Thursday, August 30, 2007

And He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Parshah Ki Tavo (in Deut. Chapter 26) reads:
17. You have selected the Lord this day, to be your God, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him.
18. And the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments,
19. and to make you supreme, above all the nations that He made, [so that you will have] praise, a [distinguished] name and glory; and so that you will be a holy people to the Lord, your God, as He spoke.
I find these words particularly meaningful. Probably, as a convert, because it is first that it reads "You have selected the Lord ..." and then "And the Lord has selected you ..." I guess, for me, when I came to Judaism (that which was always within me), it wasn't necessarily that I'd been found or saved ... It was MY journey, and MY selection of Judaism and Adonai, and then that the community and G-d could select me. It's always been a choice. There is no blind faith, there is a choice (although I'm sure I'm not the first to admit that the compelling pull of Judaism is as indescribable as is the idea of Noah's flood).

The Torah is very adamant about writing the words of Torah once we cross the Jordan. "When you cross, you shall write upon them all the words of this Torah" (Deut. 27:3) and "You shall write upon the stones all the words of this Torah, very clearly" (Deut. 27:8). Is it not perhaps important that the words of Torah be expressed, every day, minute to minute, hour to hour, so that the words are clear, without doubt or hesitance? This, of course, rings of the command to inscribe them upon the doorposts of our homes and to teach them when we lay down and rise up and to children and strangers. But who does and how does one? How can one make the Torah ever-present and all-encompassing?

And finally, in this week's "What's Bothering Rashi?" over at, I was proud to figure out what was bothering Rashi before reading what really WAS bothering Rashi. I'm getting into his head! Figuring him out! Perhaps it's a blessing for having a picture of his work studio as the desktop to my work computer ... (it's a way for me to have a little bit of piece among the storm).

In other news, I started reading Dara Horn's "The World to Come," and I take it as a mitzvah, gall darn't. A woman sat down next to me on the Red Line this afternoon and commented "Oh that's such a marvelous book!" I couldn't put the darn thing down and managed to read it during dinner (at my favorite Jewishly inclined restaurant in the South Loop -- Eleven City Diner). Then when I got to Argo Tea & Coffee to do some Torah Thyme (coined by Ian), a woman walked by to ask if it was any good. Of course I said yes and told her about the woman on the train (who, might I add, looked like she was planning a Rosh HaShana get together). She commented that it was going to be one of those things where someone told me it was great and I told someone else it was great and then that someone will tell someone else and so on until the world has a mighty Dara Horn army!

Abraham Joshua Heschel will get my full attention this weekend, I hope, while the boy is busy doing Lost Armada things. And perhaps even tomorrow night, depending on whether this cold/cough/flu thing I've been nursing calms itself long enough for me to watch the boys play at The Note tomorrow night. I can't wait for the smoking ban to hit in January ... for then ... even when I am sick and coughing and miserable, it won't be exacerbated by tokers in a bar. Amen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Time versus Space.

I've barely gotten into Abraham Joshua Heschel's "The Sabbath." I started reading it on the morning ride, but I've hit one of those every now and again slumps where I just can't focus on the ride. It's either too hot or too rainy for me to dwell on anything but the damp (from drops above or pure humidity) unpleasantness that exists before me. It's more the kind of book where you curl up on the patio furniture out in the country or in a quiet suburban neighborhood where you can reflect on nature's beauty and the essence of "time." I live in a concrete jungle, and although our back patio is quite pleasant to look at, the neighbors are always -- always -- outside either playing with their car alarm or splashing in the cheap blowup pool or even just lingering, ready to hand off some lemon paste (the neighbor lady said she saw it on Food Network).

But as I find myself considering the approaching High Holy Days, and as I skim articles, the prevalent theme is TIME. This ethereal idea versus space. It's an old adage, really. It shows up in that whole "what's more important -- happiness or things" argument. It's the constant battle we face every day ... do you donate those lottery earnings to fight AIDS so that people can be happy, or do you go buy yourself a new Lexus, house, jet ski, island, what have you? We ask ourselves at this time of year how to make time holy. It isn't about space -- it's about time. That thing we can't define, nor can we exactly understand.

On, Laibl Wolf writes:

These formative days of Tishrei are called Rosh HaShanah -- "the head of the year." And you and I spend the remainder of the year accepting the new bounty of this "new-time" and work at becoming a worthy co-creator of the yet unfinished symphony of creation.

May the flow of "new time" bring all of us the wisdom and insight to carry out the processes of spiritual construction, the Mitzvot, and bring about the realization of a new song of spiritual beauty that the world will sing when our eyes are truly opened.

More importantly, it's dire that one takes the moments of time and relate those to the moments of space -- not vice a versa. It isn't things that make moments important, it's the moments themselves. Wolf also says: "All events take place in the 'vessel of time.' They may seem simply a string of meaningless unrelated occurrences. ... Living consciously and deeply means taking the moments of time and connecting them to your deepest awareness. Then not only are the events elevated, but the time of 'here and now' becomes sacred as well."

The thing is, this is all well and good, but putting it into practice. Finding that divide, that way of focusing on time and not space is so difficult. Not because we're such a materialistic society -- people have always focused on space and not time. Space is what we can see, we can touch it, we can breathe it and taste it. We are inherently wary and almost unconcerned with that which we cannot physically embrace. This is why religion, faith, spirituality are so fascinating. The idea that time can be more meaningful than space!

For Heschel, in a time when assimilation was rampant among Jews, it seems he was hoping to express that Judaism was more than just ritual and acts of space, but that Judaism is concerned more with time -- holy times. Many religions and beliefs systems have PLACEs associated with their dieties/G-d ... Mecca, the locations of virgin sightings, the Vatican, etc. But Judaism is ruled by a calendar of events, moments in time that have come to define who we are and why we do what we do. There are not locations or places that we go to in order to soak in the space of something, but rather, we gather around a seder table or at a shul wherever we are for minyan. (Heschel saw a huge backlash about this thought, though, because many thought he was advocating an anti-Israel stance.)

Anyhow, I'm rambling at this point. My intent is to explore the idea of making time holy. I'm hoping to actually sit down with "The Sabbath" to get a good read and not a half-assed in-transit read, because darn't, Heschel deserves my focus! As the High Holidays approach though, the idea of time becomes ever more present ... we ask whether we shall be written into the book of life or death. We begin anew in hopes that we can use the newly given time of the new year to continue the work of creation. It's a beautiful vision.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

This is ... PHOTO HEAVY!

Read on for the dad files, Ian's birthday cake and FRIED PICKLES!

So an addition to the dad files is below. I got a new shipment of mail (credit card offers, etc.) that went to my parents house, and of course there was an envelope filled with coupons from dad. The thing about this envelope though ... this was a special envelope. This envelope was BIG doins. Why, you ask, would an envelope be such big doins? Just take a look. It not only had the pork and beans (for Ian) and Hebrew National hot dogs (for the Hebrew in the house) ...

It had both our names! That's like ... huge! Well, in my mind it is. For years I've gotten the coupon envelope with just my name. But now it's for the both of us. And on that note, I'll mention that we saved $4.00 at the store today thanks to dad coupons :D

On another note, I made Ian a cake for his birthday (which was Aug. 20) last night. It was white cake with chocolate frosting. Of course it was nothing like the homemade goods that Christy recently dished out, but it was something! I made myself a piping bag and even wrote on it ... and I'll be the first to admit it was a lot more delicious than these photos make it appear!

And some post-cake-making carnage!

And that's what yesterday was, in addition to paying a visit to Uber Burger up in Evanston where I found my FAVORITE memory food ... fried pickles! Now, when I lived in the dorms, there were fried pickles. But they were frozen and they were in spear form. When I was a kid living in Joplin, Mo., we used to go down to Arkansas to the AQ Chicken House and that's where I was first exposed to fried pickles. It's one of those foods that sticks with you and you crave it when you get the slight hint of a certain smell like buttermilk and pickles and fry grease. Maybe I'm the only one who has this kind of experience, but it's THE ultimate comfort food for me. The best thing about Uber Burger is that they make them in-house. They're not frozen or freeze dried. No sir, they're fresh out of the barrel and put into the grease with their homemade recipe of batter. Served up with some ranch dressing, it absolutely made my day. Perhaps my month.

Folks, if you haven't done fried pickles, I can't express how greatly you're missing out. They're so ... so good ... crispy, tangy, comfort home style food.


Some Christian-Jewish news.

1) A rabbi was fired after marrying a Protestant ... pastor! (Click here.) But if she discovered that she has Jewish roots there, wouldn't there be the chance that she is -- in the shul's eyes -- Jewish regardless of her Protestant affiliation? The article doesn't detail this, which sucks. Either way, though, it sucks.

2) In another, more positive realm of Christian-Jewish relations, a French cardinal had kaddish read at his funeral, since, well, he was Jewish. (Click here.) The sort of heart-wrenching part? The man who read kaddish was his cousin, who survived the Holocaust. Even more sad? The cardinal's mother died at Auschwitz, and he converted at the age of 14 after being sent away from Paris during the Nazi reign. It was an important gesture though, and I admire that he requested it. Once a Jew always a Jew, no matter how much one tries to shed the identity and past.

Another not-really-at-all-Jewish post.

So I've been thinking lately, since I work near (on?) the site of the 1893 World's Fair (made recently famous in the "Devil in the White City" book) ... what ever happened to world fairs? What ever happened to the expos that revealed great treats that subsequently became famous and some of the world's most well known delicious goods. Ice cream cones and cotton candy. Where did those classic events that brought out thousands and people from around the world go?

After a bit of looking, it turns out there still are world expos. In fact, there's an organization that organizes these events the world over. It's the BIE, and it looks like our No. 1 country -- our very own U.S. of A is not a member. The 2008 event is in Zaragoza (the capital of the region in Spain formerly known as the Kingdom of Aragon). But the U.S. isn't among the nations participating. There's a 2010 event in Shanghai, but the U.S. isn't participating in that either.

It's shocking, considering that 15 of the 46 expos around the world since 1851 were in the U.S., with the last one being in New Orleans in 1984.

So what's up U.S.? Why no love for the World's Fair? We fight like hell to be an Olympics city, but why the hell not for a world expo? Why not tout our glory and fancy products and lifestyle to the world at a gigantic expo? Is our isolationism getting the best of us?

It's sad and disappointing to me. But really, give the expo some love. Let's show off our Italian beefs and applie pies and ... other stuff that we sort of invented. Hell, we could give those kids who hacked the iPhone their own tent!

And that is what I have to say about that.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Not Jewishly Related ... at all.

In case you were ever interested in, oh, I don't know ... running your own country? Perhaps you'd want to celebrate your newly found power in a castle and personally named currency and city streets. WELL ... YOU CAN!!!

Yes, folks. You can rent out Liechtenstein, for a mere $200,000. You can name the streets, create your own currency, do whatever you want (though I'm sure there's a really strict contract involved). But seriously. You can also rent villages in Germany, Austria and Switzerland!

I discovered this today while perusing Wikipedia and coming across the monarchies and then off to the Liechtenstein page and BAM! I discovered this treat.

Let it be known: If I win the lottery or come across a bountiful fortune, this will be the first thing I do.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I got a call this morning while at work from the professor of Hebrew at Hebrew College. Yes, the professor called me. Not some shmo in advising, but THE professor. Can I be first to say how incredibly stellar that is? She wanted to discuss where I'm at, but I explained that I'm waiting to get the textbook to gauge where I stand. I figure I might take the Mekinah for kicks and giggles as a refresher course. If anything, I'll come out completely crisp and the price isn't that steep. But I'm still all dazzled that I got the call, and the encouragement to call back when I get the text to discuss where I should be placed.

On the upside, she said she's pretty sure the Mekinah has rolling enrollment since it's self-paced. So here's to hoping she was right on that note.

And that, folks, is all for now. Laila tov!

Ian's birthday dinner.

Ian's birthday dinner.
Originally uploaded by kvetchingeditor
This is where I took the man for his 26th birthday. There was steak, potatoes, wine, cheesecake, and coffee. He's a spoiled one.

I love this photo and had to share because of how quintessentially Chicago it is. You have the Brown Line back there, a super classy old sign and a true Chicago man.

These are the pleasant things, folks.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Okay, a few things.

Firstly, I'm going to wait to do the Hebrew courses until the Spring, considering the deadline for registration for the non-credit courses is, well, you know, THURSDAY. That's just too quick. Plus, I've got some hefty expenses otherwise that shall keep me from dishing out the grand or so for the Hebrew (you see, if I take it for non-credit, then pass the equivalence exam, then I don't have to pay for the courses as a part of my master's degree which would be three times the non-credit cost). As such, I'm going to pick up the Hebrew textbook they use, zip through the first seven units (aleph-bet, vowels, sounding out, etc.) so hopefully when I get to taking Hebrew I can skip the Mekhina course (the admissions gal said it sounds like I'm probably solid on skipping it anyhow). So for now, I study for the GRE (again) and work on my application. WOOOOO!

Secondly, for Ian's birthday (which is Monday) I was hoping to buy him some Omaha Steaks (which he loves) and take him to Chop House for dinner. The latter is still happening, but instead of my semi-selfish plot of buying steaks (since he does all the cooking), I've gone halfsies on a guitar that he so very much wanted. That beautiful baby over there helps make his collection complete for the time being (two guitars? why does a man need to guitars?). It's nice, considering he sold his stuff when he moved to Chicago (to be with me). So I feel like we're coming full circle.

Thirdly, I'm ready for winter. This heat and humidity is ridiculous to the umph degree.

And that, for now, is all. Shalom!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A small update.

I've created a new word. Or at least I think it's a new word. I developed it when Ian asked me what I was doing. My response? "Bloggersizing." Have YOU bloggersized today? If you haven't, then create a routine! Work up a sweat! :)

In other news, I've started reading "The Imaginary Jew" by Alan Finkielkraut. I'm not very far into it, but with every page I keep asking myself whether Tova Reich read this book prior to composing "My Holocaust" (which, mind you, I recently finished). There's these poignant phrases that almost echo the sentiment and theatrical presentation of the characters in "My Holocaust." It's this self-aggrandizing notion that the immediate generation of Holocaust survivors had. The notion that it was possible to market oneself on the pain of the Holocaust. In Reich's book, though, it's more than just self-aggrandizing (it's about money and power), but there's small tidbits of this in Finkielkraut's book. However, he seems more focused on the self than the broader audience.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to the book, since it seems to analyze the importance of memory and what affect memory has on the post-Holocaust generations.

Monday, August 13, 2007

(Really Hugely Big) Life decisions.

I've decided ... I plan on attending Hebrew College in Newton, Mass. But, actually, via the Internet (and this is assuming I get in, too). Yes folks, I'm shooting for the Online Masters in Jewish Studies.

Last year after realizing how much I disliked my job, I sort of phoned it in, applied to the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago. Then I quit my job, moved to Chicago, and found out I'd gotten into Michigan, but not Chicago. Talk about the Edwards luck! So I've been plodding along doing my thing and spending my spare time watching TV or in transit between job and home. As such, I'm ready to fill that up, gall darn't. Everything good is HERE in Chicago, except the schools I want to attend. So if the U of C doesn't want me (I'm okay with that because truth be told, I prefer a little less pretension in my academic experience) and the other schools are too far away ... well, I'll bring school to me.

So my first plan of action is to enroll for Mekhina, or preparation, for Hebrew learning. I've sort of already been there and done that (I know my aleph-bet!), but it's required for advancing to other levels of Hebrew. I'm also going to do as much Hebrew for non-credit as I can, in order to save some shekels. The class starts Sept. 5 and goes through January.

Amid that, I'll be getting my application ready to apply for the Dec. 15 early-decision deadline. This might help me get some financial aid and need-based money. Here's to hoping ... I've reconciled the fact that student loans are probably the best debt there is to have (and by best I mean least stressful), so I don't so much mind having those. My only concern is the recommendations. I intend to tap my all-time favorite professor, Stephen Burnett at UNL, as well as the rabbi who converted me and knows my passions, Ilan Emanual, back in Lincoln. That third reference is going to be tough. I might wait a bit and attempt to get cozier with the folks at my shul in hopes of inspiring some good thoughts within them about me.

My ultimate goal? Well, I'm not really sure anymore. I want to teach, but I'm not sure along what avenue. College? Hebrew school? Adult education? I think I'm most interested in the education of fellow gerim, in addition to adults. I just want to learn and let learn. I miss writing papers and getting into discussions with like-minded people about the texts and such.

So here's to it. Here's to hoping this all works out well and that I can get back on track. I thrive so deeply in the classroom environment, but if I can't be in the classroom, then I must work around that hurdle. It's the American way, nu?

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I managed to finish Michael Chabon's "Yiddish Policemen's Union" and it was truly one of the best books I've read -- ever. I've never read anything by Chabon before, though he's famous for a variety of his other books, including "Wonderboys." I'm considering dabbling in other Chabon books, but for now, I'm going to delay myself.

For those not familiar with Chabon, you're really missing out. I'm not going to divulge any details or spoilers about the book, but the idea of a homeland in Alaska for the Jews is completely crazily awesome and no doubt arises from the crazy idea of Hitler and his posse that moving the Jews to the Canary Islands or Madagascar (which plays a part in the book) would be a stellar idea. I truly had no idea that the book was going to end up where it did, but let me tell you, I was shocked and impressed. It is a very, very smartly written book. Plenty of Jewish history, facts, myths and legends in this fictional masterpiece.

But perhaps the best part of the book was the author's incredibly vivid way of expressing a simple thing. His "the teacup of her ear" is just one that caught me. What imagery, nu? Even better? "The black cake of the kid's hat is already dusted with a quarter inch of frosting. Zimbalist gives him the attention you give a tree in a pot" (pg 107). I mean, wow. WOW. Those are the kind of lines and imagery and word play that I *dream* of when sitting down for a poem. The black cake of his hat ... dusted with a quarter inch of frosting. Amid the snow, that image is beautiful.

I have to wonder how the Lubavitch feel about this book. It definitely paints the uber-religious community as laden with underground mob-like activities, not to mention a front of piety that is no more legitimate than a Lance Bass vouching as a straight man. The idea that the devoutly religious would do the things that this book suggests, merely for that which the book expresses, is shocking and probably pretty incensing for the movement.

Either way, this is an ultimately amazing book that is worth your time. At a little over 400 pages, it's probably one of the fastest reads I've experienced. My (non)black hat is off to you, Michael Chabon. Your smartly written book had me hooked, and I only hope the rest of your books are just as brilliant.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Something I know nothing about.

Surprise surprise. I'm almost completely ignorant of Karaite Jews. Why? Probably because there's only 35,000 of them and they all live in the Middle East for the most part. Or perhaps because they haven't had converts for more than 500 years. But now, well, they just converted some folks. And I'm intrigued by their take on Judaism -- no Talmud, no post-biblical writings. Chicken and milk is okay (yes! that's how I roll and how I interpret the text), but mikvah is not. Neither is tefillin.

As such, guess what my new-found academic obsession will be? You guessed it. Karaite Jews.

Click here for the story.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The complexities of really wanting something.

First, my job quandary. Secondly, some incidents at synagogue from Friday.

I don't dislike my job, but I don't love it. It's something I use to pay the bills, pay off those credit cards, and hopefully can use to pay some tuition for graduate school next fall if I get my butt in gear and do some things and, you know, apply places. But amid this all, there was the chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Italy on my boss's behalf to speak on early childhood education and the technology of skill formation. I'm more than happy to do this, of course. It's probably the most awesome experience I'll have for a while.

But then there were the job postings at the Jewish United Fund. Office Manager for the Hillel at Northwestern. Operations Manager for the University of Chicago Hillel. Then came the big wammy from my friend Michael: a job at Jewish World Digest, a newspaper housed right here in my very own Chicago. Jewish and journalism? Isn't that what I was looking for when I first moved here? Yes, yes it was. And now, it's there under my nose, among the other stellar opportunities and I can't budge on them.

Last week at synagogue there was this nifty open house for prospective members thing, and I was one of the folks who got to tout the blue name tag that meant "I pay this place dues galore!" I ended up meeting some really stellar people and hopefully some new synagogue friends who happen to be my own age. In the process, I also caught up with the membership coordinator and some others. I happened to mention my predicament to a few people and they all lamented the situation with me, but hands-down agreed that sticking with the job for the Italy adventure is worth the hassle, the commute, and the drama. I agree, but nu? Will such jobs be around when I find that the timer has popped?

On the fun service note, I have to share a bit of the night. I found myself meeting some of the nice temple community, which was good, considering I hate going and feeling like I'm sitting in the back of the classroom in the cardboard box where "loquacious" students end up (this is an allusion to kindergarten at Stapleton Elementary in Joplin, MO where I grew up). I met a nice older couple who happened to ask where I lived. I explained that Ian and I live way the hell away from anything pertinent to either of our lives (work, school, temple, friends), but that we were hoping to move up near Wrigleyville, and I added that we were eying the building next door to the synagogue. The nice couple (whose names escape me) then informed me that my synagogue, my very own shul, owns the apartment complex! They then informed me that chances are sometime in 5 or 10 odd years that building will make way for a temple expansion once the money is there, but they quickly added that by then, "you and your boyfriend will be ready to move to the suburbs anyway!" Right. But either way, talk about STELLAR news for us! Maybe this will grant us an in? Here's to hopin' anyway :)

I also have to share about the fellow there at the special service who said he stopped in because he often walks by but had never been. His name was Lawrence and he was constantly smiling, this almost devilish grin, the kind you see on a little boy before he pushes his sister into the fountain she is so quietly leaning over by to eye the quarters 'neath. Like he had something he wasn't telling, a secret or plan or something. It made me nervous. But I was friendly. The gal who I met that night, Natalie, and I sat near him and struck up conversation. We sort of assumed that perhaps he was interested in Judaism. He was curious, yes, but then said that he thought it was the "second best religion." We didn't continue with that line of conversation. No way, no how. Natalie turned to me and we started talking about my conversion (which happened to come up in the commons hall during the wine and cheese reception). Of course this got Lawrence going and he started questioning how I got to Judaism. I couldn't give him the whole spiel of how at home I grew up being able to believe what I wanted but that in public and with friends I was more or less cornered into Christianity out of a want to belong. So he concluded, "So you went from nothing to Judaism ...?" with that grin. That "oh I know your kind" grin. I wanted to slap him. He left me mumbling and unable to finish my thoughts. Then the service started.

He made me uncomfortable, and it wasn't because I had the walls up. The moment I saw him I felt there was something unsettling about him. His Judaism as the "second best religion" question just pushed me a little over. I knew there was something uncomfortable. I'm really sure why he was really there or what he wanted out of it. He got shmoozy with some people, but that grin. It's the kind you see on pop-up clown boxes. Creepy carnival rides. The kind you have nightmares about. I'll be happy if I don't have to see him again. If I do? I'll tuck away the unease and be welcoming. After all, he hasn't done anything to garner my disrespect or fear. At least, I don't think he has.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

New number!

I have a new number for the Chicago area. Hoo-rah! No more Nebraska cell phone.

As such, if you previously had my number, want my number in case there's some type of emergency need to reach me, or any other such thing ... give me a note at kvetching dot editor at gmail dot com.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

When it's darkest.

I have to remind myself that good things are worth waiting for, peace comes to those who wait, that there is light after the dark, and that most of all, the things we want so very much will come to us if we only have hope and wait. The moment is the most important thing, it is in the moment that we find happiness.
"...the Jew is different. His faith does not depend on things making sense. His belief does not come and go, for it doesn't rely on circumstances or external factors. It is built-in. It's inherently there. A Jew believes.

A Jew realizes that there is much in the world that we do not understand -- mortal creations cannot expect to grasp the ways of their infinite Creator.

A Jew never despairs. He know that unlike the ancient Romans, Greeks, Persians, and the not-so-ancient Nazis -- he is still around to tell the story. He was promised by G‑d that he will always be around. And it is this oath that he holds on to when the times get tough and he is faced with trials and tribulations.

A Jew has faith. He knows that it is often darkest before dawn. He believes that any day the world will one again be filled with light."

---Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar