hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 17th, 2011 07:21 am)
Well, I'm back in the States. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

JFK was full of chasidim going to the big Sukkot parties in Boro Park. Many of them have shiny black coats. Just like my dog. Maybe the dog frummed out when I wasn't looking?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 20th, 2010 05:41 pm)
logThe Soferet has moved house, from the ideal-for-young-families suburbanity of Riverdale, Bronx, NY, to the somewhat grittier New Frankfurt, otherwise known as Washington Heights, New York, NY.

I have been a Manhattan resident for two full days, and I have not yet bought a fur coat, drunk cocktails, joined a yoga studio, had an affair with my personal trainer, or acquired a tiny dog to go in my handbag. I am perhaps Doing It Wrong?
hatam_soferet: Fractal zayins (zayin)
( Sep. 26th, 2009 07:41 pm)

Sukkah-building. Ink in foreground.

The Soferet likes a bit of human interaction now and again, and so on Thursday I was working in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary here in New York.

There's a bit of the library which is set up as a beit midrash, with Talmud volumes instead of the usual academic books. It's got great big windows, and most of the time it's very quiet. (The real beit midrash is elsewhere, you see. Underground, so the light isn't as good. But with free tea. I might work there next week.)

A young woman passed by and did a double-take: quill and ink? what is that happening there? crikey, it looks like Torah... and we ended up having a nice conversation, in which she mentioned that she'd never before seen a Torah in the process of being written, and indeed had never really thought about how the Torah gets to be the way it is.

A soferet's job is like that. You work in the background, doing your job, and when it's done, all attention is on your product, the shiny new Torah, and perhaps you deliver it and interact with the community and perhaps not, but in any case afterwards you fade back out and the Torah takes over.

Personally, I don't mind this - I also enjoyed stage-managing in college - but what grabbed me particularly was that outside the lovely big windows, the JTS ground staff were building a sukkah, ready for the Sem to use next week. Next week perhaps the students will have sukkah-decorating and perhaps they won't, but the actual building of the sukkah took place, like much Torah-writing, in the background, so that next week the sukkah will be ready for use and the ground staff will have faded into the background.

So, that was a nice parallel, last Thursday. Me inside, writing Torah more or less unseen, and them outside, building a sukkah more or less unseen, setting the stage for the pageantry of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, upon which the curtains will open next week.

(Edited to add: bother, while I was working I evidently missed this pathetic protest - check out the link, the picture is fantastic! That crush barrier!)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jul. 27th, 2009 05:48 pm)
Brooklyn Bridge swiped from wikipedia[community profile] livredor and I went touristing on Sunday, to the Brooklyn Bridge. First we had EXTREME PIZZA in the East Village, and then we went over into Brooklyn (via 14th St to see the moving platforms) so as to walk back over the bridge towards Manhattan.

Weather.com had told us that there would be Isolated T-Storms (I insist upon interpreting this as "isolated tea storms," because it pleases me), and standing in the sunshine at the Brooklyn end of the bridge, we could see an Isolated Tea Storm over Manhattan.

Liv observed that it's obvious why the Dutch liked Manhattan; the sky had that curious opaque grey with funny pearly-yellow clouds look to it that you see in Dutch paintings.

lightning hitting the empire state buildingWalking over the bridge towards the storm, we saw a huge streak of lightning fizzle out of the clouds and ground itself in the lightning conductor on the American International Building. That's the Empire State Building in the picture, so it was like that except a bit further south. Anyway, the American International Building is the tallest building in Lower Manhattan, so you would sort of expect lightning to ground there, but I've never actually seen actual lightning actually sparking into an actual lightning conductor before. It was very exciting.

Mostly it wasn't raining on us, either. We were on the bridge between Brooklyn which was doing just fine and Manhattan which now had proper lowering clouds absolutely filled with sheets of lightning periodically grounding itself in any tall building that happened to be handy, watching the storm (you can see a lot of sky, from the bridge), not getting wet, and having occasional bouts of engineering lust at how pretty the bridge is.

Umbrella of Utter HappinessI had the Umbrella of Utter Happiness with me so when it started actually raining we were okay. The Umbrella of Utter Happiness is concentric fuschia and marigold stripes with radial blend, and I love it to bits. (It is from the guy with a stall at 73rd and Broadway, if you're interested.) It wasn't much use against the Total Tropical Downpour, but happily we were basically in the subway by that time.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jul. 5th, 2009 09:45 pm)
Cor, what a day; [profile] boroparkpyro was our driver, and we acquired a temporary car and drove to Vernon, CT. In Vernon, there was a shul which was closing, and getting rid of lots of stuff, books mostly. It so happens that [Unknown site tag] knows lots of people who could just happily use Stuff, so in Vernon we collected all this Stuff and conveyed it to NY, whence bits of it will go to various parts of Scandinavia.

The shul is perfectly splendid - in this glorious turn-of-the-century mansion, with glorious grounds, pretty trees, and so on. It's late and I've been on the road all day so I'm not going to post pictures, just, it was lovely. And the drive was pretty and there wasn't too much traffic and it's really fun going on road trips with linguists.

Total and utter props to [profile] boroparkpyro, hero of the hour, and B'Nai Israel, shul heroes. Yay.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 29th, 2009 03:05 pm)
Rabbinical school application essay question.*

Faith: How do you experience the Divine? What do you believe about the nature of Torah as revealed in word and deed, and how does this affect your religious action? How do you relate to the concepts of obligation (chiyuv) and choseness ('am segulah)? How do the destruction of European Jewry and the birth of Israel affect your religious landscape? What would a redeemed world look like?

Speaking as an European Jew, and one of the more favoured ones at that, I find this question deeply, deeply offensive. The phrase the destruction of European Jewry reflects accurately the popular notion among US Jews that there are no Jews to speak of, and no Judaism worth mentioning, in Europe - that Jews in Europe are merely the stuff of legend.

Of course the Shoah did ghastly things to the European Jewry which was flourishing in the 1930s. Of course European Jewry was more or less razed to the ground and all but paralysed by trauma. Of course those events are relevant in a question about faith. But the thing is, European Jewry was not destroyed.

So a major US rabbinical school here betrays its working perception of European Jewry as entirely destroyed. This is terrifically problematic: certainly there no longer exist the major centres of learning and whopping great Jewish communities for which pre-Shoah Europe is remembered, but there are still Jews, and they are not dead. All too many Jewish institutions in the USA operate on the basis that they are, and frankly it'd be jolly nice if they didn't.

A redeemed world? Could start with schools like this recognising that European Jews are real live people with real live communities, and not behaving as though we're all phantoms of nostalgia. It would do an awful lot more to foster the growth of such communities, and it would probably be good for the personal development of the American rabbinate to have to stop navel-gazing now and again. Plus of course it's just rude to go around making like we're all dead, and believe me you don't want me making woo-woo noises in your bedroom in the middle of the night.

* No, I'm not applying to rabbinical school.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 18th, 2009 10:07 pm)
Visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island today since sister is visiting. Beautiful day for it, my goodness; perfect sort of day to be out on the water.

I liked two things especially about the Statue of Liberty. One, the way the statue was made of sheets of copper shaped by hammering into a mould, and then bolted over a framework - that's just very interesting; I knew it was hollow, but not *that* hollow. The other thing I like is that her tummy sticks out further than her bosom. It is so unusual to see representations of women which look like an average woman. I can look at Liberty and think "Hey, I look like that!" and that is more inspiring than you might believe.

Ellis Island was interesting for being modern. My mental immigrant is apparently stuck in 1850; the building has mostly been restored to its 1920s look, tiling and panelling and so forth, with many photographs of people doing things which, if you look carefully, are quite obviously not set in 1850. Intellectually of course I know that immigrants weren't all coming from 1850, but I was continually being surprised by how modern everything was. Telephones and consumerism and Roaring Twenties.

(And even so, there were still a lot of deaths from infectious diseases like measles. Vaccinate your children!)*

I was surprised to learn that most people only spent a few hours there, also. It makes sense in terms of red tape - controlling illegal movement and infectious disease* - but seems awfully cumbersome to ferry thousands of people out there and back again almost right away. The building has these gigantic echoing halls, which reminded me, a first-generation immigrant myself, overwhelmingly of Customs&Immigration at JFK airport, in whose gigantic echoing halls I went through much the same sort of procedure.

What I noticed very strongly, and hadn't been expecting at all, was how white it felt. Liberty Island is covered in stuff about how coming to the USA was an escape from tyranny, oppression etc, and the statue is symbolic of hope, freedom, etc. Ellis Island is covered in stuff about how coming to the USA was a chance at a new life, a better life, free, hopeful, etc. I couldn't help thinking that there are a heck of a lot of people for whom coming to the USA was an *act* of oppression and a deprivation of liberty, hope, freedom etc. Different period, obviously, and historical context and so on; you wouldn't expect Ellis Island to be talking about anything much other than Europeans. I was just suddenly very aware of white privilege and having it, and that awareness flavoured my day.

Especially re Statue of Liberty - she is placed strategcally in the harbour such that she is the first sight of new immigrants, and as such she comes to represent hope and freedom and suchlike as per American Dream. Except that said immigrants were not a) Native American b) South American c) Black d) Asian, and I find myself wondering if Liberty's cultural significance looks different from other perspectives, or whether it's all melting-potted.

So an educational day, but not at all in the ways I had been expecting.

* gratuitous pro-vaccine plug, yes
NY Times:

Is bibliophilia a religious impulse? You can’t walk into Sotheby’s exhibition space in Manhattan right now and not sense the devotion...

...The collection’s geographical scale is matched by its temporal breadth, which extends over a millennium...These are all books written in Hebrew or using Hebrew script, many of them rare or even unique. Most come from the earliest centuries of Hebrew printing in their places of origins and thus map out a history of the flourishing of Jewish communities around the world...

...There are extraordinary items on display here, including a Hebrew Bible handwritten in England in 1189 — the only dated Hebrew text from England before King Edward I expelled the Jews in 1290.

...There is also an exquisitely preserved edition of the Babylonian Talmud (1519-23) made by the Christian printer Daniel Bomberg in Venice, an edition created with the advice of a panel of scholars that codified many aspects of how the Talmud is displayed and printed...

...There is also a 12th-century scroll of the Hebrew Pentateuch that came from the Samaritans...

It's on display at Sotheby’s, 1334 York Avenue, at 72nd Street, Manhattan, until Thursday.

They're open 9-5.30 during the week.

I've been Horribly Sick all this week and don't anticipate being especially steady on my feet tomorrow. However, I plan to be in Manhattan on Tuesday; York Ave is RIGHT over on the East side about as far as you can go, and I ought to be there by 11.45.

Who's coming?
Sefertorah.net has for sale sofer's ink. Online suppliers are rare enough, and online suppliers in the USA (cheaper shipping & no customs fees) rarer still.

Torah ink is not only good for scribes, it's also excellent for calligraphy. It is shiny and slightly raised, and can do incredibly fine detail where regular calligraphy ink spreads out and doesn't hold the shape (I guess because it doesn't sink into the paper as much). Here's a lot of stuff about how sofer's ink is different from regular calligraphy ink.

That site also has gid, the special thread you need for fixing seams. A whole ball of gid is stupidly expensive; I keep enough on hand that I can sell people a few feet for one or two seams if that's what they need.

HaSofer.com has a much wider range of supplies for sale online, but is in Israel, so shipping and customs to non-Israel addresses don't come cheap. However, if you have a friend in Israel, you can get stuff shipped to their house and they can bring it home for you - good if you can't persuade anyone to go shopping for you.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 8th, 2008 09:02 pm)
I observe that these days, you are allowed to take pointed scissors onto planes provided they have blades less than four inches in length, yet you are still not allowed sealed cans of Coke. I don't know about you, but I think pointed scissors with blades three and seven-eighths inches long are inherently somewhat more threatening than cans of Coke. "Take this plane to Cuba, or I will drink this Coke and belch mightily at you" isn't especially compelling, when you think about it.

Parenthetically, on goons... )

As ever, I would rather the Israeli approach, which credits terrorists with sharp thinking, and reasons that if your adversary is cunning, original, and determined, it is better to counter him with personnel of similar calibre and outwit him, rather than attempt to thwart him with goons who would only be able to spot a terrorist if he put a twenty-pound bomb in his luggage tray, labelled ACME BOMB and with the string fizzing. And even then, you'd have to hope the goon wasn't distracted by any cans of Coke someone might be trying to sneak through.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 3rd, 2008 06:50 pm)
Ugh, flying.

Bottles of ink, once breached, have a tiresome habit of opening themselves in transit and distributing themselves liberally, indelibly, and irretrievably, all over their surroundings. Accordingly, when I travel with breached bottles of ink, as I do frequently, I carry them in my backpack, so that I can make sure they stay upright.

I fell victim to an arbitrary search at the flight gate. The lady looked at my ink, neatly packed in the mandatory ziplock baggie. She looked at the bottle, and looked again, not finding any English words anywhere on the Hebrew label.

She didn't like this.

Even less did she like the two inkpots; they don't carry any label at all.

"You can't have these," she said, "they're not labelled."

"Where does it say liquids have to be labelled?" I asked her. "And in any case, isn't the entire point of the liquids rule the assumption that you can't believe any claims I make about the nature of these liquids?"

"This is an internal secondary-level search" she replied, as if that answered anything. "So we can take these away from you if we want to."

She called over a colleague.

"You can have one of these," he said. "You can choose which one you take on board."


"One. You can take one."

"Can I combine the contents of these three bottles and you can have this empty one?"

He pondered this for a few moments. "No. How badly do you need these?"

"I don't need them on the flight at all. I carry them in my backpack so that I can make sure they don't spill. That isn't against the rules."

"How badly do you need them? You can keep one."

I explained that ink is exceedingly expensive and I am not, in fact, willing to discard any of it unless given a significantly more compelling reason than those hitherto offered.

"It's not about how expensive it is," he interrupted.

Fine. "You asked how badly I needed it, and need is a subjective concept. My need for this ink is based on its cost. I am answering the question you asked."

"So you don't need them."

"I'm not going to use them on the flight, no. I carry them in my backpack so that I can make sure they don't spill." He unscrewed one of the lids. "Don't get that on your clothes, it won't come off." He wiped his fingers nervously. Inwardly, I smirked.

He indicated the inkwells. "These aren't labelled."

"That's correct. They're inkwells."

"We can't tell what's in them, without labels."

For goodness' sake. "You wouldn't be able to tell what was in them even if they did have labels, would you?"

It irritates me immensely that if one does not comply blindly with illogical, unwritten, and wholly arbitrarily applied regulations, one can be designated a terminal security risk and refused permission to fly. Nonetheless, at this point I was ready to take non-compliance to the next level and request to see a supervisor, but to my surprise the male one turned away shaking his head, and the female one pushed the bottles towards me, saying "OK."

I'd have stalked off disdainfully, but a dignified exit is hard to do when you've still got to put your shoes back on. I had to settle for sitting on the floor wrestling with my bootlaces disdainfully, and to tell you the truth I think some of the effect may have been lost.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got an airline meal to eat. It looks rather distressingly soggy and greasy and like mutant green goo, but the label says "spinach pasta," and apparently labels are reliable indicators of content, so obviously it must indeed be spinach pasta. I might have to spice it up with some of that ink, though. Lucky they let me bring it on board.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 1st, 2008 04:47 pm)
a) I love charity shops; loads of lovely practically-new clothes for peanuts, and the peanuts go straight to charity.

b) John Wyndham's books have been reprinted! They were issued in 1960 and 1963, and again this year. After 35 years! I love John Wyndham.

c) I had [livejournal.com profile] neonchameleon to myself for a whole afternoon :) Amongst his other sterling qualities, [livejournal.com profile] neonchameleon is one of the few people who can and does lift me two feet off the ground in a hug.

d) Starbucks in Oxford serves tea in lovely chunky mugs, if you're going to stay and drink it there obviously. That's very nice indeed. But on the other hand they close at 6.30, which is a bit of a culture shock when you're used to the Manhattan ones which are still open at bedtime. On the other hand here you can decamp to a pub and have another cup of tea there, and they're all non-smoking these days, so it's just as good really.

e) On a packed train, I claimed the seat I'd booked. This amounts to a social whoopsie on a grand scale, but I was buggered if I was going to stand all the way to Southampton on this ankle. I've never done that before, would you believe, but aside from a few dirty looks from other people it was no problem, and it was jolly nice to have a seat.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 28th, 2008 10:27 pm)
Planning to be in Oxford this weekend; have plans for Shabbat (expect there could be extra space at lunch, but basically booked), but am intending Friday lunch & early afternoon in town and Sunday afternoon noodling about (i.e. working on laptop unless anyone wants to hang out). Mobile is 07984 950678; may not have internet terribly reliably (is there any free wireless in the city centre?).
hatam_soferet: (toothpaste)
( Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:18 pm)
I fell over again! Only this time in daylight. I was - rather ambitiously - running up the road, trying to catch up with [livejournal.com profile] jillt, and carrying a weekend bag and wearing sandals with A Bit Too Much Heel. Then my ankle gave way and slipped out from under me, and I pitched forward and landed full-length on the pavement, with an ankle going OW OW OW OWWWWW. I knew it was still twingy from last week, but I didn't think it was actually weakened enough to be unreliable. How educational!

However. I was about 10 metres in front of a chap who caught up with me and started to ask if I was OK, and quickly realised I wasn't so instead started doing things like checking if it was broken. "Nurse in mufti," I thought, and indeed he was. There's a major school of nursing right up our road, see. If you're going to fall over spectacularly, doing it near a regional nursing centre is totally the way to do it.

I'd twisted my poor ankle good and properly, and I'm the kind of squeamish that really doesn't like seeing its own ankle swelling up disproportionately. So as soon as I saw how weird it looked, my head started swimming and oozing in and out, and next thing I knew there were two nurses. Luckily Nurse 2 was female and be-uniformed, so I knew I wasn't just seeing doubles. So there's me, lying on the pavement being fussed over by two nurses, and next thing I know there's a policeman leaning out of a ginormous police van asking what's up.

Right? So now I've got two nurses and a policeman, and [livejournal.com profile] jillt is merrily continuing up the road, expecting me to catch her up, unaware that I'm prioritising getting friendly with the pavement. The policeman - nice chap - cruised off up the road to fetch her; this is the first time [livejournal.com profile] jillt has been pursued by police.

Total count now: me, two nurses, a policeman, and jillt. And a huge police van. Whee!

I might've gone home for a cup of tea, next, but I had a non-amendable ticket to Cambridge and I wasn't going to forfeit that, only I'd wasted rather a lot of time falling over and being dizzy and stuff and wasn't in a state to run for any bus, so the last bit was thanking the nice nurses and getting a ride to the bus stop in the police van (I have never done this before). The people at the bus stop gave me Very Odd Looks when I lurched out and waved byebyes, haha. Then they gave me a Wide Berth and made room on the bench.

Now I'm in Cambridge, with a lot of bandage courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] pseudomonas, and walking somewhat gingerly because there's still rather more ankle than there ought to be and accordingly it can protest that bit more strongly at being walked on. Ought to be more or less okay in a few days, although Nurse 1 said it'd probably take six weeks or so to be fully better.

Anyway, Nurse 1, Nurse 2, and Mr Policeman have to a degree restored my faith in arbitrary altruism. I now know that if you choose your time and place with care, falling over and crocking your ankle doesn't have to be a solitary experience.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 17th, 2008 12:51 pm)
[livejournal.com profile] livredor and I spent Shabbat in the centre of Stockholm, borrowing a flat in the city centre for convenience's sake.

And it was really, really nice.

decadence, gospel choirs, and tube stations )

daylight and islands )

immense and startling shul )

mind-broadening )

culture, protein, opera, and celestial commentary )
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 17th, 2008 12:50 pm)
One of the great things about having a really portable job is that you can have extensive holidays whilst working at your usual rate. Thus it happens that this week I've been in Sweden, writing Torah by day and spending time with [livejournal.com profile] livredor by night.

I like Sweden very much.

Sweden and Swedish )

Sweden and Food )

Sweden and Architecture )

We had a super Shabbat, which I shall put in a separate post.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jun. 30th, 2008 08:43 am)
One day in Ireland, we went for a walk around a pretty bay. That was the day there were the ADORABLE PUPPIES, and after a nice cuppa tea (and PUPPIES) we went for a walk around the other side of the bay, which was awfully blue, all dark blue and aquamarine and light blue and greyish and other sorts of blue...

...for someone who does art and is reasonably literate, that was an appalling effort at describing a beautiful sea on a beautiful day, but I can get round that by saying it defied description...

...and we walked up a track, and the guidebook said there was a holy well at the end of it, so we thought, let's go see the holy well then.

We didn't find the holy well for some time, but we did find a LOT of sheep. There was also lots of wool all over the place, caught on things and blowing about. I seriously thought about collecting it up, so that I could send it to [livejournal.com profile] sen_ichi_rei and she could spin it, and then she'd have wool from Real Irish Sheep - but fresh wool is kinda greasy and I didn't have a plastic bag, only a daypack that also had e.g. books and stuff in it. But I thought about it. Next time I'll be better prepared.

The holy well, when we reached it, was rather disappointing - a foot-deep hole with some rocks around it. No water. My theory is that it must have been a proper holy well when some Holy Person was doing Holy Things, but he must have started going to bars and looking at girls and skipping minyan church and not being terribly Holy any more, and in response it must've dried up. But it was by a splendid beach with Great Big Rocks, which we chucked into the water with most pleasing sploshes, so that was okay.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 25th, 2008 09:50 pm)
I posted on Friday, asking readers to volunteer help for a rabbinical student beset by adverse circumstances, and I'm greatly heartened by all the people, commenters and lurkers alike, who left offers of assistance in the comment thread and who emailed me privately with same.

Thanks, y'all. You made my world a better place.

And of course it's not too late to join in :)
I know what you're thinking, I really do. You're thinking "Jen, all these posts about menschkeit are all very well, but we read this blog to hear about Torahs. Where are the Torah posts?"

I do have some Torah posts on the way, I promise. But there again, part of being a sofer is being a good person. Some people attain this by studying chassidut and mussar. I do it - partly - like this.

So, that said, here's an appeal for help. Not just to regular commenters - if you're a lurker, now would be a good time to come out of lurkdom.

I have a friend, a fine and lovely person, who is coming to LA to rabbinical school (AJU) very shortly. She is newly-married, and the US visa system being what it is, her husband is trapped behind in Europe, because while she can get a student visa, spouses of students don't get any consideration.

People in LA: this is someone who has left her husband and her homelands to come to LA. Can you extend the hand of friendship? She can't yet drive; can you extend the hand of friendship a little further, and at the same time help her feel welcome? Can you welcome her into your home, help her learn to drive, take her shopping, tell her where to find good food, check in on her when rabbinical school starts to drive her potty?

The husband is an IT type. Anyone want to offer him a job even vaguely close to LA and sponsor him through the visa process? He'll do stuff other than IT, if it means he can be near his wife.

Anyone know an immigration lawyer who could do a bit of pro bono for them?

Anyone like to donate some air miles so that they can see each other?

Anyone want to offer her some pulpit work so that she can earn some $ to e.g. manage LA without a car?

Anyone want to help her out with unwanted household goods? She'll be needing to set up house and the baggage allowance is only 80lb.

Leave your email here, or email me, and I'll put you in touch. Little mitzvah, big difference.

Shabbat shalom...
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 9th, 2008 11:33 am)
Oil's going up and the dollar's going down, and airlines are jacking up prices like there's no tomorrow (which, given the rate at which aviation consumes finite resources, there basically isn't). This means that going to England is suddenly EXPENSIVE, my goodness. Almost a thousand dollars for the cheapest flights - more than twice what I paid a month ago. I'll go for the summer, but unless prices drop significantly after the summer, there's no way I'll be able to go back for Limmud in December. I'm quite sad about this; I suppose it's the price I pay for what I have. I wouldn't be the Soferet if I hadn't come to live in America.