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.

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

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 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 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 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)  

Frumgirl 1: How do YOU React?

Now that Succos is over, school is back in full force, with a full force of situations that just make you blink several times and wonder what, exactly, just happened.

“Hey, take a look at this,” I told an amicable Muslim classmate. He and I are on pretty good terms these days. Once you get past a few glaring differences, he’s actually more alike us than non-religious folk.

I was referring to that new article in the New York magazine. This one, to be exact. The one where it oh-so-flatteringly accepts for granted that New York Jews control the economy. The one where we are urged to happily return to our corner Delis, neighborhood bagel shops, and impecunious origins since our power has been Vanquished. I wanted his opinion on it. I wanted to see if he picked up on the same subtle threads reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Turns out he does. Homes in on it like a heat-seeking missile.

“The glass towers of midtown Manhattan are filled with Jewish magicians who manipulate abstract symbols that shape the contents of people’s characters and opinions as well as the contents of their wallets and can seemingly be transformed at will into other markers of value in a dizzying progression that destroys the certainties of blood and soil on which life is founded for ordinary villagers…” he reads aloud, pausing in the middle so it doesn’t sound quite so much like an endless run-on, until he stops and laughs, “this is so true!”

And then he looks at me with camaraderie, with an I’d-nudge-you-with-my-elbow-here-if-I-could look he was so quick to develop to accommodate me, like he expects me agree with him.

I don’t. “Shush!” I tell him, for lack of anything better surfacing in the gobble-de-gook soup that used to be a functioning mind. “Jews do not control the economy. Think logically!”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Except it was obvious that he didn’t, and was just trying to placate me.

And by the time I figured out what I could say to him on the topic, it was time to go back to class.

So how do you react to flippant, friendly antisemitism?

Published in: on October 23, 2008 at 11:43 AM  Comments (17)  

Frumgirl 1: Tactile Hardwiring

Some people are just hardwired to be touchy-feely. Some people, no matter how long you’ve been around them and how many times you’ve expounded upon how you are a voluntary untouchable, these people will touch you, anyway.

Not through any malicious intent, of course. They apologize profusely afterward and firmly interlock their hands behind their backs to prevent recurrences. It never helps.

They are just touchy-feely people. They relate through touch. Nothing wrong with that, per se, it just makes relating with them in person without looking like you have ants in your pants a decidedly Herculean feat.

“How are you doing today?”  they say, as they touch your shoulder in concern.

You edge backward, replying, “I’m a little under the weather,”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” they enthuse sympathetically, while attempting to pat your back. You take another step backward, and they finally catch on. They dig their hand into their pockets or hook them onto their belt and look sorry. They produce that little half-smile that you know is a sincere recognition of their regret.

And yet you know, with perfect certainty, that come next interaction they will simply do it again. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

So you can decide to avoid them, prematurely pruning a potentially advantageous association.  Or you can  decide to maintain the minimum portable x-ray exposure distance at all times (six feet). You might even decide to continuously to admonish them for every individual frummie-relations faux pas.

Doesn’t matter which you prefer; you always lose.

Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 3:51 PM  Comments (1)  

Frumgirl 4: It’s Good to be of Use…

Class hasn’t yet begun, so everyone is sitting around saying hello, making fun of each other, and generally socializing. In the midst of it all, a black guy in the row behind me give me a scrutinizing look, leans forward and asks, voice dropped very low, “Are you Jewish?”

“What?” I asked, startled.

“Are you – ” his voice drops another few decibels, “Jewish?”

“Oh, yeah,” I smile to put him at ease, since he seems to feel like he’s just done something terrible. “Why?”

“Do you know if that woman, whats-her-face, won the primaries?”

Momentary confusion: Hilary Clinton very definitely lost. Then I realized he must mean the Israeli primaries. Whats-her-face being Livni. “Yeah, she did.”

“Yes!” He gave a little victory punch. Conversation terminated. I’m sure there’s some significance to this that I’m missing (not follwoing Israeli politics as much as this guy does), but I don’t know what.

Published in: on September 25, 2008 at 10:10 PM  Comments (4)  

Frumgirl 1: Unconscious Innuendo

I don’t like posting about things that frummies do in non-orthodox environments to make themselves look incredibly silly and perpetuate stereotypes. Regardless of how much they may make me wish we were not affiliated with each other, I generally don’t make a big deal about it. This particular issue, however, I feel is worth writing about.

Frummies are sheltered. I get that. Frummies have different standards of normalcy. Non-frummies get that. There are, however, limits to what can be considered venial offenses. Some things just go too far.

Now, I publicly call myself a frummie, but one that grew up with movies, (sometimes a TV,) and a voracious appetite for all types of books. Despite my film-like “exposure,” to public media, I have yet to develop into what’s called a guttermind. That’s the word I use for people who think about intimate matters with such regularity so as search through completely innocent comments for hints of innuendo. Despite the darkroom effect of grad school, I have gone no further towards becoming one. Either I mysteriously upgraded from analog to digital image capturing somewhere along the line or Bais Yaakov highly eggagerated matters on yet another aspect of the “outside world.”

Bais Yaakovs would have their girls think that all males, and especially non-orthodox males, are gutterminds of the worst sort. This, folks, is not true. Yes, I am sure. Some guys are, I’m not denying that, but some are definitely not. And guttermindedness is not restricted to the males half of the specie, some females are even worse.

Growing up sheltered and being placed into the company of gutterminds for the first time might excuse the occaisional mildly gutterable comment. It is NOT a condonation to use unwittingly blatant innuendo, or for what actually goes on.

Which happens. It happens so often and to such a degree that I am forced to wonder if some of it might not be intentional. No, I guess it can’t be. People really are that clueless.

It is best demonstrated by example. I am cringing and turning red merely typing this, but if I don’t is impossible to understand what I mean. And the severity and prevalence of its occurrence.

A frum classmate of mine has a sore throat. She changed her facebook status to read that she wishes for something hot in her throat. Except she used more adjectives, and worded it slightly differently. It was not pretty.

She was wishing for a tea, or chicken soup if she could get it. I know she meant it completely innocently. Her phrasing was…unfortunate. There was, in fact, no way to avoid the innuendo. No guttermindedness needed.

It gets worse.

I see and hear an appalling amount of…dare I say it? Not entirely straight intimations.

Every single day.

Completely innocent, and yet so, so…

Here’s an example: “slept with” is a standard Americans euphemism for “had relations with.” Frummie girls do usually know this (thankfully,) and are carefull not to use it in reference to separate-room-literal-sleep with males. Still, I hear that particular combination of words all the time in reference to literal comatose shuteye in the vicinity of other females.

Combine it with the Frummie girl tendency to stand too close to one another and have more physical contact than the usual straight American friendly population. And then they say things like “I slept with her for a year, but we fought a lot so I moved out,” about seminary roommates while resting on another frummie girl’s lap.

Yes, it gets even worse.

I don’t care how sheltered you might be. Some things just don’t fly in public.

If Bais Yaakov girls are going out into the world so socially clueless, I hope the Frum educational administration knows it. I hope they know that there are non-gutterminded people out there who assume all frumgirls are lesbian because of it.

It bothers me exceedingly.

Published in: on September 24, 2008 at 10:15 PM  Comments (13)  

Frumgirl 1: Half-Holiday

One of the more difficult topics to dance around in a non-Jewish setting is Chol Hamoed.

It’s an eight day holiday, you tell them, so they ask how you’re going to manage missing eight days of school.

Oh, we’re only missing four, you reply, merely the first two and last two.

But they thought all Jewish holidays needed school-missing?

No, you explain, the eight day holidays like Passover and Succos have a break in the middle where you can do things, but it’s still a holiday.

And they look at you like you, personally, decided to instigate religious holidays deliberately to annoy them.

I’m not so happy about going to school on Chol Hamoed, in general, but I can’t miss a week’s worth of lecture, either. So I’ll avoid writing and feel guilty

Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 11:01 AM  Comments (8)  

FrumCollegeGirl: MIA Account

Last semester I had a lot of explaining to do as to why I was MIA for a year.

When tallying up the year I graduated from high school and what year of college I was in, my lab partner announced, “But you’re in your first year of college! What did you do last year?”

I explained that I took a year off to go to Israel to study Hebrew studies. He was amazed. So were my other two lab partners. I didn’t realize it was such a big deal. Another classmate wanted to know why I would delay my college education for a whole year, and this was coming from a girl doing the four year plan for an associates in liberal arts! She asked me if I could speak a whole different language, which I pretty much can. (My Hebrew’s not great, but I understand enough to be able to talk about my classmates in front of them).

A friend of mine took college classes the summer before going to Israel. a guy in her class asked her what she was doing the coming year and she told him she was going to study abroad. He turned to the guy behind him (who was frum) and said, “Dude, that chick is really smart, she’s going to study abroad!”

To which the frum fellow replied, “It’s called seminary, and they all do it!”

FrumCollegeGirl’s Blog

Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 6:35 PM  Comments (2)  

Frumgirl 4: Unexpected Conversation

The elevator emptied out as we approached the top floors, until there was just me and a chunky Asian inside, and only “seven” glowing on the panel. I don’t know his name, but let’s call him Jin, in keeping with the Jo- crowd.

Jin looks at the panel, looks at me and conveys that he would like to know if I too am heading to the seventh floor, or should he press another button for me? I say “convey” because his speech was slow and halting and the communication wasn’t necessarily all vocal. I responded that seven was exactly where I was heading, thanks.

He hesitated and then started expressing himself again. “Is – that – Jewish – clothing?” He gestures at my ensemble.

Momentarily taken aback, I reply, “Yes, it is. I mean, the clothing is from all over, but the look is definitely Jewish.”

He digested that for a moment while I digested his question. Asians are not very savvy about Judaism, if they know it exists at all. They’re not terribly savvy on western religions in general. Heck, the average Chinaman thinks the main difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the mascot: fat man in red pajamas with a tree versus sober men in black and buckles with a turkey. Religion doesn’t come into it. So I asked the natural follow-up question:

“How do you know about Jewish dress?”

“I – live – in – Borough – Park.”

Aaaah. Well, that explains things.

“You – don’t – wear – a -” Jin makes a gesture of putting a bowl on his head – “hat?”

“No,” was my uncomprehending answer. “The men get the hats, the women get the skirts.” Only later did I realize that me probably meant a turban or shpitzel or whatever they all wear in BP. At any rate, he mulled that over a second and then got out, “I think – that it – is – very – nice.”

That surprised me. I mean, you don’t hear that very often, even from people like Joe, and obviously he’s his own case. “I think so too,” I said, for lack of anything else popping to mind. Well whattaya know.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 11:51 AM  Comments (7)  

Frumgirl 4: Tricky

There is nothing more unpredictable than the irreligious Jew. Their wide-ranging knowledge (generously peppered with gross blank spots) and an amused approach to halacha can lead to some entertaining and tricky situations.

Entertaining I: Joe derides his irreligious relatives for getting star-of-David tattoos and refraining from eating pork on Saturdays. Then, he double checks that there’s no ham in the meat-and-cheese salad his friend offers him. I give an astounded snort but decide that there’s nothing to be gained by arguing the logic.

Entertaining II: Joe locks horns with Joseph on the matter of heaven and hell. He claims the Jewish God is far more benevolent than the Christian because there’s no Jewish hell and you can get a second chance after you die. “For me, afterlife is about how close or far I am to God,” he boasts. “None of that gruesome Dante stuff.” Then he details to me how likely it is that the Torah was written by aliens, and the events therein occasioned by an extraterrestrial specie. I suggest that he watches too much TV, and maybe he should try reading “the good book” in the original, for once. He tells me that he has a gold-inlaid copy in his room, but can’t read a word.

Tricky I: Joe rests his hand on my USB flash drive when I reach to take it out of the computer.
I learned in Israel, when trying to get on the bus to Tel Aviv, that it doesn’t pay to let obnoxious irreligious guys use shomer negiya against you. It is important to very quickly let them know that the playing field is still level. So I reached for my metal thermos and held it casually by the cap. “Three options,” I said sternly. “You give my my drive, you move your hand so I can take it myself, or I hit you over the head with this and then take it.” He eyed the bottle and withdrew his hand. I only had to do that twice more before he gave up the prank completely.

Tricky II: Joe leans back, looks at me speculatively, and says, “Gosh, we’ve been working on this together for four weeks already. We should be best friends by now.” The obvious tack is to make a joke out of it, which I do: “Nope – I’ve never become best friends in less than six weeks.” And “Send in your application – I’ll have my secretary look at it.” Problem is, he does want to be friends. I’ve received casual invitations to purely fun outings, so it would be best to put things straight right off the bat and avoid any misunderstandings. So when six weeks are up and he asks if we can be best friends now, I give a little smile and say, “I’ve only got room in my circles for one male best friend, and he’s got to give me a diamond ring.” Well, that set him back a bit, but only temporarily. “How about just friends, then?” he asks. “Only as candidates for best friend,” I answer. He looks terrified. “You do realize I’m kidding, right?” he asks.
“Getting scared when I call your bluff?” I taunt.
That settled, he turns the matter over in his mind. “So you don’t have any guy friends?!”
“Nope.”
“You don’t have anything to do with guys?”
“Not much.”
“That’s just…wild! How do you manage?”
“From what I’ve seen of men,” I retort tartly, “I don’t think I’ve been missing much.”
He knows I’m referring to some of his more repulsive and peculiarly male habits, and is silent for a moment.
“Well, what does that make me – an acquaintance?”
“A colleague.” Then, because he looked so down, I added, “A valued colleague, a useful colleague, and a colleague whose company is pleasant, but a colleague nonetheless. I’ve never treated you any differently, have I?” With the possible exception of offering to brain him with a metal bottle, this was categorically true, and he acknowledged it. “But you’ll still be around after the summer, right? I mean, you’re a good person to know,” he said.
“And you’re a useful person to know, so, yes, of course I’ll keep you around.”
That seemed to leave things on good terms, and the topic was only revisited when Joe commented that a diamond ring was pretty cheap; most of the women in his community want cars, swimming pools, and vacation homes. I decided it wasn’t the time or place to explain kollel standards.

That little chat turned out to be the right move – it’s handy to have someone around who understands some of your weirdness. Only a few weeks later, a few of my summer “colleagues” were planning a group outing. Joe, realizing that I would rather not attend, jokingly informed me that I was not welcome to join. I retorted that I wouldn’t want to spend the afternoon with him anyway. The other students looked confused, but were too polite to ask any questions. So I retired to the library, saved from the necessity of quick thinking, and they hit the Big Apple without me.

Published in: on August 24, 2008 at 12:26 AM  Comments (6)  

Frumgirl 1: Counting

Number of patients who have tried to convert me to one religion or another: 4

Number of conversion attempts, in total: 9

Snippet from the funniest:

Patient with big hair and ankle fracture: “So you’re Hassidic, right?”

Me, going about my job: “Nah, I’m just plain Orthodox.”

Patient, tilting her head: “Hassidic people don’t believe in jesus, right?”

Me, preoccupied: “That’s right.”

Patient, head tilting slowly in the opposite direction:”So the rest of you all do believe in jesus, right?”

Me, perking up: “Oh, no, you can’t be Jewish if you do.”

Patient, aghast: “What? None o’ you? You sure? I never heard of that!”

Me, cue reassuring but firm smile: “I’m sure.”

Patient, getting excited: “But you gotta believe in jesus, girl!”

Me: “Huh?”

Patient: “He’s the lord and savior!”

Then she looks at me expectantly, like she’s waiting for an agreement. Or a spontaneous shout of GloryBeHallelujah! and an on the spot conversion.

Persuasivity rating: -6,000/10

Published in: on August 20, 2008 at 5:43 PM  Comments (8)  

Frumgirl 1: So Much For Individuality

This is the sad truth that I’ve come to realize: after spending majority of my teenage-hood trying to break free of the boxes the frum world was so fond of sticking me into, I had a larger chance of being viewed as an individual there than in the “real” world.

The only time I will ever be viewed as an individual and not the “token super-religious woman” is when I’m back in an environment with other frum people for comparison.

It’s comical, really. I defied a frum three-word summation of myself, convinced that the cookie-cutter obsession was a mere frum-foible only to find out that it is entirely impossible to escape a two-word definition in the outside world.

I must laugh.

Published in: on August 17, 2008 at 1:14 PM  Comments (9)  

Frumgirl 4: Kosher Catechism

Non-Jews seem obsessed with kashrus.

I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the idea of being limited in what you can eat. After all, most of what they know about kashrus is that I’m not eating things. None of them have ever experienced the cornucopia of the kosher supermarket. They often wonder how I don’t starve.

_

Joseph: You know, with us Christians, if we eat something wrong when we’re away, we just get re-baptized when we get back.

Me: Um… Judaism is a way of life, not a hobby. There’s no instant purification process.

Joseph: What if you get stuck somewhere and you can’t find anything kosher to eat?

Me: Have you ever heard of Chabad? (blank look from Joseph) There’s always fruit and vegetables.

Joseph: What if you can’t find any?

Me: Then you don’t eat.

Joseph: What if it’s for a long time?

Me: You still don’t eat.

Joseph: What if you’re going to starve?

Me: Don’t go there. Or leave.

Joseph: What if you can’t?

Me: Then you eat the least non-kosher thing you can find.

Joseph: And when that runs out?

Me: The rule is that you don’t eat non-kosher, but an even bigger rule is that you don’t die.

Joey: How do you know when something is kosher?

Me: There’s this little symbol over here – it means the company paid a rabbi to come in and check out their factory and make sure everything is kosher.

Joey: Can’t you just tell from the ingredients?

Me: Not when there are secret ingredients. Plus, the machinery has to be kosher.

Joey: The machinery? Wow.

Joe: How do you know the plastic fork is kosher?

Me: I’m assuming it’s never been used – American sanitary laws.

Joe: What if I got you one and I spit on it?

Me: That would be pretty gross, but your spit is kosher.

Joe: What if I did this? (he grinds the fork into the counter)

Me: (examining the fork and finding nothing) That would be very low of you, but it’s still kosher.

Joe: Why? You don’t know what might have stuck.

Me: If it isn’t visible to the naked eye, it’s as good as not there.

Joe: Aah, that’s cheating!

Me: Do vegans breathe animal dust? Are bacteria kosher? I’m not a Jainist, I’m a Jew.

Joseph: My fruit juice has a K on it. You can drink it.

Me: No – ‘K’ is just a letter of the alphabet. It doesn’t mean anything. Anyone can put a K on their packaging. Or a B or a G or a Z.

Joseph: It means everything is kosher.

Me: It means the company thinks everything is kosher. Do you trust a car salesman? Take legal advice from a truck driver? There are books as thick as your arm on kashrus. I don’t think Dole knows what kosher is.

(brief certification introduction)

Joseph: Isn’t it wrong for these rabbis to make a business out of your needs?

Me: It’s not a business, it’s a service. I want to eat Oreos, and Nabisco wants me to buy them. The rabbi just makes that possible. Believe me – he’d rather be studying.

Joseph: No – he’s taking advantage! Because you only buy the products with the symbol on it.

Me: If that symbol wasn’t there, I wouldn’t buy it.

Joseph: If there were no symbols on any food, what would you eat?

Me: I’d do what my grandparents did – make it myself.

Joe: Just because a store is owned by a Jew, you trust his food?

Me: No. On the wall there’s a piece of paper certifying his food as kosher, with the name of the certifying rabbi, so you can check up who he is and if you trust him.

Joe: Wow. You guys have major trust issues.

Maybe. Or maybe we just understand human nature. But I wasn’t going to tell him that even Jews will sell other Jews non-kosher for a quick buck. So I just shrugged and laughed.

Published in: on August 7, 2008 at 6:29 PM  Comments (6)  

Frumgirl 4: Just in Case You Wondered

A nice thing about attending a secular college: it reminds you why you’re not secular. And I’m not just referring to the many times my Jewish-but-irreligious lab partner tells me how he firmly believes that Jews get kicked around when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do – while he’s downloading porn. Take these transcripts from one lunch session:

Scene: Cafeteria. Frumgirl4 is IMing a friend and eating rice-cakes and string cheese while Joe, Joseph, and Joey yak and eat cheeseburgers. Suddenly, Joe’s gaze strays out the door to the elevator bank and he shouts

Joe: OHMIGOSH! Did you see that hottie?!

Joey and Joseph turn curiously to look out at the elevator bank while Joe goes on.

She is so hot! Check out those legs! Can you see her?

Joey and Joseph don’t see anyone especially hot and turn to look back at Joe.

Oh, you guys missed her! She was hot. She was so burning hot she was on fire!

Joey: Well then she can’t have been a science student. Laughter all around, then Joey realizes that there’s a science girl at the table. Oh – ah – sorry, I didn’t mean…

Frumgirl4: pauses in her laughing to reassure him: S’ok – I thought it was funny too.

Joe: picks up where he left off. Did you see those shorts? Did you see those shorts?! I didn’t see those shorts. They were so small I saw right through them –

At this point Frumgirl4 peers over the top of her screen to shoot Joe a dirty look while Joseph, a devout Christian, looks uncomfortable. Joe slows down.

You think maybe I shouldn’t be talking about girls this way? He asks, turning the idea over in his head. Nah, if they dress like that, they’re just asking for it! Joey laughs in agreement. Because you guys – she was hot!

The girl was actually a student at the summer program run for high school kids, and there were plenty more running around. Once, I told Joe outright to stop being a perv and keep his eyes on his sandwich. “Why?” he asked. “If they mind, they should just dress like you.”

Well, yes, but…

And again, at the same time, it’s nice to know that my skirt is impermeable enough to stymie the biggest skirt-chaser I have the pleasure of knowing.

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 5:16 PM  Comments (7)  

Frumgirl 1: The Kosher Collusion

When you ask the rank and file what kosher means, they’ll tell you, in exactly these words, that a “Rabbi comes down and blesses the food.”

What I have always wondered is where people get this from. Not so much the concept, but the words. Exactly the same words come out of all sorts mouths; I’ve heard it from 80 year old black geezers and Asian Wellesley students alike.

Is there a movie someplace responsible for it?

The concept is rather strange, as well. Is there something in other religions that simply requires a clergyman to bless it before it is considered to be fit for consumption?

Oh, wait. I suppose that if wine and bread can be considered blood and flesh (I have never understood the desire to eat one’s object of worship/salvation,) based on a clergyman’s words, anything is possible.

Where do the non-religious people get the concept from? More importantly, where are they all getting it from in conjunction with one another that they all use exactly the same wording?

Now, I have done my part to correct this gross misinformation by explaining to those that ask what kosher means. Namely, that we have a Rabbi go down to the plant, factory, or kitchen to make sure that no non-kosher ingredients, processes, or machinery are used for the production of our food. But I’d really like to know who the culprit for this one is.

Published in: on August 5, 2008 at 9:05 PM  Comments (5)  

Frumgirl 4: Everything’s on Saturday

It is. Everything extracurricular in this private college, I mean. If it isn’t Saturday, then it’s Friday evening. And I’m getting the impression that this is indicative of the greater world outside. It’s an odd situation for me.

For me, the disappointment is fleeting, and I don’t just mean over the fact that I can’t compete in the talent show or join the drama club. I did want to be an orientation leader, but if the training is on Saturday, I can do without it. It’s like taking a slice of pizza and then discovering that it’s full of cyanide. Yeah, you’re not happy to put it down, but you’re not very upset either.

My colleagues don’t get that. They schedule their networking dinner for Friday evening and their club sports day picnic for Saturday afternoon and then, when they announce it, scan the table, see my face, and get distraught. They completely forgot – I can’t make it.

Not that they’d reschedule just for my convenience. But they still feel guilty. On my part, I probably would attend these events if they were at a more convenient time, but oh well, I’m not shedding any tears.

The only other frum girl in my program is an upperclassman, and whenever she attends a food-event, she tends to pick at the grapes or just sip a Dasani. One of her classmates gets very distressed when he sees she’s the only person not eating. Invariably, he’ll discover a bag of nachos chips in his knapsack that happens to have a hechsher on it, and try to press it upon her. I think that’s very decent of him, but I’ve decided to forestall such classmate advances by bringing my own muffin in the future.

My next challenge: the industry national convention this fall. It’s a week long, but the points of interest are over the weekend. The local chapter president has his plans all planned: two hotel rooms, one for four girls, one for four guys. And I know he’s counting me as one of the girls.

I’m only a sophomore and not terribly good at buttonhole-networking, so I don’t think it’d be a catastrophe if I missed the convention. Plus it’s around holidays, so I’ll be studying like crazy. Alternatively, I could go to someone in Philadelphia for Shabbos, and join them at the convention on Sunday. But that compromise would probably upset the president more than complete non-attendance, because I “won’t be getting the full experience.”

God help me with well-meaning people. I have nothing against them when they’re trying to be helpful, but when they’re not…

Published in: on August 3, 2008 at 5:51 PM  Comments (2)  

Frumgirl 1: Pinning Mazel Tovs on the Door

This has got to be the funniest misheard Hebrew situation of the year.

I told a culturally but not religiously Jewish co-worker mazel tov on his new son.

“Mazeltov?” asked a Pakistani worker standing nearby, “isn’t that the green plant thing you kiss under?”

I never laughed so much at the custom of mistletoe before.

Published in: on August 1, 2008 at 4:45 PM  Comments (1)