Ray Bradbury

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

I came across this quote today from Ray Bradbury on my Google homepage, and it reminded me how much I enjoyed reading Fahrenheit 451 in high school.  In general, I don’t enjoy reading science fiction – although I have to confess that Josh has introduced to me the joys of Robert Heinlein – but I remember being very moved by this book in a similar way that I was moved by his quote above. It forces you to think out of the box, to confront the reality of our world, and to take a long, hard look at oneself in the mirror.

In Fahrenheit 451, a book-burning fireman goes through a crisis of conscience. In the world he occupies, the appearance of happiness is more important than the actual pursuit of it. His wife pressures him to work harder burning books so she can buy yet another TV for their home. Independent thought is discouraged in this world, and real emotion is to be avoided at all cost. (Sound familiar?) The fireman begins to see the error of his ways when his sixteen-year-old neighbor, who is enthralled by books and is curious about the world, mysteriously disappears. He begins to hide books in his home so as to avoid burning them, but he is discovered, and ends up joining an outlaw band of scholars who commit the contents of their books to memory, waiting for the time society will once again welcome the wisdom of literature.

He writes:

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs…. Don’t give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.

In the day-to-day grind of our existence, we get so caught up in the here- and-now that we often lose sight of ourselves and the world around us. When we ask an acquaintance on the street a casual and breezy, “How are you?”, how many of us really want to stick around to hear the answer? Our financial situation, our social status, our appearance – these are often the concerns that dominate our thoughts and hearts; not reading between the lines, looking behind our friend’s plastered smile to see what is really going on beneath the surface.

We are so busy all the time that there is no time left in our chaotic lives to just “be.” I don’t think that people even know anymore what it is that makes them happy – they may provide a stock answer – like a good career or a comfortable lifestyle – but if you unravel the many layers, are we really happy?

 Do we have a duty to the world to care what is going on, or should we leave that burden to people who are actually paid to care? I recall last summer during the Lebanon war walking the streets of Modi’in, and thinking to myself, “You would never know, to look at people’s faces, that there was a war going on.” I remember one day feeling extremely depressed about the war, and someone I know came over to me, and seeing that I was visibly upset, asked me if everything was okay. I told her that I just couldn’t get what was going on out of my head. She responded, “It can’t be that bad, right? I mean, you’ll be able to move into your new place soon, won’t you?” She automatically presumed I was referring to the fact that we were waiting at that time to move into our new apartment, not the fact that people up north were being ousted from their homes, forced to uproot themselves, because of the horrors of war. I was in shock.

On a less somber note, it is my Hebrew birthday coming up in a few days – woohoo – and I have to think of a fun and exciting activity to celebrate with my hubby the last year of my twenties. If anyone has any suggestions for a fun night out – preferably either in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv – that doesn’t involve eating out or bowling, let me know. My husband loves to eat out, so his suggestions always involve restaurants. We want to do something a bit different this year. Thanks!

How the mighty have fallen

It’s a very sad day when your husband has to be the one to nominate you for the JIB (Jewish and Israeli blogs) Awards, but nominate me he has  – so, roll up your sleeves and start voting for me here! The nomination is for the category “Best Slice of Life in Israel Blog.” To those of you who I made fun of in recent years for allowing yourself to get involved in these awards, I apologize. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Good reads

If you are curious what other people are reading, or want to find some good reading material for yourself, Goodreads is the place for you. Enjoy.

One aspect of living in Israel which really infuriates me – yup, it’s Friday the 13th, and I am in the mood for a rant – is the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, there are no English-language libraries that allow you to take out books FREE OF CHARGE. (If anyone does know of such a library within the Israeli borders, let me know, and I will happily make the trek over there.)

You won’t often hear me say very positive things on this blog about my hometown of Manchester, England, but it has to be said – the public libraries ROCKED. As a child, I would hand in the coveted library card that entitled me to take out as many books as I had plastic bags in which to carry them, and I used to leave the library about twenty pounds heavier, with a pile of books that were taller than me. And it was free. I mean, I suppose it stands to reason that they would provide such a service – what else is a girl to do in her free time in Manchester? Indoor activities were definitely the way to go in our cold, gray, and dismal climate.

In the English-language library in Modi’in, you have to pay a ridiculous 250 shekel (which is over $50) just for the privilege of becoming a member, and 50 shekel for the first book you take out, and 10 shekel for each subsequent book, and to add insult to injury, you can only take out 4 books.

For that money, I may as well head over to the local Steimatsky, Israel’s best-known book chain, and BUY brand new books that are not discolored with coffee and ketchup stains. Okay, I might not actually leave the store with the book I want, but at least it would be MINE, all MINE. Steimatsky may be Israel’s largest book chain, but do not mistakenly make any mental comparisons between this bookstore and Barnes & Noble. Unless you are interested in overpriced travel books, coffee table books about the history of Israel, and the odd Steven King novel, you’ll be lucky to leave the store with a book you can sink your teeth into. They don’t even have their own website. Sigh. I mean, even I have my own website. What is that all about?

What I find myself doing nowadays is heading over to a second-hand bookstore on Rechov Yaffo in Jerusalem, Dani’s. I hold onto the books that I like, and those that are in the reject pile I return, and receive thirty or forty percent of the original price I paid. Pretty sweet deal. It just means, though, that I have to head over to Jerusalem whenever I have the reading itch.

Anyway, if anyone has any inventive (and legal) ideas how I can get my hands on some good English-language books in Israel, don’t be backward in coming forward.

Bribery – works like a charm

It’s amazing what we endure to keep both our parents and children happy. My mother-in-law sent the girls sailor dresses for Pesach, and while on the phone to her just a couple of weeks ago, I made her an offer which as soon as it left my mouth I instantly wished I could retract. “You know what, mom? “I’ll get the girls to put on their dresses before chag [festival] begins, and will take a picture of them to send it to you.” (Note to self: never make offers that involve cameras and children under the age of four. [I’m an optimist by nature. Who knows, maybe the kids will be more cooperative when they get older?])

Well, Pesach in Israel is a seven-day affair, and I told myself that there would be plenty of opportunities for me to fulfill my promise to my mother-in-law. As the final day of Pesach approached, I realized that time was not on our side. Just half an hour before we welcomed in the second days of the chag, I forced the girls into their dresses with promises of a Ferrari for Eliana when she turns sixteen (her dream is “to get bigger, drive a car, wear my earrings, and have babies” – all in that order) and a bottle of milk for Tzofia (my little one loves to hit the bottle – on average, we buy at least 10 bags of milk a week).

Well, folks, Eliana may have been temporarily lulled by the promises of a car, but by the time Josh got her into the garden, as you can see, she was not a happy bunny. Can you blame her? I would cry if someone put me in that outfit (Eliana is the crying child on the right).

Before

At that point, it was time to bring out the big guns. There’s only one thing Eliana loves more than the idea of driving a car – and that is candy. So even though she has consumed far more treats in this last week of Passover than is probably recommended for an entire year, we acquiesced, and promised her yet another “treat.” I know, shoddy parenting.

After

Well, you can’t argue with the results!

Future history

Funky title for a blog, no? Well, it’s my husband’s blog, so head on over there and check it out. He wrote here on this site a month ago with a guest post that was, in my opinion, hysterical if not a little heretical. The title was “God is a mob boss.”

I know I am probably not the most impartial person in the world, but I always love reading his writing because he writes exactly how he speaks. And if you were to listen to him speak, you would realize why that is  so amazing. Anyway, enough blarney. I guess that’s what happens when your father is an Irishman.

Whoever is hungry, come and eat

Pesach of 2001 was a very special year for me. What distinguished this Seder night from all previous Sedarim (pl. Seder) was that the Shlomo Carlebach Haggadah that I was using was edited by none other than yours truly. I have since edited two other Haggadot, but this particular year stays fresh in my memory.

Before I began working on this project, I had been a big Shlomo Carlebach fan, and had even met “the singing rabbi” personally a couple of times in my childhood. I must have been about ten years old when he first stayed at our house during one of his trips to our colorless city (that would be Manchester, England). My father’s close friend was responsible for organizing his performances in Manchester, and asked my father if he could stay overnight at our house – how could you possibly say no to Shlomo Carlebach? Well, anyway, that’s my claim to fame. Shlomo Carlebach stayed at our house when I was a kid.

It’s gotta be said that Shlomo Carlebach’s singing voice is pretty dire – as those of you who are familiar with his music will be able to testify – but his tunes (niggunim) are so uplifting that they leave you soaring in the clouds. It’s other-worldly. All the petty worries and fears that weigh you down on a daily basis are suddenly removed – at that moment, it’s just you and G-d. To this day, I really feel that Carlebach music is therapy for the soul.

So you can imagine my excitement when the Carlebach Haggadah manuscript landed on my desk. Before I began reading it, I knew it would be a success. The idea of relating Rabbi Carlebach’s teachings and stories to the Haggadah and Seder night was ingenious. His insights into the human condition and his profound lessons on the meaning of true freedom raised the Seder night to a whole new level.

A few weeks before the Haggadah went to print, I had to select an excerpt to appear on the back cover. Considering there were hundreds of stories and messages from which to choose, this was not an easy decision. Since food is perpetually on my mind, I eventually opted for Rabbi Carlebach’s interpretation of the words in the Haggadah which translate as “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat.” The words do have a Michael Jackson feel to them, but nonetheless I felt that this excerpt encapsulated Rabbi Carlebach’s philosophy on life:

Friends, this is our generation. This is you and I, but most of all it’s our children. There’s such a hunger in the world for something beautiful, something holy – a hunger for one good word, one holy word, one message from God. People are hungry for something lofty, glorious. So this is my wish for all of us: Let the hungry people get together – everyone who’s hungry for holiness, friendship, for love – with the people who are hungry to give their children one word from God. Let’s get together! Let’s you and I fix the world!

The three dashes (this is for you, Alan)

One of my readers asked me the following grammar question as a follow-up to this post:

I would appreciate a lesson on the use of the hyphen in sentence construction. I use it sparingly when I think I am using it correctly, but I am never quite sure frankly…My question is … can the hyphens be used as a substitution for commas or is their usage different?

Well, firstly, as listed in every editor’s bible, the Chicago Manual of Style, there are three types of dashes – hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. They all have different functions, and to make life fun, are all different lengths (the dash used in this sentence is an em dash):

  1. The hyphen is the shortest of the three dashes, and is used in the following ways:
    1. hyphens can connect two words, such as “hair-raiser,” “eye-opener.”
    2. hyphens are used in compound numbers, “thirty-seven,” “forty-nine.”
    3. hyphens are used with the prefixes, ex-, self-, and all, e.g. ex-boyfriend, self-assured, and all-encompassing.

    The hyphen can be found on the keyboard on the underscore key, next to the “0” computer key.

  2. Now we come to the en dash, which is longer in length than the hyphen, and is used to connect continuing, or inclusive, numbers, e.g. the years 1968-72, 10:00-5:00 P.M.

    The en dash can be found on the keyboard by pressing Ctrl and the grey minus key on the numeric keyboard.

  3. Last but not least, the em dash, which is double the size of the en dash, and is used in the following ways:
    1. The em dash, or a pair of dashes, can be used to denote a sudden break in thought:

      I know a person—let’s call her Elizabeth—who is extremely gregarious.

    2. And now, in answer to your question, Alan, an em dash can also be used to separate ideas in a sentence which is long and complex, or in one that has an excessive amount of commas:

      On our way to see my brother and sister-in-law in Modi’in—which is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—we stopped off at a cafe for a bite to eat.

AidelMaidel is engaged!

Okay, perhaps there is something weird about me taking out some tissues when I read the news on AidelMaidel’s blog that she said “yes” to “Mr. Sky High.” I don’t know the woman, for heaven’s sake. Yet here I am crying with tears of joy for this ultra-Orthodox single mother of two.

A while ago, I was talking to a friend about the phenomenon of blogging, and I told him that I read two or three blogs (or six or seven) everyday. The guy was gobsmacked. He thought it was very strange – almost voyeuristic – that I took such an interest in the lives of strangers. Well, the way I see it, it is better than shedding tears over some brainless soap opera that is 100% fiction.

AidelMaidel has, up until this point, suffered a lot in her life: she was the victim of child abuse, and was left virtually penniless after divorcing her husband just a few years ago. I admit to following religiously her trials and tribulations as she went on a series of blind dates with no-hopers, and I rooted for her when she finally met Mr. Sky High (all her dates have been given aliases on the blog). Theirs has not been a long courtship; they started dating less than three months ago (anyone who knows me will realize the irony of this statement, considering Josh and I only dated for six weeks before getting engaged), and today AidelMaidel announced on her site their engagement.

The funny part is that her readers have lately been expressing their concern about her relationship with Mr. Sky High, and the speed at which it was progressing. They feared that she was rushing in to the relationship, and after the debacle of her first marriage, she should be more cautious. I found AidelMaidel’s response to her readers’ expressions of concern very amusing:

I am surprised how many of you commented and emailed me in regards to the Baker’s Dozen post about Mr. Sky-High.

I would like to remind all of you that you only get the information that I give you. What I don’t share here means you don’t know about it. Out of deference to Mr. Sky-High’s right to privacy, and my great respect for him, I don’t share all the gory details of our dates. After 14 dates that average 5 hours a piece, I think I know him significantly better than the readers of my blog, since you only get klalim in regards to him, and I actually know the person.

You also seem to forget that I am not going into this blindly. There were extensive reference checks on Mr. Sky-High before I even agreed to go out with him. There are rabbis, rebbetzins and a shadchan who are all consulted after every date. It’s not like this is some guy I picked up in a bar two days ago and am agreeing to marry him. It’s also not like my parents arranged this match, I meet him once, and BAM, we’re married.

Is Mr. Sky-High perfect? Nope.
Is he everything that I said I wanted in a husband? Almost.
Can I live with the things that he isn’t because he does have the things I truly need? Yes.

I’ve already been in one bad marriage. (Of which, you guys don’t know the details either – you don’t know why it went wrong and what I did to make it work over the years.) I’m not interested in repeating it. I’m going into this with my eyes WIDE open. I know what Mr. Sky-High’s good points are and I know what areas he needs to improve upon. The question is, can I live with those areas that need improvement? Yes, I think I can.

That being all said, Mr. Sky-High is completely different from any man I’ve ever dated. I have always had terrible taste in men, and have always gone for men who were bad boys or simply bad for me. Mr. Sky-High is a boring, straight-forward, nice guy. That’s why I didn’t want to go out with him again after the first date. Thank G-d, my rebbetzin pushed me to go again, because there was simply no reason not to.

And as I’ve discovered, Mr. Sky-High while a boring, straight-forward, nice guy, is also probably the only man I’ve met with real, true passion. Because it’s passion based on a love for another person instead of a passion based on narcissistic self-love. And it’s something deep, profound, and not something easily put into words. I see he cares for me very deeply and cherishes me for me – for who I am, imperfections and all.

Do I know how much longer this is going to take, until we both feel ready? I have no clue. Only Hashem knows if and when. Until that time, feel free to give me your advice – just don’t expect me to take it.

She’s right. She definitely calls the shots in deciding which information to share with her readers, but – and I open up this question to all of you – on the other hand, if she is revealing the details of her personal life on a blog, is she not leaving herself open to people’s comments, opinions (you know, two Jews – three opinions), and unwanted pieces of advice? If she was just blogging for cathartic purposes, why not keep a journal in a Word file, where it is safe from nosy individuals?

That being said, her engagement is really great news, and I wish her and her fiance many happy and healthy years together, whether shared on the blogosphere or not.

  

Rules are made to be broken

Any self-respecting editor or publisher will tell you that it is all well and good to have your own individual preferences when it comes to style issues, but what is critical at the end of the day is consistency. Always be consistent. If you choose to italicize a certain transliterated word, make sure to do this throughout. People can forgive a strange spelling of a word, but what is truly unforgivable is inconsistency.

Be warned, though: Do not get caught in the following trap. Word has a feature called Find and Replace, which enables you to make global changes to the file by finding the word in question and correcting it. NEVER select “Find and replace all” – there may be certain instances where the correction should not be applied. For example, you may want to replace the word “apple” globally with “fruit.” If you were to do a global Find and Replace, you run the risk of inserting the word “fruit” with a lower-case f at the beginning of a sentence, where a capped letter should really be used. As tedious as it is, you need to search through each example of the word, and determine whether the correction is appropriate.

Another little tidbit of information relating to consistency. Let us look at numbers. If your work is filled with a lot of mathematical and statistical data, you may decide to use numerals. For example, “There are 25 graduate students in the French department, 22 in the classics department, and 270 in the physics department, making a total of 317 students in the three departments.” The exception to the rule of using numerals is when the number is the first word in the sentence. At the beginning of a sentence, any number that would ordinarily be written in numerals is spelled out, regardless of any inconsistency this may create:

“Twenty-seven percent of the cost was guaranteed.”