Friday, April 27, 2007

Why, Russia, must you be so damn high and mighty?

Just because Estonia's government removes a statue to the Russians who liberated and fought for the greater good, it MUST mean that the Jews of the world are glorifying Nazi SS men.

That is, at least, what a Russian woman historian said on BBC radio this morning.


G-d forbid a country wants to rid itself of the memory of decades of occupation.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sigh. Again, again.

Not that I'd ever vote Republican, but Tommy Thompson just lost my vote. Why?

"I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money," Thompson told the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that."

He then later decided he needed to clarify with this:
"I just want to clarify something because I didn't (by) any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things. What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion. You've been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that."

Maybe someone should educate the man on the history of money lending and Jewish finances. Maybe? No, someone should. I mean, the article immediately points out that one of his first actions in politics was to take some hoo-ha trip to Israel in 1988. Big deal.

If your jaw flaps that widely and narrowly, perhaps you should get your face stapled.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A little late on the parashah ... Sh'mini!

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this week's parshah (for me) is the discussion in Etz Chayim regarding kashrut. I'm often asked why I hold on to "archaic" or "outdated" mitzvot like not eating pork or not mixing milk and meat. I have my reasons -- much like everyone else does -- and they vary from person to person. Is it wrong to not just say "Because Torah says so!" ... HELL NO. (My biggest beef with Christianity growing up was that I was discouraged from asking questions. That was also one of my biggest draws to Judaism!)

Before I talk kashrut, I want to mention a few other things in this parshah, which begins with two of Aaron's sons being consumed by flames.

In this portion of the parshah, Aaron raises his hands to G-d and blesses the people before him, which made me wonder if this is where the belief that the 'live long and prosper' hand symbol arose from the priests of Temple Judaism. Leonard Nemoy took the hand symbol (of which I'm sure everyone is familiar) to Star Trek, saying that he remembered making the gesture in shul when he was a lad. I have yet to run across anything in Torah that specifically details the hand signal, but I'm still looking out for it. Curious, nu? Here's a site with some insight: Jewish origins of the Vulcan gesture.

The debate over Nadab's and Abihu's sin (and what it was) is ongoing. Etz Chayim says "Their sin, if any, was a lack of faith, trying to help G-d in a situation in which G-d did not need their help. (Mekh.)" Sages have said the fire was the "fire of ambition" and that the boys were trying to supersede their edlers, while others have said that the brothers were motivated by EXTREME piety. That is, they wanted desperately to be close to G-d and got lost in the effort to attain extreme closeness. Even still, it has been argued that their bodies were not completely consumed and burnt by the fire from G-d, because of phrases later that say the men were carried away by their tunics. Rather, it has been suggested that their souls were completely consumed, resulting in Nadab and Abihu becoming spiritually ruined.

On the same note, within the commentary it says something that I wasn't really aware of, but it regards recent losses (death, of course). Jewish law counsels us AGAINST trying to comfort individuals right after a loss. This goes against nature, considering when someone close to us is hurting we want immediately to help them feel better. But at the same time, there's something strange about doing so ... which makes this little bit of Jewish law pointed.

NOW! For the little morsel I wanted to share. I'm perfectly solid in my reasons for not eating pork, shellfish and beef/dairy combos, among other things. But whenever I can find more satisfaction and law in my decision, I get giddy and it helps the moral effort. Etz Chayim highlights the issue as such: We are commanded not to ingest blood, thus, we should not consume animals and birds of prey that ingest blood, because this puts blood into our food system. Ta da! Brilliant! Additionally, the comments admit that keeping kosher reminds us that there is "a moral difference between eating an apple and a slice of meat." Why? Because one of G-d's creatures had to be slaughtered for the consumption of the meat. Keeping kosher creates a consciousness, which I like.

Okay, that was probably a false buildup, but I thought those two little bits there about kashrut were poignant.

Never again.

Yom HaShoah -- Never again! Never again? (Darfur, Rwanda, ...)

Today is Yom HaShoah. That is, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The world over, are people thinking about it? Remembering? Recalling? Reliving? So few Holocaust survivors remain. And by that, I mean individuals directly impacted by the Nazi horrors. Not Joe Shmo who was enjoying a hot dog in Chicago on State Street while millions were dying in Europe. No. I'm talking the individuals of witness and loss.

Friday at Shabbat services, the sermon was brief, but impactful. The thing is, the rabbi (whom Ian and I weren't particularly fond of -- the shul has three rabbis and we enjoy the other two) related Yom HaShoah to this week's parshah, which includes the death of two of Aaron's sons by fire. The first part of the parshah discusses the "alien fire" that the two sons present on the alter, resulting in their consumption in flames at (most likely) the hands of G-d. Flames, fire and ash. "Shoah" appears in the Tanakh THREE times, and more or less means total destruction or devastation. The rabbi then read a very graphic, touching, horrific portion from Elie Wiesel's "Night." I read the book a few years ago and cried uncontrollably. Thinking about the book or even hearing pieces from it is devastating.

The section she read depicted the hanging of three Jewish prisoners -- one of which was a child. When he was hanged, he remained alive for nearly a half-hour, his weight too small to kill him quickly. He shook and wriggled and the prisoners were made to watch. A prisoner screamed "WHERE IS G-D?!" over and over. Elie Wiesel thought to himself that G-d was there, hanging before them. The rabbi continued on saying "Where was G-d? He was there, suffering alongside us."

But that wasn't enough. It's never enough just to say that, is it? I'd been in a very good mood throughout the evening. Ian and I sat in Argo, traveled North and headed to shul -- I was content. But this sermon shook me, putting me into a state of depression that continues on at this moment. I had two horrible nightmares that night and was depressed all day yesterday. The dissatisfaction from the rabbi saying that G-d was there, suffering ... was just so little, so sad. So unfulfilling. I don't command an answer, a reason, an explanation to the Shoah. It can't be karma, it can't be G-d's will, it can't be that it just happened.

Anyhow, the sadness won't let up. So on this Yom HaShoah, I beg for peace of mind.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Life Lives On

Why is there death in the world? So that evil will not live forever.

Because, since we ate of the Tree of Knowledge, no one walks forward without stumbling, no one climbs without falling, no one does good all his life without causing some damage along the way. Until, at the end, our lives are an absurd muddle of good and evil inextricably bound.

With death, evil dies as well. The failures, the ugly acts and the damage done--all these wither and eventually perish. But the good we have accomplished--and that we truly are -- this lives forever.

--A Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Death to a legend! Oy!

He won my heart with "God Bless You, Dr. Kavorkian." Or was it "Slaughterhouse Five"? Although it could easily have been "Breakfast of Champions" -- my favorite Vonnegut book. I've read so many of his books, and he defeats J.D. Salinger on my list of favorite authors (cliched? maybe). But Vonnegut is the man who made me love reading. I realized then that literature didn't have to be stiff and archaic. It could be meddlesome and hilarious.

So, cheers to you Mr. Vonnegut. I hope negotiations are going well with your entrance into the netherlands. Your memory is emblazoned on my mind -- permanently. Thanks, you old man.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hope it did you well.

So Pesach has ended ... and what did the meal consist of this evening at sunset?

Garlic cheese bread.
Coke (with corn syrup).

And I just made cinnamon rolls. I'm happily taking part in the bread and corn syrup once again. It's super.

And there we are.

Tomorrow is fish and chips. Friday night? White Castle (tee hee). Hot dogs on Saturday at Hot Doug's and so on. Yes sir. Yes sir indeed.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Oh, and then there was when we left Argo Tea ... and we were walking down the street ... and this guy who was either soliciting funds for some charity or trying to get us to sign something ...

Him: Do you have a minute?
Us: No, sorry.
Him: ... Are you Jewish?
The boy: Uhh ..... no.

As we walk away, the guy says sort of under his breath "Yes you are."

Then I realized a bit later that I have a button with Hebrew on it on the back of my backpack.

Weird. Why'd he ask? We don't know.

Friday, April 6, 2007

A challenge.

I'm sitting in Argo Tea near Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Just by Water Tower place. I'm at a table among tables crowded with people, headphones in, listening to Explosions in the Sky (my Torah music). My Etz Hayim is open to Ezekiel 37:1-14, reading between talking via GChat with Ian.

An older man with bad teeth appears over my shoulder, and with a thick British accent says, "Greek?"

I pull off my headphones and show him the cover, "No, it's Hebrew ... Torah."

He responds very quickly, as if waiting to quiz someone -- anyone -- with, "Ahh, how many Sabbath days in Passover!?"

I, taken aback at his random quizzing because it doesn't appear as a friendly exchange, but rather a challenge of "what do you know there little Hebrew girl?," respond with, "Well, the first two and last two days are treated as holidays." I, being Reform and in the Diaspora, know there are differences in the traditions. But this is the first thing I say, of course.

Wrong! He chides me, says "look it up! look it up!" and points me to Leviticus. There are TWO days, he says. And of course, in tradition, yes, there are. He then retrieves his Christian bible and reads the verses to me. I respond by mumbling the Hebrew translations and he continues to correct me when I say that the harvest was 'raised up' ... in the Christian bible it says it was waived about, I guess.

Then, almost as an insult he says, "You must be Reform, eh? Maybe someday you'll become Orthodox and really know your stuff!" He then talks about Easter and the crucifixion and blah blah blah. A barista approaches, mouthing "Are you okay?" The guy eventually shuts up and walks away.

It was like he was challenging me. Like he could see a sign above my head that says "Pick on me! I'm the Reform girl reading Torah in a tea shop! Please, quiz me!"

But it's bigger than that. He stood above me and I sat. I was below him. He reciting words from his Christian bible proving he knows better than I about the tradition. But I knew. Why didn't I just say "Listen man, this is the Diaspora, we do things differently. Not everything in the bible is word for word nowadays. It isn't the precision that matters, it's the passion." But I didn't. Why? I felt intimidated. Unprepared.


It's Good Friday. Beware one and all. These used to be the days when the Jews got nervous and skittish. Blood in matzo and all that. Mrph.

What a day. Chunks of meat in my ranch and getting lectured by the Christian on my own holiday. Slap! Slap! Slap!


Here's the thing: I live with my boyfriend, and it's great. Are we living in sin? Who knows. But there's another roommate. A third roommate. A relative of the boyfriend. A guy who ... well ... sort of has a problem understanding personal objects and space. That is, he eats our food and drinks our drinks. And even when he makes an effort to replace items he has consumed, he sometimes downs it all again without a care in the world. Now, he's a really nice guy, but because of this issue, I've sort of come to my wit's end. Why?

Last weekend the boyfriend and I went to the grocery store, where I procured choice goods that were special for Pesach. Namely, one of the hardest items to procure was salad dressing, seeing as most dressings (if not every single one but the one I happ'd upon) has corn syrup oozing through it's plastic. So I had this special ranch dressing, and I was going to use it on a salad today, when lo and behold, it had been opened last night. There was orange grease all over the cap and bottle (at first, I thought, wings were eaten with this ranch). Then I looked into the bottle ... and there were ... CHUNKS. Of meat. Not chicken though, no ... there were chunks of TAMALE in my Kosher for Passover ranch dressing.


In the dressing. You know that feeling when a little vomit comes up into your throat? Yah. That happened. Here I am, with my salad, ready to go, and this. Sigh. It was the last straw. I'd made condiments free game, but no more. Oh no more.

This is why I can't do roommates.

This Pesach has been with its weaknesses, I will admit that. And I haven't been perfect. But no bread has been consumed, gall darn't. And that salad was going to be so good. So very good. With leftover chicken from last night. Sigh.

Oh, and I tried to make cottage cheese fritters (sort of like latkes with the cottage cheese), but to no avail. They turned out soggy and not that great. I think next time will require some more sugar for a sweeter taste. I also have to figure out how to make them a wee bit crispier.

Another oh! The meal for breaking Pesach is going to be fish and chips. I'm stoked. Now I just have several days to go. And no salad dressing. Damnit.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The anti-Pesach food.

So my boyfriend is a HEATHEN! Well, not a heathen ... he just isn't observing Passover. So while I nosh on matzo with cream cheese and jelly or charoset ... he's noshing on this. Yes. That's charoset on bread, with cream cheese and a little butter. It's Italian-Jewish fusion, he says. I present to you, Charoset Bruschetta.

Evidently it's really amazing. In a week, you can bet I'll be making some fresh charoset and will be trying this out. I'll admit, it looks delicious. I'm jealous, of course.


In other news: There is a job prospect on the front. It has nothing to do with Judaism or journalism, and I'm okay with that. It's a stepping stone and a job until grad school. On the positive, though, is that this gig is at the University of Chicago, includes benefits and half-price tuition. Talk about a STELLAR deal. I'd kill for some Hebrew classes right about now. Anyhow, here's to hoping for a job. I love sleeping in, really, but it's getting old. I've been unemployed for three weeks. It's about time I throw myself back into society, don't you think?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Chag Sameach.

I did some cooking. Okay, that's an overstatement. I made charoset and then some matzo pizza with the help of the boyfriend, who made me some delicious mostly-kosher-for-Passover pizza sauce (that is: tomato sauce and paste salt-free, some cherry Manishewtiz and spices). But first, the charoset.
I wish it had turned out a little bit more ... mortar-like. It wasn't as together as I would have liked, but it's delicious. Then came the pizza goodness.

It's merely the sauce, some cheese and your run-of-the-mill matzo.

Seriously, it was delicious. Absolutely, delicious. Basically it tasted like a super thin-crust pizza. I intend on eating it repeatedly throughout the week.

I downed that pizza like a starving child in the Sahara. The rest of the week will consist of some matzo farfel kugel (apple!) and probably some matzo ball soup. All goods that can be found in my kosher-for-Passover cuboard!

I hope everyone else's Passover is muddling about well.

Blessed be.

My last surviving grandfather, John E. Baskette, a survivor of Pearl Harbor and other events of war, passed away today. He was 83 years old.

Baruch dayen ha'emet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A Seder Recap

Sigh. Chag Sameach friends and foes and bloggers.

So the boy and I headed up to Temple Sholom on Lake Shore for a first-night, community-wide young adult seder. Ian didn't stay because of outerlying factors, but I have some thoughts in general on the evening, because truth be told, the evening was a bust.

1) This was a young adult seder, aimed at people 22 to 40. There were 250 people signed up, and it was held in a gigantic room at the temple with tables seated for seven. It was open seating and ... there was NO MICROPHONE. Now, it started at 7:30 on a Monday. That means most people came straight from work or shortly thereafter. It's the beginning of the week. You don't have a microphone. People were RESTLESS. Talkative. Antsy. The rabbi was talkative, not loud enough, and this caused people to leave before the meal was even served. We hadn't even touched the second cup of wine when dozens got up and left. Why? It was 9:30 and we weren't anywhere close to dinner. Finally, the rabbi speeded it up and the evening ended around 10:30. A three-hour seder with a group of young adults? Most of whom likely were twice-a-year attenders? Ridiculous.

2) The haggadah (The Feast of Freedom edition) was ... well ... wordy. It's a great haggadah, and I've seen longer, but there was no transliteration. There was English and Hebrew, but NO transliteration. This meant about 10 people sang everything with the rabbi and the rest sort of hummed the tune. It isn't like services -- it happens once a year! Because it was a community-wide seder, there were Reform, Conservative, (Orthodox?), Conservadox, Reconstructionist -- you name it. A little help would have been STELLAR. It sucked to not be able to participate, because I could read the Hebrew quick enough. I mean, I can do it ... but not that quick, darn't!
See, there's the English on the left there and the Hebrew on the right ... but nothing else! I will admit that this haggadah WAS sort of nice because it had gleanings and explanations and insights on the margins of both pages to offer tidbits on what was going on. The weird thing, however, was that it sort of ... well ... skipped things. We never ate the egg. Well, our table did, anyhow.

3) Tables were doing their seders willy nilly. I sort of supported this, because it was going along so slowly and everyone was so hungry that it was almost necessary. The problem? Our table wasn't, so we were just hanging out as all the other tables noshed on matzo and charoset. I would have supported two large groups or tables to run their own. The shul I went to last year in Omaha did a great job with the large crowd ... but they had a mic. Then again, there was children there last year.

4) The dinner was not warm by the time we got it, unfortunately. The great thing about it was that there was this great matzo farfel kugel ... man. It tasted like bread pudding, really. Which was sort of a treat, of course. The rest of the food was pretty gross. Luckily, the gefilte fish was DELICIOUS with the horseradish. The charoset was pretty subpar, unfortunately. And we never got through the four cups of wine. Somewhere along the line, a few glasses just didn't appear in the haggadah. Sigh. A bust, really.


So basically, by 10 p.m. after dinner, there were about 50 people left. I felt really bad for the rabbi (who seemed pretty young himself), but the way things were going, it was inevitable. There was a woman going from table to table around 9 p.m. asking for someone to go tell the rabbi to quit his yabbering. If anything, I felt bad for the rabbi. It made me think ... would I be willing to keep schlepping through it all in hopes of getting to a few people if I were a rabbi? I don't know, really.

I'll end my first-night Pesach seder rant by saying that I did have some great people at my table (a recent film student grad, three med students and a fellow who is a counselor on Birthright trips as well as works for a company that promotes Jewish environmentalism for youths ages 11-13). I got some info from the latter on a great Birthright program and from one of the med students I got an e-mail address. It was nice to meet some other Jews -- hoorah!

I don't know if I'll make it up to Temple Sholom for Passover services tomorrow morning. Maybe I'm a horrible person but something about the bust of an evening sort of makes me want to sleep (although that's what I did pretty much all day, ugh). Tomorrow I will, however, be making charoset. I'm pretty stoked -- considering it's my first time throwing it together.

I hope your seders managed to work out great. I wish I had another to go to tomorrow ... last year's seders were absolutely fantastic. Next year, there will be a seder at home. I want to make it work, and I will.

Shalom and laila tov.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Pesach is coming alive!


The Pesach goods are bought. That is, the matzo (I accidentally bought egg matzo, only to have to go back and purchase NON-egg matzo, rawr). Among other things.

We've got cream cheese, jelly, goods for charoset, matzo farfel, apples, eggs, matzo ball mix, etc. etc. This will be a glorious Pesach. Filled with ... well, lotsa matzo with cream cheese and jelly and salad. I'm okay with this, of course.

I hadn't realized, however, how hard it was to find goods without things like CORN SYRUP ... ugh. Grocery shopping was, well, more hectic than it's been before. Mostly because I hadn't paid that much attention last year to it all. This year, however, finding salad dressing that would be good for passover, not to mention all other goods ... man. Tough cookies. It made me truly respect Pesach, though. Expect reflection ... hardcore reflection. I did pick up a classic Maxwell House hagaddah at the store at no charge. Oh yes. Some of the translations irritate me, tho.

And in honor of not being able to down corn syrup and rice and things as such ... I downed oodles of sushi and Coke tonight. It was a good way to ring in Pesach, I think.


I'm stoked for the first-night seder tomorrow night! It's a community-wide young adult seder up at Temple Shalom on Lake Shore Drive (though it did cost a pretty penny for tickets). Ian and I went there for services Friday night in our third adventure in shul shopping. After a synagogue I didn't like and a synagogue he didn't like ... we found one we LOVE. Temple Shalom ... my G-d. It was absolutely wonderful. It was relaxed, but not too relaxed. I daven without anyone looking at me oddly, which is really nice, and the people were really impressive and friendly.

[Sidenote: I've noticed sort of by accident that I daven. It isn't conscience, it happens. Actually, I didn't notice on my own. A man at the second shul-shopping destination asked me if I was visiting from a Conservative synagogue because I was davening. It's subtle, and it's natural. Hrm.]

The seder is there, although it isn't sponsored by the temple. We're definitely in love with the place and intend to go back. The great thing about it, is that it's in a BEAUTIFUL neighborhood up by Wrigleyville, and there's a kosher deli right there on the corner (where we're going to eat Friday since our typical pizza evening is axed ... ).

Basically ... I think I've found a shul I can really, really thrive and grow at. I'm planning on hitting that up for Pesach service Tuesday morning (although truth be told it IS a bit of a trek). Seriously though -- there's a rabbi there who I'm absolutely all about it.


I have some thoughts on Tzav from last week that I have yet to write about. Plan on reading here and there on it -- especially some thoughts on the dynamic of the haftarah portion with the parshah (conflicting views on the rules of ritual sacrifice). It's some fascinating stuff that played a pretty significant role in the then-future of Judaism and its practices.


Oh, and I'm sort of cutting it close. But I need to burn my chametz and gift my cereal and other goods to Ian and the other roommate. This must be done stat. Wahoo!