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 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 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 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: 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: Some Things You Just Can’t Explain

It’s the second day of chol hamoed and I get to class early. There’s just me an one Caribbean girl there.

“I was in Target yesterday and it was just full of religious Jews. Was it some kind of shopping holiday?”

The honest answer would be, “Um, no, actually, the opposite,” but I didn’t want to have to explain that the Jewish woman will do many things because the rabbis recommend it – fast half-a-dozen times a year; glug down four cups of wine on Pesach; and even swing a chicken over their heads – but it takes God himself in all his textual glory to keep them from shopping for a week straight. So I explained that it was a sort of half-holiday and they were off from work and taking the opportunity to shop.

“And there was this one girl there in a skirt that was crazy long! Most of the women were like you – long like ankle length skirts or knee-length ones with stockings [Frumgirl4’s note: jeepers! they notice everything!] but this girl’s skirt was so long it was dragging on the floor for inches. It almost got caught in the escalator!”

My first thought was a little girl in hand-me-downs. But what mother would venture forth on chol hamoed with a poorly dressed child?

“How old was she?”

“About 13, maybe 14.”

Ah, mystery solved. “She thinks she looks cool.”

Blank look from my partner.

“Really. She thinks she looks cool like that. Just trust me.”


Published in: on October 27, 2008 at 7:20 AM  Comments (15)  

Frumgirl 1: Manners

When I got married, right after my semester in grad school, I didn’t bother inviting my non-Orthodox classmates. We weren’t really friends, they didn’t seem to mind, and it my father objected. Strongly.

Recently, a frumguy in my class got married, but he did invite everyone who wished to come. Only one non-Orthodox girl showed, and she’s had experience with Orthodox functions and blended seamlessly in with the frummies. And I mean seamlessly. She knew exactly what to wear, how to act, what to say. Impeccably.

The last time she attended an Orthodox similarly deported, she told me, someone had asked what she was looking for. A hook-up, she called it, in the Orthodox style.

I find it rather amusing that the non-Jew navigates the being-seen-at-a-wedding shidduch must better than I ever did.

My father should not have worried.

Published in: on October 10, 2008 at 12:07 PM  Comments (3)  

Frumgirl 4: Lonely Lot

We’re a lonely lot, us Jews.

Call America multicultural and let everyone trump the importance of diversity, but ethnicities still divide along party lines. Many groups are interracial, most clubs are, and you’ll catch a mixed bag socializing at any corner of the cafeteria, but the Indian guy walks off with the Indian girl; those of Chinese extraction – no matter how many generations assimilated – belong to a fraternity that only accepts Chinese; the smiling Muslim girls walk all but arm-in-arm and operate like a pack, the Caribbeans slip into Patwa and leave everyone else out.

But not us Jews.

It almost makes me feel lonely when I arrive in class the first day and find, to my excitement, that there are two other Jews there – but I can’t speak to them. Or when I walk down the hall, catch a Jew’s eye, and then we both look away. Or the awkwardness of it when we exchange a few words.

It’s weird how it works. Right or wrong, I have few qualms about getting into a lengthy mathematical discussion with the Hispanic to my left or the Bosnian to my right, but plunk a guy in black and white next door and it’s like we don’t exist to each other.

It isn’t just me – I know plenty of college girls find it easier to talk to non-Jewish guys than Jewish ones. “It’s because the yeshiva guys are not supposed to be talking to me,” was the way one friend explained it. Kind of weird when you think about it. Maybe backwards, and possibly misguided. But that’s how it is.

I’ve been trying to figure out why. Is it just habit to avoid socializing with penguins, or is it because we’re more likely to get too friendly since we have more in common than with, say, a Guyanese?

Published in: on September 29, 2008 at 12:19 PM  Comments (9)  

Frumgirl 1: Chart of Jewishness

A long long time ago, I wrote about how a field guide on Jews would be extremely helpful for upper level inquirers. People who know some basics, but still can’t see the differences between different types of religious Jews.

Behold, a comprehensive chart of dress:

The only major flaw is the ordering of ultra-Orthodoxy as more “observant” than Chassidim.

Pieced together from screenshots of The Tribe.

Published in: on September 15, 2008 at 8:50 PM  Comments (8)  

Frumgirl 4: The Crash-Course to Kashrus

Kosher seems to fascinate the non-Jews around me. “Is there kosher Chinese?” asked a colleague as he dug into his sweet-and-sour soup. When I answered “Yes, of course,” he asked if that meant a rabbi was hanging out in back of the greasy spoonery with the Chinese cooks? I set him straight on that score.

“Is the honey kosher?” asked another intrigued student, when a representative of the Jewish club set up an apples-and-honey display in honor of the coming holiday. “How do you know the apple is kosher? And you can just use that plastic plate – doesn’t it have to be kosher? Where’s the knife from?”

“People seem so curious about kosher,” I commented to Joe after he’d asked something-or-another on the subject.

“Well yeah,” he said, crunching his chips. “You guys go through so much because of it. I mean, I’d offer you – ” he gestures a chip at me, “but I know you won’t take. Then I feel rude for not offering, but really you’re rude for not accepting,” he finishes with a grin. I guess that’s it, really. Eating is a social thing, and you stand out if you won’t do it.

Usually these people are repeat questioners, desperately trying to pull together the fragmented responses they get into some sort of comprehensive vision of kashrus. I almost feel sorry for them, watching them retreat with the answers they get, too self-conscious/culturally-conscious to continue asking, but utterly unsatisfied. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a super-quick crash course in kashrus for the particularly curious. Question: have I left out anything important or gotten anything very wrong? I’m not all that up on my shechita, I confess.

1. Kosher animals are non-predators and are deemed free of undesirable traits. A mammal is kosher if it has split hooves and chews its cud. A fish is kosher if it has fins and scales. Birds are more complicated so let’s not go there.

2. Kosher animals must be slaughtered in a proscribed manner, with a quick slice across a specific section of the throat made by a knife so sharply honed that it goes in like butter. An animal killed by any other means, no matter how humane, is not kosher. There is no blessing of anything involved. The meat must then be salted to remove the blood, which is not kosher.

3. Milk, eggs, and animal byproducts need to come from kosher animals.

4. Any vegetable matter that is in its natural state and unprocessed is kosher.

There are three ways of processing a food that can make or break its kosher status:
4a: application of heat. A kosher food cannot be cooked, fried, baked, boiled, steamed, or otherwise heated in contact with or in conjunction with any non-kosher food or utensil.

4b: long-term soaking. A kosher food cannot be soaked in, on, or with a non-kosher food or utensil for 24 hours.

4c: pressure combined with sharp flavor. Any food with a sharp taste such as raw onions or pickles, cannot be cut, pierced, or otherwise come under pressure from a non-kosher knife, fork, spoon, or similar surface.

5. Meat and dairy may not mix. All the rules in (5) regarding the mixing of kosher and non-kosher also apply to the mixing of meat and dairy foods, products, and utensils.

Published in: on September 13, 2008 at 10:45 PM  Comments (5)  

10,000 Hit Party!

Published in: on September 8, 2008 at 7:33 PM  Comments (5)  

Frumgirl 1: The Question

It’s the question that comes up pretty often when dealing with people you do not plan on working with for any longer than a short a while. I’m sure everyone’s encountered it at one point or another.

Now, you need a minor accommodation. You might need your complimentary breakfast coffee in a paper cup instead of crockery. You might want to refrain from shaking someone of the opposite gender’s hand. You might just want to meet someone on a day other than Saturday. Do you:

a. Explain that you are an Orthodox Jew, explain the accommodation you need, why you need it, and end up spending fifteen minutes lecturing someone you will never meet again (even if you are in a rush)

b. Politely ask for the accommodation without providing and explanation, and endure the weird looks or slight annoyance of the person you wish accommodation from

c. Avoid the situation entirely (i.e. do not have complimentary breakfast coffee).

I tend towards a or c in New York, and b or c elsewhere, but I always feel odd or disappointed, no matter which option I choose.

Published in: on September 7, 2008 at 6:25 PM  Comments (6)  

Frumgirl 1: Lowercase T

My handwriting, in general, is quite legible. This is important when you’re going into a profession in which people have to read your had-written notes, like mine.

I have exception to legibility, and that is my lowercase letter “t.” There. See how it curves up a bit at the end? When I curve mine, people mistake them for Gs or Qs. It annoyed my superiors in my clinical to no end.

I finally mentioned to them, in passing, how I was taught in pre-1A (I had to stop and explain what this mysterious grade is at that point,) to curve my lowercase Ts so that they wouldn’t be crosses. Which, I understood as a five year old, is forbidden for nice little frumgirls.

My superiors got a kick out of that.

I was wondering if anyone else was taught to do this (if you can remember pre-1A, that is,) and if people encounter similar readability issues with it. The males I have asked so far have given me negatives, the females positive.

Published in: on August 30, 2008 at 9:45 PM  Comments (19)  

Frumgirl 1: Yinglish for “Earthling”

Frum Satire wrote something about the word “goy.”

Last year, a jerk of a guy from the year a head of me patted the pregnant belly of a frumgirl and asked the baby if he was the first “goyims” it had touched.

Aside from his audacity in touching a frumgirl (he knew good and well that it’s a no-no, apparently Earthling protocol states that pregnant bellies are not considered property of the mother and may touched without permission by all and sundry with a fascination for unborn babies,) this was the sort of jerk who would look up Jewish things on Wiki and say obnoxious things to random frum people. He had a fascination with the word “goy” more than any of the other words he’d looked up.

Never understood him. Can’t say I ever understood his sort of jerk, in general.

Published in: on June 19, 2008 at 9:52 PM  Leave a Comment  

Frumgirl 4: Bring Your Own Muffin

It was a weird situation. My class of freshmen students as well as a few sophomores arrived at the departmental end-of-semester party, but were all too shy to approach the food. I thought that was just a tad ridiculous. “Let’s go up and start the ball rolling,” I said to the classmate next to me. She looked uncertain. My goodness – I thought people were only shy in bais yaakovs, where they’re afraid of standing out. Apparently tis not so. “If we don’t start, nobody will,” I said. So we went up.
The weird part was that there wasn’t a single thing I could eat. On the drinks table – only wine – yayin nesech issues. Wraps and rolls and deli sandwiches and cookies – off limits. “You can’t eat any of this, can you?” asked my friend, who recently caught on to the fact that I was Jewish and, having spent some time in Chaifa, sort of knew what that meant. I hovered over the fruit. Yes or no? Yes or no? Yes or no? I decided no. I wasn’t sure what the exact halacha was, but I wasn’t going to be meikel when I didn’t need to be. “Nope, can’t eat anything,” I said sheepishly, and we returned to our table with my plate empty.
Meanwhile a long line of students had formed behind us. Hurray for leaders.
Luckily, this wasn’t my first departmental party, so I came prepared. The first one had been a pizza bash at the opening of the new lounge. There was one other religious student in my department, so I doubted there were any kosher arrangements made, but I approached her anyway to find out and maybe benefit from her greater experience in such matters; she was a junior.
“No, there’s nothing we can eat, but they feel bad if you can’t eat at parties so take a drink or something,” she said, walking with me to the drinks table. I picked up a can of Hawaiian punch and she took a bottle of water. We strolled back to where my classmates were, and I saw their eyes slide down to both our hemlines, compare them, and then slide back up. Some looked even more confused, but some looked enlightened. I’d never mentioned being religious, so this was the first hint they had that I was anything but an odd dresser.
It’s no fun being at a party and not eating. And not only is it awkward for the host, but it’s awkward for you as well. And yet you can’t just skip parties because they’re a great way to get to know your classmates and network. But back on the other hand, I can’t really demand kosher ordered in just for me. So this time, I brought my own lunch. Unsure of what would be served, I brought a muffin. There seemed a reasonable chance it would fit some of whatever was being served. My frum fellow woman didn’t even bother showing up to this event.
Next time, maybe I’ll ask if we can use our “per head” outlay to bring in our own food, but it’ll have to be something that can be eaten cold, no bentching required please… the field narrows quickly.
Well, kashrus is just performing its duty. I’m not complaining. Just being Jewish and looking for a workaround.

Published in: on June 5, 2008 at 11:43 AM  Comments (2)  

Frumgirl 1: Letter

Every one in a while, I bump into an Earthling-relation nightmare. One arrived in my inbox from a classmate a few days ago.

Take a look at this:

(My thoughts are in Green)

Good morning and Happy Sabbath, dude we don’t check email on Sabbath, I thought you knew that

I was thinking about our lovely “getting to know you” session yesterday during _____’s class and I was inspired to write an email based on _____’s answer to the question “What is your passion?” When he said religion, I realized that the topic of religion, inevitably, continues to sprout in our classroom every day. It’s almost impossible for it not to given the variety of different religions and ethnicities we have been blessed to learn from. I usually tend to stray away from the in-depth, yet competitive conversations and I wanted to share why.

I think we all agree that there is one God. One supreme power that created us all. The nine people on this email all believe in some kind of a creation story, which seems to be extremely similiar and in some cases even identical across the board. I believe that God has put us in the same classroom not to sit and have debates about what you do and what I do and whether it’s wierd or not, but to show us that God is praised around the world in various ways. Speak for yourself, not G-d. For all you know we could actually be here to debate. Whether you pray five times a day or pray once a day, whether you go to church on Saturday or Sunday, whether you call it Kosher meat or Halal meat, ALL praise goes to God.

I believe that you all are leaders. Leading is much too much hard work. Can I decline the leadership position? That’s why you are on this email list. The purpose of a leader, especially since we all seem to be passionate about our beliefs, is to lead others to God. Nonononono. That is missionizing. We do not do missionizing. Stop trying to LEAD people places. This can be done through conversations about beliefs, studies of books (The Koran, The Bible, or Torah/ Neviim, etc.), or a variety of other ways. The greatest testament of your faith is how you live your lives. I believe that God concentrated our classroom to reach and be examples to those who don’t believe in Him or who questions His existance. There are a number of people in our class who don’t believe in God and when they see us having conversations downplaying each others religious traditions and looking for loopholes to why our belief is better, Woah, that was so directed at me personally it only perpetuates their negative, confused, and narrowminded concept of religion. That’s why religion should not be the focus of our conversations all the time. It should be God. So we should talk about non-specified beliefs regarding G-d, and no debating, right? On the basis that we should be spreading the all-encompassing, un-differentiated, somehow Christian-flavored in the end goodness and greatness of said heavenly being? And we should do this without mentioning or arguing or asking about the differences? Come again?

Your mission in life is not to tell someone that what they believe doesn’t make sense, excuse me, don’t tell me what my mission in life is especially if you don’t know where they are coming from in their life journey. If it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense. Life context has yet to change the basic principles of logic. When I told one of you that I was Seventh Day Adventist, which is primarily founded upon Jewish history, the Sabbath, and the originial Ten Commandments, I received the response “You don’t look Seventh-Day Adventist”. We all believe in different ways to reach God, to dress, to act, to pray, to date, to eat, and to have fun, but the underlining connection and the only reason why we can have conversations in the first place on an intellectual level is because of God. Let’s stop judging each other. Let’s stop getting caught in the name differences (Allah, Alpha, Father, King, Jesus, Yahweh, HaShem, El Shaddai, Lord, Master, etc.) because we can play that game all day. Let’s try to be living examples for our classmates. Go ahead. Have fun being a living museum exhibit. Would you please leave me out of it?

I believe God’s hand is in everything. We were meant to meet and begin these conversations with each other, partially to strengthen our walks with God, Just finished our morning jog…but also to help others to reach Him. Again the missionizing. Let’s be mindful of what we say and what we do because our classmates are looking for us to endorse why the concept of religion is confusing. God is not the orchestrator of confusion. Let’s not allow “self” to create that illusion.

I wanted to write this email for a while but the timing felt right this morning. I am just a guilty of this as we all are and I pray that we as leaders can continue to set examples for our classmates, our teachers, and the Downstate community as we continue to praise God and teach others about how amazing He is. If I offended anyone in this email I apologize and you are more than welcome to speak to me about anything at school. I am welcome to conversation that is progressive and focused on God first because He is the only reason there is a concept of religion in the first place.

God bless and Happy Sabbath

Now, I kind of like the the open, easy, running interfaith dialog going on in my program. It’s interesting to learn about people from real people in real time instead of from near-clones of religious educators or text someplace. So what if I can be a little too quick to point out inconsistencies or topics that fail logic? Nobody else seems to mind. Instead, they return it blithefully, enjoying it just as much as I do. The guy that sent this? If I had ticked him off personally, I’d understand this email a little better. But he never joins debates, and I’ve been respecting his wishes to stay out of it. What’s his problem?

Anyone have an opinion, or can give me advice on handling this?

Published in: on May 7, 2008 at 2:34 PM  Leave a Comment  

Frumgirl 1: Jew Lawyers

Yep, that’s what the college-age black girl called them at Jury duty today. She says they’re supposed to be very good.

There were certainly a large percentage of Jewish people waving clearance passes after the fire drill rigamarole they made us go through at the county courthouse today, but I never thought that “Jew lawyers” were supposedly so good as to have a name with college-age black girls.

The Yeshiva guys, I know, score really well on their LSATs due to their prolonged contact with argumentative logic, cleverly disguised as Gemarah, but you’d think that they’d be lacking the people-people slickness that good lawyers are supposed to have.

Odd things leak out into “common knowledge about Jews.” Like the time one of my classmates thought I had shaved my head after marriage. That, apparently, fit into the body of common knowledge about Orthodox Jews, too. That female black college-age classmate wigged out when I explained it to her.

I don’t think the jury duty girl knew I was Jewish. I should have told her.

Though I suppose at the end of the day the joke’s on her, since she got called for jury and I got excused (woo-hooo!).

Published in: on April 29, 2008 at 5:46 PM  Comments (1)  

Frumgirl1: Wig Out

It is safe to assume that Earthlings don’t realize we’re wearing wigs.

“So you’re both married, right?” asks an Indian professor, in the middle of a practical exam. Lord knows that’s the best time for an interfaith/interculture discussion. Though I suppose it was, since it was following a bit politics regarding another frumgirl who wore pants for said practical and myself who would not. Which, in turn, was followed by a lengthy explanation of the two Rabbis, three opinions phenomenon best left for another post.

“No,” says the other frumgirl, “I’m not married, but she is.”

“You can always tell by us,” I quip, pointing to what my classmates call my do-rag, “because we cover our hair after marriage.”

“Because it’s supposed to special for our husbands,” adds the other frumgirl in a cutesy grade-school tone.

“Oh, I understand,” says the professor, cue the sensitivity face, “I’m from a different culture, too.”

Some Indians feel like aliens too. Who knew?

“Oh, wait,” she remembers, “but the second-years…”

“Those are wigs,” I tell her.

I’m sure there are people out there who would not have been comfortable admitting that. I’m not one of them. If you’re not too embarrassed to wear it in the first place, you should not be too embarrassed to admit it. After all, the point is to look presentable while covering your hair, not to deny the fact that you’re doing so, right?

“Are you serious?” asks the professor in wonder, “I thought all the Jewish girls just had really nice hair.”

Cue the copious laughter.

Note to grad students: diverting the professors into such discussions on practical exams will give you higher grades. Trust me on this.

Published in: on April 24, 2008 at 2:22 PM  Comments (1)  

Frumgirl 4: Passover? Say Again?

“So, when should we have our next test?” asked the professor. He lined up all the dates on the board and let us choose. I did a bit of rapid calculating and called out, “April 17th.” The guy behind me did his own calculations and yelled, “April 22nd.” Then the class split, some arguing for the 17th, some for the 22nd. “The 17th-the 17th-the 17th…” I pray quietly. We take a vote. Eight votes for the 17th. Twelve for the 22nd. Blast.

Sunday the 20th is the first day of Pesach. Monday the 21st is the second. So Tuesday the 22nd I am going to be utterly zonked-not the best condition for test-taking. But it gets worse, of course. Because Saturday is Shobbos, so I can’t study (it’s a mathematical class), and Friday is erev Pesach/Shobbos plus I’m in lab until a few hours before sunset, which means I have to finish all my studying by Thursday night which is-awghk-the night of bedikas chometz.

I never realized how time-consuming this Passover holiday is.

In the past, this professor dedicated the class before the test for review, and it’s an exceedingly helpful guide for studying. But I wasn’t going to have a chance to use that review session to study. I had to be practically finished studying by the time it rolled around.

It gets worse, actually. I’ll be missing a class on Monday of course, but the professor is letting me make it up by sitting in on her other class on Thursday evening. So my Thursday wasn’t going to be full of study time.

I spent a day and a half chewing my nails down. This is one of the more important classes, plus it’s my favorite one, and I really, really need and A in it. Finally I decided to approach the professor. He’s a reasonable guy, and if he was going to consider having the test on the 17th, then there shouldn’t be a problem covering the material as if it was. I hate asking people to rearrange their life because of my religious requirements, but this was a bad situation.

Besides, sometimes the payoff is worth it. Think of the five-day workweek.

So I put in my request.

“Soooo,” he puckers his brow in non-comprehension. “You can’t study on Passover?”

I was fairly well broadsided. I mean, I knew this wasn’t a city college or law school and that practicing Jews were probably rarer than Zoroastrianists, but… still.

“No,” I said, I thought rather smoothly. “No writing, no computer use-” So much for smooth. My face must have revealed my astonishment because he made a “how should I have known?” gesture, and vocalized the protest, “How should I know that?” It was a fair question. Former Illinois natives in non-medical technical vocations don’t get much opportunity to rub shoulders with religious Jews.

“I’m explaining!” I reply quickly, but didn’t really.

“Can you read your notes?”

“OK, but not in the spirit of things.”

I suppose that would have been a good time to give a general background on Jewish holidays-that they’re days of R&R and celebration and time with family and no work permitted, but I didn’t think quickly enough. I strongly suspect he did a bit of googling on the subject after I left, though. But next time I’ll be more prepared. Hey, it’s good practice for real life in a field full of ex-Illinois natives who aren’t all brushed up on their Jewish holidays.

Published in: on April 22, 2008 at 7:35 PM  Leave a Comment  

Frumgirl1: Projecting as Aliens With Superpowers

The title of this post is intended to be read with a Brittish accent.

I started this blog to explore and relate the experience of being frum as a minority in a non-Jewish setting. This experience, let me assure you, is most akin to discovering one has been an alien visiting Earth all along without knowing it.

People have different ways of dealing with the realization. I started this blog and set out to entertain people. Some people withdraw into extreme clannishness with any and all other frummies they can cling to. Still others have this irrational desire to search popular media and history for entirely different, yet somehow parallel, aliens-in-society.

Since this is a Jewish phenomenon, someone was bound to figure out a way to make money off it eventually. Take a look at this:

Published in: on April 15, 2008 at 2:04 PM  Leave a Comment  

Frumgirl1: We the Borg

I drafted a disclaimer:

My opinions (controversial or otherwise) are strictly the product of my own wacky mind and do not reflect the opinions of any persons or groups.

This is to counteract the use of what I will henceforth call the “Borg We”. Professor R coined the term, actually. I don’t remember the actual provocation, really.

“We don’t do that,” said the Bucharian Frumguy, referring to a religious not-doing, not entirely scriptural.

Professor R: “What’s with the ‘we’? What are you, the Borg?”

Frumguy: “What’s the Borg?”

Coining the “we” the “Borg We” serves two purposes:

It serves to demonstrate to those who know what the Borg is how we might as well be one. Grow some individuality, man!

It also serves to provide an opportunity to explain the Borg. They are these half-robot people from Star Trek that operate with a single hive mind. In other words, it’s a science fiction take on “k’ish echud b’lev echud.”

Published in: on April 9, 2008 at 5:41 PM  Leave a Comment  

Frumgirl 1: Insulting Assumptions

I have no problems insulting people. Most need it, a few just ask for it.

It can be somewhat annoying, though, to insult people unintentionally. I like to save the jovial, flippant ill-will for when it’s most effective or the subject sets themselves up for it perfectly.

A warning for all: some people get really insulted if you over or underestimate their knowledge of your religion.

You should not assume people know nothing about Orthodox Judaism. Some people do know things, and get mortally insulted if you suggest that they don’t.

You should not assume that people know the basics, either. They get mortally offended when you carry on a conversation as if they know what you’re talking about when they really don’t.

In actuality, most Earthlings know what I like to call Hollywood-Orthodoxy. The know The Nanny, they know Chanukah decorations, and they know Matzah. They know the aspects of Judaism that get represented mainstream media. They know Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld.

The easiest way to avoid insulting people by accident is to first figure out which sources of popular media they are getting their information from. Then, you can act like they know the areas of Judaism represented and explain the areas that are not.

Worming this information out of people is another issue altogether.

Published in: on April 7, 2008 at 10:32 AM  Leave a Comment  

Frumgirl1: Monetary Misconceptions

Yes, they think we’re all rich.

I’ve been trying to figure out why, despite all evidence to the contrary. I’ve also been sort-of trying to fix the misconceptions, in a polite, non-confrontation sort of don’t-expect-to-contribute-towards-anything kind of way. It’s not really working.

First of all, it’s true. Orthodox Jews do tend to make much larger incomes than the average American. Try arguing with with the truth. I managed, but I had to pull out debating tricks I generally save for more worthwhile issues.

I was not helped by the fact our engagement diamond ring standards are significantly larger. The presence of my ring automatically meant I must be rolling in it. It is not even particularly large, mind, just average (unfortunately).
I explained that the larger-diamond thing is due to the fact that our in-laws pay for the thing as opposed to their younger-and-poorer future spouses, in combination with the show-offness of the so-called standards we perpetuate as a community. Short of never wearing my ring or using my dubious mindcontrol superpowers to affect the standards of millions, I couldn’t really do anything except explain this one.

Secondly, we dress better. As in, we don’t wear jeans and grungy T-shirts or sweats. I thought I’d have to introduce them to an average grungy yeshiva bochur to disabuse them of this notion, seeing as the only other alternative is to wear a grungy T-shirt myself. Which, unfortunately, carried the risk of a maternal heart attack should she ever find out. In the end, my fellow program frumgirls began appearing in full length pilling “slinky-skirts” and old denim. I must remember to thank them one day.

We also give the overarching impression of being upper class. A lack or reduction of profanity, a value of intelligence, a systematic business sense…they usually go with middle to upper class financials on Earth. We are aliens, remember? We run on a different class system entirely.

Lastly, we have baseline resources built into the structure of our community. It is easier to go from nothing to wealthy (not necessarily rich,) in our community that on Earth proper. I suppose it’s a cycle with the class-confusion. When you treat yourself like middle-to-upper-class, other people catch on eventually. Business is all about getting investor confidence, after all.

Beyond the expectations to personally contribute to things, I’m still not even sure whether it’s a good or bad thing they think we’re all rich. On the one hand, it makes it easier to actually be so in the long run. On the other, we have to deal with jealousy and assistance refusal due to money that may or may not actually exist.


Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 1:44 PM  Comments (2)  

Frumgirl 4:

The first time I felt like an alien was about three weeks into the semester.

There I was in bio lab squinting through a microscope, trying to figure out if I was seeing bacteria or lens scratches. The next group over was having trouble with their slide too, and called the professor to help. He fiddled with their microscope a bit and made a dramatic gesture: “There you go! That’s Patrick.”

“That’s Patrick?” the students asked, looking through the oculars.

“That’s Patrick,” he repeated.

Who is Patrick? I wondered. And how is he on a slide? I waited for an explanation. But nobody else seemed to need one.

“That doesn’t look like Patrick at all!” a student protested.

“It’s Patrick when he was a baby,” the professor explained.

“What slide are they looking at?” I asked my partner, hoping to dispel some of the mystery. I was pretty sure nobody had named the malariae I was looking at “Patrick.”

“Star fish,” my partner replied.

“Sea star,” the professor corrected. “When Patrick was a baby, he looked like that, but we couldn’t see him because he was microscopic. Patrick as we know him is grown up.”

Everyone was nodding and smiling. I couldn’t stand it any more.

“Who is Patrick?” I asked.

Heads swiveled. Mouths gaped.

“Patrick – you know, Patrick – the sea star from Spongebob Squarepants.”

Ooooh. Wouldn’t have guessed in a million years.

“Oh, yeah…” I said lamely. Everyone went back to work, but I felt like I’d let my antennaes show.

Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 11:03 PM  Comments (1)  

Frumgirl 1: Mourning the Death of Color by Wearing Black

Why do frumgirls only wear black?

Who are we mourning?

Sure, black is slimming and practical. It matched everything, wears well, and spans seasons.

Black also is the color-eater, absorbing the entire spectrum. It’s morbid and symbolizes death. It is it the color of funerals. It is the color that Hijabi Muslim women wear, as well as penguin-like frumguys (no, there is no intentional parallel there).

Does practicality outweigh the meaning of things?

If it were practical to use language that wasn’t pleasant, would you do so?

If it were practical, for example, to have an abortion, would you do so?

Published in: on March 13, 2008 at 11:21 AM  Comments (2)