Friday, March 30, 2007

476. You can do EVERYTHING on the Internet these days

Interrupting the story to highlight this bit of brilliance, left, courtesy Bedikat hametz, the symbolic pre-Passover search for stray crumbs of bread and other leavened food that may have escaped your vacuum cleaner, will be done on Sunday evening. I am so not ready.

475. Liberation, part 1

My first memory of Passover is of shoes--fancy holiday shoes attached to stocky feet and legs, attached to four uncles, four aunts, a cousin or two, and my mother and father, the shoes crowded and bumping into each other under a long, white-tablecloth-adorned folding table beneath which I maneuvered among the feet and legs as if they were tree trunks in an exotic forest. But we were in a living room in Queens, I was just three or four, and this was the most exciting day of the year. I didn't understand why everyone sang and laughed as I played hide and seek, but my aunts and uncles were round and happy, and so was I.

My next memory, which weaves like a ribbon through all those that follow, is of Passover as the Season of Liberation from Dirt. My mother always vacuumed with passion, but her ardor reached stratospheric levels one spring week each year. After our floors and furniture achieved spotlessness, we ventured down to the storage room in the basement of our apartment building and were met by Norris, the nice handyman, who was eight feet tall and looked a little like a golem. My mother climbed over piles of old bikes, steamer trunks, retired household appliances, and other excess belongings of our neighbors until she found the fruit cartons tied with heavy twine (no other kinds of boxes were allowed in our home, since my father was produce manger of a supermarket) which held a set of pink dishes and shiny silverware. We always stored the cartons at the closest end of the room and would marvel each year when we found them at the far opposite end, as if they had made their own Exodus in order to evade our discovery. Norris the golem would stack the cartons on his mountainous shoulders and I would run to the elevator and hold open the door to begin our journey back up to the fourth floor, which this one spring week would be transformed into somewhere completely unusual.

(Inspired by these great posts, and continued here.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

474. Hurrah!

Excellent news: JTS to Accept Qualified Gay and Lesbian Rabbinical And Cantorial School Students. Although my practice is basically Conservative and I'm in awe of the scholarship at JTS, I'm unaffiliated and was never terribly thrilled with the movement, mainly because of their closed-mindedness around this issue. Encouraging us to live lives filled with gemilut hasadim, deeds of loving-kindness, yet hiding behind halakha as justification for denying rights to a segment of the population never made much sense to me. I applaud Arnold Eisen for spearheading the process of affirming that halakha, while always sacred, is a living, breathing reflection of the people and times in which it applies. I believe that God put us here to grow, learn, and interpret God's words in the mirror of our changing world--and, in the process, discover what God really means.

473. Times Square

There are few less Shabbat-like places on earth than the middle of Times Square at rush hour-- which is where I spent part of this past Shabbat.

It was a surreal few minutes. This Friday was my dear friend R.'s birthday, and she wanted to celebrate after work at a midtown restaurant. I usually don't take the subway on Shabbat, although will go out to dinner, discreetly. I try to stay away from crowds, noise, reminders of the real world. As much as possible, I build a 25-hour cocoon in the middle of Manhattan.

I went to the meditation service beforehand, which this evening was particularly contemplative. We sat in silence and pondered deep thoughts; afterwards I felt as if I had gone through the spin cycle and emerged clean and limp. I wanted to float away, but instead boarded the downtown local and emerged at 42nd and Seventh with two long blocks to walk before reaching the relative refuge of Bryant Park.

The sounds and rhythms of New York City are in my blood, and I need them as much as my blood. I know all the tricks of navigating a sidewalk teeming with tourists and teenagers, and remember when 42nd St. was like Beirut. Now it's pink and green instead of grainy greyscale, but is still insane and doesn't bother me one bit. I find it kind of beautiful, in fact. I recognized all the usual characters--kids holding hands and eating gyros, families with cameras bumping into cold-faced men with their heads down and young women in short skirts running to make the curtain--but tonight the action seemed to be on the other side of a thick, glass, towering Wall of Shabbat. I watched the chaos through glare, contrast turned all the way up; it hurt my eyes, but I didn't mind. I was invincible, full of peace, able to brush aside the hard light and traffic noise like weightless, falling leaves.

I was exhausted when I got back home, worn out from ten minutes of intensely mindful walking down the street. I now knew, without a doubt, that I could tap into the river of Shabbat whenever I needed. I felt like l had renewed a covenant, both sides promising peace and safety forever and ever.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

472. Yad, part 2

(Continued from here.)

But I felt more grateful than guilty, and hoped the unwitting accomplices to my enlightenment at the bima knew how much I appreciated their help. In fact, at those moments of scroll-holding my love for the scroll-holders could not have been greater than if they had snatched me off the tracks in front of an oncoming train. I had to restrain myself from running after them with tears of giddy thanks.

Adrenaline will do that to you; I'm a little calmer these days. But my responses were genuine, if operatic, and convinced me that just as a word can hurt, can kill, a simple gesture can save. In both cases the act, even if casual or automatic, speaks volumes about the true essence of its agent. I've had attacks of sudden onset gratitude before, both times having to do with singing (perhaps music makes me more vulnerable). The first was at an a cappella workshop years ago, when I was placed in a group far too advanced because I wanted to be with my musician boyfriend. One afternoon I found myself on stage, clueless, trying to sight-sing an obscure Renaissance mass and feeling like a kid racing in mad pursuit of a balloon with a broken string. The notes on the page looked like poppy seeds and made no sense. I was miserable, but didn't panic--nothing was at stake except my own self-worth, which was drifting away as fast as the balloon.

Suddenly the vocal coach was behind me, singing in my ear. He was just doing his job, saw I was lost and came over to help. But he stood there for about a minute to make sure I could sing it on my own, and I did. He could have left after I found my place, but was a teacher and wanted to make sure I learned, which is one of the best kindnesses possible in this world.

The other instance was this past Rosh Hashanah, second day. This time I knew the music as well as the vibrations of my own bones. Again I felt like a balloon, but was delighted by the flight and had to keep reminding myself to touch ground. I think the rabbi standing next to me could tell that once or twice during the tefilah, just for a second, I forgot where I was, that I was standing in front of a thousand people and not alone in the clouds or Gan Eden. Completely, joyously present but also reaching for the edge of somewhere new, I had to concentrate doubly hard to keep track of my place in the mahzor. At the Barhu, the call to prayer, I took the microphone out of its holder so I could face the Ark. I turned back as the music began, but even before I could reach over to re-seat the mic, the rabbi grasped my hand lightly and guided it to the stand. His gesture was probably instinctive, after years of watching hazzanim fumble at this very moment. But that one second reminded me of all the goodness and love in the room, and made me feel safe enough to continue into unknown territory.

I feel the same whenever people next to me at the bima hold open the scroll as I chant, with the yad in both my hands like a golf club. They can't know how much their small act speaks of the sweetness of my community, and gives me strength to reach higher and deeper in prayer, and all else, than I ever thought possible.

Friday, March 23, 2007

471. Yad, part 1

The first time I chanted Torah in public was also the first time I saw a Torah scroll up close, and held a yad*. Shaking so much I was afraid I'd inadvertently poke it through the parchment, I grabbed the yad like a golf club with both hands. This felt completely comfortable and natural, and holding tightly onto the solid piece of silver helped steady my nerves and encourage my eyes to draw a straight path across the sea of unpunctuated letters.

I continued to hold the yad with two hands whenever I chanted Torah and never noticed, until a rabbi pointed it out three years ago, that almost everyone else used one, and the other to hold open the scroll. Thereafter I became very self-conscious about my non-mainstream stance until I noticed that F., pillar of the community, also used both hands. My style of grasp wasn't odd, I told myself; it simply reflected tradition. But I was also aware of the logistical challenges this habit placed on gabbaim, those on either side of me at the bima who followed along as I read. They had to hold open the scroll while making sure not to lose their places in the humash or quickly assign the task to the nervous person honored with the aliyah, who would probably let go mid-verse and force me to prop open the scroll with my elbows as if jockeying for space on a crowded bus. For quite awhile, whenever I stepped up to the bima I worried not only about getting my portion right, but also about who would have the job of stopping the parchment from curling into my forearms as I read. I felt very selfish; all those nice people helping me fulfill the ritual already had enough to think about.

(Continued here.)
*I don't recommend this. Practice beforehand with the real thing, if at all possible.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

470. Ritual

I love ritual, and am sometimes conflicted about it, as well. The artist part of me wonders if she's being lazy and not truly creative when doing something already done many times before; the rest of me, especially the religious part, finds comfort in predictability and the meditative state to which it often leads. Which can be fertile ground for new and creative ideas (satisfying that other part, and making chanting Torah and leading services a lot of fun). For these reasons, as well as my past wrestling with ideas about detail, I really appreciated this commentary on Vayikra, the book of Leviticus, by Professor Arnold Eisen, Chancellor-elect of JTS. An excerpt (the whole thing is here):

That is the other feature of ritual I have appreciated more and more with age. It is perhaps hard to grasp until one has lived long enough to fail more than once at something truly important — and to fail in ways not easily made right. I refer to the immense advantage that rituals have over life: if we work hard enough, we can get them right. Master the technique of that Bach invention on the piano, learn the lines of that Ibsen play, fill their performance with genuine and proper emotion, and you have a chance of getting them right, really right, in a way rarely achieved in the ethical realms of parenting or friendship or the professions. Focus on kiddush for the sixty seconds it takes to recite the blessing Friday night, pay attention to the meaning of what you are about, and the sense of rightness is yours.

Ritual has made it so. It has helped us to draw near to holiness. Schooled in the discipline of getting things right, we do a better job of carrying it over into the ethical realm, where getting things right is so much harder. And, after years of living happily amid the nitty-gritty details of daily life, knowing that the glory lies not in moments of peak experience or high drama but in sending the kids off to school dressed and fed, paying off the mortgage, and recalling what made the gray hairs worthwhile — after all that, one is grateful for Leviticus’ immersion in the detail of ritual. For anything less would be inadequate to life, which as we know is always lived in the details. That is where the devil is, as the saying goes. Unless God is too, unless our ritual is, there is no chance for us to attain holiness in this life.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

469. Found!

My siddur has been found! This makes me very happy, even though I know I don't really need this siddur; it's just a thing, etc. etc. But the forces of sentimental value have overshadowed my attempts at rational thought. Back when I first joined my synagogue, there was a form at the back of the weekly newsletter that you could send back, with the requisite cash, and receive a copy of our siddur in return. Assuming that everyone who was anyone had their own, and too scared to walk into a Judaica store, I placed the order. It arrived a week later and I suddenly felt like a real Jew, with the book to prove it. Over the years it acquired penciled notes about how to lead a Friday night havurah service ("pause here, share something about week") as well as the regular one ("STOP. RABBI SPEAKS."), plus the word "AMEN" after every single one of the morning blessings, when I was so nervous my first time leading three years ago that I didn't trust my memory or common sense in the least.

The synagogue is lovingly maintained by group of serious Russian gentlemen, one of whom helped me search for the book on Friday after services. Tonight, just as I was about to sit down in the sanctuary for my Me'ah class, Dmitry walked over. (He's usually not there in the evening, but had to restore order after a Hebrew School model seder.) "I have it," he said. "Do you want it?" He walked, and I ran, into the Secret Rabbi Room and there it was in the best possible company, under a pile of books labeled with rabbis' names. I almost flung myself into his arms with a big, wet kiss, but he really is a very serious man.

I look forward to many more years of pencil markings. Or maybe I'll erase them all, start fresh, and make room for new memories.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

468. Time

In Vayakhel, the first half of this past Torah portion, detailed descriptions of the building of the mishkan are interrupted by the commandment to observe Shabbat. Despite the awkward flow of narrative, the reasoning seems clear: God capped the creation of a magnificent universe with a day of rest and--after telling them to stop already with the gifts--reminded the Jewish people to do the same after they built a magnificent place to congregate and give thanks for that universe. Writes Arthur Green:

In order for the world to exist over a course of time, God had to hold back Creation by calling out, "Enough!" In the parallel suggested here, human activity needs the same self-limitation; knowing when to stop is part of the task of our human doing.
The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet

At services this Shabbat, however, the rabbi offered a different interpretation: God asked us to stop because we were in danger of worshipping the products of our own hands, rather than the time in which it took to make them. Judaism is about sanctification of time, not place. We often skirt this line, believing that more of everything will make us better, happier, fulfilled. A good life is about time well spent, not the number of jewels on our ritual objects or dollars in our bank accounts.

This Shabbat I received the gift of some of that good time. With a cold, interrupted by coughing and hoarseness but mostly capable of making pleasant sounds, I helped lead services on Friday and Saturday. But I wasn't nervous, not even after I left my siddur, with seven years' worth of penciled exhortations and exclamation points, at the synagogue on Friday night. It was Shabbat, so I knew everything would be fine. This makes no sense, really; the day carries no magic except for the goodness we ascribe to it. But sometimes belief can change reality. I trekked back to the synagogue after dinner through a foot of melting icy mush, but couldn't find the book. So I borrowed another from a stack in the sanctuary, and went back home and re-applied Post-Its next to appropriate morning passages.

And everything really was fine. I was as confident as if I had led Shaharit yesterday, rather than three years ago, and even remembered to breathe between coughs. Just like other times I've led, the energy and warmth of everyone in the room was a big spotlight of goodness hovering over my head. How is it that the rabbis at my synagogue always seem to be talking directly to me each Shabbat, as if a big neon sign on my forehead was flashing in the direction of the bima: "Problem of the week--please address"? I finally understood, after the d'var Torah, that these good and holy moments could occur with or without the talisman of a lucky siddur, and even if I had a cold. They were not limited to particular places--they could happen in this synagogue or elsewhere, with different people and in any number of situations. As long as I allowed myself to give fully of myself, Time would reciprocate by allowing me to experience moments of sanctity. But if I focused too much of my time on work, jealousy, insecurity, and other pursuits that beg for God's "Enough!"--on getting rather than being--I could miss those moments. I would forget how to see them.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

467. Good night

This Shabbat, a new turn of events: I'll be helping to lead services on Friday night as well as part of Saturday morning, since almost everyone--rabbis, student rabbis, back-up student rabbis, half the congregation--will be out of town this weekend. Three sets of High Holy Days have passed since the last time I led Shaharit, so I'm not nervous. But I still don't know the same few tongue-twister parts I've continued to avoid since 2004, and I seem to be coming down with another cold. And what would singing on Shabbat be without that added bit of excitement? (In any case, almost no one will be there to hear it if I have to croak my way through the service.)

I'm going to sleep now, practically the middle of the day, in hopes that my throat will feel like butter when I awake. 'night.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

466. A healthy mule

Back from another unintended blogging break. Last week I got an offer I couldn't refuse, a few days of rush work for the price of many, many more days. I may not get to Israel this year, but I'll never return if I turn down projects like this one. The magnum opus goes to the printer this afternoon, after which I will revert to a predictably crazy schedule.

This final stretch of Me'ah continues to dredge up strange, old memories. Last night we talked about the 1882 May Laws, Draconian legislation imposed against the Jews by Czar Alexander III of Russia. I studied a great deal of American history in college but little about other parts of the world, or this event. Yet it sounded very familiar, and then I remembered--The Treasury of Jewish Folklore was filled with anecdotes and parables with the May Laws as key characters. Life was always hard in the village, and suddenly it got much worse--so the farmer prayed, and ten kopecks appeared on his doorstep. Those May Laws were miserable, whatever they were (I never asked).

And I never believed in miracles, or that God answered prayers literally, but always did imagine He or She as a friendly sort. The God of wrath and indignation seemed even less plausible than no God at all. My parents didn't teach me this, nor my awful Hebrew school; I learned it from those stories in which people suffered and prayers went unanswered, but everything ended up OK in the end. God provided an unplanned, imperfect universe, but was never mean or vindictive. I knew for certain, at age 8, that life went on even after the mule died, and I still know it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

465. Language

I never heard of Hebrew-English leyning until this thought-provoking (as always) post by Rachel. I've gone to approximately, um, one traditionally Reform service in my entire life, with the remaining 99% Conservative-flavored or a sadly moribund version of Orthodox. None included chanting in English. But I agree that it's a great idea, and have had a taste: one of the very first events presented by Storahtelling, which also coincided with one of the first Shabbat morning services I attended in years, was a Torah reading assisted by a meturgeman, a line-by-line instantaneous translator. It's an old concept--this was the usual custom about a thousand years ago--and was completely electrifying. I had always read the English part during services, of course, but making sense of archaic words while trying to listen to their incomprehensible language of origin took more coordination than I possessed on a Saturday morning. The meturgeman demonstrated how alive that old book could be, and made me want more. I felt like Helen Keller with her hand under the faucet; text changed in an instant from symbol to meaning, and my life really was completely different afterwards.

That said--despite the pivotal role of translation in my spiritual life, I prefer to hear very little English during services. The language of prayer for me is Hebrew, and chanting is prayer. Yes, I need to understand the story in order to tell it, but I'm fine with that part happening before and after the moment. On one level it makes no sense: why knowingly limit my comprehension? But Torah is art, not science, and therefore completely bound to mystery no matter how hard we try to untangle meaning. So we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride. Her words are music, not just via the lilt of ancient melodies but because of their ability to bypass mind and go directly to heart. Every time I ponder that phrase or this combination of letters, I remind myself that dictionary definitions are sufficient but soulless, like a script in the hands of a bad actor. Understanding is not equivalent to praying.

I also need to pray and chant in Hebrew as a constant reminder of what I don't know. God is encouraging me to reach further than I can ever imagine, and is keeping my ego in check in the process.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

464. Old friends from Minsk

For a number of years during my childhood, my parents decided not to talk to each other.* They divorced when I was 11, a good choice for all involved. Prior to that, however, we spent many dinners in silence (punctuated by the occasional argument) at the kitchen table. My mother would ladle out a bowl of borscht for my father and perhaps frozen vegetables for she and I, and then we would hide behind our books and newspapers and enjoy the meal. I didn't know any other way to have dinner, so this process seemed quite normal. I had a hundred books at my disposal, but usually grabbed the same one: The Treasury of Jewish Folklore, 1948 edition, edited by Nathan Ausubel. It was big and thick, with dark blue binding held together by careful layers of fabric tape. It became my best friend at dinner times, doing all the talking and cajoling at our table of wordless chewing.

Almost every night, I would remove the book from its home on the shelf by the front door, sit down with my peas and carrots and parents, and open to a random page. Sometimes I headed for the ancient jokes in the middle ("Oy, kreplach!" was my favorite punchline), or the tales of really stupid people from the mythical city of Chelm. Occasionally I tried to brave the chapters at the back, dense prose about rabbis and miracles. I didn't know the history behind any of these stories, or how the Jewishness of people in dusty towns with unpronounceable names was in any way similar to mine. But I loved them just the same. I felt an immediate kinship to befuddled peasants who sought answers from wise men about how to live in a world rapidly changing from the safe, small one they once knew. My father, in his 60s when I was born--robust and muscular 60s, but an old man nevertheless--grew up in that world, and didn't quite fit into the current one. His existence before coming to the U.S. seemed like a big secret we weren't supposed to mention, although I wasn't sure why. Perhaps in response, I was determined to live the most modern of contemporary lives, and as I got older distanced myself from those old rabbis and archetypal villagers.

But the readings for my Me'ah class this week, 19th century Hassidic tales from The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe, transported me back to the dinner table, to a lamb chop in the company of Yudel the waggoner, poor farmers traveling from Pinsk to Minsk, and jokes like this:

A junk peddler on the East Side died. His widow collected two thousand dollars insurance.

"What miserable luck," she complained. "For forty years we lived in poverty and now that God has made us rich, Sol had to go and die!"

I'm enjoying re-visiting these old friends who taught me so much, at a very young age, about the human condition.


* They talked to me, though--my life was filled with lots of love, and I wouldn't change a thing.

Monday, March 05, 2007

463. Bagel

Purim was a blast. My costume was a hit (see photo at left; imagine a face in the hole and bar of cream cheese hanging from a string around the neck attached to the face), and chapters 4, 5 and 6 proceeded without a hitch. I also now know that I'd be just fine if ever dropped in the middle of Madison Square Garden during a circus and asked to chant. I walked up to the bima, looked out at hundreds of alien heads and people dressed like inanimate objects and a half dozen little girls in princess costumes darting underfoot, and understood how middle-school substitute teachers must feel. It was a little scary (I started in too low a key and forgot to breathe, as a result, and sounded ragged--although I doubt that half the ADD-inspired room could even hear me) and much fun. Which describes Purim: ridicule everything and everyone and in the process acknowledge the truth, sometimes dark, always hidden, behind your laughter.

I read again at Sunday morning minyan, this time with barely a beat between chapters (which the night before had been punctuated by shtick, dancing to 80s disco music, etc.). Towards the middle of chapter 5 I had the feeling that my section would never end, that I was just a disembodied voice floating along on a wave of time. By chapter 6 I was sure of it, listening to myself sing as if I were outside of myself, barely visible yet infinitely connected, a sensation I recognized from chanting Torah but here magnified a thousandfold. It disappeared after a second or two. Maybe I was hearing, very faintly and beyond the range of my ears, the music of a million others who were chanting Esther at that very same instant.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

462. Safe

A few paragraphs about last week's Shabbat, which I tried to sit down and write over the past couple of days. I stopped myself each time. How boring, I thought. How often can I bear to hear myself say I'm spiritually happy? What new words on the topic can I discover that might be interesting to read and write? Strife makes for much better copy that contentedness; I turn the to the "Trouble" section of People magazine before I get to "Hero of the Week."

I bet a poll of global media would reveal twice as many syllables about struggle than happiness. So, despite my reluctance, I might as well try to even the balance. Last Friday began with a trip to the dentist, lots of drilling, and so much Novocaine that I couldn't eat breakfast until 3 in the afternoon. (Wait, that's not a happy sentence. I'm getting there.) I was exhausted and had a cold, and needed to get my act together in time to help lead the mediation service. I wondered how things would go, me with a headache and half a voice, the rabbi arriving directly from an emotionally difficult event. But it was wonderful. The room was small, and I could pick out that exact instant when people recognized my chosen tunes and, as if jumping into a wave and letting it float them beyond the shoreline, began to sing along. The rabbi spoke of peace and healing; every word unknotted another muscle in my back.

On Shabbat morning I read the tongue-twister paragraph and did just fine, was barely nervous at all. Afterwards a woman I didn't know, a rabbinical student, came over and told me that she had been a fan for two years and I was the best reader she ever heard. I walked out of services feeling like Shabbat was a shield, a big, embracing bubble that lasted exactly one day a week. I never felt so safe in all my life.

Friday, March 02, 2007

461. A complete idiot

Judging by my past history, I should know better than to try and write any posts, or even a grocery list, during the week before Purim. In 5768 I'll put a "Gone Fishin'" sign on this blog during the second week of Adar, and officially resume after the holiday. I've been spending my free time learning chapter 5 of Esther, and successfully dredging chapters 4 and 6 from my long-term memory. The Torah reading for Sunday morning, however, remains as slippery as un-set Jello, and tonight and tomorrow afternoon I need to apply a quick freeze. But it's short, with a lot of familiar names like "Moshe," so all will be well.

I have a costume. I will look like a complete idiot. But so will everyone else (I hope), so I'm OK with that.

At this time of year I'm always surprised by the renewed gratitude I feel for my synagogue community. Maybe it's because I remember that Purim is at the midpoint between one Yom Kippur and the next, and begin to take stock and count my blessings. Or that the evening's sheer silliness shocks me into noticing how human and wonderful my rabbis and friends really are. For whatever reason, I always walk into a Sanctuary filled with people in funny hats and need to hold onto a chair for fear of being knocked to the floor by waves of thankfulness. I recently read a post on another blog about a rabbi who castigated a congregant for giving an impromptu d'var Torah at a community gathering. The congregant was upset, but later acknowledged that he was being inappropriate, that only the rabbi had the authority to speak of such things. My first reaction to these words was anger; how can any kind of personal, spiritual growth happen among people discouraged from voicing their opinions? And then I felt sad for the congregant who was OK with being silenced. Then I stopped myself and acknowledged that every community has its strengths and weaknesses, and what is utterly wrong for one might be perfect for another. I have no right to judge. But I am allowed to be doubly grateful for my synagogue, where everyone is valued for being as loud or quiet about sharing ideas as we want.

To conclude on a more Purim-appropriate note, see this article, having nothing to do with anything, which opens with the world's best-ever introductory paragraph of a news item:

Local jazz musician injured...

Happy Purim, and may we all follow the wise injunction of the Talmud and drink until we can't tell the difference between "Cursed be Haman," "Blessed be Mordechai," and a roller skating stripper from Lodi, NJ...