Sunday, April 19, 2015

Getting Ready for Shavuot Through Ruth

I've been seriously slacking when it comes to reading lately, mostly because when Ash sleeps on Shabbat (my exclusive reading time), I tend to nap, too. It's lonely in a quiet house, so sleeping passes the time. That being said, I've both purchased and received gobs of books over the past several months, received for review, purchased for pleasure (Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk and Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties Second Edition).

For review, I've received quite a few stellar picks, among them two selections from the Maggid Studies in Tanakh on the books of Joshua and Ruth. Although I haven't delved deeply and passionately into the two of them yet, I have poked around Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy by Yael Ziegler. I swear, every time I open the book the page I land on is full of poignant, relevant goodies. These books are very much written in an academic style, and I imagine had I stayed in the world of Judaic Studies, this is the kind of book I would have written someday about Rachav (can't wait to get deeply involved in the Joshua book for this very reason). 

A few weeks back, during Passover, I happened upon a discussion of Ruth -- a convert, perhaps the convert of Judaism -- being a devukah, which the author describes as the "act of cleaving to another ... the very opposite of selfishness." It essentially is the perfect type of relationship, it is the relationship that Ruth shares with Naomi, with Boaz, and it is how the relationship of husband and wife is meant to be, just as it is with man and HaShem. It got me thinking about my own relationships, with HaShem and with my own husband. Am I, like Ruth, a devukah? Or am I relying too much on myself? Not out of selfishness, but out of the stubborn belief that I can do and be it all. Nearly seven months have passed and I have maintained a home, raised a child, and survived the ups and downs and injuries and pains -- on my own. Yes, I've had the support of family, friends, and my husband, but by and large, I've powered through this all upon my own shoulders. That, friends, is not being a devukah

Then, just yesterday over Shabbat, I opened up to a section about Boaz referring to Ruth as an eishet chayil ("a woman of valor"). I had zero clue where this song/poem that Jews the world over recite every Friday evening sings of the only woman in the entire Tanakh to be accorded such a title. Mr. T recently spent hours making me a paper cut of this very song/poem and sent it for our anniversary in February, a special, painstakingly created gift of something that holds a bit of a tenuous history with me. I've gone nearly seven months without hearing the words sung by my husband, and it breaks my heart every Friday night to skip over it, but who wants to sing a song about a woman of valor to herself? 

To know that Ruth, a convert like me, is a face and name behind eishet chayil, is incredibly powerful. To know that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Jews around the world sing a song merited by Ruth fills me with a sense of pride -- and responsibility. 

These lessons and thoughts are hyper relevant right now. Why? Ruth is read during Shavuot, which is the holiday that is coming up after the 49 days of the omer that we're in the midst of counting right now. These weeks leading from Passover to Shavuot are intense, meaningful, and meant as preparation for the giving of the Torah. 

I can't wait to read more in this intensely fascinating and well-written book. It's thoughtful, pulling from both academic and midrashic texts. It's perfectly balanced and, without a doubt, the perfect addition to my library!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Time to Craft Your Shlissel Challah!

A Beautiful Shlissel Challah by Mandy D.

I love sharing little-known customs in Judaism, even those that I don't necessarily practice myself. I'll admit that if Mr. T were around I'd probably bake up a delicious, beautiful shlissel challah this Shabbat, but since it's just the little one and I and it's snowing in Denver, chances are I'll use my molds for some easy gluten-free challah

Just what is shlissel challah

For the first Shabbat after Passover, it's common in some circles to bake a challah either in the shape of a key or with an actual key baked inside -- shissel being Yiddish for "key." The custom is considered a good omen for livelihood, or parnassa!

I've got a whole article on it over on's Judaism page. Check out the origins, possible ties to Christianity, and recipes, too. 

Take me to the shlissel challah!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An Unfortunate Fall and Passover Through the Years

We're in the midst of Passover and I'd like to wish you all a moadim l'simcha! It's been an interesting week, but really, seriously, when isn't it interesting?

In a nutshell, I was walking to a Passover seder on Friday night and while simply walking down the sidewalk pushing the buggy something happened and I broke my foot (fifth metatarsal fracture/Jones fracture). Yay!

There was a dramatic moment where Asher's stroller started rolling into oncoming traffic, which is why I don't remember what happened during the fall, but let's just say I didn't think I'd broken anything. I thought, maybe I sprained my ankle or pulled something. I spent the first two days of Passover hobbling around in the homes of two amazing friends, with them carrying Ash up and down stairs yelling at me to stop getting up. I can't help it. I'm not a sit-down-and-rest kind of person. I'm super freaking woman!

So for now, after two visits to two different ERs, I'm in a boot. An irritating boot that I'm sleeping in (doctor's advice). I have an orthopedic appointment on Monday, and that's when I'll find out whether I'm sticking to the boot (please G-d) or going the cast route (please G-d no I can't be that immobile for six weeks without another parent or family around).

In other news, I was reflecting on so many Passovers over the years, trying to plot where I was and what I was up to. It's easy for me to look back on the blog, of course, as I've documented most of them since my Reform conversion back in April 2006. Let's take a gander:

  • 2004-2005 (Nebraska): Evidently I went to a few seders during this time. I really don't remember with whom or where, however. 
  • 2006 (Nebraska): I actually hadn't had my conversion yet when Passover rolled around. I spent the first night seder with the other handful of Jews at UNL in Seaton Hall for a very heavily pre-packaged seder experience (jellied gefilte, folks). For second night, I distinctly remember going up to Omaha to a very large synagogue (was it Conservative? Reform?) for a big seder. I don't remember much about the seder itself, but I do remember feeling like it was something I'd been doing for years. 
  • 2007 (Chicago): It was probably my worst Passover, spent at a mega (Reform) shul community sederin Lakeview. Worst.
  • 2008 (Chicago): A lot changed between 2007 and 2008. I had really started assessing where I was Jewishly, and it led me to an Orthodox synagogue just weeks before Passover. With the flip of a switch, I was set for a seder thanks to the rabbi, and it was probably one of the best, most memorable seders I've ever had. I'm guessing it's because it was the first 'real' seder experience I'd ever had. This was around the time that I was launched face first into the world of Orthodox Judaism and my current home religiously.
  • 2009 (Florida): Yes, I got the obligatory "go away for Passover" experience when I schlepped to Florida for the first days of the holiday. Honestly, I look back on my Florida Passover adventures with a lot of fondness and happiness (my former in-laws are some very special people). This year we weren't super observant and made our way out to a Dunkin Donuts to get some chol ha'moed (middle days) coffee and visit the beach. It was pretty amazing. 
  • 2010 (Florida): We were back in Florida. I didn't write about it, but I distinctly remember hanging out by the pool watching Jewish people enjoy the grilled burgers on ... hamburger buns! Happy Passover?
  • 2011 (Monsey, NY): Funny story ... I totally forgot my ex and I were in Monsey, NY, for the seders. How did I forget that? We were with some pretty awesome cousins, and Monsey is always a trip. 
  • 2012 (Denver): I'll never forget this Passover because it involved a turning point in my life that was pretty terrible when I was in the midst of it. I came out of this Passover with some big decisions, major betrayals, and a new perspective on needing to change my trajectory. The result? Applying for aliyah just a few months later. 
  • 2013 (Edgware, England): One of my most favorite Passover experiences, I was in England just a short time after getting hitched to Mr. T. We traveled around London, me getting to do my touristy things, while schlepping cheese and matzah along the way. We had family sederim and rested in the comfort of each other's company. It was pretty amazing.
  • 2014 (Neve Daniel, Israel): This was a bittersweet Passover because our entire apartment was packed up and on its way to the U.S. We had an amazing seder with our upstairs neighbors with a fairly newborn Asher who would. not. fall. asleep. I learned my lesson from that seder experience by putting him to bed before the seders this year, of course. 
These are Passover nachos! Just toss some (GF) matzah with olive oil
and salt, bake at 400 F for 5-10 minutes. Top as you see fit. Nosh!
And this year? Well, you've already heard a bit about this year. Two seders at the homes of two friends around the corner from each other here in Denver. The first night, I used the Rabbi Sacks haggadah, because that's what Mr. T was using in the U.K. and it gave me a minor connection to my husband. It went late, but it was fun and cozy. The second night, it was a raucous and exciting seder chock full of laughs, delicious food, and a fun drinking game. Both nights Asher was tucked away in a pack 'n' play nice and early and I got to feel like an adult for a few hours. 

Mr. T was busy working a Passover hotel by the shore in England, and he's heading off to Israel on Monday to prep for his immigration interview and take care of some last-minute copies and things he needs for the interview. I'm hoping that, considering my current circumstances with the foot and all, maybe they can bump the meeting a little sooner. Your prayers are always welcomed!

Back to entertaining the little one. It's been an interesting week with him off of daycare and me with a broken foot :) All I can say is thank G-d for Instacart

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Good News, Better News

I've had a surprisingly uplifting few weeks. Even spending all day shopping and cleaning the apartment for Passover couldn't get me down. You're probably wondering why I turned my house over for Passover so early, right? Okay, let's start at the beginning. 

The Good News: I got an unexpected email last week from someone I'd been speaking with about a job opportunity back in November. The talks back then stalled and I was told they'd be hiring in mid-2015, so I took a job at The Jewish Experience and life plodded on. So the unexpected email came at a time when I needed a bit of a lift up. Finances have been really hard, life has been hard, everything has been impossible, but I've been doing it because I have no choice. In the span of a week, I talked to several people, and on Friday got the official job offer. 

I couldn't, absolutely couldn't, turn it down. 

I'll tell you all more about the job once I actually start it after Passover, but let me just say it's going to be exciting and it's going to give me the flexibility I need as a powerhouse working mother and the career boost I've been waiting for my entire career. 

The job has me trekking out to California on Sunday/Monday to meet the team and get jazzed about the awesome things coming, hence why I turned the house over for Passover today. I won't have Sunday, there's no daycare next Thursday, so ... there we are. Two weeks of matzah! Yay!

The Better News: I woke up to an email from my mother-in-law, which sent me into a tizzy searching my email inbox for ... yes ... a notice from the National Visa Center that they finally got around to looking at our paperwork, everything is in order, and Mr. T has an interview scheduled for May 15 in Jerusalem!

I'm going to pretend it was me sending an email every week for the past month reminding them that they received the revised paperwork on February 24 at 12:34 p.m. and it was signed for by ... you get the idea. I hope my nudging actually worked. Nothing else seemed to work (we were denied an expedite twice). 

So. Yay! Theoretically, from everything I've read, once the interview is complete they let him know on the spot whether he's been approved or denied. If he's approved, the process of getting the physical visa is quick. 

Please, please, please pray for a Shavuot reunion for us. On Shavuot, HaShem gave us the Torah. I pray that this year, for Shavuot, he'll give me my husband back. 

I want to thank everyone for the constant support, the kindness, the love, the understanding. The cheerleaders have gotten me through this madness, and I know you'll continue to get me through. I also want to thank the haters and the trolls for representing everything about myself that I could hate and complain about if I had the energy or time. The haters and trolls are the personal slam book that I've never had to write or open. Thank you for that. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mourning My Bangs

Fewer than two years ago, while debating what my head and hair would look like after I married Mr. T and entered my second marriage, I asked the question: Goodbye Bangs? And now, well, I've finally committed to saying goodbye.

I've written a lot on hair and head covering over the years. It's a central component to living life as a religious Jewish woman (not to mention a host of other religious and trendy lifestyles), so of course it comes up.
Nearly six months ago I purchased my first synthetic wig online. It was a short, dark bob, and it was cute, but not the right style. Then I found a long, flowing synthetic wig on Amazon for a mere $16 and purchased it. Crazy long, I cut some of the length and was in love with the look (always paired with a knit hat because, it being synthetic and cheap, the crown looked weird without the hat). I wore the cheap wig for about a month for Shabbat and various functions before it got ratted and knotty. I washed it according to the best instructions on YouTube but it, well, it died. At $16 a pop, I purchased another one for a few annual events and a Purim trip to the UK, but, well, that died after about two wears. 

So for now, I say goodbye to synthetic wigs. I've love a real wig to wear to special events, weddings, and for the occasional Shabbat where I just want to feel va-va-voom and beautiful, but let's be honest, there's no way I'll be able to afford a wig in this lifetime, and I'm okay with that. Because I love scarves, also known as tichles or mitpachot. I love the variety, the act of wrapping, the beauty of accessorizing with something so simple. 

While in the UK, having forgot my volumizer (that poof I wear on my head under my scarves to make it look like I have masses of beautiful locks underneath), I basically lived for 10 days in knit, winter hats. The upside? I didn't scream "I'm a Jew! Look at me!" The downside? I didn't wear any scarves, I felt frumpy, and I slowly realized that my bangs, the bangs that I've had my entire life (I joke that I came out of the womb with bangs), got frizzy and gross and unmanageable. 

Now, they've been on the outs for a while. While pregnant with Ash my hair got really full and luscious. It was wonderful. Then he was born and I've basically spent the past 15 months watching my hair thin, fall out, and deteriorate. All the treatments, conditioners, and love in the world hasn't helped. 

I'm mourning my hair. But in a way I never thought I would. Covering came easy to me. I've always loved covering my hair. It shows that I'm married, that I'm Jewish, that I'm proud. It's an outward mitzvah that makes me feel like I'm doing something for all of Am Yisrael. I'm going my part in my little corner of the world, the best I can. But I never thought I'd cover all of it, every last strand. It was never part of the plan. 

So here I am. Sans bangs. Turning another corner in hair covering with an open mind and a bit of hesitance. 

I suppose the one major upside is that I don't have to think about that tefach (hand's breath allowed showing) anymore. Also? I can finally do all of those fun styles I never could before with bangs. I'm going to view this as a new beginning rather than a loss. 

Forehead, say hello to the world for the first time in 30 some years.