I'm mid-packing and the dust allergies are kicking up.

Last night's going-away party was just lovely. An assortment of people from various sectors of my life. Activism, theater, work, Yiddishkeit, college, neighborhood. Prosecco, grilled croissants and peaches, and veg-pigs-in-blankets. Etc.

I got to thinking about how everyone's on a trajectory through life all the time. Of course the usual thing is to imagine oneself as the protagonist of existence: all of you are players in the movie of my life, some costars and supporting, some uncredited extra or maybe you can hope for "Girl with Headphones #2" if the exec producer (B"H) feels generous. As I grow closely interwoven with so many beautiful amazing people, though, the ego's-eye-view starts to melt and I have a wider, meltier picture of many overlapping movies, paths plans importances parties hopes loves beginnings changes. In my head I saw the extended cast of my people as if jets in the sky, contrails arcing towards and away from each other, blurring and fading somewheres and otherwheres persisting long after the aircrafts' passage.

For example: today's the 40th birthday of my ex, with whom at one point I thought I'd spend my life. He wanted to be a father by the age of 40, and my un-readiness ended our relationship. We don't even talk now. Sad.

Zoe and Ken's baby was born yesterday morning. A new small person in this big world. I can't wait to meet him, even as I'm heading out of town.


You may have heard that I am making a big change in my life.

After living in Philadelphia for four years, in a wonderful community with meaningful work and a delightful range of close friendships, I am moving to New York for a one-year yeshiva fellowship program. I've decided to make this move for a number of reasons, and I wanted to share a few with you, my friends and family, so that you can understand what I am doing and why it's meaningful to me.

I should back up a bit and say that it's unusual, in my experience, to write these things out and share them with my closest people. There are only a few adult life transitions that we mark in big ways--getting married comes to mind--when we take it upon ourselves to express personal meaning and purpose. Or rather, it's not often that I try to tell everyone about the meaning of my (current) life. It's a challenging task but precious in that I hope this letter will really share something of me with you.

So, what is yeshiva?
A yeshiva, traditionally, is a Jewish religious school. It is not the same as rabbinical school, and I don't plan to become a rabbi. In a yeshiva, people primarily study Bible and Talmud (ancient Jewish law), and also a variety of electives like literature, philosophy, ethics, singing, etc. Most of the time is spent studying ancient and medieval texts in the original Hebrew and Aramaic. A key feature of the school structure is that students learn in pairs, reading and discussing the text, and spend less than half the time in a group class with a teacher. The learning is therefore very self-directed and focused on what you and your partner are understanding and getting out of a text.

What is my program about?
From the website:
"Yeshivat Hadar is animated by three central goals:
• To foster a community of students who engage in intensive Torah study, prayer and action.
• To offer a passionate vision of traditional Jewish life as a spiritual path.
• To empower students to build and contribute to vibrant Jewish communities across the United States."
Sounds nice, eh? There is more.

Hadar was founded 3 years ago as the first egalitarian (men and women study together and are equal in all ways) yeshiva in America. (There are egalitarian rabbinical schools, but that has a different structure, being a professional program.) Traditionally, yeshivas are only for Orthodox men. The past few decades have seen the rise of Orthodox women's yeshivas and a few egalitarian non-Orthodox yeshivas. I am skimming over a lot of details here, but basically, this is a major innovation--today, if you want to get a serious adult Jewish learning experience, you either go to Israel or you get a Master's degree or you go to rabbinical school. Given, though, that deep learning is (for many people) an important part of a Jewish spiritual life, it is awesome that the Hadar founders created this setting where we can do learning for its own sake, in America, with a wide range of engaged and interesting people. I went to their summer program in 2008 and had an amazing time, which many of you have heard from me about.

Why am I doing this?
Short answer: because I want to, and I can, and it will be terrific.
Slightly longer answer: Okay, this probably won't get me a great job or solve all my existential questions. But it will be a wonderful way to spend time (talking about ethics and philosophy! The meaning of life!) and I do need some kind of change. I love my life, and especially my people here in Philly, but it has been hard to find the right career/job path. This choice may be a little extreme--it was VERY hard to decide to leave my community here, I would much rather just have found and landed an awesome job--but I do know that it will be a beautiful and meaningful time of learning. And I do think it's important, even at my advanced age, to do things that are beautiful and meaningful, even if they're not very well-paid, and especially when those things involve education. I'm still nerdy enough to just love learning for its own sake.

When you write applications for these programs, the questions are designed to get you to make big emotional and intellectual statements about why you are perfect for the program and it is the most important thing for you. I thought I'd share a few bits from my Hadar application, just so that you, dear friends, can read a little bit of my overblown persuasive writing.

About my experience last summer:
"...It was a breakthrough to spend time learning for pleasure and with the assumption that all this text was valuable (as opposed to the critical postmodernist stance I was taught to take in college), and it was immensely meaningful to live in a community of explicit ethical striving. Alongside that was the pain of keenly felt ignorance and the frustration of the yeshiva's insularity. I felt isolated on two levels—firstly, that my own language and cultural access was insufficient to fully connect me with what we were doing all day, and secondly, that we were this tiny institution in a vast world of people who wouldn't understand the project. I managed to cope with the former, but the latter would continue to bother me long after July had ended.
I came to yeshiva genuinely confused about what was at the core of the project. Was it information, being able to remember stuff? An encounter with history and philosophy? Knowing what to do, observance-wise, and why? I found (for myself, at least—I know there are lots of other opinions) at the beating heart of the beit midrash (library), another person, a bunch of other persons and their beautiful and infinitely valuable minds."

What's awesome about the Hadar yeshiva:
"What made the audacity and richness of yeshiva learning possible was powerful trust among the students and faculty. For me it was a palpable sensation. People mattered to each other, and worked actively to sustain curiosity and generosity, and draw each other out into bold, complex thinking. These are our best qualities as human beings, and we clearly thrive in situations of focused attention. It can sound rather poetic, but quite simply I wish that more people could have this attention from each other more often."

What I'm excited about:
"While I wonder about my abilities to really grasp the languages necessary to get comfortable with text learning, I am ready to try (again) with the foundation that I built last summer. More than that, I appreciated being close to so many people with great love and reverence for the these texts. I began to feel like part of a tradition—not a person fighting to get inside, nor critiquing norms from radical isolation, but a point on a continuum, or even let's say in a galaxy, neighboring some points, rather far from others, surprisingly wrapped, as time and space are warped, through history and thought. I saw, and see, the expanding universe of torah as a profound and lovely construct; thousands of years of human beings reaching for the Divine with great passion and commitment."

...So, that's my gutwrenching plea for them to let me in the program. It worked. Now, on to a few more practical questions.

But how will I live??
They pay us a small stipend. I'm looking into other sources of income, including writing and teaching. I have a little money saved, which is not something I want to dip into but reassuring anyways, and I have the opportunity to take a no-interest loan. Which is all to say, I am still figuring it out, and not excited to be always-broke in New York. It's a lot funner to be broke in Philly.

Where is this all happening?
The yeshiva is housed in a synagogue at 69th and Amsterdam. There are 18 students and 7ish core faculty members, so it's a nice cozy group. I'm living in Washington Heights (way uptown Manhattan) with a fantastic friend from last summer. Please come visit! We have two fold-out couches. Slumber party...

Are you moving back to Philly at the end of the year?
That's the plan. I am open to staying in New York if I get some terrific job, though, because that has been an area of my life difficult to figure out so far in Philly. I want to come back very much, though. I'm figuring out how to stay connected with the wonderful people of this city, and I really appreciate when people reach out to me.

...okay, that's all for now. Ask me more.


would that i had the proper habit of annotating my peculiar life herein
but for now


foam soap. So unsatisfying in assuring me of a proper handwashing! I want to self-lather, not have my soap pre-lathered. Why is the darn stuff everywhere overnight? When did the silent revolution happen? Is it just because it's cheaper to whip up air than to buy the regular pink industrial stuff?


the Obamas make tuna salad (old-ish footage). Finally! In my adult life, a president who's smart and liberal, and can cook Indian food. Housies and I have been speculating about whether presidents and their families miss doing everyday chores when they move into the White House. Can you imagine not getting to pick out your own produce? Corollary: does 1600 Pennsylvania Ave belong to a CSA or purchase local foods?


neckwarmers and cute winter hats. it's been so lovely around here, weatherwise, that I can almost imagine myself having the time to knit up some of this stuff before the cold sets in.


jews in a box
chag sameach, again, yeesh

Tuesday afternoon, for the first festival meal of Sukkos, Will and I met up with two friends of mine in the BZBI sukkah at 18th and Spruce. For those not phamiliar with the Illadelph, 18th and Spruce is right near Rittenhouse Square, the toniest downtown 'hood. In Boston, think Back Bay. In New York, Union Square. In DC, Dupont Circle. Smaller and relaxed-er than those, cause this is Philly.

Their sukkah is a charming three-sided metal-and-tarp affair, gaily bedecked with dried corn stalks and mums and gourds (America's great contributions to the harvest festival!) and awesome Shrinky Dink ornaments of apples, stars, and Israeli flags. Hung in the sukkah were a big sign saying "chag kasher v'sameach*/Happy Sukkot!" and a plastic-encased building permit. We spread out a beautiful pink silk quilt on the sidewalk, and as if we were a living diorama, feasted on homemade bread, quinoa salad, pesto, and lentils, to the great amusement/confusion of the many passers-by. Cars, trucks, construction workers, ladies of leisure, dog-walkers: we provided spectacle to all comers.

Only two people asked what we were doing. One, a woman named Ann, had been in Turkey recently with her husband, and apparently to her we looked like we were in Turkey. Will's theory was that this resulted from the combination of bright-colored-patchwork 'rug' and grain/lentil dishes. Ann consented to be our guest, as ritually significant during Sukkos, and to eat a few slices of delicious pear.

This is the first year that I've had my own lulav and esrog, the four species of plants that are brought together and ritually shaken in the weirdest pagan holdover in Judaism. (The shaking is supposed to bring blessing--and rain.) It's nice to feel not like a hanger-on or an adjunct, waiting to share someone else's ritual objects, but large and in charge, with my own bundle of rustling palm fronds and fragrant citron.

*'happy and kosher holiday!' which I appreciate, because who else would wish you an appropriate ritually fulfilled holiday? "enjoy your parties, and DON'T FUCK UP!"


unholy alliance?

Lately I've been complaining that I can't get through a day without a conversation about Sarah Palin. Blah blah blah, she's so terrifying/awful/hilarious. So, hoist to my own petard, I'm blogging about her--after three months, I know I know it's ridiculous.

But not as ridiculous as this: sheitel.com is now selling a Sarah Palin wig. Yes folks, now you in the modest-haircovering Orthodox world can look like Our Sarah, lovin' Jews for Jesus and hatin' that mean old goverment (shoo! git back on the side of the American people!) and stylin' the bouffant. I loves it.

In other news, I am now an official amateur wedding organizer. I stage-managed Ken and Zoe's beautiful wedding yesterday (a few nice photos here) and bridesmaided too.


poetry and radical theology at a mental health treatment facility
[cross-posted at the Hadar blog...which you probably can't see, as I think it's private]

[This is from a post that I wrote with my yeshiva buddy Sigal for the internal Hadar site where we all discuss, supposedly, our social-service projects. For those who are not keeping up, I'm in summer yeshiva in NYC with a fabulous posse of smartass yids. 14-hour days = no blogging.]

We've been having a great time, despite feeling exhausted on the way there every week. There isn't much servey service to do, so we mostly chat with the clients and the staff about whatever folks are thinking about. All the lead staff there seem to be some variety of Buddhist, many of them very learned and into talking about their texts and their experiences and their questions. Sigal often shares little snippets of Torah with them. We've discussed the meaning of "darshan" in the Jewish and the Hindu/Buddhist context, and speculated as to shared etymology...

Today we ran the second in our highly experimental three-part poetry series. After a few weeks of basically just hanging around--with the staff, as noted above, and with the guys, who love Judge Mathis and would do quite well on Family Feud--Sigal and I asked the director, Carlos, if we could lead a little poetry workshop. Or rather, if there would be interest from the clients. They have been quite variably interested in our presence, some wanting to chat every week and some basically ignoring us. As you'd expect. Carlos said, of course, we have some poets already! We envisioned this as a small but pleasurable activity/skill that matters to each of us and that we could share with the clients.

In each week--this and last--we brought a Mary Oliver poem (Wild Geese and A Summer Day) to be discussed, and planned some writing prompts, and basically just sat around with a couple guys eating cookies and writing stuff and discussing. We had to do a lot of reassuring and encouraging, but not so much drawing-out as we expected. That is to say, these guys have produced some amazingly forthcoming and soulful work. The poetry is great to hear and the conversations great to have. Next week we're going back for the last time! Boo.

One month to my birthday.


peep this

I uploaded a bunch of new photos from the last year. More coming. Hooray for new computer!