Friday, January 30, 2009

Parshah Bo: Reflected!

In an effort to reconnect with the weekly Torah portion, I've started looking through my old posts from when I was reading the portion each week and writing a d'var of sorts. Since I've gone back to school, I spend a great deal of time in texts, but I don't really spend a lot of time relating personally to them so much as I do academically to them. Being a Jewish person mastering in Judaic studies, I think this can be a common thing. It's one thing if you're learning in seminary or yeshivah, and it's an entirely different thing if iyou're studying in a public university, as I am. I prefer to learn in a public university, to be completely honest, but I think I miss out on the spiritual side of learning sometimes. With that said, I bring you some of my comments, with amendations, for Parashat Bo, which I wrote in January 2007 -- a whole two years ago, yikes! I have deleted some comments entirely, and you can read the full original post at the January 2007 link, and additional comments are in bold. There's nothing particularly profound here, so pardon the simplicity of my observations.
In this parshah are the three final plagues: locusts, darkness and, finally, the death of the first born. The Israelites leave the land, matzot and thousands in tow.

+ Ex. 10:14 "Locusts invaded all the land of Mitzrayim ... never before had there been so many, nor will there ever be so many again." I appreciate knowing that never again will a swarm of locusts be brought upon the land. It's comforting. (Still comforting!)

Rashi's comments on this:
And the one [the locust plague] that took place in the days of Joel, about which it is said: “the like of which has never been” (Joel 2:2), [from which] we learn that it was more severe than that of [the plague in the days of] Moses-namely because that one was [composed] of many species [of locusts] that were together: arbeh, yelek, chasil, [and] gazam; but [the locust plague] of Moses consisted of only one species [the arbeh], and its equal never was and never will be.
+ Having never read through the Bible/Torah before, even in my youth (I was raised w/o religion, essentially), I was unfamiliar with some of the plagues. Perhaps the one I was most unfamiliar with is the Ninth Plague -- darkness. The sages surmise that it wasn't physical darkness, such as that brought by a sandstorm or eclipse, but rather that it was "a spiritual or psychological darkness, a deep depression." The Torah reads, "People could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was" (Ex. 10:23). The commentary comments that people suffering from depression often lack the energy to move about or to concern themselves with others, focusing instead on themselves. (Deleted sections.)

The commentary reads: "The person who cannot see his neighbor is incapable of spiritual growth, incapable of rising from where he is currently." Amid the Ninth Plague, "People could not see one another." The Catch 22 of depression is that, oftentimes, one feels so absolutely alone that he or she is driven into the depths of darkness where it is most lonely. Yet, if the person is incapable of seeing his or her neighbor to begin with, and within darkness is also unable to see his or her neighbor, what is to release them so that they can attain spiritual growth? (Deleted sections.)

+ I cherish the explanation behind the creation of the Jewish calendar in Ex. 12:2 and why our calendar follows the moon, as opposed to the sun: "Just as G-d showed Noah the rainbow as a sign of the covenant, G-d shows Moses the sliver of the new moon as a symbol of Israel's capacity for constant renewal (Hirsch)." What a brilliant concept and explanation. So I have to wonder if this is why the Jewish calendar has persisted throughout all of these years, through the creation of the Gregorian calendar and the ever-changing calendar that we have today (I mean, if we can move Daylight Savings ..). How is it that we have managed to keep this calendar? It blows my mind at the persistence of our people, our traditions, our livelihood. The covenant, then, must surely be eternal. I see no other explanation for the continuity of the Jewish people! It's quite inspiring and motivating.

+ Ex. 12:24 "You shall observe this as an institution for all time" -- why do we no longer offer up the paschal sacrifice then? I think that my questioning of this at the time was quite juvenile. Tied to Temple worship, sacrificing was replaced by rabbinic Judaism at the Temple's destruction. There is a group -- the Samaritans -- that still fulfills the commandment of the paschal sacrifice, but the thing of it is, they aren't doing it in the Temple, and I'm pretty sure there are some halakhic issues involved. 

(Deleted portion, mostly because I have no idea what I was talking about!)


Of course, if you'd like some more concrete, revealing, fascinating takes on this weeks Torah portion, I suggest you hit up, mostly because it's chock full of interesting bits about the portion. You can also find the portion with Rashi's commentary there, which I always appreciate. You can visit the website for parshah info, too.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Truly Unique, Defiance

Last Saturday, after some tenuous debate, Tuvia and I went to see "Defiance ," the much lauded true story staring Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber and others. For those who don't know, the film is about a group of brothers -- of which I originally thought there were three, but as it turned out there were four -- who build a band of Jewish survivors/partisans in the forests of Eastern Europe (then-Poland, now western Belarus). The brothers -- Tuvia, Zus, Asael, and Aron -- help shelter hundreds in the forests starting in 1941, and at the war's end, there were 1,200 people who had been sheltered in the Naliboki forest.

The movie itself was surprising, compared to many Holocaust period films. I was shocked, and almost dismayed to see some of the violence committed by Jews on non-Jews and Nazis. Now, I want to explain myself so that people don't think I'm being sympathetic toward Nazis. I don't want to give anything away in the film, but there is a lot of vengeance killing, and although we later see that there is reversal where the brothers seek to save Jews, not kill non-Jews, it was incredibly difficult to watch. Many Holocaust movies portray Jews as timid, wanting to fight back but unwilling. This movie is quite the contrary, and this seeming anomaly is portrayed in conversations between Zus and a Russian military officer with whom he comes to work. It was an interesting aspect of the film that made it, well, all the more real.

What's more -- beyond the amazing musical score and cinematics and acting -- the movie became even more real when Tuvia and I learned that he knows members of the Bielski family. In fact, the grandchildren of one of the brothers even went to Tuvia's school! It is truly a small world when it comes to the Jewish community, but the reality of the film was magnified at that point.

This movie is perhaps most unique because we don't see Jews in a ghetto or in a camp -- we see them building homes in the forest, starving in the winter, fighting for their lives, traveling helplessly through bogs and marshes, creating relationships while knowing full well that their former families have died, and more. It's a unique perspective on Jews during the Shoah, and one that I have yet to see portrayed outside of this film.

I applaud the filmmakers, the actors (especially Liev Schrieber, who seems to make his way into every Shoah film on the planet), and those who take the time to view the movie. It's a beautiful story, just beautiful, and inspiring in ways that nothing else can compare.

Comicly Styling the Talmud

This very well could be the most awesome idea ever: Talmud comics! The great thing is, they aren't cheesy or ridiculous, they're actually quite beautiful and thoughtfully drawn.

Hat tip to Menachem Mendal and Jewschool.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day!

It's not that I'm trying to complain, but in Nebraska? It would take about five feet of snow and gale-force winds for them to cancel school. I'm serious. People wouldn't always go to class, but it took a LOT more than what it took the University of Connecticut to cancel school today. Okay, so maybe I'm a little upset that I was up till 2:30 in the morning reading and actually enjoying myself and now classes are canceled. Nu? I could have been sleeping.

Anyway, I suppose I should say "Hooray for Snow Day!"

For everyone else who is covered is snow like our little squirrelly friend over here? Please drive safe and stay warm today. No need to become a human snowman.

Vespasian and the Western Wall

I've spent the past week and a half stressing out, intensely, about this semester. My stress has largely been in regards to my Talmud class, a subject which I'm well informed on the outer limits of, but of which I have spent little time in the middle. I arrived home today exhausted after spending five hours looking at archives and compiling information on various states and their populations. I ate dinner, and took a nap. I woke up, still tired, stressed out, grumpy, frustrated. I purchased a coffee, came back to my room, and dove in to papers by scholars about reading rabbinics as history, whether the Talmuds contain hardcore, one-place and one-time history, or whether people read them wrong. Perhaps, as it says, the stories tell us more about the people than about the events. Who knows. The papers were sort of dry, sort of uninteresting, very much of the ego-stroking quality. In other words, very dense materials. I decided to put aside some of the academic papers for a packet on Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai and the episode involving his interactions with Vespasian (or Titus?) and the inevitable arrival of the rabbi in Yavneh, which became the hotbed of rabbinic activity in a post-Destruction of the Temple period, where the Oral Torah became what we know of it today.

But, I'll blog about the episode -- and the four different accounts from BT Gittin 56b, Lamentations Rabbah 1:31, and two versions from The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan -- at another time, because it's incredibly fascinating the subtle and obvious differences between the accounts and how the rabbi approached Vespasian, how Jerusalem fell, how the rabbi and his followers ended up in Yavneh, and the tales therein. But what I wanted to blog about quickly, before I throw myself into bed, is a take on why the Western Wall still stands to this day. It's pretty interesting. This portion comes from Lamentations Rabbah after Vespasian had subdued the city. At this time, he
assigned the destruction of the four ramparts to the four generals, and the western gate was allotted to Pangar. Now it had been decreed by Heaven that this should never be destroyed because the Shechina abode in the west. The others demolished their sections but he did not demolish his. Vespasian sent for him and asked, "Why did you not destroy your section?" He replied, "By your life, I acted so for the honour of the kingdom; for if I had demolished it, nobody would [in time come] know what it was you destroyed; but when people look [at the western wall], they exclaim, "Perceive the might of Vespasian from what he destroyed!" He said to him, "Enough, you have spoken well, but since you disobeyed my command, you shall ascend to the roof and throw yourself down. If you live, you will live; and if you die, you will die." He ascended, threw himself down and died.
An interesting take on why we still have HaKotel HaMa'aravi today, no? There are a few other morsels worth noting, which you can find at this Kotel website. Oh, and for good measure, the photo credit goes to me!

On that note, I'm heading to bed. Midrash will float about my head as I hopefully fall fast asleep. Tomorrow? I get the chance to delve into the topic in class.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Change -- Y-Love and DeScribe style.

DeScribe and Y-Love = AMAZING. This is such a stellar piece of musical awesomeness. Spread the word ... I really can't get over how talented Y-Love is. If you haven't taken up the man, then please, now is the time. The beat is good, the video is outstanding, the editing is great, and I am really loving the vibe.

The Google Bot likes

As much as I really want to write about the Hallmark trainwreck that was "Loving Leah," I can't bring myself to waste the space on it. Lots of other bloggers have written about it, and Twitter was afloat Sunday night with lots of commentary. Let's just say that the message was not that being frum is cool and hip and the way to go, but rather that when your husband dies and by old-school Jewish law you marry his brother, you're best to shed your old ways and go the way of the cool kids.

At any rate, the real reason I'm posting is because I was checking out my stats and found this really amusing. I mean, it may not be amusing to Joe Reader, but I've never noticed the Google Bot scoping out my site before. I'm guessing this is for caching purposes or something. If you know what the Google Bot wants with my site, please let me know.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Just a few Fellow Blogger notes.

D'var Torah? Alas, no. I heard many great d'vars on Friday at the rabbi's house and afterwards at the "pickles and vodka" that some of the students do on occasion, but I'm up to the challenge of iterating their brilliance. What I am up to right now -- amid attempting Hebrew and boatloads of reading -- is noting a few websites I think you should take a gander at. The Jewish blog-o-sphere is about a lot of things, but one of them is connections, making these connections, and supporting the atmosphere we've built and continue to build here on the intertubes. As a funny aside, I mentioned at Shabbos dinner on Friday that I was a blogger and one of the guests says "No, no, no ... you can't just say 'I'm a blogger' and leave it at that. What kind of blogger are you!?" to which I replied, "A Jewish blogger?" This pleased him, and it got me thinking about blogs and how big the Jewish blogging community is. It's quite a community -- made up of secular Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Humanist Jews, Reconstructionist Jews, and Bu-Jews. The variety is endless, from Jewish food blogs to Jewish mom blogs to halakhic and d'var Torah blogs. It's a beautiful thing, and I love watching it grow.

+ Tuvia has started up a blog, and to be honest, he definitely has a really interesting perspective. He grew up going to Jewish day school, suffered the classic "force-fed" view on things, and he has now learned to appreciate what an upbringing like that can do, especially as he returns to his Judaism religiously. He just started up, and we all know how hard it is to get started. Go say hello over at

+ Menachem Mendel posted a link to the University at Albany's Guide to Resources in Rabbinic Literature, and it's a pretty comprehensive and useful list. There are links to websites with study materials and Talmudic texts, too.

+ The newest edition of Haveil Havalim is up over on SuperRaizy. Appropriately, it's the Superhero Edition!

Friday, January 23, 2009

We Apologize, But ...

Due to unforeseen events involving chaos, madness, and general academic ballyhoo, there will be no d'var Torah today. Stay tuned for a hopeful d'var on Sunday for this week's parshah, Va'eira. Everyone loves the plagues, so you can wait it out. Here's a preview of what's to come (I hope), thanks to

Until then, shabbat shalom!

School, Food, Books, and More!

So much to say! So little space. I'm torn between writing several blog posts all in one effort, or to just pile it all in here. There are some bloggers who will post 10 posts in a day, clogging up the old Google Reader. There are others who will write a novel, making my brain bleed. So where is the happy medium? To be honest, I don't know. So for now, we'll just throw it all out there in a couple itty, bitty morsels of goodness.

Topic No.1: Food, Kashrut, and Weight Watchers
I'm back on the wagon with Weight Watchers online. It was about a year ago that I hopped on the bandwagon, I lost about 20-25 pounds, and I was feeling good about  myself. Now? Well, there's something about this weather that makes me want to lose weight. So I'm on again. The great thing about this, and how it ties into this blog, is that I'm making all efforts to go kosher. Tuvia has managed to pick up a variety of sets of silverware, baking dishes, plates, bowls, you name it. When we eat at his place, we do it kosher. Here in my dorm room, I'm pretty much pareve. I will do fish or veggies, but no meat, so I don't have to worry about much. I'm still actively reading Going Kosher in 30 Days , kindly granted to me by the folks over at the Jewish Learning Group, but I'll just say that it hasn't been 30 days. It's a longer process -- a much longer process. I have oodles of questions for people about dishes and the kitchen, for one. It's so easy here, but it's difficult at Tuvia's (at least, I think it is). So what would you say about the following:

  • How do you keep track of what baking pans/pots/etc. are Meat and what are Dairy/Pareve?
  • Do people have different dishes/silverware/etc. for Pareve? Or just use Dairy?
  • Do you wash them separately in the dishwasher? All together?
  • What's your policy on the oven and cooking dairy and meat at separate times?
  • How do you make the kitchen work like clockwork while trying to make everything not mesh?!

So, it seems like a lot, I know. But I now understand why Jews are keeping the toss-away aluminum baking-pan business and paper plate/plastic silverware businesses in business. I mean, it just makes life easier. This is why I like my vegetarian/pareve way of life. It's just easy. And for me, it's all about ease. Or maybe it's not supposed to be easy? I suppose that could be the Jewish way.

Topic No. 2: Chavi's Academic Life, or A Class Breakdown!
I know my readers just LOVE to hear what's going down in my academic life. So I thought I'd fill you in on the classes I'm taking this semester. 

Class No. 1: I'm once again doing Modern Hebrew, which after one day already has me overwhelmed. I'm going to try my hardest to get to an Ulpan this summer so I can brush up and really be ready for a second year as a master's student. I want to be able to read the texts in their original and to really be able to participate in class. But so far, everything is NOT coming back to me at a quick pace, which has me quite nervous. 
Class No. 2: Probably my most challenging class, Talmudic Historiography and Midrashic Thought is a graduate seminar that will definitely make me think. The amount of reading alone might kill me, but it's very much up the alley of what I want to be doing. Keeping up with the professor and some of the more advanced students, though, might stress me out unnecessarily. Add to this that the course reserves aren't yet on reserve and the books are expensive and the library is slow ... oy. My mind is already ready to explode. This will be another last-minute semester with me trying to figure out which of 20 topics I want to write a term paper on. I can't wait. 
Class No. 3: My third and final course shouldn't be too difficult, but it could prove to be more challenging than I think. It's with an adjunct professor (a new, original face, huzzah!), and it is the Ancient Near East taught using the Tanakh as a frame to analyze the rest of the Near East. I think it'll be interesting, considering it's an undergrad course with about 50 people in it, many who scoffed at the idea of using the Hebrew Bible as a source book. I'll let you know how it goes, but the class relies on a 20-page paper that I will surely rock. I just have to figure out what to write about ... something obscure, perhaps. Maybe looking or focusing more on archeology. I could, of course, just write more about Ba'al and calf figurines ... cross-cultural review? Who knows.

You like how I have things divided up like a nice little paper or outline? Welcome to my world. I have to think of everything as a finely organized outline, and I'm very much NOT an outline kind of person.

As an aside, there's a delicious little book by Joel M. Stein on its way to me (which I hope to review amid all the serious academic books that I'm reading) called "Webstein's Dictionary: The Essential Guide to Yiddishizing Your Life." OyChicago did a nice little write-up on it, and you can actually buy the book over on Pop Judaica. If you want to wait and see what I think, feel free. Either way, it'd probably be a stellar gift or a hilarious coffee-table companion.

At any rate, this is all for now. In the morning, thanks to the suggestion of Tuvia, I should have a d'var Torah on this week's parshah. It's wishful thinking, maybe, but I'm hoping to get back into the swing of looking at the Torah portion each week on Fridays between Hebrew and Ancient Near East. Until then, be well!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Public Service Request!

I love the arts. The only thing I love more than the arts, is when people take the arts out into the world to serve a good cause. I happen to know a couple that I absolutely love who is doing just this! It's Miriam and Alan of Stereo Sinai, an awesome Chicago duo that sing the most awesome tunes in the key of Jew. At least, that's my take on it!

At any rate, Stereo Sinai is offering up their classic track, "Eleven Below" for $.99 on their website through February 16th, and all funds collected through YOUR purchase will go to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Now, you might not live in Chicago, maybe you never visited Chicago, but doing good is doing good. Would it hurt you to download a beautiful song to help some people out amid a cold, biter winter?

According to Miriam, "There are over twenty-thousand people homeless every night in Chicago, and not nearly enough beds" ... "When it's this cold, it's a reminder that we need to step up and take care of one another."

Appropriately, the song was born in the cold. Says Alan: "Miriam and I lived on opposite sides of campus, and it's a long way from one side to the other. I promised that I would come see her one night, but it was freezing outside. I bundled up and walked over anyway. When I showed up at her door, she couldn't believe that I'd actually kept my word. She thought it was romantic. She also thought I was stupid for being outside in that weather." Shortly thereafter, the couple wrote this song.

So listen, you heard President Barack Obama shout it from the steps of the Hill today, didn't you? Do some good, help rebuild the U.S., do your part to better society for those who can't seem to better it on their own. Get to it, spend less than a buck, get some awesome tunes, and help house the homeless!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A new era, a new hope.

Mr. President, I welcome you!

I was elated to hear the Shema said (in English, that is) by the pastor who said the opening prayer for the ceremonies. Yes, he later wandered into Jesus, when I was hoping he would do a non-denominational, all-inclusive prayer, but what can you do? It's weird to hear a prayer amid a nation that is supposedly not religion specific (ha!). At any rate, I'm listening to Obama's poetic inaugural speech, and I'm feeling inspired. This man has great hopes for us.

The important thing? We can't rely on HIM alone to do it. We've sat idly by for too long letting the president run things. It's a cooperative effort. A democracy. We should donate our time, our money, our bodies, our hearts to efforts and ways to rebuild our society.


Back in the Saddle: Midrash!

I'm back to it. School starts tomorrow, and my first class is Wednesday morning. So, a pile of books at my side, I'm reading up on Talmud and Midrash and Hellenism and ... lots of relevant stuff. I've come across a few things and, being me, decided to share because I find them absolutely interesting. I hope you feel the same. Just as a note, midrash is sort of an explication on a verse or idea. If you think about it, gemara, the elaboration on the mishnah (Oral Torah) is a type of midrash, right? Right.

+ The moment we got to Israel last month on Birthright, exhausted from an 11-hour plane trip, we were bused to a nature preserve to plant trees. I'd forgotten the reason for doing this, the necessity for planting trees and the biblical explanation for why Israel is so big on the creation of forests and the growth of the tree population, until just now when I was reading in "Back to the Sources " a Midrashic explanation behind Leviticus 19:23, "...when you enter the land, you shall plant all manner of trees." Aha! There's the reason. The midrash, in turn, says that the reason for doing this first upon entering the land is to mimic or reenact G-d's work in the creation of the world. Brilliant! And here's my effort, I did as the Torah said (even if begrudgingly with exhaustion, bad hair, etc., heh).

Note the Barack'N in the Free World tee from!
+ The second thing in this specific chapter on midrash that struck me discusses the people turning to the rabbis after terrible destruction, seeking guidance, and out of this being born midrashic texts, including Lamentations Rabbah. The following is an example from that text, where the "rabbis use the common comparison of the Torah to a marriage contract (ketubah in Hebrew as a means of offering hope to a people in despair."
"This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope." -- Lam. 3.21
R. Abba b. Kahana said: This may be likened to a king who married a lady and wrote her a large ketubah: "so many state-apartments I am preparing for you, so many jewels I am preparing for you, and so much silver and gold I give you."
The king left her and went to a distant land for many years. Her neighbors used to vex her saying, "Your husband has deserted you. Come and be married to another man." She wept and signed, but whenever she went into her room and read her ketubah she would be consoled. After many years the king returned and said to her, "I am astonished that you waited for me all these years." She replied, "My lord king, if it had not been for the generous ketubah you wrote me then surely my neighbors would have won me over."
So the nations of the world taunt Israel and say, "Your God has no need of you; He has deserted you and removed His Presence from you. Come to us and we shall appoint commanders and leaders of every sort for you." Israel enters synagogues and houses of study and reads in the Torah, "I will look with favor upon you ... and I will not spurn you" (Lev. 26.9-11), and they are consoled.
In the future the Holy One blessed be He will say to Israel, "I am astonished that you waited for me all these years." And they will reply, "If it had not been for the Torah which you gave us ... the nations of the world would have led us astray." ... Therefore it is stated, "This do I recall and therefore I have hope." (Lam. 3.21)
Wow. Brilliant, no? And appropriate for the current state of things. If ever one wonders if we've been abandoned, we merely return to this -- and to the Torah/covenant -- and know that it isn't so!

Tugging My Strings

Well before I left for Israel, and well after I got back, I was feeling a void religiously and spiritually. It happens. We all know that it comes in stages. For months we'll feel connected, tied to G-d and the community and our spiritual strings are happily tugged day and night. And then, out of nowhere, one day we realize that the strings are covered in dust and cobwebs and their limpness leaves us feeling empty. Of course the "we" and "us" is really me. The other night I told Tuvia this. I mentioned that I was feeling kind of empty. I realized that I hadn't written about anything religious in some time on the blog (though, I guess to some it might seem like I have). It seemed like everything I had written was pop culture or politics or just general "blah blah blah." It's been a long, long time since I've written a d'var Torah and probably even longer since I sat down and read through the parshah. I used to be on the ball, head-first, my strings were active.

So I was looking forward to shul on Friday. Tuvia and I drove over to the Orthodox shul, arriving a little bit after minchah had started. I remembered to take my transliterated siddur with me, since I'm not so comfortable with the regular Artscroll just yet. Add to this that the shul's siddurim are in much-loved shape, I figure better I batter my own copy rather than their's.  I found my place quickly in the women's section, opened up my siddur, jumped to where we were, and began to daven. The men's section was loaded with men in varied kippahs, some in black hats, some with payess, some with beards, some meandering about. The women's section was empty except for me until another woman showed up next to me. But I was so in the zone the entire service that I missed things going on on the other side, missed any missteps or air bubbles in the service. I read the words with strict devotion, I threaded my tongue around the syllables, hoping to find that passion, to feel the tug of those strings, and it happened. Slowly, but surely.

After the service, we headed over to our Shabbos dinner hosts' house, where we were joined by another couple and a family of five. Overall, there were 13 of us at that Shabbos dinner table, noshing salad and challah and kugel and pie. Conversation flowed from Israel to the local Jewish day schools, from school to Nebraska and Wisconsin. The hospitality was good and Midwestern, which is what I'm used to. The host reminded me so much of the Kosher Academic, which is probably why the entire experience was so comforting and at-ease. I didn't feel like I had to act a certain way or say certain things. It was exactly what I needed to continue the evening. The strings continued to be pulled, I was alive again. With the blessings and the kippah-headed men and the challah and the bensching ... I missed all of these things.

I think I just miss the full Shabbos experience: services, conversation, the meal, the wine and the blessings, the feeling of the evening and the day, the real rest and focus. Luckily, the people at the shul are so kind, so welcoming that we've been invited back for Shabbos dinner and the full-day Shabbos experience.

This week, I'll be here on campus for my first Shabbat at Chabad in weeks. Nay, probably in a month and a half. I'm excited to hook back up with the campus Jewish crew, but I am also disappointed that I won't be making challah and lighting the candles and enjoying Shabbat with Tuvia, but all good things come in time.

Until then, I'm shining my strings and hoping they continue to lead me on and on and on ...

Monday, January 19, 2009

KVETCH 2009!

So, I'm just as stoked as everyone else that in a mere TWO DAYS we'll have a brand new president, a man who I think will do some pretty amazing things for this country. I have hope (har har har) that he'll turn everything around, and if he doesn't? Well, feel free to do an "I told you so." Until then, you gotta give the guy a chance. So, in honor of the new man, the myth, the legend Barack Obama, Paste magazine has done up a cool little site where you can "Obamacon" yourself. You know the posters, the HOPE and CHANGE posters done in that red-white-blue pattern that are kind of cartoony but not really? Well, you, too, can share in the poster-ized glory of Obama. Check out my version below. I think it's pretty apt. Maybe I'll get it on a T-shirt ...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Shabbat Shalom!

The Sabbath cometh, and Tuvia and I are going to the Orthodox shul and then to the home of some members of the shul for a Shabbat dinner. It'll be my first Shabbat dinner in a while, and I'm looking forward to it. It sounds like there'll be three families plus Tuvia and I, so we'll see how it goes. They're of the knowledge that post-dinner we have to drive back to Manchester, since the Orthodox shul is nowhere near where we live. It's one of those things that you just do, until you can work out the details. The family has offered their upstairs, which it appears is completely private -- own room, own bathroom, etc. -- for future Shabbats if we want to stay for a full Shabbos experience. Next week, back on campus, chances are I'll be staying on campus and doing Shabbos up Chabad style, and maybe even for the next few weeks since I have a Friday afternoon class and getting into Manchester to be with Tuvia on Shabbos won't be possible. You bend, you work, you make it happen.

In the meantime, I offer you a video. It's really more a slideshow than a video, since I have lots of pictures of the Bat Mitzvah ceremony. There was one fellow filming it all, but I can't remember who he was, so until I get that video, this is the best I can do. I think that my facial expressions and reactions will probably display the experience better than I can in words at this point. It was emotional, spiritual, and overpowering -- being on top of a mountain where people lived, people died, and people have come and prayed for years and years. Enjoy, and Shabbat Shalom!

So you want to boycott Israel?

This video, brought to my attention by the lovely Aliza , is pretty hilarious. I know it looks long, but just watch it. Seriously.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book Loving!

I love books, you love books, we all love books! Yes, I still haven't gotten around to my 5768 book roundup, but I will in due time. But in the meantime, I give you the Jewish Literature Challenge!

Essentially, you have to read four books by Jewish authors or books that are related in some way, shape or form to Judaism by April 27, 2009 (the challenge started around Chanukah). Full details can be found by CLICKING HERE . Sounds like a good time, no? Get signed up and get started!

A hat tip to Rachel over at Shavua Tov and the Jew Wishes blog for putting me in-the-know about this.

A brief interlude for a kvetch

Listen, have your opinions about Israel and Hamas and the "Zionist conspiracy" or whatever, but don't spam my photos on Flickr with your pro-Hamas, down-with-Israel "Nazi Zionist" crap propoganda, mmk? Thanks.

It's amazing how ugly the world is getting, isn't it? Synagogues set ablaze, warning sirens in Jerusalem, people who you maybe thought were friends spewing anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments in your face. I'm not trying to be extreme, but it echoes of another time. It reminds me of a poem I wrote, and the line that history repeats, repeats, repeats. Maybe I'll post it here sometime. It's one of my slam poems, about being Jewish, about the world we live in, and how we have a tendency to recycle our emotions. They don't get worse or better, they don't get different, they just get reused.

Anyhow, here's the screenshot of the guy who decided to spam comment my photos with a bunch of "free Palestine" crap. Too bad the guy doesn't know his history.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Painter, I Am Not.

At present, I am attempting to paint Tuvia's bathroom. Not his main one, or his guest one, but the half-bath that's near the kitchen that, well, I guess would be considered a small powder room in a way.

We went to Home Depot last night, my mind set on what type of color I was looking for -- something between latte and mocha, but more on the mocha end of things. We bought paint, primer, some brushes, some roller brushes, a handy-dandy extender thing since I'm so short, and some other paint goods. I felt prepared. Surely, surely I had everything!

But I haven't painted in years. I used to help my mom paint the walls in our house, but they were white and the walls were white before them and it wasn't a perfect science. And me? I'm a perfectionist.

So I got up this morning, ripped some things out of the wall, removed nails, threw up some Spackle to cover the errors, let it dry (from pink to white, how handy!), sanded, vacuumed it all up (and almost sucked up a trash bag in the process), then put up the primer and now? Now I'm covered in paint spots, the house smells like weird painty fumes, and I am frustrated. Did I mention I've watched more than a dozen "how to" videos online since 10 a.m.?

Being a perfectionist, I want the most perfect paint job. I want it all to be seamless. I suppose I should have hired @MichelChagall to make sure I had everything I needed, or better yet, I should have flown him out to work his paint magic voodoo craft. Because right now? It's not looking so hot, I don't think. I mean, the paint isn't even up yet and I'm feeling all "blah" about it.

But, I suppose, we'll see how it goes. The theme I'm aiming for is "coffee shop." There is a poster, some paintings, some candles, shelves, and other things that I'll be decorating the room with. It's small, and I don't want to overdo it, but I want it to say "Chavi" so, you know, I have a little space that's somehow me.

Bonfire + Vigil candles

On the night of December 22, we light tealights in a vigil for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who is *still* being held captive. Without a prompt, I placed a tealight near the big bowl of bonfire, and others followed soon, creating a most astounding set of flames, lighting up the night near our Bedouin Tent.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Israel Photos!

My Israel photos are slowly -- but surely -- going up onto my page. You can check them out by clicking on the link below.

School starts soon, and I am so unprepared.

I'm back, part two. (That's me in the Omaha airport on Thursday, nursing a 2-hour delay with $3.99 unlimited day's web access.)

After returning from Israel, I headed home to Nebraska to get some time in with my family -- specifically to see how my father was doing after his first round of chemo at the end of December. The trip out wasn't too bad, we flew out of Newark in the wee hours of the morning on Monday and got to Nebraska with time to do some outlet shopping at some sad, sad outlet malls between Omaha and Lincoln. Our first stop? Runza. The world's greatest fast-food joint. Tuvia loved the place so much, every time we talked about getting another bite to eat, he'd joke about going back to Runza. We spent the next few days driving around town, me showing Tuvia my old haunts (especially the Coffee House, where we went three of the four days we were there), my high school, my favorite places, and cheesy places like the mall to buy me a nice formal dress for an upcoming awards ceremony that was canceled due to the inclement weather last night (but it was beautiful -- well, the weather, that is; I guess the dress is okay, hah). We ate at all my favorite places -- Runza, Bison Witches, Lazlos -- and a few places that I wasn't so fond of. We went book shopping and I discovered that my favorite bookshop -- The Antiquarium -- that used to be down in the Old Market in Omaha is no longer there, trading space for someplace out of town. The old places are turning into new places with condos and lofts popping up all over downtown Omaha and in the Haymarket in Lincoln.

But the most important part of the trip was probably the time spent at home, just sitting with my family. Tuvia managed to spend a good hour stumping my mom, little brother, the little brother's girlfriend, and me with a game called "Petals Around the Rose." I could have killed him, that game is so ridiculous. I got to look at old photos of my mom and dad, and many of my mom when she was just a child. My grandmother, in an effort to clean out the house after my grandfather passed last year, has come up with some real gems. My favorites are probably the ones of the car my mother wrecked -- there are so many of that poor front bumper. But the photos of mom and dad opening gifts, dad in his plaid shirts and overalls (a style he managed well into the early 2000s) are some of the most prized I saw.

Last Tuesday, we took my dad to his doctor's appointments, eventually shuffling him to a hospital across the way for some extra looks into what was making him feel so crappy. We spent nearly four hours with my dad that day. I followed him into the doctor's office, helped ask questions, and took about four pages of notes to share with my mom on his medicines, how he was feeling, his shocking weight loss, and other notable things. He kept apologizing for taking up our time, and I kept reminding him "We're in Lincoln, Nebraska, there isn't that much for us to do, it's okay!" In some way, I have to believe that me being there helped calm him, in some way maybe.

It was more emotionally exhausting than I had planned for, and it didn't really hit me how drained I was until Tuvia and I got back to our little Motel 6 room each night. I just wanted to sleep it all off, prepare myself for another day, and go. Even now, as I sit comfortably in Connecticut staring out the window after a night's snow leftovers, I feel a little tired. I talk to my mom who tells me when dad is having his up days and down days. Some days he's down for some Subway, other days he just feels sick. It's the chemo.

So that was the past week for me. Trying to smile and stay lifted. Excited to see my little brother, who has managed to grow a nice little "emo" 'do on his head (men in my family are blessed with thick heads of hair), which his girlfriend seems to really like. He's a smart kid, a really smart kid, and he always makes me smile, no matter how crappy I feel. I miss him -- a lot. Luckily, having Tuvia there was a great lift. He's kind of a personified smile. He is always optimistic, uplifted, and manages to keep me afloat. I think it was a good thing for my parents to meet him when they did -- he allowed laughter, smiles, and fun to enter the house for a few days.

At any rate, a sobering post, I know. I have more Israel to talk about, of course, and I'll probably write next on my Bat Mitzvah ceremony, which was a major trip. I think, if anything, the photos will do the talking for me, though. The look on my face? Priceless and cheesy!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Some of you might have noticed my MIA (missing in action) status. This is because I'm back in Nebraska visiting my family. But never fear, I'll be back soon!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Shabbos here, a Shabbos there -- Shavua Tov!

For the first time, I made bread. But it wasn't just any bread, it was challah. It was made in haste, without really measuring anything, but with love and necessity as Shabbos approached Friday. And it was seriously the (second) best challah I've ever had. I can't lie, Chabad rebbetzins make the best challah out there. But next time? I'll make it on Thursday, for it was really pushing it. Also, I fully intend on making a half batch, maybe even a third -- this much bread is enough to feed a few families. I give you, the beautiful loaf (unfortunately you won't get to see the ugly loaf, for it was truly ugly).

It was my first Shabbat back in the U.S. after two spent in Israel -- one in Jerusalem, one in Tel Aviv. Shabbat in Jerusalem was flanked by trips to the Western Wall, haKotel haMaaravi. We visited the wall, where men and women were bringing in Shabbat in droves, dressed in their best, davening and weeping at the wall. I searched far and wide on the shelves that line a small wall near the Western Wall for a siddur that might be my speed, but the only Artscroll I could find was a weekday. As I perused the shelves, a woman with a head covering, long skirt, and modest top walked up to me and questioned something in Hebrew. I responded that I didn't understand and she, in English, asked where I was from. We exchanged pleasantries about her being from Canada and me being from the U.S. and then she asked me which siddur she should use. Me!? She asked me? I guess I looked like a pro, but unfortunately I couldn't offer much help. I was frustrated that I hadn't taken my siddur with me, not to mention that I'd left my chumash at the hotel so I couldn't say tehillim for my dad. So I took my place at the wall, and tried to say Misheberach, but the words? They didn't come. I tried time and time again to focus on the words, to daven, but they wouldn't come. My thoughts were jumbled. I shoved two notes into the wall, placed my hand upon the old, cold stone, brought my forehead to rest on the back of my hand, and wept. I did as the women did and walked backwards away from the wall, crying, wondering how I'd become that person -- that emotional, devout, religious, hopeful and optimistic person who could be so moved by a wall! It's just a wall! A gigantic remnant at which generations of Jews have prayed. A place of solace and common ground, a meeting place for prayer, a wall that, if perhaps a few stones taller might reach the feet of G-d. Then? I gathered back with the group, and we walked about 3 miles, though it seemed like a lot longer (it took us more than an hour) back to our hotel.

(Note: That photo was taken on Saturday, after havdalah, post-Shabbat!)

Shabbat day was interesting -- both in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv -- in that people asked me a lot of questions  about why I was doing what I was doing. Oftentimes I was stopped by Hasidic Jews at the Shabbos elevator saying, "You know this is the Shabbos elevator, right?" So I was probably confusing to the eye -- wearing pants, modest top, hair covered (because hair dryers are so not Shabbos friendly). One of my roommates in Jerusalem offered to blow dry my hair, but after I explained why it wasn't in the spirit of Shabbat, she loaned me a cute hat instead. I relied on others to let me into our hotel rooms, for others to push hotel elevator buttons when the Shabbos elevator was packed (we were essentially on the 8th floor in Jerusalem, but lucked out on floor No. 1 in Tel Aviv), and answered questions about why I did these things and why I don't think they're outdated and useless mitzvot. In Jerusalem, everything was shut down -- cars were few on the street, workers were few in number at the hotel, and Jews mulled about the lobby reading Torah and napping in easy chairs. In Tel Aviv, businesses were open and cars abounded, filling the streets as if it were any other day of the week. As you can imagine, I preferred Shabbos in Jerusalem over Tel Aviv. I napped on Shabbat, but I missed Tuvia and our Shabbats filled with boardgames, reading, and rest. It definitely wasn't the same, and I felt pretty isolated amid a group of people who -- although I love them to pieces -- complained quite a bit about how we couldn't go out and about on Shabbat. If only I had had boardgames there ... maybe I could have swayed a few to the absolute bliss of a restful Shabbat (and I say this half-jesting).

The meals? They were okay, and the kiddush and haMotzi were much appreciated. As a result, and thanks to one of our group leaders and a loyal former-IDF soldier-turned-security guard, I finally learned why it is that we dip our challah in salt on Shabbat. You see, salt never spoils or decays, thus it represents the eternal covenant we have with G-d. Brilliant!

As time goes on, I know I'll remember more about Shabbat, and as such I'll share bits and pieces as they come to me. Like the beautiful havdalah ceremony we had in Jerusalem thanks to a ba'al teshuvah by the name of Rabbi Mottel (the hippest rabbi this side of Eden), the singing and burning of the havdalah candle, explaining why I cover my hair, having my roommates at both hotel experiences be kind enough to let me in and out of the room and keep certain lights on, and more. I spent a lot of time this Shabbat feeling kind of empty, but that's for another post. I am glad to be back, though, and I'm glad I got to spend some time playing games, resting, and I look forward to using the brand new Kosher Lamp that Tuvia's mum picked us up for Chanukah.

With that? Shavua tov everyone :)

Friday, January 2, 2009

5769 + 2009

Live from the desert of Judea, I give you the most awesome Birthright group ever, including the bus driver -- Mashiach -- in the front there. It is with this photo that I say HAPPY NEW YEAR as 5769 is now joined by 2009.

I demand a year of peace, progress, and peaceful progress. Shanah tovah!