Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Come On Baby, Light My Fire!

From Imrei Pinchas, Sha'ar Toras Adam #79, from the amazingly awesome book "Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought" by the amazing and inspiring A Simple Jew, aka Dov ben Avraham ...
"Before his geirus, a holy spark falls and burns inside a ger until it compels him to complete his geirus. He is not given any choice in this matter. Only after his geirus is the ger given free choice."
For more deliciousness on kabbalah and the convert's soul, check out this AskMoses posting that I cited back in 2008 on my blog that says,
According to Kabbalah, a convert is one who's soul possesses a latent Jewish spark, was born to a non-Jewish mother, and therefore must undergo the process of a Torah conversion in order for the Jewish spark to be actualized as a Jewish soul. This “non-Jew” is born with a potentially Jewish soul, yet it is not revealed at this point or accessible.
Back in 2009, after taking a month off of blogging because a bad experience I had with something in my conversion process, I came back with a vengeance, saying,
I can't change minds or opinions about my character and whether how I present myself on this blog is appropriate for a modern Orthodox Jewish girl, but what I can do is continue what I started. I can't really finish what I started, because it was never meant to be finished (much like the journey in Judaism is a perpetual one). I'm here to tell my story, discuss Judaism, and to light a fire in all of the people who come across these pages. It is not unheard of here at Just Call Me Chaviva for a Jew to be inspired by something and head to shul that week. If I can light that kind of fire in a Jew, then I think I'm doing some serious good -- I'm helping in the eternal effort to remind Jews to be proud of who they are, to be involved, to develop their Judaism.
Light and fire, folks. In 2010, I wrote,
And, you have to remember, the goal of this blog is not money-making: It's people making. The goal here, is to light a fire under all the souls I can.
Since my blog started having a regular readership, my mission and passion and goal was set: Light a fire, find the spark, and blow it up. This is a piece of tikkun olam, folks. When HaShem created the world, according to Kabbalah, there was light that was held in vessels, kelim. But they couldn't withstand the light, so they broke, and the light shattered like shards in all things. Now, we're tasked with gathering the sparks of light back together. 

For me, the convert that brings that holy spark to the beth din and converts is doing some mighty, amazing, beautiful work of tikkun. Wouldn't you agree? 

This does, however, beg the question: What does it mean when someone begins and pursues a conversion and yet never completes it? How do we explain this phenomenon? Food for thought, I think. And I don't presume to have an answer or even a suggestion.

Stay tuned for more goodies from this amazing book. So much inspiration, so many beautiful pieces of Chassidus that make my heart sing. Let me leave you with this one, which makes me smile.
From one perspective, a ger is closer to becoming a tzaddik than a person born Jewish. If a ger continues serving G-d with the same self-sacrifice he exhibited during the geirus process, he will ascend to untold heights. Perhaps this is one reason why gerim are mentioned before those born Jewish in the Al HaTzadikim blessing in the Amidah. -- Rabbi Micha Golshevsky

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Some Words of Wisdom

This post is more an FYI or PSA than anything. Both of these little morsels came from readers/friends and are pretty apropos. My comments aren't necessary; I think they'll speak for themselves.

Item 1 comes from Tablet Magazine and was written by Daniel Gordis in a Tisha b'Av piece called "Sinning Against Each Other." The reader/friend highlighted this specific portion:
"Rabbi Joseph Telushkin recently shared a beautiful thought with me. The Talmud suggests that the First Temple was destroyed because of serious violations like murder, idolatry, and incest. The Second was destroyed because of “baseless hatred.” Since the first violations are seemingly so much more serious, why was the First Temple rebuilt after 70 years, while the second never was? 
The answer, Rabbi Telushkin heard from his own teacher, Rabbi Aharon Kreiser, was that baseless hatred, dismissive attitudes, and communal rancor are different. They are the sorts of actions for which we can always find explanations and justifications, and so, we never really confront the fact that we’ve sinned. This is why, Rabbi Kreiser said, the Temple that was destroyed because of baseless hatred has never been rebuilt."
The second item is less of an item and more of a "way of life" assessment. Are you ready for it?
"Ignore the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."
With that, I bid you a good eve'. (insert smiley face here)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Social Media and Genocide

According to a poll completed recently by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 94 percent of Americans think genocide is a concern and that it could occur today.

Clearly we haven't come very far since the Holocaust, let alone Sudan or Rwanda. That poll finding makes me sad but also makes me wonder why we don't have more faith in ourselves and mankind.

The study's findings were announced, evidently, as Hilary Clinton spoke at the USHMM about how social media could be the answer in genocide prevention. According to one Zimbabwean, more than 70 percent of Africans own cellphones, and 60 percent of those who have cellphones use them for social media.

My question is: How do you prevent genocide by Tweeting about it? Or by Facebooking it? Or even by posting a video on YouTube (where, as another recent study -- this one by Pew -- found that a majority of people turn to the video service for news updates)?

After all, some of the most heinous crimes go on behind closed doors or are hard to spot.

What do you think: Do our new-fangled devices and Social Media have the power to squash a fear that appears to be very real and very alive in the minds of Americans today?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Repetition of History & Tisha b'Av

Tisha b'Av is coming -- can you feel it? I can. I can't stop thinking about it. It seems like such an obnoxious holiday, coming right in the midst of summertime, laying its laws upon us and expecting us to start feeling something, to start preparing for the High Holidays, to repent.
“There are others days on which all Israel fasts because of the tragedies that occurred on these dates. This is in order to move the hearts of the people and to open the road to repentance. And this is a memorial to our evil actions and the actions of our ancestors that were like our current behaviors to the point that these behaviors have brought these sorrows upon us and our ancestors. Through the recollection of these matters we will repent as it says: And they will confess their iniquities and the iniquities of their ancestors.” (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of Fasts 5:1)
And so Tisha b'Av is the culmination of all of these fast days. Rambam is saying, in a nutshell, that if we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Because we continue to observe these fasts, it seems that we still have not learned from history, from our ancestors. 

When will we be at peace with our history and our actions? When will we stop rinsing and repeating past misdeeds? What does it take to achieve that space of mind and place of body?

A popular quote that has been attributed to Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin but yet cannot be verified can offer insight, I think.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Let's pull ourselves out of the straight jacket already. Mashiach is expecting it of us, we ought to expect it of ourselves. 

In Defense of Aliyah

I was really surprised to get this question on my Formspring account, but I thought I could give it better justice if I answered it here. The question?
Why do you think aliyah will solve your problems? You have a tendency to run away from anything that gets difficult: your marriage, school, New Jersey, strict Orthodoxy, weight loss, and now CO and America. Stop running, start dealing.
Okay. Where do I even begin on this one? I guess we could take it point by point. Ready? Let's go!

So aliyah. I've wanted to make aliyah for years. Evidence of this, in case you think that this is me attempting to escape life and do something crazy. 

From August 2011, in a huge post about Parshat Eikev
It makes me jealous of those who've been able to make aliyah (or moving to Israel) a real, tangible thing. And maybe what that nagging empty feeling that really strikes me at random intervals is. All I can say for now is, in time. Ultimately I'll be in Israel, I just don't know when. HaShem promised it to my -- OUR -- forefathers, so it's only right that we should make it happen. It's not a "maybe," it's a "must be."
In August 2010 I talk about how I anticipate writing a book after I make aliyah to Israel. And then there's six years ago -- SIX YEARS -- in July 2006, in which I say,  "It's a reason I sort of hope to make aliyah." And ... you get the point. My old blog is locked down, but the dozens of posts that talk about making aliyah going back six years, well, I think they stand for themselves. I've always planned on making aliyah -- now is just the best time. 

Next issue? If you think I "ran away" from my marriage then ... well, that's not even worth discussing. The marriage failed, if I ran away, then so did Evan. But he met a nice gal and is already remarried, so I think that's a sign that the marriage wasn't working -- not that I "ran away" from it. It was bad, and all of those involved knew it wasn't meant to be. 

As for school, well, the NYU program was not doing it for me. I didn't feel challenged, I'd maxed out the Hebrew courses I could take, and when the professor of one of the Social Media courses asked me to come speak to her class, I realized that there was nothing that NYU could offer me that I didn't already have. It was a mistake to pursue it in the first place, to be honest. I should have stuck to my guns and gone for a PhD, but you live and you learn. 

New Jersey? Seriously? I "ran away" from New Jersey because that's what all sensible people do. I never wanted to live in New Jersey, it was just where it made sense for us to live at the time. (If I had had it my way, we would have lived in New York City). I had no intentions of staying there. 

So I "ran away" from "strict Orthodoxy" you say? What does that even mean. What is "strict Orthodoxy" exactly? I was never haredi if that's what you're saying. My observance right now is on par with what it was a year ago. Everyone has bumps in the road, and that's exactly what I had. A bump. But as far as being "strict Orthodox," I never was. So. I guess you can't run away from something you never were. I'm just Orthodox, folks. I'm frum. That's it. 

Weight loss. Wah? Last time I checked, I was still maintaining my ovo-vegetarian diet, going to the gym three-four times a week, and being all-around health conscious. I don't even know where this suggestion of "running away" comes from. 

And, lastly, I'm not running away from Colorado. I'm making aliyah. I'm fulfilling HaShem's command to possess the land at this very moment because I'm single and unattached and it's the best moment in my life. It makes sense. What are you doing? Are you fulfilling the mitzvah

If -- G-d forbid -- Israel doesn't work out, I'll head back to Colorado. Living in Colorado and altering my diet and way of life and soul-searching has put me in a happier place than I've ever been. It involved some therapy, removing "toxic" people from my life, and taking ownership of my own happiness and destiny. Colorado is amazing, and I always tell people that if you can't make aliyah, then do the next best thing: Move to Colorado!

Listen, as I've said a million times: This is my life. My decisions and actions seem abrupt, but they're usually very calculated and long-time coming. Sometimes it just takes a long time for me to get up to the point of saying "I'm doing this, right now." It took me a good eight months to ask for my get. I knew I needed it last January, but it took me eight months to get there. Aliyah is the same thing. I've wanted it for years, it just took me until I was in the right moment and the right mindset to feel like I was confident and secure enough to make it happen. 

So. I've never run away from anything in my life. I embrace things, I process them, I spend time figuring out how to handle them, and I tackle them head-on. 

I'm realizing my destiny. This is my Lech Lecha -- Israel is where I was meant to be, and I'm finally realizing that dream of being there. Of joining Am Yisrael and my mishpacha that is already there. I'm fulfilling a huge mitzvah. I'm not running away from anything -- I'm running to myself, to HaShem. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Books for Sale, Books for Sale!

So I'm selling/donating/trading in tons of my books. I have so many that I love, but, well, I'm in a purge mode.


I really only want to sell to anyone in Colorado, because I don't want to pay shipping fees. After all, I'm trying to make a little coin here, not lose it. But if you're willing to pay the media mail fee, I'm happy to mail some off to you!

See something you like? Mark it down and send me an email about how you want to arrange for pickup/payment and, if you're really jonesing, shipment.

SNAP Challenge: Closing Time

Well, I'll admit it: I didn't blog nearly as much as I wanted to about the SNAP Challenge. But the truth of the matter is that you can only say so many times "I had leftover Lentil Taco Meat" or "I had leftover gluten-free pasta with homemade sauce" or, oh, for breakfast "I had more of that delicious Quinoa Breakfast Cereal."

Yes, I made four things this week and ate those four things for every meal. Those four things were Quinoa Breakfast Cereal, Sweet Potato & Black Bean Soup, Lentil Taco "Meat," and Trader Joe's Gluten-Free, Organic Pasta with homemade sauce. I got sick of them, for what it's worth. Really sick of them.

I know that doesn't seem like much, but when you make things en masse, they last forever.

What surprised me was that I have leftovers in the food department. I still have an entire portion (and then some) of the soup left, I never made the other soup I wanted to make, and I have enough lentils for probably two more portions. I didn't use all of the black beans that I bought, and the same goes for the raisins.

So by my estimates, this is how everything came out in the end:

  • TJ's Gluten-Free Pasta $1.99
  • Raisins $1.50 (of a $1.99 box)
  • Corn Tortillas $1.48
  • Green Lentils $.75 (of a $1.08 bag)
  • Produce $8.39 (less the $3 for the produce I never used)
  • Bagged Dry Black Beans $0.50 (of a $.70 bag)
  • Carrots $.10 (of a $1.00 bag -- seriously, I ate like two carrots)
  • Canned Diced Tomatoes $0.68
  • Canned Tomato Sauce $0.33
  • Quinoa $4.16
  • Daiya Pepper Jack Cheese $3.15 (on sale with a $.50 coupon)
  • TJ's Maple Syrup $2.34 (of a $13.00 bottle)
  • Coffee $2.45

That comes out to about $3.20 spare, which I'm going to write off for what I probably spent on two cups of instant coffee with almond milk I made myself on Shabbos. Seriously, I couldn't help it.

Now, I will admit to a few things. I did get a Starbucks coffee (at the price of $2 and some change) using a free coffee drink I'd acquired. I also had lunch one day this week on the office, as it was our monthly staff meeting.

I'll also admit to the fact that I suck at eating when I can't just make things on the fly, so there were a few days -- Wednesday in particular -- where I seriously didn't eat much if anything at all. I drank a lot more water this week than normal, and I also seriously took advantage of the free coffee at work (something I rarely, if ever, do).

A few days I woke up famished, and by Thursday the Quinoa Breakfast Cereal wasn't cutting it. Today is another one of those days.

The truth of the matter is that to live on this kind of a budget you have to have a few things per week and just eat them on-and-off for every meal. I honestly can't see another way around it -- unless, of course, your diet is more open and you can buy boxed mac n'cheese and other low-budget, low-health options, which is something I didn't have the ability to do over the week of this challenge.

Ultimately, I wish I had spent more time planning out my snacks. I didn't get into the carrots, and that 2 pound bag for $1 went to complete waste. They're still good, and they'll come in handy during my adventures to Nebraska this week (especially with some hummus), but when it comes to snacking I'm more chips-and-salsa than carrot sticks.

So folks, that's the run of it. Would I do the challenge again? No dice. I missed out on some social opportunities this week because of the challenge, and I found myself staring at the cereal I had and the almond milk when I was too hungry to cook and being frustrated that I couldn't just eat it. But that $6.99 bag of gluten-free cereal and $2.66 carton of almond milk weren't figured into my budget. I suppose I could have divvied it up by servings and made it work, but it was too much work for my meager brain. I also wish that we could have had access to the food bank system (in theory) -- people living on limited budgets have a lot of options in the community with food banks.

Hunger is no laughing matter. People who live in the world of SNAP aren't walking around with easy money to buy gourmet chocolate and Starbucks coffee.

So find a Food Bank and give a little. Or, better yet, donate to Mazon -- the Jewish response to hunger.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mitzvah Maybe?

I couldn't help but sure this. Hilarious take on the "Call Me, Maybe" song!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Promotional Post!

Every now and again, I have the opportunity as a member of the Clever Girls Collective network to participate in some creative and interesting promotions with the opportunity to win goodies of all varieties. A lot of the time, I pass them up, but this one called upon my creativity and I just had to spend some time messing around with it.

From Cottonelle: We think nothing leaves you feeling fresher and cleaner than using Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care and Cottonelle Fresh Care Wipes*. But this two-step, “enhanced clean routing” doesn’t really have a name. So Cottonelle® wants your help: What will you name it?

Here's my attempt -- with a travel theme in mind. What do you think?

or ...

Think you have the creativity it takes? Head over to the Cottonelle "Name It" Contest and see for yourself!

*vs. comparable leading national brand products

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shame and Teshuva

To say that I'm ashamed of myself for decisions made since my entire world fell apart last year is probably an understatement.

You know that feeling you get when you see someone you haven't seen in years? Someone who maybe you had a falling out with or maybe had a huge, life-altering experience with and then never saw again?

Yeah. I just did that. I encountered one of my converting rabbis -- for the first time since my perfect Modern Orthodox married life fell apart -- after a shiur on conversion and some major breakthroughs in understanding why things are the way they are. (Blog post forthcoming.)

And my shame and anxiety met and exploded, and I had this feeling of knowing that I was living as an apikoros (and attempting to validate it the whole time). I felt like he could see all of the things I'd done and said and viewed me as one of the ones who had ruined it for the good ones. For the converts who stick to it ... It wasn't anything this rabbi said or did. I'm pretty sure it was all in my head.

I guess this is what reflection and teshuvah feel like? It feels horrible. Knowing that I did so much damage to my neshama. Knowing that I put myself in a place of damage instead of recovery when I needed that recovery the most.

The High Holidays cannot come soon enough for me. I will continue to follow the light, allow my bitachon to guide me. I will come out of this all a better person, a better Jew.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Test of the Dangling Carrot

Mere moments after I made the decision to make aliyah, a magical golden carrot appeared floating in the midst. It seemed perfect, just right, meant to be. Except that the dangling carrot was not in Israel, it was elsewhere. And it got me thinking whether I could put my long-awaited decision of aliyah on hold.

I knew deep down the answer was no, but I considered my options. I let the carrot dangle. I, the mule, watched the carrot carefully. I coveted the carrot. I followed the carrot.

Then, somehow, the carrot was gone. Decision made. My heart broke a little, I had trouble sleeping, and then I woke up feeling differently. It's aliyah, folks. It's fulfilling the ultimate mitzvah!

The carrot is in Israel. And it's not on a string. It's real.

This felt like the first test of HaShem (well, that and all the bureaucracy of having to wait for apostilles on my various legal documents from three different states). The question being whether now that I've made the decision for aliyah, will anything stop me? Will I be able to handle it? Will I follow through?

Duh. There are a bajillion reasons I would follow through.

"There is a positive, biblical commandment to dwell in Eretz Israel, as it says, 'You shall possess it and dwell in it' (Devarim 17:14, 26:I)."
That comes from Sefer Chareidim (Mitzvot Asei HaTeluyot B'Eretz Israel, chap. I, sec 15).  Chazal say that this mitzvah is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah (Sifrei, Re'eh 28), and it is one of the 613 mitzvot according to the Ramban and the Rashbetz.

So test away, throw carrots my way, roadblocks, mounds of bureaucracy and stress -- I'm going to plant my feet in Israel and never look back. 

I've got a whole lot of bitachon. More than I've ever experienced before in my life. I'm happier than ever, I'm more excited than I've ever been. Bring it.

SNAP Challenge Day 2: Snack, I Can't

Well hello Day 2 of the SNAP Challenge. Let us begin with a recap of everything that happened after that delicious, filling breakfast yesterday.

Yesterday for lunch I rocked out Lentil Taco "Meat" with some homemade corn tortilla cups. One cup of lentils has an amazing 18 grams of protein. I was stuffed after eating them. Don't they look delicious?

Snack time was carrots, but I'll be honest -- carrots just weren't feeling right. So I filled up on office coffee and water instead.

Then, last night, I hit my personal Big Fail, which is that sometimes when I get home from work, I don't have the energy to make dinner despite feeling famished. Well, guess what, folks? When you're on SNAP Challenge, you can't just have a bowl of cereal, unless that bowl of cereal was in your budget, in which case it wasn't in mine.


I was considering just not eating last night, but threw some of my Lentil Taco "Meat" leftovers into the microwave, threw on some corn tortillas, topped with some hot sauce, and in a fit of desperation I cut open some Daiya Pepperjack Shreds to put on top. With a little over $4 leftover from my produce budget and the fact that I haven't opened my Peanut Butter yet, I had the room to fudge. This, of course, means that I'm not opening my Peanut Butter this week. Protein loss for the desperation of fake cheese.

This morning, I decided to mix up my Breakfast Quinoa Cereal. The leftover quinoa from yesterday was in the fridge, so I threw on the same ingredients of cardamom, cinnamon, raisins, and maple syrup, but I also cut up one of my bananas. So I had a cold breakfast cereal that was downright delicious.

Lunch was a gimme -- provided by work for our monthly staff meeting. Yes, it was part of my rules, so I went with it. Hate on me if you want, but that's how it is. After work I went to the gym, after which I was starving, so I came home to a giant bowl of soaked black beans.

Yes, I bought dried beans because they're cheaper. They're less convenient, but as my boss says, "You can have two out of the three: cheap, healthy, fast." So I went for cheap and healthy. I soaked the entire bag of black beans all day, and then drained and rinsed them. I put them in a stockpot full of about 6 cups of water and brought the pot up to a boil. Once it was boiling, I skimmed the foam off the top, brought them to a simmer, and cooked covered for 45 minutes. Draining and rinsing them again, I began to prepare the Sweet Potato and Black Bean Soup, substituting plain old water for the vegetable stock because, well, it's too expensive. Curious where black beans stand? One cup of black beans has 15 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber!

Crush point. I'm hungry. I want to eat. FEED ME! I have chips and snacks and things I could munch on while waiting for dinner. And here is my major fail when it comes to my diet: I'm a snacker. A hardcore, constant snacker. Vegetables, fruit, chips, you name it, I nosh it. This week is going to teach me that snacking just ain't where it's at.

So I decided to sacrifice one of my romain hearts and half a tomato for a simple salad with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. It did the job. Well, that and a giant cup of water. But I was still hungry. Soup, please?

One thing I've learned in becoming an ovo-vegetarian (a vegan that eats eggs occasionally): Spice is everything. If you have salt and pepper, you can do anything. Garlic? Cumin? Cinnamon? Seriously, with spices you can make anything taste good. I've learned to love spices, hardcore style. If I had to live on a SNAP budget permanently, I'd spend every spare penny I had on boatloads of spices.

And now, the soup -- which is delicious, by the way -- pureed with a bit of cilantro on top.

As it stands, I have $2.02 left to spend this week, and that's without having bought my canned white beans for the Quinoa, Kale, White Bean Soup. Here's hoping I can land a cheap can at Wal-Mart with a hechsher?

Also, note to self: Drink. More. Water. The more water you drink, the more full you feel.

Monday, July 16, 2012

SNAP Challenge: Day 1

Today begins the official SNAP Challenge for me, Susie at Daily Cheapskate, and Mara at Kosher on a Budget. To read the rules and regulations, check this post

Last night I went to Sunflower Market and landed all of this for $11.39. Winning! These will make for some delicious soup this week. 

Here you'll see lettuce, bananas, peaches, lime juice, yukon potatoes, yam,
tomatoes, parsnip, cilantro, kale, and leeks. 

Here is what I'll be eating for breakfast just about every day this week. 

I call it Quinoa Breakfast Cereal. It's 1/4 cup raisins, 1 cup cooked quinoa, cinnamon, cardamom, and a dash of maple syrup. Bam. Breakfast.

One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams protein and 5 grams fiber!

Oh, and the coffee? Part of my rules. It's purchased by work, so I drink it. Take that, SNAP Challenge!

Lunch will be a serving of Lentil Taco "Meat" in White Corn Tortilla "Cups" topped with tomatoes and lettuce and a little bit of sriracha. The snack will be carrot sticks with ... maybe hummus? See below.

So far I have about $4.03 left over, but I have yet to buy the canned white beans I need for one of my soups. I'm also still waffling about whether I'm actually going to open and consume the jar of Peanut Butter I bought for $2.50 or if I want to reallocate that to hummus (which I prefer with my carrots anyway). Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

SNAP Challenge: The Preview

Okay, well, after spending a few days stressing out to the max about this SNAP Challenge, I've decided to take it easy on myself. The reason? Well, after having people tell me that living on $31.50 for a week as a single gal my age was a breeze and me beginning to think I was insane, I discovered the USDA Official Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels. Even eating at the most thrifty plan, I'd still be allowed $41.70/week. The Low-Cost Plan is $53.90/week! So don't tell me it's easy. Unless you're going to put yourself in my shoes, folks! If we all sat down and looked at what we eat and every penny we spend, we might find the statistics in this chart to be pretty accurate. 

So the plan is that I'm going to subsite on four basic things.

  • Breakfast daily will be a Quinoa Breakfast Cereal. Something along the lines of quinoa with cinnamon and raisins. If I can afford it after I pick everything else up, then some flax or chia as well. 
  • Dinner and lunch will be this that and some leftovers. Among the options will be:
  • Snacks and sides will be something along the lines of ...
    • Simple salad
    • Carrot Sticks with peanut butter or hummus (still debating which is cheaper in the budget)
  • Drinks
    • Water
    • Coffee at work
    • More water ... 

And these are the rules I'm setting for myself:
  • I will drink the coffee that's available at work, because it's purchased by work. Since 41 percent of SNAP folks have earnings (aka job[s]), I'm going to count myself in the 41 percent. 
  • I will accept the free lunch provided to me on Tuesday as part of our monthly staff meeting, for the same reason above. 
  • I will accept invitations out for Shabbat next Friday/Saturday. 
  • I will not be making/eating gluten-free challah. There's no way the costs will fit into the SNAP Budget, and I'll have to go without. Same goes with wine/grape juice if I end up staying in. 
Grocery shopping will commence some time tomorrow. I'm considering just making everything tomorrow and Monday and going from there. I hate leftovers -- I prefer to eat things fresh -- but being a single gal and doing this challenge necessitates rocking out a one-time cooking extravaganza and feeding myself the rest of the week on its leftovers. 

Wish me luck!

Friday, July 13, 2012

In the Israeli Spirit

If you can't read what I wrote to explain what "rega" means, click on the image to make it BIG enough to read. And then giggle. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Eating on a Budget: The Rewind

I really need to start thinking about this SNAP Challenge. Why? Well, Susie over at Daily Cheapskate already has her budget breakdown in mind. She's going to rock 30% on protein and 20% on fruits and veggies, with the rest going to odds and ends.

For me -- the kosher, gluten-free ovo-vegetarian -- my budget will probably look something like 50% fruits and veggies, 20% grains, and 20% protein (eggs) and other odds and ends. Of course, I haven't sat down and actually figured out what I'm planning on making, and it's already Wednesday. This could be a problem. 

The challenge for we three (Susie, Mara, and me) begins on Monday and ends on July 22. If only the challenge could have started on Sunday! I'm getting free meals for part of that day as part of an organizational retreat. D'oh. Okay, so let's get discussing.

There are certain things that I buy every week by default and end up making a few nights a week.

  • One bunch kale -- this will provide enough kale for a few meals for me. 
  • One bag brown rice -- with the right spices and veggies, this will provide many meals. 
  • One bag brown lentils -- I've got two words for you: BBQ lentils. OH YES. 
  • Two yellow onions -- this'll last me a week, easy. 
  • One bunch bananas -- should provide smoothies for me every morning.
  • One loaf gluten-free bread -- one loaf should last me the whole week.
  • One bag quinoa -- for breakfast, snacks, sides, you name it.
Then there are some things I'm not sure how to figure out price-wise. I might have to talk to the folks at Mazon and/or read the rules and regulations to see how this pans out. I know that condiments aren't considered in the $31.50 I'm allowed to spend, but ...
  • Amazing Meal plain powder -- I use a scoop in a smoothie every morning. Should I price out by scoop? No receipt!
  • Almond Nut Butter -- does this count as a condiment? 
  • Almond milk -- I already have a container, but I don't have the receipt from CostCo in which I paid something like $7.99 for three cartons earlier this month. What do I do?
  • Tomatoes -- what if my tomato plant magically turns all the tomatoes red and usable? How do I count THIS?
Okay, as I write all of this out I realize ... I need a plan. The morning smoothies might not be an option, especially with the price of the Amazing Meal powder I use. On Amazon it's $34.29 for a container that provides 15 servings. That's $2.28 a day, and I usually make the smoothie at least four days a week. That, right there, is $9.12 of my $31.50 budget. Yikes. 

And the coffee! I haven't even thought about the coffee or tea! Good sweet holy mother of ... 

See what stream-of-consciousness posting gets you? What my father would call a cluster[youknowtherest].

Stay tuned. I need to do some hardcore meal planning, folks. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Aliyah: The Small Things

It's funny how when it comes to thinking about aliyah, it's the small things that I can't help but thinking about. The big things like money and moving aren't even on my radar. It's happening, and it's going to be awesome.

Instead, I'm thinking about ...

  • Will my appliances work in Israel? My Kitchenaid and ice cream maker and immersion blender and food chopper? 
  • Will I be able to use my iPhone in Israel? Or is it only good in the U.S. on my current network?
  • I know beds in Israel tend to suck. Do people take their mattresses with them? 
  • There's an IKEA in Israel! YAY!
  • Where do people in Israel buy amazing English-language books? 
  • Why hasn't Amazon.com set up shop in Israel yet?
  • Will I be able to survive without kale in Israel? 
  • What happens to all of my mail in the U.S.? Do I need to have it sent to my family or something?
And, of course, I'm thinking about all of the things I'm going to stock up on and schlep with me to Israel, like all of my natural, organic products -- you know, lotions, soaps, vitamins, supplements, etc. 

Food? I can make my own BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard, you name it. And I can do it all in Israel. I don't anticipate schlepping any food products with me to Israel. Wait, I take that back. I'm considering stocking up on Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Bread Mix and Oat Flour. 

My head's all a'whirl. In a beautiful, excited way. 

This is life, folks. And it's starting now. 

Big News: Aliyah + Saving Money

Well, okay, I did it: I've applied for aliyah (aka returning/moving to the land of milk and honey -- Israel!). Oy va voy. Big step, right? Huge step. We're talking Hulk-smash-style step! But guess what? I'm single, I'm happier than I've ever been in my memorable memory, and I'm ready to take this major step that I've been fantasizing about for many, many years.

Whoa. I'm moving to Israel. 

Hopefully by the end of the year. And when I get there, well, I'm praying that there are loads of my Twitter and blog friends at the airport to meet me. (I've always dreamed of being greeted with someone holding a sign with my name, and shockingly, it has yet to happen.) I'm hoping for a quick-and-easy transition into the workforce (or that my current employer will let me continue rocking out the work I'm doing until I find something and they find someone). Times of Israel is hiring a Social Media Manager, and, come on, I'm perfect for such a gig, right? Think they'll wait for me? And then, of course, there's finding my zivug and reuniting with the mishpacha I grew to know and love while back in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Of course, this is no easy thing for me. Well, I take that back. You guys know me, and you know how easy it is for me to pick up and relocate. I always bounce back -- financially and emotionally. Yes, I know Israel isn't like moving from the East Coast to the Rockies. There is a new language, new food, new economics, new hardships, new challenges. But guess what? That's life! You meet challenges everywhere you go, and I'm prepared to rock those challenges like a hurricane. (Catch that reference there? Oh yeah. I'm classy.)

Over the past few weeks my spending has all but ceased. I went to the grocery store one day and purchased some hot sauce and agave and veggies to make a salad for a Shabbat meal I was attending, but my extraneous spending has completely stopped. Go me! Oddly enough, most of the spending that goes on in my life is on groceries -- begin a gluten-free ovo-vegetarian isn't cheap. Organic veggies aren't always cheap. But I'm eating in-season, which lowers the costs immensely. (That means that if I can't get jicama, I can't get jicama, and I deal.)

So now -- the time of savings! -- is a perfect time to rock the SNAP Challenge by Mazon. Technically the challenge was for this week, but I'm going to attempt this challenge next week with bloggers Mara of Kosher on a Budget and Susie over at Daily Cheapskate. So what is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Challenge?
Participating in the SNAP Challenge is simple: eat for one week using only the amount of money you would have if you relied solely on SNAP to pay for your food. By taking the SNAP Challenge, you will directly experience the struggle that nearly 1 in 7 Americans – including nearly 25% of all American children – face every day. You will learn first-hand how difficult it is to afford nutritious foods, avoid hunger, and stay healthy without adequate resources.
We three blogging queens are going to give you an example of three types of typical American households: The Family of Five (Mara), The Couple (Susie), and The Single (me!). You'll get to see how the three of us cope with feeding our families and ourselves on a small budget. For me, that means one week at $31.50.

So the journey begins! Saving money, saving myself.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Balaam and the Place of Teshuva

This week's Torah portion is unique. It is the only parshah in which we have to take Moshe's word for what happened because no other Yisraelim were present. It's also one of the few parshiyot in which there is a non-Israelite prophet speaking on behalf of HaShem -- and he only has good things to say. (The rabbis say that there were seven non-Israelite prophets.)

In a nutshell: Balak the Moabite is freaked out, so he hires Balaam (a well-known sorcerer) to curse the Israelites. Balaam goes off to get his curse on, when HaShem interjects (through the talking donkey!) and fills his mouth with a whole bunch of positive prophecy. Balak sends a bunch of Moabite women to seduce the Israelites, it works for a bunch of them, resulting in their deaths and Phinehas doing something rockstar-like.

So what's interesting to me in this week's parshah? Well, there's the fact that Ruth -- Judaism's beloved convert and the line of the Messiah -- is descended from Balak (his great, great, great, great something or other granddaughter, to be precise). As the story goes, Ruth was blessed with becoming an Israelite because of the one thing that Balak might have done right (the 42 sacrifices he offered while trying to sway HaShem's opinion, even though Balak was using it as bribery rather than tribute). I guess, from my perspective, it appears that Ruth had to do some major teshuva for being descended from some pretty callous and hateful individuals.

No, to focus on the convert would be predictable (and not so interesting). Thus, I want to focus on the idea that HaShem is always with Israel.
"No harm is in sight for Jacob,
No woe in view for Israel,
The Lord their God is with them (יי אלהיו עמו)
And their king's acclaim in their midst." (Numbers 23:21)
On this, the Baal Shem Tov quipped,
"A Jew is never alone: Every place he goes and everywhere he stops -- Adonai, his God is with him."
So, what do you think? Is a Jew ever alone? The amount of mitzvoth to which we are commanded would suggest that if HaShem isn't always with us, then we sure as well better think HaShem is with us. It's a hyperconscious way of life, to always feel and know that HaShem is there. Women are gifted with tzniut and men with tzitzit. Physical incarnations of reminders. (And yes, there are many more, but those are the basics.)

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk said in this regard,
"A person who goes through life with a commitment to the Godly, the Heavenly King resides with him; if he does act sinfully then the Holy One does not take a great note of it." (Rashi similarly said: "The Holy One does not see the sins of Jacob, - when they transgress His words, He does not investigate after them.") 
So, living a life committed to the hyperconsciousness of the ever-presence of HaShem in our lives grants us a little ... "get out of jail free" card? 

Rabbi Israel Rhizin said that even when a Jew sins, 
"even in the depths of depravity there remains within him a spark of godliness; a speck of the light of t'shuvah still flickers in his heart -- even at the time of sin. "
Basically, HaShem gives us a lot of credit, respect, and holds an eternal hope for us. You can always come back, Judaism says. HaShem has been holding out for us to get our you-know-what together for a long time. Don't we owe it already?

The idea of teshuvah is something that's very important to me these days. Like any Jew who has gone astray, I'm in a mode of hardcore teshuvah. I've made mistakes, I've made stupid stupid stupid mistakes that I knew were wrong. And yet, for some reason, HaShem stayed with me and guided me back and is gifting me with amazing happiness and insight into who I am and where I'm going. 

Even in my stupidest moments, HaShem was with me. So I would be inclined to take Balaam's prophecy with much truth and confidence. I can only hope that Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk was right and that my sins were put in Column Z and not Column A. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Aliyah: The Pluses, The Minuses

Israel does wonders for my complexion -- inside and out, ya?
When I say to someone, "I'm considering making aliyah," there are a variety of responses, most of which start with a very shocked and concerned facial expression. These are followed by, "Well, you know it isn't easy" and "There are pluses and minuses!" Indeed, there are. But if there's one thing I've learned in life, you don't learn by pontificating, you learn by doing.

Anyway ... 

I was thinking about some of the basic pluses and minuses of moving to Israel. As I was thinking about these things, while driving about picking up gluten-free hamburger buns and beer for the 4th and being in awe of the beauty that is the Rockies, I had one small questioning realization: Do I love the mountains and weather and clear air in Colorado so much because it reminds me mightily of staring out at the hills of Neve Daniel or riding the bus into Jerusalem and seeing the mountainous hills? Thought to consider.

Anyway ... back to the pluses and minuses. Here's a small sampling of things I've been considering:


  • A vacation can take me to Europe or a cruise around the Mediterranean.
  • It's ISRAEL. My heart lives there. Y'all know that. 
  • The people I consider my Jewish family live there (looking specifically at The Rs, who have been there for me for more than three years through some of my brightest and darkest days and have always kept a close eye on me). 
  • I have a million and one friends there. Okay, not that many, but plenty. 
  • I don't have to worry about kosher food. 
  • Tech jobs GALORE!
  • I speak English. People in Israel desperately need people with good English. Have you seen the signs at any and every historic site in Israel? Who is translating that stuff?
  • I don't have to worry about fresh fruits and veggies for my ovo-vegetarian lifestyle!
  • I'm living amid some of the oldest history known to man!
  • I'm fulfilling the mitzvah of living in the land of Israel, duh. 
  • I feel safer when I'm in Israel than anywhere else I've ever lived. 
  • Bochurim? 
  • It's a hard life -- financially. 
  • Everyone around you wants to kill you. 
  • Converts have a rough take of it. (Sidenote: As I told a friend earlier today, if anyone wants to question my conversion in Israel, I could easily have 100 people flashmob the hearing with the beth din. BAM!)
  • I might be miserable. 
  • The weather. The weather. The weather ... sigh.
Okay, so, you know, looking at those minuses ... that could be my life here. I have my debt here, I have my enemies here, I could be miserable here, I could run into conversion questioners here. And the weather? Honestly, I keep telling people that's the only reason I don't live in Israel. And you know what? That's a pretty stupid reason to not live in Israel, don't you think? I'll vacation to the Alps when I want snow, right? 

Anyone care to add to the lists? And if you want to add to the minuses, I'm pretty sure I know what else will be added. Ready, set, go!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My Unorthodox Shabbat

If there's one thing in the world that I miss about being married, it's the big Shabbat meals I would prepare. The apartment filled with the scent of challah as I lit candles. The smell of cholent on Saturday morning filling every bit of air. Lots of vegetables and chicken and dessert and ... people.

Yes, I can make my own gluten-free cholent (I prefer the Moroccan variety with brown rice in place of barley and lots of beans and sweet potatoes and fragrant spices), but I'm not big on leftovers -- or eating cholent alone. I could make challah, but as I can't eat it, there would be no one to eat it. (I'm talking the real stuff here, folks. Yes, I still make gluten-free oat challah for me, but I miss being able to braid and serve my own delicious challot.

So, for now, I have unorthodox Shabbat meals alone. And for now, it will suffice. Items below consumed Friday night with some New Planet Beer (gluten free!).

A Mediterranean-style gluten-free, vegan pizza with artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes,
kalamata olives, spinach, and Daiya vegan cheese!

A dessert pizza! Gluten-free crust with a homemade cashew spread,
grilled pineapple, blueberries, and pistachios!
Yucca fries! Boiled for a bit, then baked with olive oil and paprika.