Monday, November 14, 2016

Living with the Rebbe for a weekend

Everyone's got a story of the Rebbe.

My mom met the Lubavicher Rebbe, Menchem Mendel Schneerson, four years before he died. It wasn't a vacation, celebrity tour or religious pilgrimage. It was a trip of critical necessity. At four-years-old, my sister was dying of Leukemia.

Together with my uncle, she stood  in a winding line leading down from 770 Eastern Parkway, in Crown Heights, the residence of the Rebbe. They were among the hundreds of faces the Rebbe would greet that day with a blessing and a crisp dollar bill. It was encouraged that the recipient could use the bill for charity.

"When two people meet, something good should result for a third," the Rebbe would explain.

Mom remembers being very overwhelmed for her turn; she didn't hear what the Rebbe told her and my uncle. But my uncle did, and like a precious heirloom, she shared it with me.

"He told me not to cry in front of her, in front of Shana," Mom said.

She recalled that instead of one dollar, the normal amount, the Rebbe handed her three bills.

"Shana lived three more years."

Call it what you want, Divine Providence or hokus pokus, but Mom was telling me that she believed in miracles. She believed in doctors, yes, but she also believed in the inexplicable. And it was exactly the frame of mind I needed an hour before Chabad's 2016 Shabbaton.

Let me tell you about the Shabbaton's vibe. The climate can only be described as a honeycomb. A large conglomerate of orchestrated chaos. 1,000 students, Chabad shluchim and speakers buzzing and migrating. A hive of Jews choosing to sing and dance together for, in some cases, their first Shabbat ever.

And the people. I meet Bella, a girl from University of Florida who explains the scarcity of Jewish campus infrastructure, the lack of Kosher food, the struggle to find a "nice Jewish boy."

I barley breathe during a Rabbi's story going from a devout Catholic altar boy to a drug-addicted homeless man sleeping in Starbucks and then to a Chabad Rabbi.

I swap business cards with Rosh Lowe, a Miami news anchor who explained how at 19 years old he eloped at Las Vegas's The Little White Chapel and just celebrated his eldest son's Bar Mitzvah. How he made the TV network recognize that unplugging for Shabbat wasn't a compromise.

I listen to a boy I'd called my friend for the past three months... but this time I really listen. Listen with swampy eyes, and red raw lips and a shrug thats shrugs to the pit of your stomach. A shrug that says I'm bowing to you inside, but that would be weird to say out loud.

And all these feelings, this entire Shabbaton, was fulfilled by a following of devout people whose sole mission is to love their fellow Jew. A lesson they learned well from their leader.


Yellow flags cut the night sky in twirling spirals held in a sea of black and white. Men are holding other men by the shoulders, marching in a circle as if cranking a wheel at the center. The air smells of fall leaves and faint sweat. They're calling out in Hebrew, beckoning for the Rebbi they lost 12 years ago to join in. There's a Farbrengen outside 770.

The Rebbi's home and synagogue makes me believe that for a moment I am back in Poland. The iron grated windows, dark wood, bare benches and tattered book covers. I feel like I can peel back the velvet windows shades and find myself buried under a mountain of snow, or beneath the ocean or anywhere else but New York City in 2016.

It feels nice, it feels nostalgic.

And I want to say thank you. Thank you for my mom, whom you gave hope, and the following you endowed with love and kindness that is felt by every college student who has ever stumbled into Chabad on a Friday night, and gives nothing in return. We drive to the cemetery, to the Rebbe's "Ohel."

Many people  discouraged me from writing a prayer to the Rebbe, calling it Christianity, idolatry, even heresy. But they forget I am a writer. So I do:

"I am not praying to you. I am visiting you, and after this shabbaton I realize that you get many visitors, including G-d. Thank you for making the introduction. He'll take it from here. Dear G-d...."

I fold my letter and throw it into the white embers that layer the Rebbi's grave like a white chocolate torte. I send my prayer along with the prayers of a million minyans, and hope it will be heard.  For that too, I owe the Rebbi.

So as I leave the place, I put a nice crisp bill in the charity box. A good result for a third. He'll get it into the right hands.

Farbrengen it on

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Innocuos Nonsense

The moon in visible after a 12 hour work day; suffice to say I'm eager to free fall onto notebooks and sweatshirts not yet been cleared from the couch. But I can't. I'm not home yet. Still walking and focused on my heel-ditched feet.

On the concrete I spot a three inch piece of circular black cloth. I want to move on, get home, get comf. But the opportunity of doing Hashavat A'veida (returning lost objects), in this case a lost black kippah, is knocking. So I pivot, crouch to the concrete and finger the kippah between by thumb and pointer looking for identifying features.

Inspecting it, my eyebrows turn from quizzical minus signs to threatening backslashes as my face registers disgust a second too slow. I'm holding black padding from someone's bra, coned into a perky half-moon in a way that tells me it's freshly minted. Instinctually, I frisbee the boob fossil away and chastise myself for trying to a mitzvah.

--End Scene--

Here's a list of other innocuous discoveries:

I used to think that people dyed their hair fluorescent shades of the rainbow because they were insecure about being invisible. Just the opposite: I've found that it's the green-haired boy in class answering the most questions and the girl with cyan strands who's walking taller than everyone else. Thinking now, maybe confidence only works when you dye your hair a shade of aqua.

I thought I was over whole, "the most attractive thing is a good singing voice," but I'm not. It's shallow, noted, thanks! But I recently discovered Spanish singers momento for me to catch my breath...are surreal. Hebrew music you feel in your soul, Spanish music you feel in your hips.

About three weeks ago I was at an organic health foods store and decided to buy raw, unsalted nuts and raw, unoiled dry fruit. The first time you bite into anything without a Kashrut symbol you think a black hole is going to suck you under. But really, it wasn't a big deal. And I'm not about to walk around wearing entirely black outfits in case there really is a black hole lurking and it will think it's already got me, since I'm wearing all black, because that would be crazy. Right??

Almost every professional journalist I speak to, is pretty depressed about being a journalist. One photojournalist is considering retiring to pioneer a charity that donates fishing poles to Belize children. Others in the media complain that they wake up at 3 a.m. and all so that people can rag on them to lose ten pounds or call them Hillary Clinton puppets.  Super motivating.

The more time you're away from your significant other, the more you think about him or her. I blame Snapchat. Snapchat filters also make you look better than you actually do, making you feel less confident. Make's you consider changing your style. There's always blue hair dye to consider.


Mindful banter

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How not to buy a stolen bike from a deaf man on Craigslist

1. "So you still want a bike?"

2.  It's your 22nd birthday and dad's feeling generous. Become a pogo stick in the movie theater lobby after reading dad's text. Remember there are kids around, their eyes wary. Board the escalator. Don't scare the kids.

3. Compile 7 weeks of research to find a bike that meets all your requirements: credible company, hybrid, 17" frame, reasonable bargain. Find a Trek FX 7.3 on Craigslist going for $300. Plan to haggle the price like it's a Middle Eastern bazaar or the Middle Ages--some flour for your rooster. Give the phone number a try.

4. Flounder as an operator infroms you that the recipient party is deaf. She'll interpret. Give it a go.

5. He says it's his girlfriend's bike, who bought it two years ago "tops." Ask for $250. He's quick to settle. Have that single second mind pry where you debate whether his girlfriend is also deaf. Bless your friends for teaching you to Brita Filter yourself.

6. Call the owner of the local bike shop to make sure you're getting a good deal. Feel supreme when he says that bike typically sells new for $650. Feel obscene that you may be swindling a deaf man.
Get over it because can't he look these things up on Google too? Plan to meet at D.C.'s Union Station.

7. Go gaga over bike gags. Send Snapchats of your basket and bell purchases. Spend money because you're a sucker for cute, who loves blogging with coffee and peanut butter nearby because your a cliche.

8. Run your Craigslist dealings by  your dad. He tells you to write up a contract, a sort of, receipt. Agree because you've seen enough Judge Judys and People's Court to hear him out.

9. Email the seller for the bike's serial number so you can search it on the National Bike Registry and bike index. When he doesn't respond after a cushiony three days, start to snoop. Find a bike on the stolen section that matches the description of the seller's bike. Note that the bike went missing the same day the seller posted and around the same area in which he lives. Feel briefly caffeinated.

10.  Discover Hal Ruzal. Buy a $100 bike lock out of fear of becoming that person who discovers empty air where their back wheel should be.

11. With soaring blood pressure, become your mother's daughter and pack your backpack with pepper spray. (As if you're going to blind a deaf man?!) and call a police station in D.C. for a police escort. Practice shadowboxing for a moment. Feel silly stick your fists into your pockets, kiss the mezuzah and prepare to meet the man with a notebook in hand.

12. On the Metro, devise a name for your bike. The bike is technically a women's bike, because it doesn't have that carbon bar violating your leg space, but you can name your transgender bike whatever you want. Want "Rauol." A strong Parisian name suitable for the type of character who'd pull a bottle of rosé  from a wicker basket and invite you to dine on his estate.

13. Dream of estates.

14. Scout for policemen along Union Station's outer perimeter. Pick a spot between two guards and a bike shop, just in case you need the bike evaluated.

15. Wait.

16. And walk.

17. Call Twice. Email Thrice.

18. Realize he never gave you his cellphone number.

19. Answer your mother's phone call. Debate whether to clue her into your frustration. Get out ten measly words: "I'm meeting this guy who's selling his bike on Craigslist." Get stopped short and flung into a tornado of motherly monologues:

"Do not go anywhere with that man. If he tells you that his bike isn't here, it's somewhere else, don't go anywhere with him. Do you hear me Ellie, do not get into THAT MAN'S CAR!!!..."

*INSERT Peanuts teacher/foghorn*

20. Too much. End the conversation quickly, clumsily.

21. Wilted and rejected, crawl your way back to school bike-less. About 15 minutes later get a call from Rauol's captor. Learn that there was a family emergency, so he wasn't able to make it. Realize the double-edged sword of hoping he's telling the truth, in turn noting how horrible it sounds to wish harm on his relative. He doesn't give a reason why he didn't contact you sooner.

22. If you still wish to buy the bike, he can come to you. Yes, outside your local police station is fine, but he doesn't have a car either, so he'll Metro. Fine. You ask for his cell number. The interpreter responds that his cell company cut him off because he couldn't pay his bills.

23. With the final red flag raised, tip your hat, say "thanks but no thanks", and hightail it out of this Craigslist crapshoot.

24. Call your sister and dribble about your crushed dreams of Raoul and creme brulee. Pucker when she tells you that if he desperately needs the money, you can probably get him to go lower on the price.

25. Though you're crushed, brush off your torn kneecaps, and think of how G-d saved you from pawning a questionably stolen bike. Then, when you're calm, cool and collected, hate shame Craigslist. Nothing like customer feedback.

In the market

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rosh Hashana roadblocks within the Jurassic Age and Eden

A picture that should have gone extinct.

"You're better than Maryland," an ex-boyfriend said, speaking of the university in which I attend.
"Please stop psycho analyzing me," I responded, with as much exasperation a Whatsapp message can relate.

It's comments like this, that one promises herself are inane, mistaken and above consideration. But it's also comments like this one that fires a girl up at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday, to read from the Halacha sefer that's become a packing list priority. It ranks above socks. Go ahead and call my bluff.

Two weeks ago my chevrutah and I finally culminated another chapter, this one on Messianic lineage, and embarked on a more tangy and tangible topic. Just thinking about the holiday conjures oven smells of fresh circular loaves, succulent cuts of London broil and apples drowned in dollops of runny honey, to ensure a sweet new year. Rosh Hashanah is approaching.

My chevrutah and I read a commentary that said crops, foliage, bodies of water and people are each judged before G-d during Pesach, Shavuoth, Sukkoth and Rosh Hashana respectively. The commentator brought references of various sacrifices and blessings that supported his approach, to which I squinted and admittedly, eye-rolled, but accepted nevertheless.

Then we reached a bit about the shofar, the ram's horn reminiscent of the animal that replaced Isaac in his act of selfless atonement. The shofar, traditionally blown during the coronation of an Israelite king, is blasted on Rosh Hashana as the Jewish People renew our vows with G-d as King of the Universe. Like the bass of a drum, shofar blasts pound the heart and echo through the ears, leaving a stamp-like impression intended to last a year.

Some things that make me say "Ma-Rabu-ma'asecha Hashem"
"How great are your deeds, Hashem":
 Venice Beach, CA 2014
Great Falls, MD 2014
College Park, MD 2016

The Torah commands that Rosh Hashana be celebrated on the 1st of the 7th month, which according to a reliable search, will be celebrated this year on October 3rd. Rabbis say Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of creation, which according to the Gregorian calendar would mark 5,777 years since the beginning of time.

I had to stop our learning, to scratch my scalp, to reconcile the chronological roadblock of the Jurassic age and Eden. I looked at my chevrutah and gave her the customary apology I typically say before sounding like a heretic.

"What exactly do we mean by 'creation' when we celebrate Rosh Hashana?," I asked. "Are we celebrating the instant light was created on the 'first day,' are we celebrating the instant mankind was created on the 'sixth day' or are we celebrating an Eden that occurred after hundreds of millions of evolutionary years?"

We didn't know.

In my initial research I found divergent and obscure opinions, one claimed that fossils are used as Divine ploys to test man. Another said that everything--Man, trees, animals--were created in their mature forms, so why couldn't rocks also have been created to appear millions of years old, in their mature form too? And if so, how do scientists know that rocks age at the same rate each year? Could they not have aged quicker during a period of tremendous combustion, such as the time of the flood?

We didn't know.

What I did realize though was that something in my gut felt wrong. Something in my gut felt wrong to say that Rosh Hashana is the exact sixth day of creation, when man was blown from dust. But then, how do I make sense of the biblical command to celebrate on the 1st day of the 7th month?

I believe that Rosh Hashana was arbitrarily assigned as a day to commemorate world existence and to reflect on our relationship with the world's Creator. I don't know if going back 5,777 years will drop me on Eden's doorstep, but personally, that doesn't affect my enjoyment of Rosh Hashana. Much like how I spent the fast of Tisha B'av this year watching biographies of Hitler, Anne Frank and reading through the journal I kept during my visit to Poland, even though the Holocaust has nothing to do with the destruction of the Temples. It's a day subsequent generations arbitrarily linked to the Holocaust to remember persecution. Likewise, I guess, I consider Rosh Hashana a day for Man to reflect on his existence and to come together as a people to coronate their king, even if it may not be the definitive 'day' Man was created.

Thankfully, my Chevrutah tolerates my borderline heresy and encourages us both to continue questioning. Not whether we sound like believing Jews, but how to make our belief more sound as Jews. And that's through questioning.

Still Orthodox, Still Frum, Don't worry Mom.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How interns become real people

I just ordered 500 business cards, with my name in bold and a quote from Collegedox on the back. It reads: "We can't live by titles when stories are in people."

They've already shipped, so don't go on telling me you don't like it. Rest assured I'll probably feel that way in a matter of days. It's the perks of having a brain still developing.

But it's no coincidence that I return to this idea of fact vs. fiction as I wonder what compelled me, not just to write that line, but to champion it as my slogan. Why titles and job descriptions fascinate me, and the discrepancy between them.
A theory: getting ahead stems from the "resume building mentality," where we accept the title without meticulously reading the fine-print.

Behold, my apartment the laboratory:

One roommate will become a contributor in a scientific study after this summer. What does that really mean? Countless hours wearing down her cornea, practically becoming one with the computer screen, pulling together figures, while whittling the time at a local Starbucks. A $4 frap is the price of being a glorified footnote.

Another roommate is an Inclusion Counselor, responsible for integrating a child with disabilities and her bunkmates, and making sure the kid has a good time. What it really means is relentlessly trying to make every activity extraordinary with phrases like, "swimming is great!" and "isn't coloring the best?" It also means singing and dancing in the bunk play along with little children, to show your camper how to be a team player.

Ask my third roommate what she does, she gives it to you straight, "I wipe butts." (It's ridiculously tempting to end here without giving any explanation.) She is a nursing home caregiver and corrals residents to their meds, to the washroom and to the next activity. She is a shepherdess to a flock that day to day, may not remember her name.

This summer I'm interning for a news company, covering food policy, agriculture and the environment. What that really means is outside of my daily swim, boxing sess, or roller-blade, I can spend all week in my pajamas, walking the eight yard distance between the couch to the kitchen and back to the couch. My job is finding the most important story that OTHER REPORTERS AND COMMUNICATION DEPARTMENTS write that day be it--illegal fisheries, salmonella outbreaks, mad cow disease tainted beef, cage-free eggs, and corn prospects in Malawi, Africa--and summarize it into commuter-friendly blurbs. I am glorified CliffsNotes.

I guess what I'm saying is that with each small-fry title, we accept more than what we bargain for, but that we learn more than what we bargained for because of it.

We learn working habits, like whether we enjoy working in pajamas at home or reporting in a buzzing newsroom.

We learn how to manage our sleep schedule, making salads the night before so that we don't accidentally pack a nut-product to camp in our bleary-eyed morning state.

We learn to take the butt-wipes with with the brow-swipes and each day is victory just because we didn't collapse.

We learn to live by the stories instead of titles, so that when we get to the job of our dreams, we actually know what we're doing.

life in flannels

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Terrible 22's: My Quarter-life Crisis

I'm a great-person. Not a Great Person. But the same way a great-grandmother is not always a Great Grandmother. Pay attention to the hyphen.

With a week and a half until my 22nd birthday, I am having a quarter-life crisis. What Wikipedia calls stress from "entering the 'real world'" and Urban Dictionary calls feeling like they "haven't accomplished certain things in life they thought they would."

For the past 6 years I've asked my parents for a bike for my birthday, for Chanukah, for an afikoman present, for my brother's graduation, basically any opportunity for a good ol' fashion beg. In college, I'd often send them not so subtle pictures of beautiful bikes (with easily breakable locks).
Here's just some (with them lined up like this, I realize it's more creepy than cute):

I'd often consider a joy ride or two..

Sometimes my parents even gave encouragement..

But this year, I didn't ask for a bike, bell, horn, or even basket. I asked for a briefcase. A professional pouch to flaunt and tell the world, I'm an adult.

But as tipped Amazon boxes lay gorged of briefcase options on the floor of my apartment, I couldn't help feeling hopelessly insignificant. Like my life had been a few glittery specks a first-grader could blow from their palm, or G-d could blow from the earth. Frankly, like someone who had nothing impressive in their 22 years of existence to really put inside a $200 briefcase.

So in despair, I turned over an Amazon box, spilling out its brown packaging innards, and sat with  knees to my chin to think.

....................about the novel I told myself I'd write over the summer but had only an empty Desktop folder called "bestseller" to show for it.

....................about post-college plans of Aliya, which took a nosedive after I discovered my third-grade Hebrew would never get me a job in the communications business.

...................about my best friends who had started their own lives making new friends, while I continued trying to stay relevant.

.................about how small I felt as others had the courage to question G-d, while I chose blind faith and understood that I would never understand.

.................about being the prettiest right now that I will ever be, because everything greys, sags and discolors from here on out.

................about my dream of becoming that globe-trotting reporter slipping away as the idea of becoming a middle-aged Jewish soccer mom grows all too real.

Mom used to tell me I put to much pressure on myself. She'd often say that when I "got like this," which meant when I became a "crusader," or how my boyfriend puts it, when I'm "such a drama."
Last night my roommate told me that you can't compare your raw footage to others' highlight reels.

But I had always wanted to be a Great human being, somebody you'd hear people talk about saying, "and she grew up right here in Chicago."

But until that happens, it's important I embrace being a great-person. To enjoy life without the stress of trying to enjoy life.

To become someone passionate. Someone smart, with a forgiving ear and selfless heart. Someone I'd be grateful to know.

Not looking forward to the midlife version of this.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Feeling and not feeling Tefilla

It's Thursday at 4 p.m. and the house is currently cleared of the 14 relatives who will crowd around the stove-top asking for seconds on Matzah ball soup. But we've still got time. Time to make roast and tzimis, Matzah farfel and broccoli, sweep the floor, wash the floor (since its sticky from unattended juice boxes, bulldozed with petite feet of the same size) and set the table. Mom needs time without foot traffic. So the house is empty, except for her and I. But the hours slip seamlessly like the Jewish CD is, flipping from track to track.

Soon the twins will be back and there are calls for "Bubbie, Bubbie" and sounds of the fridge door yawning open and winding back. Suddenly, I remember the presents I bought for my 7 (and three-fifths)-year-old nephews. They "wait right there" while I claim the rectangle boxes from my bedroom. They stare at the name-engraved siddurs, exactly the same, except that one is beige and the other brown. Fraternal twins, like the boys.

As they stand, thanking me as per custom, I cannot help but imagine they're  disappointed that my gift doesn't come with preprogrammed games, it lacks an "on" button.

Someone says they'll grow into it. And I wonder-- at nearly 22--have I grown into it.

Essentially, I've grown up with Tefilla--that I know--but have I become a grownup with Tefilla?

Age: 5   --feeling sneaky.

I can hear the fluorescent lights hum in the sanctuary it's so quiet. Kayla's laughing next to me. She's smirking--her siddur's covering her mouth-- but I can see it in her eyes. I start to laugh too, because her mom doesn't know we're mouthing the words "bubblegum, bubblegum" over and over. Her mom thinks were praying the silent Shmone Esrei prayer, and gives us an approving grin. We're rocking back and forth, mumbling our bubblegums, trying to fit in. We laugh because we'll probably be rewarded, get stickers on our Mitzvah Charts.

Age: 11 --feeling high.

I am one of the only girls, and by far the oldest traveling round and round the Bima on my dad's shoulders. It's Simchat Torah, the yearly celebration upon completing the five books, and we're 40 minutes into the huddled parade. Dad shifts me every couple of minutes. With 75 pounds above him, the 52 year old calls to my older brother for backup. A man hugging a Torah shouts a prayer and suddenly, I am tossed into the air squealing peals of laughter with other children. Together we look like sautéing vegetables, flicking and falling in a chef's skillet. Somewhere over the divider, my mother is covering her mouth, complaining that the ceiling fans are too low.

Age: 14 --feeling bored. 

I don't know how reading from the Torah became a popularity contest, but it just does. We're eighth graders, and though we feel on top of the world, in years to come, we'll cover up these pictures and declare "it was my awkward stage." I'm a goofy eighth grader and look to entertain myself in the classroom we converted into a makeshift prayer space. I ask the teacher supervising services if she has a bandaid. She checks the desk drawers and declares that there aren't any. I ask if she can please find me one. She leaves the room. While she's gone, I go behind the desk and rifle through the confiscated items inside its drawers. I remove rubber bands and popsicle sticks, and stash them away inside the kangaroo pouch of my Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt. The teacher returns 60 seconds later, with a bandaid and a "just in case" bandaid. I begin to craft a slingshot and shoot rubber bands over the mechitzah. Popular kids laugh and I'm no longer bored.

Age 19 --feeling the kedushah.

Margin by annotated margin, my siddur becomes a thick enjambment of diary reflections and rhetorical questions. In my 6" by 4" turquoise text, blank spaces become as hard to find as downtown parking spots. I feel uplifted, inspired, pure.

Age 21 --feeling feminist-y. 

There's a circular sun roof just overhead the Bima, which transforms the chem student reading from the Torah into a radiating Hercules. I imagine a ginormous hand reaching through the skylight--like a hand unclogging a drain or King Kong plucking Ann Darrow--and pulling him through the orb. Someone says a blessing, and I remember I'm supposed to focus. It is in this room, the upstairs sanctuary of Hillel, that I took an oath as a Freshman to pray in daily; compromised as a Sophomore to visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and forgot entirely as a Junior. Only the digital pestering of Facebook reminders brought me here on this Saturday morning. It's hard to ignore when there's a partnership minyan approaching, especially when you're friends with the people who organize partnership minyanim. It's even easier to get suckered into taking leadership roles. I approach the Bima while cursing myself for doing this. Grasp. Dip. Bend. Straighten. Someone spots me, while I tower the Torah high, nearly touching the circle. I return to my seat feeling oddly empowered as the first women to do Hagbah in Hillel during a partnership minyan.

Back to Pesach:

It's the last day of the holiday and I'm waiting for Bubbie to finish breakfast so we can go to shul. I know this won't be quick. I grab a white siddur from the bookshelf and start from the beginning. After only ten minutes of living room seclusion, I hear small feet patter and stop in front of me. I glance up and see one of my nephews. I look back down and continue, trying to convey the proper respect for prayer is avoiding interruptions.

"Mom!" He shouts, though the kitchen is a few yards away. "Where's my siddur?" he asks.

She says it's packed in the basement, but he says he wants it.

"To use in the house or to bring to shul?" She calls back.

What comes next sends trills of pleasure down my spine.

"Both," he says.

I guess he found the "on" button after all.


Age 22.83 --feeling grown up.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Purim at college, not the Purim I remember

It doesn't take much to realize why I'm happy-- I've got a Purim grogger in one hand and a lasso in the other. I'm marching my way to shul in the same suede and tasseled cowgirl costume I've rodeoed into for the fourth consecutive year. I've got on a sheriff's badge and a when I walk into the front lobby a man tips his striped Cat in The Hat hat at me and says, "Howdy." I tip my hat too, but don't say howdy back. I'm 9 years old after all, and still too shy to acknowledge outright kindness.

Sitting on mom's lap (because 9 year-olds are NOT too old for laps) my finger is expectantly wedged in the third chapter, the first time Haman's name is mentioned. That's the whole point of the holiday, right? To say this man's name, rattle a few boxes of rice and put on clown-noses, poodle skirts and Thing 2 wigs. Mom tells me to get off her lap. She's been fasting all day, and must be feeling weak. Good thing I snuck some Shaloch Manot Oreos into my fringed-vest pocket. I'll give her one after Megillah reading. On second thought. Best keep the fact that I've been sneaking  from our not-yet-delivered Shaloch Manot between me and my vest pocket. I'm a smart cowgirl, but Mom's a mom, so obviously, she already knows. Nine-year-old cowgirls aren't the best at hiding cookie crumbs. They're good at one thing though, making noise during Haman's name.

I've got Oreos in the pocket of my kilt and I'm waiting for this darn reading to finally be over. Yesterday, Laura's mom took us shopping at thrift stores to find a costume. We sifted through racks and racks labeled WOMEN'S TOPS FINAL SALE, some with tags still on, others marked "lightly used." It's always hysterical finding bras and underwear at Good Will. Ironically it's super depressing actually seeing someone put those items in her cart. We paved our way through the hanger maze,  and I found a kilt I would only grasp between twizzer-like fingers. I remember Laura's mom saying "Don't worry, we can put it in the dryer on high. That'll kill whatever's living on it." Comforting.

And yet I'm wearing the Scottish kilt, which is sucking in my growling belly. I hear Haman's name and shout like I am nine, not seventeen. Mom still let's me sit on her lap sometimes. It's fun being the youngest kid: she doesn't want me to grow up either and I'm okay with that. If she knew where the skirt ,now hanging on my hips, hung only yesterday, she'd probably slide me off. In either case, Megillah reading is just about over, and me and my kilt have got an NCSY costume competition to win.

The seven of us became friends early on in seminary. We are an eclectic group of two Chicagoans, two Brits, two newly Aliya-ed and one Canadian, and we are running around Ben Yehuda and King George streets hunting for fluffy tutus, tinkering belly skirts, hair-dye and rainbow suspenders. We are each decked-out in different colors of the rainbow. I shot-gun blue, because blue is objectively the best color. 

We spend the day delivering Shaloch Manot to our favorite teachers in the Alon Shvut community. I see a throng of people clustered in a Purim parade. There's a kid dressed as a jumbo milk carton, a gang of teens holding up a homemade Egged bus costume, an elderly man as the regal Pharaoh and an Ethiopian as a spritely blue fairy. I snap pictures, not of them, but with them, jumping into the parade and becoming one of the mass. My rainbow crew and I leave after an hour and half. We've got to get to our Purim Seudah where there will be platters of barbecued chicken and steak, fresh french fries, guacamole, and of course rounds and rounds of alcohol. We will go out on the sand-dusted balcony to snap a few pictures before heading to the busses. Boys will be drunk and flirtatious there. One will compliment my eyes, saying their the lightest shade of blue he's ever seen. Then he will drunkenly crash his head into the pole he's holding and vomit in the back of the bus.

It's four days until Purim and I have to hold back the heartbreak. After months of searching the web for the perfect peasant top, feathered hat, striped skirt and leather corset--no one will get to see the pirate costume I've impatiently been waiting to wear. I've got class Wednesday night from 7-10 p.m., which means I'll miss Megillah reading. I can't afford to miss the class because I've reached an all-time low of 55% and the teacher isn't the extra-credit-giving type.  I'll be too tired after three hours of coding anyways, and likely won't see anyone in costume either. There's a women's Megillah reading Thursday morning that I'll have to skip and working in Annapolis twice a week means waking up at 6 a.m., too early to manage with a hangover. It feels as if Purim decided to skip a year.

Some Jews at work have mentioned that they may not come in at all Thursday. They say they want to "have some fun." Am I supposed to tell my supervisor, that different Jews hold a different level of observance? I feel conflicted by real-world responsibility to clock in the hours and a burning nostalgia to cloak up in a pirate cape. Every day as Purim approaches my heart sinks as my dress-upportunity sails off in the distance. My boyfriend has already bought a plan B costume, but I'm too bitter to appreciate his excitement to be Daredevil for a day. 

In coming to terms with my Purim-less week, I've decided to pack a pirate's survival kit to work. A bottle of rum (for a mini midday l'chaim), a grogger for when I read the Megilla to myself, and of course, a small stash of Oreo's, because hey, some traditions don't die.

What am I going to do with a leather corset?

Monday, February 8, 2016

How anorexia actually made me empathetic

I confused sickly and sexy for too many years. Now, I'm convinced you're doing it, and I don't want to be an accessory in your rondevu with sickness.

Because I know that boatneck collar used to not be so big. I knew you when your collar didn't slip and fall in a way so your right shoulder jut out like an alabaster boulder, as if to say, "I'm casual," in a way you thought couture. But instead of speaking my mind--of preaching, of mothering --I turn to my boyfriend and say how I don't want you to die, and he looks at me, all shaken, and carefully says, "you can't save the world."

But it kills me to see your obsession eat up your life.

So in anticipation of Eating Disorder Awareness Week  (Feb. 21-27 in US, this week in Canada) when courageous men and women share their ongoing survival stories, I write this post for me,  I write this post for you, but truly, friend, I write this post for we:

We know that coffee is not a meal, but we do it anyways, because we want our energy low cal, or rather, Venti Skinny Mocha half soy two Splendas.

We tell our parents how much we've eaten that day--we even send them pictures to prove it--because they ask us to. We pretend it's normal for parents to ask.

We get asked all the time to see a picture of what we looked like when we were anorexic, as if they can't believe that YOU were ever a thin mint. We show them pictures of our once-lanky frame because it secretly brings us joy. We sense that precarious boiling point where joy too-quickly becomes nostalgia. We know joy can sometimes be unhealthy because we've been burned by it too often.

We know what a single sprinkle tastes like. What it's like to take a veggie patty between two napkins and squeeze out all the excess oil. We know which stairs creek at night--which ones to avoid when foresting in the freezer.

We know what it's like for a girl to look you up and down on your first day of Junior year in high school, when everyone's hugging and squealing in the background, and tell you to go eat a sandwich.

We know how many carbohydrates are in a piece of Breadsmith whole wheat bread. We also know we've already used our daily carb allowance on Fiber One Originals.

Fiber One brownies are not brownies, they're imposters. We've also forgotten what brownies taste like.

We know what it's like to forget our favorite food. We remember when "food" used to not be a "touchy" subject in the house.

We know what discomfort looks like in our best friend's eyes. We know that pulled  smile, that isn't so much a smile, but a face-tug, when they have nothing to say and they don't have to.

We know what it's like to ask waiters lots and lots of questions, and to disqualify 40 entree options instantly by the terms "saucy," "fried," "smothered," or "cheesy." We've memorized the lines "I'm not so hungry" when we return the menu to the waiter, and know to expect that look from friends.

We know what it's like to disappoint.

We know what it's like to buy more batteries for the green scale in the bathroom. We know what it's like to buy more than one pack at a time.

We know what it's like to have a bony pelvis peek out above your jeans, the sexy stuff Abercrombie and Fitch sells sweatshirts with on shopping bags. We know what it's like to think you're hot shit and to think others think your're hot shit.

We know what it's like to scream in pillows. We know the sticky feeling when we shower in tears--when hair sticks to the front of the chin when we decide to get up and become a person again.

We know what its like to fall in love. We know what it's like to gain thirty pounds, and eat ice cream cake at 2 a.m., while being the happiest we've ever been.  Still, we know what it's like to think his legs are nicer than yours.

We know what its like to fill up a bra and say, "okay, maybe this isn't all that bad." We know what it's like to discover that jeans actually look better, for cheeks to glow instead of sucked sallow. We know what it's like to go weeks without makeup. To feel raw and real and released.

We know what it's like to share our stories again and again so that others won't make the same mistakes, so that others know they're not alone.

We know what its like to have popcorn nights and pillow fights, to hike all day without feeling weak-kneed and feel like we've conquered the world.

We know what its like to slip, and what its like to stand back up, and what its like to fall in love, and what its like for love to fall in you.

We know what it's like to try to be superwoman, when really, we already are.


**This post was inspired by a good friend and fellow ED survivor, Kayla Rosen. Her vulnerability and authenticity to share her story of struggle and Herculean triumph is, without a doubt, impressive.

***You might be wondering what this post has to do with being an Orthodox Jew at a Secular College, and the answer is, *drumroll* NOTHING! Other than the fact that during every single end-of-the-semester class party, people still think I'm anorexic because all I can eat is Sprite.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Is Freedom of Speech Stifled by Freedom of Press?

In college I’ve found two distinct camps of people: the PC Principals who rush you for questioning affirmative action or for your use of “hoodlum,” and the Donald Trumps who have a comment on just about everything but couldn’t give a hairy whore’s toenail what you think about them.

Now, having been in and out of a number of newsrooms, I’ve heard it a number of times this running debate of whether to keep or eliminate the comment box at the end of an article. Most places do, but it’s becoming increasingly popular to disable the ability to comment. The New York Times allows comments; the New Yorker doesn’t. The debate never lasts long, but even so, I’ll boil it down to the base:

Get rid of comment box
Keep the dang thing
People= crazy, ergo, comments= wack
Shows reader engagement/ traffic
Blatant anti-Semitism
Freedom of speech (even hateful)
Detracts from the article
Shows you have nothing to hide
Bad for reporters to write freely
Positive comments deserve to be heard
To demonstrate how I stand on the issue, an introduction is in order. Meet Los Tres Amigos, my three stooges, my holy trinity of schizophrenic dialogue:

First there’s Columnist, the fiction fanatic-avid blogger who favors highfalutin vocabulary (Sadlier-Oxford, you know it!) and crude humor, to actually sharing her true opinion. Then there’s Reactionist, a nervous nanny-goat of a girl who overthinks, over-stresses and is more or less doomed by her genetic makeup to be overwhelmed by an ant. Lastly, meet Idealist, she makes us look good with her jump-feet-first attitude and giggles aplenty.

Columnist, Reactionist and Idealist always have a comment AND they never agree.

Eliana Block

Thanks Air Canada for losing my luggage, I think my boss is starting to think she hired a hobo. #SameClothesDay4

Columnist: Excellent, the worse the stank the higher the rank. You’re on your way, apprentice.
Reactionist: That is unacceptable! Call the airline manager! Call the police! Get the prime minister on the line!
Idealist: Gam zu l’tovah. It’s a chavayah, embrace it my little Zionist.

 Eliana Block

Walking through the Arab market to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If I hold my jacket open on both sides, making myself look big, will I scare away the market shop owners trying to sell me bracelets and mood rings?

Columnist: Does the sun rise in the west and set in the east? No, you ignoramus!
Reactionist: You’re wallet’s still deep in your backpack, right?--check to make sure! Do you remember where the solar plexus is?
Idealist: Breathe, it’s a bracelet not a bear! And yo! There’s a great coffee shop around the corner from there. Drink some and put your feet up!

Eliana Block

Three days after a terror attack, on my way to interview at the scene of the crime—so that plan about making Aliya and being a reporter…

            Columnist: If you die, at least you’ve got a killer blog post :p
Reactionist: Mom and Dad were right! Time to high tail it out of that Middle-East-you-alive and move into the basement. There’s not much sunlight down there but you can take Vitamin D capsules while you study a more practical trade online like accounting or social work or law or being a freidel maidel daidel knaidel.
Idealist: There are good days and there are bad days. Don’t let small bumps ruin your great day. Keep your chin up and remember no one, not an editor, or even God himself, would assign you something they didn’t think you could handle.

These are the comments that circulate nearly all my thoughts. I can’t eliminate one, because that kind of favoritism would devalue the very authenticity of the thought (“post”) itself. I can’t bring myself to turn off every comment either, because engagement between differing opinions is the very reason the thought exits in the first place, to provoke free-thought, raw feeling, and ultimately, change.

How do I feel about removing the ability to comment on an article?


Comments Welcomed