Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I'm famous! Almost ...

I'm trying to figure out what to do with my box of egg matzo and my half-used box of shmurah matzo, not to mention the farfel. I'd like to write the company to ask/demand that they make containers of the goods for the single Jew, cooking at home, nu?

On another note I'm home today, my arms are absolutely sore and the pain is more than I thought it would be from some vaccination shots that I got on Monday for school in the fall. The one I got in the left shoulder (tetanus?) is red and hurts the worst of the two arms. So I'm home, got some sleep since I didn't get any last night. I'm feeling better, but still. Really? I don't remember having pain when I got shots ... 10 years ago? Ha. Repression, probably.

And finally, in completely self-promotional news, I'm featured as a Jew You Should Know on! Check it out, folks :)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Seize the Loaf.

So Pesach just ended (sound the alarms!). I ordered in a sandwich so I could have it here the moment I could down some bread, and it showed up about 5 minutes early -- bit deal, eh?

Anyhow, the point is that things only sound really good when we can't have them. Then you eat them again and you're reminded that you really weren't missing anything.

I hate that disappointment. I do look forward to having frozen waffles again though. But that's about it. And maybe beer. But not so much.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Religious and Secular -- These, they are Myths in Torah.

I just posted this over at, but wanted to post it here as well. I think it has some morsels of wisdom for anyone -- Jew, Christian, Muslim, Spaghetti-monster adherent, etc. Just remember, everything we do has the potential to be holy, and to you, whoever you are, holy can mean more than what it means to the religious. Holy can relate to good works, in that, everything we do has the potential to heal, change, better, and revolutionize the world we live in and the people we touch.

It was two years ago, nearly to the day, that I became Chaviva bat Avraham v'Sarah. I say became, but it's true that I didn't really become anything other than the person I was meant to be and had always been, the person hidden and seeking, finally come home to Torah and her people Israel. So on the occasion of the blessed anniversary, I thought I'd share this little morsel of a recent experience, interwoven with this past week's parshah, K'doshim. It's a d'var Torah, I suppose, and I think it has some good and worthy wisdom for the convert and the ba'al teshuvah. Kul tov, friends!

Setting the Scene: I'm walking down Touhy Avenue in the heart of West Rogers Park in Chicago, Illinois, on the first day of Pesach around 4 in the afternoon. I've just left a park where I was with a friend and her children and husband, and I am walking down the street to the far edge of the neighborhood to catch a bus to go to a seder in a far-away suburb with not-that-observant friends, but still I am within the eruv and in Orthodox territory catching a bus on a holiday. I'm wearing a skirt that hits just below the knees, a jacket, and am carrying my bag. I'm completely cognizant of my surroundings -- in fact, I'm almost overly aware when I'm in this neighborhood because I want to seamlessly blend in. Not for others, but for me, and this might be lost to some who know me. But most of the time, it isn't really about them, it's about me. (I want to feel like I'm a part of this observant community, because it's a chance to experience who I might someday be. I envy their community, the closeness of shops and shuls, the living and breathing organism of a self-sustained and thriving Jewish peoplehood. It's a microcosm of what it must once have felt like to be surrounded by people you know and trust and who see the world through nearly the same prescription glasses as you.) I'm passing stores, closed with signs that announce they'll reopen after the two festival days of Pesach -- I don't see this anywhere I typically travel in Chicago. You see, the first two days of Pesach are like the Sabbath, they are without many of the mundane things we absorb the rest of the week and the commerce of the community is still. At least, I imagine it as such.

The incident: I'm crossing a street, and glance over to the North where there is a sports bar. A man is sitting on a bench on the east side of the storefront, and standing behind him and staring in through the bar's windows at a gigantic television displaying baseball is a teenage boy -- kippah, tzitzit, black pants, white shirt, an observant Jew. I smiled in amusement, and at that moment he turned and looked at me. We locked eyes for a few minutes, and then I crossed the street, looking back every now and again, and there he was, still there, peering desperately into the window. It would have been perfect for a picture -- I would have captioned it "Pesach Paradox" -- but it was, well, Pesach. I smiled and laughed quietly to myself.

The point: After my "How do I carry things when I go to Orthodox shul for the first time?" crisis last week, I've been thinking more about the issues of "how observant are you" and "what makes a Jew observant" and "I'll out-frum you!" and "why do you do x and y but not z?." I have realized that, despite what some may think or say or preach, no one is perfect. Not even the most pious Jew is truly the most pious Jew. There is no perfection in Judaism, and this is why we're here: to perfect the world, to better the world, to try as hard as we can to reach the perfection in which G-d created the world. And of this, this is what we must remind ourselves constantly, every day, with each moment we breathe -- we seek perfection, we do not embody it.

I was reading the parshah for this past week, Kedoshim, and it's one of the prolific parashot of Torah. G-d speaks to Moses saying, "You shall be holy, since I the Lord your G-d am holy." And reflecting on my week and the incident with the boy in the window, I think this is brilliantly connected. Rabbi Louis Finkelstein has said that Judaism is a way of life that seeks to transform every human action into a means of communing with G-d, and Martin Buber wrote that Judaism does not divide life into the sacred and profane, but into the holy and not-yet-holy. Thus, how can we even criticize our actions to the most minute points if each action is either holy or not-yet-holy; there's a spark in there somewhere that shows we are trying to connect, even if we may not recognize it as so. Etz Chayim's commentary states that "Everything we do has the potential of being holy," (p. 693) and "We can be as holy as we allow ourselves to be."

I feel better about where I'm going, and with the constant reminder that I'm not into labels and denominationalism, I am allowing myself to be as holy as I can in my current incarnation. And despite the guilt that arises when I'm on the bus on a Saturday afternoon, watching kippah-toting Jews and skirt-donning women walk their strollers to shul in the eruv nearby, or the twinge of regret I feel when I eat out, I know that the person I am is moving along a path where things that once were not yet holy are now holy and other things are finding their way into the holy. On Shabbat, I now disconnect from the electronic world as much as I can, I avoid writing to the best of my ability, and I go to shul, and this is how I edge into holiness.

And as a result, over the past two years, everything I do is coupled with a consciousness that I had never experienced before. Being a Jew means being 110 percent aware of everything -- the food you eat, the places you go, the people you see, the company with which you surround yourself, the person you want to become. Not because it's a competition, but because it's a process, though sometimes I think we lose ourselves and forget what this consciousness is really saying and doing for us.

This is what is often called Jewish guilt. It's that knowledge that everything has the potential to be holy, but knowing that we can only be as holy as we allow ourselves to be. The secular Jew, the religious Jew, the lost Jew -- we all experience it. It's an inescapable glue that binds me to you, Diaspora to Israel, past to present.

So, it is with all of this in mind, mentally in tow, that I shall be holy -- as everything I do has the potential to be holy -- for the Lord our G-d, my G-d, is holy.

More Jewish Food.

I managed to make an incredibly, amazingly delicious dinner this evening, so I decided I had to share. The recipe came out of one of the cookbooks I'd checked out from Chicago Public Libraries, and I seriously regret not putting down which book it was. I'm pretty sure, though, that it was the World of Jewish Cooking. The main dish was Klops -- Eastern European Sweet-and-Sour Meatballs, which I paired with a small salad and leftover potato kugel (always delicious!). Here is the dish uncooked:

The pride and joy of this meatball situation was that I managed to melt the sugar WITHOUT burning it. This is the second time this week that I was able to cook something difficult without screwing it up (the first being the salmon from several days ago). I'm actually starting to like cooking. Interesting, eh? So in that dish there you have the meatballs (made with matzo meal), and the sweet-and-sour sauce with tomatoes and onions and other delicious things. After an hour and a half of cooking (yes, this seemed like a lot, but really they came out perfectly), they looked like this:
I wish I could describe to you how delicious these meatballs were. I have plenty left, of course, which delights my senses. The sauce looks a lot thicker than it actually was. I'm not sure if the sauce was meant to be thicker, but either way, it worked perfectly -- the meat absorbed the flavor perfectly, making for some juicy, succulent meat. There are some recipes for klops on the interwebs, but seeing as I had such success with my version and since it came from an amazing cookbook (all were amazing, but I'm 99 percent sure it's the World of Jewish Cooking one), I'm going to stick with mine.

If you're interested in the recipe, let me know and I'll type it up and send it your way. It's sweet, it's savory, it's comfort food! Not to mention, all and all not so bad for you either!

With less than 24 hours to go until the end of Pesach, I have a LOT of leftover kosher l'Pesach food -- matzo meal, potato starch, matzo, matzo farfel, etc. Luckily, matzo meal is as good as bread crumbs and potato starch is a good substitute. Not to mention I plan on making these meatballs every couple of weeks, so hopefully I can use up the leftover matzo meal.

But I'll admit. I'm ready to get back to my frozen waffles and English muffins and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Chag sameach!

Friday, April 25, 2008

A movie worth your time.

This is a movie worth sharing, and it's called Refusenik. The documentary film details the struggle to free Soviet Jews. From the film's website,
REFUSENIK is the first retrospective documentary to chronicle the thirty-year movement to free Soviet Jews. It shows how a small grassroots effort bold enough to take on a Cold War superpower blossomed into an international human rights campaign that engaged the disempowered and world leaders alike. Told through the eyes of activists on both sides of the Iron Curtain - many of whom survived punishment in Soviet Gulag labor camps - the film is a tapestry of first-person accounts of heroism, sacrifice, and ultimately, liberation.
You can check out the trailer by clicking here. It looks like it doesn't have an opening scheduled for Chicago, unfortunately, but check out the openings in your area!

Buy My Books!

Hey hey there. So, while uploading ISBNs to to make some stellar swaps (two made already!), I realized -- wait a second. Aren't I trying to PURGE myself of books?

I mean, I'm keeping all my non-fiction for purely academic purposes, but I have a lot of books that are just sitting idle. And if I really want them in the future, well, I can just repurchase them. So I've decided that while listing them on SwapTree, I'm also putting them up on the chopping block at to see if I can sell, rather than swap, them.

So go to MY STOREFRONT and see if you're interested. I'm basically selling things for a flat $5. You'll get lots of Chavi's love and care with every book I sell :) Also? You're funding my Jewish education. And also also? I'm going to be listing more, so look out!

No thank you. I will not have another piece.

So I made matzo lasagna for dinner. I even took photos of my proudly made concoction. But I won't share them here, oh no.

But seriously? It was disgusting. The consistency just didn't do it for me. So I wasted half a container of cottage cheese, and threw away the entire pan. I couldn't even look at it. So I ordered out -- grilled chicken and french fries with a salad. Nice! And leftovers for lunch. Thanks Fire Side.

Matzo pizza? Delicious. Matzo w/Temp Tee and Jam? Outstanding. Matzo brie!? Fantastic!

I'll stick to what I know.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pesach, the Seder

I've been trying really hard to be productive with my day, but ugh, the internet is so vast. It's like a physical manifestation of thousands of years of d'var Torah and mishnah. There's so much! So little time! And every shiny new object pulls me in. But I'm here to talk about the seder I went to Saturday night, at last.

I arrived at shul on Saturday a little after 7 p.m. for the evening services. The rabbi at the Orthodox shul was guaranteeing that he'd have everyone out in time for the candle lighting so the seders could start ASAP and not run into the wee, wee hours. There were friendly glances from those who'd met me the night before, and as usual the kids were running around in the cutest way possible. The davening was mesmerizing and the songs magical, and the rabbi's sermon (which had to fill up a space of about 20 minutes for some reason about the rules of davening and the time) was interesting, discussing the Sephardic and Ashkenazic traditions of blessing the wine before the second cup and so forth. The service ended, Chag Sameachs were issued, I grabbed my (free!) box of Shmurah Matzo and we headed off to the host's apartment.

As it turns out, the host was having his first seder, with the help of his mother and father (a rabbi from the DC area) who were visiting for the holiday. The group for the seder consisted of five men in their 40s/50s, the parents, myself, and another girl six months older than I. It was definitely an interesting (and boisterous) group of individuals. I was hopeful, excited, pumped! We got to the apartment, unloaded our matzo boxes, and after some confused shuffling and figuring out what to say, we three women lit the candles. Then, we piled into the small dining area into our assigned seats -- my card said "GUEST."

The host and his father were sharing the seder leader duties -- they would be bouncing thoughts and gleanings off one another and the attendants, as well as sharing glimpses into vintage, historical haggadot. The bonus of the seder was that we had the rabbi -- a man who had been in the business professionally for 36 years, and who has been teaching for 41 years, not to mention having been a chaplain in the military. This man, he knew people, important people. He had wisdom about Jimmy Carter and the present "situation" -- yes, these people were Washingtonians, with grace and wisdom, not to mention stories that were a fascinating addition to the seder table. The singing was melodic and familiar, and although the haggadot didn't have transliterations, I could follow along -- I just couldn't sing with the crowd. I hummed the melodies and listened to the atuned and seasoned Jews around me, the smiles on their faces, the community and friendship, the freedom that emanated from this group of Jews gathered in this holy and historic ritual -- it made me feel alive.

We had the typical food -- gefilte fish and matzo and charoset -- but there were interesting tidbits to the seder table, including, instead of parsley, we had potatoes. It's a Polish tradition, and I thought it was beautiful, not to mention helped us get through the heavy portions of the non-meal. The rabbi told us stories about The Rebbe, shared wisdom and asked us questions. I was so proud that when the rabbi's son (the host) asked if anyone knew what Pesach meant I could share, without hesitation, that I knew what it meant. I shared my tidbit about matzo in the Middle Ages. I listened as those around me asked and answered questions -- these people, they were engaged, constantly engaged, in the conversation about our history, our lineage, what it meant to be an enslaved, then free people.

We finally arrived at the meal around midnight -- three hours after we had started the seder. This caused complications when it came to the afikomen, since there are rules about the latest time in which you can consume it. And who got to search for the hidden afikomen? Yes, you guessed it, me. I played it off like a chore, but in my mind I was elated. I, this Jew by Choice at a seder table with these Orthodox Jews (note: the rabbi and his wife are Conservative), got to be the child, the Jewish child I've always envied for knowing Hebrew and the rituals better than I. It meant the world to me, this I cannot lie about. After some searching and help from a few people, we found the afikomen, ate our dessert, and then the afikomen. There was more discussion, more politics and gleanings, more wisdom and discussion of ritual and then the night was done. It was nearly 2 a.m. and we were all exhausted, but awake and conversing, laughing. We were alive and free. We plodded down the hall, the other girl and I singing a song and arm in arm shuttling down the hallway and down the stairs and out into the night we all went. One of the men flagged me a cab and I was off toward home.

The thing is, it was the most appropriate seder experience I could have asked for. The thing about it is, Pesach is a festival of freedom. Pe, the mouth, and sach, that speaks -- the mouth that speaks. Only when we are free can we speak our minds, can we speak openly and with our hearts on the tips of our tongues. And on that night, I truly understood what freedom felt like. I was free to be myself, a Jew, among these people, and it was liberating to experience such a holy, religious, meaningful and touching seder. It was nearly five hours long, but it was the most all-encompassing light inducing moment I've had in a long time. It reminded me of how I felt at the Chabad House in Omaha all those years ago at the simple Shabbat table with song and food and laughter and conversation. I felt enlightened and whole.

So it is, friends and passersby, that I conclude my discussion about the first night seder. I am indebted to the rabbi and his wife and their son and those who opened their minds and hearts to let me attend the seder, to share in the mitzvah with them. It's one of those things that will rest in my mind, gather dust, and be relived each year at Pesach.

Kul tov!

In Honor of Take Your Child to Work Day ...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Two websites and one article.

This is a completely random blog post. Enjoy!

Everyone should join and pick up some of my books! There's some quality Judaica on there, folks, among other things. You can see what I have and what I want by clicking here. It's such a snazzy idea -- trading movies, music, books and games. Awesome!

On an unrelated note: If you love cupcakes, let me guide you to the Cupcake Project. There are recipes and delicious photos.

And finally, I think this article is incredibly fascinating. It's about a woman from an Ethiopian Jewish tribe who organized Ethiopian seders at a restaurant in Edgewater here in Chicago over the weekend. I wish I had known about the seders! Argh!
The Jews of Ethiopia, known as Beta Israel or “House of Israel,” are a community with ancient traditions. The earliest reference dates back to the Ninth Century.

Most of Beta Israel no longer lives in Ethiopia though. In the 1970s, the rise of a Marxist government led to civil war and famine spread through the Horn of Africa, leading to a series of historic Israeli airlifts – called operations Moses (1984), Joshua (1985) and Solomon (1991) – to save about 42,000 Ethiopian Jews and take them to safety in Israel.

This exodus from Ethiopia mirrors the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and both stories were highlighted in the Seders [Zenash] Beyene hosted. ...

I miss everything,” she said. “I miss my people. I miss my religion.”

In Ethiopia, the Jewish culture was very strong Orthodox, she said. Their customs followed the rules and rituals laid out in the Torah, and are in line with Judaism practiced during the time of Moses.

This is because many Ethiopian Jews believe they are descendants of Moses, since his wife was Ethiopian and his relatives separated from the rest of the Israeli tribes after leaving Egypt. Others believe that they are descendants of Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Life is AWESOME!

Let's deconstruct this e-mail.
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2008 09:31:25
Subject: Happy Administrative Assistants Day

Please enjoy some pecan nut roll and cake in the Workroom. Don’t forget lunch will be held in Walker 302 at noon.
For starters, I never thought I'd be an administrative assistant (read: secretary) for more than a few months. Here I am, a whole year and a few days later, still doing it. Thank G-d I'm going back to school. Secondly, the nut roll and cake? Happy Pesach! Not to mention the lunch meal that I won't be able to eat. Awesome! It's convenient, as well, that this whole shebang was planned for when the other Jew in the department is out for Pesach with her kids. Coincidence? I think not (you see, she keeps fully kosher, and I think some might find that irritating when it comes to ordering food for staff lunches).

Luckily my dinner last night was SO AWESOME I can't wait to eat it again today.

I love Sephardi food!!

I can't lie -- I love everything about Pesach. I love what it means, I love the seders, I love the freedom from chametz, I love the food. So what better for me to do (while still formulating my Ortho seder post) than to post what I had for dinner!

For starters, today for lunch I had a salad, matzo pizza (cheese!) and some cottage cheese and fruit. It was a filling meal, and aside from making a big mess in the microwave at work, it hit the spot. I could eat matzo pizza 24/7, no lie. So for dinner I wanted to do the Sephardic Spicy Fish in Red Sauce recipe from's eating light section, with potato kugel and a salad. I got home super late (I hate not having the ride home from Kosher Academic! I seriously owe her for that kindness), and was pretty hungry. The anticipation of waiting an hour for the kugel sort of deflated me, so I started the fish and planned for that with a salad.

I chopped the garlic, the tomatoes, the red pepper, the parsley and cleaned the fish. I started up the cooking and was actually really proud of myself for creating something so appetizing. I had different paper bowls with each of the chopped ingredients and threw them in at the recipe's request. Finally, I topped the ingredients with the salmon.

I let it cook, put together the salad, and poured a cup of my Kosher l'Pesach Coca-Cola -- a one-time treat over this week. And the final meal setup?

The fish, it was so good! But you see, I omitted the hot peppers because, well, I couldn't find them, actually. And the dish was definitely missing the hot peppers. It wasn't very spicy, but it was still damn good. I'm thinking that I might have needed the sauce to cook a little longer, but I didn't want to overcook the fish, so I pulled it off right as the fish was absolutely, ABSOLUTELY perfect.
So the potato kugel is in the oven, so I can take some tomorrow. We're having a staff lunch -- how appropriate, nu? During Pesach. Free food and I can't partake. Yargh! And next? Some of the delicious, delicious lemon ice cream I made -- also a recipe from I'm telling you folks, easiest thing to make, and most delicious at that. And it isn't lemon ice, it's actually creamy and it's also from the cooking light portion!

Happy eating, friends. Chag sameach!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A brief interlude for music and words.

"I'm packing heat like the oven door." -- Jay Z

I'm attempting to look at rappers as poets, in the fashion of Tupac, if that makes sense. On my way in this morning I was listening to one of the many mixes that a Yelper put together of tunes that members of the Yelp-o-Sphere were listening to. Among these are lots of hardcore angry metal tunes, which to be frank I can't even bring myself to listen to. I don't see any musical value in them, nor can I really muster the patience to try. There's some Dragonforce and Dolly Parton ("Jolene") not to mention plenty of new "indie" rock and classic indie music. And then there is plenty of rap and I guess what you'd call hip hop by artists like Jay Z. I find it hard to listen to a lot of that type of music because of the prevalence of the "n" word.

Listen, as a grammarian and amateur etymologist, I don't believe in this whole "reclaiming words" business. Yes, language grows and changes and words take on colloquial meanings. New words are added to the lexicon and old words fade away. There's the old adage that "When I say a word, it means what I choose it to mean," or something to that effect, and my father used to spout that off frequently. Yet when I would say a word without knowing its meaning and dad would ask me what I thought it meant and I replied "I don't know," he'd insist I go look it up. I usually didn't, though. It was a rebellious act of a young wordsmith. But in my experience, in a single generation or two, words don't change their meanings.

In 500 years, the "n" word might fade into oblivion, left in old dictionaries never to be seen, read, or heard again. In truth, I'd prefer this route for the word, not to mention for words like "k*ke" and "c*nt" and "d*ke." The latter two, of course, have been embraced by the women's movements and the lesbian community. They've "reclaimed" the words, making them empowering -- not harmful or derogatory. But aren't there still those who use these words in the very way that ARE hurtful? The words themselves can be found in the dictionary with general definitions, but the colloquial usage has transformed them into words of hate and words of empowerment. It's like the word "queer" -- the GLBT community embraced the term, they say, and are proud to call themselves queer. But there's most definitely a difference in the types of people who call themselves "queer" versus those who call themselves "gay" or "lesbian." There's still a stigma with the word, and in many circles the word is still derogatory and full of hate.

The word "k*ke" is not used so much anymore, and it is said to have derived from Ellis Island. The story goes that Jews were supposed to sign with an X, like all new arrivals, but since it resembled the cross too much, they'd draw a circle. The German word (I think it was German) for circle is kikel or something of the sort, and thus the officers at Ellis Island began calling Jews "k*ke." It evolved, hate fell behind it, and now it's a word of oppresion. I'm reading the book "Generation J," and I have to say I find the book pretty distressing and self-centered. The author discusses the reclaiming of words and thinks, Why can't Jews reclaim the word? What a stupid idea.

So back to where I started -- the "n" word. I can't even type it. I find it easier to type the other words than I do the "n" word. I'm not sure why, but when I hear it, or see it, it says to me "HATE" in big, bold, angry, black letters. It screams of slavery and oppression and hate; pure, vile, violent hate. I've never understood the desire for the black community to "reclaim" the word. I don't know why you wouldn't just want it to fade away, to be left to the annals of a horrible time in history like slavery. For there is a difference between remembering and reliving and in my mind, everytime the word is uttered, it's reliving that anger and oppression. It's better to remember; it's wiser, at that.

But I'm giving Jay Z a shot. And it's phrases like that which I wrote above -- "I'm packing heat like the oven door" -- said with a rhythm and poetry that strikes me as worth listening to. It's a simple phrase, but it's quite beautiful in its poetic quality. So for now, I'm giving rap a chance, though I cringe at every utterance of the "n" word. I just can't help it.

On a different, yet related note, thanks to Melanie, here's a new video from Mates of State, who have an album coming out in May. It's good stuff, so give it a watch.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Vocabulary Lesson.

Listen, Pesach doesn't mean Passover. Passover means Passover and Pesach derives from the word "pe" for mouth and "sach," which means to converse.

Pesach, thus means the mouth that speaks. This is emblematic of the holiday in general, as it is a festival of freedom and only the free have the ability to speak freely from the mouth.

Capiche? Capiche.

EDIT: Okay, I suppose I should issue you some sources, right? You can find information about this on any of these:, Rabbi Mordechai Gafni also writes about this here, as well as in a piece by the OU that can be found here. Pesach is noted in as first appearing in 1613, and Passover is dated to 1530. Thanks for suggesting I post some sources, David!

Shabbat and Pesach: Part I.

Chag sameach, friends and blog followers! I'm sure you've all been waiting with breath bated to hear how my ridiculous escapade Friday night went, as I went to the Ortho shul in my neighborhood for the first time. Well, I'll tell you all about that, as well as the exciting seder Saturday night, among other things. Keep reading!

A good friend, Tamara, got online to ease my jets and explain to me that it was all good if I wanted to carry a bag or something. It's obvious that I'm not frum (though I'm not sure that it *is* obvious when I'm dolled up in cardigans and skirts), and either way, I have to do what I have to do and if I'm going to be judged up and down, well, then it's not the kind of place I want to be anyway. Luckily, my problems were solved when I realized it was getting a little chilly out, so I popped on a jacket and stuffed my keys and my debit card and IDs into the pockets and headed off to shul (yes, I rode the bus). My intent for the whole night was to go to shul, then go get some chametz-filled dinner and then go to a movie at 10 p.m. to fill my night up. The night, however, did not turn out as such.

I got to the synagogue and realized that plenty of other women were toting bags, and that in reality it's perfectly fine (within the eruv, anyhow), as long as you're not carrying cash or money or other prohibited things on Shabbat. However, no one is going to stop you (at least they shouldn't) and demand to search your bag, right? So it doesn't matter, really. Note to self: Take a bag next time. I was greeted at the door by several people who pointed me in the direction of the woman I'd conversed with via e-mail about attending services. But before I could get to her, the people at the entry asked if I was set for seders. Well, I wasn't set for a first-night seder and lo and behold I was immediately paired up with someone who had some empty space. I hadn't been there more than 5 minutes and I was set with a seder. That, folks, is hospitality and the Jewish way.

One of the first things I noticed about the sanctuary was that the mechitza definitely wasn't what I was expecting. At the one Chabad service I'd been to, the dividing wall was about 7 feet tall and had lattacing, but you couldn't see the rabbi, let alone anything else going on. At this Ortho shul, though, the mechitza was about 3 feet tall, and divided the men's and women's sections, with a third section in the middle for men where the bimah was. I was -- in a word -- elated. This, in my mind, was a doable mechitza. Yes, the men are still a distraction, but not as much as when they're sitting next to you (for those who don't know, I'm a firm supporter of the mechitza as a tool for ensuring full-engaging prayer).

So I found the woman I'd talked to via e-mail, found my place in the women's section, and sat down as the services began, transliterated siddur in hand. The woman was kind enough to help me if I fell behind, and the rabbi also called out page numbers for both versions of the text. This surprised me, because they didn't even do that at the Conservative shul up the road. I found it pretty easy to follow along, but I have a lot to learn about cues. I don't know when to start and stop, nor do I know how far to go in the text when there is silent davening. I also don't know why there is repetition -- silent prayer by the congregation, then the leader repeats the initial prayer again aloud. Some people stand the whole time, others sit. Some get up at the most random times and stand. The three steps intrigue me, and in the L'Cha Dodi, they bowed once to the back of the sanctuary and once to the front -- I'm used to once to the right, once to the left on boichala, boichala.

There's just a lot to know, a lot to learn, and a lot to understand in order to really be able to get something out of the service. I don't want to be perpetually confused or behind. I want to be an active member of the congregation, if I choose to be a member of Orthodoxy. I can imagine why so many women stay away from the shul in any case when it comes to Orthodoxy. It's intimidating. But the service in and of itself was comforting -- the rabbi's sermon, the chanting and singing of the men, the children wandering through the sanctuary giggling and snickering, all the men with kippot, the women in skirts. It felt to me like what Judaism as a religion is meant to be.

After the service, I met a woman who is a Conservative convert, but is converting Orthodox, and we chatted a bit. The rabbi's wife then came up and asked if I had someplace to go for Shabbos dinner. I was taken a little off guard, because my plan was to go out to a diner and get a burger or to the tea shop and get a pastry -- any kind of breaded good to tie me over, nu? But I stumbled over my words and didn't want to offend, so I told her I didn't have plans. She invited me to the community shabbat dinner, with the caveat that chances are there'd be no chicken for me -- just lots of kugel. Being a guest, I politely thanked her and joined everyone for dinner, where I was crammed into a table of regulars, some who looked less than thrilled that I was packing in at the table. So I had my kugel, made conversation, participated in the songs and blessings and it was chametz free (even though it wasn't Pesach, the shul had to be cleaned of Pesach, so it was all kosher l'pesach food).

After dinner, I was anticipating making it to my movie in time (20 minutes to go!) and maybe even stopping by the tea shop first to get a pastry for my last bit of chametz before Pesach began. As I walked upstairs into the lobby and out the door, the group of people I was sitting with asked where I was walking. I froze. I wasn't planning on walking home, at least not yet, and well, not ever really. I didn't live that far away, but I had my bus pass and I was accustomed to riding the bus -- even on Shabbat. I'm not Shomer Shabbos to the point where I refrain from bus riding or spending money. I turn off (or try to) and I go to shul. But that's my start. So everyone was walking in the direction of my place, so I plodded along.

The thing is, it made sense. It felt like the way to do things. It was as if I were really going through the motions of Shabbat, and not just half-assing it. I went to shul, I ate dinner, I walked home. And all of it? None of it felt archaic or oppressive or disillusioning. It didn't feel contrived or fake or like everyone (really anyone) was unhappy to be doing what they were doing. These people were happy, they were enjoying themselves, they were Shomer Shabbos and they were loving every second of it. And for that brief time, I really loved it, too. It felt like a real Shabbat.

So I made it home, after my 1.5 mile trek in the comfortable evening weather with fellow Jews. I realized that I didn't have any other skirts to wear, and that if I was going to go to shul the following night at 7 p.m. for services and to meet up with the people hosting the seder, not to mention going to W. Rogers Park for lunch on Sunday, I needed skirts, and I needed them now.

What did I do? I desecrated the Shabbat and went out on Saturday, got a chametz-filled lunch (yes, I know the cut-off was 10:30 a.m., but I needed it), bought some skirts, and went home. Nu? What do you want from me.

Stay tuned for Part II: The Seder.

For Future Seder Reference (even though it ain't my style for the plate) ..

And now for the rest of the story, for those of you who thought you knew the whole story, straight from Ritualwell:

Orange on the Seder Plate

In the early 1980s, while speaking at Oberlin College Hillel, Susannah Heschel was introduced to an early feminist Haggadah that suggested adding a crust of bread on the seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians (there's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate). Heschel felt that to put bread on the seder plate would be to accept that Jewish lesbians and gay men violate Judaism like chametz violates Passover. So, at her next seder, she chose an orange as a symbol of inclusion of gays and lesbians and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community. She offered the orange as a symbol of the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life. In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out a gesture of spitting out, repudiating the homophobia of Judaism. While lecturing, Heschel often mentioned her custom as one of many feminist rituals that have been developed in the last twenty years. She writes, "Somehow, though, the typical patriarchal maneuver occurred: my idea of an orange and my intention of affirming lesbians and gay men were transformed. Now the story circulates that a MAN said to me that a woman belongs on the bimah as an orange on the seder plate. A woman's words are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is erased. Isn't that precisely what's happened over the centuries to women's ideas?"

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Wow. I really should have thought this over more, nu?

I'm going to the modern Orthodox shul tonight, and I'm quite excited about it. I e-mailed the program director and told her I was someone who'd been to Reform/Conservative services, but never Orthodox or modern Orthodox, and she essentially said to look for her, that I'd be fine, and to wear a skirt. So I thought I was kosher.

Then I started thinking -- wait, can I take my purse with me? No, no I can't. We have an eruv, but of course you can't carry anything that involves prohibited things, so in this case the purse emphasizes making purchases on shabbat, right? So no purse carrying. I could get over this, except for the fact that at this point -- I carry on Shabbat. I always have my purse. It's just what I do. So I thought about it and was like, okay. So I'll just take my key and my bus pass, right?

But still -- no carrying! I'm talking to an Observant friend of mine, trying to figure out what to do. I'm guessing I could just put the key around a string on my neck and call it a day, but it doesn't solve my whole bus pass problem. Or that I was going to eat after services. ARGH!

Anyhow, Shabbat shalom. You'll hear all about this probably on Monday. I'm going to attempt to at least observe the first day of Pesach best I can, but since I didn't take work off, Monday's a loss.

May your Pesach be easy at it begins!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Shabbat Shalom v'Chag Kasher v'Sameach

It's been a few weeks, but I finally got back on track with my Torah study. I schlepped the chumash to the tea shop on Wednesday and sat down with Acharei Mot, which includes the rituals of Yom Kippur and includes 2 positive and 26 negative mitzvoth according to the Sefer ha-Chinuch, including many relating to incest.

I think it's interesting that as we prepare for Pesach we're reading about Yom Kippur, on the other end of the calendar and equally as significant in the Jewish calendar. As we consider the rituals of Pesach and prepare for the week, we're tossed into also considering the rituals of Yom Kippur -- the Day of Atonement. So with this in mind, I carry on.

+ In Leviticus 16:6 it says Aaron was making expiation "for him and his household." The Midrash says that this meant Aaron was married, with a family, as his household. One could assume that "his household" refers to the Israelite community, nu? Which would mean perhaps that Aaron was celibate or the like just as we see Popes, Priests, Nuns and others nowadays. However, later in Leviticus 16:17 the reference is said as "When he has made expiation for himself and his household, and for the whole congregation of Israel ..." It is clear that "his household" must refer to his family, and though it could be narrowly interpreted as his lineage not counting a spouse, the sages mostly agree that Aaron was wed. I think this is a significant aspect of the early priests, simply because the later interpretations of the "priestly" lifestyle baffle me. The idea of priests, popes and nuns as "married" to G-d and thus remaining celibate has always confused me. The sages emphasized that it was necessary for Aaron and the priests to be married for how could a priest bear the community's "prayers and hopes unless he had learned to care for and share hopes and dreams of another?" I don't want someone to aid me in leading my life while not understanding those life moments that I am going through. It just makes sense!

+ I've always been perplexed by Leviticus 16:21, which references the "designated man" who is to take the scapegoat out into the wilderness and to an "inaccessible region." It alludes to this goat being taken away, never to be seen or found again, but obviously the "designated man" will know where the goat ended up, nu? There is little -- if anything -- written about the designated man -- how they chose him, who he was, how they knew if he really did release the goat, etc. I'm sure there's something more complex involved here, but I'm just not in the proper place to analyze it.

+ Leviticus 16:33 -- in the comments in Etz Chayim, the authors note that the "biblical conception, expiation was not the automatic result of performing certain acts. Purification resulted when G-d accepted the acts ... and granted expiation." This confuses me, of course, because how does one know that G-d had accepted the acts of expiation? Was it that in the Biblical period G-d was present and thus it was evident that he accepted the acts? So now that we are beyond the Biblical period, we just assume that we are good to go.

I have to close my ever-so-brief comments with some brilliant wisdom from a 19th century Hasidic master in reference to Leviticus 18:5:
Keep G-d's laws while you are young and vigorous. Do not wait to become pious when you are old and the urge to sin has fled.
Shabbat Shalom v'Chag Kasher v'Sameach, friends!

Food for Thought (Bada Ching!)

Via A Simple Jew ...

A Blemish

The numerical value of chometz (חמץ) is 138. This is the same as the numerical value for pegimah (פגימה), the word for blemish. Whoever eats chometz on Pesach thus blemishes his neshoma.

(Rabbi Yaakov Culi)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Easy Passover -- With Matzo!

Mmm ... Matzo! This is actually a really great video and song. Thanks EstherK!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Food for Pesach!

Just a quick note. For my health-conscious friends, check out these EnLITEened Kosher l'Pesach recipes from

I'm looking forward to the Salmon recipes AND the ice cream. Especially the Sephardic Spicy Fish in Red Sauce. Yumm!

Also: Chicago peeps ... I now have NO first-night seder. I got all verklempt and confused and thought I had one both nights, but ended up double-booking for the second night. Help!

One of those crappy, tacky days.

Today, my friends, is one of those days. Pardon me while I kvetch.

My alarm went off at 5:45 a.m., like it does everyday. Monday I managed to get up at 6:05, Tuesday at around 6:25, and today? Today I hauled out at about 6:45. I left my place around 7:20 and headed to the bus stop. I got on the #148 and trekked downtown, having not eaten breakfast because I was rushing to get out the door. Stomach grumbling, I got off at the Madison stop and hit the Dunkin Donuts before getting on the Green Line. I ordered a coffee and a egg and cheese croissant -- knowing full well that this was a horribly unhealthy option, but in my state of hunger, it sounded delicious. I just wanted to shut up the stomach!

With my DD in tow, I boarded the Green Line, plopped down, and began digging through the bag. Luckily, I looked before biting down because lo and behold there was a GIGANTIC SAUSAGE PATTY in between my delicious egg and cheese. "Are you serious?" I mumbled aloud. I shoved the sandwich back in the bag and began pecking at my Blackberry to find the phone number to this unholy DD. After much surfing the web, I finally located the phone number and dialed.

"So are you coming back?" was the woman's response on the phone to me. "Um, no? I'm on my way to work. I'm coming back and giving you this sandwich after work, and I want a refund or some type of compensation. I do NOT eat pork," I said. "Just a second" she replied. After a bunch of static and some strange noises, a man gets on the phone. As it turns out, it was the man who jacked up my sandwich.

"So are you coming back now?" he said. Redundancy much? "No," I said. "I am coming back after work, I don't eat pork, this is unacceptable." He responded, "Well, I don't think I'll still be here then ..."

"Listen," I said, "Can you leave a note or something? I'll be back around 5 or 5:30, and I'll want a refund." He hesitated, "Sure, I guess so, if you have a receipt it would be easier."

"I don't HAVE a receipt. The lady didn't GIVE me a receipt. Can you please leave a note or something? This is ridiculous"

"Sure, fine, okay. Sorry." Click.

The moment the phone clicked, "Stand back, doors closing." I jumped to my feet, exclaiming vulgarities and trying to make it to the doors at the Garfield station before they closed. I failed, cursing some more. I think, It's okay. Just get to the next station, switch trains, and ride back.

The problem? The next stop was Halsted, in a completely far away place of the southside. And as much as I embrace all areas of Chicago, the southside is one where a 20-something white girl does not belong alone at any hour of the day. I felt like crying. My eyes were welling up. I never wanted to be that person who missed their stop and rode into the "bad" parts of town. And there I was. I texted my friend, then called her when I got to the next station. It put me super late to work, too.

I sat at the empty station, alone, waiting for a train to take me back to familiar territory. People started to appear at the station, looking at me curiously. They had to be thinking, What the hell is she doing here? I'll admit I was surprised at how nice the area was. There was a shopping mall and new buildings. But still, I was out of my comfort zone. Then, the train came, and I was on my way.

Of course, getting off the train at Garfield and seeing the #174 bus drive away was another blow to my morning. Two hours and so many craptastic things had happened. I was waiting for a car to drive by splashing water in a puddle all over me or to find out I had a huge hole in the crotch of my pants or to discover that there was mustard all over my shirt.

Sigh. It's just one of those days.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The great mimick!

Seeing as I finally finished typing the professor's last chapter to his (unfinished but nearly finished) book, I have a lot of spare time on my hands here at work. I downloaded a new Twitter client (in case anyone is watching me, I'm "kvetchingeditor") and have been perusing recipes to try and tie together my meal plan for next week. I've also been look at a variety of stories and tid bits on the web, and I think it's appropriate that my RSS is feeding me lots of Pesach-centered stuff.

In particular is this fancy kvetch: "Is That Brownie Safe to Eat?" The author points out that at some point in the chain of Jewish history, chicken was parve and the rules around kitniyot were looked at as being some kind of crazy ballyhoo. This little spiel got me thinking, though. I'm one of those people who doesn't eat food that is trying to be other food -- thus, I don't eat sausage, I don't eat fake bacon, I don't eat veggie burgers (I eat black bean burgers, there's a difference) laden with grill marks with that smokey, familiar flavor, I just don't eat things that want to be things that aren't kosher or that are faux ______. It's just silly to me. So when I make matzo pizza or matzo lasagna or chicken coated in matzo meal (think: breadcrumbs!), am I a big fat hypocrite? I mean, I don't eat pizza regularly anymore since joining up with the WW, and I never make lasagna, and I rarely -- if ever -- cook chicken (or any meat) at home. So maybe that makes it okay? But isn't it also like avoiding the point? I wonder what people made back in the day. I wonder if it was just matzo, matzo, matzo.

On that note, here's an interesting factoid: In the middle ages, matzo were as much as an INCH THICK!

A gaggle of (funny) Pesach videos.

Here are some "fun" Passover videos I just spotted.

I enjoy this first Manischewitzville one the most, most assuredly. It's a little long, but so creative with the lyrics!

Then there's always the Who Let the Jews Out? video.

Of course, who can forget the Japanese Passover trick video!

I also just found this one, which I find downright amusing. It's a UK show called Are You Smarter Than a 10 Year Old and the question was about Pesach!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I heart Obama, yes?

I love Obama, too, but ... really? For full item (in case, you know, you want to buy this idol type emblem) click here.

Kosher for Pesach!

I know, I know. Shabbos is still rolling and the entire observant world is enjoying the approaching end of the Sabbath while I tap away on my computer. I cut off a few hours early because of some plans this evening that start literally at the end of Shabbat, and I needed to get in touch with a few people regarding said plans (it's a Prom, for adults, a Yelp prom, to be precise; so unimportant, I know). But I thought since I'm here, I'd write a little post about my Kosher for Pesach shopping.

I went out with the intent of getting lots of the farfel and matzo meal and boxes of matzo and kosher for pesach pancake mix, etc. So I headed off to the Jewel down on Addison here in Chicago, because it's in the most Jewish neighborhood near me (Lakeview has Reform, Conservative and Mod. Orthodox shuls) because I also knew that they have special aisles for the Kosher for Pesach goods. I have to say, I made off with a mighty selection of goods, including some Kosher for Pesach mozarella cheese (for pizza and lasagna) and cream cheese (for matzo + jelly + cream cheese) and many other things, including some K4P soda. I have to note that I haven't bought soda for the past four or five years at least (not counting individual bottles, I mean). I don't ever have soda in the house, and that's just how I roll. But I've heard the K4P coke is pretty amazing. However, this year it didn't come with the YELLOW CAP! Talk about misleading. I was appalled at first that they were selling regular coke in the K4P section, but then I looked at the cap and there it was. So here are some photos of my goods :)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pesach and things.

So I find that here at work, I spend a bulk of my time doing one of about four things -- Yelping, Twittering, Google Readering or Blogging. It's not the most productive thing in the world, but it's also why I've claimed Shabbat as my own e-free break from society. I rustle up the web during the week and get a day of rest to recline and detach. So as I spend the bulk of my day prowling, I come across a lot of interesting stuff, I think.

A Simple Jew linked to this entry on Cross-Currents by Jonathan Rosenblum about the Five-Star Pesach. It's just what you might expect, analyzing where the Pesach week is going, especially when you don't have to worry about cleaning since you can just spend the week at a resort, right?

I thought this was an especially interesting link to come across considering this morning an Orthodox friend and I were discussing Pesach. I was lamenting that I've really only had two Pesachs on record, and that accounts for three seders. My first seder was a Hillel seder and it really set the course for what I hoped seders were. It was interactive and full of discourse and delicious food. The second seder was a community seder in Omaha that was equally wonderful and had about 150 or so people, though it didn't feel huge. The last seder I went to was last year and it was the 20s/30s seder at my former Reform shul and it was a Chicago-wide celebration that drew hundreds of people. The seder, though, was not good. They didn't even have Kosher for Pesach soda, which was pretty shocking (though when I thought about it later, a shul that can't provide Kosher wine on Shabbat probably wouldn't provide Kosher soda on Pesach). I was lamenting to my friend that Pesach is only once a year. For new Jews it's hard to get the rhythm and the traditions and everything down when it comes only once a year. Shabbat? Oy. Shabbat is a cakewalk now compared to the once-a-year holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and Pesach.

My friend was telling me how she has gone to the same seders at her in-laws for nearly a dozen years now. I was asking her whether the Orthodox community has community seders, and she didn't know. I'm guessing that the answer is no, except at these Five-Star Seders, that is. But it was definitely food for thought (badaching) and seeing that piece by Rosenblum seemed to fit in well.

I get really anxious around this time of year. I'm trying to plan out my Pesach week, making sure I buy everything I need so I don't resort to Matzo pizza for every meal, all week long (though I love, love, love matzo pizza). I've printed recipes, talked to my friend about her recipes, plotted gigantic quantities of kugel and charoset, and attempted to create a plot for recipes. But I'm just so horrible about planning ahead. I sometimes wish there *were* someplace I could disappear to for a week to just have all the chametz-free food there, easy as pie. Though, I will mention said friend did offer to make a little extra of her dishes to send my way, and this, well, is a blessing indeed.

At this time of year, though, I find myself worried that I'm going to mess up. That I will forget a certain quirk about Pesach and will end up noshing something secretly laden with chametz. This is why this year I'm shopping in the Kosher for Passover section of the Jewel. Hekshered items are, well, a little easier on the mind I guess. So far, though, I've only procured one box of matzo and one box of matzo meal and one box of the matzo ball soup mix. I need to get to town.

I read yesterday that Chassidim do not mix their matzo with water -- AT ALL -- on Pesach. They eat it only in its most pure form. Now, I don't know about you, but this seems like a difficult endeavor. I also wonder whether smearing cream cheese on a piece of matzo or something similar is even allowed? Since liquid would meet matzo. And the charoset? It has liquid in it, thus, when it hits matzo it would be forbidden, nu? So much I don't know! And this is the girl without a seder plate to her name, not to mention a matzo cover. Sigh.

On that note I was reading a few of the essays that came in my 60s Essays for 60 Years booklet I got at the debate the other night and was constantly reminded how much I need to learn about Hebrew, Jewish history, religiosity, spirituality, tradition, culture. It's so much, so vast. It just keeps multiplying! With every little bit I learn, there is a little bit more. It's almost frustrating at times, but at others it's such a blessing to have this never-ending possibility of learning.

So I'll continue to plan my Pesach week meals with the knowledge that sticking to a plan will be easier for me in the long run. I'll save some coin, maybe lose some weight, and hopefully after I get the meals figured out I can sit down and really consider what Pesach is and means. Until I get around to that, though, go read what True Ancestor has to say about Pesach over on his blog.

Sleepy, so sleepy.

I think that my allergy medication is causing me to be extremely exhausted. It says "marked drowsiness may occur." If this is marked drowsiness, then holy Moses. It's 2 pills every 4-6 hours. And I'm ready to go to bed right now. Man alive. I'm so tired of trying and failing with medications for my allergies I could scream.

But I'm just kvetching.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

At the Debate, the sights, the sounds.

Okay, so I thought about something I wanted to blog about this morning on the bus, and now I can't remember. I do remember, however, thinking "I will blog on something and then never blog about my experiences at the debate the other night, wahahahahaha" (though the evil laugh was in my head as I attempted to not nod off). But now I can't remember what it was, so I guess I'm back to square one.

The debate comprised a microcosm of Jewish society. There were Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Chassidic, you name it, everyone was there. You had the women who were JAP-esque with their bleached blonde hair and fancy nails and jewelry and you had women sporting sheitels, scarves, and nothing at all. There was one woman who reminded me of the Mennonite women I would often see at Wal-Mart while working. There were women with fully covered arms, collarbones, and elbows, but who had skirts that were -- in my mind -- far too short for modest dress. When I was talking to the Kosher Academic about this, she reminded me that as long as it covered the knees, it was fine. But in my mind, well, it was quite short and flowy, and it barely brushed the knees. It seemed like an interesting, yet odd, dynamic for an Orthodox woman. Some of the sheitels were well groomed and you could barely tell it wasn't the woman's real hair, and then there were some that were disheveled as if tossed on at the last minute. Some scarves were wrapped beautifully, others looked like they were probably irritatingly wrapped. There were black hats and no hats, kippot in all colors and sizes. Tzitzit dangled freely on men in suits talking on BlackBerries and other men with simple black pants and white shirts. Children with curls, men with curls. The elderly and the collegian. It was definitely a beautiful scene of the Jewish community, all united to listen to two schmucks discuss politics and which candidate is "good for the Jews."

Afterward there were groups of men davening, first a group near the entrance, later a group near the door to the theater where the debate was. It was interesting to watch these men, as there were more than enough active in their prayers to make minyan, but men would saunter up, look around uncomfortably and then their lips would move, as if mumbling something. It was an interesting sight, of course, as it looked like many of the men joined in simply because, well, when there is davening, you daven -- secular or religious or not. But myself and the girl I'd just met looked on at the sight (a most involved, passionate prayer that, well, you don't see in most liberal shuls).

Overall, I felt really cozy and at home in the crowd. It was one of those "these are my people!" standing on a mountaintop and feeling refreshed kind of moments. I mean, it helped that the busride there involved passing several kosher bakeries and stores like Chaim's something or other and the Hadassah resale shop. I love that there is community, and I don't think it's a bad thing when communities create their own havens. It makes sense, really. A lot of people frown on groups of individuals who congregate (read: often called segregate) in a certain area and open shops and businesses that cater to their people. Think about (in Chicago anyway) the Puerto Ricans in Humboldt Park or the Indians up on Devon or the Ukranians in the Ukranian Village or the Jews in West Rogers Park. I mean, I think it's great. China town is looked at as a spectacle in so many cities, but it makes sense, and no one says "Why won't the Chinese integrate themselves! Why must they segregate!?" We go there on Christmas or to get manga or something and we don't wonder why the Chinese live in China town. I mean, there are people all over the city, spread here and there, but I understand the cohesive nature of communities of specific groups of people. And I have to say, I hope to live in such a community someday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Ba'al Teshuvah and the Ger.

(I'll write about last night and the Jewish experience a little later, but for now ...)

I came across this story over on a friend's blog, and I had to say a few words about it because I think it's truly a moving issue and story and it comes back to the whole "Who is a Jew?" issue. The story is about a woman that realizes at a friendly dinner table one evening that she is not Jewish. That is, that her mother converted under the auspices of the Conservative movement in the 1950s and as adopting more mitzvot (ba'al teshuvah) and becoming more frum, she realizes that her frum husband is indeed intermarried, that her children are not accepted as Jewish, and that she is not at all Jewish (her words, not mine).
The truth was that my earnest commitment, my core identity, my lifelong affiliation and my membership in Jewish organizations were irrelevant. Judaism is not a club one decides to join, nor is it a democracy where the majority make the rules. The only handbook for admission is the Torah, and the rules were decided by God.
The blogger, whom I consider an e-friend, stresses the heartache about this situation, and this I understand. But the article is written with poise and definitely does not portray the writer as resentful or angry about the entire episode. Most poignantly, the author ends with this:
Yet, I would do it again. The raison d’etre for the Jew is to change and grow beyond the limits we imagine we have. As I look back fifteen years to the beginning of my odyssey, to the woman I was at the rabbi’s Shabbat table, and see where I sit today, I realize that when I cast my lot with the Jewish people and commit to doing God’s will, anything can happen.
It seems to me that the author, while upset that her dedication to Judaism could ever have been questioned (though, she never actually says anything about it being questioned, per se), would jump through the hoops once again, because it is where she belongs and who she is. I have to say I don't agree with a lot of the author's sentiments about what it is to be a Jew, or a convert at that. Though, I do have to say her comments about being a BT and a ger are significant -- you are neither, but both. (This makes me think about people who move to the United States, live here for dozens of years, and never become citizens for one reason or another -- they may feel like a full citizen, but they lack the rights and privileges of being a full citizen, nu?)

While my blogger friend says this is why she will never be anything more than a Reform convert no matter how many mitzvot she takes on, I have to say that it is stories like this that encourage me to pursue an Orthodox conversion. I don't want to get to that point where my children are placed in such a position that they are in this woman's shoes. That isn't the only reason -- and of course it's definitely the wrong reason -- to convert Orthodox. But I'm on my way, in some ways.

And Your People Shall be My People.

So it's late, but I wanted to do a quick spiel about my evening, on which I will (hopefully) elaborate tomorrow.

I trekked up to Skokie from Hyde Park (where I work), which took me more than 2.5 hours. I arrived just in time for the event, but without time for dinner. So my dinner actually consisted of a mini scone and two pieces of some type of pumpkin bread. Delish! I'd eat now, but, well, it wouldn't be right, and I'm exhausted. I got a chance to catch the rabbi before he went up to start the event, and he said to look for him after, which, unfortunately, didn't happen. The place was packed with Jews of all stripes and designs, and it was, in a word, glorious. (Note: Will write tomorrow about my attire, feeling about being there, etc.)

The event itself was quite surprising -- the crowd was incredibly conservative, to the right, that is. The two speakers debated a variety of issues, but it mostly focused on Israel and what is good for the Jews in election 2008. Of course, the best thing that was said was by the left figure, who told a quip about two men in a boat and how there was a hole in the boat, and quite frankly the one sitting on the side without the hole wouldn't laugh at the other guy and say "ha ha! you're going to get wet!" For the entire ship would sink, silly. In this respect we see that asking what is good for the Jews is good and well, but what is good for the whole is also important. Overall the debate didn't really turn me one way or another, and it seemed the crowd was leaning heavily toward McCain (war, blah blah). It was disheartening, to say the least, especially because the crowd wasn't of the particularly frum variety (from what I could tell, anyhow, but looks can be deceiving as we know).

After the event I found myself staring out the building's large glass windows at thunder and lightning, not to mention a complete barrage of rain. I didn't want to stand outside in the rain waiting for a bus, and then a train, and then a bus. I didn't want to call a cab, either. I was tired, and hadn't even planned on staying until the end, but there I was. So one rabbi talked to some people and found a girl in the crowd who also lived sort of near me (not really, she's over near the Western brown line, actually, but the thought!), and together we realized that neither of us had cars and we were imperiled. So we talked to another rabbi's wife and she talked to some people and they talked to some people and we got a ride to one place and then a ride home from the rabbi's wife.

THIS, folks, is why I love the Jewish community. We may only be 1.7 something percent of the population, but we care. We make it work. We take care of each other! So I have to thank the rebbitzin for her kindness. I also have to say that the other girl, whom I gave one of my fancy new business cards (sporting Chavi, at that) so she could get in touch with me about maybe going to the Modern Orthodox shul over near here. I feel okay that I didn't eat dinner and trekked from one end of the city to the other and will be a bear in the morning as such. Why? Well, because tonight was one of those nights where I feel like I'm home again.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Birthright and Graduate School Things and Stuff!

I'm going to the Great Debate up in Skokie tonight. The trek from Hyde Park to Skokie and then back home late this evening is going to be, well, less than fun. The mapping of public transit has been fun (not really) and I'm going largely because I need to meet a rabbi there face to face so he can okay that I'm a real, live Jew so that I can get the final confirmation on a Birthright trip. These are the hoops, and I'm jumping through them. The interesting thing is that even if I meet the rabbi, and even if he crosses the Ts and dots the Is, it doesn't guarantee me a spot. And that, well, that's frustrating. For those wondering, the event itself is basically a debate between a Republican and Democrat about who Jews should vote for. I figure if anything, it will definitely be interesting, and I feel for some reason that Hillary is going to come out on top (which, well, isn't who I'm voting for).

In other, perhaps more exciting, news, I sent in my acceptance to the University of Connecticut today. After visiting both campuses, I think my decision was made for me. I wrote up a letter to the University of Michigan explaining that them having no financial assistance completely deterred me from even considering them, which was unfortunate because that was the top cookie last year and when I initially applied this year. And Brandeis? Well, some things are better left just left alone. And that's okay. The sort of crappy thing now is that I have to start thinking about PhD programs, since, well, I'll have to apply for a PhD program in less than two years from now. Yikes. I suppose I should really hammer out what I want to study though. I cling to the Middle Ages, Rashi and his daughters and the legend of them therein. In fact, a friend recently e-mailed me about it and I was staunchly defending that the things surrounding Rashi's daughters is just that -- legend. The only widely known incidences of women openly donning tefillin from back in the day were King Saul's daughter Michal and a few other noble women.

Anyhow. The point is, I have a graduate school set up. Now I need to buy a T-shirt, get housing, get a meal plan so I can enjoy the feast of the Kosher dining facility, get hooked up with the Hillel, and, you know, other things along those routes.

I'm excited, I'm stoked, I'm ready.

Seder plates inside the wall.

Philadelphi's Magic Garden is probably the most beautiful place I've been -- ever. I can't exactly describe it, but you can see all of my photos on my flickr. There's this beautiful mash-up that struck me, of course. It's a broken seder plate, more or less rearranged with other, colorful pieces of porcelain.

And there's a series of self-portraits through the glass fragments, as well.

But I hope you go look at all the photos -- it's a most beautiful, magical place.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hrm ...

I just can't be okay with these videos. It's another reminder that the Holocaust is the universal gauge for oppression -- it's exploited in that matter, and I think it's unfortunate. There are so many other incidents -- Darfur, Rwanda, Serbia, everywhere. I find these new commercials to be, well, exploitations. These are just two of MTV's new commercials that end with "The Holocaust Happened to People Like Us." Thoughts?



I hate coming home, having to check all my mail and zip through Google reader and everything. It's just so ... extensive. You know? How much can be missed by a mere two days gone. I even had the Blackberry with me (though, I forgot the charger and thus couldn't use it most of the day). But really.

I wish the world would stop when I stop, so I don't have to catch up after I stop stopping.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Fixed Time
Tzvi Freeman

If you're serious about something, it has a fixed time. If you're earnest about getting something done and the phone rings, you ignore it.

The spiritual side of your life is not a hobby nor a luxury --it is your purpose of existence. When you are learning Torah, or meditating or in prayer, nothing else exists.

Your spiritual career should have at least equal priority to your worldly career.

It just doesn't cut it.

I've tried really, really hard to like it, but I just can't bring myself to. I've read the stories, read the recipes, attempted to get past the WASPy nature of the the cover on the March/April issue. I really did, I mean, I want to love this magazine. But, folks, I just can't.

I mean, I understand that Jews come in all shapes, styles and colors, but the plastic barbie and ken stylings of this cover are nauseating. I mean, could that woman look any more uncomfortable? Like she'd ever seen a Haggadah before? Sigh.

Then I got all excited to see the "kvell: personal shoppers" section, because it featured Passover goods, right? Well, they list some handmade matzo and some chocolate-dipped macaroons, but are they kosher? Hell no. Not kosher. Matzo that isn't kosher!? The one thing on the page that *is* kosher (and for Passover) is some 5 Spoke Creamery cheese. The featured recipes are tres fancy, and I say that in an ironic fashion. Then there's the section on Jewish museums that, of course, highlights the big ones -- LA, DC, Chicago. But what about smaller operations? There are Jewish museums everywhere. We know about the big dogs. What about the small ones? The ones we *don't* know about? Everything just seems like it's trying to be so WASPy! Yargh!

Now, I will give credit to the magazine for using a lot of Jewish/Hebrew/Traditional terminology. I also will say mad props for the Pesach desserts -- this is a big issue with lots of folks because there aren't loads of delicious kosher-for-Passover stylings of desserts!

But I just. I don't know. I probably won't pick up this magazine again, simply because it isn't who I am. Maybe it's the upper crust NYC Jews or something, but it sure isn't what I'm familiar with.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Oohhh yes.

Taking a cue from Stuff White People Like, there is now a Stuff Jewish Young Adults Like.

Check it out, and be amused :D

A potpourri of thoughts and things.

This is going to be a really schizophrenic post, as I have about a million things on my mind that I want to blog about, but my thoughts are pretty muddled right now. So I'm going to do as best I can to make each point quick, bulleted in a way (but not literally) so you, the reader, don't hate me later.

+ Yesterday on the bus I drove by a house with plastic Easter eggs dangling from each branch in bright colors. It automatically flashed me back -- in that crazy movie effects kind of way -- to my childhood in Joplin, Mo., when we used to do the same thing. It was *our* tradition. We stopped when we moved to Nebraska because we didn't have a tree. But in my mind Easter was always those eggs, dangling, and chocolate eggs filled with marshmallow. There was no religion, no Jesus, nothing. Just dangling plastic neon eggs.

+ My grandfather's yarzheit is Sunday. He died one year ago, and some of you may remember that I couldn't attend his funeral for lack of funds and timing. It still hurts me that I couldn't make it, and it's so strange to think it's been a whole year. It seems that I'm on a cycle of change every year, and this past year is no different -- everything, EVERYTHING, is different than it was a simple 12 months ago.

+ It turns out that the World Evangelical Association posted a full page ad in the New York Times stressing how much the Christian world loves Jews and apologizes for not doing enough in the past. It then goes on to talk about converting them all, or else, you know, the entire world will suffer hell and damnation. This whole "we love you, now convert or you're damning us all" thing is getting old. It's the world's oldest guilt trip and has resulted in the mass murder of Jews on dozens of occasions. If you tell the world that Jews are awesome, but they need to convert and they just won't, what's the logical answer? Well, if there are no Jews to convert, then the world is a better place. I mean,
We believe that it is only through Jesus that all people can receive eternal life. If Jesus is not the Messiah of the Jewish people, He cannot be the Savior of theWorld (Acts 4:12).
... believe away. Please, do. But your precursing this with an apology for the destruction of my people throughout millenia doesn't make this any more light hearted. I just. I guess I don't know how these two worlds are supposed to not collide. I know plenty of Christians (some who are my closest friends) who are perfectly happy and well-adjusted as Christians and have never, not once, "preached the Good Word" to me. Why can't *all* Christians be this way? Feel free to chime in, oh Christian readers. There's also a great blog post by Yair over at the JBC about his response to this statement by the WEA.

+ I realize that I haven't really given much of an update on life other than grad school stuff. So what can I say? There's a lot going on. Monday of this week was great and I felt wanted by everyone I wanted to feel wanted by. Then Tuesday cloud 9 started to slip out from under me and from then on it's just been frustrating. It took all I had to not call in sick today. I just wanted to sleep. I get this from my mother -- if you sleep, the depression and anxiety fade away, right? But I knew that wasn't my answer. There's issues with my parents and that ever-irritating car that is in my name (as are the loans) but that they have ownership of (and are making payments on). It's a crappy situation, and I want to be out of it. There's the grad school decision (that is almost fully decided) and other things like stupid crushes. There's also budding friendships and poetry writing, but it's all so benign and unnecessary for the rest of the world to know about, that it just isn't worth the hassle of writing about.

So there we are. There are just a few of the things. Just some of them. I like to think that when I write things down, they'll be removed fully from my thoughts -- like a tumor being carefully removed by small incisions from caring, well-trained hands. But most of the time, writing things down just creates more thoughts and I'm left at this uncomfortable divide where I can't block things out, but I can't handle them anymore (and that's where the sleep comes in). But even now, I'm not sleeping well (do I ever?).

Anyhow, be well friends.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cheating the system -- Gmail Style

Well, folks, it looks like Google has found a way for us to cheat the system -- and deadlines. But remember, use them wisely!

Gmail Custom Time
Ever wish you could go back in time and send that crucial email that could have changed everything -- if only it hadn't slipped your mind? Gmail can now help you with those missed deadlines, missed birthdays and missed opportunities. Is this a good, bad, or unholy concept!?

Pre-date your messages
You tell us what time you would have wanted your email sent, and we'll take care of the rest. Need an email to arrive 6 hours ago? No problem.

Mark as read or unread
Take sending emails to the past one step further. We let you make emails look like they've been read all along.

Make them count
Use your custom time stamped messages wisely -- each Gmail user gets ten per year.

Worry less
Forget your finance reports. Forget your anniversary. We'll make it look like you remembered.

////////Edit: I'm sure most of you have figured this out by now, but this is an April Fool's joke. I just thought I'd let you know! ;)