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. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fun With Jewish Anniversary Gifts

Having just celebrated our second anniversary (together, B"H), over Shabbat at a close rabbi friend's home, we got to talking about anniversaries and the classic tradition of yearly gifts based on tradition.

For example, the first anniversary is traditionally paper and in the modern world evidently it's clocks, while the second anniversary is cotton in tradition and china in the modern gift-giving world (I got the former, not the latter), and I can't wait for year four when I get a desk set! Oh the romance.

In the midst of the discussion, we decided that there's a great need to develop yearly Jewish anniversary gifts. Here are some of my thoughts.

Let's get going with the First Anniversary:

  • Traditional: Classic Cholent
  • Modern: Hamin (which is just Sephardi cholent, but it's got lots of dried fruit and stuff in it)

The 10th Anniversary has to be something really beautiful.

  • Traditional: Kishke
  • Modern: Vegetarian Kishke (come on now, you can't get the real stuff in the U.S.)

I really puzzled over the 25th Anniversary. Here's my thought:

  • Traditional: Lokshen Kugel
  • Modern: Crustless Pashtida (that's a quiche, sort of)

I'm thinking that the 50th Anniversary should be

  • Traditional: Schmaltz Herring 
  • Modern: Mustard Herring (oo la la!)

Come on, let's have fun with this, folks. What do you think? 

Note: Mr. T actually spent nine hours on a hand-made paper cut of Aishes Chayil for me, which, honestly, I have absolutely no words to describe. It has left me utterly speechless. 

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.