Monday, December 31, 2007

I couldn't help myself.

Okay, so sometimes when I find a musician I absolutely fall in love with, I don't tell anyone. I sit idle and enjoy them secretly like really good cookies or a tub of ice cream, you know? I just want to enjoy and indulge myself before they hit the big time and then everyone's like "OMG I LOVE THEM" and that special feeling goes away. Because sure enough, the music industry is like that. Once everyone knows about them, bam, they're all corporate and over produced and it's just depressing (*cough* Rilo Kiley *cough*) and you're forced to listen to the old tunes with a feeling of nostalgia.

So here she is. Her name is Adele, and she's from South London and her voice is ... absolutely tantalizing. It's so unique (some say she sounds like Amy Winehouse, but I think Adele's voice is softer and more pure), and I've been listening to her few available songs on repeat tonight. They're incredibly empowering, flowing, beautiful. Just beautiful. So please, give her a listen. Check out her MySpace page and her songs/interview over on the BBC, and when her album comes out, best buy it, or I'll be sure to give you the one-two!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Calling Chaviva, Calling ... Chaviva!

Okay, a few things.

For starters, I went out last night for the first time in a long time (save the dinner with coworkers recently, which was nice, but last night was definitely a different beast) to a bar, with a bunch of people (we're talking 20-30) who I did not know. Yes, complete strangers. I headed off to Goose Island to meet up with a bunch of people who I had "met" through an online community of people who like to review things and spout off about them, too. I spent about 4 or 5 hours out and met some absolutely amazing people from just about every corner of this little big city I call home. People in their 20s, people in their 50s. Seriously, probably the most happy night I've had in a long time, one where I felt alive, social, and like who I used to be, a long time ago, when I was more hopeful and positive about where I was going. There were also a handful of Jews there, so it was nice to meet some of the fellow tribesmen/woman. But the coolest thing about the night? Well, on this online community, I'm known as "Chaviva E." simply because that's how the site rolls. I originally signed on as "Amanda E.", but there was this obnoxious, hated gal on there who also was an Amanda. So I opted to change my name. As such, everyone last night called me by my Hebrew name, my name that I truly connect with, and it was like coming home. Being in a social situation where people know me by my "Jewish name" is truly exceptional. The funny thing, though, is that everyone called me "Cha-viva" ... as in, Cha cha, cha cha cha. Salsa dancing style. I hated correcting people, but it felt natural, and it sort of became a joke after a while. There were some very interesting pronunciations, though, as well. But the Jews got it right the first time, and it felt good. Overall, there were some amazing conversations, friendships made, kindly flirtations, and genuine joviality.

Secondly, I caved. I bought a Blackberry Pearl. I know, I know. What do I need with it? Well, the thing is, my job sort of calls for it (not necessarily, but, it's hard to explain). And I'm addicted to the Internet, so why not? I'll give it a go for a few weeks and if it doesn't do me well, then I'll pack it back down to a normal phone and normal service. My number is still the same, but I'm now on T-Mobile. A-freaking-men.

So that's that. I hope everyone had a thoughtful Shabbat. Despite my efforts to make it to shul last night, stepping in a gigantic pile of mud/snow/slush caused me to head straight home. Thus, I am starting 2008 by attending my first Shabbat of the year at the Conservative synagogue. It's a big step, but, I have a really good feeling about it. We'll see where that takes me, but I've heard some good things about the congregation there.

Laila tov, friends, and may you and yours be well as we near 2008.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Two things. That caught my eye.

Happy Thursday, and a few things. I've had a lot, we're talking OODLES of free time at work today. I managed to do up my dad's resume, compile a list of my boss's events for 2008, open bucketloads of mail, and many other important things. But among that, I've had lots of web time. I did the hop from one blog to the other to news sites thing and found a couple things worth mentioning. So here we are for the day.

+ Israel is absolutely near a final agreement to get Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held captive for more than a year by Palestinian militants, back into Israel. The catch? Well, they have to release 100 prisoners, some who are terrorists associated with Hamas, upon Shalit's being handed over to Egyptian security personnel ... not to mention the other 100 prisoners Israeli has to release after Shalit makes it back to Israel. That's 200 dangerous people who want Israel blown off the face of the planet, mind you. Now, I'd all but forgotten about Shalit, and I feel really bad about saying that, but it's one of those things that was horrible for the first six months and then became this ridiculous stand-off where you knew they weren't going to kill him. They'd hold him for a hundred years if they could, trying to get their dangerous criminals released. Also, this seems like the kind of thing that will happen, with frequency, for as long as there is no peace or at least an understanding between Israelis/Palestinians.

+ There was a little write-up over on Jewschool from Christmas Day about a conference ABOUT Reform Judaism. Recently, the Union for Reform Judaism threw a big bash out in San Diego and from what I hear, it went swimmingly. The writer on Jewschool, though, makes a point to express that this conference (held in Israel) was not hosted by the URJ, but rather by the Van Leer Institute. The slide posted along with that post has a professor at Brandeis asking one of her students why he/she is going on to rabbinical school to be a Reform rabbi. The answer is not only shocking, but deeply disturbing.
Well, I want to keep on learning more about Judaism. I want to study Jewish texts all the time, till I learn as much as I can. I want to explore Jewish rituals, to lead a committed Jewish life. I'm a committed Reform Jew, and I want study to be central to my life, but I sure don't want to be a rabbi. That's just the only way I can continue to study and stay in the Reform movement.
Say what? There are people going to rabbinical school who just want to be Reform Jews but think -- for some reason -- that they can't do so without hitting up rabbinical school? The professor said this response is the sentiment of many of her students, too. The only thing shocking than this response is the comments that follow the posting. It would appear that this is a common thing -- people going to rabbinical school to merely study Judaism, but with no intentions of becoming rabbis. Why do these people not pursue Master's or PhD's in Judaic studies? It just seems ... illogical to me. Or is this, perhaps, the sign that there is not enough Jewish education available for adults? Almost every shul I've gone to has had active Jewish Adult Education classes, but few people ever attended them, and most of those who did happened to be older, in their 50s and 60s. So what is the 20-something Jew to do to keep up on Jewish living?

Not go to rabbinical school for kicks and giggles, that's what.

I give you, the fish.

Here's the fish (the photo is cloudy for some reason). For some reason he is lingering at the bottom of the tank. I checked the water temperature, and it's solid, so I'm not sure what's going on, but I wanted a happy active fish, and this fish is not happy active. Part of me wonders if the filter's stream is too powerful, though I even have it on low. At least he's not dead yet!

Oh, and his name? Well, no one guessed it ... but several frequent readers didn't even offer up a guess! But oh well. I tell you now, that my little fishy's name is RASHI! This, of course, is in honor of the great sage Rabbi Isaac ben Salomon, a medieval scholar who I'm absolutely fascinated with. And that's that! Here be the fishy.

Also, I want to say thank you to everyone who has posted on my last entry. I haven't had the oomph to answer any of the queries or thoughts yet, but again I thank you for the sincerity and take on the situation.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Please read all instructions carefully.

Listen: I read all the books. I made sure to read and reread all of the chapters and digressions into the plight of not converting Super-Mega-Ultra-Orthodox. I checked the little box that said "You realize that a lot of Jews won't think you're Jewish, right?" I joked with my Reform rabbi and my Reform friends and even made sure to read all of my mom's nonchalant e-mails about how "You know, you'll never REALLY be Jewish, right? Just look at what's his face, you know, Sammy Davis Jr.!" But a lot of the time, it doesn't matter. About, oh, I'd say, maybe 36 percent I guess. But then there's wanting to marry the perfect Jewish mate (did he have to go through this? or was he lucky enough to be born into?), or have kids, or go to Israel, or interact with other, well, Jews. And most of the time, I don't really think about who thinks I am or am not a Jew. It's irrelevant, because I know that I am a Jew. Yes, I went through the process, I dipped, I was presented, I had the bet din, I did the whole shibang. But I did it Reform, and to a lot of Jews, that isn't good enough. It isn't enough because those three Reform rabbis aren't *really* rabbis and the ceremony wasn't *really* halakhic, and my process definitely wasn't *really* halakhic.

And then this guy today had me back to that square one point, where all Jews by Choice end up at least every now and again, when something happens or someone says something. That point where you think, "If I was meant to be a Jew, then why the heck wasn't I born that way?" It's not a statement of denial of the present person, but rather a struggle to figure out why it's so much easier for everyone else, why the trials and tribulations for me? And as I write this, I recognize that it's quintessentially Jewish to run into these hurdles, these questions, these insecurities -- but for these things to be brought on by another Jew? Albeit, a Jew who thinks ("knows") he or she is a *real* Jew?

Listen. I volunteered today at the local Jewish museum. It's Christmas, and for Jews that means we need something to do that doesn't remind us that, ya, the rest of the world is ignoring their credit card debt while opening shiny new toys and noshing on ham. So I volunteered to hang out for three hours and make sure little kids didn't shmear their chocolaty fingers all over the new exhibit on the top floor of the brand spanking new building. The day was going along absolutely perfectly. I was so stoked to see Orthodox and Reform and the random passersby join together for some Kosher baked goodies and a giant inflatable caterpillar. It was this Jewish utopia where all Jews are created equal. I even ran into a coworker who is as excited about Judaic studies as I am (she's the Orthodox gal I work with). I was on top of the world, I was hanging out in the upper echelon of Jew excitement and happiness, and it seemed like it was only getting better when this stout elderly man in a newsboy cap started talking to me.

His name was Wolf. He was carrying a bag of something and had his pants pulled up in that old man way where they sit far above the waistline, which disappeared years ago. His little cap made him look like an overgrown child and when he asked me where all the food was, I thought, this is someone's grandfather! someone's father! and here he is asking me where to get a nosh. I explained that the treats had been gone long ago, swept up by hungry munchkins. I then told him he could go down to the cafe for some food if he was interested. We walked for a little bit and he struck up a conversation with me, poking fun as to why I hadn't managed to save him a brownie. After nearly two hours of silence and wandering around, I was excited to be talking to this little old Jewish man.

Then came the questions.

Is the cafe kosher? he asked. Yes, I answered. Do you keep kosher? he asked. I grinned, knowing where it was going. I made a motion with my hand to sort of say "so so" and said, To some extent, yes. He responded with, You're a good Jewish girl, no? You should keep kosher! I laughed a little and explained that I was working toward it, feeling almost guilty that I didn't, in fact, keep fully kosher. Old people have this way of making you feel guilty, and this guy, without even trying, was laying it on thick. What's your name? he asked. Amanda, I replied. What's your last name? he asked. I hesitated. This is that point where that whole "What's in a name?" thing comes out. Um ... Edwards, I replied. The look on his face made me anxious and nervous, so I blurted out, Not very Jewish, eh? He got a very stern look on his face. You are Jewish, yes? he asked. I quickly responded, (realizing that if I was volunteering there on Christmas I had to be Jewish, right?) Oh yes, of course I'm Jewish. He cocked his head a little, still looking fairly serious, children were buzzing around us, strollers and people muddling about the lower gallery. So what are you then? he asked. A convert? I got excited suddenly, with this jolt of convert pride flew up out of me, forcing me to respond, Yes, I am a convert ... by my own accord, too. He then started asking me why I converted and what led me to where I was and I gave him the brief version of how I ended up where I did. I explained Nebraska wasn't filled with Jews and that I'd spent about three years on the process.

So what are your parents? he asked. Christians? Jews? What? I never know how to answer that question, because they're more or less agnostic, I guess, but they believe in Jesus, so they're sort of Christians, but completely non-practicing. I explained this to him and he said, So are you sure they're not Jews? Are they definitely Christians? I didn't get what he was implying, though now that I think about it perhaps he wanted to know if there was any Jewish lineage in my past. I responded, Nope, they're Christians all right. I'm the only Jew -- so far as I know -- in my family tree.

Just then a lady he knew walked by, and I felt absolutely relieved. He went back into jovial-old-man mode and started showing pictures from his recent trip to Israel. He had pictures of him playing the violin for the rebbe (or at least this is what he said, I'm not sure about the status of the rebbe, so I could have been misunderstanding) in Israel. He was so proud of the pictures, and kept saying, Now those! Those are some serious Jews! Eventually the woman walked away and the old man named Wolf picked back up his questioning. This is when the situation got truly uncomfortable, and at the end, I was left feeling emotionally drained and as if I'd let down the world. As if I wasn't good enough. As if I'd failed on my mission to become who I was meant to be (Lech L'kha).

So you converted? he said again. Yes, I replied, in April 2006. How did you convert? he asked. I stopped, dead in my tracks. It's times like this that I wish I could create lies on the spot, but I've never been good at that. I can't make up fake telephone numbers or random facts or anything. I'm just no good at lying, but I regret the truth so much because of how it made me feel, because of how it turned this nice little old man into the ultimate naysayer about who I really am. Well, I said with a slight tone of disappointment, I converted through the Reform movement.

He just stared at me. With these piercing eyes, like all of a sudden I was a stranger, I wasn't worth joking with and I wasn't really his kin, his anything. I laughed uncomfortably.

But, I said, you know, I have considered going through more serious (yes, I said serious, because I knew that was the right word for this man) conversion. I think about getting married or having kids, I said, and I wouldn't want them to be ... (I trailed off.). Then he finally spoke up. You know, he said, do you want to marry yourself a nice Jewish boy? I replied, Of course, of course. Then, he said, you know you're going to have to convert Orthodox, it's the only way, really. At this point I just listened. He started talking in this flurry of urgency that when I think about it almost sounds more like he was saying "You idiot, what were you thinking!? You have to be more serious! You have to go the whole nine yards! What a waste of time and flesh!"

But then came the real kicker.

You know, he said, I don't want to sound like I'm judging you, because I'm not, but you know, and I'm being serious here, that you're not really Jewish, right? You're not really Jewish Jewish. I felt like I was going to vomit.

It was those words "You're not really Jewish Jewish" that echoed in my head from the point he walked away until just now. And those words will continue to echo from this point forward. Before, I'd read those words, from my mother and friends and people who didn't really believe what I was doing. But I'd just read them. On paper or the erasable tablet of the Internet. No one had ever said them to my face in a way that was so cutting, so vile, so personal ... and even now, as I write this, those words and this story -- what should have been a pleasant story -- brings me to tears.

Our conversation deteriorated after that. He repeated the "I'm not judging you" line, and continuously encouraged me again and again to convert Orthodox. He wanted me to understand the "reality" of it. He then started talking about wanting to hit up Lake Geneva and then wished me a good day and walked away. I was absolutely devastated.

From that point on, I started noticing things. All the men with their yarmulkes and the Orthodox women with their caps and long skirts and the tzitzit and sidelocks and the quintessential "Jewish" nose. I went to the bathroom to escape it. I suddenly felt like I was on the outside looking in. I was outside the window, looking through the glass at this world that I so want to belong to, that at my very core I know I am a part of, yet at that moment I was so far away from it. I looked into the mirror, and thought to myself, At least you were born with hair as dark as night and skin as white as the snow. At least you look Eastern European, Amanda. At least you have something going for you.

I get that being Jewish isn't about looks or about perceptions. And 98 percent of the time I really get it. But this time, just this time, I stopped feeling Jewish and started feeling like someone who is trying so hard to be something that she wasn't born as. I looked at the kids and the teenagers and was reminded that I'll never go to Hebrew school or have the traditional bat mitzvah. I will never grow up learning the aleph-bet or see my little brother be circumcised in the tradition of our people that has survived thousands of years. I will never. And every time these thoughts crept back in, I reminded myself that when they came for the Jews, they didn't come for the Orthodox, they came for ALL Jews -- secular, converted, religious. They came for them all. And I hate that this is what it comes to, sometimes, when I'm reminded that I am not Jewish enough for the rest of the world.

I'm struggling right now to feel positive about where I am, and it's because of an old man named Wolf who just wanted a nosh, but the words from this old-school Jew who plays the violin and keeps kosher was enough to really tip me over and spin me around. I don't think my reaction to a similar conversation with a Jew my own age would have incited such panic and stress and emotion in me, but when an elderly Jew who has managed to retain the tradition his entirely life calls me out and questions my Jewish authority, I just feel the need to feel accepted. Maybe it's because I never connected with my own grandparents, or maybe it's because I admire the Jews of generations past who had to grow up with such different lifestyles than me, when assimilation and acculturation were so pressured upon new Jews in America. Now, I know I can't know where this Wolf comes from or how long he's lived here, but I do know that when he was a kid his family used to go to Lake Geneva. He had the slight hint of an accent, so maybe his parents were from the old country or maybe even he was born in the old country. Either way, I'm projecting this imagine of the traditional Jew who, despite all odds, managed to hold on to his tradition, his culture, his people-hood. And what am I to this old man?

A nothing. Schmutz. Someone who is trying, but hasn't tried hard enough, and who isn't Jewish Jewish. If you get my drift.

I'm not sure where to go from here. I have this mental image of what I want my life to be like, how observant I want to be, how observant I want my future husband to be, how I want to raise my children to be proud and involved in their Jewishness. And I know -- at this point I am completely conscious of this -- that my present state just isn't going to make those things happen. And then here comes Wolf, reminding me that I'm definitely not able to make those things happen, being Reform and all.

Listen. I'm happy with who I am, believe you me. I'm happy with my conversion, and it was right for me when it happened. I was my newly ordained rabbi's first convert, and for him and me that's something memorable. My conversion had a goof in it and caused me to dip in the mikvah twice. My rabbi took me for sushi afterwards and we talked about how I should enter the rabbinate (his idea, not mine). My conversion, the night of, that is, was the night of the final banquet for my college newspaper, and a few of my friends skipped the formal part to come watch my conversion ceremony at the temple. I then went to the party and got drunk, on what else, Manischewitz. The thing is, my conversion has a story, and there was a lot leading up to it that is emblazoned on my brain, and I wouldn't change any of it for the world. In 2006 when I converted, I truly became Chaviva bat Avraham v'Sarah.

But times like these, times like these I wonder if I shouldn't go further. If that Orthodox kid who I met at Starbucks in D.C. in summer 2006 -- ho said "So why are you Reform again?" when I explained my status, my beliefs, my observance -- had a point. I think, if anything, his point was more significant and dare I say it, thoughtful, than old man Wolf's thoughts on my situation. At any rate, if I convert more "seriously," it won't be because of Wolf or the Orthodox kid. It will be on my own terms, in my own time, and in my own efforts. And that will never change.

I just wish Wolf, and his posse of holier-than-thou Jews, would let me be, would let my mind be at ease, would allow me to be who I am, Jewish as I am. I get that I'm not Jewish enough for a lot of you, but I'm Jewish enough for me. I checked the little box, remember?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A quick, potpourri post.

I have a mighty heavy post in the works, but it's geared more toward the blog, so you likely won't see it unless I decide to cross-post.

[[[[An aside: As you well know, it's Christmas Eve, here there and everywhere, except for perhaps countries that have already woke up to the tree. I found myself on the bus today trying to figure out why there's so much focus on the "Lonely Jew on Christmas" and little attention is paid to the lonely Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists on Christmas. I mean, what do they do on Christmas? Are there Muslim traditions? Do they eat Greek food or something? I'm curious, but blind to the answer.]]]]

While hopping around throughout the web, I happened upon (as I'm forever in search of JewTech stuff) the Wikipedia entry for "J-Blogosphere," which I found particularly amusing. It says that the first mention of the term appeared in February 2004. That really isn't that long ago, but I guess perhaps that was the birth of the movement of which I am proud to be a member. While perusing the entry, I noticed a mention of a collection of blogs "A Rabbi Must Follow." A list of the blogs can be found here. Note, though, that the list is from 2006, so I imagine some of the blogs have decreased in traffic or perhaps have even gone defunct. Successful blogs are few and far between, despite the efforts of their authors, and that's the reality of the interwebs.

Of course, the more I click around, the more websites I find and the more bloggers I come across. Every time I find a dedicated Jewish gentleman blogging, I cross my fingers and pray for a miracle that maybe one will happen to be my bashert, right? Slap me silly and call me Chavi, but that's just the reality of the situation of being a 24-year-old who spends at least 1/2 her day online between work and blogging and living a web-oriented life. I don't think there's anything sad or pathetic or unfortunate about it. It's more the reality of the life that many of us lead. I've had successes in making some amazing friends online, not to mention a semi-successful relationship that turned out to not really be that successful after all.

Anyhow, the Jewish web is a big, wide world and is sometimes unpredictable, as to what you get and who you meet. I'm just proud to be a part of it as it grows, changes, and helps other Jewish bloggers find their place amid the crowd.

Guess a fish's name, by jove!

It begins with the tank. On the way home today, feeling a little low about being alone and without much to do on Christmas Eve (lonely Jew, blah blah), I hopped out of the bus while we were idling near the PetSmart. I went in, smiling like a four-year-old and announced to the fish lady "I would like to purchase a goldfish." She sort of looked at me funny, then asked what I was looking for precisely. She took me over to the tanks and I picked one out. She then informed me that I should probably wait to get the goldfish until Wednesday, so the tank has some time to sit and be all set to go. I think she thought I was senile. She asked if it was a gift for someone, and I said "No, it's a holiday gift to me. My apartment feels dead and lonely without something living in it, and I happen to be very good at killing plants." So here's the tank.

AND ... here's the exciting part ... I will reveal the name on Wednesday after I get the fish, but I'll mail a book from my library (you can choose from a list which I will offer to you) to the first person who can guess what I intend to name my fish :) What a giveaway! I'm really polite to my books, so never fear. And if you know me, it'll be the easiest thing you've ever done. (And if your comment doesn't appear right away, it's because I have approval on it, so don't fret.)

So get to guessing!

Monday, December 24, 2007


Every (well, almost) Friday when I go to synagogue, I make a point to grab the local Jewish newspaper, as well as World Jewish Digest. One reason I like to pick these up is because there are oodles of interesting ads in them. Most are for Jewish retirement facilities and Kosher catering services, but I also am quite the fan of the interesting Tech Ads that pop up in the newspapers.

One of the interesting ones is KosherNet. What, you ask, is KosherNet? Under their description for what they mean by their use of "kosher," it says:
"Kosher" can also be used to describe other realms of human/Jewish experience. Reading material, entertainment, and parties can all be kosher or non-kosher - appropriate or inappropriate - for a Jew to experience.

So there can be a Kosher or non-Kosher Internet experience too. But, just as with food there are different standards for what is considered kosher or non-kosher, so too with the internet.
So it's basically kosher "parent" controls for the web experience. I guess what I'm wondering, then, is how many people use the service?

Then there's this service called MyFaith, though I can't seem to find a website for it. I read about it in one of the newspapers, and it's basically this service that allows you to upload all sorts of religious technological paraphernalia like wallpapers, ring tones, daily Torah gleanings, etc.

Now we all know there are hundreds if not thousands of sites that allow you to study the Torah or take relevant classes online. You can find websites with the Torah in Hebrew (with and without vowel markings), with the translations, with Rashi's commentary, etc. Likewise, there are plenty of books and websites devoted to living Jewishly amid a growing field of technology (an oft-cited issue is spelling out the name of G-d, and how this is legitimized on the Internet).

There is an interesting story of Rabbi Akiva and his debates with the Roman general, Turnus Rufus. The general asked Rabbi Akiva why Jews circumcise their sons, also asking whether Jews believe they can improve on G-d's creation of man. Rabbi Akiva placed grain and bread before the general and asked him which he'd rather eat. The general made the obvious choice and took the bread, which clearly represented man's improvement on nature. As such, just as baking bread is an act of improving wheat, so is circumcision an act of improving man. The moral of the story is that we are meant to improve on the world; we are partners in creation of all aspects of the world, including technology.

I think it's fascinating to see how special things are made up in order to maintain a "kosher" lifestyle, be this automatic timers, KosherNet, or other technologies that make living Jewishly a little more feasible in an ever-expanding world.

Cheers to you all, and may the week begin with health and happiness!

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Two exhibits I happen to be stoked about and hope I can manage to step away from my desk for five seconds to look at are those below. These are both over at the library here on campus, which, it turns out, has this amazing collection of Judaica and Hebraica. I also just discovered RAMBI, the index for articles on Judaic studies.

Major SCORE!

An Exhibition in the Special Collections Research Center
Rosenberger Library of Judaica Gallery
October 10, 2007 - June 20, 2008
Western Jews have strong historical, cultural, and ethnic ties with the Orient; and at the same time form part of the broader European fascination with the East. This exhibition examines the ways that 19th- and 20th-century Jews shaped their own identities through real and imaginary encounters with the Orient. Works from the Ludwig Rosenberger Library of Judaica illustrate the various ways Western Jews embraced the Orient, including dressing up as "Orientals," valorizing "authentic" Eastern Jewish communities, romanticizing Jewish history under Islam during the Golden Age in Spain, building synagogues in the Moorish style, imagining Biblical patriarchs as Bedouins, becoming Zionists, and positioning themselves as cultural mediators between West and East.

An Exhibition in the Special Collections Research Center
Main Gallery
March 10, 2008 - July 6, 2008
Books, prints, and works of art in the Branka and Harry Sondheim Jewish Heritage Collection focus on visual representations of Jewish life and customs. Works on view by Johannes Buxtorf, Paul Kirchner, and Bernard Picart include images depicting scenes of daily life, cycles of birth and marriage, and holiday rituals. The exhibition also includes prints and illustrated books by the artists Alphonse Levy, Moritz Oppenheim, and Arthur Szyk; as well as illustrated Haggadah.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sigh. Another one lets me down.

I don't mean to complain. Especially not about people. I'm not the kind of person who usually gripes about people, but man alive, did I meet someone who just rubbed me the wrong way.

And it started over an incredibly brief argument about why shellfish aren't kosher.

"It's really a historical reason," he said.

No. It isn't, I said. It's more biblical than historical.

"No," he said, "It's because they didn't know how to prepare them that they're not kosher."

Of course, I knew this was wrong. This is one of those ages-old excuses that people come up with about why pork and shellfish weren't kosher.

So I said, that's not why they aren't kosher. It's biblical law from Torah. That excuse is used for everything that is not truly the reason.

"Well, that's what my rabbi told me. And he has to be right."

I left it there. I didn't want to carry on such an asinine argument with someone who obviously didn't really *get* what kashrut was. So as he dug into his sausage and meat lasagna slathered in mozzarella and Parmesan, I let it go. He ended the evening talking about how he can't wait to get Christmas presents and how great it was to have Catholic relatives who would give him Christmas gifts.

It's quite obvious. The Torah makes distinctions between kosher and non-kosher fish, and "the commentary on the Torah explains that the scales and fins can be compared to crowns atop the fish, attesting to the kosher fish's higher spiritual status. Furthermore, such fish tend to swim in the upper expanses of the ocean where the water is more pure." (Taken from

Now, there was plenty more about this guy that bugged me (among them the fact that he insisted that he pay less because he drank less than everyone else, despite that everyone -- regardless of how much they ate or drank -- was paying the same, flat 40 bucks or so). But his attempt to expound his knowledge just irritated the heck out of me. It reminded me of the situation of Jewry and of the simple lack of understanding about the simplest, most basic traditions and rituals.

And it frustrated me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

From the mouths of babes.

I guess I'm getting in touch with my pop culture side these days, what with my videos and things that I'm posting. Today's feature is a performer named Yael Naim, who from what I can tell is a French-Israeli (her parents were Jews, she was born in Paris). Her songs come in English, French and Hebrew, and are an eclectic and beautiful mix of folk/pop.

Her Myspace is here and the label's website is here. And here's the video for her new single, "New Soul."

And if that isn't enough for you, she also has a stellar cover of Britney Spears's "Toxic" on her MySpace page.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Jewish Video Roundup.

Oy. Seriously? A movie starring Adam Sandler as a former Israeli soldier who wants to be a hairdresser? In truth, I wish he would stick to serious movies, because he's really much better at those. I mean, I love Happy Gilmore and stuff, but lately, I don't want hilariously stupid Sandler, I want thought-provoking and genuine Sandler. Anyhow, here's the trailer for his new movie ...

PS: Zohan is a Slavic name meaning "gift from G-d." Interesting.

On a different note, here's a deliciously entertaining Yiddish version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I just like how the word "schnoz" sticks out! And if you think about it, the fact that this song was written by a Jew is sort of noteworthy, considering it's about a reindeer who is picked on because his outlandish nose ...

And finally, here's what ever bar mitzvah dreams of for is shindig, a girl in a mid-riff, mini-skirt dancing around singing a remix of the classic, "Hava Nagila."

Random, Episode 5,653.2

So my friend Nic (it feels weird not having a blog to link to, actually) just sent me the link to this hilarious e-card site, so I had to share. One in particular that I am fond of is below, from the "Confessions" card collection.

So send a card. It's almost as good as REAL mail ... right?

Monday, December 17, 2007

A break from Jewish things, sort of?

So over the past several days, I've had some random thoughts/experiences that are quintessentially Amanda/Chavi, that I thought I'd share. So enjoy these morsels of Manda!

1) I went to see "Juno" the other night, and while waiting for the ticket time to roll around (since the original show was sold-out, I went for a later showing), I walked past Bath and Body Works. Now, when I was in high school, this was THE place we hit at the mall, at every visit, without fail. It was a popular place to get gifts and things, too. But, now, when I go in and pick up bottles of lotion and body butter, I sniff with delight and frown. I know that I will never, ever be able to buy Bath and Body Works stuff -- that is, until my immune system stops working so well. You see, I have eczema, which has plagued me most of my life and is mostly on my legs and arms. It's the most irritating, unfortunate, frustrating ailment to have. It keeps me from wearing shorts and most capris, not to mention that it's probably the one thing that makes me more self-conscious more than anything else. However, the moment my immune system starts slowing down, I won't be so itchy and the eczema will slowly fade away. It's a double-edged sword, you know? I'll be able to lather myself with Brown Sugar Delight or whatever, but I'll also be getting older and probably sick more often. Sigh.

2) The best thing about being single -- and I will always, always believe this -- is that you don't have to shave. Now, if this is TMI, I apologize oh world of the Internet. But it's one of those things that you often take for granted, but believe me, with the schedule I have, I don't exactly have the oomph at 7 a.m. to get my shave on. Amen for not having anyone to impress.

3) I hate shopping for boots. I went out today to get boots, and ended up walking more than 3 1/2 miles throughout the Loop, Downtown and Lincoln Park/Lakeview. I went to more stores than I can count. I wanted some boots that are like the UGGs, but not costing five million dollars. I walked past the UGG store, and two people came walking out saying "Can you believe there's an hour wait JUST to try on shoes!?" Seriously, no thank you. But the only shoes I could find had ridiculous heals and no comfy insides, not to mention that you have to have this perfect calf size and if you don't, forget boots that rise above your ankles. In wintertime, why the heck do you want to wear heels? Why do you not want squishy, comfy insides? Am I missing something? Eventually, I found some boots close to home and for super cheap. Thank you Nine West.

4) I love, LOVE wintertime. Mind you, I walked around in some really uncomfortable shoes today with soak-and-wet socks that made me feel like I was getting frostbite, but it was completely doable to be able to be out and about in downtown Chicago watching people ooh and ahh over the Macy's department store display of the Nutcracker in its store windows. There was music playing from stores over outdoor speaker systems, random people preaching the end of the world, and the talented bucket drummer boys, not to mention this middle-aged white guy with a drum kit outside the Payless Shoesource (I mention him because on his drum kit it said "SHALOM" in Hebrew!). It was truly a beautiful day, though. Kids everywhere and people spending up the wazoo.

5) I was supposed to have my first volunteer experience (since high school) today. I got all prepped to donate some time at a home for battered women and their children. The setup was that we volunteers were to play with the kids while their moms got counseling. I was seriously stoked, so much so, that I even took a cab there so I wouldn't be late! Then I arrive and as I walked up to the building in the sludge and snow, a friendly looking fellow in dreds said, "Are you one of the volunteers?" to which I responded "Yes." He then informed me that the event was canceled! NOOOO!!!! I was so psyched to start filling my time and giving back, but it was thwarted. So now I need to find some other events to help out with, by golly.

6) People who go to the movie theater must not have issues with being touched and/or bumped into accidentally. To the guy who freaked out and yelled obsenities at me as he ran to the bathroom because I was consistently in his way, I guess (despite my best efforts of "excuse me" and "I'm sorry"): Please, Please don't come back to the movie theater ever again until you stop hating the world.

7) Meeting new people is the bee's knees. I have vowed to become much more active and social. I started this weekend at a housewarming party where I enjoyed some Woodchuck Cider and free pizza, not to mention the homemade carrot cake. It's hopefully the start to some new friendships and activities.


I'll admit I'm a little late going here ...

The Torah portion for last week (that is, Dec. 9-15), Vayiggash, had a few interesting tidbits that are worth discussing. I'll make this quick, since I'm already late on the punch anyhow!

+ There's some interesting questions about the situation of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, rising to great power, then saving his family from imminent doom. Firstly, it brings into the question the old "everything happens for a reason" sentiment. It makes us wonder whether G-d truly does have the plan and knows what will happen, or if free will truly does dictate our decisions despite G-d's hand in our lives. Likewise, we have to wonder how, if G-d did "use the sale of Joseph to further the divine plan," (Abravanel) G-d could then hold the brothers accountable for their action. Etz Chayim's commentary says that "G-d could not prevent the brothers from choosing to do something cruel," yet somehow G-d knew that this would further the plan for Joseph and the children of Israel. So how can we -- as mere humans -- really understand what seems to be such an unfair situation for the brothers? We can't. The text reconciles itself by saying later in the text, after Joseph has revealed himself, that his brothers "sent him" to Egypt (Gen. 45:8), not that they "sold" him, thus replacing the evil purpose with its beneficial result. It's truly perplexing, then, to consider how such events could unravel, in what we like to think is a just and logical existence. But this is one of the key instances of the question -- does everything happen for a reason?

+ Interestingly, Israel is the only one of the patriarchs who is spoken to at night (by G-d, that is). I'm not really sure why this is, but I think it probably has some important implications. Note to self: explore this!

+ Interestingly, I think Joseph might be the first assimilationist. The biggest complaint about the Jewish diaspora is that it has completely assimilated to wherever the Jewish people have ended up. Getting rid of the shtetl mentality was key to past generations. As such, many view the Diaspora as being completely devoid of the culture and beauty that it maybe once had. Well, in this Torah portion, there's an interesting exchange that makes us wonder whether Joseph was perhaps a precursor to the Jews of Hellinization and eventually to the Jewish experience in America. Joseph tells his brothers and father to tell the pharaoh that they are breeders, not shepherds, as shepherds are reviled. But the brothers tell him that they are, in fact, shepherds. Why do they do this? Joseph was very concerned about what the Egyptians thought, yet his family -- a simple people proud of their upbringing and profession -- were entirely satisfied with who they were. Joseph had settled into Egyptian life entirely, perhaps even finding himself comfortable with all but ridding himself of his Jewish background and upbringing.

+ Finally, I want to mention a concept in the Torah called mip'nei darkhei shalom, which means "for the sake of ways of peace." That is, it says that one can adjust Jewish law and custom for the sake of peace. I imagine that this was used during the many tragedies that befell the Jewish people throughout history, including during the Spanish Inquisition or perhaps during the Nazi regime. In times where Jews had to practice secretively or quietly, I imagine that certain customs and ways of living had to be adjusted for the sake of survival, and in turn, peace. The important thing about this, though, is that it is not abused or misunderstood. One could say that it's the ultimate Loop Hole in Torah.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I haven't been on Friendster in years, but I still, every now and again, get a "reminder" about something. This evening? It was the following, which made me laugh out loud ...
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Friendster
Date: Dec 15, 2007 8:30 PM
Subject: Friendster Reminder - Jesus's Birthday is Coming Up...
Note: This was followed by a picture of the man himself, with a "Birthday Alert" message. Too bad whoever sent this doesn't know that Jesus wasn't born this time of year, contrary to popular belief. Christmas was pegged as the "birth of Jesus" because it was the pagan holiday of Solstice. The church decided that to get more Christians to stop celebrating pagan holidays, they'd peg those pagan holidays as Christian holidays. Hence, Christmas was born.

Anyhow, it gave me a nice little giggle :)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Here's to you, for the guilt and the pleasure of us all.

I've fallen in love with something, and I have to tell you all about it. You have to find it, you have to buy it, you have to throw yourself into its pages and take a hold of your inner, literary Jew.

The publication? Guilt and Pleasure.

I discovered the quarterly while perusing the website for my favorite local diner/swanky restaurant, Eleven City Diner. They just revamped the website, and I discovered the link to the website. I thought that it was only online, of course, since they have links to all the articles in the recent edition. Then when Ian and I were at the diner getting some dinner, as we were walking out, I always like to stop and check out the Israeli Bazooka gum, imported grape juice and other goods, and I spotted it! Up on a shelf between two issues of HEEB magazine, there it was! Of course, not the most recent issue, but the "Health" issue, complete with pictures of "snowbirds" from South Beach donning bikinis and looking particularly ... leathery.

Now, the moment I started reading it, I was I love. I thought "This is what HEEB wants to be, but it's not." The articles are smart, funny, real. One of the favorites I've read so far is about a Jewish fellow who is 6'3" by all measurements, but appears as only a tall 5-footer, since he slouches so much. He goes into the history of anti-Semitic rantings about Jews with hunchbacks, citing historic works and popular fiction, including "Young Frankenstein." I finished the piece and was struck by how hilarious, smart, and outstandingly Jewish it was.

This is the magazine/journal that was made for me!

On the website you can find podcasts, including one with Shalom Auslander, the author of "Foreskin's Lament," which high on my list of must-reads. The website also links to Reboot and Reboot Stereophonic. From what I can tell, the former is the brainchild of the Guilt and Pleasure and the other project. The latter is a project that seeks to take old music and bring a new listen to it.

I'm still exploring all the websites, but there's so many interesting, fascinating, smart and quality things to be had. One interesting thing spotted on the site that I plan on delving into is a piece from Time Magazine's cover from April 10, 1972: What it Means to be Jewish ~ The Jews: Next Year in Which Jerusalem?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I can't believe I ever stopped reading my favorite Jew-comic: Shabot6000. What was I thinking? Anyhow, here's a relevant one:

And for those in the know on the interwebs ... click here for another funny one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Chanukah! Just a little bit left ...

So there is so little of Chanukah left. It seems to fly by in the blink of an eye, even though I remember growing up and Christmas feeling like it lasted for days and days and days. How odd is that? I wanted to post some cookie photos, of course, but first, I had to say THANK YOU to Beth, who sent me this awesome card, that has little punch-out candle flames that you insert into the menorah for each night! This is definitely an Amanda-friendly menorah :)

And here are the sexy cookie shots. I bought some canned icing to do interesting stuff this year, since I didn't want to make a mess of mixing the food coloring into the white frosting. However, I think in the future I'll go back to that method -- despite the mess! They just look more clean :)

Monday, December 10, 2007


In case it isn't showing up: Chinese Food on Christmas

O Chanukah!

I think that the greatest thing about this (once small, but now overblown) holiday of Chanukah is that there are surprises around every corner. Because Chanukah goodies, knick-knacks and things don't permeate every store on the planet like Christmas things do, it's fun when you find something small in a specialty store or while window-shopping.

Case in point: I just got back from a trip to Baltimore to celebrate my very, very wonderful friend Heather's recent wedding to a very special guy named Josh (MAZEL TOV!!). While there we went browsing in the Hampden area and there were oodles of small shops. The great thing was spying some cute little dreidel-direction cards, a variety of menorahs (new age and traditional), star of David ornaments made of blown glass (I was searching for these weeks ago and ended up getting some at Crate & Barrel, actually), and much much more. But the coolest thing was an ornament (I know, I know) that we found at this place called Cafe Hon. Now, this took me by surprise ... but I guess the word "hon" -- like, "You're a doll, you know that hon?" or "Thanks, hon!" -- is sacred in Baltimore (also known as Bawlmore). So they have Hon Fest and the Cafe Hon is the hot spot for all your hon paraphernalia.

Anyhow, we're perusing the mini store while waiting for a table to clear and what does Heather spot? THIS:

So she, in her awesomeness, picked it up for me. I think I might attach it to my fan pull :) Anyhow, it's super cute and I had to share because it's definitely unique, like so many of the neat little knick-knacks and fun things that Chanukah conjures up ... even if it does mean buying things that maybe aren't that necessary.

And to close us up, here are some pictures of my menorah from this evening. I decided to go ahead and light the travel menorah since I was unpacking my stuff from the trip. Happy Chanukah, friends and readers!

PS: Just saw this over on Ararat Scrolls, so check it out and GIGGLE: My Menorah (OY OY OY!)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Go Chabad! Go!

Chabad is rocking my world today. I mean ROCKING my world today.

I was down in the Loop in search of a hat. I have a large head, short hair, and well, those two just don't mesh. So I bought some gloves, and after Target and Macy's, I quit searching, bought a Earl Grey Vanilla Latte and called it a night. So as I'm walking to the El, here comes a pickup truck playing music really loud, sort of cruising. As it got closer ...

It was a Chabad-sponsored pickup truck with a menorah on the back! Yes, the shamash and the first two candles were lit and music was a'playin' as two yarmulke-toting fellows in the cab. It made me smile, big.

Then I got home and found the e-mail highlighting the site's special items for Chanukah, including a application! Hot dog! So the first thing I did when I got home? I sent out Chanukah cards to my Jewish friends (lookout, folks!).

Tonight my plan is to take it easy, once again. I went to bed last night at 9 p.m. because of a horribly depressing day at work. Today I'm feeling a little better, but still not quite level, disallowing me from enjoying the well-lit holiday. But the moving menorah and the various menorahs spotting windows along Broadway Street on the way home have brightened my spirit and kept me from feeling incredibly isolated this year (if you recall, last year I went to the National Menorah Lighting near the White House -- also sponsored by Chabad -- with latkes, even!).

My plan for tomorrow is to make some latkes, some Chanukah cookies (that is, cookies in Jewish shapes iced with Jewish colors!), some sufganiyot and other goodies. Expect the step by steps as I've done with other holidays. It's my way of sharing my Chanukah with you!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Is there something wrong with me? I just don't get it.

As I was stumbling around getting dressed this morning, the Today Show had this little piece on Interfaith families during the holidays. One family was Jewish-Catholic, and chose to raise their kids Jewish so as to not confuse them. The other family was Jewish-Catholic and what do they do? Take their kids to shul on Friday and mass on Sunday.

Whoa whoa whoa -- what?

Now, the funny thing about that second family is that they were showing a church and a synagogue -- not sure if they're the ones these folks go to, but I can only assume that they'd use the ones they went to (they showed them inside the church, but not the synagogue). The synagogue turned out to be that one I wrote about a few weeks ago that caused a huge ruckus over on Yes, the synagogue that I felt was too light on its ritual and tradition -- even for a Reform convert from Nebraska like myself. Coincidence? I think not. But maybe that is the type of family it caters to -- those on the fringe, raising kids as Christian Jews? I don't meant to sound so harsh, and if I come across as harsh, forgive me. But I just do not get it.

My beef with interfaith families has nothing to do with holding on to the beliefs you hold fast to. After all, people are usually shocked to find out that I didn't convert for some Yeshiveh boy I wanted to marry (a la Sex and the City's Charlotte converting to marry Harry Goldenblatt). No, I converted for me, myself, and I. No outside influence, not even a really close Jewish friend to call my own. I did it to fulfill my own prophecy, not someone else's. So I applaud the couples for sticking to their religious guns and making it work in the ceremony, with a rabbi and a priest, etc. I always wonder how these folks choose the synagogue over the church (I'd think synagogue since the church is an evolvement of the synagogue, right?).

Would I ever hold such a wedding? No way, sir. The confusion, oy!

My beef with these couples comes when it's time to have and raise kids. I applaud the first family for settling into raising their kids Jewish. Typically these kind of situations arise when one of the individuals isn't as devout or religious as the other, and I think that more often than not the kids end up getting raised Jewish. But that second family ... how can you seriously take your kids to both services? How can you cause such confusion, such ridiculousness. I don't understand the logic behind such things. It's a proven fact that kids raised in those situations often grow up without any faith or religious beliefs at all, driven away from both faiths instead. I just don't get it! Pick one, stick to it, teach your kids softly about the other, and just go with it! In these cases I have to wonder if the parents agreed to disagree and put their kids out on the plank because they couldn't go one way or the other. Why punish the kids with confusion and distress?

Of course, this means I intend to raise my kids Jewishly ,and I fully intend on marrying someone who also intends to do so. It was a vow I took when I chose to become a Jew, and it is a vow that holds fast to my heart. No, I don't intend to live vicariously through their bar and bat mitzvahs and Hebrew school and other life moments because I did not have the chance to experience those as a child. I simply want my children to grow up with an understanding of Judaism, the people and the culture and tradition and religion that I fell so deeply into. I would rather have children completely cognizant of one of the world's religions than none at all. My children will have full right to choose what they want to do when they reach adulthood, and I rue the day that I raise a child driven away from Judaism because of my actions or the way that I raised him or her.

Tee hee ... a funny.

Happy Chanukah! Want some HAM with that gelt?

For more of the hilarity from Balducci's, visit NancyKay Shapiro's LiveJournal.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

My two worlds collide.

I have a lot to say about my trip home. About my shul back home, about the people, the prayer, the Torah blessings, my family, my friends, weddings, my past. But until then, I just wanted to say that this is the most precious gift my little brother has ever given me. It may seem silly, but it isn't. He won this by getting a 100 percent in his math class (the teacher has hundreds of troll dolls -- which were willed to her by a deceased mentor -- that she allows the kids to pick one of when they make 100 percent on their math tests). He said he was stressed out because he was worried someone else would take the troll before he could get it -- my response? There aren't enough Jews in Lincoln that he'd have to worry about someone else taking it :)

Tomorrow is Erev Chanukah. I hope to have some gleanings. I have about 30 posts I want to write. But right now things are too busy for me to focus on those. So brace yourself.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Who is she, anyway?

There are times, when blogging, where I wonder what people think if they actually met me. I try to be as real on my blog as I am in real life. I don't hide behind a persona, I am who I am. But those who know me in person don't seem to perceive me the same way as those who know me via my blogging moniker and Hebrew name, Chaviva.

Are these two different people? Have I split to become real-life, kind, people dig me and my ideas and explanations Amanda, with the other half being poorly worded, contested, irrelevant, obsolete in her attempts at discussing things Chavi?

You tell me. But I'm beginning to wonder if somewhere I got forked and completely missed it.

I began blogging in 1998 or 1999 over on I went through three blog names between then and 2006. That's a lot of writing junk on the internet for all to take in. I spent most of those years talking about school and boys and love and poetry. But I started to dabble in writing about Judaism in 2004-2006. Then I discovered blogger, and I decided to really get to it. To focus myself and write about what was most important to me: Judaism. This is a blog about a Jew, by a Jew.

So what? Am I self-satisfying? Are my motives keeping this blog really exploitation of who I am, or who I strive to be? Am I just blowing smoke?

Maybe I don't want the answer. Maybe I do. Maybe I just want to be taken seriously, to have my spirit and my soul seen as genuine and true.

But this is the internet, and that's expecting too much.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Menorah addiction!

As it turns out, I'm going to be in Baltimore for a few nights of Chanukah to help my friend Heather celebrate her being a newlywed (a hearty mazel tov to her and her husband!). So I went to the store today and picked up my THIRD menorah! Yes, folks, I bought a mini "travel" menorah. It's no bigger than the size of my hand (which I hear is tiny) and has little birthday cake-style candles to go with it! I'm super stoked that I'll get to celebrate a few nights with my good friend! And buying menorahs? It's addictive!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Israel and Palestine: A Roadmap to Nowhere

I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated with peace, the two-state "solution," and I'm frustrated with the effort. I'm frustrated that for nearly 60 years there has been nothing but talk talk talk. I'm frustrated that there will never be a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist. When I say that there will never be a solution, what I really mean is that the next great war, the next great instigation of demolition and destruction of the human soul and hope will arise in Israel, likely in Jerusalem.

The thing is, the talks that are going on today are not new. The people there at the talks know this. They're not naive or stupid. They know that the things they are saying have been repeated, rinsed, and repeated since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Except, well, maybe for Bush. He seems to stay optimistic. Who wouldn't want to solve the great Middle East debacle before leaving office, especially with the striped past 6 years he's had?

[The text of the agreement to kick off the talks can be read here.]

The talks will always, always stall on one thing: Jerusalem.

Everyone has a claim on it, and you can't split the city up three ways -- to Christians, Muslims and Jews. It just doesn't work that way. And even if you could split it up (which has been talked about before, believe me), no one will go for it. That's the other big thing.

In the past, talks have often stalled because it's all or nothing.

I can't even enumerate how many options have been suggested in the 60 years since the creation of Israel. It's almost nauseating the give and take and give and take and desperation. In the 1960s there were a group of Palestinians willing to compromise, willing to seek peace and leave the "all or nothing" philosophy behind. But those people were killed, and it is believed those who died trying to create peace were killed by the very Palestinians they wanted to help. Their own people!

I almost find it hard to discuss the situation. When I worked at the Washington Post, two of my coworkers asked me what I was going to do with my future after leaving the Post. I responded that I was going to go to graduate school for Judaic studies. One asked me what I thought about the situation in Israel, and I explained that it's pretty helpless and gave her my reasons. The other suggested I make it my goal to build a better Israel for Israelis and Palestinians. I smiled, knowing the impossibility of such a thought. Not because I'm incapable, but because I try not to involve myself in the situation, neither in discussion nor in action.

My reasons were this: Jerusalem will not, and can not be divided, thus creating the world's greatest stalemate over the world's most contested area; religious fervor and war will be the end all to this discussion. Additionally, the problem that many in the 60s ran into was that Palestinians were more comfortable playing the victim than they were with peace. Everyone knows that it is easier to be in pain and be hurt than it is to seek the best, most socially responsible route to success. It's like being unhappy is easier than trying to be happy. It's not rocket science, it's just the way we are. I'm not saying Palestinians to blame, but they've raised generations of victims, and Israel -- not to mention the Arab states -- haven't done a thing to see that change. The Palestinians are comfortable being the world's largest refugee population. If you take that away from them, they're just another people. What's so special about that? And finally, the Arab world has turned its back on the Palestinians time and time again, leaving the Palestinians to exist as a refugee population, so how are they any better than Israel? In the beginning, several Arab states -- namely Jordan -- were interested in the issue with motive more than murder and genocide. Then, poof. Nobody wanted anything to do with the Palestinians. Once again, they could safely be the victim, wanting it all or nothing.

So I guess the biggest question is: What now?

I don't have an answer. No one does. You can create all the peace plans in the world. You can say "poor Israel" or "poor Palestinians." You can cut off every Arab country in the world that plans a suicide bomber in Israel in the name of Allah, and you can do the same to every militant Israeli group that seeks to rid his or her country of Palestinians. You can do whatever you want politically and socially, but it isn't going to fix the situation. I don't think there *is* a way to fix the situation. This doesn't mean don't try, it just means ... maybe time could be spent on something else.

What I do have an answer for, is the effects of the conflict. There's that old saying about prevention, how you should go for the source, don't treat the effects or however it goes. It's like the man who loses his leg in a horrible car wreck. Why focus on finding and mending the leg when you could focus instead on how his life will be changed and how to make him better as a result? I'm not saying don't fight for peace, but in reality you can't focus on fixing the problem, you have to focus on fixing the effect it has on society. You can create social organizations, you can educate people, you can give to the Red Cross, you can heal the wounded, feed the hungry. These things are NOT futile, they're necessary. They're doable.

I don't mean to be another pimple on the face of the conflict, but folks, being a realist does not mean giving up hope and being a pessimist. It just means that you understand the history of the situation and that you understand the cyclical nature of these talks, the ramifications, the stalemate, the inevitable devastation. And if it so happens that peace is reached, that a Palestinian state is created, that Israel or the Palestinians give up wanting Jerusalem on THEIR side of the state? Then I'm taking every Jew I know out for a big ole beer and some brisket. And hold me to that.

Until then, I will sit and wait for another Aziz Shehadeh to appear and fight for the two-state solution in a logical, caring manner for the Palestinian people. And maybe I'll reread Strangers in the House, and pray truly hard that peace be possible, not just this tug-of-war pot of frustration and destruction.

Sometimes I ask myself, was this *really* what Theodor Herzl wanted?

Monday, November 26, 2007

A ha ha here, a message there.

I couldn't help but post this. Yes, it's part of a larger, very interesting article on Levirate marriage (as part of this week's Torah portion). And perhaps this opening funny will have you reading the article by Rabbi Yosef Jacobson in no time. Either way, I hope it gives you a little giggle.
The Secret Jew

Ira Goldberg was heading out of the Synagogue on Yom Kippur and, as always, the rabbi was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed.

The rabbi grabbed Ira by the hand and pulled him aside.

The rabbi lunged these words at him, "You need to join the Army of G-d!"

Ira replied, "I'm already in the Army of G-d, Rabbi."

Rabbi questioned, "How come I don't see you in Synagogue except for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

He whispered back, "I'm in the secret service."

The article, by the way, can be found here: When Your Passion Dies.

Sigh. Seriously?

Okay, listen. I don't know how to make this any more clear.


Why -- since Madonna got herself all wrapped up in Kabbalah -- does everyone think it's this separate religion? That it stands alone, separate from Judaism? I mean, I'm sure there's some Jews who would prefer that the two are disassociated, but seriously. Mick Jagger has said that he didn't convert to Kaballah. The thing is, YOU CANNOT CONVERT TO KABBALAH!!! That's like converting to veganism or vegetarianism or something.

Oh the humanity and frustration. I want so very much to delve into the beginnings and fascination and role of Kabbalah in Judaism, but stuff like this just deters the heck out of me.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Parsha Time!

I wanted more than anything to create a video blog of me discussing some of my famous comments on the week's Torah portion ... but it just wasn't working out. I wasn't happy with any of my several takes, so I just quit! Eek. I'm thinking that perhaps I should create some type of outline or script, though I'll admit I hate watching video blogs that are completely scripted and you can tell the person is reading off their computer screen! I want lively, personal touches to my commentary and blogging. So for now, we'll stick to the text commentary.

This week's Torah portion is Va'yishlach ("and he sent"), which is Genesis 32:4-36:43. The portion comprises Jacob arriving at Laban's, subsequently marrying Rachel and Leah, growing Laban's flock, then returning to his ancestral homeland, fearing the re-meeting with his brother Esau, struggling with ish ("a man"), wrenching his hip, meeting Esau with open arms, and going about his business. There are a couple of really striking things about this portion, and to get to the most significant one (in my present view), we have to go to last week's portion, Va'yetzei.

+ In Va'yetzei, last week's portion, Jacob makes a vow, but in the context of most of the patriarchs, it's a little peculiar and thus significant. In Gen. 28:20, Jacob makes a vow on his journey to Laban's saying, "If God remains with me .... the Lord shall be my G-d." There is a lot of conditionals in that vow, including making sure Jacob is fed, clothed and kept safe. The peculiarity about this is that Jacob's statement is conditional! In a way, he's bargaining ... saying if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, and have you as my G-d, too! When we jump forward to this week's portion, 20 years later and with Jacob's success as a father and husband, we have Jacob making another vow -- but a very different one. In this vow (Gen. 32:10), Jacob says "I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown Your servant ... Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau." Jacob's attitude and tone have changed completely. He no longer is bargaining with G-d, he's saying, I have nothing to offer, but please in your wisdom and power, protect me.

The interesting thing about these two vows is the immense amount of commentary on them. There's midrash, and everyone from the Ramban to Rashi has expressed discussion about Jacob's intents. To the Ramban, the key word is the "if" in the first vow. In the Hebrew text, the word is aleph-mem, im. I looked up the word in my trusty Hebrew dictionary and yes, "if" is im. But to Ramban, he translates im as "when." The reason Ramban translates this as such, is because he is trying to make the sentence not a conditional, but as part of the promise. The midrash takes the text from another angle and says that the final portion of the vow "the Lord shall be my G-d" is merely part of the prayer, as much as "Baruch atah Adonai ..." is a part of so many prayers. On another token, the Tosafos believed that although G-d frowns on making vows because we know not where our paths may take us and it is impossible to keep most vows as such, that in times of fear or crisis or uncertainty, such vows are permitted.

I can't help but think that the Ramban is trying to be too easy on Jacob. I don't think that any type of excuse needs to be made for Jacob's conditional vow in Va'yetzei. My own take on Jacob's vow is that ... he's normal. How many times have you sat down in a tough situation and made a vow to G-d that if he helps you or makes you feel better or makes a sick relative well? When I was a kid, I was doing this all the time. "G-d, if you make my (insert relative here) well again I promise I'll pray every night" or "G-d, if you make mom and dad get me what I want for my birthday, I'll read the bible from cover to cover!"

Conditionals with G-d are how we function. It's hard for us as humans to really conceive of something as *not* being conditional. When you buy something, you exchange money. When you get a new job, you make sacrifices elsewhere in your life to make it happen. There are conditions to all things, and it's hard for us to conceive of something just happening without our doing something in return or there being some transfer of "if ... then." We make conditional, bargaining statements because it's how we function, and it's really all we know. We can't all be Moses, can we?

+ In Gen. 32:25, prior to his meeting with Esau, who he fears might kill him, Jacob struggles with ish (a man), coming out with a wrenched hip after a night of wrestling. The big question, though, is who is Jacob wrestling with? Some say it's Esau's guardian angel, trying to weaken Jacob before his meeting with Esau. Some say that it was a messenger from Heaven. But in my opinion, the best take on it is that Jacob was wrestling with himself. Once again, it's a very human thing. We often struggle within ourselves over just about everything, and it is often said that we, ourselves, are our biggest enemy and hurdle. It's amazing what one's mind can do in the way of convincing or discouraging an action.

When I was in high school, I could only officially make the freshman volleyball team if I ran the mile in 10 minutes. Now, mind you, I wasn't a runner and had never been physically active, but making the volleyball team was huge to me. I had all the skills, but not necessarily the ability to run a mile quickly. At about 9 minutes 30 seconds, I was the only girl left on the track. Everyone was yelling and cheering me on and in my mind I was struggling. I was wrestling with myself, the angel and devil if you will, one saying "you can do it!" and the other saying "just give up, you've never done it before, and you won't now." Then the varsity volleyball coach ran up next to me, with a half-lap left and explained to me very carefully that the only thing holding me back was myself. That's what I needed to hear, and I pulled it off in something like 9 minutes and 50 seconds. I can sympathize with Jacob -- can't we all?

+ Finally, I just want to reiterate something that I'm sure I mentioned in last year's post on this portion. It relates to the last discussion about the wrestling and the hip wrenching. This verse is where we get one of the main kashrut laws. Because of the hip situation, Sephardic Jews require that the sciatic nerve be extracted from the animal and Ashkenazic Jews require that the entire hind quarter be considered unfit for consumption! So if you ever wondered why that rule exists or where it came from ... now you do!

There are actually a lot of other interesting aspects of this portion (like why the "man" -- if it is an angel -- remains nameless, and all angels are nameless until the Babylonian exile; or the fact that Esau embraces Jacob, despite what would be expected, though in future generations Esau's descendants will help destroy the First Temple), but I'll leave it here for now. I wish I could have said this all in video form ... but I've got some work to do! Eeek.

Shabbat shalom, and may this Thanksgiving weekend be a blessing unto you all!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Doin' the Turkey Trot.

Well, folks, it's another Thanksgiving. That means that tomorrow the world starts throwing itself into massive debt and today the packing on of the average of 7 pounds begins. So I want to wish you a delicious turkey day, but do not overindulge! Keep it safe, keep it simple. And if you do go out tomorrow? Well, just remember, things are just that -- things!

My otherwise crappy mood (since 5 a.m. the ancient heating units in my apartment have been clicking and banging and clicking and banging and stressing me the frick out) has been brightened by the fact that ... it's snowing! Finally! Snow! Yes, ohmigosh, SNOWW!!!

This means that I can finally be happy once again :) Goodbye reverse seasonal affective disorder!

So be happy, be full, be healthy -- and most importantly, be at peace!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Here we go ....

This is me testing the idea of video blogging :)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Got some Gelt?

Tidings, friends and foes. I've been M.I.A. lately, after having a really, horribly, uncomfortably busy couple of weeks at work followed by a weekend of decompressing, that included treating myself to a new iPod Nano for my hardwork :) So I've been busy with that, too. I also posted over on the Jews by Choice blog about Chanukah and Christmas approaching, so get on over and take a gander if you're interested.

But I'm making a quick stop to remind all my Jewish and goyim friends to head over to and check out the delicious goods they have to offer, including my favorite Chanukah CD, "Hanukkah Rocks," which I think we can all totally appreciate. With tunes like "Goyim Friends," "Applesauce vs. Sour Cream" and "Gelt Melts" ... not to mention a song devoted to my favorite Jewish good: Kugel! Here are some lyrics from "Goyim Friends:"
...All my goyim friends/are eating up their ham/hone-glazed, baked to perfection/with dinner rolls, gravy boats and turkey/greme brulee, cherry pie and fruitcake.

But we, we will march on/with General T'sao/and Eggo Foo Yung/take out's not wrong/ and we will march on
Tee hee. Personally, this makes me stoked to be in Chicago for Christmas, as there is an ACTUAL China Town here that I can attack on Christmas. Whoo hoo! But seriously folks, The LeeVees? Creative as all get out when it comes to penning the Chanukah tunes.

Anyhow, check out this video and then go download some of the songs or start sending cards, people. Chanukah approacheth!!!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

On the Donmeh.

We all know about Sabbatai Zevi, the 17th century Turkish Jew who claimed to be the messiah, but later converted to Islam when he was given the choice of conversion or death. His antics appear in Gluckel of Hameln's memoir and in an abundance of other texts. What I didn't know, however, and I don't know that many really know, is that ... there are still followers!

Yes, there are still followers, known as Donmeh, the Turkish word for converts. Also known as the Sabbateans, the Donmeh still exist in parts of the world, including in northeast Iran. No known followers are said to exist in the Western world. These followers represent Zevi under the guise of Islam or Christianity (more often the former than the latter), and save for the observance of some Jewish rituals, are caught in this void of ... well ... I'm not sure what. One of the rituals they take to is circumcision, but get this: at age three, not eight days. Talk about the terrible threes ...

Over on this blog, there is an entire post about the Donmeh, including a listing of their commandments and bits about the different sects. It's pretty interesting stuff, I'd say. So go take a look and be mystified! And if you want to see something related, check out the Donmeh West internet collective for the "foundation for religious education in Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah and related subjects such as comparative religion and Jungian spirituality."

The Donmeh West collective has a little biography on Zevi, which says "In 1666 the entire Jewish world -- and much of the Christian and Muslim as well -- accepted the Jewish Kabbalist, Sabbatai Zevi, as the Mystical Messiah of Israel (See Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, Princeton University Press, 1973.)" Now, call me crazy, but because Zevi wasn't taken seriously by the rabbis of the Holy Land, and was threatened with excommunication, something tells me that the entire Jewish world was not accepting Zevi as the messiah of Israel.

What a subject. I might have to look into a few of the books cited on the blog post about the Donmeh.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The synagogue that just wasn't.

I decided that -- because I'm up for adventure -- I'd hit up one of the other Reform synagogues in the area. I like my shul well enough (it sure ain't home, though), but I like to know what else is out there. So I grabbed some dinner and went to the synagogue, which is conveniently downtown near a convenient El stop. The shul shall remain nameless, simply because ... well ... my rant will give it away anyway, but I don't want to call it out. I'm sure they're doing something right, but beyond the clean, fancy building and the spacious seats, I'm not sure what that "right" is.

There was a tot Shabbat going down, so there were lots of families there. In the main sanctuary I noticed that there were quite a few people my age, mixed in with a lot of your classic, old-school shul folks. I sat down and a friendly fellow walked up and shook my hand, said Shabbat Shalom and walked on. He went a few rows up to two other girls my age and started up a conversation with them. I felt sort of shafted, but let it go. As the sanctuary filled with families and more young people, I felt relieved. Then that friendly guy showed up on the bima! Not only that, but he wasn't even sporting a kippah. Now, I'm not one to judge, and the great thing about this fancy thing we call Judaism is its freedom and bounty of rituals and traditions. But the rabbi without a yarmulke?

Then I noticed that the organ was tuning up to go. Now, I have an aversion to organs in shul, simply because, well, it's an organ. It screams of Protestant services. I sat back, and let it go. Then, then came something that almost set me over the edge ... there was no cantor. The shul doesn't have a cantor! It's HUGE, and it doesn't have a cantor, let alone a song leader. No, it has a choir, of four people, who sing in operatic fashion to tunes I've never heard nor could ever pick up, even if I devoted myself to it 24/7 for the next six months. The harmonies were wild, ridiculous, and to top it off, it disallowed the congregation from participating ... no one was singing.

The real kicker came when we got into the traditional, Hebrew aspects of just about every congregation on the planet. These portions were sung by the choir, and the congregation just sat there. Watching. Listening. No participation? When the bar mitzvah got up to read the V'ahavta ... he didn't chant it with the melodic nature that everyone on the planet does ... he just read the transliteration. Everyone was all glowing with pride, and I was like "Are you serious? That's it? You've got to be kidding me!" I listen to kids go through the kiddush every week and their squeaky, off tune voices are music to my ears! This kid didn't even have to try! Mi chamocha, V'sham'ru, both sung by the choir. We just sat there, and I couldn't even understand the words as they sang them. Then came the T'filah. We rose, and recited ... the words ... just said them. No tune, no passion, no nothing. Just said them. Then the choir sang the Avot V'Imahot while we just stood there. Once again, I couldn't even understand them. Where was my service!?

Then there was the fact that the service was ... well ... out of order. I mean, I know the flow of the service, but there was something convoluted and strange about this service. Things seemed out of place, or things were missing, one or the other. The congregation uses their own "edition" of the URJ siddur. Originally I thought "that's cool" but then after going through the service (and nearly walking out after about 5 minutes), I realized "not cool." The word mitzvot is completely missing. The word salvation appears more times than the word the! It is worded strangely and in truth felt more like the Christian services I went to in the days of yore ... it made me exceedingly uncomfortable.

Then there was the sermon. The guy ... well, I was sort of taken aback at his "analysis" of the Torah portion, which seemed more like him quoting some sages than offering insight. Not only that, but he completely neglected the idea that Abraham becoming old wasn't to be taken literally, but that was coupled with becoming the first to gain wisdom, thus growing old. Sigh. And what else? He sounded like a preacher. He had that slow, evangelical drawl thing going on. Not an accent, but that slow, calculated speech that's almost demeaning.

Afterward I stuck around because they were doing the oneg with the kiddush and motzi. This is one thing that I dislike about my present shul, because there they do the kiddush during services and the challah is completely non-existent. So I was excited, and hopefully. One of the younger guys came up and introduced himself to me and asked if I came around much and stuff. I told him I was a member of a different shul, but this one had piqued my interest. He then proceeded to say "isn't the rabbi great? He's probably the best rabbi I've ever heard! And he's our age, he's only 29!" It then made sense. This guy is fresh meat. Then again, the rabbi that converted me was literally fresh out of rabbinical school and he had a vibrancy and Jewish gusto that lacks comparison!

Oh, and I didn't even mention the most interesting part. This synagogue doesn't have Saturday Shabbat services. Instead, it has Sunday morning services a la church. I repeat: No Saturday services, but Sunday services. They rationalize this because you take your kids to Sunday school at the shul, so why not have services then!? Not only that, but it's a decades-old tradition that just happened to stick around. It seems ludicrous to me, but I guess they have plenty of members, so it must be working somehow. But I think their patronage is a certain type of Jew.

Now, I don't want to keep this going because it's already getting long, but attending this shul made me feel like I'd warped back to the early days of the Reform movement where the goal was to mimic the Protestant service. I hate the idea of "Judaism lite," because most people of the faith would say that that is what I've got going on, being a certified member of the Reform movement and all. But the Judaism that I practice is not lite. It might be lite compared to what many Jews do, but I can say it is probably leaps and bounds above what these people do. It was frustrating being there because I wanted to stand up and scream at these people. My favorite parts about the service -- the T'filah and the Amidah and the Aleinu -- they were all ripped out for the sake of a quartet of opera singers. And what for? The people who attend these services don't even attend the services. They sit there and hold their prayerbook (which opens like other American/English books, by the way) and watch as the service floats by. I don't want to say it, but there wasn't much Jewish about that service. It was generic and edging on preaching the "good word." Eternal life and salvation. My G-d ...

Needless to say, I will not be going back. And if anyone asks, I'll give them my two cents. I never wanted to become that person ... the person who says "you're not Jewish enough for me," but it happens and everyone draws those lines -- convert or not. It isn't being hateful or holier than thou, it's coming to the realization that there are these levels, these pegs on the totem pole. I'll never be Jewish enough for the Orthodox Israelis, and I'm mostly okay with that. And now I know that this synagogue, in the heart of this city I love, will never be Jewish enough for me. And it makes me uncomfortable to say that, but I'm mostly okay with that, too.

So it's back to what I've come to know ... even if there is no motzi.