Monday, May 31, 2010

breaking the mold of boring business majors

Along the lines of a post last semester, there was a nice little friction going on between myself, one of bubbling personality and the rest of the class, those other suckers who are devoid of personality, spark and zest for life. The class where this played out the most, was Corporate Finance.

I'm not your average everyday girl. I would say that either you love me or you hate me. Why? Well, one of the girls in Corporate Finance said to me at the end of the semester, "you have no manners. You're never going to get anywhere in life." I pondered this. Do I have no manners? I looked up manners in the Webster's. Manners, as they define it, has to do with doing things according to the accepted customs in society. Oooops, I guess I don't have any manners.

At one point in the semester, the instructor with his keen insight, said to the class, "she speaks for all of you..." They retorted, "not me." Oh but, this is exactly the truth. See, the way in which I don't have manners is that I say things that others think but, would never dare to say. However, what this girl in class didn't seem to realize, is that I'm fully aware I'm not supposed to say the outrageous things I say.

This is who I am. I'm the class clown and I push the envelope. I'm an artist. They are not artists. I'm proud to be different. The world needs people like me to keep it from being boring. This is something my classmates in Macro understood. In Macro, I kept my classmates laughing, much to the dismay of the professor who, I suspect was a little bothered that I was making funnies as he tried and was not as successful. That, is another reason I think many fall in the "hate me" category, they wish it was their jokes.

Gender issues come young in the Orthodox world

Ok, so I had an interesting encounter yesterday. I was at someone's house and she wasn't necessarily in the room most of the time. They were mamisha frummies. For starters, I was explaining the invisible monsters  called germs that get on your hands to her four year old. He told me, "it's not in the Toy-rah, no such thing." Great... Later on when the two older boys came in from school (note to gentiles who may not be aware, the all-boys Jewish schools meet on Sundays), the four-year had a friend over, who was a girl. She asked the older boys, what they did today. They said, "learning." She said, "what did you learn?" They snickered at her and said they learned TOY-RAH. Poor girl, didn't have a clue. She probably came from a Modern Orthodox home.

These boys learn quick and young to have disdain for the fairer gender. I saw it first hand.

Guest post part 2

Like many names in the Torah, Abraham’s has a meaning that intersects with his biography and legacy. Before he was renamed Abraham, he was simply Avram – a combination of the two Hebrew words Av and Rahm.

Rahm has connotations of preeminence, loudness, prominence, primacy, assertion and height. Av is usually translated as “father” or “patriarch”. But is that the word’s root meaning?

The gemara states that there are four Avot of damages. There are similarly 39 Avot of forbidden labor on the Sabbath. Certainly neither torts nor creative labors have fathers. An av isn’t a literal “father” but a model, a prototype, an archetype – an idenity partially captured by the English-language term “progenitor”.

While there are many types of property destruction and injury, the gemara claims that each one can find its place under one of four overarching categories of damage. The scope of creative human labor is infinitely varied in its scale, goals and technique – but the gemara asserts that this grand field of endeavor (at least that part of it that’s forbidden on the Sabbath) can be subsumed underneath 39 fundamental categories of proto-labors that encompass everything else.

There are three Avot in the Torah: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They are not just forefathers or patriarchs – they are each unique archetypes of what a member of the Jewish nation can be. And of those three, Abraham is the av rahm – the preeminent prototype who molded the framework for the other avot.

What made Avraham the reigning archetype of the Jewish nation? I suggest that it ultimately came down to one critical element: his recognition that human beings aren’t supposed to be anywhere but this physical earth, and aren’t supposed to be anything other than the conflicted, mortal and physical beings that we are.

The perennial problem of ‘the religious quest’ – the human drive to figure out why we seem to experience so many things that don’t derive from the constituent elements of this world – is the unavoidable sense that is ultimately reached: perhaps this world is a mirage, or a cruel trick or sly test. Maybe it’s all a Divine experiment, a moral game and artistic mask.

Maybe the road to eternal life is to get beyond our petty and localized worries, our fears, loves and desires, and elevate ourselves into the pure and rarefied spiritual beings that we are sure (we think) constitute the “real” us…

Monday, May 17, 2010

Guest post: The roots of Torah lie in heresy. Abraham’s heresy. PART 1

The roots of Torah lie in heresy. Abraham’s heresy.

While the Torah’s text leaves Abraham’s origins teasingly encrypted, Chazal (the Masters of the Talmudic era) tell us more about where he came from, where he was trying to go and how he became the Progenitor of monotheism, the “Father of the International Community” – the originator of the concept of an “international community” itself (Genesis 17:4-5).

Maimonides (Rambam) summarizes parts of this history in his narrative of Abraham’s journey:

“[By Abraham’s time] there was nobody, aside from some misfits, who recognized or acknowledged the Weaver of the universe…. until the very pillar of the world itself, Abraham – our father – was born.

“By the time he was weaned, his mind was starting to wander and think nonstop… But he had no teachers or mentors in any subject. Just the opposite: he was trapped in Chaldean Ur along with all of the other ignorant idolaters.

“His father, his mother, and the entire society, were idol-worshippers – and Abraham worshipped right along with them! But: his heart still wandered, and he was still growing in understanding… and when he was 40 years old, Abraham recognized his Creator.

“Once he recognized [Him] and knew, he started publishing dissents and provoking arguments with the Chaldeans, and telling them that “The highway you’re walking is no road to truth!” And then he vandalized their idols. But he made them understand; that it’s simply not right to worship anything except the Lord of the Universe…”

(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idol Worship / Hilchos Avoda Zara, Chapter 1)

We have here neither a religious crusader nor a faithful devotee, but a social misfit – a man whose brain hasn’t given him an hour of rest since he learned to speak (“the time he was weaned…”). A boy and then a teenager who walked along through the milestones and expectations of his society, going to school, football games and temple, attending Chaldea University, building a career… but knowing that for some maddening reason he never fit in – because he perceived… something that he could neither ignore nor identify.

His society’s explanatory matrix couldn’t explain him. So his heart kept wandering…

Abraham moves from being a quiet thinker to a social misfit to a subversive dissident. The Midrash relates that Avraham was arrested and dragged to the presidential palace of Nimrod, ruler of Babylon. In a last ditch effort to make Avraham see reason, Nimrod implores Avraham to recant his destabilizing anti-religious crusade. In a move that foreshadows the future, Avraham declines and is tossed by government agents into an industrial furnace. By a miracle, he survives and leaves.

Lame bonfire

I drew this like 25 years ago-maybe 20 or somewhere in between.

You can bearly see it

You can barely see it. This is a teddy bear I drew like 20 or 25 years ago.....

Friday, May 14, 2010

No Child Left Behind Leaves Students Behind

As you all know, I go to Brooklyn College. I’ve posted here some of the arrogant statements from “Rate My Professor dot com” made by various students. There is a prevalent attitude that by students that they want an “A” in every single course and they want it without working very hard. They seem to figure that everyone should pass every class, it’s their right. Furthermore, if you put in effort, you should get an “A” in the class.

Now, my Atheist Nepali from a Buddhist family study partner said to me, “I’m sorry but, Americans are dumb.” I had to explain to him that it was the NYC Public School system. Recently, in my hardest class, the professor mentioned that he has in mind a certain number of A’s and a certain number of B’s that he expects to give out. Well, I agree that it would be odd for a large percentage of the class to deserve good grades. Although, I don’t agree that the professor makes the cutoff between an “A” and “A-“ 95.5%. I think 93% would be more fair of a cutoff. Most professors use 90% (and not give A-s) or they use 92 or 93%. Well, the “A” ship has sailed for me in that class anyway as I got an 88 (B+) on both exams so far. I’m just hoping I do well enough on the final to pull the overall average up to an A- range.

The thing is, is that when I apply to CUNY grad schools, they are going to expect a really high GPA because they will probably know that a really LARGE percentage of Brooklyn College makes the Dean’s list every semester. So, if my GPA is say, only 3.5, they will be thinking I can’t do the work. They won’t be understanding that I got unlucky and I seemed to always get the hardest professors for every class. This Macro professor even admits that he’s the hardest Macro professor. I also got a hard professor for Corporate Finance. Sure, these are hard courses, but, I managed to get the hardest professors for them.

Now, in another class, I have a presentation on Sunday about New Media and Marketing Research. It’s supposed to be ten minutes PER person where we work with a partner. My partner sent me THREE minutes, ok, maybe it would be more with the things she might say that aren’t on the slides. What she sent me contains obvious grammatical errors, is poorly put together and it doesn’t contain congruency with what I’m working on. Incidentally, I was REALLY clear about what I was doing and what she should do. I gave her the easy parts: Intro, the easiest subtopic and conclusion. I told her HOW to write an intro-define Marketing Research and New media in your own words. Then tie them together. At that point, we lead into examples that are the subtopics we’ll be covering. She defined “Marketing Research Surveys.” This is a subtopic of “Marketing Research” itself and my subtopics don’t fall under this. I sent her a text pointing out that this was a third of her grade. She texted me back that she didn’t care. I asked her if she was planning on adding more. I didn’t get a response. She hasn’t met with me once. She agreed to meet with me and then sent me a text that we would coordinate by phone and Email instead. Ok, that iiiiiiiiiiis possible. However she hasn’t really attempted that.

Incidentally, presentations started last Sunday. One whole pair didn’t even show up. Another pair, one half didn’t show. I feel bad for the guy, he begged the professor to do it next week when his partner would be here, but, he had to go anyway. He actually had a decent presentation. I thought his presentation was better than the two girls who went before him. One girl read off the screen for like 2 or 3 minutes. The other played a video of the transition of her company’s logo instead of talking about how new media was really effecting the industry.

Seriously, I hope that the professor gives a 0 for that third of the grade to the ones who didn’t even show up. If you don’t show up to a job, you get fired. Students should know that there are consequences to irresponsibility. This class is actually an easy class. There are no exams, so you don’t have to take notes (though, I have been doing so) just show up to class, write a paper for the midterm and this 10 minute presentation. The nice thing is that you’re given the leeway to really pick what you want to delve into further study of for your presentation.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Judaism and the Almighty Skirt

I’ve thought about this topic a bit and I’ve been wanting to blog about it for a while. It’s a touchy and sensitive topic, too. As my Orthodox Jewish readers are surely aware, and many Jews not Orthodox and non-Jews are aware, the skirt is a hot topic of the question to be or not to be tznius.

In most Orthodox circles, the official tznius dress code is one that includes a skirt which covers the knees. Another accepted item in the dress code is that the elbows need to be covered. This is accomplished by wearing a “shell” or fancy undershirt under the t-shirt. Ok, it sounds easy enough, right?

Well, why, then, do I see women with their elbows covered but they wear short skirts? Even better, I often see married women with their hair carefully covered, their shell covering their elbows, then they wear a really short skirt-ok maybe just short by Orthodox standards.

As a convert, I can’t even tell you how many women, who tell me I need to know what tznius is and that tznius is more than just how I dress. Meanwhile, some of these women aren’t dressed so modestly. I know one shadchan was telling me an example was that she wouldn’t call a guy hot, because the word “hot” is not modest. Meanwhile her skirt was above the knees.

I probed for some input on my Facebook page. The most intuitive comment was that it’s halacha for women to cover their knees, but, minchag trumps halacha, and the minhag is for skirts above the knee. Now, I pledged that I would uphold **ALL** minhagim. So, perhaps this is what I should tell someone the next time I’m nagged that my knee length skirt is too short is that I’m just following the minhag and apologize that my skirt is a little on the long side.

Of course, they will just decide that I’m not Jewish anymore. Whereas, with the FFB who shows half her thigh, they wouldn’t dare for fear she would fall off the derech. Actually, I could write a whole ‘nother post on just THAT topic alone.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Very Good Reason for rules of Lashon Hara…

Something that I find particularly annoying is the stupidity of others. I’ve noticed that I will be talking to a friend or acquaintance of mine and I will say something like, “I bet….” blah blah blah blah…. Or, “I wonder….” Some people, usually less intelligent types, will turn around and ask, “how do you know that?” Then I have to tell them, “I didn’t say that. I said, ‘I *bet*.’”
Now, here’s the thing, if you’re not really listening to your friend, then don’t freaking listen. Don’t half listen and then keep half listening over and over again as a person starts to raise their voice at you.

Really this hasn’t happened too much to me, as I don’t feel like I can tell anyone anything because people are stupid and I don’t really have anyone that I would call a true blue friend. Also, I don’t try to actually have conversations with people in public anymore. I thought it was bad when I lived in Buffalo. Here in NYC, you say something to the person next to you on the subway or whatever and usually you are met with a blank stare as you realize, “I don’t think she speaks English. I should know better by now. I’ve lived here since June 8, 2004.”

**note that most of this is from my memories. I don't like to make "I bet" and "I wonder" statements as I'm quite afraid they will turn into LH,