Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Who do you go to when the rabbi is the problem?

Okay, that might be an ever so slightly misleading title. I finally got back to work on As in Days of Old, the sequel to Destined to Choose. I've been doing a lot of work in the business side of writing, but haven't really pursued the creative side as much. I'm still working on balancing business and creativity, work and family. No solutions yet, but that's a different post.

So, I'm working on Days, on a scene in which Sara, the wife of David (our protagonist rabbi), is talking with her friend Tamara - also a rebbetzin. Sara is experiencing sort of a crisis of faith. Not religious faith, but faith in herself. And David isn't helping things any. In fact, if anything, he's part of the problem, and isn't even close to helpful when Sara tries to talk to him about it.

The problem - my problem - is that Sara is not only hesitant to talk to Tamara about what she's going through, she's dragging her feet about telling ME. Tell me, please, how am I supposed to help, listen, be supportive, when I can't even tell her story?

Honestly. It makes me want to just send them both to therapy and tell David to tape his mouth shut.

Maybe Sara will tell me what's going on while I'm sleeping.

Monday, March 13, 2006

In honor of Purim...

Tonight we celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, and in honor of that, I thought I'd post this piece from my website:

What is Purim?

The Jewish celebration of Purim is based on the Biblical Book of Esther. In this story, King Ahashverosh (Ah-HASH-vehr-ohsh... gesundheit!) of Persia has his wife, Vashti, executed because she won't do the down and dirty for his staff. Needing a new queen, he holds a Miss Persia beauty contest and the winner gets to be his bride.

One of the lucky contestants is Esther, a very beautiful Jewish girl whose Uncle Mordechai likes to micromanage her life. Mordechai cautions Esther to not reveal her Jewishness to the King, as the King would undoubtedly be influenced by stereotypes and demand all of her credit cards. Esther does her best WASP impression, and catches the king's attention. She wins the Miss Persia title and becomes his queen.

Enter the big bad evil Haman (boo!) who is the king's chief advisor. One day while out strutting, Haman meets up with Mordechai at the city gate, where Mordechai is continuing to micromanage Esther's life with his Palm Pilot. Haman demands that everyone, including Mordechai, bow down to him. Mordechai refuses, telling Haman that he will only bow down to G-d. When Haman insists that he is G-d, Mordechai counters by saying that if G-d ever came in human form, He wouldn't be so ugly.

Incensed and smelling bad, Haman returns to the king and demands that not only Mordechai but all the Jews should be punished for being so blatant with the truth. Haman casts lots (purim) to determine the day when war shall be declared on the Jews of Persia. When Mordechai finds out about Haman's evil plan, he sends an e-mail to Esther, asking her to reveal her true identity to the king and plead on behalf of the Jews.

Esther, wanting to look her best for the king, goes on a three-day Slim Fast diet, and then holds a couple of gluttonous banquets for the king and Haman. At the first banquet, Esther fluffs Haman's pride and self-importance. Haman's anger is again fueled against Mordechai and he builds a gallows for him. At the second banquet, Esther reveals to the king both Haman's plot against the Jews and her own Jewish identity. She begs for the king's mercy on her people, and the king -- despite his state of drunkenness -- grants it. Angered at Haman's plan, and furious that Haman slept with his sister's best friend who turned out to be her lover with whom she ran off to Bermuda, Ahashverosh (gesundheit!) orders that Haman be hanged on the very gallows intended for Mordechai.

Mordechai is appointed vice-president by the king, and promptly issues edicts that allow the Jews to fight their enemies -- part of the plan set into motion by Haman (who later returns as a vampire and is staked to death by a future beautiful girl). On the 13th and 14th days of the month of Adar, the Jews are victorious over their enemies, and live happily ever after.

How do we celebrate Purim?

Some rabbinical scholars believe that Purim (Hebrew, meaning "lots"; pur=lot, purim=lots) is named after the lots that Haman cast to determine when the Jews would be set upon (as opposed to sat upon) by their enemies and destroyed. However, the majority opinion is that it is named so because on Purim, we drink lots of alcohol, make lots of jokes, and have lots of fun (source: "Greatest Hits of the Talmud, Vol. 2").

Bible scholars also believe that the Book of Esther was written as a farce, perhaps as a play to be enacted, and never truly happened. There are clues to support this position strewn throughout the story. For instance, Ahashverosh (gesundheit!) uses eunichs in his castle, yet everyone knows that UNIX wasn't developed until the 20th century with the proliferation of computers.
The other interesting fact is that the Book of Esther is the only book in the (Hebrew) Bible in which G-d is not mentioned. Because G-d is "hidden" in the story, so also the Purim festivities include dressing in costume to hide ourselves. The story is also about everything being topsy-turvy, evil plans are turned upside down and the perpetrator becomes the one ultimately punished. Nothing is as it seems.

Additional observances of Purim include the reading/hearing of the Megillah (scroll of the Book of Esther) while drowning out Haman's name with groggers (noisemakers), gifts to the poor, an exchange of foods (Mishloach Manot) that celebrate the good will which Esther awoke among all Jews, Hamentaschen -- three cornered pastry cookies that represent the triangular relationship Haman had with his king and one of the women from Temptation Island, drinking until one cannot tell the difference between the phrases "Cursed be Haman" and "Mordechai - what a guy!", dressing in costume, and general fun and merriment.

Purim is the Jewish Mardi Gras with a little Halloween thrown in (though Purim came first), the cut-loose spring fever get-all-the-winter-cobwebs-outta-our-heads all-night party that allows us to face the daunting task of cleaning and cooking for Passover with the appropriate sobriety and solemnity. During Passover, we know how to eat. During Yom Kippur, we know how to pray. During Shabbat, we know how to rest. And during Purim, we know how to party!

Copyright ©2001 by Sheyna D. Galyan

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Best not too soon make too plain...

"Not all in a moment, then, will the narrator be finished with the story of our Hans. The seven days of a week would not suffice, no, nor seven months either. Best not too soon make too plain how much mortal time must pass over his head while he sits spun round in his spell. Heaven forbid it should be seven years! And now we begin..." Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

Honestly, I had no idea it had been so long since I posted an entry. Certainly not seven years, but long enough. The above quotation, by the way, is one of my most favorite literature quotations of all time. The whole book is layer upon layer of symbolism and meaning. Deciphering The Magic Mountain is not unlike attempting to decipher Torah, in my opinion.

But I'm not here to talk about that.

I'm not really here to talk about anything of any consequence, except to say yes, I'm still alive (thank G-d), and yes, I'm slowly but surely rehabilitating from the auto accident, and I've been deep into the business side of writing lately but not much at all into the creative side of it.

I've been mulling over the topic of identity for quite some time now, and it may wind up being the foundation of my Jewish and writing blogging for the immediate future. Not so much identity versus anonymity - how well can you ever really know someone else? No, I'm lately fascinated and simultaneously frightened by the process of discovering one's own identity.

Fear not, lest you think I'm about to turn my blog into some voyeuristic therapy session. There's Dr. Phil for that. But at the very center of our lifelong pursuits is our ultimate desire - perhaps our ultimate need - to discover who we truly are. And I'm ambitious enough as a writer to hope that perhaps something written here will resonate with a reader, or inspire a reader, or somehow touch another person's life and lead him or her to another clue in the search for identity.

"Be happy: it's Adar!" goes the saying. But as much as I want to feel that way, I'm not. I'm feeling withdrawn and focused on the internal. Simple social interactions that normally energize me are currently leaving me exhausted. I have a very annoying urge to clean. (That urge shouldn't kick in until after Purim, when I start looking ahead to Pesach and all the cleaning and kashering that stand between me and liberation.)

I feel driven to purge my environment from all the clutter, the chaff of modern life. I recycled six bags of compressed, shredded paper from old files. And I have the sense that ridding my environment of things that distract, delay, or divert me from my purpose is as much internal as it is external.

Identity. It's hard to pinpoint exactly who I am. But I can start with the recycled shredded paper, and eliminate those things that I know I am not.

I've come to the conclusion that identiy in all its multiple facets (Jewish identity, female identity, blog identity, public identity, private identity, and on and on) is a precious thing. Because once discovered, or even during the process of discovery, it is also to be protected with good boundaries.

Those of us who grew up in an environment that taught us to craft our opinions and perspectives to ensure another person's happiness often find that our identity is obscured, our motives questionable, our boundaries blurred. And in my experience, it seems that the very definition of vulnerability is exposing too much of one's identity.

The Internet seems safe, distant, some Otherwhereness beyond a computer screen. But it is not. It is a portal into our lives, and if we are not careful, a window that insidiously bypasses boundaries and reveals an identity we perhaps didn't intend to share. At the same time, it can be a tool for connection, for change, for leading us along in our journey.

Identity. Boundaries. Trust. Sounds like a primer in infancy and child development. And maybe that's the point.

If Purim is the time when we pretend to be that which we are not, we have to have some idea who we are first. And then disguise it. And then get together with others who have disguised their identities, in an often-raucous event where alcohol is frequently invovled at some point.


Identity. Boundaries. Trust. Purim. Maybe that's the point, too.