A perfect sea urchin

My Evil Thoughts

Welcome to where I air my evil views, proud, uncowed, unbowed, and absolutely evil, superficial, and ignorant. Get used to it. To return to the main blog page, just click here.

Among the Sick

This is one heck of a way to end the month, but having Kaiser means I get doctored, and being doctored means that even if you are not sick, you are ill, because you end up doing all the things a sick person does. Back last winter when I was off my prescription meds, all I took was a Claritin pill in the morning along with smearing cortisone cream on my hands. Now, I take my prescription meds in the late afternoon, and in the morning I take: a multi-vitamin, a fish oil capsule, a slow release iron pill that may make one of my prescription meds give me an upset stomach (How do you say asking for trouble?), and a claritin pill. I also now can only have a papaya every other week.

Yesterday I went for routine medical tests. A test I had in early June all ready ruled out any serious illness. Anyway, I have a weird appreciation for all the plumbing that makes me a reasonably normal female. I also felt like a kitty who had just been to the vet for a procedure. I was hungry and then tired. I cooked up a storm, ate, and went to sleep and slept like a stone.

The upside of all this poking and prodding was that I got one of my prescriptions refilled. The other upside was that all this testing was in a part of Atlanta called Sandy Springs, where I had never been before. The landscape is alien and awe inspiring. There are mammoth office towers and business hotels sprouting out of what would be flat and featureless Georgia clay covered with just a fig leaf of grass, except somebody paid the professional landscape company to come in and do their best. There are huge beds of flowers: magenta vinca, caladium with red and white blotches on their leaves, and golden rudbeckia with both seal brown and spring green centers. The flowers were a delight, something the motorists miss. Unfortunately, there were no bees pollinating them. It could have been the heat or excessive, systemic insecticide. I don't think the landscape company cares much about pollinators or beneficial insects.

Down by where I went for my tests, there was incredible artificial landscaping including a huge lake, a recirculating fountain that spewed water a good twelve feet into the air, and an artificial waterfall. I gasped as I toured this stuff from the side of the road. Only the King and the Queen in Dunwoody are more gorgeous and that is because they have both an artificial lake and a flower garden with trails through it. I need to make another visit to the King and the Queen soon.

I don't think I'm going Sunday because I need to bake bread. I'm running low again and I want Roman meal or rye bread this time around. Rye bread in my house is nearly always Roman meal.

I guess I should thank the doctors for letting me learn that I have a variety of minor (as in relatively harmless) and treatable (if they need treatment) conditions that I did not know I had before. This is the sort of peace of mind for which I pay health insurance premiums. Still, it seems the best way to be "healthy" is to avoid being doctored. Well, it is too late for me. I'm one of the sick now and there is not much I can do about it.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/30/10

Morning Blessings and Answered Prayers

God either gave me what I needed and not what I wanted or what I wanted and not what I needed. I am not sure how to figure it out except that I should be grateful and am still wanting. That is all I can say.

I started Saturday's service by skipping around in the siddur as we Jews call our book of liturgical prayer and not always reading the preliminary psalms along with the chazzan or prayer leader. He (It is always a he) is reading them in Hebrew anyway and I am reading them in English. Lately I have found my way to the morning blessings at the beginning of the siddur. They are interesting and scarey. NonOrthodox Jews make fun of them. This is an official and apologetic site that gives a kiddy interpretation of them.

My interpretation is different especially for the "who made me according to His will" blessing. My take is that if you are &qut;normal" you should be satsified with your gender and not want to be anything else though it is sometimes fun to imagine what life would be like in the other sort of body. If you are transgendered and have not yet switched to the new gender yet, then you should probably skip these prayers. They arent' for you. If you want to be a different gender, you can't be thankful for your current gender.

As for the rest of the blessings, sometimes they fit. Sometimes they don't. I have a visual impairment no one has been able to fully fix. It's invisible. I have eyesight, but it's not perfect. So much for eyesight to the blind though it reminds me of Eric Clapton's song, "Eyesight to the Blind" from the movie, Tommy.

I finish the pre-written blessings and add my own:

Blessed are you God for letting me see the sunrise this morning

Blessed are you God for having me live in Atlanta rather than in podunk and flyover country.

Blessed are you God for putting me in a city where there are so many good things to eat.

Blessed are you God for making sure I am employed with a regular paycheck.

Blessed are you God for giving me enough money so that I can share with others.

Blessed are you God for giving me my ability to learn new t hings.

blessed are you God for giving me my imagination; for without imagination my life would be dull indeed. Yes, it's not that brilliant, and no it's not universal, but these are my blessings. I guess everyone should add a few personal blessings to their morning blessings. Somehow it makes sense.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/27/10

I Remember the Sunrises

I think this is the first week, I've been able to make both my Strive for Five minyanim without a hitch. I've even arrived early enough to buy a love offering to stock the synagogue pantry. I'm NOT bribing the deity. All right, maybe I am, but I could not pray over an important personal need. This morning, I slept instead. There are places my brain will not let me go when I am afraid. Hopefully, my fears are unfounded. I'll know soon enough.

What I remember most about the two Strives this week were the sunrises. Nobody knows much about very early morning except people who work either third shift or who go to work for a very early first shift. Then a commute and exhaustion may blunt their perceptions. Back last spring, I used to say that nothing took the magic out of a sunrise like going to work. A sunrise became part of the scenery.

For some reason, a sunrise that one sees from the beginning while walking four miles to a religious service is different. The sky starts out either blue or charcoal depending on cloud cover. The landscape is monchrome dyed a weird shade of yellow by sodium lights which are everywhere. Then the sky becomes either medium grey or a lighter shade of blue and slowly the dawn begins around the edges with just a dusting of orange or mauve. It really does have rosy fingers if that is one heck of a cliche.I have not seen any flaming red sunrises, and we all know that is a very good thing. A red sunrise means rain, pure and simple. Sunsets are much more dramatic.

The soundscape changes as the sky lightens. I was out before the birds started singing. I heard either crickets or cicadas chirping and later the rumble of the freight train as it crosses Clairmont. When I finally reached the shopping center, there were crows and gease and there are always workers taking their breaks outside of Kroger's.

Early mornings have their own smells too. On dry mornings, the smell is dry grass. Sometimes one smells rotting refuse. This morning a stretch of Clairmont stank of fertilizer. Sprinklers which people run just before sunup leave behind the sour smell of ozone. The air quality is still good and it feels cool on my skin for about half the trip. When I sweat, it's not horrible. I know to make the trip in shirtsleeves with my sweater stuffed in my backpack.

When I reach the synagogue, unlike the men, I spread out across three seats. The women's section is not crowded. Men have all their props and costumes. I have my backpack and purse. I drape my sweater across the back of my chair. The syangogue is an ice box. I also have a Living Torah along with the prayer book so I can follow the daily Torah reading in English. This week's portion is Parshas Balam which is supposed to be funny, but reminds me way too much of high school and middle school. I'm not sure why this story makes me uncomfortable. I think it's the ridicule and low comedy tucked inside it. There is the reason the Bible is great literature, but sometimes great literature is a painful read.

The bus ride to work Monday was sweet and quiet. The one today was pretty awful or as awful as MARTA gets early in the day. First the number #30 ran late and missed its connection with the #125. I then had to wait an extra twenty minutes. I did a lot of thinking about various things, but none of it productive. I can't think about the thing that avoids coherent prayer. That is all I can say.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/24/10

Village by the Sea

Town by the Sea

I can almost see it as I pray and doze off
Rocks like stepping stones leading down to the beach
Weathered houses in red and green gone soft due to the elements
The place under the old pier where boats go to die up against the old wooden poles
That somehow have not rotted due to the salt air.

It's never too hot
And the air smells sour in a sweet way.

I wonder about the place
Could it be a memory from my childhood:
Maine, which I found too cold,
Hampton Bays which is shrouded in myth,
or the Jersey shore where I went once when I just turned sixteen?

If I close my eyes, I can go there
It seems so easy and so tantalizing.
The sweet circle of prayer protects me
I will nap all afternoon or pretend to nap,
But really, I'm going to wander by the sea
I'm going to explore the whole town.
Find out everything about it worth knowing.

Trapped on the couch, the baby screams for the hundreth time.
Sometimes he visits me, demanding attention.
It takes work to ignore him.
I can't pull my thoughts away from the goodness of air conditioning
Or the fact that if I get up it's worse.
I play statue but the town by the sea is gone.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/20/2010

A Long Way from the Water

I tell myself I'll swim on Thursday, after work...I won't swim today. I hate that, but I'm down to half a bag of cat food. The litter boxes...You don't want to know, but my cats are good sports and creatures of habit. I am glad of that. They're bag of food is half finished, and I am critcially low on oil. Kroger's oil no longer has a heckscher or kosher seal. I need to go to Publix and buy a container of peanut oil. I could use some lime juice, and of course the cats need food. A trip to Publix means no trip to the pool. I simply won't make it home in time. That hurts.

What hurts even worse, is that while I was dreading the long evening baking bread, followed by the short night's sleep, followed by a Strive for Five session, and then.... I'll leave this last part out. I feel like the late Gilda Radner: "That just goes to show you, it's always something!"

I also know that when I go to synagogue tomorrow, none of the men will ask what I am doing. None of them will have baked bread or tried a new recipe the night before. None of them will mourn for the swimming they are missing. I'm glad I didn't pay for a season pass. I forgot how busy my life could get. I also realize that none of them have been any where near The Open Door in a week. Of course they "don't have reason to be there," but then again neither do I except I signed on to bring them salad every week, and I keep my promise.

I wish I weren't so tired. I wish I could just swim and fall asleep beside the pool. When I want to sleep, that means I am upset. It will be better to go to synagogue and pray my eyeballs out tomorrow. It will be better to accept that some things are more important than swimming. Running out of bread would be catastrophic. The routine must continue because life is pretty miserable without it. The show must go on.

Eileen H. Kramer 6/16/10

I Grew a Second Skin

I grew a second skin Sunday. I did not intend to grow it, but Rabbi Broyde (why not mention his name?) and his wife were hosting a groomal shower (They called it a L'Chaim) or more precisely a couple shower at his house way up in Toco Hills. Because this was a religious open house rather than a traditional shower, I had only to bring my own body and no gifts. This is one of the nicest social features of Orthodox Judaism.

Anyway, I couldn't very well go to the groomal shower in shorts and a t-shirt. I could wear a t-shirt, but with a skirt and stockings. There was one problem. I think it was well over ninty degrees out. The Southern sun was scorching. In fact, it was the kind of sun that bakes your brains. I used to deal with sun like this in Columbus. I would shop at night. I also knew where I could literally soak my head and then let the wet hair cool me as I kept walking. Atlanta does not have a lot of head soakeries. Convenience stores with bathroom sinks are great soakeries.

Unfortunately, soaking my head was not an option. Instead, I became a shade seeking missile. When I first started sweating, I was uncomfortable. Soon, though, I got used to it. That was long after my t-shirt just soaked through in four or five places. My face became a mask of sweat, and then the mask started to burn and sting. That was how I knew I had a second skin. The salt in my sweat combined with Atlanta's world famous air pollution irritated my skin, particularly my eyelids. I wondered what I looked like, and no, I was not sunburned. I'm too dark to burn easily unless I do something stupid like fall asleep next to a swimming pool.

I only shivered a tiny bit. Shivering in the heat is heat exhaustion. Your body's thermostat goes haywire and you sweat yourself cold. I was relieved that the main hill climb was through the shade of Houston Mill Road rather than the sizzling, sidewalks of Clairmont. I picked the route to get as little sun as possible. I still got more than my share of scorching on LaVista. My mother would have worried about showing up all sweaty. I realized showing up sweaty was better than being a no-show.

I was glad my legs did not hurt at least. I let myself in through one of the cut through gates, and the door at the Broydes was wide open. Mercifully, the air conditioning was on low. I guess my second skin was invisible, because nobody asked me if I was OK. Of course all eyes were on the engaged couple. I got to congratulate the bride-to-be, and the Broydes. The prospective groom was too busy. I met my friends and socialized a bit. It was really quite pleasant.

Of course it was not my party. I was just one of the guests. Also, no one probably could conceive of walking five and a half miles in the heat. They would not have even attempted it, even though these folks know I routinely walk to Toco Hills from Decatur which is about four miles if one only goes as far as Young Israel which is our synagogue. They also know that I walk in all sorts of weather. I enjoyed the food and the conviviality.

I did not get a ride back. I came home slowly. I stopped at Whole Foods. I wanted some fancy pasta, which they have at an excellent price (This is definitely the time of year for cold pasta salads.), some tea, and some rye flour. The Whole Foods on Briarcliff is terrible. Their Celestial Seasonings tea selection looked picked over. It's not great even on a good day, but I found something I wanted. They also had the pasta. Score two. They were out of rye flour. "Don't people up here make rye bread?" I asked. By the way, even Kroger's sells rye flour. I wish the Briarcliff Whole Foods would clean up its act.

My delaying tactic meant I reached the shopping center around 8:25pm. That was fantastic. I crossed it slowly and around 8:35pm came out on Clairmont and Druid Hills. The sun was setting. The sky was a pretty shade of blue purple. The civil twilight looked like a southern Aurora Borealis. I got to see all that. The heat did not quit though it was now easier to bear. My face still prickled and stung under its new skin.

I rode the #19 bus to the end of the line and walked home on familiar streets from the Decatur MARTA station. I watched the evening strollers on the MARTA station roof. I overheard a poetry slam at Java Monkey. I wish I had the time to sit in cafes, but my social life takes me other places. That is fine with me. There were also bocce ball players outside of Leon's. I wonder if any of them had been in a house of worship of any type that weekend. The world of tax paying, job holding, law abiding adults is really a series of parallel universes when you think about it. In my universe you grow a second skin because you need to celebrate with a friend whose son has gotten engaged.

When I got home, only my feet hurt and then not much. A shower washed away my second skin. I have almost no prickly heat either which is a big relief. I must be getting very strong. I walked sixteen miles this weekend, and all the water in my body is probably new. A second skin is really mostly just water.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/15/10

Let's Toss That Scorecard

I'm not going to make any fake apologies for my Biblical explication being simplistic or wrong-headed. The midrash and the rabbis can say what they like. I am a modern reader and bring to the text my own knowledge of the world and experience. If you are not a Bornagain Christian, a divinity student, or an Orthodox or Conservative Jew (or perhaps a rabbi of some type), you don't know thing one about Parshas Korach (Bamidbar/Numbers 16-18). Go read it. It should shock you unless you are into apolagetics, or you just skimmed it.

First, Korach, Dathan, Abiram, On and their followers are the good guys. True, they did not consider God's best prophet a competent leader and chafed at the idea of an hereditary priesthood, but Korach's rhetorical questio: "Aren't all of us holy?" doesn't just resonate. It shines. Pulled out of context, the answer seems obvious: "YES!" If one looks around at Jews or Protestants (and also Moslems), we have no central religious authority such as a Pope. The hereditary priesthood is all but gone. We are individually responsible for our own spiritual welfare. We have personal relationships with God. We do not have to bring sacrifices or even our bodies to a central temple, and we have our choice of house of worship if we choose to attend one. If we join a religious community and agree to its rules, it is of our own free will, and while we may feel social pain, there is no law against us quitting. To some extent, the United States of 2010 CE is the world Korach wanted, or maybe it is even too radical for him.

Dathan and Abiram are a different case. Last year, Rabbi Broyde, accused them of power hunger. It is possible that egotism played a role in their motivations. Many leaders and politicans are egotistical. So what! Their complaint against Moses looks very cogent. Moses promised the promised land. Instead, Dathan, Abiram, and almost a million other souls find themselves with a city in the desert and a totalitarian government invading nearly every issue of their personal lives. It is hard to leave both due to the harsh desert and a series of food restrictions that make living off the land in a harsh environment impossible. Also if one has been following the story of Leviticus and Numbers up to this point, one realizes that the Hebrews gave up much of their wealth (that could be used to buy land or as business capital if there was such a thing) to build the Mishkan.

Dathan and Abiram complain essentially that Moses is incompetent. He has failed in his mission, and given the facts, they are more or less right. The Hebrews do not have the wherwithal to enter Caanan as a conquering army. That they have other options and that they destroy those options under Moses' leadership a few parshiot on, is another topic. They can not even at this point skirmish with the local tribes as we learned in the previous parsha. Actually, Parshas Shelach, the previous parsha ends with a huge disconnect from reality. The Hebrews need to flee to a safer area because they can not fight the local tribes effectively, and at the same time Moses issues a whole bunch of rules about sacrifices of grain in some promised land that is still...ahem...promised.

There is no mention anywhere in Leviticus or Numbers of using iron or copper to make weapons (Did all the copper go into the altar?) or preparing skins to make armor. There is metal armor too, but there is no mention of that either. There is no mention of obtaining horses or camels for cavalry, training medics for the battle field...nothing. Heaven really does help those who help themselves. Instead of making laws for a future world that seems both tantalizingly close and unbearably far away, why isn't the leadership doing more to prepare the population for war other than blowing trumpets and assigning each tribe a banner. It almost reminds me of kids playing war.

Yes, Dathan and Abiram are right. Moses may have been competent to lead a slave revolt, but his leadership in the wilderness is abysmal. Now, you might ask me if Dathan, Abiram, and Korach are heroes, why did they die and why did they die such utterly spectacular deaths. First, Dathan, Abiram, and their supporters did not die spectacular deaths. They died in an earthquake. Ask the folks in Haiti and China or the folks living around the Indian Ocean about earthquakes and tsunamis. They're not miracles. They're not portents from God. They're disasters, but dying in a disaster is fairly ordinary. In other word's God's miracle is strictly second rate.

The fire ball that consumes Korach qualifies for miraculous, but it is also in the same leagues as the strange fire that kills Nadav and Abihu. It's a holy way to die, close to martyrhood.

And yes, heroes die. Good guys don't always live. I hope that the modern reader can accept this. Survival doesn't always mean goodness. Think of the civil rights workers who were martyred for their cause, and yes the equation is apt. Dathan and Abiram's protest is utterly nonviolent. They speak their minds. They do not disucss using fire, the sword, or other means to wrest leadership from Moses. Their struggle is reminiscent of other nonviolent protests and strikes. Think of the Carnegie Steel workers gunned down by Pinkerton Guards. Think of the lunch counter protests or the sit ins at the Ford Factories during the Great Depression. Dathan and Abiram's revolt looks a lot more like these protests than like the actions of Hamas, the FARQ in Columbia, the Tamil Tigers, or the Shining Path guerillas in Peru. Their means do not justify their end. That is a great thing.

There is also their final moments, the silent stand off in the front of their tents or apartment buildings (The settlment/encampment in Numbers measures thirteen square miles and houses a million inhabitants.) This is one of the greatest scenes of literature, ordinary folks, leaders having only their courage to stand before a prophet/dictator backed by an Infinite and Omnipotent force. Even Prometheus who ends up with his liver ripped out for eternity, has nothing on these men with their wives and families, placing their lives on the line for what they believe.

So why do I disagree with the rabbis and the Midrash? I live in the twenty-first Century. I am an American. Numbers tells a different story for me than it does for a lot of people. It is the difficult read that it should be for any one from a liberal background, and I am not ready to leave my liberal background at the door.

On another level, I also recognize that Dathan, Abiram, and Korach are flawed heroes. None of them spoke up when the Airev Rav were killed by fire (Was that a miracle or good old fashioned arson?) They said nothing when the man gathering sticks at the end of Parsha Shelach is put to death and probably even join in his execution. Maybe a revolution is only complete when it takes minorities and the poor into account, but a revolution has to start somewhere. Atleast Korach, Dathan, and Abiram made a start in the right place. Too bad they did not live to see a world that would have been more to their liking and which would have respected them for their efforts.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/10/10

Relief versus Gratitude

I know the moment existed. I know it because I remember sitting on the throne in the ladies' room at the synagogue, looking at the toilet paper, and counting the days. The only response to the numbers and the obvious, physical evidence was an expletive. Someone overheard and I explained that I was probably sick and very scaird. I dreaded letting a doctor examine my intimate parts, but I dreaded a disease I will not mention even more. In short, I re-entered the medical system in short order. I am very grateful that I have insurance. I am very grateful that I switched to Kaiser Permanente last winter. The care is great. My eczema is under better control than it has been in years.

Today I received the results of a routine medical test. They were NEGATIVE even though I am a DES daughter. I ought to be grateful. I'm not. I'm simply relieved. I'm not sure why. The routine test was painful. It felt like being stung by a bee or bitten by fire ants. Apparently the brain remembers acute pain. I don't remember the pain from the diverticulitis I had five years ago, but that pain went on for four days until I got the right medication. I remember what the pain did. I could not sit up straight. I could not sleep the first two nights, and when I finally recovered, I did not have the strength to walk more than a mile or two. The brain must process acute and chronic pain very differently.

I felt grateful when I went swimming on Thursday. The sun was out and the bleeding that followed the exam had dried up. It just felt great to be in the water. I'd like to swim this afternoon, but I missed the supermarket over the weekend and I need to get lemon juice or there is no salad for Open Door. I want to swim and have the hot late afaternoon sun beat down on the water while I lie on my back or tread, even though treading water makes me fiercely sore. I hate having to stay out of the water because I have to run a stupid errand.

Also, I'm still worried about my body, even though I don't have a dread disease. I have fibroids. They are huge but I'm used to them. Everyone else notices them. I always thought that a "paunch" was just what came with a skirt butt and that was it. I'm going to get to see my fibroids on ultrasound on June 29th. Part of me is looking forward to that. Part of me hopes there is nothing more serious going on. Part of me right now wants my period to come again. It's due tomoorrow according to my revised estimate, but my revised estimate, two dollars, and a Breeze Card gets you on either a MARTA train or bus with a free transfer. Where would you like to go?

I'd still like to fulfill my staycation fantasy of just walking wherever my feet take me, but there's no cat litter in the house. I can skip the cat litter, and pick up the odds and ends at Publix and walk up Memorial Drive toward Stone Mountain. Being out in the sun may make me feel almost as good as making it home in time for a swim. I'll get in my swim on Wednesday. I'll swim every afternoon the whole rest of the week. I'll even swim if I get my period. That is why they make Tampax. Maybe somehow I'm grateful after all.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/8/10

Why the Spies Died

Modern/liberal or nonreligious people forget that Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers, exists. They do this with good reason. It is a terrible story. It is a story of an angry God and of human failing. It is a naked anatomy of the way totalitarianism is born and comes to maturity, and even under the best of circumstances the arrival of this kind of vicious, dictatorship expletive deleteds.

Parshas Shelach, or the Story of the Spies, marks a turning point in the growth of totalitarianism that started in the Book of Leviticus. Now most of Leviticus and the last half of Exodus are all laws. Some rabbis say there are no stories there. These rabbis forget that millions of people listen avidly to both the weather forecast and the business news. Both of these tell a story. You can have stories without any human drama. You can have stories with the human characters hidden. The trick is to ask the laws questions about what they let people do and to follow the money every time the law asks for a sarifice. Then one should ask how these laws effected life in the camp.

Let's start with the laws of the sabbatical year, jubilee, and ritual purity. These are all designed to make sure that the priesthood and the Levites permanently keep their top status. The sabbatical year prevents the buildup of surplus wealth by forcing the land to lie fallow. Without surplus wealth it is hard to get a portion of the population off the land and into cities. You do not create an urban elite when you bring everyone back to a level of subsistence every seven years. Jubiliee prevents a landed aristocracy from forming. Every fifty years or so, land reverts to its ancestral owners. You can't pass on land you have bought for more than a generation and a half. The laws of purity make any one who touches a dead body impure. This deprives both doctors (and other healiers) and undertakers, who do a valuable service of their status. Think of any small town in America and you know the doctor and the undertaker are both high status individuals. The priests have just undercut most of the competition.

Now let's move on to the korbanos (sacrifices) and the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) itself. Thse are taxes. Livestock, silver, and gold are the only currency besides land that people had back in the Bronze age and better yet, livestock and whatever metals they had were the only wealth people in the encampment had. How do you say taxes?

Now the laws get personal. There are laws about when and how you can have sex (midah) and with whom, penalties for adultery which in this society is considered an act by two consenting adults and therefore not the law's business. One can argue that some of the sex laws pretect the weak against the strong. This is true since I think the Bible has a hard time conceiving of an egalitarian, consensual relationship without a contract of marriage protecting the woman, but this is also government coming into the bedroom in a way that would be considered horrible today in the United States.

Then there is the manna and the food laws. This is not just kashrut, though that is a part of it. I am not sure if home slaughter of animals was permitted in the encampment. Some authorities say it was. Some say it wasn't. If it wasn't, then every animal (or a good portion) of any animal slaughtered was a sacrifice or korban. There are rules for what is done wtih a sacrifice' meat. Some offerings are completely consumed by fire and not eaten at all (taxes!) while one could eat others for a couple of days and then had to destroy the rest. This meant, according to some rabbis, that you had to have friends with you to share the feast. What this also meant was that you could not dry the meat or make it into sausage and eat it at your leisure. If you wanted to eat meat you had to stay in camp. You could not take jerky with you on a journey.

Now let's move on to the manna? Though I have read that this was insect eggs that simply appeared early in the morning, if this was a miraculous gift from God it came with strings attached. It did not fall outside the camp. If you became dependent on manna, you could not leave the camp, for fear of losing your food supply.

Then we have kashrut, The kosher laws Jews in Atlanta and most others follow in 2010 CE are not the ones in the Bible. They concern supervision in food factories and industrial slaughter houses. If you want a forbidden item, your friends might not accept food that you have cooked, but you will not go to jail and you can find new friends who won't give a hang what you eat. What is really interesting though is that the kosher laws of Leviticus and Numbers really aren't about not eating pork or veal parmesan. All the pig villification comes later and usually in the form of commentary, some of which was written as late as 1100 CE and from rabbis in the pulpit who have read this commentary.

Yes, swine's flesh is forbidden but so is rabbit, ostrich, frog legs, shrimp, clams. Crustaceans and rabbit never come in for the kind heat reserved for pigs, and occasionally for blood. The reason for this is history. Our enemies in historical times, as opposed to the time of the Mishkan, were the Greeks and the Romans, and other Europeans. The Europeans loved pork. They also ate blood sausages. If you loathe their enemies, you can consider their food excrement.

Leviticus and Numbers don't read like the rabbi's rants. They include long lists of forbidden creatures, and even exempt particular kinds of locusts, so that we would not starve in times of infestation. Of course a modern reader might be tempted to ask: "Who in their right mind would eat lizard, ants, grubs, hyraxes, camel?" The answer is any one who hunts. In Africa, bush meat is a delicacy In the United States people hunt and eat rabbits and squirrels. The Kosher laws prohibit the hunting of all small game, and even much large game since death by arrow shot or spear or running off a cliff is not proper ritual slaughter. If you can't hunt, you have to eat your livestock (your wealth) if you leave the camp and walk away.

Deciding what you want to eat and then eating it is a very fundamental form of freedom. When the people ask for meat in Parshas Nassos they are really asking for freedom in an oblique way. Sometimes the easiest way to complain is to complain about the food.

But with Bamidbar the noose has allready tightened like a vice. Parshas Bamdibar and Parshas Nasso lay out the encampment and the marching order. One is no longer free to pitch one's tent near one's best friend, one's parents if one has internmarried, or one's business associates. One also can't walk those long ten mile hikes at one's best friend's side.

Now way back when, in the times of the Mishkan, if the stories of Leviticus and Numbers are to be believed, we gave up all our freedom, but we did it for a good cause. We were going to the promised land. We were going back to our ancestral country of Cannana. True, we had spent two years wandering in the desert, but we gave up our liberty for a good reason.

We were all ready to make the final push for the Promised Land. True we now lived as our own nation with our own laws. True we would enter Cannan as a separate people, and we were going to have to displace those who were there and engage in a little ethnic clensing, but we had a marching order and we had banners. Isn't that all you need for a military assault.

Off went the twelve spies. They were told to do reconnaisance. They did their jobs, and all but two of them were honest. Yes, the land was fertile. They brought back a huge bunch of grapes that someone let them have. Apparently the border was porous and immigrants and visitors were welcome. Keep this in mind because those in charge of the encampment will also destroy this option a few parshiot on, but the cities were fortified and there were real armies. Our people were not ready for prime time as a military force. Most of the spies spoke the truth, and as in any dyfunctional office were killed for their honesty.

The dream of the promise land became a dream deferred. Maybe it could never be anything else. Those who had given up their liberty for a dream, now were without either. The spies died because they have to die. Here in the year 2010 CE we have a saying that comes from the 1700's: "Those who give up their freedom for security will have neither." I believe Patrick Henry said it. The spies for all their truthfulness, came wtih too little too late. They went along with the loss of liberty just like everyone in the camp. They said nothing when someone set fire to the Airev Rav's tents. It was OK. They weren't descendents of Jacob.

It was also OK when the man who collected sticks on Shabbos was stoned to death. No one in their camp raised their voice to defend the poor retch. No one suggested that Moses commute the census or show mercy. This is what happens when a dictatorship takes over. You don't get the promises. You live with the incompetence, and it hardens your heart and moral sensibility.

In the next parsha, Dathan, Abiram, and Korach try to regain power, but power is hard to take back once you cede it, but at least they foment a credible civil war.

I won't spoil you with the rest of what happens in Bamidbar. You'll have more of my commentary as the summer goes on. And no...this is not how modern Jews live. If I keep kosher or shabbos or any other Jewish laws that involve spiritual practice, it is a social and personal decision. I have not allowed a theocratic dictatorship into my stomach or bedroom or other parts of my private life. This is the United States. I can walk away from being frum any time I want to go. I am not locked in an encampment. I hope I am a little too smart to ever give away my freedom as easily as the spies and their cohorts gave their up.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/6/10

A River of Faces

I've been riding a lot more MARTA buses than usual. Strive for Five and a medical appointment yesterday had me cruising through the northeastern corner of DeKalb County more than I normally do and a lot more time waiting for and sitting on buses. The faces don't blur. I remember the workers in assorted uniforms. Some are more obvious than others. There are the medical personnel, who could be anything from registered nurses, to aides, to medical secretaries, to vet techs (nurses), all in scrubs. There were the court workers who wore tight skirts, stockings, and heels. I had on gauchos and panty hose and felt ill dressed. You don't see those kinds of outfits that often. The grounds crew that maintains DeKalb County's jail wears forest green jump suits or work pants and shirts covered with fluorescent, yellow pinnies that say "DeKalb Correctional Facility: Landscaping and Grounds" I saw Decatur City workers, and of course the folks who work in stores, restaurants, and Cactus Carwash, all of whom have uniforms. My own backpack in lieu of brief case combined with a skirt and gauchoes is a white collar academic female's uniform.

Most adults on the bus in the early morning, sleep, read, or stare quietly out the window. Half the passengers on the train I board for work are fast asleep. That's a shame because the scenery is interesting. I can't read on the #121 bus because it usually lacks shocks. The #125 is worse. The scenery is not much, but the #121's ride is short and then I walk in to work with the students.

The worst time to ride a bus, especially in the summer is between 4pm and 6:30pm. This is peak commuting time, but morning buses are crowded too, so crowds aren't the problem. People at the end of the day are surly, and their surliness poisons a whole bus. This includes older people, people bringing home kids from day care, and a few teens and younger folks. Later on at night, the buses empty out and they become the preserve of the young. Even though stores are open until 9pm or 10pm or later older folks don't go shopping at night or work second shift.

Sometimes the young men (Usually its men. If it's women it's a mother at the end of her rope with a young child or a lover busy having one end of a fight on a cell phone with her boyfriend) take over the bus with their loud talk. Occasionally they'll blast their cell phone ring tones, though that happens more on the trains. Mostly it's loud talk. Everyone else pretends not to hear.

One late night ride that is very different from the typical late night MARTA trip is the train out of Dunwoody station after 9pm. There are retail workers and wait staff who have finished up a busy shift. They take two flights of stairs and an escalator to reach the elevated platform. In winter is bitterly cold. It is also a great place to watch storms come through. On the platform, passengers are jovial. Strangers strike up conversations and no one is loud in an anti-social way.

A typical crowded MARTA bus has a whole cast of characters. There are the timid souls who will not sit with strangers. They stand near the front of the bus, giving new arrivals the general impression there are no seats left. It takes a while to realize you have to actually look at the back of the bus. Then we have the hogs. Even on a crowded bus, they take up two seats. Sometimes they are clever about it, using a purse or backpack to fill the second spot. The more brazen bus hogs, put their legs on the second seat and sit facing the aisle from their cozy den by the window. Two words deal with a hog: "excuse me!" More often than not, though, I can avoid the hogs and find a free and legal seat (not for the handicapped or elderly) in the back of the bus. If there are younger folks there, that is usually fine. They are usually not loudmouths, and few of them are hogs.

In case you are wondering whether you are going to read anything about my medical procedure, I prefer to keep the details off my blog. I get back the test results in a week. Meanwhile, part of me is still recovering. I wanted to go swimming yesterday, but I needed to get some work done, and then it rained and thundered. Today, I went swimming. I swam twenty laps, and lay on my back, in the deep end, under the early evening sky. It was lovely to see the arch of blue faintly tinged with gold, and to watch the dramatic cloud castles shift past the sun. The weather forecast keeps predicting rain. Except for Monday, we have hardly gotten any accumulation. Rain may be an inconvenience, but there are few things sadder, especially in times of recession, than a summer drought.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/3/10

Remembering Strive #5

The good news is that I'll be able to do more striving as the summer progresses. The bad news is that I can hardly remember my last strive service. It was on my birthday too, and I even got to sit in on a Daf Yomi class afterwards. No two dawn walks are alike. The walk on my birthday featured a nonexistent sunrise. The sky just faded to grey. On the way back, a cloudburst opened up, and I hung out at Publix until it was over.

The Psalms were poetic. I've checked MARTA and will have transportation from the synagogue to work after the bus routes merge and run less often. A bus driver on the #125 says that the drivers will get the new schedule next week. I'm just going to take an extra hour to cover future strives.

Meanwhile, I have a hurdle to cross before I think of the future. I have a medical procedure that is frightening, invasive, and routine tomorrow afternoon. I think some of you can guess what it is, but if you can't, then too bad. I fear I will be too nervous and stiff with fear for them to do the procedure. I am quite literally scaird out of my wits. The thought of someone messing around very intimate places on my body just utterly repels and frightens me. I'm running out of words.

When I look at my face in the mirror, it's chalk white. I'm freezing with fear. A big sweater feels great. My toes are cold. My tom cat, (He's neutered but he is still a tom at heart which is sweet), Hertzel, won't crawl under the duvet to sleep with me. He tried and then backed out as if he smelled something bad. That something bad is me. I call it bad vibes. I probably stink of fear.

Part of me just wants to go to sleep and forget. Sleep provides the best relief from fear there is. I took naps yesterday on and off. I did get to go swimming which felt wonderful, and I did get to strive even if the early morning service is now only a distant memory.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 6/1/10