Saturday, August 30, 2008

Haveil Havalim is up!

Oh! And don't forget ... the newest Haveil Havalim is up over at My Shrapnel. Check out #180 here.

Lech Lecha, and I will be like the River.

This is a big Shabbos blog post, but I'm asking myself: Where do I begin? If this is long and wandering and all touchy feely and makes you feel queasy with nauseousness, I do apologize in advance :) Likewise, this isn't nearly as eloquent as it was in my head earlier today, so please forgive me!

I spent my Friday afternoon talking to a fellow who will be known as JDater E on the phone and then the interwebs while he trekked off for a little long-weekend getaway. I put on my skirt and my cardigan, minimized the items I was carrying to my building/room key and my ID pouch, and headed off to meet others walking to the Chabad rabbi's house off campus around 6:45. I got to the meeting spot and after a few minutes others joined me there, others whom I had met at the big Hillel BBQ last week, as well as a few people from Hebrew class and elsewhere. We headed off to the rabbi's house, getting there a little after 7 p.m. There were warm welcomes and introductions and the rabbi started the service with about a half-dozen or so other guys, while the four or five of us women lit the Shabbos candles. There were children -- six of them -- running rampant the entire night, and I'll admit they were a distraction, but I think I just haven't been around children in so long that I forgot that they, too, are part of the Shabbos evening dinner.

The services didn't last long, and I found it hard to follow along in the prayerbook. I've become so familiar with the Artscroll Siddur that I sort of just wandered around in the pages, while also watching the kids run around screaming and trying to gain our attention. More people continued to show up and join in services and by the time we sat down for dinner there was an entire house full of people. There were three courses, including the requisite gefilte fish (YUM!!). There was wine and singing and challah (the challah, btw, was AMAZING), and lots, and lots of conversation.

I was sitting at the end of the table with what I would say are the older folks that attend Shabbos at the Chabad rabbi's house. There was an engaged couple and three others -- all who are Shomer Negiah -- and me. They all have known each other well, and they were busy talking about future Shabbos plans and the conversation was flying by around me, but I slowly started to work my way in and grew comfortable with the conversation. At one point, during conversation about each of my new friends' paths to Orthodoxy, someone said "what did you grow up as?" And of course my answer is always: "I didn't grow up Jewish." Someone mentioned that they were surprised -- I looked Jewish! They would have never guessed. So the questions came and for the first time, I felt completely at ease talking about everything with these people because most of them weren't frum from birth, and as I explained my path and thoughts about having an Orthodox conversion, one even suggested setting me up with a rabbi in West Hartford.

Dinner concluded and there was more singing and conversation and the group of us headed off back to campus for a post-Shabbos dinner get together that included pickles and vodka. Now, this was around 11 something and it was incredibly humid outside. We trekked, quite quickly, back to campus, up to the sixth floor of a building, and into a small dorm room -- mind you, there were about a dozen of us. It was hot, and we were all tired, and definitely dehydrated, but we had our L'Chaims and told stories and talked about Israel and what it means to be Jewish. We sang songs -- Am Yisrael Chai -- and we shared with eachother. We toasted and we laughed and we joked and even when the lights went off (auto-timer!) at 2 something, we continued to talk. G-d, someone said, had wanted us to continue talking and sharing, even with the lights off. We talked about life being a narrow bridge, and what that meant to us. For me, I said, it meant that I had chosen a path that was difficult, one that was not oft-traveled, and that despite everything around me, I continue to walk the narrow path. And then I explained why I'd converted, about my soul lighting up, and one of the guys talked to me about how my sincerity, my soul, made it all true. And then, around 3 in the morning, we all took off back home, to sleep.

Unfortunately, I was pretty much awake until 7 a.m. tossing and turning. I was dehyradated and intoxicated and uncomfortable. Davening began at 10:30 a.m., and lunch was set for around 1 p.m. I finally fell asleep and woke up around noon, feeling miserable. I decided not to go to the Chabad house, and rather, I ate something here and went back to sleep. I felt pretty miserable about not making it to morning services and the events today because last night? Last night was absolutely perfect. I wasn't worried that other people would wonder "Why isn't Chavi here?" I was worried about my own guilt. My own irritation with not handling myself in a way that would allow me to get up and be a part of the community. So here I am.

I learned that an eruv has been set up within my building to allow for carrying on Shabbat (AWESOME), because there's a fellow who lives a floor down who is frum. It turns out there are quite a few of us more observant Jews in the grad housing area, which makes me feel cozy.

But this has just been a "this is what I did" kind of post, and I really want to make it more a "this is how I felt" post. I feel like, in this community of people, I can really embrace where I want to be Jewishly. I was thinking about it and I think my only beef with being frum would be the no showering on Shabbos (nu? hair like this doesn't do well without a shower, and wearing scarves will make me look like I'm hitched). But otherwise? It's completely feasible. There is a kosher kitchen, meals at the Chabad house on Shabbos, an eruv in the building, other frum Jews who dress modestly, people I can ask questions, people who can answer questions. There is an every Shabbos together bit where people come here and other weeks go to West Hartford for Shabbos or there was talk even of going to Monsey.

I feel so at home. So completely and utterly at home, like I am arriving again. It reminded me of when I first went to shul and felt like I was being enveloped in large, warm arms, like the G-d I had embraced was embracing me back. That is how it feels to be here amid this community. Singing Am Yisrael Chai in a dorm room stuffed to the brim with people, sweating up a storm, and talking about what it means that the people Israel lives? It sounds hippie dippy, I know, but it wasn't. These people are so passionate about their Judaism and who they are Jewishly and what it means to be a part of this community that it is impossible to not feel it as well.

Coming home last night, before I started to feel completely crappy physically, I felt high. Like the world was at my fingertips, filled with complete bliss. These people around me embraced me as I could only have hoped they would have. There was a point at dinner when there was a lull in conversation when I smiled really big and said "I am so happy right now" and everyone sort of looked at me funny, but I explained that this is what I was hoping to find here, at school, in this second attempt to make things right.

And so it is, this place is home now. I have no questions about that. I am happy and healthy and once this heat passes, things will all fit very nicely, I think. And in all honesty, if the hardest thing for me is figuring out this whole no showering on Shabbos business, then I think I'm doing pretty well. The theology is there (even if I haven't blogged about it), the heart is there, the soul is there, and here is the community. And why am I telling you all this? Because it's part of my process. It allows you to see through my eyes, maybe, what it means to be a convert who is continuing the path, I guess.

The journey is never over, of course, we're never static -- at least, we shouldn't be -- and in this way, I intend to be like river in a stream, constantly moving, over rocks or twigs or even the smoothest underbelly of the riverbed. This is just another bend in the river.

Shavua Tov, readers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yes, we can.

Watching the Democratic National Convention, and watching Obama's speech tonight, I feel a reinvigoration in my hope for the political future of this country. I have never felt so moved, inspired, and hopeful before. And maybe it's just the fancy music and slow-mo on's live stream, but I see in Obama and Biden the fruition of hundreds of years of work to create equality in this country, and I see the promise of change, the promise of hope, the promise of moving forward.

And seeing Obama cry? Those aren't dredged up tears. Those are honest tears. Those are tears of a humbled man. Those are real. Those are the tears of a president ready to be just as he is now as he will be in office. And he WILL be in office.

Well, you know where I stand. Where do you stand?

Einstein said that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Think about it.

Look Ma! I Done it!

It only took me about 3.5 days to master the Hebrew script. Seriously? I bought a book with the express purpose of mastering Hebrew Script because I was fearful of this class, and I get here, and with one day's worth of homework assignments under my belt and two days (that's actually three) classes, I have for you, Aleph-Bet a la Chavi:

Let's call it Chavi script. And if you want to see what the REAL Hebrew Script looks like, you can click here and check out the fancy, handy dandy chart that every Hebrew professor on the planet uses. Of course, I have to wait and see what the professor thinks of my take on the letters, since, as with all handwriting, things come out different. Maybe I should take on Rashi Script next? HA! But I just wanted to share my mastering what I was so scared of.

The long weekend approaches, and right now the only plans I have tentatively made are for a fellow I've met on JDate and I to perhaps get some nosh and explore Letterboxing on Monday afternoon. Other than that, I intend on doing a lot of reading in Qohelet, some exploration in Exodus for Bible class, a bit of dabbling in the Hebrew vocabulary, and reading up on something to prepare some quirky interview questions for PopJudaica's blog, AND ... yes, lots of blogging here. In the works are the following:
  • Blog on Rabbi Marc D. Angel's "The Search Committee" ... long overdue, and needing to be written!
  • Blog (perhaps a video blog?) on how I managed to organize myself and all there is to know about Judaism during my conversion process (a nod to Rachel at Shavua Tov! for inquiring and inspiring!). 
And of course, some sleep (though I seem to get plenty) and I might actually manage to trek to the gym and see what they have to offer! Oh, and I suppose I should start figuring out my late September, early October plans, buying plane tickets back to Nebraska for my BFF Annie's wedding and figuring out High Holiday plans.

Why must they creep up so!?

(By the way, don't tell anyone, but now I'm thinking ... wow ... becoming a Professor of Hebrew? That would be the most awesome job ever. The question is ... am I too far behind in getting started to even consider such a thing?)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Political Kippah!

A nod to Shmuly for shooting me an email about this AWESOME site: Actually, he was emailing me about a cool photo gallery he made of various presidents donning kippot (my favorite? President of Neverland Ranch, oh yah!). But really, it's not too late to order your political yarmulkes for a mere $15.95 a pop, plus free S&H. Seriously? Awesome. If I wore a kippah I'd pick one up, but that's not my style.

Adamah and Eretz: Worth Looking at?

Are you prepared for me to geek out? Torah style? Well, here goes.

I was tasked with reading Genesis 1-25 for class tomorrow, which is actually only going to be focusing on Gen. 1-3, but that's beside the point. I've read Genesis a million times, and the stories grow more familiar each time I read them. At the same time, with any study of Torah texts also comes the new and the different, which is what I've run across this time. I was keeping tabs on the various themes or words that pop up frequently -- separation (night/day, shabbat/the week, earth/heavens, water/water, etc.), the nature of a fruitful people, water (to grow, but also to destroy), covenants/promises/"deals," and then there was this word "ground."

It kept popping up, at first in a positive sense with creation, and then when things started going bad it became associated with the not so good things. Of course, when you're creating the ground/earth/soil is pretty important. But there was an obvious distinction between the choice of "ground" as a translation and "earth" as a translation in other locations. In Gen. 2:7, G-d makes man from the dust of the ground -- adamah (אדמה). Which is why Adam becomes known as Adam. Of course, prior to this we have plenty of mentions of the word earth -- eretz (ארץ), but the usage of adamah here is distinct. One of my texts has the translation as "dust of the earth" and the other says "dust of the ground" so it's obvious that there are some unsettled translation concerns when it comes to earth/ground/soil. In Gen. 2:9, the Lord causes trees to grow from adamah. Then, G-d creates all of the beasts and the birds of the sky from adamah. And then? There's the whole apple in the garden shtick and after this we have G-d cursing the adamah because of Adam. We later have Cain and Abel and G-d saying to Cain that Abel's blood cries out "from the adamah." And at last, G-d tells Cain that he shall be "more cursed than ha-adamah." (Gen. 4:11). But then later G-d, speaking after the flood, vows to never again "doom the ha-adamah" -- of course, in my Etz Chayim this is translated as "earth" and in my Holy Bible is translated as "ground." And this? Well, this is as far as I paid attention before I got engrossed in the story itself and stopped taking notes.

The thing is, there is obvious discussion and confusion about the difference or perhaps the proper usage of adamah versus eretz (and I'm sure there are other words out there, as well). I'm hoping, perhaps to signify a distinction (not now, but perhaps for a paper?) between the usage not in the technical sense, but rather in the mood -- is adamah more appropriate for speaking about the "toil" of man, whereas eretz is perhaps more positive and encompasses the more hopeful side of the struggle of man? We have many instances of adamah in reference to the burden of working the ground, to eat of the ground, to be cursed of the ground, to return to the ground from which we came. Whereas eretz is bringing forth vegetation, life, and it is oft paired with heaven expressing the all-encompassing domain of G-d. At the same time, perhaps adamah is completely literal -- it is soil, ground, that which we walk on -- while eretz is the bigger picture.

Or I could just be searching for a completely not-there connection. What do you think?

Jdate and Studying

Well, I did it. I took the plunge. I bit the bullet. I threw myself into it.

I paid for a one-month JDate account. Yikes!

I know, I know. I know what you're thinking and saying and you can shake your head and scoff and chide me all you want, but, well, there was a fellow who piqued my interest and I just had to join to send him a note. Call me impulsive, I guess. But, as it turns out, we're several days later and although that fellow hasn't responded, another fellow and I have been conversing via JDate e-mail. I didn't expect to hear anything so quick, but, you know, it is Connecticut and there doesn't seem to be many people on JDate.

I guess my biggest beef with JDate is the general secular population. I mean, different strokes for different folks, but as a friend said recently ... as time has gone on, there's a lot less J in the JDate these days. At any rate, I'm just feeling out the waters to see what happens. I'm an adventurer, okay?

I will note, though, that a mere seven months ago I blogged about searching for a nice Jewish guy and how I was having problems because I was looking for a fairly religious fellow because I was "somewhere between  Reform and Conservative" ... oh how the times have changed! And so quickly!?

In other news: I did my first official homework tonight, and it was for my Modern Hebrew class. I was so worried about learning the script, but it's almost second nature to me now. It seems so strange and odd looking, but once you get going on it, the letters just flow out from the pencil like a beautiful waterfall. The letters still look weird, but it all seems to fit together nicely. Essentially, what I'm saying, is that it feels good to have this done and my stomach ache is waning and I'm feeling better about everything. Now? I have to plow through Genesis 1-25 and search for common themes and the like. The problem? I'm reading it like I'm preparing a d'var Torah and I can't seem to get very far without picking something apart ... eek! Focus, Chavi, focus! The upside to everything school-related, though, is that I've found another student around my age who lives in the Graduate Housing (he's a Jewish undergrad, post-Navy) who has become the new study buddy. In it alone? Not anymore!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A few randoms.

A few of the randoms to help you sleep at night.
  • BIBLES: I bought my first Holy Bible today. It's the Revised Standard Version, and it cost me about $12. Yes, when I say Holy Bible I mean the whole thing -- that Hebrew Bible and the new stuff, too. I don't do the whole "New" and "Old" bit, simply because, well, some people just don't like the way it sounds. Some, they say, think that by calling the Hebrew Bible "old," it's implying false or impractical or completely out of date and obscenely wrong. So I've got the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible (that works, right?) here in my clutches. I owned a Holy Bible once, back in the day, that was a gift from my parents when I was a wee lass. It was a Precious Moments bible, and I loved -- I repeat loved -- that thing because of the neat pictures it had. I remember at a very early age trying to get through Genesis, but all the so-and-sos begatting so-and-sos left me feeling empty, so I went back to the pictures. I will say, though, that it was, well, unsettling to have to buy this Holy Bible. Why? Because I'm moronic sometimes. Yes, every scholar should probably have a copy of the working Holy Bible, but I guess I've just never had a use for it before. But now, with my Bible Topics class, I have to prepare to delve into the Christian side of things. It makes me a little nervous ... everything I've ever read out of Paul just makes me want to ... well, that's a different discussion. Let's just say that I prefer my JPS Tanakh. 
  • NAMES: I realized that Chaviva is a more practical name than some might thing. Yes, it might be difficult for the masses (Jew and gentile alike) to pronounce, but when I was walking through the dining hall tonight I kept hearing someone yelling "AMANDA! AMANDA!" and I, of course, looked. It isn't like I know anyone here, but I still had to perk up my old ears because, well, for nearly 25 years people have been yelling "Amanda!" I'd prefer to be able to not perk the ears any more with such a common name. I mean, how often do you hear someone yelling "CHAVI!?!?!" across a college dining hall? Yah, I'd know it was for me.
  • NERVES (not of the steel variety): I've decided that the stomach ache I've been nursing since Monday evening is a big pile of nerves mixed with stress stewing in my insides. I get so worked up about things, even when, well, it isn't outwardly obvious. I'm really focused on doing things right, especially this first semester. It will likely result in anti-social behavior (sorry fellow graduate students -- read: Jess!), but I'm going to devote myself to studying olam in the realm of Qohelet, mastering the Hebrew language, and hopefully passing some tests and writing some massively lengthy papers. I figure if I can get through my first semester with brilliant, flying colors, then I will feel a bit better about everything.
  • LUNGS: I've also decided that I need to breathe. 
  • KASHERING: Unfortunately, I have yet to set foot in the kosher dining facilities. You see, I'm over here, and they're over there, and it's a bit of a jaunt. Yes, there are people who live even further south in the alumni dorms who I know are kosher and who trek over to Nosh for meals, but, I'm just not there yet. I mean, will it be awkward if I go into the kosher dining hall wearing capri pants, a tank top and a cardigan? Is there a typical dress code for fitting into the kosher dining hall? In truth, it isn't that that's keeping me, it really is the distance. It's a schlep and a half, and if the Hillel building were actually functioning, well, it'd be worth going over there for dinner at Nosh, then studying at Hillel. But that's a no-go so my inspiration is nil. On the other hand, I have eaten vegetarian since being here (well, if you don't count the chicken at Panda Express on Sunday when I had visitors), so that's a start, right? No opportunity to mix meat and milk there. 
  • GRAD GUIDELINES: Someone really needs to write a book about the tricks to graduate school. On day one I was thinking, so I bought this UCONN t-shirt, right? I figured, school spirit, a new t-shirt, it's a win-win. But then I started thinking ... if I'm a grad student, should my loyalty continue to reside with my undergraduate university? Should I not show grad school pride? Is it one of those, once you're done you can exude pride kind of things? It was suggested that the UCONN t-shirt should be worn passively, perhaps under a sweater or other shirt. As a graduate student, am I to get involved on campus with groups? Or should I steer clear? What are the policies on campus pride, darn't!? I mean, I'm not about to go to football or basketball games, simply because they won't compare to Husker games (I'm a Husker for life), but add to that that I'm a graduate student and it seems to label me "apathetic, disinterested, nose-in-a-book student." Someone, please tell me the rules of the game?
Well, I think that's all for tonight. I'm trying to extend my awake hours so I can adjust for those nights that I really, really need to be awake to study or write or read or cry. This going to bed at 10 p.m. thing just isn't going to fly in this world. 

It's Ruby Tuesday.

Hopefully I can keep remembering ... I like the photo blog thing. It's a nice break from everything else. It's part of that 8 percent of non-Jewish stuff I can focus on. At any rate, the details of Ruby Tuesday can be found here.

This photo: I bought this little knickknack at a thrift store in Chicago in Wicker Park in 2005 while visiting there with two of my close friends, Annie and Heather. At the time I was dating a fellow who lived in California, albeit in Fresno/L.A., but he'd been spending many many moons trying to convince me that San Francisco could be our future. Me, loathing all things California at the time resisted the idea of EVER living or visiting again. But I bought this bauble, because I thought, well, maybe someday California will offer me something. That beau later moved to Chicago, and is why I moved to Chicago. So, long story short, I still have this box, but not the beau.

At any rate, I now know someone (well, several someones to be honest) who does live in San Francisco, and when I look upon it, well, it gives me a little reminder of him, not to mention the place I visited several months back and how beautiful it is.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A few links for the thirsty.

In case you missed it, I wrote a review of Tabatchnick Chicken Broth with Noodles and Dumplings (read: matzo balls) for Be sure to check it out -- the soup is delish, I promise! (Oh, and it's kosher, as well.)

Also, if you attended (or maybe you didn't?) the Nefesh B'Nefesh international bloggers conference in person or online, the list is up of all the bloggers who registered. It's seriously a list of who's who in the J-Blogosphere. Even I managed to weasel my way in!

Though, there is some debate whether there really *is* a community of Jewish bloggers. Take part in the debate, will you?

The first day of school.

Here I sit, in my slightly larger than nine-by-twelve feet dorm room in Storrs, Connecticut, mulling over my first day of classes while nursing a stomach ache probably induced by too much dairy. I need not mention, though I guess I am now, that three of my last five meals have included a grilled cheese sandwich from the cafeteria; it's a comfort food, and when you're nearly 25 and surrounded by 17/18-year-old kids staring at the most scantily clad girls I've ever seen, well, you need comfort food. Perhaps I'll venture to Nosh, the Kosher dining facility, starting tomorrow. But back to the basics.

I had two of my four classes (only three of which I'm registered for -- one I'm just sitting in on) today, one of which was three hours. My first class was beginning modern Hebrew, which was absolutely wonderful. The teacher is energetic, the class is full of interesting and interactive people, and the professor began speaking Hebrew right away! Lots of what is your name and yes and no and how are you (tov, ma'od, todah rabah!). I felt really good leaving that class today. And after visiting the Judaic studies office and hearing about my eventual fellowship check, etc., etc., I came back here for some downtime.

I was actually really excited for my evening class on biblical interpretation in medeival and post-modern literature. I mean, medieval was what I'd wanted to do when I started out on this whole grad school adventure a few years ago (well, that's when I started applying anyhow). So why shouldn't I be excited? I got there, am in the class with four comparative lit students and three other Judaic studies students -- all at the grad level, so far as I know -- and that gave me hopes. But ... yikes.

<<>> Edit: Okay, I'm going to give this class a chance before I start kvetching about it. I'm far too impulsive. <<>>The upside is that he mentioned the importance of the word olam, which I've written about at length here and here, so hopefully I can turn that into a term paper (since, I think that's really the only grade IN the class). It's supposed to be a lot of exegesis, which I love, but the first class just wandered and wandered and wandered and I wasn't exactly sure what the class was meant to be about. So I'm going to start in on Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) and hope for the best ... let's hope that "I'm Rashi's long lost daughter" comes in handy with the picking apart of the text. <<>>More editing<<>>

In other news, the Jewish barbecue last night was great. I met a lot of people who gave me some interesting insight into how the Jewish campus runs. There is a Jewish fraternity and a Jewish sorority (ooh scary), and there is a Hillel House and a Chabad. Turns out that the Hillel building has been deemed unsafe, so they're not going to be able to use the building for the Reform/Conservative/Orthodox Shabbos services; instead, they'll be moving to another building for services. But what I've heard is that there's usually no Orthodox or Conservadox style service, just a Reform/Conservative service, but more at the more liberal end of the spectrum. Chabad is sort of off campus, in the rabbi's house. There is dinner, shmoozing, etc., etc. and it sounds like a good time. In fact, Chabad also does Torah on Tap on Mondays (yup, that's tonight) at 8:30 at the bar at the hotel on campus, but, well, this stomach ache is not leaving me in the mood for d'var Torah or beer. But there are oodles of Jewish kids in my Hebrew class (the prof got excited with every Hebrew name -- Rivka, Dovid, Rachel, etc.). So, I think I've got myself into a good situation. One of the girls even called tonight to remind me about the Torah on Tap. 

So anyhow. That's how my first day was, and what's mulling about in my head. I have a lot to do before I hit the sack tonight. The busy of the graduate student doth begin!

It's like Chanukah 'round here.

Four days worth of mail finally showed up in my mailbox here, and boy oh boy it was like Chanukah Harry decided to bless me big time! Here we have a textbook (originally $52, purchased for $35 thanks to a coupon, with FREE shipping!) for a Bible class, "Cool Jews" by Lisa Alcalay Klug, which I'll be reading up on for a bit on the blog, and finally a Jewish Tweets (a la Twitter) mug from the wonderful folks over at the Jewish Treats blog.

Yes, it is a good day to be a poor graduate student.

But seriously, stay tuned. I went to the big Jewish barbecue (which was really just a good ole' fashioned cookout) last night and was perplexed by the "it's kosher" followed by "here are packets of mayo for your hamburger" bit. I also had a Hebrew class this morning that was downright outstanding, and I'll be heading to a seminar in just a few, which has me frightened because there are only five or six people registered. The fewer people? The more attention to the individual. In the long run I dig this, in the short run it scares me.

Oh, and Hebrew class? Chaviva went off with FLYING colors (prof had us sign in, no roll call, but did do this big intro thing where she taught us how to say "My name is ..."). Score one for the Hebrew name.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Feeling like home.

My best bud Annie and her beau (that's fiance to you folks!) Ben came to Storrs today to check out my new digs and see a little smidgin of campus (they live just a hop, skip, and a jump away in Hartford). We got lunch, walked around a bit, and then they took me grocery shopping because they are AWESOME. I ended up with some jelly, crackers, microwave-friendly items, juice, oatmeal and more. Essentially, enough to last me when the snack-style hunger comes. But before we went shopping, we spent some quality time with the Huskie dog, Jonathan.

And my personal favorite, Ben on his mighty steed.

I think the greatest thing about B&A is that I've been able to watch their relationship progress since Day 1 since I was there. That makes me happy :) Stoked to see them get hitched in October, just after Yom Kippur, too!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Battle of the Name Continues.

The name game continues.

I've blogged oodles of times about my name issue -- the Web world and the Jewish world know me as Chavi or Chaviva. The world I grew up in, my family, my high school and college friends, they all know me as Amanda. The name on my license, and now the name on my grad dorm door reads "Amanda."

When I got here, I wrote "(Chavi)" in parenthesis, to sort of get off on the right footing. But then?

"Hi, I'm Ryan, and you are?"

With a sense of delay I responded "I'm uh ... Amanda." And now, I swear, I've seen this guy about 30 times in the past two days and everytime he makes a point to say "Hi Amanda!" And it's like this little poking reminder that I introduced myself as Amanda.

The thing is, I wasn't sure how to respond. I mean, my door, my registration, my CA, everything is "Amanda." So what do I do? I was thinking about it and thought of "Chavi, but you can call me Amanda" or "Amanda, but please call me Chavi."

To the Jews, of course, I'll be Chavi. Why? I'm not sure why it's easier that way, but it just is. But classes start on Monday and I'm toiling over what to do and say. Both of the professors I'll be working largely with know me as Amanda. The departmental secretary knows me as the same, as well. I just can't figure out how to not sound like a complete moron when requesting I be called by the name that I relate to and feel more fluidly.

I know most people are looking at me like I'm a moron or that I'm being overthoughful about this, and maybe I am. But names, well, what is more finite, more descriptive than a name?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Blog Promotion

So I just wanted to shout out a few blogs here, because, well, I think it's important for Bloggers to support other Bloggers (or, you know, those people who use Wordpress or some other FAR INFERIOR version of Blogger ... I kid, I kid).

True Ancestor discusses being "bageled." I, as it turns out, was just bageled by another student ... check out my comment on his very interesting blog post.

Then there's Rachel, who just started up her Shavua Tov! blog this month, and I have to say it's worth a read. She's been writing about Yiddish and loading up on texts to get her rolling in her conversion process. Give her a read and say hello!

Get busy reading ... the J-blogosphere is large and needs some love!

Parshah Eikev and my Jewish birthday!

That was my fortune today with my orange/sweet and sour chicken from Panda Express. So here I am, sitting outside attempting to make friends with other students in the little quad area of the graduate housing complex. I suppose that's a start, eh?

I sat down last night and read this week's Torah portion, as well as some more in Rabbi Marc D. Angel's new novel The Search Committee. I also somehow stumbled upon's nifty Jewish birthday calculator. In fact, I think it's pretty awesome that my Jewish birthday is 23 Tishrei, and the Torah portion is Bereishit -- the first parshah of the Jewish year! And my "normal" calendar birthday, September 30, is the first day of Rosh Hashanah this year. That's new beginnings, fresh starts, like a rebirth of sorts, and I think that's so appropriate considering my path and how I got here and where I've ended up.Throw that into how I'm starting a new leg to my journey in life and wow, beautiful happenstance all around.

So a few words on this week's portion, Eikev, which is Deut. 7:12-11:25. Right off the bat, Moses is saying that only if the Israelites heed the commandments and laws of G-d will they really be taken care of.
And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. (7:12)
But then, Moses says:
Do not say to yourself, when the Lord, your God, has repelled them from before you, saying, "Because of my righteousness, the Lord has brought me to possess this land," and [that] because of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord drives them out from before you. Not because of your righteousness or because of the honesty of your heart, do you come to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and in order to establish the matter that the Lord swore to your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You shall know that, not because of your righteousness, the Lord, your God, gives you this land to possess it; for you are a stiffnecked people. (9:4-6)
So my beefs here are as follows. The parshah starts out essentially by saying that G-d will only grant kindness if we do EXACTLY as he commands. This implies a cause-effect relationship: you do bad, G-d punishes, you do good, G-d bestows kindness. Of course, this is problematic in a pluralistic Jewish society and it definitely gives weight to those who follow the commandments completely and utterly strictly, with no room for evolution or interpretation, and unless the commandments are followed most precisely, then of course there will be no kindness. This is equally powerful for those who suggest that the reason Israel has not been fully returned is because we have not followed the commandments to perfection. It "proves" that this is all just punishment, right? This is problematic, and I'm not sure how to resolve it. 

But then in the second set of text we see that G-d isn't repelling our enemies because of our good and accurate following of the commandments and laws, but rather because they are wicked. So if G-d intends to drive them out because of their own wickedness, what is the point of following the commandments? If the land becomes ours because of the faults of others, then do we really need to follow the laws? Of course there is a lot more that comes out of following the mitzvot than merely the acquisition of land. 

Of course, then there's "For the Lord, your God, is God of gods and the Lord of the lords, the great mighty and awesome God, Who will show no favor, nor will He take a bribe" (10:17), which sort of contradicts the whole "chosen" people idea that we are to be a light unto the nations, perhaps a holier nation than others so that we can lead by example. Of course, I'm not saying here that the Jewish nation is "better" than other nations, because that's the oft quoted bit about why people don't like Jews, because we think we're "better" than others because of the notion of being a chosen nation. But in reality, it does suggest that the Jewish nation is favored as being an example to other nations. It doesn't imply better, just different, but still it suggests a certain amount of favorability.

But in truth, this entire parshah is a reminder to us that we are an obnoxious, hard to please, frustrating group of people who need to climb off our high horse and see what good might befall us should we opt to follow the commandments and do our part to look into the WHY of the commandments that G-d placed upon us. I'm a firm believer that history repeats, repeats, repeats. People never really change, and we all tend toward making the same mistakes of our forebears. The scenery might change, there might be more technology, buildings are bigger and business is bigger and our clothes are finer, but in reality, the human mind continues to function in the ways it has in the past. In this, I mean, that the commandments of yore are still applicable today. We just have to figure out how to adjust our lives to fit the commandments and not the other way around. 

We are a stiffnecked people, indeed, so let's figure it out. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Flickr Slideshow and a Promise to Return.

So I'm pretty beat from the 2.5 days of traveling non-stop. My stomach hates me for all the crud I ingested, and my body in general is fighting to stay awake. I managed without a nap today after moving everything into my graduate housing dorm, as well, so I think I'm really doing quite swell. But I managed to put up a bunch of photos on Flickr, and I had planned on doing a video blog (that is, a vlog) to sort of detail some things and to show you all my new digs in Storrs, CT, I'm just out of energy for the night. So, what you will get, is this fun little Flickr slideshow, generated using the fabulous Flickr Slideshow Generator. But please come back tomorrow, when surely, I'll have a lot to say (semi-)live in a vlog!

Note: That first picture? Chavi at 1 a.m. in Ohio, exhausted and wanting to sleep but finding her brain on overdrive. Sans glasses, sans makeup, lots of sleepy thrown on and you have Full Disclosure Me. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ruby Tuesday -- on the road!

I thought I'd pop in to post a quick Ruby Tuesday photo from my travels thus far. This one is from the Starlite Lounge in Lincoln, Neb. -- my favorite all-time bar/lounge, for its retro feel and faux martini drinks.

For those keeping tabs, I'm presently in Ohio, near Pennsylvania. I'm stopping off today in Philly to visit a friend, then on to CT tonight and moving in tomorrow. I'm hoping to move in so that I don't miss all of the Nefesh b'Nefesh blogger conference. Darn the time difference!

Be well!

Friday, August 15, 2008

A mini break.

So I won't really be blogging much probably until late next week, if not beyond that, mostly because I'm en route (as my last blog mentioned) and as such I don't have easy access to internet, nor do I really have the energy necessary to dish out meaningful and relevant posts. Please keep me in mind, though, as I travel. I can use all the helpful prayers I can get.

In the meantime, here is a thought that I hope to blog on at some point in the not-so-distant future: Torah as given to Moses and the Israelites by G-d versus Torah being taught by G-d to Moses and subsequently the Israelites. Is the wordage necessarily different? Significant? Important? I think so, yes.

Until then ... Iowa from the road (circa August 13) says hello.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chavi en Route: Part I

The thing about a nearly eight-hour drive across Western Illinois, the entire state of Iowa, and a smidgen of Nebraska, is that you have a lot of time to sit and think. Yes, the rental car is brand new (a 2009 Ford Focus), and yes it has a bajillion channels on Sirius Satellite radio, but that doesn't mean the wheels stop turning. The car lacks cruise control, so I had to spend a certain amount of energy making sure I wasn't breaking the sound barrier, but I made really good time and as I pulled into Nebraska a little after 10:15 last night, I felt a sense of nervous calm flush over me. I know that sounds contradictory, but I guess I have to explain.

Driving into Nebraska, you realize how dark and quiet everything is, and this is where the calm comes from. I miss being able to see every last star in the sky, to watch the moon shuffle behind dark clouds and it to be completely, utterly pitch black. The nervousness comes from being home again after eight months. Though, I don't know if I can really call it home anymore, since it isn't where I hang my hat and it is most definitely not where my heart it. Then again, my heart is on one coast and I'll soon be on the other coast. That was food for thought during the length of my trip, but I digress.

Have you ever been to Nebraska? Do you understand it's absolutely underrated beauty? The simplicity, the quiet, the dark, the complete and utter sanctuary-style life. This truly is G-d's country. 

I'm sitting at my favorite coffee shop in the entire world -- the Coffee House in Lincoln, Nebraska. Some call it Panache, but in truth they don't really get it. Panache is what the overhang reads, but it's the Coffee House. I started coming here in high school, and I lived for a long time off of their Irish Mocha before I was able to drink straight coffee without gagging. I've watched the furniture change from dingy couches to upscale plus chairs and couches you might find at Pier 1 Imports. But it still has that classy, collegiate coffee house vibe. The chalk board still hangs in the women's bathroom, and people have taken to writing on it in marker since, well, chalk in the bathroom isn't very sanitary.

But the best part?

I walked into the coffee shop and there, sitting in the big open first room were two classic regulars of the Coffee House -- the Russian who was always friendly and here more than I ever was, and the old man with tattoos all over his arm, sporting the sleeveless shirt I always knew him in. The guy at the counter is the same as it was those years ago when I'd spend eight hours a day studying Biblical Hebrew. Those days were more productive, too, because I didn't have a laptop and I actually had to focus on the work (sans distractions). It was like coming home. I mean really, really coming home.

So I haven't even been "home" for an entire 24 hours, but I notice the divide. Maybe when I go out with friends tomorrow and Saturday I'll start to feel like I'm back and like I'm floating right back into the place I once fit. But there are certain people who aren't here, who -- to me -- make this place feel like home. Thus, I'll drink my Irish Mocha and surf the web and eat at all my old haunts and watch little Timmy fill up his coin collecting book and watch people study and the regulars do their thing and I'll think about the long drive I have coming up.

If I thought the nearly eight-hour drive was long, my head just might implode during the 22-hour trek to Connecticut I have coming up.

The blog.

Thanks to all of those who pointed out the errors on my blog. Turns out the host of the images exceeded his bandwith and everything went to pot, so I'm now hosting the images myself so I don't have to worry about the site imploding and people not seeing dates/the comments field. They were always there, just blended in with the background. So phew!

Comment away and let's hope Google doesn't implode (googlepages is hosting my images!).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ruby Tuesday!

I present for your approval, another installment of Ruby Tuesday, a blog photo project where you post a photo with some red in it -- a lot or a little -- and the only catch is that it must be one of your very own. This photo is from the 3rd of July at Montrose Harbor and if you look carefully, you can see the red stripes of our very own American Flag, as well as some ruddy red boat bottoms.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tisha B'av: What happened?

I've spent my afternoon catching up on blogs, Facebook messages, forum postings and the like. My intention for today was to catch completely up after having been computer-free the entire weekend, save for what little connection I could manage through my BlackBerry at home. I want to post about teh entire weekend -- Shabbos to Tisha B'av -- but first I wanted to catch up and see what the rest of the world has been up to. Thus, I wasn't surprised to find so many posts about J-Bloggers about Tisha B'av, spanning the struggle to connect or get through or relate with the day of mourning, or simply just about observing the day. Among them were Frum Satire, Aliza H., the On Chanting blog, Jack, and Ilana-Davita provides some food for thought and links to other interesting posts about Tisha B'av. Then, of course, we have the Haveil Havalim Tisha B'av edition, in case you're looking for some new blogs to check out.

But really, let's talk about my take on the weekend. I hadn't necessarily anticipated an e-free Shomer Shabbos style Shabbat, but it turned out that way. I headed to the Orthodox shul Friday night, not necessarily intending to go for a Shabbos dinner either, but I ran into a girl who I'd met months ago in Skokie and we were catching up after services and she asked me along to the dinner she was heading to. Luckily, they had room and were more than happy to have me. The dinner lasted well into the night, and I didn't make it home until nearly 2 in the morning. There was lots of singing and talking and the host, a rabbi, and I discussed my impending move to Connecticut -- it turns out he spent a year in West Hartford and knows just about everyone there is to know, so he's going to connect me. We talked about academics and grammar, since another fellow at our end of the table was a grammar nut like me. I realized that I would love to emulate this rabbi and his wife -- they are, in my mind, what Orthodoxy is meant to be. After dinner and conversation, I finally headed out with the friend and after leaving her to go her way around Addison/Broadway, I decided to hop on the bus because it was late and I was tired. The interesting thing? I got on the bus and the bus-pass reading machine was BROKEN. Because of this little spark of luck, I went home and left the lights out, didn't turn anything on, and went to bed. I woke up the next day with a migraine and didn't make it to morning services. I spent the day at home, reading and mulling about, and somehow the day managed to flitter away.

I took a nap and woke up for ma'ariv and eicha. I'll admit, I've never been around for a Tisha B'av service before, and I wasn't sure what to expect, especially since the Tisha B'av prayer book wasn't, well, transliterated. I was amazed at how many people were there -- especially on the women's side. You see, I'm guessing that during Shabbos most of the women are at home preparing for the after-shul visitors, so they don't make it in for services. But there were so many women, so many hats, so many hat-toting women! After ma'ariv we all found our places on the floor and listened as each chapter was chanted by a different male -- their voices varied in tone and volume, and it was a very interesting experience that I really actually enjoyed. I would read the English fairly quickly and then follow along in the Hebrew, and it worked out quite well. After services, I walked the whole way home becuase the weather was beautiful, on the way calling my mom to explain the holiday to her. I don't know that she was interested, but I feel like informing them might someday come in handy.

I didn't make it to morning services at shul because I was up so late the night before (my sleep schedule is off), so I slept in till about 11:30, got up, and went to shul for the movie marathon. I came in about half-way through the first film, and, well, the nudity made me a bit shifty in my chair. The second movie "Go for Zucker," was a really good movie, but definitely not appropriate for a holiday of mourning since, well, it was sort of a happy, mend-your-ties kind of film. The only relateable element was perhaps the sitting shiva, but that was a minor part of the film. I left after that movie and walked to the bookshop, but found myself unable to focus on anything, so I went home where I wasted the day away until the fast ended, at which time I ate something, took some tylenol, and then tried to sleep.

So, nu? What did I get out of the fast day? I'll be completely honest with everyone here: I felt completel distant from Tisha B'av. I went through the motions, but for some reason, my mind was fully occupied with moving, school, and changes. I'm usually good with the mourning thing. The Holocaust is still fresh in my mind, despite being utterly removed from it by both familial ties and the fact that it occured dozens of years before I was born. The destruction of the temples and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and all of those events, perhaps because I'm so attached to academia and history, are very fresh in my mind, too. But yesterday, for some reason, I felt like I was in a daze the entire time. Like, I couldn't even think about the purpose of Tisha B'av. Like it was a mist passing over me. I'm not sure what happened. Maybe I just didn't prepare myself, maybe I didn't really take the nine days to get in the place necessary to really grieve. At any rate, Tisha B'av has passed and now we are preparing for the High Holidays. It's strange how quickly this year has gone by, and it seems that I'm less and less prepared for major Jewish milestones.

What gives? And why did it suddenly get harder? I guess I have a whole year to really figure it out. Let's hope it doesn't creep up on me next year.

Anyhow, for those wondering, that little image there has the translated text of Lamentations in a mosaic of sorts.

The Web Presence Groweth!

In case you were worried about  me having enough to do as I get ready to start grad school (which means loads of free time, right?), I've taken on another blogging duty! Yes, folks, I'm now helping the blog effort over on Pop Judaica's blog. The Pop Judaica website sells all sorts of kitschy cool things for hip and worldly Jews (from tots to your bubbe) -- I've even blogged on some of the neat-o merchandise in past pots.

The blog will keep you up to date on a variety of happenings, including a Bar Mitzvah in China, which I just blogged on! Stay tuned for more Pop Judaica blog tidbits, and spread the word. Chavi is taking on the interwebs by storm! Join the revolution :)

If you're looking for me elsewhere on the net, well, I'm over at and, not to mention on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, BrightKite, Flickr, and more. Yes, I'm everywhere.

And also, I'll be taking part in First International Jewish Bloggers Convention via the web on August 20 (assuming I'm settled in by then). To register, check out the site here. Frum Satire will be doing his schtick and there will be a bounty of well-known J-Bloggers on site for panel discussions, including Treppenwitz, Jewlicious, IsraelMatzav and Hirhurim, and the beautiful J-Blogging moderator, Esther K

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ever so Busy

I spent today juggling dozens of tasks, among them phone calls with Sara from PopJudaica and Avi from Jews By Choice in addition to my regular at-work work. Of course I was also checking up on Facebook, Twittering, and sending emails to various lucky parties. Oh, did I mention I was also holding down a conversation on Pidgin with my far-away friend Cesar?

But all the while, I managed to make use my office's scanner, since tomorrow is my last day, copying pages I'd taken notes on and flagged in A Heart of Many Rooms: Celebrating the Many Voices within Judaism by David Hartman (a book that Avi had suggested to me, actually). Although I can't say that I read every last page of the book, I did read about seven-eighths of it, and I have to say it was an outstanding read. Of course, I have 26 pages with various notes and comments that -- at some point -- I will collect into one (hopefully) coherent thought. Until, then, though, I wanted to offer a few snippets from the text.

This first one is where the title of the book comes from, and I think the ideas within this block of quoted text essentially define for me what is necessary to be a Jew today:
There is a beautiful metaphor in the Tosefta that describes the kind of religious sensibility the Talmud tried to nurture: "Make yourself a heart of many rooms and bring into it the words of the House of Shammai and the words of the House of Hillel, the words of those who declare unclean and the words of those who declare clean" (Sotah 7:12). In other words, become a person whom different opinions can reside together in the very depths of your soul. Become a religious person who can live with ambiguity, who can feel religious conviction and passion without the need for simplicity and absolute certainty.
         In this type of interpretive tradition, awareness of the validity of contrary positions enhances, rather than diminishes, the vitality and enthusiasm of religious commitment.
All too often we think it's our way or the highway; but these differing positions -- be it on Torah or who is a Jew or on what is Kosher enough -- should enhance the Jewish experience. After all, probably the most quoted line about the Jewish people is the old "two Jews, three opinions" line.

The second little snippet I wanted to share was one of those things I read and smiled and nodded my head in approval:
Let the Torah never be for you an antiquated decree, but rather like a decree freshly issued, no more than two or three days old. ... But Ben Azzai said: Not even as old as a decree issued two or three days ago, but as a decree issued this very day. (Pesikta de-Rab Kahana, piska 12:12)
The thing I love about studying Torah is that every time I read a portion, even though I've read it before (and yes, it is a full year later), it is like reading it for the first time. I notice a strange translation, a peculiar word choice, an interesting repitition, a contradiction, a unique instance of an idea or thought. Though I have only been studying Torah for a few years, and many begin studying from a very early age and continue throughout life, this concept seems so natural to me. You can read a text every day your entire life, and there will be instances of complete realization -- it is inevitable that you will discover something you missed before. The verbage, the choice of punctuation, the tone of the text, the scenery.

I sometimes read back through my own work and will often think "I wrote that? I wonder why I chose that word. I really punctuated my thought that way?" And this, of course, is the beauty of the written word. It is what I live and breathe, and really drinking it all in allows me to thrive.

So it is with that, that I leave you. I find myself anxious about the approaching Tisha B'av. I feel horribly unprepared and not in the proper state of mind because of the changing winds of my present situation (on Wednesday I leave for Nebraska, and on August 18 I start on my drive to Connecticut). But somehow, everything always seems to fall into place.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Revisiting Shabbatai Zvi, the False Messiah.

Oy it's been a busy couple of days. Word got out that I really wasn't doing much at work, so my administrator decided to throw a whole bunch of work at me, just to make sure my last week really reminds me of what I'm leaving. At any rate, I haven't had much time at work to respond to comments or to work on any blogging. So here I am, sacrificing dinner to hang out at this lovely coffee shop in my neighborhood for some liquid dinner so I can respond to some emails and perhaps elaborate on comments I made about Shabbatai Zvi and the Baal Shem Tov and the book Constantine’s Sword in this post. In that post, I mentioned a note I had made while reading the text some months ago about the author's mention of these two men so close together implied "falseness." Let's discuss.

(As background on the author: James Carroll, is a former priest and former Catholic chaplain, who left the cloth to become a writer. He is active in the Jewish-Christian-Muslim debate circle and has written extensively on Catholicism. This book, in particular is a confessional of sorts, about his coming to terms with the church's role in Jewish history.)

I've transcribed the text from the scanned copy of the page (389) I have, and I realized that the rest of the section, which is important, is on a page that I didn't scan (and 390 isn't part of the Google Book Preview!). Thus, this is what I have:
... other manifestations of Jewish vitality showed themselves. Messianic figures appeared, like David Reubeni and Solomon Molcho in Portugal, and conversos and unconverted Jews alike took heart from their bold rejection of the idea that Jews were fated to be oppressed. In the next century a Kabbalist from the Turkish city of Izmir emerged as the leader of one of the most potent religious-political movements in Jewish history. He was Shabbatai Zvi, a self-declared Messiah who found enthusiastic followers in Jewish communities around the Mediterranean, and in Europe as well, especially Poland. The political hopes that many had for Shabbatai came to nothing when, imprisoned by the Turks in 1666 -- the combination of sixes in that year had made it portentous -- he chose to convert to Islam rather than risk martyrdom. But his heroic movement had by then spawned numerous centers of enthusiastic Judaism, including one that would quicken in Poland and Ukraine in the eighteenth century. Spreading throughout eastern Europe, this movement was led by Israel ben Eliezer, the beloved Baal Shem Tov.  ...
I know that it is the author's intention to discuss the prevailing movements during this period in relation to Kabbalah, and I know that a simple reading of this section alone would leave an average reader with the sense that Shabbatai Zvi did a good thing for the community, as his "heroic movement ... spawned numerous centers of enthusiastic Judaism." Follow this with the Baal Shem Tov, and the reader is just aglow with the glory of these two men and their contributions to Judaism and the Jewish community. But for those who know about Shabbetai Zvi and how he truly effected the Jewish community, this is a mess of irritating text.

Shabbatai Zvi declared himself the Messiah. The Baal Shem Tov never did such a thing (some of his followers see him as coming from the Davidic line and thus is a part of the Messianic story, though). From a very basic perspective, this puts the two men very, very far apart. SZ was viewed later as a loony, sort of a joke and an unfortunate person in the history of Jewish thought, whereas the BST is revered as a great sage and a great founder of a mighty powerful spiritual movement. Simply saying that SZ helped create this lively, enthusiastic Judaism is ignorant, because as Torah Jew pointed out in the comments on my previous post, he did a lot to destroy much of Judaism. The short-term effects might have been useful, but the long-term effects were tragic. I can't even fathom why the author would call SZ's efforts a "heroic movement." I just can't bring myself to think that there IS NOT some type of subtext here.

Am I crazy? I am an analyst of text; it's what I do. And to me, obviously when I read this it set off some red flags, and it continues to grate my cheese.

There are some interesting comments about what it was that Shabbatai Zvi was doing juxtaposed with what the Baal Shem Tov was doing. These comments are from The Rebbe, but more can be found at that link:
As for comparing the movement of Shabbatai Zvi to the Hassidic movement—every movement that is started by someone of the Jewish people has some common point because it was started by a Jew. Shabbatai Zvi also was a scholar not only in Kabbalah but in halacha, but after a few years he deviated from the right derech (path). It became something that not was only deviant just the opposite of Judaism. ...
Shabbatai Zvi negated halacha. In the time of Shabbatai Zvi there was a group of Catholic priests that translated Kabbalistic manuscripts and studied Kabbalah. But this is not considered Jewish Kabbalah, as the Catholics did not put on tefillin. It is just like someone in Sorbonne, Brooklyn College, or some other university who can learn Kabbalah without putting on tefillin. For true Kabbalah cannot be separated from halacha.
I feel awkward posting this for some reason. I'm not a Hasid, nor am I Orthodox (yet!), but I think examining the two routes are significant. At any rate, this point of view makes sense to me, and it's also why I roll my eyes at Madonna and A-Rod.

Anyhow, if it is most necessary I'll pick the book back up and find out what's on that next page to satisfy the readers of the blog. I'm not sure if I'm getting my point across, but I hope that I am. Let me know what you think, and please let me know if you think I'm reading way too much into the author's intent. 

NOTE: Computer battery is dying, so I might add more to this post in the AM. Stay tuned, please!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

It's Ruby Tuesday.

It's Ruby Tuesday (that means it's Tuesday and it's time to post a photo with some red in it), and me being the in-awe person that I am, I'm actually posting a photo taken by someone that is NOT me. This photo was actually taken by the blogger Mottel, and like all of his photos, it is outstandingly brilliant. I find myself wanting to crawl into each of his pictures for a mere moment to smell the aromas and feel the breeze or stillness of a room. At any rate, I hope you enjoy this photo, because by golly I know I do.

EDIT: Okay, okay. I feel bad. The rules are that it has to be one of my own ... so ... in addition to Mottel's beautiful photo with some ruby in it, here's one of mine. These are rows and rows of red chairs at the Pritzker Auditorium in Chicago, IL.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Coffee with Your Torah?

While scanning pages I'd noted while attempting (and failing) to read Constatine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History, I came across an interesting passage that I just felt like sharing because it makes me smile. For those of you unaware, I started reading this book many moons ago and have renewed it repeatedly. The 175 pages remaining never got read, and I essentially threw up my hands in protest at the behemoth size of the text and its almost unreadability because of the way the book is -- the entire book (text, notes, index, etc.) is nearly 800 pages, all in one big hardcover binding. It's just inconceivable to read unless you're planning on sitting down at a table consistently becuase it's such a clunker. At any rate, enough kvetching. Essentially I had dozens of pages noted with various comments, and wanted to keep those in case I pick it up again, hence the scanning.

In a chapter (37) on the religious response of Jews to the implementation of the Roman ghetto, the author, James Carroll, speaks about the lively religious community within the ghetto walls. Carroll says, "If the Christian world had cut them off, the Jews would turn their separation into a religious value" (387). The passage goes on to talk about what Jews did in order to sort of religiously rebel against the forces keeping them down, and it is the following that gives me a grin:
If Jews were forbidden to leave the ghetto at night, then night would become not only the time for study and prayer, but an image of G-d's own darkness. (Jews in the ghetto, in the seventeenth century, drank newly imported coffee as a way of staying awake.). 
The item in parens is footnoted to a text by Kenneth R. Stow, "Sanctity and the Construction of Space: The Roman Ghetto as Sacred Space," in which, in reference to coffee, he says, "First, one stimulated his body with this miraculous new beverage, and then he stimulated his soul by ritual devotion."

Isn't that outstanding? Maybe I'm easily amused, or maybe I'm just an academic, but it's morsels like this that fascinate me.

(Of course, it's completely unrelated, but two pages later the author mentions Shabbetai Zvi and the Baal Shem Tov essentially in the same breath, which is valid discussion for an entirely different blog post. Needless to say, I had a written note with this aformentioned paragraph that read: "places Shabbetai Zvi in same breath as Baal Shem Tov -- implying falseness??")

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Jewish Vote: Nice Try, McCain!

It amazes me to no end -- though, in reality it shouldn't -- how significant the Jewish vote really is. Jews make up, what, 2 to 3 percent of the U.S. population? And yet, we're courted with the best of them, by all parties in hopes that the vote will swing one way or the other. Both sides appeal to our attachment to Israel, whether we're Secular Zionists, Religious Zionists, not Zionists at all, or just see Israel as a necessity in case something bad happens again (we'll need a refuge). Otherwise, for some, it's just the mention of Israel that sparks our interest -- afterall, it's almost hard-wired for us to vote based on the interests of Israel, isn't it?

So I thought it was interesting that while reading the Chicago Jewish News that I happ'd upon a brief opinion piece about a statement by McCain in late July that he intends to move the U.S. embassay in Israel immediately upon his election to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. I seem to have slept through this announcement -- either that or it was quickly shuffled away because of his ridiculous ads likening Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. At any rate, I Googled this interesting little tidbit and came up with a piece from the Huffington Post that quickly cleared up the reason it probably didn't seem to hit on the radar: Bush promised it 8 years ago, and has anything happened since then? Nope. Still in Tel Aviv.

From what I can tell, the moving of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem isn't really that important to the Jewish/Israeli community as most (ignorant) politicians might think. And this seems like common knowledge, so I'm still trying to figure out why the author of this little op/ed piece insists that Barack Obama needs to step up and make the same (lofty and unncessary) promise in order to level the playing field or something.

Believe me, this isn't going to win McCain the election. Lofty, overreaching and ignorant promises don't help your campaign, they hurt it. And I'm sort of glad that this issue fell off the radar about as quickly as it hit it. It seems to me that the big divide for the Jewish vote is that nasty race issue and the elderly Jewish community. So for something a little more light-hearted, and in case you never saw it, please watch this side-splitting segment from the Daily Show!

Do yer Laundry, and Getcher Blog on!

Photo by Kevin O'Donnell at
Yes, it's that time again. Haveil Havalim #176-- The Dirty Laundry Edition -- is up over at Frumhouse. Give it a go and check out the delicious tastings of the Jewish blogosphere.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Photography break.

Black pipes and light from a desk lamp at Dollop Coffee in Buena Park, Chicago, IL.

Struggling with Shabbos, An Ongoing Effort

After a commute of more than two hours yesterday, I was ready to throw in the towel and not go to shul at all. Add to that that I had three options -- Chabad on the roof in Wicker Park, a cook-out at the Conservative shul (CS) followed by services indoors, and standard service at the Orthodox shul (OS) -- I was hesistant to do anything. But I changed, grabbed my bus pass and keys and headed out the door to the cookout, with the initial intention to go there first and then hop over to the Orthodox shul for 7:30 services. But after I got off the bus in front of the CS, I realized that I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, sans a cardigan, and thus I changed my plans to just stay at the CS.

I grabbed a hamburger patty, some fruit, a brownie, and plopped down with friends, noshed, bensched and then went inside for services, which were very small. The chazzan provided the small crowd with long, drawn-out melodies that I was unfamiliar with, and a fellow next to me informed me that he was practicing for High Holidays most likely. It's funny, because I found myself having a harder time following the service through the Conservite siddur than I do with the Artscroll siddur at OS. How's that possible, I wonder? Maybe it's the layout, or that I've spent more time with the Orthodox siddur, or that the transliteration (while sometime frustrating) provides more cues and information for the reader. Like the couple steps forward and couple steps back routine -- the Artscroll siddur spells it out for you, which I appreciate. Yes, the speed of an Orthodox service is lightning fast compared to that at a Reform or Conservative shul, but I've almost grown accostmed to it. After services, I walked home, feeling in-the-spirit of being Shomer Shabbos, reading the World Jewish Digest as I trekked the quick mile home.

I managed to be unplugged today until a little after 11 a.m., when my lack of will power kicked in and had me turning my BlackBerry on. Of course, there was nothing life-altering in my inbox -- there never is -- and the imminent guilt set in. As I got ready, I was racking my brain trying to remember this little passage I read in the siddur last night, that had struck me as both profound and insightful. I tried to apply my sometimes-visual memory, but all I could see was the page, not the words. I knew that it was somethig from the Mishnah, but I couldn't place it. It was only when I was riding the bus to get some lunch and I was considering the whole no-spending-money bit for Shabbos that I remembered what the passage that struck me was about. I can't remember if this is accurate, but this is about the right gist of what it was saying:
When the world was created, God made everything a little bit incomplete. Rather than making bread grow out of the earth, God made wheat grow so that we might bake it into bread. Rather than making the earth of bricks, God made it of clay so that we might bake the clay into bricks. Why? So that we might become partners in completing the work of creation.
Now, of course this is one of those "duh" things that is generally obvious, but reading it in this fashion, the way it is explained, is truly enlightening, I think. You never really think about WHY it is that bread doesn't grow out of the ground, right? The thought that we have to take part in using the materials G-d has provided in order to create the bread never really crosses our minds.

We spend all week doing these things -- creating, building, doing our part in the work of creation -- and on Shabbos we're supposed to rest, to do that which we do not do all week. And every day I seem to find more reason to be Shomer Shabbos, and yet, here I am, typing away on my laptop, drinking the coffee that I purchased, not being even remotely observant of the Sabbath. It's a beautiful day, even. I could have taken a book outside near the beach and sat under a tree and read. But that attachment to technology just won over, again, as it seems to do every week. It's part of this idea that I need to be busy, that I need to be connected to everything, just in case. I mean, if I lived in a community where everyone around me was studying and davening and noshing pre-cooked food, I think that I would be less inclined to feel the necessity of being attached. But, of course, that's no excuse.

Like everything in my life, I say that once I go away to school it will change. Part of me is quite confident in this idea, simply because a city environment versus an academic/college environment are very different.

Anyhow. I find it peculiar that I have more reasons to do something than I do not to. I suppose it's like those who smoke despite knowing the health risks, or those who go scuba diving with sharks knowing full well that they're in danger. It's all about choice -- that darned free will we've been imbued with.

Maybe, when I get to school, I'll find a coffee shop open on Saturdays and set up one of those pay-in-advance things so that I can have my coffee and sit at a coffee shop without breaking the Sabbath. People do that, right? It's a thing to do.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Blog Empty Thoughts or Leave it to Someone Else

I stumbled upon a post by Jack yesterday while browsing my Google Reader feeds, and it got me thinking: Should I have guest bloggers? Do interviews of other bloggers? Says Jack: "Do you find yourself racking your brain or scouring the web for that one perfect topic to blog about? Do you find yourself cursing out loud because you discoved that the topic you wish to discuss has already been covered by 6,354 other bloggers, and at least six of them did a better job than you." And oddly enough, my answer to this is sometimes (perhaps once a week) YES!

You see, for some reason my page views and hits have gone up, nearly tripled in the past month. I credit this to having branched out in my blog viewing, tossing on such big names as Frum Satire, a psuedo superstar of the Jewish blogging world. (Note: If you get a big WARNING when you click on that link, it's because he got hacked and Google hasn't rekindled its love for Frum Satire just yet; don't worry, it's safe.) I've found that, if I comment elsewhere, or end up on the Blog Roll of some e-Jew superstar, I'm more likely to get hits. But it feels really self-serving and almost, well, dirty.

But with new frequent readers and commenters, I find myself, as Jack said, racking my brain for the perfect topic to post on. I mean, I have about a dozen posts in the works -- that is, in my head, but not finding their way to my fingers fast enough -- but I feel like I need to blog at least once a day (hence the random, and pointless Wordle yesterday).

With this mindset, though, comes the question of quality versus quantity. I could post something every day and never get a comment, and it would be a waste of my time and that of the reader. I want to have a blog where every post ends up like my Torah blog post the other day -- where there is conversation, questioning, discussion, and thought.

I suppose it's all about balance, but I think Jack brings up an interesting issue. And it's got me thinking. I read so many other blogs, many of them by people who have a mass e-following and some who have even made a career out of blogging (which, in all honesty, I'd kill to do). So in the not-so-distant future, you might find me interviewing someone of significant importance, perhaps on how they got so big, how being Jewish has affected their blog output, etc. I'm intrigued, and though I'm no reporter (read: I'm a trained copy editor who just likes to write), I think I'm pretty sound with the questioning.

So what do you think? Do you ever toy with guest posters on your blog like A Simple Jew often does? Or are you happy with how your blog is going? Do you seek blog satisfaction? Or is it an afterthought?