Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ode to Nosh!

It was one of those nights, those grilled cheese and tomato soup kind of nights. Taylor and I vowed to not eat out for a full two weeks, and this is day seven of the adventure. I've cooked something almost every night this past week and the rest of the time has been leftovers consumption. Over the week there's been a lot of soup, and a lot of recipes from Veganomicon. This week I'm hoping to make Lentil Bolognese, Eggplant-Squash Lasagna, Falafel Burgers and who knows what else. Stay tuned! But for now? I give you, my nosh.

First, Classic Tomato Soup with a grilled cheese. What kind of grilled cheese?

Well, if you must know it was a sandwich made with King Arthur Flour Bread Mix for the bread, and I added Trader Joe's Apricot Spread, Fresh Baby Spinach, and Natural & Kosher Muenster Cheese! (Yay for a CostCo visit with @melschol today!)

Overall? Delicious. I have been trying out a lot of different bread mixes in place of challah, inspired by Rebbetzin Ketriellah of Boulder Aish haKodesh (buy a gluten-free bread mix, remove 1/4 or 1/3 cup of the mix and replace it with gluten-free oat flour, and you have ha'motzi), and this is yet another of those that I tried. The one thing I've discovered is that it's hard to find a good bread that doesn't absorb the liquid substance, in this case the Vegan Buttery Spread I used. So it was a little soggy, and I should have put cheese on both sides so that the whole thing stuck together, but, you know when I last made a grilled cheese? Months, folks. Maybe even a good year or so.

The Magical Minhag Tour

At the beginning of November, I posted about my curiosity when it comes to divorce and minhagim (customs) -- do you keep 'em? What if you're a convert, do you go back to being able to choose? Does it matter if you have kids? Does the length of the marriage matter?

Basically, I'm trying to figure out what constitutes minhag retention in the "frum" (religious) Jewish community.

In case you were wondering perhaps why traditions are so important. Check it, Proverbs 1:8.
I spoke with a rabbi recently about this question I had, and after some quick conversation, he said that he doesn't understand why I wouldn't be able to go back to choosing my own minhagim. So I'm researching and exploring Sephardic traditions, because for some reason, a lot of them seem to make a whole lot more sense to me. That and they're absolutely fascinating. (One Sephardic tradition has it that when you say havdalah, you are to look into the wine, and if you see your face, you laugh aloud after the bracha!)

But you're probably asking yourself: Wait, why would you choose your customs? Who chooses their own customs? Isn't the point of a custom that it's something that's passed down?

Well, when you grow up in a nominally Jewish family (you know, the kind of family where you know you're Jewish but have no clue what a lulav is) and become a ba'al teshuvah or when you choose to be Jewish and convert, you don't have customs. You don't claim any traditions, and when you do, they're typically the kind of things where you know what Chanukah is and you light the menorah. There are minimal traditional differences in lighting a menorah (right to left? gain candles or lose candles?)

So, in these situations, you're blessed with the opportunity to choose your customs, your minhagim.

Well, what if you're a convert, you practice nominal Ashkenazi traditions throughout your pre-conversion existence, then the moment you convert you get engaged, and then married to someone who also has nominal traditions that no one really practices, and then you get divorced from that person. What happens?

Let's say you grow up without any Jewish customs, you become religious in your early 20s, you meet a nice Satmar fellow and get married. You take on the stringent Satmar customs, and then, just a few years into your marriage, you get divorced. Are you bound to holding to those Satmar traditions until you meet someone new? And then what if that person isn't Satmar?

What if you're married, observing Lubavitch customs, and you get married and have three children. Then, you get divorced when your kids are all under the age of 5-years-old, and marry a Spanish Portuguese Jew. Do you adopt the customs of you new husband? Because your children are under the age of b'nei mitzvah and their father plays no role in their life, do your kids take on your new husband's traditions? Or do you raise them in the Lubavitch tradition of their father?

Is your HEAD exploding now!?

Over Shabbat we were considering all of the variations and complications that come with minhagim and the wide, expansive set of traditions that can vary from community to community and even family to family within that community. The glory of minhagim is that they are not law. As Rabbi Marc Angel says in "Exploring Sephardic Customs and Traditions,"
One needs to always remember that the purpose of observing minhagim is to bring us closer to God, closer to our tradition, and closer to each other. 
Furthermore, Rabbi Angel cites Rabbi Eliezer Papo who says that "God knows what is in a person's heart" and that minhagim are not meant to be oneupmanship. If the observance of a minhag results in presumptuousness, it's a very uncool thing.

So my question to you, readers is: Have you been married and divorced? How did you choose your customs, or did you just stick with what you  knew? Did you even think about it or consult a rabbi or was it just something that you didn't think about? If you did get to choose your customs as a ba'al teshuvah or convert, how did you go about doing so? 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Breaking Through the Darkness

In 2007, I wrote, regarding this week's Torah portion:

Having never read through the Bible/Torah before, even in my youth (I was raised w/o religion, essentially), I was unfamiliar with some of the plagues. Perhaps the one I was most unfamiliar with is the Ninth Plague -- darkness. The sages surmise that it wasn't physical darkness, such as that brought by a sandstorm or eclipse, but rather that it was "a spiritual or psychological darkness, a deep depression." The Torah reads, "People could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was" (Ex. 10:23). The commentary comments that people suffering from depression often lack the energy to move about or to concern themselves with others, focusing instead on themselves. Having nearly drowned in the sea of darkness that is depression myself, I read this and am completely overwhelmed. My mother and the man I love both suffer that which was plagued on the Egyptians. A darkness that comes and goes, though.

The commentary reads: "The person who cannot see his neighbor is incapable of spiritual growth, incapable of rising from where he is currently." Amid the Ninth Plague, "People could not see one another." The Catch 22 of depression is that, oftentimes, one feels so absolutely alone that he or she is driven into the depths of darkness where it is most lonely. Yet, if the person is incapable of seeing his or her neighbor to begin with, and within darkness is also unable to see his or her neighbor, what is to release them so that they can attain spiritual growth?

One of the hardest lessons that I'm learning after my divorce, my move, and my new relationship is knowing that I'm not alone. So many people have supported me through everything, and there have been so many expressions of love, support, and outreach, but when you're stuck in your aloneness and loneliness, those are hard spaces of darkness out of which to break.

Taylor reminds me, almost daily, that I am not alone -- "After all," he says, "Isn't this why we have each other?"

My dialogue with HaShem is continuous, and many of my prayers are for strength, peace, and guidance. I'm slowly rising from the darkness that I have known for so long, and it starts with realizing that I am not alone, despite how much I feel that. It's like an arrested development. At some point, I was faced with being alone, worthless, the wish that I had never been born vocalized outside myself. I'm attempting to remove myself from that arrested status emotionally and mentally.

I would guess that this plague, the plague of darkness, was the most painful and heartbreaking of them all. I wish such a plague upon no one and only hope that we all can learn from darkness and remember that the one thing that HaShem truly asks of us is to bring light into this world. And that light arises from our neshamot. Be true to yourself, let your neshama shine through, light the fire and let it grip the world around you into brightness.

Conversion: It's Not Just for Marriage Anymore!

It's like I'm famous ... this is my Ignite:Chanukah presentation! I hope you enjoy ...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Limmud Colorado: Dueling Rabbis!

Rabbi Rose, Rabbi Soloway, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Rabbi Goldfeder
Well folks, I'm at my first Limmud conference, sitting in my first session (I was helping out this morning with a video blogging session for teens), which many are calling the "Dueling Rabbis." Officially, however, the session is called "Bound, Together." Here's the description:
For the third time at Limmud Colorado, Boulder's Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis will agree to disagree from a place of deep friendship and respect, as they reflect on the complex question of religious obligation. Rabbi Marc Rose will facilitate a conversation between Rabbi Josh Soloway and Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder as we explore together the ties that bind us to our ancient wisdom tradition.
So here I am, live blogging some thoughts! Ready? Let's go!

The rabbis were hanging out at Avery Tap House together, and a guy at the bar, looking for a joke about rabbis walking into a bar and lo-and-behold, what showed up was the articles by the three rabbis. 

There has been a lively discussion based on an article that Rabbi Goldfeder (Orthodox) wrote, followed by a response from Rabbi Soloway (Conservative), followed by Rabbi Rose (Reform). The comments online were nasty, so the context for the session herein lies. There is a series of three questions that will be asked and hopefully answered.
  • In what ways does the Jewish tradition obligate you to do stuff? And what is the stuff you feel obligated to do?
Rabbi Rose: Grew up in the Reform movement, and I need to start with saying that there's dissonance between my own practice and my own beliefs and those of the Reform movement. ... But I want to amplify what Marc said ... I am not representing the Reform movement. I grew up in an era, as many of us did, in which autonomy, personal autonomy, was a very deep and significant aspect of Jewish life. I grew up with a deep sense that I had an obligation to the Jewish people, but in the broadest sense. ... My entire religious journey as an adult has been trying to understand what is this very deep sense of obligation and compulsion that I now feel to observe mitzvot. ... 

When it comes to the question to whom or to what am I obligated ...  I am not a person who believes in Torah m'Sinai in the most literal sense. I believe that Torah was constructed by human beings over time. Once you affirm your belief in that, you have to ask yourself, Why am I obligated more to the mitzvahs in the Torah than to say in the Odyssey?

I have a belief that my life has a purpose. My religious journey is understanding what that purpose is. ... I have this deep sense of obligation not only to Jewish history and to the Jewish people, but to some deep point within me -- and what that point is we'll talk about later -- that needs to know what it is and to come to a point of self understanding. Because I believe that w/o a deep hunger to know what my life is about and to know why I am here, there is no way for my life to move in a direction. 

Rabbi Goldfeder: We're all here because, I believe, we're all interesting in learning and hearing perspectives that we wouldn't normally hear. I'm going to guess that my experience and perspective is different than most of the people in this room ... You can use me as a way to understand and filter what you're hearing in the news today. ... I don't think of myself as a standard Orthodox rabbi. 

(Grew up Reform, spent his Junior year of college abroad, telling story about Tzfat and worrying about losing his personality in the mix of becoming religious.)

At that point, I was no longer at the center of my universe. It became true to me that I was no longer the arbiter of what I was going to do in many situations. ... I don't wake up and say, Am I going to daven today? I don't envy those people. 

Rabbi Soloway: I think what I struggle with is the relationship as to what Torah is and what the rabbis think it should be. I feel like the Talmud is a very powerfully rich volume of work that inspires me spiritually and definitely gives me more of an understanding of what my obligation is, but I don't feel that the rabbis of the Talmud are direct descendants of Moses on Sinai. ... I don't believe in Torah m'Sinai. ... I think we are still working out what the details of that covenantal relationship are. 

I feel that part of my obligation is to have serious concern for the environment ... Keeping Shabbat and keeping lights on for 25 hours becomes increasingly problematic for me. What is my obligation in that? I think more than anything else when it comes to the concept of being a mensch, it is about awareness. 
  • What about the obligation on other people in our lives? How do we engage in relationships with other Jews who do not feel obligated in the same way that we feel obligated? 
Rabbi G: I wrote an article for the Boulder Jewish News that left to a conflagration of sorts and what was interesting to me was that many people took it very personally. "You're judging me," is what I got. 

If a woman comes to me and says, "I want to be a rabbi," I say, Amazing. You want to be more involved? More connected to your Yiddishkeit? That's amazing. That's so wonderful. I don't judge anyone. ... I feel a genuine sense that this is amazing. A sense of pride and joy. 

Because when I speak of obligation, I am not referring to observance. I'm referring to growth and literacy. I believe that every one of us is obligated to be growing and becoming more literate. So when a person says I'm done, I'm finished, I know everything that I need to know, that offends me more than if a person says, I've decided to give up pork and I'm only eating lobster now. ...

If you haven't gotten literate about it, then it's like your opinion to me seems so diminished in my own eyes. We're not having a conversation about what's there, but about something you thought about 20 years ago and then forgot about. We're so informed about things in our life ... why not our Yiddishkeit? ...

I think what's preventing people from practicing literacy is rabbis like me. ... If you write a polemic in the Boulder Jewish News laying out points without access it doesn't work. I see myself, more than anyone else, being one of the -- in terms of Torah -- ten most literate Jews in Boulder. ...

Rabbi R: For me, Torah has an existential claim on me. What I mean by that is that I don't start with the assumption that okay, here's halachah and that's binding ... and therefore I'd be crazy not to follow the path. It's not that, it's more existential. I have this very deep need to understand who I am and what I am. 

How do you embody a life where your consciousness is not at the center of the picture, where your life is not what the world is spinning around? ... I can't get to the point of saying to someone, You have to keep kosher! But I do feel like it's my obligation to guide people down the path. Halacha is an expression of walking down a path.

Rabbi G: So, if a Jew walked up to you and said, I'm going to join an Ashram next week ...

Rabbi R: I would do everything in my power to say, Why join an Ashram? I would do everything in my power to keep them on a Jewish path. ... I'm going to do everything to say that there is a truth here, that you were born into [Judaism].

Rabbi S: I have had, like many people in this room, profound other spiritual traditions. Sometimes there's an attempt to make them Jewish, when I'm really happy to just have different experiences. ... Part of my obligation is to be in relationship with people of other spiritual paths and practices. ... Part of my obligation is to listen to people and hear their stories. ...

Heschel talks about radical amazement ... and he also talks about religious behaviorism. When we no longer feel amazed by our tradition, we have the capacity to close our hearts and stop listening to each other. 

Rabbi G: What is more idolatrist: halachah as idol or vehement ignorance of halachah?

Rabbi R: Must there be a choice? Both are things to be avoided. 

Rabbi G: I think that ego as arbiter is a bigger idol, although there is potential damages in each of them. 

And now? Q&A. I'll cut it off here ... interesting stuff, yes? Thoughts? 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ode to Cholent!

As if I didn't get enough people searching for "cholent" and getting to my blog, I thought I'd provide more reason for such searchers to end up here. Yes, while busy reading over Shabbos the most recent issue of Moment magazine, I happened upon a fascinating article about cholent with a great recipe. The part of the article that really sparked my interest, however, was some lines from a poem by Heinrich Heine called "Sabbath Princess."

It's a long poem, but believe me, it's worth reading, if only because the bits about cholent (called schalet in this poem) is pretty hilarious. Cholent as ambrosia? Oh yes.

And if cholent doesn't strike your fancy, check out their fascinating article on how Jews -- quite literally -- built Alaska.

Princess Sabbath
By Heinrich Heine (Trans. Margaret Armour)
IN Arabia’s book of fable
We behold enchanted princes
Who at times their form recover,
Fair as first they were created.
The uncouth and shaggy monster        5
Has again a king for father;
Pipes his amorous ditties sweetly
On the flute in jewelled raiment.
Yet the respite from enchantment
Is but brief, and, without warning,        10
Lo! we see his Royal Highness
Shuffled back into a monster.
Of a prince by fate thus treated
Is my song. His name is Israel,
And a witch’s spell has changed him        15
To the likeness of a dog.
As a dog, with dog’s ideas,
All the week, a cur, he noses
Through life’s filthy mire and sweepings,
Butt of mocking city Arabs;        20
But on every Friday evening,
On a sudden, in the twilight,
The enchantment weakens, ceases,
And the dog once more is human.
And his father’s halls he enters        25
As a man, with man’s emotions,
Head and heart alike uplifted,
Clad in pure and festal raiment.
“Be ye greeted, halls beloved,
Of my high and royal father!        30
Lo! I kiss your holy door-posts,
Tents of Jacob, with my mouth!”
Through the house there passes strangely
A mysterious stir and whisper,
And the hidden master’s breathing        35
Shudders weirdly through the silence.
Silence! save for one, the steward
(Vulgo, synagogue attendant)
Springing up and down, and busy
With the lamps that he is lighting.        40
Golden lights of consolation,
How they sparkle, how they glimmer!
Proudly flame the candles also
On the rails of the Almemor.
By the shrine wherein the Thora        45
Is preserved, and which is curtained
By a costly silken hanging,
Whereon precious stones are gleaming.
There, beside the desk already
Stands the synagogue precentor,        50
Small and spruce, his mantle black
With an air coquettish shouldering;
And, to show how white, his hand is,
At his neck he works—forefinger
Oddly pressed against his temple,        55
And the thumb against his throat.
To himself he trills and murmurs,
Till at last his voice he raises;
Till he sings with joy resounding,
“Lecho dodi likrath kallah!”        60
“Lecho dodi likrath kallah—
Come, beloved one, the bride
Waits already to uncover
To thine eyes her blushing face!”
The composer of this poem,        65
Of this pretty marriage song,
Is the famous minnesinger,
Don Jehudah ben Halevy.
It was writ by him in honour
Of the wedding of Prince Israel        70
And the gentle Princess Sabbath,
Whom they call the silent princess.
Pearl and flower of all beauty
Is the princess—not more lovely
Was the famous Queen of Sheba,        75
Bosom friend of Solomon,
Who, Bas Bleu of Ethiopia,
Sought by wit to shine and dazzle,
And became at length fatiguing
With her very clever riddles.        80
Princess Sabbath, rest incarnate,
Held in hearty detestation
Every form of witty warfare
And of intellectual combat.
She abhorred with equal loathing        85
Loud declamatory passion—
Pathos ranting round and storming
With dishevelled hair and streaming.
In her cap the silent princess
Hides her modest, braided tresses,        90
Like the meek gazelle she gazes,
Blooms as slender as the myrtle.
She denies her lover nothing
Save the smoking of tobacco;
“Dearest, smoking is forbidden,        95
For to-day it is the Sabbath.
“But at noon, as compensation,
There shall steam for thee a dish
That in very truth divine is—
Thou shalt eat to-day of schalet!        100
“Schalet, ray of light immortal!
Schalet, daughter of Elysium!”
So had Schiller’s song resounded,
Had he ever tasted schalet,
For this schalet is the very        105
Food of heaven, which, on Sinai,
God Himself instructed Moses
In the secret of preparing,
At the time He also taught him
And revealed in flames of lightning        110
All the doctrines good and pious,
And the holy Ten Commandments.
Yes, this schalet’s pure ambrosia
Of the true and only God:
Paradisal bread of rapture;        115
And, with such a food compared,
The ambrosia of the pagan,
False divinities of Greece,
Who were devils ’neath disguises,
Is the merest devils’ offal.        120
When the prince enjoys the dainty,
Glow his eyes as if transfigured,
And his waistcoat he unbuttons;
Smiling blissfully he murmurs,
“Are not these the waves of Jordan        125
That I hear—the flowing fountains
In the palmy vale of Beth-el,
Where the camels lie at rest?
“Are not these the sheep-bells ringing
Of the fat and thriving wethers        130
That the shepherd drives at evening
Down Mount Gilead from the pastures?”
But the lovely day flits onward,
And with long, swift legs of shadow
Comes the evil hour of magic—        135
And the prince begins to sigh;
Seems to feel the icy fingers
Of a witch upon his heart;
Shudders, fearful of the canine
Metamorphosis that waits him.        140
Then the princess hands her golden
Box of spikenard to her lover,
Who inhales it, fain to revel
Once again in pleasant odours.
And the princess tastes and offers        145
Next the cup of parting also—
And he drinks in haste, till only
Drops a few are in the goblet.
These he sprinkles on the table,
Then he takes a little wax-light,        150
And he dips it in the moisture
Till it crackles and is quenched.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Simple Sunday

I'm not sure that anyone really cares, but I had a good day yesterday. I like to think it was a very "Denver" kind of day, and that makes me happy. In pictures, I give you, A Simple Sunday.

I started the day by sleeping until noon, because I've been ill with some kind of stomach ailment. Luckily, I woke up feeling a whole lot better and went on my way. First stop? The Denver Bicycle Cafe for Yelp Office Hours.
I told the bartendress that I wanted whatever she recommended.
So she suggested a delicious cup from Huckleberry Roasters.
This was probably the most delicious cup of coffee I've ever had. I drank it black!
Yes, bike bells that advertise Yelp awesomeness. <3

Some of the Yelpers. I can't get over the vibrancy of that wall.
After sitting around the cafe for a while, a few of the Yelpers and I headed over to the Vegan Market, which unfortunately had slim pickens because we showed up too late. So I headed next door to the most awesome shop ever, Tellulah Jones, where I anticipated finding a cute gift to add to the growing package for my nephews' birthday.

Sophie! I spotted her, but didn't buy her. 
I went grocery shopping for dinner ingredients next, which was fun simply because I was busy listening to my favorite podcasts -- Stuff You Missed in History Class and Stuff You Should Know from

Home with goods in hand, I got to cooking. The food? Snobby Joes (from Veganomicon) and Herbed Quinoa.
Everything prepped! Ready to go. 

I hated Sloppy Joes growing up. But this? This is amazing.

I wish I had taken a photo of us eating this because, well, it was unbelievable. The most delicious thing I've had in a long, long time. After we noshed, Taylor and I headed out to Scruffy Murphy's to meet up with a few of his film friends and to partake in some on-the-house beers.

I caught him blinking. D'oh.
It was dead, because it was Sunday, but we didn't mind. Good drinks with good friends. And then? Home, to bed, to sleep.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Haveil Havalim No. 343: Alas, Tebow Loses

So maybe now that Tebow's in the off-season he'll considering marrying Katy Perry?

It's that time of the week again, folks, that time when the best and brightest of the Jewish blogosphere come out to play, blog carnival style. If you aren't familiar, here's the 411:
Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs — a weekly collection of Jewish & Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It’s hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack. The term "Haveil Havalim," which means “Vanity of Vanities,” is from Qoheleth, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other "excesses" and realized that it was nothing but "hevel," or in English, "vanity."
Now, the site that runs blog carnival goodness has been wonky as of late and has left those of us hosting relying on the kindness of folks to join the Facebook group and check there for whom is hosting and to whom you need to email your weekly posts. You can still submit them the traditional way, but, well, technology is kind of failing us right now. Also, remember -- only submit posts that fall within the past week. 

That said, let's get to this!

Evidently, an ark-full of U.S. soldiers ended up in Israel this week. You can read more about it on Esser Agaroth's blog in Thousands of U.S. Troops Land in Israel.

I really enjoyed the Eight Things That Won't Make Headlines from The Real Jerusalem Streets, including No. 5 -- Pink Laundry out to dry ... in Mea Sha'arim! Scandal!

The Torah Revolution posts on Huge Suffering and Anger in the Shomron.

Shiloh Musings ties up the popular TV show 24 with the struggle for peace in With Those Arabs, There Can't Be Peace. Luckily, there's hope, but it takes more than being nice, folks. 

If you haven't heard about -- or you just can't get enough of -- the horrifying abuse scandal in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem (which, by the way, is the neighborhood I always stay in when I'm there and absolutely love), check out Esser Agaroth: Haredi Backlash From The Nachla'ot Abuse Cases?

The Real Streets of Jerusalem offers a juxtaposition -- In Two Different Worlds -- of a book signing of a former Chief Rabbi and the reality of getting in and out of Jerusalem and the dangers that exist. If anything, go look at the photos. 

Bat Aliyah offers a bajillion awesome reasons in Dear Dave as to what is super about living in Israel and how it differs from the U.S. I mean, I didn't need to be sold, but ... it's a great list. And Batya over at me-ander responds in suit with her list of "Life in Israel" The View From Here

Ooo a trip to the zoo! I'm a sucker for zoos, so Walkable Jerusalem's "Pini's Room" highlights a Hanukkah visit to the "bug" room maintained by well-known zoologist Pinchas Amitai at the Jerusalem Zoo. (Yes, this post is too old to be posted, but I'm looking for meat for this post, so deal with it.)

Yoel asks Whose Compassion? when considering an every-day recited bit from the siddur. You don't need patience to read the post, but you should have some compassion. 

Over on the JewishIsrael Ning is a post highlighting Journalist Giulio Meotti who calls for a Rejection of the Judeo-Christian Blend. The article highlights the thoughts of Rav Soleveitchik and it seems that the idea is that the blending doesn't leave room for self-preservation/protection of Jews and Judaism and Israel.

A Simple Jew's much-anticipated new post (okay, well, much-anticipated by those who love the blog and miss his regular posts) went up, and it's all about finding silence when standing before HaShem. He asks poignant questions, inspired by the words of the Sudilkover Rebbe in Do You Really Believe He Hears You?


To Kiss a Mezuzah talks about Adventures in Medical-Land, and we're all wishing her a refuah shelemah!

I love Cleansing River's posting "Merriment Ran High" highlighting a newspaper article about his ancestors' marriage and how big the story was for The Indianapolis Star. I love old things, especially when you read them and giggle at the language. (i.e., being led to the "altar" at the "Orthodox Jewish ceremony.")

Isramom talks about Feminism, offering what she is for, what she isn't for, and, of course, what she's against.

Häagen-Dazs not kosher!? Oy gevalt! Check out Shiloh Musings find out more, and keep reading to hear about Häagen-Dazs, Faux Mehadrin sic Buses and the Sin of Taking on Nazirut.

Vicki's Friday Links starts off with a Vespa View of Jerusalem and then a bunch of awesome links on Jewish awesomeness. 

Okay, I know you're all sick of the Sh*t XXX Say posts, but you have to go check out Kate's post that includes a video on Sh*t Christians Say to Jews as well as Kate's own laundry list of the things people have actually said to her in Actual Ridiculous Questions That I Have Actually Been Asked.

For next week, shoot your submissions to Risa at risa dot tzohar at gmail dot com!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Talking in Shul and the Sudilkover Rebbe

I have always adored A Simple Jew and the thoughtful blog posts that appear there. On a hiatus for some time, I was elated that ASJ finally posted something today, and it's something that keeps me from shul a lot of the time.

ASJ met with the Sudilkover Rebbe, and these words stuck with ASJ and they stick with me, too. I've written about talking in shul a lot, and it's one of my biggest pet peeves of them all. It's another reason I cherish my alone, at-home time with HaShem so very much. The Sudilkover Rebbe said,
"If we are given 22.5 hours a day when we are permitted to speak with others, why must we encroach on the 1.5 hours that are set aside solely for our conversation with Hashem? Isn't it He alone who provides for all our needs? If we really believe Hashem hears the words we say, how could we ever even think of speaking to others when we are standing before Him in His house? We need to stop speaking to others when we are speaking to Him!"
And really, why? Although, I suppose there is the argument that the holiness is not of the place in Judaism (when it comes to the synagogue) but rather in the gathering of a minyan. So, perhaps, "His house" really means the collective body of prayer that is obtained when ten men gather? 

At any rate, you can read the full post over at A Simple Jew. You can also read my rant about talking during services from back in 2009 here

For those of you wonder who the Sudilkover Rebbe is, I can't seem to find much outside of A Simple Jew's blog, where he has lots of advice and stories from and about the current rebbe. The original Sudilkover Rebbe was the grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, the father of chassidus. According to one website, 
Few people can point to the shtetl of Sudilkov on a map of Ukraine. Most maps, in fact, do not even show Sudilkov. Historically, it was known throughout the Jewish world as a center of the Hasidic movement, for manufacturing talleisim (prayer shawls) and printing Jewish books. Sudilkov was the home of the famous rebbe and author of Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim, grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov. The only remaining evidence of Jewish life in Sudilkov is the Jewish cemetery located next to the "Stav" lake.
If anyone knows more about the particular brand of chassidus that the Sudilkovs practice, let me know. I'd love to know more!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sh*t Frum Girls Say

I think this video just made my life. *snicker*

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review: "Heir to the Glimmering World"

If you've never read something by Cynthia Ozick, then you're seriously missing out. My first encounter with Ozick was in the last class of my last year of my undergraduate career -- American-Jewish Fiction with one of my favorite professors who I wrote about recently because he passed away. In that class, we read Ozick's The Shawl, which offered a portrait of the survivor's mentality and subsequent destruction therein. It is an incredibly short read, but an incredibly powerful read that will have you in tears.

When I was back in Nebraska last month, I picked up a ton of delicious used books at A Novel Idea, and one of them happened to be a Cynthia Ozick book I was neither familiar with nor had read -- Heir to the Glimmering World. I'm happy to say that this is one of those books that's incredibly hard to put down, and since it was my bedside table, pre-bed book, it made it hard to get through.

The narrative features Rosie, an 18-year-old whose father's curious past leaves her in an interesting place when he passes. She ends up living with her "cousin" Bertram, but when he takes up with a radical named Ninel (Lenin backwards!), Rosie is off to new frontiers, which leads her to the home of a family of refugees. The bulk of the book takes place in the 1930s when Rosie is in the home of the Mitwissers in The Bronx, where she is something of an assistant to the elder Mitwisser, a once-prized professor in the old country. The family has been affected in strange ways by the changes in Germany in the 1930s, and each of the family members handles things differently. Having been of the German elite, the family now relies on their benefactor, James A'Bair, who has his own strange, obscure background that left him "in the money." Rosie plays a greater role in the family than she can ever imagine, and Heir to the Glimmering World, and the book is unexpected in where it begins and where it ends.

I was incredibly pleased with this book, and it definitely had Ozick's balance of light and darkness in storytelling. The glimpses of hope and despair are so perfectly balanced, and unlike so many stories of refugees from the 1930s and 1940s from Europe, this story doesn't follow the typical trend. Judaism doesn't play a major role in the book, despite the elder Mitwisser being an aficionado on the Karaites.

Ultimately, this is a book about crushed dreams, new realities, a loss of security, and moving on with life when you lose everything and have to start fresh. It was a truly powerful read, and I highly recommend it!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Yummy Torah Goodness from Kol Menachem!

Back in late 2009 and early 2010, I had the pleasure of working on an amazing project with Kol Menachem Publishers, which most of you are probably familiar with from their publication of the Gutnick Chumash. I had the pleasure of encountering the brains behind the operation, Rabbi Chaim Miller, back in 2008 when I attended the Chabad Shabbaton in Crown Heights (I wrote about it, too!), and we struck up a friendship and professional interest -- with him having upcoming projects and me being a trained copy editor.

When Rabbi Miller reached out with a new project -- The Lifestyle Books: The Five Books of Moses -- I was intrigued personally and professionally and hopped on the project without skipping a beat. Over several months, I worked as part of a team to help do some nitty gritty editing, and then sat back to wait for it to come to fruition in printed form. Lucky for you and me, it's been published!

When I was working on the project, I had no idea what the aesthetics were going to be for this particular book, and when I got a final copy of the book, I was blown away. As someone who grew up with illustrative and informative versions of the Bible (that, after all, is how Christians layout their Bible, giving color and stories a place within the text for text-study and being fully informative), this version of the chumash provides something that no other before does.
With a charming, colorful presentation, multiple strands of commentary and groundbreaking, interactive features, the Lifestyle Books Torah transforms the text into an experience-personalized, engaging and happening now. Its goal is to uncover the spiritual potential and human relevance in every line.
There is a full Hebrew text, a translation that makes the Bible so much easier to comprehend, a personalized running commentary that gives voice to "hundreds of Jewish thinkers and mystics, in a chorus that will speak to your life," as well as spiritual "treats" on every page, including "Kabbalah bites" that offer meditations, insights, and "Food for Thought." You can find a full sample of the Lifestyle Torah by clicking here

It's the kind of Torah that makes you ask questions, stop and consider, and not race through the parshah and haftarah portions. Here's what I sent Rabbi Miller upon receiving and looking through the Lifestyle Torah and its companion Prayers for Friday Night (which, by the way, is crazy amazing, too):
It turned out so beautiful, the aesthetics are truly unlike any other version I've seen, so I have to hand it to your design team. There's so much to read, and I really like the insights, kabbalah tidbits, and discussion points. Basically, I'm a huge fan. And the Friday-night companion? That's outstanding.
The companion offers explanation, insight, and even dates for when certain prayers became part of the lexicon of the siddur. Soon, Rabbi Miller hopes, there will be a full-on companion in the Lifestyle Torah collection that moves beyond simply Friday Night. Check out a full sample of the Friday Night companion here

There's Hebrew AND English, so don't let this scare you!
I've always been a sucker for the Gutnick chumash, but there's something about this volume of the Lifestyle Torah that just offers those very simple and thought-provoking insights that we all crave when studying the weekly Torah portion. 

If you're interested, head over to Kol Menachem and pick up your own copies of the Lifestyle Torah and the Friday Night companion!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Was I Born for Boulder?

Oh Colorado! You with your sloping valleys and winding mountain roads, your heavy snowfall and sunny days melting it all away. Your coffee shops and head shops, your dispensaries and book stores. How I love you, let me count the ways!

There's something about Colorado that has made me feel better, happier, healthier, wiser. It's like breathing has become easier and my skin doesn't feel so tight around my bones. Even in the thinnest of mountain air, while watching deer rest under pine tree branches, I feel like I'm not breathing borrowed air, stale air, boxed-up and packaged-in air.

At times, I'm almost more cognizant of my Jewish self than I was before. With that said, there's still this void, and I feel it most during Shabbos. When I first came to Colorado I took up with the rest of the crowd in my community and ended up at DAT Minyan, and I visited BMH-BJ a few times as well. At first it was comfortable, and then it wasn't. I can't explain it, but the longer I'm here the longer I long for the Orthodox community I knew back in Chicago or West Hartford. There's something about those communities and their mixed multitudes (the good kind) that made Judaism seem so much more varied, diverse, exploratory, confusing, beautiful, bright, growing.

So, at the invitation of Rabbi Goldfeder and his wife up in Boulder (if you recall, I wrote about his book recently, and if you haven't purchased it and you're married, then I insist that you procure it post-haste), I spent this past Shabbos with their family and the community. I had been invited up before but some work drama and family drama and life drama kept me from visiting, so I was elated to make the trip this time around.

I arrived within minutes of candle lighting thanks to a turn-around on the way, but I got there, zipped to my humble abode and got ready for Shabbos. I stuck around with the kids (three, beautiful, awesome, intelligent, hilarious, loving kids, by the way) and the rabbi's wife Ketriellah for the evening and got to know the family a bit, and then a big group arrived and the Shabbos table was full for the evening. The variety and diversity of people -- Israelis, former Israelis, locals and their families -- made for an interesting conversation and a great meal that was, by the way, GLUTEN FREE! Yes, everything (save the challah the rabbi made) was deliciously gluten-free. I was instantly sold on moving in. I wonder if they'll have me?

Saturday morning I woke up incredibly late and schlepped off to shul, which is sort of in half of a home that has been converted, and the sanctuary is just downright cozy. The moment I stepped out of the rabbi's house, I was greeted by a gray sky and snowy mountains in the not-so-distant distance. Can you imagine waking up every day and seeing the mountains right there?

At the shul, the mechitzah hangs curtain-style from the ceiling with beautiful silver ringlet chains, there are brightly colored carpets and artwork, comfy chairs, seforim everywhere, and even a nifty little container with all of the spices and incense used at the Temple. Very, very great atmosphere. And when I walked in, the group was waiting for a few more men for minyan for the Torah reading, so there was sort of a group-study going on, which actually, honestly, I thought was pretty amazing. Walking through the Torah and hearing feedback and comments from the group of men and women is sort of how I picture a group of Jews spending their Saturday morning.

Thinking. Talking. Asking. Exploring. All orbiting the weekly parshah.

We davened Mussaf, and then the room was cleared and everyone helped set up for kiddush, which, by the way, was pretty much all gluten-free friendly! (Did I mention I was in heaven?) We walked home to a warm meal, some reading time (and I got a neck massage from one of the Goldfeder daughters -- she's a pro at the ripe age of six, seriously), and then preparation for the third meal.

And in the midst of it all, it began snowing.

The third meal was filled with the sound of Hebrew (many Israelis were there) and children running amok in the basement. We talked about what it means to be a chosen people, among other things, and I felt like my Shabbos was complete. The sky darkened and all of the kids and guests gathered for havdallah, and then the rabbi busted out his guitar for some Shavua Tov-ing song-style.

I know I only spent about 25 hours in Boulder within the small Jewish community there, but I feel like the aura of the community, the people, the place ... there's something about it. I know so many people who would fit in so perfectly with Rabbi Goldfeder and the intelligent curiosity and belief that is ever-present there. It's something I haven't felt in a long time. And those of you who have searched near and far for a place where you fit Jewishly understand what that means, what that feeling feels like.

So I had an amazing time. I felt, for the first time in a long time, like my Shabbos meant something, like there was a tangible spark in my soul that I could walk away with and start the new week with.

Perhaps the funniest thing about it all is that the community I was in was an Aish community -- and those of you who have read me a long time know about my history with Aish. But there's something about this Aish rabbi and community that has something bigger to offer than is being expressed and understood in the greater Colorado community. (Check out the Boulder Aish Kodesh site here.)

If only I lived in Boulder, eh?

Also: If you want to see the beautiful hamsa that marks the gate for the shul, just Google Map and Street View 1805 Balsam Avenue, Boulder, Colorado!

EDIT/NOTE: So it turns out that Boulder Aish Kodesh is not tied to the large organization Aish HaTorah! Well that explains a lot. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Tea-Venture to Boulder!

On Monday, my bestie Melissa and I headed up to Boulder for a day of merrymaking and fun-having by way of Celestial Seasonings and wandering around Pearl Street. It was a much-needed day of relaxing and chilling for both of us, but especially for Melissa who works her tush off 24/7 and rarely has time to breathe. I was glad to be able to whisk her away for some girly tea time.

Ahh! The Tea Room, possibly the coolest place on the entire planet. 

I want this on my wall. Now. Anyone know where you can buy this stuff? 

I have a sort of weird look on my face. Not sure what I was drinking, but trust that it was good.
Melissa was deeply upset to learn that her favorite tea NO LONGER IS!

Melissa took a photo of this art because it reminded us of her husband who was home sick. :)
You're lucky to even being seeing this photo. I HATE HAIRNETS!

We spotted this plate -- 10 | 20 -- while driving and couldn't stop laughing.
The windows said things like "pedicures" and "spa" and "M&M's" ... because ... yeah.

This is the gnarly store where I purchased my Ideal Woman necklace. You must purchase one. 
The day was topped off with a delicious dinner and a bath (that last thing was by myself, of course). I bought a lot of delicious tea, some jewelry, a tea bag holder, and the list goes on and on! It was an amazing time with a great friend, and it was much-needed. Huzzah!

I Cooked: Enchiladas!

I cooked! I have to say that I'm pretty proud that over the past month, I've made as many meals as I did when I was living on my own back in Chicago and fell in love with cooking. Veggies and spices and kitchen messes oh my! Taylor is quite the health-nut veggie like me, so it makes meal-planning and eating a lot more exciting knowing that I can finally share my food with someone!

Tonight was Creamy Spinach Enchiladas with a Red Cabbage Salad. I revamped the original recipe, which was dairy, to make it vegan (parve) and, luckily, it's gluten-free if you buy the right kind of corn tortillas!

10 corn tortillas, warmed (the recipe called for eight, but I had filling for 10)
10 oz. frozen, chopped spinach thawed and drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1.5 cups Daiya vegan cheddar cheese (original recipe was regular cheddar)
1 cup So Delicious Original Coconut Creamer (original recipe was regular heavy cream)
2 cans green chiles


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the thawed spinach, corn, one can green chiles, and 1 cup of the Daiya cheese. 
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the creamer, one can green chiles, and 1/4 tsp of each salt and pepper. 
  4. Heat up the tortillas. 
  5. Place about 1/3 cup mixture in each tortilla and roll. Place seam-side down into a shallow baking pan. 
  6. Pour the creamer mixture over the top of the enchiladas and top the entire dish with remaining 1/2 cup of Daiya cheese. 
  7. Cover with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes until sauce is bubbly. Remove foil and cook another 5-10 minutes. (Daiya cheese won't brown, but regular cheese will.)
  8. Enjoy!

For the salad, take a large red cabbage and quarter it. You'll need about 4 cups of thinly sliced red cabbage, which is about 1/4 of a large cabbage, and two thinly sliced scallions. Throw the cabbage and scallions into a bowl with 2 Tbls olive oil, 2 Tbls fresh lime juice, and 1/4 cup papitas (I just used regular sunflower seeds). Mix up with a bit of salt and pepper, and eat!

I'm whipping up a simple dessert right now: Blueberry Crisp Ramekins. Some blueberries, sucanet, gluten-free flour, topped with Udi's Gluten-Free Original Granola. Thatsit. Bam.

Edit: It's done!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Goodbye, Goodbye 2011!

January 7, 2011 -- Before things got really bad.
Well folks, it goes without saying that 2011 was probably the worst year of my life on this here planet earth. That's 28 years and three months of life, folks. Alternatively, one could argue that it was a year full of incredibly painful lessons that one hopes will lead to a better, happier life experience.

A crippling depression that went largely unnoticed on this blog (what can I say, I put up a good front) that left me in the darkest place of my life. Being here, able to write this, is something that a year ago I did not foresee. Divorce. Leaving an academic program that left me unsatisfied. Moving more than halfway across the country. Falling back into a debt that I'd avoided for so long because life stopped and restarted. Watching my family fall to pieces and losing the right to be a daughter.

So much in such a short space. I wonder how I got here, why I got here, why I didn't fall into oblivion into the dark place that took me for so many months.

And then I remember the positives of 2011. I went to SXSW Interactive for the second time in March. I spent the best three weeks of my life in Israel back in June (save for the Shavuot incident). I ended up in Denver, where the air has given me a calm and peace that I haven't experienced in years. I discovered that the love that people say they have for me is genuine, that I do have friends, that I do have something to offer people, that I am more than the sum of the thoughts of those who have pushed me down.

There are people that saved my life, time and again in 2011. My Yiddishe Mama, The Gelt, Kate, The Rebbetzin That Redefines, Cesar, My Little Brother, and the list goes on and on.

I won't make resolutions or even goals for 2012, because if there's one thing that 2011 taught me, it's that life changes in the blink of an eye, whether we like it or wish to accept it. Maybe it's something that happens with getting older, but the instance of change hits a lot harder and leaves more bruises than it does when you're younger.

So here's to 2012. May there be only peace, light, and answers for us all in this new (Gregorian) year!

Get it!? Light! Lantern?! Come on! Happy New Year!
Photo from November 14, 2011 -- A happier Chavi!

Also, from 2011, my January 1 post that details my earliest "When did you know?" memories regarding my choice to be Jewish.

Food Goes MoShY!

Growing up, there were always staples in the family fridge, and they're all foods that I associate with my father. Pears, apples, shelled hardboiled eggs, tomatoes (which I now know aren't supposed to go in the fridge, but that my father would slice up and eat with a dash of salt). In the cabinets you could always find canned tuna, Hamburger Helper, pasta, pasta sauce, velveeta, and every other Middle America staple there is. Without fail, certain things were always there. We were a meatloaf-eating, pork cutlet-cooking, steak-burning family. As an adult with what my friend Dan says is a really unbelievably healthy kitchen, I have acquired the same kitchen staples mentality except in my kitchen, a kosher vegetarian kitchen, it's all about the vegetables and fruits.

Wild Rice, Basmati Rice, Brown Rice, a variety of lentils, polenta, agave, natural unsalted peanut butter and cashew butter, tons of spices (especially those of the Indian variety), canned pumpkin and sweet potatoes, pistachios and other nuts, every type of gluten-free four you can imagine (rice, almond, the blend). In my fridge you'll find -- without fail -- kale and other leafy greens, chia seed, flax seed, and on my counter there are always pears, butternut and acorn squash, tomatoes, lemons and limes.

I'm sort of a health nut these days I guess. A vegetarian nutjob.

Although, I take that back. Over Shabbat dinner this past week, I discovered there's actually a name for what I am -- MoShY. (Mad props to @melschol and hubsters.) For those of you (like me formerly) who aren't in the know, that's "Meat on Shabbos and Yom Tov."

Yes, it happens. Despite my kitchen being all veggie (and practically vegan since I live on Daiya vegan cheese these days), I do eat meat when I'm invited out for Shabbat, mostly because I feel bad laying all of my weird food things on people.
Gluten free
No white potatoes
Please no white rice
No meat

It seems like a huge pain, right? When people invite  you over, you can't expect them to bend to your every allergy, and so far I've only experienced one Shabbat where I was pretty much unable to eat anything that was served except the salad. But I've experienced too many accidental gluten consumption incidents to be as gentle about my restrictions as I used to. Lucky for me, I really don't get invited out much and the friends who do consistently have me over are willing to deal with my crazy. But, like I said, I eat meat when I'm with them.

Why the emphasis on me eating me out of simplicity and not religious necessity? Well, there are those that hold that it's significant if not mandatory to consume meat on Shabbat. Why? A Q&A article points to the notion that we're supposed to call the Sabbath a "day of delight" from Isaiah. For the rabbis of the Talmud, the article says, this meant food and drink, because in the days of yore, food and drink -- especially wine and meat -- were things that were special, expensive, a treat. However, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav ultimately says,
There is no obligation to eat meat or drink wine on Shabbat. Rather, since it is assumed that most people take more pleasure in eating meat than in other foods, and in drinking wine more than other drinks, therefore they should increase in [consuming] meat and wine according to their means.
For someone like me, who doesn't garner great joy in consuming meat, I suppose this means that for me, to delight in food and drink on Shabbat would consiste of some delicious Ethiopian Lentils and a big cup of coffee! But then there's this article over on Chabad about Judaism and vegetarianism that, after explaining various takes on meat-eating in Jewish literature, says, "According to this approach, it may be cruel to not eat meat, because doing so robs the animal of its chance to serve a higher purpose." I don't buy that explanation, but feel free to read the entire article and let me know what you think. If everything has the ability to be uplifted to serve a higher purpose, then isn't a cow doing more by consuming lots of vegetation over a lifetime than by being killed and consumed in one quick meal?

So, at any rate, I'm MoShY! For now, anyway. It just makes life easier. Are you a member of the MoShY tribe? What do you think about Jews, meat, and vegetarianism?