Friday, July 30, 2010

Fin de Semana

Well, it's over. Spanish class, that is. What a long haul it was. Five days a week, three hours a day, for six weeks. And I habl0 un poco (speak a little) Spanish - much more than when I started. I can only get better from here.

I spent the last six weeks with some of the sweetest and interesting people. The instructor and I were about the same age, on the wrong side of 50, but the closest to us in age was a 27 young man now at UCLA studying geology. There were two high school kids, and the rest post high schoolers. Amazingly, we all got along great. In fact, my teacher, a truly lovely woman dedicated to her craft and quite an inspiration to me, as I look forward to one day teaching at the college level, had our class picture taken because she was so impressed with us.

Although my final is a a few hours cold, I'm wondering what it will be like to sleep past 6:30 am each morning. Can't wait to find out!

Death Notice

I checked my email today and much to my chargin, there was a death notice for Mrs. Stark. Well, hello, I'm Mrs. Stark and so is my mother-in-law. In fact, a dear friend called to express condolences, which only heightened the anxiety.

Fortunately, it wasn't a notice for either my mother-in-law or me. But unfortunately, it was a death notice for a member of our community, a lactation specialist who I once asked a "same-last-name" discount from. Didn't get the discount, but was a happy customer nevertheless.

May the family of that other Mrs. Stark be comforted with the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Amen.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Walking the Walk

Today, I went for a walk. A good long walk, just me and my son Mendel. He took his scooter, and I set out on foot to go shopping. We walked about a mile, taking our time, attending two garage sales (one twice, actually), both unexpected and pleasant adventures on our way to the bookstore, thrift store and market.

What made this trip so special is that Mendel agreed to go. While in possession of a good heart and a streak of kindness, Mendel tends to be difficult to get along with, and takes after this mother in being a tad overweight (okay, we're knocking on obesity's door - happy now?).

So the walk, which took me away from homework, was an attempt to get us both outdoors and moving our behinds. And in the process, we found that we actually had a good time together. At the bookstore, Mendel got a new yarmulke and I got a, well, book.

At the health food store he helped me grind coffee beans, and fought a losing battle against me buying caffeine free chocolate mint coffee (worth every penny!). Then we went to the thrift store in search of another scooter in the hopes of avoiding family arguments, were unsuccessful and headed home.

Along the way we spoke to a woman who had just lost her cat this morning, and I felt myself start to cry. We went to one garage sale on our way to the store, and another on our way back (we stopped by the first garage sale to pick up one more item!). Four dollars spent, in exchange for 2 pairs of earrings, one bracelet, a small notebook and and an office organizer. Garage sales are fun and economic ways to meet your neighbors, and stock up on the things you always meant to buy but couldn't afford new. I love them, and so do my kids.

Thank you, Holy One, for Mendel, and the time to share with him. We plan to do this daily, maybe not to to shop, but just to walk. Move it and shake it. Walk the walk.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Speaking of Moshe. . .

In honor of my own birthday, I agreed to give the shul's women's shuir, or lesson, on this week's parsha - Ve'eschanan, which literally means "he pleaded." Moshe is pleading with G-d to change his destiny, and he loses his battle.

This week's parsha has all the elements of a great soap opera: betrayal, love, law, and destiny. Essentially, Moshe must come to grips with the fact that his destiny is not to enter Israel but to die in the desert, just like the generation condemned to die for the sin of the Spies, a heartbreaking realization not just for him but for us as well.

But there's a good reason for that destiny. Without Moshe, that lost generation in the desert will never reach Israel, because when Moshiach comes, it's Moshe who is lead them in. Otherwise, they will not be allowed in.

And if Moshe did enter the Land then, in the merit of his greatness, the Jewish people would never sin, never be conquered. In other words, human history would not play out.

By the parsha's repetition of the 10 Commandment and the Shema, the following picture is created: our destiny is the end game, and most, if not all of us have no idea what our personal destiny is. But Torah (the 10 Commandments with commentary) is how we get there - because the journey involves free will. However, that journey, for a Jew, requires loving G-d, which is the basis of the Shema.

Interestingly enough, the Jewish people are never commanded to believe in G-d, just to love Him. I suppose it's because you can't love something you don't believe in, and love is an emotion that just gets stronger. But love is not just to G-d, it is from G-d as well.

So this week's Torah reading is all about definitions: Moshe future role, the behavior required of all Jews and a Jew's relationship to G-d. It's the kind of reading that gets your head straight about where you're going and how to get there.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Aftermath

Every Friday afternoon I clean the house for Shabbat. Not clean like operating room clean but put things away and straighten up. But when I went into my sons' room (four of them together), I flipped out.

It literally looked like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There were clothes everywhere and the floor was littered with junk. As a mechanic would say, I blew a gasket.

I got a plastic garbage bag (a la OJ Simpson) and put every piece of clothing on the floor in it. Then I announced to the crowd that if anyone wanted their stuff back, they were going to have to pay cash for it.

Well,I never saw those boys move so fast in my life - unless pizza was on the table. And that bag was emptied fairly quickly.

What can I say. Why did it take me so long? If only I had known that behavior management was really that easy!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Miracle Worker

No one loves miracles stories more than me, especially when I'm on the receiving end. Yes, that's right, I experienced a miracle. Actually, several all at once.

To make a long, but to me, incredibly interesting story short, I went from having no financial aid to having it; getting a petition to permit overlapping of classes signed by a professor not seen in a month who happened to show up when I got there, and working out my course schedule all in a matter of two hours. And twenty minutes.

The big picture: Over the past three months that I have been checking on my financial aid status (grant and loan), I've been put off by the financial aid office saying that if I turned in my form (try May 2010) that it was being processed. Do you think anyone from the financial aid office would actually get off their chair and see if they can find the form? Oh no.

So when I popped in to my department on Tuesday to get a petition signed allowing me to enroll in two classes that slightly overlap, I also popped into the financial aid office, where I was told, one week from class enrollment (which requires full payment of $2000 in advance), that there was no form and hence, no matter what I did, no financial aid. It's an understatement to say I was upset.

I went back to my department, made an appointment with my adviser the next day, and then went home, feeling robbed. Not to mention knowing that I would have to miss half my Spanish class, and drive, and hence pay, for parking at two campuses in one day. Frozen yogurt was going to have to wait.

So Tuesday night, I called a bunch of friends to cry on their shoulders, and one had a great suggestion. Write the Ohel - write to the Rebbe's resting place and ask for a blessing that all will be well.

And I did. Then I drove myself to one school, left early with my professor's blessings, met with my adviser at my university, got my schedule straightened out, took my petition to the professor to sign, who happened to show up when I got there, and then went to the belly of the beast: the financial aid office.

My adviser told me that the lost financial aid form would have to be replaced anyway, so just go over there and get it. And I did. When my turn came, it was another young man who helped me, and I asked him to please give me the form, even though I know it won't do me any good this quarter. He looked at me and told me that if I fill this form out now and return it to him signed, he will get me my financial aid.

I ran to my department only to find everyone who needed to sign my form was still there! I ran back, handed it to the young man, and voila, I am fully funded.

Kinda long winded, I know, but a miracle nonetheless. All in the blink of an eye. Thank you Creator, for listening to my needs and finding me worthy of having them fulfilled. I won't let You down!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nine Days in July

Starting tonight, Jews the world over will begin the observance of the first 9 days of Jewish month of Av - a time of tragedy and reflection culminating in the 9th of Av. On that day, we fast and remember the truly horrible fate of our people thousands of years ago: the destruction the first and second temples in Jerusalem, hundreds of years apart, on the very same day.

But it wasn't thousands of years ago. It was today. Because Jewish history is history only to the outside observer. To the millions of us that observe its laws, its customs and participate in its survival, Judaism is a living, breathing part of us. Events are relevant today as they were when the actually happened.

The Babylonian and Roman sieges of Jerusalem are happening right now. Jews are dying by the thousands, the city is burning.

Yet, today, there are no Babylonians or Romans to apologize for the destruction and slaughter; instead, we stand strong.

I cannot help but feel that those today who feel as those did then - that the Jewish people must be destroyed, will share the fate of all our past enemies. The clock is ticking, and the end is near. And we Jews and our allies, by the will of G-d, will be the last man standing. Again.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Birthday America

We all have our July 4th traditions, and obviously they vary. It's pretty safe to say that most people get together with family and/or friends and BBQ. My tradition is watching the movie "Independence Day." I just love the story line: a black man and a Jew save the world. Oh yeah.

My kids and I watched the movie this morning, before the day officially started, and unbeknownst to me, the DVD I own has the uncut version. While longer, the uncut version versus the theatrical release means never getting bored. Even though I only watch it once a year, it's kinda hard to forget the plot and the dialog.

So happy birthday America. As for the space aliens (and you know who you are), watch out. We're gonna get you!

Special Time

Today, I spent a few hours shopping with my daughter. I guess I forgot how I hate shopping, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

We went to a place called "The Grove," a beautiful outdoor mall with amazing ambiance and expensive stores to delight the hundreds of tourists who show up daily. My daughter and I went to the American Girl doll store.

Oh my gosh. Talk about excessive. There must be a dozen dolls with names and histories, books and clothes, a gimmick for the rich. My inner socialist was appalled. My daughter couldn't be happier.

After a whole 45 minutes had passed, I started to get antsy and demanded my daughter make up her mind - she got one book about some doll's story (read: crisis) and that's it. She was pushing for a video, but at $15, that was going too far. I kept thinking to myself this stuff must be cheaper on Amazon.

We left there and went to a store recommended by a friend of mine called "Forever 21." I advise they rename the store "Forever Deaf" because the music is so loud I started getting a headache. We found a headband, hair clip and nail polish for my daughter. I don't know how we did it exactly, as the music made me so jumpy and I had to scream at her to ask her a question. Yes, I did mention the loud music to the salesgirl and yes, she did nothing.

Finally, we finished off the day peacefully with some frozen yogurt and pizza. I know it's traditional to BBQ on July 4th, but somehow, pizza seemed so right. Thank you Holy One, for an inquisitive daughter and the time to spend with her.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I Could Just Cry

I admit it - I'm an emotional person. An emotional midget I call myself. I cry at everything. Don't get me started.

So when I watched a YouTube video recently on the gulf oil spill, I just lost it. Yeah, it's sad about the birds and the wild life, but what got me was a young woman, with her southern twang, explaining about how life was over for her and her family. They made their living off the gulf waters, and now that living was over.

The whole story is rotten and there's plenty of blame to go around -starting with BP and ending with the White House. This disaster is an ecological nightmare. And that young woman brought it home.

G-d save us, take pity on us, and help those fighting the spill control it and stop it. May the Holy One protect all who are victimized, creatures great and small. For those who caused it and allowed it to play out this long, a plague on your homes. You deserve no less.

Ultimate Support

When my friend called me yesterday in a panic about her presentation for the women's shuir (learning) in honor of her father's passing, I knew I had to do something. So I calmed her down.

No, I told her, no one is expecting to hear deep Chassidic thought (teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbes, and others) from you. Nobody needs to learn about the Torah portion (the chapter read on Shabbat, in this case, "Pinchas"), from you. We either know it or we don't and at this point, you can't really help us one way or another.

But what you can do, I told her, is tell us about your father. That we can't learn about on our own.

So fighting nervousness, my friend did just that to an extremely receptive audience. We laughed along with her, and we sat in awe as she told us of a man, her father, who was very much like Pinchas. A man who stood up for what he thought was right.

My friend joked to the crowd saying she didn't know if her father could actually kill Zimri and Koshbi, but he sure was tough. Over kiddish, I assured her that indeed, her father could very well have done whatever it took to save the Jewish people.

After all, he acted to create and save one of my dearest friends, and that's good enough for me.