Sunday, June 29, 2008

Haveil Havalim -- I made it!

I feel like I've finally hit the "big time" in the J-blogosphere, having ended up in this week's edition of Haveil Havalim! You can see this week's post over on Ima's blog by clicking HERE. For those not keen on what Haveil Havalim is all about, here's a little spiel for you:

Founded by Soccer Dad, 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 coordinated by Jack. 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.'
So be sure to check it out, there's a lot of good reads on there. And don't forget to toss your own hat into the ring as well to appear in the HH weekly.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A productive, academic day.

Today was a day of grand achievements and productivity. Yes, I actually sat down and did something academic for the first time in a long time -- I worked on my entries to an upcoming Bible Dictionary that will be published (out of Canada, I believe). There was a call for entries and the Kosher Academic was kind enough to pass along the info to me, so I signed up to write the entries for Tzipporah, Mara, and Naomi.

For those in the know, you'll note that Mara and Naomi are essentially one in the same. However, while there is plenty to write about Naomi, writing about Mara -- by which Naomi asks to be called after losing her sons, husband, and her long sojourn in a foreign land -- which means "bitter," has been much harder. For starters there isn't much content, which means I need to fill in elsewhere with interesting facts and tidbits. For Naomi this includes paintings and pieces of artwork or literature in which her story has shown up.

I thought I had it in the bag with Mara, seeing as Tova Reich has a book called "Mara," and the character also appears in Reich's newest (and controversial) book, "My Holocaust." Then I started investigating the proper name "Mara," only to find that the name has many, many meanings and significances in many different cultures around the world. There are folklores with mara, there are goddesses and evil spirits by the name of mara, there is even a Mara people located in India. (For what it's worth, I e-mailed the latter to find out if their identifiying name had anything to do with the biblical Mara. The administrator of the peoples' website got back to me really quick and let me know that no, there is no relation. Blast!) I also e-mailed Tova Reich's publicist in the hopes that Reich can verify whether her book title and character have anything to do with the biblical Mara. In truth, I almost think the character Mara *is* the biblical Mara -- the name meaning bitter, as the Almighty had dealt bitterly with Naomi. Of course, I imagine it'll be days, perhaps weeks, before I hear back from Reich or her publicist.

At any rate, it was a good, productive day and I got most of my entries written. Tzipporah ended up being the longest, and even includes a little tidbit about Michelle Pfeifer doing the voice of Tzipporah in "The Prince of Egypt" -- the 1998 film by DreamWorks. Fascinating, no?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Self-reflection, in the key of the little brother.

I lit the Shabbos candles tonight and watched the wax melt down the candles, angled slightly, dripping wax on the cloth covering the top shelf of the bookcase. I couldn't get them to sit upright, and after many attemps, I gave up, anticipating a mess to clean up after they finished burning. They seem to have burned much quicker than usual tonight, in a rush, like the flame had someplace to be -- someplace important. Sunrise, sunset.

I'm talking to my little brother on MSN messenger. I can't remember the last time I logged into it before last night. Something sparked me to install Pidgin (a multi-platform IM system), which logged me into my old MSN and AIM accounts. I haven't been consistently on either of them in more than a year, MSN for several years. I think we grow out of things, and I think I've mostly grown out of instant messaging (and on to fun things like Twitter and GChat, I guess).

So here I am, chatting with him about his 16-year-old love life. And trying to figure out who his love interest is, I pop over to his MySpace page (the kids are big on the MySpace, not so much with Facebook), and here I am, now, listening to his cheesy punk pop love ballads in his music player. It started with a song by Blink 182 -- "I Miss You."

Man, does that song take me back.

He's telling me about this girl and how it's "complicated" and I'm relaying to him how I have a couple of my own "complicated" situations right now. I'm telling him about when I was in high school the boy I wanted, but the other boy who chased after me, and I finally gave up on the boy I wanted for the boy who chased after me and had a really amazing two-year relationship. About how there's an old flame visiting soon and how there's that other special someone who has me, but doesn't necessarily need me. I know he doesn't care, but listening to this cheesy music and listening to him relay these things, I feel like I'm 16 again.

It makes me wish I could be there for him, even if he didn't need me. I've missed him growing up. I mean, I helped raise him through elementary school, but then I was off to college and he was left to do it all on his own, and he's doing okay. But I feel his distance now more than ever. And then I'm telling him about how I talked with our older brother (one year my senior, 10 years the little brother's senior) and how I think I upset him with my suggestions about how to get his life back on track. And the little brother says,
yah, you're good at that. and alienating yourself from the family in general.
I quickly jumped to my defense -- to defend my life's decisions and aims, but he knows. He's always understood, for some reason. He knows that I don't want to end up obsessed with money, depressed and working in retail with the world's biggest chip on my shoulder. And when I converted to Judaism he thought it was neat, he understood why I was doing it. He's always thought it was cool that I've lived in so many places, traveled to so many more. I know he looks up to me, at least, that's the way he's always treated me. His respect and love is more important than anything in the world to me. If there's one person always worth fighting for, it's my little brother. Joe joe. Bubba. Josephina (he hates that last one).

So we're talking, and I'm feeling old. He says I'm "cool old ... you're old..minus the disgusting parts" and that has me laughing. I get what he means, and I appreciate it. But none the less, I know I can't continue to listen to Blink 182 and relive the glory days where boys would spend months trying to pin me down. Where I was the one in control.

I used to be so difficult. And now? I feel sort of translucent. I wear my heart on my sleeve; I'm not nearly as strong as I used to be. But I guess that's what happens when you get old, eh?

I guess I should peel the wax off the bookcase now, since it's hardened as the night has gone on. Sunrise, sunset, don't you think?

X-rays and the parasha.

So Blogger has unleashed a fancy new set of features, ranging from inline/embedded comments (i.e.: no pop-up window for commenting) to a star-rating system to a fancy new post editor system. I'm trying out the Blogger draft setup ( to see how I like it and see if the new system (which looks nice) is all buggy or fully functioning.

I've been mostly MIA this week, being full with the sickness and all. I went back to the doctor yesterday because of some breathing difficulties I was having. While there the doctor had me get some chest x-rays, because she was worried I might be developing pneumonia (which I've never had). Her overall plan, though, was to treat me for a bronchial infection and just keep tabs on how it progresses. I'm now doing up Allegra-D, some pain killers for the off-and-on jaw/neck/ear pain, an Albuterol inhaler every three hours, and some oral antibiotics for the infection. I've missed four whopping days of work this week while trying to put myself on a schedule of sleep and rest and medicine, but it just hasn't worked out well. I'm not much for sleeping upright, and laying down immediately gives me the sensation that someone has plopped down on my chest for some R&R. I'll stop the kvetching now, but I just wanted to keep an update going in case anyone out there in Blogger land is interested. I'm hoping that by Monday I'll be well enough (and able to breathe normally) that I can return to work. I feel like such a pansy.

Then, since I'm in a rather standing-still state, I decided to sit down with the Torah portion this week -- Korach. The thing of it is, every time I sit down to study Torah these days, I just can't focus. I don't know if it's because I'm in a minor state of flux and that my mind is constantly racing into topics outside the pages of my chumash or what, but it often feels like I'm reading gibberish. I went over to -- my source for all things parashot and educational -- and instantly got distracted by this incredibly moving story of a Holocaust survivor and the tree stump that saved his life (not to mention the righteous gentile who assisted in the saving). But knowing I need to focus, I flip back over to the parshah and hope for the best. I click around on the various articles and gleanings and I still can't manage to get through a single one. So I end up on Wikipedia, reading about Korach and how in Genesis there was also a Korach who rebelled against Israel, and this Korach was the son of Esau.

Then I'm off, Googling my way around the interweb, trying to focus myself once again. I end up over on Kolel's Parasha Study, where I read something interesting that gets me thinking,
Korach and his followers challenge Moshe and Aharon's authority to lead the people by claiming that the entire Israelite community was equally holy. Korach's claim seems to be that nobody is on a higher spiritual level than anybody else, so why should Moshe and Aharon be in charge? Moshe responds by inviting Korach to a public test, to see whom God has chosen, and also by rebuking Korach for not being satisfied with the ritual role the Levites have already been given as ritual assistants in the Mishkan.
This is the p'shat explanation of the Torah portion, meaning that it's the most simple, plain meaning of the text. It got me thinking because, well, we aren't living in biblical times and it seems that for the most part we're on a level playing field. The Hasidim have their rebbes, who are most definitely not on a level playing field with your average rabbi or Torah scholar, but for the most part, there is no Moses or Aaron in the modern period. It makes me wonder how Korach would fair today with his argument that the entire community is holy. I know that the tale of Korach goes a lot further than this (how one strives and becomes holy, etc.), but at the p'shat level, we have no tests today for who is more holy or less holy than another. So what do you think, are we all on a level playing field? Or does something make one Jew holier than another?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Wednesday Mix (Thanks Beth!)


Up at 4 a.m., sick and kvetchy.

This is my 501st post. Mazel tov to me, I guess!

I'm awake, and yes, it is 4 a.m. in Chicago. I can't sleep, unlike last night when all I could do is sleep. I'm sick, again, and this time whatever I have (the doctor suggested it was a sinus or viral infection) is causing severe pain to my head, neck, ears, and jaw. It's to the point where I have to rise, slowly -- very slowly -- or else a sharp pain drives itself around my head and neck and to my eyes. No matter how I try to position myself in bed, my body rebels, my ears scream out. Vertigo sets in when I'm standing, and I'm constantly queasy.

The strange thing is, I don't remember any of my previous sinus infections (since I moved to Chicago, I've had at least three) being this bad. I know that chronic sinus infections are typically signs of something more serious at work, which has me irritated.

The over-arching point here is that I have been sick more often in Chicago than when I was living anywhere else. Part of me wonders if it is the humidity or the constant temperature fluctuation, but whatever it is, it has me considering perhaps not making Chicago home again. I know environmental considerations are very necessary when it comes to picking a home, and my parents always told me that I could never live in the Northwest (Seattle, Portland) because of the level of moisture there. I'm beginning to wonder if there's some truth to their warnings. Nebraska was humid, but not as humid as it is here, and my allergies were never as bad as they have been here the past two summers.

At any rate, it's late and I can't sleep. Or maybe it's early and I can't sleep. I'm just tired of being chronically ill. And this time, it's completely debilitating. With the feeling that my face is constantly being squeezed by some gigantic walnut cracking device makes it impossible to focus on anything, let alone have a coherent, fluid thought. And now? I'm developing a cough along with all the pain and the sore throat and the stuffed nose.

I'm such a kvetcher, I know. But really, could you pass me a large horse tranquilizer so I could sleep? Todah rabah ...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rashi's Daughters, revisted.

Okay, okay. Let me explain myself.

In this post, I issued my irritation at the perpetuation of Rashi's daughters as a true, factual set of events in history, whereas in truth it is merely a legend developed with no factual documentation beyond it's first appearance in the 18th century. However, I never said that there are no factual instances of women donning tefillin or studying Talmud or being learned in the ways of halakah or Judaism.

There are many instances of this, including that Michal, daughter of King Saul, donning tefillin. In Eruvin in the Talmud there is also notation that "Michal daughter of Kushi wore tefillin and the sages did not protest." Likewise, the wife of Chaim ibn Attar and the Maiden of Ludmir (19th century) also were known to have practiced this mitzvah.

To be sure, tefillin is not prohibited for women. You see, it's a time-bound mitzvah to which women are not held. However, this does not necessarily mean it is prohibited. Some sages, including Rashi and the Rambam said that it was completely acceptable, but that women were not to say the b'racha (blessing), because the "who has commanded us" would not apply. Specifically, the Rambam says, "Women, slaves, and minors are exempt from tzitzit from the Torah ... women and slaves who want to wrap themselves in tzitzit may do so without a berakha. And so too with other such mitzvot from which women are exempt: if they want to perform them without a berakha, one does not protest" (Hilkhot Tsitsit 3:9).

My point in all of this is that there is a difference between historical documentation of women -- plain or semi-important or even great women -- donning tefillin or writing responsa or studying Talmud and Rashi's daughters doing these things. Why is this? Well, Rashi is perhaps one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, and I don't think anyone would disagree with me there. There is much more weight, as such, put into the stories of his daughters being this great liberating, free thinking women of the 11th century than of perhaps any other women of the 11th century doing these things. It's about influence, reputation.

In all things we seek out the best, most reliable source of information if we are preparing to do something. It is why there is a ladder, so to speak, in just about every aspect of life. We seek out the most reliable mechanic on how to fix our cars, we go to the best doctors we can find to seek the best treatment for our ailments, we take our ques from those with the best reputation and we rely on them to not lead us astray.

Hopefully this makes sense. I am not rallying for or against women donning tefillin, really. It isn't for me, but I appreciate that it is completely permissible for women to do so. I just think that when the debates arise about women studying Talmud or doing nontraditional (for women) mitzvot, it shouldn't always come back to "Well, Rashi's daughters did it!" because we know that this has no factual history to it before the 18th century -- hundreds of years after the fact.

I do agree, though, with those supporters of the Rashi's daughters legend, that Rashi's daughters are important and significant in the history of Jewish women, it gives us inspiration and hope, but I just want it to be clear in the same vein, that this is a legend and like all great legends, there is room for error.

As David Mikkelson, who runs, once said, "...our willingness to accept legends depends far more upon their expression of concepts we want to believe than upon their plausibility."

Jewish paraphernalia.

Okay, maybe I'm feeling super generous these days, and I swear I'm not getting anything from the blogs or sites that I talk up so heavily. I'm just a fan. A fan of blogs and things celebrating and supporting the Jewish existence.

So over on Twitter I got a new follow today from PopJudaica (todah!). I clicked on the link on the profile and ended up at this awesome little site with lots of super swanky Judaica items. I don't think I'd known about this site before, and if I did, well, I missed out. I mean, check out some of the cool things this site has!

A Koogle apron! Then there's the Hip Kosher cookbook, which "provides detailed, practical resources for finding kosher items in your local stores and more than 175 recipes for every meal and occasion, showcasing contemporary American dishes rather than traditional Eastern European or Sephardic fare..." and is "Accessible, easy-to-prepare, and versatile, the recipes are perfect for busy people who don't have hours to spend in the kitchen." For the really ambitious, there's Med School in a Box. There are also some nice pieces of jewelry; I dig the Shema necklace and the circular Love pendant.

There's also an abundance of t-shirts with catchy slogans, which I'm probably inappropriately drawn to because sometimes I think the Jewish men have it easier than us ladies with their kippot exclaiming "I'm Jewish" whereas the womenfolk can don jewelry and the such, but it's a wee bit more difficult.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


The thing is, shopping for dorm stuff -- sheets, a shower caddy, laundry bags -- is weird. I went down this road six years ago when I was heading to undergrad, and now that I'm heading to graduate school in August, I'm doing it all over again. It was sort of uncomfortable, actually. I mean, I have an entire apartment full of things -- a bed, tables, bookshelves, kitchen appliances, a TOASTER! And now? I'm getting rid of everything. Every last thing. I'm keeping my books, my clothes, and a few bowls and cups for the dorm life. It's so strange. It's downright otherworldly.

And I have four words for you: Extra. Long. Twin. Sheets.

Give me about five to six more years and maybe I'll be settled back into the domestic life. Maybe sooner, actually. We're shooting for age 30 here. It's weird that I'm not even 25 yet. But I will be living in the dorms as a 25 year old.

That, well, that's the strangest thing of all.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jewish Food (for thought)

I just realized -- while checking out a blog posted over on Ilana-Davita's blog (yes, it's that vicious J-blogging cycle of click here, click there, click over there, and bam suddenly you're reading a blog by a Jewish guy named Sven who fancies cholent and lives in Zimbabwe) -- that I haven't spent much time blogging about Jewish food blogs. Food, the lifeblood of our (and all) people, is a big blogging topic in the J-blogosphere, it's true. However, I haven't managed to really throw much out there in the way of promotion for other bloggers (not that they need it, but I like to spread the love). So I present to you, a series of Jewish food blogs of which you should most definitely devote yourself. Sometime in the not-so-distant future I full intend on blogging about my favorite Jewish/kosher cookbooks, as well, since I've basically checked out every last one my library has over the past few months! But let us begin ...

Rebecca Joseph, a Conservative rabbi, has a really beautiful (aesthetically and otherwise) blog called The Parve Baker, which I found on I-D's blog just today. The rabbi says, " ... I understand baking as both a religious obligation and a cultural practice shaped by my upbringing, education and community. The recipes and information here reflect what I do in my own kitchen, but you don’t have to keep kosher or be Jewish to enjoy them." The great thing about this blog is that it's a fresh one; from what I can tell, the blog has only been around since February!

Heeb'n'vegan actually very recently posted about the creation of this "niche" in the J-blogosphere for the foodies. You can read the post here. HnV posts several vegan/veggie blogs in that post, as well.

Kosher Vegan Lasagna
features an ark-load of recipes worth your viewing time, but as far as I can tell it hasn't been updated since last month. The old blog for KVL can be viewed here. At any rate, I can think of at least one person I know who would be stoked to see this Kosher Crockpot Herbed Chicken recipe!

Probably one of the best Jewish/kosher cooking sites I've come across is the Kosher Hostess. If you go into the recipes section, the collection is broken down by course and the site is really well organized otherwise -- I'm all about the aesthetic pleasure!

Of course there's the Kosher Blog, touting "We're Not Just Bagels Anymore." And if you're in the mood, you can take on Cooking with Yiddishe Mama.

The thing of it is, though, in the past hour that I've spent perusing all the Kosher/Jewish food blogs out there ... is I've definitely found that a lot of the blogs that *are* out there are idle or haven't been tapped in months. I know how hard it is to keep up a blog actively when you're not getting paid and there are all of life's other dramas to handle, but it's really too bad! Not that these sites don't have anything to offer from their archives, but it would be nice to see updated content!

To top off this Kosher/Jewish blog mini-spiel, I give you a few words from Rabbi Morris Allen's blog, the director of Hekhsher Tzedek*:
We need to be in a world where we can say that keeping kosher is the way in which I demonstrate not only a concern for my relationship to God and Torah but the Jewish concern for our relationship to the world in which we live. That's what I really want to get across to people.
*Hekhsher Tzedek is a shared effort between the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to display a seal on already designated kosher foods that reflects production benchmarks consistent with Jewish ethical standards, including how companies treat their employees.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

For the person who has everything?

Looking for kosher toilet paper? Well, you've come to the right place! Yes, I know just about every Jewish blog on the planet is playing this up today (maybe?) but I just couldn't help myself. Someone posted this on Twitter earlier today, then it showed up over on Frum Satire. Anyhow, check out this beautiful bit o' advertising.

Most people I know use Kleenex on Shabbat if they're shomer Shabbos, and I guess I didn't realize that this is halachikly questionable since sometimes the tissues are in some way connected to one another? Anyhow, check out this survey respondent's comment:
“I like putting items in our home that remind us that we are Jewish and that it is Shabbos”
-survey respondent
I'm not going to lie. I'm considering heading up to Kol Tuv grocery this weekend to pick up a pack and see how it works out next Shabbat. Believe me, I intend on keeping everyone fully posted and updated!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A tiny kvetch.

I just found out there's another Rashi's daughter book coming out, this time it's for children ages 9-12. It's just perpetuating this unproven myth of Rashi's daughters. I mean, sure it's empowering, but it's also falsely used all the time as a reason for various things.

Why does it rub me the wrong way so much? No clue. I mean, shouldn't I be all about woman empowerment and women studying Talmud and donning tefillin? I suppose I should. I just wish people would stop using Rashi's daughters as the almighty truth and proof of such things when there isn't a single shred of evidence that they did any of those things.

Legends and myths are powerful things. Word of mouth has given us some of the most beautiful pieces of literature and history and religion that we know. But meh. This one just irks me since no one seems to know that it's all legend and no fact.

Internet Argument via

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Faith or something like it, Part II: Reconciling emunah

When I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean.
-- Bob Edwards (my dad)
I want to start simply, and this week's parshah is pretty apropos for this conversation about faith. In the wilderness we have Moses conversing with G-d about the Israelites. Moses knows G-d exists, for he chats regularly with G-d. Moses needs not have faith in G-d because he knows G-d. Thus, G-d exists to Moses. And thereafter, with the knowledge of G-d, Moses has emunah (commonly translated as "faith"). Finally, Moses is faithful to G-d, whom he knows. The people, on the other hand, even knowing G-d fail in this last step of faithfulness. Is it because knowing results in no need for effort to be faithful? To know is the final frontier? This, unfortunately, is a discussion for a d'var Torah. But let's take a few steps back now that we have the premise of knowledge and emunah.

Tonight I sat down with several blog entries from A Simple Jew, as well as some text from Letters to a Buddhist Jew at the advice of a friend, David Gottlieb, who co-wrote the book with Rabbi Akiva Tatz. I'll admit reading through the four-part blog entry on ASJ was overwhelming. The comments in and of themselves were filled with a dozen or more Hebrew words and concepts of Judaism that I am unfamiliar with. But there were many gleanings from great sages that caught my eye, which I will include. It was within Letters to a Buddhist Jew, though, that I began to really understand what emunah means. Throughout this entry, I will purposely use the word emunah instead of faith, because I have come to realize that faith is a poor translation of what emunah means in and to Judaism.

From Letters to a Buddhist Jew, we read, "In Western usage, belief and faith relate essentially to the unknowable, they are necessarily blind ('blind faith'). You do not believe something you see or experience, you know it. Relating to that which you cannot know is called belief..."

This was my "aha!" moment. I began this adventure in exploring the topic because two friends at separate times in GChat conversations had expressed some form of "where's your faith?" or "you gotta have faith." My auto-response was that faith is a Christian concept, not a Jewish one. The reality is that I think many Jews would agree with me in this respect precisely because of the aforementioned text -- belief and faith are relegated to the unknown, the unseen, the might-be-there-but-not-sure-if-it-is. The culture of faith/belief circles around the idea that there is a group of people who want to end up in heaven and in order to do so, belief/faith is all that is necessary. It is a simple, easy out to a very complex issue.

Oftentimes when we say "you gotta have faith" I think that we mean hope. Hope being to expect something with confidence. When we say that we have faith that things will turn out alright, yes there is the unknowable of the outcome, but what we mean is that we are confident that things will come out as we expect them to. But, as my father has said, when we use words, we pretty much choose what we want them to mean, and perhaps that's the problem. As a copy editor, I prefer the black and white when it comes to specific words. Concepts can be multifaceted without question, but a word must be precise in its meaning. One well-known Jewish blogger recently posed the question as to whether the word "goy" was offensive and a lengthy conversation ensued and it drudged up, once again, the meanings of words and their colloquial versus dictionary versus historical versus accepted meanings. To the common person perhaps words are just words, but to me, well, they pack a very large punch.

Back in Letters to a Buddhist Jew, we read, "... if you have no evidence for a thing, why should you believe it?" and "If you can demonstrate or experience the existence of G-d, then we should talk only of the process of coming to know that existence. Belief would be the wrong direction here." This took me to a comment that someone on one of the many posts on A Simple Jew, where the writer said that it is enough that his father and grandfather told him of G-d, that their fathers did the same, and so on back to Sinai, that this was his proof, the demonstration (as it were) of the existence of G-d. From Letters:
What we mean by emuna is not belief. We do not commit ourselves to something that is the product of imagination. We have not committed ourselves to G-d throughout history because we decided subjectively and personally that such commitment was a good idea. Our commitment is based on knowledge. We assert that the object of our 'faith' can be established and known.
This takes us back to Moses. Moses' commitment to G-d was based on the knowledge that G-d exists and performed the miracles that took the Jews out of Egypt, parted the sea, etc. This was the first step -- knowledge -- that led to emunah.

I had to really look at this and compare it to what I was reading in the comments from the blogs on A Simple Jew, because the expression of emunah and knowledge is quite the opposite. On ASJ it is asserted that we must have faith in order to know. Someone in the comments suggests that "... one must accept premises before one can then use logic," and that "... one asserts his faith first, which allows him to then apply reason/logic." Thus it is belief/faith that comes first and knowledge is only an outcome of accepting unknown or unproven ideas. Unfortunately, I do not agree. This is simply blind faith -- in this you believe something merely to reap the benefits of having the knowledge. It simply cannot work in that manner. However, if you start with the knowledge that something is right, then you can deconstruct it from there and thus you are faithful to the knowledge in your deconstructing ... but I am getting ahead of myself.

Back to Letters, we read that "... clarity of knowledge is exactly what we are seeking." So this takes us back to what I was just talking about. We have the knowledge that G-d exists (think: the commenter whose father told him and his father before him, as well as other "proof" as a basic, central tenet of Judaism), and thus we are faithful to this knowledge and so what is the point of the faithfulness if we simply know? This is what the people in the wilderness didn't get that the text of Letters to a Buddhist Jew so simply puts forth: our effort, our souls are poured into seeking clarity of this knowledge. We seek to grow closer to G-d and to understand, and thus we have emunah. But we know very well that just because we understand how something is supposed to be -- the truth is known -- does not mean that we hold to it. Look at the laws we have which are broken day in and day out. People know what is right and what is wrong, but remaining faithful to what we know is right and true is difficult.
Here is the key: the correct translation of emuna is not faith but faithfulness, loyalty. The concept is this: when you have acquired spiritual knowledge, when you know clearly that what meets the eye is not all there is, the question then is will you be loyal to that knowledge? Will you live up to it? The problem of emuna is not how to gain knowledge of the spiritual world, it is the challenge of being faithful to that knowledge.
The way that Letters to a Buddhist Jew is written is such that the concept is laid out and then we are given the definition, which follows.
Emuna derives from the same root as ne'eman, meaning faithful or loyal. Even the most superficial examination of the word in Torah will show that it cannot be translated as faith in the sense of belief. [The author gives examples, which I will not add here for the sake of brevity.]
The author more or less concluded the argument with that which I have said, but perhaps is more eloquently detailed here:
Understanding a thing and all its consequences clearly does not guarantee that you will live in accord with your understanding, that you will be loyal to it. Not at all. It takes work to live up to the truth. That work is emuna.
At this point, I want to back track for a few moments to some things I read on the ASJ blogs. In Genesis 15:6 we read "Our father Abraham did not earn both This World and the World to Come except in the merit of faith; as it is written, 'And he believed in G-d ...' " The truth of it is that we are not a religion or people or community where simply believing flies. ASJ asserts that simple faith does have a place in Judaism, and while I do not disagree, there is more to this. Abraham did not merely believe, but he lived a life faithful to G-d. It was not pure faith and belief, it was an existence devoted to loyalty to the one G-d, right?

On ASJ's blog, in a guest post by Rabbi Dovid Sears, he says "As Reb Noson says in explaining one of Rabbi Nachman's teachings, 'Faith only applies when something can't be understood. Where one can understand something rationally, faith is not relevant.' (Likkutei Eitzos, 'Emes ve-Emunah,' 4)." I think that this is accurate, but perhaps misconstrued because of the Western meaning of faith. Indeed, faith -- a belief in the unknown, blind belief -- is applied in such instances, and indeed when we understand (as rationally as is possible) that G-d exists, such belief in an unknown is both unnecessary and irrelevant. But I don't know that this is what Rabbi Sears, Reb Noson or Rabbi Nachman are saying.

I do have to say that I did read something absolutely brilliant on the ASJ blogs that highlights Rabbi Nachman quoting from Sefer Bechinas Olam:
The ultimate knowledge is 'not-knowing' (Likkutei Moharan I, 24:8 and elsewhere).
Yes, this might seem contradictory to everything I've laid out so far as my understanding of emunah, but in reality it is perfectly in line. How? Well, I acknowledge that G-d exists. I have this knowledge, and I am faithful to this knowledge and pursue the understanding of this. However, I do not know all there is to know, and it is difficult even in a lifetime to absorb everything and to come to a complete and full understanding. And in truth, is this not only achieved after death or -- if you're inclined to believe -- at the coming of the Messiah?

Often, when people ask me if I think that my beliefs system, if my way, Judaism, is the one true and right way, I respond similarly: "For me, yes. For you, who is to say? Not me." Perhaps this is where the whole muddled Western idea of faith comes in. I know that G-d exists, even with the occasional doubting and questions, but that's part of the process. But the at the most basic level, this I know. But it's just me, right? I can't speak for the masses or the thousands of questioning Jews. I know what I know from my heart and mind and understanding, and thus I am faithful.

Am I making sense here? The essence of emunah, in a nutshell, is that emunah truly means faithfulness and/or loyalty, or as Merriam-Webster (my old pal) says, "true to the facts." We believe, therefore we cleave to the knowledge, thus we are faithful to the knowledge, thus we pursue understanding of the knowledge. To know something is only half the battle. I know that G-d exists, thus I have emunah. I can stray, indeed, for it is difficult to stay true. But it is the pursuit of understanding that keeps me on this path. If only those in the wilderness had kept their emunah intact, eh? But the lesson in that is that even with the truth, the knowledge of something, it is completely feasible to walk astray. Staying faithful is the difficult part, perhaps the true test.

So please, readers, let me know if any of this made sense or resonated or remotely sounded coherent. I had a lot of thoughts that I tried to put together, and I've spent about an hour trying to write this up. I thank David Gottlieb and A Simple Jew and all the commenters for their thoughts and quips and ideas. I'd like to keep the conversation going, so please, get your kvetch on.


My intention last night was to make it home, go to the grocery store, make dinner, do the laundry, and not turn on the TV or the computer, but to read. I wanted to read through some blog entries that A Simple Jew had sent me, in addition to all the comments and thoughts others had sent via e-mail and the comments page on my Faith post. I'd wanted to really buckle down and throw myself at some studying to get into the issue. But ... instead, the trip home lasted nearly two hours, then I ate dinner and threw on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (no laughs!) and it was all downhill from there.

I just can't get anything done sitting at my computer at work or sitting at home. I need to throw myself into the coffee/tea shop and be completely unattached (with the exception of the BlackBerry, that is) from the web in order to get anything done. It's sad, but it's true. I've essentially sat here at my desk the entire day flipping through my RSS feed and playing Scrabulous and mulling around the Web like a hungry person in a vast grocery store. You walk and walk and grab things and you never really get what you need.

At the same time, I'm reading through the bulk of comments I've gotten in the past week and I'm trying to figure out how people have come across the blog. There seem to be some Orthodox readers, and a friend told me that when she began talking about possibly becoming frum there came some regular readers on her blog, but when she finally came to the decision to not be frum those people disappeared. Then again I think perhaps my recent presence in commenting over on the Frum Satire blog probably has brought in new faces. Or maybe it's people from Twitter or elsewhere. Either way, the readership is a boon, and it's definitely encouraging me to (want to) be more active with the posting of well-thought-out content.

So for now, while I anticipate going home and eating dinner and then heading back out to the coffee shop to roll my shoulders over a table, perched over texts and printouts in hopes of analyzing faith in Judaism and perhaps what it means to the individual and whether the concept of faith in Judaism is relevant, I leave you with this:

Maimonides, perhaps one of the greatest Jewish sages, constructed the 13 Principles of Faith. With perfect repetition we recite "I believe with perfect faith that ..." for a variety of principles expressing the oneness of G-d and the truth of the prophets. I posted these principles in December of 2006, while knowing that of the 13 principles, it was No. 13 that unsettled me the most. At the time, I hadn't even been unsettled by the word "faith" in each of these statements. I didn't mention it, and thinking back, it wasn't even a question to me. The word faith merely blended in. I wonder, then, why a year and a half later I'm suddenly so very opposed to this word, faith, in the Jewish construction.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

It's Like a Big Pink Kugle in the Room.

I got an e-mail earlier today, right as I was arriving back in Chicago from a delightful mini-roadtrip to a (crappy) drive-in in Nowheresville, Indiana, and I spent the entire day mulling over the text trying to find the appropriate way to say what I was feeling about the words.
Bat Ayin is not for conversion candidates. It is for Jewish women but they also accept conversion candidates.
Bat Ayin was what the woman at Aish suggested for me, as a "conversion candidate." In this very simple couple of sentences, this woman is saying "You are not a Jew." As soon as I got in front of the computer earlier today, I wrote ferociously and quickly. It was angry, it was volatile. It was a big "take off your hater pants" fest directed at this woman, at Aish, at Orthodoxy. And I couldn't center my thoughts. I couldn't put exactly what was so frustrating into words.

So tonight, while bawling my eyes out in the shower because I feel like I'm in a vacuum -- things pulling me every which way, tugging my heart strings and prodding my delicate brain about love and religion and belief and faith and the future and the things we cannot effect or change -- it came to me. I finally can say what it is about such people that makes me want to tear my clothes and scream and weep and completely fall apart.

The thing of it is, I had a conversion. I went into the mikvah (twice, actually), I sat before a beth din, I stood in front of a congregation of Jews and (some) family and friends and vowed to take on the plight of the Jew, to raise a Jewish family, to have one G-d, to be a connected member of the Jewish community, of Israel, and I was pronounced Chaviva bat Avraham v'Sarah. It happened. There are witnesses and there is documented proof and pictures to prove I was there. There was a synagogue, a beautiful building, and a mikvah and there was even sushi afterward.

You cannot tell me that I did not step in a mikvah or that I did not stand before those people and proclaim, I am a Jew.

But yes, I understand that to many this was not a "Torah true" conversion. It was a conversion, just not that which some Conservative and all Orthodox parties recognize as legit. But it did happen. Even if it is some rickity-rack conversion that has no meaning, it happened. You can't tell me I didn't feel the mikvah waters over my skin or that I did not say the blessing over the Torah.

It might not be right to you, but something *did* happen. It isn't a tree-falls-in-the-forest situation.

It's like if you order a coffee with two sugars and the waitress brings it to you and you swear up and down that she didn't sweeten it, yet her coworkers saw her, it doesn't mean the sugar isn't there, it just means it isn't sweet enough for you. But the sugar is still there. It isn't as if nothing happened. Something, something is there.

Am I making sense? I guess what I'm saying is that you can't ignore my situation. You can't pretend like I'm some shmuck starting from scratch. I know more halakah and Jewish thought than probably some pretty observant folk. I am aware and I am proud. So don't tell me that nothing happened. Don't pretend like I am some random no one who has not spent at least five years moving backwards and forwards and every which way wrapping her heart and mind around Torah and Judaism and G-d. Acknowledge. ACKNOWLEDGE that something happened. I just want you to say "okay, it is there, now let us move on."

ACKNOWLEDGE that something, even a small something, did happen. I don't expect you to say it's right or it's true or it's legitimate. I just want you to say that something happened.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The World Wide Web and Chavi.

I have plenty of responding/writing to do about my Faith post, especially since I received several e-mails on the topic in addition to those in the comments field. Believe me, that will probably come Sunday night after some weekend reflection.

But for now, I wanted to post about my last night.

This whole Web 2.0 thing boggles my mind. Twitter, for example. I signed up for it eons ago, and only a couple months ago did I finally log back in and take the time to realize that it wasn't nearly as difficult as I was making it out to be. In fact, there wasn't much to it, and now I'm pleasantly addicted to it. It's sort of like when I got my BlackBerry and it took me a full two days to really feel like I was in sync with it, and not that I was too old and outside the generational gap for that kind of technology.
So last night I went to my first tech-style meetup: A Tweetup. It was at a bar in downtown Chicago on Clark Street and was instigated by some folks at the Chicago Tribune via Twitter and the Chicago Tribune site. The meetup was actually meant for folks of all e-stripes: Flickr users, bloggers, Twitter users, etc. And boy was the showing impressive. I showed up in time to get myself a fancy paper Chicago Tribune hat (which I proudly display here, of course), not to mention a prized "Spoiler Alert" sign held by a one Stephanie Izard -- Top Chef Chicago winner! It's probably as close as I'll ever get to Stephanie, so I'll take what I can get.

But Stephanie, if you're reading this (which you probably aren't), mazel tov on the win and THANK YOU for holding the "Spoiler Alert" sign. Yes, folks, I'm a huge geek.

After my time with the Twitterers and other folks, I headed up north to Belmont and Sheffield for a meetup hosted by, a website for Jews "in the Loop." I ended up settling in nicely with a crowd of cool folks, including a super cool Sarah Follmer, who has written a few articles for OyChicago already. It was a pretty stellar time, organized by the awesome folks at OyChicago. I just wish I had eaten dinner so I could have stayed longer. But alas, I wasn't feeling so hot so heading out was only very natural. Did I mention that I was a featured Jew You Should Know on the OyChicago site? Yah. So I'm sort of almost but not really at all famous.

I have to say the Web world has swept me up and has me in its grips. I'm a contributor at and, not to mention that I have this blog and my weight loss blog as well. Really, the e-world is my oyster and slowly but surely I'm taking it by storm. People recognize me on the street (and someone last night at the Tweetup knew me from an event I'd posted) from my "work" on, as well. I'm busy on Facebook and BrightKite, and my Flickr account is growing since I bought a Pro Account, and some of my photos were even used on a music blog!

It's such a big place, the web is. And I'm glad to be so interwoven into it all. Let's just hope that when I head back to school in a couple months I have the same amount of time to devote to these passions I have for social media and networking.

No one wants me. I am the convert.

Everyone remembers my Birthright drama, yes? Well, I've been rejected -- again. This time by a program called Jewel, also run by Aish, that was right up my alley. It was four weeks studying with other Jewish woman in Israel over my winter break from school. There were scholarships and everything and it screamed "Chavi!"

But they said they don't think their program would "fit" my needs. Right. I'm sure that's precisely what they mean. They did, however, suggest that I check out a couple other programs! Yes, they said, they think those programs would be outstanding for me. What are they?

Essentially they're two different bootcamps (one Lubavitch) for women converting to Torah-true Judaism in Israel.

I'd like to issue a big, heaping spoonful of "sigh" right now. It looks like I won't be getting to Israel this year. Or any time in the foreseeable future. Unless I somehow come up with the cash on my own. I so wanted to go and study with others and explore. This is just one big mess.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Faith or something like it.


When I was growing up in the Christian atmosphere, everything was about faith. If you have faith in Jesus as the son of G-d and faith in the belief that he died for our sins, you'd be saved. All it took was faith. It wasn't necessarily belief or understanding, it was just that word -- faith.

From Merriam-Webster:
Etymology: Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust
Date: 13th century

1 a: allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1): fidelity to one's promises (2): sincerity of intentions
2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust
3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs faith
Firstly, I'm shocked that the word only dates to the 13th century. Secondly, I went to my faithful Torah site and searched the translated text for the word "faith," and it only appeared twice, in Genesis 32:11 and Exodus 21:8. Is it true that the word faith appears nowhere else in Torah? I expanded the search and it appears in Haftorot and Brachot here and there, but not in abundance.

I guess I'm trying to decipher where -- or if -- the word "faith" fits into Judaism. The common construct within Christianity, I believe, is the "firm belief in something for which there is no proof ... complete trust." No questions asked, just pure, unwavering faith. When questions would be asked, it always came back to simply having faith. It was necessary, essential, it was the purpose. There was faith, and that was enough.

In Judaism, though, we question. We argue, debate, knock our heads against the wall trying to figure things out. We seek answers and at some point there is a certain sense of necessary believing, but I don't think it's faith in the manner that I understand what faith means.

Whenever people comment to me about something or say "you just gotta have faith," I always respond with "faith is a Christian construct." But then I started thinking about it.

So, readers, I ask you: What is "faith" in Judaism? Does it exist? What does it mean?

Please answer! If you want to shoot me an e-mail, feel free. You can find it in the profile info. Either way, I'd like to hear and share some answers because I'm perplexed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Of Literary Note.

For the first time -- in a long time -- I shut the computer and plopped down on my bed to finish up a book, Chaim Potok's "The Promise." I'd been reading it voraciously, eating the words as if I'd been starved of prose for days, if not weeks. I'm not sure why, but that's what Potok's books do to me. They enliven the appetite for words. For me, that's rare. Of course this also means I need to set out to read all of his work, since right now I've read a mere three or four of them.

Last week I finished Marc D. Angel's "Orthodox Road to Conversion," which I haven't really had the chance to fully discuss. And then I finished "The Promise" and now? Now I'm reading Robert Eisenberg's "Boychiks in the Hood."

I know what you're thinking: Chavi is disappearing into the big, bad, dark black-hatted world of Orthodoxy and Hasidism! Quick! Grab a rope! It's like quicksand in the Jewish community, no?

No. I'm not sure why, but I'm drawn to Orthodoxy. I'm drawn to the construct of the rebbe in Hasidism. I'm drawn to this seemingly perfunctory -- if that's the right word -- Jewishness. It intrigues me in many ways.

But let's be honest here. I know Reform and Conservative Jews more kosher than me (in more ways than one). I'm the floating Jew, if you recall. Analyzing the movements and trying to find her place among the chaos and the intra-battle of Jew vs. Jew. I have a distaste for labels, remember?

The thing of it is, though, that below my copy of "Boychiks in the Hood" (in the pile of "to take to work tomorrow" stuff) is the newest issue of Reform Judaism magazine. Yes, I still get it, and yes it still comes to "Amanda and Ian Edwards." The first time it happened, I nearly cried -- it being so soon after the ex and I parted ways. But now, getting the magazine with that as the addressee, well, it gave me a good chuckle.

There are quite a few things that intrigue me in this issue and the biggest one is the cover story: Why religion matters. I opened the magazine randomly to a random page and ended up on a sort of Q&A about keeping kosher. The resounding response, it seems, was not to keep kosher by eating foods that some random Orthodox rabbi deems okay, but to go the vegetarian route. No way an Orthodox rabbi can taint your cause then, eh?

I'm ahead of the game, though. I need to read the issue -- cover to cover. I think there's going to be some good stuff in it, and I don't say that in a condescending sarcastic way (much to the disappointment of what many of my readers probably think). I don't dislike Reform Judaism, in fact, if there is one congregation in the world I will always return to, it's my Reform congregation back in Nebraska, for the people there, in my mind, are the most devoted, passionate Jews I know. They're the most real people I've met. But I'm biased. It's like how you have to love your family, no matter what, you know? I love them, come hell or high water or sheitls, I love them.

But that's not the point. The point is that I'm reading all these texts and fictions about the "other" side of Judaism. The inside world, as opposed to Tova Mirvis' painted "outside world." I'm looking and asking questions because that is what we do, as Jews, and what we ALL should do -- regardless of creed, beliefs system or values. Questioning is human. And anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar and a chump.

So I'll read on. And this "Boychiks in the Hood" book? I'm 20 pages in and absolutely intrigued. If you haven't read it, I recommend picking it up. It'll get your mind a'spinning.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A brief Shavuot spiel.

Shavuot, says My Jewish Learning, "is among the least-observed Jewish holidays today. But the holiday is deeply meaningful, and makes up in theology what it lacks in ritual."

In its most simplest phrasing, Shavuot is the celebration of the revelation of Torah at Sinai to Israel. The holiday is directly connected to Pesach, which began seven weeks ago. Between Pesach and Shavuot, we count the Omer, and at the conclusion of the counting, bam! There is Shavuot, the festival of weeks (though it has many different names). The holiday also commemorates the harvest, and it is for this reason that some believe those in the U.S. and the Diaspora have a difficult time connecting with Shavuot, for it still has this agricultural significance in Israel.

Though there are no set mitzvot for the holiday aside from the typical (no work, etc.), there are customs that are incredibly prominent in observance today. These include
  • אקדמות – Akdamot, the reading of a liturgical poem during Shavuot morning synagogue services
  • חלב – Chalav (milk), the consumption of dairy products like milk and cheese
  • רות – Ruth, the reading of the Book of Ruth at morning services
  • ירק – Yerek, the decoration of homes and synagogues with greenery
  • תורה – Torah, engaging in all-night Torah study.
That fourth one, yerek, was news to me when I began poking around to refresh myself on the significance and practices of Shavuot. On the upside, I do have a bounty of fruit in my home, which is also part of the collecting of greenery and fruits for the home. I've always wanted to engage in all-night Torah study, but to this date, I have not done so. It has logistically usually been impossible, and I thought perhaps this would be the year, but once again, work has gotten in the way (not to mention I took last Monday off and it would probably be seen as a little suspicious if I did it again).

However, the upside of this is that I can spend tomorrow evening and throughout the day tomorrow at work (in between odd jobs) studying Torah and reading the Book of Ruth. I recently read through Ruth while working on a project to compose entries for a Bible Dictionary in the works (my topics: Ruth, Naomi, Mara, and Tzipporah). The significance of the Book of Ruth for converts -- and for this holiday -- is profound, especially considering recent events vis a vis the revocation of conversions in Israel.

You see, the Book of Ruth is read because it corresponds with the harvest, as Ruth worked in the field with Boaz. Likewise, the book comprises the lineage of King David, who himself arose from the lineage of a convert -- Ruth. It is within texts like this that I sit back and wonder what a proper conversion for Ruth would have been like, and how -- after all these years -- we can still wonder about a convert when so much of Jewish history was shaped by a child born of a convert's line. Some of the greatest leaders, thinkers and artists have been converts of all stripes, as well.

Of course the best part of Shavuot -- or so most think -- is all the delicious dairy that is consumed. Myself being of the not-a-lot-of-dairy consuming variety these days, will probably consume just a little bit. I am going to a wine and cheese shindig tomorrow at Chabad in Wicker Park, where there will be a reading of the 10 Commandments. I figure if I don't make it to shul tonight, it is at least what I can do within the community to add to my personal study. I fell off the Torah-reading wagon a few weeks ago and have not been properly set back on yet, which is why you haven't seen much in the way of d'var Torah from me. It seems to happen around this time every year, though.

At any rate, I bid you all a chag sameach -- may your homes and mouths be filled with the words of Torah and may your hearts overflow as surely our ancestors did at Sinai.

It's my holiday, you know.

Shavuot quickly approaches -- do you know where your cheesecakes are!?

I'll have plenty to say, I hope, from services tonight and a wine/cheese party tomorrow, but for now I just wanted to offer up a link that Schvach shared with me over on the Shiloh Musings blog. To read it, click here.

Chag sameach!

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Birthright.

I'm standing just off the curb near the bus stop, watching taxicabs and cars zip by, waiting for a free space in the traffic to make it across Broadway. Really, I'm at ease -- my skirt flapping wildly in the wind; gale force winds have painted the day. I wanted very much to just stand there, eyes closed, early summer wind brushing over and around me, making my kosher-for-shul skirt dance. And then there's a clearing, and I run, sandles clicking against the ground, and I'm thinking: when did skirts become oppressive. And then I'm thinking: I should blog about this and shul tonight and about how it's hard to fight the urge to blog after something beautiful whips around your mind making it difficult to think -- you must get the words out in some form, else they'll continue to stir up and around making it uneasy to concentrate, to breathe.
I showed up 15 minutes late to shul. I followed a young couple in and as they were picking through the headcoverings I opened the sanctuary door to find it empty. I tucked myself into their space and asked if they knew what time services were. I then found out that sometimes they have services in the basement, in the room where on my first visit to the Orthodox shul they'd had a Shabbat dinner and where I'd scooted myself into an already-full table of Jews. I plodded down the steps and there, in the big room, were crowded dozens of congregants separated women from men by a lace curtain divider. I (reluctantly) grabbed my transliterated (brown) siddur and grabbed a seat. The men's side was pretty hoppin', and the woman I'd run into mentioned that when they have services downstairs, there's dancing and lively(er) singing. Now, I'd skipped a service at the Conservative shul because I was hoping to avoid acoustic guitars and the like, so it was funny that the Orthodox shul had a similar thing going down; but rest assured, there were no drums or guitars or anything aside from the voices -- the beautiful voices -- of the congregants.

I quickly found my place in the siddur, but realized for the first time at the Orthodox shul that I really loathe the transliterated version. The thing is, the transliteration does that whole "s" versus "t" bit from the Ashkenazi/Sephardi pronunciations and it just throws me. I know the prayers, but when you're staring at a transliterated page you have a tendency to read what you're given and it's just frustrating. If only everything weren't so ... fast. Yes, if things were slower I could probably keep up in the Hebrew. But at the same time, the pace is what enthralls and excites me. There is so much, so very much, and all of it is beautiful. I found myself marveling tonight at how quickly I was moving along in some of the prayers you find in all shuls for the ma'ariv. I wouldn't change the service at all. It's me who needs to change. The Hebrew needs to be like a second skin, a glove. I should be able to open the siddur and know precisely where we are in the service, know the words and the melodies. And in due time, well, I'll be there.

And there was dancing. On the men's side, anyhow. The women sort of smiled and looked on over the divider as the rabbi and several other (also rabbis) danced in a circle. I wish I could convey the beauty that emanates from this congregation when they're singing and davening. It's like our entire past, all of our ancestors, are in the room voices belting loudly in many different melodies making the most serene sound. I can close my eyes and it's as if the entire room has become Israel -- the people, the entire congregation. And that, of course, is what Shabbat is meant to be. I've never experienced that before, that washed over feeling of generations past and present alive in the voices of those singing and davening.

But then there is the guilt. I left services, opting to skip out on a (most likely delicious) Shabbat dinner to go home. The day left me weary -- the heat was suffocating and the wind left me feeling worn. I need sleep, it's true, and I have many a plan for the weekend (not partying hard, folks, but going to a green market and chalk art festival and book fair). The entire week drifted by seemingly without any sleep, and despite the joy and absolute happiness I feel when joining a Shabbat table, I knew I needed to come home. I trekked down the street and, seeing two buses coming, stopped at the corner and waited. As I stood there, people leaving the Orthodox shul walked by, and a feeling of dread overcame me. I began to think, What will they think of me? Am I being judged? Should I just start walking so they think perhaps I was just taking an idle break?
No one said anything to me. They probably didn't even notice me. I'm sure there are plenty of people who take the bus -- not everyone lives in the eruv or within walking distance, right? I was over-thinking it. But having already started thinking about blogging about services, I'd also turned on my Blackberry, which I subsequently (and shamefully) shoved in my bag. The bus came, I hopped on, pulled out Potok, and read the entire way home.

And now, we're back to where we began.

I'm trying to figure out how to reconcile a lot of things. From what I hear, this (modern) Orthodox shul isn't like other Orthodox shuls. The rabbi is one of a kind. The people? Also unique. The atmosphere? You won't find it anywhere else. I'm beginning to worry: Is this going to turn into another situation like with my "starter shul" back in Nebraska? Will it come to be that no shul on the planet will be able to compare with this shul? On the same note, is this synagogue "acceptable" in its Orthodoxy or is it talked about by the folks up in West Rogers Park and Skokie? Scratch that. Now that I think about it, every year I guess there's a mass migration of new families from this Orthodox shul up to the Orthodox neighborhoods in the near suburbs. They even have little reunions I guess. So yes, it's kosher.

Why am I asking all these questions? Who cares?

While standing in services, not paying attention to the prayer, my eyes floated through the lace curtain to all the young bachelors. I began to wonder (so much thinking going on) whether -- if I really wanted to land me a nice Orthodox boy -- this whole conversion debacle would make someone apprehensive about me, even if I had chosen to convert Orthodox. Would it keep someone from loving me? From accepting me? And how would I handle that. Is it even worth it? Afterall, I've been known to be in love with goyim (past and present).

Oy. My head hurts from all the thinking, but this is what shul does to me. I go, I experience something beautiful, I leave, I begin to think. Sometimes I wonder if my approach to Judaism is too academic, too serious, too fretful. And then I step back and look at those words and think of the sages and great thinkers and realize no, this is precisely what I'm meant to do. It's who I am.

It's my birthright.

Indeed, what if?

Shavuot approaches, so ...

"If the Jewish people would sanctify themselves with Torah and mitzvos, they would continually hear the voice of Hashem speaking as from Mount Sinai."

Baal Shem Tov

Reposting from A Simple Jew

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Barack Obama a la Hebrew

Look to your right ------->

You see it? Yes. Awesomeness. I'm officially endorsing the man. I like the way his name looks in Hebrew, too. Thanks to Ararat Scrolls for posting up that little thing, 'else I wouldn't have even noticed/found it.

Spread the word!

A Photo Montage, minus the montage.

I trekked around my neighborhood yesterday taking photos for a Yelp project. There were a lot of beautiful textures and unique oddities to be seen, and here are a few of the photos. The rest can be seen over on my Flickr page.

Oh, and also, there are pictures up from the Death Cab for Cutie concert that I attended at the Pritzker Pavilion here in Chicago. Check those out as well!

Web site Discovery

A friend, in an attempt to send me an MP3 link for a lecture on the "Conversion Crisis," thus helped me discover a new (to me) website out of Canada: Torah in Motion.

In the "Who We Are" section of the site, it says,
Torah in Motion is dedicated to exploring the intellectual richness and spiritual depths of Judaism and to applying that wisdom to our everyday challenges. We at Torah in Motion create a framework for dialogue among Jews of all ages and backgrounds. Together with some of our Jewish world’s best leadership, program participants examine today’s challenging issues.

We initiate a "conversation" – through either personal attendance or electronically – where we can enrich our lives with knowledge and understanding of Judaism’s role in contemporary society.

From what I can tell, it's an Orthodox-inspired site, but they offer MP3s, conferences, e-classes and other e-inspired tools. It's sort of a fancy adult education-style site.

Now, while trying to get some more info on the site, I came across a pretty accusatory site with some interesting things to say about the organization. I then also came across an article by the Rabbinical Council of America on the founder of Torah in Motion, Rabbi Jay Kelman. Then there's this blog that refers to it sort of as a Modern Orthodox organization.

Anyhow, it seems like there's probably some interesting content on the site, which I hope to perhaps explore and discover. Though, of course, like many of the sites I find, it could simply get lost in my browser history. :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On this Day: June 4

I like doing "on this date in history" posts, simply because there's a void of information -- historic information -- thanks to the constant, ever-growing flow of data and useless information we get from television and the internet. So I present to you, some interesting things of note.

+ On this date in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to allow the passengers of the SS St. Louis -- more than 900 Jewish refugees from Europe -- to enter the United States.

+ In 781 B.C.E, the first historic solar eclipse is recorded in China.

+ It was in 1971 that the patent for the ATM was handed out to three individuals.

+ Massachusetts becomes the first U.S. state to set a minimum wage -- in 1912!

+ In 1917, the first Pulitzer prizes are handed out.

+ Finally, today is sort of an unofficial memorial day for the incidents at Tiananmen Square in 1989. In fact, the government keeps a tight watch on the square on this day to make sure nothing goes down. The incident is known in China colloquially as "Six-Four," and supposedly, there are more than 100 people still imprisoned from the incident, and there's even an article about civil rights activists urging China to release the prisoners. I mean, come on ... it's 19 years later.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Michelle Obama said it a long time ago and got plenty of crap for it, but for the first time -- in a long time -- I am truly proud to be an American. The changing face of the United States impresses and sustains us. And I don't care what you say, it isn't about race. Yes, he's our first black presidential candidate ... but my G-d, the man is inspiring. He is truly, truly the resounding HOPE that we need to move above and out of the present regime. And to that I say, Amen.

And for the love of Pete, go watch his speech.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Dripping with Sarcasm.

I neglected to blog this when it happened, but at some point about a week and a half or two weeks ago, Firefox decided to delete all of my bookmarks.

Except for that little folder with all the links to my engagement ring hopefuls.

Thanks Firefox!

(Yes, at some point I was thinking about the prospect of such things, so I created a folder with the specific type of ring I want, since it's not the norm. And Firefox was kind enough to keep this folder. Awesome.)

The potpourri: Movies, Books, and Electrocuted Family.

So many things to say, so little space to make it all relevant and/or connected to every other thing that needs to be said.
Firstly, the Sex and the City movie. I guess I won't say as much as I was planning to, simply because it just isn't worth the space. But beware, reading this might ruin the movie-going experience. Wait. On second thought, this stream of consciousness has made me think that maybe I should post my thoughts at the end of the blog so if someone wants to read all the other junk, they're not tainted by my spoiler. Moving on ...

Secondly, I got a bunch of documents in the mail today from the St. Louis Dispatch archives. It amazes me that I can get a couple or three or four documents from one location for a whopping $6, whereas getting marriage licenses from various counties in Illinois is going to cost me upwards of $50. How does that happen? Mom has suggested it isn't worth it, but I'd rather collect the docs now and not have some relative trying to track them down in the future. Better to do the leg work and get it done than wait, eh?

So I received the obituary of my great-grandma's brother, Edward Weilbacher, who had died of electrocution in 1922. It sort of threw me because here's this 19-year-old kid dying of electricity in the early 20s. I was assuming perhaps it was some sort of fratboy incident gone wrong, but as it turns out, he died after being electrocuted while using an electric floor scrubber. The sort of mysterious part, though, is that supposedly it killed him because of a weak heart. His football couch marveled at such a thought (which is why there was an inquest) -- this was a healthy, athletic kid. How could he have had a weak heart? The story in the Dispatch is pretty long for some kid getting electrocuted, and as it turns out, the reason it was such big doings was because he had been the star quarterback and team captain of his high school football team. He was also in a fraternity, so chances are the listing of "scholar" on his death certificate means he was attending university. Where? The obit doesn't say. The obit does list his brothers and sisters, including one brother I was unaware of who isn't buried at the family plot. The mystery woman buried there could, however, be this other brother's wife I guess. Either way, how nifty that he died in such a tragic way. I mean, it isn't nifty ... but finding out these quirks in the tree is fascinating. The funny thing about it, though, is that after he was juiced, they hosed him down and put him back to work. Had they taken him immediately to the hospital, he probably would have survived.

Thirdly, I finished one book and got about 1/3 of the way through another book during flights and airport time this weekend. I finished reading Marc D. Angel's book on Orthodox conversion and then started reading Chaim Potok's "The Promise." The later is an incredibly quick read, and the former was as well. The thing about the former is that it wasn't what I expected in a conversion book. Most of the books I've read are very much about the ins and outs of the process itself and what people do or do not believe. Rabbi Angel's book detailed the history of conversion, the rabbinical rulings and responsa, historical fluxes in the acceptance and avoidance of converts, etc. He talked about the different types of converts and why they choose the path they do, and he included various essays from converts of varying backgrounds and what led them to the Orthodox route. (In more cases than not, the converts started on the Reform route because it was easy and/or accessible, only to find themselves reconverting later or finding a difficulty associated with their original route that led them to the Orthodox beth din.) I'm sort of zipping through books, which is a good thing, considering I have so very many of them to read, and the moment I get to graduate school, my reading style and habits will change greatly.

Fourthly, we come back to the firstly. The Sex and the City movie. I have to say my company was outstanding, and the way all the women in the audience were dressed gave us endless conversation. The estrogen abounded, and my movie companion was definitely outnumbered. But cripes. I found myself so upset at the end of the flick, in dismay, frustrated. Maybe I'm just worn out with the Happily Ever After movies. The scenario that everyone gets what they want, or rather, what we -- the audience -- want for the fictitious characters. Yes, it's a movie. We go to them to be entertained, to escape the sad and lonely existence of life. To watch characters fall in love and live happily ever after. Or, in the case of SATC, we see characters who don't necessarily fall out of love, but fall back in love with themselves. Not everyone in the movie ends up in love and with a spouse and the kids and the car and the house and the dream. But for Samantha, the dream WAS being alone -- being a sexy vixen who can have sex with anything and everything that moves without consequence. It's essentially who she is. So she, too, lives happily ever after. I guess I yearn for surprise. I yearned for Carrie to not end up with Big. For her to somehow realize that all the tumult, the shit, the mess, the breakups and get-back-togethers over 10 years were a sign that it wasn't all meant to be. Nothing's perfect, but anything that is so broken for so long must be like Humpty Dumpty, right? Maybe I just wanted validation. To know that ending my nearly three year on-again/off-again with the supposed man of my dreams was the right choice. Because for the length of that relationship it had been this Carrie/Big comparison, though I knew that there was no comparison. For starters, I wasn't in my 30s. I wasn't a cosmo-drinking sex column writer. I wasn't Carrie and he most certainly wasn't big. The comparisons continued though, as I dated a Russian and other exotics in between the on-agains. It was ridiculous how my friends and I made the connections. Maybe that's why the movie's end irritated the hell out of me. I wanted them to break as my little fantasy had broken six months ago. But it didn't, and life goes on. We want the happily ever after, because it rekindles that hope that maybe we can have what we want. That we should really fight for it. If it can happen in the movies, then ... right?

A girl can dream, anyway. Maybe I had the Mr. Big character in my life all wrong.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I Left it in San Francisco.

Well, I made it to San Francisco and back in one piece. It was a quick trip, but it's about quality, not quantity, and we were definitely heavy on the quality end of things. I got to ride a trolley (scary), see the wharf, the sea lions on Pier 39, eat some fresh fish, eat some In-N-Out, see Sex and the City (on which a post will be written in full), spend some quality time with someone special, take lots of photos, get some delicious dried mangoes, to go the Lefty store, and experience the coolness of the tech side of the valley (we drove by Google! eeep!). There was a lot more in there, but I'm tired, and I can't offer much. I've posted a bunch of the photos to my Flickr Page, so be sure to check those out. Here's a sneak preview:

San Franci

And until next time, check out this ridiculous Spelling Bee happening, pulled from the one, the only, Tamara!