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.