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Ask Shifra

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

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dark Thoughts

Dear Shifra,

What do you and your readers think about a person that dies the very day after Yom Kippur?


Dear AHM -
When I was a kid I learned that we say "viduy" (the confession of our sins) before eating our pre-fast meal in case a person should choke and die while eating and not make it to the day of atonement. Since then I've always chewed very slowly and carefully at the seduah hamafseket.

I'm not a judgemental person and I would feel very strange trying to guess at the reason for the time and place of anyone's death. Still, if one had to choose the day one was going to be laid to rest the day after Yom Kippur might not be a bad choice. Hopefully the person used the month of Elul to patch things up with friends and family and get his affairs in order. A peaceful day spent fasting and praying and thinking of Godly things, while surrounded by family, friends and community might be a preferable last day on Earth to one spent making sales calls at the office or cleaning out the garage.

When I was a little girl I used to sit with my father in Shul (yes, another tale of Shifra's father - I guess I'm waxing nostalgic lately) and he used to translate some of the tefilos for me so that I would understand them. He may have introduced me to "Unesaneh Tokef," a poem read on Yom Kippur, a bit young (should a four year old really be subject to tales of strangulation and death by fire? Maybe not) - but it did teach me that no one knows how and when they will die.

While constantly thinking of death may make a person feel depressed and hopeless it can be a positive thing to occasionally remember that we do have a limited time in this world.
As it says in Perki Avot: "The day is short and the work is plentiful."

Questions, comments, wire transfers?
Send them along to Shifraq@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Bloggers' Chat - Headcoverings, Being Normal, Tikkun Olam and Other Stuff

Today I had the pleasure of having a thought provoking email chat with Psychotoddler, the almost-famous blogger, father, rocker and all around nice guy.

In the hope of provoking yet MORE thought I will post it here- As usual all comments and opinions are welcome.

We'll pick up where things get interesting (I've cut and pasted a little to help make things a bit more clear.)

PT: ...BTW I wear a yarmulke to work. I seriously believe that of all the things I've done on this Earth, that is one of the most important. When I go to the Pearly gates (or whatever), and have to explain why I didn't spend enough time learning, or why I let my kids play video games, or why I didn't do this or that, I'm going to say that I wore a Yarmulke to work in the midwest and that I acted like a mentch and did a kiddush hashem.

Shifra: I'm grew up in the midwest and I know what that means.
My parents still live there and my father wears a kippa to work as well.

When I was kid my father lost his job and after months of looking for work and not finding any he stopped wearing his kippah to interviews at the advice of his recruiter.
When he did get a job he felt odd about putting back on so he left it off at work. A few months later we went to pick him up from his new job and my mom sent me into the office to get him (it was a surprise I guess.) When I saw him with nothing on his head I was stunned (I was about 11 or so at the time.) My father is a Rabbi and a very learned man, he even wears a kippah when he SLEEPS I'd never seen him without it. I didn't say anything but he could see that there were tears in my eyes - it was a real shock for me in a way that I can't explain. After that my father came in to work the next day WITH his kippah on and didn't say a thing about it- he's never gone without it since.
Years later he thanked me for it- even though I really hadn't done anything.

People really underestimate the importance of menchlachkiet - that's not a bad ace in the hole either

PT: I came from NY and guys wore yarmulkes everywhere when I was growing up. We even wore yarmukles to Midnight showings of Rocky Horror.
So it didn't occur to me to take off my hat when I moved to the midwest. Also, I got a shomer shabbos residency in Milwaukee, so it was part of my "persona" if you will.

However, when I went to interview for permanent positions, it was another story altogether. I got a lot of great offers--over the phone. But I'd show up with my kippah and suddenly there would be no openings. Or they would grill me about shabbos--would I come in even if I wasn't on call, etc.

I thought about taking it off. And then my superstitious side said, "Tell me, big shot, if you can't get a job with Hashem's help, do you think you'll be able to get one without it?" So I just persevered. I eventually found a real mentch of an interviewer who was sympathetic to the Orthodox community and hired me.

But there have been many times when I've thought my life would be simpler, my practice fuller, if I looked like everyone else.

Shifra: It's never simple though - there is always shabbos - the birthday cake you can't eat... whether your head is covered or not it's just not possible to completely fit in - and I think that's intentional.
If you live in a cloistered community where you never have to deal with anyone who is not one of your own it's not big deal but it's not so easy in the "real world."

PT: I think it is very much intentional. You can't go out to eat with them and you can't go drinking with them on Friday nights, and there's much less chance of you dating and marrying one that way. The laws of kashruth are meant to keep us separate.

You're right, frummies in NY have no concept of what it's like in "the real world".

Shifra: This modern integrated societal mix is a relatively new thing even on a global level and America is probably the most diverse cultural community on earth.
Then again Jews have always been the minority (even as they lived seperately in their little shtetlach) within the homogenious cultures that surrounded them...
Hmmm lots to think about. I wonder if I'm only making sense in my own head now...

PT: It's good.

Shifra: How are OJ's really supposed to live? As oddballs in the real world - making kiddushea hashem whenever possible - or in an insulated community free of outside rule and influence?

PT: This is the big debate, no? Sit in learn in Kollel all day or get a job? Live in the real world or stay in Lakewood? Read the Newspaper or stick your head in the ground? You probably can figure out where I stand. I believe we were put here to be a light to the nations, a moral compass, and we can't do that if we cross the street every time we see a goy coming our way. Some people believe that there's nothing to be gained from exposure to the outside world other than corruption. But to me, then, what is the point? Why did hashem make goyim? We're not like the Islamists, trying to convert the world. They belong here as much as we. We have a role. Some say that role is to sit in beis medresh and keep the fires of torah burning. I think that serves only us. Unless you think there's some "mystical" power to the beis medresh. But that's just too hocus-pocus for me.

No, we're here to mingle and yet maintain our special purpose.

Shifra: And yet it's amazing though how the whole concept of "tikkun olam" and "or la'goyim" have become such foreign notions among the Orthodox.

Where are all the normal Orthodox Jews? There can't just be two of us!

PT: Nope, it's just the two of us.
Feel free to write this up as a "joint post"

Shifra: Will do!

Just a word of caution:

The Psychotoddler Crossover post has been known to be the kiss of death to a blog: ask Dr. Bean or A Simple Jew. Hell, I almost killed Treppenwitz.

Shifra: I'll take my chances.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jewish Debt

No no, this isn't some sort of metaphorical post about what the Jewish people owe to society or what society owes to the Jews. It's about the cost of being frum - and it IS expensive.

Today I was emailing with another blogger who said something like "Wouldn't it be great if there was a blog where frum people could anonymously talk about their financial problems? I don't think I look that different than any other man in shul but I'm up to my eyeballs in debt while everyone else seems to be doing just fine!" (OK I added the bit about the eyeballs but the rest is kinda, almost accurate.)

Well how about here? In the comments section?
You can use your real fake name, or make up a new even faker fake name!

I'll go first even though some of you know who I am.

I work full time, my husband works full time.
We live modestly, in a small house in an expensive town.
We have two children in Yeshiva day school.
We make too much money to recieve a scholarship but not enough to pay tution without skimping on most everything else.
We are in at least some credit card debt about 50% of the time.
We have no "help" around the house.
I iron all my husband's shirts myself and get my hair cut at supercuts 3-4 times a year.
We eat out (someplace cheap- pizza or similar) about twice a month.
I spend a fortune in groceries.
Our vacations consist of day trips and visiting relatives.
We have almost no savings.
I don't buy lottery tickets.
I have no plans to retire um... ever...
But I'm OK. Things are stable and we have everything we need and even a few extras like guitar lessons for Bas-Shifra, cell phones and a cable modem.

OK, now you.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

And now for something completely different!

When my daughter Chavi Kaufman was in Pre-K she came home and told me that a "first grader boy" told her to show him her underpants on the playground so she did.

"Why did you do that?" I asked, explaining once again that underpants (and other things) are private and not to be shown even to people who ask unless they are a parent or a doctor.

"...but he DARED me, so I had to!" she replied.

That led to good conversations about dares, and how dares are just a way for someone to try and pressure you to do what they want you to do by making you feel bad for denying them.

All that good parenting aside, however, sometime I myself can't resist a little baiting especially when it's as funny as this email I received last night:

Are you very smart? why do people ask u? i challage you to respond


Ooooh a "challage!"
Is that some kind of arts and crafts made of leftover bread?

I don't know if I'm very smart - smart enough I guess.
Why do people ask me? It's a good question maybe because my blog is a good place for practical no- nonsense advice from both me and my crack staff of commentors. Plus it's a free service so what does anyone have to lose by sending in questions?

To you, AAA BBB, my advice is:
1) get a new email address and screen name, they are both ridiculous, lazy, and hard to remember I bet!
2) Stay in school, you clearly have a long way to go.


Questions? Comments? Challages?
Send 'em along to shifraQ at gmail dot com

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

From the files of Shifra

As promised I did some digging around and I did find my notes on the book I'd started to write.

It's in one of those bound composition books and I actually pasted my "list of 50" into the front cover!
In the notebook itself I've furiously written (with no editing whatsoever) about 5-7 essays of varying completeness and length and a bunch of ideas for other essays. It's almost a diary really - I see that a lot of what I wrote, I wrote to and for myself.

I also forgot that I'd given the book a working title which is much too lame to publish here. The writing style is a little "Dr. Phil" for my tastes these days. It sounds like I was doing an uncomfortable impersonation a therapist.
Nowadays however, thanks to my blog, I am QUITE comfortable impersonating a therapist so I intend to fix that.

My writing only made it about 1/4 of the way through the notebook but toward the end I wrote what I guess was meant to be my introduction (although it seems to start in the middle of another broader essay) but I'll post it here anyway.

In addition to posting on my old ideas and notes I'd also like to spend an equal about of time fighting sterotypes, flawed logic, dangerous assumptions, and unequal treatment of women from a frum perspective.
Please send alongs any links to small minded, stereotype-y, anti-female, charedi propaganda (or apologetic, weak, equally offensive pro-female MO propaganda if you swing that way) here to shifraq at gmail dot com and I will give it the karate chop head it deserves here on the blog.

So without further ado, an introduction circa 2002 edited in 2006:
(Although all my essays were originally written for women I think that some of the things can definitely be true for men as well - or can help men to understand women better.)

As frum women we are taught to fight ourselves at every turn, deny our instincts, and conform. Many of us live in a tight knit community, like specimens under glass, our private and public life being one in the same. We often worry and care more about what other people might think of us than what we think about ourselves. Worse yet, all this denial and fear leave us no room for us to consider what we really want out of life. These essays are for strong, brave women, or for women who want to be strong and brave but are too afraid - afraid to change, afraid to feel, afraid to be themselves. As I write (both in 2002 and today) I am on the same journey. Each essay beings with questions I have as I learn, or discover really, some truths about life or about myself or develop some tools to help me get to where I want to be. A place where I am happy, relaxed and purposeful. A place where I am free to be myself whoever that may be.

Is it possible to be a frum woman and be true to yourself?
I think it is. Let's find out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Life Before Blogging

Life Before Blogging

This time of year has always been one of self-assessment for me. With both Rosh Hashana and my birthday right around the corner I can't help but take stock of my life and try to strategize about how to make the coming year a better one. I call it my "Jew Year's Resolutions."

One of the smartest things I ever did (at the recommendation of a dear friend and former teacher) was to write a list of fifty things I want for myself. The directions were pretty ambiguous - it could things I want to accomplish, material things, personal development, experiences I want to have - nothing could be too big or too small but they had to be about me. I really didn't think I would be able to come up with 50 things but in time I did. Days later I handed the list back to this teacher he took it and without reading it tore it up.

"Do it again!" he said smiling.

I was pretty surprised at his reaction, but I did do it again - from memory - it was much easier the second time around but I was pretty sure the list had changed - some things had dropped away (mostly the filler ideas I used to make the full fifty) while others became more prominently featured and detailed on this list.

When I called the teacher to let him know I had rewritten the list and liked it even better than the original list he said "Great! Let's make it even better!"

So I ripped that one up too and did it again.

My third list was the truth, what I really wanted out of life. My teacher never asked to see that list. In fact no one has ever seen it.
These days I rarely look at that list but an amazing thing has happened since I wrote that list six years ago... Whether consciously or unconsciously I've been continuously chipping away at that list. I'll have to dig it up and see for certain but I'd wager that I'm already more than half way through it and considering writing a second round of fifty. I thought this list would take me my whole life to get through but I see now that setting goals is what leads to accomplishing them.

One of my goals was to write a book supporting Orthodox Jewish women.
In my experience I've found that frum women make life so much harder on themselves than they need to, all the while keeping their suffering silent and I think...I hope... I may have something to offer to my peers based on my own experiences and the experiences others have shared with me over the years. Yes I'm well aware that frum men suffer unduly as well - maybe I can get some guest posters to help me out there- I already have ideas in mind.

ANYWAY, I actually did start writing this book shortly after I wrote that list of 50, but I lost confidence - or I ran out of steam.... Now, I realize that putting these ideas out in an open forum like a blog is even better!
In fact it's something I've been doing here and there at Ask Shifra for a while now without even realizing it and I think it's time to kick it up a notch.

I hope to start posting some of the essays that I've written in the past and penning some new ones as well. I look forward to sharing and developing my ideas about what it means to be a Frum woman in today's world with all my readers male and female alike and as always I look forward to your comments.


Monday, September 04, 2006

LOST CAT (sad owner)

My cat is BACK!
Unscathed and remarkably clean she showed up meowing at the door this morning.
All is well and happy.

-Gut Voch

Yeah yeah, I'm frum AND I have a cat.
Well I USED to have a cat.

While I was away for the weekend she got out for the first time ever. She's been missing since Shabbos morning and it's not looking good.

Very sad and it's especially hard to send your kids off to their first day of school with a lost cat on their minds :-(