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Ask Shifra

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

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Shalom Bayit - the rollerskating edition

Q. What's a man's idea of "Shalom Bayit"?

A. A wife who works, takes care of the children, keeps the house sparkling, and has a delicious homecooked meal waiting for him, so that when he strolls through the door at night all he needs to do is smile and say "Shalom Bayit!"

That's just a little joke... but shalom bayit (or Sholom Bayis if you prefer) is no laughing matter.
Maintaning a peaceful home requires dedication, compromise, and (quite often in my house) a sense of humor.

Here's a Shalom Bayit question from my friend Mirty:

Dear Shifra,
Right now, I'm in a quandary of mixed-up feelings because I came home from work exhausted. My husband wanted to go roller-skating. (I am not making that up. Could I make that up?) I told him to go by himself, though I was picturing women skating after him. How would he escape? But he didn't want to go without me. I wanted to stay in, and so we did, but now I feel like a party-pooper. And selfish. Sigh. This happens a lot because I really treasure my time at home. I love putzing around the house -- watering the plants, doing laundry, cleaning. He likes to go out and do fun things - Roller skating! Hiking! Music! Dinner!

I know, I ain't right.


Dear Mirty,

See, this is what you get for marrying a fun and exciting man ;-)
Seriously though, what adults rollerskate during the week? or Ummm at all....

Anyway...Whenever I meet a couple that is too much alike (similar personalities, same hobbies, same carreers, same likes and dislikes) I find it a little disconcerting. Sure it's great to be with someone you can share things with but who wants to me married to a clone of themselves? That's pretty boring and maybe a little narcissitic too. How are you supposed to grow and develop as a human being if you have surrounded yourself exclusively with people who are just like you? So good for you Mirty, for marrying someone who challenges your day to day life and has the potential to broaden your horizons!

I do, however, understand your situation quite well. I'm rather a homebody myself, I like reading, blogging, getting things in order etc... but even I often find that when I am forced from the house by family or friends I usually have a pretty good time. Since my nature is not very spontantious I find I fair better when activities are planned in advance so that I have time to prepare myself mentally. Maybe you can establish a regular "date night" that way you can be sure to conserve your energy at work (or get to bed early the night before) and have a good time without feeling to tired too enjoy yourself. On the flip side maybe your husband can also come to appreciate cozy relaxing nights at home, or the simple pleasure of doing little things around the house with no pressure to get out and DO something.

Oh and of course I'd be remiss if I left out the part about marriage being about compromises... blah, blah, blah... loving though sharing and giving, blah blah... etc...

So don't feel guilty OK? That's a big drain on any person- instead take some time to work out a way for you to get what you both need and have many good nights together both out on the town and staying at home.


A big thank you to Jameel for the adorable graphic!

Monday, November 28, 2005

All Kinds of News

Thank you to everyone for your good wishes and prayers.
My brother is responding well to medication and is resting semi-comfortably at the hospital. It is very likely he will require some major surgery but the doctors are still discussing his options. I will update later as I know more.

I know I've been quiet lately.

My inlaws have been here since Thursday and have taken up most of my time and peace of mind since then. Our only shower broke on friday and we had to pay a plumber $260 to not quite fix it. In addition we are having electrical problems as well due to one of my "little projects" (note to self- no more messing with the wiring) but we'll need to save up a bit of money before we call in a professional (it's nothing dangerous don't worry, just a blown fuse or two.) I also found out that the tiles I removed from my kitchen may have contained asbestos (NICE!) did you know there is a 10-15 year jail sentence for tossing out building materials containing asbestos?
Good thing this blog is anonymous.

Most importantly my brother has become very ill.
The doctors will meet today to see if anything can be done for him.
I feel hopeful but the situation is quite grave.

I may be offline for a while - I'm trying to get my work/life in order so I can fly out and see him- but I'll post when I can.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bochar of the Month Part II

I love getting comments on my blog.
I also love when people email with questions and comments about my posts or ideas for new ones.
Oh, and fan mail- I LOVE that.
But sometimes a reader comes along with just a little too much time on his hands who wants to say... create a national holiday in my honor...or something.

Clearly said reader has too much time on his hands and what could be a better use of that excess time that finding true love! To that end I have revived my Bochar of the Month feature to help Mar Gavriel find the girl of his dreams - or to help his dream girl find him.

Here's a little interview we put together to give you a profile of this very eligible bachelor- if you are interested in dating Mar Gavriel or know someone who might be drop me a line at Shifraq@gmail.com operators are standing by!

Shifra: Do you consider yourself ready for marriage?
MG : Is anyone ever ready for marriage? Life is about growing.

Shifra: What are you doing with your life these days?
MG: Blogging. (Duhh.)

Shifra: I meant something work, or school
or something - blogging is nice but I'm hoping that's not all there
MG: Academia/university student. But I spend more time blogging than studenting. That was the point of my answer to the "what would you like to be doing in life" question: I would rather be putting more time into writing assigned papers / published articles than into blogging.

Shifra: What do you wish you were doing with your life?
Bachur: Studying. Writing papers. Cleaning up the junk in my apartment. Paying rent and utilities on time.

Shifra: What is your level of observance?

Bachur: Level of observance? What kind of question is that? 2.0? 3.7? I try to keep as many mitzvauss as I can. I wash mayim acharaunim. I hold by the Upper West Side `eiruv. I try to lern tauro as much as possible (even while blogging). I attend operas.

Shifra: What is your general haskafa?
Bachur: Haskafa? What is that, a pre-Ashkenazzic Litvish pronunciation of hashkofo? I'm akademish-frum. Frum maskil. Relativistic Orthodox. (http://margavriel.blogspot.com/2005/09/theology.html) Any interpretation of any text (or concept) can be challenged, as long as it is understood that we must remain fully committed to our practice of halokho. I believe in feminism, and expanding women's rôles in Jewish rituals and lerning, but I am quite skeptical about some of the innovations that our Conservative brethren have made in this realm.

Shifra: Where do you stand on the political spectrum?
Bachur: Liberal. DovBear may be obnoxious, but he's right— I mean left. I mean correct.

Shifra: What does marriage mean to you?
Bachur: A partnership with an equal. The mutual filling-in of each other's chesraunauss (deficiencies). Less loneliness. Raising children (a few years down the line) to perpetuate my values.

Shifra: What are you looking for in a wife?
Yoni: A girl with whom I can have inspirational conversations about diqduq, Torah, chazzonus and related issues, every day. Someone who will allow me to cut down on my blogging addiction (heh!). Someone who will make me accomplish things (rather than be totally useless, like now), yet let me remain as fascinating as I am today.

Next I asked our bachelor bochur to rate his priorities on a scale from one to ten. Priorities- Rate of a scale of one to ten how important are the following issues to you in a potential mate:

Sense of Humor - 6-7
Physical Attractiveness - I would love to say "1" (because that would fit with my general hashkofo), but, being a male mammal, I would have to say at least "4".
Torah learning - 10+
Torah observance - 10
Relationship with Family- whose family—mine? Hers? I don't want someone whose father is supremely evil, like my last girlfriend. I suppose a good relationship with her family Yichus is also good-- would be nice (though of course not crucial) to marry a Rabbi's daughter.

Intelligence- 10+

After than we got into a conversation about what I mean by "personality." After much prodding MG replied.

MG: I'm really diligent at doing things that I want to do (in other words "things that interest me"), but lazy at doing things I don't want to do. I'm looking for someone who will be able to coax me into getting done the things that I don't want to do.
Someone warm is good-- someone who can convert my bad traits on the "red" (warm) side of the scale, such as anger or ta'avo, into good traits on the "red" (warm) side of the scale, such as warmth.

In terms of his own PERSONAL priorities Mar Gavriel answered as follows:

Intelligence- I'm a genious.Just ask Lipman (http://lipmans.blogspot.com/)

Earning potential- I guess I'll earn an acdemic's wages when I complete all my degrees… To raise a family, I'll certainly need two incomes.

Relationship with family- Could be better.

Education - 10+

Social Status - In other words, how am perceived? I guess that's important to me, though perhaps I should work on it. It would be cool to have semikho. (I currently do not have semikho.) Although, CHAZA"L say: "One should never learn for the purpose of having other people address one with cool titles like rav."Religious Observance I'm frum. This is important to me. I'm not one of those people who sees a halokho in a sughyo or in a rishaun and merely says: "Oh, I'm not particularly makpiz about that one." On the other hand, some of my halakhic positions are relatively idiosyncratic.

Personality- Again, what doth that mean? Perhaps Steg (http://boroparkpyro.blogspot.com/) can define my personality better than I can.

Sense of humor- 10, but it's a very strange sense of humor. Virtually the same as Lipman's sense of humor.

Talents or hobbies - Blogging? I should really get a piano, so I can play it again, as I did when I was a kid.

Political leanings- I don't like Republican ideology, but I'm not as vocal as DovBear.

Shifra: How old are you anyway?
MG: Well, I have never mentioned this on the blogosphere, but I can give you the range 20-26. I would consider dating someone 19-28 (towards the older end is better).

See related

A Wonderful Suggestion

NCO Chossid writes:

I suggest, humbly, that there is another change you could make that would make this blog a central hub of the j-blogosphere and simultaneously create an immense amount of good. It is an idea I have broached to you before.Use your talents of eitzah, empathy and active listening to create a shalom bayis blog. Allow people to blow a little steam. Respond with your softness. Point out common sensical options to a husband who can only see his own misery. Give a wife chizuk. Discuss the place of communication therapies. Allow people to get a feeling for when rough talk becomes emotional abuse. Allow people to realize that their specific problems are not unique to them. Comfort the bruised.You may object that you are hardly an expert on shalom bayis matters. That may or may not be so, but in this context it makes little difference. As a blogger, you are simply aggregating the information that comes to you. You have the intelligence and the honesty to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the creativity and wit to turn that wheat into fresh-baked challos.Perhaps you would not want to do it alone. Perhaps you could partner with someone such as RenReb or one of those noble women at Mayim Rabim [or perhaps even male bloggers, such as S. or Ezzie]. Perhaps you would need only guest posts from them. In any case, a shalom bayis blog done well is an idea whose time has come and I think you could do it well.

NCO- thank you so much for your faith in me. Your Challah metaphore made my day!
When I started this blog helping people was one of my main objectives. Since that time people have written to me for advice both on and off line and I've tried to help where I can.

If people want to write in with their Sholom Bayis issues, or anything that troubles them I would be absolutely honored to help or advise in anyway I can.
I am also blessed to have many commentors with all kinds of interesting and different perspectives so that people can see things from more than one angle.
Any emails sent to me will be kept in the strictest confidence and I will never reveal the name (or even the screenname) of someone who seeks my advice without their express permission.

As for making my blog a "hub" I'm not exactly sure how that can be accomplished but I am open to suggestions. As always thanks to you NCO and all my readers for their support!


Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Religious One

I have a friend who is a freelance graphic designer/multimedia guy/general webhead.

A few weeks ago he got a call from a woman who I used to work with about five years ago. She asked him to come in for a meeting about some webwork she needed done at her new company (he used to work with her as well, but long before I did.)

Although we did not work closely together, this woman and I did work for the same small company for over two years and saw each other nearly every day. We had many conversations over that time. She is Jewish like me (although not Orthodox) and we both have two daughters. She also knew a lot of people in my town, so we had plenty of things to talk about while we waited for the coffee to brew or the copier to free up.

I was pretty sure she would remember me so I asked my friend to send her my regards.

When my friend came back from his meeting he told me that after thinking about it for a minute or two (I have an unusual name) she remembered me. “Oh, the religious one!” was her reaction.

This comment bothered me as soon as I heard it. At first I wasn’t sure why but I spent some time thinking about it:

Maybe I’m tired of being “religious” first and everything else second. If she had remembered me as “the hardworking one” or “the brilliant one” I probably wouldn’t have minded it at all. I don’t mind being identified as Jewish, or religious, but in a work setting (where religion is fairly irrelevant) why would that be the one thing that stuck out in her mind after all this time?

I try hard to be a well rounded person, certainly religion plays a large role in my life but it’s not all I put out there as a person. I am both hardworking and smart, I know how to have fun, and I’m a pretty nice person overall- so be tossed into the “religious” box makes me feel like the rest of my interests and personality are hidden behind my religious observance. Of COURSE I know I’m reading too much into a tiny sound bite, but a few weeks have passed and it still bothers me whenever I think about it.

Is my religion the essence of who I am?
Is it wrong for me to not always want it to be?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Blog Improvement Project

Right now I'm taking a quick break from redoing my kitchen floor. Somehow, I've caught the home improvement bug and it's a good thing too because my home could certainly use some improvement! I think it all started with building the sukkah which was fun, empowering, and gave me a real feeling of accomplishment. In any event my desire to improve the appearance of my living space has spilled over into my virtual living space as well, namely this blog.

Let's face it my friends... it's a very ugly blog.

When I chose this template I wanted to select something that looked different from other J-blogs and yet did not have the light text on a dark background that makes one's eyes want to pop out and roll themselves across the room. I've never really bonded with the color though and on my home monitor it really makes me kinda queasy.

I'm not looking for anything fancy just the basics: I want to set up a blog roll, get a less ugly template, learn about trackbacks, widen my margins, and basically make my blog a more attractive and enjoyable place to hang out. Unfortunatley, whenever I try to make even the smallest of adjustments something goes haywire and I wind up desperately struggling to undo the damage I've done.

So here's an offer: I'm willing to hand over the keys to my blog (temporarily of course) to a trustworthy, competent, individual who can help me fix up my format. In exchange I will promise to write up three original, thought provoking, comment inspiring, guest posts for YOUR blog over the next month or so- I think that's a fair trade - but I'm willing to negociate.
See DB if you need a reference.

Email me if you are interested- Shifraq@gmail.com

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ushpizin - the Movie

I was recently lucky enough to view the Israeli movie sensation "USHPIZIN." A story of a poor, childless couple in Jerusalem who find themselves with a pair of runaway criminals as their univited holiday guests. I'm usually skeptical of all things artsy and frum such as Jewish novels, children's books, art, popular music etc... In addition to which I'm also quite skeptical of all things hyped so although I was excited about seeing this film I was quite prepared to be disapointed.
I'm pleased to say I really enjoyed this film from end to end.

This movie was smart and funny with a lot of heart. The plot was fairly simple and straightforward but still had enough action and surprises to keep you waiting and watching. The real life husband and wife who were the film's main characters seemed both realistic and sincere although their circumstances were quite extraordinary. The version I saw had English subtitles, but my husband and I were pleased to find that we didn't need them since the Hebrew dialog is fairly uncomplicated and actions definately speak louder than words. As a person who suffers from difficult, unwanted guests (most of whom are related to my husband) on a regular basis, I could really relate to this film- it gave me hope that not only do challenges lead to great things but that even the most difficult of guests eventually leave.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thoughts on Havdalah

A commenter named Asher asked me to post about the meaning behind "havdalah" the ceremony performed at the end of the Sabbath.

In a nutshell "Havdalah" means a "separation." This ceremony creates a separation between Shabbos which is holy and the rest of the week which is not.

There are many good websites that explain the meaning behind this practice.
There is even a little slide show in flash showing how it's done with about all the information you'll ever need on the subject.

Here are a few items of interest (at least for me) that you won't see on the websites:

1) Segulos

Segulos are funny customs that Jewish people have developed over time which they hope will bring them a specific kind of good fortune. My husband, who is not the least bit superstitious or wasteful generally, insists on overfilling the cup of wine (or which ever beverage we happen to be using) so that some spills out on to the table. I think this is supposed to bring us great wealth (so far it's not working.) I've also seen people take some of the wine and apply a bit, with their fingertips, to their pockets and the sides of their heads. This I am told is promote wealth (the pockets) and brainpower (the head.) I believe this custom was started by drycleaners although I am not sure.
Another segulah I have heard of is having a single woman hold the candle at the height she would like her husband to be. I've always thought that was ridiculous and when it was my turn to hold the candle held it right at table level. My husband is 6' - so there you go.

I don't know why havalah has generated so many segulos or what their origins are but it's interesting to see what people will try.

2) How do you use the light?

Part of the Havdalah ceremony involves lighting a multi-wicked candle and looking at your hands in the light after making a blessing over it. We do this to make use of the light so that our blessing is not purposeless.
My mother in law likes to shake her hands all around in front of the candle- I have no idea where that came from...
When I was in 4th grade my Hebrew teacher went on maternity leave - leaving the class in the care of "Mr. Hajbi" a yeminite man none of us had ever met before. He told us that when we look at our hands during havdalah we should look at our nails and remember that before the fall of man Adam and Chava (adam and eve) were covered entirely in a protective fingernail like coating to keep them safe from harm, but when they sinned this was taken from them...
I've never hear that particular tale before or since.
He also spend a lot of time telling us about gigulim and basically scaring the crap out of us- oh and about Unkelus and how important he was (but I digress.)

3) The best besamim ever

Another part of the ceremony involves the smelling of fragrant spices. I really enjoy a good scent so I make my own besamim out of crushed dried haddass leaves, cloves, and other spices. I think it's the best besamim ever.
My sister-in-law prefers to take the cinnamon out of my spice cabinet and smell that instead which I find rather insulting.

OK Asher, I hope that answered your questions about havdalah or at least gave you something to think about.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen- Place your bets!

Today the Godol Hador has announced (once again) that he is retiring in the near future.
This will make some people happy, like his wife, and the kannoim- although not for the same reasons. Other will be upset, disappointed, bewildered or bored once he's gone.

Here's the real question though- is GH ready to retire?
I think not! He's got a great thing going and he'd be a fool to abandon it regardless of whether or not he loses his anonymity.

So place your bets here today folks- then you can say I told you so- and have to link to click on to prove it!

A follow up on all things Shifra: Part One

People have been asking for a follow up on my work and carpool situation.
Although I barely find the topics interesting enough to write about perhaps they will be more interesting to read.

Anyway, you asked for it...

Carpool- Carpool is weird, I'm still getting used to the new arrangement.
It's a lot like dating, no one is really acting like "themselves" yet. My carpool buddy (who will now be know as CB) is younger than our new hitchhiker and feels morally obligated to give her the front seat. Every day I have to remind her that she was there first and that it's my car and I decide who can sit where. She ends up sitting in the front about half the time. One thing that does annoy me is that the new rider gets a lot of calls on her cell phone. She has three teenaged kids and there is a lot of loud giving of directions over the phone:
"I SAID take the CHICKEN out of the FREEZER and put it on the COUNTER!"
or "YES you NEED to go to HOCKEY PRACTICE!" or "NO, there is NO SPARE KEY UNDER THE MAT!"

CB gets some phone calls too, but she keeps them short and quiet, plus her ring tone is the theme to mario brothers which always cracks me up.

The truth is that the new rider is very nice- it's hard to find anything bad to say about her. She's friendly and sensible, I just find it disappointing not to be able to speak freely with CB the way we used to or to fight over the radio. Currently we are audio-free (no radio, no CDs) until I figure out if our musical tastes will offend the new rider or not (and/or if I care!)

Also my decision not to clean up the back of my car was a bad one, it's embarrassing. I think I will spend my lunch hour (and a pile of quarters) rectifying that situation.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Wandering Jews

Here's a question sent in by a reader (remember when my blog was all about sending in your questions instead of me just complaining about my job and stuff? Let's try to get back to that shall we?)

Dear Shifra,
Do you have any idea of where the term "the wandering jew" came from?

Dear ALG,

I had some ideas about where the phrase came from having heard it many times myself.
The fact that the Jews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after being freed from their enslavement in Egypt (as told in the book of Exodus) seemed a likely source.
Or perhaps it was a reference to the fact that Jews have been driven out of the countries in which they have settled many time over the course of history.

According to Answers.com, however, I was way off base:

Wandering Jew, in literary and popular legend, a Jew who mocked or mistreated Jesus while he was on his way to the cross and who was condemned therefore to a life of wandering on earth until Judgment Day. The story of this wanderer was first recorded in the chronicles of Roger of Wendover and Matthew of Paris (13th cent.), but not until the early 17th cent. was he identified as a Jew. The story is common in Western Europe, but it presents marked national variations. ...

So apparently this is a Christian myth or legend which would probably explain why I had not heard it before, and also why I will not be using the expression henceforth now that I know what it means :-)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Six Flags- Great (overwhelmingly Jewish) Adventure - A Sociological Perspective

As I mentioned in the comments section earlier I did indeed take my children to the NCSY Six Flags Trip over Chol Hamoad Sukkos. I know it's old news now but I haven't had the time to write this up until today, so forgive me.

I had some reservations about going, but I went anyway and my daughters and I really did have a good time. Although a good number of Jews turned out there were still quite a mixed group at the park which gave things an air of (almost) normalcy. It was a fairly quiet day at the park (probably because the weather was cool) but I am not a fan of scorching hot weather so for me it was perfect.

Although this event was sponsored by NCSY the actual attendees were not your usual NCSY types this is the Jewish demographic breakdown based on my observation:

40% Chassidim - 6-9 kids men occasionally riding the rides with their kids, women on stroller patrol with the younger ones. These were probably the best dressed people Six Flags had even seen except maybe that old guy who drives the bus on the their commercials (I believe he wear a tux.)

40% Teens and PreTeens and counselor types- These kids looked like the NCSYers I remember. The girls (who were apparently 6 flags aficionados) wore knee length flared skirts with leggings underneath.
Note to self: wearing a knee length a skirt and a tichel (headscarf) on the flying swings ride is not a good idea.

The boys wore hooded sweatshirts and baseball caps and stared at the girls from safe distances without interacting with them.

10% Other - Of this 10% most were yeshivish looking families with (mostly) younger children the women were wearing glamorous sheitels (to a windy amusement park? O...K....) the men generally left their hats in the car. There were a few groups of adult singles who just came to have some discounted fun, a couple Russian families, and of course me and my girls.

Here are some of my general observations:

Jews like black. Most of the women I saw were dressed almost exclusively in black- black skirt, black tights, black jacket. The men too, of course, with the exception of their white shirts.

Frum people like to dress their children alike. If you are taking your kids on a trip I suppose it's handy to have your kids all dressed in the same outfits so that you can easily spot them HOWEVER when every kid in Brooklyn has the same coat this may not work to your advantage.

Men are Funny. As part of their October Halloween theme Six Flags has a group of male and female dancers dressed as zombies put on a big dance number in front of the ferris wheel a few times a day. The sound track was loud covers of rock songs with a slightly morbid theme to them. This show was visible from an area in front of the ferris wheel but also from some higher ground from a good distance away. Very few of the Jewish men stood in the viewing area in front of the dancers. But I noticed quite a few standing quite still in the outlying areas with their eyes fixed on the stage. One of the men was holding an open sefer in his hands as if he was learning... Weird.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Great Comments

Wow! There have been so many great comments, I can hardly believe this is my blog!!

I've got lots of responding to do regarding Jews and Halloween, making aliyah, the NCSY Six Flags trip, and of course the status of my carpool.

I hope to get to all of that and much more but for now work and family matters have taken hold of my blogging time and firmly refuse to let go! If I can tug a few minutes free tomorrow I will try to get to all of it... For now I just wanted to let you know that not only I am not dead, but that I am reading and enjoying your comments and questions.
If it's any consolation I'd much rather be blogging than working, grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom, testing my kids on spelling words or any of the other fine activities I've been engaging in today.

Oh, and as my husband was kind enough to point out to me the phrase used when collecting candy door to door is "trick-or-treat." This would mean that the candy grubbers in question would be "trick-or-treaters" rather than "tricker-treaters" as I posted.
Gotta remember to run the ol' spell checker now and again...

Catch you later!