Thursday, May 29, 2008

What I'm up to and some bloggers.

So I haven't been around much lately. I'm not sure what it is, but my posts have been brief and filled with videos or other people's ideas. I'm in a lull, perhaps. Unmoved? Not exactly. I just finished reading Philip Roth's "So I Married a Communist," and have now picked up Rabbi Marc D. Angel's "Choosing to Be Jewish: The Orthodox Road to Conversion." The former was a really good read, and I hand it to Roth. He has so many books, and I find a lot of them difficult to get through, but this was absolutely hard to put down.

I look forward to the rabbi's take on Orthodox conversion, especially with all the hullabaloo over conversions recently. It *is* hard reading all the pieces about how I'm not "technically" or "halakicly" Jewish. But the rabbi is very quick to say that we're all there, it's just those damned bells and whistles. The more I think back to my conversion, the more I have to consider the validity of the beth din. I dipped in the mikvah (twice), but the validity of that even relies on those there in the beth din. The more I consider it, the more I feel more confident about pursuing an Orthodox conversion. I won't get into it here, but that's just how it goes.

So while I'm not delving into deep Jewishly inclined thoughts, I thought I'd give some face time to the blogs of others. So browse my blog roll, and I'll be sure to have something solid to say when I return from a quick trip to San Francisco this weekend to chillax with the epitome of awesomeness.

Lenny ben David talks about Lyndon B. Johnson and all he did for Jews throughout the early/mid 20th century.

Ilana-Davita explains the French School System as she prepares to organize a Holocaust project.

Esther walks away from her four years as a Jewish singles columnist, and tells us all about it.

And finally, over on the blog, Yair writes about Na Nachs, the offshoot of Breslov Hassidut and how they bring their absolute joy to just about everyone.'s Daily Dose: Poignant, no?

Without Distinction

By Tzvi Freeman

(To a rabbi who wrote about "secular Jews" the Rebbe responded:)

You categorize them as religious Jews and secular Jews. How dare you make such a distinction? There is no such thing as a secular Jew! All Jews are holy.

--From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Grandfather Would be Dismayed.

My mother sent me a story yesterday, and I didn't manage to open it today. I thought it was probably something irrelevant and "funny" since those tend to be the e-mails I get from her (forwards and what have you). But this e-mail contained a story about the Ozarks chapter of the Pearl Harbors Survivors disbanding.

My grandmother was the lone person who voted against disbanding. I can't imagine how alone she must feel now.

When the group -- started by my grandfather -- began, there were more than 100 members. This was in the 1980s. Today, there are 17 survivors in that chapter, and the youngest is just a hair over 80. Only nine members were at this final meeting; I'm guessing the rest were physically/mentally unable to attend. Thus, nine of the 100 made the decision to disband the chapter.

It's strange to me thinking about World War II how many stories were never told, will never be told. The WW II generations are dying, and there isn't enough time to capture all that's there. Add in that so many of the survivors of camps, the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, etc. are in such advanced age that memories are not what they once were. Truths are not necessarily facts -- but the embellishments are what make the memories worth listening to all the while.

There's a video on the site, but I can't get it to load. If I do, I'll post it.

I just wanted to mention this. It's one of those sad realizations that as time goes on, the events that shape our world do indeed fade away sometimes with those who saw them with their own eyes. I imagine that in 60 years, this is what will be happening to my generation when it comes to 9/11. It's weird to think about. It's really sobering.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Google Video Rilo Kiley Interlude (More Music!)

Here are a few clips from the Rilo Kiley show I went to on Saturday night at the Riviera in Chicago with Melanie and her sister. They're short, yes, because my camera almost got confiscated upon entrance because it's "professional grade" or something. So I had to be super sneaky and stealth!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A YouTube-Weezer Interlude.

Prepare to be absolutely amazed. Those of you who frequent the web will hopefully see this video as an amazing account of the internet age. See if you can catch all the internet/pop culture/viral references. Seriously, this is brilliant, and I have to say mad props to Weezer!

(Note: I've heard the 8 songs leaked, and in truth this might be the best of any of them. The album will probably be a disappointment, but I have to hold on and hope for the best, 'specially because of this!)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nu, nu, nu!

Being the grammarian and editrix that I am, I have to make a blog post about this. I choose my words carefully, knowing that people know that I am, in fact, an editor by trade. I'm very careful to make sure my words are not misused in the grammatical sense, and I do what I can. So on my post about the Conversion Debacle, I got a comment from someone who chose to put up ye olde "Anonymous" front, and I went ahead and posted the comment despite my policy of "your words aren't worth sharing if you can't stand behind your thoughts." In this case, it's pretty benign and more exciting for me because I get to defend my use of, well, the word "nu" (נו). In the blog post, I write:
So this is all I have to say -- right now anyway -- on this whole conversion debacle in Israel and Europe and everywhere else that converts are feeling the burn. I feel for them, we're kindred spirits wandering back to the mount together, catching up with the rest of the tribe camped there. I understand the frustration and the hurt, and I understand the want for it all to just go away and for the slippery slope to flatten out and become coarse as sand paper. But for now, we'll forge forth, nu?
The anonymous commenter in turn said,
"A first step to advanced yiddishkeit would be the correct use of the term 'nu.' Best of luck with the conversion."

Firstly, I've already converted, albeit through the Reform movement. Not sure if commenter got that, but just in case, there's a clarification. Secondly, let's see if I misused the word "nu." In this instance, I was using it as sort of an "eh?" or "what can you do?"

The first thing I did was consider how I typically use it. I tend to use it in place of a thought like "don't you think?" not to mention frequently using it in place of "right?" or "eh?" or "so?" So to make sure I haven't been living a lie (which I was for the longest time with the word svelte), I did up the Google with: nu define yiddish.

I came up with a website of Common Hebrew and Yiddish Phrases: "This is an exclamation used in the same sense as 'well' 'eh' and 'hey.' " The site then proceeds to list off a ton of examples of usages. You can click the link if you really want to read them all (some are quite amusing). But, of course, being a copy editor, I know to not trust a lick of what I read on the internet and go to a true source -- Leo Rosten's "The New Joys of Yiddish."

According to Rosten, nu is "From Russian: nu, 'well,' 'well now,' etc." On the next page, he lists a massive 19 examples of how the word can be used -- all very different, but all (in my mind) accurate. He notes the different spellings, but all are pronounced "noooo" to rhyme with "cooo." This fellow, after all, is sort of the source for Yiddish for the non-Yiddish speaker. Among his examples:
2. "I saw you come out of her apartment." "Noo-oo?" (So-o?)
6. "I need the money. ... Nu?" (How about it?)
14. "They doubled the rent! Nu?" (What can one do?)
Being one who trusts the written word, not to mention Leo Rosten, I think I didn't misuse the word. (I'm leaning on Number 14/Number 2 here.) It's one of those words that has about a million variations. Perhaps, a variation for every Jew that numbers the planet.

Anyhow, that's my kvetch/spiel for the day, so please feel free to correct me if I'm completely off base or if Leo Rosten is a completely and utterly unreliable source for the Yiddish.

Until Sunday, Shabbat Shalom friends and foes!

BTW: For some humorous Yiddish puns, check out those on this website. I think my favorite is the "trayffic accident" ... ha!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Some Lag B'onfire Photos!

My hair smells of smoke. Not cigarette smoke (ew) and definitely not bonfire smoke. Yes, I did just get home from the Lag B'onfire at the nearby Conservative shul. However, the bonfire was meager (think: more like an eternal flame), and it was the smoke coming off the gigantic (and brand new) grill, manned by the rabbi. The meat was kosher, the goods were kosher, the people were kosher (in that, you know, they were Jewish). Bada ching? Anyone? Anyhow, the "bonfire" was enough to keep us warm on this chilly Chicago evening.

So, I smell like smoke, and it's delightful. There was a good crowd out tonight -- a cross-section of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews. People who I've met at all the different shuls I've been to in the past year. Old acquaintances, new acquaintances, and everything in between. There was beer, there were burgers and hot dogs and slaw and there was a band, as well.

Perhaps the coolest part of the night was the cutting of the hair! You see, if you keep the omer, you're not supposed to do a variety of things -- one of them being cutting hair. However, you *can* cut your hair on the omer. In the same vein, is this tradition (אפשערן) upsherin. The tradition has that a boy should have his hair cut on his third birthday. Now, if you're a kid whose birthday happens to fall during the omer, well, this means you have to wait until Lag B'Omer and then have the ceremonial haircutting. So tonight, we were lucky enough to have a three-year-old and yes! People took turns lobbing off the kid's beautiful head of thick, curly hair. The child seemed indifferent, which was sort of surprising, but that's what this photo is of ...

So I spent about an hour and a half mingling, took a few photos (you see, I left my 4GB card at home, and was stuck with the 16MB backup, making me have to take my photos VERY carefully), and now I'm home. So enjoy these photos.

And in case I don't end up with anything interesting to say tomorrow -- Shabbat Shalom and enjoy the long weekend (those of you in the U.S. anyhow!).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Conversion Debacle.

Frequent readers will note that I haven't written on, let alone mentioned, the big blow up over the possible revocation of Orthodox conversions in Israel. I've read dozens of blog posts on this, and seen even more news reports about the repercussions across the world and in Israel.

Converts' marriages were put on hold while the dust settled and rulings were analyzed. Then the Conference of European Rabbis declared all converts completing the process in Israel would be invalid. Today, the Prime Minister's Office fired the embroiled rabbi, Chaim Druckman, tied up in this whole eruption -- citing "old age" as the reason. Right. And then, of course, there are the Aussie rabbis who have jumped up to say "none of that going on here!"

In the past day, Google blog search shows 11 posts with the word "Druckman" in them. In the past week? 42. In the past month, 165. The number seem low, especially from how many posts I see just among those on my blog roll.

I'm on an Orthodox women's listserv, and there have been nearly 30 responses in the past five days about the situation from the eyes of Orthodox women, some who converted and some lucky enough (in this instance) to be pretty much unaffected by the situation. At least, not yet.

You question Reform conversions. You question Conservative conversions. Reconstructionist. And now? Orthodox. Those conversions performed in the land that G-d would give us, no less. So who is to say that those who were born, grew up, are living, whose ancestors generations and generations back lived observantly -- who is to say that these Jews won't have to pull out the paperwork, the family tree, the marriage certificates? It's the slippery slope mentality, and I hate it. But I'm worried it's what's happening.

In a perfect world, we'd all be Jewish -- the way Torah means those of the Jewish faith to be. It would be black and white, there would be no factions. But that would also completely obliterate the tradition of questioning and debating and the perpetual argument over what Torah means when it says "do not kindle a fire on the Sabbath."

All the while, my hat goes off to Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar for pushing for the conversions to remain recognized. Why does it seem like in all things Sephardim are so much more laid back? Kitniyot is no big thing, conversions by Druckman are no big thing ...

So why haven't I written about this? It happened weeks ago. There have been oodles of posts and comments over on -- where I contribute -- and I've mostly remained mum. I haven't commented in the listserv (then again, in truth my opinion there doesn't necessarily count since my conversion was Reform, making me not a Jew -- legally -- in the eyes of the Orthodox community for the most part).

The truth is, I don't know. Or maybe it's that I don't care. I think apathy and indifference has taken over on this one. Maybe in light of the recent events of being called out on a public forum as "not a Jew, EVER" I just burned out. Maybe, I just don't have the energy to fight it right now.

My philosophy has always been -- and mostly still is, though I have moments of weakness where I'm beaten to pulp emotionally over the topic by others -- that I'm a Jew. That much is black and white. I either am or am not, and I most certainly am. A black woman convert once said that she tells people that she was born Jewish, just not in a Jewish womb, and I think it's pretty accurate. Some are blessed being born into it from breath number one, and some of us have to get there. It's like realizing you have a nose when you're a baby. It's an amazing feeling, too.

But I'm a Jew. I'll jump through thirty hoops and dip in the mikvah a dozen times if you want. What do I care?

There will always be people who think you're not enough. Or that you're too much (as it seems to be the case with me sometimes). And the balance is necessary. These negative Nancy and positive Petes keep you in check, they keep you fighting, they keep you passionate and alive. They remind you that it is not effortless to be a Jew -- convert or not. Someone will always want you to cover more or butcher the cow yourself, and someone else will tell you to loosen up and let your hair down and eat that non-kosher candy bar. It's becuase it isn't black and white.

So this is all I have to say -- right now anyway -- on this whole conversion debacle in Israel and Europe and everywhere else that converts are feeling the burn. I feel for them, we're kindred spirits wandering back to the mount together, catching up with the rest of the tribe camped there. I understand the frustration and the hurt, and I understand the want for it all to just go away and for the slippery slope to flatten out and become coarse as sand paper. But for now, we'll forge forth, nu?

There is always someone standing in our path, and that never changes. It is the reaction to the situation that truly matters. And me? Well, you'll see how I turn out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I promise to post something with more content. And meaning. And depth. Really.

Oy. I've been so busy the past few days. My time at work seems to fly, mostly because I'm busy working on stuff for the professors while intermixing it with loads of genealogy research. After the second cousin started sending me stuff, I started working again on the tree over on I don't pay for an account, so I have to be super creative with my sleuthing, and for the most part it works quite well. I'm sending off for five marriage certificates and one death certificate for relatives who lived and died here in Illinois. I think it's interesting that I've ended up in Illinois (yes, I'm moving) and that I'd like to end up back here in the future. The roots of my family were firmly planted here for several generations, and in Missouri and Tennessee, too. I have to figure out how to get creative with looking at the old country, though, because I'm hitting a point where the relatives I need to fill in the gaps come from Germany (my family is uber German, it appears). It amazes me, though, how well-kept records are. Census data, death and marriage records, business dealings -- all in the U.S. these things are tallied closely. Overseas in the Old Country you find most records in the form of business ownership and christening, which can be a blessing I suppose. Especially since my family, being uber German, was also uber Catholic from many angles.

In unrelated news, I've fallen back in line with my Torah study. I didn't manage to get anything put up last week (d'var Torah, that is) because of the trip. Hopefully this week pans out better and I can get some thoughts up. On the other hand, tonight I'm out and tomorrow night is the Lag B'Omer Bonfire of which I'm totally stoked to attend since it's just down the street. Any other Chicagoans should come and join in, by golly. In case you're curious,
It’s tradition on the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, reputed author of Zohar, to have a bonfire and celebration! In Israel, Mt. Meron is completely alight with bonfires and music.
Now, for those wanting more info, here's what I can tell you: Lag B'Omer is essentially a way of saying the Thirty-Third Day of the Omer. The Omer is the count between Pesach and Shavuot (the day Torah was given), and on Lag B'Omer all the restrictions are sort of put on hold and music and singing and dancing are all permitted and encouraged.

Friday I'm going to head back to the Orthodox shul. They're probably going to wonder why I come every other week and don't make it on Saturday mornings, eh? This Saturday morning I'd go, but I have a friend coming into town and we're going to spend the day plodding around town and then heading to the Rilo Kiley show with her sister Saturday night (this friend, Melanie, and I have been to oodles of Rilo Kiley shows together, so it's all happy and nostalgic).

Luckily, no work Monday, which means I get a complete day of absolutely nothing. It'll be nice, considering next weekend I'm setting off again, this time to San Francisco to visit a very awesome someone. It'll be a quick trip, but I've never been. Perhaps I'll get bitten by the SanFran bug, eh?

And finally: Last night, unable to sleep, I penned (well, wrote) an introduction to a book-type-memoir-thing. It involves content based on this blog post, not to mention content from this other blog post. I'm not sure what the chronology will be, but I have so much to say. I'm not sure where I'll go with it, but it will cover a lot of stuff -- past, present, future. Anyhow, perhaps I'll post it up in the Google Docs for all to read. But for now, let's just say that depending upon how tonight goes, it'll probably shape how I feel about it all anyway.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Trip Timeline, with pictures behind the links!

An Abe Lincoln Look-A-Like Enjoys the Celtic Festival

So here's the timeline of my trip south, the videos will come later, so this is just a teaser. There are photos behind some of the links, so be sure to click. I'll be putting up all my photos at some point, but there's a LOT of them.

Friday, May 16, 2008
> Leave work and head to the airport to pick up my rental car. It took me 2 hours to get there, and I drove away with a 2008 Vibe, headed home, grabbed my bags, and headed out of town.
> Arrived in Springfield, Illinois, around 10:30 p.m. and promptly went to bed.

Saturday, May 17, 2008
> Got up at 8 a.m., headed off to Godfrey, Illinois, and happened to get lost on the way. I ended up in po-dunk Illinois where I pulled into a gas station. After getting the attendant's life story (something about rent and her landlord and the electric bill), I asked how to get where I was going. Everyone in the gas station promptly came over and offered their tips and advice. Eventually, a nice fellow in a Silver Chrysler offered to drive me the whole way there. So we hopped in our respective cars and I followed him for about a half-hour through the beautiful country and pure Americana into Godfrey where we stopped at a fruit stand and he sent me on my way. (Note: before the gas station incident, I drove through a small town where I stopped and purchased a fake poppy from a few Veterans selling them for $1 on the side of the road; the old men reminded me of my grandfather -- they, too, were WWII veterans; it made me sad.)
> Found my way (after a quick nosh) to my great-grandfather's old house, behind a restaurant as my mom and aunt had said. I took some photos, and moved on.

> After a brief bit of being lost (again), made my way to the Valhalla Memorial Park cemetery in Godfrey, where after picking up the directions/obit the office lady left me (she's on vacation now), I ended up in the vicinity of the plot. Since they're all flat, it took me about 10 minutes of walking around to locate the grave of my great-grandfather and his last wife, Edna (not my blood relative). It was a simple headstone. I sat down on the grass in the warm sunlight and talked a bit to the great-grandpa I'd never known. I analyzed his neighbors, placed my stones, took some photos, and left.
> From here I headed into Alton, where I was hoping to go to the cemetery some great-great-great something or other relatives are buried. The cemetery has no records of them, but some useful sources said they *are* buried there. I arrived at the cemetery in beautiful Alton, which is really hilly and from which, perched upon the brick-red cobblestone streets, you can see the river. But it would have taken days wandering around to find their stones, so I took some photos of the vast, historic cemetery and went on my way.
> I drove over to the tallest-man statue, which was pretty snazzy. I took some photos, read the information, and departed.
> From here I left Alton and headed over to the World's Largest Ketchup Bottle, which was actually pretty anti-climactic, but I took a photo and called my mom to gloat where I was. I sent a copy of a picture to a friend, as, well, it might have not been that exciting, but it was amusing.
> Headed off to a mall outside of St. Louis on the Illinois side where I partook in some delicious Chick-Fil-A -- the delicacy of my youth -- and sent some friends a note gloating about my meal, since, well, in Chicago we have no Chick-Fil-As. I bought a couple necklaces (including a hamsa one, which I'd been searching for) and then took off for the cemetery in St. Louis.
> My aunt's instructions were perfect to find the plot of the Weilbachers in the New (formerly Old) St. Marcus cemetery. There were more graves in the plot than I expected, including some people I'd never heard of. I called mom and she told me about her "aunt" Alma, though she can't be mom's Aunt. She must be a great-Aunt, or something. I took some photos, meandered around and checked out some of the graves (saw a Hitler one, actually), then took off.

Note: Having been done with my tasks a lot quicker than expected, I toiled with what to do with myself. So I left the area and headed back to Springfield, where I was staying, in hopes of finding something fun to do for the evening.

> On the way back to Springfield, I saw a sign off the road for a Mother Jones memorial, so I took off the highway into this small, small Union town and went to the Mother Jones memorial in this tiny little cemetery full of union workers out in the middle of nowhere.
> Back in Springfield, I drove around for a while, analyzing the map, and spotted a Drive-In movie theater, which absolutely thrilled me. I called mom to look up the theater and tell me the hours and everything. I decided that I would head back in the evening for the 9 p.m. showing of Iron Man; not because I wanted to see Iron Man, but because I wanted to BE in the drive-in since it was such a part of my childhood. To buy time, I went back into downtown in hopes of spotting some historic stuff.
> Unfortunately, everything was closed at 5 p.m., so I wandered over to where a Celtic festival was taking place. They usually have games and a fest, but the games were canceled because of some problems at the fairgrounds. Thus, I drank beer, watched live performances, and took lots and lots of photos and video. Around 7:45, I took off back to the drive-in to guarantee my place.
> At the Drive-In, I bought nachos and a large soda. I tuned my radio to the right station, and sat, excitedly, while the lot filled up and the sun set. The movie started, and it was probably the happiest day of my life. The Drive-In is a lost and taken-for-granted art.
> I went back to the hotel, watched some SNL, and crashed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008
> I got up at 8:45, knowing that nothing really opened until 10. I took my time, got some breakfast, and headed out.
> I arrived at the Lincoln Depot super early, right as the park's officer was getting there. It was about 9:30 and it opened at 10, but he let me in early (thanks!). I took some pictures, then headed over to the Old Capitol Art Fair, which started up at 10 a.m.

> I spent nearly 2 hours at the art fair, looking around, taking photos, noshing and watching a live band perform. I didn't want to leave, because I was so at peace, but I knew I needed to hit a few more spots before heading back to Chicago.
> I took off for the Lincoln Tomb at a local cemetery -- the second most visited in the U.S. after Arlington National. Unfortunately there was construction, so I couldn't rub the lucky nose, but I did get to see the new, old, and holding tombs for Lincoln and his kin.
> I wanted to hit the Museum of Funeral Customs, but it didn't open until 1, so I took off toward Shea's Gas Station museum, but it wasn't open either ... so I headed toward the 55 and north toward home.

Note: It took me about 2.5 hours to get home, but then I hit Chicago and there was traffic. I then went out to the mall off Touhy to pick up some tickets, but showed up 10 minutes late for Ticketmaster, and then hit more traffic on the highway out to O'Hare to return the car and arrived there with 10 minutes to spare. It then took me 2 hours to get home (whoo hoo Blue Line construction), at which time I discovered my apartment had no hot water (and none this morning either).

I just want to say that I'd kill to be back in Springfield right now. Things in the city are so complicated, so delayed, so irritating. The city reminded me a lot of Lincoln (where I spent my teen years and went to college), but I'll go into that with my reflective post, mmk?

Look here, she's home.

I'm home now (having just consumed too much piece, WW and G-d forgive me), just so everyone knows. I have oodles to say, some videos to make/post, and lots of thoughts about the whole thing.

I just want to say that I had more complete bliss moments over the weekend than I have in the past few years. Just moments where I could sit back and smile and roll down the windows and blare the music and just be completely okay. I think a lot of what had to do with this was Drive-In movies, Celtic festivals, art shows, and cemetery times.

Barring exhausting amounts of work tomorrow, you'll hear from me. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Webbing it up.

Hey readers! I just wanted to drop a quick line to make note of a few web-related things.

Firstly, you'll notice in the column over to the right there, I have a new little widget for I got notice from the head honcho over there, Clayton, about this nifty new site they created to map bloggers the world over. So I thought, of course, yes, I'll totally be a member of this rad mapping blogger site! It's all about connectivity, nu? You can join, log your blog, and write on people's walls and comment on their stuff, not to mention find new blogs. There are a series of categories you can also search by, which is a nifty resource. You can search by regions, too! If you experience some slowness over there, please note: it's a Beta version, folks. Be patient, and give it the attention its due!

Also, for those of you in the Chicago area, I can't plug enough. But there's another site that's meant for networking -- It's fresh-faced and doesn't have a whole lotta members, but it will grow, I assure you this. Even if you're not in the Chicago area, check it out and see what it has to offer.

Okay, that's enough of my web plugging for now. Back to the grind, and hopefully I'll have some d'var Torah tomorrow or Friday.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In Search of the Past: A Roadtrip.

I've decided to go on a two-day roadtrip this weekend. Initially it was simply to seek out and enjoy some Chick-Fil-A (don't ask), but then I needed something more solid, a real reason to rent a car and make hotel reservations and get on the road.

Listen, I just want to get out of town, if only for a few days.

Not having a car in the city limits you to where you go, and sometimes I just need to break out and get away. Now to get me wrong -- I love living in the city, and I love not having a car. But last week was a really stressful, upsetting week, and despite the efforts of those around me, it just didn't get better. I mean, now I'm okay, but it's time for me to take a tiny break and get out of town. I've rented a car, booked a hotel room (Red Roof Inn -- tres classy!). I'm mapping out spots to stop along the trip down historic Route 66, various oddities and my ultimate goal, my reason for really going, is to visit Alton, Illinois, to visit the grave of my great-grandfather John Edward Baskette.

You see, I never met the man, and he died in 1984 when I was less than a year old. My parents didn't drag us babies to the funeral, and even if they had, I promise you I wouldn't have remembered anything. For those of you keeping score at home, you'll remember that this man -- my great-grandfather -- shares the name of my grandfather who died in April 2007. Grandpa was a junior, who evidently sometimes went by Eddie. This became news to me this week after an interesting connection was made.

I did a lot of genealogy work many months ago, and hit a dead end with a relative whose last name I just couldn't connect to anyone else. I found a guy who had posted in a lot of genealogy forums trying to find information about the same person, so I e-mailed him multiple times with no luck. So this week, bam! This fellow e-mails me back and we discover lo-and-behold, we're second cousins. We both share that great-grandfather, but since he had three or four or five wives, we have different great-grandmothers. But the really interesting part of the family comes from that Baskette-Duval side of the family tree. These folks were related to the great colonial greats, and rumor has it I might be a something-or-other cousin of George Washington. Exciting, nu? (Then again, just about everyone is related to Washington it seems.) But this is the family line that hits Philadelphia DuBois and great French civil servants and state leaders. It's the side of the family that intrigues me.

So inspired by a need to get outta town and this now-found cousin of mine, I've decided to go pay a visit to our great-grandfather, and in the tradition of my family, take a picture of the grave for posterity. The funny thing is that he's not buried with my great-grandmother, nor is he buried with the cousin's great-grandmother -- he's buried with his last wife. So it turns out that my actual great-grandmother is buried in St. Louis, which isn't far from Alton. So I'm hoping to head into St. Louis (and not get lost) and visit her grave as well.

I'm hoping it's sort of a spiritual/healing/destressing trip. The thing of it is, earlier this week when I was looking at some of the genealogy stuff to refresh my mind, I was on the Social Security Death Index looking up "John Baskette" to make sure I had Alton, IL pegged right. There listed, of course, was my grandfather. Deceased April 2007. Even typing it right now, I'm getting all teary-eyed. I can't explain it. Grandpa and I were by no means close. We didn't share inside jokes or close memories and he didn't take me to the park or the carnival or do any of the things a lot of grandparents do. But I idolized him. He fought at Pearl Harbor, he ran across the golf course as Japanese plans shot at him. And he survived. He raised several children, he managed to smoke for more than 60 years and never die -- and that fact made me hate him in some ways. But he was this enigma to me, a man of honor and prestige. I read his survivor story over and over again. And over the past few years before he died, I'd send a letter every now and again and he'd send a typed letter back. I still have those letters. I didn't go to his funeral, because of scheduling and stupid things. I should have made it there. I don't think it really hit me that he was dead until I saw his name and former Social Security number listed on the Index.

Then it was real. In print on that catalog list, it's real.

So I'm going to go visit his father, and perhaps, hopefully, the cemetery was able to pull up an obit on his death so maybe I can know who he was and what he did. I wonder why he lived in Alton, Illinois, and what he did there. Did he commute to St. Louis to work? Or did he move to Alton after he was retired? Did he live most of his life in Nashville like the rest of the family? How did he meet his last wife? Why did he divorce all the other wives? And how did my great-grandmother die, and did she die while they were together? Or after?

I guess a lot of people don't ask a lot of these questions. It was searching for a Jew a lot before, but now it seems I'm trying to figure out how I got here, and try to predict how my children and their children will be, with the genes and tendencies and histories and memories that I will bestow upon them. I don't know how anyone would *not* want to know the answers to all of these questions. Even if they're the stuff of legends, they're the things that define our lineage, that somehow shape who we are.

So I'm going to hop in a car after work on Friday, spend my Shabbos evening driving to Springfield, Illinois, where I'll light my candles in a hotel room and get up the next morning to drive to a cemetery in some city I've never been and will probably never go to again. And I'm hopeful, if anything.

Oh -- and you can bet there will be documentation. Photos. Video. You'll see where I went and what I did. Why? Because by blogging and sharing these stories of my life, I'm documenting so that my children someday won't have as many questions as I do now. I want them to know who I am, who I am becoming.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Someone famous, and I was close by!

Folks, I just stood in the vicinity of greatness. I present to you, the woman, the myth, the legend, Madeleine Albright (nee Marie Jana Korbelová).

The legend was at the University of Chicago Barnes and Noble bookstore signing copies of her book, Memo to the President Elect. I couldn't bring myself to buy the book, so instead of getting an autograph, I went and stood, paparazzi-style, and snapped some photos.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A non-shopping shopping spree!

So I'm at work, without a thing to do (though I should be doing some Hebrew work) and thus am doing some online shopping for things of the Judaica variety. Chances are good that I won't actually be buying any of this stuff, but I think it's fun to look. It's sort of like retail therapy, nu?

The first thing that caught my eye was the Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer, which evidently is a sort of workbook with exercises to walk you through the whole process. I'm thinking this will be a buy for next year since this year (despite my daily reminder) I neglected to count the omer successfully. Then after clicking related links I ended up at this GI Hamsa necklace, made by the government supplier of Jewish jewelry for the Armed Forces, and I think they're talking U.S. armed forces here, though I'm not completely positive. I'm in search of a new necklace to add to my collection of one -- a simple, silver star of David. I've searched for a Chai and a Hamsa and a mezuzah, though I think that there is something halachicly wrong with wearing a mezuzah necklace, even if you have the proper scroll inside it. But the truth of it is that I really, really, really (^1,000) want this beautiful pomegranate necklace by KinorDavid, but I just can't bring myself to pay that much for it. Not to mention I don't have the cash money to spend on such a thing. But isn't it beautiful?

I recently bought this shirt over on Etsy in honor of Israel's 60th birthday, and I love it to pieces. I also just spotted this shirt, which is supposedly the "Official" t-shirt for the Israel at 60 festivities. And for the practical shopper, I've found these Hebrew Keyboard Stickers, and seriously, at $3.80, I might actually go procuring some.

I've really been wanting to get into the spirit of Shabbos (or the end thereof) with a havdalah set, but it seems like they're all really expensive. Yowza. There's this really nice Armenian set that's pretty beautiful, not to mention this beautiful silver set.

I wrote a long time ago about an awesome website that had sets of things, but unfortunately that site has gone defunct. So with some clever searching, I was able to find some of the items on other websites, including the Seder in a Sac, a Shabbat-to-go kit can be found here, not to mention the Havdalah-to-go set. Better yet, though, check this out: It's a Shabbat Observance Forever kit, including all the goods for Shabbos and Havdalah!

Okay, anyway, that was a random and completely useless post, but if any of you have favorite items you've bought on the online, let me know. There are a lot of Judaica websites, and most of them are pretty miserable to navigate. Finding quality merchandise can be a pain, but sometimes you find a gem (like with my menorah last year, which you guys helped me pick out, thanks!).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Shabbat to Teach Me.

"Shabbat Shalom, Shabbat shalom, good Shabbos, good Shabbos."

"Hello! Do you have a Shabbat dinner to attend!?"

"No, no, Rabbi, I ate earlier, but thank you."

"You ate earlier? You must eat again! Let me find you a ... yes!
Here, this is Chavi, she'll be joining you for dinner."

"Uh ... thank you rabbi! Shabbat shalom!"

This was the scene after services last night, and I couldn't have been more happy with how the evening ended up. Let me explain, I didn't eat much for lunch Friday, so when I got home around 4:30 I went straight for some Chinese food (orange chicken!), then took a short food-coma nap before shul.

So I went to the Orthodox shul, where, I really can't describe it, but I just felt at home. Walking in through the doors and grabbing the (transliterated!) siddur and heading to the women's section, I just felt like I belonged. I gave a friendly wave and nod to a few people who remembered me from the last time or from the seder I'd been to, and then plopped down. One of the women I'd met during pre-Pesach services sat next to me, which I'll admit made me feel absolutely welcomed and acknowledged. The service began and people slowly flooded into the men's and women's sections. I don't know if I mentioned it, but I checked out a copy of the ArtScroll Siddur from the library, but unfortunately it isn't the transliterated and my Hebrew just isn't what it should be. So with my transliterated copy, I tried to keep on par with the service, but the rabbi wasn't shouting the page number very loudly and a few times I got lost, but for the most part I was more in tune than last time. (My tip? How about one of those signs like they have at the DMV with your number on it that flashes, you know? So somehow it's set to a timer of page numbers! Or not ...) So I actually kept up, and was more participatory than last time, and I think it's just like when I first started going to shul -- I slowly pick things up, it slowly becomes more comfortable, and soon the melodies and service flow will be like a second, holy skin.

After services, I shmoozed with a few people, said hi to a few others, and while I was standing there chatting, the rabbi walked up to me and that conversation took place. The thing is, I can't help but feel like I'm taking advantage of people when I go to their houses and nosh on their Shabbos delicacies. I know that it's not that way, and that it's hospitality and that someday I'll be returning such kindnesses. But it's still this feeling I get, it's this imposing feeling that I can't help but worry about. It's why, in my mind, it makes sense to eat before hand. But if the past two shul experiences at the Orthodox location are any indication, perhaps I should just cope with the kindnesses and quit eating meals! And in reality, the Shabbat meal is a sort of mitzvah, not to mention that it's a great way of meeting people and having thoughtful, intelligent conversation.

So I ended up at the Shabbat table of a nice couple near the shul. I admire their Judaica, and their hospitality was indescribably friendly. There were several other guests at the table, including one who -- at the very beginning of the meal -- blurted out, "I know you, you're a blogger!" Now, this actual made me a little unsettled, and sent this weird feeling into my tummy. I've met plenty of people on streetcorners who know me through Yelp and recognize me through my photo, but every time it happens I always start to think "Yikes! What have I written recently? Am I controversial? If I am, who cares? Isn't this what you want! To be a known blogger?" But after this initial "yikes" moment, the questions came and people asked what I blog about and I was really excited to talk about it. Overall, the dinner was exciting, and the food was outstanding (such good challah -- with honey, even!). I ended up connected pretty well with one gal at the dinner who at some point might be reading this blog, assuming we reconnect. She's got some tips for me on organizations that would offer what I might be interested in -- in light of recent events about my Birthright experience.

Listen, I write about all this because for me, the full Shabbat experience is something new to me (and yes, I went e-free except to call my friend and tell her I couldn't make it to Shabbat lunch because of a horrible sinus headache and other symptoms). Not to mention that the idea of the Shabbat dinner as an important part of the rest is exceedingly new to me. In my experiences -- at least, up until moving to Chicago and becoming good friends with a woman at work -- I had never been invited anywhere for any kind of Shabbat meal. In my mind, the meal was just one of those things that happened like any other meal and wasn't really that big of a deal. You go to shul, you light the candles, and mazel tov -- that's Shabbat for you. But I'm learning that there is much more to Shabbat than I ever thought I knew. They're the things that we think we understand, but we really don't. I imagine in time I'll take Saturday services more seriously, I'll also understand havdalah and will work it into my observance. It's truly moving for me to discover this alter-ego of Shabbat, these things I never understood until now.

So I thank my friend, SS and her family, and the Orthodox shul for opening up the light of a full Shabbat to me. I only hope that all of you take the time, one day a week, to stop and rest, to have an involved meal with your family and friends, and to let go of the mundane you experience each day of the week.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Shabbat fortune cookie greeting.

Fortune cookie (really, I had some Chinese) says:
Any troubles you may have will pass very shortly.
Ohhh yeah!

I'm heading up to West Rogers Park for Shabbat lunch with friends tomorrow, and heading to the modern Orthodox shul this evening. So, I'll catch you all on the other end of Shabbat, where I have several blogs in the works. Here's hoping I get some Hebrew study and such done. Wahoo!

Friday, May 9, 2008

An end to an honorary day.

A friend just sent me this photo from outside a restaurant in Colombia, where he is right now. I thank him immensely; it's a tiny little view of Israeli pride that we don't always get to see from countries outside of Israel, Europe and North America. Todah rabah!

Are you kidding me!?

I haven't been so upset about an academic paper in a really long time. And maybe it's because it isn't really an academic paper. I mean, this paper was written by a PhD student, right, but it reads like something a JSchool student would have turned in that would have ended up under the "not likely, but belongs in the Op/Ed section -- major edits necessary" pile. I have to say that I'd describe the author (not to mention a lot of the other people who went to the talk) as delusional (the same word I use for Hilldawg in her efforts to "secure" the White House). On the upside, at least she isn't planning on using it as her thesis.

Anyway, the paper was all about mikvah and how it's "broken." Now, I'll give this "academic" props for acknowledging that "broken" isn't exactly the right word. But after that? I've got nothing. The paper was full of broad generalizations about how women in the Orthodox community are meant only for making babies and how they have no social or religious presence or power. The paper paints the mikvah experience like some bloody obstacle course where knives are hurled at you at every turn and where the mikvah ladies interrogate you down to the point where you're crying or embarrassed or completely mortified -- essentially saying that the mikvah experience isn't an experience, that it's torture. The big tour de force of the paper (or at least, it was supposed to be) was that the mikvah experience is a men's game -- that women are merely the proxies for men (i.e. that the woman dips, is "touched" by G-d and that she goes home for the sole purpose of touching her husband who is then blessed, the end). Then there was the whole mikvah women are the spawn of satan and are the agents of the rabbis and live to make the mikvah experience hell on wheels argument. One girl at the talk actually made the comment that "I'm no expert, but in the Orthodox community women aren't trusted at all." I wanted to impale all these people (with the exception of one guy with outstanding questions -- if the mikvah experience is meant to oppress women and empower men, why'd the rabbis allow for women to be unavailable for sex so much of the month? -- and another guy with a kippah who managed to make some valid points and question the crux of the situation).

I just. I don't have words. I mean, firstly the author has a huge chip on her shoulder. Secondly, the paper isn't academic, it's personal. Thirdly, I don't get WHY she still goes to the mikvah if it's such a horrible, traumatizing experience and she thinks it's broken.

I'm just irritated! YARGH! It makes me want to get hitched and mikvah the hell out of the mikvah. I understand entirely that there are bad experiences, there are good experience. But the torture these people imply is just insanity. And then the guy in the room who said that the mikvah night is the worst night in any marriage, it's horrible, it's torture. What?

In sum, everything is what you make of it, nu? I mean, if people go into the mikvah thinking that what this woman has written is STANDARD, my G-d. There goes the mikvah.

Can those of you who go to mikvahs regularly share your sentiments about all this with me? I can't *in good conscious* send you the paper ... but if you want to read it, please let me know. I wouldn't feel *that* bad I guess sending it along. I'd remove the gal's name, anyhow. But let me know. You can reach me at the e-mail address in my profile, as well.

But if this is the competition I have among students in Judaic studies? Wow. Slap me silly and hand me lots of money, book deals, and grants, because I'm floored at the lack of integrity, research, attention to detail, etc. Yowzah!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Recipe Interlude

I know I've been doing lots of cooking stuff earlier, but I figure it's a good mix of things, yes? I recently gave a budding blogger the advice that the way to succeed is to pick a topic you're passionate about, to focus on it, and to blog about that topic at least 92 percent of the time. So this is some of my 8 percent of the "other."

I just made this make-ahead meal that I found in the most recent Real Simple magazine. I packaged everything up on Sunday night in individual freezer bags, and this is extremely convenient for someone like me who lives alone and who's trying to focus on portion control. It limits how much you eat, and keeps it within the portion size of the recipe! The recipe? Rosemary Chicken with Zucchini. I'll note, though, that I left out the zucchini because I'm not a fan. I suppose I could have substituted another green veggie, but I had a salad, so it's all good. Anyhow, it was quick, easy, and absolutely delicious. It was my first time buying fresh rosemary, and I have to say the fresh spices definitely make a huge difference. Anyhow, check out the recipe and enjoy!

Note: This is a meat dish, and I think the only way dairy could come into play is if the mustard somehow ends up with dairy in it, so if you're doing kosher, be sure to look out!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I'm so frustrated I could cry.

Well folks. Chavi isn't going to Israel. No Birthright, no Israel.

Aish has two trips open -- one July 21-30 and one August 11-21. Thanks, Aish. Thanks for pushing me all the way back. For forgetting about me and then giving me the only options you have left.

The matter of it is, I start school on August 25. My assistantship starts on August 23. I am leaving to move to Connecticut (which will take me about two days driving, it's a nearly 15 hour trip) early to mid-week of August 11. My last day of work will likely be August 8.

Thus, I can't say "By the way, can I take nearly two weeks off and then come back to work for a week and then quit?" Because that won't happen. There will be someone to train, and there will be me training said person. It cannot be approved. Likewise, I can't make the August 11-21 trip work, because, well, I have to MOVE half-way across the country, and coming back on August 21 would not give me enough time to move and get to work/school.

So I'm really disappointed, and I'm incredibly upset. I wanted to be able to discover Israel with other Jews, like me in some ways or many, who have never been. I wanted to find out if Israel is part of my future, if aliyah is something that I'll be planning into my path. And I wanted to do it with other Jews! But I'm being punished because I'm making Jewish studies my life's work.

I could cry at this point. But I won't. If you're curious about the detailed experience that I had with Aish and Birthright, you can check out my timeline by clicking here.

Thanks to everyone who put up with me complaining and whining about being ignored, and thanks to those who kept tabs and wanted to hear what happened. On the upside, I won't be writing about it anymore.

EDIT: The rabbi has brought to my attention a program called Jewel, in which women go to Israel for 3.5 weeks to study and travel and do things and stuff. It seems right up my alley, and might actually be more valuable than a Birthright trip, eh? Anyhow, I'm going to explore this as an option, and probably throw my hat in the ring. The rabbi said he could help me get a scholarship, and at that point, I'll be broke. So things might not be all gloom and doom.

I need to get a grip.

Take a moment, will you?

Today is Yom Hazikaron (יום הזכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל ונפגעי פעולות האיבה), which is the Israeli Memorial Day. From the all-knowing source of Wikipedia, which sums this holiday better than I can,
This holiday honors veterans and fallen military personnel of the Israel Defense Forces and other Israeli security services who died in the modern Arab Israeli conflict, as well as fallen members of the Jewish Brigade, and of the various paramilitary organization of the Yishuv, such as the Haganah and Irgun, who died before the establishment of Israel (starting from 1860, when Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the first modern Jewish settlement outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, was built). Yom Hazikaron also commemorates civilians murdered by acts of terrorism. As of Yom Hazikaron 2008, Israel honors the memory of 22,437 people who were killed in the line of duty (including non combat related deaths during military service), an addition of 132 since 2007, and 1,635 civilian terror victims.
Tomorrow is Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, and it's quite significant that the day of independence follows Memorial Day. It most certainly serves as a reminder that freedom comes at a cost -- perhaps we should consider this in the U.S. as well?

So here's a video, it's two or three years old, but the footage is interesting. Take a moment out of your day to consider the fallen from the past and the present and the ongoing struggle for peace and those who are willing to commit to that peace -- despite all odds.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A little news bit from Israel.

Someone on an Orthodox listserv I'm a part of brought this story to our attention this morning. You can read about this little destroyed synagogue here or here. Essentially, this synagogue -- built by children and called Chazon David has been ruled an "illegal synagogue" by the courts.

The video is about 3 minutes and 30 seconds long, and is definitely worth a quick watch. These kids are serious about what they're doing. The video was made by Akiva of the Mystical Paths Blog.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I present to you, a conundrum.

I've written a million times about names, the importance and significance of names, and the future I likely have as Chaviva E. The web world knows me as Chavi, and when I say the web world, I mean bloggers across the blog-o-sphere, people on Yelp (a review site I take part in), and even most recently I was featured on a Chicago Jew site with this moniker, meant to be permanent.

When I meet new people from the interweb in person (such as at Yelp events or when meeting friends of people on the web who know me via my blog or another blog), I'm always asked how I got my name, what it means, why I use it. I always explain that it means the same thing as my given name, which leaves the questioner wondering what the deal is with the given name. It's then that I explain that Chavi is my Hebrew name, which I chose, and that at some point will become my "permanent" name. I usually get funny looks, but it typically surpasses the whole "listen, I'm a convert" bit, not to mention usually gets a nod and a "Well, that's a beautiful name." And we call it a day.

And until now, I haven't had anyone say flat out that they REFUSE to call me Chavi.

See, there are those (family, exes, friends from the past) who will always know me as Amanda and will probably call me as such, and that's just fine. No problem at all. But most of those who are still very close to me (in the friend category) and understand and respect my choices are more than happy to integrate Chavi into their lexicon. One of my closest chums started calling me Chavi on his own accord, and it means the world to me. There are those on Yelp who knew me first as Amanda and then as Chavi and they flip back and forth, but are always careful to say "Which do you prefer?" and then go by that.

But today, someone essentially said they refuse to call me Chaviva. This person, ironically, is a Jew.

It seems that lately I've run into several Jews who just can't handle me. I'm too much Jew, I'm over-Jew-ing it. I'm Jew Jew Jew all the time. I was even accused of trying to convert the masses (what the hell?).

Now, when it comes down to it, I really don't care. I don't need every Jew on the planet to accept me, and I guess if my biggest problem right now is one Jew refusing to call me by my chosen, Hebrew name, then I'm doing pretty good.

I just wish I could understand why this person, who at one time welcomed me as a member of the tribe and treated me with the same respect as others, suddenly is unable to call me Chavi.

EDIT: So here's what this Jew has to say to me, flat out, in a public forum.

"Amanda, sorry, you'll never be jewish no matter how hard you try. I don't care if you change your name legally. I don't care if you go to shul every friday for the rest of your life. I don't care if you keep strict kosher rules. I really just don't care. You'll never be jewish. It's just not going to happen. It's not in your blood. Furthermore, I'm really just sick and tired of your holier-than-thou attitude."

Someone explain to me how people are allowed to keep their Jew card with this attitude? This person is just as bad as the ultra-Orthodox Jew who denies my Jewishness, except this person is on the other end of the spectrum. People never cease to amaze me in their ignorance, and they will eat the words they spew one of these days.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Saturday arrives, and yes, it's Web time.

I feel like I had a fight with a hardwood floor -- and lost. My left knee is absolutely killing me today. I was trying to figure out what I'd done to make it ache (it's always on the inside of the knee, too), and eventually I remembered: Yesterday at work I was all crouch-happy pulling out and plugging in cords in one of the professors' offices while the furniture men put together a new desk et al. Sigh. So that's what I get today.

Unrelated but significant: I'm trying to figure out how I missed this book -- Choosing to be Jewish: The Orthodox Road to Conversion -- which I discovered today on the books that Avi put up on Here, this whole time I'd thought there was no Orthodox text on conversion and bam! Here it is. Color me relieved. However, I can't seem to find it at any of the local Borders, so it looks like (and indirectly will be getting my business. In other book news, today, I started reading The Earth is the Lord's: The Inner World of the Jew in Eastern Europe by Abraham Joshua Heschel. There are some pretty poignant things he wrote in the first few chapters that I want to post, but not just now. I'd like to finish the whole thing (it's a mere 100 some pages) before posting anything up here.

And finally, in completely unrelated news but somehow still worth tapping out, I realized while walking home from the tea shop today that just about everything I do is fodder for a blog post -- be it here, at or on my other personal blog. I sort of have a thought, then build on it, create a first-line post for a blog, then hope the rest comes to me, and then catalog it to whichever blog is most appropriate. I suppose I could build 20 different blogs for all my thoughts, since sometimes the mundane doesn't fit anywhere. I suppose it's worth mentioning then, that my old Livejournal I once had is now a dumping ground for poems and weird dreams I've been having. Thus, I guess in a way, you could say I'm sporting the facade of a four-course blogger at the moment.

There's just too much in this box-like head of mine to be kept merely to fleeting thoughts, and it's frustrating. Incredibly frustrating. And that's probably why I have so many different blogs and posts and thoughts that end up across the Interweb.

Thanks for stopping by, and for putting up with my (probably seemingly self-indulgent) posts.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

When our Past Lives come back to haunt.

Maimonides has said that prayer without kavannah is no prayer at all. One who prays without kavannah, it is as if he has not prayed at all. Prayer without kavannah is like a body without a soul.

Kavannah is meaning and intention. When our thoughts are muddled and we are ill focused, we cannot pray with kavannah.

I was looking forward to shul this evening, the meaning that could be imposed as Yom HaShoah comes to a close and the Young Adult group meets, since I haven't been in a few months. But then life got in the way. That life that consists of my youth and the people therein who have managed to plunge themselves into irresponsibility and the inability to act as adults. And I am once again reminded, through tears, that I have always been grown up. Simple, simple things cannot be accomplished, simple rules and requirements and promises cannot be maintained or kept. Yet I can't ground them and I can't punish them and I can't disown them because they are blood.

So my spirit, my intention and meaning, are clouded this evening, this Shabbat. I want to pray to G-d for strength and courage and the ability to look beyond the faults brought and pain caused by others but tonight is not the night. I'm weakened in spirit and will and tonight I'll gather my thoughts and with hope and intention perhaps I will sit before the Torah tomorrow morning with a congregation and pray.

I asked myself, is it better to pray alone with kavannah or to pray in a community without kavannah? And I considered this on my way home from work.

But now, the question is irrelevant.

Shabbat shalom, friends.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Today, readers, is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust -- the Shoah -- need not be defined or explained in any measure here. I think that the general readership of my blog knows what happened, when, to whom, where, and why. The day was inaugurated in 1959 and the date chosen was the 27th of Nisan (because the original date, the 14th of Nisan, fell the day before Pesach which is pretty inconvenient as far as choosing dates goes). There are a variety of ways in many different places around the globe that the memory of the 6 million and more is remembered. There are marches, readings of the names of the victims, services, Torah scroll readings, and more.

I wrote not too long ago about how I have always felt distanced from the Holocaust, and I think that it is something that many converts struggle with. Though, there have been and are those who convert because of their closeness to the Holocaust -- a feeling of remorse, regret, sympathy, humanity. For me, I've read about the Holocaust in more ways than I can count, and I always promised myself I would not involve myself in Holocaust studies because those I've met who are actively involved tend to be cynical and sarcastic about life and the general human condition. I've read the books, the laments of "Where was G-d?" And I have no answers, only questions, and I'm comfortable with that.

So today, I take a brief moment to mention someone who shares my name who sacrificed herself during the Shoah to save others.

Chaviva Reik was born as Emma in Shayo Hasso in Solvakia, and she grew up in Banska Bystrica the Carpathian Mountains where she joined the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. She made aliya to Israel in 1939, where she joined Kibbutz Ma'anit and then enlisted in an underground military organization's parachutist unit. During this time there was a puppet government in place in Slovkia and an uprising was staged to coincide with the entrance of the allied forces, specifically the Red Army. But to squelch the uprising, the Nazis took Slovakia in 1944. After her training, Chaviva and several others waited in Italy to be parachuted into Slovakia, but because of the refusal of British authorities to send a woman behind enemy lines for military operations, she had to hitch a ride to the location with some U.S. pilots. Finally in Banska Bystrica, the group of parachuters set up soup kitchens, community centers, and helped Jewish kids escape to Hungary and on to Palestine. The group also helped rescue POWs. In late 1944, Nazis moved in and occupied Banska Bystrica, so the parachuting group and about 40 other Jewish partisans escaped and built a camp in the mountains but were captured within a few days by Ukrainian SS troops. About a month later, Chaviva and most of the others were shot by the Nazis, while others were sent to death camps. One, Haim Chermesh, escaped to Palestine. It wasn't until 1952 that Chaviva's remains, as well as those of the others, were returned and buried in Mt. Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. Now, Chaviva Reik's name adorns an institute, a ship, and numerous streets.

So here's to Chaviva Reik, on this remembrance of the Shoah. I tend to be more reflective about the Holocaust on Tisha B'av (which is in August), so perhaps I'll have something more to add then. But until then, here is a video of a memorial prayer for those lost to the Holocaust.

And perhaps, just one last thought, something to consider when we remember the Holocaust and the tragedies that have befallen Jew and non-Jew alike, a quote by the Jewish writer Sholem Asch, "Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Publishing and the Pursuit of Happiness

A friend pointed me in the direction yesterday (or was it the day before?) of a blog posting about publishing as a blogger. We're talking book publishing, of course. What it takes and how to get it done and what will fly and what won't. Now, since I started "professionally" blogging here two years ago (that is, when I left the world of LiveJournal behind for a more focused and mature blogging experience), I've thought about this. I've thought about writing and publishing and as I make my way into academia it's only expected that at some point I'll publish academic works on Judaism and whatever subject area I actually focus in.

But what about publishing my blog-inspired work? All this bloggersizing can't be for nought, can it?

Lately I seem to be doing a lot of searching, or as one commenter recently put it, writing about how I "interact between the 'worlds'." I don't know if there's a market for it, but I know for a lot of JBCs, this interaction between where one enters and where one settles in Judaism can be a perplexing and sometimes irritating experience. Reform is often the gateway drug and as we grow and expand in our mitzvot we find ourselves wandering through Conservative and Reconstructionist and Conservadox and all sorts of odd concoctions in between. I just don't know if there's much on it in the published world, or even if there's a market for it. Short stories of experiences and things of that nature. I mean, when I went to the Conservative shul back in January, I was elated, in love, completely sold. Then I did some research and reading and I haven't been back in a few months. Then I went to the Modern Orthodox shul and was elated again, but I find that there isn't much literature on the movement (being a highly non-proselytizing kind of group of Jews and all). There are a few books on Orthodoxy and it's move into the modern community, but there isn't really an "Orthodoxy for Dummies" or anything remotely accessible to the potential convert. And oy! How intimidating. I've always wondered how some converts manage to go straight into the Orthodox conversion process -- it seems that many Orthodox JBCs I've met have been those who converted Reform or Conservative and later decided to go the route of Orthodox. It has to be easier that way, nu?

Anyhow. I've been thinking about publishing and things. Of course, going into grad school, I can't even seek out an agent and consider anything because I just wouldn't have the time. Plus, being only 24, I think I have a bit of time available, not to mention that I have these immaculate records of my thoughts and gleanings on everything from movies to shuls and beyond. So we'll see.

On another, unrelated note, I still haven't heard back from Aish about my Israel birthright trip. It's been nearly a month since I met with the Ortho rabbi in Skokie. I'm at the point where I am completely turned off by Aish, and I'm pretty sure that my being a Reform convert has completely made them hope I go away. Since I'm going into a Judaic studies program in the fall, it makes me ineligible for birthright trips after this summer (hence why this is such a pressing issue). I'm giving them until the month mark after I met with the rabbi, and then I'm sending them a very stern letter. If it takes me dragging Aish and their suspicious processes through the mud, then so be it. It's interesting that all of their registration deposit deadlines have passed, and yet, I haven't made a deposit. I think they're just hoping I'll go away, and that just stinks. I understand that it's Israel's 60th and this is big doings, but really people. Come on.

Oooh! And on that same (but happier) note, I just bought a beautiful, beautiful shirt that I found from a seller (EllaKlara) on, but discovered she also has a website. So go buy one of these shirts (the hamsa shirt is also beautiful). I highly recommend it :)