Thursday, January 31, 2008

Are you kidding me?

I really ... really want to know who thought making a Holocaust float for the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Carnival parade was a good idea. I mean ... really. Beware: That site has a picture of the float on it, so, prepare to be maybe offended.
"A guy dressed as Hitler atop a pile of dead Jews, that's too much. It's beyond
the limits of common sense. There is no way we could accept that," said Sergio
Niskier, president of the Rio federation, hailing the judge's decision.

Too much? I think it's more than "too much." It's the most moronic idea ever. I don't know what the Viradouro Samba School was thinking. I wish they had a website ... and I wish I knew what their decisionmaking process was. Because, seriously. WTF?

If they go ahead with the float, they'll be fined a mere $110,000 for the float and $28,000 for the Hitler impersonator.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My Big Fat Jewish Day, Part II

So I wrote yesterday about my Big Fat Jewish Morning on my way to work. Well, today was ... quite the same. What's the deal? Am I just more conscious or what? I feel like there's something I'm supposed to get from all of this. I can't figure it out. ARGH! The universe is so WEIRD!

+ I injured my leg over the past two days, with it coming fully to a head last night where I overextended it and basically jacked up my knee. I woke up this morning, unable to walk. Thus, I got on the horn and called the orthopedic clinic and they set me up to come down in the early afternoon. I got there, and my doctor, was Dr. Cohen. Now, aside from this being a coincidence (there are a million doctors named Cohen), the guy was sort of nuts. He started talking about chances are a cyst behind my knee popped, causing pain in my leg, and could result in a blood clot which could cause me to DIE. I was freaked out. Thinking, "I just wanted to get my leg checked out, come on." So he sent me away to this other place where they do ultrasounds and things, to get my leg on the ultrasound to make sure I had no clots.

+ I stop at Subway to grab some lunch (it was that or McDonald's) in the half-hour I have to burn between appointments. I grab my food and sit down, look at the table across from me to find an African-American gal with a magen David necklace. She looks, I look, we smile, both on our phones. Then, this guy who was at the Young Adult function three weeks ago walks by, looks in as if recognizing me, and then keeps on walking. I can't remember his name.

+ I head to the building for the ultrasound, where I sit in another waiting room. A man and his wife come in and he is wearing cowboy boots and a nice rural getup. He picks up a copy of the New York Times. His wife asks him what he's reading about. He then says the following:
I'm reading about Germany. (pause, then he says louder) They're building another memorial, you know? Because of the Nazis. (pause) Do you see any other countries doing that? No. (pause, he looks at the cover of the paper and then looks at his wife, laughs) New York Times. (pause) Not going to agree with much in here.
I couldn't help it. I felt like he was talking to me.

+ I leave the appointment, get on the bus, and head north to the Walgreens where I get my prescriptions filled. I get off at Belmont to the sound of chanting, flags waving, people in traditional Palestinian scarves. Israel flags, a few, are waving in the blustery, cold wind. A little man approaches me with a flier and I look up at the crowd and back at him and say "Fuck that." I walk away a bit and turn around to watch as the cops pile on the crowd in front of the theater. The little man waddles up. "I'm with YOU!" he says and points at the Jewish star around my neck, glistening like some badge of honor or something. He hands me a flier, goes back to his little group and brings another and says "Join us on Saturdays!" He explains to me that they're protesting the Israeli film festival -- a one-night event. I slowly gather that there are three groups of people here: 1) Palestinians and their supporters, calling for a free Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel and its power in the world; 2) Jews from "Not in My Name," a group of Jews who sympathize with the Palestinians and call for an end to the atrocities; 3) Jews who believe the "Not in My Name" folks are a hindrance to the Jewish cause and are sporting the Israel flag with pride -- they are the smallest group there.

Had it not been for the fact that my knee and leg were killing me, that I needed to get my prescription, and that I was lacking a scarf, gloves and a hat, I would have stuck around. The cops were really coming in and the chants were getting more heated. "Zionism is Racism" and "Zionism = World War 3" and "Down with Israel." Now, I've posted plenty about the issues of Palestinian/Israelis, but I looked at this particular protest as moronic. It's a freaking film festival. Yes, freedom of speech, amen and all that. But come on. Protest something else, like call for political action. Don't protest a freaking film festival. Sigh.


But that was the big Jewish day. It was all in a period of about 5 or 6 hours. I mean, it was strange. Or maybe it wasn't. Either way, peculiar and makes me wonder about myself. I feel like I'm in a really weird place emotionally, physically, professionally, religiously, and in general. So here we are. I had a lot I wanted to talk about Jewishly, but we'll leave this at this right now.

Shalom, friends.

Monday, January 28, 2008

On the Way into Work.

I'd like to think that my morning was my "Big Fat Jewish Morning."

I got on the train and after being thrown around by this woman with too many bags with too many things protruding from them. At about the third stop a man gets on, full beard and had, and my initial instinct was that he was probably Orthodox or the like. I notice a few stops later that he's reading a little maroon book that says "RASHI" on the cover with some Hebrew. I really wanted to strike up a conversation, but I didn't really know what to say to him. I didn't want to sound like a moron -- "Oooh! I love Rashi, too!" Obviously he is a learned man, reading Rashi on the El. So I sort of tried to figure out what he was reading and kept looking over his shoulder. I'm sure he caught me staring, but it was the ONE morning I wish I had had one of my many Jewish texts with me that I'm in the middle of. Instead, I had a book of NYT crossword puzzles, inspired by the movie "Wordplay." What he had, as I have searched tirelessly to discover, is the Sapirstein Edition of the Torah with Rashi's commentary (in the softcover, though). So guess what Chavi wants and is now going to try to locate? You betcha. I never did talk to the guy, despite sitting next to him later on the bus. I did, however, pull up this week's portion on my BlackBerry and as I sat there reading it, thought: It's like two very different generations of Jews right here on this bus on the south side. One with a long beard, black hat, and a paperback copy of the Rashi commentary and a brieface, and a girl with a short, spiky cut wearing a T-shirt, jeans and chucks and reading Torah online.

Then I got to campus and no kidding it seemed like every third person I walked past had on kippot and tzitzit.

I tried to take it as a sign that I needed to find my zen moment as I approached work. The bliss of being surrounded by Jews and Judaism quickly turned though and I now feel sick to my stomach.

The horror of this job never ends. I feel like I should write a tell-all article and submit it to some major publication to express how horrible the person I work for truly is -- that it isn't just a rumor. But I know how horrible that would be of me. Believe me, I'll pray for the person who has to take over this job.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A potpourri.

Just a few things.

+ I forgot to mention Rashi died. That is, my fish Rashi. He didn't even live a month. It would appear that my amazing pet rearing skills have passed. He left the earth as we know it on Tuesday night. I think I am now over the idea of the importance of having something "living" in my apartment. I kills plants, and evidently, fish, too.

+ This past week (as in, yesterday's Shabbat) was probably one of the most important, being as it carried with it the Torah portion "Yitro." It was Jethro, Moses's father-in-law, telling him he can't do it all alone, as well as the giving of the decalogue (the commandments) and the gathering of Israel at Sinai. It was a defining moment in our peoplehood and would set the stage for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, among others. The revelation at Sinai is a most beautiful piece to read in the Torah, and I wrote extensively on my study last year. Perhaps the most interesting thing about my study this year -- beyond that my stress and exhaustion kept me from truly pouring myself into it -- was a simple piece of the text that sticks with me and seems to rub me in a peculiar way.

When Jethro is speaking to Moses about the Israelites escaping Egypt, he says that it is a great thing that the Israelites escaped from under the "hand" of the Egyptians. I was struck by the usage here. The thing is, the typical phrasing is the hand of G-d and in the case of tyrants, the "fist" of tyrants. Even in the translation this distinction is typically made. I checked the Hebrew and lo and behold, there was "yad," a yod and a dalet, the Hebrew word for hand. I find it peculiar that such a gentle word was used for what the Egyptians had the Israelites under. It struck me as uncomfortable and out of place. So here I sit with my Hebrew dictionary and there is an entry for "fist." Of course, I'm pretty poor with my Hebrew without the vowels, but my best guess is that it's something like "agrop" or "agroph." Though it could also start with an "i" though that's pretty unlikely.

So I go to the internet to a Hebrew-English dictionary and it gives me a variety of answers for "fist" in the Babylon English-Hebrew, including: (ש"ע) אגרוף; יד (סלנג); כתב-יד (סלנג). I'm perplexed at the variety of things in parenthesis, but I'm guessing that the third choice (the one furthest to the left, that is) which appears to be "catav yad" is probably the most accurate, as it symbolizes an action, which, the fist is. You make a fist, it isn't simply a fist. A hand, however, is simply a hand. Now, כתב typically has something (in its various forms) to do with writing or composing, suggesting an "active hand. But then my dictionary leads to perhaps the point. "Katut" or "Kathut" means pounded, crushed. This is more what we would expect from the Egyptians, nu?

But back to the point. It seems peculiar that simply "yad" would be preferred to any other of a variety of terms. Although, perhaps such an expression was not viable in Biblical Hebrew? I haven't looked at what Rashi says (if anything) or searched the Torah for instances of "fist." And this will all likely come tomorrow or this week when I can spend some more time with it. I just think it's fascinating how such a small morsel of such a large, important parshah can stick with me.

+ Finally, today, January 27 is a pretty important day. Most don't know about it or think about it, probably because most know that there is a specific day for honoring the Holocaust, and it most assuredly is not January 27. Yom Hashoah as we know it is in April. This was declared by the Knesset in Israel. However, as I learned from my handy dandy A Little Joy, A Little Oy calendar, today, January 27, is the day declared by the United Nations as Holocaust Remembrance Day. From the blog (the blog of the Israeli Consulate in New York City, from last year at this time):

Rejecting any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part, the General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution (A/RES/60/7) condemning “without reserve” all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, whenever they occur…

It decided that the United Nations would designate 27 January -– the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp — as an annual International Day of Commemoration to honour the victims of the Holocaust, and urged Member States to develop educational programmes to instil the memory of the tragedy in future generations to prevent genocide from occurring again, and requested the United Nations Secretary-General to establish an outreach programme on the “Holocaust and the United Nations”, as well as measures to mobilize civil society for Holocaust remembrance and education, in order to help prevent future acts of genocide.

The Holocaust was a turning point in history, which prompted the world to say “never again”. The significance of resolution A/RES/60/7 is that it calls for a remembrance of past crimes with an eye towards preventing them in the future.

Be well, friends. And thank you for the thoughts and comments.

Work, Stress, Exhaustion, and Shul.

Note: This is a long post, but it's meaningful. To me, anyway. I hope you read the whole thing. And if you don't? Well, you've saved yourself a slice from my life.

Yesterday -- that's Friday for those of you keeping score but not a calendar -- will go down in history as the Worst Day Ever in my Career as a Minion to Some Guy Who Thinks He's More Important Than Everyone Else. I've complained about my job in the past, but at this point I'll say I've hit my threshold. I've never in my life been thrown under the bus (I'd never used that expression before this job) or walked all over like a ratty Thrift Store rug this many times. I've never been treated so poorly, nay, treated like a complete waste of space, before in my life. I have also never met a human being in my life as ungrateful as the person that I work for. Every detail of my job basically comes down to kissing ass, bowing down, and doing it all without breaking into tears and/or telling said boss how I REALLY feel or what I REALLY think he should do with that thing HE misplaced, not me.

So I left work early yesterday, around 3 p.m. I went straight home, and when I got there, I checked my e-mail, paced around the room, and at 5:15, took an Ambien CR and called it a day. My doctor prescribed them for me months ago, but after taking them two or three times, I realized that the CR (controlled release) was a myth and that I was left feeling like complete crap for a full 24 hours AFTER waking up. But for days like yesterday, when you want to go into a coma and sleep at least 12-15 hours, it's perfect. It'll zonk you out enough so that when you do wake up every hour or so, you feel so horrible you have to close your eyes and force yourself back to sleep.

I know this isn't a healthy philosophy on life or sleep or a job. And I get that. I really do. I never expected to be working as someone's administrative assistant for as long as I have been, not me, not the girl with a bachelor's in journalism who spent some time at two of the nation's biggest newspapers. Life doesn't always fit the magical plan though and I blew it by not heading to Michigan and declining acceptance last year. But I'm in the process of righting that wrong. It's all the bullshit I have to put with to right that wrong that is slowly killing me.

People ooo'd and ahh'd at Heath Ledger when he died. Sleeping pills, they said. He couldn't sleep. He was strung out. He was tired, he was exhausted. He had too much on his plate. He once took two Ambiens and woke up an hour later. And I get it. I get how that feels. Where every little thing you do just feels like this gigantic weight placed on your head, like you're balancing it all and at any minute it's going to all crash to the ground and you'll have nothing but a pile of broken stuff at your feet. And you cry. And then you hit the wall, take some pills, and hope for the best. You hope to sleep. For once, to really sleep. To really feel like you've slept. Not the nights where you wake up constantly or are semi-conscious the entire time.

I now GET why my dad is so worn out. I get why that glitzy star was worn out.

I'm too young to really allow myself the pain of sleep deprivation. I'm too young to allow myself to be so stressed out about a job I don't even care about. But all of these things just hit me yesterday, and as I sat in my supervisor's (technically my "boss" isn't really my "boss") office with the light glaring through the mini-blinds at me, I realized I was done. I started bawling. "I can't do this anymore," I said. The thought of having to search for another job just to pass the time until I get those acceptance or denial letters haunts me. I don't want to job search. I don't want to sit in stale offices and interview for something I don't care about. Something "just to pay the bills." I want to save some money and finally pay off that last bit on my credit cards, I really do.

I'm just tired of being treated like shit and feeling like a zombie (sans brain consumption), day after day.

So there's that. The past two days have been absolutely miserable and I forced myself out of bed this morning, despite the urge to just stay there, all day, staring at the ceiling. I was awake, wide-eyed at 7 a.m. So I hauled my heavy body out of bed and got a peach from the crisper. I sat in the dark, in my bed, in my pajamas, and ate the peach. Ian would have killed me for that. He never let me eat in bed; but Ian's a part of that past of those things. So I ate my peach, threw away the peach pit, and got on the computer. My far-away friend Thom was there, thank heavens, and as we exchanged e-mails about whether I should or shouldn't go to shabbat services this morning, his final "just gos" were enough to put me in the shower, into some fairly decent clothes, and out the door to 9:30 service at the nearby Conservative shul.

Before I left home, I was examining the possibilities. There were a dozen different services at the synagogue today, and I didn't know what half of them were. I saw that the 9:30 service included a bar mitzvah, so I figured it was the most "normal" of the Saturday sabbath services. I didn't want to encroach on a minyan, because, damnit, I just don't get the Conservative service yet. I love it, because it feels more full, it's more filling than the Reform service, but I don't get the rhythm of it.

To me, Conservative service is like organized chaos. And it's beautiful.

I was at shul for THREE hours this morning. It wouldn't have felt like three hours, but the entire row of pre-teens behind me yapping for the entire three hours kept me aware of the time; they were keeping tabs, that is. It was the first bar mitzvah service I've ever been to where the bar mitzvah doesn't feel like a sideshow. I try to avoid such services because -- in the Reform movement anyway -- the kid typically sputters through a few things in Hebrew and gets blessed and all we have to talk about at the end of the day is how squeaky his voice was. At the service today, the kid LED the service. The integration was impeccable. Now, this kid was particularly well-spoken. His d'var Torah was about Jethro, not the decalogue. He talked about how leaders cannot do everything themselves, about how it is our responsibility as a community to assist and it is the responsibility of the leader to ask for help. Nothing can be done alone.

This kid's a fucking genius, I thought.

It took me a while to get into the flow of the service, but I magically always figured out where we were on the page. It's like the words glow and stick out and say "yo! we're here!" The sanctuary -- which, might I add, was beautiful -- was pretty full for what I'm used to and the bouncer at the door was shoving yarmulkes on the heads of everyone coming in late. People came in and out the entire three hours. This is something sort of foreign to me, as I show up early, and leave when it's over. Though, the next time I might have to step out for one of my Weight Watchers-prescribed snacks, lest my stomach start participating in the responsive reading. I also loved how there were many different aliyas for the Torah portion. How different people read and the bima seemed like it was exploding with people wandering about, singing and chanting and talking. When the Torah came around people filled the lower aisles and I just stood there, not wanting to fight the rush for an encounter with the scrolls. The best part, though, was that the chumashim were Etz Chaim, my chumash of choice. I liked having the full-size version; it's better on the eyes.

I guess what I'm trying to say is -- I felt like I was at shul.

One of the things I notice right away about the Conservative service is that everything is read so quickly. You can go through two pages silently in 30 seconds. Even the responsive stuff is hard to keep up with. I'm going to have to master my Hebrew speed reading. Maybe this is why the Reform service feels like it lags and drags and moves at a snail's pace. But then I wonder, are we missing the quality, for the quantity? Maybe there's a middle ground I haven't found yet.

I was glad I went, though. I'm glad I went out in the cold and trudged down to shul and sat there with those obnoxious tweens behind me talking about haircuts and only chiming in with their tone deaf voices when it seemed like parents were glaring back at them. I'm glad I got to experience that kid's bar mitzvah, even if I might never see him again. I attempted to wish him a hearty Mazel Tov afterward, but he was busy. I'm glad that I got to experience the chazzan, who I can't believe I haven't mentioned yet. The man has the voice of thousands of years of Jewish chanting -- it's mesmerizing, and it makes me get how people can sit there for hours on end, even if they're not participating. It's like attending a classical concert, every week, mostly for free. I'm glad I got to experience all three rabbis. At least, I think the three guys who led the services were the rabbis. I'm glad I got to sit in that huge sanctuary, watching and listening the different way the people around me recreated Sinai.

I guess it was the perfect week to go. After the crap of the past few days, it fit. I gathered with the tribe and we stood at the base of Sinai and listened to this bar mitzvah read to us the decalogue, the 10 Commandments. In our hearts we were there, in our minds we were there. It was emotional, and I'm not saying that to be cheesy or to make it more important than it was.

So I think I've found a new home. I need to do some more exploring and figure out what all those people my age were doing up until the last hour or so of the services when they finally joined us. Then I need to do whatever it was they were doing. It's not so important to belong, but to figure out the flow of the 30 different services on any given Saturday and then fit myself in.

Until then, though. I'm going to settle in for a Shabbos Nap and hope that when I wake up, the snow has stopped and my eyes are unheavy.

Shabbat Shalom, friends.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Astounding story.

I really want to go to bed, but I just saw this story on the PBS Jewish Americans series, and I had to share this story.

On Radio WBAI in New York City during the 1968 teachers' strike when ethnic tensions soared between Jews and Blacks, Julius Lester was interviewing activist teacher Leslie Campbell and asked the teacher to read a certain poem by a 14-year-old black student. It read "Hey, Jew-boy with that yarmulke on your head/ you pale face Jew-boy, I wish you were dead./ I see you Jew boy/ now you can't hide/ I got a scope on you/ yeah, Jew-boy, you gonna die."Lester became famous and was noted as the most anti-Semitic man in the U.S. But then, Lester converted to Judaism years later. He taught Judaic studies. He's a lay leader in a local synagogue. He speaks of what is truly in my heart. It's fascinating how someone can go from one end to the other so swiftly, in almost one heartbeat.

How fascinating, nu?

I wish I had written down the entire portion of the poem they read. It was horribly vile, saying something along the lines of expressing that blacks had struggled for 400 years in the U.S., and the Jews had not. It was a fascinating time, the 1960s, for the Jewish and black communities. I wish I knew more. I'll always love the movie the "Hebrew Hammer" for its satirizing of the relationship, of course. But how fascinating for two peoples to come together, fall apart, and come together again, if only in spirit.

EDIT (01/24/2008): Since so many people were ending up on my page for the full text, I decided to search again. So I just found the (almost??) full text of the poem. I will paste it below. It's absolutely vile, in my opinion. Also, for video clips from the PBS series, please click here.

Hey Jew boy, with that yarmulka on your head
You palefaced Jew boy -- I wish you were dead.
I can see you Jew boy -- no, you can't hide,
I got a scoop on you -- yeh, you gonna die. ...
I'm sick of seeing in everything I do
About the murder of six million Jews;
Hitler's reign lasted only fifteen years. ...
My suffering lasted for over 400 years, Jew Boy. ...
When the UN made Israel a free independent state
Little 4- and 5-year-old boys threw hand grenades.
They hated the black Arabs with all their might,
And you, Jew boy, said itw as all right.
Then you came to America, land of the free,
And took over the school system to perpetuate white supremacy,
Guess you know, Jew boy, there's only one reason you made it --
You had a clean white face, colorless and faded.
I hated you, Jew boy, because your hang-up was the Torah,
And my only hang-up was my color.

Re: Blogging v.2008.

UPDATE: For sometimes and frequent readers, at the advice of someone ... I've altered my commenting so that anyone can comment with any type of account. I don't condone Anonymous posters, simply because I stand behind what I type 100 percent, and commenters should as well. If you don't have something productive to say, then do not bother us with your shmutzik!

Shalom, friends. And be well.

Another buck on something I already knew.

I don't know that "experts" or "reports" need to say it: Israel, Diaspora Growing Apart.

"We must massively inject Diaspora studies into the education system," said Prof. Yehezkel Dror Wednesday in a speech delivered to the Herzliya Conference.

But then: "At the heart of the rift between Israel and Jewish communities abroad lies the notion that the Diaspora youth have negative views of Israel politically, nationally and socially," Dror said.

Dror makes an interesting point. Is Israel isolating itself? Is the Diaspora not interested enough? Are the two lacking enough information about each other? Diaspora Jews are often viewed as not religious enough, not Jewish enough, even by secular Israelis. Likewise, Israeli Jews -- secular and observant -- are viewed as militant, obsessive, living in the dark ages of Judaism. But the rift. The rift is upsetting. I don't know what to say about it, and I feel pretty unequipped considering I haven't been to Israel just yet. I read the books, know the stories, hear about the people, watch the movies. But I don't think I'm truly equipped to assess the situation. I've read "Jew vs. Jew" and I'm pretty, completely -- without a doubt -- aware of the distress and divide between Jews and Jews and Jews. But I'm more aware of how it appears in America.

Israel seems so far away.

Anyhow. My point is that there's a rift, yes, but we don't need experts to tell us this. Do we?

////Watching the last installment of the PBS Jewish Americans series. I caught last week's, missed the first week's, and this week's is okay so far. I swoon for Liev Schreiber (the narrator). We're well into the 1950s, which is a great period for Jews on TV (a subject I've well-researched). Good times, folks. This is America, and we are the Jews.////

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blogging, v.2008.

The one thing I'll never understand, is why I have such an abundance of passersby, and yet no comments on many of my posts. I know it isn't outstanding, but I average at least 30-40 views a day -- and this is beyond the people who simply accidentally end up on my blog by clicking on some picture that happens to be linked to my page. I seem to get a lot of traffic from people researching the Donmeh. I'm not really sure how, considering when you Google search Donmeh my blog is definitely NOT on the first page. Even searching Donmeh Jewish doesn't pull up my blog. So how are people getting here? The great thing is there are viewers from all over the world, though most are in the U.S. I use sitemeter, which tracks locations and such. It's sort of a Big Brother thing, but it also helps me know who my readers are. I just wish they'd comment, so, you know, I'd really *know* who they are.

Unless, of course, my blogs are really that benign? Uninspiring? Uncommentable!?

I'm not looking for blind praise or comments saying "Oh Chavi, I love your posts, I comment all the time!" I know who my regular readers are, of course. I just wish I knew who the non-regular readers and sometimes-readers were. But we all can't get what we want, I suppose!

On the note of blogs, I started another blog. It's a blog about my (hopeful) weightloss journey. The blog can be found over at Fat Miss America. It's fresh, it's as naked as I get on the internet, folks. Exposing my soul, my personal struggles and my hopeful journey toward health. I mean, I'm healthy as is. The doctor told me so; it's just those extra pounds that someday, surely, will come back to haunt me. As Lisa has said, I'm zaftig! And as always, I post every now anda again over at My most recent post is a Torah spiel about last week's portion, which happened to include the parting of the Sea of Reeds, among other things.

As for the blogs I'm attempting to regularly read, well, you can find those over there to the right of this blog. Click around. Check some people out. Take a gander. Enjoy. Most of them are friends from college, my college newspaper, or fellow Jews I've happ'd upon in my happy travels on the Web.

And finally, today is ט״ו בשבט -- Tu B'Shevat (which actually means the 15th of the month of Shevat). You'll note that Shevat can be spelled a dozen different ways, but you get the idea. The day is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, and doesn't involve any fasting or particularly special services or observances. It's considered to be the "Jewish Arbor Day" of sorts and is one of the many new years in our calendar, and is really the "new year of trees." There is no specific mention of the holiday in the Torah, though it does appear in the Mishnah. According to Judaism 101, there is a bit of disagreement about the actual date of the the new year for trees, with Beit Shammai saying the proper day was the first of Shevat and Beit Hillel said the proper day was the 15th of Shevat. Of course, with most things, we lean on Hillel for the final word on the proper day of observance. Common traditions for the day are to eat fruits and nuts of the land of Israel, and sometimes even to plant a tree (hence the Jewish Arbor Day bit). Likewise, the Wikipedia article on the holiday has some interesting details about the customs.

So go eat some dried fruits or nuts and take notice of the beauty of nature around us -- even if that beauty is covered in snow.

Shalom, y'all!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Shoah and Chavi.

After finally getting Netflix to actually stream on my computer, I got busy watching movies. One of the first I picked up was "Hiding and Seeking," a film about a father who takes his two grown Orthodox sons to Poland to meet the family that hid their grandfather during the Shoah. The father is worried that his sons focus too much on ignoring and pushing away the "outside world." The movie opens with a powerful playback of dialog from what I assume must be a famous Orthodox rabbi spouting off the necessity to cast out the goyim (which, in truth, means "nation" in Hebrew, but has come to mean Gentiles). The rabbi on the tape has some unpleasant things to say about goyim, and thus begins the adventure of the father seeking out what his sons think about the outside world.

It wasn't exactly what I expected it to be, but it was truly breathtaking in its honesty. There is no special production or anything involved, but rather the clips are choppy and the footage is shaky. It is, in truth, a true journey into the acts of righteous Gentiles and the survivors and their families. The movie has moments that caught me completely off guard, leaving me wondering whether righteous Gentiles -- in some cases -- are truly that, or whether motives go beyond simply "doing the right thing." The movie ends with a sobering quote from one of the Orthodox sons, that sadly in some ways rings true.

The thing about this movie is that it shows how fleeting these memories are. Shoah survivors are becoming fewer and fewer in number. I remember when my grandfather died last year I thought to myself, so few Pearl Harbor survivors remain ... what will become of their memory? The movie goes to great lengths to provide the idea that the efforts are meant to keep a memory alive in the generations of survivors. Grandchildren and children are meant to hold the memory, tell the stories, and help pass along the message of such horrid times.

In my efforts to connect with the Shoah, though, this movie is yet another reminder that the direct link is not there. I have no family, no connection, no history with the Shoah. It brings me to my knees and makes me weep, without fail, every time. Its stories and images are emblazoned on my mind in ways that I cannot describe, in ways that even my own personal tragedies cannot comprehend. The collective memory is something that I am now a part of preserving, and movies like this make me desperate to understand and explore the stories that are available. I spent a great deal of time avoiding the Shoah, simply because it is a subject that is so large, so vast, that one could spend an entire lifetime grasping for, and yet never truly understand. The social, emotional, cultural and spiritual implications of such a catastrophe are so despair-inducing, it's difficult to spend more than moments focusing on at once. Where was G-d? Where were the miracles? Where was G-d?

I find it deeply saddening that something so close feels so far away. As each survivor passes away, I worry about that memory. I worry about the cries of "Never Again," even as genocides around the world persist. I find it so hard to connect, to truly connect, that I sometimes wonder if my tears are truly enough. I also hope -- desperately, with all of my heart and mind -- that in my lifetime and in my children's lifetime and in my children's children's lifetime and so on, that such horror will never again occur. There need not be martyrs.

But in a way, I know the feeling of never having known someone. The mystery that surrounds their loss and the despair that is felt when you have no memories, not even memories from your family. With this, I will mark the yahrzeit of my grandmother -- my father's mother. She died 46 years ago of cancer (on Jan. 20 or 15 of Sh'vat, which also happens to be Tu B'Sh'vat, the minor holiday for the new year for trees). My father was only nine years old, and I, like he, would never know his mother. What kind of woman she was or what kind of woman she would be. Whether she would have more children, whether she would cradle her grandbabies in her arms while singing lullabies. Whether she had stories about her parents and their parents. Stories of a lineage long and true. Unique in all of it's manners and details.

I understand what it means to have an empty, curious spot in my lineage. A puff of smoke where a name and photos should be. But I also know that this is not the same, and each day I search the six million for a way to connect. On any other day I have a million and one reasons and ways in which I connect to Judaism and the Jewish people and the collective memory. But the Shoah is one way in which I will spend moments, hours, weeks, months and perhaps the whole of my lifetime, trying to connect to. There are six million stories, and I am but one person, but I have known emptiness and the ghost of a branch on my family's wide-reaching expanse of a tree.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Big arse books!

Firstly, G-d bless Opera Mini for allowing me to easily blog from the road on my BlackBerry. Secondly, I just wanted to say that while I am enjoying "Constantines Sword" immensely, I find that it is a pain in my tuches to read - logistically, that is. Why, you ask? The book, which altogether tops off at 756 pages is difficult to hold or sit properly, not to mention read on public transit. I wish this gargantuan text came in two volumes for easy consumption.

But back to the book . . .

Chicago Winters.

Despite being sick, the fact that I more or less haven't left my apartment in going on three days now is giving me serious anxiety and cabin fever. I live in a studio, and there isn't far to go. Television can only last you so long and the books I'm attempting to read, well, I just can't focus on them. So, despite the fact that my browser tells me it's 3 degrees outside, I'm going to go out. It's dangerous and ridiculous and I should stay in, I know, but I just NEED to get out. So I'm going to bundle up like nobody's business and trek to the tea shop and do some reading. Everything I do absolutely winds me (including taking a shower, imagine that), but I just need out. It's times like this that I wish I A) had cable or B) had an apartment with multiple rooms or C) had a La-Z-Boy. But I don't. So, I leave. I brave the cold, and hope I don't die or get frostbite. It's times like this that I also wish I A) had a head for hats or B) had long hair. Shabbat Shalom, friends.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mucus Production, Level 5, Third Corridor.

I'm sick. Yes, I wasn't feeling this crappy yesterday. My throat had progressively started to get scratchier and more sore. But today, today I wake up throat closed up, breathing difficult, throat aching, ears clogged, nose congested and draining at the same time. I rolled over to look at the clock, which read 6:38 a.m. and my body screamed at me in all ranges of achy. I rolled over, threw back the blankets, and groaned. I got up, walked over to the table where my box of tissues resided, and I almost burst into tears. I swear, every time I really need a tissue, I have just run out. I ended up e-mailing in that I was staying home. Eating a banana. Crawling into bed. And going comatose. Over the past two to three weeks everyone at work has been sick. I suppose it was expected.

Mom e-mailed, told me to stay in bed (where I presently am) and to drink lots of OJ. There are are least three different places within a block of my apartment where I could get OJ, including a Jewel and 7-11. But I haven't even been able to bring myself to turn on the light, let alone put on shoes and leave my apartment. I made my soup in the dark. Toasted my toast in the dark. Buttered my toast in the dark. Changed clothes in the dark. And now I'm sitting in the dark.

I think I might go back to sleep.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Why on G-d's green earth have I not read Mordecai Kaplan's "Judaism as a Civilization" ...?

Note to self: Read the book. Read it soon.

The Surname that Snuck In.

Those of you who know me well, probably don't know this, but I sort of have this obsessive inclination toward genealogy. I've always been interested in my family lineage, there is no hiding that. My father's parents died when he was just a child, and I used to ask my father questions about his family. Questions he rarely had answers to. My uncle did researching on that side of the family -- as a Mormon, it was uniquely his duty. My mother's side was less interesting in my mind for some reason and I never bothered to ask questions. I just assumed that it would come to me; anything is possible in the Internet age, right? But grandpa died last year, and I started to regret the distance that existed between my family members.

I started compiling a family tree on I managed through a variety of venues to begin mapping my family, with some of the details being certifiable and others being hard to confirm. I put away the family tree, having found nothing of true interest in my mind aside from the typical family begins in Europe, travels to U.S., becomes American tale. Then, for some reason, a few nights ago I picked back up the family tree. I'd hit blocks on my mom's side of the family when it came to her father. I'd traced her mother's side back to some Quakers in New York, well documented on a variety of websites devoted to Quaker history. But her father's side had me dumbstruck. On a whim, I googled one of the names I had. And there it was -- bingo!

I managed to trace her father's side all the way back to France in the 1600s to a French Secretary of State, and his neice -- a great, great, great something or other grandmother to me -- named Philadelphia DuBois, who married a Huguenot and then moved to the U.S., becoming one of the big Colonial families out in Virginia. They met up with the Claibornes and there were plantations and military service and influence. A relative of mine was quite close with Andrew Jackson as it turns out. It was fascinating. But that was the paternal side. I'd hit a block on the maternal side of my grandfather and could not find anything about this woman named Ella Weilbacher. I knew it was exceedingly German, and that was it.

So my mom contacted my Aunt, who had her daughter look in the family bible. There it was. A father's name and the mother's name -- Mary Bergman. Bergman? Yes, that's a Jewish surname. It's German-Jewish, but Jewish none the less. Jews, Jews galore. I started frantically trying to search for some relations for a Mary C. Weilbacher, nee Bergman. But could find nothing.

Now, I don't want to sound insane here. I didn't start searching simply to find a Jewish relative, but every time I sat down and found a name that was remotely "Jewish" or "Hebrew," I got excited. This is why when I discovered all the Abrahams and other Biblical names in my family, I got excited. Then I discovered they were Quakers. Go figure! But this surname, it might be my connection. My aunt is supposed to take out the bible again tonight and do some transcribing for me, so I'm hoping she can find out Mary Bergman's parents' names. Amen.

I don't NEED the connection. I know this. You know this. We know this. But still, wouldn't that be absolutely funny?

Anyhow, back to watching Jewish Americans on PBS, which is pretty stellar. I love Mandy Patinkin, and he's ALL OVER this special.

Shalom, friends, and be well.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Oh memory.

He was on the bus last night.

It was a short ride, but it was raining, and I didn't want to trudge through it. I jumped on, flailing my wet umbrella about and zipped to the back of the bus, poised at the back door ready to jump off in several stops. Then I stopped. There were only three or four people on the bus, and when I walked past him I'd caught a glimpse but nothing strong enough to really recognize him. My initial plan to exit out the back door like a good bus patron was overridden by the need to look at him, this man hunched over in his little old man hat, asleep on the bus. I walked past him as the bus was coming to a stop. I looked back. It was him. My heart sunk a little. I sort of asked myself "Is this some kind of mean trick?" And then got off the bus, staring at the man as the bus drove away. He didn't even notice me, and if he had, what would he have said? I'm not sure. I'm not sure I would have even wanted to talk to him. But he is emblazoned on my mind. And it made my heart sink, just a few inches.

On another note, if you're around tonight, be sure to tune into PBS for the three-night, six-hour series "The Jewish Americans." Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Times didn't give it such a hot review. But I have hopes, at least, I hope I make it home to watch!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Dieting. Weight weight wait a few months, and you'll see!

Well, I took the plunge. I signed up for Weight Watchers online. I couldn't go the full mile and do the in-person thing. Though I'm not sure if the online includes going to meetings anyhow. I should look into that. So far, I've still got six points left to waste today, and I plan on using this later on a light dessert before bed. I was shocked to find out how many calories are cut out of a Jimmy John's sandwich when you cut out the mayonnaise. Are you serious? Like, freaking amazing. It removed ALL the fat. Just ridiculous. No more Mayo for Chavi!

I often think that maybe if I were to keep completely, full, strictly kosher, then maybe it would be easier to eat healthy. My logic comes from the idea that there would only be a certain amount of items that one could really buy and eat. It would mean no eating out (unless it was vegetarian, I suppose, but even then it would be a little sketchy), which would mean losing most fried foods and bad things. I mean, it's still possible to eat crappily at home, but it's just harder.

But then I step back and think: Chavi, come on, you live in CHICAGO. Do you know how hard it is to eat well in a city like this? I mean this in the manner that it's difficult to not want to eat at a nice, Chicago restaurant at least once a week. For that once-a-week splurge. I mean, it's doable with Weight Watchers if I really try and keep track. But it's sort of like, do I really want to risk it?

Anyhow, I'm hoping this really helps me put my foot to the grindstone. I don't stick with things -- medicine, diets, exercise. I get bored, I get distracted. But this, this I am going to devote myself to. Why? Because I'm PAYING for it, that's why. Free stuff is easy to brush off. But I'm sort of stingy with the cash, so this means really getting my money's worth, darn't. And maybe I'll pick up Chava Goldman's "How to Succeed on Any Diet: A Jewish and Friendly Guide to Exercise and Dieting."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Here we go a shul-ing, a Conservative shul-ing.

I started 2008 out right, at least I think I did. Despite a horribly, gut-wrenching stomach ache on Friday evening, I went to shul. That is, I went to the Conservative shul that's just a little nearer to me than the Reform one I was going to up until now. I guess I can't say I'm giving up on the Reform synagogue, but it just wasn't cutting it. Emptiness is the word I would use to describe the services and the general atmosphere. And maybe the fact that I went to this Conservative shul on a young adults night is giving me some kind of euphoric view of the Conservative shul in a nutshell, but I'll take that. And I'll run with it.

I thought I was late, and that's okay in the Jewish circle it seems. I remember going to Hille meetings and being the first one there. Then folks would show up 5 minutes late -- Jewish time -- and then others would come 10/15 minutes late -- Israeli time. But it turned out I had the service time wrong and was just on time. I'm not sure what the makeup of the shul is like, but I get the impression that there's a big congregational hall and then a few little rooms for smaller kabbalat Shabbat services and for special programs like the one I was at. The place was packed, though. I mean, they had to bring in extra chairs and the room had to have been filled with 60+ people. I looked around, not knowing anyone, and actually felt at ease, like I was home. All the men wore kippot and everyone was singing. It actually felt participatory, but not in that forced way. Not like these were almost-b'nai mitzvahs trying to appease their parents before falling off the wagon.

The service began and ... I'll admit it: I'm pretty much a virgin when it comes to the Conservative service. I remember the first time I'd gone back in Lincoln and being utterly lost and confused about when I was supposed to speak and when I wasn't. The second time I'd gone to the Conservative shul in Lincoln, I was too in awe of the fact that my 8th grade teacher was there to discuss the Holocaust to pay attention to the service. So I followed along best I could, and about one-quarter of the way through the service I was absolutely on. It's interesting to me how the new Reform prayerbook resembles the Conservative one -- with gleanings, Hebrew on one side and English on the other, translations here and there. It's a way of making it personal, with the community.

It's strange for me not to stand up for the kaddish, though, and I don't know that I would ever feel fully comfortable sitting through the kaddish while those in mourning stand and recite the full prayer. The thing is, ever since hearing a Reform rabbi's perspective on the subject, I've been unable to understand why the community does not stand as a whole. The rabbi likened it to the Red Woods -- they could not stand, in their hulking, mighty beauty, without the support of the roots of those around them. This, he said, is the same as the community holding up those mourners. I think it's a beautiful image, and it will always sit with me when I hear the kaddish.

The rabbi's sermon was engaging. But not just engaging. I mean, it's easy to engage the audience; the difficult part is keeping them tuned in. He spoke about the four promises, which led to the four cups at the seder, which led to him telling us about all of the interesting ways that secular traditions work their way into our religious traditions. He emphasized that it is not where these things come from them, but the way we see them in our tradition and what they come to mean. It's interesting, because I read the Torah portion last week and the four promises were, of course, super important, but I didn't dwell on them. I passed them over like anything else. At the same time, it's minorly hard to read a lot of the Exodus knowing that it'll be rekindled for Pesach in several months :D

The night ended with people piling into a local apartment complex's party room for board games, food and drinks. It was just chill, relaxing, and after a nice Jewish guy took me under his wing and introduced me to a few people, I felt like I'd found a nice little Jewish community I could potentially be a part of.

I'm excited to go back for a normal service, just to see whether it's as lively, engaging and friendly. I'm not sure how much of the Young Adult crowd just comes for those specialized services and how many come consistently, but here's hoping. I guess the crux of the reason for me to go back was that even though it was a Young Adult service, I didn't feel like the service was less intelligent or engaging than it would have been for a normal Shabbat service. Sometimes Young Adult stuff is quick, short, moronic and set up so that you can get in and out and shmooze with some hot Jewish folk. I mean, we all know that people go to Young Adult services to survey the produce, right? But for me that's only half of it. I like a little substance with my prowling, darn't!

So I have some reading, researching and investigating to do. I want to know what that great dividing line between Reform and Conservative is. And while we're at it, I'd like to toss Reconstructionist in there. Perhaps I'll work my way up to Orthodox at some point. Sometimes the lines are blurred and to me the only difference sometimes appears in the clientele or simply what building people go to. I know that there is a lot more to it, but I will be completely honest right now and say that I converted Reform not just because I identified with the movement at the time, but because it was the convenient choice. The Conservative shul back home was unwelcoming and bleak and unengaging, and I'm not the only person who would tell you that. I'm sure it's changed now, as it's cycled through a rabbi or two. But my experience on Friday was nothing like that I experienced those years ago. And I know it isn't just a movement, but it's also the fact that the community is different. The city is different. The people are different. There's a lot at play, I get that.

But I haven't felt that happy and at ease and engaged in my Judaism in quite some time. Here's to you, Conservative shul. May you continue to keep me on my toes.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Books and scales and things and stuff. Sushi!

I got the coolest book on the planet (okay, not really, but it's that initial new-book reaction) in the mail today. It took forever to get here and after lots of complaining and a reshipment, it made it here from Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers. The book? "Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, The Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament." Now, if you're not familiar, this place has books that are fairly fresh and are super, super cheap. It's like a book warehouse. This book arrived in mint condition for 10 bucks. The other book I'd ordered -- The Essential Talmud -- failed to arrive and I was refunded the $3.95 it was supposed to put me back. (I'm going to have to pick up "Essential Talmud" anyhow, because it looks like a stellar addition to my collection.) The "Women in Scripture" should be a helpful resource for those women who I spot in my study but know little to nothing about and where the commentary is nil. Anyhow, the New Testament information might not be as useful for what I'll be using it for, but wow! What a buy, eh? I also have "Constatine's Sword" in my corner, and I actually need to renew it from the library. It's quite a read, and I wish it weren't so clunky because I'd love to read it on the El, but it's awfully difficult. If only I could break it into sections! I am, however, going to hit the library before it closes to pick up Art Spiegelman's 9/11 book, "In the Shadow of No Towers" as well as Marjane Sartrapi's "Persepolis: The Story of Childhood," since it comes out here in Chicago in movie form fairly soon. Plus, I find graphic novels are pretty quick to get through. I really should spend more time reading them!

I also picked up a scale today. Yes, everyone does this on January 1 and 2, right? Well, I'm going to try to stick to the healthy eating and working out and hopefully can lose about 50 pounds this year. Here's hoping, and here's hoping G-d gives me the strength to actually stick with it for once in my short, yet fascinating life.

So that's that. Lots of books and healthy things in the future for Chaviva, v.2008.