Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Business as usual

And how was your Pesach? Catch-up time:

So, I survived, and it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, mostly because of my finely honed repression and denial skills. Only one killer fight with my sister-in-law on Seder night1, and then it was all good. I didn't even eat too much.

I've been working like a machine, trying not to think too much about what is next. Mostly because not much is next. I have made my Shavuot plans to go out of town to visit friends and teach a class on Tikkun Leyl at their shul. I am appalled at 1) the price of gas, 2) the unbelievable lack of shame of Reverend Wright, and 3) the fact that the Feds cut the rate yet again. I am tired of the crap that my Evil Boss repeatedly hands me. I am annoyed at myself for sleeping too little and exercising too little. I am amazed at the vile dreck that is on prime time tv every night and I've decided to just stop watching until 24 comes back on the air. That resolution should be good for about a week.

In other words, business as usual.

I'm going to post my much postponed rant about John McCain pretty soon, when I have the energy to talk about the candidate I'm going to vote for but also the candidate I am so unexcited about. I had an interesting conversation with an old friend who has decided she is now an atheist, and I'll probably post about that a little later too. So watch this space, boys and girls.

I need an energy bar or something. Man, I am getting old.

That's all that's exciting on the home front. How did you say your Pesach was?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Debate

I am looking forward to the Obama/Hillary debate tonight. Very curious to see who implodes first.

My prediction:

1) Hillary will have an onscreen temper tantrum.
2) Obama will put his foot in his mouth and say something that will render him unelectable.

Gosh, I wish McCain were included in all this fun. After all, he's practically a Democrat.

Gonna make the popcorn.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Detailing the car

I am feeling very virtuous today. I debated inwardly about whether I should take my car in to be detailed for Pesach or to just do it myself. Cheapness won out and I decided to save the $150 and put in some elbow grease. And lo and behold, what came in the mail today but a Dooney and Bourke coupon for $50 off a $200 handbag purchase! Thank you, God. I will take that as a sign that I should buy myself an afikoman gift.

Last year, I went away for Pesach and took my car for just a quick vacuum and wash before the holiday. This year, I methodically removed every inch of detritus and junk from the car, and vacuumed out crumbs, dirt and all kinds of shmutz, washed down the upholstery, carpet and trunk, windexed the dashboard and febreezed the entire car. I filled two huge boxes with all manner of crap, including 3 umbrellas (you never know), 4 bottles of Purelle (you never know), and 6 bottles of Poland Spring (you never know). I found a roll of quarters (score!), $1.45 in change, and a can of tomato sauce that must have spilled out of a bag of groceries. When I looked at the pile of junk that came out of the trunk, I realized that I was probably driving around with 100 lbs. of extra weight, and at the price of gas today, it was pretty stupid of me to be lugging all this stuff around.

I went through the glove compartment, which is something I haven't done since before I got divorced last year. I found two granola bars in my "emergency kit" (chametz!). I dug though all the extra batteries (you never know), the spare contact lenses (you never know), the emergency nail polish (you never know) and

the spare pack of bedikah cloths.

That was a pretty nasty slap in the face. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Taharat HaMishpacha, bedikah cloths are used by married women in preparation for going to the mikvah.

It was unpleasant to find them and it brought up a vivid, very sad, painful memory. I remember the last time I went to the mikvah. I knew on some level that I was going to be leaving my husband very shortly, and while I was in the water, I started sobbing. I wondered if it was going to be my last time ever in a mikvah. I knew that at the very least, it would be a long time before I went to one again. I tried to daven, but my heart was broken and empty. I cried at the waste, the rage and the terrible, terrible failure.

I just don't want to think about that.

I sadly put the spare pack of cloths aside to give to my sister. Won't need those. Not right now. Sometimes, sometimes you do know.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Money Moment

Very interesting argument in this month's Money magazine against panic-selling of stocks...some numbers: the average decline in a bear market is 30%. But the average rise in a recovery is 120%. So hang in there boys and girls. I'm hurting too, but I'm not selling.

More interesting stuff from Money:

A one year cd pays 1.97% on average. At 4% inflation, you are losing by saving, and that's before taxes! So what am I doing to keep my little stash growing? I've got my nest egg in Countrywide, which pay 4.05% on $10,000 plus balances. They've got a one year-cd for 4.20% but I want to keep the cash liquid right now. I'm paying my credit cards off immediately, as variable rate debt is probably your worst enemy in this kind of economy. I'm still looking for those one time bonuses that yield $100 here, $75 there, and seriously add up at the end of the year. Figure out the rate of return on the money vs the energy you expend taking advantage of the offer, and you will be surprised at how worthwhile they are.

Money did a profile of economist Teresa Ghilarducci, who thinks that the Federal government should do away with the 401K and IRA tax break, and instead FORCE everyone across the board to save 5% of their incomes for retirement. That's right folks, a mandatory government savings plan on top of Social Security (because Social Security is such a success story?). Oh good grief. This 5% and ONLY this 5% will be considered pre-tax and to this 5%, no matter how much it might be, the government will contribute $600. This is Ms. Ghilarducci's brilliant idea.

See this is why I am such a fiscal conservative. It's my damn money. I will not have the government dictating how I save for retirement. Give me the freedom to save and invest my money the way I want. If the government would make a deal with me right now to stop taking Social Security out of my paycheck from this day forward, I would happily forego all the Social Security benefits that I've paid for until now. And I'm sure I'd make out ahead, because I am a better money manager than Uncle Sam. And even if I wasn't, it's still my damn money. Last time I checked, we were still a capitalist society of free markets. This idea is almost socialist. Teresa Ghilarducci is probably voting for Hillary.

And that's the WebGirl Money Moment. I do love this magazine.

More of the same

Again with this crap. Click it, read it. Tear your hair out.

Will some ginormous Gadol Hador Rav type please stand up and tell Klal Yisroel to stop spouting this borderline misogynistic moral outrage against women modeling sheitels? Please?

Attention all frum guys out there: if you are seriously disturbed by the image of an attractive woman's face wearing a wig, please seek psychiatric help. Don't call it a defense of tznius. Don't call it frumkeit. By doing so you are offending actual tzniusdik frum women, and belittling our efforts to keep this important mitzvah. I've had enough of backwards-world.

Are we clear on this?

Thank you.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

On the Road (or this is not what Jack Kerouac had in mind, I'm sure)

It is one of my personal points of pride that I have not, even once, flipped my fellow drivers The Bird or The Finger (is there a difference?) or cursed at anyone ever in my entire adult driving career. Yes. Now, mind you, this doesn't mean that I haven't thought about it. Oh baby, I've thought about it. I've felt road rage like you wouldn't believe. It's just that I think it's part of the constant, ongoing work that I need to do on myself not to express it. Now, I will lean on the horn, or shout "what the hell are you doing?" or say other similarly critical things. But I draw the line at obscenities. I know. I am a rock star.

A good portion of my family lives in Flatbush. For the uninitiated, driving in Brooklyn is, well, not for the timid. Something happens when frum Jews get behind a wheel. Like the famous Midrash of the magical moment before a baby is born, an angel comes and taps them on the upper lip, and they forget all the Torah they have learned. Once they are behind that wheel, menschlachkeit, good middos, kavod habriyos, and just plain old decency and respect for other human beings alights from their spirits. It is amazing, just amazing, how cutting other people off, double- or triple-parking, snagging parking spots, holding up traffic, etc. is considered part of fair driving behavior. Lane markers are suggestions; stop signs are an indication to slow down a little; turning signals apparently don't operate in Brooklyn. And then of course there are the pedestrians....walking in the middle of the street, stepping out in front of cars, stopping traffic. Oh yeah. You get it from every side.

My friends and I have officially designated Coney Island Avenue as the EID Roadway: The Effing Idiot Drivers main drag. Of course, some of my less restrained friends call it FID, which of course, stands for Flipping Idiot Drivers. Driving down this particular road is like riding on the little silver ball inside a giant pinball machine. Look out, here comes a flipper! Bing bing bing, Ricochet Rabbit! The inside lane is, of course, not drivable, because it is the unspoken but official double-park lane. At least every third car is double-parked on Coney Island Avenue. It is simply amazing.

Flatbush is a shopping mecca. It is a veritable Eden of bargains. You cannot buy a glatt kosher brisket cheaper anywhere in the world. You cannot find a Shabbos hot-pot cheaper. You cannot find a new sefer cheaper. But there is no parking. There is maybe one legal spot to every dozen shoppers, literally. And the stores are crowded together, so as to maximize the shopping potential. It is time to pave Paradise and put up a parking lot.

Today, I offered to drive my Mom and sister-in-law around to take care of last minute Passover shopping. It was like driving through soup. Dangerous, rude soup. I silently prayed my car and our lives would emerge unscathed. My sister-in-law rolled down the window and yelled things like "Did you learn how to cut people off in Yeshiva?" and "did you leave your middos in Beis Medrash?" Gotta love the sister-in-law. She's the real thing. She cracks me up.

And now, safely back at home in a slightly more civilized part of NY, I have a raging headache. And I have to fill up my car for tomorrow's adventures.

Why am I doing this?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Exploring the Option

I know I haven't posted much's been a very, very busy time for me, professionally and personally. Lotsa stuff going on, not to mention the fast approach of Pesach next week. After much deliberation, I'm going to my family for the first days of Pesach and then I plan on being home for the rest of the holiday. My goal this year, is to try to get through Pesach without crying. Without crying more than once. Or twice.

My Rav called me last week about some community-related issue, and we had the chance to revive a conversation we had a few months ago. In January, I got up the nerve to ask him whether or not it was halachically okay to have a baby, alone, via artificial insemination. Yikes. I was a little shocked at myself for having actually vocalized the question, and I had no idea what to expect as an answer.

A few pertinent things about my Rav: he is an out-of-town guy, meaning that he's not a New Yorker. Hamayveen yaveen. He's a YU musmach, and he's an absolute lion about halacha. He is frum as all hell, and he's neither a chumra-seeker nor a kula machine. He is an arbitrator of da'as Torah, but also knows that a) being a Rabbi doesn't mean you are the boss of Judaism and b) Rabbis are human beings and they are flawed and c) he will not allow you to hide behind halacha. What do I mean by the last part? Well, for example, I have friends who ask their Rav about every little misdeed they want to perform, i.e. can I lie about my age for shidduchim? If I had asked my Rav that "shayla," he would have refused to paskin and also given me a "get real" look. Mind you, I have, until recently, lied about my age on Frumster. (Now I just don't care.) I didn't ask a shayla about it, because I knew it was wrong and I wanted to do it anyway.

My Rav is a rarity in the world of Rabbanus in that he is not the slightest bit interested in self-promotion (I don't think he has any ego whatsoever, actually) and he is not interested in money, at least not for himself (as an example, he performed my get for free, something virtually unheard of in NY). He is a gem. I respect him absolutely. I do not worship him. I have often disagreed with him. He has, at times told me stuff I didn't want to hear. But I am blown away by his integrity, his honesty, his egoless nature, his love of Torah, his soldierlike defense of halacha and Orthodox Judaism, his incredible ahavas Yisroel, and his telling it like it is. He's a bit stoic. The one time I heard him break down was on Tisha B'Av, the year that the three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. He pointed out to us the kind of Tisha B'Av that the soldiers, if they were still alive, were having. His voice cracked when he spoke about them. Otherwise, he hasn't really shown too much emotion. He is an interesting person.

So I asked my Rav about having a baby out of wedlock, via artificial insemination. He asked me for some time to think about it, and then called me back. He told me that there were two components to his answer, the halachic one, the hashkafic one, and then a third component which was not part of his answer, but something we should talk about. He is a very organized thinker, and when he speaks, I can almost see the bullet points.

The halachic part of his answer is that it is do-able. The sperm would have to come from a non-Jewish donor, but the baby would be Jewish and would not be a mamzer (not be illegitimate). I would have to have the insemination done under the guidance of a posek that he would recommend, someone who had halachic expertise in fertility-related matters, but otherwise, there were no halachic problems.

Then came the hashkafic part of the answer. Rabbi X said to me "if you would have asked me this five years, ago, my answer would have been no. But I know you well enough to understand that you would go above and beyond to give this baby a rich Jewish, God-centered, halachic life. I know that this is not what you want and that you stayed in your marriage because you wanted so desperately to have a child, and that you are trying very hard to remarry while you are still young enough to have a family. I know that this is a really difficult decision for you, and that you are doing it because you think it's your last chance to have a baby, and not from any man-hating or feminist or selfish perspective."

"I have to tell you, WebGirl," he continued, "that I don't think it's your last chance. I think you should give yourself a little more time because I know that this is not your dream. Your dream was to have a family, including a marriage. But I know that having a husband is not 'time-bound' and a that having a child is. So I'm going to say that, given your intentions and life situation, I think it would be okay to have a child this way."

"But that brings us to the social realities of this decision, and they are harsh. The reality is that by deciding to conceive a child this way, you are already making some decisions for the child. You will be raising a fatherless child. Your child will almost certainly never be able to marry into the Yeshivish world, which isn't the worst thing, but you need to be aware of it. There are some people who will stigmatize you and your child, because your child's conception will be out of the ordinary. It is probably in your best interest not to live in an East Coast community. I would recommend that you leave Metro NY, at the very least. Find an out-of-town, heterogeneous frum community, where things like this are unimportant, and you and your child will be able to lead a happy, meaningful life. "

"The other difficult social reality is that by choosing to conceive a child this way now, you are almost certainly choosing not to get married, at least not now. There are very few frum guys, at least the type that you are looking for, that would want to get involved in a situation like this. Once the baby is born, things will be different, and then it's just a matter of how you present it, and how open-minded the guys you date are. But understand that you are effectively choosing a child over a husband, at least for now. That might be the right choice; I don't know. It's your decision. But at the very least, if you are going to commit to this, you must be very cognizant of the social consequences that come along with your decision."

"Also understand that your family might be very upset with your decision. Some of your siblings might be afraid of how this will affect their own children's shidduchim. Whether or not that's selfish is besides the point. What's important is that you realize that you are not making this decision in a vacuum. The rest is up to you."

He's right, of course, about everything. Right now, I have decided to hold off on doing this. I'm just not sure I'm ready to go through with this or that I have the capacity to deal with the social fallout. But the thought of never having a child is also weighing very heavily on my mind. I just don't know. I don't know at all.

I guess I'm just exploring the option.

Sunday, April 6, 2008