Friday, May 25, 2007

Shavuot 2007

Shavuot is a difficult holiday for people with sleep issues. You stay up the first night, preferably learning, usually also hanging out with your friends, and that throws off your sleep cycle for the next few days. I woke up at 3 a.m. today and can't fall back asleep. Then again, I've been doing that for weeks, so I don't know if I should blame the holiday.

This is a rundown of my Shavuot:

9 p.m., first night: Went to dinner with Mrs. Mutter and her family. When I arrived at their home, Mrs. M was sitting on the front steps of her brownstone with her youngest daughter and two female guests, Sarah and Rachel. It was a beautiful spring evening, and we relaxed in the warm breeze and tranquil (for New York City) setting. It was also just really nice to be there and to feel connected to people; they're a lovely family.

After the men got home from synagogue, we repaired inside for a dairy feast. Sarah is engaged, and she and her fiancé were enjoying a respite from wedding planning. It was a more or less pleasant meal, although I was brought up short by Sarah's negative reaction to some of my schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude is a German word referring to the joy we sometimes take in our enemies' foibles and troubles. I mentioned that I like reading gossip magazines and columns because I find celebrity behavior hilarious, such as Britney Spears' starter marriage to that chicken-fried piece of ugly.

"That's terrible," said Sarah, "taking such joy in other people's problems."

At first I thought, "Get out much?" Celebrities in our culture know their lives are subject to public scrutiny, so when they screw up, they ought to expect everyone will see it on the six o'clock news. But she did have a point: it's petty and mean to laugh at people whose lives are so messed up, and why do I enjoy it so much? Obviously because my life is so unsatisfying to me. I'm unhappy about being single; at some level I envy rapidly-marrying celebs like Jennifer Lopez. Judging them makes me feel a little better about being unmarried. So while I didn't appreciate hearing that from Sarah, I think I needed to, especially since similar issues arose at other times during the holiday.

I also discussed the social work project I'm trying to implement at our synagogue. Mr. Mutter asked if I was involving the "Center for a Noble Cause" (CNC), a relatively new organization affiliated with a very large Jewish institution. It wasn't clear to him what CNC was supposed to achieve; in their few years of existence they hadn't really seemed to accomplish much. I told him that on my rabbi's advice I had tried to get them to work with us on community mental-health programming for the Upper West Side and could not get the director of the institution, young Rabbi Swellhead, to return my phone calls and emails; in my view, they were trying to glorify themselves, not help the community.

That's actually quite an arrogant attitude, although I've had dealings with Rabbi Swellhead in the past (before he was a rabbi) and found him quite ungrateful. Several years ago I wrote some press releases for another nonprofit he was involved with, pro bono, but was never invited to his home for a Shabbos meal. Then after services one Shabbat morning I watched him, in front of me, invite a young woman he'd never met over for Shabbat lunch. I guess I was not young, blonde, or thin enough to merit an invitation.

Not getting invited to people's homes, as you may have noticed, is a big reason for me not to like them. I hate calling and inviting myself over, and I hate feeling overlooked or ignored, so it's kind of a double whammy; if I feel someone is ignoring me and not inviting me, while paying attention to and inviting others, my disdain for them is quickly aroused.

Part of this is because in my twenties I spent a lot of time and money making Shabbos meals and didn't feel that reciprocation was always forthcoming. Even though now I don't have the time, funds, or space to invite people, I still feel annoyed when I'm overlooked. And that's a problem. I'm too easily offended, which is a sign that I set myself too high above other people. Also, the more easily I'm offended, the more often I'll feel resentful and bitter. And that's not a healthy attitude.

Anyway -- I enjoyed demolishing CNC with Mr. Mutter. A little too much.

As I discussed the programs I hope to develop with the part-time social worker my synagogue plans to hire, Mrs. Mutter gave a few opinions. We talked about how many Jewish men don't have very good dating manners, at the table or elsewhere. She thought it would be a good idea for us to sponsor a formal sit-down meal to teach everyone which utensils to use for each course and how to conduct themselves at the table.

Mr. Mutter was amused.

"Are you really going to get a bunch of Jewish guys to come to that kind of event?" he asked. "I hate to be a naysayer, but I can't see Jewish guys being interested in learning the difference between salad and dessert forks." Privately, I agreed with him; I thought they could benefit from an etiquette lesson, but did not think in a million years that we could get them to go.

I said I was hoping we could start with a bereavement support group and an infertility support group. Mrs. Mutter didn't think we'd be able to get people to come to the latter, since infertility is such a personal topic; she thought people would want to discuss with with their friends, not strangers. I didn't agree, but told her she'd given me a lot to think about.

11:30 p.m.: Mrs. Mutter and I went to study with my friend Fran, who is a Jewish studies teacher. We discussed the similarities between the Book of Ruth and the Ten Commandments -- since Ruth is a conversion story, where she accepts the obligations of a traditional Jewish lifestyle, and Shavuot commemorates the Jews' acceptance of the Torah and its mitzvot, there are many striking parallels.

When I go to Fran's, I usually spend my time cutting up Tikva's food or taking her to the potty; on nice afternoons, we take the kids to the park. I've also spent time talking with Fran about my life and problems. But I've never learned Torah with her, and I realized that night that I've been missing out. She's phenomenally well-educated, and I really enjoyed studying with her. Next time we take the kids to the park, I'm going to see if we can discuss some Torah while they're on the swings or in the sandbox.

2:30 a.m.: Met up with Chaya at one synagogue's annual midnight barbecue (although Shavuot is traditionally associated with cheesecake, this place likes to serve hot dogs and hamburgers). I love spending time with her, but I can't stand some of her friends; they're obnoxious, crass, and not very bright. (Or was I just tired?) We walked around to a few other synagogues.

4 a.m.: A guy was giving a shiur on Shavuot and the movie "The Shawshank Redemption." It made sense at the time, but I honestly can't remember any of it.

5:30 a.m.: Davened Shacharit on the rooftop of one synagogue as dawn was breaking. It was beautiful, but I was exhausted. I went home and collapsed.

2 p.m., first day: Went to a big potluck picnic in the park. Not sure if it was staying up all night or the lithium, but I didn't really want to eat anything, which pleased me. I'm well enough to tolerate large crowds these days, but I don't work them the way I do when I'm really on top of my game. I hung out with a few people I knew. One of them told me she was going to Eric and Ahuva for dinner that night; I decided to swing by to see if they wanted any more guests.

I did meet some new girls through a friend and was enjoying their company; they were very sweet. One of them had a deck of cards; I taught her gin rummy and we started playing. A fellow joined us, and started shuffling the cards; another guy I know, who can be nice but can also be a clueless twerp, swung by and started talking about the meal he and the girls were going to that evening.

"What, I'm not shuffling well enough for you? You do it," said the shuffler.

"You're doing fine," I said.

"So why are you frowning?" he asked.

"It's not you," I said.

"It is, I can tell," he persisted. I took off my sunglasses and leaned closer to him, and spoke quietly.

"No, it's really not you. I just think it's rude to talk about a party you're going to in front of people who aren't invited," I said.

One of the girls leaned in. "Everything okay?"

"I'm fine," I said, "I just think it's rude to talk about a party you're going to in front of people who aren't invited." They agreed with me, but then I started thinking this was another manifestation of my propensity to take offense. It's not the end of the world if someone does not invite me for a meal!

6 p.m.: Cheesecake siyyum for the women's Pirke Avot shiur. Maybe I was tired and cranky, but something got me very annoyed. The hostess, who is my good friend's aunt, told me that she belongs to a shidduch club. Instead of thinking, "Great -- maybe she'll be able to help me," I thought, "Why didn't my friend tell me this sooner!" Which, again, is extremely ungracious and ungrateful, and another aspect of how easily I take offense to things. But I did speak with the hostess later, and she will "put me up" for shidduchim. It's always good to have another person in your corner.

7 p.m.: Went to Eric and Ahuva's apartment to see if they needed any more guests. I wanted to go well in advance of dinner so they could turn me away and not feel bad if they didn't have room.

Ahuva was thrilled to see me. "Ayelet! You're staying for dinner, I hope?" That was nice. She has three kids, works part-time, and volunteers extensively, so she hadn't had a chance to call me, but she had been thinking of me. It was great to see her, and Mara appeared to have forgiven me, more or less.

Dinner was fabulous, I enjoyed the company, but I also found out that a very annoying and much-younger woman, for whom I had done a significant favor and who not only did not reciprocate but several times pressed me to do more for her, is engaged. I had the opposite of schadenfreude. I couldn't help it; I felt resentful.

However, I also felt relieved. One of the women there, Amy, knows three of my ex-boyfriends, and talking with her made me feel so glad I was no longer with any of them.

"Are you still in touch with Little Marty?" she asked. "It's too bad. The two of you got on so well."

"Yeah -- he's just not ready for a relationship," I told her. And the funny thing was, I didn't feel so bad about not being with him -- I honestly felt it was his loss not to be with me. I must finally be getting over him.

I asked Amy if she'd gotten my Facebook warning about RD-SOB, whom I saw she had added as a friend. I emailed her to be careful about whom she took as friends, but hadn't heard back.

"Don't worry," she said, "I'm definitely not interested in him, and you're not the first person to warn me about him. He uses people. He just wants to run around and have all the fun he missed out on by getting married so young. It's pathetic, really."

Then Amy and I discussed G.I. Josh, through whom I initially met her. She told me that he's become ever more embittered and morose. "I was going to my friend's sheva brachot and invited him to come, and I was ten minutes late getting there," she said. "When I called to let him know I was stuck on the bus, he blew up at me and left the restaurant. After I got there my friend, the bride, got on the phone to ask him to come back, because there were some girls we wanted to introduce to him, and he refused. I don't know what his problem is."

I hope it wasn't schadenfreude, but I just felt really, really glad that I wasn't with any of them.

1 p.m., second day: Lunch with Shaindel, a friend of Alona's with whom I've become friendly. Shaindel is a pistol, tiny and petite with a killer fashion sense.

Shaindel and a fellow who lives in my former apartment in The Dorm (one of the Upper West Side apartment complexes extensively populated by frum singles; I spent almost four miserable years there) had invited an interesting and diverse array of people for lunch. I met some new girls, which is always great, including one who has made five shidduchim. (She told me her email address, and I made sure to contact her first thing after yomtov!)

One of G.I. Josh's friends was there too. "You look familiar," she said to me; "I used to date G.I. Josh," I told her.

"I haven't seen him in years," she said.

"Neither have I," I told her.

"The happiest I ever saw him was when you two were going out," she said. "He's miserable now."

"I'm sorry to hear that," I said. And I truly was. I don't want to be with him, but there's no reason for him to become a bitter old misanthrope before his time.

Somehow that day I became an amateur astrologer. I don't know a ton about astrology, but I do know a little; I used to work in an office with two women who were obsessed with astrology, and it rubbed off. Being a Gemini and something of a psychologist, I was able to craft little readings for a number of guests ("Do me next! Do me next!" they clamored -- no kidding).

It definitely made me feel popular, having my opinion so eagerly sought. One of the people I read, a very flirtatious Scorpio gentleman, kept saying how pleased he was to have met me. What's funny is that he and I met more than a year ago at a smallish Shabbat lunch, but he obviously doesn't remember. I'm not interested in him romantically -- Scorpios are contraindicated for Geminis, for one thing; he's quite the would-be Casanova, for another, and I don't like overly flirtatious men -- but it was nice to engage his full attention and have him listen to me so raptly.
Copyright (c) 2007 "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. it's true that the stars have some sway on our world, but the bottom line is: jews are above mazalos!

    so give mr. scorpio a whirl!

  2. 1) You might have more luck starting an infertility support group than expected. There's an organization that works with Jewish women with infertility, and you might be able to contact them for help in setting up such a group. They're called ATIME; I think their web address is

    2) It sounds like overall you had a pretty nice chag. I'm glad to hear that. :)