Sunday, May 31, 2009

Miles, miles, miles and shiurs out my ears!

Shavuot was, in a word, excellent. In another word? Exhausting. The best way for me to relate the entire experience would probably be a timeline, so here goes. Elaborative posts shall follow!

7 p.m. Head to our dinner hosts' house to drop off five challot and a bunch of soda and some juice for the young adults' dinner after services. Then headed to our OTHER host's house (where we sleep) where we dropped our bags, dropped the car, and schlepped off to the shul. Clocked distance: 1 mile. 

8:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. After a rousing and people-filled service, not to mention a delightful shiur by a 5-year-old boy about the giving of the Torah and the varying tribes (which he named in order), all of the young adults headed next door for our big dinner. There were about 18 people and a few babies and kids in attendance. The dairy meal was outstanding, and left everyone full for the walk to our first shiur-fest location. Thus, around 11 something or other, we all headed off our OTHER host's house (where we sleep) for the first leg of our adventure. Clocked distance: 1 mile. In the rain!

11:30 p.m.-2:15 a.m. There were a ton of people at the first stop, and a truckload (not really) arrived at the house not long after our group arrived. They flooded like a clown car into the playroom adjacent to the living room where all the of the adults were listening to a shiur on a new form of minyans that have been popping up where women are granted similar aliyot as men. I'll be honest: I don't get much out of some of the victimist feminist theories that are out there. I like to think that I'm pretty darn forward thinking, but I love the mechitzah, I love that men and women are granted different "roles" within Judaism. It's not defeatist or realist, it's just that I get how things are. The second shiur was absolutely fascinating, and I'll write a whole other post on it perhaps. Or maybe I'll get the fellow who gave the shiur to write a guest post! It was an interesting look at how the rights of converts truly parallel those of Abraham, the original convert. Just as G-d gave Abraham, so G-d gives to the gerim. I'm not doing it justice, so I'll wait and deliver some more thoughts later. The final shiur was given by the rabbinical intern, who spoke about an Epistle to the Yemeni Jews by Maimonides, which was about how to discern a false prophet. Fascinating stuff! And then? With a bit of exhaustion in my step, we all headed off to the shul for the final portion of the program.

2:15 a.m.-4:15 a.m. We got soaked heading back to the shul -- the weather was miserable, yet beautiful. The streets were quiet and the street lights glistened in the puddles on our trek. I stepped in a gigantic mud puddle, but managed to laugh it off. We arrived at the shul to a group of loud and rowdy teenagers, the same who were stacked into the playroom earlier (they were a huge group of NCSY kids, about 35-40 of them). I grabbed a hot chocolate, and we regrouped when everyone arrived, settling in the main sanctuary for another interesting shiur. I'll admit that my mind was a little floaty at that point. I remember it being fascinating, about whether a stolen item can be used to complete a proper mitzvah (like eating stolen matzo on Pesach), and I think there was even another shiur after that but I forget. It was hard to stay up, but it was nice to have a group of about 10 other people who were there with me the entire night, laughing and joking, schlepping around the shul in order to keep awake. Clocked distance: 1 mile ... in the rain!
4:15 a.m. Someone announced that we could start davening at 4:20 and everyone got really excited -- we thought we couldn't start services until 4:30. A friend and I ran out into the lobby to check the sheet with all the times but, well, there was no announcing time for the service, so we ran back in and it turned out it was a false announcement! People were slowly arriving for services, and everything had been prepared for the service start. Amen. I was exhausted, my knees hurt, I needed sleep!
4:30-6:00 a.m. The service was a muddle of Hebrew, quick traditions and readings. Everyone was in a horrible hurry to get home to their beds, so there was no singing, much to the dismay of myself and one of the other women there. We tried our hardest, only to be scolded (playfully) by a friend! The entire thing started and finished in one quick action, and it disappointed me. Here we are, in this ultimate, beautiful moment of reliving the revelation at Sinai and it's zipped through as if it were a grocery list for meat loaf and mashed potatoes. I wanted to say, "Stop! Slow down! Read slowly! Feel the words, breathe them!" But alas, I was exhausted, and my energy didn't allow me to protest. So there I was, standing, listening to a speed reading of the 10 Commandments/Decalogue, and I wanted to cry. Even as the words were quickly read, I still felt them, in my own way, and it was beautiful. 
6:00-6:20 a.m. I walked home from shul, alone half of the way and half with a few friends, in the rain. The sky was gray and cloudy, and rain misted in that annoying way where it isn't enough but it's far too much. There were few cars on the street and the birds were in heaven with all the wiggly worms crawling out of the earth. I arrived back at my host's house, having realized halfway during the service that I neglected to secure a way to get back INTO the house upon my morning return. So I arrived, sat on the front stoop, waiting for Tuvia to come out on his way to work or someone to see me sitting there. I sat in silence, watching the birds pick at the ground, the rain falling from the trees, and people driving by on their way to work stuffing breakfast sandwiches in their faces. What an interesting, beautiful world. Clocked distance: 1 mile. 
Around 6:45 a.m., someone happened to walk out of the house, letting me in. The someone had fallen asleep early in the morning while studying, and had just woken up. Lucky me! I went upstairs, said hello to Tuvia who was on his way to work, and fell not so quickly asleep. 
Shabbat was like any other Shabbat. Services (with lots of Shavuot-y goodness), meals, socializing, davening, schlepping. I walked back and forth to shul twice, clocking an additional 4 miles. I ate more than any normal person should ever eat in a two-day span, that's for sure, everything from pizza to cheesecake to blintzes to lasagna to macaroni and cheese. I think every dairy food possible made its way through these lips. The entire weekend was long, filled with people and constant movement from place to place. By Saturday night I was absolutely worn out. I can't imagine what it would be like for Shavuot to fall on a Weds-Thurs followed by Shabbos. It might well be murderous to the social butterfly. Overall ...
I clocked more than 8 miles (my knees weep), 
heard about 6 shiurs + 1 d'var Torah by a 5 year old, 
ate more than 5 meals (not to mention snacks), 
and stayed up until 7 something in the morning one day. 
For my first Shavuot, in full, it was excellent, outstanding, educational, spiritual, and moving. Next year, I'll probably take a schluff on one of the leather couches between 4:30 a.m. and the full 9:30 service on Shavuot so I can get a "real" experience of the full service, not a rushed incarnation of it. But overall? Beautiful. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Stood at Sinai.

Several years ago -- I do not recall when or how or where or even why -- I began remembering.

There I was, surrounded by thousands of people, all dressed similarly in fabrics of tan and brown with shades of subtle and quiet color, clothed as one would be in the midst of the desert to shield the body from the sun, to shield the face from a windy mess. Around me, there was a dark sky, loud thundering, wind blowing from every direction, flipping my hair into my eyes, around my face. I reached up with dark, tanned skin, to pull the long dark hair away from my face. And there, on my hip, in cloth wrapped around me in a swing, was a child, no more than a few months old. People around me spoke in low voices, calm but fearful, curious and questioning. But I, standing in silence, stared at the clouds swirling, the wind whipping, the light and darkness molding around the mountain. The wind continued to blow, the baby began to cry, and the cloth around my feet whipped around me, my hair again in my eyes. We were awaiting words from G-d, from Moses. I stood at Sinai, and this is what I saw.

This isn't creative fiction or narrative. It isn't me being thoughtful or pensive or hopeful as to what maybe it would have been like to be at Sinai. I've had these memories, the vivid imagery that I cannot even put into words appropriately here. The colors, the smells, the sound of the wind and the voices. It's the truth I have to accept, my neshama stood there with a child, it seems, awaiting the Torah.

Believe me if you want, if you will. Or take my words as creative fiction, my mind molding a history it could only wish for. Either way, every time I go to shul, every time I daven, this image plays out in my mind. I don't know where it came from, I don't know how it got there, but it was placed in my memory for a reason I imagine.

The Tablets of Stone

The word of YHWH is refined
As silver and gold are refined.
When these letters came forth, they were all refined,
Carved precisely, sparkling, flashing.
All of Israel saw the letters
Flying through space in every direction,
Engraving themselves on the tablets of stone.
--The Zohar

(Taken from "Saltwater, Tarragona, 1492" from "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks)

Shavuot, Here I Come!

Every year, since I began studying Judaism, for one reason or another, I have been unable to participate in the all-night marathon that is Shavuot. This year? I'm finally doing it. I'm starting my evening with Tuvia at a friend's house after mincha/maariv for a festive meal. From there, we're walking with the group over to our host's house for some early evening studying until about 1 something in the morning. From there, there will be much studying and whatever else occurs at all-night study, at the shul until about 6 in the morning (services start at 4:30 in the a.m.). At that point, I'll be schlepping home for some much-needed shut-eye in preparation of Shabbos tomorrow night.

Now, I am fully aware that the origins of this holiday were largely connected to the harvest -- the Festival of Weeks (since Shavuot means weeks in Hebrew), which began with the harvesting of barley during Pesach and ended with the harvesting of wheat during Shavuot, is the conclusion of the festival of the grain harvest. Perhaps the more commonly and widely observed aspect of the holiday, however, is that Shavuot is the commemoration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Furthermore, it's become a big holiday for consuming oodles of delicious dairy delicacies, which is something I can really wrap my fingers around. Now, there are no Torah prescriptions for this holiday outside of abstention from work, special prayer, and holiday meals, but that hasn't stopped us from really taking on the many traditions of the day (or two in the Diaspora). There is a great mnuemonic device that is used to remember these customs: acharit (אחרית, "last")
  • אקדמות – Akdamot, the reading of a liturgical poem during Shavuot morning synagogue services
  • חלב – Chalav (milk), the consumption of dairy products like milk and cheese
  • רות – Ruth, the reading of the Book of Ruth at morning services
  • ירק – Yerek, the decoration of homes and synagogues with greenery
  • תורה – Torah, engaging in all-night Torah study.
Of course, perhaps the biggest treat for me during Shavot is the reading of Ruth, if for no other reason than that Ruth is the tour de force name issued when it comes to converts -- she's sort of the mother of converts everywhere. Her name is issued often, as even after her husband died and she was asked by her mother-in-law Naomi to turn back to her family, Ruth followed Naomi all the way back to the land, stating fervently, "Your people shall be my people, your G-d shall be my G-d." Those, folks, are the magic words! I could write a lot more about Ruth, Naomi, and their fabled relationship, but we'll save that for another time and place. 

As for where the dairy consumption comes from, there are a few different ideas behind the tradition. One of the  most interesting, I think, is that since we didn't have the laws of how to properly butcher animals, the Israelites opted instead to eat dairy until Moses returned from receiving the laws. Makes sense, no? Another idea is that the tradition comes from the fact that Israel is referred to many times over as the land flowing with "milk and honey." Even further, the gematria (numerical value) of milk -- chalav -- is 40, which commemorates the 40 days and nights that Moses spent atop Sinai. Fascinating!

Right now, the internet is flowing with lots of blog posts on Shavuot, and as the holiday approaches this evening, Jews everywhere prepare to shut down their computers and cell phones to take on the two day chag -- after all, Shavuot is two days, but since it falls during Shabbos, it's really two days Shavuot mixed in with some Shabbos. Talk about an exciting few days. 

Hopefully, I'll come out on the other side of the chag with some interesting tidbits and reflections on schlepping across the neighborhood, downing lots of dairy, and hearing the book of Ruth read as so many Jews all over the world also will. It's a powerful thing, I think, and I'm so excited that for the first time this year I'll be there, experiencing it. 

Until then? I'll continue to watch the Spelling Bee on ESPN, dream of cheesecake, and nosh kosher berry muffins. 

Chag sameach! May your chag be filled with study, prayer, dairy delicacies, friends, family, and peace.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Photo Me Once, Photo me Twice ...

Over the long weekend, Tuvia and I spent Shabbos in the Poconos, went to a Yankees vs. Phillies game on Sunday, and visited a flea market and a beautiful waterfall extravaganza near where Tuvia has a place in the Poconos called "Childs Park." I'd like to offer a simple series of photos that depict the weekend, for your viewing pleasure! Take note of the kosher options at Yankee Stadium -- they were DELICIOUS and abundant. Hallelulah!

Joseph Liebermann was there!

I can't wait to write about Shavuot ... but I'll actually be studying all night this week, participating in the community's interactions for the holiday and more. I'm so excited!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Finally, a Jewish American Girl Doll!

I spent years ooing and awing over the American Girl catalogs that were diligently delivered to my house as a child. I wanted the dolls, the clothes, the accessories -- but all I got were the American Girl playing cards, which I purchased with meager birthday earnings at Silver Dollar City, a "resort"-type place in Branson, Missouri, where people dressed up in old clothing and pretended to rob train passengers. Those were the days.

But who would have thought that all of these years later, after they introduced Addy, the African American American Girl doll to much applause and cheering, that they would finally come around and introduce a Jewish American Girl Doll. So far, there has been an (American) Indian, a Latino and an African-American, but so far no Jewish or Arab or Asian (are those PC terms?).

Now, however, you can get your very own Jewish American Girl doll, with a story line and all! Her name is Rebecca Rubin, a 9-year-old girl living on the Lower East Side in 1914 with her Russian-Jewish immigrant family, including a grandmother known lovingly as "Bubbie."

Here's some more from The New York Times article. Feel free to donate some cash-money to me so I can finally get an American Girl doll. I've always wanted one, and now I can have one who represents, well, I'm not sure what she'd represent, but I want it!
The goal is that no one be offended and that Jewish and non-Jewish little girls alike will want to play tenement house with their new toy, which costs $95 — plus more for accessories like a sideboard with a challah resting on it.
The preliminary research that led to Rebecca’s development started in 2000, said Shawn Dennis, the senior vice president for marketing. American Girl had wanted to do a doll focused on the immigrant experience. After work by two in-house historical researchers, and interviews with focus groups, it was decided to make the character Jewish.
“Russian-Jewish immigration, that group has an effect on the labor movement, that group has an effect on the burgeoning Hollywood entertainment business,” Ms. Dennis said. “We thought it would have the makings of what would be a relatable story to tell.”
To write the books, the company found Jacqueline Dembar Greene, who had written a historical novel for young adults set in 1654 about Jewish immigrants to New Amsterdam.
Ms. Greene and company researchers made a trip to Manhattan, visiting the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and a row house on East Seventh Street.
There was back and forth between Ms. Greene and American Girl executives about how to handle certain situations, including the fact that in the first book Rebecca and her father work in his Rivington Street shoe shop on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.
“There were full meetings about that,” said Ms. Dennis, who learned a lot about Judaism during the project. “There were so many different styles of Jewish practice, some stricter than others, in 1914 and today. What our research told us was the greater pressure during that time period was assimilation and blending in and becoming American.”
As Ms. Greene worked on the books, company designers set about figuring out what Rebecca should look like. The company’s research had found that Rebecca’s Russian-Jewish descent allowed a range of physical characteristics, creating a wide palette of choices, said Megan Boswell, the director of design and development. Facial structure is not typically an issue because the company generally chooses from an existing set of molds.
Hair color was a big issue, debated for years. At first it was a dark auburn, but it was thought that might be too untypical. Ms. Boswell said. Then dark brown, the most common hair color for Russian-Jewish immigrants, was discussed. But perhaps that would be too typical, too predictable, failing to show girls there is not one color that represents all Jewish immigrants.
“In the end, after many discussions weighing out the advantages of both approaches,” Ms. Boswell said, “we created what we felt was an optimum combination and gave her a new mid-tone brown hair color with russet highlights.”
Perhaps the most amusing line from the article, though?
The company hopes the doll will appeal to everyone. If a blond Christian girl in North Dakota enjoys pretending she is living in a tenement on the Lower East Side in 1914, helping her Bubbie make latkes for Hanukkah, American Girl will be happy to sell her a toy menorah.
But seriously, I want one of these puppies! Mostly so I can buy all the awesome Jewish accessories. Her release date? May 31. Start your buying engines!

Hat tip to @JewishTweets for making this mention to the world.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I was walking around the VF Outlet this week in search of a Cast Iron Skillet in which to make some yummy breakfast potatoes (breakfast for dinner is the THING to do) when I stumbled into the deeply discounted book section. I always take a gander at the "Religion" section, which contains a lot of Christian classics, self help books, and guides to being a better Buddhist, but the Judaica is typically lacking.

So imagine my delight when I spotted not only ONE Judaica book but TWO! So, at $4.99 a pop, I purchased them both. One is a book whose name escapes me as I am currently in Tuvia's Jeep, flying down the highway to our Poconos getaway. The other, cradled in my lap, is "Judaism for Everyone" by the illustrious Shmuely Boteach, who, might I add is going to appear (again...) on Today with Kathy Lee and Hoda next week.

I don't know a lick about this book, whether its miserable, fluff, brilliant, or life altering, but I took the bait. The font on the cover was appealing and the subtitle suggests that the book will help me renew my life through vibrant lessons of the Jewish faith. Either way, I am enjoying the talking points so far in the chapter on the Sabbath.

So as Shabbos approaches, I will leave you with the following thought from Shmuely.

"Social commentators could read much into the modern obsession with squeezing the most out of life and the lust for professional success. ... The Jewish diagnosis would be that this is the age-old misguided scenario of the earth's inhabitants sacrificing time in the acquisition of area, expending precious moments in the conquest of space, squandering their lives to gain possessions. One of the principle objectives of Judaism, however, is to teach people to value time far more than space, indeed, to dedicate space toward the acquisition of time."

And with that in mind, I bid all a Shabbat shalom and a Happy Memorial Day weekend! Relax, and value your time of peace, no matter how fleeting.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

From Football to Tefillin!

Hat tip to Jewschool for bringing this fascinating story to my attention. This is an absolutely INTERESTING story. Give it a watch. Yes, he still wears his Superbowl ring!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Rosary.

Tonight while davening at shul, I had a peculiar flashback to High Holiday services long, long ago. Probably in 2005, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Was it Rosh Hashanah? Or Yom Kippur?

My mom had purchased something for me for my birthday that year, around the High Holiday season, that meant a lot to me because it was an acknowledgement of where I was going, who I was becoming -- a large black star of David on a really long black beaded chain. It was, essentially, a Jewish rosary. I forgave my mother the weirdness of its composition, put it in my jewelry box, and didn't think much of it.

And then, while I was getting dressed for holiday services one day, I pulled out the necklace. "Should I wear it?" I questioned myself, staring at the long black beaded cord, looping it around and around to a length that was doable as a necklace. I placed it around my neck, the star falling between the sides of the color of a royal purple shirt I had on. The weight of the star caused it to float downward, into my shirt, showing only the beaded black portion of the strange piece of jewelry.

I took it off.

I finished getting ready, all the while thinking about whether it was kosher for me to be wearing this Jewish symbol, especially to synagogue, especially on the high holidays. Was it sacrilegious? Sinful? I didn't have time to question the internet or call a friend, and surely there are plenty of people in the world who aren't Jewish who wear the star of David, right?

I put the rosary-themed gothic-style star of David necklace back on. I went to shul.

I remember  worrying the entire service about what if someone saw me with the necklace on, knowing that I was going through the (Reform) conversion process. What if I was accosted? What if the rabbi saw it and scolded me? The heavy star of David slipped down with its weight, slowly, and I played with the beaded chain the entire service, trying to make the star fall further away from sight. I didn't want anyone to see it. I wore it out of pride, but ended up being embarrassed and actually ashamed that I'd put it on and worn it to shul.

I remember nothing about what was said during that service -- by the rabbi or anyone else. But I do remember my exact outfit, and that necklace, and how embarrassed I was that I wore that necklace when I wasn't "officially" Jewish.

Now, I wear a star of David every day. In the eyes of halakah, well, I'm still not halakicly Jewish. But I feel naked without my star. It screams to the world "Jew here!" But it's more subtle than that one I wore all but once those many years ago. That big, black star of David done up like a rosary. No, now it's a small, shiny piece given to me by Tuvia. I have various other necklaces adorned with the magen David and other Jewish symbols. I'm no longer embarrassed or worried or frightened that I'll be reprimanded for wearing this symbol of Judaism that, to be honest, was a late incarnation of Jewish symbols.

Either way, my fear of what others think of me, how they read the most subtle of clothing choices and jewelry adornments, has changed over time. Confidence grows, worries subside, and in the end a small little star of David is but one millisecond in the scheme of things.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Taking Over the Internets.

In case anyone is interested, I muse on what Jews-by-Choice contribute to Jewish identity over on the Zinc Plate Press blog's Patchwork Project. Give a read! A comment! Some love!

You know what to do.

Check, check, check it out.

I've decided that -- henceforth! -- whenever there's a divisive or potentially hazardous topic to be posted about, I'll be video blogging it. Why? Well, I think that my tone is missed in a lot of my writing. Where I mean to come off as joking, it comes off as hurtful. When I mean to be compassionate, it comes off as hateful. Not sure how it happens, but we all read ourselves into a text, which is probably why I don't see much of what others see in my words -- I see myself in the words, and me is kind, compassionate, articulate, and most of all, hopeful.

For today, however, I just wanted to share some links to reads and websites of interest. Enjoy, folks. Browse the internet through your own lens.

  • While searching for a text known as Magen Avraham -- a commentary by an 18th century rabbi on the Shulchan Aruch, which supposedly contains the standard for the four hour wait between meat and milk -- I was sent in the direction of two excellent resources. The first, the Halacha Brura and Birur Halacha Institute, does rare book searches and retrievals for scholars. I anticipate this coming in handy in my pursuits, and they are super fast on the response time, too. The other, the not-for-profit, is a total masterpiece for researchers like myself. This site is actually where I ended up finding the Magen Avraham text (albeit b'ivrit). You can search texts from seforim, haggadot, and more in English and Hebrew. 
  • Shimshonit makes a beautiful observation about women in Judaism -- we may be in a holding pattern, but it allows us to look forward. 
  • In my Google News Alert today, I came across a blog called Blogospherical Musings. The author's post that appeared in the alert is one on "Redefining Jewish Identity in 21st Century America." The author has some interesting points about how, by becoming more focused on Judaism as strictly revolving around religious practices, we risk assimilation, as we become like every other thread of American identity that revolves around religion as the be-all, end-all. Definitely an interesting read!
  • PopJudaica's blog posted a video explaining how Leonard Nimoy (of Star Trek fame) borrowed his Vulcan hand signs from the ancient rights of the Kohanim!
  • There's a new search engine out there called, and I don't really get it. Does anyone else? Something about computational knowledge ... 
In other news, I started reading "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bible" by Jonathan Goldstein (I also picked up "People of the Book," by Geraldine Brooks), and I'm kind of surprised that it isn't as hilarious as I thought it would be.  Essentially Goldstein is expanding upon the Bible stories that are sort of washed over. We hear more about the relationship between Cain and Abel, the builders of the Tower of Babel and more details on the classics. Sometimes the narrative is simply witty in its humor, but other times it presents realistic truths and observations that aren't funny, but sobering. Either way, it's a really quick and fascinating read. I can't wait to get to Brooks' book, however. It looks absolutely fascinating.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Notes

Just a few short Sunday notes for your information.
  • My father, who was diagnosed with large B-cell Lymphoma, a very fast growing cancer, in December, is in REMISSION! We found out this past week, late in the week, and it's really good news. Remission doesn't mean the cancer is gone, but it does mean that it's disappearing. Your prayers and kind words over the past several months have meant so much to me. Todah rabah!
  • The newest edition of Haveil Havalim is up over on Shiloh Musings. Seriously, give it a read. You'll find some of my favorite blogs, and there are some new blogs thrown up there in the list, too. If you want to reread my Monsey post, well, it's posted there, too. 
In completely unrelated "of note" notes, and on a pretty personal level, I experienced my recurring dream while napping today. I haven't had my adult recurring dream in months, but for some reason, while napping today, it made an appearance. I had a recurring dream as a child of a skeleton in my children's rocking chair chasing me around my house, but I haven't had that since I was maybe 12 or 13. In my adult years, ever since I was probably 17 or 18, I've had a horrible public bathroom recurring dream. I know the implications of the dream -- you feel exposed, naked, and like your entire personal life is at the whim and fancy of outsiders. My dreams tend to be me using a public bathroom, the stall door disappears, and there are people walking by, talking to me, chatting casually, as if I'm *not* sitting on a toilet attempting to use the facilities. Inevitably, the dream ends with the toilet clogging, a mess being made and everyone laughing or pointing or scolding me for having broken the toilet. This one was a horrible, long, agonizing version of this dream. I'd like to think that it's the result of a previous post this week, but who knows what made my subconscious choose to defragment my mind's thoughts in this way.
Do you have any disturbing or frustrating recurring dreams? 

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's Getting Hot in Here ...

I'm watching television and on the show, it's snowing. Why can't it be snowing here? Instead, it's 80 degrees in Tuvia's house because a mouse chewed through some wires, shorting something, and burning out the motor. We are old school. We are primitive. We are ... air conditioner-less! Good thing we're not going to be here over Shabbos and most of Sunday!

In other hot and spicy news, I'm here to let my faithful readers know that a blog post about my journey to Orthodoxy has been posted over at the Frum From Rebirth blog. Now, don't get your panties in a twist by the post -- it's a very quick look at the past six years of my life, and there are lots of spots that I could write book chapters of detail about. Just read it for what it is, a frame in the movie of my life.

So read, enjoy, and have a good Shabbos!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Music is the Soundtrack of My Life.

For the next month and a half, I'm not attending Hebrew classes. I'm speaking it spottily with Tuvia, but for the most part it's "Ken" and "Lo" and "Lamah" and the like. Since I'm not surrounded by Hebrew speakers, I'm trying to find creative ways to keep Hebrew flowing through my mind. How should I do I intend on doing this? Music! B'ivrit!

So I need all the suggestions I can get for Hebrew tunes, Israeli tunes, tunes of the Hebrew variety. I'm not into Debbie Friedman and those kind of musicians, but I love YLove and that style. I'm willing to try anything, though. So, shoot!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Saying Kaddish for Reform and Conservative Jews?

Over the weekend, before Tuvia and I schlepped into Monsey, we were in Livingston, New Jersey, visiting with Tuvia's family for his stepmother's Adult Bat Mitzvah ceremony at a Reform synagogue. The event and Shabbos are already several days removed, and there are often things I intend on writing about but never get to because they become history rather than necessarily present memory. However, on one of my listservs this morning, someone sent out a kind of disturbing article from The Jerusalem Post: Non-Orthodox Judaism disappearing. The headline isn't exactly disturbing or surprising, but rather something in the text caught my eye as upsetting (especially in light of my weekend at a Reform shul).
"With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements," said Yeshiva University Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm, head of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
I've been aware for a long time that the Conservative Movement is hurting, losing individuals to the Orthodox end or the Reform end at a fairly steady rate. But the Reform Movement? It's been growing at an exponential rate, it seems, as converts typically come into Judaism through Reform and because most of those who associate with Reform Judaism also associate themselves as Secular Jews, and that's a large portion of the population. Lamm, however, attributes to the loss of Reform for a different reason.
"Reform is out of the picture, because they never got into the picture, and the Conservatives are getting out of the picture," Lamm said.
I found this a little upsetting. Maybe more so than the idea of having to say Kaddish for the movements. Maybe I'm naive, but I'm also one of those holdovers who says that all newspapers aren't going to die. Some will persist, because we trust what we can hold in our hands in front of us -- technology is uncertain, unreliable, and not forever. But the idea that the Reform Movement was never in the picture is concerning. It is clear that Lamm assumes that Judaism is religious Judaism, observant Judaism, traditional Judaism. He acknowledges Reform Judaism only to the point that it exists, but beyond that, it has no authority or legitimacy and deserves no attention. It's a disturbing sentiment for such a powerful man.

I was uplifted by his sentiments at the end of the article, though, regarding how he views those of the Gay-Lesbian population. But he does make that horrible generalization that homosexuals are proselytizers of their lifestyle. I'm guessing he has a problem with flamboyantly open and loud gays? Seriously? What a narrow-minded outlook! But he does say, "Everyone should be made to feel comfortable ... I would never exclude a person because his wife does not cover hair or because he does not adhere to the laws of Shabbat or because he is a homosexual."

Enter: Glimmer of hope for someone.

But the reason this article has me a little put-off is because, although I'm about a million light years away from the Reform Movement in observance and ideologies, but because I also was in that Movement not that long ago, I see the positives it provides. Yes, they have an acoustic guitar and tambourine and piano that made my ears ring and my face turn into a scowl with irritation (reminds me of church camp, seriously), and yes they send kids to the door after services with tzedakah boxes (this was the most disturbing and shocking thing at the shul this past Shabbos), but people were there, if only for the simchas. Yes, the rabbi was taking notes on the bima on Saturday morning for his sermon (writing on Shabbos?!), and yes there were men not wearing kippot and women wearing clothing akin to string bikinis. But it's how those Jews do their Judaism and I applaud them for having some devotion to Shabbat, lifecycle events, and to their family having some knowledge of their Judaism. It isn't how I would ever choose to do my Judaism, and I can't even say that I approve of how Reform Judaism rolls. But it's how I came to Judaism, and I can understand the lens many of those people are viewing Judaism through. Sometimes it needs to be easy and accessible, but that's also the path people start upon that can lead them to Orthodox Judaism and more.

At any rate, I think it's a little early to say kaddish for the Reform and Conservative Movements, and I think it would be very, very wrong to do so. I do think, however, that Orthodox Jews need to be prepared to welcome and bring people into Orthodoxy from the Conservative Movement if need be. It isn't us versus them and we shouldn't mourn their movements, because that means we're morning the loss of thousands of Jews within those movements. Even the most secular Jews call out for a connection at some point, and we need to be prepared when that time comes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Come on Baby, Light My Fire!

It's Lag B'Omer! What's this mean? Well, it’s a tradition on the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, reputed author of the Zohar, to have a bonfire and celebration! In Israel, Mt. Meron is completely alight with bonfires and music (that was last night).

Now, for those wanting more info, here's what I can tell you: Lag B'Omer is essentially a way of saying the Thirty-Third Day of the Omer. The Omer is the count between Pesach and Shavuot (the day the Torah was given), and on Lag B'Omer all the restrictions are sort of put on hold and music and singing and dancing are all permitted and encouraged.

In the land of Chavi, this means I can finally get a haircut and Tuvia shaved his beard. To be honest, I kind of miss it. A lot. It was growing on me, actually. Now he has his baby face back, and it's taking some time to get used to it. 

Last year I was in Chicago for the Lag B'onfire, and this year there wasn't anything like that here. I vow to next year make plans a Lag B'onfire if the community will let me. Until then? Maybe I'll light a candle and hope for the best. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

But I Want it NOW!

Over the weekend (and for the greater part of the past six months) Tuvia and I have conversed a lot about how long to wait between consuming meat and milk. The general rule is that you can eat milk right before meat, but not the other way around because of the command in three different locations in the Torah to not cook a kid in its mothers milk (Exodus 23,19Exodus 34,26Deuteronomy 14,21). There are a lot of great alternatives to dairy today, including Rice Milk, Soy Milk, Almond Milk and Tofu products, but sometimes you just jones for some Ben and Jerry's ice cream, right? And sometimes it's just a few hours after a meat meal, right?

Well, our general rule was to do four hours. Now, there was no particular reason we did four hours. Tuvia had heard that four hours was the thing to do, and I didn't know any better. In truth, neither of us have a family tradition in which to follow. There are a variety of rulings on how long to wait after your steak for some yogurt, and they range from One Hour to Six Hours, and there is even a legend of a rabbi way back in the day who waited a full 24 hours between his meat and dairy meals. That's a little extreme, don't you think? Our rav and a lot of people in our community abide by the Three Hour rule, though I'm not entirely sure where the Three Hour rule comes from. Luckily, we eat a lot of fish, so our meals tend to be dairy or parve and the meat/milk issue doesn't come up that much. Plus, there are a million and one great parve desserts out there, so the issue is really a non-issue when it comes down to it.

But, being someone who likes to understand why she's doing just about everything she does (and you should, too), I decided to do a Twitter Poll among my intelligent and devoted followers: How long do you wait between meat and milk? The results were:

The interesting thing, to me anyhow, is that no one waited Five Hours or Two Hours. There were two people who said they wait Five Hours and some minutes (one said 5.5 hours another said 5 hours and 1 minute). But not a single person listed Two Hours. Of course, this isn't scientific at all, but I'm curious why Two Hours is a non-answer.

One Hour tends to be the tradition of Dutch Jews, and Six Hours appears to be what most Orthodox/Hasidic rabbis go for in their rulings based on rabbinic discussions. The general ruling was that you have to wait until the meat in your teeth has been removed or broken down and gone away. Now, back when the rabbis were debating this topic, they didn't have floss or toothpaste or toothbrushes most likely, so the option of flossing and brushing after a meat meal wasn't an option. Nowadays, we can floss with the best of them, getting our teeth sparkley clean and fresh from meat in an instant.

Of course, that doesn't get rid of the issue of waiting, and I'm not calling for a complete abstention of waiting between meals. I'm just trying to understand how we decide in our communities nowadays which traditions to follow. Since Tuvia and I have no tradition, we're obliged to follow the tradition of our community, which appears to be Three Hours. I just wish I knew where this Three Hours derived from as being okay. In reality, the length of time between meals has changed greatly since the Middle Ages when the five-meals-a-day thing probably wasn't hip with the Kosher crowd. Nowadays, we have breakfast, then snack, have lunch, then snack, have dinner, and then maybe a late-night snack. It's the healthy way of rocking your metabolism, you know. So meals can be anywhere from Two to Three hours apart, not Six.

So let's have a dialog. Throw at me all the rabbinical rulings you can. Also, go put your two cents in over at Hadassah's blog, since she's also polling her readers. I'm going to put up a new poll over there to the right, in the usual place, so feel free to chime in!

In a Monsey Moment: Oy Vey!

Yesterday, while driving back from New Jersey after a fun and family filled weekend, Tuvia and I decided to stop in Monsey, NY, since we pass by it at least twice a month when we're schlepping back and forth between his former residence in NJ and our current abodes in Connecticut. The experience of Monsey is something I've always wondered about, after reading about it and hearing about it in blogs (both good and bad things, that is). So, at the spur of the moment, we pulled off and realized the hub of Monsey shopping and dining life wasn't that far off the highway.

Our first stop was Rockland Kosher, a gigantic supermarket in a building filled with a dozen other stores selling lingerie, clothing, books, and other necessities for the kosher home. There were Jews, garbed in black, white, navy blue and about 30 shades therein, rushing in and out of the building, pushing strollers, payess waving in the wind. I gave Tuvia his "emergency Crown Heights kippah" -- a black, velvet number that I keep in my purse in case of emergencies. I was wearing modest clothes, at least, until I stepped out of the car I felt like I was. A long peasant skirt that floated along the ground, a brown tank-top that covered most of the skin up to about a fist-lengths below my neck, topped with a black 3/4-length cardigan. I walked around the grocery store with my arm clutched across my chest, reaching over to my purse on my right shoulder, trying to cover the skin that did show. These women were wearing long black or navy skirts, and under their cardigans of similar varying shades of blue and black were tight, choking button-down shirts. The sheitels were perfect, the hair looked real, and few women actually had head coverings other than sheitels.

And every aisle we walked down, little Tzippies and Menachem Mendels were staring at me.

Tuvia didn't notice it, he said after I asked him, but people were looking. Here were me, in my very peasanty skirt, and Tuvia, in khakis and a polo shirt, shopping in the kosher supermarket surrounded by immas and abbas and bubbes and zaydes, and I was reminded of how it felt walking home in Mt. Pleasant in Washington D.C. where the Latino men slink out of the bars every five minutes whistling and cat calling. Except, this time, people were piercing and calling out with eyes and up-down looks, not words. Maybe I'm paranoid and it wasn't that bad, but I felt naked, I felt completely exposed, I felt like they could smell on me that I wasn't fluent in Yiddish or Hebrew and that Tuvia and I weren't married, sinners!

But the really fascinating thing about the Rockland Kosher experience was that from side to side, front to back, the entire store was filled with two things: Toys and Snacks. Every aisle we went through there were mommies pulling toys down for kids, and kids picking up bags of candy and chips and snacks. It seemed like nobody was buying real food, just Israeli treats and cheap plastic toys. The store had the Israeli and unique Kosher brands separated from the national brands, and more people were shopping the former than the latter. Is it a trust issue?

The best steal of the day, though, was a dozen eggs, which I purchased for only $1.30 or so. You can't find eggs that cheap anywhere. I don't care who you are. I remember when they used to put eggs on sale for $.99, and now you're lucky to get them for under $2.00. What a steal! I could have bought 20 dozen for that price. We checked out, thanks to a few Latino men working the counter, marveled at the in-house mikvah (in case you buy a pot or pan or something and want to tovel it instantly!), and schlepped off to look for dinner.

There were a few strip malls with some options, including a cafe, a barbecue joint, and the Purple Pear (a dairy restaurant), which I had heard about from friends, so we went there. Now, for those of you who haven't been to Monsey, the Purple Pear is probably the most "normal" place you'll find there. If you're a Modern Orthodox Jew or someone who is a little more metropolitan and likes to wear jeans with your tzitzit, then this place will feel comfortable. We walked in and there were some women in pants, men with ball caps, and a sushi chef shoved nicely in a nook in the corner. The restaurant is so jazzy, a dark red and black theme with a chalkboard menu that makes it feel very cosmopolitan, very bistro-like. I wanted to hijack the joint and move it back to Connecticut (did I mention the only kosher "restaurants" we have are a Dunkin Donuts and some Cold Stones and a Ben and Jerry's?). Instead, I ordered sushi and a coffee, Tuvia got an omelet some fries and a bagel (he was elated to see that "bagel" was the first option instead of the "add $1.50 for a bagel" option). It was so nice to go someplace kosher, to feel a real dining experience out where there are other people doing what you do, just more often. The service wasn't great, but better than what I expected at such a busy kosher place anyway.

As we pulled out of Monsey yesterday, I was a little saddened. On the one hand, I was excited to be leaving a place that seemed so far out of reach and so black and white (literally), but sad that all these options and neat stores and this frummie lifestyle were being left behind. I'd kill for a kosher coffee house, and I often joke with Tuvia about quitting my present path and opening a coffee shop/bookstore for the kosher crowd and anyone else willing to try my favorite pastry and coffee offerings. Coffee houses are home to me, and not having that option were you can nosh a scone and coffee while reading some Rashi drives me nuts. Someday, maybe, when I'm a retiree and rich?

Or maybe, just maybe, someday we'll move to Monsey, reopen the drive-in for classic films (except on Shabbos, of course) and start up a coffee shop/bookstore and take on the town. Livin' it up. Live it up.

But chances are that will never happen. What is for certain, however, is that Tuvia and I will make sure to stop in Monsey more often. Maybe look up some soon-to-move friends, eat at the Purple Pear, get some kosher pizza, and feel the flavor of the community so that those initial feelings of being eyed and examined by the black-and-white garbed as someone on the outside looking in. After all, I'm sure I was analyzing them as much as they were analyzing me. And in the end? We're all just Jews.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Done! Done! Finished! For now ...

My first year of graduate school is over. It seriously almost killed me. At least, this semester did. Next year? I'm going to be all over time management. I'm going to start outlining and drafting and really changing my way of writing. I can't be one of those "write it all in one swift run" kind of a student anymore. I can change, right?

At any rate, Shabbat Shalom and thank you ALL! You've been here for me throughout this rough semester, and for the next month and a half I'll be all your's, 24/7. Until I go away to Hebrew immersion at Middlebury's Language School, that is.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Deep Thoughts, With Chaviva E.

As I sit here, watching television, nursing a stomach thing slash head cold thing, unable to consume anything but fluids and crackers, I'm beginning to notice how un-Jewish and uber-treyfy commercials are.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't expect lots of Manischewitz commercials or odes to kashruth. The Hebrew National commercials are hilarious enough for me. But the amount of fast-food and dining out restaurant commercials that advertise shrimp and bacon double whoppers as big as your head slowly has begun to shock me. Every commercial highlights bacon-wrapped shrimp or bacon double whatsits or scallops or ... you get the drift. I never realized how pervasive seafood and bacon burgers were until, well, I was really going kosher. For years I've not eaten shellfish or pork or beef/dairy. It's only in the past year or few months that I'd started keeping kosher in the home, only eating kosher meat, really going the whole 613 yards. So it isn't like I was salivating over shrimp last year, or even five years ago. But it's just now that I'm realizing how pervasive the shrimp consumption really is!

What accounts for this odd realization?

It's almost like how you wake up one day and suddenly, everything is green. That happened last week. Suddenly, the entire world was blossoming and green was the primo color. How weird. Does the brain delay such realizations? Or are we just not prepared for such things visually? Maybe we're mentally aware that everyone else in the world eats treyf or that things have gone green because it's spring, but our eyes haven't caught up with our brains?

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Little White Lie

I was delighted last week with the Torah portion, Acharei-Kedoshim. We were discussing it at shul when I met with the rabbi and during a discussion of the casting off of sins on the head of the goat, we got into the whole "scape goat derives from this" discussion. It wasn't so much of a discussion as a mention, but as the rabbi related more to the story about the red string tied around the goat's neck turning red after it was thrown off the cliff ... wait. What? I stopped the rabbi.

"This isn't in the Torah text, is it?" I inquired. "Yes, yes it is," the rabbi responded.

I didn't have a chumash handy, so I continued, thinking maybe I'd forgotten the text. After all, it had been a year since I last read the portion and was mostly going off memory. The rabbi explained that someone would take the goat out to a cliff, and chuck it over with a string attached to its neck. Once this red string turned white, the person could go back to the camp and tell the Israelites that they were kosher, their sins were atoned for. This got me thinking that if the text is where we derive the scape goat term, then maybe this is also where we get the concept of a "white lie." We discussed whether every year, without fail, the string turned from red to white. It was the messenger's duty to return to the camp from the cliff to say "Bravo! You passed the test! You're sin-free!" But what if it didn't turn white. What would the messenger do? Would he lie to the people? After all, it wasn't so much important that they were all clear and free, but rather that they kept believing in the idea of the act. So, it was suggested, maybe every now and again the messenger came back and had to tell a lie -- but it was a good lie, it kept the people strong, hopeful, and believing. It was, in essence, a "white lie."

I asked the rabbi what he thought about the concept, and he thought it was an interesting suggestion. So I've been waiting for about a week to look into it. Needing a break from my paper on the illustrious (not) Imma Shalom, I Googled the parshah to make sure the text was right.

Much to my dismay, this isn't a Torah narrative. The goat gets sent off into the wilderness, darn't. That's all the Torah says. I remember being frustrated originally when reading it. I mean, how do they know the goat hasn't wandered back around camp? Bringing their sins back to roost? I'd taken the rabbi's statement as gold, but I've come to find out that the embellishment of the cliff and the string comes from the later writings, not the Torah. .

Talk about a bummer. The differentiation, as an academic and as a Jew, really, is important to me. Either way, I think I've got a compelling case for where "white lie" really came from. What do you think?

Friday, May 1, 2009

I'm one of the Top Influential Twitterers!

Slap me silly and call me flattered. Maybe I should say I'm Flittered. That's Flattered+Twittered. Is coining a new Twitter phrase that easy? You join Twitter, you tweet, you are in the Twitterverse, exploring the Twittersphere, and your pals are the Twitterazi or Twits. So let's see if Flittered catches on, and if it does, maybe my celebrity will grow even more!

At any rate, I'm Flittered because the Jewish Telegraph Agency, better known as JTA or in the Twitterverse as @JTANews, has named me one of the Top 50 Most Influential Jewish Twitterers! If that weren't enough, I'm shockingly ranked #5, preceded in excellence by the outstandingly awesome @YLove, of course. I'm blushing, really, I am. In the past few hours, I've had upwards of 40+ new follows. I think it's only good form to follow all the other honorees, so I'll have to get to that post-Shabbos. But right now, I have to say Yasher Koach to my fellow top 50-ers! I can't stop blushing.

@AlizaHausman, @EstherK, @yeahthatskosher, @susqhb, @hebrewzzi, @popjudaica, @diwon, @ModernTribe_Jew, @KosherWineGuy, @weinberg81, @frumsatire, @louismgreen, and @RabbiEE.

Most importantly: I can't wait to tell my rabbi. He'll be kvelling!

NOTE: For those who aren't all up in the Twitterverse, it's a micro-blogging community where your "tweets" are limited to 140 characters. You follow people, they follow you back, and it's a good way to meet new people, to microblog, to network, and more! Everyone from Ice T to Oprah to Ashton Kutcher to Barack Obama is on Twitter. Why aren't you?