Sunday, March 1, 2015

Haveil Havalim: The Nes Gadol Edition

The timing couldn't have been more inconvenient but at the time I agreed to it, hosting Haveil Havalim was super convenient. Unfortunately, because I'm boarding a plane to see my husband tomorrow in the UK (where he's also heading tomorrow), the only posts in this edition are those that were submitted, which, as you'll notice, are few and from just a few authors. 

Bums me out that more people aren't participating in Haveil Havalim, especially with Purim this week, but I can't be down at all because ... I'm going to see my husband for the Hebrew anniversary of our marriage! Nes Gadol! (A huge miracle.) A stranger has given me a huge gift, and I cannot even begin to understand how or why HaShem sent me this angel, but all I can say is thank you, a million times thank you. 

What is Haveil Havalim, you ask?
Founded by Soccer Dad many years ago, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs — a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits, and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It’s hosted by different bloggers each week and used to be coordinated by Jack and is now coordinated on Facebook. The term "Haveil Havalim," which means “Vanity of Vanities,” is from Qoheleth, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other "excesses" and realized that it was nothing but "hevel," or in English, "vanity."
If you want to participate or, better yet, host, visit the Facebook group, join, and stay up to date on where to send your weekly entries. If you have a Jewish/Judaism/Israel-related post from the past week that you love and think is worth sharing, feel free to post it in the comments.

From Batya at Me-Ander, a book review of John Lennon and The Jews (interestingly, Doron Kornbluth was jut in Denver speaking on the same topic).

If you're curious what the snow in Israel looked like, Batya's Me-Ander has a great photo story on her blog. 

Shiloh Musings has a very poignant piece about terrorism and making the Palestinian Authority pay for the terrible damage it does to the lives of Israelis. 

Fot a ditty on Purim, head over to It's My Crisis and I'll Cry If I Need To for Happiness Promotes Health (truer words, folks!). 

If you're looking for more resources on Purim, check out these Educational Goodies and More over on Good News from Israel.

Over at Aliyahland you'll find "Beyond required reading: REVIEW of Catch the Jew, by Tuvia Tenenbom." From the author: I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book. But once I started reading, reluctantly, I was immediately sucked into Tenenbom’s world. Here's why you may be, too."

Also from Aliyahland is "Sanctity vs Cynicism: Highlights of GZ’s siddur party in Jerusalem" and the hint: sanctity won. "I was primed to be all snarky and cynical but it turned out that what he had to say to the boys was utterly simple, holy and perfect."

From Mamaland, The Jewish Defense League – why they don’t speak for me (or you?). The author says, "The JDL Canada website brags about how they helped arrest Holocaust denier Nazi Ernst Zundel. They should be proud. But they don’t mention Baruch Goldstein, a JDL member who murdered 29 praying Muslims, or any other JDL-initiated murders and murder attempts over the years."

Also: If you're looking for something to mix up your Purim experience, read up on Greek Esther! It will BLOW YOUR MIND. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Tzniut Project 2.0: The Traditional Egal Approach

This is the second in the Women's Edition of a series called The Tzniut Project 2.0. For the Women's Edition, women from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of observances have volunteered to anonymously answer questions that I have written about their practices, people's assumptions, and more. For more information on origins the project, click here

Please continue to check back with The Tzniut Project to read more stories and comment abundantly! For the Men's Edition, pop over here.

1. How do you affiliate Jewishly? Feel free to elaborate on the words people use to describe you and the words you use to describe yourself. If you feel comfortable letting the audience know the city/region where you live, please include that, too.

I “label” myself as Traditional Egalitarian. I tend to affiliate within the Conservative movement, but prefer to use "Traditional Egal" as my label more than one movement’s name. I live an area where most of my friends prefer to label themselves based on how they align versus a particular movement.

To me, traditional egalitarian means that I follow numerous Torah laws (kashrut, I am shomer Shabbat [guard Shabbat -- no tv, computer, use of money, etc]), but I also live in the modern world and believe that women can have an equal role in Judaism. So I wear a tallit at shul (services) and read Torah on a regular basis and think women can be rabbis, however I do not put on tefillin or wear a kippah daily like some women in my circle.

One reason I love my community of friends is that we each have our own way of affiliating and each have our own set of practices, but we really respect that and make each other comfortable.

2. I say modesty or tzniut … what does that mean to you? 

To me, tzniut means presenting oneself in a way that shows respect to yourself and others. This doesn’t just mean in how you dress, but how you speak and act and go about your life is also folded into tzniut.

3. Growing up, did your mother or grandmother (or any other female role models in your life) dress modestly in any way? Do you think modesty was something instilled in you by your family? Did you dress modestly growing up? 

I grew up with a mother who expected that we dress in a way that showed respect to our bodies and community. My mom and Bubbe wore pants/shorts/short sleeves/bathing suits. But as my mom would say, “It’s not how long your wear it, it’s how you wear it long.” So while some may say we did not dress modestly, for wearing pants/shorts/short sleeves, I do think we were modest dressers: no showing our stomachs, no short shorts, no super tight clothes, no low neck lines.

My mom also taught me context for how you dress. I once asked why I could wear a tankini at the pool, which showed my stomach, but if my shirt rode up reaching for something she would tell me I needed to pull it down, her response: “The beach is a place where it’s normal for that, you don’t show your midriff in the cereal aisle." There was many a disagreement in dressing rooms and if I bent over, even at home, and some skin showed from my shirt riding up I was told, “Shirt down, pants up!”

Sure, I rolled my eyes, but my mom taught me to respect myself in how I dress and that has for sure carried over into my adult life.

4. Are you married? How does your spouse feel about your choices for modest dress? Is it a dialogue or does your partner leave the mitzvah to you? 

I am not married, but when I look for a partner, I am looking for someone who respects how I define modesty and who also shows a sense of modesty for himself and for me.

5. What do you wear on a typical day? On Shabbat? If you dress differently on weekdays and Shabbat, why do you make this distinction and how? 

I teach at a modern Orthodox school, where all girls and women are required to wear knee-length (or longer) skirts and dresses. Having grown up going to a school that also required such dress, this is not hard to follow and it’s quite normal to put a skirt on each day. So, Monday through Friday, I wear skirts (and in winter I layer with leggings to keep warm); I love the knit skirts from Old Navy or the Gap since they make it easy to sit on the floor with my students. We can wear short sleeves shirts, and I tend to layer a tank top under skirts to keep my neck/chest line modest (my personal choice vs school dress code).

For Shabbat, when I go to shul, I have different skirts and tops. These are fancier and make me feel different from my weekly wardrobe and allow me to show kavod (honor) to Shabbat. Some of my shul skirts may fall above my knee. For me, I don’t see this as immodest, as it’s how I wear it (mind you it’s an inch above my knee), and I still feel respectable and appropriate. Sometimes I wear a nice dress to shul, since I don’t wear them to teach. For Shabbat, my goal is to dress up more then Monday to Friday so show the importance of the special day.

On non-school days and non-shul days, I do wear jeans when out and about. I do not feel comfortable in skinny jeans, since they are too form fitting. Often I am home on the couch in yoga pants or the like. I never leave the house (aside for the gym) in yoga pants, as I do not feel modest in such tight clothes (I am ok with it at the gym, since it’s the proper place for that attire). I live in the community in which my school is located and do see students sometimes. I am ok with them seeing me in jeans, since many of my girls and their moms also wear pants (it’s a modern Orthodox community).

6. What do you think other people (Jewish and non-Jewish) infer from your clothing and hair covering choices? Has anyone ever said anything to you outright that expresses a judgment based on your appearance? (Ex: “You don’t cover your hair or wear skirts, so why do you keep kosher?”)

When I am out and about after work, people in my area may infer I am Orthodox (skirt with leggings in a frigid Northeast winter usually is a sign of being observant Jewishly). On a weekend when I go out in jeans, I just blend into the crowd. And blending in, to me, means I am being modest, by not drawing attention to myself. If I run into the kosher market to get some meat or a kosher restaurant for a bite with friends, I am ok in pants since there are so many types of Jews in Boston and some women wear pants but still keep kosher, etc.

7. Have you ever surprised someone by dressing more or less modestly and making them rethink their stereotypes about what it means to be an observant Jew? 

I don’t think so. At least not in a way that I have ever noticed.

8. When you see someone who observes tzniut differently than you, what are your initial thoughts? How do you deal with them? Is there any particular aspect of tzniut that you see other people observing or practicing that you struggle with? 

I was raised in a house that did teach me to accept everyone and their practices and not judge one person because they do something differently then me. I think the beauty of modern Judaism is that there are so many ways for people to observe the laws in ways that keep them engaged. Granted, I personally cannot imagine covering my arms down to my wrists all the time, or only wearing floor length skirts, or even covering my hair when I get married. But, that is how some people feel close to Hashem and I respect their choices to do so just as I hope the respect my level of tzniut as it is how I feel close to Hashem.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Gordon-Bennett Immigration Update

I'm sure plenty of you out there in TV land are curious what's going on with the Gordon-Bennett family (beyond the trolls and small-minded folks that are tarrying about in online forums obsessing over my life, of course), so I thought I'd write up a little update. 

We're approaching a year in the immigration system and five months with Mr. T overseas. We haven't seen him in over two months, after my in-laws helped fly us to Israel for Asher's first birthday.

Mr. T's been floating between friends' apartments trying to keep busy with work, but unfortunately not seeing or speaking much to iBoy while in Israel. It's sad and breaks my heart that he's so far away from this branch of his family and unable to see his son. 

Ash and I are chugging along here in Denver, with the little man in daycare part time a few days a week and me working several part-time jobs trying to make it all work. I was finally able to do the drive back to Nebraska a few weeks ago to visit my dad (although I had to stop mid-way in both directions and grab a hotel because my arm was aching/falling asleep from reaching backwards to comfort the kid and, well, he wouldn't sleep in the car). Dad seems to be doing better, and he looks healthier, too. 

I've received kind help from local strangers and East Coast strangers, but ultimately all efforts to pull in Senator Michael Bennet's office and Congresswoman Diana DeGette's office have done little to nothing to expedite the process of our case so that the "we have 60 business days to look at your files and tell you that you messed something up and have to start all over again" issue becomes more like a 30 business day or even 45 business day wait period. 

I would have liked for my husband to be back for our second anniversary on February 20, but it didn't happen. I also would have liked for him to be back by Purim (March 4/5), but that won't be happening either. My prayer now is that he returns by Passover. There's no way we'd be able to go to Israel to spend the holiday with him because, well, it's one of the most expensive times to fly to Israel. We've joked that he could fly to Canada and we could meet there for Passover, but I'm hoping it doesn't come to that. 

The truth? I've never really done Passover on my own. Not the whole house cleaning, seder stuff. I've always been out, had the husband cleaning, or been out of the city or country. I'm grateful to have had easy Passovers in the past, but I long to enjoy the seder with my husband and my son. A girl can dream, right? 

I continue to daven aggressively, cry daily, and try to stay calm and keep a big smile on my face so Ash keeps his cool, too (he's teething, so how cool can he really be?). 

I also keep telling myself that everything comes from HaShem, gam zu l'tovah (this, too, is for the good), and that HaShem doesn't give us anything that we can't handle. The truth is, my faith is stronger and more unwavering than ever, despite the fact that I understand less and less every single day that we're apart. 

This life, this world, none of it makes sense. We plan, G-d laughs. We pray, G-d doesn't answer. We cry, our tears dissolve. And still, we chug along, believing and hoping and praying that the reward for the trials and tribulations will be great and beautiful. That's why we keep going. 

So I'll continue to pray as Chana did. She, barren and unable to conceive, her silent, weeping prayers answered as she conceived Shmuel, and I, barren in my own way, with silent prayers upon my weary lips for my husband and the desire to conceive again, too.

And, as my amazing, kind husband says: Be Happy. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Giveaway: Treat Yourself to a JORD Wood Watch!

For some, an important preparation point for Passover goes beyond buying enough wine and getting the right matzah to purchasing something nice -- a new dress, scarf, piece of jewelry, hat -- for the lengthy holiday.

Although it can be a point of contention (I crowdsourced a religious Jewish women's group on Facebook and got some pretty rough responses), in my experience it's a common practice to prep for Passover (or any major Jewish holiday) by doing something special to really ignite the special quality and holiness of the day.

In my world, this usually means buying a special scarf or something similar within my means, but this year, oh this year I got lucky and you have a chance to, as well.

The impressive folks behind the JORD Wood Watches contacted me about a review and a giveaway, and usually I would decline because of relevance to the blog, but I realized that Passover is fewer than 50 days away and people are in prep mode already. That's fewer than two months folks.

Have you even considered what your seder will look like? Have you thought about which haggadah you'll be using?

Well, I'm here so you have the option of kicking back a bit and not having to think about the stressful parts of Passover but being able to focus on something lighter that could bring some light to your holiday.

I requested the Ely - Black JORD Wood Watch, because, well, come on now, it's beautiful. I'd never actually seen, worn, or purchased a wood watch before, because I had no idea it was even a thing. I've been a loyal Swatch wearer for years, but I've been converted. And you know my commitment: I'm honest in my product and book reviews. Outside of receiving the product free, I'm not getting paid for this review.

This watch is light-weight (it's wood after all) but substantial on the wrist. The Ely in black is one of the classiest watches to ever grace my wrists; it's the kind of watch I'll be wearing to The Jewish Experience's Annual Gala Event this month but also will wear day to day to work. The versatility is key -- wood seems simplistic, but the finish and design are what take it up a notch.

So here I am, offering you the chance to win a JORD Wood Watch, which is a $129 value with free shipping. You get to pick out your own watch if you win -- for you, your sweetheart, your kid, you name it.

The giveaway ends on February 28, 2015, so please spread the love and make sure everyone you know who deserves something nice for Passover (or Easter or just because) gets an entry to win.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Judaica Webstore Passover Judaica Giveaway

With Mr. T out of the country, I can't even begin to think about Passover this year. I'm having enough trouble wrapping my head around Purim, although the good news is that we've finally decided on some costumes and a theme -- across the vast ocean and nearly 7,000 miles. If we can't physically be together, we'll at least be together in Purim fun.

But let's think forward a bit, forward to a time where, b'ezrat HaShem, we'll be reunited as a family. I'd like to think that we'll get to celebrate at our own seder table for the first time (our first seder we were in England, the second our goods were on a ship to the U.S. and we were at our upstairs neighbor's house) with shiny, new Passover goodies.

Yes, the pillow case is in its plastic cover -- until Passover!
I don't want to taint it with chametz.

This is a review and giveaway brought to you via me by the kind folks at The two items below -- a seder plate and Passover pillow case -- are valued at nearly $200, and I'm giving away this Passover package at the end of the post (it includes free shipping, too).

Shraga Landesman Seder Plate

Out of all the diverse, unique, and varied seder plates out there, Mr. T and I handpicked this beautiful, intricately formed cast aluminum number with a classic, yet modern pomegranate design that stands on four legs. I'm a sucker for pomegranates, and they grace just about every collection of holiday goodies I have in possession, from Shabbat to Passover and beyond. Check out that big spot to plop a shankbone, right?!

The Hebrew on this Shraga Landesman seder plate transliterates as "Ha'yom, ate yotzim b'hodesh aviv," or "Today, you go out in the month of Spring" from Exodus 13:4.

Love that detail! So pretty. 

Yair Emanuel Passover Seder Pillow

And then there's another tradition you might not know about, and that's the Passover pillow case. A lot of people make or embroider their own, and some even use the cute cases made by their kids in gan.

You see, every time we eat matzah or drink wine at the Passover seder, it's tradition to lean to the left upon a comfortable pillow. This act makes us feel like royalty, in contrast to the oppression of slavery suffered in Egypt before the Exodus. In some communities, only mean lean on comfy pillows, but I believe we should all be royal!

I'm a sucker for Yair Emanuel Judaica, and I have quite a few of his pieces in my home. You definitely have to recognize his work, as it's popular and everywhere. Classy, beautiful, and timeless, that's how I like my Judaica. This Passover pillow pulls some words from the haggadah: "Ha'lilah ha'zeh kulanu mesubin," or "On this night, we recline."

Ah, I love giving things away, and when I can handpick the beautiful Judaica you'll receive, it means all the more to me. Ready?

Again, this Passover Giveaway Package includes the Shraga Landesman Seder Plate, Yair Emanuel Passover Seder Pillow, and free shipping. The package is valued at nearly $200! The giveaway is only running for a week, so enter now!

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