Monday, September 29, 2008

Rosh Hashanah 5769!!

I have so much I could say about Rosh Hashanah and starting a new year -- 5769 -- this evening. But I also have much to do before the day arrives and thus, I will devote myself to brevity.

At this point last year, I was living in Chicago, dating someone who I was sure was my soulmate, going to a Reform shul I didn't even like, working a job that made me cry, and longing for so many things. Now, I am living in Connecticut, dating someone new who is a kind, intelligent, hard-working Jew, going to many different shuls in the region, and am going to graduate school for Judaic studies. Over the past two years, since converting in April 2006, I have spent the holidays in situations that were unkind and unfamiliar and disallowed me from connecting truly to the holidays. I attended services that left me empty -- one year in a church adored with crosses and the other in a Reform shul where the services felt like a gigantic production more than holy days. And now? I'll be spending Shabbos on campus with some other Jews and possibly spending Yom Kippur at a Conservative shul in West Hartford, not to mention that I am growing in my observance, learning more about who I am and where I am going.  I know that I am happier, healthier, more alive, more excited, and perhaps most of all, I am far more blessed at this point than I was just a year ago.

I have new readers from all over the world -- the U.K., Israel, Alaska, the South, the West, the North, and even a few right here in Connecticut. I don't always know how people find me, but I am thankful each and every day for new readers who become new friends who become new confidants. I am blessed to be able to inspire others while they, too, inspire me with each word I write, and this folds into my everyday in class, in conversation, in relationships, in life. I have become a collector -- a modern day qohelet -- of not things, but people.

So as I prepare for the new year, I have to wonder -- where can I go from here? Where will I be at this time as 5770 ushers in? Rosh Hashanah is a time for rebirth and renewal in all realms of our lives and in the existence we share with those around us. We experienced so much suffering in the past year -- hurricanes, tornadoes, deaths of those too young to die, and deaths of those too great to die. Disease continues to plague the world with poverty and hatred on its toes. It is true that there is no where we can go but forward, and I can only hope that this new year will allow us all to be inscribed in the book of life, to feel faithfulness and health and happiness and success.

It is with this that I say thank you -- all of you -- who have graced my life this year and made it a blessing. You have given me strength, courage and determination and toe ach of you I wish a shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem and a sweet, sweet new year! And please, watch this video -- it is truly amazing in its power and resonance.


Oh, and if you want to get a jump-start on preparing for Yom Kippur, Ilana-Davita posted a great bit about fasting.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Neither Inside, Nor Outside that World.

Hebrew homework went quicker than I had anticipated, so I have decided to reflect on my weekend spent in New York, so that I can sit down and write a Rosh Hashanah post tomorrow. So let us begin -- I will give an overview, and then some general observations/delights of my Shabbos weekend :)



I set off on a bus to New York at 11:20 a.m. on Friday after jetting off from my Hebrew class amid a stormy, stormy downpour. I got into the city around 3 something, schlepped my way to the A train, and headed uptown to 181st -- Washington Heights. Now, I know nothing about neighborhoods in New York, except that Crown Heights is super Jewy. To be completely honest, I had no idea that Washington Heights was a hot-bed of Orthodox Jewish action. I got to Susanne's place in time to shower (the humidity ate away at me all weekend), and for us to head off to shul. I was, in a word, blown away by the synagogue we went to. The layout was familiar to me from books (the way there's a large men's section with seats facing each other and the women's section behind on each side behind the mechitzah), but it was unlike any shul I'd been to before. There were so many people of all flavors -- black hats, fancy suits, women in stilletos, women in hats, sheitels, scarves, men with colorful kippot, men with traditional black kippot. The entire room seemed to move in one gigantic wave, with men davening at lightning speed, women peering above and over the mechitzah, other women davening with a beautiful force that I only hope to be able to envelope myself in once I am comfortable with the service and the Hebrew. It amazed me how perfectly harmonized the room grew with each prayer, each song like a well-rehearsed choir. And as soon as it all began, it was over. Crowds moved out to the large hall and the women and men intermingled, chatting and flirting issuing "Shana Tova" and blessings upon pregnant women. In truth, I stood in awe of them all.

We moved on to Shabbos dinner -- all female -- where I had the luck of meeting a bounty of beautiful, strong, intelligent religious women in their late 20s. All single, all searching (well, except our engaged Sus). The "shidduch crisis" that is often spoke of seemed alive in that room. There was gefilte fish and kugel and challah and brachos and chatting and discussion about men, family, conversion, and the upcoming holidays. There was singing, lots of singing, and a farewell late in the evening after which we headed home to bed. We quickly threw ourselves into bed after some chit chat, to wake up in the morning for services.

In the morning I was faced with the big Shabbos woe: what to do with my hair. I know it sounds really stupid, but not showering on Shabbos is the one thing that I've always struggled with. I managed to do something with it, throwing on a polka-doted headband, and we were off to shul. I'd never been to a morning service before, and there were far fewer people at the service, but it was equally powerful, intense and devotional. Services went quite quickly, and we left to head off to Yeshiva University for lunch. Yes, I was going to sit down in a cafeteria room with a couple hundred YU kids over Shabbos lunch, and it was going to be outstanding. We trekked up, got there before lunch started and in time to watch the worker boys setting up the lunch with Sus's fiance ordering the boys about appropriately (it was, to be honest, a pretty amusing scene to which I have created a soap opera: "Shabbos Kitchen" with lots of really exciting music). Watching these boys come in, sit down to lunch, was really a sight. It was a microcosm of the shul scene, with boys from across the board -- super frum, sorta frum, religious. Black hats, peyos, fancy pin-striped suits, polos, you name it. Some were rowdy, some were merely pious. And me? I think I stuck out like a truly sore thumb -- I wasn't a rebbetzin or the daughter of a rabbi, I was just some girl sitting at the back staff's table. But I did meet a religious Jew from Nebraska, and that delighted me.

And then? Shabbos nap. Oh. Yes.

But then I woke up for evening services and my hair was disgusting and a mess, so I got to try out the scarf look. The response? "You look super frum!" Yes, I did. I blended in perfectly, I guess. But we got to shul post-services and ended up back at the locale we'd hit for Shabbos dinner for a bit of a nosh, some conversation, a story about one of the rebbes (super interesting and other-worldly), and finally, the end of Shabbat. We went home, we showered (B"H!!!), and we went out to meet up with those mentioned in my previous post for a fun night of drinking, a house party -- where a Jewish comedian told me I had beautiful Jewish lips and that I blended in well after he was told of my history as a Jew -- and a late night home in bed. The rest? History (well, a meet-up with Evan and a trek to his mother's house where his grandmother thrusted food in our general direction en masse, followed by a trek home in the rain and a meal at a kosher-style restaurant.)

So what to say about the entire weekend? It was absolutely amazing. To be completely honest, I've been blessed with knowing some pretty amazing religious Jews who make being Orthodox look like a walk in the park. I'm not sure if that's because it *is* a walk in the park, or they just have it mastered. But kashrut, being shomer shabbos, going to shul, it all just seems so doable, so workable, so -- right. This, of course, even while being lost about 3/4 of the time in shul. Now, back in Chicago the Orthodox shul's rabbi would throw out the page numbers in the Artscroll regular and transliterated versions. But in a shul as huge as the one in Washington Heights, it cannot be expected that anyone would throw them out. Thus, it was pretty difficult for me to keep up, even having been familiar with the siddur. Back in Chicago, I was always on time, and I could thus always keep up. At every meal I had to reach for a transliterated benscher, and this bothered me. I want to daven in Hebrew, I want to know the words and for the language of my people to resonate. I want the letters of the aleph-bet to thread a cord around my tongue! And this frustrated me. It continues to frustrate me. There are so many things I don't know and when I heard about the courses offered at Stern for women and how much information is delved out about all the little details of davening and shul and meals, I longed for that life. I'll admit at many points throughout the weekend feeling cheated -- cheated out of a lifetime of being Jewish, having that lineage and lifestyle handed to me on a silver platter. But then I remembered that where I came from and how I got to my Jewish soul makes me who I am as a Jew. I try so hard to not be bitter or envious, I try to return myself to my place and reaffix myself. But sometimes, just sometimes, it is so hard. I should know the dinner blessings, shouldn't I? I should know the tunes and songs and prayers. But then I remember: I have only been to a handful of Shabbos meals -- all in the past nine months. I must, must, must be patient. What else? I absolutely loved being in a neighborhood where frum Jews were constantly in the streets, walking around, present -- it was a Jewish neighborhood (with a bit of a Latino flavor), and I felt at home and comfortable and at ease there. Sus let me check out her Women's Artscroll Siddur , which, I have to say, I must purchase. I read through the intro and preface, thinking it might be a little on the patronizing side of things, but it wasn't -- it highlighted where to start when you get into shul late, what prayers can be skipped, etc.

I find myself at a loss, though. I feel like there was so much I had wanted to say about the Shabbat in Washington Heights -- my first fully shomer Shabbos -- but that I cannot now recall. When you don't write on Shabbat, you lose your thoughts, I think. I do know that it was relaxing, easy, calm, and it allowed me to really see my potential as a religious Jew. On the other hand, it had me thinking about where I am going in many aspects of my life -- personally, academically and otherwise. I thought more about an Orthodox conversion and how and where that can happen. I discussed with acquaintances my realization that essentially, I am in stasis for at least the next two years -- I cannot make the appropriate travel to work with an Orthodox rabbi weekly (cost, school, lack of transit), so I am more or less just stuck. The process, I guess, continues. What I do have, though, are friends, rabbis and acquaintances who understand my situation and are sympathetic and accepting of it. I don't feel outside, but I don't feel fully inside the world I view myself in. It's a complex problem, I think. And so it goes as a ger.

I'd like to say that from here on out I'm all shomer Shabbos all the time. But there have been made vows for Saturday trips to the Poconos and otherwise non-Shabbat type activities. I ask myself why, of course. And I know the reader is probably confused. As the holidays come upon us, there is a little spiel about a holy, pious man who says the sh'ma every day of his 85 years, except for one night that he happens to miss because he was ill or otherwise unable. And because of this, it is as if he had never said the sh'ma in all his years -- because he missed but one night. And thus, the holidays approach and we're able to resolve such situations. So, what does this mean for me? I'm not sure. One observant Shabbat for 10 non-observant Shabbats makes me something. What it is is being torn between two worlds, walking a tight-rope to keep both afloat for whatever reason. Maybe I don't want to be like those beautiful, intelligent girls on the cusp of 30 or beyond who haven't found their match. Maybe I don't want to be lost to the world I once knew. Maybe I'm making excuses, and I know very well that the answer to certain questions should be "no, Shabbat is the holiest day in the calendar -- for it appears in the decalogue." But something causes hesitation.

What I learned this weekend, then, is that the path it continues to be beaten by these hopeful feet. And that, I think, is going to have to be enough for now. And in my heart of hearts, I know G-d hears my song. Even if I it means I have to sing a little bit louder during these holidays.

I'm back ... but wait!

Wow. Really? Seriously? Best weekend I've had in a long time. Shabbos in Washington Heights in NYC with Susanne and friends, drinks with various bloggers and internet personalities such as Sara from PopJudaica.com , EstherK , Ezra Butler and Susanne , of course, followed by the meeting of Evan's mother and grandmother (she was elated to feed me gefilte fish) and the conclusion of the weekend eating at a "kosher style" restaurant outside of Hartford? Well, yes, it was pretty darn amazing. But I don't have the energy or time (I have boatloads of homework to do before I sleep) right now, but rest assured you'll hear about my Orthodox shul adventure, eating lunch at Yeshiva University, and clomping around in the rain all weekend.

Until then, though, please go check out the newest edition of Haveil Havalim -- edition #184 "A Barbarian Roars Again" over at A Barbarian Yawp's blog! (And whoa, I got a mention this week, wahoo!) Oh, and just for fun, check out this awesome picture from the weekend -- yes, those are Internet superstars Chavi, Susanne, Esther, Ezra, and Sara! Until I get a free moment ... Shana Tova and may your new year be ever so sweet!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When There's Extra Time, Ani kotevet.

Strangely, rather, very strangely, everything is done. I had my big gigantic 1/3-of-your-grade exam today that, well, I feel pretty lame about but I feel that way after every test so we'll see. I studied for tomorrow's Hebrew quiz, AND did the homework for class, too. I also did laundry (which happened to be free for some reason), and I managed to eat and get to work and do all the other activities of the day, not to mention watching the newest episodes of a few of my favorite TV shows on YouTube and Hulu.com. What I'm wondering is, how did this happen? Did the world slow to a halt today? I even lallygagged at work, chatting with a classmate about our observance and class and Jewish UConn and everything in between. So, really, seriously, how did this happen? I guess I shouldn't complain because it gives me time to write a quick blog post, go through the flashcards one more time, and hit the sack. Oh, and it also gives me time to pack.

Pack for what you say? Well, because I just didn't get enough NYC last week, I'm heading back this weekend, thanks to the kindly Susanne , who is putting me up for Shabbos. I was originally going to be bunking up at another friend's place, but it fell through, so Susanne is a huge, insane, holy lifesaver. There's no particular reason I'm going to NYC, I just want to be there. Well, I guess it is my pre-birthday weekend, so I'm hoping to get some of my Twitter friends together for a drink or two or three. If anything, I imagine I'll have plenty to say at the end of the weekend. Now, in preparation for my Shabbos, I anticipated not being able to use the showering facilities on Saturday morning. This, as I've mentioned in the past, is one of my biggest hang-ups about being shomer Shabbos, and I know it's incredibly stupid. But my options are: Look like Frankenstein (this hair gets all sortsa crazy in the course of an evening of sleep) or look like a happily married frummie. To be honest, I'd rather hit up the latter, so I figured out -- in one shot -- how to tie a scarf so that I can cover my messy hair. I'm pretty proud of myself. Was I meant to be a hair-covering guru? I also found the most amazing site on the planet CoverYourHair.com, from which I purchased a couple nifty headbands/scarves for the express purpose of covering my messy-arse hair on Shabbos morning.

Is it really that big of a deal if I cover my hair? I mean, plenty of people wear scarves. Does it have to mean what people will think it means!? Will they see no ring on my finger and gush with "oy gevalts" ...? Feh.

Anyhow, that's where I'll be this weekend, so if you are also in New York, let me know and maybe we can bump into each other. Other than my big weekend trip, nothing huge is going on. I got notice from the Birthright group I signed up through that acceptance notices will go out in three weeks (oy, the waiting, I can't do it anymore) and that phone interviews would start late "this week." Well, it's pretty much Friday and no one has called me. Is this a bad sign? Sigh. I just want to go to Israel. What's so big about it?

But I'd like to take the rest of this happy little blog space to throw out some links and causes worth thinking about. First? Please click HERE and vote for "Evelyn" -- though, it's really a vote for Evelyn's daughter, Leah, who created a magazine for Jewish girls called Yaldah. Seriously, this girl created this magazine when she was 13 years old. THAT, folks, is making a dream happen. Next up, I want all my happy travelers out there (I'm looking at Mottel for sure) to checkout YeahThatsKosher.com -- the blog for the kosher traveler. It's really a pretty unique idea and the website is just downright handy and well-designed. Thirdly, WebYeshiva.org is offering free classes on Sunday on Rosh HaShanah ! If I wasn't going to be traveling, I would be online and sitting in on those lessons. It's a really great and neat idea, and I encourage everyone to take advantage. Fourthly, if you're in the mood for a little hilarity, my friend has put up a comical parody of the Rabbis for Obama group. Yes, there is now "Rabies for Obama ." Just click on the link. It's beautifully designed!

And lastly, I recommend you ALL watch this video by Sarah Silverman. Now, I know a lot of people don't like Sarah Silverman and she can be a little raunchy and obnoxious, but this video promotes everyone getting their zeyde and bubby out to vote for Obama, and I think it's hilarious and marvelous.


The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo


So until we meet again on Sunday or Monday, I issue a little bit of an oy vey for the approaching holidays. Still? Quite unprepared. Thus, on my lengthy bus trek to New York, I'll be delving into some items from the interwebs, things friends and other bloggers have posted. I need to get into the season, to really feel my heart. So with that, Shabbat Shalom!
If not for the annual day of judgment, the world's sins would continue to accumulate, until it would reach the stage where it would have to be destroyed. This is why Rosh Hashana is a yom tov, a day of celebration. (Sefer HaChinuch)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I couldn't help myself.

This is a beautiful video: Israelis for Obama! Hat tip to Jewschool.com .

Pardon me while I step away to lose my sanity.

Our Bible class professors finally gave us our review sheet for Thursday's test. Yes, that's this Thursday, as in two days from now, and yes, today is Tuesday, and yes I'm a little irked that they waited until the last minute to issue it to us. A few of the grad students are all fancy and free -- "It's review! It'll be easy!" -- while I, the ultimate worry wart, am poised for a long two days of preparing and typing up notes with which to study, as I did with all of my Judaic studies courses in my undergrad. I collect, I type, I study, I quiz myself. But this time, I only have, well, less than two days really, to prepare. Yes it's all Documentary Hypothesis and the importance of the Bible stories chucked in with the legends/myths of antiquity, but a girl will worry. Throw a Hebrew test onto that for Friday and the rest of my week is going to be quite dismal. Of course, I still don't have my plans mapped out for the weekend, either. Maybe I won't go to New York. Or Boston. I could take a friend up on her offer to go to a local fair, but it just isn't striking me as the thing to do this weekend. I want to be city-bound for drinks and perusing busy streets. But we don't always get what we want, do we?

So you'll find me the next two days, in Babbidge Library, hunched over a computer, a pile of books, pages of notes, and probably a coffee or two or three.

Maybe I'll hang up a do not disturb sign.

Until I return from my couple-day stressed out study frenzy, please gather solace and amusement with this fun video that Tamara shared via Twitter last night. It makes me smile with delight!


EepyBird's Sticky Note experiment from Eepybird on Vimeo.

Monday, September 22, 2008

News and Information: Your Not-so-Daily Dose.

A couple interesting things to write about/share. Some news, some not, but all educationally fascinating.

+ I think I'll leave any and all comments on the new GLBT siddur that is in the works to the write-up FrumSatire did over on his blog . I'll be honest: I'm incredibly liberal, but some of the new prayers in the siddur make ME uncomfortable. Just check out the blog. Prayers for unexpected intimacy? You'll catch my drift.

+ I have failed miserably at preparing anything coherent to share about the upcoming new year -- Rosh Hashanah -- leading us into 5769. Luckily, other people are way ahead of me on this. Who, you ask? Well, Ilana-Davita posted up some information last week that you can find here , and she also linked to Leora's blog , which also has some outstanding information about various food symbols for the new year, not to mention a beautiful piece of art. Then there is Jew Wishes who has one heckuva comprehensive list of websites for the High Holy Days, not to mention a suggested list of books to pick up. But I promise to have something. I need to have something. I am starting off 5769 as a graduate student, with a boyfriend, in a new state, far away from just about everything I was and knew at this point last year. I have sort of become a new person. I'm miles away from my hashkafah of a year ago, not to mention miles physically and emotionally away from who I was. It will be an interesting start, I think.

+ Over the weekend Evan and I were debating the details of kashrut and why chicken is considered meat and fish isn't. To be honest, I'd never thought about the whole issue of why fish is parve, but he got me thinking. I've been doing the vegetarian thing (okay, I faltered on Sunday ONCE and had some buffalo chicken wing/ball things while watching the Patriots game), mostly because I'm torn about the whole kashurt and interpretation of the meat/milk law as being ALL dairy and ALL meat (except fish, you know, since it's parve). Being a vegetarian is my effort to move in that direction, though there are a boatload of other reasons why, and I'll post more on that after I collect my thoughts and do some reading (hat tip to A Simple Jew for some thoughtful links).  So back to the point: Fish is parve, which means it's neither dairy nor meat, so it can be eaten with anything and this makes Jews stoked because it opens up the options for protein with a dairy meal. Thus, after some exhaustive searching on my Blackberry, I came across the website for Beth Tzedec (a Toronto congregation) with an interesting and thoughtful discussion of the issue. The question posed was: "The Torah tells us not to seethe the kid in its mother's milk. A chicken does not have mother's milk. Why isn't chicken parve like fish?" And the answer by Rav Roy Tanenbaum:
The answer to your question illustrates how laypeople help to determine the scope of Jewish law. The Talmudic sages were of course aware of the fact that chickens do not have mothers' milk. But before establishing the category of chicken, they wanted to know how the average person in the street uses language. So they [asked] ... the following questions: "If you sent a servant to the market to buy meat and he came back with fish, what would your reaction be? Alternatively, if he came back with chicken, what would your reaction be?"
The scholars learned that most people of the time included chicken in their normal understandaing of the word "meat" whereas they did not include fish. This is still true today as illustrated in the fact that when we wish to exclude chicken we have to use the term "red meat."
So to avoid confusion among the masses of people, the sages incorporated chicken under the halakha of meat.
So what can I say? It comes back to making things easier and less confusing, but at least I now have an explanation.

+ I'm adding several books to my Amazon Wish List (feel free to shower me with gifts at any time), though mostly as a reminder to read them at some point, not necessarily to procur, considering my reading list is quite heavy as is. The first is a new book by Brandeis Professor Jonathan Sarna (yes, you guessed it, his father is Nahum Sarna, whose books I have been reading for class) about the American Jewish experience, but more importantly about renewing the Jewish experience both ritually and religiously. The book is "A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew ," and you'll note that the title is taken from Qohelet! I'm also throwing on David Sears' "The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism ." And lastly, thanks to Jew Wishes , I'm throwing on Elie Wiesel's "Legends of Our Time ."

They say G-d speaks to us in our dreams.

I've blogged more in the past 24 hours than I have in about a week. What gives? I have a lot to say? Maybe. But this post is mostly for the sake of bookkeeping, but please feel free to respond.

You see, I had a big Chabad-inspired dream last night. My dreams, as some of you know, are incredibly vivid in their detail, so I usually wake up remembering just about everything -- from the clothes people where to the most fine detail like someone's earrings or the words someone says. It went something like this.

There was an entire (less vivid) portion leading up to the main dream that involved teaching my little brother Joseph Hebrew but him resisting and getting the numbering all wrong, but then it broke and I walked into this gigantic social hall type thing, like where State Fairs sometimes have exhibits or expos or where conventions meet with lots of booths. There was a big stage and right as I walked in, they were getting ready to start a show, and the stage was full of Hasidim of all ages. The show began and they were all dancing wildly all over the stage to music, but I couldn't hear the music. The crowd and the people on the stage were all male and in the traditional black/white garb. The dancing then stopped and everyone piled off stage and one of them was a girl! I was so excited and I started following her and she was explaining she had to pull a lot of strings to be able to dance with the other Hasidim and she was wearing really bright colors, too. She led me through a series of booths that were set up with tables and seder plates and it finally hit me that it was Pesach and it was the first night seder. But we wound through all these tables to this back section where there were hundreds of women hanging out with kids, all the women dressed traditionally and the kids running amok. There was also a little sale thing going on and the girl, as she was telling me about Chabad and her family and Pesach, was shopping and picked up a pair of silver, star earrings and her mom started yelling at her, so she went over to her mom to their table. All the tables that were set up had dozens of different types of haggadot and the tables were all varied in their settings. There was an announcement by a really tall Chabad rabbi that the seder was about to start, so everyone piled into all the seats and since I didn't know anyone, I just stood there and after the rabbi was done speaking I went over and explained my situation and he responded "I don't know what to tell you. Wander around till you find an empty chair." So I did, and I walked through all these weird booths of things, people advertising their shuls and this one Reform Jewish guy yelling really loudly to try and talk over the rabbi. But I ended up at a table with a bunch of people dressed in early 1990s business power suits and they explained they didn't have any food, so we were going to eat leftover pizza for the seder and I felt utterly deflated and disappointed. And then? I woke up.

And that, folks, is how you dream. I just wonder what it means.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Holy Moses, Batman! Shabbos Toothbrushes!

Okay, I'm addicted. Thanks to Frumhouse, I happened to end up over on the Kosher Innovations website (you'll recall I wrote about them and their fun innovations several weeks ago), but that also led me to reading about the Shabbos Toothbrush, which led me to clicking on the JewishPathways.com site link, which led me to finding videos on all sorts of things. I particularly enjoyed the Shabbos Toothbrush talk about how it happens to work out to be halachikly sound for Shabbos (you know, Shabbos is meant to be different from every other day of the week, so a special toothbrush makes it different, WAHOO!). Oh, and the toothpaste? It has the OU seal of approval! Now if they'd just come up with some way that showering could be done differently, I'd be so set.

But seriously, I want to purchase everything on the Kosher Innovations website. Starting with the toothbrush. Then there's the Kosher Lamp, which would prevent me from (dangerously) throwing a towel or something over my lamp, which I usually will leave on all night, so that I can get a bit of darkness and shut-eye. Now, this next thing isn't for me (since, you know, I don't do tefillin), but it would definitely be useful for many of the men I know. Yes, it's the Tefillin Sweater. Seriously, who comes up with this stuff? And speaking of that, well, you remember the Shabbos Bathroom Tissue, yes? But because the site has limited items and I'm just as curious as the day is long, I'm signing up for updates on new products because -- seriously? -- I really want to see what's coming next. I'm crossing my mogen Davids (I heard someone say this and now I can't stop saying it) in hopes that there is some kind of crazy Shabbos Shower innovation.

Oh, and as for the JewishPathways site, if you want to sign up for the Daily Living online "classes," it's fee-free right now. It's 43 parts and has all sorts of fun multi-media goodies to fill you in on just about everything you could possibly need to know about living Jewishly (from, be noted, an Orthodox standpoint). Now, I must mention that this is an Aish-sponsored site, and we all know how I feel about Aish since the whole birthright and "this trip is only for Jewish women" fiasco. But seriously, if it's educational, it's educational. And chances are I'm going to sign up for it, as well since we all know I'm here, there and everywhere as I expand my Underconstructionist leanings. Just make sure you check everything with your rabbi and cross-reference across the web.

I'm an Academic, You're an Academic ...

Someday, when I write a book, I promise I won't put in snide remarks that reveal my sentiments about great individuals long dead (now, I'm not saying I think St. Augustine was great, but you get my drift). In a text I'm reading for my Bible course, when discussing the Adam/Eve/Eden sin issue, the book's author says ...
The influential Christian theologian, St. Augustine, who was not very good at Greek, read the Latin translation of Romans 5:12 to mean that the sin of Adam was a prototype -- it caused others to sin. Augustine's interpretation gave rise to the doctrine known as "original sin," the view that sin is inherited by all subsequent humans after Adam and Eve. In Paul's original Greek, it seems pretty clear that Paul understood Adam's sin to be an archetype. Death spread to all people because all people sinned. In other words, sin is humanity's first and most persistent copycat crime.
Now, I think the point would have been perfectly valid to leave out the snarky remark. Alternatively, I do enjoy the author's take on the idea of minimalism in explaining the historicity of the Tanakh. Minimalists in biblical scholarship essentially say that the books of Tanakh were edited so late that they can't possibly contain any valid historical information about earlier periods. They tend to reject or explain away any archeological evidence that might happen to prove a historical theory, and the author tells us that the "best evaluation of minimalism as a whole was probably supplied by a British archaeologist who entitled his review of a rather fanciful book on another subject, 'Not a Bad Theory, If Facts Don't Matter.' "

Oh academics and their opinions. It makes me wonder, though, if I really will be able to distance my opinions from the work. I guess that's how we test ourselves in academia? I suppose I should get one of these buttons, though, don't you think?


While I figure out an answer to my questions, check out this week's Haveil Havalim over on Jack's blog! Stay tuned for blog posts on politics, the upcoming holidays, books I'm trying to read, and more. I gotta maintain substance, gall darn't.

Will Beg for Shabbos!

Let's say, just by chance, that my birthday is September 30. Let's also say that the weekend prior to my birthday (which also happens to be Rosh Hashanah), I want to go to New York (because someone I know is coming in to town, but also ... ). I want to have a traditional shabbos. I want to be shomer shabbos to an absolute devotion. I want to go to shul and dine with a community and wake up and go back to shul and rest and read. I want to see how the good, observant, other New York half lives. Anyone got room for a Kosher Cornhusker in their Shabbos universe? I'm a maven with a transliterated Artscroll siddur :)

At any rate, my weekend was outstanding. The Conservative shul that Evan and I went to on Friday night was nice, albeit fairly small, but the rabbi had some interesting and significant things to say. The service was good and we capped the night with some Mexican food. We left Saturday morning for New York for the 1 p.m. Yankees game (second to last at the stadium!), and luckily the Yanks won. The sun was beating down, but the crowd was fun and the company was good. That evening we went to the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village for some comedy and before that we ate upstairs at the Olive Tree Cafe (owned by a nice Jewish woman), where I had some yummy falafel. After the comedy show (in which I got made fun of for being a Judaic studies student by a Jewish comedian), we met up with Evan's cousin and her friend for a drink and then headed back around 11 for Connecticut. And me? Well, I had gotten sort of ill -- what with the dehydration from the game and the liquor. Tea didn't help, but a lot of sleep did. So today, although I'm not feeling 100 percent, I feel about 75 percent better than I did last night. But overall, a good weekend.

I was reminded of how much I love New York -- it's little shops and grocery markets with fruit and flowers outside for all to see. People dressed to dazzle tromping around dirty streets trying to hail a cab. It's such a beautiful mess, New York is, but I still love it.

So I want to go back. Help a girl out?

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Kosher-Vegetarian-Academic Post!

I had written an entire post about going vegetarian this week and visiting the kosher dining hall (finally), but Blogger sucks and just lost my post, which, might I add, was beautifully written. So I'll just say a couple things and maybe elaborate next week: there's a nifty sink for ritual hand-washing, which I think is awesome; the food is good; they give you paper/plastic everything for assured kosher-ness!; one meal is meat, the other is dairy, so as a veggie, this doesn't bode well for me eating there every week; it takes about 15 minutes on a bus to get from here to there, which stinks. I also managed to go to the gym this past week after a random urge to do so. I'm calling my move to vegetarianism (plus a bit o' fish), which started randomly on Monday, as well as my gym excursion spontaneous healthful living.

In other, unrelated, news, I'm going to New York this weekend with Evan for a Yankees game (on Shabbat, argh). We are, however, going to a (conservative) shul in West Hartford tonight, so that has me all sorts of stoked. And now, to tie up the week and before bidding everyone a Shabbat Shalom, I give you some of the juicy goodness that I've been working on over the past week. Prepare for academic drooling (I sent my thoughts to the prof last night, so ... we'll see) behind this link. Yes, it's stuff I've been writing/working on. So enjoy it. I tried to post it here but Blogger is being a total pain in my tuches today.

So be well, and Shabbat shalom!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Because You Are Just Dying to Know ...

So you want to convert, eh?

In an attempt to answer some reader questions regarding conversion, I will simply type up a (hopefully) brief little post here, so as to not go through great lengths to edit my video blog since time is of the essence these days.


"Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God" (Ruth 1:16)

You'll note that Ruth didn't bother asking Naomi where to find a good shul or rabbi, nor did she pop in with any questions about the difficulties of finding a congregation out in the middle of nowhere, right? So where to begin? 

When I decided to start going to synagogue, I had already made the decision to convert. I knew all the details of the conversion process and had read most of the popularized conversion books (after all, I'd been studying on my own for about a year). So really, I was jumping way ahead of myself and needed to find a shul. In my town there were two synagogues -- one Reform, the other Conservative. About an hour away there was a much larger city with various congregations ranging from Chabad to Reform. At the time, though, I hadn't considered going to the larger city because, well, I was carless and in college and it just wasn't something that struck me. Also at that time I was comfortably settled in the Reform movement with my hashkafah (sort of like Jewish philosophy/beliefs). A (Jewish) friend of a friend was also interested in checking out a local shul to see what the buzz was (considering the community was so small), so we agreed to go one Friday night. She picked me up, we were off, and we were welcomed heartily by the community. We started going regularly, and after awhile we decided to check out the Conservative shul to see whether we were leaning that way. Unfortunately, that congregation didn't welcome us as heartily, as the base was a lot older and didn't seem interested in talking to, let alone welcoming, us.


So, at the time -- as I said -- my hashkafah was good with the Reform movement and so I continued to go there. The rabbi at that point was a woman who, to be honest, didn't seem so interested in getting started with a conversion candidate (she was sort of on the outs, as her family had moved to a city about three hours away and she was trying to get out, too), but we met at a coffee shop, she gave me a booklist to check out and we called it a day. Shortly after she left a new rabbi was hired and he was incredibly enthusiastic about the congregation and my conversion -- I would be his first convert! He started up an Intro to Judaism course (which was mostly a refresher for me at that point), and very quickly we set a date for my conversion because, after talking to me and hearing about my studies and journey, he seemed confident I was prepared. But most importantly, it was I who was prepared. In April 2006, then, I met with the beth din, went to the mikvah, had my naming and conversion ceremony, and the rest is history. This all, of course, was through the Reform movement.

Now, I wasn't turned away three times or any of that. It's more likely that in the Orthodox movement this will happen, and it's also more likely that you'll really need to search for a rabbi who fits into your stream of thought and who welcomes you and your conversion in his community. As I consider reconverting through the Orthodox movement, I'll admit, there is a lot more thought that will go into the process -- who my rabbi is, how long I'll need to prepare, what congregation/community to attach myself to, etc. When I started dabbling in the path to conversion in ... oy ... was it 2003? (though formally much later) ... I didn't really do much searching because I was pretty comfortable in where I was, but it was very situationally comfortable.

What do I mean? Well, I was in college (undergraduate) and there was not a possibility for me to move (at least, at that time, it hadn't even crossed my mind). Had I wanted to convert Orthodox (though, to be honest, in the community I was in I had a LOT of misconceptions about Orthodox Jews and the Orthodox community in general), I would have been put in an interesting position. I would have had to make my way to the closest city with an Orthodox community, but even then, it would have been difficult to make the trips. And once again -- it all depends on your hashkafah. For some people who do want to convert Orthodox, though, it just isn't feasible to get to a community where you can attend services regularly, find kosher foods, not to mention visit the mikvah and take part in other community activities. So what an Orthodox rabbi will tell you is -- you must move to a community. It's a lifestyle, it's a community, it's not just a religious doctrine. But for people with families or who are committed to a location, this just isn't possible. So then they will tell you that we must bend to the Torah -- the Torah will not bend to us. And in a way, they are right. So what do you do?

Well, my advice is this: If you live in the sticks or in a community where there isn't a shul, find the nearest one, no matter the denomination, and begin to learn. Explain to the rabbi that you are interested in converting, though you're not sure whether the shul's hashkafah lines up with your's, but that you want to begin or explore your options. Attend Intro to Judaism and Hebrew classes (or find a tutor or use online resources). Learn, learn, learn and learn some more, and when you feel yourself coming to a place where you are confident in converting, talk to your rabbi. Explain to them where you are at, which movement you feel most comfortable halakicly in, ask the rabbi if they can connect you with other rabbis in other movements. When you travel, go to different shuls -- Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform. You have to have that exposure in order to make an informed decision about a movement as a whole. But your Jewish soul will lead you in the appropriate direction, and no matter how you feel spiritually or where you connect denominationally, you can observe how ever much or little that you want in your personal life. Don't forget, though, that community is important! And also, use the internet. This big, bad wide interweb is your KEY to really discovering where you fit Jewishly -- but don't trust just one website or one source, because you truly never know what you'll get. Ask questions, ask a LOT of questions, and do your homework.

Remember: Judaism is sort of a package deal -- communally, personally, religiously, and how you live -- you can't learn, study, and convert in a vacuum. It's as simple as "where there is a will, there is a way." And your Jewish soul will not let you sleep until it is sated!

So check out this website: My Jewish Learning on Choosing a Synagogue. I really, really wish I had had this all those years ago. It offers some great advice, especially about the differences simply between synagogues within the same movement. For example, I prefer a shul without a chazzan, or cantor, because I find that the congregants do an amazing job with a melody (I think this sentiment comes from attending a modern Orthodox shul for those many months!).  Likewise, you can tell a lot about a synagogue from what kind of programs it has -- women's groups, social action, outreach, etc. But perhaps most importantly is making sure that YOU and the RABBI fit. You want to convert through someone you trust, someone who takes you as seriously as you take them, and who can answer your questions and inquiries without any troubles. Plus, it is important to develop a good, working relationship with a rabbi at any rate because questions will always come up -- about Yom Kippur or kashrut or something else -- and you will need someone authoritative and consistent (we call this person a rav) in your life to help you answer such queries!

But, that's my reader's digest bit on finding a synagogue/rabbi and how to do so if you're in a community that maybe lacks such things. Now, I have a lot of connections and know a lot of people, not to mention I am presently inventorying all of the shuls in the U.S. for a Jewish databank, so if you need some information or want to be introduced to a rabbi, let me know and I'll do what I can to help you out. I might not know everyone, but an intermediary can help get the ball rolling!

I might have created more questions than answers, so let me know what you you have to say. I attempted to be brief, but I want to reiterate that the Jewish conversion process is not meant to be quick -- it is meant to allow the convert time to evaluate and reevaluate their Jewish soul, to consider where they fit and when they are truly, truly ready to take on the plight of the Jewish people. There is no need to rush -- some people spend years, dozens of years at times, on the path, waiting to hit that point or find the right rabbi or congregation. Don't rush it just because you want to get there -- it just isn't worth skirting the major issues for a quickie conversion. Plus, a good rabbi won't let you get by like that either :)

If you click here, I have compiled a list of websites with information that might be useful to you -- just now, actually, so this list will continue to grow in coming days/weeks. Enjoy and Shalom!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Computer Crash = Ruby Tuesday!

I had a video blog post -- a show-and-tell style vlog, paired with details about how I chose my rabbi/shul and how YOU, too, can make it happen -- COMPLETELY EDITED ... and then my computer went kaput and the edited video with it. And to be honest, I haven't the energy right now to re-edit. So for now? You get a Ruby Tuesday photo.

Yes, I know, it's me. Kohelet is screaming "vanity of vanities" and biblical scholars are rolling their eyes at the common understanding of vanity. But in reality, this is me (in RED!) plugging Israeli Wine Direct, where at the helm is my good friend Richard. He was kind enough to send me this t-shirt, which I shall wear with pride, and he even featured me on his blog. So go buy some wine already!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Let's Talk Books!

As if we ever talk about anything at else around here anymore? Books are my joy, my life, my livelihood! As evidenced in my bookworm/bibliophile post of recent. I'd wanted to do this in a vlog, but I'm just not in the mood, and I'm in desperate need of a haircut. So for now, this is how we'll roll.

I've been meaning to write about Rabbi Marc D. Angel's new novel, "The Search Committee," for about three weeks now. The rabbi was kind enough to send me a copy of whose words I devoured quickly and with delight. To be honest, the book is an incredibly quick read. I do find it interesting, though, that his name appears on the book as "Marc Angel" and not "Rabbi ..." But maybe I'm just nitpicking! So first, some background on the rabbi.

Rabbi Angel is the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel of New York City (a Sephardi congregation), and is the founder of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals -- a group which I highly recommend you look into. They put out oodles of interesting papers and responsa about issues facing Orthodox Judaism, not to mention the greater Jewish community. Rabbi Angel is the author and editor of more than two dozen books, and this is his first work of fiction! How exciting for him and for us, eh?

So where to begin? The story revolves around a series of testimonials issued to the search committee at a prominent Yeshiveh. The most recent rosh yeshiva has died, and his replacement is to be made by this search committee. There are two rabbis in the running -- one the son of the former head of the school who is essentially staunchly similar to his father and maintaining the present order, and the other a younger rabbi who comes across as very modern in his Orthodoxy. We hear from each rabbi, their wives, students, philanthropists who give to the school, yet interestingly -- we NEVER hear from the committee itself. What a juxtaposition for the book to be titled as such and yet the committee never graces our presence.

Many of the characters are entirely believable, their testimonies sounding as though they were truly coming from the mouths of real individuals. Other characters, including (in my opinion) the deceased rosh yeshiva's son, seem almost unreal in their outrageousness. I do appreciate that the characters -- both those believable and perhaps not so much -- are deeply encamped in their Jewishness. As characters are giving their backgrounds and how they arrived at the present situation, we get long, meandering stories with often unnecessary details -- I can picture the traditional rabbi and his wife at the meeting, as if standing at the pulpit, carrying on and on with over-emphasizing hand gestures and a deep accent. The book is written very much so that we can sympathize with one party over the other, I think, and it is quite obvious that there is a message here about the old versus the new, tradition as it evolves, and the world of the yeshiveh and Orthodoxy in general -- as it accepts outsiders, new ideas and approaches, and makes decisions about the future of how it schools its children.

But to be honest, the book's outcome absolutely surprised me, and I think that for those who take the chance to pick the book, you also will be surprised. The book seems to lean one way -- it is cut and dry that there are two definite sides of Orthodoxy here -- but the outcome chosen by the search committee left me feeling perplexed and almost uncomfortable. But perhaps that is Rabbi Angel's intention, and if so, then I applaud him for a well-composed book that questions what we know and what we think we know.

I think anyone and everyone should pick up this book. I imagine Rabbi Angel has unique experiences that allow him to assist us in delving into the world of the yeshiva and the schisms between more traditional Orthodoxy and more modern Orthodoxy. It is, as I said, an incredibly quick read. So nu? Pick it up already!

(And while you're at it, check out his book on conversion, which although it is about Orthodox Judaism, is a good primer for the background on conversion in Jewish history through Torah, Talmud, the rabbis, etc.!)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Feed me Bubbe!

Oh my gosh I just discovered this website and wow. It's a show where Avrom and his bubbe answer viewer emails, give recipes, do some cooking demos, offer up a Yiddish word of the day, and more. Amazing! Check it out by clicking on the link: Feed Me Bubbe!

A nod to the Chabad.org telethon over on ToLife.com, where I happened upon the link to this nifty website. I watched the telethon tonight (well, a few hours of it) and was moved (to donate even) by the various personalities, stories, and videos that were featured that showed really what Chabad does for the community. I was, in particular, moved by how a camp out in California fed, housed and helped firefighters during the forest fires that raged recently. They brewed coffee, offered beds, fed, and gave comfort and encouragement to dozens (hundreds?) of firefighters and other personnel. That, folks, is tikkun olam -- making the world a better, brighter place than how it appeared when each of us began our paths here, getting us a little bit closer to that state of peace. If you missed the telethon, check out the ToLife website for some clips of the show, as there were lots of great acts, shticks, and of course -- OODLES of dancing rabbis!

A Little Ditty.

I went to the library yesterday to get a bit of studying done and what did I end up doing? Checking out FOUR books. Only one of which was relevant to anything I am academically working on at the moment -- The Song of Songs by Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch, which is an interesting presentation of commentary on the text as well as other notes and interesting tidbits about the poem. The other three? Martin Buber's "Way of Man," Jordan Jay Hillman's "The Torah and Its G-d," and "The limits of Orthodox Theology" by Marc Shapiro. The latter is a reappraisal of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles, and it looked like an intriguing read. The Buber book is incredibly short and features the teachings of Hasidism, while the Hillman book appears to be a humanist inquiry into the five books of Moses. If anyone has read any of these and has some words/musings, please comment!

Will I read them all? Who knows. I'm still trying to wrestle through Sarna's "Exodus," while needing to develope a working bibliography for two different papers of which I have yet to pick topics (name changing -- Sarah/Abraham/Jacob; maybe the idea of repentance in scripture; maybe the idea of whether Rachel was stealing the idols to worship them? who knows). Stay tuned, of course. Oh man, I still haven't blogged about "The Search Committee" and it's a week later. Where did the week go?!

At any rate, until I come up with a clear plan of attack for my many books and develop a vlog about what to do when you're a million miles away from a rabbi or perhaps only have a rabbi in a movement with which you don't necessarily want to be affiliated ... be sure to check out this week's Haveil Havalim over on Shiloh Musings.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A good Shabbos to you!

Just wanted to send a quick Shabbat Shalom out into the ether of the internet before the sun disappears (though, since it's cold, rainy and cloudy here I can't see the sun). I'm going to be using my FridayLights.org goods at home tonight and hopefully make it through my (untransliterated) pocket-size Artscroll Siddur. Yes, Shabbos at home. Why? The weather is miserable, that's why! So be well, be safe, be happy, be holy.

The view from the library of the Northwest, from Storrs, CT. (Not today, of course, but last week sometime.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Names, always with the naming!

I finally did it. Yes, I Googled those words: "how to change my name."

Why? It involves a call I got today from central mail services here on campus about a package that had been rerouted to the main mailroom because the name on the box was "Chaviva Edwards" and not the name listed by the university as my "actual" name. Now, I know it's no big thing. I explained the situation (to which she kept saying things about my "nickname"), and she said that she's not sure how things will go in the future, but that it will probably keep happening. So I'm thinking, what? You want I should change my name right now? The girls in the local (grad housing) mailroom know that I'm Chaviva and they give me my mail accordingly. It's the boxes that go via DHL or FedEx or UPS that go to the main Complex Office and then end up getting shipped to the main mailroom across campus. Listen, the last name is the same, the address is the same, what's the big beef!? What a schlep for my poor merchandise!

So I came across the website with information for name changing in Nebraska. I'm technically still a legal resident of Nebraska -- my driver's license is from there, my voter registration is there, my parents still live there (and I guess that sort of attaches you for life). It's a whopping $79.00 to do so. But for the ease of things, that's chump change. My intention has been to wait until I get hitched (if I get hitched?) to do the change-a-roo. I'm looking at keeping "Amanda" in my name, but making it a dual component of my middle name. Thus, you'll be looking at a Chaviva Amanda Jo Edwards. Or something like that. Chaviva A.Jo Edwards. Chaviva JoManda Edwards. If only everyone knew that Chaviva and Amanda mean the same thing -- beloved!

Who knows, right? But I'm not going to do this right now. I have to be present for court and, well, I'm in school and not in the mood to be flying to Nebraska for such things. But my debacle with central mail services might drive me to it if this happens too often. The upside of the whole (neverending) name thing is that the department head *finally* is calling me Chavi now! I was worried after the big departmental shindig on Monday where I was being introduced as "Amanda." How confusing for everyone!

In other news, I got my delicious Orange Blossom Honey (cRc approved) and decorated Shofar Cookie from Zelda's Sweet Shoppe in Illinois. I swear, if anyone ever wants to send me something nice and pretty? Please send it from Zelda's. Their goods are amazing. Not to mention that I ordered this a week ago and it shipped Monday and arrived today. That, is awesome. This honey will fully prepare me for a sweet new year, and I can guarantee that this cookie won't last the weekend!

In yet even more "other news," I have to share this incredibly stellar little thing I picked up from FridayLights.org -- a campaign encouraging one million Jewish women to experience a weekly moment of inner peace through the ancient practice of lighting Shabbat candles. It was a mere $3 for shipping and handling, and I got this neat little tin that comes with four tea lights, a box of matches, a little poster with the blessing (not to mention other wisdom-ful gleanings), as well as a little necklace with the FridayLights hand dangling from it. I wear it wrapped around my wrist as a bracelet -- a constant reminder that I'm working toward Shabbat! Anyhow, I encourage everyone to send away for this little tin of Shabbos goodness!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's My Therapy

Having just zipped through all the updated blogs on my Google Reader -- and commenting on quite a few of them -- I am at last finished with just about all of my web activities for the night. I really need to respond to about five emails of pressing importance, if only for the fact that I hate having emails sitting in my inbox for more than a day without a response. But then there's that whole "homework" thing that is quite necessary to attend to, and did I mention it's nearly 11 p.m.?

This week has been rough, and for a while there it was taking a pretty intense emotional toll on me. It started Monday with a class, then another class, then some work, then a seminar, then a Chabad thing and then a departmental thing and my night finally ended around three in the morning after a phonecall with California. I attest most of the anxiety/stress/frustration with my seminar class, which is testing my bounds as a student -- oh, and it's only the third week of classes.

The class is a lot of philosophy -- post-modern thought -- on the Bible, the book of Kohelet and the Song of Songs and G-d knows what else because I seem to get lost a lot. I had a long conversation at the departmental event with a fellow graduate student (someone who is much older, much wiser, and studied at a Yeshiveh in Israel for two years) about my issues with the class, since he seems to be at one with the flow, and he figured out my problem: I am a linear learner, the professor? He's nonlinear, if that's the best word. I find these concrete themes and ideas and I grasp onto them for dear life, only to be cast away after a few moments of chatter on what was once a concrete theme and has since turned into a metaphysical idea somehow relating to Buddhism or near-death experiences. Luckily, this classmate/colleague perhaps can help me float some of the airy education down to a linear level worth writing home about. I want to understand, and I don't want to feel like a complete moron (which is how I've felt for the past two weeks in this class). Did I also mention that I seem to somehow have garnered the status of peon as far as languages go? My Hebrew isn't outstanding, but it isn't bad. I can d'var Torah my way out of a paper bag if necessary, and I don't like being belittled about my level of knowledge. That, though, isn't worth kvetching about.

I feel, at times, like the entire world of students (graduate, I guess) took some class or inherited some special quality of knowledge that gave them the mastery of various languages and the wherewithal to be masters of their crafts. And then there's me, and someone left the light turned off and didn't bother to tell me how to find the switch and the room is large -- we're talking stadium-sized. I'm a smart person. I'm a brilliant, gifted, driven woman who is going to make her place in the world of Judaic studies, even if it kills me. It's just these downs that really smack me around.

And since then, well, I can't say I've done a whole lot of reading or homework or studying. The oomph has been deflated. But today, a ray of light shone through during a three-hour marathon session of Hebrew, in which my class (which has grown pretty close already) was nearly bouncing off the walls at the end. It was a good feeling, the feeling of learning and retaining. Like little seeds of knowledge were really blossoming inside my noggin.

So this is my therapy: blogging. I come here, I feel important and powerful. People scoff at me when I mention that I've spent the past two years doing academic (not to mention personal) work via my blog -- a blog? they say? But this blog is where I found my voice and where I discovered that I didn't just have to dream about pursuing Judaic studies, and where I didn't just have to think about the possibilities. I discovered my academic self in this realm. This is a place where my words touch people, where my knowledge on topics of Jewish studies and living Jewishly resonate and echo across the J-blogosphere. This is the place where I go to remind myself why I'm doing this whole graduate school thing.
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Oh, and as an aside and sort of unrelated note: I have reapplied to Birthright via the "Stand With Us" trip at the advice of a friend over at Jewlicious. After looking over the application, I think I have a case. It seems that students at Yeshiveh or Seminary are disqualified, but perhaps not those at secular institutions. So, cross your fingers and hope that it works out. Especially after, well, everything from earlier this year. And if it doesn't work out? Feh. I'll wait and go on one of the trips through the university. But I'm eager to see people in Israel who I know only by name. If only for a second near a falafel stand or something.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Jew Tunes!

I'm sure everyone on the planet knows who Matisyahu is by now. The man gave a voice to Hasidic rap/hip-hop/reggae and since then the tiny little niche area of the music world has blown up. You don't have to wander very far to bump into someone who knows, has heard, or who maybe is Y-Love. Heck, the ever-talented Y-Love and I are chums on Twitter and I follow his blog, and it's fun watching him globe-hop doing what he loves.

But there is a whole crop of these talents out there, including one who I saw just this evening at a UConn Chabad event -- Nosson Zand, formerly known as NIZ, a Ba'al Teshuvah who is taking on the Kosher Hip Hop biz by storm. This guy, really, seriously, is pretty outstanding. Even Matisyahu has given him some love. So check out the ever-so-brief clip below from the performance tonight.







Now, I'll admit that after discovering Matisyahu many years ago I didn't really break beyond that barrier of the Kosher hip hop scene. Y Love changed that, but even since then I've been stagnate. But I recently discovered ShemSpeed.com, run by Erez Safer. The site has a boatload of music, merchandise, some free downloads, AND -- best of all -- a radio that you can click open and it streams tunes till your soul is contented with the vibes of hip hop and urban tunes as well as klezmer and Sephardi mixes. There are a bajillion ShemSpeed picks of various artists, including Y-Love, but my favorite simply for name has to be Kosha Dillz -- with a name like that, how can you not want to explore the music?

Oh, and this definitely isn't as an after-thought, but if hip-hop isn't your thing, try Stereo Sinai -- "the Good Book like you've never heard it before" -- on for size. Alan and Miriam are absolutely amazing and are some of the kindest people I've met. "Dance" is a beautiful song, so give it a listen!

The thing is, folks, this is positive, Torah-loving, G-d loving, Israel-loving music that sounds beautiful, is performed magnificently, and darn't, it's just good. These people have some amazing talent and the music simply flows like milk and honey -- it's smooth going down! So take a listen, explore around, and show your love to our super talented Hasidic Jewish/Hip-Hop styling brethren!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chavi on the Ger

I promised a video blog, but this isn't exactly on what I was shooting for. This video is about what a convert is and why a convert is not obligated to tell the world they are a convert. So watch it! And I apologize for both the length and the occasional hopping of the video -- I got a call midway through recording that got me all jumbled and confused :) But please, enjoy and let me know what you think! I promise they'll be shorter in the future!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A brief-style roundup.

This is what we call "a random post."
  • I managed to swing a 100 percent on my first quiz on the Hebrew Aleph-Bet, which I was all sorts of anxious about because I thought I completely nose-dived on the oral portion (professor reads, we write). Slap me silly and call me visual. But I managed to do a brilliant job and I feel better about the future of my Hebrew ventures. Phew! Though, while sitting in the library attempting to take on Chapter 4 in the Hebrew from Scratch text (yes, it's Shabbos and, well, no one is perfect), I felt like I was reading hieroglyphics. So, needless to say, I'm going to devote much of my evening and tomorrow to Hebrew study. 
  • It's raining here, though not the torrential downpour and hurricane-style winds they were promising. I'm quite disappointed. 
  • I'm poised to record a video blog tonight -- after I close out the library at 10 p.m. -- for those out there in the might-convert or curious-about-conversion audience about the whole issue over what to tell people once you convert. The reason I want to do a video on this is someone was recently asking me what I thought about the situation in relation to their significant other (a convert) wanting to tell her running buddy that she was converting and that if she didn't tell her it might be like lying or something. Anyhow, I shall video blog it. 
  • Tomorrow: Blogging on Rabbi Marc D. Angel's "The Search Committee," FINALLY. And I might couple it with a brief bit about another book I've been reading and have (nearly) finished that I think might be worthwhile for the greater audience to read (listen, it talks about the popular legends/myths of the Near East and how they most likely helped shape what we now know as Genesis). 
For now? That's all. Coming to you LIVE from Storrs, Connecticut, where I haven't yet built the ark because the meager rain hasn't deemed it necessary. But don't worry, the animals are poised to hop on board.

Shavua tov!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why not? Just because.

Listen, I'm not saying it's *good,* but it is kind of amusing ... and this is just a reminder that Rosh Hashanah IS NOT that far away. So, you know, buy something nice from Zelda's before the super special early bird sale is over on Sept. 10, mmk? Of course, as a poor graduate student, I'll take handouts :)



A nod to Frumhouse for posting this little vid, btw.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bookworms (and Bibliophiles) Unite!

Books. We all have them (or at least we should) and most of us have way too many of them. Academics in particular tend to collect them -- even ones they have and may never read. I've moved around a lot in the past 2.5 years and this has resulted in a lot of book purging. Luckily, I've kept a massive list that's off to the right there of all books I've owned or once owned and for the most part what I've read. Of course, this list compilation started just last year, so anything I owned before that and sold or donated or passed along is unfortunately not there. My policy is that, the books I chuck or donate I can just buy again. Books, you see, are going nowhere.And, might I add, as an Academic, I intend to hoard them.

So no matter what way you paint it, books are our lifeblood. The great books -- the Torah (or Bible), War and Peace, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (note: there's no THE in the actual title), The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter? -- are known, if only by title, to just about everyone. And we know books by the way they feel and smell and the cover(s) that adorn them. We don't know books by their .pdf incarnation via the Sony Readers or Kindles (though, you know, I really want one). We crave the hard copy, the beautiful, physical page-turning experience that is the book.

I currently have three Tanakhs and two chumashes. It was pointed out that all of the books I brought to school with me are Judaica (and they are, except for one Vonnegut), and most of the books I have back home are Judaica, with the exception of Salinger, Diamant, Vonnegut, Joyce, and others. In the past two weeks at school, I have recalled one book from a different campus, in addition to checking out three other books -- one required and the other two simply books I picked up while perusing the stacks (one on Shabbos stories and the other by an author who broke down the Documentary Hypothesis and essentially recomposed Torah). You see, I can't leave the library without picking up a new book. Even if I never get to it, books -- I must be surrounded by books.

I recently finished Chaim Potok's "Davita's Harp," while also spending plenty of time reading "Cool Jew," while also starting and finishing (and needing to review) "The Search Committee" by Rabbi Marc D. Angel, in addition to (yes, this is the last one), starting and almost finishing Nahum Sarna's book on "Genesis" (the Torah book, not the band).

You see, I am a bookworm in anticipation of becoming a bibliophile.

So I take with great comfort the calming words I recently wrote to a friend who is applying to graduate school for a library sciences degree about the future of books (no, they're not going anywhere). I also was excited to hear that my good friend Jon finally decided to start a blog on what he calls "Fringe-Lit," the books that you wouldn't hear about outside of a college classroom or a university or small press. His blog, Up the Broken Trail, is now live and in his first post he explains how it is that he discoveres new, interesting authors that might not otherwise break the big Borders wall of awesome (read: Stephen King, ugh) books. By the way, I have to add that Jon, a brilliant writer and an amazing person and friend, has already written his own book (it's on Nebraska football, if you're interested), which I think is pretty impressive.

And then there's another blog that I have to pass along as a lover of books, and that's the Jew Wishes blog. Jew Wishes is "an avid first edition book collector," who reads anywhere between three and five books a week, along with newspapers and periodicals. Essentially, Jew Wishes is well read and provides readers with a rundown of the books getting the read-through. The most recent post by Jew Wishes is about the book "The Talmud and the Internet" by Jonathan Rosen -- a book I've been meaning to pick up for some time now.

I'm sure there are loads of other book-friendly blogs out there, but these are the two on my radar that I think YOU should most definitely check out. As for me, I still have a book review of "The Search Committee," which just came out officially on September 1, and that will likely come Saturday, so stay tuned. Until then?

Well, you see, I'm finishing up the book on "Genesis," starting Sarna's other book "Exploring Exodus," and I've already started reading the book that sort of resorts out the Torah, and the Shabbos stories book will probably be a reference more than a read. What else? Well, there's also all that other class reading ... I have about four books on Qohelet that I need to pore over, not to mention regular Torah study and ...

Books. They're what's for dinner. And breakfast, lunch, long walks to the dining hall, bus rides, plane rides, short bathroom visits ...

Note: There is a difference between a bookworm and a bibliophile! As your editor in residence, I want to clarify the difference. A bookworm is a lover of books for their content and loves reading in general. A bibliophile, on the other hand, is more of a lover of books who strives to collect books and appreciates them  for their format and purpose. I'm a little bit of both, but since my collection isn't so fast (what with all the movie and such), I'm more of just a bookworm for now. 

I'll Trade You An A+ for This Book?

I just realized that tomorrow, at 10 a.m., I will get back the first quiz I have taken in more than two years. It was my Hebrew aleph-bet quiz, and it jarred me. Why? I'm not sure. I've always been a really confident test taker (well, at least with essay-style tests and simple things like this), but for some reason when the professor started reading off letters for us to write in the blanks, the letters jumbled themselves in my head. I had to ask for letters to be repeated. I felt completely out of sync with the page. Now, I'm wondering, what will the tests in my other classes be like? At any rate, I'm nervous about the results. My first homework came back looking good, and aside from needing to define a few of my letters more correctly, I think I'll do okay. But thinking and doing are two different things.

So on a happier note, I have a new post up over at The Chosen Blog, the blogging wing of PopJudaica.com, on Lisa Alcalay Klug's brand-new book "Cool Jew," which I HIGHLY recommend everyone go buy. I mean, at least pick it up for someone for Chanukah. It's seriously the most resourceful book I've ever seen on hip/kitschy/pop culture Jewish stylings. Add to that the fact that's hella informative and even comes with a letter of approval (you have to read it to believe it!) in the front, and, well, you can't go wrong. Also, Lisa is headiang out on a book tour, and I'm thinking about trying to make it to her November 20th New York JCC book launch appearance, so keep an eye out.

Oh, and I also thought it was rad that the Modesto Bee blog gave me a nod for my blog post on the New York Times article re: kosher goods for Shabbos as a tip off for their own post. Wahoo! I may not be in the journalism business anymore, but I'm not that far away!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Qohelet (a note to self)

Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) is an observatory lament of the absurdity of this life, promoting a resignation -- albeit not negatively -- to having no control over one's own existence or destiny and an enjoyment of the pleasures of life (which G-d and G-d alone is responsible for having provided) while steadfastly upholding and fulfilling the commandments of G-d. 

(Note: all work is futile, as G-d either will or will not provide, but enjoying that which G-d does provide is necessary and it seems all there is. Also, man's destiny is not in his own hands, but in those of G-d, whether man is wicked or foolish or full of wisdom, so dwelling is perhaps a folly, but rather we should live as simply as possible.)

It seems like a very Jewish thing to me -- live in the here and now, not to dwell on an afterlife which is essentially nameless and directionless (thinks of a girl in class today asking about the eternal soul/everlasting life; think: Christian concept). But the essential call to fulfill the commandments because that's all there is to do and G-d has already decided the fate of man, no matter his persuasion, seems a little ... frustrating.

Anyone who has done research/work/study whether religiously or academically on Qohelet, please feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree. But from just a few readings of the work, as well as a bit of reading by Michael V. Fox on his analysis of various theories, this is what I've gathered is the gist of Qohelet (contrary to popular theories that it is a gloom-and-doom expose on the tragedy of life and the welcoming of death).