Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sometimes I feel like the Jews on my campus make it worth being Jewish.
This sounds cliche and borderline halachically problematic, but I'm willing to accept that. 

Today, it wasn't the alarm that woke me up for shacharit; it was the tossing in turning in bed thinking about meeting my friends at Hillel to pray together and then going downstairs to eat breakfast as a family. This is not the classic picture of family: a father headless, buried behind a newspaper, a mother whirring around the kitchen preparing lunches and calling the troops out of bed and into their respective carpools which she signals to from the door with a pointed finger holding the number one, and in the background you asking someone to pass the milk for the fifth time. 

This is no typical breakfast.We are neither a self-absorbed, headless dad nor a methodic, apologizing mom. We are not the baby brother you have to sacrifice your favorite yogurt to, or the friend who slept over and in the morning find less hilarious and annoying to entertain. We are not the guests who finally emerge from their guestroom and you automatically say, "take whatever you want from the fridge" or "can I make you something?"

The Hillel family is when, upon seeing you with a plate of scrambled eggs and cup of coffee in each hand, a person sitting at a crowded table gets up, walks across the room, retrieves another table, says make room for "Abby," connects it to his crowded table, and sits back down as if it were nothing. Its nothing to them, but its everything to me. Its the cross section of  cracking the maze and helping Fred get to the factory on the back of Fruity Pebbles, and reading how wheat is harvested on Shredded Wheat: You care about the Hillel family, and conversely, they care about you.

no more leggo my eggos or cereal box forts for me

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I have a confession. I did not daven Shacharit this morning; I did not daven yesterday either. The events leading up to this blip are two pronged. One, because of a habit that has caused me to avoid morning minyan. Two, because my kavannah is waning.

The evolution of what the Chazan is allowed to project out loud is a fascinating thing. As I tried concentrating during Ashrei this past Tuesday, I was unable to focus my thoughts: The Chazan was boisterously mumbling a jargon that- had it been played back to an audio 20x slower- might  have sounded something like Hebrew instead of a broken car muffler in late February. I am not talking about a Chazan repeating the Amida nor the subsequent lines of a prayer; I am speaking about mumbling the entire morning service aloud with the staccato of a roller coaster track. I left feeling indignant rather than uplifted. How long has this phenomena been going on for? Why do congregants put up with this pray butchery? More importantly should I be avoiding G-d because of one person's inconsiderate habit?

A Realization: Am I using the Chazan as an unwarranted excuse to justify my kavannah shortfalls?

When did it happen that davening became a chore and became shorter and less frequent each morning?
I fear I am slowly becoming what I despise--an ingrate.

Hoping I will find some spiritual revelation when I return to campus after winter break,

Friday, January 17, 2014

Visiting my old high school is what I imagine an out of body experience would feel like: walking down the hallways feeling like a giant and at the same time that sense of panic you feel when the bell rings. Two friends and I explored the edifice of our nostalgia, interrupting a few classes to wave hello to some favorite former teachers. Some conversations were light and quick, others were heartfelt and lasted well over fifteen minutes, always ending by warning the current class to appreciate their teacher while they have the opportunity.

We each tried to break into our lockers; how has my memory failed me in just two years? (I should up my berry consumption and play more Sudoku puzzles..)

 It was great reconnecting with my college adviser. I can still recall the stress of deadlines, taking the ACT, re-taking the ACT, and writing seemingly endless amounts of college essays. My college adviser still sat in that same, kitchen-pantry sized office, typing on his outdated computer with his arthritic, mangled fingers. We laughed and joked. What a juxtaposition the treatment I received from my University, English adviser who told asked me how I was planning to eat for the next seven years when I told her I wanted to become a novelist?

The reunion I had with my Physics teacher, can only be described as epic. He is the most quirky and most beloved teacher in the school. I remember him once telling a girl in class, "Ashley, I want to coat you with honey and release the bees." He made even students who hated physics, look forward to class. Being the atypical, iconoclast that I am, everyday was an attempted mutiny.

That year was a very informative year for me; I learned a lot about the boundaries of student and teacher. Anyways, the reunion was epic and it ended with him friending me on Facebook. In my novel, this is what we can a twist.

What this visit has taught me, is that roots are important; furthermore, acknowledgement of your own achievements are important. We rarely take the time to recognize the people that guided us during such a fragile and impressionable stage in our lives. There was a boy from my physics class who would sit with me during his free periods and reteach me the material I was not (surprisingly) absorbing vectors. He just messaged me on Facebook. I should thank him; I recognize now, that he may have helped me graduate.

A bit wiser

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Yesterday was Shabbos and a few interesting things happened:

I did not get very much sleep. I was tossed and turned, waking up every 20 minutes with chills, sweats, and some green mucus I didn't know humans could produce coming from the back of my throat. After Shabbos Mom took my temperature: 101.6 degrees Fahrenheit. 

To be dreadfully sick on Shabbos is one of the worst experiences I hope you never have to go through; it is much like being stuck on island. Not one of the tropical islands somewhere in the Bahamas where you sit around sunbathing on the beach, as hospitable monkeys bring you pina coladas with miniature umbrellas.

On "Sick on Shabbos Island" you sit around the bathroom floor trying to figure out if the pain dies down with your eyes closed, opened or one shut one open. Being stuck on "Sick on Shabbos Island" is realizing you will be doing this eyes shut-open experiment for the next 25 hours as your only form of entertainment. 

I effectively convinced my virus that it was torturing a dead person, it let up for a few hours, and I took this as my chance to go downstairs where my family and the guests were sitting down for Shabbos lunch. As I ventured downstairs, I said hello to my parents friends. I must have looked like a neanderthal gazing at the sun for the first time. 

I sat at a distance in an adjoining room drawn by the conversation. There were discussions about the recent snow storms and frozen pipes, vitamin D deficiencies and new cars. The conversation I was most interested in, was the conversation happening at the far end of the table, between my brother and a friend he begun to lose touch with. They had been through elementary school, playdates, middle school,  carpools, birthday parties, and high school together. Gradually people change. Some become jaded, bitter, and even hardened by Judaisim. Those who thought they knew the other so well feel unprepared and awkward to acknowledge change.

Over my father's tall frame, I could see my brother and his friend smiling and laughing--something about "The Hobbit." Like a fool, I got goosebumps all over. It just goes to show people who are paranoid to leave the "Jewish bubble," that its not a person's belief and acceptance of G-d that determines friendship- its orcs and elves and dwarfs. I'm proud of my brother. He deserves more credit than I give him. 

My mother is going to a meeting tonight of women in the neighborhood who are trying to set up the unmarried Jewish singles. She is thinking about "presenting my brother" to the other women (whatever that means). The way she was describing it, reminded me of an auction. I don't really want to go into my thoughts on the shidduch world at the moment, I just wanted to open the notion. And now close the notion. 

All in all, despite having half my foot in the grave, Shabbos was not too crumby. There is something to be said about the medicinal powers of a Jewish mother's chicken soup. Looking forward to a good week,
exactly 368 tiles on my bathroom floor

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The holy in the daily

The degree to which my life orbits religion is mind-blowing. Take for example: I had a religious existential conversation over pizza bagels with my sister, a boy from Hillel asked if I would lead a learning session because "you could draw a lot of people," I had to consult the grocery mashgiach because the Milk Chocolate Dunkin Hines Brownies were labeled OU pareve, and my niece asked me what a soul is.

While each event occurred independently, these events each led me closer to a most worrisome conclusion: how little I really know about the very thing that has been the rock, center, essence of my life--my religion.

At the end of the day I exist just as a bagel, sauce, and cheese do. At the end of the day I'm just a nineteen year old kid with one-hour's worth of ancient scripture modge-podgery. Whom am I going to "draw."

At the end of the day we are measured on the "frum scale by whether we have the OU on speed dial and if we wait into the eleventh hour between meat and dairy. At the end of the day I tell my niece it's the spark G-d gave her that makes her unique from every other person; She's that spark that tells me I'm not "playing house correctly" and informs me that the  lion I am coloring, is a mammal that lives in the Savannah.

According to Wikipedia (rule number 1:always got to cite your sources), "Orthos" is Greek for "straight" and "doxa" means "belief." Noone has "straight belief," and if one says he does, he's lying through his teeth. I think someone is truely Orthodox only when he has questions and is brave enough to seek answers. Only those who seek to deepen their faith not through being a complacent follower and  mindless automaton, but through introspection and personal prayer, is looking for spirituality.
Prayer is supposed to be difficult. Sometimes it comes naturally, sometimes, it doesn't.

When all else fails.. I like to eat some self-confused brownies.

The Orthodox Paradox

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Blogging not for me not for you but for Them

A Safety Net:

In my pilot post I failed to mention why blog at all. Here it is: I want to blog because there are so many like me--Jewish Modern Orthodox kids who fall through the cracks. These are kids who leave their "Jewish bubbles," and enter a world of drugs, partying, religious confusion, forgetting about their 18 years of Jewish education their parents devoted so much to instill.

I will come right out and say it. I am blogging to be selfish (please, allow me to be selfish for a moment). I recently read a study about how across the Jewish gamut of Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Ultra Orthodox, the only consistent population growth of religiously affiliated children (who grow to become religiously affiliated adults) are the Ultra Orthodox. The frightful, radical decline of affiliation emerges through assimilation, intermarriage, and overall lack of interest.

It's shaped a very different future of Judaism.

This is why I blog. I am blogging so that I do not become extinct, and because I believe the face of Judaism cannot only be the face of an Ultra Orthodox Chassid in Borough Park or Ukraine, in England.

I am blogging so that together you and I can keep me safe; I am actively choosing not to become a statistic in the fall of Modern Orthodoxy. I will not let my grandchildren leave the faith because of my carelessness, because of things I could have done better, more meticulously. I will not hold a funeral for my Jewish values, lower my morals into a casket, donning sackcloth over unmet expectations laid to rest beneath two feet of earth.

Right now you stand at a crossroad with a decision to make: you have the privilege to read my personal diary entries--the confusion, moral struggles, joy, love, tears--but that comes with the responsibility of acceptance without judging. The choice is up to you: do you have the capacity to empathize with a nineteen year old who is simultaneously burdened and blessed by the expectations of her religious community, parents, peers, childhood friends, family and God?

Whether you read or not I will keep writing, because I sure have a story to tell. You never know, it may be just be the most-read anthology in history- next to the Bible of course.

Setting the ground-rules

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014 Collegadox Resolutions

Collegadox: The funny existence of an Orthodox Jewish girl whose parents pushed for Stern College, while her heart desired Bar-Ilan University, yet was blackmailed to return to the States and is now giving kosher 101 on chewing cud and split hooves to her South Korean neighbor at secular college.

2014 New Years Resolutions:

1. Attempt spirituality- go to prayer services every morning trying not to distract the guys, while at the same time making the impression of, "hey, I could be your future wife."

2. Look at Hillel food optimistically- ignore how they arrange yesterday's wilted green beans in the center of the mashed potato stew at lunch and try your best not to cringe when Yehudah talks to you revealing the menacing bean stuck between his incisors.

3. Don't judge- make room for your two-months-now friend who had "such an inspirational and growth filled year" at Jerusalem's finest Jewish seminary, when she passes out on your bed and exposes an ominous kiwi-sized hickey across her throat.
4. Understand terminology- learn quickly because things you consider innocent are really saturated with dirty double meanings which will unquestionably, be understood that way. You will never tell a guy "I want you to come," without turning a deep, rose shade again. Naivety at college is like a sheared lamb. Pink, Unsexy, and fun to point and laugh at. 

5. Say "No"- so it didn't really work out back in 2013 when I was dragged onto an El-Al flight, forced to leave my homeland... regardless, compliance to bend my moral, religious values is not an option. I'm stronger than lures of college debauchery. I was raised to be.

Celebrating Julius Cesar's Rosh Hashana (New Years)