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 from 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 ex-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 had the opportunity to learn from someone so devoted to their job and the success of their students.
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 When I had told I was planning to be a novelist, asked me how I was planning to eat for the next seven years?

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 in class. 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 tossing and turning, 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 we took my temperature and I was running 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 is decreased 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 hrs as your only form of entertainment. 

With all the lack of activity, 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, and those who thought they knew the other so well feel unprepared and awkward. 

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. Now I will 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 degree of which my life centers around religion is mind-blowing. Take for example: I had an existential conversation over pizza bagels with my sister, a boy from my campus 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, 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, whom am I going to "draw" and what will they learn from my one hour butchery of ancient Jewish source modge-podgery? 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 its the spark G-d gave her that makes her unique from every other person; The same 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 nor being a 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

A Safety Net:

In my pilot post I failed to mention why I  chose to blog. Here it is: I want to blog because there are so many like me, Jewish Modern Orthodox kids who fall through the cracks somehow, who leave their "Jewish bubbles," and enter a world of drugs, partying, religious confusion, forgetting about the 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 grown to become religiously affiliated adults) are the Ultra Orthodox. The radical radical decline of affiliation because of assimilation, intermarriage, and overall lack of interest, has 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 Borro Park or Breslov 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 do not want for my grandchildren to leave the faith because of my carelessness, because of things I could have done better, more meticulousness. I do not want to hold a funeral for my Jewish values, and lower my morals in 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 and listening 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 obliged by the expectations of her religious community, parents, peers, childhood friends, family, 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.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014 Collegadox Resolutions

Collegadox: The funny existence of an Orthodox Jewish girl whose parents pushed for Stern College, her heart desired  Bar Ilan, 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...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 and has the menacing bean stuck between his incisors.

3. Don't judge-  make room for your friend (for the past two months) who had "such an inspirational and growth filled year" last year at Jerusalem's finest seminary, when she passes out on your bed for the night and you spot an ominous looking kiwi-sized hickey across her throat
4. Understand terminology - learn quickly because the things you think are 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 El-Al and forced to leave Israel against my will... regardless, compliance to bend my moral, religious values is not an option. 

Celebrating Julius Cesar's Rosh Hashana (New Years)