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Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Smells like Ambition

Apparently naming scents after what they actually smell like has become passe.
I went to buy some of my usual brand of deoderant the other day and I had a choice of ambition, optimism, genuine or powder fresh.

Since I could not open the packages and smell them in the store I had to guess at the scents before selecting one.

I ruled out powder fresh right away since most items that bill themselves as powder fresh smell like baby powder and I don't want people thinking of a nursery when I walk by.

Genuine was a tougher call, I like to think of myself as sincere. However, if I was going to genuine about the scent I put under my arms it would be one that smelled like sweat, so I nixed that one too.

Ambition also didn't appeal to me. What could it possibly smell like? Testosterone? Money? Corinthian leather? No thanks.

That left me with optimism, which I am wearing for the first time today and actually it smells pretty nice and refreshing!

Shul Politics- Strange days indeed.

Somehow I've managed to be a member of my Shul for 9 years and remain blissfully unaware of Shul politics - well, the party's over now.

A lot of strange things have been happening in my community and my Shul that have caused me to rethink my pollyanna like view of the region in which I live.

#1 Over Peasach the Rabbi spoke out against some sort of invitation only, secret minyan (the first rule of the minyan is that you don't talk about the minyan...) which bills itself as orthodox but has female baali tefilla, and no psak giving them a heter to do so. This local minyan was allegedly organized by former leadership of the Shul itself giving the normally liberal Rabbi an acute attack of Rabbonus.

#2 The next week the Rabbi chastised the congregation for talking about his speech too much around town (guilty!)

#3 A new, much hyped, kosher restaurant opened up in town with great fanfare only to assured by the Vaad the following morning. My sephardic friends claim it's a vast ashkenazi conspiracy, my askenazi friends say he refused to comply and kicked the mashgiach out of his restaurant. I have no idea what is true.

All of these matters have little or nothing to do with me, but now even I am being sucked into the vortex that is Shul politics.

I have been asked to chair a project for our Shul. This would be fine except that there is already a head of this committee (under whose jurisdiction this project should be) who was NOT asked join the project. I am now stuck in the middle between the committee head (who has now quit) and the Shul's president who asked me. In addition now people feel it is an excellent time to call me at all hours and speak lashon hara about various Shul officers and board members with whom they do not agree and want ME to do something about it.

What on earth can I do!?

I'm sorrier by the hour than I said yes to this project, and yet I feel like I am well qualified to do the job asked of me and I do want what is best for the Shul, despite all the ugliness I am now privy too. Not withstanding, next time I'll say no.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Working VS Shirking

I work a standard issue 9-5 type boring office job.
Since I have 40 hours a week in which to complete my work and no supervisor standing over my shoulder I can pace myself as I please. If I worked at my top speed the work allotted to me would certainly not occupy my 40 required hours and I'm pretty sure more work would be allocated to me to fill my time. I'm also not certain though just how long I could keep up my top speed. Maybe three full days in a row? Maybe two weeks? Then I'd be pretty burnt out.
As it stands my general work model is slack-slack-workreallyfast.

Today I was required to come into work since I used more vacation days than I had coming to me over Passover. The place was pretty much deserted and I worked at top speed uninterrupted. Between the hours of 8AM and noon I completed what I'd consider a normal persons's full day's work. Feeling honest enough about that I went home for the day. Had this been a normal day however, I would have had to stay on for another five hours-working slowly or more likely goofing off.

The whole concept of "face-time," the requirement to have your butt in your chair at the office for a specific number of hours per week, totally eludes me. I understand that if you are an ambulance driver, or a fire fighter or a waiter, you need to be at your post, but why is this necessary for a lame-o office job such as mine. Why is work measured in hours per week in front of a desk rather than units of work acutally accomplished?
I'm pretty sure a lot of the people who put in the "long hours" are not actually getting much done, and even fast workers such as myself, are slacking away a large chunk of their office time. This does not seem to be a very efficient way to run a business, yet every place I've worked operates in a similar fashion.

Tell me about your working style and whether you work in an efficient work environment. I've heard they exist I've just never seen one with my own eyes.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Jewish Non-Fashion

What is a snood?

Here is a photo of the headwear in question- and no, there is no religious requirement to wear something so unflattering.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Apple Kugel

Dear Shifra,
Do you have any good recipes for an aspiring kugel baker?
- A Balabusta Wannabe

Here's a recipe for apple kugel. I especially like it because it's easy (although not terribly healthy) and you probably already have most of the ingredients in the house.

Easy Apple Kugel
(recipe adapted from my friend CB)

1. Spray a 8X8 or 9" round pan with cooking spray (or grease with oil whatever you've got)

2. Peel and slice 3 medium size granny smith (or any tart) apple and spread the sliced apples at the bottom of the pan.

3. Sprinkle the slices with cinnamon (about a 1/2 tsp)

4. In a bowl mix 1 cup of flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 egg and 1/2 a cup of melted margarine (one stick.)

5. Cover the apples with the mixture and bake at 350 degrees until the top is brown (about 35 minutes)

This recipe doubles easily, and can be served hot or cold.
It is also delicious for dessert served hot with vanilla ice cream on top!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What (men and) Women Want- The Brain in a Jar Theory - Part Two

Cyber dating is a lot like old school matchmaking. The best you can do without meeting in person is to check out how things seem "on paper," but even the most experienced matchmaker cannot guarantee a perfect match based on resumes alone. In fact the way a person represents himself on paper, as honest as he may try to be, may not be at all the way others view him.

Humans by nature are social creatures. Even the most independent among us crave love and understanding. I think those are the two things people look for most in a mate whether they know it or not. Without love and understanding there is no “relationship” at all. When one brain in a jar meets another or when two people meet each other for the first time in real life, and they attempt to get to know one another, they are really testing each other for those two things.
Here’s another sample IM conversation with the underlying motives explained in parenthesis:

Somegrrrl83: You know, I don’t really look that much like Sandra Bullock (she’s testing to see if he will love her even if she is less hot that previously advertised.)
Someguy81: Oh you know that looks don’t matter to me- I’m not shallow. (He doesn’t want her to think he’s shallow, also he’s probably not all that hot himself, yet still wants her affections.)
Somegrrrl83: Right, of course me too. (I understand you, I understand you!! Whew I was worried for nothing!)
Someguy81: But you do look kind of like her, right? (he doesn't want to give up the dream of the perfect girl, yet attempts to show he is realistic)
Somegrrrl83: Oh sure definatley kinda like her. (sort of, in dim light, if she gained sixty pounds, oh he loves and understands me so he’ll love and understand this too, I hope.)
Someguy81: Not that it matters (it totally matters I just don’t want it to, don’t think I’m shallow, don’t think I’m shallow.)
Somegrrrl83: So we’ll meet soon right? (I need to plan for the future to see if you are committed to this.)
Someguy81: Yes, very soon! (Not yet, I want to live the dream just a little longer.)

Although “the big two” (love and understanding) are very important there are quite a few other relationship deal breakers than may arise as time goes on. Do we have the same values and goals? Is this person attractive to me? Do I enjoy spending time him? Does her laugh want to make me stick my head in an oven? These are things that can only be felt in the three dimensional world. The attachment that two jarred brains feel for each other can feel very real but cannot exist outside the virtual world without the two people forming a total human connection. That is why relationships that stay in the “virtual” stage too long can end quite painfully. There is a great emotional or mental connection but it is not complete. There is a huge build up between two people who may not be at all compatible in the real world and like it or not the real world is where we all ultimately live.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Internet Romances- The Brain in a Jar Theory - Part One

The internet has had a huge effect on dating but not necessarily a positive one. I'm not talking about FINDING a date online, but rather communicating with a potential date online for days and weeks before even meeting the person or speaking with them on the phone. I have heard about many couples hitting it off online only to be very disappointed after only one or two dates. So what happened to that sparky connection the two people had going prior to their "real date"? Was it an illusion?

I'd say yes and no.

Sometimes email, IM, or even blogging allows us to be the best part of ourselves- smart, witty, honest, and unselfconscious. Anonymity, or at least a screen to hide behind enables us to be free from the things around us- family, past relationships, money, life circumstances, even the one hundred plus pounds of meat we drag around with us 24/7.
We are essentially a brain in a jar.
The same person who feels free to flirt or plan the future over the internet may actually be shy, or awkward or terrified of commitment in real life. I've seen it happen even between couples that DO see each other in real life. A person may act one way on line and another in person. The person is not being intentionally deceptive; it's just that on line he is free, and in person he is faced with his own weakness and fears. One might say that the brain in a jar is actually the truer self, but what good does that do you when you can't "be yourself" in the real world?

Another issue is that there is a lot of information you can't access over electronic communication so people search for commonalities and then extrapolate themselves right down the aisle.

Somegrrrl83: OMG I can't believe you like REM, macaroni and cheese, and TORAH too! This is amazing!
Someguy81:Wow, yeah it's like we're the same person.
Somegrrrl83: What number am I thinking of right now :)
Somegrrrl83: OMG! You got it! This is sooooo scary.
Someguy81:That is freaky. We should definitely meet.
Somegrrrl83: The Atrium, June 20th?
Someguy81: OK wear something white :)

With so little information available a person can fill in the rest with him hopes and dreams making the actual flesh and blood person pale in comparison.
Still, the connection is there on some level- the question is, what it takes to bring that spark into the real world.

No Lunch for Weinstein

Via Email-
Here's a serious question for you:

My non-Jewish boss has invited my coworkers and I out for lunch. Although I'm friendly with my coworkers, I don't talk to them about my personal life, and my religious habits have never come up. I feel like I can't turn down the invitation without being rude, and I plan to go but am not sure how to go about not ordering, or even ordering just some greens or fruit. What's the best way to broach the kosher issue without making me seem like a backward fundamentalist ?

(Note: I am currently living outside the greater NY region, where orthodox
Jews are relatively rare.)

This is a question I've had to deal with many times myself. I also grew up far from New York where keeping kosher was unheard of. If you are an Orthodox Jew working in an non-Jewish environment matters of religion are bound to come up eventually either because of dietary issues or because of days off required for Shabbos and Jewish holidays. I don't think it's something you will be able to keep secret forever but I think you can show your hand a bit without turning it into a major event. There will probably be a few questions because people are curious but I don't think it will view the way they view you overall or for very long (people have short attention spans and even shorter memories.)

Since you have already decided you will go to lunch with your co-workers you have a few options:

#1 If you live in an area where there are kosher eateries (that are not embarrassing to take co-workers to) see if you can get them to go some place you can eat. I've found most people I've worked with are very open to trying new "ethnic" foods. You can suggest this as something interesting or vaguely hint at your eating preferences.

#2 Go along to the non-kosher restaurant - Once you get there though, things will get tricky. Even eating a salad or fruit in a non-kosher restaurant is very questionable depending on your level of observance (I'd ask your local Rabbi if you don't know where you stand on this issue.)
Most people would agree that having a soda or water would be fine but there will be no hiding the fact that you are not eating anything while your co-workers pack it in. When an explanation is called for be brief but confident, something like "Because of my restrictive diet eating out doesn't work for me" Or "I'm on a kosher diet, but I'm just here for the company" followed by a big smile. Surely there will be follow up questions but keep your answers as short as you like- no one wants a five hour lecture on the laws of kashrut, they just want to know why your plate is empty. These days everyone is on some kind of weird diet, vegan, Atkins, macrobiotic etc.. I'm sure they will at least accept it even if they don't understand. Not having your mouthful is also a good opportunity to be a major player in the tableside conversation, it may not be as bad as you think.

One last bit of advice from personal experience: If you end up tagging along to a non-kosher restaurant I'd advise you to eat your own lunch before you go. Watching your coworkers eating in front of you while you are starving and sipping on a diet coke is no fun no matter how good the company.

Monday, May 23, 2005

One of Life's Mysteries

Via Email (really, I promise)-

Just what the HELL is Amshi's problem?
Baffled Balabusta

I had to think a while before posting this query, but I decided to go with it since it seems to be something on everyone's mind.
I must admit however that I do not know the answer to this one. To date Amshinover remains one of life's great Jewish blogging mysteries. By turns a scholar and a horror, this gay bashing semi-chasidish, vodka drinking commenter has made quite a name for himself in the Jewish Blogesphere.
The only hope we have of ever getting an answer to this question is to appeal to the man himself and even that has met with varying degrees of success, but I'll try it anyway.

Amshi? What's the story.


Bathrobes and Bad Mouthing

My husband walked outside today to get the paper wearing nothing but sneakers and socks. This is not the problem.The problem is some people think he's a genius. I've seen him walk straight into walls.How do I let the world know he's not as smart as they think he is?


Dear Bewildered,

First, I suggest you buy your husband a bathrobe and hang it near the door. While I'm sure your neighbors enjoy the free show, walking out naked is still against the law from what I understand.

Second, why does it bother you that people think your husband is so smart? Would you rather they know the truth, that you are married to an uncoordinated streaker? That would reflect poorly on you as well, I would think, since you did choose him afterall.

If you are dead-set on outing your husband at all costs- keep in mind that intelligence is usually judged on a relative basis, so the smarter you seem when you are out in public together the dumber he will seem. Keep the conversation on topics only you know anything about for example. Also you could toss out a few revealing tales here and there. If your husband is still talking to you at the end of the night you are not trying hard enough.


Blogging - How much is too much?

Amshinover asked for help with his blogging addiction so here's my take on situation:

Blogging is addictive it's true.
It's dynamic nature is what makes it so attractive, you don't want to miss anything good, and there is always something going on.
The question is; how much is too much?

Blogging is a funny thing, it can be enriching, educational, social, mind warping, or heresy breeding.
It can make you laugh, cry, puke, think and forget.

The problem is when it starts encroaching on your "real life."
A friend of mine who blogs once told me that he thinks all bloggers are lonely in some way.
That may be true. Blogging does give a person a lot more personal interaction than he might get in the real world.

So take this little test to see where you fall out on the blogometer:
Choose as many as fit your situation.

When I spend time blogging it's because:

a) I'm interested in the blog's subject matter
b) I'm bored
c) I'm avoiding other things I need to do
d) I'm avoiding other people

I spend __________ blogging.

a) less than an hour per day
b) 1-5 hours per day
c) 5-10 hours per day
d) nearly all my waking hours

My blogging habit is cutting into:

a) no part of my life
b) my social life
c) my work ethic
d) my family life

When I can't blog:

a) I'm fine
b) I worry I'm missing something
c) I count the minutes till I blog again
d) I shake convulsively until I get my hands back onto that keyboard.

Give yourself 1 pt for every a)
2 points for every b) and so on....


25 or more-DANGEROUSLY ADDITICTED- You may need to make a clean break for a bit to detox, remember there is nothing going on on ANY blog more important that what is going on in your own life.

16-20- yep, you are an ADDICTED BLOGGER- you may want to cut back just a little...

12-16- SERIOUS BLOGGER- you blog and you like it, no major problems yet.

5-10 - HEALTHY BLOGGER- A little casual blogging is good for the mind.

0-4- UNDER A ROCK BLOGGER- Do you even have internet access?

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Hi, I'm Shifra.
You may recognize me from my guest posting on DovBear, or my quotable quotes on some other blogs-about-town.
I'm a pretty well rounded, and well grounded, Orthodox Jewish woman.
Some people think I've got a sense of humor too, and for that I am grateful.

So here's the deal:
If you have problems (and I know that ya do) post 'em here, or send me an email with a question for posting and I'll try to give the best non-judgemental and practical advice I can.
I encourage people to throw in their comments about the questions or about my advice and we'll all have a good time and maybe help each other out too.

I'll also try and post some of my thoughts on Jewish and general social issues.
Oh, and spelling doesn't count, but language does. Keep it clean, OK?

PS Many thanks to orthomom- a fine young blogger who nagged me till I put this up.