Frumgirl 4: Fender Bender

There are some things I can now take without batting an eyelash. Like the following exchange:

Greg: “You won’t eat that candy? There’s nothing unkosher in it.”

Me: “How do you know? They aren’t required to list things that go in trace amounts.”

Greg: “You really care about little things like that?”

Me: [jokingly] “Well I’m very Jewish.”

Greg: “What does that mean? You pick up pennies in the subway?”

Okay, note to self: use “religious” instead of “Jewish” in the future.

Then there was the time I was reading the book, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, during off time in the lounge. Naturally, it raised a few eyebrows. Jews + Pirates? Gotta be kidding. But Joey just looked at the cover and sniggered. “There must be good stuff in there about them fighting over coins,” he said.

“That’s mean,” I said.

“Yeah, well,” he replied.

Seriously. Why do I hang out with these people? Oh right – they’re helpful when I can’t figure out my homework.

Then there was the time Greg swore that Oreo cream is made of lard, and they fool the rabbis because they’re not there all the time. His point? I might as well eat non-kosher because I was eating it already. At first I argued. Then I remembered that there’s no point in arguing with conspiracy theorists. They tend to be off their nut.

So now I take those things in stride. But I was thrown off by the following little exchange:

Me: So what do you do for fun, besides watch the Simpsons and South Park?

Greg: Race cars.

Joey: Race cars? Like really race them?

Greg: Yep. Do you have a license? Well, not you Frumgirl, you don’t drive, but Joey?

Me: Hey, hey, wait a sec. I don’t drive?

Greg: You do?

Me: I’m not Amish. I drive. I even own a car.

A split second later my brain caught up with my mouth and I realized that you don’t have to be Amish to not drive; you could be Satmar. And the average irreligious Russian Jew (Greg) has had more of a run-in with chassidim than litvaks, leaving them with the impression that Jews are 500 years out of style, don’t speak English fluently, and abide by many more rules than we actually do. Indeed, I have been often told that I’m obviously a “liberal kind of Jew” because I’m not married, don’t obsess over Israel, and don’t shout “antisemitism” every time something goes wrong. It’s interesting to see what an outsider’s criteria of a “strict Jew” is.

Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 11:32 AM  Comments (9)  

Frumgirl 1: Change of Public Name

I think we need to submit the word “frum” for inclusion into standard English dictionaries. There is no other practical standard English alternative.

Calling myself a “religious Jew” puts my practice standards on the same level of perception as the barely practicing: the folk who may wear pants, pat coworkers on the back, and don’t make a big fuss about things like being asked to go for a coffee run at a non-kosher restaurant.

“Orthodox Jew,” is often misunderstood, though. Unless someone has had considerable contact with frum Jews in the past, calling myself an Orthodox Jew not ring any bells in terms of practice and possible accommodation I may need. It’s also unwieldy, being two words and not complying with easy grammatical conversion (Orthodox Jews or Jewish People do not do “x” sounds either lumpy or truncated, and unnecessarily accusatory or overly PC).

I’ve noticed a tendency to shorten one’s description to simply “Orthodox.” This is not a good idea. Why? I fell into this habit for a little while as well, until I was permanently cured of it in the course of a single conversation. I described myself as Orthodox to a non-Jewish underclassman, to be told “Me too, I’m also Orthodox! Coptic Orthodox!”

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 11:27 PM  Comments (13)  

Frumgirl 1: Another Chanukah Miracle

“I moved here from Colombia,” began my young Catholic boss-for-ten-weeks, “and got a job right away here in Manhattan.”

It was an abysmal, rainy Thursday with few patients. The end of the week was close enough that everyone had begun to slack off, but still far enough off to engender an aura of expectant listlessness. Perfect for story time.

“At first I lived with some cousins in the Bronx, but I couldn’t stay there. I was looking for an apartment in the yeshiva area…”

“Yeshiva area?” I interrupted. You never know which yeshiva people are talking about sometimes.

“You know, yeshiva university.”

I hadn’t. “Oh, okay.”

“Apartments are really scarce there,” she continued, “So the way to do it is make friends with the doormen, who tell you when someone moves out so you can grab the apartment. So one day I went thrifting here in the city, and I bought some nice decorating pieces. One of which is a multi-candle holder. I just thought it looked nice. And I’m carrying my thrifting finds in my bag, and I decide to walk down my favorite block and ask the doormen if any new apartments were available. Sure enough, I’m super-lucky and somebody had just moved out the day before. The doorman let me look at the apartment, and I put my deposit down right then and there. As I’m finalizing everything, the doorman says, ‘The neighbors will be so happy to hear that a Latina Jewish woman moved in here. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Columbian Jewish woman.’

‘I’m not Jewish,’ I told him,

‘Then why are you carrying a Menorah in your bag?’ And he points to my candle-holder that I picked up thrifting that day! I had no idea! The candle holder (what do you call it again- a Yora?) got me my dream apartment!”

Published in: on December 13, 2009 at 2:34 PM  Comments (2)  

Frumgirl 1: Learning Curve

I may have gotten better at relating with the non-frum by being in grad school for more than two years, but my classmates have similarly improved their frummie-relating skills. Okay, some more than others, but certain ones are pretty close to fully frummie-literate now.

My LDS (Mormon) classmate is one of the best ones. She and I both had good news on the same day (her sister got engaged and I have a new niece,) she immediately wished me mazal tov and I automatically responded with congratulations. Today, upon hearing that a first-year grad student was engaged, my classmate gushed with the standard frummie vocabulary, inquiries, and request to see her bracelet.

One of my Muslim classmates was asked by a Frumguy what an Islamic head-cloth was officially called.  “You mean a shmatta?” he replied with a wink.

Even a relatively clueless classmate, when asked why he didn’t attend an Orthodox wedding when invited responded with,  “Me? Go to a party where all the women are a hundred feet away and on the other side of a wall? No thanks!”

Are there still misconceptions floating around? Sure, and plenty. Will there be enough humorous and sticky situational fodder for me to write about on in this blog? Undoubtably. Is there still a long way to go? You betcha. But it has become most apparent that in meeting the world with as open a mind as I could muster, the world that I’ve met has reciprocated.

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 1:18 AM  Comments (2)  

Frumgirl 1: Exercise in Anthropology, Anyone?

Has anyone heard the superstition that if you put your handbag/purse on the floor, your money will “go away”?

When I was first told it, I thought it was on par with knocking on wood, (fairly common, even if I don’t know the origin,) and not walking under ladders (common sense,) but then I mentioned it to a classmate who asked me if it was an Orthodox thing. Yup, all my weird foibles and indecipherable comments must be Orthodox things, obviously. Clearly, financial repercussions for putting one’s purse on the floor was not a run of the mill superstition.

Personally, I find the random little superstitions embedded into standard American culture or fragments thereof to be infinitely amusing. They make me feel better about not stepping over people and only ever placing cups right side up for most of my life. Every time I come across a new little irrationality, I like to find out who will look at me like I’m an alien if I reference it around them and who will know exactly what I’m talking about. Chalk it up to learning the role.

So far, the people I have met who heard the purse-on-the-floor superstition from a parent or elderly relative are: Southern Baptist, Syrian (Sephardic) Jewish, and Colombian Catholic.

My first step to puzzling this one out was to contact my Portland friend, who will heretofore be known as Miss Priss (yes, she approved this nickname,) and who is my go-to for questions on Southern Baptism due to a plethora of Southern relatives and a flair for explaining things well. All credit for putting this puzzle together goes to her. After some thought, it seems that all three locations have heavy West African cultural influences. I will assume that if you put your handbag on floor in most West African locales, there is a good chance that your money will “go away.” mystery solved. Since I’m not about to conduct an in-depth study as to where else in the world there are heavy West African influences, I will simply shelve this knowledge until someone gasps when I put my bag down.

I’m pretty sure that other people have come across random and humorous superstitions, too. I find it gratifying that most are just as silly as the ones I grew up with, just different. If you’ve encountered any interesting ones, or grew up with any uncommon ones, please share!

Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 12:24 AM  Comments (18)  

Frumgirl 1: Generalized Closet Size

Eventually, everyone has to deal with the obnoxiously curious. From the relatively harmless guy who’s not too embarrassed to ask the hole in the sheet question to the utterly odious dude who researched “Orthodox Judaism” on wikipedia and comes in with a written list of overly specific questions about niddah the following day (true stories!). Still, I was unprepared to be asked the size of my closet by a guy I hadn’t seen in three months.

Usually it’s not that hard to differentiate the valid questions or genuinely curious (if overly so,)  from the simply annoying. This question didn’t hit a single validity marker, so I told him to get lost. Little did I know.

“But,” he interjected, “my friend’s father designs closets for Orthodox Jews’ houses and he says they’re all like, room-sized. Like the size of this classroom,” (roughly 30 by 15).

And suddenly, the idiocy of such stereotypes struck me. I said, “Dude, you know I live in a tiny apartment. Do you think I have a room-sized closet?”

He is surprisingly silent for a few second. “Uh, no…”

“And do you think that all Orthodox Jews have room-sized closets? The ones living in poverty? The ones living with a whole big family in a city that fits two children and a dog on a good day?”

“Uh, no, but…”

I didn’t let him finish. “Do you want me to tell you that there are wealthy Orthodox Jews out there? Sure, I’ll tell you. There are wealthy Orthodox Jews out there. Are all of us wealthy? Think, Dude, think.”

And I walked away in disgust. Oops?

Published in: on December 5, 2009 at 8:00 PM  Comments (1)  

Frumgirl 1: Chary, Wary, Crunch and Trust

It started with a fairly basic question: “What happens if you eat something that isn’t kosher?”

Which may sound incredibly simple and you’d think it’s the sort of question people are asked all the time. But this was the first I’d ever heard it, and it was about to become the preamble to a doozy of an encounter. I’ve fielded “Do you believe in hell,” danced around the definition of Judaism, and been subject to a broken record of common phrases and preconceptions that wind up within the first ten questions the average non-Orthodox individual feels comfortable asking me. Never had I been asked so directly and so practically such a basic tenet of Jewish thought. Certainly not while contending with a patient chart containing no discernible evidence of having ever approached the English language despite being written by, of all things, an actual Englishwoman.

Which is why I stared stupidly at my Colombian temporary ten-week-boss for a full thirty seconds of silence while trying to sift two illegible anti-hypertensives and a mood stabilizer out of the cogent response I knew was lurking somewhere in the back of my head.

“I mean, do you go to hell?” she clarified helpfully.

“That depends,” I started, since almost all things religious depend in some way and it gave me a few more safe milliseconds in which to think, “on what my intentions were and what else I did in my life.”

“So if you eat pork once without knowing it, you don’t go to hell?”

“Uh, no.”

My boss took a deep breath, as if she was greatly relieved. “I’m so glad to know! I’ve been feeling horribly guilty ever since my wedding.”

Of course I was not about to let that rest unquestioned, despite the infinitely alluring call of a stubbornly indiscernible patient chart. Besides, this was the boss herself I was wasting time with and I had no patients waiting for me. Gradually, I teased out the full story:

“I have this friend Ron. Who’s Jewish and sort of religious, but not religious like you.” She waved a hand at my wardrobe choice for the day, continuing with “he doesn’t keep kosher, but he won’t eat pork. When I made the menu for my wedding, I chose a pork dish. And I knew that he wouldn’t eat anything at my wedding if he knew there was pork in it, and I felt so bad about that so I put him on the vegan table and told the chef to give him the vegan menu. Well, the chef tells me the day before my wedding that the vegan menu also has a little bit of pork in it, but you can’t taste it. And I knew that if I told Ron, he would go hungry at my wedding so I told the waiter to tell the whole table that the food had no pork in it if they were asked. Ever since then I’ve been feeling terribly guilty that Ron might go to hell because of me for something that’s my fault.”

The first thing I couldn’t help thinking about were those urban legends about trusted domestic help putting butter in peoples’ chicken and similarly trusted daycare assistance feeding people’s toddlers ham sandwiches at the corner deli and then lying about it for years. Then there was also the “darn, I had just worked myself into something that did not quite involve so much wariness and now this.” Then I think I became even more disgusted that she’d feed a table full of vegans pork, lie about it, and then feeling more guilty about endangering her “sort of” religious Jewish friends’ afterlife.

So I flubbed a platitude as a response and went back to my chart decoding, but I was shaken and the boss could tell. Needless to say, dietary trust is one area in which no absolute point of view is ever always right.

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 12:46 AM  Comments (7)  

Frumgirl 4: Elevating Encounters

I’m lounging in the elevator, spacing out. I shouldn’t; I’m beginning to notice a pattern that some of my most interesting interactions occur in elevators. Heck – two weeks ago, I met a fellow in the elevator on the way to a research presentation we both attended. He subsequently went out for dinner with my great aunt and uncle, and my grandmother emailed me the honorable mention I received the next morning. (Don’t try to follow that connection. It’s Jewish geography.)

Anyway, I was in the elevator, and suddenly, breaking into my thoughts, comes the question, “Are you Hasidic?”

I look up. A tall black fellow is smiling across the elevator at me. I straighten. “No, just Orthodox.”

“Ah, Orthodox.” He pauses and then explains, “I live in Crown Heights. It’s not often that I see one of my people here in this university.”

I smile at the mention of “my people.” We strike up a conversation. We were going in the same direction anyway. We split when he went to teach a class and I went to do some work in the lounge, but met up again when he left his students to hold a top-secret conference and wandered into the lounge to wait it out.

He was soon chatting with a few students, helping another with a speech, and listening to another complain.

When ten minutes were up and he had to get back, he went around shaking hands and high fiving. “How about an almost high five?” he asked me. I agreed. I won’t do shomer hugs, which I find obscene, but I don’t see any harm in failing to complete a high five. A Caribbean fellow watched all this in bemusement. “What’s that? An almost high five? You can do that?” He was amazed. “You know, I tried shaking hands with her the first day and she flattened my nose.”

“I was wondering how your nose got that way,” the professor grinned. Then he did a double take. “Wait… you mean she almost punched you in the nose.”

“Yeah, stopped just short, but the wind did the rest.”

This was not quite true. I’m a mostly non-violent person, and definitely never punched anyone for trying to shake my hand. Truth is, if the room is noisy, the subject is business, and if I’m never going to see the person again, I’ll shake, based on the “embarrassing is worse” principle. But I do think it’s important to establish with students and people I’ll be around long-term that there’s this no-contact thing. There was one fellow I missed the boat with on that, and he turned out to be the sort who goes around poking people when he says hi. Since then I’ve warded off huggers, back-slappers, fist-punchers, and high-fivers. In return, I accept the reality of air high fives and “I wish I could hug that’s how pleased I am right now but I can’t so I’m gonna hug myself and you understand that it’s for you ok” type of scenarios.

Published in: on December 1, 2009 at 9:42 AM  Comments (2)  

Frumgirl 1: Reaffirmation of Presence and Purpose

Yes, I am aware that my already meager readership (or whatever there was of one,) has long since given up on new content. Still, I’m at loathe to discontinue this blog since the reason for its conception is not only alive and kicking, but downright flourishing from neglect under its dark and slimy rock.

Why’d I go AWOL this time? You can imagine my expression when I walked into my parents’ place one rushed Friday afternoon to spot a certain familiar blog header open on my youngest brother’s laptop. My family has a variety of opinions on the contents, (they recognized my voice instantly,) ranging from “you sound so subversive” to “it’s fairly well written.”

If you can’t imagine my expression then, how about when a non-Orthodox classmate asks me who I was referring to by one of my little ruthless classmate-descriptors here? No? Well, I’m sure both times it was a mix of shock, disbelief, and a tiny little traitorous slice of pride. A slice which has convinced me to keep writing, even though parents and classmates are reading now and anonymity has revealed itself to be transparent false security blanket in a very small world. I have never been the sort to pull punches or allow the opinions of people I do not respect affect the way I do or say things, and I’m not about to start now.

A lot has changed in the months since last post, including myself. I can pass for non-frummie far more effectively than ever before. I’m not quite sure how and why this occurred, but it doesn’t bother me as long as I can turn it on and off at will. It has lowered my patience for those willfully close-minded frum-bubble-dwellers who form opinions based on third hand and highly suspect visions of reality, but my patience for such has never been ideal to begin with. That was always at least a portion of the point of this blog: to gently, circuitously, and humorously cause at least a few people to think about whether bubble-dwelling is truly beneficial in the long run. For both ourselves microcosmically and as a group member of a larger global community that has the power to afford and deny us needs. Ignorance on both sides of the frum-bubble has not helped me or anyone I know one bit. There has got to be a better way to preserve who we are and what we believe in without isolating ourselves with a blanket war on media.

So I will keep on writing, regardless of who is reading (or not reading,) and if necessary I will be equally forthright in person to all confronters. Expect more.

Published in: on November 30, 2009 at 4:05 PM  Comments (9)  

Frumgirl 5: For Papa, Make Him a Scholar

The four of us were standing around chatting after class one day—Diana, a 29-year-old Catholic African-American, Sadaf, a hijabi (scarf-wearing) Muslim girl of 22, Emma, who is 23 and from Barbados, and myself. Sadaf was entertaining us with talk about her last Islamic studies class over the weekend, when the topic changes to guys.

Suddenly Emma, in a reserved, Emma-like voice, pipes up. “Hey F5, you know…maybe you’ll think I’m crazy or something…but…ever since the first day of school, I was totally thinking that you and Joey would be perfect for one another!”

Having just taken a swig of orange juice from the carton I was holding, I struggle not to give my classmates a shower. A shadchan? Here?! And in the form of a Seventh Day Adventist from the West Indies, no less. Hashem bless my lucky stars…

Joey is a nice, rather funny guy of Syrian descent who is the only yarmulke-wearing dude in the whole program. He’s definitely a sweet fellow, but not exactly what I’m looking for in the slightest. Needless to say very much surprised at the randomness of the suggestion (in a way, I suppose, similar to the “she wears a skirt, he wears pants” shidduch arrangement), I try valiantly to swallow my mouthful.

Sadaf, however, beats me to it. “Nah, that won’t work,” she says casually.

My eyebrows go up. Oh?

Diana joins in now. “Why not?”

Sadaf keeps going. “Well, because Joey is Sephardic, and F5 is not.”

The other two say “ohhh” and nod sagely. I am fighting the urge to laugh. Diana then turns to me and asks, “So, F5, what kind of guy are you looking for, then?”

About to answer, Sadaf beats me to it again. “She’s looking for a Yeshiva student. You know, those guys with the black pants and white shirts.”

I’m looking at Sadaf incredulously now. Where in the world does she get her information from?

On a roll now, she continues. “Oh my gosh! Hello, F5, I totally have the perfect guy for you!! He was in one of my undergrad classes, white shirt, black pants, the whole deal! Hmm…and good looking too…”

Two lessons:

1. The multiculturalism in graduate school is mind-boggling.

2. The shadchan will always find you.

Published in: on May 17, 2009 at 4:34 PM  Comments (13)  

Frumgirl 4: Greener Grass

Fair Warning: moderate use of language herein

I’ve developed a huge appreciation for the laws of Loshon Hara.

In my youth, etc, I never felt like people discussed me behind my back, nor wondered if someone was being nice to me when really they couldn’t stand me. Between having it pounded into our heads that gossip is wrong and two-facedness just as bad, I always knew that the worst case would be that someone was being nice to me as a chesed, because she thought I was friendless nerd. And you can usually spot those, because they’re a bit saccharine. And as for loshon hara… well, most of us have it down to the nitty gritties like “Oops, I made a face when her name was mentioned.”

So it was a cold slap in the face when I first partnered with Joe for a project and was introduced to many of his friends and associates. He’d smile, slap them on the back, ask how they were doing, talk about a movie, promise to see them later, and then say, “That was Rolf. He’s a bastard, but good for a game of football,” or “God I hate her. Such a selfish bitch.” Or, “He’s so goddamn annoying. He kept hanging around me yesterday talking about how he didn’t have any lunch, until I gave him 20 bucks and told him to treat himself. I paid him to leave me alone.”

“What do you say about me behind my back?” I asked one day. He looked at me blankly. “Why would I do that?” I don’t think it even occured to him that he was talking about people behind their backs.

Which could explain my minor paranoia. If I say something, and there’s a slightly longer than necessary pause after, I wonder “Oops, did I just say something stupid?” If there’s an exchange of looks that I don’t understand I think, “Time to fade out…” I never feel like I really know my position in things. I don’t need to have friends in college – I have plenty elsewhere, and my self-esteem is healthy enough. It just makes me uncomfortable to not know where I stand. This keeps me on my best behavior, and it keeps me aloof. The nice thing of which is that when you’re aloof people have to seek you out, which is a sure proof that they’re not just being nice. But it also reminds me that these are not my people, and these are not my real friends. And it helps me appreciate those who are my people and my real friends – the ones who might make faces behind my back, but nothing worse.

I sometimes joke, “The farther I get from Jews, the more I like them.” When you’re immersed in a community, it’s easier to see its faults. But from a distance, it’s easier to see the positive traits. One thing I have definitely gained from my college experience is an increased appreciation for Jews and Judaism.

Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 11:32 AM  Comments (8)  

Frumgirl 1: Easily Teased, Me?

Warning: this entry is not as clean as would be desired due to necessity of content. It is hardly explicit, either.

In the infinite wisdom of my most infinitely illogical professor, two from a collection of symposiums, panels, and lectures that fell under the heading of “Sex in Medicine Week,” were mandatory to all students in my program.

No, discomfort was not a valid reason for failing to show up. Attendance was taken, after all. To give you an idea how unnecessary these lectures were to begin with, the “in Medicine” portion of the title “Sex in Medicine Week” was really, really small in comparison to the other two title words on all the signs promoting the event. The more apt nomenclature of “Sex Week,” was used by everyone, and as that accurately predicted, the symposium was little more than a social lets-all-get-together-and-talk-about-sex-in-public event and not a sort of informative session on medical issues. The consequence for not sitting through the entirety of both sordid lectures was severe enough to make anyone think several times before braving hooky, to boot.

So off went this poor Frumgirl, scrunching down in a back seat and pretending she was anywhere but there, listening to 300 students and faculty members loudly yell “orgasm,” at the top of their lungs on the behest of a rather famous 80 year old accented “sex therapist” radio personality.

Said former Hagana-sniping, WW2-surviving sex therapist was signing books after her well disguised sell-job of a lecture, and I could think of nothing I wanted to do more than magically procure a rivaling public-personality sex therapist’s book for her to sign. Sort of a silent protest for being forced through one of the more uncomfortable hours of my life. Sadly, I did not come prepared for this.

The other discomforting lecture was billed as a talk about the issues of men and women with developmental disabilities; men and women who may ask certain questions of their favorite health professionals. Sounds not all that objectionable, right? In reality, it was merely another opportunity for people to talk about private matters before all and sundry. Except this time it was people with developmental disabilities airing their dirty laundry. With one redeeming factor: it discussed the prevalence of abuse in residential homes, which is staggering and quite frankly appalling.

Around halfway through this lecture, the speaker asks the audience to form small groups, answer a page of questions, and choose a leader to represent their answers when asked.

Now guess who was immediately nominated?

Bingbingbing! Yup, you guessed it.

“C’mon, Frumgirl, step out of your comfort zone for once!” (Um, why?)

“Yeah, Frumgirl, we’re just trying to get you to say the word sex out loud for once!” (I totally do in reference to matters of clinical relevance!)

“Besides, Frumgirl, I bet you know the answers to all the questions!” (That would be such a great compliment in any other situation.)

I managed to worm my way out of that particular responsibility, but never let it be said that grad school is all about the future profession or that one can possibly walk away with an advanced degree in one subject area without receiving a certain amount of education in many other areas, as well.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 7:08 PM  Comments (7)  

Frumgirl 1: Reconstructionist Fashion Advice

Here’s a question of the day: why would anyone ask a frumguy fashion advice?

You’d think that one look at the lack of deviation and stylistic flair the typical frumguy sports on an informal daily basis would be enough to warn people off. Maybe, if it were a frumgirl doing the asking, one may optimistically believe the average frumguy knows something of clothes actually worth hearing through exposure. Otherwise, in my experience, you may as well ask an Innuit about swimsuit design for all the decent fashion expertise you’re likely to receive.

Perhaps it was the belief that frummies know every single minutaie about Judaism that prompted the Long Island classmate to ask the class Hassidic Dude whether a particular dress of hers was appropriate for a Bat Mitzvah in a Reconstructionist temple. He looked a little lost, so I helped him out.

What I should have said was to wear whatever she’d feel comfortable wearing to a church.

Instead, I provided my standard non-frummie propriety standards; of hemline, sleeves, and neckline, only one may be skimped upon.

It was the wrong thing to say. The dress she intended to wear was extremely low cut, had no sleeves, and fell on the shorter side of mid-thigh. Frumgirl 1: 0  Social awkwardness: 50

On the other hand, the Hassidic Dude has been inside a Reconstructionist temple the same number of times as I have: zero. Given that the Long Island girl didn’t know this, I’m going to assume she fell prey to the Hassidim-know-everything stereotype rather than wonder on her perception of my fashion acuity, having gone to him instead of me.

Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 1:19 PM  Comments (2)  

Frumgirl 1: Scallions

“You’re Sephardic?” asked the southern baptist black woman of the patient in the next chair over thumbing a Parenting magazine. She’s had prolonged exposure to all sorts of frummies, and can even tell the differences, apparently.

“Yes, I am,” replied the woman politely, social smile gracing her face, “I’m Persian.”

“So that means that you beat the groom with a scallion at the wedding?”

W-wait a second there. Where’d she get that one from? Sure, I’m all for beating grooms with things at weddings, but scallions strike me as not particularly effective weapons. And who wants a scallion-smelling groom, anyway?

Published in: on March 5, 2009 at 6:52 PM  Comments (7)  

Frumgirl 5: The Natives Know

Break from class found us again in heated discussion. And again, as usual, us frumgirls were featured in the center of a highly curious questioning session. This time it was about Jewish Holidays.

One frumgirl, who awes me with her ability to explain even the most confusing of Jewish concepts in ways that make me want to convert to Judaism all over again, was leading the conversation. “Imagine,” (and I butcher it trying to replicate what she said,) “having Thanksgiving dinner every single week…Fresh, fragrant food, your family sitting around the table together sharing in one another’s company, the warm, comfortable atmosphere… That’s what the Sabbath is like. Every week.”

The rest of the girls and women in the group (no guys there that day) sit in varying degrees of interest, with the most enraptured of them all being the Catholic Latina girl we’ll call Gabriella. Gabi is fascinated with us, but until coming into graduate school, never really knew much about Orthodoxy, or any Judaism for that matter (“So you don’t believe in Jesus?!” That was before Judaism 101.)

Anyhow, that day we were discussing different wonderful aspects of being Jewish. This time, Sue takes center stage. Sue is as non-affiliated as they come. She’s not Jewish or Christian or Muslim or anything. Sue is just…Sue. Jeans and spaghetti-strap tanktops and bicycle helmet and all. So Sue pipes up, “Hey, I once went to my friend for one of the Jewish holiday dinners!”

“Cool!” a few of us chorus. “Which one?”

“No clue,” she shrugs. “Some holiday with a lot of little plates.”

After a few minutes of confused pondering on our end, one of us thinks to ask her if it was Passover.

“Yeah! That was it! It was cool.”

Then Gabi, eager to have her position back, asks what kind of special food we have on the Sabbath and holidays. Try explaining potato kugel and gefilte fish to a bunch of kids who just heard you exclaiming how amazing your Jewish food is. Our spokesgirl begins talking about the delicious challah when Sue interrupts.

“Yeah, you have gefilte fish.”

The rest of us are aghast.

I turn to her looking perplexed, but pleasantly surprised. “Sue, how in the world do you know what gefitle fish is?”

Looking slightly insulted-as if it should have been so obvious to us-Sue states matter-of-factly. “Frumgirl5, of course I know what gefilte fish is. I’m from Brooklyn”

Go figure…

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 6:43 PM  Comments (6)  

Frumgirl 4: Jewish Geography

“Did you see who’s coming to speak?” I asked Joe Joeson. A religious woman was giving a lecture, and I knew that Joe, with his obsession with religious Jews, would be interested. “Sarah Joeson. Are you going to listen?”

“Sarah Joeson? Is that really her name? I wonder if she’s related to me.”

“Oooh, you know how to play Jewish Geography?” I asked.

“What’s that?”

“Well it’s a game religious Jews play when they first meet. The point is to find out how many mutual acquaintances you have. Extra points if you can prove that they’re related to you.”


“Yup. Last time I played, I discovered that my friend’s roommate was in my cousin’s bunk in summer camp.”


Joe wanders off and meets up with another religious student.

“Hey Janet, did you hear there’s this religious woman coming to speak? Sarah Joeson.”

“Really? Joeson? Is she related to you?”

“Ha! I know what you’re doing! You’re playing Jewish Geography!”

“You know about Jewish Geography?”

“Yeah, sure!” [Proudly] “Whenever you religious people get together you try to find out how many people you know in common.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“And you get bonus points if you can prove the other person is related to you.”

“Um… no…?”


Joe related this conversation back to me with a bit of a scowl. “I was doing so well and then… Boy you made me look stupid there.”


Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 10:18 AM  Comments (5)  

Frumgirl 1: Back in Kansas

Our apologies for the recent dearth of posts. Events such as finals, school breaks, and real life felt the need to intrude upon our posting habits quite rudely.

I, for one, have not been posting about my forays into the real world because I am temporarily back in the bubble. Back where witnessing someone use a swear word is tantamount to seeing them without a shirt on, where noone compliments you on your haircut when you switch wigs, and where I don’t have to think to substitute “wig” for “shaitel” because everyone understands liberally frum-peppered English.

Which was odd for the first few days. I’d gotten used to automatically speaking real-world English, so people assume me less “frum” than they used to.  It’s never particularly thrilling to go back the environment you identify with to find that you no longer quite fit so well. An alien in both worlds, how absolutely wonderfull. But old rhythms die harder than new ones, and I found myself donning my old alien skin quite as comfortably as ever.

My regular classes resume soon, and regular posting is beginning again. As ever, if you’d like to write something for this blog,  know that  new voices are always appreciated and  graduation comes soon enough.

Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 12:50 PM  Leave a Comment  

Frumgirl 4: Species, a Study

There are several species of Jews to be found in secular college. I’ve been astonished and entertained as I stumbled across each variation in its turn, and I document them here for inspection.

Before my first major-studies class, I checked the roster and noticed a distinctly Jewish (and religious) male name. I was excited, because here would be someone else at my side in case we needed to negotiate holidays or similar matters. But after scouring the class for several periods, I sadly concluded that he must have dropped out.

He didn’t, but I wouldn’t have recognized him in a million years without a formal introduction. Forget the button-down shirt his name seemed to require, he didn’t bother with a yarmulke. I know that is quite common on the MO spectrum, but I had thought that all but the most borderline refrained from sinking their teeth into meat they know isn’t kosher. This fellow seems determined to have the best of both worlds. As such, he showed his first interest in kosher food when it was ordered specially for the religious students, but immediately abandoned it when he saw that it was not, in fact, better than the standard fare. He associates almost exclusively with non-Jews, preferring the sort of discourse men once held in reserve until after the women withdrew to the drawing room. He happily piggy-backs on any arrangements made for religious students, and, to my amusement, briefly sprouted a yarmulke when a young and unattached religious woman spoke on campus.

This Fence Straddler is not to be confused with the average modern orthodox student. These are, at first glance difficult to discern as Jewish, but they identify strongly as such. “Didn’t you realize I was Jewish?” asked one colleague, dressed in leggings and a cap-sleeve t-shirt, in complete surprise. Um, no. What was supposed to tip me off? The baseball cap that never left her boyfriend’s head was more of a hint. They do not go near the meat on any buffet, and seek out the company of other Jews. They frequently become involved in communal and humanitarian activities.

On the other end of the spectrum we have the Jewish Press Jew. The title says it all. Any conversation with this student is bound to end in one of two subjects: how Jews are God’s gift to humanity, or Israel. To the Jewish Press Jew, there is nothing else in the world aside from the Chosen Nation in general, and their Mediterranean state in particular. Did you read an article in the New York Times this morning? The JP Jew didn’t, because the NYT is anti-Israel. Are you going to a conference at the UN? The JP Jew wouldn’t; they’re just a glorified gang out to persecute Jews. Is a Nobel Prize winner coming to speak? He’s Jewish, you know, as are 33% of Nobel Prize winners. You studied three chapters for the test on November 27? The JP Jew was glued to the internet, waiting for updates on the status of the Holtzbergs. Is the test scheduled for the week before Pesach? This Jew will wrangle to have it moved because of pre-Pesach preparations.

The Jewish Press Jew needs to be differentiated from the standard-issue centrist/ultra orthodox student. These tend to be less concerned with Israeli politics and more concerned with simply getting their degree as quickly as possible, preferably with honors. They are often startled by how clueless the greater world is of Jewish religious requirements and customs and will make a stir if necessary, but otherwise keep it under their yarmulkes. They easily approach any other religious students for favors as if they’ve known them forever when they’ve never even spoken before. They befriend non-Jewish students on a superficial level, reserving their non-college life predominantly for their Jewish/religious friends.

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 12:13 AM  Comments (13)  

Frumgirl 1: Reverse Assimilation

I personally can not stand the holiday season when in a secular environment. Chanukah is nice and all that, but we don’t celebrate it with paper decorations, so when people try to be PC and hang dreidels on the lobby xmas evergreen, the gesture just falls flat. Additionally, it’s annoying that a one day holiday somehow manages to dominate an entire season. I understand the the US is dominated by christian leanings, but I am nothing short of resentful that I have to endure their holidays taking over my non-religiously-affiliated school every December.

Finally, I found someone who understands this.

She’s LDS, (Mormon for the less informed,) and from a state out to the west that doesn’t go quite far enough to actually hit the other coast. She comes into school one day and says, “What’s a dreideldreideldreidel?”

“A what?”

“A dreideldreideldreidel,” she responds, “my son came home from daycare, where they sing all the carols, and he was singing this song, too. It went “oh, dreideldreideldreidel,’ and I was wondering if maybe it was a Jewish thing.”

So I laughed. And explained it to her.

But she was so miffed that her kid was taught this song amongst all the traditional carols like it belonged in her home.

I felt like saying “welcome to my world.”

Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 10:45 PM  Comments (7)  

Frumgirl 4: Punk and Pak

FrumPunk’s comment in “so you want to be a blogger” about frum students marveling over befriending Muslim classmates left me feeling left out. I have not befriended a single Muslim.

Ironically, it’s not for lack of trying. The gaggle of Pakistani Muslim girls in my class were the first to whom I made overtures of friendship. It seemed logical to me that they’d be used to the same style of society that I was, and we’d therefore have something in common.

The problem is, most of them are of the wannabe off-the-derechnik type, and I’ve never really enjoyed the same pastimes as the people in that demographic.

Don’t get me wrong – I read Seventeen and Cosmogirl in my early teen summers, and I remember when Jason of N’Sync (or was it 98 Degrees?) wore a skirt on stage, but it was never more than an anthropological interest. I read about celebrities like I read the plaque outside the cages in a zoo. I follow styles from a distance, with raised eyebrows. I think of makeup as a utility, not a hobby. I don’t live vicariously through other people’s hairy dating stories. And so on.

A friend of mine from summer camp didn’t either get the whole deal and used to join the magazine flippers in their daily flip-and-squeal armed with a National Geographic. Whenever one of them would squeal “Oh he’s sooo cute,” and all the others would rush to see whose picture she was looking at, my friend would also squeal “He’s sooo cute,” and bring them rushing to her – where she’d be gazing adoringly at a koala bear.

Sitting in a club office working on business, with a bunch of Pakkies behind me comparing their Pollywood (or whatever they call their star scene down there) crushes on YouTube, I was temped, very tempted, to dig up the video of the sneezing panda baby and give a few infatuated sighs over it. But that’s not my style. Instead I just wondered why they hadn’t grown out of this type of thing already.

In contrast, the religious Muslim girls are quite sweet. There used to be three, but the one in my year seems to have dropped out; maybe she got married. Anyway, the other two aren’t in any of my classes, and they tend to surround themselves with others of their culture, even when they’re “off the derech” (maybe they want to do kiruv?). Both are exceptionally nice to me when we meet-up (just because I’m Jewish? Very likely), but that isn’t frequently. And that, FrumPunk, is why this Frumgirl can’t brag of having any Muslim friends.

I feel truly deprived.

Published in: on November 24, 2008 at 4:36 PM  Comments (12)  

Frumgirl 1: Vocabulary, The Playground Version

“I’m going to be teaching you how to do a tumblesauce!”

“A what?”

“A tumblesauce.”

“Like applesauce?”

“Like a roll!”

“Ohhhhhh, a somersault”

“Go on up the sliding-pon”

“The what?”

“The sliding-pon!”

“The slide?”

“Yeah, the sliding-pon!”

Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 12:13 PM  Comments (2)  

Frumgirl 4: Am I Really Listening to This?

We’re in the lounge counting money from a recent fund raiser.
Joane: Oh I probably shouldn’t be counting the money on the table.
Everyone else: Oh yeah, well…
Me: What?
Joe: I don’t think I heard of that one.
Me: What one?
Joane: It’s a christian thing, I think. You’re not supposed to count your money on the table.
Me: Where else would you count it?
Jane: …I thought it was just keys?
Me: No keys on the table? (whips out keys and drops them on the table) What happens now? Seven years of bad luck?
All: (horrified stares) How could you?
Me: What? (looks around table and counts: 2 irreligious Jews, 1 half-Jew agnostic, 1 atheist, 1 christian, 5 college-educated students, 5 horrified expressions)
Joe: I heard of it with food. You don’t throw or waste food because –
Joane: Because you’re Jewish.
Joe: No, because then you don’t deserve to have it. And don’t give me that “cheap Jew” business.
Joane: Well you said –
Joe: – Because I’m the least cheap person I know, Jewish or not.
Joane: Ok, ok, calm down. You’re right. And really. I like Jews. I’m half Jewish. Some of my best friends are Jews.
Joe: Yeah, well I don’t like being called a cheap Jew.
Joane: You’re not. OK?
(Calm resumes. After which I cheaply and uniquely request repayment for funds I laid out. Sorry Joe, but I’m a cheap Jew and proud of it. I prefer not to spend my money, so I have more of it to give away. And let the others think what they will.)

I suppose I should have interjected something about respecting and being grateful to those that support you, but I was rather shocked and the argument was fierce and fast. Or maybe I’m just chicken? Sometimes I wonder to what extent I should be playing Defender of the Faith to non-Jews and kiruv rebbetzin to Jews.

Published in: on November 12, 2008 at 2:28 PM  Comments (3)  

Frumgirl 1: Listen to Your Wife

Posting Divrei Torah on a blog is not really my thing. I don’t profess to be any great authority on matters Judaic (high school lemudei kodesh grades can attest to that,) and I find all but the most well-written or mind-twisting little essays on the parsha to be deathly boring.

I will make an exception, however, for one of my favorite statements from G-d. It’s in this week’s parsha. I won’t turn it into a D’var Torah, though (really,) so just bear with me for a paragraph.

Sarah (imeinu, I’m not on a first name basis with her,) tells Avraham (avenu, not on a first name basis with him, either,) to throw out the wife she told him to marry in the first place. He balks. And G-d, in all His G-dly big-and-important splendor, gets involved in the domestic. Summarily tells Avraham to listen to his wife; no ifs, ands, or buts, listen to your wife, mister. He could have just said, in active form, to keep the other wife and kid. He didn’t. He put in that little note of admonishment: you gotta listen to your wife!

It is understandable why this is one of my favorite bits of Book, me with my feminist leanings. I like all the little expressions of value for women that litter our conglomerate of beliefs. I like how they affect our modern culture and unique attitudes towards the feminine. There are also very few so explicitly stated admonishments to men in their attitude to women in the Orginal Five, so I carry around this likable bit of Book in an accessible piece of my mind in case I ever need it. And somehow my textual favoritism came to light in the presence of some classmates.

“Oh, that part of the story isn’t in the Koran,” said the Muslim dude I’ve talked about before, by way of argument.

And I was shocked for a moment. But then I realized how telling the omission is in the Muslim attitude towards women, and began wondering who took it out, when, and for what reason.

Published in: on November 10, 2008 at 8:26 PM  Comments (4)  

Frumgirl 1: Jewish Women

(Frumgirl 1 lowers her binoculars)

The Jewish Woman (Mulier  Jewess) can be easily spotted in the Brooklyn area at all times of the year. She is both indigenous and aggressive so sightings are frequent and binoculars are rarely necessary. She is most distinguishable from afar by her coat of black and distinctive vocal pattern. Her behavior is unique, as well. Two common characteristics of the Jewish Woman are the ability to accomplish more in a given time than is deemed possible by general human standards and the propensity she has to spend her life feeding everyone she meets.

I have drafted this entry for an Audobon-esque guide to humans. Photographic quality prints are in progress. Given such commonly known information about Jewish Women, such exchanges should be fairly common:

Classmate: What’s in that bag you’re holding?

Me: More cake. An immediate family member of mine has gotten married, so I have a seven parties’ worth of leftover food to distribute.

Classmate, unimpressed: Is it good cake?

Me: I believe so, but I expect you to eat it even if it isn’t.

Classmate: You are so Jewish.

The cake was good, in case anyone was wondering. It was decimated (in the literal sense) in less than a second.

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 11:46 PM  Leave a Comment  

Frumgirl 1: Why All Our Two Year Olds Are Girls

Scenario the first:

“Oh, is that a picture of you with your sister?” asked the the girl a deeply scoop-necked sweater next to me. The picture in question features my seven or eight year old self posing, entirely unselfconscious, with a toddler brother sporting waist long blond bottle curls. I had killer maternal instincts as a kid, and they show through in that photo.

“That’s actually my brother,” I returned to my seat neighbor. I can’t remember why that old picture was in my notebook. Detritus of life, I suppose. It all ends up in my notebook eventually. “We don’t cut our boys’ hair until their third birthday,” I offered by way of explanation.

“You don’t mind that all your little boys look like girls?”

“Not really.”

And I am graced with the standard ‘you are a bunch weirdos’ look. You get used to that after a little while.

Scenario the second:

“You made a huge party for your three-year-old?” exclaimed a rude middle eastern guy the size of an ox. This was beyond rude, when you consider who he was talking to. The Chassidish dude was nice enough to bring large bowls of salad and pasta and fancy baked goods leftover from his son’s Upsherin. Ox-guy could have shown a little gratitude, but I suppose that was beyond him.

“It’s a big thing by us,” the Chassidish dude explains, “the third birthday is when we cut their hair for the first time and…”

“Yeah, whatever,” Ox-guy interrupted, and proceeded to dig in, stopping to flash the above-mentioned ‘you are a weirdo’ look.

To be fair, the Upsherin is a concept that strikes non-frummies strange when they first hear about it. And when they ask you to explain why you do it, the explanation is not a simple, easy textual one you can rattle off, either.

One area for which weirdo looks are inevitable.

Published in: on November 3, 2008 at 10:47 PM  Comments (15)