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.

The Ship of Misery IV

OK, you can stay away when you read a title like this, but some things are better written in metaphor:

I am not the only one who suffers. The Ship of Misery is always full. It is getting fuller. I watched it park by the Laredo Bus Facility. I saw the MARTA bus drivers in their starched white shirst and navy blue pants, come down the steps. They were waiting for a free ride, but not on the water. On the boat they went.

I recognized my driver from Friday night on the #122. I remember the rant he gave me about his future and about surly and angry customers. Come September 25, MARTA reduces routes and consolidates them. This means that some drivers move from full to part time. That means an involuntary give-back. That means less pay. Others will simply be laid off. Read this two or three times. There is more I would like to write here but I can't.

I know many people who are underemployed. I even knew them unemployed. I knew them underpaid. I know one whose unemployment benefits are running out. I have internet friends who are unemployed and others who had to sell their home in a short sale. I'm OK, but I can't be OK, when the ship is this full and I can't abandon all the others.

I work the galley. Yes, that's a bok-choi. Yes, we're having beet bread. Yes, we're picking up silicone muffin tins at the next stop on the river. What do you mean you don't like fresh figs? I'm in charge of the galley, and the food is going to be first rate on this journey to who knows where.

I went looking for the captain. He keeps the door to the bridge locked. I still think he's in there smoking a jay, or maybe he and the mates are playing Texas Hold 'Em. I hear strains of Lady GaGa escape. This is the only way the great Lady GaGa gets on this boat. She is too big a success to ride this tub on its journey to nowhere. At least the mates have a boom box. Any one who can enjoy themselves on this ship of misery is really not someone against whom I can have a grudge.

I went looking for the chaplain. He said to serve God with joy. I asked him how. He said I would serve my enemies in misery if I couldn't figure it out, but don't worry. We recite the curses of Deuteronomy in an undertone. God forgives all, and this is really meant only in an abstract and plural sense. I reminded the chaplain that he too was on the ship of misery, and asked if he could do anything to get this craft turned around, docked, and the passengers on to dry land. He said God was taking care of us and that Rosh HaShannah was coming soon. Believe and God gives you a good year.

Heaven helps those who help themselves, I felt like telling the chaplain. I felt like telling the chaplain a lot more. I held my tongue. I guess someone is going to have to break into the locked bridge and smash that boom box and seize control of this vessel. I'll hide in the galley with my bok-choi and purple yams and pigeon peas. What you don't like pigeon peas? Eat up. You'll get a few hours shore leave soon. I can teach all of you to stretch your grocery dollars. It's not your fault. I WANT OFF THIS SHIP NOW!, but not without the others following me to safety.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/30/10

Links of All Sorts

I did not go looking for Blackstockings yesterday because I had to cook. I did not go looking for Blackstockings the day before because I had things to do on the net. I still have Haldis' team revision to work on. I have to change a member's information tonight in addition to finishing the two pages, and tonight is social night on Second Life. Sorry, I am too busy to deal with a rude lady in Toco Hills. That's where it stands. I don't have to debate the rightness, wrongness, or craziness of such a journey. Quite simply I'm bound with lots of chains and lots of links.

Now if I were more organized, I could take the #125 bus to the end of the line, transfer to the #8 bus, and walk over to Biltmore. I need to pick up a few things at Publix. That's a reasonable excuse. It's also the last night before Shabbos. In reality, the scheduling and logistics of this trip take a lot of time and are a tight squeeze since I want to take Iyoba bushwhacking in search of libraries in Second Life. Just because I didn't have three children in four years doesn't make me totally a lady of leisure. In fact, I find way too much to keep me busy.

Today I had a doctor's appointment in Tucker and stood in the blazing sun waiting for an off peak MARTA bus until I melted. The heat felt good in a bizarre way. It warmed my bones. It is a great thing to feel warm through and through. Sweating through my shirt is a small price to pay. Besides the cats will love my "mommy smell" infused shirt tonight. Lysistrata will kneed it and purr, and Hertzel will sleep on it. My cats are elegant, intelligent, social, and have just the right combination of self reliance and neediness to make excellent companions, unlike small human children.

Actually, I like some little kids. My friend M's daughter T is a good example. T is not even all that well behaved, but she is cute. Some older kids though, you can empathize with but others are so ill mannered... And little kids in a horde... Just use your imagination. Skulking adolescents and preadolescents are another matter. I was a lump as an adolescent. It took getting into grad school in my early twenties to de-lumpify me. I don't know how any one stood me. I can barely stand myself in retrospect. Middle schoolers are there own special kind of vicious.

I remember a bunch of them in eighth grade who used to sing nasty songs about the science teacher who was also my homeroom teacher. She was a long term (half year) substitute who was keeping a place warm for the science teacher who had suffered a traumaitc head injury in a motorcycle accident. The girls stood in the hall and....they did not threaten the science teacher with death, but they did a credible Bay City Rollers imitation except it included a five letter expletive verb that starts with S. They did it within the teacher's hearing. Every morning they serenaded her. She put up with it for weeks on end, and she had every reason to hate our guts.

I think about those girls a lot. They are my age, exactly now. They were my classmates. What do they think of what they did now that they are probably older than the teacher they harassed? I've looked for the teacher. Not a trace of her is available on the internet. Did she leave the profession? I could find no record of her license with the New York State Education Department. She could just be an anonymous and private person. She could have left New York. She could have taken it all in stride. My classmates, however, could still be haunting her dreams.

There are reasons that some adults "don't want to work with children." I always distrust people who say thhey "like children," except that there's no accounting for taste. I have too many bad memories and no kids of my own. Let's leave it at that.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/26/10

Golden Links Part II

I didn't talk to my friend this weekend, the one who suggested the metaphor of golden links, but I did find a very nice Orthodox woman named Jeanne, and I found Blackstockings. For someone who should have been enjoying a Shabbos rest, she looked none too happy to see me. She said her family was about to eat Sudash Shlishit. I don't know how to spell it. It is a "third Shabbos meal" that I need like ten thousand holes in my head. Well, it may have been a bad time, but she could have offered me a bite, not that I wanted it, but it's good form on her part and I would have refused out of courtesy. I wasn't going to stay but a minute anyway if it was an inconvenient time of day. Usually it is a down time. Blackstockings insisted she had her sister over. That of course trumped everything. I was just passing through and wouldn't have stayed long. She didn't have to be rude to me. There I said it. Remember there was no way I could call in advance or even call during the week since her family's number is not on Switchboard, and there's probably no landline in either she or her husband's name. Yes, it was awkward, but I was not as rude as I seemed.

I explained my purpose. I was persistent too because I knew that I had intention of imposing myself beyond getting in touch at some other time. I asked when it would be a good time to come by and get a phone number. No more unannounced knocks on the door and we could get in touch. Blackstockings announced that she had her sister next week and her parents the week after. I am not sure I wouldn't have been as rude as she was since when my Mom comes it is always a strain. On the other hand, when people I knew came up and introduced themselves in the Broadway. I had a good time introducting them to my mom and I've gone out of my way to introduce my Mom to people from my synagogue, so there is a sort of graceful way out. Blackstockings could have introduced me to her sister, shunted me off on her hubby who was a nice guy, found any number of graceful ways to handle what was awkward. She also could have given me a time when it was good to come back and get her phone number.

Calling in advance prevents awkward moments like Saturday. By the way, when kids come looking for my friend T's teenage children, T never sends them away rudely. She probably would not send a stranger away rudely. K and I even treated visiting Jehova's Witnesses with respect. If I was somewhat rude, Blackstockings was ten times ruder. Sorry, she was.

So what am I going to make of all of this? First, I may or may not go back to get the phone number. I've got another project with a deadline and a second project with no deadline plus I work full time. Toco Hills is a long way from where I work. I need the time at home rather than in transit. I need another reason to go to Toco to go cruising down a remote area of Biltmore and then home. That said if I can attend Rabbi Starr's lectures on the High Holy Days, I'll have an honest pretext to cruise down Biltmore, and I know, don't bring any food. I'm all too likely to bring it home again.

By the way, if I brought flowers, Blackstockings, probably would not appreciate them. I did manage to do a bit of eyeball anthropology while was trying to get Blackstockings to talk straight, and she was trying to get me leave with my tail between my proverbial legs. I saw that both she and her sister wore black dresses, though only she wore black stockings. Now her sister could have been uncommonly respecteful, but somehow I don't tink respect goes that far. Putting on a skirt and blouse, is respect, not wearing bright colors because a sister doesn't is a bit more. Also the sister's daughter was clad in black. All the women in the household, even the little girls wore black. I felt like I was in a nunnery.

Well that answers the question, either the sister and Blackstockings became frum together (It is not that uncommon for whole families to become frum together.) or they are both frum from birth. Most likely it is a combination of the two, a Modern Orthodox upbringing and a swimg to the right. I am still curious though I'm not sure what any of this is teaching me except we Jews are more different than we are alike. What is important to me is meaningless to others.

I also know I'm mot having a crisis of faith. I'm just feeling disgustingly anti-clerical. I'm also questioning my own culture and my own actions. I'm not ready to run away for nothing. If a crisis comes, or I need to cut corners for work, or I'm feeling retched, that is another story, but most retechedness cures with a good night's sleep. I am fine with the work versus observance conflict. With a crisis, it is usally a sick friend or a sick pet or if it is me, I'm sick in bed which qualifies me as retched. Walking away to have a good time is really not tempting. It's too gratuitous. If I wanted to rebell as opposed to giving way under the necessity of work, crisis, or misery, if I wanted to rebell it would need to be a supreme act of anger. It would need to be black and ugly. When you've gone as far as I've gone and bound yourself with golden links, breaking the chain is a momentous event.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/23/10

What I've Got Against Story Corps

Well, I have a lot of things against them. The Atlanta one is a bit better for all sorts of reasons, but when Story Corps comes on, I drag myself out of bed and switch the boombox to whatever CD is waiting. It's that bad. First, other people's good times like other people's love affairs are not that interesting. I feel that way about This American Life too. Second, Story Corps requires a recipient and a teller. This poses all sorts of problems. My mother wouldn't be caught dead in a Story Corps booth and neither would a lot of other people. That means the show only features tales by exhibitionists. Also having a willing recipient means you can only tell a certain type of story. The "how you screwed me over and I haven't forgotten" tale is off limits. The recipient need merely say no. Then the producers decide what kinds of stories get on the air and they clearly censor out stories of evil, how one was a victim of it (not how one triumphed over it later or whether the evil was injustice that gladly no longer exists or how it was merely an obstacle) or how one perpetrated it.

Stories of real, nasty evil, especially corruption, are the best kind of stories. You won't hear them on Story Corps though. You won't hear a lot of them on this blog either. Omerto is disgusting, but it is the price of keeping your job. Now every now and again I tell the story of my expulsion from Brainstorms and my formerly eternal quest for VENGANCE. I like the nonstandard spelling. I also told all about how the fat cats ran Shearith Israel, the synaoguge in Columbus, into the ground. I could tell about how the administration of the Ardsley schools screwed me over the last two years of middle school by placing my best and really only friend on another team so I did not see her all day. That hurt. It still hurts a generation later. I think they did it to hurt her and to "help" me. Clearly I did not need such help.

I know lots of religious corruption stories and stories of pure stupidity. I won't repeat all of them here, but people pay to read such things. They by and large don't read the mushy stuff like what is on Story Corps, which is why it never found a commercial venue. And yes, there's a story I'd tell if I could, but I'm stuck under a code of omerto. Someday when I retire I'll tell it.

I'm still thinking about Ms. Blackstocking. I just am too busy to plan a long excursion into Toco Hills on a weeknight. I have a strategy for finding her that might work and since I have an empty dance card, it might be fun. I could go to services at Beth Jacob and bump into either her or her husband. If any one asks, I just wanted a change. If I get a free and crumby lunch from the deal, well that's my problem. If I get a chance to talk with all the babies crying so much the better. I really don't like babies. I like some babies personally I'm sure, but as a group they are just not attractive. I'm glad I've never had one of my own, but then again I've always believed children were a responsiblity taken on by choice. If you choose not to take it, fine. If you carry it out decently fine. If you choose it and then abandon it.... Let's not even go there. If you botch it, well it may be your fault.

I remember one rebbitzen in Syracuse who was fiercely jealous of me because at twenty-four/twenty-five I was a free little bird of a graduate student while she had all ready "started a family" I in turn felt bad for her. I don't know the rest of the story, so there is no point in telling it here. I wonder if Ms. Blackstocking will envy me. She may not since I suspect she is, like me, a bala tshuva. If she is a bala tshuva, she is proof of the fact that balae tshuvim come in all shapes and sizes. Some do not find chassidus and schtetelkeit one bit attractive. For people like them (and that includes me), modern Orthodoxy is the way to go. For someone like Ms. Blackstocking the story may be different. Either way, there is something profoundly clean and decent in making a sacrifice of one's own free choice. True, she may be prompted by magical thinking.

As for me, I'm somone who loves religion, reveres Scripture, but when it comes to magical thinking, I am really conscious of it and can step back and say: "Wait a minute, the world does not revolve around me." Put another way, God is not going to delay a plane to New York due to a thunder storm so a rabbi and I can have a talk. There are fifty other passengers whose lives would be effected, and the two of us don't rate that kind of special treatment. Similarly, I did not come down with walking pneumonia after Yom Kippur in 2006 because I had been angry at the rabbi during Rosh HaShannah and was disgusted with the way the food was served. I came down with walking pneumonia because I was chasing a guy who had just had the regular, nonwalking, variety of the disease, and because I got dehydrated because there was not enough to drink after an all day fast. And walking pneumonia is not fun, but it is not serious enough to be much of a divine punishment. You can see why a lot of magical thinking is silly. I think it is possible to have faith and transcendence without magical thinking. Just remember you share the earth with four billion souls and you share your immediate environment with a few hundred of them. Take a number. You're not the only pebble on the beach, not by a long shot. You don't deserve magic!

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/19/10

A Chain of Golden Links

A very good friend of mine gave me this metaphor to describe my relationship to Orthodox Judaism as a bala tsuva, a rather ugly expression that means one who became observant by choice as an adult. I don't repent my parents. My secular upbringing (There are many kinds of secular upbringings) helped me become religious. My general education, made religious learning possible. My mother's cooking and shopping skills bolster my ability to keep kosher and be happy about it.

Still two things happened this weekend that made me wonder if I am on the right path. First, I went looking for Ms. Blackstocking and her family. I was not sure exactly where they lived though I knew the street and remembered the color of the house. I ended up knocking on the wrong door. I asked if the family there knew the Blackstockings. They were an observant family. The matron of the house wore a "Shabbos robe" which is a long one piece dress. She was about my own age or a bit older. I stood in her door way asking questions I have asked before in Toco Hills only this time the matron of the house asked me: "Are you Jewish?"

Even now I can feel the verbal slap in those words though she apologized for asking later. I fumbled for a reply. I could have just said "yes," but yes was not enough. I should have asked her why she was inquiring. Quite frankly my faith or lack of it was not any of her business. I could have been someone Ms. Blackstocking met in Kroger's or a coworker who was culturally sensitive enough to know that Orthodox Jews do not answer the phone on Shabbos so my errand required a personal visit. I could be returning a lost article, stopping by to say "thankyou" or even delivering a small, nonfood gift.

I was, however, shocked enough by the question to speak the truth. I asked how the matron of the house could mistake me for anything other than an observant Jew. Here I was in a long skirt and full panty hose in the ninty degree heat. I was not carrying a purse. I had come on foot, and wore a conservative, short sleeved blouse. Not all Orthodox females cover their elbows. Some do wear bright colors. I was wearing red. I also pointed out to the benighted matron that in America Orthodox women are hard to tell from everybody else. After all maany nonJewish women and men wear conservative business casual garb for a whole variety of reasons.

She apologized and backpedaled. She offered me lunch which I refused out of politeness and also because the food was all gross and all brown. There was glop, known as cholent (Sorry, most cholent is disgusting because when you overcook food, it loses its taste. There are ways around this, but that's for another article.), premade carrot kishke, some kind of roasted chicken or meat, challah rolls, and some kind of orangey brown kugel. This was not my food.

I eventually found the house where the Blackstockings lived. They were not home, which did not surprise me. They were victims of random home hospitality which they probably didn't mind though it is a recipe for unhappy children and sometimes unhappy adults. Not everyone is that social or in a social enough mood to enjoy a steady diet of it. It is better to have an occasional test of faith, but the Blackstockings have adopted a culture that does not place a premium on individual choice.

There, I said it. I'm going to say more too, but it's about me, and it's a question: What makes me and what I do with religious practice and faith any different from the Blackstockings or the benighted matron? I can answer that what I do differently is a question of degree. When I told my mother about the gross food on the matron's table, my mom told me a story of the salad she made for her and her boyfriend. I said that with the substitution of feta cheese for gorgonzola (or bleu cheese because there is no kosher gorgonzola and also kosher bread instead of the bread she used), she would have a fine, dairy Shabbos luncheon with leftovers to last into the week. I know from where I get my cooking. As for me, my Shabbos lunch was cauliflower and pasta salad with green peas and buttermilk ranch dressing and chayote, rutabega, and carrot bake with fresh rosemary. I'm more into cauliflower than my mom, but culturally Mom and I have more in common with eachother than we do with the benighted matron.

But when it comes down to it, is a difference of degree enough? Yes, we all keep the same halacha. I'm under the same tent with these folks. I am willing to give up my Saturday swim and wear the same sort of modest, somewhat formal garb I wear to work on Saturdays. I'm willing to not eat at Subway and Whole Foods and all the other nonKosher eating establishments, even though they'll treat me like a queen consumer for five or six dollars, and I miss such pampering. I won't lie. I also have given up nonKosher cheese. This really hurts. I walk past the cheese bins where the fanciest cheeses are sold (Even a not so well off person can afford a bit of good cheese. In fact, when I was in college many students and exstudents made one expensive food purchase a week, and it was a piece of aged cheese for three or four to ten dollars for eight ounces to a pound. You could walk into GreenStar or Somadhara and watch the scruffy ones deliberate at the cheese case.) look at what is available and mourn. I can avoid looking at restaurant menus and trying to decide what I would order if I could, but I can't walk away from the cheese, though I don't purchase any. I've tried kosher bleu cheese. It is the same quality as Kraft's Treasure Cave (That's faint praise folks), which is often the only kind of bleu cheese available in flyover country. I've had better and that spoils it for me. Yet, I'm not willing to break ranks and buy the cheese I really enjoy. I'm willing to make self and lifestyle sacrificies for my faith. That is where the chain metaphor comes in.

The next questions that come in are: "What other sacrifices am I willing to make?" and "How far will I go when it comes to sacrifices that effect myself?&quoot; First, I won't let my work take a hit. Last month I agonized over whether to attend a weekend conference. I finally decided I need to do it for work, so I said "yes." I think the reason for breaking a mitzvah has a lot to do with whether and to what degree one has sinned. If one eats a slice of Johnny's Pizza because one is utterly depressed, God will forgive them. If one eats a slice of pizza because one is scoffing and wants to show off how "free; they are of stupid kosher rules," that is quite a different kind of offense. My feelings about motivation and mitigating circumstances may set me apart from the benighted matron.

Second, I won't contradict my education or common sense. It's my business if I give up a day's swimming, and dressing respectfully for religious services is a fairly normal act. Wearing black, winter tights, in the summer heat is not normal, but if one is cold blooded one may not mind. Putting them on one's four year old child....well that is another story and another area. Saying the world was created in seven days and is only five thousand years old is...a rejection of science, archaeology, secular education... Sorry, I'm no Biblical literalist. Respecting someone with a tenth grade education who has not taught himself on his own the secular things he needs to know in the world, is asking too much yet again. Similarly, I am fine with a cold collation on Shabbos for lunch. Hot weather demands cold food. I'll wear shorts to haul groceries and on Sunday, I'll swim at the public pool even though it is mixed bathing. In other words, I do have some limits somewhere.

If you are a hard core atheist who wants to argue that praying is irrational and praying a liturgy is dumb, I won't argue with you. You can call me dumb, but you can't call me crazy for a desire to do those things. You can't call me crazy for walking four miles to schul instead of riding the bus. Walking in the cool of the morning is pleasant. Walking is healthy. Walking gives me time to appreciate nature, even on Clairemont Road.

The second question is actually the tougher of the two. If my boyfriend moved in with me, would I take the ostracism that an interfaith relationship would bring on me? I say "yes" in theory, but that is "in theory" only. With Lou in Upstate New York, I don't have to make that decision. One could say it would be a real test of faith, but when one's religiosity (And yes, that's what it is. Scrupulosity is another word for it) starts effecting others, you better make sure it effects others for good. If work were set up so that we all ate lunch out together every day and I chose not to go due to kashrus, what would that do for me or my colleagues? That is also hypothetical.

I do know that keeping Shabbos has taught me to prioritize time. About a year and a half ago, a colleague graduated from Georgia State. Graduation was on a Monday evening. I said I was going. A colleague asked me how I found so much time. I just said I felt it was important. I realized that keeping Shabbos had helped me make that decision. I was willing to give time for what was important because I did so every week.

As for the future, I do want to find the Blackstockings again. I have something to teach them, and maybe they have something to teach me, and maybe I'll learn how or where they and I differ. Maybe I will feel more secure in my faith and more able to accept theirs or more confident in rejecting it. There are some aspects of my faith and its observance that I have to reject. Doing it on reasoned ground rather than ignorance is the right way to go.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/17/10

An Empty Dance Card

I got sick of the free lunch clich´. I like this one a lot better. I am facing a test of faith. This time it is going to rain, and the thought of those black storm clouds that might actually deliver their bounty, lifts my spirits. I also am bringing His Excellency by Zola home with me. There is nothing like a steamy, French novel to make the time pass. It's supposed to cool off, and I think the Shabbos dinner Friday and possibly Saturday, especially dessert, is a treat. I always like to imagine, that I will suddenly have dinner guests. That happened in Utica, and the little girl who is now a grown woman (It was that long ago) picked the black beans and wheat berries out of her soup, a feat of hard work. I think s he ate the carrots. Kids can be very weird and persistent.

I don't have any guests. No one will walk to Decatur and back though I have done it to feed my kitties after spending all night on the hill for Shavuos last year. This year, I just slept in. I remembered spending most of last year's festivities, sleeping on the couch in the kiddie lounge. And yes, I did try to get in touch with black stockings. I don't want to use her name. Her phone is not listed. She is new in the area and will probably never have a landline in her hame until well into the fall. She, like any good Atlantan, is stuck in her neighborhood. I am nto a good Atlantan. I am stuck where I work and we are out of eachothers orbit. I need to see her.

I know how to begin. It's awkward. People outside Orthodx circles are going to cringe, but we're all playing a big game. That it's a game that brings us closer to God and sometimes acts as a springboard for transcence does not keep it from being a game. Humans are social animals, and as with any cat having a lickie fight or chasing his/her shadow, humans play games. It begins like this: After the usual hellos and complaints about the weather, the conversation goes in two directions. Black stockings has a problem with which I can genuinely assist her. She may not know how to order nice sweatshirts online, or who has good cellular telephone service, or where to buy a surge protector. I'm good with some practical things. She may want to go to Plaza Fiesta. There's a QT nearby where we can get snacks even if we can't eat out there in the food court. Perhaps I have something with which she can help me. Again, this is really productive if it happens, but I'm not counting on it.

Sooner or later we get to the big question: "Can you use any dairy good during the week or on Shabbos if you have dairy Shabbos?" I want to share my food! I want to share my food! Of course I can always kill computer viruses, build web pages, give a course in selective web surfing. No one likes finding garbage, Jewis, Christian, Moslem, or secular. They just don't. This is my area of expertise. Put more generically, I can offer to be of use.

Then we can get up close and personal because the people who talk loudest against lashon hara are the ones most interested in everyone else' business. It's give a little get a little. Hopefully at the end of all this, I gain a friend with a different way of seeing the world and I keep her in touch wtih the saner side of the faith. We both benefit. I can dream.

Well, it's a bit mroe than dreaming. It depends on how I sleep and how much rain falls. The logistics of this are possible but not easy. First, I could go to services at Beth Jacob. Everyone will wonder what happened. I'll say it was a personal matter. Second, I walk home the husbnd, wife, kids, make a late afternoon visit or an early one and say I can't stay for lunch if it looks awkward. In this case, I'm invited elsewhere. I just want a rain check date since we have no phone contact. And that's it. The rest is going to take time.

Of course I could go looking for my friend, F. She has a special needs daughter and lives a bit like a grad student. She's still pretty young, so it's excuseable. It would be excuseable in someone sixty years old. It's a free country provided you have the money. I miss F. We're out of the loop because she's been going to Beth Jacob. I could, by the way say I went to Beth Jacob to see F or F's husband or F's daughter. That does have some possiblities and I miss F.

This weekend may add up to be one very interesting test of faith.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/13/10

The Conversation that Won't Happen

I met the lady Saturday. I won't tell you her name. It doesn't matter. I met her at a big Orthodox synagogue where I had gone on a mission of espionage. This synagogue had added plastic mesh to its mehitzah, the barrier that separates men and women in the sanctuary. Now, a mehitzah is a good idea as long as women can see and hear the service. The plastic mesh does effect visibility, especially for older ladies or any woman who is mildly visually impaired. It's not entirely opaque, but there is no reason for it. In fact, it is a step backward and ammunition for folks who think praying with a mehitzah is something neanderthal, patriarchal, and oppressive.

Well the lady was hanging out in the main hall with three children. The oldest, a girl, was four and the youngest a bit under a year. The girl was the oldest and she had two younger brothers. The mother of this brood wore a long sleeved white shirt under a black jumper that came below her knees, a black velvet snood over her hair, and thick, black, winter tights with closed toed brown leather shoes. She looked hot and bothered. She even complained of the heat.

So much for her being cold blooded. Her daughter wore a long sleeved shirt under a jumper, and thick, black, winter tights and closed toed shoes as well. Now, I am the first one who should be tolerant. I wear a below the knees skirt to work and synagogue and full panty-hose, even though my hose are shear. I say I have ugly feet. I don't want to shave my legs. Panty hose cover a multitude of sins and make one look and feel more dressed. There are old school types who do wear them in the summer, but I wear a polo shirt or t-shirt with a sweater I can remove in the heat. I've got my limits as far as modesty is concerned. Besides my outfit is typical of many women who work white collar jobs.

There was something very over the deep end about winter tights and winter shirts in summer, especially on a small child. That said, I felt sorry for the woman and her family. They were new arrivals in Atlanta. None of them had ever lived or traveled in the south before, with the exception of Miami which doesn't count for obvious reasons. I'd like to get to know this woman better, but... We'd have nothing in common. I dodged her bullet. I'm not going to have three kids under four even if I manage to have one kid, that is going to be the only kid I have and I'm probably not even having that. And no I don't feel one bit of envy or regret. I'm glad I never got tied down like that by three semi-helpless and super-precious beings. If I had to choose between that and being childless as I am now, I know what I'd choose in a heart beat. Of course I'm at the end of my fertility, so I am also past the point of choice. I am relieved that fate is going to intervene.

Parents are among the most self-centered people in the world. They are so busy with their offspring that their world can frequently (not always I realize) shrink to parenting and child rearing. They are fascinated with their teenagers. They are fascinated with their childrens' first experiences in school. They are mesmeraized by their babies whom I find like little aliens. They don't have much time for the outside world.

All that said, I'd still like to give it a try. There are probably things I could teach this couple about getting along in Atlanta as a frum Jew. I'm part of the "Orthodox spectrum" even with my red polo shirt and sheer hose. Atlanta is a "food city.&uot; I thought about baking the lady a cake or bringing her some of my Shabbos food. I realized this might not be a great idea because just about everything in my kitchen is dairy or pareve and made on "dairy equipment." I certainly could teach her about the delights of the DeKalb Farmer's Market and show her how to process mangoes and papaya. That's pareve dessert which is cheap and very nutritious, not to mention fantastic. We could try the Atlantic's roast fruit recipe when pears come into season. I'd go a bit easier on the sugar. We could make apple chips, another great pareve dessert recipe, I found on the net. Most pareve cakes bought in bakeries are full of additivies.

I could also teach the lady to make a white sauce. I bet she does not know how. I could teach her of the secrets of the white sauce and the roux, and the delights of creamed spinach for her three children, that is, if she eats spinach. She may be bug-o-phobic and not have a light box. I don't have a lightbox either, but my community (Young Israel) permits packaged pre-cleaned greens of all types.

I have a fantasy about sharing my chayote medeley (pareve but made on dairy equipment), with her. "Oh I just have extra..." The problem is she might not eat it. She might not trust anything made in my kitchen because I am not religious enough or scrupulous enough. Haven't you always wanted to snub someone this way. Or she might simply not eat my chayote medeley even on "dairy night" because the vegetables are strange to her and, kashrus is a way to keep to a dull diet and not have to try new foods. Or, she may refuse to eat my cooking due to her own or her children's food allergy or super taster genes. The Ashkenazi Jewish gene pool is shallow and weird.

So why should I bother? Put another way, what would be in it for me? What could this lady teach me. First, she's not teaching me to wear tights in summer. I'm not going to teach her to switch to short sleeves, bright colors, and shear hose, but she might teach me why she wears those hose. She might teach me more about all the craziness (and it seems like craziness) going on among the Orthodox in Israel than I learn from Failed Messiah. She might teach me about her personal story. How did she become frum? Many of us are balae tshuva which means we chose this path as adults. Why did she stay frum if that way from birth. Why did she drift all the way right? I know by the way, why I did not go down her path besides the fact that it's hot and I love mixed bathing.

I also need to see the world from a communitarian view, even if it is laced with magical thinking. I'm a rugged individualistic American way too much of the time. Sometimes I can see why that is not the best thing. I would guess the lady in black tights is a communitarian though she'd make poor old Etzioni cringe. I guess those are good reasons to seek her out. I just have to remember tolerance is a two way street. Who knows, she might be the world's number three produce warrior and we'd really have something in common.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/10/10

No Free Lunch for You

I'm facing a test of faith this weekend, and I am not ready for it. One always has a test of faith when one is least ready. In this case, it is the heat, the long afternoon, and the possible thunder storms I dread as well as the boredom that comes with ending up for long hours by oneself. The free lunch doesn't really matter. It's pot luck, and if I manage to get rescued from my test of faith this weekend, it will not be the food for which I am grateful, most likely. I have way too much consumer mentality for someone just turnd kosher two years ago.

That said, I'm still not looking forward to this weekend, even wtih good food in the fridge and a book to read, all the mature outlook in the world is kind of useless, and no, I don't feel slighted. No one ever said the world owed me a free lunch. I tell myself it will be a blessing not hearing about high school or toddler antics. Hey, I never had kids, and other people's children are...other people's children.

It's teen weekend and there is some kind of a conclave which guarantees a full synagogue in August. I'm not sure what kind of kids go to those things, but they are all a generation younger than me. Someone is feeding them a catered spread. My guess is kiddush is sponsored by the community. I like filling up at the kiddush table, but it's not a free lunch for me to cadge.

I watch as the rabbis try to make Deuteronomy (Devarim) interesting, but you get out what you put in with Scripture. Enough said. The real news is that Orthodox Judaism is tearing itself apart from the inside, except Jews down't schism. There are weird conversion and wedding rules in Israel, and there is talk about more rights for women and strangely enough a newer, sturdier, and more opaque mehitzah at Beth Jacob, which bills itself as the Orthodox synagogue for all Jews. For those who don't know and for those who recoil in horror, the mehitzah is the barrier that separates men from women at services. This is not as awful as it sounds. Men and women really should not pray together. Wives and girlfriends think about their husbands or boyfriends and vice versa. This is a big distraction. The mehitzah helps reign this distraction in.

That said, there are issues surrounding the mehitzah. Separate but equal is a delicate balance, but small organizations, like synagogues, can pull it off. Young Israel Sharei Torah, which has hopefully changed its name, up in Syracuse, New York, experimented with assorted mehitzah configurations. The goal was to make sure women could see and hear everything. It was the right goal. Any step away from this goal is an awful thing.

Letting a woman lead a mixed congregation is a lot less controversial. For an Orthodox synagogue in New York City, it is bowing to mainstream American culture in which a house of worship is a female institution. It also is similar to what goes on in any small town synagogue. These are usually not Orthodox, but they are not Reform either. Denomination is largely irrelevant in flyover country. People need a place for services and rites of passage. If there is a synagogue at all you should be grateful. I wasn't grateful, but that was in the face of some very ugly politics and corruption which are on the Version 4.0 of this blog. I'm glad I told the whole story. It is there for any one who wants to find it.

Small town schuls have used women circuit riding rabbis for years. It's not controversial. It is just what is done, and with good reason. Female rabbis are frequently smarter. Clergy is a new and very prestigious profession for women so you get a better grade of female applicant. Would I care if my synagogue had female led services in addition to women's minyans and megillah readings? It wouldn't bother me and depending on who was leading, I'd probably go. Most of the people I know who would lead are every bit as good as the males and in fact better, though not better at giving sermons. When it comes to sermons by the way, the mainstream Protestants, whip our Jewish butts. We can learn from the Christians in this department and we should.

The trouble is we can't really discuss the conflicts that are roiling even when they come close to home. They hurt. I still remember the look of pain on our paid rabbi's face when I talked about Young Israel (Please change this name!) Sharei Torah who got a rough treatment basically for not being able to pay dues. They wanted to drop out of Young Israel because they couldn't afford it. Syracuse is a depressed area, but Sharei Torah from what I remember of it was a proud schul and probably still is. Every clergy person's nightmare is a house of worship with financial troubles. I understood. I wish I did not understand so well.

We can't even expell the meschitics in Brooklyn. When you think about it, violating long standing custom is a minor thing compared to saying your dead leader is/was the messiah and that he will some day return. Whether we should expell the meschitics is a topic for another blog, but if you want to complain about fellow Jews, start with the ones who are committing the big sins, and uh, let's also include the synagogues where money rules. Corruption stinks no matter who is doing it.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/6/10

Without Official Papers III

Tuesday, I took time off in the afternoon, and began a long trip to the wilds of Doraville. This did not scare me. Going new places does not scare Kramers (or Senecoffs). I have since learned this is unusual. I had a colleague at another job who almost fell to pieces if she had to find a new street address and another more recently who asked for directions several times over when simply heading to downtown Atlanta from DeKalb County. Kramers and Senecoffs just don't operate like that. In the Kramer household (whether it's my mother, father, or even if it was my late grandparents), if I told them I was going to Doraville or New York City or Syracuase, or Long Island or wherever it was, I'd be told: "Congratulations. Have a great trip!" with a twinge of envy that I got to go somewhere new while the well wishers stayed behind. Of course I'd figure out how to get there. Of course I'd find the spot. Of course I'd come back in triumph. That is just how we are. We end up somewhere new and get where we are going. I do this when travelling recreationally. I did it with my boyfriend and utterly amazed him. Just plop one of us down and we get where we are going.

So it was with the trip to Doraville. I did my research and learned that the most direct route was to take the #125 bus and then transfer to the #91 bus at Northlake mall. The #91 would drop me a mile from the UPS office where my important document was being held. The trip went well until the #91 nearly broke down. The driver was frightened, but then she got going again. She said she dropped me in the wrong spot. I said I would be fine and bought a soda that became warm before I finished it. What I had not counted on was that the one mile strip along the highway offered neither shade nor sidewalks in the one hundred degree heat. Worse yet, the return trip would be with the sun in my eyes. The sun in the Atlanta metro area is very bright. I was soaked with sweat.

Fortunately, as I walked toward the UPS center, I saw both MARTA signs and MARTA buses. The #124 would take me to Doraville. I did not know where it went in the southbound direction. I do tell direction by the sun, work by dead reckoning, and use landmarks. This kind of redundant system basically means I don't get lost. My parents use the same system. Doraville which is a MARTA train system was good enough for me. It was now close to rush hour and if I caught a bus at peak time and a train at peak time, I'd have no waiting. I also would not have to walk on that hot pavement with no protection from cars. I decided to wait in the UPS center until I estimated that the next bus ran. They couldn't be less than a half hour apart. There just aren't that many fifteen or twenty minute buses in the MARTA system and since I knew when I had seen the last northbound bus, I estimated there would be another at 5:20pm.

I went out at 5:10pm just in time to see a bus pass. I went back inside, now knowing they were thirty minute buses. I read until about 5:20pm and went out to start waiting at 5:25pm. I figured I'd either catch a 5:30pm or 5:40pm bus. The bus came by around 5:40pm and took me to Buford Highway and the Doraville train station. I read on the train and got motion sick, but otherwise made it to Five Points, the central station in one piece. I went upstairs and caught the eastbound train for the ride back to Decatur. I had to ride with my face in my hands due to the nausea, but I got to Decatur in one piece with my documents.

This morning at the DeKalb County Board of elections I got a free, voter ID. That's a beginning. I need to take my same paperwork including the birth certificate that I picked up at the UPS in Doraville to the South DeKalb Mall and get a nondriver's ID which is issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. That will last ten years and cost $35.00. I'm not worried about that part. Once I have all my state ID, I need to renew my expired passport which was the start of all this trouble. Anyway, I have a paper version of my voter ID card. The real one will arrive in the mail in about a week. Yes, I will be glad I don't have to go to Doraville to get it, but I have other journeys ahead of me.

I've given up on Strive for Five. Exhaustion and the paper chase of the last week has pushed it off the map. Next week, we have Convocation and meetings, and the next week, the fall semester begins. It was fun while it lasted. I think differently about morning blessings and other parts of the liturgy. I'm not sure it has done much for me spiritually, though I look differently at the color of the sky and am more aware of the smells in the air. I guess that is a spiritual goal.

I know I want to do more with Organizing for America now that I am re-enfranchised. I hope they don't leave our Democratic Senate candidate to twist in the wind until we face a nationalized run off like we did in 2008. That we had a run off at all means we have a shot. I hope someone on the national level sees it that way and lends us a hand rather than using us to help with campaigns in other states. The upside of the modern way of campaigning is a big and fairly clean database. The downside is that campaigns are nationalized and if you are in a "red state" your candidates are considered not to have a chance and stuck on the bottom of the pile.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/5/10

Without Official Papers II

I'm supposed to receive my raised seal birth certificate today. I'm not excited. I am not going to get it. I received an automated phone call from UPS saying I would have to be home to sign for the certificate today and giving no time of delivery. We are short staffed at work, and I was needed in the morning. I couldn't ask for more time off than I had. I hurried in to work. There will be instructions what to do next on the slip that UPS leaves. I can then arrange to hopefully accept delivery at a UPS store within walking distance of where I live. I'm not sure UPS will allow this. I'm not sure I can take the time off from work to sit home all day, but I may have to do that. I wish someone was home to sign for me, but people who live alone in the big city face beauoracratic snafus like this.

I'm a bit nervous now. I can picture the yellow sticky sheet affixed to my apartment door. Those things always make me nervous. Hopefully, I'll have the certificate by the end of the week. Then I need to take more time off to go to the Motor Vehicle Bureau and stand in a long line to get a nondriver's ID. After that I will exist officially, which I guess makes all of this worthwhile. Right now, I feel neglectful and inefficient. I am just hoping I can get all of this straightened out. This is going to be some week.

Meanwhile, the Glenlake Pool has closed on weeknights. Last week I did not get much swimming in due to female troubles, grief, and you name it. This week I want to swim and can't. I am trying not to think about that. I tell myself I can play lots of Second Life, but the lack of swimming brings back bad memories of summers in Columbus. Doing without easy access to a pool was a major hardship. I remember my father laughing about it. I remember feeling utterly retched. I'd like to think that all of that is behind me, but for this week, it is not.

Tonight, I can look forward to a talk on the phone with those lovely UPS people. I just hope and pray I can come right over to their store and claim my birth certificate this evening. That means that I'll take care of my nondriver's ID Thursday morning. If wishes were horses, you know who would ride. I would not just ride. I'd win the Kentucky Derby or maybe the Belmont Stakes. Actually, I'd get a sulky because they remind me of chariots, and I like trotters and pacers. Pacers run like cats when cats feel like running.

I missed Strive for Five this morning because I needed to get into work and was too tired. I hoped UPS might show up before eight am. That just wasn't going to happen. I wish they at least let you pick a time. People work. I wish they would take that into consideration.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 8/2/10