Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Part 13

This whole experience is just so strange. Tuesday I was glued to the news and have seen so many images of floods, smashed houses, and people in distress. Here at home, except for the branches on the road and the one downed power line, there's not much to see.

Then there are all the friends in Teaneck without power... and the best volunteer contribution I can seem to find is to let them charge their electronics at my house.

Today there was still no power at school. We took it easy at home, making a puppet show (see the last post) and we went to a playdate at a friend's house. Then U. came home and I decided to go out on my own. I took the car to Tenafly to see what the situation was at Stop & Shop. On the way I passed a gas station that had signs on several of the pumps that said "no gas" and another sign that said "$20 max." There was a line of cars stretched out of the station, up the street and around the corner for about two blocks. There couldn't have been fewer than 30 cars. I don't know whether they needed gas mainly for cars or for generators, but I made a promise to myself not to take the car out again without a clear destination.

Stop & Shop looked post-apocalyptic. The automatic door was propped open because there was no power to open and close it. Most of the lights were off. All perishable goods were missing or covered with paper saying they couldn't be for sale. The greens section of produce was completely stripped. I bought a few squash, a bag of grapefruit and one small bundle of asparagus, realizing these might be our last greens for at least a few days. Then I went down the darkened aisles looking for things that might come in handy... soup mix, ketchup. A sad ice cream freezer was dripping chocolate into a bucket.

When I checked out I made a point of thanking the worker for coming in on this tough day. She seemed to appreciate the recognition.

I can't imagine what NY is like right now. I suppose it's mixed. I know of people who went to work there today. For some people this feels disastrous. For others, it's just boring as we wait for school again tomorrow. I guess I count myself in the latter group because practically speaking we've been so fortunate. But there's more to all of this than meets the eye.

Now how are we going to get this climate change fixed?

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Hurricane Sandy Part 12

Now it's just day after day of waiting for power to return to the school. Yesterday we had a playdate with friends who needed to charge their various "devices" at our house. Today another friend came for that same person and then we biked (finally used our newly acquired used trail-a-bike!) to a friend who had power but was as bored as we are.

With the playdate yesterday I kept the girls interested in each other by printing out some Caillou paper dolls. Quite a lot of time went into coloring and cutting these out... even more time than it takes to watch the shows we made with them today.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Part 11 - ND's interpretations

In regard to a phone line down outside, I said "Whenever you see anything like that, it could be a power line and you can never touch it."

ND: Yeah, only the police can touch it. Not even them. The in charge police guy maybe.

In regard to a picture of people walking down a flooded street.

ND: They didn't know it would be like that? That's why they didn't bring their swimsuits?

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Hurricane Sandy Part 10

OK, it's light enough now. Here's the front yard. 

Back yard is a completely different story and I'll do a movie of that later. That door is too close to the basement and I don't want the sound of me opening it to wake anyone else up. Not a branch has fallen back there. There has even been this stubborn branch dangling for awhile that STILL hasn't fallen. Maybe our house sheltered the area?

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Hurricane Sandy Part 9

Well, we got through the night and still have power! The radio is now no longer on Sandy constantly but is also back to election coverage. The world is still standing although I guess we don't know what parts. And I know others both in Englewood and Teaneck didn't fare as well. That's all thanks to Facebook.

The street is a mess. There are branches down and a tree across the street definitely was knocked over. I tried to take a movie of it to post here, but it's too dark to take on Photo Booth yet.

We don't have school today but I don't know what the day holds. I don't know yet whether residents are being asked to stay inside rather than help clean up but I expect that's likely given the continual rain and dangling branches.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Part 8

Well, U., and I just finished watching a movie that we started last night. ND is sleeping peacefully. We have power. No sign of any damage to the house. Hard to say what's coming next but I feel pretty comfortable going to sleep right now.

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Hurricane Sandy Part 7

Well, bedtime now. We're in the basement quite comfortably after putting toys away, sweeping and mopping. We still have power as you can see by the fact of me posting at all. The lights were flickering earlier. I'd probably be more physically comfortable upstairs but the noise of the wind is scary and every now and then we hear something hit the house. 

The storm still is likely to get worse but the main goal right now is to keep ND calm and happy. A game of pool, a chapter of Paddington and two flashlights in bed with her as she lies here next to me right now seem to be doing the trick.

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Hurricane Sandy Part 6

Lights are flickering and ND is getting nervous so we will probably lose power soon and I want to focus on family. As a result, this is my last post for now whether or not we have power. Mom and Dad, I'll text you if we lose power or if anything important happens. Honestly, we're fine.

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Hurricane Sandy Part 5

Another front door picture. It's supposed to get worse in about two hours. Still plenty of power. ND has been painting and we did a long video chat with a friend in MA who is still fine.

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Hurricane Sandy Part 4

Obama spoke a few minutes ago. We're making rock candy. Wind blowing. Wet outside.

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Hurricane Sandy Part 3

Rain is getting louder. Taking a break for lunch. Eating stuff in the freezer in the event that the freezer becomes useless later.

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Hurricane Sandy Part 2

Noon is when it is supposed to get bad. Wind has been blowing, clouds look ominous. Nothing much to show on video, but here's a view from my front door.

We're enjoying internet time while we can -- playing Draw Something, searching for Paddington videos.

Rather relaxing, to tell you the truth. We went out on the deck while we could. That was a little scary. A lot of big trees that might or might not survive or hit things.

Will try to keep you posted. For the record, our biggest fear is a tree falling on the house, but we have identified which rooms are the safest and will go to them as need be.

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Hurricane Sandy Part 1

We've had storms out here before, more than anything I ever had in the NW. We've even had warnings before with people preparing, but never anything like this. On Friday I got lost on an errand because every other turn had PSE&G cutting back trees and trying to prepare power lines. Last night while driving ND home from a birthday party we had to navigate around an enormous generator near a hospital supply store. Right now there is just wind.

I think we're as ready as can be. We're stocked up on food and water and plan to sleep downstairs in the guest room tomorrow night in the event of falling trees. At this point there is nothing much else to be done except to catch up on school work and writing that I had wanted to do yesterday when I was preparing instead.

Our school is very conservative about taking off days so I realize that there isn't a chance we will be going tomorrow, we've only been informed so far of today's cancellation. Yesterday while ND was t the birthday party ND and I went out for dinner together. While there a man in a kippah at the opposite wall took a phone call on his cell., then informed his kids there would be no school. There are settings in which strangers don't talk to each strangers, and there are settings and times in which everyone is suddenly a bonded friend. So...

"Which school?" I asked.


"I'm waiting for Noam," I said, wondering if he saw the Yeshivat Noam Staff emblem on my sweatshirt.

"They do these things in groups," he said.

Sure enough, two minutes my phone began to ring.

I'll try my best to continue to post. I'm doing so on Facebook too to reassure friends and family that we're fine but also to record the events as best I can. It goes without saying that if (and when?) we lose power the updates will have to wait but that doesn't mean we aren't fine.

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Making a Difference

Tonight I had some friends over to celebrate my 9 year remission anniversary. (That's one-fourth of my life that I've been a survivor.) Somehow I'm connecting it very strongly to the loss of my mentor, Michael this year and I spoke about him to my friends.

Throughout the night we talked about many things and it kept coming up again and again, the idea of people who had made a difference in our lives, often by a single interaction among many. I keep feeling like the work I want to do in healing the world will not happen through teaching. But maybe I've been wrong. Two of the friends there tonight are my friends because I taught their daughters and made a difference to them directly. I've sometimes been thinking I want to get out of the school environment because it is so intense, rushed and stressful in many ways, but maybe I'm needed there to help kids navigate it. Also, I care more about emotional landscape and survival than I do about teaching reading and writing. But maybe that's the very reason I need to continue.

I've just been published at the PLP network where I wrote about my childhood and compared it to contemporary suburban NJ childhoods. Maybe taking the question and knowledge I have of my ideal world, and taking it with me when I enter the world in front of me, can provide some small amount of respite or change or possibility to the children who enter the room to work with me each day. And maybe writing about this reflection can make a difference to others further away.

Maybe I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing and don't need to worry about it so much.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012


I consider myself very lucky to be the sort of Jew who has had lots of opportunity to explore, grow and change. Rather than be born into a single form of Judaism, I've had the chance to choose it over time.

Over the years I've felt the desire to learn and do more and more. Simultaneously I've been driven towards Orthodox Judaism because I've wanted to "do Judaism" by the rules in order to uncover the more hidden benefits that are nestled inside the mitzvot that don't always make sense.

Very sadly, throughout my life, these two desires -- passion for more and a desire to be with the Orthodox community -- eventually collided repeatedly and destructively.

The time they would do this, more than any other, was at Sukkot and then Simchat Torah. These are times of celebration when all our strict observance throughout the year and especially of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur suddenly explodes into celebration. On Sukkot there is a powerful segment in which we hold lulav and etrog and circle the Torah, praying for Hoshanot which, in my understanding, is a sort of request for continued closeness with G-d in addition to actual deliverance. Then on Simchat Torah there is joyous dancing with Torah in the arms and singing until you're hoarse. Such beautiful expressions of passion for Torah.

Well, as long as you're allowed to do them.

Because in many factions of Orthodox Judaism, if you are a woman, the more you love the Torah, more contained you need to be and the greater distance you need to keep.

Every year the crescendo of the year grows, and then suddenly as we reach the peak, women simply step aside.

Now in my community there is a recent alternative minyan that meets occasionally called Tiferet. It follows the model of Shira Hadasha minyanim in which women and men both participate in the service within halakhic bounds -- actual bounds, not the more artificial ones that have become custom or habit in the majority of Orthodox minyanim. (As an example, women can lead psukei dzimrah, kabbalat shabbat or hallel, but not the portions of the service that require a minyan. In addition, we need a mechitza and cannot count in a minyan.)

I wasn't sure I wanted to become involved. I was nervous about whether it really would be halakhic and even wondered about the motivations of others involved, if they wanted some kind of less serious version of Judaism. But a few years ago our Rabbi triumphantly led the men of our shul outside for Hoshanot and, because I'd asked ahead of time, he made an announcement that women could walk in a circle too. No one did because there was no leadership. I had to struggle to retain any of the prescribed joy of the holiday and I wanted to go home. The men themselves didn't seem terribly enthusiastic. The rabbi was trying hard to bring them into the process emotionally, but their singing was quiet, the tone was lackadaisical. They were missing the simcha that I'd had moments before and that I'd never have a chance to share with the community.

So that's when Evan, the founder of Tiferet approached me. I didn't have to explain how I was feeling. He'd seen this many times before with other women which is exactly the reason he had started the minyan.

I became involved, reluctantly at first, and asked a lot of questions that helped me feel more confident in the halakhic nature of the minyan. I found that I just enjoyed being there more than I did in shul. Then Evan asked me to join the board, and I did, again, reluctantly. Then I accidentally joined a committee that planned an incredible Torah learning event during the summer, and now I realized I'm hooked.

Even more recently, I agreed to coordinate readers for Torah leyning. Since I was having difficulty filling the rotation for our first holiday service (second day of Sukkot), I decided it was time to take the plunge and learn to read myself.

I can't say it was completely new to me. I've read megillah for several years and I've read a few psukim for a women's Simchat Torah leyning, but I wasn't sure I understood the trope correctly. This time I worked and I worked at it, checking in with 4 different people, including U., to make sure I was on target.

In addition, I was asked if I would lead the Hoshanot service. I'd waffled many times before when Evan or Akiva (who co-plans the nitty gritty details with him) had approached me but this time there was no question.

So yesterday Evan held the Torah between the men's and women's side. The men circled on their side, the women circled on theirs, and everyone participated with me calling out the Hashonot in my loudest proudest voice. Let me say that again... everyone participated. Even ND walked beside me carrying her own toy lulav and etrog and didn't once tug on my sleeve or try to speak to me. She could feel the importance. That night when we talked about the good and bad of our day she even named that as one of her most important things.

The leyning, too, was successful. I feel great that I could contribute, proud of what I accomplished, appreciative that others seemed inspired when they approached me afterwards and said, "Was that really your first time?!"

But more important than that, I was allowed to have the passion that the Torah asks of us. I was allowed to pass it on to those around me who maybe are more ambivalent. How often do we hear laments about a lack of passion in the Jewish world, a lack of spirituality, a lack of leadership?

I have it. Thank you for letting me have it. Thank you for letting me, and my passion, lead.

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