26 April 2006

My Sefirah Beard

It's that special time of year again when it is the time of counting the omer. While initially it wasn't a time of any sort of mourning (see Rabbi Jeff's recent posting about the Rav's and Rabbi Sacks' understandings of the meaning behind it), due to 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students dying during thirty-three days of this fifty-day period in the beginning of the second century, we nowadays (since the time of the geonim) are accustomed not to hold weddings during this time (SA OH 493.1) and also (since medieval times) not to get haircuts (SA OH 493.2). Also, Rabbi Avraham Gombiner in the seventeenth century also mentioned that dancing is not to be done (OH 493.1). (Some people are also accustomed to not listen to music).
It's interesting to see how people feel regarding growing beards during the "sefirah", as some are excited about it (albeit she is a girl and doesn't have to deal with it's itchiness) and also to recognize its sociological aspect.
As for me, it has been kind of itchy, although I don't tremendously mind it, as it frees me up from worrying about whether I need to shave it or not and what people [who know what's going on with the whole not-shaving thing] think about it that maybe I should shave. The only worry I have is what many people who are not in-the-know about it. While as a student, it matters little, I wonder how I will accord myself as a rav, with having to appear nicely to people who may not think well of the unkemptness. For now, the beard is here (until Tuesday 16 May, that is).

(interested in the "Beards they grow on you!" shirt? click here (no, I'm not being paid by that website, I just thought it was appropriate (plus, you can also wear it during the three week))
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23 April 2006

Audubon Zoo with Sister on Friday (Part 4 of My Fourth Visit To New Orleans)

On Friday, I went with my sister to the Audubon Zoo and, aside from some raining, it was a fine time. While it was not as large as our local zoo (granted there's also an aquarium in NOLA, but it has yet to open post-Katrina, while the Columbus Zoo has an aquarium as part of the zoo), it was not only still good, but also had some unique exhibits. Undoubtedly the most unique is their Louisiana Swamp exhibit that tries to reflect some aspects of cajun life in addition to the look of swamps. Not to miss is their white alligator (no, it's not albino) nor their white tigers (also, not albino).
One of the interesting facets about the zoo I found were that they were really big on pushing conservation. Don't get me wrong, I feel that it is an obligation on us humans (and a religious obligation for those who believe in such things) and I think that it's really important, but it was fairly constant. A facet that really struck me as being unique, but maybe I haven't been to that many zoos (although I can only currently count the Columbus Zoo and the Biblical Zoo (Jerusalem), I'm pretty sure I've been to more...), was that in addition to the animals, they had a set-up with information about local people and cultures (albeit in a very general fashion).
Lastly, I really took a liking to the ducks. That and some of the monkeys.
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Tuesday: National D-Day Museum (Part 3 of My Fourth Visit to New Orleans)

The main place I wanted to visit during this trip to New Orleans was The National D-Day Museum. In high school, I had gained quite an interest in World War II and the D-Day invasion was certainly memorable. As such, there was no way I was missing it - and I went on Tuesday. I had thought that the museum was about D-Day - the largest amphibious invasion ever. So, when the museum started out on the second level with a lot of pre-WWII stuff and then the beginning of the War, it was fine, and then the entire third floor was about the invasion, etc. Although the museum, in general, was very America-centric, I realized that it was not the official D-Day museum, but rather the American version of such, so it was fine.
I continued after the third floor only to find that the majority of the second floor was about the Pacific theater of war. It was certainly interesting, with an emphasis on noting the various major amphibious invasions of various Pacific islands. It took me longer on the Pacific stuff than I had expected. Eventually, I had to leave without reading some of the stuff as the museum was closing.
I hadn't understood why there was Pacific theater stuff there, though it could've perhaps been due to showing that there was also stuff going on over there. My sister pointed out to me afterwards that it also calls itself America's National World War II Museum. While that may be so, it definitely does not seem like it is comprehensive enough to be about World War II - most likely it started out as being about D-Day and then kept expanding and since there is no WWII museum in this country, they figured why not make this it.
I found that someone else has blogged about the museum, if you want to read more.
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Sunday & Monday (Part 2 of My Fourth Visit To New Orleans)

When I arrived Sunday, I went with my sister and another guy to Kosher Cajun, which was thankfully open during Passover. I had a delicious (quite) matzah ball soup and I also got a sandwich, which was also good. It was definitely clutch. I highly recommend eating there in addition to checking them out for kosher products whenever in New Orleans.
From there, we went to my sister's apartment and dropped off my baggage, and eventually headed over to the French Quarter with a couple others, as well to do some walking around and exploring. While it was frustrating not to enjoy any normally kosher food (it was Passover, remember), it was a nice time and nice weather (in the 80s) and I got to see some of New Orleans (as it turns out, it was to be my only time that I did any wandering around of the city this trip).
Afterwards, we went to see a movie and it was a good evening.
Monday ended up being not much of a touristy day. Alas, it was the day after Easter and just like the day before, many things were not open. Yes, it was the only full day I had to go and do touristy stuff, but I guess I didn't take advantage of it to the fullest.

21 April 2006

My Fourth Visit To New Orleans, Part 1

Since Sunday, I have been in New Orleans, visiting my sister. My sister is a senior at Tulane, so I figured I would visit her one last time. While I have visited her three times before (the first time was during her freshman year, when my parents were also in town and the Final Four was going on (I got to see the semi-final game between Texas and Syracuse after shabbas with my dad (it was also Carmelo Anthony's second-to-last college game, right before Syracuse won the championship)), but I didn't get to see much of the city; the second time was during her junior year, last year, and I got to see a little more of the city; the third time was when I came with six other YCTers to help provide some post-Katrina relief to the region (I posted about my New Orleans experience in three postings: one, two, and three) and I, once again saw a limited amount of the city), I haven't done much touristy stuff and have decided to take advantage of the opportunity [of free lodging].
This time down, the biggest problem with trying to see stuff is that this is not pre-Katrina New Orleans - it is post-Katrina New Orleans and much is different, mainly in that many things are either closed or are open for less hours than they were before Katrina. As such, I had wanted to see the much acclaimed Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, but they won't be opening for another few months yet.
Another problem is the scheduling: I arrived Sunday midday; was here Monday, which was my only full day here for touristy stuff; Tuesday, which was ערב חג (the day before a festival), Wednesday was a יום חג (festival day), Thursday was another festival day, with only the evening being free, and today, Friday, was an ערב שבת (day before shabbas); tomorrow will be שבת (shabbas), with the evening available; and then I leave Sunday morning. Oh well.
As to my general experience here, as it has been the week leading up to tomorrow's mayoral election, there are many advertisements and signs for the various candidates for the first post-Katrina mayor. Also, things have picked up somewhat since being here four months ago, but there will still be much more time and effort before things start to look like their pre-Katrina self. Yeah, if you hadn't yet gotten the hint, Katrina has been a hugely significant event for the area (my apologies for the understatement) and when speaking to people about anything around here, it will ultimately come up.
As שבת (shabbas) is rapidly approaching, I will wish y'all a good shabbas and blog about my experiences and thoughts this week after shabbas. :)
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Passover Posting

I had meant to post my ideas on this topic before Passover, but, alas, my idea came not to fruition before the holiday. Nevertheless, it's never too late to post it now in anticipation of next year's Passover.
As we know, Jews are commanded from the book of Exodus to get rid of their leavened bread and bread products (חמץ). I had seen that instead of people actually getting rid of their leavened breadstuffs, they did some cleaning, but ended up selling it off, perhaps by putting stuff away in cupboards and refrigerators and signing some contract with their local rabbi. Nowadays, there's also online selling of this, as well. I thought the selling of the חמץ was just some osrt of legal fiction - that people were technically selling off their חמץ and getting it back at the end (although it's not like they went anywhere).
However, last year, I was awakened to the awareness that it wasn't meant to be a legal fiction, but actually a real deal, selling the חמץ to a gentile. One of my rebbeim at his shul would work with Jews to sell their חמץ to a gentile and collect a key. The purpose was that this gentile would be able to go in and look at or even partake of some of the food that they had legally acquired. He mentioned that he's had them go and take a drink of something or eat some of the food, because, in any event, it was legally theirs.
Having realized this, it makes sense: really one is to follow the Torah and get rid of their חמץ, unless there is some sort of significant loss (both this year and last, I have gotten rid of my חמץ (not that, as a single guy, I have a lo
t of foodstuffs with which to begin, so it's not a tremendous loss)). Have Jews lost their sense of the literal meaning of the verse and instead focused on the homiletical play on the verse to understand that the חמץ of which we are to rid ourselves is not the physical type as mentioned in the Torah, commemorating our departure from Egypt, but the personal sort of hubris that has gathered?
Oh well.
Speaking of Passover (פסח), I want to hope that people had a meaningful holiday. I finally figured out what it means. The idea of זמן חרותחנו (the time of our freedom) (one of the ways that this holiday is named) is that this is a holiday celebrating our independence (Independence Week?), as we went from being a people who were public servants in Egypt to being our own nation on our own terms.
I was thinking that for future פסחs, it would be rather relevant to consider Jewish identity.
Okay, now back to eating your חמץ. :)
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16 April 2006

Being Home

While I am no longer home - and I was only at my apartment for the day before Passover to clean, then I went to Passaic, NJ for the holiday, went back to my apartment for several hours last night and then flew in to New Orleans today - I thought I should briefly post about it. While every time I return home, I think about how I last left it when I dwelled there in high school, and a little bit in college, but it's hard to think about it in the present tense as my living quarters. And, of course, without fail, things change around in Gahanna often, making my hometown even less than like it was when I grew up there, it's much more difficult when things change at home. My parents have changed some windows before, which I noticed in a previous visit (not to mention the acquisition of three black cats when I was away in Israel in the fall of 2001). However, my parents not only changed the bathroom in the opening hallway, they've also totally redone the bathroom that my sister and I used since growing up. While they might have mentioned it, it's very odd. To be honest, it was a nice improvement, but still different. I suppose I'm now ready for them to change my bedroom.
As to my now being in New Orleans, I suppose I will blog about that soon.

10 April 2006

Weekend back in Ohio

This weekend, I made it back to my parents' home in Gahanna, OH. However, it started off badly on Friday morning when I showed up an hour before my flight to LaGuardia at the Delta terminal. There was the most absurd security line, which cost me getting on the flight, and then I had to pay $25 to get on the next flight - it was utterly maddening. Anyways, I made it onto the next one and fell asleep before we took off and woke up only when the unfasten seat belts sign came on. After hanging out with my family in the nice weather at Easton, including some clothes shopping and eating some Graeter's, I got ready for shabbas and then found out that the shul that my sister and I would be attending for services on shabbas was the only one of the three Orthodox shuls in town taking in shabbas an hour early, causing me to lose out on my erev-shabbas jog. Shabbas went well (my sister and I stayed at our grandmother's for shabbas), though I was asked on Friday night to give a devar Torah at seudah shlishi the following day, which I was able to handle, though I hadn't brought along a lot of books with me.
After shabbas, I went with my si
ster and others to Graeter's, though I was tired and went back home after shabbas.
On Sunday, I helped my Grandmother prepare for the seder, helping in food preparations for the first time in years (that's right, I can actually help make food), and went with my Mom, walking around Creekside (also to follow in a following post). Also, I went with my sister to Graeter's and to see a movie (yeah, $3.50 for a movie - definitely not a Manhattan price).
I added to this posting with pictures on Tuesday 11 April of Easton and Creekside.
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05 April 2006

The Construction Effort Next Door Gets An Address

Coming back to my apartment tonight, I found that there was some information posted on the blue-painted boards that are to be found standing upright on our street next to the currently deforested hill next to our building. In short, the address will be 1 Wadsworth Terrace. As the owner of the site is Wadsworth Condo, I think it would be safe to assume that not only will the building be named "Wadsworth Condo," but that also it will be a building of condominiums. While that will be a plus for the neighborhood, it may make prices go up in our neighborhood (which, however, is good for the landlords in the area).

Editorial in the Jewish Press

Although in a previous posting, I have done a run-through (which continues in the comments section there) of blogs and more which talk about the bishops and cardinals visit which took place last week at YCT (btw, since my most recent update of bloglinks, Gil (who, while restrainedly, though smartly, didn't weigh in as he didn't know much of the facts on the ground), LMOM and Steven I. Weiss have also responded to the CrossCurrents posting), as well as note my experience there and mentioned Rabbi Weiss' position on the matter, I will yet again post on the subject. Why? Because the Jewish Press just took a potshot at YCT over it in a recent editoral entitled, "Warm and Fuzzy 'Halacha'" (note that they put the last word in quotes). While the editorial ends off only cautionarily, that wasn't the direction in which they were headed.
A big issue about which has been debated on the blogs has been the Rav's famous article "Confrontation". Since I haven't read it in a few years (I read it sometime when I was either a sophomore or junior in college), I don't remember many of the specifics and therefore am preferring to stay out of the ring on this one. However, the editorial quotes a paragraph of this article
We certainly have not been authorized by our history, sanctified by the martyrdom of millions, to even hint to another faith community that we are mentally ready to revise historical attitudes, to trade favors pertaining to fundamental matters of faith, and to reconcile "some" differences. Such a suggestion would be nothing but a betrayal of our great tradition and heritage and would, furthermore, produce no practical benefits. Let us not forget that the community of the many will not be satisfied with half measures and compromises which are only indicative of a feeling of insecurity and inner emptiness. We cannot command the respect of our confronters by displaying a servile attitude.
While the editorial goes on to question Rabbi Weiss and the school's direction, it doesn't take a genius to explain even just this paragraph. First of all, let's touch on the background: the Rav had lived at the time (though living in Boston and not in Europe) of the Holocaust and even lost relatives through it, so he was definitely affected by that (he tries to deal with this in his famous "Kol Dodi Dofek", which I read as a college senior (for a paper on the Rav's views on evil)). So the Catholic Church's trying to deal with all of this during the Second Vatican Council and enunciated in their Nostra Aetate coming less than two decades after the Holocaust, surely generated within him some weariness on his behalf when he published his "Confrontation" in Tradition in 1964 (while the Second Vatican Council was still proceeding (it would end in the following year in 1965)). However, over forty years later, and especially with what we've seen, there is hope. Granted, I think it is unreasonable that the Vatican should just feel, "Well, hey, y'know we're cool with you now, and we know we've been really protective of our massive and precious storehouse, but we figured all's well in the name of ecumenicalism - y'know, it's all good, our Jewish brothers. Come on in." I doubt that it will go down like that. While I have not spent much time considering the Vatican's storehouse (or whatever it is), I'm sure that if (and, please God, when) the Catholic church opens up, it will be done in a slow and gradual manner.
While these things take time (and apparently the eighties weren't so great), and the Rav was correct that these things can't just be erased in the blink of an eye (paraphrase), would it be too much to go out on a limb to say we can't make little steps, eventually leading up to better relations? Heck, we may even get to see what's in the Vatican.
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Thursday and Friday Work on the Boarding

On Thursday and Friday last week, further work down the street was made on putting up boards around the poles set up earlier. These boards may not necessarily be for scaffolding, but they are definitely for construction work. They're here for the long haul....

02 April 2006

My Take on the Cardinals and Bishops Visit

As the blogosphere has generated a number of posts about the World Jewish Congress' delegation of about 30 or so cardinals and bishops involving their stop off at YCT, I figured I would hop in, as well (there are three primary sources: the posting at the YCTChevre blog, Steven I. Weiss' posting at the Canonist, and the Forward article and so far, I have found a few other blog references: On The Main Line, who calls it a kiddush haShem, Harry Mayles at Emes ve-Emunah, who thought it stepped over theological boundaries, some Hoffman guy at On The Contrary (this last one is a bit strange, though), as well as "Ricky Ricardo"). My experience of the event wasn't something of a theological or philosophical debate or something of a huge scale, but rather it was significant to me for another reason: I got to brush up on my French. Yeah, I studied French in high school and a semester in college, but have since been doing a lot of forgetting of it (very unintentionally), so this was an excellent opportunity for me to work on it. While I definitely didn't do so well French-speaking-wise, fortunately, there was a YCT guy who had grown up in Montreal who was around to help me. It was also good to learn a few things about these guys, plus, as they don't often interface with Jews, it was good to have a positive meeting with them.
As I've noticed throughout the JBlogosphere, there seems to be a bit of a lack of information about the event. As such, I figured, while I was at Ben's wedding today, that I would ask Rabbi Weiss (who was the מס
דר קידושין - organizer of the wedding rituals) about the event. When I asked him regarding the Rav's famous article, he had said that it was a statement on public policy and not on halakhah. As such, public policy issues are to be measured at that time, weighing the various social and other considerations. As far as meeting with them, it certainly wasn't a theological debate, where each side would be trying to convince the other of the correctness of their beliefs. Actually, it was hardly even a theological discussion, but more of a schmoozing, than anything else. So, that takes care of the Rav's article, etc. Rabbi Weiss also shared with me that the Rav was leery of the Second Vatican Council and how sincere they were. He said that things actually got to a shaky point in the eighties, part of which was his fault (he said he had protested the convent at Auschwitz, and he also protested in the Vatican and subsequently got arrested), but since then, things have gotten better. As to the learning Talmud with them (we learned Berakhos 26b, which I have mentioned earlier on my blog), he said that there are some people out there with that שיטה (viewpoint) that one is not allowed to teach gentiles the oral Torah, but that's not how he sees it.

For more pictures, click here
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