Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sardines in a Can

Have you ever been on a New York City subway during rush hour? I've been there, done that, and planned to write a post on it. This post was supposed to be one of those posts in which I wittily comment about how during rush hour, the train can sway all it wants and no one will fall. The crush of bodies supports the unsteady.

Picture it: the train is at the station. You've just gotten on and are standing there, vainly trying to grab hold of one of the poles spaced throughout the train. The doors somehow manage to close, and suddenly, the train jerks into motion. Your hand grabs for the pole, misses, and you feel like you're going to fall.You don't.

The belly of the fat, smelly man standing behind you bolsters you from behind. The lady in her business suit holds you up on your left. You're supported on your right by the guy bobbing his head to the tune on his iPod. Minutes later, the train stops. You still haven't managed to grab hold of the pole, so you begin to fall onto the lap of the micro-mini-skirt-wearing teenager sitting in front of you.

It's hopeless to try to grab that pole now. Better to just stand there and let the massive tide of humanity keep you standing in place.

NOTE: While I was looking for a picture to go with this post, I came across this article and this video. They're pretty good.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In Memory of My Zaidy

Tonight is my grandfather's tenth anniversary. I was really young when he died, just ten years old. My family lived very close to him, so emotionally, we were the closest to him of all his grandchildren. But I will always regret the fact that I never had the opportunity to have an adult relationship with him. I speak to my older cousins, and they remember him so much more than I do. All my memories are of him helping me do my homework (often wrong, but that was OK), teaching me math tricks, playing with me. Just being the best zaidy that any child ever asked for. All my friends were jealous of me for having the best zaidy who carried candy in his pockets to give to the kinderlach. Even now, ten years later, my friends remember him.

My zaidy came to America in the 20's when he was three years old. He grew up in a hard economic time when jobs were scarce. It was a time of people saying "Shver tzu zein a yid" (It's hard to be a Jew). And it was hard. Many parents gave up and worked on Shabbos just to feed their families. My grandfather, however, didn't. He kept Shabbos like few did. There were so many weeks that he would find a job on Sunday only to lose it again by the following Sunday. But he never gave in.

He finally found a job as a postal worker making special deliveries. He was able to work out his schedule that he didn't have to work on Shabbos. Even though he had a steady job, he had many mouths to feed and money was tight. One time, he had to be disciplined for some reason and stood to lose pay for hours of work. His boss didn't want to punish my zaidy, so he (the boss) suggested that he put my grandfather down as having worked on Saturday (even though he didn't) and take away the pay from those hours. My grandfather refused. He didn't even want it on his record that he could have chas v'shalom worked on a Shabbos.

He was a great man.

He opened up his home to everyone who knocked. When my other grandfather needed a place to stay after being discharged from the hospital, my zaidy didn't even hesitate to let him stay with him for six months. I always felt like I had two houses: mine and my grandparents.

Like the singer of this song, my zaidy died suddenly while I was in camp. It was my first time away from home, and I missed my cousin's wedding. On the way home from the wedding, Zaidy's car crashed, and he was killed instantly. I came home for the levaya (funeral).

My father made a big siyum for Zaidy's third yahertzeit (anniversary of death). I was in camp again, but this time I didn't come back to the city. I wrote this poem to be my representative. I've been told that my father broke down in tears as he read it. [Looking back, it doesn't seem like such amazing poetry, but a. I was thirteen and b. the feeling is there anyway.]

As the anniversary of his death draws near
His memory chokes my heart and makes me tear
He was my moon by night, my sun by day
And all of a sudden he went away
His laughter no more will ring in my ears
And that in itself brings down my tears
I remember my sister aloft on his knee
I remember how I loved it when he played with me.
He was my idol with his strength and might
For his face always shone with golden light.
He taught me math and tricks galore.
Now I only wish he had taught me more.
I miss him by day and I miss him by night
While I mourn the cruelty of his plight.
I didn't realize how precious he was to me
Until he died; now the rest is history.
I loved him all I could with my little heart,
Even after Hashem called him to depart.
As years go by, his memory grows hazy,
But I remember he was never lazy.
When he was younger he had to work for a job.
Now, the people he helped should come in a mob.
During this time, these memories flit through my mind.
But days go by and they are harder to find.
I cry and cry as I remember,
My grief is like a burning ember

I only hope that I can live up to his memory and grow into a granddaughter he would be proud of.

לעלוי נשמת אברהם בן משה יחיאל

Friday, August 21, 2009

Parshas Shoftim

וכל העם ישמעו ויראו ולא יזידון עוד (17:13)

When a person is convicted of a capital crime, the execution is carried out in a public manner. Rashi writes that the Sanhedrin waited to carry out the execution until the next Yom Tov, when people would travel to Yerushalayim to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah l'regel (ascending to the Temple), so that everybody would hear and talk about it. This was to inspire maximum fear in the populace in the hopes that future executions would become unnecessary.

However, the Mishnah in Makkos (7a) quotes the opinion of Rav Elozar ben Azaria, who maintains that a Sanhedrin which carries out one execution in 70 years is considered violent and bloody. If executions were so infrequent, how were they able to accomplish the desired deterrent effect?

Rav Aharon Bakst answers that this question may be asked only by one who has become accustomed and desensitized to the loss of human life. In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, the Jewish nation understood and appreciated the value of every person and every life to the extent that one public execution in 70 years caused such a national trauma that another one became superfluous for at least that long. If we appreciated life with the proper perspective, we would be so shaken up by events like the Holocaust and recent tragedies in Israel that they would remain in our collective memory forever, inspiring us to proper repentance and rendering future reminders unnecessary.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

An Addendum

I was speaking to my father last night, and he pointed out another strong instance of Hashgacha in my day on Monday.

We had a sewer blockage. We wouldn't have known about it had we not had the whole business on Monday that was triggered by my neighbor's washing machine. If not for that, which really seemed quite tragic, it would have been even worse come Tuesday. Tuesday night was a huge thunder storm. The rain was so heavy that someone offered my father a ride home from shul (less than two blocks)! Had we not had the sewer cleared the day before, our flood would have been a whole lot worse.

Talk about Hashgacha Pratis!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Series of (Un)Fortunate Events Part 2

When I went on my vacation, I left my pocketbook at home. I brought my wristlet, but left my keys and assorted paraphernalia at home. When I got home Sunday night, it was nowhere to be seen. We looked all over and couldn't find it.

The problem is that I needed my keys because I was the only one home on Monday, and I was planning on going out a little. Hashgachically (Providentially), we had just had a new set of Shabbos keys made up for me, so I had house keys. No car keys. That proved to be a problem because I was planning on driving to the wedding. No keys, no car, no wedding.

The good thing was that my father came home early because of the flood (and because my sister was coming home). HE has two sets of keys, one even has the remote control that locks and unlocks the car (very important because I tend to lose the car). He put his set of keys near my driving sunglasses on the table for me to take, but I didn't take them.

My sister came home from camp, and the whole house was aflutter with helping her settle back in and getting ready for a wedding. Unbeknownst to me, the keys and sunglasses got moved in the process of serving her supper.

My friend and I were downstairs in my room getting ready for the wedding while all this was happening. For this part you have to know all about my grand total of two wedding outfits. Both are, of course, gorgeous (if I do say so myself) and NOT black (well, not totally black). My pink jacket is my favorite because it's pink, but has the drawback of pulling. It is made up of pink material with silver threaded through it, and at the end of a wedding, the sleeves have bunches of pink and silver threads hanging down. Because of this, I can really only wear this once before sending it back to the cleaners. I wore it two weeks ago and hadn't sent it, so my pink jacket was out. My other jacket has black and white flowers on it, and that's what I was planning on wearing. Unlike the pink jacket, it had just come back from the cleaners, so I made the reasonable assumption that it was clean. Big mistake. I took it out of the wrapping, and lo and behold, some of the black from the flowers managed to run onto the white part of the jacket. Wonderful. Having no other choice, I wore my pink jacket.

Finally we were ready to go. We went upstairs. I found my sunglasses that I had left on the table in a different spot on the table but clearly visible. The car keys, however, eluded me. My parents and I looked for the keys for about ten minutes while my friend stood on the side and watched. Finally I said that I needed to go and would take my mother's keys. We found my mother's pocketbook where she keeps her keys, opened it up, and there were my father's keys. We still have no idea how they got there.

But it didn't matter. I had keys, a car, but no Bluetooth. That was fine; I could manage one trip into Brooklyn without talking on the phone (ha!). We were running about twenty minutes late, but still had to pick up one more girl in Brooklyn. We didn't have much traffic (which was surprising because of the time), but the girl we were picking up had time to daven because of our lateness. I had been scared to call her to tell her how late we were going to be because I thought she would never speak to me again. She is very close to the Kallah, even more than I am, and would have been very upset to miss the reception. When she got in the car, she told us that the Kallah hadn't even come out yet – so much for being late!

We got to the hall in record time, only getting lost once. Because we got there right before seven when the meters expire, we were able to get the perfect spot without even paying for it (Hashem mamish works out the timing of everything!). We ran into the hall and got there with a few minutes to spare before the badeken.

What followed was an amazing wedding. It was so much fun, but you heard about that already.

There's more.

My parents called while I was on my way to the wedding to tell me they had found my pocketbook. Where was it, you may ask? In my parents' bedroom where they had put it to save it from the cleaning lady (and then promptly forgot about it).

During the meal, I noticed that there was an older lady there who was wearing a very familiar black and white flowered jacket. It's one thing to wear the same clothes as a friend, and a totally different thing to match a lady twice your age (and weight)

Right before we left the wedding, my father called to tell me that an older friend of mine was engaged.

My feet were aching like crazy because we were dancing so much, but the car was right there.

I almost got into a serious accident on the way home, but Hashem saved me at the last second.

We made really good time home.

I even got a good spot on my block (which is nearly impossible at night).

So, did I have a good day? Some parts were great, others, not so much. Did I have a Divinely directed and inspired day? You bet!

A Series of (Un)Fortunate Events Part 1

Disclaimer: This may sound like a massive kvetch, but it is not mean to be. I just have to give the unfortunate and trying background so the fortunate parts can be seen in contrast.

Monday was a day to remember. It was one of those days that is stressful but ends with the satisfaction of a day well done. It was the day of my friend's wedding.

It started off (as all days do) innocently enough at about 12 am. I was on my home from my friend's house in Brooklyn where I had been dropped off after my vacation, when a friend from Baltimore called me. She was the Kallah's roommate and was trying to figure out how she was going to be getting from Baltimore to a wedding hall in Brooklyn. Somehow we worked it out that I would come to Manhattan to get her from the bus stop, we'd get ready for the wedding at my house, she'd stay over by my house Monday night, and I'd give her explicit directions on how to get back to Penn Station to pick up her bus back to Baltimore the next day.

When I woke up Monday morning, all was fine. My plans for the day were set; I knew what I was going to be doing that day, and it all centered on this wedding.

And then my plans fell apart.

I had been planning to leave for Manhattan at around 11:45 to get there in time to pick up my friend at 1:00. At 9:30, before I had davened, a leak started in our downstairs bathroom. It quickly became a big leak, and then proceeded to give a good imitation of Niagara Falls sans rocks. I was the only one home because my sister was coming home from camp that day. I frantically called my father, spoke to our upstairs neighbor, and then the leak stopped. For a few minutes. Because Zman T'fila was swiftly approaching, I opted to daven before the shower I was planning on taking that morning. I got dressed, took one last look at the area of the leak, and discovered that it had restarted with a vengeance. There was half an inch of water on the floor there, and it was spreading into our laundry room. I called my neighbor again and asked them to turn off their washing machine and to speak to my father because I had to daven.

I davened, and since Niagara had stopped leaking, I decided to take my long awaited shower. While I was waiting for the water to hit the right temperature, I noticed a small leak from the shower ceiling. Sometime in the middle of my shower, I happened to look out and notice that now it was raining from three parts of the bathroom. I quickly finished up, called my father yet again (at which point he decided to come home from work). I went into my room, got dressed, and then noticed that there was water on the floor of my closet (which is on the same floor as this bathroom). I had to leave to get my friend and water was filling up my house. It was an auspicious start to the day.

I got to Manhattan in record time (the train came right away, and I even had a seat), but my friend's bus had gotten delayed. I decided that since I was on 34th St, I may as well go shopping. I got lost in Macy's for a while, and then found three sweaters for $9.50 each (a mitziah [find] to top all mitziahs). I found my friend, and we took the train back to my house.

By the time we got back, our water problem was diagnosed to be a backed up sewer and the water main was turned off. No water for anything, a messy, watery house, and a friend's first visit. The perfect combination.

The sewer guy was B"H able to come right away, and the problem was summarily dealt with. Although the floors were still wet, there was no ill effect on our ability to get ready to leave. We somehow managed it only a few minutes after we had originally planned. Then another set of problems cropped up.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Friend’s Wedding

I've been to friends' weddings many times by now. I've watched kallahs of all types walk down the aisle as single girls and emerge from under the chuppah as married women. But the wedding I went to last night was different.

The Kallah was my really close friend. This was one wedding where I felt a chiyuv (obligation) to be there. I felt the need to put myself in that inner circle to dance with my friend on the happiest day of her life. Never have I been to the wedding of so close a friend. (I do have a few more weddings of friends of this caliber coming up, but this was the first.)

The strangest thing happened though. Almost every time I go to a wedding (although this has happened less and less frequently as weddings become more commonplace), I half believe that it's not really happening. Call it denial, but I can't get over the fact that my friend that I shared snack with in nursery or walked to school with in elementary school or took to the bus with to high school or copied notes from in seminary is really all grown up and getting married. I watch my friends walk down the aisle to start their new lives, their faces covered by their veils, and tell myself it's not really happening. It's some other girl, one I don't know, who's making such a change in her life, and my friend and I can just go on as we were.

In my heart, I know it's not true.

I know that times are changing and we're growing up. I watched my friend walk down the aisle last night, saw them pick up the veil to make sure it was her. I saw her face under the chuppah, and it was really her face. She was the one getting married, not some faceless girl in white. Her life, and my relationship with her, will never be the same. There's someone else occupying the space in her heart labeled "best friend" and all former occupants are pushed down a little. She can no longer think only in terms of herself because now she is half of a greater whole.

She, like all kallahs, is facing a new beginning, one that should be filled with brocha and hatlocha, simcha and shalom, and most of all, ahava and avodas Hashem.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Well, I'm Back

B"H I had an amazing time on my vacation. I went to New Hampshire with my friend and her family, and it was a real chavaya (experience). The biggest surprise was that I was able to survive a whole week with no technology other than a cell phone (that doesn't check my email for me). No blogs, no email ... I can't believe I survived it.

I've got lots to say about my vacation, so stay tuned. Hope everyone is enjoying their summer so far.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Vacation ... Finally!

I'm going on a real vacation starting tomorrow - no technology except for cell phones and cameras. That means no blogs :`(. I have no idea how in the world I'm going to survive. I'll miss you all. See you sometime after August 17th.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

In Tribute to a Friend

Dear Shulie, Amush

I've been wanting to tell you this for some time, but I realized it would be easier in a letter than over the phone.

Do you remember the mitzvah wedding we went to a little before Pesach? I remember it so clearly because it made an indelible impression on me. Let me describe it to you the way I remember it.

When we, a group of fifteen sem girls, got there, there were about ten real guests and another ten seminary girls. There was a drum playing beats that were impossible to dance to, and the kallah was talking on the phone looking sad.

And then we came, or rather you came. You were the one who made the difference.

You did not hesitate at all. You went right up to the kallah and pulled her onto the dance floor. We girls made a circle around you and her as you proceeded to make her wedding special. You made the entire wedding. As I watched you dance with her and her mother (or whoever those ladies were – we never actually found out) I was crying inside over the beauty of it all, as I am now over the memory of it.

I had never been to such a wedding, and you made it into whatever it was.

I've always been rather shy and reserved, but that wedding changed me. Whenever I go to a wedding, my memory of you being m'sameach that kallah challenges me to be you. Though most weddings are happier than the one we went to in Israel, there is still a need.

Since I came home, you wouldn't recognize me at weddings. Sometimes I don't even recognize myself in the girl dancing away in the inner circle.

You changed me Shulie.

But that's really not the end of it. Until that night I was always a little wary of you because our personalities are so different. But that night, Shulie, you changed my perspective. There was no way in the world that I, or anyone with my type of personality, could have done what needed to be done. What you did. It made me appreciate you so much more, and recognize that there is a need for every type in this world. I realized that while I would do a chessed for someone with (or without) a smile, you'd do it with a song and a cheer. When I would drag my feet do something, you'd dance to do it.

There is a depth to you that I saw for the first time that night, and it changed me and my view of the world.

This may seem like a random time to think of all this, but it's really not. About two weeks ago, someone I know made a chasuna. I wasn't invited for the chupa or the meal, so I wasn't going to go. But then someone told my mother that she had heard that there weren't going to be so many people there. So I went. But only in your zchus - only because I remembered how much of a difference you made at that chasuna in Israel. I can't say that I did as much for that wedding as you could have, but my presence definitely helped.

I wanted to thank you for everything, Shulie, for the influence you didn't know you had on me. And I ask you to continue doing what you have been doing so you can continue to inspire the world at large.
                                Musing Maidel

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Levaya of a Gadol

I'm not one to discuss what's going on in the world. I prefer to live in my little bubble, only surfacing when some friend or family member mentions something new in current events. But every so often, current events collide with my bubble. Today was one such day.

Rav Zelig Epstein, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Shaar Hatorah, a yeshiva in my neighborhood, was niftar today. The levaya (funeral) was held outside in front of the Yeshiva. B"H there was a lot of shade and a local grocery store supplied free drinks. Most of the hespedim (eulogies) were in Yiddish, so I didn't understand most of what was going on, but the intent was clear: Reb Zelig was a tzaddik in our times. He did what he could for the tzibbur (community), but did not forsake his family in the process. He was a man of great wisdom and empathy; he was able to get to the heart of something and share his insight. He was a gadol who corresponded with many great Rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel (Israel). On a list of who to ask eitzos (ideas) from, he was only behind Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky and Rav Shach. I'm sure many personal stories were told, but I didn't understand them.

That he was a great man did not surprise me. But the sheer number of people who came did. I went to the levaya of Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, one of the American Roshei Yesiva of Mir in America, while I was in seminary. Again, the hespedim were all in Yiddish or Hebrew, so I didn't understand any of it. The cemetery he was buried in was across the street from my dorm, so we got to see the entire procession. "A lot of people" doesn't even begin to cover it. Rechov Shmuel Hanavi (a six lane street) was covered in a sea of black hats. Hands covered the van that the meis was in, everyone wanting one last touch, one last caress, for the rebbe that they were losing. It was a fitting tribute for the man he was.

Since Shaar Hatorah is a much smaller Yeshiva than Mir, I thought Rav Zelig's levaya wouldn't be of the same magnitude as Rav Berenbaum. I was wrong - it came very close. There was the same sea of black covering two streets. The same loving, caressing touch of hundreds of talmidim (students) trying to hold onto their Rebbe.

During the hespedim and after, while following the aron (coffin), non-Jews stopped in the streets. They asked us what was going on, and when they heard it was a funeral, they paid their respects. Those who lived in the neighborhood knew of the yeshiva and had heard of its leader. The Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's Name) that came about through this levaya was enormous. How often does one see literally hundreds of people come together to honor one man?

May he be a meilitz yosher for all of us.
Umacha Hashem dimaah ma'al kol panim
(May G-d wipe away the tears from every face)
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