewish Student Union) training conference, and being that it was run by Shira Reifman, it proved to be a well organized, useful day. The materials and topics were relevant and immediately useful, and time was spent on practical skill acquisition, rather then self-aggrandizing pats on the back.

In the end though, it all provided a great excuse not to unpack, and now that I've finally returned to my apartment, (I spent a great Shabbos by he Reifman's and haven't seen my new apartment since the night I moved in,) I'm greeted by all my unpacked bags and boxes. I suppose it would be less daunting if I had furniture, especially book shelves and a dresser, into which I could unpack. I have a half-fakocked scheme to build myself a loft with shelves, and a desk under the bed that would save me a lot of space, but we'll have to see if that actually pans out. In the mean time I'm still sleeping on my air mattress toying with ideas.

Coupling all this with a parking ticket I just paid from the one and only night I kept my car in NYC and the current loud music blaring outside my apartment window from someone's car, my distaste for the city and everything about it is only being deepened and entrenched.It's going to be a long 6 years. At least I have a nice Chevra (Friendship Circle) in and around NYC, that should go a long way toward helping ensure I manage to endure my time here.

I start my program at Chovevei tomorrow with a Lunch orientation, and classes begin Monday. Maybe if I stay busy enough, I can avoid dwelling on my environment. It's going to be good to get into a routine. Anyway, if your in NYC and you don't think I know that yet, and you want to get together at some point, drop me a call or email me. The more people I manage to network with here, the greater my chances of survival. Now to Unpack...

** I'm adding this mostly so that I can remember, but also because others may want to go: [Check Out Flyer Here:]

Please join SimplyTsfat, Soul Farm and Pey Daled for a fantastic evening in support of
northern Israel.

Date: Motzei Shabbos Sept 9th
time: 9:30pm
where: 92nd street "Y"
1395 Lexington ave at 92nd street

To order tickets, call 212.415.5500. For more information or for sponsorship opportunities,
please contact Heidi at 516.823.4131 or visit

all ticket sales will be going to help residents of norther Israel. Show your support and have a great evening

Another quick edit... Apparently I can't make the concert (my friend is having a Chanukat HaBayit though he doesn't know it, he calls it a house warming party), but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go to what should be a great performance.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Long Awaited Update

This is going to have to be brief, as I'm making my big move to NYC tomorrow and I still have to pack, do laundry, find directions, load the car, and get enough sleep to make the drive safely.

Camps done. It was a great summer. B'li Neder (Without making an oath) I'll write up more about the summer when things settle down, if they settle down.

I've got a wedding on Monday, and a multi day conference in NJ for NCSY the rest of the week. Yeshiva starts a week from tomorrow with a Sunday afternoon brunch. Come later that week I'm already back with NCSY staffing a Regional Board retreat and LTS (the Leadership Training Seminar). Needless to say I'm keeping myself busy.

As I promised a lot of people at camp, I will use this forum to keep people updated as to my fathers status. (His Name again is: Baruch Matan HaLevi Ben Miriam.) If you've already been reading my blog, then you already know that my father is facing some pretty major surgery. It had been scheduled for the 14th of August, but was postponed because one of the necessary pieces of equipment needed servicing. Where still waiting on a new date.

As a recap. He had CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) a little while back.He currently needs 3 of his 4 valves replaced, and needs to repair holes between the left and right side of his heart in both the upper and lower chambers. His heart also expanded, and he will need to have it brought back down to normal size. Currently there are only 3hospitals that have the equipment and expertise to perform the surgery he needs, Columbia Presbyterian in NYC (where he was originally scheduled to have it), a hospital in Boston, and a hospital in Cleveland. At this point, they are also starting to consider the option of an actual heart transplant. (They try to avoid this because of the long waiting lists, and frequent rejections of the transplanted organ.) The hardest part right now is the waiting.

With that said, I continue to thank all those of you who have been davening (praying) for him, and to those of you who will continue to do so. Todah Lechem (Thank You All).

Monday, July 17, 2006

To Camp I go...

See you all in a month...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Parshat Pinchas Preverted

This weeks Torah portion is Parshat Pinchas. It begins by finishing the story of the Zealotry of Pinchas, wherein he spears Zimmry and Cosby, killing them while they are in the peak of their sinful act. In doing so he averts a plague and is elevated by G-d to the status of a Priest.

The story of Pinchas is not one easily understood. The key is to remember that, just like his grandfather Aaron, Pinchas was also an Ohev Shalom v'Rodef Shalom (a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace).

Unfortunately, a lot of people use the story of Pinchas as an excuse to promote violence and subvert the law against individuals who are involved in sinful behavior. As if on cue with the parsha this week, fliers in Jerusalem have appeared offering NIS 20,000 (20,000 New Israeli Shekels, or about $4,500) to anyone who will kill participants in the International Gay Pride Parade scheduled for Jerusalem next month. [Read the Arutzsheva Story Here]

Now, while I may not personally be a fan of having the parade in Jerusalem. (I do feel that it is an unnecessary slap in the face to the Torah Observant communities.) There are many other ways of dealing with it that are both more appropriate, and less criminal. Hate and Aggression are not the answer. I certainly hope no one takes those fliers seriously.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bow Wow Wow Yippie Yo Yippie Yay!

The Rabbinical Council of America just recently (June 30th) ruled that smoking (at least of cigarettes, the article seems vague as to other types of tobacco use only directly mentioning cigarettes, though their logic should apply to any tobacco use,) is NOT permitted under Jewish Law. Read the full text of the Jewish Legal decision here. (It's also a great read for people who just want to get an idea for how Jewish Legal decisions are reached. It's written clearly, and mostly in English.)

Jumping strait to the conclusion we see that:

Accordingly, this analysis must lead to the unambiguous conclusion that smoking is clearly and unquestionably forbidden by הלכה [Halacha/Jewish Law] and that this should be made known to all who care about the תורה [Torah] and their health.

In my mind, this is a great demonstration of the progression of Halacha, and a demonstration of a time when the Halachic system really works. I applaud the RCA for making such a firm stance, even countering the many arguments made by countless others as to reasons not to prohibit smoking.

Two other great statements are made in the Tshuva [Legal Verdict/Responsa] that I feel need highlighting. First, the final statement of the entire piece, demonstrating caring and compassion for the individuals affected by the ruling.

A final note is in order: People who smoke are not, ח''ו ["Chas V'Shalom" -- G-d forbid], doing so in an attempt to flout הלכה [Halacha/Jewish Law]. In fact, most would dearly wish to quit, but shedding an addiction is no simple matter. While it is important to make clear that הלכה [Halacha/Jewish Law] prohibits smoking, it is also important not to condemn those who struggle with this issue. Rather we must offer our full help and support to aid them in their quest for physical and spiritual health.

Wouldn't it be great if this same mode of understanding and desire to aid and accept were applied to all Jews irregardless of which Halachic issues they were struggling with? If we were receptive to the fact that many of our brothers and sisters struggle just as much with other areas of Halacha that perhaps are more taboo in the religious fold yet still deeply rooted within the individuals psyche and physical makeup (Sexuality, just to name one), then, just perhaps, more of our brothers and sisters would also be increasingly receptive toward Orthodoxy as a movement and a renewed commitment to Halacha. When we realize that keeping all the Mitzvot (commandments) is not easy for everyone, and choose to focus on what is accomplished rather then on where one fails; If we provide positive reinforcement and friendly helpful critique rather then vehement condemnation, then we can foster the beneficial relationships and repair the rift in Am Yisrael (The Jewish Nation).

Second, a statement that was made that I'd like to focus on for my own philosophising:

Rav J. David Bleich שליט''א [
"Shlita" is short for "SHe-yichyeh LI-yomim Tovim Arukim" -- "May he live days that are pleasant and long"] has noted strikingly that, while given the information available in his day, Rav Moshe Feinstein זצ''ל [ "Zatsal" is short for zecher tzadik le-vracha" -- "The memory of the righteous is a blessing"] certainly ruled correctly, “It must be noted, however, that there is little question that Igros Moshe’s responsum, written in 1964, accurately reflects the societal reality of that time…However, it is more than likely that, at present, that condition no longer obtains.”

This begs several questions on scope. It is a common argument against Orthodoxy that it fails to adapt to increased awareness and social reality. Clearly, that is not the case all the time, as the above quote demonstrates. The question at hand is when. When can we determine that societal reality has changed such that the halacha also needs to change to reflect that fact? Can it only be applied to make the rules more stringent (To rule on the side of Chumra) as seen in the case above? Or can it also be applied to rule on the side of Heter (to rule more leniently). There is must certainly be limits, and a balance to the process. But what those limits are, short of Halachot Dorita (Written Torah Laws) and most likely Halachot D'Rabanan (Early Rabbinical Enactments such as Chanukah), is difficult to say. I for one certainly don't have the necessary knowledge base or authority as of now to make such a decision. How do we know who does?

On the one hand I'm excited and hopeful at the knowledge of the possibility for change that could lead to a reJEWvination of our people and an increase in those willing to engage in the Halachic lifestyle. At the same time I'm hesitant, and even fearful of such a process, as the possibility exists of going too far. Striping Judaism of its core and meaning. The last thing I would want is for religion to become a cultural process. It seems clear to me that G-d consciousness is critical, as is the need to ultimately respond to his absolute authority rather then our human desires. I just wish I knew where to draw the line that would maintain authenticity while accommodating as many Jews as possible. I wish it were easier to balance my love of each and every Jew with my love for G-d and his Torah.

Just to end on a technical note, I wonder how other types of smoking and tobacco use are treated. In my mind, any regularly used product, a pipe, chewing tobacco, or what have you, that is used with frequency and regularity, would also be prohibited by this ruling. That to me seems to be a strait forward extension, and clearly what the authors would intend to convey. The place where it seems less certain is casual, non-regular, tobacco use, such as a celebratory cigar, or a occasional smoking of a hookah. Here the health risks, and risks of addiction, are significantly decreased. A person who smokes a cigar once a year, or a hookah one time while on a Birthright trip in Israel are not really causing themselves any long term physical harm. They will be no worse for ware after their experience. In this case it would seem like the Halachic reasoning used in this article doesn't really apply.

Again, however, we are faced with a question of frequency and scope. We now have to judge at what point a person has used too much. Is once a month ok? Once a week? Maybe only once every 6 months? Again we seem to be playing with a slippery slope. Is this a reason to possibly extend the prohibition to any use of tobacco, no matter how limited, period? Who would decide how much is too much?

So, while I applaud the RCA for its (long overdue) verdict, several questions still remain worth considering. What do you guys think?

While you ponder all this, please continue to pray for my father (Baruch Matan ben Miriam) who is due to under go major heart surgery. (I'm not going to keep linking to all the previous posts, please feel free to explore older posts if you want more details.) Thanks!

Link to Press Release from RCA [here]:
Quick Links to Other Blogs Who've Posted on This Issue: [Jewschool] [Danya Ruttenberg]
That's all I've found so far (after making my post).

**2 more links. (Seems like this is a slow issue...) [Orthonomics] [Hirhurim]

Time to Hit the Road

As of one hour ago, I became a newly licensed driver (which helps to explain the badly edited photo). That's right, I passed my road test.This is a very good development, because had I failed, well, failure was not an option. I need the license for my summer job. There was no wiggle room there. So thanks to all those who've helped me acquire the license. (Chris, Lev, Guppy, and Joanne over at Easy Method Driving School.) You guys made this possible.

Now the fun part, doing the rest of the work I need to do this summer,including but not limited to driving the Big "Gay" Keshet Van. (Please don't take offense at the word usage.) It gets its name for a reason,namely being a giant white fifteen passenger van with a rainbow logo on the side with only the word Keshet (Hebrew for Rainbow) below it.Topping it all off is the fact that everyone inside is paired off with someone of the same gender, camper and shadow, it's a special needs camp after all, and the fact that it is driven in very rural, religious,Wisconsin, and it's needless to say that we attract some weird looks and a few horns and such... Oh well... Keshet Pride and all, right?

More fun is the fact that the van is not only large, making it difficult to drive to start with, it's also older then old, and the mirrors on the sides blow in from the wind so you can't use them. It's a pain to drive, or so I'm told.

Anyway, Please Keep praying for my father (Baruch Matan Ben Miriam). He should be blessed with a quick, painless, successful surgery, and a speedy recovery. (See Previous Post, and this post.)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Much Needed Update

Until recently, I hadn't realized how many people not only read my blog, but relied upon it as their primary source for gaining information about me, my where abouts, and activities. I also hadn't realized that people would actually be upset at not having that information. So for the sake of the many who've expressed concern,wondering how I'm doing, and how things have resolved, etc., here's the update:

Internet: Check! I lucked out and, as of last week, am piggy backing my neighbors wireless. Connection is poor but sufficient. This means I'll have fairly regular Internet access until I leave for camp on July17th, at which point I will be going back to the email and business only gig. (The camp has Satellite Internet and long lines, so usage is kept to a minimum.)

This brings me to the camp thing: The salary issue was indeed a mistake, which in the context of the disorganized state everything is in for this summer makes perfect sense. Basically, I've been promoted again. I'm now the site supervisor/director for the Keshet program at the Wildrose Moshava in Wisconsin. They doubled my salary from last summer, but also dumped a lot on my lap. Apparently, the previous director accepted a position in LA as the principle of a Day School,and left the organization stranded. They turned to me, and since then I've been frantically trying to put together the program for this summer. (Doing 6 months of prep work in 1 month isn't fun or easy.) I spend most of my time these days on the phone co-ordinating with the camp, with parents, with the organization, and with camper's full time care givers trying to brainstorm individually tailored programs for each camper and work out conflicts and particulars. Anyway, I still need to hire 2 more male staff members to serve as shadows this summer. (It's an integration program for children with special needs.)So, if you think you are a good candidate, or know someone who might be a good candidate to work within the B'nai Akiva camp environment working with a child with disabilities please contact me ASAP. It pays a decent salary for the position.

The move out of my apartment was successful largely in part to the generosity of time, vehicles, and shleping of my former roommate Guppy and the key second trip by a good friend of mine from High School who made the 3.5 hour trip to Rochester just to load up his car, turnaround and drive back. Chris, your the Best! Good luck with Everything.

The move into my new apartment should happen sometime after Aug. 20 but before Aug. 27. (Of course not on Shabbat.) I'll be living with Drew Kaplan, and while I don't know who I'll be sharing a room with yet, I'm looking forward to what should be a good year. I do need to learn how to use the $2 vans to Teaneck though that he was telling me about.

Why's that you ask? Well... YCT, my Rabbinical School for next year,has decided to outsource me for the first of my two years of mechina (preparatory years prior to starting Rabbinic program). I'm the first person they've even accepted and approved a second year of mechina for.Basicly, they wanted me, but didn't really have the infrastructure in place for me to gain the foundations in language and text that I would need. Therefore, they are going to be sending me to Teaneck to learn at ITJ (Institute for Traditional Judaism) the flagship institution, so to speak, of the UTJ (Union for Traditional Judaism) as part of the Metivta program. Chovevei is still going to cover all the tuition costs and provide me with the stipend. The largest impact for me will be the commute. Of course, UTJ itself is already an interesting, if not controversial, movement/organization. It traces its history back to a break off from JTS during the 1970's after they started ordaining women Rabbis, or as Drew would call them, Rabbatis. This just compounds the seeming controversy of my path to Rabbinic ordination. Even if YCT is sometimes said to be on the fringe of Orthodoxy, ITJ is perhaps even more liberal. It should be a fun, interesting, enlightening, and educational experience. I'm looking forward to it. After all, it will be good to balance an organization seeking to open orthodoxy with one that seemingly was closed minded to change within the Conservative movement and seeks to engage things in a more classically Jewish manner.Of course, the honest truth is that I still don't really have a grasp on either organization or what they stand for as of yet. I've heard lots of speculation, but it seems for the most part inconsistent with the personal experiences I've had. For my part, I am thankful of the opportunity to be around people who are actively committed in their Judaism and seek greater understandings and connections with G-d, even when there are some things that I may not fully agree with. Needless to say, I still have a lot to learn.

Just as a side note, a tid bit of the latest Chovevei news. Rabbi Saul Berman, the head of Edah, recently announced that his organization was going to be winding down its operations and passing the torch to others. Shortly thereafter he was appointed the Director of Rabbinic Enrichment for YCT, a fantastic addition to the Yeshiva.

OK... On to the Driving thing. Wish me luck as I take my Road Test on July 5th. I only really get one crack at this and must have it for my job this summer. I should be ok. I've taken a few lessons with the local driving school here, Easy Method, and they've helped me a lot.They've also told me that I'm ready for the exam and are taking me out for it. They even helped grab me a cancellation because on my own I wouldn't have been able to schedule the road test before I had to leave for camp. So, even though it's their job and I'm paying them, I still owe them a thank you as I wouldn't have been able to even try to get my license in time without them.

As a final note, please continue to pray for my father, Baruch Matan (HaLevi) ben Miriam. As some of you may remember he had congestive heart failure right before I left Rochester. Since that time more heart related issues have surfaced and he is in need of major surgery. Now that all his test results are in, we now know that aside from having to replace 3 of his 4 heart valves, he also has a hole between his upper chambers, and another between his lower chambers. This is on top of the enlarged state of his heart from the CHF. There are only 3 hospitals in the country that have the facilities and expertise to do the surgery that he requires, Columbia Presbyterian in NYC, a hospital in Boston,and another one in Cleveland. His doctor here is currently fighting with his insurance company to cover the operation so that he can schedule him at one of these hospitals. The surgery will, B'Ezrat Hashem (With G-d's Help) be by the end of June. In the mean time,things are pretty touch and go and even with the surgery there is still the off chance that he'll need a transplant. So, please, keep him in mind with your prayers.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chag Samayach, Shabbat Shalom, and What's Up

**This may be my last post for a long time since I'll be without Internet probably until I get to NYC at the end of August. I'll hopefully be able to check email once a week or so, but it's going to be ruff. **

This has to be real quick since I've really got a million things before the Chag starts and no time. But the last week and change has been great and leaves me with all kinds of things that I should really talk about. Anyway, here's a overly brief rundown:

- Har Sinai Spring Regional NCSY Shabbaton Last Weekend - One word - Incredible!

- I'm mad proud of my sister who was honored and recognized with one of the Big 5 awards at banquet, the Erica Hasner Memorial (Sp?) Shem Tov (Good Name) Personal Development award. She really earned it, and the speech was awesome, every word true. Talk about Nachas, it was hard not to cry.

- She'll be upset with my if I don't also post the fact that I was awarded with an Adviser of the Year award. So there, it's included.

-Major Move out of my apartment, and lots of complications. Who knew there was so much involved. One day was just not enough! (It's already become a few days beyond my lease end, oh well... Thanks need to go out to my landlord who's been amazingly understanding and helpful. He's great, if anyone ever moves to Rochester and is looking to rent, let me put you in touch with him. He's the best.

-Complete lack of sleep for the last 3+ weeks and an all nighter of learning and giving shiur (class) ahead of me.

-I may have found an apartment. (Yay Drew! - Check out his blog on the sidebar.)

-Shidduch thing... I may choose not to talk about this at all, but we'll see. It's good for sorting my thoughts, but it's no longer just me that I'm exposing, so I probably will have to find another more private medium. But let's just say I'm excited, but it's way way way early.

-The Camp thing. It's probably a mistake, but my contract arrived and I received a pay cut without explanation of $600 for last year instead of the usual raise. I left a message, but am yet to hear back.

-The Driving thing. I think I may have access to a car this summer which is great, but I only really have 1 month left to get my license,so I need to get cracking.

-Friends are great! Mad Thanks to All of my friends, especially those helping me with this whole move thing. You know who you are.

-Then of course there is the whole holiday and shabbat thing. Normally I'd want to say a few words, I just can't afford to now. But I hope everyone gains a lot from them.

OK... That's all I have time for... not even to spell check.

Kol Tuv, Chag Samayach, Shabbat Shalom, and have a good summer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Happy Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day!!

The following is an email from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation:

Dear Friends,

Happy Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day!!

Today – Thursday May 25th - we celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem 39 years ago and the reunification of the eternal capital of the State of Israel. Of course, the center of all this celebration is taking place at the most significant place in the world to the Jewish nation – the Western Wall, the Kotel.

If you're here in Israel, come to Jerusalem! Join the multitudes as they march, waving Israeli flags, through the streets of Jerusalem to the Old City and to the Kotel Plaza. There, the plaza will become a blue and white blur of music and dancing; of excitement and joy. It's an experience that should not be missed!

If you're too far away to walk to the Kotel to join the dancing, special webcams will be broadcasting the sights and sounds of the Jerusalem Day Flag Dance live on this website, starting today at 8 pm Israel time. This year we're adding "floating" cameras that will hover over the dancing and capture the atmosphere even better.
Make sure to log on!

For now, have a wonderful Jerusalem Day. Whether you're dancing with us at the Kotel or planning your next trip here, we know you'll be spending time today thinking about how miraculous it is that after 2,000 years of yearning, the Jewish people are home in Jerusalem!

If you tune in right now you can see Chaim Dovid and Shlomo Katz in Concert at the Kotel Plaza. I was there 2 years ago, it was one of the greatest nights in my life. Wow I miss Israel so much right now.

Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim Tishkach Yimini!

**To hear and read english transcripts of the retaking of Jerusalem click [here]**

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Canada Was Amazing, But I'm Tired, and My Feet Hurt (From Dancing)

Quick Post, then bed. NCSY Canada is a great region. I've been to quite a few, and while it is not Har Sinai region, it's the next best thing. The kids are Awesome, the Advisers where fantastic, and the program was successful. I'm bringing back quite a few good ideas. I have a feeling I'll be seeing more of Canada before my NCSY career is over.

On a side note, I just mailed in my acceptance letter to Chovevei next year. It's all happening for real. It's kind of unbelievable how everything has just fallen together all of a sudden (seemingly), but Hashem (G-d) works in incredible ways that I'll never truly understand. All I can do is say Thanks. Hodu L'Shem Ki Tov, Ki L'Olam Chasdo (Offer Praises to the Lord for He is good, for His kindness is everlasting.)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Canada, Here I Come...

For the next few days I'll be visiting our northern neighbor while staffing a Canada Region NCSY Shabbaton. They were short staffed, YU has finals, and I get lucky and get to go for a fun four day adventure to Camp Northland to hang out with some great kids and staff that I met earlier in the year at National Convention. Admittedly, they were all a little weird and quirky, but that just means I should fit in just fine...

It's no Har Sinai, but it's going to be fun!

Monday, May 15, 2006

So.. Um.. Yeah... I'm Going to be a Rabbi...

I've been accepted, and will be starting my studies at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School this fall. My father is out of the hospital (B"H, though prayers are still welcome and encouraged), and I had a perfect 4.0 gpa not just for this semester, but for the year. So... I guess I got my answers. I'm no longer in limbo. Life is good, and G-d... well... he's GREAT!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Graduation's Over Rated

Since I'm missing my graduation to staff an NCSY Shabbaton, the turning in of my last undergraduate paper earlier today marked the end of my official time at the University of Rochester. I'm officially done!

But now what? Limbo, that's what, and not the kind with the arched back, the fun music, and a pole. Now I wait to see what will happen with my life. Everything is in G-d's hands. Please continue to say prayers for my father, Baruch Matan ben Miriam.

Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Quick, Jack Go Under The Limbo Stick....

Prayers Needed

An update on my dad. For those of you who recall my post about the changing of the tides [here], you may recall that my father was in the Hospital. A few days have passed and the results of his observations are in. He's been diagnosed as having had Congestive Heart Failure. For a description of the condition check out the American Heart Associations website [here].

He needs to have surgery and a time was supposed to be set by the Surgeon today, though I haven't heard yet when it will be. I plan on making the trip down to go see him, but timing is really ruff. The most important part right now are the prayers that we can send him for a complete recovery. His name for the purpose of prayers is Baruch Matan ben Miriam. Every little bit will be appreciated.

The irony, I suppose, is that this is the same heart condition that my great-grandmother experienced years ago that led to the circumstances of events that lead to the de-facto end of a day in day out relationship with my father. Hashem (G-d) has a sense of humor that I just don't understand.

Anyway, my final college paper is due in several hours, and to finish it on time I need to type 2 pages an hour. So I need to refocus. I have a Jr. NCSY shabbaton this weekend, and I've no idea yet how I'm going to fit in seeing my father, but some things you have to make room for. I'm in G-d's hands at this point, but I know he'll pull me through.

Which reminds me of a quick story about how you can see G-d's hand in everything if you only look. Racing to my train back to Rochester today, I arrived in Penn station only to have missed it by mere seconds. I actually saw it disappear on the board. Needless to say I was pretty bummed. Bad news of my father, the continued limbo that exists around whether or not I'll be starting Rabbinical school in the fall (the result of a strong interview, but the reality of an absence of practical textual skills), and now an extra 2 hours wasted at the train station waiting for the next train while I needed to start my paper.

Dejected I sat on the side trying to figure out how to best spend my time when I notice a friend of mine looking around like she was lost and flustered. Approaching her, I found out that she was in a bit of a bind. Her cell phone had died, and she had no way of contacting her fiance to find out if he was even still at the station. Even borrowing a phone wasn't going to help, because, in the age of cell phones, no one remembers anyone's phone number any more. Luckily, her fiance just happens to be someone who is currently attending the school where I'd just interviewed, which meant I even had the schools number in my phone, where she was able to call the office and get her fiance's number, then call and reconnect with her fiance.

Now, I don't mean to make myself out to be a hero, or anything of that sort. I'm sure had I not been there, nothing bad would have happened to either of them. However, for whatever reason G-d might have had, it was clear to me that he wanted me to be there to assist them, and therefore I missed my train. Things like this make it clear to me that G-d is playing an active role in my life, and I know he'll look out for me. I only just hope that what he KNOWS is best for me can jive well with what I THINK is best for me.

Anyway, the take away message. Please Pray for Baruch Matan ben Miriam. It's going to be a ruff few days. Thanks.

**Drew Kaplan's Blog has been added to the Links. I met him at Chovevei, and he's a really great guy.**

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

An Old Joke Re-Drawn

A Disclaimer, I saw this without audio, so bear with me if the audio isn't good, but the Joke is a classic. (At least if it is the Joke I think it is.) Guess I'll find out when I get back to my own computer.)

As Some of you may have figured out... I'm a bit too busy to actually come up with my own content currently. I'll be back soon...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Unorthodox Orthodoxy - Female Rabbinic Ordination

As a person who hopes to be starting my own Smicha (Rabbinic Ordination) process in the fall, developments in ordination practice already interest me. As someone who intends to get Orthodox Smicha, Orthodox ordination engrosses me even more. And as someone who plans on attending an Orthodox Yeshiva/Rabbinic School (YCT) that often gets criticized for its left leaning tendencies and is slandered by individuals saying that the school is paving the way toward ordaining female Rabbis, a news story about a women being ordained as an Orthodox Rabbi certainly caught my eye.

The very notion of a women being ordained as an Orthodox Rabbi is grating for me, not because of any anti-feminist feelings, but precisely because it has been the tool of attack against Open Orthodoxy for a long time now. This, despite clear statements from the movement that they carried no intentions to upset the fabric of Orthodoxy and Halacha and certainly carried no plans to ordain women. Now that it has "happened", and I put that in quotes because the verdict is still out, and depending on who you ask, her ordination is anything but Orthodox, I fear a backlash against Modern Orthodoxy in general, and certainly against Open Orthodox and other liberal orthodox spheres. Once again though, I find that I'm inadequately prepared to rule on the issue at hand, because the reality is, as one yet to actually start his studies for Smicha, I really don't know the issues at hand and the relevant Halacha (Jewish Legal Code) that is affected.

To that end, all I can say is that my first reaction to this story is not positive. I applaud advancement of women to the fullest extent within Halacha. I encourage there study as well as their input. However, at the same time, I believe that equality is not only achieved through sameness, and that in fact, we loose a lot when we fail to delineate in our society. Women have a lot to contribute within their roles as women, equally so to men. I just wonder what price we pay when we start demanding that sameness be applied to create equality.However, this can only be my first reaction until I truly know what is involved. I applaud her desire and motivation to learn, to teach, and be involved in the Jewish community, just question the approach. I reserve judgment on the Halachic issues for now until I know more, and rely instead on my teachers and on traditions.

A Hat Tip to Esther over at Jewlicious for bringing this story to my attention. (I know you like to be known as "from Urban Kvetch" or one of your other personal blogs more, but I read it at Jewlicious this time.) The Jewlicious thread can be found [here].

View the Story as it appeared in the Jerusalem Post[here].
View what seems to be the source for much of the article at this JVL Page [here].

Other Articles and Blogs that comment on the issue and provide perspective can be found below: Article - Quiet Revolution in the Synagogue
In Context Blog - They Call Her 'Rabbi'
Am Echad Blog - Mazel Tov Dr. Rabbi Ner-David
Some may remember AmEchad's early supportive comments to this blog, much appreciated.
Emes Ve-Emunah Blog - Orthodox Feminist Haviva Ner-David: Rabbi
Emes Ve-Emunah Blog - Female Rabbis in Orthodoxy
Hirhurim Blog - So-Called-Orthodox Women Rabbi
Hirhurim Blog - The Ordination of Women

**An UPDATE: With the passage of time, a few other worthwhile articles have appeared in the blog world. I'm not about to list everything that's come out, but I wanted to link to a few other sources that offer some interesting perspectives and side notes that havn't been covered yet. They are below:
Drew Kaplan's Blog - On the Grammatical Question of Women Rabbis
From NY to London - Female Rabbis
From NY to London - On Women and Judaism
I put up the second source from Alexis (From NY to London) because I found myself nodding my head in agreement to just about everything she expressed. **

One of the things I noticed from a lot of the comments on other blogs is that both sides seem to be responding immediately from an emotional gut type perspective. I really encourage and desire feedback and comments, but I would prefer that they were thought out, insightful comments, not emotionally explosive, incite-ful comments.

In other news, Israel saved Abbas from a Hamas assassination attempt today. Read the brief article [here].

Friday, May 05, 2006

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom Everyone, may this shabbos bring true Shalem and comfort to everyone.

**Articles of Interest:**
Part 1, Part 2 - I'd love to hear what you guys think about this story and the governments response...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Friends Rock!

My friends are awesome! Between the practical advice, the love sent over voicemail, and the offers of help, I just want to say thanks to all of you. You're going to really be what helps me through all this. Thanks!

A Change of Tides

Before I start, please pray for my father, Baruch Matan ben Miriam, to have a compete Refuah Shlema, a complete recovery. (Story will follow.)

But one short week ago I was on a crazy high. Life was fantastic,manageable, and optimism was running rampant that it was only going to get better. My Undergraduate career had only two weeks left, and only two assignments. I'd applied to ROI120 and had dreams of going to Israel. Rabbinic School seemed like such a certain reality that I was looking at housing. Everything just seemed like it was in place and that G-d was taking care of everything.

Then everything started falling apart. It was a gradual process over the last week, but my optimism has been swept aside in the change of tides and a melancholy and pessimism has replaced it.

It started one week ago, Thursday night, when I lapsed in my personal observance. I was no Purim Hero that night. I'm not going to go into details (everyone's battle is there own, and for each of us our challenges are different), but my Yetzer Horah (Evil Inclination) won a relatively major battle in its ongoing war against me. Slips and slides have been relatively consistent throughout my T'Shuva process (The process of becoming Torah observant), but as bumps in the road go, this one was a duzey. Divine Retribution, it would seem to me at least, was quick to execute its punishment as waking up that next morning I would find out that I was not accepted to ROI120. Good ol' Jewish Guilt in overdrive, I'd felt that I paid my price, and laid blame immediately upon myself. Israel was no longer a reality for me this summer. The tide change had begun, but it was far from over.

The Yetzer Horah is like a Bull. The more you back it into a corner the harder and angrier it charges. It would not be content to win just its last battle, and as guilt crushed it in the early stages into a point of near submission, once truly backed up it unleashed with a passion as of yet unseen. Things started to spiral out of control and the rationalization process started to kick in. (Possibly the worst thing ever for a Bal T'Shuva. After years of working so hard to achieve the place I had in my path to Hashem, it seemed like I could loose my footing all at once and end up undoing everything I'd worked so hard for. I started to doubt myself and my ability to be a future Rabbi. Who am I that I think I can provide guidance and insight for others when my own life is out of control.

Time was not on my side in this regard. My in person interview is rapidly approaching. (I have it on Monday.) What previously seemed like it was only going to be a formality, now seems like it may be a nail in the coffin of my future aspirations. Confidence has been replaced by uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy. And fears that previously were irrational lay siege on my conscience teasing me that I will be denied admission and be left without a plan and without a future. It's a combination, I think, of being denied ROI120, which I allowed myself to get prematurely excited about, and actual feelings of inadequacy and non-deservedness after my latest encounters and losses to my Yetzer Hara.

It doesn't stop there though, of course not. My final assignment, a 20 page research paper due on Wednesday, puts continual pressure on the back of my mind. Because of travel arraignments, I don't return from NYC until late on the night right before it is due. This leaves me with only tonight, tomorrow, and a few hours before it is due, to finish.While that should be completely doable, my current state of melancholy has been accompanied by sloth and apathy. If I can't rouse myself again, I won't be able to finish. Simultaneous preparations for the Rabbinic school interview and skills assessment test don't help in dealing with the time crunch.

To top it all off, about an hour ago I got a call from my mother informing that my father is in the hospital. (This is why there's the davening plea.) I knew something was up the moment she called. (As some of you who've been following know, I've been independent for a longtime, and don't really have an active relationship with either of my parents.) More over, I knew it wasn't good when she was informing me about my father, as the two are not exactly on speaking terms.Thankfully, it doesn't seem too serious. He's in the hospital mostly for observation at this point, but he has been having difficulty breathing as of late. (Something I didn't know about until this phone call.) Of course, my first reaction was to again lay the fault for this upon myself and my recent loses to my evil inclination. I actually broke out into tears and asked G-d not to punish those around me for my sins. I realize it's foolish and even a bit of personal sabotage to think like that, and yet I can't shake that reaction. Please pray for him. (Baruch Matan Ben Miriam.)

This next week is the crux of the rest of my life. It determines everything, and I'm not sure I'm in shape to deal with it. The solutions are obvious, and if I were advising another it would seem so simple. Yet all I can seem to do is beg G-d to forgive me and help me through it. I just hope it's not too late to change the tides again.

**As an aside, this is what I was going to blog about, guess you should just read the article. [Here] It's about AMI - Artists and Musicians for Israel and seems to be a good thing.**

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Lazy Blogging

Ok... I'm a bit under pressure to finish my last two assignments of my undergraduate career, so I don't really have time to be blogging, but I just read 4 news stories that I wanted to share. So in lazy blogger fashion, here are the links:

B'nei Menashe Soldier Honored, Family Still Stuck in India (All the "Lost" tribes really interest me...)

Online Jewish Film Archive Offers Glimpse Into the Past (It's an old story but a good write up, the actual site under review [here] is also a great way to waste away extra time that I don't have right now...)

Diaspora Bible Champ Crowned (These kids are impressive, I wish I knew half what they did...)

Rav Moshe Halberstam, First to Renew Semikha, Dies at 74 (I havn't had time to really give this a lot of thought, but the renewed Sanhedrine and Smicha stuff also really interests me, I'm curious where it's all leading up to...)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Still no going home for me...

This mornings email brought with it the crushed hope of returning home to Israel this summer. I was officially turned down for the ROI 120 conference. Needless to say I'm not happy about it, but I do wish those who where accepted much success on their endeavors. (If your curious about the conference, you can read about it at an old post here.)

In the mean time, if anyone else wants to pay for this ol' puppy to go home to Israel for a few weeks this summer, I'll gladly wag my tail.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

An update from Earlier...

Props to TM from Jewlicious for linking to this update over on their site. Apparently, PSU has recanted and Josh will be able to show his artwork. Read the article for details here. The earlier post can be found here.

A Worthwhile Read...

Arutzsheva has a great write up about this years Boombamela festival here. Mordechai Zellar was a good friend of mine in Israel, and reading the article brought back plenty of memories from my great Pesach at the festival. (As talked about at this earlier post.) The very name of the Jewish Camp "Ohel Ahava V'Tefilla" - Tent of Love and Prayer, is characteristic of the approach that we need to be willing to take in accepting and inspiring the countless unaffiliated Jews out there. Obviously, not everyone is a hippie, and Boombamela isn't for everyone, but the theory behind accepting people for who they are, showing them love, and then teaching them in a loving, open and friendly environment can be adapted to just about any context. Acceptance and love of a person does not have to come with condoning or liking their actions and beliefs, but it IS a requirement if the person is ever going to open up to the possibility of listening and absorbing what you've got to teach and share. The healing of our people can only come out of acceptance and love, not fear and rejection. This is the great lesson that can be gleaned from reading the article and experiencing events like that first hand. Now we just need to do more of it...

Some Bat Ayin Guys Dancing at Boombamela

Tzvi (A friend of mine from Bat Ayin) connecting

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hey Jude...

It was Yom HaShoa today. The day we remember the Holocaust. It is one of the few times I ever wear black clothing, this already seemed to freak people out. But the yellow star I wore today with "Jude" printed on it (German for Jew) sparked a much larger reaction.

I made it a point not to talk today if I could avoid it, absent of the Yom HaShoa program I ran for my Jr. NCSYers anyway. It wasn't a taynat dibur (A fast of words where one doesn't speak as a means of gleaning the value and power of words). But in my mind, words lacked the power to really convey the message of the day.

Rather, normally bubbly me was solemn, silent, and dressed in black (I make it a point to only wear black for periods of morning), completely out of character. This drew attention, but the power seemed to rest in the little yellow star pinned to my chest.

When I walked into my class today the room paused and fell silent. Many did not even know that it was Holocaust Memorial Day, but many more momentarily cringed, and an awkward impromptu moment of silence was had. Later one of the local area high school teachers who was taking the class with me approached me and thanked me. I'm not sure if she is Jewish or not, or that I really even did anything, but she was moved and wanted me to know it.

After class I proceeded to NCSY. The event was simple, yet heavy.Sitting on the floor in a darkened room around a single candle, the kids were each given copies of the lyrics for Wu Tang's Never Again and the powerful rap was played for them. This set the tone. After a brief introduction, I passed out biographies of children from the holocaust, a mix of survivors and non-survivors. Each NCSYer read one of the biographies as if they themselves were that person. The goal of this was that they should more readily be able to internalize the monologues. I made a point, especially because of the age range involved not to have any graphic imagery or descriptions. Everything was simple yet powerful. We then talked about the importance of their particular generation being the last of the generations who are going to be able to remember hearing survivor accounts first hand and the special responsibility that lay upon their shoulders for the coming decades where Holocaust deniers are only going to gain clout. Finally, we closed by discussion why it is so important to remember, why it is so important to make sure that Never Again can it happen, and how the Jewish State of Israel figures into that equation. We played Wu Tang's Never Again one last time, and then sang Hatikvah in the direction of the Israeli flag I'd hung. Amazingly, the children (grades 3-7) were well behaved, and focused, throughout the duration, all one and a half hours of it. For some of these kids with chronic ADHD I'd just figured that would be impossible, but in the end they all were attentive and gained a lot.

All this however only caused a surface reaction in my personal self. I was too focused on practical details with implementation to really be impacted by the day. That is, until I went to the grocery store anyway.This is where my wake up call happened. I went to the kosher freezer section to pick up dinner. I was out of food because I hadn't done any chametz shopping since Pesach ended. There an elderly couple was standing in front of the coolers completely blocking my ability to grab the kosher pizza I wanted to buy. I cleared my throat and said excuse me and the women turned and shrieked, went white, and nearly fainted. I thought at first I'd just startled her, but that was not the case. Apparently I'd forgotten to remove my little yellow star. I have no idea if she was a survivor, she seemed young for that. Perhaps she was a child of a survivor, or a child of one of the allied refugee camps after the war. Whatever her background though, that star represented horror. She begged me to tell her that everything was ok,that no new persecutions were abound. I explained to her that it was Yom HaShoa and that I hadn't taken it off yet from an earlier event,but she was still flustered. Her fear had been real, and the pain in her eyes still burned. That is when the power of the day hit me. As we exchanged goodbyes and well wishes I realized that I'd gained more from her in that one instant then any ceremony or program could have imparted on me over the course of the day. It was clear in her mind and clear in mine that Never Again can we let this happen.

Maybe the Beatles had it right when they sang, "Hey Jude, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better." They were talking about something else entirely, but we Judes should listen up, the Holocaust was a sad song, possibly the saddest in our nations long history, it is up to us not to make it into something only bad, but to take the lessons we learned from our experience and make our collective song better.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

PSU's Discrimination of Nondiscrimination

The above picture is an advertisement from a previous exhibition by Josh Stulman at Penn State University's School of Visual Arts. One which was co-sponsored by PSU's Hillel (You may have to squint to read the tag line at the bottom... It reads: "Opening sponsored by Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life"). Stulman's latest endeavor however has been canceled by his University at the last minute for being in violation of the campus Statement on Nondiscrimination and Harassment and Penn State's Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate. (Read the article about it in the PSU Collegian Newspaper here.) His latest exhibit is also apparently (according to the school) not his own endeavor, but rather an attempt by an organization to push its agenda. "Garoian (professor and director of the School of Visual Arts) also wrote that exhibit space in the School of Visual Arts is reserved for students and faculty, not groups with a particular agenda." Strangely, all the art is uniquely his own and without prompting from Hillel, and the sponsorship of Hillel did not seem to be a problem in the past.

So what exactly is so problematic and controversial about his artwork?The answer... It's about Palestinian Terrorism. His gallery entitled "Portraits of Terror" was to display in the Patterson Building but was cancelled by email just 3 days before it was scheduled to open. The emails reasoning... His exhibit on images of terrorism "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue" Sounds like a bunch of BS to me.

Now admittedly, I don't know much about the current campus culture and politics at PSU. But, at my university student groups like the MSU(Muslim Students Association) and other groups have been able to openly display imagery of Israeli "atrocities" and been able to paint pictures(metaphor intended) of the "apartheid state" of Israel and its"terrorist government" and during all these instances the groups right to free speech was upheld. Admittedly, by comparison to other campuses though, my university is largely apathetic and real issues are largely non-existent. Perhaps PSU has a legitimate fear of hostility and backlash as a result of the event, it's hard to say, but at the very least they need to be open about their true fears that cause them to cancel the event, rather then attempt to make ridicules claims as they have. At this point, however, it is very hard not to look at this as a discriminatory act by their administration.

Regardless, if anyone who reads this is actually around PSU's neighborhood, I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open as Josh and Hillel attempt to find another venue to display his work. And when you do, try to make an effort to go out and support him.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Something I found interesting...

Thanks to reading "R"'s blog, I came across this interesting individual. (Interesting to me anyway...) Aviel Barclay is a woman trying to do what she loves, and what she loves is Soferut (Jewish Ritual Calligraphy) She is by her own label a Soferet. (The term for a female Sofer - something that it is unclear if there even has been one in the past. ) You can check out her Blog here.

So what's my connection besides the human interest story? Well, it seems that it is controversial as to whether or not female Soferut is allowed. See article from the Forward Here... In that article you'll see if you read close that "according to Dov Linzer, head of academics at New York's Chovevei Torah rabbinical seminary, the Talmud clearly states that women are not allowed to write a Torah scroll for ritual use. Linzer pointed to an oft-cited passage (Tractate Gittin 45b) that specifically includes women among those who cannot produce a kosher Torah scroll."

IM"H I'll be attending Chovevei this coming year. Chovevei gets a lot of slack for being "too open" and having an "agenda contrary to classical orthodoxy". It has even been stated that suspicions loom that Chovevei hopes to ordain women Rabbi's . (See responses to the Cardinal Visit from my earlier post...) Now... I don't know about you, but a female sofer seems less controversial then a woman Rabbi... Though of course I know little of the relevant Halacha. So this story kind of eases a little of my concern that one day my school would be seen as nothing more then another JTS (Jewish Theological Seminary - The Conservative movements flagship rabbinic school.) and that my Smicha would not be accepted as Orthodox. I think this can serve as a clear sign that the school knows the boundary of Halacha and isn't willing to cross it, period, even while maintaining a commitment to openness and inclusion of women as much as possible.

I do wonder however what his take would be on women Soferetot who would not write for ritual use... Guess I'll have to ask him when I get there. Anyway, regardless, her commitment and passion are admirable and inspiring even if her finished product can't be used for ritual purposes, and her artwork is nothing short of fantastic. I wish her continued growth and success.

Chag Samayach

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Pre-Pesach Plans and Predictions

I apologies in advance for the length of this post...

So for some time now I've been praying for a way to return to the home of my heart, to Israel, even if only for a little while. (It's been almost two years now since I left home.) And while I hate getting my hopes up, It seems there is a chance now that maybe, just maybe, my prayers have been answered and I can see home again before another extended absence begins while studying for Smicha in NYC. The chance; a conference, ROI120 (Return on Investment 120 - like the life of Moshe Rabbenu, the number of people on the historic Sanhedrin, and the number of people who will be chosen to attend the conference. )

So what's the deal? In their words: We hope to find and nurture an exceptional group of young Jews, people of excellence and character who are deeply motivated and committed to ensuring the vibrancy of Jewish life. We will invite 120 of them to be our guests in Jerusalem this summer in the inaugural gathering we have named "ROI 120."

What it means for me? If I get chosen, they fly me out to Israel and cover all expenses including airfare to get me there to participate(That means food and accommodations also). I've no idea if I can extend my ticket or not (it'd be so amazing if I could stay for even just one Shabbat...), or if I even really have a chance of being chosen to participate. But with my summer being relegated to camp for the latter half, and apartment hunting in the early going, the dates that they picked for the conference are basically screaming my name. (In other words they fall when I can actually make it!)

Of course, their stated intentions are fantastic and I really believe that they should bring the best and brightest (even though I'd love to believe I'm one of them...) That being said, the link to apply is HERE and if you qualify and think your a good fit and will make a good contribution then you should apply. Also selfish me wants no one to apply so I can certainly go, the part of me that believes in their mission and truly cares about Am Yisrael would rather sacrifice the free trip if that meant someone better could go who'd make a larger positive impact for the Jewish people.

In other news...

Passover is tomorrow night. I'm fasting tomorrow being that I'm a Bachor (First Born - First Born males fast the day of the Seder until the Seder to commemorate the deaths of the first born of Egypt. ) and I'm not in an area where I'm going to hear a Siyum (completion of a lengthy Torah/Talmud study that ends in a big celebration) or experience a Bris or something tomorrow. I get to get up early and burn my Chametz though just like everyone else.

My new convection oven arrived a while ago (See earlier post to hear what happened to the last one), but I decided to save it for Pesach and I think it was the right call. The Techelet (Blue String died Tzitzit)that I ordered from Israel arrived today, just in time for me to tie the new pair of Tzitzit in time for Pesach. I'm also just about finished with crocheting my new kippah, I'll finish that after this post. So things have been falling together last minute as usual. (G-d apparently likes to keep me hanging, but he always seems to pull through in the end...) And my landlord even came today and finally installed the new dryer so my closet clothesline could come down (See earlier post) and I could wash my sheets, blankets, towels, and cloths before passover. Like I said, last minute indeed.

Living with an apartment mate who does not follow traditional halacha or keep mitzvot regularly (but who is a great guy, friend, human, and yes, even a good Jew in his own way, though he doesn't like to admit it), make Passover really interesting. Needless to say I'm selling everything in my apartment except my room. My room at least is Chametz free and will stay that way. (He is phenomenal when it comes to respecting my practice, even though he doesn't share the same outlook and believes. A true friend.

As a result of the coming holiday, I don't have class for two weeks!Which is great! I still have 2 major assignments that need to be finished over this time, but they are definitely doable. I've got a Yom HaShoa event for my Jr. NCSY'ers to plan also. (That's going to be fun,and by fun, I mean not so...) I've got to make the arraignments to crash by someone in the city on the 7th and 8th of May as I make my way down to Chovevei to finally meet the Rabbayim in person, go through the formal interviews and have a formal bechina (exam) with R' Katz. I have to buy plane tickets still also. With the dates set for NCSY's Spring convention and now not conflicting with my University graduation I need to decide If I want to break my streak of non-attendance and actually attend my graduation.

I move out of my apartment in about a month and a half, and I still have so much to do in that time, and so much to figure out. (I've no idea how I'm even doing the more, or where I'm going yet.) Thinking about it is really kind of overwhelming, having the next several days be Yom Tov and Shabbat couldn't have come at a better time, I really need the time off from this stress and worry to just not think about any of that stuff, to just rest, relax and enjoy. It's truly great being a Jew!

So with that, I wish you all a Chag Kasher V'Samayach (A Kosher Happy Holiday) and sign off for a while...