Monday, December 31, 2007

$2,356

So it's the end of the year, and that has me thinking about finances. I'm getting in my final end-of-year charitable donations, I'm selling off my one loser stock for the tax loss, I'm starting a new 2008 personal finance spreadsheet. One of the things I've been tracking this year is my "freebies" count. As I've said before on this blog, I'm one of those wacky people who responds to offers for free things. I only respond to the genuine offers, mind you, not the ones that have you clicking insanely for hours, only to come to a dead end where you have to subscribe to some magazine or service you don't need and wait three months to get your prize. I do the real ones.

I also get sign-up bonuses for credit cards, new bank accounts etc. And of course, I diligently cash in credit card points and frequent-buyer points. As so many of my friends and siblings are nay-sayers ("I don't have time, they never really give you the bonus, I'll forget to close the account, it's not worth it," etc.), I decided to write down each freebie and see how things tally up at the end of the year. This year, the grand total value on my freebies came to, ta-da, $2,356! Yay for me! Here's what it was (mostly) comprised of:


Sign-up bonuses on:

Unfortunately, I will get 1099'd for all of these and have to pay tax on them. But, that should be my biggest problem. To continue:
  • I opened 3 American Express credit cards and cashed in the signup points immediately for gift cards ($250 for the business Amex, $100 for the Starwood Amex, and $50 for The Knot Amex).
  • I got $112 cash from Ebates (you have to be insane not to have an account at Ebates), and in February, I will receive an additional check for $198.
  • JetBlue was running a promo where they sent you a $25 Amex gift card if you paid for a flight with Amex.
  • Inbox Dollars sent me a check for $30 (I wouldn't recommend joining Inbox Dollars...way too much work).
  • I made $550 in gift cards from My Points (which I highly recommend...no work at all).
  • I got $10 from Obopay.
  • A free Ipod Shuffle (worth $79) from Discover.
  • A 1 gig Flash drive from PC Safety Plus.
  • A $20 Lowe's gift card from ShopatHome.
  • A $25 Gift Card from Barnes and Noble for a Mastercard.
  • A $50 bonus from Sharebuilder for opening an account.
  • Cashed in some Wells Fargo cc points for a $10 Amazon card,
  • Cashed in a walloping ton of Chase cc points for a $500 Sharper Image card (which got me my GPS),
  • Got a $35 free long distance card from Phone Hog.
I also got (not counted in my total) a bunch of free and legal mp3 downloads from EMusic, a free audiobook from Audible.com, literally dozens of free samples from Walmart, free coffee from Folgers, free coffeemaker from Gevalia, etc. Free, free, free. La la la.

How did I find all these freebies? Well, I did do some searching, but I also follow fabulous blogs like this one, that essentially do the searching for me. I go through my junk mail diligently, throw out the crap and keep the offers that sound interesting. If they are not going to be too much work, I follow through. Whenever I apply for a freebie, I set alarms in my Google calendar to email me when I should see an offer come through or when I need to close an account. Right now, I am left with only 4 credit cards and three bank accounts, and my credit rating is still fabulous (it takes a very small hit when you open a new cc). The only account I forgot to close was my Emusic account and that cost me $20, but considering the 100+ mp3's that I downloaded, no regrets.

I never try to cheat or open multiple accounts or other slimy things, and I am prepared to pay taxes on my goodies (ah, the price of living in a free capitalist society....I love capitalism, love it, love it). I do admit to spending about 10-15 minutes a day checking up on this stuff, never more than that (quoth the Raven)....I do have some semblance of a life.

So was it worth it? $2,300+ later, I'm gonna say, yeah, it was.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tzniusdik t-shirts for a song, and a little capelet thingie

Attention all female frummies: check out this long sleeve ribbed cotton t-shirt at Newport News. You get THREE of these for $15. Use the 20% off coupon (code 566) and you get three for $12. Ok, I know the neckline is a teeny bit scoopy, but hey, $4 a t-shirt! Cotton! Long sleeves! Great colors!

Last time I ordered from NN, I got this little cape thing, (which was $9.60 after the coupon discount) because I thought it was different. It turned out to be even cuter than in the picture, and was a perfect topper for a sorta plain Shabbos knit sweater outfit I had, that was a tiny bit too snug up there. Very elegant and girlie. If you hate wearing what everyone is (as I do), this is perfect, except don't wear it to shul when I do, please.

Learning to Give

One of my earliest and nicest memories was when I was five years old. It was my birthday. Mommy and Daddy sat me down, gave me my Thumbelina doll birthday present (God, how I wanted that Thumbelina doll), and then, they gave me something else. I had been reading a story about a little girl who got an allowance. I too, wanted an allowance. I had been begging M & D for an allowance for a month. How much it would be wasn't important; I just wanted money that I could call my own. Pretty please M & D? So on my birthday, Daddy pulled out his wallet and took out 10 shiny nickels. "Here," he said, "is your first weekly allowance." I was thrilled. All that money, all those shiny coins. Mine. I could go to the drugstore (I vividly remember that drugstore, and I can still taste their green lollipops) with Mom and get a toy. I was so happy. All mine. And then came the crushing blow.

"And how much are you going to give the poor people?" Daddy asked.

The poor people? Nothing, that's how much. Let their Mommies and Daddies give them their allowance. Why should I have to give them anything? These were my nickels! Mine. I told my parents that I didn't want to give the poor people anything.
So Dad took me in his lap and explained that Hashem gave us a mitzvah to give 1/10 of our money ("what does 1/10th mean?") to tzedakah, that if I was going to get ten nickels every week, I should really put one of my nickels in the pushka that was next to the Shabbos candles

"But Hashem isn't giving me an allowance, you and Mommy are! Why do I have to listen to Hashem?"

I responded to his request as the budding capitalist that I was yet to become: I started to cry. Hysterically.


They didn't push it. I got to keep my nickels. And the next week, I got my allowance again, and Dad asked the same question "how much for the poor people?" I guess seeing as how they weren't going to force me to give up my nickel, I didn't cry but I didn't give it up either.
I vaguely remember my M & D explaining more about charity and kindness to me over the next two weeks. Some of these sessions they filled in for me later, when I was an adult and retold this story to The Ex. My Dad said that I was behaving like any five-year-old...all about me.

But by the fourth week, when Daddy gave me my allowance and asked me to give tzedakah, I went over to the pushka and put in a nickel. I remember feeling very proud and very generous. I remember that the following week, my allowance increased to 60 cents! Daddy explained that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, when you are generous, you get back even more. After a little lesson in simple fractions, I happily put a nickel
and a penny in the pushka.

This was my introduction to giving charity. My parents instilled the idea of giving ma'aser in me from the very first time that I grasped the idea of ownership. To this day, I am grateful to my parents for the
chinuch they gave me. From that point on, I always set aside 1/10 of my Chanukah gelt, my summer jobs, and eventually my more serious jobs to give to charity, and my parents couldn't have been prouder of me. They did the same thing with all my siblings. And by the way, my parents were never well-off. My family never owned a house or a car. I'm sure there were times when I was younger that it was a struggle to put food on the table, something I cannot relate to today. But my parents' observance of ma'aser was as scrupulous as their observance of Shabbos and kashrus.

Giving ma'aser is one of the few ways you are allowed to "test" God. I have no source for this, but I remember learning it several times in Yeshiva. And indeed, the years I struggled to fulfill my ma'aser were always followed by periods of personal economic upturn. It's not magic, but it seems to happen.


All religious arguments aside, it is good to give. I remember once when I was doing some fund-raising for an organization in my former community, I was speaking to the Rabbi there, and he said that if every Orthodox family in the community fulfilled even half of their ma'aser, not a single Jewish local organization would need money.


There are times when people can be five-year-olds when it comes to giving charity. Whah! I don't want to give. Why should I give? I am barely getting by as it is. And I earned this money. I will give more when I am really wealthy.

No matter where you are in life, it is good to give. It is good to occasionally set aside your own needs and fulfill other people's needs, even when you don't feel like it. It creates connection and it is good to create connection. It is good to be part of something bigger than yourself. It is good to be committed to giving a particular amount, and then rising to that commitment. It is good to give.

This is the most basic of ideas, yet it is one I need to remind myself of every now and then, when I feel the five-year-old in me coming out.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday night


"It's Saturday night, and I ain't got nobody..."

I'm on a self-enforced break from blind-dating, Frumstering (though to be honest I gave that up over a month ago), SYAS'ing, etc. None of my friends want to go to the movies. I don't feel like watching television. I don't even have a Blockbuster account in NY....always hated renting movies.

I have a pile, okay, several piles of paper on my desk, waiting to be gone through. I have a laundry basket that is nearly full (and God forbid I should do laundry until the basket is overflowing). I have to give a shiur in two weeks and have not cracked open a sefer. I have friends who are not speaking to me because it's been a month since I returned their phone calls.

So what I am doing? Screwing around on my computer. And blogging. I'm Pathetic. It's official. Congratulations to me.

So my phone rang off the hook today. Probably every two hours. You can't imagine how annoying it is to have this happen over Shabbos. It's been occurring with greater frequency over the last few weeks. All the calls show up as 1-800 something or Out of Area. So I'm scratching my head over this today and then I realize...

Oh rats.

When I moved last year and got a new phone number, I forgot to sign up for the no-call registry. And since I recently changed providers, my number probably got listed on some free-for-all telemarketing list. Idiot, idiot, idiot.

Ok, so for all my fellow absentminded readers who might have moved recently, here are two great links to have:

The Don't Call Me Registry: https://www.donotcall.gov. And now, you can also put your cell phone number on there. God bless the Federal government (not really).

The I Don't Want to Receive Junk Mail List: http://OptOutPrescreen.com. No more "pre-approved" offers from credit cards or insurance agencies. God bless the Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies (not really).

Back to me.

Of course, today being December 29, now I'm starting to think of that special evening that single, unattached people secretly loathe, New Year's Eve. It's not that I really care about New Year's Eve, it's just that: a) when the whole world is out having a good time, it's hard to not be out there with them and b) it's just another reminder that I don't have anyone.

When I was single, my friends used to get together and have informal parties. We'd hang out, play social games like pictionary, etc., count down to the new year, and just have a laid-back nice time. When I was married, The Ex and I would usually go out, watch the fireworks or go to the symphony or a show. The year that I was in aveilus, we just hung out in front of the fireplace doing nothing special, which was also nice. The last year or two that we were married, we just went to sleep. It was always nice when New Year's Eve came out on a Friday night, because that gave us the excuse not to do anything because of Shabbos.

So this year, here are my options: 1) go to the huge bash that all my single and divorced friends are going to. 2) hang out in the city with a few platonic male friends. 3) do nothing.

Option 1 is off the list. When I go to singles parties like that, I feel even more lonely. Even when I meet someone there. I don't know why...they just make me feel very hollow and depressed.

Option 2 is a maybe. Truth is, I'm not that excited by the idea. I hate driving to the city, especially on a night like New Year's. I'm just not that into it.

Option 3 is also a maybe. I don't mind being alone. I really don't. But not on New Year's. I'm afraid I'll find myself on my window ledge, which would be super-pathetic, since I live on the ground floor. Seriously, I just want to be out doing something.

What is this weird thing that compels us to go out just to convince ourselves that things really aren't so bad, that we really aren't that alone?

Sigh.

Okay, maybe I will do laundry tonight. And finish that novel I started last night.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Enough enough enough


I have heard many, many times that the definition of insanity is to keep trying the same thing over and over and expect different results. Is that insanity or just stupidity? Or is that hope? Or are they all the same things?

Lord knows, I was guilty of this during the course of my marriage. I was ready to leave The Ex before my first anniversary. He begged me to stay, saying we had to try, that we could fix what was wrong, that we owed it to our marriage to work it out. Sucker that I am, I stayed. Five years later, what was wrong then was, well, a bit worse. But boyohboy had we given it the old college try! Marriage counselors, endless discussions, strategies, etc. I kept thinking that if we wanted to save the marriage, we could. And then five years went by. And we couldn't. And for my troubles, I got:

1. A full set of Samsonite in terms of emotional baggage.
2. An almost lost opportunity to have children.
3. I am alone.

As Stephen King says, "the world has moved on," but I am back to where I was years ago. The eligible, frum guys in my age range and religious sphere are now married. My dating pool is full of crocodiles and swamp rats. And frogs, lotsa frogs. Pucker up, Princess.


So you would think that I would smarten up and learn something from my marriage. What should I learn? That just because you try hard at something, doesn't mean it's going to happen. That after trying unsuccessfully for some period of time, you need to give up the ghost and try something else.

As I've said before, I was traveling recently and visited the city that I lived in when I was married. I had dinner with an old acquaintance, Sherry. Sherry is in her late forties, divorced, Conservadox. She's never going to win the Miss America title and she's a tiny bit annoying. She wears very flamboyant clothing and jewelry, and the older she gets, the more flamboyant her style and personality become. (I'm a teensy bit terrified of eventually becoming Sherry. There but for the grace of God go I.) She told me that she has given up on dating "the kosher way." She joined a secular dating service and while she told them that she preferred to date Jews, she was also open to dating non-Jews. This is a huge departure for Sherry. Even though she is not really observant, she knows a great deal about halacha and in the past was always very strict about dating only Jewish men. I reacted with shock and even scolded her. She said "insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting the same results. I don't want to be insane anymore."

Now, don't worry, I'm not going to start going out with non-Jewish men. That's not my point. I guess my point is, I don't want to be insane anymore either.

I dropped my SYAS membership a week ago. I have to say, the SYAS matchmakers are diligent. I used to get close to 7 or 8 suggestions a week, and I would go out with 2 or 3 guys from the list. So today, I got emails from both of my SYAS matchmakers saying that they had some ideas for me but that I needed to reactivate my membership.

And I did (can you say "sucker?"). And after seeing the guys that were suggested, I can only conclude that I would have been better off spending the money on a manicure.

What is it about me that keeps hoping? How stupid am I? I have been out on dozens of dates since my divorce, but most of them seem to get rolled into one big hazy scenario: he's sorta decent looking if you make squinty-eyes (I keep thinking that I'll just drink a lot of wine on my wedding night), he usually does something uncouth, like hold his fork like a garden tool or scratch himself, but I dismiss that, and we make pleasant conversation, which usually includes some mind-numbing Jewish geography and of course, the mandatory interrogation. I find my eyes going blink-blink-blink at some point and I start thinking about which shoes I'm going to wear tomorrow or if I am getting a good yield on my savings account. I go into auto-pilot, which is a handy-dandy thing to go into. He drops me off. I almost always get a second date from the guy. After all, it's pleasant, I'm not Quasimodo, I didn't wear a tube top on the date or pick my nose. It's pleasant. La la la la la. How are you, WebGirl? Bee-Aitch, I'm fine, I am just so amazingly fine. I Heart Dating!

Again, I ask, am I stupid? Am I optimistic? Am I a complete friggin idiot? Why do I keep doing this? Why do I keep trying the same thing over and over and expect different results? Why do I think that this will get me married with a family? How many damn frogs do I have to kiss before I acknowledge that there is no such thing as magic. I have an extraordinarily high IQ. And yet, I keep repeating the same asinine things, over and over again. Maybe I'm an idiot-savante. Maybe I really am insane.

I think it's time to explore some alternatives. I don't want to be insane anymore. But what alternatives are there?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Can't

Ok, I have kinda had it.

I know I said this before and I know I meant this before. But I need love. I need real, true, nauseous-all-the-time, doing-stupid-things-for-no-freakin-reason love. I cannot go out on another one of these stupid dates. I can't do this anymore. Even my marriage was better than this. If I can't have fire, then I'll just stop dating and join the Sisterhood in my shul, and get old and dry up like a leaf and chop my hair off and wear a lot of fake jewelry and flat shoes.

Can't. I can't anymore. Won't.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I've Discovered the Secret to Weight Loss

(drum roll....)

And the secret to weight loss is......

1. Eat less
2. Exercise more

Are you as astounded as I am? I'm going to make a million. Yes.

When I first started this blog a few months ago, one of the topics I wanted to write about was my body, how I screwed it up, and the steps I was taking to fix it.

I was a scrawny kid. Once puberty hit though, I started to "fill out." My entire adult life, I have always had between five and ten pounds to lose. Weight loss came very easy to me in my twenties. When I was in college, I put on the "freshman ten," followed by the "sophomore five" and then the "junior eight." I was a cow by the time I graduated. I quickly dropped the weight and then some, simply by eating salads, skipping dinner and jumping around my living room in front of a Jane Fonda tape. I was slim through my twenties and it was easy. I biked every week, rollerbladed, and generally ran around like a maniac. I was rarely home and I wasn't really all that interested in food. I liked looking cute in clothes.

My early thirties were less than kind to me in the weight department. I definitely started carrying too much around my core and was always struggling with 5-10 lbs. at any given time. I was still passably "average," though no longer slim, and by the time I got to my wedding, I was an easy 10-15 lbs. overweight. It didn't really affect me socially though. I was one of those curvy girls who could get away with it.

The aggravation of my "shana rishona" made me drop the weight out of sheer misery. I stopped eating because I lost my appetite for food, along with my appetite for many other things. I wasn't healthy. I was constantly tired, ate a lot of crap, stopped exercising completely. Even my skin was sort of blah. And then, as the misery accelerated, the weight started climbing on like nobody's business. I became a balloon. By the end of my five year marriage, I had put on close to 45 lbs. It was a nightmare. I was starting over, and I had no body. I was enormous.

The first few months of being on my own again had me dropping about 15 lbs. without trying. Just the fact that I could eat chick-food again and not have to cook for my ex-husband was a relief. I forced myself to get on the treadmill, though one of the ironic realities of weight loss is that when you are heavier, it is much harder to exercise.

I eventually hired a trainer, and she helps quite a bit in terms of strength building and endurance. The days that I don't work out with her, I'm on the t-mill. I'm much more conscious of what I put in my mouth and when I eat. I occasionally still feel myself reaching for the food when I'm lonely, bored or anxious, but now I catch it, and if I can't push the urge away, I'll eat a tiny bit and go on the t-mill for ten minutes instead. I hate exercising, but sometimes, I get into this space where my legs and arms are pumping away, and I don't really even feel them. My eyes are closed, the music from my Ipod is steady, and my body is on autopilot. I'm almost dreaming. I like being in that space. It's incredibly relaxing. I like the tired feeling afterwards, the release of energy. It has replaced my horrible habit of sticking food in my mouth when I need to feel something.

I recently had to do some traveling for work and I was gone for a few weeks. I was very, very busy during this time, both socially and work-wise. I ate when I was hungry, and didn't think about food too much...my days were so busy that I would just fall into bed at night. When I returned home to NY, I discovered that I lost another ten pounds without trying or thinking about it. So I am going to add another line to my weight-loss plan:

3. Keep busy.

Right now, I have about another 15 lbs. to get to a point where I would feel good and slim and comfortable about myself again. It is definitely not easy, but I feel like I am on the right track. I really don't want to diet anymore...I want to get to a place where I am just not focused on food anymore, where it becomes something I need to keep going, something that I enjoy, but not something I need to feel better. I want to spend the rest of my life in a body that I like. I think a lot of other things will fall into place when I am happier with the way I look. When I was fatter, men stopped looking at me, stopped flirting with me, stopped interacting with me as a woman. Now that some of the weight has come off, some of that has returned, and I am starting to feel like myself again. I like men. I like being girly and feminine.

I think that part of the divorce process is just making the journey back to yourself, whomever that self has now become. It sounds like a platitude. It's not. You have to figure out a whole bunch of stuff that you thought you already knew. Like how to eat. How to feel about your body. How to care about the way you look. How to change. Permanently. Uch, change is hard.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Joe



God, I love coffee.

Today was a fast day, 10th of Tevet. This is one of the only minor Jewish fast days that you have to remember on its own. Fast of Esther...day before Purim. Tzom Gedaliah, day after Rosh Hashana. 17th of Tammuz and 9th of Av....bookends on the Three Weeks.

But 10th of Tevet is sort of on its own. And I blew it. I completely forgot about it. This is not the first time that this has happened, so I already knew what the halachic remedy was. I fasted from the moment I remembered and I also need to "make up the fast" on some other day during the year.

But since my fast started at about 9:00am, after one cup of coffee and some yogurt, I thought it would be easy.

It wasn't.

I dreamt of coffee all day. Fantasized about coffee. Thought about coffee. Ghost-smelled coffee. I was hyper and crazy all day long. Jumping out of my skin. So this is what it's like to be an addict.

I broke my fast at 5:17. I'm on my 3rd cup now. It's 5:22.

God, I do love coffee. I feel so Zen right now. I just want to climb right into the cup.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ten Fun, Purty, Flirty, A Teeny-Tiny-Bit-Slutty Things I Would Love to Wear if I Weren't Frum (Dammit)

  1. This.
  2. This.
  3. This.
  4. This.
  5. This.
  6. This.
  7. This.
  8. This.
  9. This.
  10. This.
Sigh. Well, it helps that I'm not thin enough to wear these anyway.

Okay, ladies, if you are an FFB (Frum Female Blogger), consider yourself tagged. Remember, these are things you would wear in public, so lingerie doesn't count.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

For My Friend, S., Shoveling Snow in Denver

You know you're from Colorado if:

  • You'll eat ice cream in the winter. Outdoors.
  • When the weather report says it's going to be 55 degrees, you shave your legs and wear a short skirt.
  • It snows 5 inches and you don't expect school or work to be canceled.
  • You'll wear flip-flops every day of the year, regardless of temperature.
  • 'Humid' is over 15%.
  • Your sense of direction is: toward the mountains and away from the mountains.
  • You say 'the interstate' and everybody knows which one.
  • You think that May is a totally normal month for a blizzard.
  • You grew up planning your Purim costumes around your coat.
  • You know what the Continental Divide is.
  • You always know the elevation of where you are.
  • You wake up to a beautiful 80 degree day and you wonder if it's going to snow tomorrow.
  • You don't care that some company renamed it, the Broncos still play at Mile High.
  • You never heard of Dunkin Donuts.
  • Every movie theater has military and student discounts.
  • You actually know that South Park is a real place and have driven through it.
  • You know what a 'trust-fund hippy' is, and you know its natural habitat is Boulder.
  • You don't have any other kind of herbal tea except Celestial Seasonings.
  • You know you're talking to a fellow Coloradoan when they call it Elitches, not Six Flags.
  • A fox on your front porch doesn't phase you.
  • You don't know how to parallel-park and have no need to learn.
  • You warn your out-of-town Pesach guests to bring kosher food with them when they fly in, in case the airport closes for a snowstorm and they get stuck.
  • Your two favorite teams are the Broncos and whomever is beating the crap out of the Raiders.
  • When people back East tell you they have mountains in their state too, you just giggle.
  • You go anywhere else on the planet and the air feels 'sticky' and you notice the sky is no longer blue.1

Patterns in Time


Last night I was catching up on my "regular" blogs (I've been traveling) and found this neat posting on LNM. (Parenthetically, Lubab No More is blog that I find both enjoyable and difficult to read. It is very well written, but the author's descent into atheism and disconnection to Judaism is heartbreaking to me. I tend to avoid atheist blogs because as skeptical as I might get, there is no part of my mind or heart that can be wrapped around atheism. But that's just me.) Anyway, I liked this posting because I consider Patterns in Time: Chanukah to be one of the best kept secrets of my Jewish library. This book is to my seforim what Godel, Escher and Bach is to my philosophy and math books. In a Jewish academic world drowning in Artscroll, Rabbi Matis Weinberg emerges as a brilliant voice that disects and reassembles Jewish history in an unconventional way that makes sense and is still very much a Torah infused viewpoint. There is a section on the Jewish view of time that completely blows my mind every time I re-read it. This is a hard book; I confess that I've never actually read the whole thing consecutively, though I try. Rabbi Weinberg's intellect is wonderful. This is the kind of book that I wish I could write. I read Rabbi Weinberg's Frameworks series every Shabbat.

So what do I do with the accusation that has been thrown at Rabbi Weinberg for molesting his male students? Nothing...I struggle with it. I don't know what to believe. I have a friend who was Rabbi Weinberg's assistant in yeshivah, who tells me that the accusations are bogus and drummed up. On the other hand, who knows? Truth is, we won't ever know. If Rabbi Weinberg did what they say he did, I hope he gets what is coming to him. If he didn't, I hope his false accusers get what's coming to them. I don't think anyone can just believe out of hand any accusations leveled at people without some sort of proof. I keep thinking back to the daycare scandals of the nineties where kids were "encouraged" to remember sexual and physical abuse in certain daycare facilities. People's lives were ruined on the basis of this testimony, much of which was recanted later on.

I don't defend Rabbi Weinberg because he is a Rabbi and because I enjoy his writing. I don't give a damn where or who you are in life; if you abuse kids, you should rot in hell. Period. But given how serious this crime is, it has to be solidly provable.

Anyway, get the book. It's really, really good.

Lost and Tired

Well, I've been reading NJG's blog about the drama that's been happening in his world. I really feel quite vicariously crummy about what he's going through. Why do friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, etc. treat each other so shabbily? We learn all this stuff in school and camp about midos, we do the Shabbos shiurim on lashon hara, we go to Amen Groups, we listen to the Rabbi's drashes, and yet our dating and social ethics come straight out of an episode of Friends or (God help us) Will and Grace. We are so stupid.

I'm tired of dating. I'm tired of socializing. I'm exhausted. The games I play, the lies I tell to spare people's feelings, the careful way I need to act, the rules, the rules, the rules. I had hoped that dating would create connection for me and help me to start feeling things again; my divorce threw more than a few internal switches to the off postion. Instead, I feel even more detached and even less capable of connecting. I'm shrinking into myself.

I need a vacation from all of this. I think I'm going to take a breather.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Amen

Am I the only frum person who finds the idea of an Amen Group repellent?

Let me first explain a few things. I'm not really a religious skeptic. I strongly believe in the power of tefillah/prayer. If you are going to focus on improving one area of your life, pick tefillah. Tefillah is empowering. It creates connection to God, strengthens belief, helps relieve some of the pain that we all go through. I am a big believer in women davening every single solitary day. I don't buy this whole "I don't have time" excuse...if you have time to go to the bathroom, you have time to say one measly Shmonah Esrai. No one is that busy, and one Amidah is really the bare minimum of obligation for women. If we want to be treated like equal partners in religious observance, it's time we grew up and started acting the part.

My approach to tefillah, though, is not a "cause and effect" thing. Tefillah is not magic. It's a complicated service. If I daven today, it doesn't mean that crummy things won't happen to me today. There is no direct cause and effect with tefillah and it is childish (not to mention incredibly simplistic) to think that way.

So I watched this Amen video from the Chofetz Chaim Foundation. Who is this video geared for, people who just got off the frumkeit boat? This Rebbitzin on the video mentions the sources in the Talmud that refer to the "power" of saying Amen to a bracha (what about the power of just plain old tefillah!?!. No Talmudic sources for that?) She attributes magical properties to the word Amen. She winds up her shiur telling this story: a woman made a bracha at out loud at home and her husband said Amen with a tremendous amount of kavannah. At that precise moment, her son was in a horrible car accident and emerged without a scratch. Literally at that precise moment. Conclusion: making the bracha and saying Amen out loud with kavannah saved her son's life.

COME ON! Look, I am not in any way belittling the idea that her son not being hurt was not a miracle. It was! It was a terrible car accident and by all counts, he should have been horribly injured or killed. That he wasn't is undoubtedly a nes...he should bentsh gomel, and his parents should daven in tremendous gratitude for this gift that God has given them. The family should redouble their efforts in tefillah and appreciate their lives even more.

But to say that "Amen" saved the son's life? Give me a break! That's not Judaism; that's magic. That's losing sight of the forest for the trees. We can never know what it is in our lives that affects change in the world. (Read my post on Ripples.) Everything we do creates change. How does this woman know that it was that particular bracha and that particular Amen that saved her son's life? Maybe it was her Neilah Shmonah Esrai on Yom Kippur. Maybe it was a little bit of tzedakah she gave reluctantly when things were tight. Maybe it was the time she held herself back from badmouthing someone. Maybe it was a combination of all these things. But "Amen" having this sort of power? What are we, three years old? Do we really need to tell ourselves that every time we say Amen to a bracha, an angel is created? Has our observance become THAT simplistic?

I spoke to someone else at this Amen meeting briefly about my issue with this Amen thing. She said this whole Amen thing is really meant to be inspirational, and to move women who wouldn't ordinarily focus on tefillah to daven with kavannah at least once a month.

But has our religion become so weak-kneed that we need to dumb it down this much for the womenfolk? Have we lost faith in our intellects? Is our emunah level so pathetic that we need to bring magic into the picture in order to inspire and move ourselves to connect to God? Why don't we just focus on doing what we are supposed to be doing in the first place?

Amen to that.