Happy Face  

Posted by inkstainedhands in ,

Life is pretty good right now. I finished finals earlier this month and then enjoyed my week of midwinter vacation. Work hard, play hard. It seems that around finals time there is not much of a chance to have fun with friends, so my friends and I made up for that with a get-together last Shabbat as well as a sleepover on Motzei Shabbat, where I was introduced to Dance Dance Revolution. I also somehow found myself spending five days in Manhattan (all part of the 'play hard' plan) and had a wonderful time. I went for a bit of entertainment and music on some of those days. Another day I went shopping with my friends and realized more than ever just how amazing they are. (I even got a little story for my readers from Annie, which I'll have to post later.) And since a vacation cannot be all fun, I threw in just the right dose of business -- a college interview on Tuesday. To my great surprise, that turned out to be fun as well. I think that the last time my readers heard of this topic, I was saying that I wanted to go to Brooklyn College and was also searching for a seminary in Brooklyn to go to part-time. Well, a lot of things have changed since then, and I must write about that too! After my college interview, I basked in the beauty of Manhattan on a chilly January day before heading up to Washington Heights for YU's SOY Seforim Sale, where I met Chana, who was surprisingly bouncy and full of energy even after donating blood. (I am not quite sure how she does it.) So I now have enough reading material to last me some time, and I am very excited about that. I ended my vacation on a high note on Wednesday with another evening of entertainment in Manhattan, and on Thursday I reluctantly returned to school for the spring semester.

I have not had this much fun in months. :]

And the best part of it is that I am motivated to write now and work on my novel! Happy Hannah.

Virus, Go Away  

Posted by inkstainedhands

Although people who create these computer viruses should rot in jail for the rest of their lives and then burn in hell for eternity for being such annoying little pests with nothing better to do than to make other people miserable, there is not much we can do about that. But once our computers are infected, at least we should know how to get rid of those viruses. Personally, I always ask my father to get rid of the viruses. After having my computer attacked twice in the course of a month or two by the same virus (and apparently both my father and sister's laptops were also attacked by it), my father wrote a guide on his blog to getting rid of this particular virus. So if you find yourself being harassed by fake virus alerts (which is the virus itself) and unable to open up any programs, you know what to do in advance.

All You Need is Love  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , ,

I love, love, love my friends. But this post is dedicated to the three with whom I spent the time between finals today in school -- the three who can make me just relax and stop worrying about my finals and think about how fortunate I am in having such friends.

Mornings are not the happiest of times during the school year, especially after you have had a grand total of four hours of sleep the night before and are quite stressed and would like nothing more than to hibernate and not have to do anything or speak to anyone. But I am very fortunate in that there are three very lovely individuals whose smiles brighten my mornings when I come to school. I do not enjoy mornings, and therefore I was very shocked as, when I was about to go to sleep late one night, I thought to myself that I am very excited for the morning to come, so I can wake up and go to school. And why was I so looking forward to that? Because I would see my three wonderful, amazing, delightful friends. And when I am looking forward to waking up so I can see someone, you know that they are really something special. And they are.

We often say that we are like a family -- and we are. We are there for each other, we listen, we discuss, we comfort, we advise, we smile, we laugh. They are the kinds of people that I can just run up to and randomly hug.

I am only sorry that next year we will no longer be together there. I hope that we will always be together, but there is something special about seeing each other every day in school and spending most lunchtimes together -- in the library or sitting around the piano in the auditorium -- that cannot be duplicated. I feel like I have finally found my place, like I am a part of something beautiful and special, and I do not want this to end. Who knows? Perhaps a year from now we will all be sitting together around another piano, in someone's living room, saying, "Remember when...?" and feeling as if it happened so long ago, when in reality not that much time has passed. I certainly hope that despite our different paths in life and plans for the future years, we will all find time to get together, like a family at a Shabbat dinner table. All the members have their own lives, their own places and responsibilities, but they all come together regularly and unite once more.

So who are these three beautiful individuals who make me smile and laugh and be joyful and thankful for my life? There is Selene*, whom I have known since pre-school. There is Elise*, whom I met a number of years ago. And then there is Annie*, who caught my attention quite unexpectedly when she came to my school last year. What boggles my mind every day though is how we all found each other and how everything connected so perfectly. (I am actually still not quite sure how that happened....)

Selene is a bright, mature, responsible girl with a heart of gold. (Actually, all three of them have a heart of gold.) She is thoughtful and grounded, and she thinks about things thoroughly before accepting them. She cares about the truth and stands up for it. She is not afraid to speak about what she thinks is right, even if by doing so she alienates herself from the rest of the class. She feels strongly, and the way in which she expresses her feelings proves the intensity of them. She is dedicated to her beliefs and will not be swayed or influenced by popular opinion. This is the kind of girl that will never give in to peer pressure. She knows who she is and what she stands for, and she will not give it up even if she is outnumbered five to one in a debate. She does not try to be who she is not in order to fit in, and one of the things I love so much about her is her frankness. You always know where you stand with her and you know that all her words are sincere. There are no mind games and there is no manipulation -- everything is straightforward, honest, and clear. If she says something, she means it, and if something needs to be discussed, it is done without melodrama. You don't have to play guessing games with her or constantly wonder whether she means what she says. If something is wrong, she will tell you directly, instead of pretending that all is fine and well and leaving you frustrated, wondering what that is all about. Unfortunately, it has become so common for girls to be manipulative in their social interactions that a gem like Selene is hard to come by. Talking to her is wonderfully refreshing because she is opinionated, well-spoken, and multi-faceted. I keep discovering new things about her every day and there is no such thing as running out of things to discuss when we are having a conversation. Selene can be both serious and lighthearted, depending on the situation, and conversations can go from being light to being deep in a matter of minutes. But no matter what the conversation is about, she would never allow a hurtful word to pass her lips when she is speaking to her friends. Even if my opinion ever differs from hers, she does not deride me for it or imply even through a facial expression that I might be wrong. I have plenty of friends who will look at me as if I have grown a second head if I do so much as think, act, or dress outside the box. But Selene can appreciate a person's individuality instead of criticizing it. In fact, she values people who feel comfortable enough in their own skin that they do not feel they need to conform. And she is that type of person herself. She is not afraid to be different and to make up her own rules instead of going along with the rest of the mindless herd. Selene is Selene, and nobody can take that away from her. And when she smiles, her whole face just lights up, and it is so beautiful to behold. She smiles with her eyes, and they sparkle and glow, and it just makes you want to smile along with her -- and I do.

Elise is one of the most easygoing people I know. When I first met her, I was dazzled by how high on life she seemed. She smiled easily, she cracked jokes, and she was like a little ball of energy that just keeps on bouncing. If someone sneaks up behind me and unexpectedly envelops me in a hug, it is most likely to be Elise. She spreads joy wherever she goes, and the effect it has on our little group is palpable. Even when she is going through something difficult, she still has enough of that energy of hers to make all the rest of us feel good. She cares deeply for her friends and is always willing to lend an ear or a shoulder. She is the embodiment of compassion, empathy, and kindness, and there is in her what can only be described as absolute goodness. I have yet to meet another person who cares so deeply about her friends and feels for them as keenly as if it had been for herself. If a friend is in pain, Elise is in pain. But she does not limit her compassion to merely feeling; she takes it upon herself to make her friends feel better, using as much of her time and energy as necessary. When a friend needs to vent, Elise is there to listen and advise, and when the friend does not wish to speak, Elise does everything that is in her power to show that she cares. And often, that is just as important as anything else. When you know that there is someone who cares about you and loves you and wishes to make you happy, life already seems a bit brighter. Her deep and unabated concern for her friends presses her to do more than superficially ask, "Is everything all right?" Elise does not just speak -- she acts. She is able to understand people and to read into their actions in order to see that something is bothering them. Elise is able to put her own needs aside in order to focus on those of her friends, and you do not get the feeling that she would rather be doing something else. When she focuses her attention on you, you know that you matter and that she wants to hear what you have to say. She is not just asking if you are okay to be nice -- she actually wants to hear what is going on in your life and what is bothering you. She is so unbelievably sincere. She has a very deep sense of right and wrong and she does not just act without thinking. Elise does not just go with what feels 'fun' -- she allows her conscience to lead her. She also believes in the goodness of her friends and wants to believe the best of them, and she helps people believe in themselves. Elise is like a ray of sunshine, lighting up the room and putting some light into lives that would otherwise be governed by stress and worries. She can make you forget everything else, and that is a wonderful thing when the "everything else" consists of finals, assignments, and responsibilities.

Annie is another little ray of sunshine... and a breath of fresh air. She is the kind of person you can spot in an auditorium with three hundred people because of her bright red gorgeous curly hair. And when I need to find my friends, I usually use that bobbing red ponytail as my guide as I weave through the crowd of high school students. And honestly, her hair color could not be more perfect to describe the type of person she is. She is bubbly, lively, and full of energy -- kind of like the little Energizer Bunny you see in commercials, except ten times more. She just keeps going and going, until you start to wonder if her batteries ever need recharging. (I somehow doubt it.) There is never a dull moment around her, and if there is not enough in life to keep us all amused, she will make sure to find something. I first met Annie last yet, when I was working as a librarian in my school's library. She marched into the library, saw that I was working there, and asked me if I could recommend any books on a certain theme. It seemed that she was determined to find a book that would back up a point she was trying to make, and all I could think of was, "Well, this is certainly a change!" Usually, girls' requests are more along the lines of, "Ugh.. I need a book for my report. Do you have any books from the reading list that are short?" or "Can you just find me something good from this list the teacher gave us for the report?" And there was Annie, this young freshman, who was bold and assertive and knew exactly what she wanted. I soon realized that the books I was trying to recommend her she had already read. And that is one of the things I love about Annie -- her thirst for knowledge and for understanding. She does not just go through the motions of everyday life, doing whatever she has to but nothing else. Annie does things for herself, not just because she 'has to.' She is the type of person who will actually read a book if I recommend it, instead of saying, "Oh, it sounds interesting" and never touching it. She is open-minded and willing to listen to what you have to say, and if she disagrees with you, she will say so. However, even if she disagrees, she will allow you to try to persuade her if your argument is logical and reasonable. She does not accept things blindly, but if what you say makes sense, she will give it further thought and consideration. But she is not a little marionette, to be manipulated at will. Annie is strong and independent. Annie is Annie, and she stays true to herself no matter what. She does not have this mentality of "I have to hide my true self in order to fit in" which seems prevalent among teenagers. She does not need to fit in. She does not have to pretend -- not when she is with friends and not when she is with teachers. She is outgoing and talkative, and I doubt that there is a shy bone in her body. Most of all, she reminds me of Annie from the 1982 musical film of the same name. She does not let her age impede her. She has no problem asking an adult frank questions or interrogating a complete stranger. I recently witnessed her begin a conversation with an adult in school she had never met before, and she was perfectly comfortable saying exactly what was on her mind. I saw the way the woman smiled at her, somewhat surprised at being thus openly addressed and inquired as to her identity. "Only Annie," I thought to myself. What I love about Annie is that you feel so comfortable around her, no matter who you are... well, unless you are an ill-equipped teacher whose theories have just been shattered by Annie's logic. And that is precisely what I love about Annie. She thinks and she examines life and challenges ideas and people in order to come to the right conclusions, and that can lead to the most interesting conversations. And we all know that I love interesting conversations.

Selene, Elise, and Annie all have hearts of gold, and it is so pleasant just to be around them. They are not judgmental; they allow you to be yourself and love you for it. Do you know how amazing it is to be loved for who you are -- for the real version -- and not feeling as if you have to hide certain parts of yourself because your friends would not 'approve' of them? It is delightful.

What I used to do during lunchtimes or free periods or breaks was considerably more antisocial than what I do now. I used to find a nice little staircase or corner in the school and spend all my free time writing. And now... now I seek out Selene, Elise, and Annie because they are some of the most amazing people ever and every minute I spend with them is delightful. And I always wonder, What did I do to deserve such wonderful friends? (I am still not quite sure of the answer.) All I know is that I am fortunate in having them in my life (and that also applies to all my other friends that I did not write about here).

I love and adore you guys, and you mean the world to me.

*Names have been changed.

It Seems Like it's Going to Rain  

Posted by inkstainedhands in ,

This 10-minute episode of the Russian Winnie Pooh is the most ADORABLE thing ever. I love watching all these Russian videos on YouTube.... They bring back such memories, since I used to listen to Russian children's songs all the time when I was little. (And for all you non-Russian speaking people, there are English subtitles!)

The Other Side  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , , ,

There is usually more than one way of interpreting a person's actions or words, and depending on what you want to see or hear or believe of the person, you will understand these things in different ways.

Two people can have completely different interpretations of a single action or speech, and these understandings sometimes form a full contrast to each other. They are total opposites. The same action can be either praised or condemned, depending on how you look at it.

The Torah illustrates this point repeatedly, but I want to specifically mention two instances in Bereishit (Genesis) in which the commentaries on the Torah had opposing understandings of somebody's actions.

1. 4:13 -- ויאמר קין אל ה' גדול עוני מנשוא

After Cain's murder of his brother Abel, G-d punished him by cursing him through the ground and condemns him to a life as a wanderer, unable to settle in one place. Here, Cain asks G-d whether his iniquity is too great to bear. Or at least that is what it means according to the simple explanation of the verse -- the pshat. But according to other explanations, Cain was not asking a question. Rather, he was admitting the severity of his sin.

Rashi writes, based on Bereishit Rabbah:

בתמיה, אתה טוען עליונים ותחתונים, ועוני אי אפשר לטעון
According to Rashi, Cain was asking a question; he said that G-d is able to bear the upper and lower worlds, and yet it is impossible for Him to bear Cain's sin? If G-d is so mighty, why can He not bear a simple human's action? After all, compared to supporting the entire world, it seems almost like nothing. Cain was questioning G-d's decree and trying to get more mercy and a lighter sentence, even though G-d was kind enough to him in allowing him to continue living. So according to Rashi, Cain was claiming that his sin was not too great to bear.

Ramban, on the other hand, says something completely different. First he quotes Rashi, and then he proceeds to disagree with him by saying:
והנכון בפשט שהוא וידוי אמר אמת כי עוני גדול מלסלוח וצדיק אתה ה' וישר משפטיך
Cain was in reality saying viduy -- he was confessing his sin and admitting that his sin was too great to bear or forgive, and that G-d was the righteous one and made a fair decree. According to Ramban, Cain was also saying to G-d that he is being thrown off the face of the earth and that G-d is hiding His face from him because Cain will no longer be able to pray or bring sacrifices, but nevertheless, Cain admits that he fully deserves the punishment and that G-d acted fairly with him.

Now that is quite a difference! If you look at Rashi, you see Cain as someone who does not want to admit his guilt or repent of the crime, but who only wants G-d to be more lenient with him, while if you look at Ramban, you see a fragile human being who confesses the severity of his sin and mourns that he is being sent away from G-d's presence and will no longer be able to pray to him or bring sacrifices. He sees that he will be all alone in the world from that time, and that without G-d's protection, he is vulnerable and will inevitably be killed. Rashi and Ramban paint two completely different portraits of Cain, and that is what makes it fascinating to read and learn all the different outlooks. It seems that Judaism is very much about being able to see one thing multiple ways. That's the beauty of it.

2. 4:26 -- ולשת גם הוא ילד בן ויקרא את שמו אנוש אז הוכל לקרא בשם השם

Adam's third son, Seth, had a son named Enosh, and then it became common to call by the name of G-d.

And once again we have two commentaries whose interpretations of this verse are nothing alike. One commentary says that this refers to the beginning of idol worship, while the other commentary says that calling out G-d's name was to counteract the forces of avoda zara. But either way, it seems that idol worship began in the time of Enosh.

Rashi interprets the word "huchal" as the following:
לשון חולין. לקרא את שמות האדם ואת שמות העצבים בשמו של הקב"ה לעשותן עבודה זרה ולקרותן אלהות

It is an expression of profaneness, of cheapness -- to call people and idols with the name of the Holy One in order to make them idols and call them gods.

People cheapened G-d's name and made it mundane by using it for inanimate objects and creating gods for themselves. So the fact that it became common to call by the name of G-d refers to idol worship, according to Rashi.

Sforno also draws a connection to idol worship, but he takes this verse in a totally different direction. He writes:
אז התחילו צדיקי הדור לדרוש לרבים את שם ה' כענין ויקרא שם בשם ה' אל עולם כי הוצרכו לסתור דעות עובדי כוכבים וגלולים שהתחילו אז כדברי רז"ל

The righteous people of that generation then began to publicly call out in the name of G-d in order to counteract the forces of avoda zara that began at that time.

So the same word -- huchal -- can be used to refer to either idol worshippers or to those who fought against it, depending on how you understand the verse!

Life works the same way. Many things depend on your outlook and your understanding of them -- if you choose to see it one way, that is how it will be to you. But there is always another way to look at it that is equally correct and equally reasonable to believe.

Idiocy is Alive and Well  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , ,

I was extremely disturbed and horrified by what I witnessed today in school, and it made me wonder whether some people will ever grow up and see something beyond their looks, apparel, excursions, and morning hot cocoa or coffee.

Someone had set up a hot water urn in the student lounge today and provided cocoa mix, whipped cream, and marshmellows. That is all very well and lovely, and I am sure all my classmates were thankful for that, especially since if they had a free period or a few minutes between classes, they could enjoy a nice cup of hot cocoa. When you are learning and running around all day, preoccupied with your studies, refreshments are always very much appreciated.

But as we were going to Holocaust class, I noticed a few girls calmly making themselves a drink in preparation. They mixed the cocoa powder in with the boiling water, elaborately placed whipped cream on top, dropped a couple of marshmellows in, and were all prepared to go learn about the Holocaust. I asked them whether they were planning on taking that to class, and they replied that of course they were. One of the girls said that we will be watching a video. The implication was that footage of the Holocaust and hot cocoa go together well.

We were watching Genocide today, a video containing personal narratives of experiences in the Holocaust as well as extremely graphic footage of Jews being killed, of rotting skeletal corpses being swung and thrown into pits, of entire piles of corpses lying around in the death camps, of ovens and burned bodies, of the dead and the dying.

I felt physically sick at those sights, and a few girls were crying. And there were those girls, enjoying their hot drinks as if nothing happened, as if nothing mattered. One of them wanted more whipped cream to go with her movie drink, so she walked out and returned with the entire container of whipped cream and proceeded to enjoy herself thoroughly while horrifying images flashed before our eyes and survivors' testimonies were read of the cruel things they had to endure and of their separation from their beloved parents and of the agony of knowing that your entire family has been wiped out.

I heard this girl whispering with her friends, laughing loudly at the beginning, etc.

And I wanted to get out of my seat, walk over to her, and strangle her. (But I thought that it would not go over well with the school or her parents, if you know what I mean.)

You would think that by the time a girl reaches that age, she might acquire a bit more sensitivity, especially when dealing with a subject like the Holocaust. Is that really too much to hope for? Do such girls ever grow up? Because, quite honestly, I am beginning to despair of that.


Posted by inkstainedhands in , , ,

Try to see it my way,
Do I have to keep on talking till I can't go on?
While you see it your way,
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone.
We can work it out,
We can work it out.

~ "We Can Work It Out" -- The Beatles

What is a compromise? It is a concession, when both sides agree to meet in the middle, and both parties are satisfied with the result. A compromise involves effort and some degree of sacrifice from both sides.

Think of what you're saying.
You can get it wrong and still you think that it's all right.
Think of what I'm saying,
We can work it out and get it straight, or say good night.
We can work it out,
We can work it out.

Why is it then that when people suggest making a compromise, what they are really implying is that the other person should be the one to compromise? When has compromise become something the other side should do? Is it not supposed to involve both parties giving something up in order to agree on the middle road, to get a fair result? Why then does 'working it out' mean that you expect the other person to 'think of what you're saying' and see the situation from your point of view, while having to abandon his/her own? Why is it that you expect the other person to give up his/her own opinion in favor of yours, while you do not even consider looking at the matter from his/her position?

Life is very short, and there's no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend.
I have always thought that it's a crime,
So I will ask you once again.
Try to see it my way,
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.
While you see it your way
There's a chance that we might fall apart before too long.
We can work it out,
We can work it out.

How are you working it out if you are depriving the other person of a personal opinion or a fair chance? How is it compromise if you are not willing to give anything up yourself? You are telling the other person, "while you see it your way, there's a chance that we might fall apart before too long," but what about you? Have you ever considered how that applies to you too? That while you only see it your way and ask your partner to constantly compromise, you are the only ruining the friendship, relationship, marriage?

A compromise goes both ways, and the best way to compromise is by starting with yourself -- by showing that you are willing to give something up in order to make the other person happy, and then perhaps that will encourage the other person to give something up too, so that both of you can come to a fair, mutually satisfying conclusion. You must take that first step; you cannot demand it of the other person and then refuse to budge an inch yourself. Both parties must be involved in the agreement, and both must accept the conditions and give up certain things.

That is compromising.

Inspired by Summer Storms  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , ,

Check out the latest issue of The Jewish Press (January 8, 2010) for a story written by yours truly.

You can also read it online.