Tag : Chavatzelet Herzliya

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July 1, 2009 by

Of Therapists and Old Ladies

I have a confession to make: I do not believe in therapy. Over the course of my life, I have seen countless therapists, especially during my tumultuous college years – and yet I can’t point to a single successful experience. And so in recent years, I have developed my own “talking cure” — one that enables me to interact with the world in a way that seems more sensible and meaningful given my needs and values.I say that therapy has never really helped me. But I am not even sure what would constitute successful therapy. How do we trace the course
of our own development as human beings? How do we know when we have become better or more actualized (as the lingo would have it)
individuals? Rarely does therapy (at least as I’ve known it) involve the setting of clearly-defined goals, and thus it’s very hard to judge when the patient is “better.” A therapist is not like an eye doctor who gives you a vision test and a prescription for glasses; with therapy, the test questions are ongoing, the prescriptions are vague, and often the world looks even blurrier as time goes on.

I am also troubled by the power dynamic in the therapy situation. The therapist takes money (generally very high sums!) from the patient,
and it is therefore in the therapist’s interest for the therapy to continue a long time – a clear conflict of interest, given that presumably the patient who is “healed” would not need the therapist anymore. I once tried to leave a therapist and was told that that I was sabotaging my own recovery and preventing myself from getting the help I needed. What could I possibly say in response to these words, which undermined the very foundations of my capacity for agency? And so I felt I had no choice but to return again and again to expose myself even further – if I’d fail to disclose any information, the therapist would tell me, once again, that I was sabotaging my own recovery. The therapist, in contrast, would say little (how maddening!) and reveal nothing about him/herself. A friend once told me that he paid $100 for a therapy session, only to hear himself speak for 50 minutes – the doctor grunted, but did not say a single word. “You listen to me for free,” my friend said to me. “Why should I pay for it?”

(more…)

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April 30, 2009 by

I Wish I Could Seduce You in the Nude (Bava Kama 86b)

The following is the blogger’s analysis and personal musing on seduction, inspired by Aviva Zornberg.

Yesterday’s Daf (Bava Kama 86) considers the question of whether a naked person can be embarrassed. The Talmud begins by quoting a Braita which states, “If one embarrasses someone while he is naked, he [the embarrasser] is liable, and embarrassing someone naked is not the same as embarrassing someone when he is clothed…. Our master said: If one embarrasses someone when he is naked, he is liable. But is a naked person capable of being embarrassed? (?ערום בר בושת הוא) Rather, this refers to a case where the wind has bunched up his clothes and a person comes and lifts his clothing further, thereby embarrassing him.”

The Talmud, although at first asserting that it is indeed possible to embarrass someone while that person is naked, goes on to question this assumption. As Rashi explains, “Since he does not care about walking around naked in front of others, what does he have to be embarrassed about?” Presumably a person who does not mind if others see him naked is immune to other people’s opinions of him, and is therefore not susceptible to embarrassment. The Talmud is then left with the question as to why the Braita taught that a person is indeed liable for embarrassing someone who is naked, and concludes that this was a person who was at first only partially naked. The embarrasser comes along and exposes him even further, and thus he is considered to be liable.

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March 2, 2009 by

My Cup of Tea

The only thing I consume as often as books is tea. A box of tea, like a good novel, usually lasts me about a week; by that point I am sick of the characters and ready for a new flavor. Yet I buy my tea in boxes, and it always seems wasteful to throw away so much cardboard. And so a few years ago I developed a strategy for my reading and drinking lives: I began cutting up tea boxes into book marks—four per box—and using them to mark my place.

My tea-drinking habits have changed as I have moved around the globe. When I lived in New York I would drink steaming cups of Celestial Seasonings Swiss Mint, and with good literary precedent – this was also Ruth Puttermesser’s favorite flavor. My childhood bedroom walls are still plastered with the inspirational quotes I cut out from the backs of the Celestial Seasonings boxes, and once, in high school, I even wrote to the company headquarters in Boulder Colorado to suggest various literary selections. They responded by sending me free coupons for their newest flavor, which kicked off a teenage habit of writing suggestion letters to companies. (Somewhere in my files I have responses from Nutri-Grain (does the locust bean gum you list in your ingredients really contain locusts?!), M&Ms (before there was green, I suggested it), and Pringles potato chips (who responded to my complaint about the paucity of green flakes on the Sour Cream and Onion chips by sending me a case of eight free containers, which arrived on our doorstep one week before Pesach.) With time, I like to think that I have become a healthier eater; the one constant has been the steaming mug of tea that accompanies nearly every meal.

In England, I tried to learn to drink Earl Grey with milk after I made the mistake of inviting an esteemed Cambridge don to tea – only to find him horrified that my refrigerator contained neither milk nor clotted cream. (He was unimpressed by my dainty little cucumber sandwiches – apparently being earnest is far less important that knowing how to serve a proper brew.) After most of my British literature seminars, all the students would retire to the local pub. I had never drunk a glass of beer or even a social glass of wine, and I quickly learned that ordering tea in the Red Lion or the King’s Arms was simply not done.

In Israel, I lament the weakness of Wissotzky and need to put two tea bags in every glass I drink. I have read in the novels of Meir Shalev that early Russian immigrants to Israel used to hold sugar cubes between their teeth as they sipped their tea, but I cannot adopt that habit; I often drink tea while snacking on gummy candies (which explains a lifetime of dental woes), but the sweetness must always be outside of the mug. If anything, I put slices of lemon in my tea, a habit I learned from my mother, who also relishes the bittersweet. In Israel I drink tea with every single meal, since I still can’t get used to the taste of the water but also can’t be bothered with all the wastefulness that bottled water entails. Once, during a particularly long dark teatime of my soul, a friend served me loose leaf tea from the shuk, offering me her own blend of tea and sympathy. It was the best tea I’ve ever drunk, and I’ve purchased it several times since; unfortunately, though, each time I drink that tea I am overcome by a flood of memories so intense that I cannot abide another sip.

I suspect that my rate of tea consumption outpaces the rate at which I lose bookmarks, since I have an entire top desk drawer filled with cut-up tea bookmarks waiting (along with New Yorker subscription cards) to be called up for reserve duty. Sometimes, if I do not want to write in the copy of the book I am reading, I scribble notes on the back of the tea box cut-out and then shelve the bookmark along with the book, as an index to my favorite passages. My grandmother, who used to review books professionally, did this as well – the books from her personal library not only reek of her sweet perfume, but are also stuffed with torn-up sheets of paper with her scribblings, which she used as both post-its and bookmarks. In many books I have finished, though, I do not need bookmarks: I have a favorite passage that I quote so frequently that the book naturally falls open to that place when I open the front cover, as if it knows just what I am seeking.

In my current apartment I have a reading couch with a ledge that perfectly balances a cup of tea. I like to spend several hours each Shabbat steeped in a good book besides a steaming mug, my own celestial taste of the world to come.

–Chavatzelet Herzliya

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Live from the Lilith Blog

December 2, 2008 by

You're Invited to View My Photos!!!

I’m invited to view your photos!!!
But maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t care less?
Your swaddled new infant, in pink cap or blue cap
In mom’s arms, then dad’s arms, then still, fast asleep.
I’ve seen it before, far too many times over
First smile! First bottle! First eyes open wide—
Well I can’t be wide-eyed! Your blah blah baby bores me.
I can’t ooh and ahh when you cry “He adores me.”
So thanks for the photos, and sorry to Snap-
Fish around for another to view the whole slide show.
Though I’m sad to miss out on what Baby just did now,
Delete! To the trash! He’s a garbage pail kid now.
The phone rings. It’s you: “Did you look at my beauty?”
I grimace. I pause. I squeal: “Oh what a cutie!”

–Chavatzelet Herzliya

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November 6, 2008 by

Black Dogs

Today I was surrounded by eight ferocious dogs and saved by the power of Torah.

I was jogging, as I often do, near Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz hotel near the southern part of Jerusalem that overlooks Bethlehem and the Judeaen hills. Usually when I run that route, I go no further than the giant statue of the matriarch Rachel who stands tall and proud with two little children clinging to the hem of her skirt. The base of the statue bears an inscription from the book of Jeremiah: “And the children shall return to their borders” (31:16), part of the prophecy about a future time when Joseph’s sons will be restored to their land. At this point, I pause for a moment to read these words about returning, and then turn around and head back north.

This is generally a route I run on Friday mornings, when I can listen to Reshet Moreshet, the frum radio station that broadcasts songs about that week’s parsha from 8-9am. I time my runs accordingly, ending at about 9am at the shuk, where I buy fresh challot for Shabbat and take the bus home. I run with several items in my back pocket: shopping list, bus pass, house key, some money, MP3 player, and a folded-up Xerox of my leyning for that Shabbat, which I review when I ride the bus back.

This week I am training for a race, so I decided to run on Monday as well. As usual, I headed to Ramat Rachel. Instead of Reshet Moreshet (which broadcasts in the mornings only on Fridays) I listened to a daf yomi shiur about how land and moveable property are acquired. Inspired perhaps by all the talk of vast expanses of land for sale, I decided to run a bit further and head into the fields behind the hotel, which contain 200 olive trees planted in concentric rows. Part of me knew I was being a little daring in running in a deserted field near an Arab neighborhood, but I was engrossed in my shiur and light on my feet, and I threw caution to the wind.

I ran to the edge of the olive grove and looked out over Har Choma until I could run no further, and then I turned around. Off in the distance I saw a dog looking at me suspiciously, but I continued onwards down the dirt path. When next I was aware of what was going on, there were several dogs in the distance all barking to one another and looking angrily in my direction. The dogs came closer. They barked louder. They came closer still, and barked louder still. Soon I was surrounded by eight dogs at waist level, all barking angrily and running alongside me.

Terrified, I remember thinking that it was most important that I not show the dogs that I was scared. I thought about a scene in the most recent Maisie Dobbs novel I read, in which the beloved British postwar sleuth thinks she is alone in an abandoned barn when all of a sudden a threatening dog rears its head. Maisie, through intense powers of concentration, manages to calm her whole body so that the dog, convinced that she is not afraid, backs off. If only I can stay calm like Maisie, I thought, I’ll be OK. Then my thoughts drifted to more frightful literary canines, the terrifying black dogs of Ian McEwan’s eponymous novel. I thought of June Tremaine’s encounter with those savage bloodthirsty beasts in the French countryside in the months after World War II, and I shivered as I always do when I think of that nightmarish scene. Unlike Maisie, I had no way of calming myself down; unlike June, I did not have a knife in my pocket. My literary imagination could distract me for only so long; how was I going to ward off the very real dogs that were surrounding me there and then in that very moment?

The Kiddushin shiur was still playing in my ears; just as I had not thought to stop running, I also did not think to turn off my MP3 or take off my headphones. *If someone hands over ten animals all tied with one halter and says “acquire this,” are all of the animals acquired? *(Kiddushin 27b). Dear me. Given the subject of today’s daf, I was not likely to forget myself any time soon.

The next thing I knew, a verse was running through my mind: “A beloved doe, a graceful mountain goat” (Proverbs 5:19). Surrounded as I was by dogs, I was not sure why I was suddenly beset by words about does and goats. And then I realized: This was the verse that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi used to quote when people would ask him how he could draw so close to lepers. “Do you not worry that you will get sick?” they would ask. “A loving doe, a graceful mountain goat,” Ben Levi would respond. “If Torah graces those who learn it, will it not also protect me?” (Ketubot 77b). I recited Ben Levi’s words to myself again and again: “If Torah graces those who learn it, will it not also protect me?”

Somehow inside me I sensed that with the shiur playing in my ears, I would come out of this situation OK. I thought about King David who learned that he was destined to die on the Sabbath and therefore spent every Sabbath studying Torah; so long as he was learning, the Angel of Death was unable to overcome him (Shabbat 30b). I thought about the Gemara in Sotah which interprets the verse: “When you walk it will guide you” (Proverbs 6:23) to mean that Torah protects us wherever we walk in this world (21a). Is Torah not a tree of life to those who cling fast to it? The olive trees around me swayed in the breeze, as if nodding in agreement.

Just as I was running out of sugyot about the protective power of Torah, I came to the main road at the edge of the field and saw a truck in the
distance. I did not want to cry out lest I provoke the dogs, but I began waving my hands wildly in the air, and the truck turned in my direction. The dogs, seeing the approaching truck, immediately dispersed, their barks growing fainter and their heads hanging low in defeat. I thanked the driver for rescuing me, but I knew the true source of my salvation.

My heart slowed to its normal exercise pace as I made my way back down towards Derech Chevron. Next time I jog, I hope to find a running partner (or should I say a chevruta?). And graceful mountain goat notwithstanding, next time I’m sticking to the main road.

–Chavatzelet Herzliya

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September 19, 2008 by

Ten Ways in Which the "Selichot Season" Concert of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra Differs From a Concert Anywhere Else in the World

1. The concert begins when a world-famous clarinetist enters from the back row playing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold), encouraging the audience to sing along.

2. In between musical pieces the aforementioned clarinetist uses his instrument to blast a Tekia, Shvarim, Truah, Tekia, sounding even better than a real shofar! (Could’ve fooled me.)

3. Three cell phones go off during the slow, quiet mandolin solo, destroying the audience’s rapt concentration.

4. Each time the conductor speaks (which is often), someone from the back row yells out “Lo shomim” (we can’t hear!!); and then someone from the front cries out, “Az lo tishmeu” (so you won’t hear!!).

5. The conductor announces that does not plan to pay the pieces in the program – as far as he is concerned, the program notes are entirely incidental.

6. In between movements, half of the audience claps, and the other half hisses at the clappers for this apparently egregious violation of concert etiquette.

7. The pianist inserts a few bars of Hatikva into the cadenza of Haydn’s piano concerto, and the audience members remain unfazed.

8. The clarinetist stamps his feet and begins dancing with wild Hasidic-like gestures during his solo.

9. The address of the theater, which happens (aptly) to be “5 Chopin St.,” is spelled “5 Shop-in St.” on the concert program. Shop in, stop in, drop in, and hear some music while you’re at it!

10. When the mandolin soloist is introduced, the conductor says that “not only is he the best mandolin player in the world – he is also single!”

–Chavazelet Herzliya

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September 4, 2008 by

10 Ways to Know that Summer is Over in Jerusalem

1. You can no longer find cherries anywhere, but the first blood-red pomegranates are in all the markets and even on some of the trees (like the one in my backyard).

2. You hear the sound of the shofar! (If you are jogging in the streets at 7am, or, um, attending Shacharit – I guess.)

3. The pizza parlors and ice cream shops are crowded with frum 18-year-olds from America in knee socks (knee socks!), all just arrived for a year of yeshiva study, playing with their cell phones/Ipods/cameras (who can tell the difference?) while chewing big wads of bubble gum and chatting in loud Brooklyn accents….

4. The honey jars are by the cash register in all the supermarkets – the impulse buy of the season.

5. Colleagues start using the excuse, “Oh well, it’s nearly time for the holidays, when nobody does any work anyway.”

6. You can eat Shabbat dinner at a normal hour again.

7. The billboards on all the streets are plastered with ads about lectures on repentance: Tshuva! Tfillah! Tzedakah!

8. If you swim after 10am, you will not be splashed and bashed by the rowdy campers who hijack the pool all summer (hurrah!).

9. After a three-week lull, people start getting married again (like the very young and innocent-looking Hasidic couple whom I inadvertently bumped into last night on their way from the chuppah to the yichud room, when I took a wrong turn out of the cell phone shop in an otherwise deserted business complex in Givat Shaul that apparently also contains a very modest wedding hall….)

10. You open your daily planner to jot down a note for next week, and discover that you have come to the end of the book. Time to copy all the names and addresses into a new planner – whose names will be written in that book? Whose will not? Who by fire, and who by water?

Yes, the holiday season has arrived…..

–Chavatzelet Herzliya

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August 12, 2008 by

Swimming in the Early Days of Av

My friend Roni saw me on my way to the pool last week and was surprised to see where I was going. “You? Swimming during the nine days? I’m shocked! Even I don’t swim during the nine days.” She was referring to the well-known custom of refraining during the week before Tisha b’Av from pleasurable activities, including buying new clothes, eating meat, and bathing for pleasure (an activity that is commonly thought to include swimming). Rather than try to defend myself, I asked her, “Why don’t you?” She thought for a moment and then responded, “Because how else would I get in the right mindset for Tisha b’Av? I don’t eat meat, and I rarely buy new clothes – so it’s only the prohibition on swimming that actually reminds me of the time of year.” I was glad that I had asked her, because in hearing her explanation as to why she does not swim, I realized why I do.

Unlike Roni, it would be impossible for me to forget what is going on in the Jewish calendar now. I feel like I have spent much of the last month getting ready for Tisha b’Av. I have been teaching classes for the last few weeks about the symbolism of the Temple for the rabbis, and I wrote an essay about this same subject. I have also been to several lectures about Tisha b’Av, most notably a class last week at Beit Avichai about forms of mourning in Jewish tradition, and a shiur last night about tragedy from ancient Greece to Shakespeare to the Talmud. I have leyned several of the haftarot from Jeremiah and Ezekiel about the sinfulness of the people and the destruction that awaits them. When not leyning these haftarot, I have been practicing the perek of Eicha that I will chant at the Kotel tomorrow night. In addition, my chevruta and I have been learning the fifth perek of Gittin, which includes all the stories about the eve of the destruction of the Temple. (Unfortunately, although Daf Yomi is also on Gittin, we hit the fifth perek two weeks after Tisha b’Av, which is appropriately tragic.) And for the past two weeks, I have been reading the final chapter of the first volume of Rabbi Benjamin Lau’s Chachamim, which deals with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai (most famous for his cry, later paraphrased by Patrick Henry, “Give me Yavneh and its sages!”), the zealots, and the events surrounding the destruction of the Temple. I even inadvertently invited Bar Kamtza for dinner this Shabbat!

Through it all, though, I have been swimming nearly every day in the Olympic-sized Jerusalem swimming pool on the ground floor of the office
building where I work. To my delight, the pool has been considerably less crowded this past week, since so many of the religious people don’t swim.
(On Monday night, when there is “all women’s swimming” for the sake of religious women who will not swim with men, the pool was nearly empty; for
the first time ever I had an entire lane to myself!) While I swim, the melody of Eicha often runs through my head, and sometimes when I swim
backstroke, I find myself practicing out loud. At other times I keep the copious notes I am taking on Rabbi Lau’s book in a plastic sleeve at the
edge of the pool, and review the material between laps. Swimming is one of the few activities I do that does not involve feeding new ideas into my
brain. When I swim, I reflect and process and digest. If not for swimming, I don’t think I would remember half of what I have been studying all summer about the history surrounding Tisha b’Av. Perhaps, then, I could have answered Roni by saying, “Why do I swim? Because it helps me remember all about Tisha b’Av!” The reasoning might be hafuch-al-hafuch (that is, topsy-turvy), but it’s true.

–Chavatzelet Herzliya

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June 20, 2008 by

Not Pregnant

Hi Tammy, it’s me.

I hope I’m not catching you at a bad moment. I have some big news. It means a lot to me to share it with you. Do you have a minute? You might need to catch your breath when I tell you this, and you should definitely be sitting down. OK, here goes. Well, you know all our friends are getting pregnant these days? Sarah, Stacy, Edna, Rachel – yes, it’s quite the thing to do. Well, I have news for you: I’m not pregnant. Yup – I’m not pregnant!!!! Can you believe it? I can hardly believe it myself, and it’s been nearly three months already. I hope you don’t think it’s too early to tell, but I’ve been keeping the news to myself for what seems like ages. Three months of not being pregnant, but I didn’t want to say anything, because
you know how it is, in the beginning you can never be sure, maybe that period was just a fluke. But it’s real, and I’m sure of it! For the past three months, ever since all our friends starting getting pregnant, I’ve been feeling just awful. Oh, it was the worst. I’d wake up in the morning—especially before big days at work—with this horrible feeling in my stomach. I had to run to the bathroom, and there would go yesterday’s dinner. This
happened day after day, this nauseous feeling each time someone else got pregnant. I was like, gosh, not being pregnant is agonizing, how am I going to deal with this??? Anyway, my doctor tells me it’s finally behind me – from here on, not being pregnant will be a lot easier to deal with.

Except, well, you’ve got to hear this. I crave chocolate! All the time. Especially at night. I have to eat something sweet. It’s really horrible. I hope it doesn’t go on for too long, because I’m beginning to show. I mean, if this chocolate craving continues, I’m going to have to buy maternity clothes even though I’m not pregnant! Wouldn’t that be something.

Anyway, please don’t tell anyone yet—I haven’t even told my mother. I’m not ready yet, though I think she might have guessed. The other day I noticed her looking at me somewhat quizzically when I ordered a huge glass of wine at dinner. I can do that, hurrah, because I’m not pregnant!!! It’s so exciting. You’ll have to come over so I can tell you more details. But really, please don’t bring a gift. It’s not necessary. I’m just glad to have your support. Thanks so much for listening—I wanted you to be the first to know.

–Chavatzelet Herzliya

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May 25, 2008 by

Meditation on Turning Thirty

Today is my thirtieth birthday, which falls out each year during the period in which it is traditional to learn Pirkei Avot, the tractate of the Mishnah that contains many ethical precepts and teachings relating to Jewish learning, among them the following:

Age five is for learning Torah
Age ten is for learning Mishnah
Age thirteen is for observing the commandments
Age fifteen is for learning Talmud
Age eighteen is for marriage
Age twenty is for pursuit [of a livelihood]
Age thirty is for strength….

The Mishnah seems to suggest that a person is expected to attain certain intellectual and personal milestones at particular ages. I find myself often internalizing this way of thinking. “I am almost thirty – I should think about having children!” “I need to finish the Daf Yomi cycle before I turn 35!” “Before another year passes I must learn how to drive!” And on, and on.

There is a value in this way of thinking — it challenges me to set goals for myself, and to strive to attain them. But the older I get, the more convinced I become that there is no such thing as a “right age” for anything.

Last night I had coffee with a dear friend named Mira who lives with her husband and five children in a settlement over the green line. When we first met three years ago in a Jerusalem book group, she was in a crisis because she was turning 40, and I was in a crisis because I was getting divorced. Back then, she told me she envied me because I was so young and had my life ahead of me; I told her that I envied her because she was so stable and settled and sure of her future.

Last night, over hot apple cider in a cafe in a quiet Jerusalem alleyway, it became clear that the tables had turned: I was on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, and she was planning to divorce her husband, something she has wanted to do for a while. Both of us were considerably happier than we were three years ago, though there was a certain wistfulness I sensed when I folded my bare arms over one another to stay warm in the chilly evening air. Having experienced the pain of divorce, it is hard to see someone else celebrate such a moment, especially when the couple in question has five children. And while a birthday is always a time of celebration, it is also hard to accept that time can never be retrieved, and that some decisions are indeed irreversible.

Is thirty really an age of strength, as the rabbis declare? I should like to think so. But I should like to think every age is a time of strength – the strength to face whatever challenges happen to lie in front of us at that particular moment. With the small candle in a ceramic jar flickering on the rickety café table, I close my eyes for a moment and wish for this strength to steady my steps in the years that lie ahead.

–Chavazelet Herzliya

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