Friday, November 28, 2008

Tragedy and hope.

I am completely devastated to hear that Rabbi Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivka Holtzberg have been killed in the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, India this week. I prayed and waited, watching the news as their 2-year-old son was released with blood-soaked pants from the compound. I watched as two rabbis were let go. And then I watched as they said that the building had been targeted and that Israelis and Americans were being held inside with the rabbi and his wife. And then, today, I watched as their obituaries were released on the internet. The tragedy in its entirety was senseless and stupid. Nearly 200 people have died, hundreds have been injured. Fires blazed, gunshots rang out, and blood soaked the streets. I cannot fathom what the chaos was like, or how incredibly painful the battle was for those who died. But I do know that the Holtzbergs were doing one of the most wonderful things with their life when those lives were taken from them at such young ages (neither was even 30). Jewish outreach is perhaps the greatest thing about Chabad. They place "houses" all over the world so that no matter what corner of the earth you trek to, you can always find your Jewish brothers and sisters, and in a community so small, it is so important to the Jewish people. Thus, this occurrence and loss is devastating and incredibly troubling.

Thus, it is with the tragedy, that I was reading a little pamphlet on Shabbat I got from the Chabad Lubavitch store in West Orange yesterday while buying some books and goodies that I came across the number one reason for women to light Shabbat candles: To add light to a dark world. And right now? The world is a very dark place. I then heard, via Twitter, that the rabbi who was giving the teleconference today about the incident that he said that all Jewish women should light Shabbos candles tonight -- we MUST bring light into the world. And it is as such, that I suggest every last person who reads this thread light Shabbos candles tonight.

Bring light into this dark, dark world. Do your part!

And, it is with these few remarks, that I wish you all a Good Shabbos. May you reflect on the world's darkness and change it in a way that will create waves of light.

(On a lighter note, I'm incredibly amused that the White House sent out a "Merry Hanukkah" card to invite people to a Chanukah reception. The funny thing? There's nothing Chanukah-like about it. It's a horse-drawn carriage pulling up to the White House carrying a Christmas tree on the cart it's pulling. I mean, seriously. Sure, it's nice that they're spreading out their arms to welcome ye olde Jews, but at the same time ... taste should be thought about, no? Never fear, though, the Orthodox Union is defending the card . Which, I'll be honest, seems kinda laughable as well.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Papers, Cards, and Wishes.

I've spent the past two days, hidden away in the Poconos, hammering out 30 pages of two papers -- one on the Golden Calf, the other on Qohelet. The calf paper has been turned out in 19 pages and I have at least five more to write. Qohelet isn't even halfway composed and it's already at 11 pages. I have about a week and a half to finish them, though in reality I only have about a week considering the next two days I'm going to be floating around New Jersey for Thanksgiving festivities and then comes Shabbat. I did, though, happen to get consoled by the falling snow this morning, which was a beautiful thing to wake up to in a little cabin-esque house in the woods of Pennsylvania. I'm pretty proud of my achieved compositions, not to mention the parve chocolate chip cookies I made and the dinner that's currently roasting in the oven. It has been a productive 48 hours.

The moment my papers are done, I'm going to settle in to composing Chanukah and Holiday cards. I know a lot of people don't send cards out anymore, but I do, because I firmly believe that people love real mail, especially this time of year. Yes, I tend to send out the form letter with the updates and news on my life (and this year there has been a LOT), but I also like to include plenty of personal notes on the card itself. So, if you would like to receive one of my dazzling Chanukah (if that's your flavor) or Holiday (if that's your other flavor) cards this holiday season, please e-mail me your mailing address! You can get to me by clicking on the "Contact" link at the top of the page, or by using chaviva at kvetchingeditor dot com.

In the meantime, if you're in the gift-giving mood, check out my Wish List on Yes, it's all a bunch of Judaica books, but, you know, that's how I roll and books are my most favorite thing.

My Wish List

After papers, finals, and card-making are finalized, I head off to Israel on December 17 for 10 days of exciting trekking. I finally received the itinerary and cellphone rental information via email today, and it looks like there's going to be quite a bit of free time and independent dinner outings. I know at least one person on my bus, and I'm guessing (and hoping) that the rest of the people on the bus will be of the older persuasion (man I'm old and crotchety when it comes to college kids, heh). In fact, at this time next month, my trip will almost be over! My intent to stay an extra week won't come to fruition, as there are far too many external factors at work that just doesn't make it possible right now. Thus, I'm going to look into options for studying in Israel in the summer and see what I can pull up.

Be well, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

An Interlude for Web Meme-ing.

I'm not one to usually do interweb memes, but my good friend the Kosher Academic, who I miss so dearly since she departed to the great white north, tagged me and I just can't resist. So here goes! And be sure to check out at the end to see if I tagged you for this sorta mindless, yet informative activity to give you a few moments away from work.

Here are the rules:
1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people (if possible) at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.

I give you, the seven things!

  1. I love the sound of wind chimes (which I happen to be hearing right now), because my parents house back in Nebraska is next door to a lady who always had a wind chime outside her front door and when I couldn't sleep at night, I'd just close in on the sound of the chimes. 
  2. I used to hate flavored coffee, but now I absolutely love it. My favorite thing to do is to get half a cup of Viennese blend and mix it with half a cup of Hazelnut. A dash of skim milk and some sugar, and I'm in heaven.
  3. At one point, I was very into slam poetry. Unfortunately, that outlet of poetry hasn't been so strong in recent years ... not sure where my muse went, but it stepped away. I hope to regain my love of poetry and my ability to slam!
  4. I want desperately to go on an Alaskan cruise. I'm not sure when my desire to do this started, but for a very, very long time it's what I've wanted to do. I always thought it'd be a good honeymoon getaway.
  5. I was born in a Sanitarium, because it was the closest hospital to my parents when my mom went into labor. Crazy, I know. (Bada ching!)
  6. I have eczema, and for some reason living in the great Northeast, my skin has been having a really rough time of acclimating. I'm pretty miserable most of the time as a result of it. I should buy stock in lotion -- Aveeno in particular :)
  7. I have never made a loaf of challah, but I hope to this Friday. So send me your recipes! And I'll blog about it if I use it -- pictures and all. I like sweeter challahs, or wheat challah, so let me know! 

Thus, for this web meme, I tag the following!

Jewish Gingering.

Just when you thought Gingerbread Houses were only for those of the Christmasy persuasion, Chavi came up with the newest new-age Jewish holiday activity: the construction of the GingerShul!

I was checking out the local Wal-Mart when I saw the Gingerbread House kit, and thought ... that would make a really stellar gingerbread synagogue. So the kit was purchased and this weekend, while enjoying some rest and relaxation in the Poconos, the gingerbread shul was built and I think it came out quite smashingly.

For more photos, find me on Facebook and you can see the entire process ... it was quite a time! And no, I don't plan on eating it ... for many reasons. But hey, it looks cool sitting by the fire!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jew Tunes a la Chanukah!

Chanukah is right around the corner (only a month away!), and every year I'm looking out for some stellar Chanukah tunes. For the past few years, my only option has really been The LeeVees, whom I love to pieces, but I won't link you to their website because they haven't bothered to update it in two years. You can buy their album off Amazon or iTunes , though, and it's definitely worth the purchase. They also have three shows this year: December 7 at a NFTY event in Chicago, December 21 in Boston, and December 22 with Matisyahu in New York.

But this year, there's something new out on the market -- "Songs in the Key of Hanukkah" by none other than the brother of the infamous fellow behind Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen. The album, by Erran Baron Cohen, was released just in the past week and includes songs in Ladino, Hebrew and English and even has collaborations with Idan Raichel and blends hip hop, tango, klezmer, and reggae.

I highly, HIGHLY recommend Erran Baron Cohen, as he's one of the founding members of the group Zohar , which doesn't have too many albums out, but what they do have out is absolutely beautiful and brilliant music that blends Middle Eastern sounds.

(Note: I was going to make a mixtape using, but the site is functioning like crap!)

A Stream of Consciousness Post

My coat -- a fluffy, bright pink Lands End piece -- makes me feel like that kid in "A Christmas Story." I walk around, arms stiff, like a penguin, unable to move or rotate my head, but feeling quite warm nonetheless.

I'm not really sure what this revelation has to do with the bigger picture, namely that I'm feeling all out of sorts in a number of ways, but it seemed like a good segue from point A to point B, wherever point A might have been. And suddenly, as I write this, I realize I had no idea how to spell "segue" prior to now (why did I think it was segway?).

I've traded a relatively painless life for a life of uncertainty and difficulty. I went from schluffing around an economics department at one of the country's most prestigious schools, making good money and saving up, but being subjected to emotional and verbal assault on some ocassions, to academia, where I spend every day wondering when my fingers will find their way to the keys so that I might put something down on paper to impress the holy prophets -- that is, the professors. On winter days like this, I'm reminded of sitting for hours on end at the Coffee House in Lincoln, Nebraska, during my undergraduate years, studying biblical Hebrew and preparing editing marks for the school newspaper (which, it seems, is where most of the excitement I remember about school arose from). I'm also reminded of my time in Washington D.C. when I was working at the Washington Post, when I'd get out of work at midnight and schluff over in the cold to my favorite little coffee shop haunt in Dupont Circle to read the week's parshah and dish out a d'var Torah for the blog. I miss that kind of dedication where I provided the reader of this very blog with something Jewishly substantial as far as the Torah went.

It's something about this time of year makes me want to crawl into coffee shops for days and days, drinking mochas and running into old friends, conversing about tout le monde. Unfortunately, my university is devoid of any coffee shops like what I'm familiar with -- couches, dank corners, intellectuals waxing poetic over a chess board. The coffee shops on campus are all loud and filled with people and aren't really coffee shops at all, they're just places that sell coffee that happen to be inside various campus buildings. The ambiance, which I found so inspiring during my undergrad, just isn't here.

I called my little brother last night, to get peace of mind about how he was coping with the whole dad thing. He managed to brighten me up, like he always does, with his infinite wisdom and interesting outlook on life. When I asked him how he was feeling about things, he aptly responded, in the Edwards way, "There's always something bad happening around here, I'm just used to it." That, folks, is wisdom. 

I've signed up for classes next semester (though the large chunk of graded work for this semester still has yet to be penned), and I'm quite excited about them. I think they'll offer more intellectual stimulation than this semester managed to, though, I think it will be a much more difficult semester. My classes? Of course there will be Hebrew, there will also be a class on Holocaust cinema, but it will be focused on the cinema of the decade at the end and following the Shoah, specifically in Europe and Russia, and I think it'll provide some interesting insight into little-known film. And then, my third class will be Talmudic and Midrashic thought, which is a graduate seminar that should be advanced to the point of forcing me to get really damn good at my Hebrew really damn fast.

To be honest, I'm nervous about writing these two papers. It's sort of going to set the stage for the next three semesters, I think. Will I impress the professors with my Judaic studies prowess and mad writing skills? Will they be wowed with my punctuation and verbage? My choice of words (I'm anti-big words and anti-thesaurus, for what it's worth)? My rhythm and flow? I think, to be sure, that I'm far too worried about what people think of my writing. When I tell people I was a journalism major they always say "Oh, you like writing?" forgetting that there's a whole editing -- not to mention design and photographic -- component to journalism. I was never a writer in the journalistic sense, but I've always been a writer. A poet, anyway. I like to think I have a sense for how something is meant to sound and how the words are supposed to be paired.

But enough about me.

I pose a question for my readers of the academic or religiously curious persuasion: Recently in my Bible course we were discussing the Trinity and Jesus/G-d. Now, I can't seem to get a really straight answer about how Christians reconcile the following things. Assume the following are all accepted as true.
1) G-d is all powerful and cannot suffer
2) Jesus is G-d
3) Jesus is flesh, and thus able to suffer
So how do Christians reconcile the idea that G-d cannot suffer but Jesus does suffer if Jesus is G-d (which he has to be, otherwise it's idolatrous)? I'm asking this seriously, as an academic. It seems to me that all explanations boil down to the following: "We cannot know, for G-d's ways are mysterious to man." And that, unfortunately isn't good enough for me. Sure, there's a lot in Judaism that people throw into the same category, but at least we argue about it!

Anyhow, for this week's parshah, Chayei Sarah, check out , and have a good Shabbos!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

We're Getting Personal.

There are those days, when no matter how hard you try, your eyes continuously turn toward the sky -- shamayim -- also known as the heavens in some circles. When you get a call from an insurance company informing you that you have a substantial outstanding medical bill to pay and that if you don't pay soon, they'll send you to a collection agency, even though you never got any statement, and eventually they back down and dish out "sorry about all this" when you say "I'm a poor graduate student." Then your hair lady leaves work early so you have to have a stranger trim your tresses and a class you love insists on moving at the speed of light for the sake of finality and not for the sake of education and your given tasks that are tedious and menial that others were supposed to do but suddenly grew far too busy to do. Oh, and then there are bank fees because the bank wrongly cashed a canceled check that they knew was canceled but deposited anyway. So you turn your eyes toward the sky and all you can do is pray. Of course, at this point you know this "you" is me, and I'm not usually one who turns to G-d only in the bad times. I prefer to look to G-d in the good and the bad, because I'm not a fair-weather Jew. But days like today -- where when it rains it pours -- I look to the sky, despite how illogical it is. Above us is the atmosphere and space and we have the pictures to prove there isn't immediately above us some fluffy white expanse of heaven with G-d hanging out in some cherubim-laced throne. But I look anyway because the celestial bodies of the sky are comforting and sing of the luminaries G-d placed so near (yet so far).

And? ... the doctors think my father has lymphoma.

I've been accused many times of being way, way too personal on my blog. People often ask me how I can possibly talk about as much as I do or divulge all of the details that I do. Don't I want anything to be sacred? Anything to be private? Isn't there a single thing that I want to be just for me, just for my own personal enjoyment? I guess it might be misleading since I do blog about so many personal things, but I don't write about everything in my life. I leave my love life out of it, I leave personal one-on-one friendships out of it. I write about me, myself, and I. And I think that's fascinating and I guess a lot of other people do, too.

The thing is, people love stories. At our most basic, we as individuals want to relate to everyone around us on some level. We cling to the tiniest bits and scraps of information that make us alike. And it's healthy, it's good, it's right. We're meant to figure out ways of living together with one another and we love to hear the stories of our peers because we can see ourselves in those stories. So, I tell stories. But the thing is, they're all real and they're all personal and they're all coming from the most deep trenches of my heart.

So this one. This story. I was sitting at Texas Roadhouse, enjoying some homemade chicken fingers and fries when the phone rang and my father, who I knew was getting a CAT scan and some tests today, informed me that he had news. He asked me where I was and if I wanted to talk. "I don't want to ruin your dinner," he said. That, of course, was a sign that something was very much not right, and I carried myself off to the ladies room, plugging a finger in one ear and pressing the phone tight up against the other to muffle the sounds of Toby Keith and Garth Brooks blaring over the loudspeaker (why is the music always louder in the bathroom than in the restaurant?). It turned out mom was on the phone, too. They both talked me through it: gall bladder needs to be removed, it doesn't work anymore, can live without it, must eat bland foods, swollen lymphnodes, caught it early, need a biopsy, will take when gall bladder is removed, chemo, therapy, oncologist, appointment on Monday, and the best part of it all? "If you have to get cancer, it's the best kind to get."

Currently, there are more than 400,000 people in the U.S. living with lymphoma. It's one of the most curable cancers, or so one website tells me. There are a lot of websites. I could read them all, but I won't, because I'm tired and my eyes are dusty and I'm just beat. And, of course, I can't see the sky anymore because I'm inside where it's warm.

I try not to be a fatalist, and I try to be an optimist. There is no better way to live life. And I'm not asking for pity or sympathy or regrets or "I'm sorrys." But sometimes, when everything is going so well, so perfectly, you wonder when life's big tragic nuggets of crap drop on you. I mean, in the long run all the money stuff seems stupid and piddly compared to the real news of the day. So chances are good I won't be extending my trip to Israel. Chances are good that I'll be using that money to pay off a doctor's bill and buying a ticket to fly back to Nebraska to spend some time with my family while they figure things out. Israel will still be there for the next however many years of my life, and I'll go back again and again because it calls to me. But so does my family, and this is pressing.

Until then, well, I'm going to sit around and bargain with G-d the best way a suffering soul knows how. Asking without intent to receive, but reminding G-d of all the ways my father has suffered in his life and how I think he's had about enough already. Losing both parents before the age of 11, bypass surgery, shitty CEOs who money-grubbed and drove his job into the ground, being emotionally battered. Unlike everything that I was able to fix before -- disputes, money troubles, car troubles, family troubles -- I can't fix this. This is something that the rock of the family just can't do. So, for now, I'll hope that maybe, just maybe, the biopsy comes back negative and we can all go back to living our lives the way that we know how.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Brief Interlude for a Pic and Query.

So this isn't the official group picture, but I guess it'll have to do for now. That's me (in the completely unobvious gigantic white circle) there off to the right next to the lady with the most adorable baby I've ever seen. Yes, I'm wearing my scarf, and yes, I look impatient.

In unrelated news: I'm hoping one of my readers can chance to help me out with something. So as everyone knows I'm going to Israel -- in fact, in one month I will BE in Israel. I'm likely going to be there for three weeks and seeing as I have T-Mobile, they're international, and seeing as I have a Blackberry, I'm hoping that I can manage something where I can schlep my Blackberry to Israel and use it for data and maybe voice (but not necessary). Now, the woman at T-Mobile said something about getting a $19.99 one-month international data plan -- but it doesn't include web browsing. This is fine, except that I use the GMail application and Twitterberry -- both of which I'm pretty sure use over-air "web browsing" functions. So what I'm asking the masses is: Do you know what the best thing for me to do is so I don't break the bank but can still Twitter (to update people on my exciting adventure), maybe post brief blogs, and call home to prove to my mother that I'm not dead? (She's freaking out already.)

Your help is much appreciated. Oh, and that is all -- for now!

Oh! Nuts!

A kind fellow over at Oh!Nuts contacted me not too long ago to see if I was interested in some of the goods over at the Oh!Nuts internet super amazing nutshop, and of course I was eager and said yes. I'm a sucker for those delicious sugar-coated almonds that you can find fresh at fairs and in holiday scenescapes in quaint localities. I also happ'd upon some yummy looking Chanukah treats.

So a mere few days later in the mail came some Cinnamon Almonds, Sweet and Salty Cashews, and some sweet Chanukah gelt. Talk about Chanukah come early! I even fashioned this very artsy photo for the viewing audience to get a good look at the merchandise. And the great thing about the cashews? I've never experienced the sweet and salty mix like this before, and I'll tell you it's a pleasant surprise to the tastebuds.

On the left, I give you the Cashews, and on the right, the Almonds. 

I'll admit, the almonds and cashews took me back to a sweeter time (bada ching!) in my life when my family used to hit up craft shows in the agricultural building on the State Fair campus back in Nebraska. They also reminded me a bit of ages-old treks to Silver Dollar City down in the Ozarks. For me, something as simple as some candied nuts made me remember home. And I'm not trying to sell a product at this very moment, I'm conveying a message -- the message of food as memory.

But because I am writing about something I managed to get probably because of my blog readership and ability to extend the hand of awesomeness, I will say one little thing to appeal to my Kosher-loving audience: These gems, and as far as I can tell everything on the site, are Kosher certified. And to make things more awesome? They have actual retail stores in Monsey, Boro Park, Flatbush and Cedarhurst. Unfortunately, I haven't been to any of those enclaves, but I can imagine their store is probably hard to go into without buying SOMETHING. And if you're not down with candied nuts or chocolate, then you must at least pick up some dried fruits or examine their baskets to send to someone ELSE for some kind of upcoming holiday (oh, say, Chanukah?).

I mean, if you can't partake in the goodies, you might as well ship them off to someone else, right?

Anyhow, enjoy the foods that make you remember, and for the love of Moses, treat yourself to something nice already, okay? I mean, eat something, already! You look so thin!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Haveil Havalim #191: GO READ!

In case you missed it, the newest edition of the web's most awesome Blog Carnival -- Haveil Havalim -- is up over on West Bank Mama's blog. It's the "Mama Rachel" edition, and it's jampacked with awesome posts from some of my favorite bloggers.

Shabbaton Reflections, Part II

It's been nearly a week since I sat down to write my reflections on the first day of the Shabbaton that took place Nov. 7-9. To read the first installment, just click here . And then? Continue on!

I woke up Saturday morning primed to give the Shabbaton the old one-two go! I slept in late, mostly because the folks who lived upstairs (my host lived in a basement apartment) were up at 6 or 7 in the morning and children were running back and forth, feet stomping, throughout the morning. Services and a few programs were running in the morning, but I just couldn't bring myself to crawl out of bed (partially from the sleep deprivation and partially because of my experience the night before at services). I got up, got dressed in a long black skirt and I layered two shirts atop it. And then? I put on a scarf. I'm serious, folks. You haven't seen me in the morning. My hair, while cute when done up right, is an absolute mess pre-shower and doing up. It's like a wild forest of twists and crazy angles and nothing can keep it down. Plus, with the humid weather from the rain, my hair wasn't the only thing looking like hell. I, too, looked like hell. I was feeling sticky and gross, and I knew it was going to be a long day sans shower (I prescribe to the "a shower is okay on Shabbat" philosophy). As I was finishing up dressing, my host awoke and came out to talk to me, not to mention gave me some yogurt and goodies before I went on my way.

I left the apartment and schlepped through the rain (not that it mattered, since my hair was scarfed a la a frummie housewife) to the building where all of the programming was happening. I, like the night before, blended in with the crowd of Jews rushing to and fro from services to lunch to meetings with friends and family. My black skirt whipped back and forth in the rain, and I felt apart of the community, for sure.

I arrived at the building in time for lunch around the noon hour, located some of my fellow UConn Jews and the doors opened and we grabbed a table right inside the door. I sort of forgot that I was wearing my scarf and it wasn't really like I'd felt any different than the evening before, but then someone mentioned to me the scarf and I went into my spiel about how my hair looks hideous in the morning. Someone commented that I looked super frum, and as usual, I smiled. The meal came and was, to be honest, pretty darn delicious. There was gefilte fish, various salads, cholent, challah, salad, cookies, cake, you name it. But it wasn't the meal that was the most memorable part.

Throughout the meal, rabbis got up to tell jokes and parables -- a really funny one about a rabbi and lawyer on a long flight (remind me to tell you about it later!). There was dancing around the main lectern in the center of the ballroom, and men flew through the crowd legs flying and voices wailing. It was a really, really unique and beautiful site. The women, eager to partake, tried to get something going (that is, two of the gals at my table and myself), and eventually we had a circle going and our voices flew. But just about as soon as we'd started the men broke up and we got the social nod to quit and sit. Also throughout the meal, I had the pleasure of chasing the rabbi's youngest boy around the ballroom. He is, really, seriously, the cutest little boy I've ever encountered. At one point, while chasing him as he looked for the rabbi, I grabbed him right as he was jetting off into unknown territory. As I picked him up, the girl with me said "You look so religious, so maternal right now." It was a moment of pride, I'll admit, but the little one quickly squirmed out of my arms and ran on and I, like a good Jewish mother, followed him along until about 10 minutes later we finally got back to the table. I have radar for the little one -- he'd get up and run for the door, I'd let the rebbetzin know he was off again. I have the instinct, what can I say?

After lunch, there were a series of "seminars" on various topics -- Jewish dating, belief, prayer, etc. -- by rabbis and rebbetzins of the Chabad persuasion. I decided to settle into a talk by a rabbi on the topic of belief in Judaism. I was one of the first in the classroom, followed by a girl from Syracuse. We exchanged pleasantries and where we were from and then she asked, "So are you the rebbetzin at UConn?" The scarf! Always with the scarf. I replied no, and made a sort of sudden realization that in the Chabad community, sheitels are the standard it seems, not scarves or other head coverings. The room started to fill up and by the time the talk started, there was standing room only and people were sitting on the floor. The rabbi, who is known for his work on the Gunick Edition of the chumash, kept the conversation incredibly lively by discussing whether Judaism is a rational or irrational religion. Whether our belief is of the rational variety or is irrational, and boy did that stir some discussion. Many people in the crowd began talking about taking a "leap of faith" in believing, and how it's an essential part of Judaism. It was interesting because the men were the only one talking, and the women were sitting quietly. A few of the women next to me commented, saying "the women have nothing to say!"

But me? I always have something to say.

I raised my hand, and said that I wasn't sure if I had an opinion on whether Judaism was rational or irrational, but that the idea that Judaism takes a "leap of faith" is a misconception. I explained that Kierkegaard, when writing about Christianity, said that to be a Christian requires a "leap of faith." In response, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that Judaism, alternatively, requires a "leap of action." If you think about it (this needs a full blog post to be honest), it's pretty accurate. I also mentioned that what we think of as "faith" is really meant to be "faithfulness." I blogged about this at length a while ago. But it frustrates me that people confuse faith with belief. The rabbi thanked me for my comments, someone commented that I was nuts, and the seminar went on. Afterward, I wandered the hallways trying to figure out which seminar to go to next, but none struck me. Luckily, I ran into the rabbi from the talk, who I ended up having a lengthy conversation with -- about what I'm studying and working on, the Golden Calf issue (about which he sent me some really comprehensive and stellar stuff from the Gutnick edition), and other things. It was truly -- after the Shabbat dinner -- my favorite part of the Shabbaton. I'm an academic geek, and there's truly nothing like a discussion with a rabbi about anything at all.

But after the seminar? My Shabbat hit a huge, huge brick wall.

I can't explain it, but talking to the rabbi and attending that seminar was a high. After that, and after the second seminar time expired, it was time to prepare for Havdalah and the big group photo. As soon as that all ended, the evening broke out into individual dinners, a gigantic party with a band, and fabrengen's into the wee hours of the night. But as I crowded into the ballroom with hundreds of other students, and as we plastered ourselves against the side wall, I grew anxious and uncomfortable. Every five seconds, as the crowd grew louder and the people grew more tense while we waited for everything to get set up for havdalah and the group photo ... I wanted to leave. I kept wanting to walk out. I could see the rabbi and the rebbetzin across the room and knew I should stay. I looked around the room at the comaradarie, the students chanting school songs and there I was, in a crowd of strangers. Havdalah candles were lit, prayers were said, a few songs were sung, and then the flashbulbs burned and we were done. Like a stampede, people piled out of the ballroom to run home to shower, eat, prepare for the night's festivities as only college students might.

But me? I ran home, called someone, showered, got dressed, and sat down for a few hours with my host to explain why that person I'd called was coming to pick me up and take me away from Crown Heights. As I explained feeling quite alone, too old for the crowd, overwhelmed by the rebbe-as-moshiach-posters everywhere, the sheer volume and size of the group of people, and everything ... she understood why I was leaving. She -- as well as many others since then -- suggested I go back to Crown Heights when I have the chance to really experience a Shabbat without hundreds of other kids, and the suggestion is valid and I intend to take it into account. But by leaving early, I was sacrificing the events on Sunday, which included the trip to the rebbe's ohel and experiencing the entire site with my peers -- something I want to do, but perhaps alone or with merely one or two others, not in a gigantic crowd of hundreds. And just like that, Saturday night, I hopped into the car of a friend with some rugelach from my host in hand, and drove off into the night away from the Shabbaton and away from Crown Heights.

Listen, what it comes down to -- and I must say this briefly, else I'll have a 20 part series on the event -- is that it was overwhelming for someone so conditioned to inward thinking (a result of living a year in Washington DC and becoming as antisocial as a hermit), everyone was doing their own thing and I was left to consider how completely out of the loop I really was, and I felt a lack of connection religiously to anything in Crown Heights. I went in with very high hopes, and the absolute magnitude of the entire event and the population of students there, paired with the lack of cohesion between the students from my school, threw me to the ground and left me feeling lonely. I did, though, realize my limits. I can't say much more than that, but I'll leave it there for now and perhaps develop something for a future post.

It isn't, by any means, an event I'll forget, and I might even give the Shabbaton another try next year. Or, I might just schlep down to New York on my own or with someone special, visit the Ohel, explore Crown Heights, and maybe show up again for a Shabbat. Or, just maybe, I'll stick to Washington Heights, where I felt beyond comfortable and felt at home in the services. I felt in WH like the women wanted to be there, that it was more than a social hour. (As an aside: Maybe I'll make my tour de force empowering Orthodox women to own their religion. It's more than a social hour, damnit. Women aren't bound to the same mitzvot as men, necessarily, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for that connection that we gain by davening and being a part of a society of prayer.)

But there you are. A mere two parts, because after more than a week, it's almost a lost cause trying to put together coherent thoughts about such an emotionally stressful weekend. If you got this far? Congratulations and thank you for the time!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Test of Faithfulness.

This week's parshah is the famed akeidah story -- Vayeira -- the binding of Isaac by Abraham. I'm not going to go into a gigantic d'var Torah, but I do want to say a few words.

The interesting thing about this situation is that people debate who failed G-d's test and who had true faithfulness to G-d: was it Isaac or Abraham? Did Isaac have faith that G-d would not allow his father to go through with the sacrifice? Or did Abraham have faith that G-d would not let him go through the sacrifice? At the same time, consider this: Did Abraham FAIL the test?

So here's my take: The Torah is written, as my professor likes to say, in the language of the people of the times. Ethical Monotheism -- what we know today as Judaism -- grew out of a slip away from pagan and cultic religions of the times. Human sacrifice was commonplace, and G-d was well aware of this. Thus, when this brilliant monotheism arose, G-d knew that the people Israel would need to remove themselves from the pagan rituals of the day. Thus, in this case, G-d tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and Abraham -- not having fully grasped the concept of what G-d was shooting for when it came to the monotheism and not needing pagan rituals -- went along wholeheartedly with the plan. Isaac, on the other hand, knew what was going on. He had faith that G-d would keep Abraham from going through with it. At the same time, both G-d and Isaac hoped that Abraham would catch the drift that with G-d's way, human sacrifice wasn't an imperative. Unfortunately, Abraham failed the test and G-d had to stop him from going through with it. Talk about an interesting situation.

Of course, this is just my take. What the implications of Abraham's failure with G-d are, I cannot say right now. If anything, it was just the first in many missteps of the people while trying to get the hang of the non-pagan, ethical monotheism slant, which to be honest they didn't seem to pick up on until well into Isaiah (even Jethro tells Moses that his G-d is the greatest of all G-ds -- the Tanakh is peppered with monolatry!).

At any rate, Shabbat Shalom to one and all! May it be restful, thoughtful, and be shared with friends and family over good food and good stories.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Hate Doctor's Offices.

Well, I went to the infirmary where I was informed that I either have strep or mono. Either way, talk about sucking. I'd prefer the former to the latter, but either way it's going to be a miserable time for me for a while. The miracle drug penicillin is keeping me calm until the test results come back on the strep. If I get worse, then I probably have mono, and then I get to seriously freak out. It is, after all, crunch time here at UConn.

Luckily, I have some delicious homemade chicken matzo ball soup courtesy of a real-life Jewish grandmother from the old country. I couldn't be more elated. So please, pardon me while I eat some soup and crawl into bed for the 30th time today.

Oh, and I do promise to respond to comments posted throughout at some point when I'm not feeling so low, and I will also do up a Part I to my Shabbaton Reflections, as well. I just lack the energy to do anything. This post? Took me way longer than it should have to type.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Veterans Day Salute!

Today is Veterans Day (no apostrophe!) and thus I take the time to think about the military men in my family tree (as there are no women who have served).

My maternal grandfather, John Baskette, served in the military for most of his life and was a proud veteran of the Pearl Harbor atrocities. He died about a year and a half ago, and I regret that our family was not closer and that we could have seen him more in my teen years. That's him over there when he was 18 years old.

Very far back in the day was William Semple Baskette of Virginia, who served as a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War. As well as Abraham Baskette (also of Virginia), who served as a private in the War of 1812. And another big one was William Turner Baskette, who managed to be caught by the North approximately THREE TIMES during the Civil War. He's quite a prolific fellow in Tennessee, where much of my family on the maternal side spent quite some time.

My paternal grandfather, Joseph Edwards, (also my little brother's name) served in the military during World War II, though to be honest I'm not sure where. I don't believe he saw much combat, and he wrote to my grandmother throughout the war -- telegrams are beautiful relics. He died in the 1960s when my father was just a child. My father, Robert Edwards, served in the Navy toward the tail end of the Vietnam War and (thank G-d) saw no combat time.

So, it is on this day that I honor all of the military men in the family (of which there have been countless numbers), as well as all of those brave souls who have fought and continue to fight for freedom and justice for this country. Though I do not always support our government's decisions regarding war, I always --  undoubtedly -- support our troops!

Monday, November 10, 2008


In case you didn't get a chance to read up on Kristallnacht, of which this year marks the 70th anniversary, I found the Yad Vashem site to have some pretty compelling and fascinating reads.
On November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a series of riots against the Jews in Germany and Austria. In the space of a few hours, thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed. For the first time, tens of thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps simply because they were Jewish. This event came to be called Kristallnacht ("Night of the Broken Glass") for the shattered store windowpanes that carpeted German streets.
If anything, I am reminded of how we are not all that far away from the events of the Shoah. It is as if it were yesterday. Once it hits 100 years, 150 years, I have to wonder whether it will feel so distant or still close. The world isn't so young when we think about these things. It allows us to remember that we're not so far away from the chaos as we thought.

Shabbaton Reflections, Part I of ??

I have nearly 100 blog entries from friends to catch up on between Friday morning and today, not to mention that I just spent the past few hours catching up on responding to the dozens and dozens of emails that I received since Friday. I have somehow become a very, very busy e-person. But the point of this post is to get down a general outline of the Shabbaton in Crown Heights from this weekend before it all escapes me. This will be a two parter, though I'm not sure how I'll divide it up just yet. The short of the story is that I left Crown Heights to trek back to Connecticut on Saturday night after Shabbos was over. There are a variety of reasons that will probably come out between the lines of text, but I'll summarize likely in Part II or III, which will come later. Not sure how many parts this will be, so bear with me. Let us begin.

Five students packed into a car on Friday around 12:30 p.m. to schlep to Crown Heights (CH) for this year's annual Shabbaton. For two of us, it was our first Shabbaton, and for the other three, it was like old hat. We hit the highway and one of our passengers read the traveler's prayer off his palm device, setting us up for a safe trip. It sprinkled on and off, and we all anticipated at least a bit of rain, but the trip was fairly smooth and we made it into CH with about an hour and a half to spare before Shabbos started. We skipped check-in ("not enough time!") and everyone piled out of the car and the two girls headed one way and the two guys another and I, in my infinite confusion, said "Guys, I have no idea where I'm going, anyone?" Luckily, after some gentle prodding for SOME semblance of order, I was pointed in a general direction of my host's home and after some wandering I arrived, feeling gross from the muggy weather and ready to get the Shabbaton on the road. There was only one problem.

No one told me anything. I didn't know where to go. I didn't know when to go where. I didn't know where davening was or dinner was or where the opening program was. With Shabbos fast approaching, I was frustrated because I didn't seem to have any way of getting any information. Since we hadn't registered, I didn't know the itinerary and for those of you that know me well, I'm the kind of person who needs to know what's going on well in advance. I was frustrated from square one before the weekend even arrived because I didn't know who was going, how we were getting there, or what the itinerary was. Maybe I'm a little OCD in the organizing department, but that's just how I am. So the rabbi magically showed up (baruch hashem!) with linens and a schedule for me, as well as a map so I could get around. Talk about a blessing. The sirens went off, warning us of the impending beginning to Shabbat (nearly 4:30! oy so early!), and I finished the munchies I was noshing (thank you host!) and I eventually made my way to the main building where everything was to be held, and I started to feel more prepared for everything.

The crowd was, in a word, intense. It was huge. From our school there were maybe about seven people. There were hundreds of undergraduates (and maybe some graduates, but I had no way of telling) in a ballroom and the noise level was extreme. To express how loud it was both at the beginning and later at the farbrengen, when I arrived back home around 1 a.m. that night, my ears were RINGING, as if I'd been at a rock concert. The icebreakers didn't last long because of the noise level and I spent a lot of time wandering around looking for others in the group. Eventually everyone sat down (with their schools) and there was an opening session followed by a schlep to evening services at 770 (Lubavitch Headquarters). The opening session seemed to last forever because the noise level -- a constant frustration for the speakers and leaders of the event -- just wouldn't calm itself. Maybe I'm old and lame and spend too much time shaking my fists at those darn kids to get off my lawn, but the entire weekend it seemed like there was an intense lack of respect for the rabbis who were trying to speak.

At any rate, services were definitely interesting. Now, I feel like I'm sounding really negative, and I don't mean to. There were a lot of really intensely amazing things about the weekend (the two big ones being the Shabbat dinner by the rebbetzin's family and the session on belief that I attended Saturday), but being a newbie to the world of CH and Chabad, it felt like I was a spectator, and being someone who is intensely committed to her Judaism and davening and the experience of being a Jew, it was frustrating sometimes. At services, the men went into a lower entrance and the women into an upper entrance. Now, being someone who adores the mechitzah, this didn't bug me in the slightest. But then you get into what feels like a "viewing room" where the women overlook the men's prayer hall -- there are tables in the back where the Yeshiva bochurim were chatting and davening and up front where the Shabbaton folks and others were davening. Upstairs, the women overlook the gigantic room through tinted windows with a small area at the bottom which you can see clearly through. So we get there and I'm ready to daven. Shabbat for me is so much about prayer, right? But after a while, I realized that there was no way we could know where the men were in their prayers because there was so much noise. I looked around and women were chatting, watching the men, no one was praying. Not a single one. I was so confused. Isn't this what we go to shul for? To daven in a community? After a while, I threw up my hands and started davening the service on my own around the same time one of the other girls from my group did the same. Then, the service was over and we took off for Shabbat dinner.

I finally fell back into my comfort zone. The dinner was by the rebbetzin's sister and brother-in-law, and it was to be all of the UConn kids as well as a few from Oregon who had come in, not to mention the family of the rebbetzin -- including her father and the great bubbe of the family! The Shabbat dinner was, in a word, magnificent. It was full of song and stories and discussion and the most delicious food. We did introductions, we laughed, we listened to the rebbetzin's father tell stories that were accompanied by songs to the tunes of "Yesterday" by the Beatles and "Come on Baby Light My Fire" by the Doors. We talked of parables and Torah and what it means to find your path and to follow it. The kids ran around playing and laughing and one even fell asleep on the wood floor in the corner. There was one moment, that I just can't bring myself to write about here, where I was sort of shocked and dismayed with the children, but what can you do? They're children, I guess. It reminds me, though, that we are living in funny times. The songs we sang were songs I was unfamiliar with -- "Ain't Gonna Work on Saturday," which I now love, and others. But it felt like a family. I felt like I was a part of a big Jewish family who was cohesive and comfortable. I was also excited because it was the first time I'd ever been in a house that had two separate ovens and counters and the works! I think my awe and excitement had some people giving me funny looks, but I'm the Liberal Jewish product of a Conservative Christian upbringing, so what can you expect? On our way out that night, one of the little boys was singing a song about cholent and I thought, This, this is what Shabbat is -- it's family and food and songs and stories and prayer and bentchers marking weddings and bar mitzvahs of years long past.

We left and walked back to the building with the ballroom for the farbrengen. It was late, and I -- being old and lame as I am -- was exhausted. But I forged forth, trying to soak in every morsel of the Shabbat that I could. We got there and the various events that were supposed to be going on seemed to be muddled by noise and people moving from room to room and volume levels I can't describe. I wandered around for a while, trying to find part of the UConn group, but without much luck for a great deal of time. We walked over together, and people went their separate ways. Everyone seemed to know someone, and I tried to chat with strangers. I found myself most comfortable in a room watching men dance around and sing, women beating their fists on the table to tunes they all knew but I was unfamiliar with. Eventually I grew tired and found a few people and one of the fellows walked me home in the drizzling rain. I got home that night to my host's house where everyone was asleep feeling tired, my ears ringing, my clothes soaked, trying to figure out what the evening had meant outside of my amazing time at the Shabbat dinner. Walking through the streets in my long skirt walking 90 miles a minute, I felt as if I fit in so well to the aesthetic of the community, but something was off.

I'll end this portion of my Shabbaton reflection by saying a few things about me. I don't do well with crowds. Loud environments make me anxious. I was unlucky enough to inherit much of my mother's anxiety issues when it comes to these things. The feeling of claustrophobia and anxiousness when put in close quarters with people screaming and hollering and bumping into you. I swear I've never been touched so much in my life as I was this weekend (which, I'll admit is strange considering the Chabad environment, but you have to remember that it was a LOT of undergradate kids). I guess what I'm trying to say is that the Shabbaton was probably intensely wonderful for a lot of people. But for me? I'm 25 years old. I have something going on in the Jewish couple thing, which means that sessions on Jewish dating and scoping out the meat market are two things that didn't register for me. Maybe I'm crotchety, but meeting dozens of random people who I'll likely never see again who I can't likely relate to on a delicate level because of our different outlooks and perspectives wasn't appealing. I'm a graduate student, and I have a certain way I look at life. When I was an undergraduate, I had a completely different perspective. The two crowds? Might be able to mingle loosely, but it's hard in such gigantic settings. This is probably why, to some degree, I felt left out by the people I'd come with who -- on a weekly Shabbat level -- I relate to and feel friendly with. And I'm sure that played a role in my reaction to the weekend, too.

At any rate, more to come tomorrow about sleeping in, covering my hair and what kind of reaction it got ("Are you the rebbetzin at UConn?"), the lunch and the funny jokesters, the rabbi with the amazing stories and thoughts, the seminar on belief that helped me to make an important connection with an important rabbi, the end of Shabbat, seeing the rebbe's picture everywhere and the signs of the impending arrival of moshiach, and how I ended up leaving the Shabbaton an entire day early to head back to Connecticut  -- missing my trip to the rebbe's ohel. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hitting the Road, Jack!

In about an hour I'm hopping in a car with four other eager Jewish college students to trek to Crown Heights for the International Shabbaton there this weekend. We'll be eating Shabbos meals by family members of the Chabad rabbi on campus and partying it up Crown Heights style, I guess. There are several things I've had to think about in packing for the trip, and even though I got a 50-50 (yes-no) response on whether it was a faux pas to wear a Jean Skirt to the Shabbaton weekend, I've decided against it.


I don't know. I was browsing the web and found a ChabadTalk forum ranting and raving about how Jean Skirts should be banned (as they evidently are or were in Israel in some places) since they're not so tzinius. So whatever, I have plenty of skirts. Yes, people might look at me in a Jean Skirt and say "she's probably Modern Orthodox," but I'd rather not deal with anything that might make ME uncomfortable.

Don't get me wrong, I love skirts. I own more skirts now than I did pretty much my entire life. So it's a something, considering I used to be very anti-skirt in my pant-loving days of my youth (sort of never was a girly girl, that is, despite mom dressing me up in jumpers and homemade dresses crafted on her sewing machine).

At any rate, I think I'll have a lot to write about post-Shabbat.

Is it sad that when Shabbat rolls around the thing I worry about the most is my hair? You cookie-cutter Jewish girls with your long dark hair don't know how easy you have it! Yes, I might stand out and look hip and different, but on Shabbos morning? This do is a mess!

Shabbat Shalom, everyone!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Who's Your Tzipi?

I wish I were more in the know about Israeli politics. The long and short of it is that I know Olmert is bad, Tzipi is good. A united coalition is necessary for Tzipi to reign after Olmert steps down (the masses cheer, I guess). But that's pretty much it. I admire the multi-party system that they rock, considering we have but two real major parties here and it just isn't enough. But the other thing I do know for sure is that this T-shirt makes Tzipip look pretty freakin' badass.


Courtesy of 

You What?

I think I might have to include this somewhere in my footnotes on the Golden Calf paper. I'm sure I can work it in somehow, right? I just sent this to my professor. I hope he finds it as amusing as I do!

A group of Christians gathered a few days ago at the GOLDEN BULL on Wall Street to pray for the economy . Yes. It's true. They really did. Now, I'm not one to judge, but this didn't work out so well in the olden days, so I'm pretty sure now isn't the time either. Talk about disturbing.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Go Forth!

Amid the chaos of the day, there must be a little peace. Thank G-d, therefore, that this week's parshah is my defining parshah -- Lech Lecha.

The great thing about this parshah -- the namesake for which decorates my signature on my emails -- is it's opening message: "Go forth." I blogged about this portion last year on , of which I was once a contributor. The Midrash tells us that this line means "Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be." That is, indeed, what Abraham and Sarah did, and it's most definitely what the convert does. Thus, for me, it's such a powerful, powerful portion.

Another great thing about this week's portion? My friends, Stereo Sinai (that's Mirriam and Jay) back in Chicago were awesome and did up this week's video! It's beautiful, and poetic, with the singing and the music illustrating the portion. Watch it, take it in, and then go visit Stereo Sinai and pick up some of their tunes -- they are a truly talented duo, in more ways than one!

Parshat Lech Lecha from g-dcast on Vimeo.

If you do one thing today ...


The best piece of advice I heard from someone during this election season was that in order to vote what is best for Israel, you have to vote who is best for America. So, do your best, vote who is best for America.

Of course, you know who that'd be in my opinion. Barack Obama? Darn skippy. Vote with your head, your heart, your American spirit! Do you want four more years of the same? Do you want change? Do you want the ill-prepared to be sitting in the VP sit? Do you want the prepared in the president's seat? Either way, history will be made, and we're all a part of this history-changing election.

Let's change this country, and in turn, change the world.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Getting Shabbat Done. Chavi Style.

Why was this Shabbat different than all other Shabbats? I realized a few things about being a bit of the Shomer Shabbos. The repeating realization that Shabbat lasts forever if you don't spend it at shul or meals or with friends/family hit me once again last night. I managed to lay down for a nap last night pre-Shabbat at 5 p.m. And then, I woke up at 7:30 p.m., an hour after services/dinner at the rabbi's started up. So I ate some cold pasta and hummus from the fridge, mulled about, davened a bit, and went back to bed. Luckily, I woke up this A.M. and made it to the rabbi's for some lunch, park time, and a pleasant walk. So, in sum, this Shabbat was just what I needed -- a lot of sleep, a lot of quiet, a lot of peace, a lot of recovery time from a most harrowing and stressful week.

+ It's going to take a few tries before I get my lamp timers right. I also have to set up my fan on a timer. Why? Because I can't sleep without the fan, that's why. It was a rough night, so I'm lucky that I went to bed early and slept so very late.

+ I love my Art Scroll.

+ Going to the bathroom seems like a simple issue -- if you're in your own house. But I share a bathroom with five other girls at any given moment, so there isn't a box of Kleenex in the bathroom to prevent rippage (a no no on Shabbat). The interesting thing is that I didn't realize this faux pas until I got up to use the ladies' room in the middle of the night. Funny how being mostly unconscious you can make some stellar realizations.

+ After spending some time at the rabbi's, I realized there are quite a few things I don't know about Shabbat as far as the 39 categories of forbidden labor and how they translate. I know the basics, and I am pretty sure I know even more than the basics (don't doodle on the frosted-over windows), but I'm looking for a comprehensive book that won't break the bank. If I had $120, I'd pick up this four-volume set . But I don't, so please -- someone! anyone! -- offer up some suggested reading materials?

+ I want to always have hot water available (for tea and what have you), but for some reason leaving my coffee maker (which I use to make hot water) on for the entire 25 hours seems to me like something super unsafe and not cool. Suggestions?

+ I need some havdalah goods. That is, a havdalah set/kit that isn't super expensive. I've looked, I've searched, and I can't seem to find something. Maybe I should look in Israel?

Yawn. Shavua tov!