Sunday, January 31, 2010

Goin' to the Chuppah and We're, Gonna Get Married ...

I can't believe I did it. I just purchased a wedding gown off the internet, before viewing, before trying on, before anything. Now, I know what you're thinking, Are you crazy!? And yes, I am a little off my rocker, but it's hard to be a tzniut-style girl searching for a proper wedding gown. So I went to Nordstrom's at the advice of a few Twitter friends for my measurements, sent them off to the gown's e-store, heard back from a nice lady, and ordered the gown. It should get to me in approximately two to three business days. Talk about FAST service. I'm praying like you wouldn't believe that it's the ultimate, perfect wedding gown. I just have to get over the self-esteem shocker of ordering a wedding gown two/three sizes too big. What's the deal with that anyway? I mean, if someone wears a size 10 (not me, that's for sure), why should they have to buy a size 14 wedding gown? Don't you think brides have enough issues about size and shape on their mind that forcing them into a super-sized wedding gown will only make matters worse? Egads.

Anywho, at the advice of a friend from shul (and subsequently a few other friends from shul), I nabbed a copy of a classic Judaica book that, I was told, will enlighten not only me, but any family members with lingering questions or queries, about what to expect with an Orthodox wedding. The book? "Made in Heaven" by the illustrious Aryeh Kaplan. If you start out with the "dedications" page, you'll rest assured that this guy's advice is second to none -- the book is dedicated to the author's nine children! Obviously, Rabbi Kaplan knows his stuff, right?

I'm not one for touchy-feely books, and aside from tidbits here and there about the eternal bond of marriage and the future generations, the book is very readable, and I highly recommend it to those who are prepping for marriage. Each chapter homes in on a specific topic: the ring, the chuppah, the wedding day, the ketubah, the processional, and more. It even gets as specific as talking about the tallit and the various specific blessings. The chapters are short, and the author was very, very good about being concise and quick in his lessons on the halakot.

I can't even begin to tell you how many questions I've developed for my rabbi. Feel free to chime in here, but I've heard some "that sounds crazy!" comments from friends. I'll let you know what my rav thinks. I'll admit, many of these are CUSTOMS, but still, I like to know/make sure I'm doing things "right."

  • Some sources say that, for the wedding band, gold is preferable to silver, others silver to gold. Add to this the fact that you are supposed to use a ring that is pure -- not masked, such as plated gold -- because this could invalidate the ceremony entirely! Does this mean I can't have a white gold ring? The point of the ring being simple (no designs, no stones) is that the bride (and others) should be able to ascertain the value of the ring at a simple glance. If it's plated or masked in some way, it's harder to discern. As such, white gold has a specific value, right? So white gold *should* be okay? 
  • The tradition is that the kallah (bride) gives her chatan (groom) his tallit (prayer shawl) for the wedding. Often it's used for the chuppah, too. Now, Tuvia has a tallit his paternal grandfather bought shortly before his death, so he wants to use that since it's unused and in great condition. What do I do for the chatan then!?
  • What's doing with this whole no seeing each other for a week before the wedding? According to the book, many hold the tradition of just the day before hand, but even then, it used to be a tradition to hold a prenuptial meal the night before the wedding! What did you do at your wedding? What's the tradition/community custom/standard these days?
  • There is a definite decision that men fast the day of their wedding, but some rabbis hold that the kallah does not fast! What gives!? Do I fast, or do I not fast?
And those are my questions and I'm not even halfway through the book! Luckily, Rabbi Kaplan's given me plenty of insight and things to think about. 

I've also discovered -- via the advice of the same friend that suggested I pick up this book -- a way to involve people in the entire service without violating halakot! The great thing about a Jewish wedding is that there are about a million different positions people can serve. There are six witnesses -- all must be shomer mitzvot, Jewish males -- as well as those who read the sheva brachot (seven blessings), and thanks to this friend's great thinking, the translations of these brachot also will be read, that is, by women and non-Jewish friends of mine. It's a beautiful way not only to involve everyone, but also to help those who aren't familiar with Hebrew or the Jewish traditions to really get the full impact of the blessings in order to understand the service. 

You'd be amazed at all of the obstacles and pits of fire and dragons that await one with planning a wedding like this. I'm sure they exist in all faiths, but with there being specific binding laws regarding various parts of the service, you really have to think hard about who to involve and how to involve them. It's a delicate, delicate process.

All I can say is, I'm getting married in less than four months, and I'm jazzed!

Haveil Havalim is LIVE!

This week's Haveil Havalim is UP and at 'em on the Israel Situation.

It's the Tu B'Shevat Edition!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seders Belong at the Pesach Table. Right?

The Tu B'Shevat Seder -- is it a racket?

Discuss. I'm serious, too. I've participated in a seder for Tu B'Shevat the past two years, and I guess it just seems artificial to me. Am I lame for not getting into it? Am I missing something? Or is it a racket?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Man is a Tree of the Field

Tu B'Shevat cometh! I sort of feel like it's one of those chagim that becomes irrelevant or insignificant in the Diaspora. It's the kind of holiday that makes sense when you're lucky enough to be living in the Land of Israel, but when you're in the U.S. or somewhere else, it's difficult to connect. After all, here in Connecticut we had a big, blizzardy snowstorm yesterday that resulted in me nearly killing myself twice. I'll admit it looks beautiful outside, but it definitely doesn't compare at all to it being the New Year of Trees in the Jewish calendar. In Israel, this is the time in which the earliest-blooming trees start to show their flare. Jews mark the day -- which happens to fall on Shabbat this year, January 30 -- by eating fruits, including grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates; these all are fruits of Israel named in the Hebrew Bible/Torah.

We also remember, or we're supposed to, that "Man is a tree of the field" (Deut. 20:19). At least, that's what tells me. So what does it mean, that "Man is a tree of the field"? To me, it means that there is a field of HaShem's creation, and man is the tree in that field of creation, standing tall and firm through wind, rain, and everything else nature and HaShem throw our way. Trees are quite resilient, withstanding the pressure of heavy snow, the break of lightning, and the gale-force wind that blows houses and cars away like leaves. Also, trees stand firm through all seasons, going through cycles of life while firmly rooted in the earth. They lose leaves, gain leaves, stand dry and bare, and blossom beautifully. Man, too, is like a tree. We stand firmly, rooted in the religion and ways of our forefathers, our roots spread the world over, connected to each and every Jew so that together, with our roots intertwined, we can withstand all that history has thrown at us. As the seasons come and go, man also is like a tree. Our life-cycle events come and go. We grow sick, and healthy, we experience simchas of joy and beauty and instances of sadness and bareness. Our emotions and outlooks sway in the winds of change, but it is our roots that help us stand firm through even our darkest moments and heaviest storms.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. This is simply my understanding of the verse. As such, then, on Tu B'Shevat, those of us in the Diaspora must transplant ourselves to Israel, where the earliest blooming trees are starting to show their color and bounty, giving off new fruit and new hope. Thus, we, too, can stand as the tree of the field, remembering that there are cycles in life and that now is a time for us to bloom, to stand as tall as we can, showing our bounty and our pride in our roots and resilience.

At this time of newness and bounty, how do you understand the phrase, "Man is a tree of the field"? There are plenty of explanations on the web. Simply Google the phrase and see what you find!

Shabbat shalom, friends!

Note: You also might want to read something I wrote *WAY BACK* in 2006 about the roots of trees and standing during kaddish.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Have You Voted Today?

Doing some friends a favor. Get your vote on!

Official Chabad Twitter Account Nominated for Award – Needs Your Support

Chabad's Twitter account, @lubavitch has been nominated for a Shorty Award. Called the ''The Academy Awards of Twitter,'' the Shorty Awards recognize people who use twitter to disseminate "short, real-time content."

@Lubavitch's innovative use of Twitter is now in the runing as a nonprofit organization. Receiving this award, presented at an official ceremony in New York City, and the positive media attention that accompany it, would serve as a very great Kiddush hashem - honoring the amazing accomplishments of the Rebbe's Shluchim.

In order to proceed to the finals, your vote is needed! With less than 200 votes from the number one slot, we can easily win! Voting ends TODAY Friday Jan, 29, so please take a moment and vote now!

Voting is simple - either by following the link below - or copying and pasting the following text and "tweet" it via the main twitter website.
I nominate @lubavitch for #nonprofit in the Shorty awards because of their innovative us of Twitter for teaching

Spread the word!

The Things Spinning in My Noggin.

Sometimes, the mind wanders.

  • Although I am an editor, I never edit my own work. I'm a write it, hand it in (or blog it) kind of person. This is probably not the best way to function, and it's gotten me into some amusing circumstances, without a doubt. But all I ask of you, my readers, is to forgive me my errors!
  • Everyone keeps asking me whether I'm going to cover my hair after I'm married, and the answer, as I've said before, is YES! There are no sheitels in my immediate future, but there are definitely hats and scarves in the near future.
  • Tuvia and I got a Wii. I'm hoping that, maybe, I'll get my workout on and look svelte and beautiful come wedding time.
  • I recently have become completely obsessed with the show "Big Love." I mean, yes, it's about a very right-wing end of the old school of the LDS church, but it's got some damn fine acting and fascinating storylines. It does, however, make me wonder if there are any polygamy observers around the corner ... 
  • Last week in class, someone said the following, and I think it can stand on its own: "Jesus was a rabid Zionist." I'm rocking a huge grin, by the way.
  • I think the iPad is a waste of time, money, and energy. And I think the name is absolutely RIDICULOUS.
My mind has been a'jumble in the past few weeks. I keep wanting to sit down and write hefty posts about Judaism and observance and how I feel sort of "floaty" these days, but it didn't happen. It hasn't happened. I'm not saying I feel a void, but what I am saying is that I feel a bank of air between myself and many of the things going on around me. It's weird, and it's uncomfortable. Also, it's difficult to put into words. As you can see.

At any rate, at least I have snow. Lots of snow. Snow makes me giddy, and it makes everything better.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Q&A: With my Readers!

Okay, so you guys are really good at these Q&A posts, and although I might not respond to every little thing every single one of you says, believe me, I'm absorbing it all and processing it, too! (Believe me, I'm going to respond to posts on my family/conversion/chaos post, it's just going to take me a little bit of time.)

But because you're all so good at answering questions, and because I value your opinions so much, I have a new question for you, which relates to a few panels I'm going to take part in over the coming months. Are you ready?
What has Twitter, Blogging, or other Social Media (that is, Web 2.0) done for your Judaism (or other religious/spiritual experiences)? Has it brightened it? Made it more dark? Connected you to people, or broken friendships? How has Judaism 2.0 effected (yes, as in changed) your life?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In Haiti, Kissing the Tallit.

I had to post this story. I've bolded the portions that I find incredibly, unbelievably moving and powerful. True testaments to the power of prayer and the power of Israel and Jews to truly make a difference despite their small numbers the world over.
Israeli Volunteers in Haiti: Sabbath was 'Hellish' but Stirring
by Gil Ronen

Volunteers from ZAKA, the religious emergency rescue group, said that they experienced a “hellish” Sabbath in Haiti but also experienced stirring moments during the Sabbath prayer.
The ZAKA delegation arrived in Haiti on Thursday after taking part in rescue operations, collection of bodies and identification at another disaster scene – the site of the helicopter crash in Mexico in which Jewish financier and philanthropist Moshe Saba was killed.
The ZAKA delegation decided to take charge of rescue operations at the ruins of the Haiti university building, an eight story structure that collapsed. They worked around the clock, assisted by members of the Jewish emergency rescue team of Mexico, which had accompanied them from their previous mission, and using equipment from the Mexican army. They succeeded in extricating eight Haitian students who were still alive and suffering from various degrees of injury, after spending 38 hours trapped under the wreckage. News of this success circulated among other rescue crews and added to their motivation, encouraging them not to give up on the possibility of finding survivors under the ruins.

Surrealistic prayer scene

The delegation members described their Sabbath experience as “hell,” with hundreds of bodies strewn all about with nobody there to bury them, and the stench of rotting flesh in the air. The group held the Sabbath prayers amidst the ruins, and later described “a surrealistic sight of Jews wrapped in tallitot [prayer shawl atop fallen buildings.” Many of the local people believed that the Jews were praying for the well-being of the injured and to the memory of the dead, and gathered around them to watch the prayers. Dozens of the onlookers approached the Jewish delegation when the prayer was over and kissed their tallitot.
The volunteers reported a particularly moving moment when they reached the verse “He Who looks at the earth and it quakes,” which is taken from Psalms 104 and is a part of the Sabbath prayer. They said that many of them shook physically at this point, when they realized for the first time what terrible consequences the verse refers to.The ZAKA team was unable to make contact with the Home Front Command delegation that arrived directly from Israel because the telephone system and other communications were down. They therefore nourished themselves with canned food they had brought with them from Mexico.
Members of the ZAKA delegation, who are no strangers to horrific disaster sites, nevertheless said that the sights they saw were “unbearable” and “such that the human mind cannot digest.”

According to the ZAKA website, one member of the ZAKA team said: "There are no words to describe the grief over human beings like me and you who cry out for help and rescue, yet no one can rescue them.”
The most beautiful thing about this, and not to sound all "the Messiah is coming!" but this is pretty, seriously, profound, is the correlation to Zechariah 8:23.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts: In those days (Messianic Age), it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, shall even take hold of the skirt (tzitzit) of him that is a Jew, saying: We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.
(Hat tip to a woman on one of my listservs, who brought this story to my attention.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Big Questions. Answer at Will.

Life is hard. Life is tough. My father says, "Life's a bitch, and then you die." Sometimes, I think his approach is accurate. I try to maintain my optimism, and Tuvia is a great help. But sometimes, it's difficult to see through the clouds. So let's pose a question. I'm asking for some full-frontal here, so feel free to respond anonymously -- I won't be hurt!

If you're a ba'al teshuvah, or if you hate that term but are still someone who has returned to Orthodox roots, or even non-Orthodox roots, but has found some type of active Jewish lifestyle contrary to how you might have grown up, or if you're a convert, how has your family dealt with your lifestyle choices?

How has your family dealt with your wedding or simchas that might be out of the bounds of what they are familiar or comfortable with? What do you do when family events -- weddings, graduations -- are on Shabbat and you simply can't make it and family doesn't understand?

Maybe you changed your  name, or go by a different name, what has been the reaction to that?

And most importantly: How do you cope with all of these things? Or do you not? Are you closer, less close, with your family? How much can you say, "this is my life, and this is how I choose to live and be," and how much do you feel you have to back down and give in?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tee hee hee ...

This just makes me laugh. It reminds me of those images in Jewish newspapers and magazines where the kippah is so incredibly obviously photoshopped on. It just makes me giggle ... giggle ... giggle.

Give a Little!

And by that, I mean give a little bit of your time to pay heed to the following and do your part!

  • Help Friendship Circle, a non-profit dedicated to enriching the lives of individuals with special needs through critical life skills training, promoting advocacy in the general population through our strong volunteer core and play-therapy based programs that pair teens and special friends together to form a life-changing bond of friendship, win $1 million dollars! CLICK HERE NOW!

  • There's a stellar Twitter guy, @jewishlibrary, attempting to put together an amazing library. I'd post all of the information here, but I'd rather just send you over to the Life in Israel blog. Write a letter, get the library REALLY going, and make this project HAPPEN!

  • Have you voted in the Shorty Awards? If you haven't, go, nominate me for something awesome, but most importantly go give @Lubavitch some love! To do so, simply click here
Feel free to use the comments section to tout your own happenings or voting or whatever you have going on!

Blue Fringe ROCKED My World.

A little over a month ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to the stylings of Blue Fringe, an indie Jewish music group out of NYC featuring Hayyim Danzig, Avi Hoffman, Dov Rosenblatt, and Danny Zwillenberg. I'm not going to go into their history or how they met or who their influences are or any of that business, you can read that for yourself over on their website. I will, say, however, that I was completely blown away at how incredibly awesome these guys are. Not only do they play amazing indie music, but they also manage to weave beautiful Jewish melodies and lyrics into their songs. It's true "Jewish music," but without the overwhelming aura of much "Jewish music." Coming from a non-Jewish, hipster, show-going, musician-dating, bar-hopping background (as I am), it was a breath of fresh air to be able to hear these guys live.

After listening to their album "The Whole World Lit Up," I was struck by the sound. They sounded like someone else, but with their own, unique twist, but I couldn't place it. I let it go, and continued to listen, hoping it would come to me, and somewhere in the middle of Bereishit I realized that it was Iron and Wine. It's that hint of softness with hauntingly beautiful music that cater to that sound. I can't really pick a favorite on the album, but Bereishit and Eshet Chayil are two of my favorites. I also am a huge fan of their cover of The Flaming Lips' Do You Realize, which is a soft, distinct spin on the original.

The night they were at my shul (for a Chanukah performance), one of the guys -- Avi Hoffman -- wasn't available that night, so the stellar frontman of band Pitom, Yoshie Fruchter, filled in for him. The funny thing about this is that when I was at Middlebury over the summer for ulpan, I spotted a flier near the mailboxes for the band Pitom. So low and behold, when I finally met the frontman, I was stoked!

The great thing about Blue Fringe, aside from the awesomeness of their Jewish music abilities, is that they sound just as good -- if not better -- live than they do on their album. Now I just have to figure out how to get them to play for my wedding. (Nudge, nudge.) So go out, buy their albums, and enjoy the beautiful, beautiful lyrics, music, and voice of Dov. Oh, and if you get a chance, try to get a listen/copy of their song on Shidduchim and dating. It is, in a word, HILARIOUS.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Two Jews at a Wedding Expo ...

If I were going to have a cake, I'd have the Van Gogh one. But I'm not. So, nevermind.

I'm going to try really, really, really hard not to make this blog into a Wedding Planning blog, and even if I accidentally do, it'll only be for about four months, right? But really, this blog isn't about my Big Fat Jewish Wedding, or my Big Fat Non-Jewish family, or Centerpieces that I've already made (sort of), or the search for the perfect-ish Wedding Dress. No, it's a blog about Jewish things. More specifically, it's a blog a lot of the time about my adventures in being a Jewish academic. Luckily, school starts up on Tuesday, and I have a host of courses that should make for some interesting writing. Until then? Well, I blog about wedding stuff. My apologies.

Tuvia and I decided to hit up the Connecticut Wedding Expo today, knowing that a lot of the stuff would be out of our bounds for a few reasons: (1) We're having an out-of-town wedding and (2) We're kosher, Orthodox Jews. So we walked around, hoping to nab some free pens and maybe some cruise information for honeymooning purposes. We ended up with a few stress balls (amen) and some stellar coupons to the only kosher product at the Expo -- Ben and Jerry's! Talk about the world's largest sigh of relief. We ate that tiny cone of ice cream like we hadn't seen food in years. But the cake? The cupcakes? The hors d'oeuvres? No dice.

The best part of the Expo, however, had nothing to do with bridal bouquets or ridiculous girls dressed in wedding gowns dancing beneath faux disco ball setups. No, it was a woman named Gail running after us from her booth, turning to Tuvia and saying, "Are you Hasidic!?" while pointing at his tzitzits. This woman spent the next 10 minutes telling us how she grew up at our shul, knew the rabbi emeritus who just passed away (z"l), and how she fell off the derech years ago, but the rabbi always laughed at her jokes about wanting a BLT as a child. It was, in a word, interesting. We later ran into an Israeli gal who was trying to sell off a product that preserves flowers and other wedding items. I asked her if she missed Jerusalem -- as she married an American and now lives here -- to which she responded that she missed her family, but not Jerusalem. "It got too ... religious," she said.

I think we were probably the only two Jews in that place, aside from the Israeli and Gail, of course. I think they were excited to see us, anyhow.

It was a pretty weird experience, walking around that Expo Center, two observant Jews, trying to get something out of the festivities. To be honest, I don't think we got much outside of the stress balls and the Ben and Jerry's worth writing home about. I am guessing a Wedding Expo in the NY or NJ area might be more fruitful for the kosher type, but who knows.

I'm just glad we've got a lot of the important stuff figured out. Planning a wedding can be exhausting. Even just walking around an Expo can be exhausting. The upside is we topped the evening off with some IKEA shopping (great buys!) and some mediocre food at Claire's Corner Copia in New Haven, CT. I really want to love this place, but the food is mediocre, the serve is rough, and they have a $9 credit card limit, which is illegal and stupid. But it's kosher and the food is good (when it's not cold). But it's nice to get out and eat kosher, especially after a massive day of schlepitude.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Bendable Reader?

Hat tip to the folks at (who, might I add, also are doing our wedding invites) for posting about the upcoming Skiff Reader. Let me just wet your palette with some photos.

I think this last photo is what has me jazzed the most. It's BENDABLE! Why? The specifications have it listed as having a "Rugged Metal-Foil e-paper Display" as well as "Silicon thin-film-transistors (TFT) on flexible stainless-steel substrate," and, perhaps best of all, it's shatter AND crack proof. So the big question is, how can I get my hands on a free one of these? I'm looking to really branch out. "Brand" myself as it were. But really I just want nifty and fun gadgets to mess around with and give away on this here blog.

I wonder if it's Hebrew character compatible?

Yah, I'm a Grad Student. WHAT'S IT TO YA!?

My good friend KosherAcademic posted this Simpsons video, and I have to share. It's the truth and it's appropriate, but I definitely don't think I made poor life choices. Students for life ... UNITE!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Shabbos Menu a la Chaviva.

Once again, my good friends are allowing me to host people at their place while they're away, which means I'm cooking. Again. I honestly don't know how mommies of kids or working mommies or just normal people get used to this cooking for Shabbos thing. Then again, I'm guessing most people don't accidentally invite over 12 people to feed. I hate delegating, and I like there to be a fluid sense of food on the table. However, this time, people offered, so there will be extras brought in. I'm also considering making more dessert. (Wow, can I stop cooking already? There's enough food, Chavi!) This is the menu for Shabbos dinner tonight.

Challah + Hummus
Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Barbecue Meatballs
Some kind of chicken dish (from guests)
Rice (from guests)
Green Beans (with a bit of garlic/salt/pepper)
Store-bought cinnamon buns (parve)
Green Grapes

What a spread, eh? Who is coming over for dinner!? Pictures forthcoming!

As a brief aside: It felt so good to cook all of this food for my friends, knowing that I didn't have to observe bishul akum!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Didn't Want to Nap Anyway!

I was never a napper. I always felt sluggish when I napped, so I avoided it at all costs. Then, I started graduate school and not-napping seemed more ridiculous than the alternative of resting during the day. Of course, the result was that I stay up until 2:30 in the morning, and my sleeping pattern is horrible, inconsistent, and rarely includes a restful Chavi upon rising (this is why I'm heading to a sleep clinic consult in the morning, too). After the past few weeks of stress, being busy, not sleeping, and general insanity, I was contemplating taking a nap this afternoon instead of doing some necessary work. And then? Right as I posed the question to Tuvia: Should I work or should I sleep? a sign arrived in my email inbox in the form of a Jewish Treats Daily Fact: "Nap Time." Check it out.
The world is moving at a hectic pace. People seem to always be busy--running from meeting to social engagement until they finally fall thoroughly exhausted into their beds at night. Indeed, modern sociologists look with considerable displeasure at the “busy-ness” of our society. Many people, undoubtably, crave a nap on a regular basis.
While napping on Shabbat is most certainly encouraged as a form of oneg Shabbat (enjoyment of Shabbat), the ancient sages felt differently about to napping during a weekday. In Talmud Sukkah 26b, it is written:
"Rav said: It is forbidden for a person to sleep by day longer than a horse's sleep. And how long is a horse's sleep? Sixty respirations....Abaye would doze off for as long as it takes to travel from Pumbedita to Bei Kuvei. Rav Yosef said in reference to him (Proverbs 6:9): ‘How long will you recline, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?'”
Rather than sleeping through the night, as humans and many other mammals do, a horse rests for short intervals throughout the day. Thus, “How long is a horse's sleep? Sixty respirations.” The commentators debate exactly how long is sixty respirations...and whether the respirations referred to are those of a human (about 3 1/3 minutes) or those of a horse (about ½ hour). The accepted opinion is ½ hour. For if one sleeps/dozes for longer than ½ hour, one must ritually wash one's hands upon waking.
While the idea of a “power-nap” has become quite common in modern health manuals, the sages real worry was about wasting time. Since the most important activity in Jewish life is studying Torah, the extra time spent sleeping is regarded as time wasted from learning Torah.
This is a bummer to find out, but I'm probably better off in the long-run. I know it doesn't mean I cannot nap (I'm not that machmir), but it gives me some logic behind it all. Of course, I could just rest for a half-hour, but I've never been able to catnap. Never. Period. I'm a two-hour napper. Maybe that's why my sleep pattern sucks. Thanks Jewish Treats!

Being Jewish is Splendiferous.

I love this photo in a way that cannot be put into words!

The most frustrating thing about life, is not having enough time to blog. Those of you who know me know how therapeutic this blog is for me. It keeps me sane when the rest of the world is spinning at light speed around me. So for the past few weeks, I've been running on adrenaline, planning and emailing and trying to make sure all of our bases are covered as new wedding-like things get thrown our way. Luckily, probably the most difficult part of the planning process is done -- we've booked a hall! Amen. It was not only the cheapest, but also the nicest. It includes everything (including booze), save the DJ and centerpieces (which I am more than happy to create myself!). Now? Dresses and invitations and wedding registries and LEARNING. Yes, lots of kallah-style learning with one of my BFFs in West Hartford.

The reality of the engagement really set in last night at the L'Chaim/Engagement Party/Vort that Evan and I had at our good friend's home. Dozens of people came, some sporting beautiful gifts and others booze. There was more food than could be consumed (we came home with a lot of a cake, some cupcakes, veggies, dips, frozen goodies, and more!), and laughs like you couldn't imagine. One of the best parts? A friend from the community that moved away last year while I was away in Middlebury at Ulpan actually came to the event. When he walked in the door, I plotzed! This guy, I mean, he's hilarious. It was the perfect highlight to an already wonderful evening. My professor also showed up with his wife, which was a hefty surprise. A good friend of Tuvia's drove up all the way from New York and brought our rabbinic intern with her, which also meant so much to us. People from both of the shuls we frequent in the community came, and the l'chaims were bountiful. There was singing, and conversation, and jokes. I took plenty of photos to capture all of the happiness that bloomed as the night went on. What else is there to say? I felt so loved. Tuvia and I barely spoke the entire night, as the guests poured in and we had so many kind things to discuss with people. In fact, one guest even gave us a piece of artwork with our names on it. Talk about feeling loved!

It's amazing to me, and almost difficult to truly understand, how truly beautiful the Jewish family is. The community is something unlike anything I've ever experienced. Those of you who grew up in the Jewish community, especially the Orthodox one, have no idea how disconnected and un-warm the rest of the world is. It blows my mind, every day, how connected, tied together Jews are to one another. No matter where you go, there's this ready-made family there for you. That's something special, something unique, something truly splendiferous. Had I not found myself within the Jewish family, I think my neshama and subsequently my physical body, would have sputtered out and drifted away a long time ago. I would have lost myself. Sometimes (a lot of the time) it's overwhelming to be in the Jewish community -- it's meals, simchas, shabboses, yom tovs, and every event planned in between. The socializing, the love, the hugs, the constant flow of welcome, for someone like me coming from the Outside World, is emotionally exhausting in the most beautiful way. To be honest, I wouldn't want it any other way. For all of the nights that I just want to sleep, but instead spend hours talking with friends after a meal on Shabbos, not sleeping until 12:30 in the morning, I am thankful and blessed.

What a life, eh? What a life. More photos below in the slideshow!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Roundup: Engagement Ring, Cupcakes, AND MORE!

If I could list for you all of the things I've done this week (let alone today), you'd be mind-blown. Absolutely mind-blown. I've been running on adrenaline since my conversion a week ago today, not to mention since the proposal late Wednesday night this week. There have been dental and physical therapy appointments, learning sessions, bathroom painting (it's BEAUTIFUL, by the way), and more. The stress is coming out my ears already, but luckily I'm rocking a brand-new mouthguard for my at-night grinding issues! Yay! (I have TMJ, as a result of stress, so sometimes, I get all hardcore with my mouth movements at night. Problem: alleviated!)

I was anticipating some naptime today, but no dice. I had to bake a dessert for the big Shabbos potluck tonight, as well as write up a d'var Torah for the dinner, followed by a bit of laundry, some organizing for the wedding already, not to mention, you know, showering and eating and cleaning and putting clothes on. Of course, these latter items were on the bottom of the totem pole and my veggies and chummus are still sitting here beside my computer looking sadly at me in hopes that, you know, maybe I'll eat them. Did I mention breathing? I keep forgetting to do that.

Luckily, I had about two hours of therapy yesterday painting the bathroom green. That's Tuvia's bathroom, mind you. I am really happy with it came out. This therapy included really working my arm muscles and detailing baseboards quietly. There was no music, no TV, no people, nothing. It was really nice, but it was far too short. Luckily, there is more painting to do, so that'll be therapy part two.

Today I baked some cupcakes for the dinner tonight. I was wanting to make something really original and personal, but seeing as I'm short on time and breath and energy, I opted to hit up the grocery store for some cake mix and frosting. Now, the meal is meat tonight (I'm assuming, as they  usually are), so I was at a loss. I wanted to make Red Velvet Cupcakes (my favorite) with Cream Cheese Frosting. However, the latter usually is deliciously dairy. What's a girl to do? I scanned the aisle for about 10 minutes and then spotted the most amazing thing ever. Parve Cream Cheese Frosting, in an easy-to-use can with a head on it for easy application! OMG! Best, find, ever. Go out, buy some, eat it out of the can. Tell me how much you love it!

Just now, in order to write this blog post since so many of you have wanted details, I finished up a d'var Torah on the parshah shemot for tonight's dinner. I don't want to bore my dining companions, so I hope it's not too long. For those of you eager to read it, I've posted it in the right-hand column there for your viewing pleasure! Be sure to let me know what you think.

AHEM. For those of you looking for wedding/proposal details, I've conveniently created one of those awesome websites, and Tuvia picked up the awesome URL Check out our engagement story and more there!

Lastly, I think, for now, is the engagement ring. I've gotten a lot of requests to post the photo, so here it is. The little beauty. I have to let you guys know -- Tuvia picked this out COMPLETELY on his own. I gave him a half-dozen photos of what I wanted, and he opted to get this one instead. I have to say it's the best decision (after finding me, of course) that he's ever made. It's often known as a past-present-future ring. I love it!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010

Swallowed Up in the Mikvah

I just stepped out of the bathtub, after watching steam rise from my legs and feet, the air much colder than the water and the now-temperature of my body. I sat in the tub, candles oozing light, music crooning, and I tried to imagine myself back at the mikvah, standing in that warm pool of water, after taking the literal steps into a Torah-binding agreement with HaShem. I couldn’t. The experience, a true one-time experience, is best left to the memory in its warm and welcoming embrace of the wings of the shechinah. But I want to do my best to share some of it with you. It’s just who I am to tell a story.

The entire thing happened suddenly, in a swirl of phone calls, organizing, and haste. I’d anticipated at least the weekend to consider names, to call friends to be there, to let everyone know. And then, in a quick whish of winter wind, the plans were made and I was set to be at the mikvah on Friday, not today as originally planned (which, by the way, was quite surprising and sudden as it was). To describe it as a whirlwind experience would be understating the actual whirlwindedness of those 25 hours.

You see, I met with my beth din, for the second time, at 10 a.m. on Thursday. By the next day, at 11 a.m., I was sitting on a couch in the very nice waiting room of a very nice mikvah on the Upper West Side. I didn’t sleep Wednesday night, and I surely didn’t sleep Thursday night. I was tossing around names, scenarios of what we’d do if the weather got bad as it had been Thursday morning (every route into NYC was closed for a time, and by the grace of G-d all the rabbis made it in). But everything, miraculously, went like clockwork.

On Friday, I arrived at the mikvah, I spoke with the mikvah lady, I prepared, I went into the mikvah, I accepted a variety of covenantal and binding sentiments and laws upon myself, I dipped, I said a b’racha, I dipped again, I said another b’racha, and I dipped again. I ascended those literal stairs, I entered my dressing room, and I cried. I cried with a smile that I cannot even put into words. I can feel the feeling right now, the confusing smiling, laughing, crying, crying more, and smiling feeling. I stared at myself, drenched in mikvah waters, in the mirror and I could see the change. I stand firmly by the idea that my entire life I have carried within me the Jewish neshama that has shined so brightly these past six or seven years. But standing there, looking into that mirror and later listening to the rabbi bestow upon me my name as a Jewess, I felt different. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

In the mikvah (if you want more details about the procedure, feel free to email me, but this is just for those going through the process who might want to know what to expect), the water was warm, at a temperature that I can’t even describe. “Warm” doesn’t do it justice. Similarly, it didn’t really feel like water. It grazed my skin like a thick liquid, holding me firmly in place, pressing the heat against my chest, like I was being cradled tightly with the kind of pressure that is welcoming. I’m not a very touchy-feely kind of person. I shy away from hugs, and as a child my father couldn’t cradle me, he had to cross his legs and place me there in order for me to stop crying. But the warmth and pressure of the mikvah waters were the most comforting I’d ever felt – those waters, they cannot be replicated. I could see the rabbis reflection in the water beside me, and as he spoke I answered confidently with tears in my eyes “I Accept” with every statement he issued. And as each statement came, I shook more and more. Like tons of little shivers up and down my arms, I was shaking, almost shivering in the warm water. I was anxious, nervous, excited, and my body was processing the emotion in any way it could.

At last, I was told to dip. I grabbed my breath, and dropped into the water, floating freely, fingers apart, toes apart, my body a mess of limbs in the warmth. Through the echo of the water I heard a muffled “KOSHER!” being yelled by the rabbis as they departed the room. And the funny thing? I couldn’t find my footing afterward, I floated, my short little limbs unable to find the ground. After all, the water reached up just at my shoulders, and that was with me on my tip-toes. I was swallowed up by the water, and it was beautiful. At last I found the floor, and the mikvah lady assured me I just need to be down for a second. I guess for her, it’s nothing new. For me? I could have floated freely without air, mindlessly twisting and turning, wrestling with the shechinah in that water for eternity. I dipped two more times, after saying the b’rachot clearly, and heard the mikvah lady shout “KOSHER!” (I have to tell you, this was one of my favorite things – hearing that KOSHER! being yelled really loudly; it was empowering and affirming!)

I came out after having dressed, and cried, and laughed, and was greeted by mazel tovs from friends and the rabbis. The rabbi read a document aloud for everyone to hear, proclaiming me Chaviva Elianah bat Avraham v’Sarah, and I cried again. Chaviva is the name I chose at my Reform conversion in April 2006, it holding the same meaning as my given name, Amanda: “beloved.” Elianah I chose because I wanted something that included and named HaShem. I had very, very little time to officially decide, and I chose Elianah, meaning “G-d has answered,” because I felt as though my neshama was officially, finally, being recognized as having been at Sinai as my deep visions and memories have shown me. Thus, Chaviva Elianah bat Avraham v’Sarah was born on the 15th of Tevet 5770.

And then? Well, we’re back to where I left off.

My first thought, after everything, was this: No one, NO ONE, can deny me anything as a Jew anymore. Period. No one. I immediately thought back to my having applied to Aish HaTorah’s birthright program and being turned down, told harshly and degradingly that I wasn’t a Jew, and issued materials on conversion programs. I thought to myself, “Now, now they can’t do that to me. NO one can treat me like that!” Everyone is quick to assure me that they’ve always thought of me as a member of the tribe, and I’ve always thought of me as a member of the tribe, too. But this one thing makes it different: No one has to feel it anymore, because it’s so. It’s halakicly so! It’s so empowering, I can’t stress this enough.

After the mikvah, an outing for bagels, and wishing farewell to friends heading off on a cruise (oh, and seeing Alec Baldwin!), we headed out to prepare for Shabbos. After a flurry of calls to family and friends, and the realization that my voice was going – fast – I stopped, let my arms fall to my side, and told Tuvia that I was exhausted. I’d been running on adrenaline the past two days, not to mention the past two years, and I was ready to stop. My neshama looked at me and said, Chaviva Elianah, it’s done, it’s really done, and we need to rest now. And so I slept all of Shabbos, save for mealtime (of course). I really can’t put into words that feeling, that exhaustion that I felt (and still feel a little bit) after such an arduous journey.

And that, I suppose, is the rest of the story. I feel like I’m leaving so much out, but the memory, well, it’s so much my own. I want there to be some mystery, some mystique, some feeling that is just between me and that mikvah and HaShem.

As an aside: I’ve received emails, calls, Twitter replies, Facebook messages and comments, and so much more, from dozens and dozens of friends and strangers alike, wishing me mazel tov on my conversion. Save for one individual, the response has been nothing but welcoming and positive. This weekend, there are meals in honor of my simcha. Something else I fail to put into words is how I personally am reacting to everything, that being the mazels and the welcoming and the kind words. It is, in a word, overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it’s overwhelming in the most positive way, but I’m the kind of person who shies away from praise, I always have been. To put it simply, I honestly don’t know how to take a compliment. So, over the past few days, I’ve been overwhelmed by the kind things people have said to me, and I almost feel as though I am not serving people right in my responses. I say thank you, I say thank you again, I feel awkward, and I say thank you again.

Am I alone in this? This is such a big thing, and I know that I’ll experience this again when I get engaged (if?) and married and have kids and all of the other major simchas. Will I ever learn how to be properly responsive? I feel as though others think I’m being ungrateful, but the volume is hard to respond to. I love my friends, my blog friends, my Twitter friends, my Facebook friends. I think I am the most blessed and lucky person in the world right now. I’m quite good at writing, especially when it comes to experiences and emotions, but this is just something for which I can’t figure out how not to be awkward. Sigh. Just know, I love you guys. You and this blog and everything that surrounds my efforts to really light a fire under every neshama out there, those are the things that keep me going, that keep my hopes high and my fingers tapping.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Those YU boys are BORED.

This is HILARIOUS. I love YU guys. They make me giggle. I have to say their choreography was much better performed in practice than on the 4th floor. Either way, bravo boys!

Hat tip to DixieYid.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Chavi's Got News!

You read that right, folks. I've got news. Big news. Huge news! I was going to post a brief video blog about it, but my voice sounds horrible, and the upload was taking far too long. So I'm going to have to give you a teaser here and hope you all come back when I actually write the full post in the coming week.

Is the anticipation killing you? Is it? I guess you could have just looked below for the news, right. But if you're still reading, come on, move along already!

On 15 Tevet 5770 (that's January 1, 2010), at a little after 11 a.m. on the Upper West Side in New York, I descended the steps of a mikvah -- a ritual pool/bath -- and accepted upon myself the yoke of Judaism and being a Jewish woman. I ascended from the pool a new person, a fresh and invigorated neshama, and met friends who were waiting for me outside. I was named, Chaviva Elianah (חביבה אליענה), said my first b'racha as a halakic Jewess and my first shehechiyanu as a Jewess. And then?

Then I went out for a delicious bagel lunch at Bagels & Co. with @susqhb, @ravtex, and @schnit. I was then lucky enough to be on a streetcorner with Alec Baldwin and some other actor whose name I can't figure out. Then Shabbos came, and I spent my first Shabbos as a card-carrying member of the club. And damn did it feel good.

I'll write more later, a lot more later. So please stay tuned. It'll include why I chose a second name, what it felt like in the mikvah, what it felt like after, and everything in between -- including the candy that sticks to your teeth. Oh, and why this was completely sudden, unexpected, and AWESOME.

Thanks for the support and kind words and encouragement over this journey. It still isn't over, of course. We're all under construction, especially this one right here.