Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Who Fed Me Happy Pills?

I have no real reason to be in such a good mood. At one point, I even caught myself singing "I Feel Pretty" in the office bathroom.

Normally such euphoria is guy-induced, yet there is no guy to produce said euphoria. In fact, my love life is entirely without prospect at the moment. Last night, my darling friend Susan tried to come up with people to set me up with. The answer: dead silence. So I'm not feeling pretty because someone else is making me feel pretty (not even going to try thinking about the last time a guy made me feel pretty...). This is self-induced euphoria.

Life rocks. And no, I'm not on drugs. I don't think.

Spring Cleaning

It's absolutely gorgeous outside today. I carried my coat with me this morning, and I only brought it because the forecast is predicting thunderstorms, and I'm wearing a white shirt.

It's definately time for spring cleaning. This weekend, I'm going to go through my closet and weed out clothes that I either don't wear now, or won't bring to Israel. And while I'm at it, I'm going to jettison some baggage.

I'm in such a good mood, even stupid people can't bother me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Wisdom of the Cookie

"Love truth, but pardon error." -- the fortune inside the cookie I ate after lunch.

I actually had already arrived at this pearl of wisdom on my own. What I need right now is a nice little phrase to help me pardon my own errors and, more frequently, my own stupidity. I guess I should go eat more cookies. The cookie doesn't lie.

On Being Shomer Negiah

Wow. I'm pretty much speechless.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Oh boy, Purim!

That's when I'm a Viking!!
(Turns out I don't look half bad as a blonde...)

UPDATE: So far, the highlight of the Great Blonde Experiment has to be walking into the all-staff meeting at 9:00am dressed in full Viking costume. The Associate V.P. of my department helped take pictures, with orders that they are to be put up in the staff kitchen.

Surprisingly enough, more than one person asked me last night if the golden blonde curls were natural. One person was probably hitting on me. Another was probably drunk. I mean, the synthetic wig looks good, but not that good. Of the people who know me, and know that I'm naturally as far from blonde as can be, several did not recognize me. This, of course, was the entire point. I also got some very earnest feedback from relatively sober people that I should consider dyeing my hair blonde. This idea will be sent to the Ministry of Regrettable Decisions for further deliberation.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Purim: The Shul E-Bulletin

From my inbox, slightly modified to maintain some pretense of anonymity...

Welcome to Purim Bulletin (Version 2.1) at ASBI

Candle Lighting: 5:47 P.M. Exactly.

And we mean precisely, thusly 18 minutes before shkiah, according to the cresting of the sun's arc at horizon, times pi, divided by the speed of light and distance to the sun, minus the atmospheric interference ratio and quantum ray interaction, divided by the square root of the Longitudinal Separation Analysis Theorem Postulate. Unless of course, you add 13.3 minutes if you follow the School of Moishy ibn Mooshu of Zechuan and are of Cantonese descent, or 26.2 minutes if you adhere to Gittel the Scion of Marathon and are of Ethiopian descent. Please confer with your Halachic authority and lineal custom. You know what? Better jump on the 156 bus right after you finish that memo; you might as well just forget about getting that report from Cliff in accounting until Monday.

1. Schedule for Shabbat
It's every week.

2. Daily Services
Yes, we have those too. What, you need an invitation? They're at rather inconvenient times and nobody wants to trudge through the snow, but sometimes the Minyanaires take vacations or get sick or want to sleep in, so come on over!

3. Readings for Shabbat
Stop looking for engagements of people you might know in the Skokie/ West Rogers Park bulletins and follow along in the Stone, Kaplan, and/or Hertz Chumash. Yes, I know those Zionist/settler and kosher/vegan rantings and apartment listings from the Free Speech Table are "readings," but you know what we mean here.

4. Announcements
I found a great tailor who makes me look ten pounds thinner. Just thought I 'd announce that, if anybody's interested. Oh, and I expect a promotion at work, but I guess I shouldn't announce that yet. (Unless you can throw in a good word for me to cinch it. Thanks.)

5. Members of ASBI: Do you know your Bar Mitzvah parsha, or part of it?
Do you know if Aunt Sadie made it in time for the whole ceremony or just in time for the "grape juice" that she loves so much? Do you remember what you wore? Did you beg your parents to wear a plaid flannel shirt and Tevas- "grunge style?" Did Grampa Izzy come through with an Israeli Bond or just the usual $5? ("Don't spend it all in one place," he would always kibbitz- ha, ha).

6. Kiddush (Club) News
In recent Kiddush Club elections, Scotch beat Bourbon 17 to 12. It seems that the aged single malt Highlands swayed the electorate, despite the long-standing popularity of Kentucky and Tennessee delegates to the convention. In other Kiddush Club news, well, actually, that's about it. Stay tuned for Kiddush Club weather and traffic.

7. Dates to Remember
That one time, when we went down to the beach with Shlivovitz to celebrate the end of finals. Whoo weee! And we should remember Flag Day- nobody takes that one seriously anymore, dang it! Where's the patriotism?

8. Shul Do's and Don'ts
Do arrive early and hold the door for the next person. Don't wipe your nose on your sleeve. Don't slouch. Do pay your shul dues. Don't forget to pay your shul dues. Do try to increase your shul dues. Don't try parasailing after a creamed herring and gefilte fish brunch. (I know that's not a Shul instruction, but just trust me on this one). Do pretend that you're not checking out the action on the other side of the mechitza. Do not look like you're pretending to look like you're not checking out the action on the other side of the mechitza.

9. ASBI for Kids
Doesn't sound like a fair trade to me.

10 Tot Shabbat
I can't help but think about taters, but man, those little guys can really bop!

11. ASBI for teenagers
I think we need to collect some serious dues from them before we just start letting in those baggy-drawer-wearing, hippity-hoppity, scruffy, ne-er do wells. And have you seen the crazy way they wear their hair? Why, when I was their age, I had to walk uphill both ways for everything! And don't get me started on that crazy stuff they call music! I tell you Martha, these whippersnappers can't appreciate anything. In my day, we had real bands you could listen to like, um, Pearl Jam. And I had to drive a DOMESTIC car to school without one of them fancy-pants remote openers; nope, just plain old fashioned electric windows without rain sensors or anything.

12. Please Remember: ASBI is a free peanut zone.
Well, not exactly free, but highly discounted! How do we do it? Volume!

13. Kosher alert
The Laredo, Texas "CIRCLE K" RANCH's bacon-wrapped, ham kabob pork cutlets are NOT kosher. Also, Bangor, Maine's famous "OU" FISHERIES' scallop-encrusted, obster patties (in extra heavy snail sauce) are NOT kosher. We regret any confusion in the community.

14. Eruv announcement
The Eruv is STILL up. Yasher koach to the Trainer who trains people to train people to train people to train people to inspect the eruv. If you'd like to be part of this elite crew, or the elite crew that trains the elite crew to train people to inspect, then please contact someone.

15. Nut-free zone
The new nut-free policy means Shmuel Sackett will not be invited back.

16. Building update
This is not a joke: if you check out the side door, you will see that the board of directors has seen fit to install a urinal in what used to be the coat closet. (Please insert your own joke here.) Also, due to budget constraints, the shul has attached a pushka to the defibrilator.

17. Movie night
Please join the rabbi and rebbetzin for Movie Night next Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. as they screen the following videos (EDITED FOR OUR COMMUNITY): G-dzilla; Oh G-d!; Bruce A-mighty; and of course, Tora! Tora! Tora!

18. No joke: "The Jews had light and gladness, joy and Honor" -Megillah (8:15).

Purim: The Cure for Meh

As much as I was enjoying the past few days of meh, the meh could not hold up against the riding tide of festive cheer. Who can be meh when there are hamentashen to bake and shalach manos to pack? Not I, said the blog.

It's also hard to stay angry for several days running. It eventually just subsides into resignation, slightly tinged with bitterness. Purim temporarily cures this as well. Who can be resigned and bitter when putting the finishing touches on all things Purim? Not I, said the blog.

A chag Purim sameach to you all. May your hamentashen be tasty, your graggers noisy, and your glasses never empty. Veitur!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

March Meh-ness

Earlier today, I was thinking that the month of March, in general, has not been very good to me. It occured to me that my recollections of last March weren't so great either. I decided to conduct a scientrific experiment, and go back in time, through the nice little blog archives in the sidebar to your left. Searching through the posts, I was unable to identify the reason why I remembered last March being as meh as this March.

Then I found it. Almost exactly one year ago, I was feeling meh for a very, very similar reason.

Perhaps the new Anti-Doormat Initiative will prevent me from going through the same bullshit next year.

From the Foreign News Desk

Cara's World Foreign Correspondent Arliss reports.

It seems that public transportation etiquette is just as lacking across the Atlantic as it is here on the homefront.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Cara’s World Press Release

After lengthy deliberations, the Cara’s World Ministry of Domestic Affairs is instituting the new Anti-Doormat Initiative. This initiative makes use of a revolutionary word, to be incorporated into various policies and official statements. This word is “No.” Examples of word usage may include:

“No, I’m sorry.”
“No, that is not okay.”
“No, I do not forgive you.”
“No, I cannot do that for you.”
"No, I do not agree."

This initiative is designed to improve communication between Cara’s World representatives and representatives of other worlds, and will be enacted immediately.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Weekend Report

Apparently it really is spring now, because my social hibernation seems to have ended this weekend.

Shabbos was spent primarily in the company of a guy I'd met in the Old City, when I was on my vacation in August. He's been in the States for the past couple of months, came to visit friends in Chicago, and magically appeared at my shul. I didn't get my normal shluffy, but I did have a very nice walk along the lakefront.

Motzei shabbos was spent in the company of Sam, some of his friends, and some Maker's Mark (well, I was drinking bourbon. Sam's more of a vodka person). I haven't gone out and stayed out that late in a very long time. This must change.

Sunday started a bit too early for my taste, particularly since I was running on a little sleep and a little hangover. But I was up and showered and pretty and ready for Emily's bridal shower, which I was co-hosting with her mother. Everything went smoothly, and a good time was had by all. Then Em and I drove out to the strip mall wasteland known as the suburbs, and met with the people doing the music at the wedding. Forty-five minutes later, we drove back to civilization, she dropped me off at home, and I went right back out again to have dinner with Sam.

And now I'm home. Time to bake hamentaschen with my mother.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Diary of a Young Girl

Last night, while I was going through some old things, looking for a few financial documents, I came across what may be the funniest book that I have ever read…the diary that I kept when I was 15-16. I mostly wrote in it over the summer, while I was enjoying summer camp.

I didn’t remember being quite that obsessed with boys. I mean, I liked boys. I still like boys. But I think that a good 70% of this diary focused on whichever guy I had a crush on at the moment, agonized over his lack of interest in me, and speculated on who he liked instead of me. The remaining 30% either covered my “deep” thoughts about life, self-analysis, or a running account of who was doing what with whom.

Excerpts (paraphrased):
“Who decided that being prissy is feminine? Probably some guy.”
“Ben started dating Sarah yesterday, but broke up with her tonight. He likes Lorna now, and will ask her out tomorrow. Lorna will probably say yes, even though she really doesn’t care one way or the other.”
“Gabi says that in 10 years, when guys are done whoring, I’m going to be the kind of girl that they’ll want to date.”

Not much has really changed, has it?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Moose Sighting

Here's a major shout-out to my Moose. No one makes me laugh like you do. And of all my friends living far away, who I haven't seen in a while, you are the only one who understands that even someone like me needs to hear those three special words every now and then.

I miss you, too.

Week in Review

I think we can safely say that this week sucked. I went straight from processing my weekend in Pittsburgh to processing my rejection from Dorot.

On the positive side, I'm booking another trip to Pittsburgh, and will therefore see Liz again in about 3 weeks. And I've already crafted a few new ideas (with the help of Becky, and the shlicha, and the Internet) for getting myself to Israel.

On the even more positive side, I'm a little overwhelmed by all the love and support that my friends and family have given me during the past week. Especially since my usual tendency when I'm unhappy is to not talk to anyone and keep my thoughts and feelings to myself. So thanks to those of you who didn't let me do that, and who called me, hugged me and fed me ice cream. Particularly my parental units, Big Brother/Allie, Joe/Gila, Becky, Allan and Susan.

I'm no longer feeling sad and meh. I'm focused on what lies ahead, and have already put this whole fellowship thing behind me. I don't like feeling depressed, so I decided to get over it. I guess it's one of the advantages of having a strong mind.


A Request

My very good friend Tabitha (aka TabiKat), who was with me in Pittsburgh this past weekend, is participating in an event called Relay for Life this coming weekend. The following is taken from the letter she sent out to her friends and family. I'm posting this because I could not possibly say it better in my own words.

Some of you know Liz Schmerling already. She went to Washington University with me and was a good friend during my four years. She's one of those incredibly organized & smart people who not only has her life under control, but is happy to help you conquer whatever is challenging you. She's also my most dignified and graceful friend, the kind you expect might one day host dinner parties for celebrated dignitaries but unwittingly steal the show from such guests with her own beauty, posture, and charm. While the rest of us were eating mac and cheese out of a plastic cup, Liz was inviting us over for three-course Shabbat dinners complete with china, placemats, and a specially mixed CD of background music. Before countless formal dances, Liz came to my (and other girls') cosmetic rescue, turning my ponytail into a beautiful work of art with her "extra" supply of bobby pins, baby's breath, and rhinestones.

Liz never did these with the slightest air of vanity or pretentiousness, but rather as a humble gift to the rest of us. She enjoyed spoiling her friends, showing us that we deserved the nicest things. She went out of her way to always have "extra" so that no one would be left out. I believe she gets it from her parents.

When Paco, Cara, and I visited Liz this last weekend, we got to know her parents. I saw in them all the things I most love about Liz. The way they care for everyone around them, the way they protect the dignity of those they love, the way they make their guests truly feel at home in their house. I remembered a time when Liz's mother took a group of Liz's friends out for dinner to celebrate Liz's birthday. It was an expensive meal, so at first a small group had been invited. But as Liz's mother met more of Liz's friends, she just kept inviting more of us, not willing to leave anyone out.

The memories go on and on, but what matters now is the present. Liz is fighting a vicious form of brain cancer, and I am very afraid for her. This time last year, I was hopeful as the chemo and radiation seemed to be killing the last bits of tumor that surgeons could not remove. In October, Liz finished her treatment and was given a clean bill of health. I assumed the danger had passed. Unfortunately, the cancer returned almost immediately, this time growing faster and spreading further into her brain. Surgery is no longer possible, and the chemo and radiation treatments have not slowed the cancer's growth.

I knew things were bad for Liz. I had heard it in her voice over the last few months. She was still as cheery and optimistic as ever, but something had changed. It began with occasional trouble coming up with the right word to use, but in recent weeks, things had gotten worse. So Cara, Paco, and I flew from Chicago, New York, and St. Louis to spend some time with Liz between rounds of chemo. Liz's parents called me the week before our trip to get our flight information and give us an update. She wanted us to be prepared. After that conversation, I felt like I was preparing to head into a battle, unsure of what I might find there, scared I wouldn't have the courage to be the friend I wanted to be.

What I found was both shocking and inspiring. Despite her hair loss, bloated face (as a result of steroid treatments), and near-complete paralysis of the right side of her body, Liz is still beautiful, graceful, and poised. Despite her inability to construct complete sentences, Liz is still intelligent, thoughtful, and engaged. But for the first time, Liz was not able to entertain her guests with fancy meals, fine wine, and provocative discussion. For the first time, Liz could not take care of herself, and she could not take care of me.

I so badly want this to be the moment where I say, "For once, I was able to take care of her." But that's not what happened.

I felt so powerless to help her. For the most part, I still do. Cara, Paco, and I spent a good deal of time bemoaning this fact. And once we realized that we can't cure her cancer, we took a step back and asked ourselves, what can we do?

We can help her maintain her dignity. We can honor her courageous fight. We can send notes and packages to brighten her days in small but important ways. We can pray. We can be advocates for health policies that reduce the risk of cancer. The list goes on.

Relay for Life is this weekend in St Louis, raising funds for the American Cancer Society. Obviously many of us can't be there with Tabitha. So she, and now I as well, are asking those who love us and love Liz to send in donations to the American Cancer Society in Liz's honor. We know that sending donations to the ACS will not save Liz. But they may very well help save someone else. And I cannot think of a better way to honor a girl who lives her life trying to help others.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Back to the Drawing Board

I guess the fellowship people didn't like me very much. So we can scratch that off the very short list of "What Cara Will Do In Israel".

This leaves us with:
* WUJS Peace and Social Justice program
* Prostitution
* ?????

Anyone have ideas? Or does anyone else want to kick me while I'm down?

My Thoughts Exactly

"Anyone who does not believe in miracles is not a realist."
-- David Ben-Gurion

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Beware the Ides of March

Be not deceived: if I have veil'd my look,
I turn the trouble of my countenance
Merely upon myself. Vexed I am
Of late with passions of some difference,
Conceptions only proper to myself,
Which give some soil perhaps to my behaviors;
But let not therefore my good friends be grieved--
Among which number, Cassius, be you one--
Nor construe any further my neglect,
Than that poor Brutus, with himself at war,
Forgets the shows of love to other men.

Then, Brutus, I have much mistook your passion;
By means whereof this breast of mine hath buried
Thoughts of great value, worthy cogitations.
Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?

No, Cassius; for the eye sees not itself,
But by reflection, by some other things.

(Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Someone Stole My Thesis

I wrote my honors thesis on the role of insitutions in post-Communist democracy, focusing on Poland and Bulgaria. I pretty much said that the existence of institutions like the church and grass-roots political groups enabled Poland to quickly establish a democratic process, whereas the lack of said institutions prevented Bulgaria from enjoying the same democratic success. When I was doing my preliminary research, I also considered writing about Hungary or the Czech Republic in place of Poland.

In his op-ed on democracy and economy in the Middle East, Thomas Friedman of the NY Times wrote:

"Countries like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, which had a history of liberal institutions and free markets that had been suppressed by communism, quickly flourished. Others farther east, which did not have such institutions in their past and were starting from scratch - Bulgaria, Romania and the former Soviet republics - have struggled since the fall of the wall."

I think he's been doing his research in the archives of the Political Science department at Washington University.

Honey, I'm Home

How much did you miss me?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Travel Advisory

Tomorrow morning, TabiKat, Paco Taco and CaraBear descend on Pittsburgh. Finally! The wait is over.

I may post. I may not. Though I will probably bring my laptop so that I can watch DVDs on the plane.

Shabbat shalom!

Empty Seat Etiquette

Since this seems to be the week of public transportation posts, I am going to enlighten all of you as to a few rules of proper behavior when you find yourself near an empty seat on a public transportation vehicle. These rules are applicable to both buses and trains.

I have seen both these rules broken during the past week. Here is a little background: I take one bus to work. It’s practically door-to-door service for me, traveling directly from the congested residential neighborhood in which I live to the congested business district in which I work. As a result, the bus is usually very crowded. People are standing in aisles, jammed up against doors and hanging from ceilings (or would, if they were monkeys). Therefore, when someone vacates a seat, that seat is a very hot commodity. The standing passengers watch the seated passengers like vultures, waiting for some sign that the seated one is soon going to get off the bus. The moment someone shifts, puts away their book or newspaper, or reaches for the “stop requested” pull-thingy, the vultures start moving in. Therefore, the following behaviors are completely unacceptable. Particularly before 8:30am, when I haven’t had any coffee:

1) Blocking the empty seat. If you don’t want it, step aside! Shift a bit in either direction, indicating that you are passing up your claim to throne. No one actually expects you to look around, make eye contact with a stranger, and offer them the seat (though it would be nice if you did. Particularly if you are a large male, and there is a small female in high heels next to you). It is well known that people don’t like talking to strangers. So don’t make them talk to you, by asking you if you’re going to take that seat. And if you’re not sitting because you’re getting off at the next stop, remember this: letting someone else sit means there’s one less person standing between you and the exit.

2) Shielding the window seat. This is a different variety of seat-blocking offense. Here in the Windy City, seats often tend to be two-by-two. So if you sit down in the aisle seat, and the window seat next to you is empty, no one else can get to it. So just scootch yourself over into that window seat, and let someone else take the aisle seat. Now, there are reasonable exceptions to this rule: this morning, a very large woman shielded the window seat. Logically, scootching into the window seat would have been physically uncomfortable for her. But people with no scootching limitations have no such excuse. So scootch!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Man Was Listening

This is an update to Monday night's bus fiasco.

When I finally got home, I sent a letter of complaint to the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the bus company. We all know that nothing ever happens when you write letters of complaint. Unless you send them to Starbucks. But I didn't think that I'd get any free coffee coupons by sending in this particular letter.

So imagine my surprise when I got home last night (a.k.a. Tuesday night), and had a message on my machine from the super-intendent of the Northern IL district of the bus company. I returned the call, leaving a message of my own. Today, at work, the assistant super-intendant called me back.

Turns out the bus company takes complaints very seriously. They've already scolded the bus driver (who, of course, denies the whole thing), and will continue to monitor his service performance. The assistant super gave me his direct phone line, in case I should ever have a problem with any of the buses ever again.

That's some serious customer service. If only I didn't feel guilty about getting the bus driver in trouble...

Happy Happy! Joy Joy! #16

Mazel tov to my boy Allan for getting into NYU's business school. Unfortunately, I don't think he's quite realized yet that moving to NY means dealing with NY winters, which are far worse than the St Louis winters he endured during college and a complete nightmare compared to the Miami winters he's been enjoying since then.

Purim Preparations

I went costume shopping last night, and made a few choice purchases. Originally, I had planned on dressing up as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but this idea presented a few problems: How to dress identifiably as Buffy while 1) remaining tznius, 2) not wearing a cross, and 3) not carrying around a stake all night.

So I scrapped the Buffy idea. While I do not want to ruin the surprise by telling you what the costume is going to be, I will reveal the following:
1) I am not dressing up as a platypus
2) I've already had to promise a few friends (none of whom will see me on Purim) to send pictures. Apparently, it's that funny.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

I'm waiting for it to officially be "mid-March", so that I can finally find out whether or not the good people at Dorot liked my application enough to want to meet me in person.

I'm waiting for it to be Friday, so that I can finally be in Pittsburgh, with Liz (and TabiKat and Paco).

I'm waiting for it to be closer to 5:00pm, so that I can finally go home.

My thumbs are tired of twiddling.

Monday Night is Still Monday

Yesterday wasn't exactly what one would call a "happy" day in Cara's World, for reasons already blogged. When the time came for me to leave work, I really just wanted to go home, change into warm, fuzzy pajamas, curl up with my warm, fuzzy kitty cats, and pretend the outside world didn't exist. Unfortunately, I couldn't do that. I had a meeting to go to, which I couldn't skip, since I had the meeting agendas and was expected to lead this meeting.

So, being the little trooper that I am, I got myself onto the train at the right time, and got off to wait for the one bus that would take me to where I was going. By this time, it had gotten very cold and had started to snow. The bus didn't seem to be coming. I went back inside the train station and asked the guy inside the little booth if that particular bus still stopped there. "Yep," he replied cheerfully. "Should be here in a few minutes. Be sure to flag it down."

I went back outside into the cold and wet and, sure enough, in a few minutes I see the bus. I started flagging the bus. I was probably pretty visible, wearing a bright purple hat and bright red mittens. The bus didn't stop. I flagged with extra vigor. The bus driver turned his head and looked right at me as he went sailing by.

I chased the bus. For a full city block, in 4-inch heels. I almost caught it, too. The bus was stopped at a red light. When I was almost close enough to touch the bus, the light changed. And the bus driver hit the gas and drove on once again.

I called the transit authority, and was told that my only way to get to my meeting was to wait in the cold and wet for another 45 minutes for the next bus. If I hadn't been required to go to that meeting, I would have gotten right back on the train, gone home, and cried. I was cold, wet, miserable and angry at the anonymous bus driver. Instead, after making a few phone calls, I stood on a corner in the cold and wet (by this time, my hair is covered with so much snow that I probably resembled a Christmas tree), and waited for a taxi.

After about 10 minutes, a taxi saw me, but didn't have a change to stop. So he, too, looked at me and went sailing by. I felt like crying. Unbeknownst to me, however, this taxi driver felt sorry for the woman standing in the cold and wet, and circled around two blocks to come back and pick me up. When he realized that he was going in the opposite direction from my destination, he circled those two blocks again. Without turning on the meter until he was going in the right direction, on the right street. And when he dropped me off, he gave me his phone number, told me to call him if I didn't have a way to get home from the meeting, and promised to come get me.

Yesterday was still a miserable day. But the simple friendliness and courtesy of Neil the Taxi Driver made it possible for me both to get to and get through my meeting.

Thanks, Neil. Wherever you are.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Truth is in the Details

"We don't want to be around ten years from now saying we want peace for our children...We want peace for ourselves," said King Abdullah of Jordan, according to More importanly, they also noted that the king was "dressed in a dapper dark gray suit."

Clearly this is important for the Jewish world to know. Because if he were wearing blue pinstripes, we wouldn't be able to trust him.

Chasing the Sunshine

Ever notice how one piece of bad news can completely overshadow an otherwise great period of time?

In the week or so since my last post, I was busy and happy. Work was going well, and I was being productive. I even went down to the state capital to do some lobbying. Every day brought something new and interesting.

Then it was shabbos, and I just relaxed and spent quality time with family and friends.

Sunday was beautiful. Over 50’s degrees and sunny, which was a most welcome change from the cold and yuck that we’d had here last week. I spent most of my day outside, roaming around my neighborhood, enjoying the pretty weather. Later, I met up with my buddy Jake, and continued to roam around. I headed home only to change clothes before going out for dinner with my family, to celebrate my parental units’ upcoming 32nd wedding anniversary. Everything was cheerful and happy in Cara’s World.

And then the phone rang. My sweet and beautiful friend Liz, who I will be visiting this coming weekend, isn’t doing as well as we’d hoped. The tumor is spreading and growing, despite the ongoing chemo.

It seems rather appropriate that today is chilly and cloudy, because that’s exactly how I feel. Ironically, there was a moment yesterday when I was very much aware of how happy I was, and how wonderful my life seemed. Now I’m struggling to recall that feeling and fighting to overcome my very natural, and overwhelming, fears and worries.

(Management Update: This has apparently manifested itself in an unpredictable and difficult mood. The Management would like to publicly thank Arliss and send him many electronic hugs for putting up with me and making me laugh.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof, part II

I first heard this story in college, and it is one of my favorites. And yet, I don’t know that I’d ever really devoted serious thought to the idea of justice. It’s an important concept in Judaism, but I wonder now if, by growing up in America, I have taken justice for granted. I’m not sure I will be able to take it for granted again.

Weeks ago, I received a notice that I was summoned for federal jury duty. Last Wednesday, I arrived at the courthouse, assuming that I would not be selected for a jury, and would soon resume my normal day-to-day activities. And yet, as the judge was explaining the bare bones of the case to the entire pool of jurors, I knew that I would be selected. Something inside me said, “This is your case. You will be on this jury.” That something inside was right. I was one of the 12 jurors chosen to hear this particular case. Ultimately, I ended up as the foreperson of the jury. The trial was short- only a day and a half before the jury was sent off to deliberate. Anyone interested in the facts of the case is welcome to ask. For now, let me just say that it was a criminal case, and that we found the defendant guilty as charged. The details of the case aren’t really what matter at the moment.

There are concepts in the American justice system that we’re all familiar with, like “innocent until proven guilty”. Putting those concepts into action is far more difficult that I would ever have imagined. Yet, after serving on this jury, I understand just how crucial a concept it really is. The defendant did not have to “prove” his own innocence. He didn’t have to tell us whodunit or offer any explanation. More importantly, as the government presented its evidence, I had to constantly remind myself that the trial was not over, and that I could not form an opinion yet. I had to wait, and weigh everything only after there was nothing more to be learned. In reality, I probably should be as open-minded and deliberate in forming opinions about everything and anything, but I’m not. How often do we make snap judgements or allow ourselves to be persuaded by one side of a story, without ever hearing the other side?

Then I pondered the concept of evidence and "burden of proof". Testimony given during the trial is evidence. Exhibits and items submitted and displayed to the jury are evidence. Opening and closing arguments are not evidence. The defendant's choice not to testify is not evidence. The objections and the judge's decision on those objections are not evidence. Yet I heard the opening and closing arguments. I know that the defendant didn't testify in his defense. I know that there are lines of questioning and issues that the judge would not allow us to hear. Being instructed to disregard these does not make them go away. Normally, we gather every scrap of information and use it to make our decisions. Yet there are arguments that I heard, bits and pieces of other matters alluded to, circumstances that I saw, and I was not permitted to take these under consideration in my deliberations. In a way, I had to pretend that I didn't know everything that I knew. I had to consciously ignore pieces of information. It's not easy to fool yourself into not knowing everything that you thought you knew, and to separate evidence from argument.

I also realized just how important it was that the jury had no say in the sentencing of the defendant. We were there only to make a decision on the facts of the case- did the defendant commit the crime of which he was charged? Or, more precisely, did the government meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime of which he was charged? The consequences of our decision were not our responsibility. It’s a strange notion, and I’m not yet sure how I feel about it. I sent a man to prison, but I don’t know for how long or where or if there is a possibility of parole. I decided part of his fate, and yet I’ll never know what that fate actually is. On the other hand, the jury shouldn’t necessarily have a part in the sentencing. It would be so much more difficult to objectively decide on the facts of the case if one was also weighing the fate of the defendant in their decision. Instead of deciding on whether or not he did the crime, I’d have been asking whether or not he deserved the punishment that goes along with it. Some may have said “not guilty” because they didn’t want the personal responsibility of deciding another man’s fate. Or, worse yet, some may have said “guilty” because they thought that the defendant should be behind bars, but not because the evidence proved his guilt of this particular crime.

As I began davening on shabbos, only a few hours after the trial concluded, I found myself thinking long and hard about the idea of justice. Tzedek tzedek tirdof. Did I really pursue justice, or did I just happen to be there? I now have the image in my head of the defendant, and the look on his face when he understood that he would be going back to prison. It’s the face of a man that I’ve never met, had never seen before Wednesday, and will never see again. I don’t know this man, and he does not know me. But I’ve pronounced him “guilty” and determined a part of his future.

Is this the justice I hoped to find?

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof, part I

Once there was a man who, in studying the Torah, was puzzled by the phrase “tzedek tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, justice you shall pursue”). It occurred to the man that he had never really seen justice, and so he decided to travel the world until he found it. So he packed up his belongings and began his journey.

He traveled to the North, and searched in every town and every village, every nook and every cranny, but he did not find justice. So he traveled to the South, and searched in every town and every village, every nook and every cranny, but he did not find justice. He traveled to the East and to the West, but still he did not find justice.

Finally, the man came to a small forest, the last part of the world that he had not yet searched. He stood at the edge of the woods and said, “If I do not find justice here, there is no justice in the world.” And with that, he entered the forest.

He wandered through the woods, into the den of pirates. “Is there justice here?” he asked. The pirates laughed over their stolen treasures and answered, “Did you think you would find justice here?” The man entered into the cave of witches. “Is there justice here?” he asked. The witches cackled as they stirred their potions. “Did you think you would find justice here?” they replied.

Disheartened, the man continued on his way through this small forest that did not seem to end. Finally, he came across a small wooden cottage. In the windows, the traveler could see thousands of tiny little lights shining through. Curious, the traveler approached the cottage, and knocked on the door. The door swung open. The traveler walked inside, and stopped, staring in amazement around him.

On every wall there was shelf upon shelf. On each shelf was candle after candle. Some candles were made of gold or silver, and others were made of clay or tin. Some were full of oil and had strong, bright flames, and others had only a little oil remaining, and the flames were growing weak. As the traveler stood, staring at the thousands of candles, a man appeared, dressed entirely in white.

“Sholom aleichem, my friend,” the man said to the traveler. “What can I do for you?”

“Please,” said the traveler, “can you tell me what these candles are?”

“Each candle you see is the life of a human being,” the man replied.

“Please,” said the traveler, “can you show me my candle?”

“Follow me,” said the man, and he turned and walked away.

The traveler followed the man through room after room, down corridor after corridor, in the cottage that had seemed so small from the outside. Finally, the man led him into a small room, and pointed to a candle low on a shelf.

“There,” the man said. “That is your candle.”

The traveler noticed that his candle was made of polished silver, but that there was very little oil remaining inside. Next to his candle, he saw another, with a strong, bright flame, full of oil.

“Please,” said the traveler, “whose candle is that?”

“I can only tell you about your own candle,” replied the man, and with that he vanished.

The traveler stood looking at his candle, unaware of the passage of time. As he gazed, the flame of a candle above him began to sputter, and soon the flame died entirely. The traveler was horrified. ‘Could it be that my candle is going to be the next to die?’ he asked himself. ‘Is there really only that little oil left for me?’

The traveler again noticed the candle next to his, the candle so full of oil. He reached out and lifted the candle, tilting it, as though to pour some of the oil into his own candle.

In a flash, the man in white appeared again and grabbed his wrist, saying, “Is this the justice you hoped to find?”