Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chanukah Oh!Nuts Giveaway!

(Not back, just here to give y'all a chance for some goodies. This isn't controversial, right?)

You read the subject right, I'm here to facilitate a contest for a $25 gift certificate to Oh Nuts! If you're not familiar with the company, you're missing out. Their products are all kosher, and they're delicious, too. They have chocolate, gummies, nuts, dried fruits, jelly beans -- you name it, they have it. So get ready, you have three ways to enter.
  1. Visit the Oh!Nuts Chanukah gifts page. Choose your FAVORITE gift and leave a comment here, in my comments section with the name and URL of the gift. I'll pick a random winner upon my return from Israel, either on December 6 or 7. That gives you a LOT of time to enter. The winner will be sent the gift certificate by Oh!Nuts.
  2. Visit the Oh!Nuts Facebook Page, write on their wall the URL and name of your favorite Chanukah Gift. Also include "I am here via Just Call me Chaviva."
  3. Follow @OhNuts and Tweet: Win a free Chanukah Gift from http://bit.ly/6nlsCi. Follow @ohnuts and retweet to enter!"

So enter. Spread the word, and spread the wealth. You've got a LONG time to enter!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

An Indefinite Hiatus.

Until further notice, this blog -- and all other blogs by me -- will be on hiatus. I apologize for the inconvenience, but just pretend I've gone to Ulpan again. If you want to know why, don't ask. If you know why, keep quiet.

Thanks to all the loyal readers, the constant support you all have given me has been outstanding and I'll be using those kind words as long as they will last in my mind and heart. Please stick around. At some point I'll be coming back -- I just don't know when.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chavi Was Never a Cook.

I have never been a cook. My mother didn't really teach me to cook, so everything I picked up I picked up when I was forced to cook when I ended up in Washington D.C. Before that I relied on fast food like Subway and Wendy's and that's probably how I managed to gain so much weight my senior year of college. When I moved to D.C. I learned to cook, but mostly vegetarian. It burgeoned even more when I was living in Chicago and my ability really took off around Pesach in 2008 when I mastered the art of melting sugar and cooking fish.

This weekend, the friends I often stay with (I'm not really staying with the family I used to stay with anymore because as the weather gets colder, my knees become mush faster; Tuvia still is staying with them however) are out of town, so they're letting me stay at their place alone. Tuvia thought it'd be a good idea to host people there if they'd let us, so I agreed, telling Tuvia that it was his job to invite people and my job to cook. Well, we're expecting about SEVEN to EIGHT people altogether tonight (including us). So I freaked out and made about five million things to eat. I even found a recipe for parve pumpkin pie, but that went horribly, horribly wrong and I had to chuck it. But here's the menu for dinner tonight. Note: All dairy ingredients were adjusted to protect the innocent (that is, to make them parve).

Challah (it rose too much, browned to quick on the bottom, and looks a little weird; sigh)
Butternut Squash Soup with Bagel Chips
Salad with candied walnuts and pears, with a simple vinaigrette
Streuseled Sweet Potato Casserole (which, by the way, looks amazing)
Green beans
Corn Kugel (now a standby/staple)
Meatballs with Orzo (some with pasta sauce, some without)
Cranberry Upside Down Cake
Mixed Fruit

I think that's everything. I feel like there was more (well, there was the pumpkin pie). This is honestly the first time I've cooked food for anyone in the community. These are people who have cooked for me multiple times, and their food is outstanding. I'm anxious as hell. I was particularly anal because of bishul akum -- that is, Tuvia had to turn on all the burners for me since I'm not halakicly Jewish, I couldn't do the full cooking by myself for other Jews. I wanted to make everything perfect, making sure I didn't treyf anything up. Thus, the kitchen was a mess of things and I washed the parve bowls and cooking stuff probably seven times in the past day out of reuse. Either way, I am praying that it should be a successful meal. If anything, the soup and the casserole will be a big hit. I think they're outstandingly amazing.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Cover Your Hair Giveaway!

I'm a huge fan of CoverYourHair.com, as you all sure know. I just wish I were hitched so I could truly enjoy the goodies they have to offer. Someday, folks! Someday. 

For those of you who also love CYH, head over to Hadassah's blog for the GIVEAWAY of a $25 box of surprise Hair Accessories! Just go to Hadassah's blog, fill in the comments box with some of the CYH items you'd love to have, and wait to win! There's also five other ways to win, so your chances are outstanding.

Oh, and spread the word!

A Zohar for Your Troubles.

A brilliant rabbi friend shared this with me last week while I was awaiting my meeting with the beth din. I think it's quite beautiful.
The union of souls in the upper world produces more fruit than the coupling of bodies this world. When the souls pair in that world, their combined desire produces results: they generate the souls of future converts to Judaism. When a person converts, a soul flies from that chamber and enters under the wings of the Shechinah. The Shechinah kisses her, since she is the fruit of righteous souls. (Zohar 3:167b)

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Need Something Soft to Occupy My Mind.

Do you know how hard it is to focus on schoolwork (I have two papers I need to start working on, which means I have two notebooks full of documents I need to go through; Hebrew homework and an exam on Friday; books to read for Ancient Fictions; you name it, I have it to do) and general work for my freelance editing? To focus while not knowing what the next two weeks hold for me?

Chaviva is on pins and needles. My mind has taken on the classic Wandering Jew characteristics. The TV is on in the background, blaring some show, and the only thing I can focus on is blogging how anxious I am.

That, folks, is humorous. It's the divine comedy at work!

And the T-Shirt Winner is ...

I'm a *little* late on picking the winner, and I hope those of you (there were like, seven of you) who entered will forgive me! Considering everything? I think you can.

I decided to do the drawing a different way since I didn't have so many entrants. I found this nifty Random Picker on the internet, typed in the names of the lovely ladies that entered, and the winner that it spit out was ...


Yes, folks, the lovely TMC, a blogger extraordinaire, has been chosen for these two Tees. I'll be contacting you for your mailing information, so look out. Mazal tov!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chavi Goes to the Beth Din: The First Meeting

Wednesday night, I was exhausted. We got into New Jersey, and I planted myself firmly into the plush bed that I call my own when we stay with Evan's family. The World Series was on its way toward the finale, and I issued a "Wake me if they lose, or rather, wake me if they win" to Tuvia and went to bed. Supposedly he came in and let me know that they'd won, but I didn't recall it. I was exhausted. The anticipation of my RCA beth din conversion meeting had turned my brain to mush. To feed my nerves, I had a nightmare that night. How appropriate, no?

The dream? Well, I was in a bookstore or library, attached to the building with the beth din meeting room. I was chatting with people, occupied, when my mother walked in and yelled "you're late to the beth din meeting!" I knew the meeting was at 3 p.m. (in the dream, that is), and my mom let me know that it was already 3:05 p.m. Then she said that they'd been waiting for a half-hour for me. So not only was I late, but I had the time wrong. So I ran to the elevator, where they informed me that I didn't have the right barcode to board the elevator. I started crying, explaining my situation, and just when they let me on, I realized that I was wearing the worst thing possible: capri pants and a short sleeve shirt. I freaked out, yelled to everyone that I'd be right back, and ran to the car where I found a long jean skirt and threw it on. When I woke up, I was standing in the elevator nervously pulling it on.

Tuvia and I drove the car into Jersey City, dropped it off at his dad's car place, and took the PATH in. I had a meeting in the morning at NYU regarding a few of their programs (more about that later, of course), and because I was anxious and fearful about showing up late, I insisted we take a cab from NYU up to Yeshiva University -- a whooping 30 something buckaroos right there.

We got up to YU plenty early, spotted the building, and then went in search of food. We ended up at Golan Heights (thanks to @Mottel and a few others), where I ate too much and anticipated vomiting on the shiny, black shoes of the beth din. Tuvia and I spent the rest of our time (and there was a lot of it) sitting in the YU student commons, where I happened to be spotted by one Twitter user (nice to meet you @steinberg!). I was busy Twittering, airing my anxiety to the world as I've been known to do. The support I received that day from my Twitter friends was ... well, I'm speechless. If you guys were on the beth din, I'd be a quick sell. Too bad you can't bring witnesses, right? You guys provide a service, I guess you could say, that is incomparable to anything. You offer me kind words, comforting thoughts, boosts in esteem, you name it. You guys are my bubble of comfort, and for that? I love you. But now to the (not-too-detailed) details.

The Meeting
We arrived at the beth din room about five or so minutes early. No one was in the room yet, which made me even more anxious. I didn't know where to sit, whether to sit, whether I had something in my teeth, or whether the noises in my tummy were going to settle themselves. I was talking nervously to Tuvia about their being a one-way mirror built into the wall when a rabbi walked in, greeting me in a jovial and kind way as Chaviva. He said that the furniture in the room was brand new, which I took as a good omen in my favor for some unknown reason (the furniture gods smiling upon me? har har.). We sat down and got to chatting. Then another rabbi showed up, and another, and finally a fourth. Yes, there were four rabbis at my meeting. Each of them brought something very different, I think -- good cop, bad cop, the jokester, the inquirer. Each posed different questions, and each had their own approach to my situation.

We started with the basics -- how'd you find Judaism in Nebraska? (This was intermixed with a bit of Jewish geography to see if they knew any Nebraskans, of course.) Then came a question I hadn't really thought about: If I was set on converting Orthodox before I moved to Connecticut (which I was), why did I sign up for JDate and start dating someone? I hadn't really thought about it before. In one of the very first emails that we exchanged (Tuvia and I), I stated my trajectory and told him that if he was down on the Orthodox journey, he and I could keep talking. Otherwise? No sir. Of course, as we're still together, I think you can see how that went. But it was an entirely valid and important question. A lot of converts, especially those who go Orthodox, often come to it for marriage. I'm not saying that's what the focus is in the end, but it tends to be a spark for the journey. I'm confident that the rabbis knew I wasn't doing this for Tuvia, but that I was most certainly and definitely doing it for me.

The conversation moved on to a variety of things -- my family and how they feel; my friends and how they reacted to my choices when I was in high school, college, and even now; the geographic conundrum that is my situation (I live in Storrs, Tuvia in Manchester, we daven in West Hartford). We hit a few very contentious points that I won't delve into here because they're even too personal for this space, and I was nearly in tears over them. I imagine the rabbis saw my face go from "elatedly excited" to "downtrodden and depressed." The great thing about it, however, (if I can even say great) is that the rabbis were encouraging and incredibly explanatory about why the issues were important and necessary to be discussed. It's amazing how you don't think about things until someone else mentions it and you find yourself saying, "Duh. Why didn't I think about that?"

The rabbis also asked Tuvia plenty of questions about his observance, his history as a Jew, his family, and more. After all, as they explained, there are two of us involved here and my conversion -- assuming we'll be staying together (and we will) -- affects the both of us.

After about an hour of the down-and-dirty talk of getting to know me (and Tuvia) Jewishly, the rabbis turned to some quizzical questions. I'll be completely honest: I froze. When it comes to talking about my journey and my Judaism and how I do my Judaism in a general and broad sense, I'm all about it. Passion oozes from my pores. But when we get to the b'racha bee type situation? Chavi is the proverbial popsicle.

It started out simple enough: "I had you a pretzel, what do you say?" I should have said "Thank you!" as some friends joked over Shabbos, but instead I answered appropriately with "mezonot." But then they wanted the full b'racha. Now, I know the b'racha. But when just saying the b'racha, it's important to avoid the use of HaShem's name, so you fill in "HaShem" and "Elokeynu" in the appropriate places, and that just froze me up like you wouldn't believe. Finally they said to simply say the b'racha as I would -- which makes sense considering it was technically for study, which means it's okay to say the b'racha as you would normally. The stumbling over words that ensued made me look like I was drunk on Manishewitz after a long night of Purim partying.

A series of further questions were what to say over the Shabbos candles, Yom Tov Candles, to list some of the other b'rachot, and then some questions about the recent holidays. They asked me what Simchat Torah honored, and instead of answering the simple "we end and start the Torah!" answer, I tried to search for something deeper. And then I got all caught up in my head. I'm guessing the entire room was spinning around me, and that the rabbis were wondering what was going on. I had my head in my hand, and was mumbling to myself about the Torah. I said something, and it was wrong and I felt humiliated. Me, the Judaic studies student, fumbles over a basic Judaism question that I've known since at least 2004 or 2005. Then, well, this is funny.

We ended up talking about the "holiday of the giving of the Torah." So the rabbi asks me about the name of the holiday. My answer: "Oh it's ..." Insert awkward silence here. Insert head into hand here. Once again, I was mumbling to myself. "There's Pesach ... then there's the omer ... then we eat lots of cheesecake. We ate so much dairy." The rabbis, reassuringly told me that they knew I knew it, and I responded that I knew I knew it. Finally, one of the rabbis says "It's often the feast of weeks." And I resignedly said, "Shavuos ... I knew that ... Shavuos." Let's just say that was followed by a long sigh.

It was reassuring to know that my anxiety -- and there was anxiety like you wouldn't believe -- was necessary. It's almost required. If you go in without anxiety or nervousness, you're probably not jibing right with the beth din. The rabbis constantly reassured me that it was okay that I was so anxious.

The meeting ended shortly after the quiz-like questions. The rabbi said they needed to talk, and that someone would get back to me soon. The rabbis are aware of the time constraint leading up to my trip to Israel, and I told them that to daven at the Kotel as a halakicly Jewish woman would be the zenith of this entire experience so far -- of being Jewish. I explained that this is the most important thing, and the most difficult (in a good way) experience in my entire life. At the same time, I have to say that if it doesn't happen in the next 2.5 weeks, I'm committed 100 percent to the RCA process. When looking at everything going on in the world, I need to have confidence in my conversion beth din and the rabbis therein.

The Outcome?
I think that I can say, with confidence, that the rabbis that I have on my beth din (the three, that is -- the fourth seems to have come to speak to me about my 11-page essay, which he said was an incredibly well-written odyssey [publish it!], which put my mind at ease and made me feel so confident in myself, especially considering who he was) are kind, understanding, yet firm Orthodox rabbis who know their stuff. Immediately after leaving the meeting I was embarrassed, I felt humiliated regarding my poor performance in the basics (am I overreacting? ask Tuvia, I was outside myself and he was watching it all happen), and wasn't sure how to feel. After calling a very close friend to talk about the meeting, I started to feel better. I was reflecting on how the rabbis approached me, how they reacted to my answers, and how warm they were about everything. It was then that I started feeling more confident about the experience, and it's probably why right now I feel fairly good about the entire experience.

So now? I'm waiting. I've heard from one of the rabbis a few times since the meeting regarding various issues, but nothing regarding where I go from here. Friends inquire, offer words of kindness, and check in often asking whether I've heard anything and what I know. Let's just say, folks, that as soon as I know something, you'll know something. You've all been with me this long -- I won't leave you hanging, I promise.

Convert? Moving to Israel? Look at This.

I'm not sure what to say about this Op/Ed from the Jerusalem Post today: The double lives of Jewish converts in Israel.

The gist of the Op/Ed is that there are converts living in Israel without healthcare, the ability to work, and who lack full acceptance as Jews in Israel, despite halakhic conversions. The situation works in such a way that people convert in the Diaspora, but once they head to Israel (legally, under the Law of Return), they're denied the basic rights that regular Jews are  under the same Law. Why? Because the Justice and Interior Ministers INSIST on reviewing all conversions, despite the 2005 ruling by the Supreme Court that converts should automatically been allowed in. Essentially, there are what the authors of the Op/Ed call "draconian citizenship tests." And then there's this:
Most recently, the Justice Ministry issued new protocols, already being implemented by the Jewish Agency, that demand an 18-month residency and a formal curriculum of study for converts abroad who want to come live here. These protocols demand that rabbis overseas ask certain specific questions of converts, that the process be reported in detail to the Israeli authorities and that converts adhere to strict bureaucratic procedures if they want their conversions to be accepted by Israeli civil authorities. In a word, civil bureaucrats are seeking to impose their will and standards on Diaspora Jewry, challenging the autonomy of Diaspora communities.
So what does a Diaspora Jewish convert do?

I'm guessing that if I'm considering Israel -- in any capacity, at any point in my life -- I should start looking at my options now. I should also probably talk to my beth din about this issue and see what their experience has been like. Are there really not that many converts who head to The Land post-conversion that this hasn't really come up before?

Talk about shocking. Appalling. Frustrating. Nod to @bethanyshondark for bringing the Op/Ed to my attention this morning.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Pre-Post on the Beth Din.

I'd like to write a novella. Or perhaps a short story? The focus of the story being about my experience at the beth din yesterday and how there were moments where I broke down and my nerves ate my confidence, as well as moments of assurance and excitement. But there isn't much time before Shabbos descends, and there are things I need to do in preparation (like pack, for example!), so you'll probably have to wait until motzei Shabbos to hear about the entire experience. To protect the innocent (rabbis), I won't be naming names, or delving into extreme details, but I think that it's important for me to talk about the experience candidly -- both for my eternal record of my Jewish comings and goings, as well as for those of you who have so eagerly anticipated the outcome and who so amazingly supported me throughout my entire experience and most importantly yesterday as I sat, prepared to vomit, waiting for the meeting. So to tide you over, some anecdotes.

+ It's funny that being at Yeshiva University I had the hardest time with shomer negiah. Now, it wasn't ME that was the problem, it was the dozens of teenage boys bumping into me constantly without consideration. Are they not used to the ladies being around? Or was it a sense of carelessness? Or was it a disregard for the observance? I can't really say, but it was frustrating. Maybe I could lose a few pounds and fade into the scenery not to be bumped into! Either way, it was both amusing and irritating at the same time.

+ Twitter friends (@Mottel being the first) suggested we head to Golan Heights, a kosher and Israeli-style restaurant off Amsterdam and 187th near YU. Tuvia got to have his first schwarma (which he loved), and I got to down an Israeli-rocking falafa-laffa (that's falafel on laffa). I loaded it up with tahini, pickles, israeli salad, chips and some awesome spicy sauce. It was exceedingly delicious, but it probably wasn't the best choice for a pre-beth din chowdown ... overall, I will say that Golan Heights is probably one of THE best kosher foodie joints I've been to in a long time!

+ Being in New York was an inspiration. It's rare that I'm in a city surrounded by Jews at every corner turn, and it was so comforting that no matter where I want, I saw a kippah-toting gentleman. It just made me feel comfortable, like I belonged, as if I were in my own little Jewish world. I imagine that this sentiment will only be magnified when I step into Israel.

Lastly, can I just say that it was ... so special, so amazing, so absolutely significant and warm that the first thing the first rabbi to arrive at the beth din meeting did was call me Chaviva. The name of this blog is "Just Call Me Chaviva," and when I chose that name, I chose it knowing that it would someday outshine Amanda as the name I identified with. But to have an Orthodox rabbi, on my beth din, acknowledge how important that is to me, was something I find hard to put into words. It was moving, and it left me feeling relaxed and comfortable. So I nod a thank you to that rabbi for welcoming me with the proverbial open arms of something so simple as a name.

Stay tuned, friends, and Shabbat Shalom -- may you be with peace, rest, and the gift of Shabbos in your homes!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

T-Shirt Giveaway!!

I'm in the mood for ... a giveaway!

Now, this isn't a super stellar giveaway, but maybe it is. Some time ago, I was sent a copy of Webstein's Dictionary, a hilarious little book with funny takes on common Jewish words, as well as a few T-shirts to go with it for promotional purposes. I had hoped that perhaps, just maybe, after some weight loss I'd actually wear them, but unfortunately they won't really fit me right either way (you ladies probably understand why). At any rate, these shirts are both XLs, although since they're in the "baby tee" style I'd say they're more like mediums or larges. I'll be giving both tees away together.

If you think you or someone you know would absolutely dig these T-shirts, then enter the giveaway! Here are the rules and regulations. (PS: Sorry the photos are poor quality; took them with the BB.)

  1. Comment on this blog post with your email address, that is, if it doesn't show up in your Blogger profile when you comment. (If you're uncomfortable with this, please email me at kvetching dot editor at gmail dot com). 
  2. In the comment, please share what your FAVORITE Jewish or Hebrew word is and why.
  3. Stay tuned until Monday morning at 10 a.m. when I'll announce the winner of this T-shirt combo! 
  4. I will contact the winner, post it to the blog, and mail you your goodies :)

Best of luck to everyone -- and spread the word!

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Beth Din Looms.

Conflicted. Emotionally, that is. Confidence mixed with frustration mixed with assurance mixed with anxiety. I am the proverbial roller coaster of emotions.

In a mere two-ish days, I'll be meeting with a beth din in New York. This meeting is a preliminary meeting to the actual beth din conversion meeting, and the rabbis on my beth din will be feeling me out Jewishly. They asked that Tuvia come along, as well. 

Do I need to say more than that? I'm not really sure what else to say. More than six years have culminated in this meeting this week. It can't be said that from square one I knew I'd be driving the 2.5 or 3 hours to NYC just to meet with the rabbis on a council in order to help me become halakicly Jewish, but this journey has become a great and mighty beast that I love dearly. One of those big and scary looking beasts that's really fuzzy and warm on the inside. 

I don't know what to expect. I fear a "b'racha bee"-type situation. Or that they'll ask me the order of the service. Or that they'll want me to detail kashering techniques. The funny thing is, I could probably do all of those without a problem, but I'm one of those saps that breaks under pressure. Especially knowing that my entire life rests in the hands of three RCA rabbis. 

A friend calmed my anxiety a bit by reminding me that, to be honest, it really isn't that my neshama is in the hands of three rabbis, but rather that it's the "man behind the curtain" -- haShem -- that's really the one running the show. I know that's true, but it's hard to ignore the obvious: This is really big doings. 

Be yourself, people tell me. Just be yourself. 

What if myself isn't good enough? What if I crash? What if I burn?! What if I can't remember how to read Hebrew!?

Let's be honest here. I know these things won't happen. This is part of that emotional rollercoaster. One moment I'm brimming with confidence, and the next minute I'm feeling frustrated and down. I'm guessing this is what the rabbis had in mind, and if it is, then kol ha'kavod to them. 

So for the next few days I'll stew. Trying to practice b'rachot (mostly it's the food ones that have me all in a puddle). Just living my life as I always do. Being me. Wondering if it will be enough, but knowing that it is. 

What it comes down to is that I'm ready. I've been ready. I'll be ready until they're ready. As I've always said: There is no limit to my patience when it comes to things that are meant to be. And this? This is something that is meant to be.