Thursday, September 3, 2015

Guest Post: Luke Being Luke

When I see people across the entire religious spectrum (myself included) resort to ritualistic observance of the commandments as well as faith itself it occurred to me that many people don't believe in G-d but rather a deity known as "Religion."

Religious practice was always intended to stimulate a thought process. Recognition of good (hakarat hatov),  kindness and compassion is the foundation of Judaic dogma. All of these elements are deeply rooted throughout the Torah and the commandments. Practicing the commandments by studying the text and the rabbinic discussions is supposed instill the aforementioned elements within us through thought stimulation. Without these elements one can never truly be elevated to a purposeful and meaningful life. 

What I see today is that mainstream religious practice has been reduced to a system of incantations and hocus pocus. This is perhaps due to the infusion of kabbalistic thought which has permeated religious practice for so long in a way that was never intended.

—Eilu v'Eilu 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Shidduch Lit" III

This post begins with a heartfelt apology to Sporadic Intelligence, a.k.a TooYoungTooTeach. 

She had fiercely recommended to me Anna Karenina. I fiercely declined.
"A 1,000 page novel about romantic histrionics? Nuh-uh. Not my thang." 

TYTT insisted. She cajoled. She threatened. Okay, she didn't threaten, but her vehemence was such that I felt myself to be irrationally implacable. What's the worse that could happen? A hernia from hauling the tome around? 

I requested a copy from the library, and—according to literati, it is important to note the translators—I received the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky version (apparently, when Oprah selected it for her book club, she used this edition as it had most recently come out, and was therefore readily available). 

Sighing, I opened it—and was sucked into the wormhole. 

What I did not know, which makes all the difference, is that Anna herself does not take up significant page time. There are many subplots to the story: Levin's search for a wife and a philosophy to live by, Dolly's dealing with her philandering husband, Kitty's vacillation between two suitors . . . 

Because the language is simple, unlike other classics, it is an easy as opposed to exhausting read. Ergo, it is painless to connect concepts to the contemporary age, and there are many. In short: There is nothing new under the sun. The same issues plague all of humanity, including (in terms of Shidduch Lit) dating, marriage, and the wedded state. 

Tolstoy grasps so well the differences between the thinking in men and women—how they approach matters, who is truly stronger. Many times I laughed, since I can see my own real life interactions within. 

Therein is also an internal philosophical debate, which actually results in a not-un-Jewish concepts. I'll give the audience a chance to read it before I plaster it all over. 

With flying colors, Anna Karenina qualifies as "Shidduch Lit."  Not only that, it has been added to my unofficial list of favorite books. I even bought it for my own bookshelf.

And TYTT . . . I'm groveling in shame.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Battle of the Bulge: What Does Coke Do For You, Anyway?

"I don't exercise enough," he sighed with a fatalistic shrug. "Not like you."

"Me? Please. I don't 'exercise' exercise," I scoffed. 

"Yes, you do, you walk," he retorted. 

"Yeah, but not that much. I walk less now than I used to, and I weighed more then." 

He stubbornly shook his head. "It's because I don't exercise." 

I know it's because of what he eats. It would be impossible for him to haul around all those pounds if he was consuming the right foods. I have hit many a mental wall as I attempt to preach the Gospel of Produce. 

"It's exercise!" the masses scream, takeout, chips, and sugary pink beverages in hand. 

"Eat a cucumber!" I roar back. 

Why this insistence that it's not the fault of donuts and ice cream?  

Recently, I have come across articles holding "Big Food" accountable for this belief; in order to keep peddling their quasi-food products, they need consumers to think that the fault lies in their unchallenged abs. 

You may not have noticed it yet, but sodamakers are working hard to get you off the couch. On Aug. 9, a New York Times article revealed that Coca-Cola was quietly funding a group of scientists called Global Energy Balance Network that emphasizes the role of exercise, as opposed to diet, in fighting obesity. There's also Mixify, an advertising and social-media campaign launched by Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association that suggests "mixing lazy days with something light, following sweaty workouts with whatever you're craving"—encouraging the idea that when you're active, you can afford to eat or drink whatever you like. . . 
"The notion that we can exercise away a bad diet is absolutely unfounded," says Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital and professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard, "and it's contradicted by many research studies." Indeed there isn't strong evidence to show that exercise alone—at least at the level that anyone other than a marathoner maintains—can help people shed pounds and keep them off. 
Park continues that people are starting realize this, and are curbing their soda intake, panicking sodamakers to encourage their product, brightly proclaiming those calories can be easily burned off. But not all calories are created equal, and excess sugar destroys the metabolism's efficiency over time. 
"If you're a toaster oven, then the calorie-balance model is for you," says Ludwig. "If you're a human, it's not helpful."  
There are a number of food-based documentaries out there; I watched Hungry for Change a few weeks ago, and felt like braying "Aaaaamen!" half the time (not all the time, half the time).

Monday, August 31, 2015

Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet

Silence is often the best thing to say. Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert

Disease enter by the mouth, misfortunes come from it. — Chinese proverb
Babi passed away a number of months ago. She was almost 100. She did not linger in the hospital; the final illness was quick. 

Quite frankly, in terms of how to go, it can't get much better than that. And yet, and yet, at the levaya and during shiva, I was flabbergasted at the insane amount of stupid comments that were given voice. 

What, I thought in terror, do people say when the situation is even more painful, when a loved one was taken too soon, too suddenly, too shockingly? What damage does an awkward mouth wreak? 

As I shared tales of idiotic utterances with those who have also mourned a loss, they eagerly commiserated, having been stunned by the blow of careless words. 

I would say, in this day and age, our greatest trial is shutting up. We huddle within our own minds, seeking only to balm our own agony, desperate to hear validation even from those who are consumed with their own suffering. 

I type this as a fellow transgressor. 

One day, while walking, I observed a squirrel attempting to cross the road. Animals, I have noticed to my amusement, never grasped the concept of simply glancing to their left or right before venturing forth; they take a few heartening breaths and lunge forward, focused only on getting to the other side, not realizing that they can get themselves or someone else killed—just look first!
I was struck then, as the squirrel frenziedly backed up after a failed attempt, eyes glued on the desirable curb so close, and yet so far, how often we and me behave just so. We don blinders, thinking of a goal, and ignoring all collateral damage.

Menacheim avel. Our stomachs squirm at the task, but we bravely march through the door into the hushed confines of a sad home. Even though the avel is supposed to speak first, rendering the visitor mute, mayhap the silence grates too much, the emotions frighten too much, too close, too threatening. 

We let our own desire to drive away the awkwardness override the task at hand, and we open our mouths. I need to feel better, never mind why I'm here in the first place. 

This goes beyond the shiva house. We meet others every day, and we repeatedly, hurtfully, mindlessly, inflict wounds.
Why did I say that? I reproach myself, merely at the times when I am aware of my flub; there are plenty of mistakes spoken that I did not recognize as such. 

THINK. We must THINK before we speak, over and over and over. Zeidy rarely spoke, because he wanted to avoid being an executioner. Very often the best choice is to be quiet, and regret nothing.     

Friday, August 28, 2015


1) The viral video of teenage Jewish boys saving the world (or a planted Spongebob decoy). 

2) Voldemort gets funky. Click on the CC for the lyrics.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ivy League ≠ Success

He was a Brooklyn yeshiva boy, brighter than most. Following his marriage, he attended college at night. He eventually made it to Columbia Law. 

"You know," he said in surprise, "there are a lot of smart goyim out there." Feeling a little humble?
Malcolm Gladwell, for all his success, did not attend an ivy league school. A child of a professor and therapist, he went to the University of Toronto. Not having been raised in the U.S., he finds the American fascination with higher echelon colleges to be perplexing—a needless expense and potentially damaging. Frank Bruni echoes the same sentiments in "How to Survive the College Admissions Madness." 

Consider the Law & Order episode, "Haven." The body of a well-known black community leader is discovered; he was bludgeoned to death. The trail eventually leads to his protégé, a black boy in a high-level college. 

This young man had graduated from his high school with high accolades. However, the standard of education in that institution was so low that he was completely unprepared for the ivy league, no matter how hard he tried to catch up. His self-esteem suffered tremendously, and he wanted to drop out. 

But his mentor refused to let him, insisting that he had become a role model, that the community had raised the funds for his textbooks; if he left school, he would be letting "everybody" down. 

While under cross in court, McCoy pushes him to snap: "I just wanted them off my back!" The pressure was too much; he had grabbed a baseball bat. 

That example goes a wee bit too far, but the point is this: Higher-tier colleges don't guarantee success. Peter Hart, cited in Bruni's article, had a glorious experience in the University of Arizona after being rejected by more prestigious colleges, and ended up in the same business position as his classmate who went to Yale. 

My Bais Yaakov had pretty much taught me what I needed to know to do well in college. I even knew more than many of my classmates, which was gratifying. I was where I felt academically comfortable.

My policy, when it came to education, was not to freak in elementary and high school. I had a classmate who was valedictorian, but after spending so many years cherishing her GPA she allowed it to choke in her meh college. Her self-made business never required a stellar college education. 

Rejection sucks, in all its forms. It's when we dust ourselves off and plod on that we find our self-worth, and where our own "success" thrives.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Jooooooin Uuuuuus

She usually did her hair herself, so she had got the name of the establishment from Lucy, thinking she would know about such places; but perhaps that had been a mistake. Lucy had a face and shape that almost demanded the artificial: nail-polish and makeup and elaborate arrangements of hair blended into her, became part of her. Surely she would look peeled or amputated without them; whereas Marian had always thought that on her own body these things looked extra, stuck to her surface like patches or posters. —Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman


There are two types of makeup: Properly applied cosmetics, and Mimi Bobeck. 
Bad makeup vs. cute makeup, extreme makeover
Via, User Lexy_M
There is no such thing as "I don't have the sort of face that does well with makeup." It is impossible, improbable. Even Angelina Jolie has submitted to makeup artists. There may be "I don't feel comfortable with certain looks," however. That can be understood. 

I like paint, but there are certain times when I don't do my usual Face, like when I'm just running out to get my hair trimmed. With just mascara, concealer, tinted moisturizer, and blush, one looks miraculously fresh. 

 It's not all or nothing, us vs. them. Believe it or not, I was so adamant about being an honorary tomboy I didn't touch makeup until I was 20, and I was just refusing to powder my nose to spite the Face.
And have felt no need to look back.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"I'm. So. Scared."

Come every June, my neighborhood boasts an influx of returning daughters, fresh from seminary. They troop into shul bright-eyed, hair freshly cut and blown, nails groomed into a decorous French manicure, tripping in new unbroken heels, attired in crisp colorful outfits. Everything about them screams: "Finally! Now I can date!"

They dreamily plan their immediate futures: romance, marriage, baby carriage.
They sashay in, heads high with promise and expectation, and see a sight that makes them freeze in place, a mute scream rising in panicked throats. No! No! It can't be!
The terrifying vision is, of course, me.

There is nothing about me, you see, that advertises any sort of possible insanity. There are single individuals, for instance, that one can "understand" why they are still single. Nothing about me, sadly, displays obvious reasons. 

Which catapults these young, eager lasses into a state of warranted horror: If she's still single, then, then, "it" could happen to anybody, even . . . me!?  

It's as though a Romulan ship uncloaked on the port bow. Red alert! Red alert!
I sometimes worry that by being single, I am doing a great disservice to these damsels. Does the very existence of moi urge them into precipitous betrothals? 

One of these eligible maidens was to redt to a chap belonging to a family we know well. Ma was called for information, and despite her discrete "Danger Will Robinson!" warning, the parents okay-ed him. 

Well, you can imagine the nerves in my house. I don't even bite my nails, and I was considering taking up the habit. The two dated on, off, etc., based on whether "anything better came along" for the gal. 

I had to consider: Is it me? To avoid my terrible fate, is she contemplating a lifetime with a lowly cad? I felt oddly guilty. The Eibishter is holding off, and I acknowledge that, a trifle impatiently. 

When she finally ended it, presumably for good this time, we all exhaled a collective sigh of relief. 

Don't make bad choices because of me, girls.   

Friday, August 21, 2015

Painless Dessert

I can be obsessive about new discoveries. Some experiments fail; a goodly number succeed. 

I posted about my surprising delight ("surprising" because I officially loathe coconut) in a homemade pareve ice cream recipe composed of coconut milk, dates, and vanilla extract. Cocoa powder could be added if one really digs chocolate, probably coffee as well. 

While web browsing, I realized that this concoction could be frozen in molds. I happened to have in the house a silicone petit-four mold that has never been utilized. 
A can of coconut milk + 8 dates + a splash of vanilla extract perfectly filled all 6 molds. 

I froze them overnight. It was incredibly easy to pop them out the next day. 

Gorgeous and tasty, with barely any work! Just put all the ingredients together to soak a little, blend, pour, and freeze. 

Isn't that pretty? 

And the obsession continues as I search through the myriad of silicone mold options. I have my eye on something in the flower family.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sticks and Stones

I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. —Psalm 57

Today, those words are less often spoken, more often typed. Texts, tweets, posts, updates, statuses, and so forth, can be a roiling, teeming hotbed of fury and shame. With the help of technology, a thoughtless comment can be elevated and escalated to the point where people's lives are ruined

"How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco's Life" by Jon Ronson lists anecdotes of individuals who, without sufficient thought, spoke, tweeted, or posted a statement or photo that was more offensive than they realized. The backlash and consequences insanely exceeded the severity of the crime.
In some cases, the "muckrakers" that "outed" mindless words with the help of social media were attacked in turn, after these mild offensives were returned with firings and virulent online persecution. 

Public shaming is not a new concept. But it now extends beyond one's own small social circle to the entire freakin' world, who don't know the culprit and have no idea what they are talking about. Satire is often taken at face value; humor out of context.

Ronson's conclusion: 
When I first met her, [Justine Sacco] was desperate to tell the tens of thousands of people who tore her apart how they had wronged her and to repair what remained of her public persona. But perhaps she had now come to understand that her shaming wasn’t really about her at all. Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval, and that is what led to her undoing. Her tormentors were instantly congratulated as they took Sacco down, bit by bit, and so they continued to do so. Their motivation was much the same as Sacco’s own — a bid for the attention of strangers — as she milled about Heathrow, hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see.
Why did Sacco tweet so stupidly in the first place? Probably the same reason why I used to constantly post statuses on FB—waiting for the "like" feedback, hoping someone would find me witty and worthy. 

Because Sacco tweeted under her real identity, the whiz-bang lash of ostracism was able to destroy her life. But anonymous commenters, subject to no such retribution, can write absolutely anything, snug in their invisibility: "The Epidemic of Facelessness" by Stephen Marche. 
When the police come to the doors of the young men and women who send notes telling strangers that they want to rape them, they and their parents are almost always shocked, genuinely surprised that anyone would take what they said seriously, that anyone would take anything said online seriously. There is a vast dissonance between virtual communication and an actual police officer at the door. It is a dissonance we are all running up against more and more, the dissonance between the world of faces and the world without faces. And the world without faces is coming to dominate.
I know, when I am distant to an issue, the "obvious" right and wrong side seems all too clear. It is when one comes closer that one sees that matters are not so simple. I try not to take whatever new "outrage" I see online seriously.
Especially since being faceless removes compassion. 
Inability to see a face is, in the most direct way, inability to recognize shared humanity with another. In a metastudy of antisocial populations, the inability to sense the emotions on other people’s faces was a key correlation. There is “a consistent, robust link between antisocial behavior and impaired recognition of fearful facial affect. Relative to comparison groups, antisocial populations showed significant impairments in recognizing fearful, sad and surprised expressions.”
. . . Without a face, the self can form only with the rejection of all otherness, with a generalized, all-purpose contempt — a contempt that is so vacuous because it is so vague, and so ferocious because it is so vacuous. A world stripped of faces is a world stripped, not merely of ethics, but of the biological and cultural foundations of ethics.
I find it interesting that those who spew horrible opinions while anonymous "of course" wouldn't say such things in the real world. Being unknown supposedly breeds "honesty." Does that mean that most of humanity, with their actual faces and true names, really don't qualify for that label?  

"What Your Online Comments Say About You" by Anna North reports on expert opinion saying that nasty comments don't necessarily come from a place of "truth"; the anonymous trolls could have simply had a "bad day." Nor do they realize that their petty frustrations can be seen by so many. 
And as they get more attention, some commenters might become more self-aware. When media outlets covered Dr. Brossard’s 2013 study, she took a look at the comments. One reader, she recalled, had indicated that “now I’m going to think twice because I realize that what I’m saying, the way I react, and my words potentially can affect other people.
One reader, she recalled, had indicated that “now I’m going to think twice because I realize that what I’m saying, the way I react, and my words potentially can affect other people.”
“There is research showing that people underestimate who’s going to see what they say” in comments sections, said Dr. Kiesler. “Unless they’ve been burned in the past, they are just not as aware that they’re being observed.”
But if research on comments continues, maybe that will change. Maybe commenters will become more conscious of each other and more bound by social norms — for better and, perhaps, for worse.
In short, think very, very hard before writing or posting pictures. And if in doubt . . . do without.