Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I'm Probably Opening a Can of Worms ...

I'm about two seconds away from throwing myself into oncoming traffic. Okay, not really, but in my head it sounds like a marvelous end to my current project: editing a book manuscript. I'm such a kvetcher, but the amount of incredibly poor writing that exists in the world makes me want to cry. At this point, we're so reliant on technology and spell check and every other fancy widget out there that it's completely hopeless to assume that man will learn grammar or how to properly compose a sentence or not split an infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition. But I digress. (Yes, it's okay to start a sentence with "but." And to put the punctuation inside the quotation mark. Wanna fight about it?)

At any rate, I'm here right now to discuss something that I came across in said editing project: the idea of the Jew by choice being someone who is a born Jew but that chooses not to completely dilute their identity completely into the secular, American (or whatever country you choose) persona. It's a really controversial topic (at least, it used to be) in the convert community, and I even spent some time discussing it with people at a former blog project of which I was a part.

Here's my opinion: if you're a born Jew, if your mother is Jewish or however you want to look at it genetically (patrilineal, etc.), then you're Jewish. You don't choose it, you just are. Few peoples in the world actually view the genetic/ethnic/etc. background of someone as defining who they are. You don't have to go through the conversion process, the irritation, the frustration, the not belonging, the years of confusion and a non-Jewish upbringing and the repercussions of not having those Jewish memories, etc. Even the most secular Jews-by-birth manage to have a latke or light a menorah or visit a synagogue. Maybe I'm too hardline? It's probably one of the few things I really am a hardass about. If you're born a Jew, you're a Jew, whether you choose to be religious/observant/shomer mitzvot, is a whole other story. Either way, you're Jewish.

This is a much bigger debate than I care to get into here, but let's just scratch the surface. Can a born-Jew be a Jew by choice? 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chaviva's PSA: GET HEALTHY! - PART 2

Shloms to my homes. That's my new lingo for "Shalom to my good blog readers." Get down with the Chavi lingo!

Anywho, I wanted to update everyone on my medical happenings, because I visited my sock-it-to-you doctor this morning. She was just as feisty as before, although luckily the test results came back, and she didn't have too much to be angry/worried/concerned about.

I'm happy to say that (almost) everything came back completely normal, if not excellent. My cholesterol and thyroid and blood count were great, with the doc commenting that she wished she had my cholesterol level. It also appears I need more Vitamin D, but she assured me that just about everyone in the U.S., especially in the Northeast in the winter, has low Vitamin D levels. The only downer was the results of the fasting/glucose test. Now, the results weren't horrible, but here's the deal. After you fast, they have you drink the gross soda, then make you sit for one hour, then another, testing your levels at both intervals. At the second hour, your level should be between 75 and 139 mg/dl. Mine, unfortunately, was at 141. This puts me on the very, very low end of "impaired glucose tolerance." To be a full-blown diabetic, those numbers would be greater than 200. So, let's just say I'm pleased that I'm only two mg/dl on the bad side of things. The doc said it isn't anything to be really worried about, that I'm not at death's door, but that I have one option: lose weight, eat better. So she's setting me up with an appointment with the "diabetes educator," whatever that is. My dad has diabetes, and I grew up with us going on and off the "diabetic diet" (picture mom scooping out green beans and everything else with measuring cups, super fun). The upside is I only have to see the educator once, and it's only to make sure I know what I'm doing and that I'm doing it right. Lose weight, eat right, and diabetes won't eat your body up and make you die from some horrible diabetes-related cause. My dad lost two aunts to diabetes-related complications, and countless other relatives on his side suffer from the craptastic glucose giant. I, however, will not be one of those people.

So that's what's new with my medical woes. I also had a EKG, for no apparent reason. I also might be visiting a cardiologist for a completely arbitrary and infrequent chest pain I've been getting since 9th grade social studies. It's funny how we can remember very specific moments in time like that. I was sitting next to Christina, or was it Russ? I stood up at the end of class at the bell, and for some reason, this really sharp pain struck the very center of my chest. It knocked the wind out of me and I plopped back down in my chair. I sat there for about 2 minutes, unable to move without feeling the horrible pain. I went to the doctor, thinking I was having some early-onset heart attack stuff, and the doctor just told me I probably pulled a muscle. Who'da thunk you could pull a muscle in your chest just by standing up? My current doctor doesn't buy it and because the pain persists once every three months or so at completely arbitrary points, she wants to make sure it isn't more serious. The EKG came back fine, so who knows.

Do I sound like a walking ball of disease and impending doom? I swear I'm not a hypochondriac. In fact, these are all things I've been dealing with for a long time; I'm just really stubborn and don't go to the doctor until they're all sort of bugging me at once. Then I sound like I'm one of those people who sits on WebMD researching all the various ailments they have. I'm not that person, I promise.

Anyway, let this be an even greater reminder to y'all to schedule appointments, get yourself checked out, and be as HEALTHY as YOU can be in 2010! Darn't! Or else. Don't make me come over there ...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I am a Secular Christmas Dropout!

Riding down in the elevator of the new Science Center, on my way for coffee while Tuvia finishes up his day at work, I read the sign: "Science Center closes at 3 p.m. today in honor of the holiday!" In my head, all I can think is, How weird that this has become just another day for me.

It's so weird, every time Christmas rolls around, to think that I used to be a huge fan of Christmas. I loved the songs, the trees, the lights, the celebration. I never really took the idea of it being the birthday of Jesus to heart, because I knew my history and I knew my religion. Regardless of this, in my parents house Christmas was the kind of day where everyone sat back and watched TV, played with the new gadgets and gizmos, and ate Christmas classics. Oh, and we also gorged on cookies. My mom was big on cookies during the holidays, and she usually sent my dad into work before and after Christmas with tins full of confectionery goodies: No Bakes, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Chinese Chews (now that I think about it, the name is kind of inappropriate), those cookies she made with the cookie gun that had all sorts of shapes, like Christmas trees and snowmen and snowflakes, as well as fudge and lemon cookies and every other kind of cookie her little hands could make. We'd chow on Chex Mix (homemade, of course), and watch whatever happened to be on television. New video games were torn open and inserted, played for hours. I remember one of my favorite gifts of all time was this nifty Crossword Puzzle thing, where you turned the knobs and you'd get a new game each time. I got my share of Barbie dolls and art supplies and books and definitely pajamas, too. But the aura of the day was beautiful. It was relaxed and casual and a day where we wouldn't do anything -- after all, you couldn't, because everything was closed. Sometimes we'd have to run out to Walgreens for batteries or milk or green beans, but really the only reason to go out was to look at the lights.

I still love the lights, of course. But only the white ones -- the colorful mess of wires and lights that ends up on some people's houses leaves me feeling queasy. There's something universal about the lights of the holidays (the white ones, anyway).

Now? Chanukah came and went, and each day was just another day, aside from the lighting of the Chanukiah and the opening of a few presents. It wasn't one day of extravagant present-opening or gorging on sweets. Chanukah just isn't set up for that, and it wasn't meant to be. In fact, I'm not sure that there *is* a holiday set up in the Jewish calendar that can compare to what we've turned Christmas into. And I'm okay with that. At the same time, the nostalgia that I feel for Christmas concerns me sometimes. It feels wrong or inappropriate. I bob my head to Christmas tunes in the store, and while sitting at the dentist yesterday (Christmas music blaring despite the fact that most of the dentists at this particular location are Jewish) my feet were tapping to the classic Christmas carols of my youth. At one point, I was busy singing those songs in choir and in class. What a different world I lived in!

I imagine if I lived in Israel, the feelings of Christmas would fade over time, and I probably wouldn't even long for the lazy days of mom's cookies and bulk gifts and cheesy, old Christmas ornaments. Did I mention the tree? My mom loves her tree -- it was her prized possession, always. Every year she struggled to get us to help her put it up, and begrudgingly we would always help her. Now? Mom doesn't have anyone to help her. She managed to get my little brother to help this year (with the help of his girlfriend). She sent me a photo of one of the ornaments, a very old one that she has put on the tree since the 1980s. It's a mirrored one, much like all of her early ones (the entire tree is white/silver with a few hints of color here and there), and her comment with it was "Did you know that one of the mirrors was a six pointed star....we must have know way back then that it would represent you :)." My mom, as always, has brilliant insight into these things.

At any rate, I just wanted to share some of my thoughts with you all. Very stream-of-consciousness here, so I apologize if it's unreadable. I'm just trying to figure out the emotions at this time of the year. It's impossible to wash them away, or to even wish them gone. In fact, I think the fact that I have positive memories of that time of my life is good -- Secret Santa, ornaments, mom's green bean casserole and Chex Mix, the constant gift of flannel pajamas -- they're all a part of who I was and inevitably will shape who I become. Plus, I think they give me particular insight into what it means to be a Secular American (Jesus never existed in our Christmas, period). Someday, when I have kids, I think I'll be able to explain things better because of my experiences. Let's just hope that they develop a sense of worldliness like I have, so that when Christmas time rolls around they will neither long for it nor disparage those who celebrate it.

If you're in the mood, read a very emotional Christmas Day post from 2007, or about Nittel Nacht, the traditional way Ashkenazi Jews spend (or don't) Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I'm a big fan of full-disclosure of the most random things here on this blog, so I thought I'd share with you a really entertaining (and sort of unfortunate) X-Ray I received today of my knees! I've been dealing with a certain amount of knee pain over the past two years after injuring myself in late January 2008 (read about it in this post), and I have been stubbornly not trying to take care of it. Walking up stairs, my knee makes the  most hideous and mind-blowing crackling noise -- like bones rubbing against bones in every which way -- and the pain I experience is always on a very high level. When I was in Israel, it was really bad, and the day-to-day ranges from no pain (like today when I sit around all day) to tons of pain (lots of stairs and long distances). So, after visiting with my new General Doctor last week, and her slapping me upside the head with my health woes (sleep, TMJ, stomach woes, knees, etc), I was referred to about six different physicians. One of them? An ortho person. So today, I went, and I found out my knees look like this:

A normal Right Knee?

Yes, those are my kneecaps. And yes, they're sitting WAY off to the side. They're meant to sit in those little grooves, not off to the side, hanging out in their own little bubble of stupidity. But I'm sort of like the opposite of a bow-legged person, I'm a knob-kneed person. The way to treat this? Lots and lots and lots (and LOTS) of physical therapy. Then more visits to the Ortho, and more physical therapy. Hopefully, someday, my knees will re-migrate to their designated posts. Maybe if I migrate to Israel they'll migrate to their little cozy knee spots.

At any rate, this has been one ridiculous medical day. The X-Rays topped off the day that was started by spending three hours in a doctor's office having blood drawn. I managed to fill nine vials all together with blood. I even got to drink this disgustingly sweet Orange Soda (OU kosher!) and then sit in a waiting room and wait. It was thrilling, just thrilling. Come Monday, I should know whether I have a thyroid issue, diabetes, and a host of other medical problems. Let's hope they all come out negative.

The point? You guys -- all of you -- whether you're feeling healthy or not, need to get your health issues in order. I take after my mother with my phobia of doctors. Why? Because if you go to the doctor, they'll tell you what's wrong with you, and then you'll have to pay for it to be fixed, and deal with the life-long affects of having to change the way you live, medicate, and more. That's a lot to take. So better live in ignorance, right? NOT. You have to set up your life so you know what your kids can expect -- look at it that way. The more you know, the more they know, the more your grandkids know. The more everyone can prepare for hearth disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. So if you haven't been in for a physical, just go. Deal with it. Suck it up. Make yourself healthy. Make 2010 the Year of Healthy Living! Lose some weight, work out, eat more fresh and colorful foods, and feel better about yourself.

If Chaviva can do it -- begrudgingly as all hell -- so can you. To motivate you, take another look at my unfortunately jacked-up knee caps. Then call your physician and get your tuches on the move to health!

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Walking, Talking Stress Ball.

The semester is over and the winter doldrums have hit -- it's that time of the year where it's easy to sleep 15 hours a day and eat nothing but holiday cookies and ice cream. What is it about wintertime that turns the mind into a playplace of the absurd?

At any rate, I'm glad everything's turned in and finished, and aside from a single incident of shock-and-awe while grading, everything went pretty smoothly. I did up two papers, a Hebrew final exam, a final exam paper on anti-Christian rhetoric in Leviticus Rabbah, and ... oh, then I proctored one exam and graded another. And now? Nothing. I have some editing to do, I want to put together a couple of projects, focus on my blog(s) and rest my mind. The difficult and paradoxical thing, however, is that it's hard for me to do this. I function best when I'm stressed out -- when I have a dozen things due, a million things on my mind. The more I have going on, the quieter my head is. It's when everything slows down that it gets difficult to find motivation and calm. Maybe I should take up meditation (I've considered this before, but with the amount of trouble I have getting good sleep and quieting my noggin', I don't think I'd have much luck).

So I've got about a month to relax and rejuvenate before the next semester rolls around. I'll be taking Hebrew once again, as well as Palestine under the Greeks and Romans, followed by a Jewish-Christian relations course based in the Middle Ages. After that comes a boatload of preparations for my graduate exams. Hopefully between now and then I'll find out about my next academic step.

I've applied/am applying to two programs: a dual-master's program at NYU in Judaic Studies and Jewish Education (brand new; this is their first year) and a Hebrew language master's program at UMD down outside of Washington D.C. So this scholar will end up with either one, two, or three MAs. I think the more MAs I have, the harder it will be to market myself without over-shooting how much I'm worth.

But I'm excited. If I don't get into either program, I'll probably lose it. I could easily go and start teaching in a Hebrew High School, but I'm not done learning yet, and my ultimate goal is University-Level Professoring. So wish me luck, folks.

Haveil Havalim is LIVE!

Check it out over at Frume Sarah's World!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Was An Israelite for 10 Days!

I lived in Israel for 10 days in Nachlaot, a neighborhood that includes the Machane Yehuda "shuk" and Ben Yehuda Street, that tourist trap with delicious confections and kitschy shopping. I say lived because that's what I did. There was an apartment on Yosef Chaim where I planted my head every night (except for a Shabbos spent out in Ramat Shlomo), it's where my clothes were hung, it was also where my toothbrush was. I didn't feel like I was visiting, I was living. I was an Israeli for a mere 10 days, and it felt marvelous.

I woke up each day and got ready in the world's smallest shower, brushed my teeth, walked on the cold floor, kissed the mezuzah, and schlepped off to one of the Yehudahs for breakfast. There were pastries, bagels, and interesting concoctions that you'd never find in the U.S. One morning I ate at Aroma in the "shuk," starting the day with an Iced Coffee (that's actually more like a frappucino -- there is no real iced coffee in Israel) and a sandwich comprising gigantic slices of white bread, an omelet, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, and cheese. Oh, and there was also some cream cheese on there. Yes, you read that right. For breakfast. And? It was outstandingly delicious.

After food, Tuvia and I would schlep to our destination -- Caesaria, Tzfat, the Old City, the Jerusalem zoo, you name it. We ended up walking almost everywhere we went, but considering how much decadent food we ate there, I didn't shed a single pound. Thank you sufganiyot! In fact, I noshed a Roladen one that was Melon-Vodka flavored. That, folks, was rich and beautiful. After shopping and photos and a lot (we're talking knee-breaking) of schlepping, we'd hit up some deliciously kosher restaurant for lunch. This was probably the biggest treat of all -- kosher restaurants at every turn! Dairy! Meat! You name it. We ate a a falafel place, a schwarma place, an amazing burger place next to the Kotel, and even an Argentinian steakhouse near Ben Yehuda (it really wasn't that good). Our evenings were packed with meeting friends, family, and moonlighting at the Kotel, followed by more schwarma. Then, at night I'd crawl into bed, listening to the sounds of the small street, and -- as usual -- not sleep.

One of my favorite nights was spent listening to the street cats in an interesting chorus. At first, it was a loud, howling MEOWWWWWW. Then, surprisingly, came a wailing baby. I'm assuming the baby was woken up by this incredibly loud cat, but I can't be sure. Either way, the cat and the baby exchanged howls for about 10 minutes. Then, about two hours later, the cat was at it again -- this time with a dog. It was MEOWWWWWW! BARKKKKK! MEOWWWWWW! BARRKKKK! It got to the point where the choruses were too amusing to sleep, so I laughed. At every  hour of the day in that little room in Nachlaot, I heard the conversations of tourists, men singing outloud to themselves, children running along speaking Hebrew at a rate that I can only dream to reach. There were bikes and scooters zipping by in the alley, and one night the people across the way had their door wide open while they wined and dined, Fido sitting on the stoop watching passersby.

Spending so much time in the city -- I'd say about 3/5 of our time there was spent in Jerusalem proper -- allowed me to really experience what it must be like to live there. We walked through Machane Yehuda (the shuk) almost every day, including early in the morning when vegetables and bread were arriving on carts and in the evening when men were checking receipts and closing shop. The smells and the textures and the colors were something I could learn to live with, without a doubt. To be able to shop in a fresh market like that daily? Wow. Talk about a privilege. Also, being able to walk to the Kotel at midnight without a care or fear in the world was something unbelievably powerful. Come to think of it, being able to walk anywhere in Jerusalem at any hour felt so empowering. I felt safer in Israel than I ever felt in Chicago, Washington, or even Lincoln. I stood at a bus stop on a busy street at 12:30 in the morning, waiting a half-hour for a bus, people walking by, zipping by in cars and on bikes, and I didn't think twice about how late it was or where I was. I just knew I was safe.

After just two days, I felt relaxed. I knew the city from my trip there last December -- I knew where certain shops were, I knew how to get places, my internal compass was set back to Israel in no time. I felt so proud leading Tuvia all over the place in confidence. Jerusalem is my city, it's city plan mapped on my heart. It was a beautiful feeling. Did I mention that Jerusalemites love my hair? Yes, I got a lot of compliments. That, too, was a beautiful feeling!

I have much to say about the rest of the trip, outside of Jerusalem, but it will take some time. My photos are up (mostly) on Facebook, and I'll be throwing some up on Flickr, too. There are a lot -- about 1,001 of them. A lot from the Wedding, a lot from Caesaria, and an abundance of them from everything in between.

Stay tuned, as always! (And yes, in the shuk that is a baby being carted around in a ... well ... cart.) I leave you with this stellar Kashurt certificate to one of America's beloved restaurants at which, yes, Tuvia and I ate. And, for the record, it wasn't that great.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Light my Cupcake Menorah?

Oh Cupcake Menorah, oh Cupcake Menorah, how lovely are your candles! (Sung to the tune of Oh Christmas Tree, but a little more appropriate here.)

I have to give a hat tip to @ModernTribe_Jew for Tweeting about this. Talk about the cutest and coolest idea ever. Yesterday was National Cupcake Day, so this treat is right on time for your menorah lighting. Also, who wouldn't love to just chow down on that menorah after the candle burns out?

Check out EatMeDaily to get the recipe and how-to for this classy and tasty menorah.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coolest. Chanukah. Gift. EVER!

I picked the worst time possible to start re-blogging post-hiatus, mostly because I'm in the midst of finals. Although I'm not as stressed this year as in year's past, I'm still feeling the crunch. Hebrew and Ancient Jewish Fictions are finalized tomorrow, and Midrashic Literature is all due by Friday at 9 a.m. Add to this a stack of Bible exams I'll be grading, and by the time Monday roles around I'll be ready to drop. The upside to the madness is that soon I'll have about a month off with nothing to do but edit, read, exercise, and contemplate life's mysteries. Oh, and blog about my Israel trip and everything else that's been spinning around in my noggin.

So for some light reading (and easy blogging) today, I'd like to share with you one of the Chanukah gifts I picked up for Tuvia. Never fear, he already opened it -- and he loved it! I am the ultimate gift giver, what can I say.

The story behind this nifty Lego toy is amusing. Tuvia and I have lamented our current and future situation in the community, seeing as that I live on campus and he lives in a city other than that which our shul is in. The houses in the community are exceedingly expensive, and depending on where I happen to get into graduate school (more on that later), we might be moving next summer. Of course, we're not even married (or engaged) at this point because of the lack of conversion, but we've formulated a plan on how to make it work: The RV. Yes, the time-tested and true method of Americana living in dire straights, the rolling vehicle in which one can make a home and a Shabbos dinner. We promised our rabbi that -- after we're (g-d willing) married, and if we can't find a place in the community, we'll find a way to make it work. That means procuring (if necessary) a Shabbos Mobile in the form of an RV that can sleep many, feed more, and situate us right next to the shul. Talk about the coolest plan EVER. So I got this little RV for Tuvia, just in case the plan doesn't happen. This way, he'll always have his dream (mini-)Shabbos RV.

Happy Chanukah, friends!

Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm Here to Start a Fire.

Me, in Caesaria, Israel.

I've decided, that after nearly a month (I'm a few days short) of not blogging, I'm coming back. Not with a vengeance or anything cute like that, but with a reaffirmation of my purpose. This blog has a purpose, and it's a greater purpose than tooting my own horn and sharing my story in an effort to turn a trick as a celebrity blogger. I'm not here to expose you all to the very fine details of my life -- you would be surprised, I'm sure, at the amount of things you don't know about me, specific life experiences that both shaped and altered how I arrived where I am today. But there are sacred instances and moments in my life. This blog isn't trying to make waves or "fight the man" with the name "Modesty," either.

But make no mistake: My story is unique.

In fact, all of our stories are unique. It is how we relate to these stories that makes us all seem the same. I posted about my experience with the beth din, and I had an outpouring of comments and emails and Twitter replies telling me how similar peoples' experiences were, or how they really understood what I was going through, or how they hope their own experience with the beth din will go smoothly. My story is unique, but it is relatable. We're all human, and we all have a story to tell. We connect to others through kernels or moments of the stories of others. Thus, we're all storytellers -- it's just that some of us are more inclined or motivated or passionate about writing them down so that others can experience that spark of familiarity.

It's that spark, that big world turned small, that I love about blogging. The world is a huge place, with billions of people, going about their business, searching ultimately for connections. We thrive on interaction and developing relationships and this is how we learn to understand one another. This is what I promote here, on this blog. I promote the building of connections and understanding through blogging my life. I'm not immodest about my experiences and my life, in fact, I try to be as honest as I can without harming the character of others. I also think I do a pretty damn good job at it.

The reason I decided to start blogging again, right now, even though my conversion hasn't gone through yet and even though all of the moving parts in my life are not certain, is because of a comment I got from a reader on my beth din post. The comment said the following: "I loved this post, thank you for sharing your anxiety and worry, I found it to be such a comfort." Now, there's nothing particularly earth-shattering in the words, but they're the words that have been echoed about a million times in reader comments over the past three and a half years that I've been doing this. The thanks, the relation, the familiarity, the fact that I give ease to the minds of others. It wasn't my original purpose with this blog, but as I moved and grew in my Judaism, it became that. And I am so proud that this is how it's turned out. So after reading that comment, I said to myself: "Chaviva, this blog is your passion, your therapy, your connection to the world, you must blog!" I considered this, along with Chanukah coming up (it starts tonight, don't forget to light the menorah BEFORE the Shabbos candles!), and I realized something.

What I do here, whether others agree or not, is bring light into the world in the best way I know how -- through words.

I can't change minds or opinions about my character and whether how I present myself on this blog is appropriate for a modern Orthodox Jewish girl, but what I can do is continue what I started. I can't really finish what I started, because it was never meant to be finished (much like the journey in Judaism is a perpetual one). I'm here to tell my story, discuss Judaism, and to light a fire in all of the people who come across these pages. It is not unheard of here at Just Call Me Chaviva for a Jew to be inspired by something and head to shul that week. If I can light that kind of fire in a Jew, then I think I'm doing some serious good -- I'm helping in the eternal effort to remind Jews to be proud of who they are, to be involved, to develop their Judaism.

So I continue. This is my story, a unique story, a fire-starter, if you will. Stay tuned for some comments about Israel, Chanukah, and how I'm feeling about my Judaism these days.

Chanukah Sameach v'Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We Have a Winner!

The winner of the Chanukah Oh!Nuts drawing is ...


However, Michael failed to leave any contact information, so if I do not hear back from him within the next day, I will have to redraw for a winner. Stay tuned!

EDIT: Michael failed to claim the prize, so mazal tov to CSTIRONKAT!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chanukah Oh!Nuts Giveaway!

(Not back, just here to give y'all a chance for some goodies. This isn't controversial, right?)

You read the subject right, I'm here to facilitate a contest for a $25 gift certificate to Oh Nuts! If you're not familiar with the company, you're missing out. Their products are all kosher, and they're delicious, too. They have chocolate, gummies, nuts, dried fruits, jelly beans -- you name it, they have it. So get ready, you have three ways to enter.
  1. Visit the Oh!Nuts Chanukah gifts page. Choose your FAVORITE gift and leave a comment here, in my comments section with the name and URL of the gift. I'll pick a random winner upon my return from Israel, either on December 6 or 7. That gives you a LOT of time to enter. The winner will be sent the gift certificate by Oh!Nuts.
  2. Visit the Oh!Nuts Facebook Page, write on their wall the URL and name of your favorite Chanukah Gift. Also include "I am here via Just Call me Chaviva."
  3. Follow @OhNuts and Tweet: Win a free Chanukah Gift from Follow @ohnuts and retweet to enter!"

So enter. Spread the word, and spread the wealth. You've got a LONG time to enter!

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Indefinite Hiatus.

Until further notice, this blog -- and all other blogs by me -- will be on hiatus. I apologize for the inconvenience, but just pretend I've gone to Ulpan again. If you want to know why, don't ask. If you know why, keep quiet.

Thanks to all the loyal readers, the constant support you all have given me has been outstanding and I'll be using those kind words as long as they will last in my mind and heart. Please stick around. At some point I'll be coming back -- I just don't know when.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chavi Was Never a Cook.

I have never been a cook. My mother didn't really teach me to cook, so everything I picked up I picked up when I was forced to cook when I ended up in Washington D.C. Before that I relied on fast food like Subway and Wendy's and that's probably how I managed to gain so much weight my senior year of college. When I moved to D.C. I learned to cook, but mostly vegetarian. It burgeoned even more when I was living in Chicago and my ability really took off around Pesach in 2008 when I mastered the art of melting sugar and cooking fish.

This weekend, the friends I often stay with (I'm not really staying with the family I used to stay with anymore because as the weather gets colder, my knees become mush faster; Tuvia still is staying with them however) are out of town, so they're letting me stay at their place alone. Tuvia thought it'd be a good idea to host people there if they'd let us, so I agreed, telling Tuvia that it was his job to invite people and my job to cook. Well, we're expecting about SEVEN to EIGHT people altogether tonight (including us). So I freaked out and made about five million things to eat. I even found a recipe for parve pumpkin pie, but that went horribly, horribly wrong and I had to chuck it. But here's the menu for dinner tonight. Note: All dairy ingredients were adjusted to protect the innocent (that is, to make them parve).

Challah (it rose too much, browned to quick on the bottom, and looks a little weird; sigh)
Butternut Squash Soup with Bagel Chips
Salad with candied walnuts and pears, with a simple vinaigrette
Streuseled Sweet Potato Casserole (which, by the way, looks amazing)
Green beans
Corn Kugel (now a standby/staple)
Meatballs with Orzo (some with pasta sauce, some without)
Cranberry Upside Down Cake
Mixed Fruit

I think that's everything. I feel like there was more (well, there was the pumpkin pie). This is honestly the first time I've cooked food for anyone in the community. These are people who have cooked for me multiple times, and their food is outstanding. I'm anxious as hell. I was particularly anal because of bishul akum -- that is, Tuvia had to turn on all the burners for me since I'm not halakicly Jewish, I couldn't do the full cooking by myself for other Jews. I wanted to make everything perfect, making sure I didn't treyf anything up. Thus, the kitchen was a mess of things and I washed the parve bowls and cooking stuff probably seven times in the past day out of reuse. Either way, I am praying that it should be a successful meal. If anything, the soup and the casserole will be a big hit. I think they're outstandingly amazing.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Cover Your Hair Giveaway!

I'm a huge fan of, as you all sure know. I just wish I were hitched so I could truly enjoy the goodies they have to offer. Someday, folks! Someday. 

For those of you who also love CYH, head over to Hadassah's blog for the GIVEAWAY of a $25 box of surprise Hair Accessories! Just go to Hadassah's blog, fill in the comments box with some of the CYH items you'd love to have, and wait to win! There's also five other ways to win, so your chances are outstanding.

Oh, and spread the word!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Zohar for Your Troubles.

A brilliant rabbi friend shared this with me last week while I was awaiting my meeting with the beth din. I think it's quite beautiful.
The union of souls in the upper world produces more fruit than the coupling of bodies this world. When the souls pair in that world, their combined desire produces results: they generate the souls of future converts to Judaism. When a person converts, a soul flies from that chamber and enters under the wings of the Shechinah. The Shechinah kisses her, since she is the fruit of righteous souls. (Zohar 3:167b)

I Need Something Soft to Occupy My Mind.

Do you know how hard it is to focus on schoolwork (I have two papers I need to start working on, which means I have two notebooks full of documents I need to go through; Hebrew homework and an exam on Friday; books to read for Ancient Fictions; you name it, I have it to do) and general work for my freelance editing? To focus while not knowing what the next two weeks hold for me?

Chaviva is on pins and needles. My mind has taken on the classic Wandering Jew characteristics. The TV is on in the background, blaring some show, and the only thing I can focus on is blogging how anxious I am.

That, folks, is humorous. It's the divine comedy at work!

And the T-Shirt Winner is ...

I'm a *little* late on picking the winner, and I hope those of you (there were like, seven of you) who entered will forgive me! Considering everything? I think you can.

I decided to do the drawing a different way since I didn't have so many entrants. I found this nifty Random Picker on the internet, typed in the names of the lovely ladies that entered, and the winner that it spit out was ...


Yes, folks, the lovely TMC, a blogger extraordinaire, has been chosen for these two Tees. I'll be contacting you for your mailing information, so look out. Mazal tov!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chavi Goes to the Beth Din: The First Meeting

Wednesday night, I was exhausted. We got into New Jersey, and I planted myself firmly into the plush bed that I call my own when we stay with Evan's family. The World Series was on its way toward the finale, and I issued a "Wake me if they lose, or rather, wake me if they win" to Tuvia and went to bed. Supposedly he came in and let me know that they'd won, but I didn't recall it. I was exhausted. The anticipation of my RCA beth din conversion meeting had turned my brain to mush. To feed my nerves, I had a nightmare that night. How appropriate, no?

The dream? Well, I was in a bookstore or library, attached to the building with the beth din meeting room. I was chatting with people, occupied, when my mother walked in and yelled "you're late to the beth din meeting!" I knew the meeting was at 3 p.m. (in the dream, that is), and my mom let me know that it was already 3:05 p.m. Then she said that they'd been waiting for a half-hour for me. So not only was I late, but I had the time wrong. So I ran to the elevator, where they informed me that I didn't have the right barcode to board the elevator. I started crying, explaining my situation, and just when they let me on, I realized that I was wearing the worst thing possible: capri pants and a short sleeve shirt. I freaked out, yelled to everyone that I'd be right back, and ran to the car where I found a long jean skirt and threw it on. When I woke up, I was standing in the elevator nervously pulling it on.

Tuvia and I drove the car into Jersey City, dropped it off at his dad's car place, and took the PATH in. I had a meeting in the morning at NYU regarding a few of their programs (more about that later, of course), and because I was anxious and fearful about showing up late, I insisted we take a cab from NYU up to Yeshiva University -- a whooping 30 something buckaroos right there.

We got up to YU plenty early, spotted the building, and then went in search of food. We ended up at Golan Heights (thanks to @Mottel and a few others), where I ate too much and anticipated vomiting on the shiny, black shoes of the beth din. Tuvia and I spent the rest of our time (and there was a lot of it) sitting in the YU student commons, where I happened to be spotted by one Twitter user (nice to meet you @steinberg!). I was busy Twittering, airing my anxiety to the world as I've been known to do. The support I received that day from my Twitter friends was ... well, I'm speechless. If you guys were on the beth din, I'd be a quick sell. Too bad you can't bring witnesses, right? You guys provide a service, I guess you could say, that is incomparable to anything. You offer me kind words, comforting thoughts, boosts in esteem, you name it. You guys are my bubble of comfort, and for that? I love you. But now to the (not-too-detailed) details.

The Meeting
We arrived at the beth din room about five or so minutes early. No one was in the room yet, which made me even more anxious. I didn't know where to sit, whether to sit, whether I had something in my teeth, or whether the noises in my tummy were going to settle themselves. I was talking nervously to Tuvia about their being a one-way mirror built into the wall when a rabbi walked in, greeting me in a jovial and kind way as Chaviva. He said that the furniture in the room was brand new, which I took as a good omen in my favor for some unknown reason (the furniture gods smiling upon me? har har.). We sat down and got to chatting. Then another rabbi showed up, and another, and finally a fourth. Yes, there were four rabbis at my meeting. Each of them brought something very different, I think -- good cop, bad cop, the jokester, the inquirer. Each posed different questions, and each had their own approach to my situation.

We started with the basics -- how'd you find Judaism in Nebraska? (This was intermixed with a bit of Jewish geography to see if they knew any Nebraskans, of course.) Then came a question I hadn't really thought about: If I was set on converting Orthodox before I moved to Connecticut (which I was), why did I sign up for JDate and start dating someone? I hadn't really thought about it before. In one of the very first emails that we exchanged (Tuvia and I), I stated my trajectory and told him that if he was down on the Orthodox journey, he and I could keep talking. Otherwise? No sir. Of course, as we're still together, I think you can see how that went. But it was an entirely valid and important question. A lot of converts, especially those who go Orthodox, often come to it for marriage. I'm not saying that's what the focus is in the end, but it tends to be a spark for the journey. I'm confident that the rabbis knew I wasn't doing this for Tuvia, but that I was most certainly and definitely doing it for me.

The conversation moved on to a variety of things -- my family and how they feel; my friends and how they reacted to my choices when I was in high school, college, and even now; the geographic conundrum that is my situation (I live in Storrs, Tuvia in Manchester, we daven in West Hartford). We hit a few very contentious points that I won't delve into here because they're even too personal for this space, and I was nearly in tears over them. I imagine the rabbis saw my face go from "elatedly excited" to "downtrodden and depressed." The great thing about it, however, (if I can even say great) is that the rabbis were encouraging and incredibly explanatory about why the issues were important and necessary to be discussed. It's amazing how you don't think about things until someone else mentions it and you find yourself saying, "Duh. Why didn't I think about that?"

The rabbis also asked Tuvia plenty of questions about his observance, his history as a Jew, his family, and more. After all, as they explained, there are two of us involved here and my conversion -- assuming we'll be staying together (and we will) -- affects the both of us.

After about an hour of the down-and-dirty talk of getting to know me (and Tuvia) Jewishly, the rabbis turned to some quizzical questions. I'll be completely honest: I froze. When it comes to talking about my journey and my Judaism and how I do my Judaism in a general and broad sense, I'm all about it. Passion oozes from my pores. But when we get to the b'racha bee type situation? Chavi is the proverbial popsicle.

It started out simple enough: "I had you a pretzel, what do you say?" I should have said "Thank you!" as some friends joked over Shabbos, but instead I answered appropriately with "mezonot." But then they wanted the full b'racha. Now, I know the b'racha. But when just saying the b'racha, it's important to avoid the use of HaShem's name, so you fill in "HaShem" and "Elokeynu" in the appropriate places, and that just froze me up like you wouldn't believe. Finally they said to simply say the b'racha as I would -- which makes sense considering it was technically for study, which means it's okay to say the b'racha as you would normally. The stumbling over words that ensued made me look like I was drunk on Manishewitz after a long night of Purim partying.

A series of further questions were what to say over the Shabbos candles, Yom Tov Candles, to list some of the other b'rachot, and then some questions about the recent holidays. They asked me what Simchat Torah honored, and instead of answering the simple "we end and start the Torah!" answer, I tried to search for something deeper. And then I got all caught up in my head. I'm guessing the entire room was spinning around me, and that the rabbis were wondering what was going on. I had my head in my hand, and was mumbling to myself about the Torah. I said something, and it was wrong and I felt humiliated. Me, the Judaic studies student, fumbles over a basic Judaism question that I've known since at least 2004 or 2005. Then, well, this is funny.

We ended up talking about the "holiday of the giving of the Torah." So the rabbi asks me about the name of the holiday. My answer: "Oh it's ..." Insert awkward silence here. Insert head into hand here. Once again, I was mumbling to myself. "There's Pesach ... then there's the omer ... then we eat lots of cheesecake. We ate so much dairy." The rabbis, reassuringly told me that they knew I knew it, and I responded that I knew I knew it. Finally, one of the rabbis says "It's often the feast of weeks." And I resignedly said, "Shavuos ... I knew that ... Shavuos." Let's just say that was followed by a long sigh.

It was reassuring to know that my anxiety -- and there was anxiety like you wouldn't believe -- was necessary. It's almost required. If you go in without anxiety or nervousness, you're probably not jibing right with the beth din. The rabbis constantly reassured me that it was okay that I was so anxious.

The meeting ended shortly after the quiz-like questions. The rabbi said they needed to talk, and that someone would get back to me soon. The rabbis are aware of the time constraint leading up to my trip to Israel, and I told them that to daven at the Kotel as a halakicly Jewish woman would be the zenith of this entire experience so far -- of being Jewish. I explained that this is the most important thing, and the most difficult (in a good way) experience in my entire life. At the same time, I have to say that if it doesn't happen in the next 2.5 weeks, I'm committed 100 percent to the RCA process. When looking at everything going on in the world, I need to have confidence in my conversion beth din and the rabbis therein.

The Outcome?
I think that I can say, with confidence, that the rabbis that I have on my beth din (the three, that is -- the fourth seems to have come to speak to me about my 11-page essay, which he said was an incredibly well-written odyssey [publish it!], which put my mind at ease and made me feel so confident in myself, especially considering who he was) are kind, understanding, yet firm Orthodox rabbis who know their stuff. Immediately after leaving the meeting I was embarrassed, I felt humiliated regarding my poor performance in the basics (am I overreacting? ask Tuvia, I was outside myself and he was watching it all happen), and wasn't sure how to feel. After calling a very close friend to talk about the meeting, I started to feel better. I was reflecting on how the rabbis approached me, how they reacted to my answers, and how warm they were about everything. It was then that I started feeling more confident about the experience, and it's probably why right now I feel fairly good about the entire experience.

So now? I'm waiting. I've heard from one of the rabbis a few times since the meeting regarding various issues, but nothing regarding where I go from here. Friends inquire, offer words of kindness, and check in often asking whether I've heard anything and what I know. Let's just say, folks, that as soon as I know something, you'll know something. You've all been with me this long -- I won't leave you hanging, I promise.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Convert? Moving to Israel? Look at This.

I'm not sure what to say about this Op/Ed from the Jerusalem Post today: The double lives of Jewish converts in Israel.

The gist of the Op/Ed is that there are converts living in Israel without healthcare, the ability to work, and who lack full acceptance as Jews in Israel, despite halakhic conversions. The situation works in such a way that people convert in the Diaspora, but once they head to Israel (legally, under the Law of Return), they're denied the basic rights that regular Jews are  under the same Law. Why? Because the Justice and Interior Ministers INSIST on reviewing all conversions, despite the 2005 ruling by the Supreme Court that converts should automatically been allowed in. Essentially, there are what the authors of the Op/Ed call "draconian citizenship tests." And then there's this:
Most recently, the Justice Ministry issued new protocols, already being implemented by the Jewish Agency, that demand an 18-month residency and a formal curriculum of study for converts abroad who want to come live here. These protocols demand that rabbis overseas ask certain specific questions of converts, that the process be reported in detail to the Israeli authorities and that converts adhere to strict bureaucratic procedures if they want their conversions to be accepted by Israeli civil authorities. In a word, civil bureaucrats are seeking to impose their will and standards on Diaspora Jewry, challenging the autonomy of Diaspora communities.
So what does a Diaspora Jewish convert do?

I'm guessing that if I'm considering Israel -- in any capacity, at any point in my life -- I should start looking at my options now. I should also probably talk to my beth din about this issue and see what their experience has been like. Are there really not that many converts who head to The Land post-conversion that this hasn't really come up before?

Talk about shocking. Appalling. Frustrating. Nod to @bethanyshondark for bringing the Op/Ed to my attention this morning.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Pre-Post on the Beth Din.

I'd like to write a novella. Or perhaps a short story? The focus of the story being about my experience at the beth din yesterday and how there were moments where I broke down and my nerves ate my confidence, as well as moments of assurance and excitement. But there isn't much time before Shabbos descends, and there are things I need to do in preparation (like pack, for example!), so you'll probably have to wait until motzei Shabbos to hear about the entire experience. To protect the innocent (rabbis), I won't be naming names, or delving into extreme details, but I think that it's important for me to talk about the experience candidly -- both for my eternal record of my Jewish comings and goings, as well as for those of you who have so eagerly anticipated the outcome and who so amazingly supported me throughout my entire experience and most importantly yesterday as I sat, prepared to vomit, waiting for the meeting. So to tide you over, some anecdotes.

+ It's funny that being at Yeshiva University I had the hardest time with shomer negiah. Now, it wasn't ME that was the problem, it was the dozens of teenage boys bumping into me constantly without consideration. Are they not used to the ladies being around? Or was it a sense of carelessness? Or was it a disregard for the observance? I can't really say, but it was frustrating. Maybe I could lose a few pounds and fade into the scenery not to be bumped into! Either way, it was both amusing and irritating at the same time.

+ Twitter friends (@Mottel being the first) suggested we head to Golan Heights, a kosher and Israeli-style restaurant off Amsterdam and 187th near YU. Tuvia got to have his first schwarma (which he loved), and I got to down an Israeli-rocking falafa-laffa (that's falafel on laffa). I loaded it up with tahini, pickles, israeli salad, chips and some awesome spicy sauce. It was exceedingly delicious, but it probably wasn't the best choice for a pre-beth din chowdown ... overall, I will say that Golan Heights is probably one of THE best kosher foodie joints I've been to in a long time!

+ Being in New York was an inspiration. It's rare that I'm in a city surrounded by Jews at every corner turn, and it was so comforting that no matter where I want, I saw a kippah-toting gentleman. It just made me feel comfortable, like I belonged, as if I were in my own little Jewish world. I imagine that this sentiment will only be magnified when I step into Israel.

Lastly, can I just say that it was ... so special, so amazing, so absolutely significant and warm that the first thing the first rabbi to arrive at the beth din meeting did was call me Chaviva. The name of this blog is "Just Call Me Chaviva," and when I chose that name, I chose it knowing that it would someday outshine Amanda as the name I identified with. But to have an Orthodox rabbi, on my beth din, acknowledge how important that is to me, was something I find hard to put into words. It was moving, and it left me feeling relaxed and comfortable. So I nod a thank you to that rabbi for welcoming me with the proverbial open arms of something so simple as a name.

Stay tuned, friends, and Shabbat Shalom -- may you be with peace, rest, and the gift of Shabbos in your homes!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

T-Shirt Giveaway!!

I'm in the mood for ... a giveaway!

Now, this isn't a super stellar giveaway, but maybe it is. Some time ago, I was sent a copy of Webstein's Dictionary, a hilarious little book with funny takes on common Jewish words, as well as a few T-shirts to go with it for promotional purposes. I had hoped that perhaps, just maybe, after some weight loss I'd actually wear them, but unfortunately they won't really fit me right either way (you ladies probably understand why). At any rate, these shirts are both XLs, although since they're in the "baby tee" style I'd say they're more like mediums or larges. I'll be giving both tees away together.

If you think you or someone you know would absolutely dig these T-shirts, then enter the giveaway! Here are the rules and regulations. (PS: Sorry the photos are poor quality; took them with the BB.)

  1. Comment on this blog post with your email address, that is, if it doesn't show up in your Blogger profile when you comment. (If you're uncomfortable with this, please email me at kvetching dot editor at gmail dot com). 
  2. In the comment, please share what your FAVORITE Jewish or Hebrew word is and why.
  3. Stay tuned until Monday morning at 10 a.m. when I'll announce the winner of this T-shirt combo! 
  4. I will contact the winner, post it to the blog, and mail you your goodies :)

Best of luck to everyone -- and spread the word!

The Beth Din Looms.

Conflicted. Emotionally, that is. Confidence mixed with frustration mixed with assurance mixed with anxiety. I am the proverbial roller coaster of emotions.

In a mere two-ish days, I'll be meeting with a beth din in New York. This meeting is a preliminary meeting to the actual beth din conversion meeting, and the rabbis on my beth din will be feeling me out Jewishly. They asked that Tuvia come along, as well. 

Do I need to say more than that? I'm not really sure what else to say. More than six years have culminated in this meeting this week. It can't be said that from square one I knew I'd be driving the 2.5 or 3 hours to NYC just to meet with the rabbis on a council in order to help me become halakicly Jewish, but this journey has become a great and mighty beast that I love dearly. One of those big and scary looking beasts that's really fuzzy and warm on the inside. 

I don't know what to expect. I fear a "b'racha bee"-type situation. Or that they'll ask me the order of the service. Or that they'll want me to detail kashering techniques. The funny thing is, I could probably do all of those without a problem, but I'm one of those saps that breaks under pressure. Especially knowing that my entire life rests in the hands of three RCA rabbis. 

A friend calmed my anxiety a bit by reminding me that, to be honest, it really isn't that my neshama is in the hands of three rabbis, but rather that it's the "man behind the curtain" -- haShem -- that's really the one running the show. I know that's true, but it's hard to ignore the obvious: This is really big doings. 

Be yourself, people tell me. Just be yourself. 

What if myself isn't good enough? What if I crash? What if I burn?! What if I can't remember how to read Hebrew!?

Let's be honest here. I know these things won't happen. This is part of that emotional rollercoaster. One moment I'm brimming with confidence, and the next minute I'm feeling frustrated and down. I'm guessing this is what the rabbis had in mind, and if it is, then kol ha'kavod to them. 

So for the next few days I'll stew. Trying to practice b'rachot (mostly it's the food ones that have me all in a puddle). Just living my life as I always do. Being me. Wondering if it will be enough, but knowing that it is. 

What it comes down to is that I'm ready. I've been ready. I'll be ready until they're ready. As I've always said: There is no limit to my patience when it comes to things that are meant to be. And this? This is something that is meant to be. 

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Illuminated Fortress and Abraham

I was struggling in my Midrashic Literature class yesterday (probably all of the stuff on my mind that is stressing me out -- I could be elsewhere than class doing important things), but there was one thing that really struck me as fascinating and personally significant. It's the text of Genesis Rabbah 93.1-3, which is based on the text from Genesis 12:1-3. Here's the text!
And the Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and it will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.
And the Lord said to Abram, "Take yourself from your land, etc..."
Rabbi Isaac opened, Listen, lass, and look, and incline your ear, and forget your mother and your father's house (Ps. 45:11)
Rabbi Issac said, This is like someone who travels from place to place, and sees a certain fortress illuminated (lit. burning, doleqet). He said, Is there no master (lit. ba'al) of this fortress? Above him, the master peeked out and said to him, I am the master of this fortress.
Thus it was when our father Abraham said, Would you say that this world has no master? The Holy One, Blessed be He, peeked out and over him and said, I am He, the Master of the World. So shall the King desire your beauty, for he is your Lord. So shall the King desire your beauty. To beautify you in the world, and to bow down to him. Hence, and "the Lord spoke to Abram." (The beautifying text comes from the end of Psalm 45, actually.)
Now, this translation isn't the exact translation that we used in class (I fudged with a version I found online), but it works.

The interesting thing about this midrash is there are really two ways that we can take this. If we read it as the fortress being ablaze, as in literally on fire, then we can understand why the wandering guy would say "who's running this joint?" Essentially, the wanderer wants to know why there's such chaos and madness at this fortress because if there were a master, it wouldn't be ablaze. Then we understand Abraham, as he sees the chaos and madness in the world and must ask if there is a master to the world, to which G-d says "Yo, it's me!"

The second reading is if we understand doleqet as illuminated. The wanderer sees this glorious and amazing fortress and asks aloud to no one in particular, Who is the master of such amazing splendor and beauty? Then we can understand Abraham's query of the world because he looks around and sees the creation and wonders who is the master of such an amazing and profound thing. Thus G-d answers and says, "Yo, it's me!"

Maybe I'm preferential to the second reading of the text, but I think it's probably the more likely because if you read it that way, then the explanation of the verse makes sense. We have to explain why G-d is speaking to Abraham. After all, when we look at Noah, it's explained that he was righteous out of all the men of the world. The text often explains WHY G-d chooses certain individuals (the prophets for example), but Abraham is just given through the genealogy and then it says that G-d spoke to him and told him to go forth. The big question is: WHY? Why Abraham? What'd he do to warrant G-d's command?

If we use the second reading, it's simple to understand! Abraham looks about, sees the splendor of creation without any prodding or pushing, and G-d recognizes that Abraham understands. It could be said, then, that Abraham is choosing the religion of HaShem, but it's more likely that they met in the middle. Abraham sees creation and is in awe -- he understands HaShem's beauty through the world around him. G-d sees Abraham seeing him and bam, G-d speaks.

I like this midrash for a simple reason: I see myself in Abraham. I didn't come to Judaism through knowing Jews or having had some significant Jewishly related experience. I developed my own set of beliefs outside of organized religion, convinced that I'd developed my own religion and set of beliefs. But really, once it was suggested -- based on these beliefs -- that I examine Judaism, I realized that this beautiful amazing way of life I envisioned was already there. In essence, I stood before the fortress saying "Who is the master of this place?" and there was G-d, waiting for me.

At any rate, I think this is a beautiful midrash. Which reading are you more inclined toward?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Those Uncharted Texts of Yore

Have you ever read 3 Maccabees? I didn't even know a third book existed, and there's probably a good reason for it. The book doesn't read like the other two Maccabees -- it doesn't even mention the Maccabees -- and it seems to only carry the name because it relates a scenario in which the Jews are under threat of destruction by a Hellenistic ruler because of their beliefs and practices.

If you have read the text, then it might read hauntingly like a narrative of the rounding up of Jews during the Holocaust. Of course, many of these stories echo the same idea: Jews, persecuted for their adherence and devotion to HaShem and their observances and the holy places, are rounded up and the ruler attempts to kill them by varying means. The interesting thing is that in our stories of old, the kings and rulers never succeed. In the end, the king sees the error of his ways (in this text blaming his advisors for leading him astray, of course). The ancient peoples that attempted to destroy the Jews inevitably met their dooms. Hitler, of course, did not. But the text, as I mentioned, is haunting.
For a multitude of gray-headed old men, sluggish and bent with age, was being led away, forced to march at a swift pace by the violence with which they were driven in such a shameful manner. ... Their husbands, in the prime of youth, their necks encircled with ropes instead of garlands, spent the remaining days of their marriage festival in lamentations instead of good cheer and youthful revelry, seeing death immediately before them. (3 Maccabees 4:5-8)
It is, indeed, interesting how events can become timeless through texts. It reads like something out of an Elie Wiesel book. Except that it was written a few thousand years ago, of course.

I'm not entirely sure why the Maccabees weren't included in the canon, however I can posit a variety of theories with the most likely being that the texts are a little late for the canon. It could also have been something political. What is interesting, however, is that I was reading this text for a course on Ancient (Jewish) Fictions. I don't know how many view this text as a full-on fiction, but rather perhaps a historical fiction that paints a factual and timeless message through semi-warped events.

At any rate, if you haven't read the text, give it a go. You can find it online here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chavi Appleseed

Today the shul setup a young adults and kids outing to go apple picking, and to be honest I was pretty disappointed in the turnout. Luckily, Tuvia and I convinced one of our most awesome friends to come at the last moment, and she even managed to bring her wee one with her. I was hoping for more representation from the young adults group (we're the folks that have the most in common and tend to be the most observant of the crowd at shul), but I shouldn't complain. For my first time apple-picking, it was outstanding. We picked up two bags worth of apples, half of which we donated to a local homeless shelter. I'm hoping they make some gnarly apple crisp out of them. Here are just some of the photos from the trip out to Ellington, Connecticut. Enjoy!

I really love this photo. Yes, it's a half-rotted apple still dangling from the tree, but it screams "Gan Eden."

Tuvia enjoys showing off by grabbing the highest apple from the tallest tree. (Irony: He hates apples.)

This is classic New England: crisp and cool fall foliage painted with church steeples in white.

And lastly, Chavi takes a bite out of crime ... er ... fresh off-the-vine apples!

Note: I had a lot of REALLY CUTE photos of Evan with one of the wee lasses, as well as plenty of the wee ones gnawing on apples right off the vine, but for the sake of privacy and the curtailment of cute on the intertubes, you'll have to check out my Facebook or Flickr albums. 

Things You Might Not Know About Me! Part II

I thought about writing more about me, since, you know, this is my blog and all. However, I thought it might be more interesting for me to learn about YOU, the readers.

So here's your task, if you so choose to accept it: Tell me something about you! Something many people may not know or that you like to surprise others with. Something funny, something serious, something unique, something special. Something relevant to what brings you to my blog, or something completely off the wall.

Nu? Who are you?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Each One of Us is a Snowflake, Blade of Grass, Etc.

I can't help but be absolutely obsessed with the texts on conversion lately. I'm working conversion into both of my papers for both of my classes that require papers. I never wanted to be that academic, who is a convert and throws herself into conversion study. It just isn't in my nature to do that. But as time has gone on, and I've realized how little is known about conversion by the Orthodox community (outside of the rabbis, that is), I've realized that maybe, just maybe, this could be a small calling. It wasn't uncommon when I was in Reform synagogues for half the congregation to be converts, but this is less likely in Orthodox communities, with more of the members being ba'alei teshuvah than converts.

When I was once-upon-a-time a member of a conversion group blog, there was a lot of debate over what makes a "Jew by choice" just that. We had many members of our blogging community who were born Jews, but considered themselves to have "chosen" Judaism instead of going a secular or uninvolved route as far as their Judaism. I never took offense to this understanding -- after all, I think all Jews should "choose" Judaism. But what it comes down to, and what the rabbis made very clear in their lengthy writings on the convert and how to approach the convert is that there *is* a difference between the born Jew and the righteous convert. The rabbis were always clear that there should be no distinctions -- once a convert converts, it is as if they were Jews their whole life (and in truth, the convert is born with a Jewish neshama!). But in truth, their responsibilities in the community are different, their histories are different, their lifestyles are different, and ultimately how they effect change in the future and past of the Jews is very different. One can't ignore the differences; it's ignorant and harmful to do so, I think. (Just as much as it is difficult and harmful to ignore politics while pursuing the conversion process in the U.S.!)

Here is just one case where I see this. Feel free to discuss in the comments whether you agree with my opinion!

Numbers Rabbah 8:2 (From
The midrash immediately explains that God's love for converts is a response to the love expressed by the converts themselves:
"'The Lord loves the righteous; the Lord protects converts' (Psalms 146:8). The Holy Blessed One said, 'I love those who love Me.' This is as it says, 'I honor those that honor Me' (I Sam 2:30). 'They love Me and so I also love them.'"
"Why does the Holy Blessed One love the righteous? Because they have neither inheritance nor family. Priests and Levites have an ancestral house, as it says 'House of Aaron, praise the Lord. House of Levi, praise the Lord' (Psalms 146:19). If someone wants to be a kohen (priest) or a Levite, one cannot because one's father was not. But if someone wants to be righteous, even a non-Jew can, since that is not dependent on ancestry."
The midrash continues with a parable about a stag that attaches itself to the king's flock. Daily, the king instructs his shepherds to take care of the stag, and they ask the king why he cares so much about this one animal.
"The king responded, 'The other animals have no choice; whether they want or not, it is their nature to graze in the field all day and to come in to sleep in the fold. Stags, however, sleep in the wilderness. It is not in their nature to come into places inhabited by man. Is it not to a sign of this one's merit that he has left behind the whole of the wilderness to stay in our courtyard?' In like manner, ought we not to be grateful to the proselyte who has left behind his family and his relatives, his nation and all the other nations of the world, and has chosen to come to us?"
This parable responds to the unvoiced question/critique of the native Israelite: "Why does the Torah provide all of these protections for the convert? Does God care more about them than about me?" The midrash responds, "Consider what the convert has given up."
This section of the midrash concludes:
"Accordingly, God has provided the convert with special protection, warning Israel to be very careful not to do any harm to converts, and indeed, it says, 'Love the convert' (Deuteronomy 10:19)… Thus God made clear safeguards so that converts might not return to their former ways [which God fears they might do if native Israelites treat them poorly]."
Although some tannaitic midrashim voiced suspicions that the convert might fall back or that the convert might not entirely abandon his past beliefs, this later text places responsibility for backsliding converts squarely upon the native Israelites who disregard the protections that God put in place.
I think it's interesting that it is the responsibility of the born-Jewish community to maintain the derekh for the convert. Why? As a convert, you have to have the real oomph to put yourself through the process, a true and devoted passion for being Jewish and doing Judaism. Why should the community be expected to hold you up? Why should the community be the ultimate downfall for the convert? Is this offering a clear difference between the born and the converted Jew? You see, this is set up as such because in Judaism, community is essential!

Nu!? So I love Chummus!!!

Disappointed, Chavi realizes she should have convert to Islam because of her love of chummus.

Thanks to @beettlle via

Thursday, October 22, 2009

And how!

"The proselyte who associates himself voluntarily with Israel won high praise from the rabbis
The ger is dearer to G-d than Israel was when the nation assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai. For Israel would not have accepted the Torah without seeing the thunders and the lightning and the quaking mountain and hearing the sound of the shofar, whearas the proselyte, without a single miracle, consecrates himself to the Holy One, praised be He, and puts upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. Can anyone be deemed more worthy of G-d's love?" (Conversion to Judaism: A History and Analysis, 59-60)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Things You Might Not Know About Me! Part I

I don't know what spawned this, but I'm trying to catalog things about myself that people might not know about me. I like to maintain a human atmosphere here so you all know that I'm a real person living a normal life. I like to douse my tomatoes in salt, eat cold apple crisp, organize my clothes in my closet by color, and I prefer black pens over any other color (except red when I'm editing). So here are some other, perhaps more deeply meaningful, things you might not know about me. 

That's me, yes. On the right. With my Momma Brady haircut, circa my senior year of highschool 2001-2002. On the left is one of my oldest friends, Christina, and the guy in the middle? I forgot his name. He went to Norris High School, which is there in the background, and actually was mostly destroyed during Tornadoes in 2007. We're all supporting LNE quiz bowl team shirts, since we were at a quiz bowl tournament! I was a geek. I still am. I was the "random knowledge" guru. 

In high school, I gave one of three graduation speeches while standing before my class of 525 students in Lincoln, Nebraska. My school was gigantic, but luckily only 20 some students tried out for the graduation speech spots. If I remember correctly, the dual validictorians got speeches, and the other went to a lucky winner. I tried my temporary speech out in a classroom one day after school and was lucky enough to get chosen. I wish I could remember where my speech is, as I know it's on a computer somewhere in the Edwards family home. It might also be in one of my high school boxes with all the random homework and papers I'd kept. I should find it. It was written in poem form and touched on everyone in the class, from jocks to choir nerds to academic decathalon nerds to the drama geeks. Why? Because during high school I was privileged to run in all of those crowds. You see, I played volleyball my freshman year and was the team manager my sophomore year. I was in choir every year of high school, and I managed the Math Club as secretary for two or three years. I served on Academic Decathalon and Quiz Bowl for three years, and I also found my way into the Model UN and about a half-dozen other clubs. Contrary to a lot of people, I loved high school. So standing up, before all of my friends and people I'd never even seen in school before, I told about my experiences. As a surprise ending, I closed with something my father always says to me -- and he had no idea it was in the speech, which left him speechless. The quote: "Life is not a problem to solve, but a reality to experience."

Also, during that same graduation, I had the leading off solo for Concert Choir. We were singing R. Kelly's "The World's Greatest," and after years of just singing in the choir, I finally stood out senior year with my belting voice. You see, I can't sing good quietly, but if you give me enough room and volume, and I could rock your world. I guess I just have that kind of a voice -- sing loud, sing proud. So I landed the opening verses: "I am a mountain, I am a tall tree, ohhhh, I am a swift wind, sweepin' the country." Now, that's just a few small verses, but the soul I got to punch into them empowered me. I guess, if anything, R. Kelly's craziness aside, those verses sort of expressed who I wanted to be and who I saw myself as. But singing those words, jamming with friends, and having people -- years later remind me of that solo -- makes me feel good.

I've started about seven different versions of a book on my life. They're all really cheesy and ridiculous. I watch friend-bloggers nab book deals about their life, about their conversion stories, and I feel like my story is just lame. I feel like it's weak. I didn't grow up in an abusive household, I'm not a minority, I'm not the product of some kind of oppressive family that forced Christianity or Islam or something else down my throat. Then again, I also had no inspiration from people or experiences to choose Judaism. Someday I'll write my story. Someday. I just want to inspire others.

I love to drink pickle juice. Yes, you heard me right. My mom used to pack me a Tupperware with pickles for lunch when I was a kid and she'd always pour in a bunch of extra juice and I'd drink it while making my tiny classmates gag. We're talking first grade here, folks. I still do this, however. I think I make Tuvia gag!