Friday, October 29, 2010

Zig Zaggin' Rhetoric

I'm currently in a Teaching a Second Language: Theory and Practice course, and although I was really apprehensive about it at the beginning, I'm slowly growing to enjoy it. The textbook is kind of a drag, but every now and again there's something particularly interesting or thought-provoking. For the most part, what is most fascinating about this class is the off-topic, tangential interaction of the students on our experiences in learning, teaching, or encountering second languages. Probably three-quarters of the class is from China, Korea, Japan, or Taiwan, which has really opened my eyes to a culture group I've never really spent much time with before. Overall, all of our experiences are truly unique and interesting, and I like to bring in the Jewish and Israeli cultural experience.

Something we read recently gave me pause, and we discussed it, and I'm still not sure I get it. I thought perhaps you -- my highly intelligent and educated readers -- might have better insight on this. There's this guy, Robert Kaplan, who wrote a paper on contrastive rhetoric in 1966 suggesting that different languages (and their cultures) have different patterns of written discourse. Okay, easy enough, makes sense. But then he went and created this diagram, which is really beyond me. Sort of.

So, English makes sense. English speakers, and Americans especially, like to be direct, to get to the point, and they expect others to get to the point. They don't dance around the answer or subject or topic. I didn't really get the Oriental image until it was explained to me that individuals from the Asiatic countries don't like to say "yes" or "no," because, depending on who you're talking to, your opinion isn't really necessary to share. So you sort of loop around a "yes" or "no" by explaining all of the possible answers and reasoning and never really stating your opinion, except in a roundabout way.

But Semitic, Russian, and Romance really leave me confused.  Any Russian or Romance language speakers think they can explain the visual representation of a written or spoken discussion? And Hebrew speakers? Care to take on the Zig Zag?

The dashes represent something, too. I'm perplexed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cooking w/Giveaway, Susie Style!

Ever since Pesach 2008, I've been in love. The love affair has taken me to flavorful heights and through disastrous experiences. No, I'm not talking about my life since meeting Tuvia, I'm talking about my falling in love with the kitchen and cooking. I've always loved baking -- for me, it was easy to throw together cookies or a cake or some brownies. But cooking? It required knowledge of recipes and vegetables and spices and oils and other things I had zero experience with. Home was not a place where I was prepared for the big, bad world of food, so I took it upon myself to learn. I never wanted to learn to cook. After all, my original desire in a spouse was for him to be completely kitchen trained. I dated a few guys with skills that would put Martha Stewart to shame (Manishewitz in a pasta sauce? you bet!), but in the end, I need to figure it out for myself.

More than two years later, I consider myself pretty skilled in the kitchen. I've cooked for a few people, for two families with kids, for my in-laws ... you name it. I'm confident in the kitchen (except when it comes to serving, and then I sit on the edge of my seat waiting for pleased responses). But I didn't get here alone. I've had the help of my favorite Kosher cooks: Jamie Geller, Susie Fishbein, and the Internet! Thus, here begins an ode to one of my chef partners, Susie Fishbein.

I promise you, at the end of this post, there will be a giveaway for the book I'm about to discuss, so keep reading!

I received a copy of Susie Fishbein's upcoming (as in, today's its release) cookbook, the newest in the Kosher by Design series, Teens and 20-Somethings, and upon receipt I 3M flagged the heck out of it. Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. At first, I was amused by the cover design -- a spaghetti squash with headphones ... how silly. But I wasn't completely sold on the concept. I flipped through the cookbook and the first thing I noticed was the layout and design, which, to be completely honest, I wasn't jazzed about. As a proverbial "20-something," I felt sort of ... talked down to. I know that this cookbook is geared toward a variety of ages and that the goal is for the book to appeal not only to the title's demographic but also to those cooking for them ... but the design just rubs me the wrong way. It reminds me of 1980s teen style. Bright colors, paint splatters, quirky phrases. It's just trying to hard. Susie gives party ideas in the back of the book with menu suggestions, and the party suggestions seem very, well, geared toward a 5-year-old. Again, I felt like the book was talking down to me. But is the point of the book the layout and design? Probably not. But aesthetics are big when it comes to appeal and selling points. But let's move on to the food. That's why you're here, right?

I decided to make a few things straight out of the book to get a feel for this edition and whether it rocks my world as much as the others I have purchased since moving to Teaneck. I opted for the Mexican Chicken and the Blondies, both which surpassed my expectations in ease of preparation, cooking time, and taste. The great thing about the new edition is that Susie took the time to label each recipe with its "free-ness." That is, nut free, gluten free (GF), dairy free, etc. Although the number of gluten-free recipes is minimal, I'm a firm believer that just about anything can be made gluten-free. Neither of these recipes were labeled as such, but some simple replacements made for an easy cooking experience.

The Mexican Chicken was a breeze (once my husband chopped up some chicken thighs because, well, we're in the Poconos and the chicken selection is limited in the kosher department). All I had to do was crush some tortilla chips (corn = GF), some corn flakes (GF), and put in some taco seasoning (of the GF variety), throw it in a bowl, then toss the chicken pieces in some salsa to coat and then in the chip/corn flake mix to coat, in a pan, bake at 350 and blamo. Twenty minutes later I had some nommy eats. I mixed up the sauce offered with it, which my husband used to mask the seeming "salsa taste" that the chicken had. He doesn't dig salsa, I do. We compromised. It looks yummy, right? It was, believe me.

Once the chicken was in, I got to work on the Blondies, which, I learned, are basically chocolate chip cookies in brownie form (note: this is my first-ever blondie attempt). It was a quick and easy substitution of Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose GF Flour with some xanthum gum, mixed in with the other bits and pieces of the recipe (you'll have to buy the book for this, folks), and ta-da. Blondies. Oh, and don't worry if you messed up -- I put (on accident) probably two to three times more vanilla that I should have. And? Even still: soft, moist, scrumdiddlyumptious. And I guarantee a stranger wouldn't know they're gluten free, either.

Evan really enjoyed the blondies. Really.
Overall, I'm excited about many of the recipes -- which range from drinks to desserts and include a variety of cuisine styles -- in this cookbook, including Orange Butternut Squash Soup (p. 56), the Pizza Soup (p. 62), the Amalfi Chicken (p. 102), and, especially, the Confetti Spaghetti Squash (there's a squash at home calling my name; p. 160). Oh, and, of course, there's the Cappuccino Mousse (p. 210) and the Molten Deep-Dish Chocolate Chip Cookies (p. 214) -- gluten-free-ified, of course!

So now you know there are good eats, are you ready for the giveaway? Read carefully!
  1. This giveaway starts now and ends on Tuesday, November 2 at 10 p.m. 
  2. One winner will receive their very own copy of Susie Fishbein's Kosher by Design: Teens and 20-Somethings.
  3. How do you enter? I'm giving you two options. 
    1. Pick your favorite recipe from the Kosher by Design series and post it to the comments, and tell me what you love about it. 
    2. If you don't happen to have the Kosher by Design series on-hand, pick your favorite go-to recipe and post it to the comments and tell me how you found it and why you love it.
  4. BONUS entry for those who also post a link to a picture of their favorite Kosher by Design recipe! (Note: you have to have made the food in the picture, no taking pictures from Susie's cookbooks.)
I'll post the winner late Tuesday night. And if you don't win? Never fear. Following this giveaway will be another giveaway of Jamie Geller's new cookbook, Quick & Kosher: Meals in Minutes.

Also, probably the coolest part of this post and the giveaway? Your access to the Kosher by Design Recipe Index! Seriously, the best invention ever! No need to look through all of your KbD books, just check out the index if you can't find a recipe.

Rocking Kosher Fest with Susie Fishbein!
Finally, a little ditty with goods and details: Preorder your copy today at – enter the coupon code KBDBLOG at checkout to save 10% and receive free shipping in the continental U.S. Join us online to find more reviews and giveaway contests! Kosher by Design: Teens and 20-Somethings: cooking for the next generation is aimed at the young and digital-savvy fast-food generation and those who cook for them. Susie Fishbein is an everyday cook who loves to share her passion for cooking and entertaining with friends and family. Her enthusiasm for food and entertaining led to the creation of her best-selling cookbook, Kosher by Design, published in 2003 by ArtScroll Shaar Press. For more recipes and updates, visit our blog or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kosher Fest: The Highs, The Lows

See all that Black and White? 
Kosher Fest, Kosher Fest ... you will forever be known affectionately as "The Big Kiddush." (Hat tip to @elierosenfeld on that one.) The reason? Kosher Fest comes with everything kiddush does: fish, booze, little old ladies and large Hasids elbowing you for nosh ... oh, and Tam Tams. Yes, Kosher Fest had literally everything the kosher consumer could dream of. Squeazable hummus, chorizo-style sausage, soy cheese for your favorite burger, and everything in between. I'm pretty sure my eyes have melted from the shock of so much at once. At least, it feels that way. My knees ache, my back hurts (I schlepped around a lot of stuf), and I'm exhausted. The noise, the shoving, the nudging, the meeting of new old friends. But I survived. I did, indeed, live to tell the tale.

I was eager to go to Kosher Fest for one reason: I love food. (Okay, I was also really excited to be in the presence of literary giants Sue Fishkoff, Susie Fishbein, Jamie Geller, Paula Shoyer, and Joan Nathan.) Food, the enemy, is one of my favorite things. The search for delicious gluten-free kosher food is a difficult one, but one I'm willing to rock for the sake of  other kosher-keepers who seek tasty, healthy, gluten-free eats. The problem? These things don't really exist out of vegetables and fruits -- the basics of a gluten-free diet. But sometimes, you want bread and cookies and crackers and to eat a sandwich like a normal person. Matzo ball soup and cake, pasta and chicken fingers. Just as much as kosher consumers want to eat that treyf-like food (imitation crab and soy cheese for burgers), so do gluten-free consumers want to eat like the rest of the world and even more so like their kosher brethren. To be able to say motzi and bensch at the end of a meal. To enjoy a cookout and go out to eat.

So let's forge forth. I'll be reviewing individual products that I took home with me over on over the coming week. Items that I tried on-site will get appropriate comments. I was really shocked at how few of the vendors offered products for me to review when I said "I'm a blogger." The power of the blogger is mighty, right? I had to ask, and in a few cases ask multiple times, to take something with me to review.

My adventure began at the booth. I'm already sold on, from which I purchase Heaven Mills gluten-free challah rolls (oat based for motzi fun!) and other goodies like gluten-free gefilte fish. Jamie Geller (of Quick & Kosher fame) tells me that the King Arthur mixes that sells are worth my time, so I'll be giving those a go and if you do, too, please let me know what you think. I trekked on, stopping by the folks behind Naked Juice drinks. They didn't seem to have a clue what I was talking about when I mentioned "gluten free," but when I said I was a blogger they were keen on showing me good customer service (a blogger's tirade can ruin you). From there I spotted the illustrious Susie Fishbein, with whom I nabbed a picture and shared my disappointment in the cookbook's layout. To be honest, she didn't seem super interested in my comments, but, after all, she was bombarded with people and probably stressed out ... so I guess I won't read too much into that ...

I intended on maintaining fleishig status throughout the day (I was sporting some coffee im chalav), so I ended up eating a lot of interesting parve and cheesy things. I surpassed the Mikee marinades, which come in a variety of gluten-free options (although, I did go back later and have some, and it was outstanding). I nabbed an awesome bag from the folks at Kind Healthy Snacks, which produces a variety of fruit and nut bars, including one that is packed with fiber. My recommendation is to get some and throw them in your bag to stav off hunger. The bag they gave me saved my life, btw. So much to schlep! So little time ...

I hit up a variety of booths with random goodies throughout, and I finally met my connections over at Katz Gluten Free and picked up a container of their new sugar-free cookies. I have to give props to them for going the extra length to add a little healthfulness to their products, but I'm still not sure I'll be eating them regularly. Same goes for Shabtai products, which are so delicious in that they taste like normal cakes, but ... sigh. Calories. Sugar. Fat. Weight Watchers is watching. And I'm trying to avoid processed stuff in order to fill up on things packed with veggies, protein, and fiber. One product I'm super stoked about is the Garden Lites line of gluten-free eats. I've had their souffles before, but tasted the Zucchini Marinara today and it blew my mind. With 110 calories, 5 grams fat, and 3 grams fiber, it's a seriously healthy treat that, yes, you guessed it, tasted like spaghetti marinara. I've decided I'm going to just eat this every day for lunch. Why? It tasted good and it was healthy and that's what I've been looking for in kosher foods.

Oh, and I love the redesign of gluten-free soup nuts. Rings? Awesome. And fun. And soup-a-licious! Also, there was a French (or was it Israeli?) company there trying to get U.S. distribution that represents French cheese and a whole line of St. Dalfour jellies that are all natural. By this I mean it's fruit and juice. ZERO sugar. And wow, so delicious. I picked up a jar of the Orange Ginger, and I'll be reviewing it in short. And meat? I had probably the most delicious sausages I've ever had -- surpassing even those of Smokey Joe's in Teaneck! The "Delicious and Kosher" eats of Jack's Gourmet. They had a chorizo-like sausage, a spicy Italian (it wasn't that spicy) and probably six others. They're gluten-free and oh-so nommy.

I'll cap off my product placement and musings with the booze. Yes, the booze. The liqueur was flowing through the aisles. There was a mountain of kosher wines (I seriously had no idea there were so many), and there were varied versions of whiskey and scotch and bourbon. My favorites? Walders Vodka & Vanilla, which won Kosher Fest Best in Show and didn't taste a bit like alcohol (which I love) and the Heering Coffee Liqueur? Holy Moses. I could drink this stuff for breakfast. I didn't try any of the wine, but from the looks on people's faces, they were happy. 

The view from the Tweetup. I felt so powerful ... reigning supreme over the masses!

Kosher Fest loves Canada! 
In the end, Kosher Fest has a LONG way to go in becoming Social Media friendly. There was wi-fi, but it was nonexistent outside of the press room (where there was no room to sit, for anyone) and it was impossible to blog on-site. Phone service, too, was slight in most instances. It was impossible to be technologically connected and live from the location, and the organizers appear to not have been set up for welcoming or even encouraging a social media presence at the event. Color me disappointed and let down by Kosher Fest. 

That is: the experience, that is, not the food. The food? It was 60 percent outstanding and 40 percent irritatingly unhealthy and gluten-filled. Stay tuned for detailed reviews and anything I might have forgotten here, as well as more info about upcoming gluten-free products from Kedem (there will be a "matzo-like" product, as a teaser), Manischewitz's plans for gluten-free eats, and some safe and fashionable Shmira Wear. Yes, you read that last thing right. Hopefully I can get Tuvia to do a fashion show for me!

Oh! And, before we part ways, check out this awesome video of someone making a havdalah candle. I got to take the gem home with me, and I can't wait to use it. These guys were totally shtetled out, too! (PS: It's sideways, but you'll get the drift.)

Kosher Fest Keynote: Live Blogged!

Note: Everything on Kosher Fest 2010 is cross-posted @ My thoughts in this post tend to be in parenthesis. 

I arrived at the Meadowlands Expo Center at 8 a.m. (thanks Tuvia, for dropping me), only to discover that press registration was at 9 a.m. Growl. I sat outside, got my Tweet on, and now? I'm at the keynote address by Menachem Lubinsky, the president of LUBICOM Marketing/Consulting. Here are some comments, which I'll update throughout the morning.

9:15 a.m. In its 22nd year, Kosher Fest has the largest number of gluten-free, sugar-free, egg-free, and other dietary-restricted foods yet. The number of health-conscious and younger consumers are driving change in the kosher industry. Even at a time of recession, the kosher industry is doing good ("recession proof," says Menachem Lubinsky, keynote speaker). However, many aren't buying gourmet and steaks.

Big-name chefs heading kosher. A "trend" that continues to develop outside the kosher community, geared toward upscale. A change from 20 years ago when kosher wasn't kosher. Packaging has improved, the kosher food industry has developed its image.

Is the supermarket the enemy for independent sellers? People find a niche. Lubinsky says: supermarkets weren't the problem: people refused to update operations, to advance along with the changes of the kosher food industry. Mom and pops blame failure on supermarkets, but these stores also didn't embrace that their demographic was changing. Today, we have the "come back of the independent." In a way, the supermarket model has been taken and melded with the personal approach of the independent market to create a successful model. (I wonder if Glatt Express in Teaneck could be said to have followed this model.) Lubinsky offers Rockland Kosher and Pomegranate as examples of the successful supermarkets. And big box stores? Making a big statement in kosher (think: BJs, Costco, etc.). People are shopping all three: independents, supermarkets, and big box stores. Everybody wins!

9:25 a.m. "Map of the United States" has two states: New York and out of town (a once-upon-a-time thought by kosher industry folks). This isn't the reality any longer. Industry has learned to appreciate who their customer is. Of all new products that came onto the scene last year, 5,000 had some type of kosher symbol -- the largest presence of a single label.

Kashrut is a "constant education." Like social media, it's a moving target (that's my thought, by the way).   It's also a highly competitive field. "Nothing is sacred anymore." Production crossover has been heightened -- there's no limit to what someone can produce, but this creates havoc for the buyer (overkill as far as options).

9:35 a.m. Scenario of the elderly Jewish woman who went to the supermarket as her outing, but only purchased a few small things didn't drive sales (thus failure of grocery stores in certain locations in NY area). Supermarkets realized that it's better to have 30-50 percent of their consumers filling up their carts than to have Zayde purchasing $20 and just hanging out. The traditional, old-school isn't dead, but it's not as present as it was before. (How many kugels or sponge cakes will I spot out on the floor?!)

Question: Are people really cost-conscious? Mention of co-op projects (I belonged to one of those in Lincoln, Neb. You pay money, join, and help support the supermarket and get special prices on the food). Mention of Twitter! There are people who Twitter the specials to their friends and drive grocery store sales. (Love this!)

Question: What about fake cheese? How does it fit into the kosher industry? There's a subset of young folks that want healthy, food replacements. It doesn't reflect just the kosher industry, but the greater food industry. "If one appears to be healthier, they'll invariably pick up the healthier option." (Love that he said "appears," because this is very important. Most of the food that appears to be healthier isn't.)

9:40 a.m. Honoring Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU's worldwide kosher division by representative of Manischewitz, for Rabbi Genack's stellar work. Genack's a "close disciple of Rabbi Soloveitchik." Rabbi Soloveitchik said something interesting about Rabbi Genack: he dives to the depths of kashrut and surfaces with gems and pearls every day, not every rabbi can do that. "Rabbi Genack has incredible insights ... amazing humanity ... dedication and leadership to the OU."

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Say Kosher, You Say Yum!

As many of you know, I'm heading to Kosher Fest tomorrow. I'm covering the event -- mostly -- for my Gluten-Free Kosher Critic blog, but I'll probably end up posting everything here and crossing over there. I'm hoping to do some live blogging from the event, and maybe even get an interview with a few folks who create and promote my favorite kosher eats. Are you excited? I'm excited. I'm stoked.

I'm so stoked, in fact, that I'd like to share with you this hilariously unhealthy remnant of Jewish food gone by: The Art of Jewish Cooking by Jennie Grossinger circa 1965. Yes, these delicious recipes call for everyone's favorite ingredient.

Yes, the recipes just say "2 Tablespoons fat" or "1 cup fat." I know that nowadays we call this "butter" or "margarine" or whatever. But, still. It grosses me out to even look at the recipes. (Sorry Jennie Grossinger, I just can't help it.) Especially as I, someone who loves food (even though it's the enemy), who is attempting to battle this thing called fat with this other thing called fresh, healthy eating. I attended a mini workshop today for Jewish teen educators on how to tap into the minds of Jewish teens with food -- but healthy, relatable, unique, and experiential food. The session spoke a lot to me, and it was awesomely interactive. If you're interested in hooking up with the gal running an awesome set of programming on food for Jewish teens in the NY area, let me know, and I'll set you up.

Ultimately, my goal at Kosher Fest tomorrow is to track down some healthy kosher eats that haven't been processed until kingdom come. Things that leave out the bad oils and the HFCS (or sugar, whatever) and put in the good things we need to sustain ourselves. And? Gluten-free goodies. After all, I'm not only kosher, but also gluten free, which compounds the food difficulties for an on-the-go, busy person like myself. I can't take freshly steamed veggies to work everyday, guys. It just isn't going to happen. Have you seen me in the city? Have you seen the amount of crap I schlep around? I'm a worker, student, and wife. I schlep. It's what I do.

Anyhow, hopefully I can pique your interest with my perfectly delectable posts tomorrow from Kosher Fest. I'm interested in how companies are understanding and marketing "kosher" food. Is it just kosher now? Did we lose the Jewish part of kosher food? What, to you, is kosher food? Is it just kosher food or is it Jewish food? Is it Sephardic or Ashkenazic? Gefilte fish and cholent or baba ganoush and shaksuka? 

This week it's all about food. So? Dig in!

How the Other Half Lives!

יום שכולו טוב 1966 נתן גרוס

Friday, October 22, 2010

[Singing] It's Shabbos Now!

But modestly, of course. Because, after all, this is the interwebs and I am an Orthodox Jewess. So pretend I'm in a closet, and no one can hear me. (I am in the Poconos, and it's quiet here. Oh, except for the five burly construction workers banging and sawing and talking about women while putting up the new windows. It's cold. Very cold. Because there are holes in the wall where windows go. But back to our regularly scheduled blog post ...)

Just a note that in a month and a couple days, I'll be rocking Shabbos in Jerusalem. That's the appropriate way for a Chaviva to rock Shabbos, in case you didn't know. Every day, I grow weaker, I think, being here. Almost a feeling of detachment from the world. In Israel? I feel alive. So I'm super stoked to be heading toward Jerusalem soonish. Let's just hope I can survive the coming weeks. (Hat tip to Elianah for her inspiring Israel ROCKS Shabbat post.)

Speaking of the coming weeks, I have a lot in store as far as blog posts go. I just have to get all of my schoolwork done so I can write the blog posts. In no particular order are ...

  • TWO, yes, TWO cookbook giveaway contests. There will be some action involved (get your chef's hats ready) and two lucky winners will receive (one person for each book) Jamie Geller's new Quick & Kosher: Meals in Minutes or Susie Fishbein's Kosher by Design: Teens and 20-Somethings. There will be two contests, two blog posts, two winners. The first will start on Wednesday, October 27. 
  • A blog post on the hair situation. Yes, hair covering. These happen to be some of my most-read posts, so I'm eager to write another one now that I'm nearly five months into being married and covering. Have I piqued your interest? I might also go all mikvah on you!
  • An interesting thing happened in class last week. It involves a class full of Jews with varying observance and self-identification, a kugel, a gefilte fish, and some kale. I know, right? I'll be asking your advice. Feel free to guess where I'm going with this. 
  • Tuvia's been helping organize his great aunt's and great uncle's house, and he's found some serious gems of photography and memory. Me, being obsessed with genealogy, took on the task of looking into the photos, the people, the locations, and more. I am looking forward to letting you all know the details, including an interesting revelation about Tuvia's mom's family maybe being Sephardic! As a teaser, here's the photo that got me really going. I believe (and through a variety of checking with living relatives and others) this is Evan's grandmother's immediate family in the early or mid 1930s in Oradea, Romania. This, folks, is a gem, and if it's what we all think it is, it's probably the only surviving photo of a family that (save three sisters) perished in the Shoah. 
Such a seriously good looking frum Jewish family, right?!

So keep your eyes peeled. I promise I'm going to get to these. I have to. This blog is my life force, and maybe that's why I've been feeling so dead and detached lately. Poke me. Prod me. I'll get to it.

Until then? A gut Shabbos. Shabbat Shalom. Peace, health, and lots of cholent to you!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Three Years and a Day?

I'm doing some reading for class in Lee I. Levine's Sages, Patriarch and Community Life, which has provided some interesting fodder on parnasa (i.e., charity livelihood/making a living/money required to live), which happens to be the topic of my semester-long paper framed around Ovadiah ha'Ger (after all, the man survived in multiple countries on the charity of Jewish communities, and charity/tzedakah/parnasa is sort of a major theme of Jewish living). But what I want to throw out to the crowd here is something interesting that is sort of mentioned in passing but not really discussed. Of course, being me, I sort of stopped, read it over again, read the paragraph after the quote, and wondered "what?! why!? huh!? is this actually halakah?!" So here, let's start with the quote.
R. Jacob b. Idi (said) in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi: "It happened that there was a family in Rhodes that was being questioned (about its priestly lineage). And Rabbi sent R. Romanus to investigate. He checked and found that an ancestress had converted (to Judaism) before she was three years and one day old (and had subsequently married a priest). He then declared it (i.e., the family) eligible for priestly status (BT Yevamot 60b).
So here's what resulted in my pause: the law states that a convert cannot marry a kohen (i.e., a priest), and her daughter may not marry a kohen, but that the convert's granddaughter and further generations may marry a kohen without question. In this instance, a woman converts at a very young age, marries a priest/kohen, and the family many generations (we assume, no clue what "ancestress" means as far as years gone by) later is declared kohanic.

My questions are

  1. What does three years and one day old have to do with anything? I've never seen this limit before.
  2. Because I've never heard of this rule, I'm perplexed that she would have been allowed to marry a kohen
  3. Because I've never heard the rule and because I'm perplexed that she would have been allowed to marry a kohen, I'm confused as to why the family would be declared kohanic. 
So, if you're a master of the laws on conversion and can explain No. 1 and, as a result, Nos. 2 and 3, maybe I'll feel better about this little anecdote. 

Sidenote: "family" is found elsewhere as "maidservant" and elsewhere again as a "town." Levine says it's unlikely that a special envoy would be made for a simple maidservant (also, what would it matter if she was a bat kohen?).

Another note: Okay, I used the wrong translation for parnasa but you have to understand in my head it's all one big ball of sense-making. If that makes sense. For some people, parnasa is how they survive -- like Ovadiah haGer. For him charity/tzedakah WAS parnasa!)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lech Lecha: But How?

If you want to read some really awesome and emotional posts, there is one from 2008, and I know others exist I just, I don't have the energy to find them. So what now? What brilliant morsel can I add to the catalog of Going Forth (לך לך)?

Ultimately, I view Lech Lecha as HaShem telling Avram to go forth toward himself, to go forth and discover who he was meant to be. But not just to go forth into the ether, a cloud of mystery and the unknown, but to do it with a purpose and a thought in mind.

"I have set G-d before me at all times" (Psalms 16:8), I think, is the key thought here. Go forth, with G-d in mind, and get it done. Figure yourself out. Take the steps and find your true self.

I've reached an impasse ... with myself.

This week was probably the most trying week of my life (of recent memory). I was sick last weekend and I didn't bother to give myself enough time to recover. I've been exhausted, coughing, and drained all week. I didn't get my schoolwork done, I didn't perform in class, I left my Academic Hebrew course this morning completely defeated. I couldn't answer questions, I was distant, I was completely disengaged. This week has put a lot of things in perspective, including the fact that graduate school isn't what it used to be. By that, of course, I mean that I don't have the time or energy to engage in classes: I don't live on or anywhere near campus, I have an annoying commute, I can't be a part of the experience because I have obligations of, oh, you know, married life and being an adult. Basically, life's gotten in the way of my academic aspirations.

And now? I'm asking myself: Can I do this? Can I do this while married and being Suzy Homemaker?

When I was at UConn, I lived on campus and, yes, Tuvia and I were full-time dating, but there was this unspoken rule that school came first. I also didn't have to cook and clean and run errands and sit in traffic like I do now. It was easier.

And I've never been one who chooses easy over what I want. But now, I'm just wondering, am I asking for too much? Has HaShem handed me this impasse?

My sentiments about life in general right now are exacerbated by the fact that Jews around me are dropping like flies. By this I mean losing faith in "the system" and toying with hopping off the derech. Monkey sees, monkey does, right?

Lech Lecha, this week's Torah portion says. Go forth. To a land that I will show you, it goes. In a perfect world, I'd pick up and move to Israel and get my spiritual self re-organized. But, of course, like I said, life. I have a job and school and a husband and a life. A life that is too big for me right now. Time to regroup. Reexamine.

So, for me, right now, Lech Lecha means going forth to figure. it. out. It, of course, being me. And this all comes after the chagim. Shouldn't I have done this already? Then again, underconstructionism is my policy. A work in progress, always and forever. And the only direction, in my opinion, is up. There's no turning back at this point. There's no down, just forward and onward. 

Shabbat shalom, friends. May you find peace in your hearts, calm in your homes. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Books Out My Ears!

The Brothers AshkenaziI recently posted my review of "Kosher Nation," which comes out in hardcover tomorrow! What I didn't mention was the stack of books materializing on my doorstep for review. I'm elated, of course, because I love books and I love supporting authors of every time of literature -- be it a cookbook or a popular fiction reprint. So what can you look forward to here in the coming weeks ... er ... months, probably. I've got a lot to read and there are no more three-day chagim coming up for me to use and abuse for reading purposes.

After "Kosher Nation" arrived, I received a package from Other Press with "The Brothers Ashkenazi," the famed book by I.J. Singer. The book comes out in paperback on October 19, 2010, and the cover is incredibly telling. I read about 10 pages a few days ago, and it has a very good feel to it so far. The book, written originally in Yiddish in 1936, takes place in Lodz and tells of the changes that came after the 1905 revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and ends just after World War I. Color me stoked to sit down with this. I might, however, hold this until my Israel trip at the end of November (plenty of time on a plane to read, you know).

The Witness House: Nazis and Holocaust Survivors Sharing a Villa during the Nuremberg TrialsThe next book to arrive also was from Other Press. The book, "The Witness House" is really up my alley, a it's a work of nonfiction (I was surprised to find that out, actually) and tells the story of Nazis and Holocaust survivors sharing a villa during the Nuremburg Trials. I know, you're thinking: Seriously? Really? And the answer is yes. I'm so excited to read Christiane Kohl's account of this microcosm of the trial scene in a vila on the outskirts of town. This book also comes out tomorrow in paperback.

And then? There are the cookbooks. Yes, delicious, awesome, cookbooks. Okay, for now there's just one, but I'm planning on receiving another as well. I received Susie Fishbein's newest addition to her Kosher by Design collection: "Kosher by Design Teens and 20-Somethings." You'll have to wait for a full review from me until October 27, when the book comes out officially, but if you stay on top of things, you'll be able to enter a contest here on the blog for your very own copy of the book -- and they ship anywhere, so it isn't just a U.S.-only contest! If you want to enter as much as possible, check out what other blogs will be posting reviews of Susie's newest cookbook (which, by the way, as a teaser, includes a recipe for a Chickie's-like sandwich in homage to the popular Teaneck establishment) over on The contest for the book here on the blog will be very unique, so stay tuned!

Quick & Kosher: Meals in MinutesThe other cookbook? The newest installment in Jamie Geller's Quick & Kosher series. I'm still waiting, but I should receive this soon and offer you some delicious goodies in the form of a review. The new edition is "Quick & Kosher: Meals in Minutes" and comes out on November 1, 2010.

And, while you're on the reading kick, check out the New York Times' Magazine's "Shared Plates: Keeping it Kosher," which discusses the ups and downs of Crown Heights' Basil restaurant. The restaurant has an interesting backstory and the staff there is also interesting to read about. Will it survive? As a kosher restaurant? Let me know what you think.

If this doesn't excite you about the books coming out these days, then I don't know what will. Let me know if you pick any of these reads up and what you think. Oh, and get your ovens ready ... the Kosher by Design giveaway will require a little kitchen savvy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Break for the Hilarious!

Last week, I met up for some delicious University Pita (which, by the way, had the best schwarma I've ever had) with bestie Marissa, followed by a jaunt around the library to nab a book (and I ended up checking out the wrong one, believe it or not). We took a break in front of the gigantic board of advertisements and notices that people post in the library, and among the language teaching ads and the bible study group posters, there was this. This, which made us laugh hysterically and kept us giggling for minutes on end. We couldn't help but nab it and disperse it to the world. So here, for my 7 percent non-Judaics related posts, is a moment of hilarity.

The funny thing is that there were multiple posters posted, and the name was spelled "Eon" and "Ian" at random. I just like the funny comments posted and the look on the face of the kid. In truth, I think this poster is a joke. I dare you to call the number and find out :) I know some of you must have b'nai mitzvah coming up, right?!

And now? Back to our regularly scheduled program ...

Sick, but Happy.

As my bestie Marissa would say, I'm a downed critter.

I spent the entire afternoon in bed (wait, de ja vu -- didn't this happen during the High Holidays?), after a less than stellar visit to my doctor's office this morning. I woke up congested on Friday and whatever I have has gotten worse as the days have gone on. Saturday I woke up with what felt like strep. Today I went straight to the doctor, they did the usual swab, asked the usual irrelevant questions, and shoved an antibiotic at me. I'm still unclear whether she said to take them now or start later, so I went with it and took it today. I've had probably two to three dozen cups of tea over the past two days, countless glasses of orange juice, and several bowls of soup. Sigh. So much to do, so sick, so little time, so not enough energy.

At any rate, the one highlight to my super-long and super-sick weekend was the most amazing surprise: a surprise birthday party! Yes, my birthday came over the chagim without much fanfare, and I went with it. After all, turning 27 isn't a huge thing. It's a nice, divisible number, sure, but that's about it. I was filling really ill Friday, but we had friends over for dinner anyhow, because I thought it was just a really bad allergy day. Afterward, we were to meet some friends at their place for dessert, and I advised Evan that we couldn't be there long -- I really just didn't feel well. We walked over, schlepped up the stairs, threw open the door, and "SURPRISE!" "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" I looked around, confused, mostly because there was another surprise party the next day for a friend in the complex. And then, after a few awkward seconds, I realized it was me. I blame the allergy meds for making me both loopy and slow. All of our closest friends were there and many of them went out of their way to make me gluten-free desserts! There were gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and brownies and an amazing trifle made by my awesome friend, who is behind Modestly Fashioned, and, who, by the way, was the hostess with the mostest who helped Tuvia coordinate everything.

I was, in a word, overwhelmed. The first thing I thought was, here's to all those naysayers who think the apartment community in Teaneck isn't the warmest, friendliest, most welcoming group of people you've ever met. They really are those people. I've never in my life felt so loved, and for that, I'm so thankful. I really do have the greatest crop of friends, and without them my feeling sick would be so much worse than it actually is.

Of course, there are no pictures, because it was on Shabbos and we were camera-less. But, you can imagine. Jews, Shabbos, lots of nosh, booze (thanks for the mixed drinks, D), and more. So thank you awesome Teaneck friends, and, of course, my darling husband Tuvia who managed to keep the entire thing from me (which is what happens when I am so busy that I can't notice all the weird things missing from the house or my husband's wacky schedule).

Here's to another year older, and, hopefully, less sick. Of course, that comes next week.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Friendly Request: Gerim!

Your friendly blog writer here with a request from a friend that I think some of you might be able to help out with -- or, at the least -- can pass along to those who you think might be up for answering the call.



I am putting together a book about Gerim and plan to include stories of Gerim who became Chassidim and those who were inspired by Chassidic teachings.

Please contact me if you are interested to have your story included. I am particularly interested to include stories about how Gerim first discovered Yiddishkeit, overcame obstacles during the geirus process, and what attracted them to Chasssidic teachings.

Dov ben Avraham

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Facebook Anthem?

If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest ... in the world. It reminds me of Nebraska, where Husker Stadium became the third largest city in the state on game days (at a meager 80,000 something). If Facebook were a country, would it have an anthem? Would it have a flag? Would its president be Mark Zuckerberg? It's a weird thing to think about. But it also creates some kind of fusion, of people the world over. It's like we really do exist under a single set of dictates. The Facebook Constitution (aka the terms of service and privacy agreement).

Anyhow, here's a fun updated Map of Online Communities by the folks at on the current landscape of the interwebs. Click on it to make it huge. I highly recommend this, because you'll see all the funny and quirky details.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A New (or Old) Convert!

Ouch. I definitely managed to screw up that little nook between my shoulder and my neck attempting to hit the "dismiss" button on my phone alarm this morning. Ouch. I schlepped around a super-full backpack all day, a well as a bag (a la SXSW 2010) full of other stuff. Oh the pain.

I added a book to the pile of growing books that I tug around nearly every day of the week. This book, inspired by a professor's suggestion, is "Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society" by Michael Goodich. I have to do a sort of semester project on a document or primary source that has to do with Jewish community. My fascination with conversion, specifically medieval conversion, is strong, and after mentioning this to the professor he told me to look up Ovadiah the Convert, whose writings were found in the Cairo Genizah (that's like a storage space for old documents). Shock and amazement came to me. After all the research I did on Herman the Jew, the Jewish apostate to Christianity in the early middle ages, I thought ... surely ... I had heard of every Jewishly connected medieval convert, right?

Ovadiah's music notes!
Not Ovadiah (or Obadiah if that floats your boat). Yes, Ovadiah, the Norman fella' that was compelled to convert to Judaism, which led to him running all over kingdom come in order to hide from the Christians out to get his apostate tush. Color me excited. I read Ovadiah's text this evening (it's pretty short) and it seems like a very interesting tale ... which has led me to a variety of other questions (including one about a supposed medieval messiah that I'd never heard of before).

So stay tuned for more interesting tidbits on Ovadiah and what he means for medieval conversion. I will mention that there is a biblical Ovadiah, who is said (in the Talmud) to have been a convert from Edom. Thus, it supposedly was a thing in the middle ages to convert and call yourself Ovadiah in order to honor the convert Ovadiah in the Bible/Talmud.

The question is: Did all woman converts call themselves Ruth? Maybe Rahab? Again, stay tuned!

Related sidenote: Ovadiah (the convert) is the writer or copyist of the earliest surviving manuscript notations of Jewish music, including a eulogy to the biblical Moses ("Mi al har Horev?"), and the tunes are very ... well ... Gregorian. Fascinatin'! (Oh, and I mean the convert in the middle ages, in case you were thinking there were surviving musical tunes from the early days.)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Social Network

I got started in social media through a simple website called From there, I joined a bajillion other websites, made friends, connections, and have networked myself in ways unfathomable to most people I know. I counsel converts-in-process and the curious. I dream of a book deal. And I ask myself, why is Mark Zuckerberg a bajillionaire when he got started the same way as me (and a ton of other people): by journaling on LiveJournal.

A girl can dream, right?

Anyhow, I was curious, after seeing "The Social Network" tonight, to dig up the date that I joined Facebook, a social network that I could let go without any care in the world (while holding firmly on to Blogging and Twitter). After some careful digging around a private forum I've been a member of since who knows when, I discovered the date: December 3, 2004. The moment I joined, of course, I tried to loop all of my newspaper buddies in on the social network. They did, and so did millions of other people. I was part of the trend early on. It's something I wear as a little badge of pride, probably misplaced. Social media, as you know, is the song in my step.

The movie? It was outstanding. I'm convinced that Sean Parker (founder of Napster and un-asked-for mentor to Mark Zuckerberg) is a, pardon me, complete you know what, and Zuckerberg is an awkward genius with a misplaced sense of who he was meant to be. But mad props to him: No matter who you are, you breathe, and Facebook knows it. For better or for worse, it's the here and now. It's no longer the future. Just like Twitter. It's the now and the someday. That is, of course, until the next best thing comes along.

So here's how I heralded the coming of, on December 3, 2004:
All right folks. This is a new, obsessive thing. It could be more addictive than friendster AND myspace. It's all for university students -- to register you have to have a or or bigred or something e-mail address. It's networking, but among university students. You can pretty much see everyone at UNL, create communites, do all sorts of crazy ****.
So if you go to UNL, have an account, create a ******* facebook man. Seriously. John and I are recruiting people for the "daily nebraskan" community.
I suppose you could say I had a feeling about where Facebook was going ...

Anyway, I hope you all had an outstanding chag and are prepared to get back to the grind. I know I'm not. Too much homework and not enough time. There's a lot of Hebrew translation, movie watching, paper writing, and sleeping to be done.