CA Girl in NY, Week 4: Vignettes from Yeshiva Life before Rosh Hashana


When I packed my “shmates” – assorted loosely fitting clothes, more than a few acquired as treasures in second hand and thrift stores – many ended up in the giveaway bag because “that’s not how people dress in NY”. Turns out, that might have been true for many parts of this city but not here. Here, my style finally not only found a home and support (as evident by great finds at our recent “clothing swap” exchange) but a name: “settler chic” they call it in the place that prides itself on possibly the highest Aliya percentage in the US. So there you go: no longer shmates, but new fashion!


Every morning we say “or chadash” – a new light may you shine of Zion. It’s stuck somewhere in a long paragraph the chazzan is mumbling quietly, too early for most of us to even be in shul to hear.

A new light. What does it mean? Other theologies tried to tell us that they are the new light, but if it’s new, really, really new, how can anyone possibly know what it is?

So maybe it means – stay open. Every day is not “same old”; we “don’t know what’s coming” and “that’s how these things always turn out” and been there, done that”. A new light will shine. It can be any minute now. Can we actually see anything special in what’s around us? A new light will shine, and – continues the verse – may we merit – to stay open, fresh and attentive – so we can see it.


Facebook once had some way to check your most used or most suitable word. My word was “word” – surprise. But that was before intensive Talmud days. Now, my word is “maybe”. That is the Talmud. Very humbling.

Talmud study also comes with two exciting languages: Aramaic and Yeshivish. Aramaic is a “real thing” with vocabulary and grammar. Yeshivish on the other hand, sounds like this: “if the nafka mina there hashkafikly implies that halachikly I should be mekabel Shabbos at … so shoin”, and if this makes sense, then sh’koych and zey gesund!


Almost every verse in this week’s reading is a wow, starting with its name (Nitzavim – which isn’t just “standing” but holding an upright posture, like the pillars of the Tabernacle) and on. One of my favorites is “the hidden are to Hashem our G-d and the revealed for us and our children to do all the words of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 29:28), and the question is, where are the comas in this verse??

We might think it should be: the hidden – are to our G-d (while) the revealed (are) for us and our children to do… as if, hidden stuff – is the Divine’s, but the revealed is ours. Except, that leaves the tail of the verse slight off, so we need to try something different.

The tropes (musical cantillation marks) add an unexpected insight: the word “the revealed” is “hanging”, as if it go either way. It is not obviously connected to the latter part of the verse. Consider the Hebrew word olam which means olam but comes from the same root as ne’elam, hidden. The world is a combination of revealed and obvious – and unseen. We tend to think that what we see is what we get, but turns out, not so, and there are miracles all around. In that case, we can read it something like this: “the hidden are to Hashem our G-d as well as the revealed; for us and our children (it is) to do… this would in turn direct us to the world of action, moving with more intentionality as we’re doing our best at what we’re doing, while leaving the rest to G-d.

Shana Tova U’Metuka!

Why do wish each other Shana Tova U’Metuka? A good – and – sweet year? It could be that this is a completely coincidental development but while walking, I had an idea about it. I was reminded on the verse from Psalms “hine ma tov u’ma na’im” which has become a famous song and dance: behold how good – and pleasant. Tov – and – Naim. Sometimes, there are things that are good but not pleasant and vice versa, things that are pleasant but not necessarily good. Either one is a form of torment. The most peaceful is to have things that are both, and maybe in the same way, we wish each other that the New Year should be good and pleasant.

Shabbat Shalom & Shana Tova U’Metuka!



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