Tuesday, May 14, 2019

When You Can't Live Your Dream

I've written nearly 2,000 posts on this blog since launching it in 2006. In my life and career, I've written millions of words. I was once an influencer in the Jewish world who spoke at conferences on panels and was a sought-after source of ... something. I've somehow impacted hundreds of people, answering questions about Judaism and converting to Judaism. I've managed to be the subject of forums and conversations and harassment and abuse, as well as praise and appreciation.

When I launched this blog, I wanted to tell my story and share my experiences. I don't know that my goal was to help others, but it was most definitely my version of self care before it was trending. And it had the happy byproduct of making me something of a "who's who" in the world, even if that world was small and it was Jewish. I loved that world.

And now? Although I have a dozen angles with which to share my life to the world, it no longer feels like a priority. I post a lot on Instagram, but my life is largely consumed with work and then the side hustles and helping my kids' preschool with marketing and my kids and husband. My spare moments are rare, and when they come, they're eaten up by grocery shopping or cooking or maybe catching an episode of Superstore with my husband or taking a shower.

I don't know who I am or what I'm doing anymore. When I ask myself what my passion is, what would make me happy, all I hear is "I want to write. Just let me write."

But most of the time, when I sit down to write, the keys are empty.

I write at work about manufacturing and marketing and fintech and senior living and a million other topics that I'm proud to be able to write about because I'm a damn-fine researcher and an even better writer.

I think the biggest problem is that I can't drop everything and do whatever I want because I'm not independently wealthy and we haven't saved properly. I can't live on a whim or live my dream or live my passion or whatever because it's not an option. I can live my truth, that's for sure, because my truth is that life is hard and I can't do what I want. Still.

So I'll keep plugging and chugging along and hoping something clicks, something happens, something sparks, something that means I can stop the side hustles and extras in favor of something that is fully satisfying and stuff-dreams-are-made-of worthy.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Ask Chaviva Anything: Shabbat Candles, Mitzvah #16, and More



Hey hey, it's time for another installment of Ask Chaviva Anything! Let's dig in.

Q: How do Jews participate in lighting candles on Friday evening when they have a son who plays high school football on Fridays?

If someone has a son playing football on Friday evenings, after sundown, on Shabbat, there is a pretty good chance they're not Torah observant (Orthodox if you want to go that route), so their observance of candle lighting will be in accordance to however they understand the law. Many families across the spectrum will light Shabbat candles, have some challah and wine and a nice dinner, and then go to the movies or sit down to binge on Netflix on Shabbat. 

Is this how I believe and feel that it should be done? Nope! Would I chastise someone who is going to take the step to light candles and then go to a football game? Nope! Is this how I want my children to observe Shabbat when they're older? Nope! But Jewish observance is fluid and people are on the ladder moving up and down and up and down. The ladder leads us all to HaShem, so as long as Jews are on the ladder, I think that's a darn good thing. 

Q: I am studying the 613 Mitzvot. #16 - what is the scroll of Torah that is to be written?

Good question here! So according to the Rambam's list of mitzvot, #16 is actually a mitzvah about character: "You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him" (Leviticus 19:17). The #16 you're citing comes from a different list, probably those listed out by the Chofetz Chaim.

In most lists, the writing of the Torah mitzvah is #82 I believe.

Either way, the scroll of Torah is exactly what it sounds like! It's the five books of Moses, the written Torah. 

Q: Do Jews light a 7 branch menorah in their homes and is there a special way to light it?

Nope, and nope. Now, if you're thinking about the chanukiyah that we light every Chanukah, then yes, we light an eight-branched chanukiyah, and there is a special way to light it. Read more here. 

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Judaism and Sparking Joy

I might be late to the party, as is want to happen when you've got three kids and a full-time job, but I want to talk about the Marie Kondo "KonMari" movement and that whole "does it spark joy" mantra. I've watched quite a few friends KonMari'd their houses and lives, and I got to thinking about the concept of joy and what sparks joy in my life, not to mention the amount of excess junk floating around my house that leaves me feeling like I'm drowning most days.

You see, I moved around a lot as an adult. I was never particularly attached to things. The stuff I was most attached to were my words, and those went with me wherever I was because of the magic of the interwebs. I remember losing a hand-scribbled poem I feverishly wrote in the back of a poetry venue in college and freaking out until I could actually locate the flyer (yes, the poem was written on the back of a bright orange flyer for another event). Paper was my enemy, things were my enemy, words were my voice and my power.

So, as I moved from Nebraska to Washington D.C. to Chicago to Connecticut to New Jersey to Denver to Israel, I took very little with me from place to place. I had my clothes, some books, a bit of Judaica, and that was it. I didn't need much. I never needed much. Things were replaceable, and they were just things.

Then I met my husband. Although he didn't have much in the way of stuff, he had a lot of stuff. Does that make sense? I feel like over the past six years we've collectively amassed an immense amount of junk and despite taking a bag or two to Goodwill every other week or so, we still have so much stuff. Is it because we have kids? Is it because we're settled? Why do we have so much stuff?

I'm sitting in the basement of our little house (seriously, our backyard is the same square footage as our whole house), looking around the room, and although I love this couch, I could live without it. Same with the TV and most of the books and the lamps and the other random things laying around. The photos, of course, would stay with me, as would the memory books from my kids' schooldays. I want them to be able to look at them someday and decide how and when to dispense of them.

But if I ask myself, do these things spark joy? That's different than asking if I need or even if I want them, isn't it? And it's definitely different than asking if these things make me happy, right?

According to some definitions, happiness is fleeting, while joy is long-lasting and deeply embedded in the mind, body, and spirit. So, although a quick trip out of state alone without having to worry about crying babies in the middle of the night might make me happy, will it bring me joy?

In Hebrew, there are a number of words that are translated regularly as "joy," including:
  • simcha (שמחה‎): broadly used for happiness, but also for special happy occasions
  • osher (אושר‎): used for a deeper, more lasting happiness (also where we get our son's name Asher!)
  • gilah (גילה‎): often refers to an ecstatic outburst of joy
  • ditzah (דיצה‎): often translated as a sublime joy
  • sasson (ששון‎): a sudden or unexpected happiness
  • ... and many, many more
Simcha, in particular, is fascinating in the Torah, because it's never experienced alone. Simcha is joy that is shared. In this way, then, happiness is a larger concept while joy is what happens in the moment (contrary to the definition offered above). Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in a discussion of happiness and joy, quoted J.D. Salinger, who once said, "Happiness is a solid, joy is a liquid." And further, Rabbi Sacks says,
"Happiness is something you pursue. But joy is not. It discovers you. It has to do with a sense of connection to other people or to Gd. It comes from a different realm of happiness. It is a social emotion. It is the exhilaration we feel when we merge with others. It is the redemption of solitude."
This idea really resonates with me. Rabbi Sacks says that Judaism is an ode to joy, because through all of the ups and downs, tragedies and successes, the Jewish people have always found a way to be joyful, to gather, and to rejoice. Joy is found in the now, in the acceptance and appreciation of this very moment, and it all happens in the pursuit of happiness, I suppose. 

So, in a way, the KonMari approach of asking "Does this spark joy?" makes sense in the moment. It makes you consider the very instance in which you're living. However, if joy discovers you and not the other way around, the method makes no sense. 

Looking at my life, and knowing that I don't live in a world based on things, it's easy for me to see what joy there is in my life. People who come and go, experiencing the unexpected, moments that I could never have possibly imagined, those are all of the things that bring me joy, because it's about connections, engaging with words and emotions. It's bigger than things and stuff, it's all about something greater, something larger, something more important. 

And then, of course, there's the whole issue that the KonMari method might be venturing into animism, which presents a whole other issue ... but I'll let Jew in the City tackle that heavy topic.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Thoughts on Being the Jewish Convert Mom


Almost suddenly, I've realized that where I thought I was empty, I'm full. My point of view here on the blog was once as a woman going through a conversion, then as a Jewish woman navigating life as a convert, navigating life as a divorced convert, navigating life as an Israeli, navigating life as a mom ... and now?

Now I'm navigating life as a Jewish woman watching her children grow up in a completely different universe than the one she grew up in.

Every day I realize how completely and utterly unprepared I am for parenting Jewish children, but I also realize how lucky I am being able to watch my kids grow up with the gift of being members of Am Yisrael. I came late to my destiny, they'll grow up knowing theirs.

Here's to another adventure!

Monday, March 11, 2019

On the Backs of Women: Sheli v'shelechem shelah hu.

New favorite quote/piece of Torah?
My Torah knowledge and yours is actually hers.
Sheli v'shelechem shelah hu.
שלי ושלכם שלה הוא
The whole of the story goes like this about Rabbi Akiva and his wife Rachel:
He went back and sat for another twelve years in the study hall. When he came back he brought twenty-four thousand students with him. His wife heard and went out toward him to greet him. Her neighbors said: Borrow some clothes and wear them, as your current apparel is not appropriate to meet an important person. She said to them: “A righteous man understands the life of his beast” (Proverbs 12:10). When she came to him she fell on her face and kissed his feet. His attendants pushed her away as they did not know who she was, and he said to them: Leave her alone, as my Torah knowledge and yours is actually hers.
I read this in Eishes Chayil, and it came at the culmination of the book in explaining the culmination of what it means to be an Eishes Chayil. All that you do for your children and your husband and family and community, from dawn until dusk, working, and providing, and tidying, and everything else you do to allow those you love to become their best, most amazing selves, all comes back to the Eishes Chayil

The world is built on the backs and strength of women, of wives, of mothers. And that is quite the responsibility and point of pride. 

I'm gearing up to write a longer review of the book for publication, and I've got so many highlights, so many questions, so many thoughts. Stay tuned, it's coming!