Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why am I converting Orthodox?

After my post of frustration yesterday, and a conversation tonight with a Reform rabbi friend, I decided to write this because I don't know that I've written anything like this before. It's long and wandering, much like my path so far, but give it a go if you will. I might write more on this again, and if I do? Well, I hope it's well-perceived.

For a long time, I thought that the fact that I converted almost three years ago under the auspices of the Reform (not Reformed, folks) movement was to my advantage in my pursuing an Orthodox conversion. I mean, I know the rules of the game. I've studied for almost six years now. I've learned halakot, traditions, customs, prayers, songs, holidays, you name it, I know it. The neshama says feed me, I give it lots of Jewishly oriented foodstuffs, and it wants more. My neshama is an overweight 6-year-old with a penchant for Manischewitz, kugel, and everything challah.

But then, just last night, someone asked me why I felt like I needed to re-convert. This person, a respected friend (I think I can call him that), said that he has a problem with people who nullify or negate their Reform conversions when they convert Conservative or Orthodox. And that really got me thinking. Do I really have it so lucky?

You see, people who come at Orthodox Judaism with a fresh face, from a Christian or Atheist or Pentecostal or Muslim or Buddhist background are going at it straight. They say, "I chose Judaism" and it's left at that. There's no questioning why they chose specifically Orthodoxy as their conversion method. There might be, but it doesn't come with the question: "So what? Reform conversion not good enough for you?"

A long time ago, when I started this whole path down the road of Orthodoxy, I made very clear that I'm not re-converting. I don't need the certificate. I have one, and it's really pretty, and I'm quite a fan of it. It's in an envelope, and every now and again I pluck the envelope out of my file cabinet and look at it. The white out spots because the rabbi accidentally wrote the location of our shul and not the location of the mikvah and beth din. It has personality, a history, it's where I began. That shul? It's my family. It's like that family you can't ever forget. Because, first and foremost when you convert, is you can't forget where you came from.

I have a first family, my nuclear family. They were my "the golden rule is the rule" family who never made us go to church and insisted upon pride, truth, and the pursuit of honesty. Then there's my second family, the shul family, who helped shape me and show me that my Jewish soul wasn't just a figment of my imagination. They helped me grow and thrive and become Chaviva, the Jew, the girl who has traced both sides of her family back to the 1700s without finding a single Jew (lots of Quakers though!). And now? I have a third family, my Orthodox family. A community of people who insist upon dinners and stay-overs and challah and kindness and smiles and hugs and helping me affirm my Jewish soul, the Jew, Chaviva. To them? I'm nothing but Chaviva. A girl who will someday dip in a mikvah and will come out the same as she is right now this very second.

So it's not, I repeat not, re-converting. I'm reaffirming my Jewishness. It's a reaffirmation of my neshama, my path, and acknowledging that I'm still moving on that path, and that I've arrived at another fork in the road, I've come upon another family, that here I am in this beautiful place with these beautiful people and my Jewishness is thriving and springing forth in a more observant, traditional, skirt-filled, and heckschered-food kind of way. You're not looking at a photo here, folks. This is a motion-picture. A movie. No stills here.

I can't really express how much I am not nullifying or discounting or throwing out my Reform conversion. How can I? It's what got me started on this path. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again -- Reform Judaism (for me and many others I know) is the gateway drug. It's the most opening, welcoming, easy-to-feel-at-home-in form of Judaism that's out there. Without my Reform family? I wouldn't be here. Had I just gone to that grumpy ole' Conservative shul way back when, I probably would have stopped dead in my tracks. I would have said "goodbye Judaism! hello ______!" Reform Judaism was my starting point, I was there hashkafically and it made sense then. Now I'm here. My ending point? I don't know.

I'm not exactly sure what will happen some day when I feel more observant, more Jewish, whatever. It's a process -- a process of evolution and reevaluation and reconsideration and most importantly, reaffirmation. That's why we have such important milestones within Judaism. You have a naming ceremony or bris, an upsherin, a bar or bat mitzvah, an engagement, a wedding, a first baby, and the cycle repeats. Some men have second bar mitzvahs. There are all of these cycles that we honor, we affirm that we're Jewish and these events are significant in our growth personally and spiritually. And for me? Well, the conversion under the auspices of the RCA and Orthodox movement just means that I'm hitting another milestone (here's hoping the next is engagement, eh!?).

I'm not affirming my hashkafah amid Orthodoxy because I'm worried about having fully Jewish kids who won't have to suffer through conversions or questions or because I want my wedding to be legit for my future Jewish husband and his family (though these are definitely bonuses to the whole shebang). It isn't for a sheet of paper. It isn't because -- like I said so long ago -- that I will jump through as many hoops as Orthodox Jews want so that they'll see me as REALLY Jewish. No, it's because I want to affirm where I am Jewishly, where my neshama is Jewishly, where my body is Jewishly. Sitting before a beth din and having them ask me if I'm going to raise my kids Jewish, if I'm going to cover my hair and go to mikvah and all of these things, well, to me that makes sense. It is me affirming where I am now.

The question was then posed -- if I had originally converted Orthodox, and decided to go Reform, would I insist upon a Reform conversion? And my answer was no. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. It's nice that we can float so fluidly between belief and observance and everything. I've oft referred to myself as an Underconstructionist Jew and I think that's how ALL Jews should identify. Labels create havoc and confusion and frustration. They create the "us and them" philosophy, and they are what is driving the right further right and the left further left. The middle? It's a lost art. But wouldn't it make sense, if people really thought about where they were? Am I an observant Jew? A non-observant Jew? Am I pro-Israel? Anti-Israel? Am I pro-mechitzah? Anti-mechitzah? And think these things without feeling like there's a suffocating pressure to actually CHOOSE a side, or to do so with the fear of oppression and dissection and being picked apart by the other side. If only we could feel safe to define ourselves and affirm ourselves. To define ourselves by what we ARE and what we BELIEVE and not by what we are NOT and what we don't believe.

I refuse to define myself by what I am NOT.

So this is all I can say. I see myself as a traditional-seeking, mitzvot perfecting, mechitzah loving, GLBT and women's rights believing, hopeful, realist Jew who happens to feel cozy right now in the modern Orthodox community. As such? I feel like it's a good time for me to reaffirm my Judaism. Once upon a time, I refused to even consider that someday I'd be Conservative or Orthodox. Why? Because people told me, and I read everywhere, that it was oppressive, hateful, condescending, secretive, unwelcoming, archaic, and wrong. It was anti-forward thinking. It was stuck in the past. It was not what Judaism is meant to be. But then? I realized that wasn't the truth. At all. It was the opposite. What I experienced was different. And I chose to NOT define myself by what I wasn't and instead take a look at what I was and what I felt and believed.

And here I am. Reaffirming, reaffirming, reaffirming.

But the most important thing? I'm doing this for me. It feels right for me. I was planning this before Tuvia. Before Connecticut. Before all of this. I'm not doing it for anyone or to prove anything. I have nothing to prove. It's how I feel. It's what my heart sings, and if it's right for me, if it's what I feel is necessary for me, for my neshama, for my own heart and mind and body, then that's all that matters. And if you don't agree? Well, you can have your own conversation with G-d to battle that one out.

Because, really? It's between G-d and me.

(It would be nice to have everyone on board with me here, though.)

Scribe at Work!

I'm amazed. This is more tantalizing than watching the new puppies bounce about in their little incubator-style habitat! It's not just because the calligraphy is so beautiful, or that this old guy is letting himself be filmed making the scroll (no pressure! no pressure!). It's neat because it brings the Torah to life, a little bit, letter by letter. Just go here to View the Scribe at work! Here, this is a better explanation, from Mendy Pellin, even!:

The coolest thing? You can purchase a letter in honor of an IDF soldier, or in your name, or your bubbe's name! It's that easy! Of course, I'm not sure how that works and what kind of acclaim (not that it's necessary) one would get for the mere $1 a letter. If they can sell a letter for every one in the Torah? That's a whopping $304,805. Mazel tov!

For more information on the awesome little project, check out AskMoses.com.

Airing Out.

No matter how long I'm living Jewish, no matter how much I know, or feel, or breathe ... I'm still reminded, in the most ridiculous instances that, well, you know in the end I'm not Jewish. Nope. Not Jewish. I'm a non-Jew. All those non-Jew rules? They apply to me. Little ole me. Chaviva (is that your REAL name?). And it burns. It almost burns more now than it did after my Reform conversion nearly three years ago. Why? Because I'm living this lifestyle of an observant Jew who is shomer Shabbos and really doing the kashrut thing and devoted wholly to an observant and traditional lifestyle. Because my neshama? It's screaming. It's been screaming. It's still screaming.

In a simple conversation over mevushal and non-mevushal wine (a topic which, until now, I was completely ignorant of), I was reminded that despite all my knowledge and lifestyle and belief and dedication and the past six years of my life -- I'm still a non-Jew. I don't have that Orthodox conversion. I'm working on it. I really am. I would dunk now if they'd let me. Would they let me?

I give a d'var at an Orthodox rabbi's table, I daven next to 80-year-old women in hats, I sit behind a mechitzah with pride, I spend hours in the grocery store looking for heckschers with glee, I answer questions about why Orthodox Jews do the things they do, I identify as a (modern) Orthodox Jew. I wear a Magen David around my neck. I own more than three siddurim. I have five different chumashim. I have a Judaica collection that would make my pocketbook weep. There are all the trappings, but they're not enough. I feel the way I feel, and I want to be able to show THAT to people, because THAT is what really matters.

But how do you show someone your soul?

It can't be drawn or explained or photographed or videotaped or displayed on a big screen. It's just there and you hear it and feel it and dream it, but you can't let anyone else see it. I try, so hard, through words and deeds and words words words. But that's all they are. Can people really see the passion behind words? Little symbols and characters born out of sounds?

At any rate, I'm at this awkward frustrated point. I'm a Jew! I am. But I'm not. But I am. It's like I'm in purgatory or something. This middle ground between being born and being just a soul floating through the atmosphere waiting to be whole again.

Sincerely frustrated with people who feel the need to remind me that I'm not a halakhic Jew, 
Chaviva E.

Monday, March 30, 2009

And the Passover Giveaway Winner is ...

I'm quite sleepy, so I opted for a photo essay this time around for the giveaway! So view on to see who our lucky winner this round is! And, of course, stay tuned for more stellar giveaways and posts.

First, I made slips with all the entrants. What a tasking job this was! (I jest.)

The slips then sat idle as I awaited -- Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock -- for midnight to strike.

Then, I threw all the slips into a CD holder and mixed 'em up good.

At last, I lifted the many entrants above my head with my right hand, stuck my left hand in and pulled out a winner!
Oops ... sorry, that's a bucket-o-meerkats from the Chicago Zoo. They ARE winners, but I don't think they'd be able to share the plagues and the kippah and the apron, so the REAL winner is ... 
Wahoo! Mazel tov to Reiza!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tears for all those years!

Love, love, LOVE, this video! It's quite catchy. I hope to catch some of you humming this during the seder :)

Hat tip to Hadassah Sabo!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Readership Overview!

First of all, I want to thank the 45 people who took part in my readership-identification poll that ran last week. I'll throw up another relevant poll shortly, but for now, here's the summary of the poll!

It seems most of my readers mainly identify as Modern Orthodox, which I suppose makes sense because that's how I identify. Now, the reason I differentiated between Orthodox and Modern Orthodox is because the sensibilities are fairly different, even though praxis might not be. Orthodox, in  my mind, sings more of Haredi or right-wing or uber-conservative Orthodoxy, while Modern Orthodox shuls might have a woman giving a d'var on Friday nights, all the while she's covering her hair and loves the idea of the mechitzah (okay, so this is something to which I aspire). Okay? Now, if anyone wants to fight me here on the diff. between Modern and run-of-the-mill Orthodoxy, I'm all for having that discussion.

Lastly, I am stoked that there's one person who identified as Humanist, and if that person wouldn't mind contacting me, I'd love to have a guest post on what it means to be a Humanist Jew. I've always wondered what exactly the praxis and traditions behind being Humanist are, so this would be a great opportunity. It could be an anonymous guest post, of course. I'm just looking to learn something and to teach the greater viewing audience a thing while I'm at it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Passover Giveaway!

Pesach approaches, at light-speed, it seems. Are you ready? I think it's evident from my recent posts that I'm not, but hey, I'm getting there. So, to ease the stress of the coming holiday and all the cleaning and shopping that it involves, I'm proud to announce a Passover Giveaway, sponsored by the awesome folks at PopJudaica.com! First, the nifty giveaway items. The winner of this giveaway will receive a Bag of Plagues (perfect for the kiddies during a long seder), a Got Matzah? Apron for the crazy cooker in the house, and for the fashionable kippah connoisseur, the Matzah Yarmulke!

The rules?

  1. Go to PopJudaica.com.
  2. Find your favorite kitschy cool Judaica item (buy something, already, will you?)!
  3. IMPORTANT: Come back here, to kvetchingeditor.com, post a comment with your favorite item and how I can contact you.
  4. The deadline for entering is Sunday, March 29 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time.
  5. Wait until Monday morning.
  6. WIN!
  7. Restrictions: Only U.S. and Canada residents can win!
So spread the word, figure out how you're going to use the awesome plagues in a bag to entertain your kids, or maybe even your impatient adult guests. And be sure to follow @PopJudaica over on Twitter!
Let the winning begin!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Flurry of Pesach Questions!

As always, I know that checking with my LOR (Local Orthodox Rabbi) is the best route to go, and I fully intend to throw these questions his way during our meeting Wednesday (or via email if I can't manage to get all my queries in then). But I like to throw questions out to the greater viewing community to see how different folks, from different backgrounds, approach issues of halakah! We all have different minhagim (customs), and as someone becoming more religious, I'm particularly fascinated in how different minhagim end up where they do.

For example: My rabbi, who has a German ancestral background, has a Shabbos tradition of washing before saying the blessing over not only the challah, but also the wine. So, one gets up, washes, comes back, and blesses the wine, then blesses the challah, and it's one fluid movement. His is the first house I've ever been at where such a tradition is observed, so the rebbetzin explained why! During Pesach, the children ask why the night is different than other nights, and during Pesach you bless the wine, wash, then bless the matzah. So, it makes sense to mix things up every other night of the year, no? Logical to me.

At any rate, here are a series of questions that I've derived from studying the haggadah (the text used during a Passover seder) and the OU Passover Guide. Feel free to answer, or simply to muse at my curiosities!

  • Why, during the seder, do we only toss water on each hand ONCE (as opposed to thrice)?
  • Why is red wine preferred for the seder? Why do people typically use red wine for the Shabbos wine, too?
  • Why should the drinking of each cup of wine and eating of the matzah/maror be completed within 4 minutes?
  • If my toaster oven is essentially free and clean of chametz, can it be koshered l'pesach and subsequently for the rest of the year? Every item ever cooked in it was cooked on a foil-covered baking pan? Thus can I kasher the baking pan without using a torch? I don't own a torch ...
  • What's the best material to use when covering fridge shelves?
  • As far as I'm concerned, Quinoa is legit l'pesach. Do you eat Quinoa on Pesach?
  • I'm confused about the restriction re: the whole "avoid chametz products" after Pesach issue. Does this mean I can't go to a grocery store owned by Jews (a chain, for example) and buy bread? Ever?
I'm stoked for a full week of FRESH veggies and fruit, though. My fridge will be filled with fresh goodies. Although ... how seriously do I need to sit and dig through my fresh goods in order to make sure they're kosher l'pesach. I mean, is the Bug Checker really necessary?

Kashruth Stress! And an A.

The struggle to decipher the politics of kashruth stresses me out. The "plain K" heckscher is legitimate on Kellogg's products (and I read somewhere that it's really the OU who oversees those products, but no clue why they wouldn't use an OU), but on Yoplait yogurt, which lists "kosher gelatin" as an ingredient, where the "plain K" appears, it's NOT okay. No sir, no way, no how, no consumption! I am, however, stocked about how many things do bear a kosher logo, and I know that my life will be a lot easier than it might have been to keep kosher in 1909.

In unrelated news, for those keeping up on the blog, I redid my craptastic paper over a seven-hour stretch yesterday in the library and I got the letter grade on it already this evening. A sparkling "A" paper, says the professor! That has me stoked, and if I can keep up my work pace and not fall behind again, then maybe I won't freak out like I have over the past week. My anxiety level is in the red and as Pesach approaches I realize that the semester is nearing an end in not very long. I have a huge term paper to write, and the topic I was writing on got switched recently so I've started over with research and am quite behind in that department. But, I know I'm capable and I just have to remind myself of that.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shabbos Roundup.

Since I had direct orders from my Shabbos lunch host (mind you it was him, and not her) to not, I repeat NOT blog about my experiences (though, to be honest they were completely tame) at their home, I'll just present my Shabbos in a series of bullet points.
+ Once again at the Rabbi's for dinner, we once again talked about Twitter. Twitting. Tweeting. Blogging. Etc.
+ I didn't convince a doctor to switch to the ways of the Google.
+ I had the most delicious hamantaschen, again.
+ Ordered to leave the rabbi's at 10 p.m., we failed, arriving back at our host's around 11ish.
+ We then stayed up till well after 1 discussing kashruth (which I feel a lot better about now), conversion, community politics, and family life.
+ I think I'm allergic to the laundry detergent.
+ Aufrufs are fun, especially since you get to peg the chatan with lots of tiny little pieces of chocolate.
+ The many, many hats women wear at my shul are beautiful, large, and I think I'll stick to scarves someday.
+ Evidently it's possible to be "drunk with kidney stones" when you're super preggo.
+ Houses in West Hartford are really, really, really expensive.
+ The rabbi, our hosts, and everyone else really, really, really wants us to move to West Hartford.
+ Buying a house built in the 1700s would be fun, and exciting, but impossible.
+ Hearts of Palm are actually really good in salad.
And lastly? I can't live without my weekly in-take of Everything Challah. How will I last over Pesach!?

HH is Up and Functioning!

In case you didn't know ... Haveil Havalim #209 is up and alive over on What War Zone???

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Ditty of a D'Var.

In this week's parshah, Vayak'hel-Pekudei, after all the turmoil and frustration of the Golden Calf incident, Moses' first word to the people is on keeping the Sabbath. This seems odd, almost outlandish. The people commit this great misstep, and they're looking for some reassurance and comfort from Moses on G-d's love for the people and what does Moses say? "These are the things that he Lord commanded to make. Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord" (Exodus 35:1-2).

I'm reminded of something I wrote after the interesting Shabbaton I attended back in November in Crown Heights, about the prescription "a leap of faith." In that blog post, I wrote that unlike in some other religions, because Judaism is very action-based, to be Jewish requires a "leap of action" more than a leap of faith. Zalman Posner, on Chabad.org, iterates a similar idea, I think.
Judaism's shield against assimilation, the guarantor of Israel's integrity, is not its theology but its devotion to observance of mitzvot, carrying out G-d's will in daily living. Israel's ability to withstand the golden calves of all sorts is embodied in the tefillin and Shabbat and dietary laws that make Torah as much a part of life as eating and making a living. Devotion to Judaism can be developed only through using Judaism, living it. Throughout history we have seen that Jews who lived Judaism, lived; those who neglected its observance, despite earnestly professed warm feelings and love for its ideals, were ultimately lost to our people.
Posner also suggests that the constant refrain of Torah, threaded throughout the five books is that "not expounding is important, but deed."

I'd never thought about this before (though I can't seem to find any prior d'varim on it that I've written, though I know I have), and it's only in the first few lines of the parshah, but it's significant. It's a reminder that one cannot just "be" Jewish, one must "live" Jewish. There's more to being Jewish than just saying you are, right?

As we approach another Shabbat (though not for many, many more hours thanks to this crazy time change), keep the idea of living Jewish in your mind. How do you live Jewish? Belief is a part of being Jewish, but as with many things, it takes action to develop passion.

Shabbat Shalom! And don't forget that today is Shabbat Across America! Head to shul, meet some folks, get your Jew on!

A Kick Back ... Kashering!

Finally! A how-to video on kashering a kitchen!

A'Kashering We Will Go!

Target Milk? It's kosher. Yah, you heard me right, it's kosher. I've never seen the heckscher before in my life, but it's kosher. 
Last night Tuvia and I met with the rabbi (along with another couple), where the rabbi suggested that Tuvia just kasher the heck out of his kitchen for Pesach and keep on going from there. For me? Well, I keep a vegetarian kitchen out of my dorm room, so it isn't so much an issue, but it isn't kashered. So the both of us, with the urging of the rabbi and our own consciences, will be kashering our kitchens before Pesach. Mine is a bit easier than his, since all I have is a Toaster Oven (impossible to kasher l'pesach), a microwave oven, a coffee maker, and a refrigerator. So we're enlisting a friend of our's to help kasher Tuvia's place sometime in the next two weeks. In the meantime? We purge.

For the longest time I've been one of those kosher-style folk who will eat something even if it's not heckschered as long as all of the ingredients look legit. But no more! If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this. And I'm going to do it right (what does "right" really mean anyway?). So I went through my meager supply of food and got rid of everything that I didn't think I was going to eat before kashering (or before Pesach) that wasn't heckschered. Now, I didn't just chuck it. I put it out in the lounge with a note that it's free for the taking (leaving free food for starving, poor college kids is tzedakah right?).

I have the OU Pesach guide, with all of my kashering knowledge needs, so I'll be going that route. I don't trust myself to kasher a full kitchen (thank G-d for friends!), but my little nook should be doable. Chametz cleaning might kill me, since I'm a big consumer of cereal, bread, and other chametzdik items, but it'll be fun, I think. I usually just get rid of everything in my place that is chametzdik

Pesach shopping, on the other hand, is going to be a pain in the tuches. I've usually just bought kosher-style food, not actual heckschered stuff. I dread buying pasta sauce and mozarella cheese (for matzo pizza), jelly and other simple items. I was going to go on a trek down to Monsey with some folks from shul on Sunday, but because of yesterday's meeting with the professor, my Sunday will be devoted to writing something I won't be embarrassed about. So instead I'll be shopping it up at Waldbaum's this year, and after looking through  my archives from last year ... I had a moment of pure joy. Almost lust. For what? Kosher l'Pesach Coca Cola. OH MAN. I'm going to buy some on Saturday, and maybe drink it early. I don't drink soda, but when I do, it's usually the non-HFCS kind.

At any rate, back to my cleaning and purging and making sure I order the appropriate items from TheKosherCook.com. Yes, I have a vegetarian/dairy kitchen, but some things I want to keep pareve. There's a ton of stuff I've had in this room for months that I haven't used (glass, in fact), so it'll come in handy when I get to actually kashering things. If anyone has any tips ... lemme know.

Some concluding chametz-style food for thought?
The numerical value of chometz (חמץ) is 138. This is the same as the numerical value for pegimah (פגימה), the word for blemish. Whoever eats chometz on Pesach thus blemishes his neshoma. --Rabbi Yaakov Culi

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I am a Writer, Am I a Writer?

For the first time in my A-student, excellency-first life, I handed in a crap paper. It was nine pages of writing that I knew wasn't up to Chavi Quality Standards (CQS), but I handed it in anyway. In the past, I've done this, but it was only that "I rushed, it probably isn't so great, but I'll do well" sentiment, and I always managed to fly by with As on such papers. But this paper? I knew when I was writing it that it was disjointed, unfocused, miserable in form, idea, and execution. And when I gave it to the professor, I said about 30 times "please let me know if this isn't what you're looking for."

I knew it wasn't. I knew it was crap. And I handed it in anyway.

So I wasn't surprised when I got the email this morning. My alarm went off, I grabbed my Blackberry, I opened GMail, and there it was, the first email sitting in my inbox. Let's meet, it said. What a horrible way to start an otherwise (might-have-been) good day. So now, my long day -- where I go from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. without room to breathe -- is clouded by this meeting I have in an hour, where surely I will be told "you're really bright, but ..." And I know I deserve every criticism.

I'm a good writer. At least, that's what people tell me and I need to prove to myself that I am a good writer. As a copy editor, I know what good writing is meant to look like. I know how the words should flow, how even in academic papers the prose and flow is important. Words should not feel harsh or disconnected; they should have a rhythm and be fluid. I read too many academic papers that read like math textbooks, and I refuse to be one of those academics. I want to be a writer. A good writer. An amazing writer who people read and say "Damn, I wish I could write that well!" But most importantly, I need to feel like I am a good writer. Being a good writer in other people's eyes is worthless when you can't love your own stuff.

This blog, this entire ridiculous volume of ether that I have spewed for nearly three years, is my baby. It's what made me feel good about my writing. It's what said, you aren't just an editor, you're a writer! Go for it! And so here I am, writing, again, venting, stressing, wishing I could crawl into a whole and delete that damn paper. It was a literature review, papers on the validity of the Bible, scholars who say it's a Hellenistic composition, the historicity of the stories of the Bible and how it all isn't just novel-y crap. And that's fascinating to me. It's important and big and special. It's my area of study. And I just pushed out nine pages of crap.

So maybe this is what I needed. I've felt completely out of time, out of focus this semester. I feel like I'm not doing enough, but always doing too much. So maybe I needed to be knocked off the confidence pedestal. I found out earlier this month that I had two papers accepted to a conference in April, and I found out this week that I was accepted to the Middlebury Language School's Hebrew summer Ulpan-style program. These are two massive, important achievements, and I've been riding on their high for a while now. Now? I'm deflated. Disappointed. Wondering if I'm really cut out for all of this. So maybe this is what I needed to really put it all in perspective.

Note to self: You start too many sentences with "So..."

People Really DO Care, Though!

This ties perfectly into my Rabbi asking about Twitter. Would it be inappropriate for me to send this to him? (I'm only half-joking, by the way.) Hat tip to the On Chanting blog!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm doing a poll.

So the poll was wonky ... I'm moving it over there into the sidebar to see what happens :)

"So is it Twitting, then?"

"Tell me about Twitter."

When these words came forth from the rabbi's mouth over Shabbat dinner, I was a little, well, shocked. I'm always blown away at how quickly I'm emailed back (considering my rabbi back in Nebraska never emailed me -- I'd have to call to get an answer to my emails days and days later), but I never expected for the rabbi to ask about Twitter. He knows well about Facebook and all those other web 2.0 giants, and I was even more surprised when another one of the Shabbat dinner guests posed the question, "Well, then, what is Tumblr?" (Just so everyone knows, not even I knew what Tumblr was.) I mean, I'm not saying I expect all people around my parents' ages to be completely inept, after all, my mom is on Facebook and MySpace. But I didn't expect the rabbi to ask for an explanation. I found myself stumped, I didn't know how to answer the question, "It's ... microblogging!" I blurted out. Another one of the guests asked in an intense Israeli accent, "What's microblogging?" And I just looked at Tuvia, in a mixture of awe and shock, while the man's wife (the one who asked about Tumblr) explained it to him. The conversation went on for some time, comparing Facebook to Twitter and explaining that it's "Tweeting" and not "Twitting" and that yes, the whole world can read your tweets if you're not set to a private account, but that yes, some people do have private accounts and that, well, yes, maybe that does defeat the purpose ...

And this was only half of the Shabbat dinner conversation.

The other half? Money. I'm always blown away when Shabbat dinners and lunches end up covering every aspect of finance and investment known to man. It seems to me that such conversations would be considered, well, as muktza as handling money on Shabbat (consult your local rabbi!). I'm only half kidding, and I'm sure some rebbe somewhere decided that such conversation was forbidden! So we heathens talked about investing now that stocks with big giants like ING are so low, learning about the market, buying and selling houses, returns on investments, interest rates! You name it. After all, Tuvia is an accountant and when people find out they're in awe, so they seek his depth of wisdom.

But this is only partially accurate. We did take a break -- between Twitter and the drowning market -- to discuss last week's parshah. The rabbi posed a question, Tuvia mentioned that Exodus 32 is my baby, and the rabbi gave his thoughts on the incident and then asked for mine. The rabbi was mostly in line with my thinking, but another fellow at the table took problem with some of my thinking. I mentioned having my two papers accepted to a conference, and at some point the dessert came out and the conversation about Torah and Talmud and all things parshah disappeared with the chomping of the rebbetzin's delicious hamantaschen (brown sugar, nuts AND honey? oh my!).

The other guests left and for the next hour plus Tuvia and I stood around with the rabbi and his wife talking about our plans -- houses, conversions, school, cars, life, our future ... by the time we got back to our host's house, the clock was striking midnight and I, completely alive and invigorated by a truly unique and warm Shabbat dinner, was turning into the obligatory pumpkin. Amid snoring and coughing, I managed to get a bit of sleep before waking up and schlepping off to morning services, where I quickied Shacharit to catch up to the Torah service. It was weird seeing the rabbi and his wife the next day, after such a personal Shabbat evening before at their home. I bid each a hearty "Shabbat Shalom!" and that was that.

I have this problem about being too personal with people sometimes, I think. I worry about comfort levels and how to act with people in different settings -- public versus private. A conversation and relationship in someone's home is not necessarily the same as it is outside that snug and comfy little box with rooms and Judaica and delicious food. You know what I mean?

But in all honesty, it was one of the best Shabbats I've had. Our host family was quite ill, the lot of them, but they were -- as always -- friendlier than anyone I've ever known. The youngest one continued to call Tuvia (whose name is really Evan) "Kevin," which gave me giggles, and cookies were the food of choice for just about all of us. And, of course, Friday night's dinner was definitely memorable and remarkably special, though I can't exactly explain why.

I suppose, in a way, eating dinner by the rabbi sort of sealed some kind of special deal. It was an official in, to the community, that is. Like a knowing glance or a firm handshake. An experience that lets you know that you're safe, you're welcomed, you're liked, and most importantly? You're home.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Artscroll, for shame!

Look at this picture. It took me almost a month to even notice it, but at shul this weekend I discovered an error in my siddur! I'm sure there are lots, but I'm usually not in editor mode while davening. Do YOU see the error?

A gold star for whoever figures it out first :) This is from the Ohel Sarah pocket edition, page 224!

Oh, and sorry it's quite blurry!

Punk Rock Meets Torah!

I was stoked to see this little bit on Atlanta-based punk rockers Can Can, whose lead man Patrick A. has started posting up YouTube videos on the weekly parshah. I'm mad in love with musicians who are also Torah savvy, like Stereo Sinai and YLove.

According to Nextbook, "Patrick, the only Jew in the band, studies Torah daily and ostentatiously flaunts his Judaism in interviews and onstage. It doesn’t come out as much in the lyrics—not overtly—although lines like “I’ve got a hand on the Bible/you’ve got your hands on my mouth” speak to the experience of being religious and existing outside the box." (And if you look carefully, Stereo Sinai was also featured in this little bit from January!)

I haven't listened all the way through, but so far I'm quite stoked to see what Patrick has to offer up weekly.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

HH #208: The Lingering Post-Purim Hangover Edition!

Welcome, one and all, to Haveil Havelim #208, The Lingering Post-Purim Hangover Edition! This is my first time hosting HH, and I couldn't be more excited!
Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs — a weekly collection of Jewish & Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It’s hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack. The term "Haveil Havalim," which means “Vanity of Vanities,” is from Qoheleth, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other "excesses" and realized that it was nothing but "hevel," or in English, "vanity."
I'm pretty sure this edition title applies to many of you, but unfortunately it doesn't apply to me! I was in transit from Chicago this Purim, so I missed a lot of the stellar parties and nifty outfits. Luckily, plenty of bloggers out there offered up pictures of themselves in their RIDICULOUS outfits, so I'm going to pepper this HH with those dashing photos. There were a LOT of submissions, including a lot of folks who, well, sent me more than double the suggested (demanded?) submission amount, so if you don't see something you sent here? Well, I'm anti-Spam and all about brevity. ENJOY!

I can't even begin this edition of HH officially without devoting some space to a hearty MAZEL TOV to the one, the only Mottel of the Letters of Thought Blog. Yes, folks, Mottel is officially engaged and his kallah, Chana Langman, is a beautiful, intelligent gal from Chicago. I had the pleasure of schlepping down to Crown Heights to attend the L'Chaim, and several other bloggers were there. Many have written about the whole announcement, and Mottel did us well to do a round-up! Everyone head on over and give him your mazels, mmk?

Now for Purim! I hope everyone took time during Purim to boycott Starbucks. According to an Egyptian Cleric (and thanks to Aliza Hausman for filling us in), Queen Esther is in the logo! The Basement Bloggers, blogging on the Crown Heights underground, filled us in with a PSA for Purim, while The Real Shliach took time to share his Purim experiences in West Hartford, Connecticut (though he couldn't take a moment to stop by and say hello!? He was in my stomping ground!). Meanwhile, Esser Agaroth let's us know about Purim in Hevron, and thanks to the Rebbetzin's Husband, I now know way more than I wanted to about the Vatican celebrating Purim (who knew?!), and Our Shiputzim gives us another installment of the Heblish-English Dictionary -- I might have to start saying "dress up to," just to be down! And speaking of dressing up ... My Right Word shares a posted flier in Israel of an invitation to a Purim Drag Party. Sounds interesting ...

Susanne gives us a couple of videos that ran during the digital shorts portion of the Purim Spiel at her shul in Washington Heights. One even stars her hubby! Batya poses a question to her readers, who dutifully respond, in an effort to figure out the real point of Purim. I'm on par with Lady Light, who points out that it's a little curious that we celebrate our deliverance from an evil Persian, while Israel discovers that modern-day Persia (Iran) has nuclear capabilities. It is with this that we get a Purim Demise, a Purim Reprise! Rahel over at Elms in the Yard shares the Jewish/Purim connection in the old American folk song "The Cat Came Back," and Sign of the Times posits that the nutrition-label makers of a certain product might have sat down to write it up on Purim. Oy, the editing mistakes! This reminds me of when I was in Israel ... I wonder if the government needs a full-time English editor? I'm prime for the job! Finally, Lionden Landing shares with us some menu planning and mishlach manos goodies and Baila talks about hamantaschen (yum!) and mothering (fun!).

Moving along to Anti-Semitism (with a humorous twist), Barbara's Tchatzkahs gives us some Salty Anti-Semitism, which, for those who haven't heard, features the brand new, holier-than-thou Christian Salt! It hit the market recently. Get your's today! Lady Light shares with us the popular video on how to boycott Israel (I've watched this a dozen times and it STILL makes me giggle with utter delight).

For those in the mood for some Culture, Seraphic Secret gives us Hollywood is Burning, Part I: Trapped, while Barbara discusses the ongoing rape charges with former Israeli president Moshe Katsav. Finally, Lady Light over on Tikkun Olam gives us part four in a continuation of the Zola Levitt Interview of Ms. Joan Peters on her book, "From Time Immemorial," and Mark over at SportsYids shares his thoughts about the first Orthodox woman to play NCAA Division I basketball.

Although a lot of the Humor posts got eaten up by Purim, there are still a few worth mentioning in the "general" humor category! Benji over at What War Zone??? tries to explain American slang to an Israeli, while also musing at American's dealing with the concept of the roundabout. Though, I have to say, this isn't new. Roundabouts have been in the U.S. FOREVER -- just look at Boston and D.C. Moving on, though, we have The Talmudist with a fictional account of two 20-something former yeshiva guys who accidentally rendezvous in a gay bar. Yes, you read that right.

And now we plod along to Israel, everyone's favorite Jewish state! We begin with Jacob, who reports on a salary survey for computer jobs in Eretz Yisrael. Rickismom of Beneath the Wings shares an unfortunate story about the intellectually impaired, as well as a cute quip in "Mommy, You're Different." Over on Religion and State in Israel, we have not one, but two roundups of media coverage on issues involving religion and the state in Israel. The Judeopundit goes all out with foreign policy disasters, progressive insights into the Zionist entity and more! Quite the accomplished blogger, Yisrael Medad's post on "The Green Line" coming and going has landed him among the Jerusalem Post blogs, but he also has a pretty interesting conversation (assault!) with Hillary Clinton on My Right Word. Finally, I throw some money at Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces as I begin my crusade effort to give tzedakah every day.

Judaism. It's the bee's knees, the big kahuna, the big cheese, the next area of the feature! Cynthia at Don't Gel Too Soon writes about attending a party for the presentation of a youngun's first siddur -- a truly moving event, while The Rebbetzin's Husband writes "Rabbi, give me a berachah (blessing)." Meanwhile, the Recovery Rabbi writes about unmasking ourselves from the darkness around us, a really beautiful idea.  The Chabad.org Insider gives up a heads-up on Chabad's new mobile simulator to help acquaint users to the mobile interface, which, as a Blackberry user, I'm pretty stoked about! One of my favorite blogs, A Simple Jew, posted a conversation based on emails between "The Vegetarian Activist & The Vegetarian Chassid," but it's just part one, so stay tuned? The one and only Schvach takes us back to the favorite argument (or not?) on Darwin vs. G-d, while Bar Kochba gives the harrowing numbers on the Vanishing Diaspora Jew. Shiloh Musings reflects on Shabbat Zachor and remembering ...

More of subcategory of Judaism than anything, we now have our Torah posts! Any regular readers of the blog will note my obsession with this week's parshah, Ki Tisa, so I can't help but start off with some d'varim! The Velveteen Rabbi leads us with "Re-Entry," a nice poem about the Golden Calf narrative, while I give some thoughts on my recent paper on Exodus 32, not to mention some thoughts about Tzedakah.

Of course there has to be at least one Politics posts, so why not get it out there now, eh? MyPanim writes about Australia and Nazis in "Atonement for Past Injustices." Well, that was uneventful and brief. Where are all the politics posts!?

Personal posts are always fun, but there aren't that many of them. Luckily, we have some saving graces! Shorty parallels the renewal of the covenant in this week's parshah to her own renewal with HaShem, and Batya writes about her ADHD rearing its ugly head during Megillah readings (darn those toy guns!). Tuvia over at Following My Judaism talks about his first time in Chicago for Shabbat, but also his first time being Shomer Shabbos while traveling. Lastly, the ever-hilarious FrumSatire talks about the toils and fun of having stalkers on Facebook (if only I were so lucky?).

I hate to conclude this week's HH with anything foreboding, but I just can't help it! People are already in full-swing with Pesach blogging, so I have to include Mrs. S's Our Shiputzim "Theory of Pesach Cleaning." I'm *this close* to blogging on Passover, especially after my schlep out to Waldbaum's in West Hartford motzei Shabbos. This place is seriously stacked with Kosher l'Pesach goods. It was hard to walk out without buying up the whole place, but rumor has it I might be heading to Monsey next weekend for some Pesach shopping. Now THAT will be an experience.

So, until then, folks, be sure to check out last week's Haveil Havalim at The Real Shliach, stay tuned for next week's over at What War Zone??? and be sure to stick around my blog and, you know, become a friend and reader! I promise in the next day or so to give you a fun and exciting view of the Shabbos table at my rabbi's place. I've always found it amusing when Jews sit down and talk finances at the Shabbos dinner ... investment advice, anyone!?

Oh, and in case you missed the stellar How Do You Say Shabbat Shalom video put together by the National Jewish Outreach Project, give it a go here. How many bloggers and e-people do YOU know? 

Friday, March 13, 2009

How Do You Say Shabbat Shalom?

Thanks to the folks @JewishTweets for putting this snazzy video together. It's got greats such as @YLove and @Gruven_Reuven in it!

A Golden Calf, You Say?

Photo courtesy BrickTestament.com!

This week's parshah, Ki Tisa, is my favorite parshah (after only Lech Lecha, of course). I devoted half of my workload last semester to text from this portion, making it very near and dear to my heart. My time with this parshah is not up or over, and I intend on spending more time with it in the not-so-distant future. So I give you, an "abstract" of sorts from my paper, and if you're REALLY interested in what I have to say, you know, I can let you read the whole thing. I'll be presenting the paper (it's a more academic approach than a religious approach, but I think it's important for just about everyone to consider the text, the facts, the everything) at the end of next month at an SBL conference, too!
Exodus 32 and the Sin at Sinai: A Reconsideration of the Golden Calf 
The incident of the sin at Sinai in Exodus 32 is known as one of the most divisive and difficult portions of Torah for complicated theological, historical, and textual reasons. In Jewish and scholarly circles, opinions vary on what the golden calf (עגל הזהב) was meant to represent – was it a replacement for Moses? Was it meant as a footstool for the presence of God? Or, perhaps most widely agreed upon, was the golden calf meant to be a replacement for God in the likeness of a pagan image? As a result, the discussion on Exodus 32 and the passages surrounding it expands into questions of motive, responsibility, authorship, purpose, and, ultimately, meaning. The golden calf incident and, subsequently, the research and composition of this paper, is significant in the sphere of Judaic scholarship, as the incident very early on became a divisive issue in Jewish and non-Jewish circles, representing the “original sin of the Israelite people.” Through an exploration of the peculiarities and hypotheses about the composition and purpose of Exodus 32, the archaeological evidence, and the varying accepted opinions on the role of the calf in the larger narrative, this paper focuses almost exclusively on the idol figure itself in order to recast the popular perception of the golden calf.
The biggie? The difference between idol figures and idol objects. I know your salivating ... 

An additional thought? I wrote about this a few years back during this portion, and since I've started donating daily, I think it's pretty appropriate for me to mention now, too. The parshah begins with a donation of a half-shekel by every individual older than 20 (a common belief is that religion is not suited for children, only adults can understand the depth and magnitude of religion and Torah). The donation is cited as "each shall pay," which in the Hebrew isv'nat'nu, or vav-nun-taph-nun-vav. Holy Moses! A palindrome! And a mighty important one (yet something else I probably wouldn't have gathered all on my own, amazing sages). Some have said that this suggests that charity is a two-way street. The Vilna Gaon says that this reminds us "that one who gives today may have to receive tomorrow."

So remember that, folks -- tzedakah is a two-way street. When I was a kid/teen and we ran into financial woes, we had to seek out help. There were very, very hard times. In college I had to seek help from a friend -- who obliged without even thinking about it -- and if he were ever to ask for help from me, if I were able to give it, I would. He who needs today might need tomorrow, so always give!

Testing out e-mail posting!

Just donated to the Orthodox Union. Huzzah! Tzedakah continues!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

To Life, To Life, L'Chaim!

For the second time in the past month, Tuvia and I schlepped down to New York City to Crown Heights for something exciting! A few weeks ago? It was to see FrumSatire get his comedy on. Last night? It was to attend the L'Chaim of my wisdom-ful blogger friend, Mottel.

We drove down after Tuvia got off work, in a shwanky rental car since Tuvia's is getting fixed up thanks to some bad weather rear-endings. The trek was incredibly quick, and we stopped off for some incredibly disappointing cupcakes in the city before heading off to Crown Heights. We found a parking spot pretty quickly down the block from the Jewish Children's Museum, and a few minutes after 9 p.m. walked into the F.R.E.E. (Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe) building.

Because I'm a fond believer in the private lives and the privacy of other bloggers, I'm not going to go into massive details of the engagement event. I'll just say that for my first L'Chaim, it was absolutely beautiful. I was in the women's section the entire time, but people flowed almost gracefully between the two groups, but with respecting completely the necessity of modesty and separation. The food was amazing, the people were so kind, and perhaps most importantly, the kallah was absolutely beautiful.

Whenever I attend events like this, where there's a ton of Chabadniks and modestly dressed women (believe me, I was all frummed up and the only skin to be seen was on my hands and face), I feel out of place without trying. I have short, short hair and every Jewish woman on the planet dons long, flowing dark hair -- even with her sheitl styles! The clothes are satiny and elegant, the women are graceful without trying. And the men? Pious, excited about who they are and HaShem above. Their passion is something to be seen, something to be understood, and it fails to compare to anything else I know. I see those men, and those women, and I'm filled with admiration. Can I be like that? Would I be able to be like that? Would I want to be like that? I left feeling a desire to be shomer negiah. Is that obscene? The entire idea of matchmaking suddenly felt so beautiful. So romantic. Thousands of years of Jewish matches made can't be wrong, can they?

At any rate, it was a wonderful evening and all I can say is Mazel Tov and many, many happy things to Mottel and his kallah!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tzedakah, Days 4/5

I neglected to throw some change in the tzedakah box last night, and I also meant to do it this morning, but forgot. So I've decided to do a little researching on the Web this morning for Jewish charities (I'm not going to be Jew-exclusive, here, never fear, but that's where I'm starting my tzedakah -- I also intend on donating to groups focused on literacy, because darn't I need more readers!). Today's lucky winner?

FIDF: Friends of the Israeli Defense Force

Mission Statement: The FIDF initiates and helps support social, educational, cultural and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel who defend the Jewish homeland. The FIDF also provides support for the families of fallen soldiers.

When I was in Israel on Birthright in December, the time I spent with the Israeli soldiers who took time away from the IDF to jaunt around the country with us was probably the most memorable. Here are these people, my age, half a world away who are willing to put their lives on the line for not only the safety of the Jewish homeland, but also for me. Yes, little ole me over here in the United States. They aren't just protecting Israel, they're protecting every Jew from New Zealand to Alaska to Dallas to Warsaw to Beijing. They do it every day so that we will always have a place of safety, a home. Visiting Mt. Carmel cemetery was one of the hardest things I've ever done, period. I cried like a baby when I saw the grave of the paratrooper with my name, not to mention when I saw the not-so-old grave of a soldier who passed during the Second Lebanon war where someone had placed a toothbrush. Something so simple as a toothbrush! This soldier, surely, in his afterlife needs a toothbrush, no? There were old men sitting near graves, just staring at their sons. And there were empty plots, ready and willing to take on the remains of soldiers who fell during the most recent and upcoming wars. It was a beautiful place, a shrine to the lives of the soldiers who make MY life easier to live.

So, for yesterday and today, I give to the Friends of the IDF -- may these funds offer good things for my friends, the soldiers, and to the families of those who have fallen to protect you, me, and the message of shalom.

A Shabbat Adventure (With a Skokie Aside)

This past Shabbat, Tuvia and I were in Chicago staying in Lincoln Park, just a short schlep south of my old shul. On Friday, after a lengthy (read: 4-mile nonstop) trek in Skokie* to search out Zelda's kosher sweets, Ken's (kosher) diner (which was closed) and as a result Breadsmith (a delicious kosher bakery), we headed back to our hotel to get cleaned up and head off to shul.

We arrived almost at the end of mincha, but in time for evening services. They were being held downstairs, and the place was packed and became more packed as the services went on. I saw plenty of familiar faces, as well as a lot of unfamiliar faces. The rabbi wasn't there (which bummed me out), but the usual crowd was enough to make me feel at home. We went into the evening not knowing where we'd eat Shabbos dinner, but hoping for the kindness of others to fall upon us. Luckily, the hostess with the mostest, Miriam (one-half of the outstanding musical duo Stereo Sinai) invited us over to dine. I'll admit I've always loathed tofu, outside of the tofu I've had in an old friend's vegan lasagna, but after our Shabbos dinner, I'm sold. It was a vegetarian feast paired with conversation running the gamut of conversion, observance, movies, and our great (and sometimes irrational) fears. The next day, thanks to exhaustion and a great deal of pain (I have the knees of an 80 year old, I can't lie), we slept in and enjoyed the Chocolate Chip Challah Muffins for lunch. Shabbat sort of came and went, quite quickly, but the experience over all was incredibly restful, and it was nice to be home back in a place that made me quite happy for a time.

* = As an aside, our time in Skokie was pretty interesting. The 4-mile trek was absolutely painstaking, as the weather was pretty darn warm, and my knees are in really, really horrible shape. The buses don't run in any convenient way near the locations where we were going, so we had to walk and walk and walk. It was a silent, grumpy trip that sort of ruined my day (sorry, Tuvia). We arrived at Ken's, only to find out it was closed, but I did find this HILARIOUS poster in the window that I can't help but share. We went next door to a Judaica shop where a nice frum guy attempted to help us figure out a place to eat and even offered us a ride if we'd wait around an hour till he closed up. Tuvia ended up buying me a nice pair of Jewish star earrings from the fellow, too, while I hit up Breadsmith for some challah and peanut butter (which is so rich I'll only be using it for COOKIES). After there we schlepped off to find Zelda's, a store I've purchased from frequently online but never in-person. It wasn't that impressive of a store, and I much prefer the mystique of the online business. We left there and walked -- MORE -- to a place described to us by one of Zelda's shop girls donning a cross (ironic, if you ask me) that led us a bit astray. Finally? We found a bus and headed back toward the city. My knees were never happier. And all the while, we never once got our kosher meal up in Skokie. What a bummer!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Chicago-Inspired Tzedakah Goal!

Having just returned from a five-day trek to Chicago for a little vacation (I'm on Spring Break this week, huzzah!), I will be writing a few different installments about my trip -- some uber-Jewish, some not. Enjoy!

In an effort to increase the returns on karma, I have decided to give tzedakah every day. Yes, EVERY day. I've made plans to commandeer Tuvia's UJF tzedakah box (though I have yet to mention this to him) that his mother sent his way, since we have a nice, new Purim-inspired, Chabad-issued tzedakah box at Tuvia's place. The effort was sort of randomly begun while we visited Chicago after I found myself giving twice in a series of days to jewish causes.

On Friday, while at Breadsmith -- a delicious kosher bakery in Skokie and Lakeview that dishes out amazing challahs, and interesting jars of peanut butter (including a jar that was almost taken from us at security -- chocolate chip cookie dough peanut butter!) -- I was procuring two chocolate chip challah "muffins" while Tuvia spoke with a nice Jewish man in the next shopping center over about our options for a kosher lunch. I saw the run-o-the-mill tzedakah box on the counter and threw my change (about a dollar's worth) into the box. A few days later, on Sunday, while waiting to get brunch at my favorite "kosher style" diner in Chicago -- Eleven City Diner -- I saw another Jewishly oriented charity box on the counter, dug through my purse and pockets and threw some change in. It was then that I decided and made the vow to donate a little every day. So Monday, in an effort to continue the trend, I took our two seven-day passes -- both with three full days left on them -- and passed them on to complete strangers preparing to buy their OWN CTA bus/train cards at the airport.

Now, I'm not saying I'm going to give $20 every day, neither am I intending on only giving a dollar in change every day. The amounts will vary, and I will do my best to document them as such. I always end up with some change taking up space. My old method was to chuck it all into my personally painted piggy bank that I made years ago when in high school (or was it college?). Piggy banks scream "treyf," so I'm going to pack the little piggy away and replace it with the UJF tzedakah box until I manage to get a more fancy tzedakah box.

I'm blogging about this in the hopes that perhaps others will see how easy it is to give just a little bit every day. Whether it's $20, 50 cents, or something in between, every little bit can make every little bit of a difference. I'll be blogging EVERY DAY in order to log my efforts, hoping that maybe I can inspire a few other bloggers to do the same. If it becomes excessive? Well, I'll probably set something up and merely put a link to it on the side.

Until then ...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rabbi Angel on Megillat Esther!

Rabbi Marc D. Angel is one of my favorite rabbis -- he always has a unique perspective on situations relevant to today but via events in our history as the Jewish people. Each week, in my little GMail inbox there arrives a d'var Torah of sorts by Angel from JewishIdeas.org, and this week, the rabbi discusses the Megillat Esther. Since I'm quite busy these days and can't seem to come up with a few seconds for some original thoughts, I think I'll rely on the pros to really hit the point home -- after all, Purim is the word this week in the Jewish Blog-o-Sphere!
The reading of the Scroll of Esther is a central feature of the Purim holiday. ... Yet, there are a number of troubling questions that need to be addressed.
1. Mordecai is described as a strongly-identified Jew; yet, he asks Esther to conceal her Jewishness when going to the king's palace. Why? 2. Why did Esther agree to marry a non-Jewish king? 3. Why didn't anyone in the king's employ realize that Esther was Jewish?
It would seem that Mordecai and Esther are actually "bad" role models for the Jewish people. We teach pride in our identity; we oppose assimilation and intermarriage. Proper religious leaders would not condone their behavior. It would seem that Esther was indeed an assimilated Jewish woman. There was nothing about her that gave away the fact that she was Jewish; she blended in perfectly with Persian society. Not even the king and his retinue had a clue that Esther was Jewish. Mordecai--although a proudly-identified Jew--seems to have decided that it was best for Esther to pass herself off as a non-Jew and to marry the non-Jewish king.
If Mordecai and Esther are so assimilated (even their names are Persian, not Hebrew), how is it that they are heroes of Purim, and that the Scroll of Esther is part of our Bible? Here is a suggestion: the book of Esther teaches us that even in the worst of circumstances when Jews lack appropriate religious leadership, the Almighty finds ways to redeem our people. No Jew--no matter how assimilated--should be counted out; on the contrary, every Jew could be the one to help his/her people in times of distress. The Scroll of Esther is included in our Bible to remind us that each Jew can play a significant role in the unfolding of our history and tradition. It is no wonder that Esther was a source of inspiration to crypto-Jews of all generations; she was a historic reminder that even Jews living in hiding could rise to greatness on behalf of the Jewish people.
As we celebrate Purim this year, let us reaffirm our commitment to our teachings and our traditions. Let us also reaffirm our commitment to all our fellow Jews, regardless of their levels of religiosity and Jewish identification. As we face the many challenges to Israel and to world Jewry, let each of us imagine how we can play a role in the unfolding greatness and redemption of the Jewish people.
Well said, rabbi, and these are words to live by. Try as we might, we can't escape G-d. On the contrary, we should be seeking out G-d by, as the rabbi says, reaffirming our commitment to our teachings and traditions. Light the Shabbos candles, hit up the shul, do something to support tikkun olam, put out a tzedakah box or start saying Modeh Ani or the bedtime Sh'ma. It's the little steps that remind us that G-d is there in all we do. It's one of those things that, well, we just have to come to terms with!

It Really is Quite Punny, Rabbi.

When I was in High School, my "diff" (that means "differentiated" or advanced) English class my junior year I think it was, had to do what we called an I-Search paper. The teachers schlepped us down to the university campus, acclimated us to the university library, helped us to become official prime researchers, and then we all completed a 10, 15, 20 whatever page paper on a topic of our choosing. For me, it was Etymology. Instead of focusing on the origins of words, though, I focused on names and the meanings of names. I was fascinated on the studies that concluded that naming your child with a suffix like John Charles Johns II or Steven Lee Jenkins Jr. would make your kid more susceptible to mental illness, or that giving your kid a name like Sergeant would make him more likely to end up in the military or law enforcement (does anyone actually use that name anymore?).

So, while digging and shuffling through papers in my Talmud class, trying without luck to figure out what my term paper would be on, I happened upon the topic of falsifications, fabrications, and downright unrealistic accounts in the Talmud. I'm not saying it to be blasphemous, for there really ARE cases in the Talmud where a story will be told, presenting a lesson or moral quandary, and at the end of the text the rabbis will say outright that the story is a falsification. Sometimes it's not completely outright, and in other instances it's plainly put. I was reading an article by Louis Jacobs on the topic and he said something that perked my interest even more, relating specifically to names.
"Of importance to our investigation is the peculiar phenomenon, found also in Midrash, of attributing rulings and sayings to teachers whose name is a pun on the subject matter of that particular saying e.g. when R. 'Abba bar Memel explains the meaning of the term memel in the Mishnah" (56-57).
Jacobs goes on to explain the possible reasons for this -- whether it was a name attributed to a rabbi because of the saying, whether the scholars were attracted to discussions where their name was an intended pun, or that it's a literary device in which the names of scholars were appended to the sayings because of the pun.

For someone who has always been obsessed with names, their etymologies and their stories, this is the perfect discussion! The question now is whether there is enough out there written about the topic (the signs point to not really right now), so that the professor will approve my research so I can get started.

Anyone know any other instances of such puns on rabbinical rulings/significant words within the ruling? Intriguing stuff!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stressed. Out. Hardcore style.

I'm a walking, talking, fully functioning stress ball. I've been missing a few Friday classes here and there because of logistics and needing to be in West Hartford to meet with the rabbi, and between not having a car and Tuvia having a full-time job, things are complicated. So, being back on campus Sunday afternoon for the first time since Wednesday night, having classes canceled today, and knowing that I won't be here this Friday because of my Chicago adventure ... well ... that's a lot of missed class, a lot of stress-inducing moments of lost instruction.

I'm trying to make a mental list of all the things I need to do before Thursday, when Tuvia and I trek off to Chicago. Spring Break is next week, so the first real week of education I'll have in a long while is in two weeks. Then in a month we have Pesach and, well, my time feels chopped up into tiny little pieces and there just aren't enough of them.

So I have a headache and there's a tiny bump on my chin -- the ultimate sign that Chavi is stressed -- and I'm attempting to stay calm but every few seconds I remember something else I needed to do. Something I promised someone, something I was supposed to send, someone I was suppose to call, an email I was supposed to send, something I should know or study but just can't seem to grasp.

I suppose this is the pre-Spring Sinking that graduate students feel?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Giveaway Results!

I'll be in touch with the winners soon!

A Shabbos to Remember, a Lifetime to Go.

If you could paint a picture of your best or most ideal Shabbos, would it look anything like this?

I picked up Tuvia in Ye Olde Jeep on Friday around 4:30, and having an hour until we really needed to be at shul, he took me on a mini-tour of his old stomping ground in West Hartford. We headed to our host's house around 5 p.m. and, with open and warm arms, we were welcomed into their home. We said hi to the little ones who were pre-Shabbos bathing and we ran upstairs to put our things down and make sure all the lights we needed were on. Tuvia was in the library -- a room full of Judaica books, nifty artificats and a gigantic air mattress -- and I was in a room down the hall with possibly the most comfortable guest bed I've ever slept on. We thanked the host again and again, said we'd see her in a few after the service, and headed off to shul in the car. At the shul, we parked the car -- making sure we didn't leave anything in it that we might need, and (armed with umbrellas thanks to the impending storm) headed in for the service.

I don't need to go into the service because, well, as usual it was awesome. The rabbi is doing a series on how to go about asking/getting a non-Jew to do things for you on Shabbos that are necessary (the heat in the sanctuary is too hot, too cold, etc.). It's a pretty fascinating series, which we just started last week after a series of weeks on muktza.

After services, Tuvia and I put up the umbrellas (I know, assur to some, but I refuse to be soaked walking home from shul), and set off for our host's place. The house smelled absolutely divine when we arrived. It was the hosts, a few others, and us for dinner and we dug right in to the meal over casual conversation and stories. It was a pretty tame dinner, and shortly afterward we helped clean up the table, chatted with our host in the kitchen, and then set off to sleep on the third floor. I'd hoped to do some reading first, but man alive I conked out. (Probably because the night before Tuvia and I schlepped 4+ hours round-trip to see FrumSatire get his comedy on in Crown Heights!)

I can't say that I slept super well -- I was up every few minutes thanks to a heater that was touchy and the fact that I was worried about oversleeping. We were set to get up at 8 a.m., get ready, eat some breakfast (challah + jelly and butter? yes! coffee with hazelnut creamer? YES!), and head off to shul -- children and stroller in tow. It was incredibly windy and cold, but the walk was outstanding. There's something nice about schlepping to and fro from shul -- you work off all that food you haven't eaten, and all the food you will eat. The morning service is still a lot for me to pick up on. The rabbi's wife helped me out in what I should daven while the Torah service was going on, and by the time I was done it was time for the service to move on. I followed the rest of the service with ease, and the kiddush was pretty interesting (we ate on a food stamp budget), especially since the crowd, well, pretty much heckled the speakers. Tuvia and I left with a few other guests for the lunch at our host's place and on the way we talked about a lot of things, including the community, observance, and how I converted (a popular topic these days!).

The lunch and rest of Shabbos was just mind-blowing. The meal lasted several hours, there were l'chaims and discussions about Israel, faux meat, veggies, delicious wine and the most amazing everything challah I have and will ever eat, and plenty of time spent playing with the kids (there were FIVE children there, and I am in love with each one of their cute little faces). The crowd dwindled bit by bit, and those of us that were left discussed blogging and Hebrew. I was lucky that the guests at the lunch were so diverse -- lawyers, mothers, Israelis, super Orthodox, sort of Orthodox, you name it. Shabbos slowly dwindled and Tuvia and I packed up our things while the family got ready for their post-Shabbos plans. Havdalah rolled around and we smelled the spices, blessed the wine and the light, and said goodbye to probably the most restful, fulfilling Shabbos I've ever had. To be sure, it was my first real, complete Shabbos (umbrella-use aside).

I can't really describe how thankful I am for the community in West Hartford that has so welcomed us with the most open of arms. I have yet to run into a single person who isn't as eager as ever to have us over for a meal or to offer a bed or an ear or shoulder. People have stories, want to hear stories, and love to tell stories. It's a beautiful community willing to go to any length to fulfill the mitzvot while also acknowledging the great, big world that is out there and in their community. These people? They're my kind of people.

On Thursday, Tuvia and I will be in Chicago at my old shul (SO STOKED), and then after that, we'll be spending most weeks at our host's home, dining at the homes of friends, and meeting with the rabbi every Wednesday together to discuss the steps in our future -- and more specifically, in my future. There are a series of difficult aspects of the timeline for Tuvia and I, and they're making a lot of things really come into focus. Between our relationship, my conversion, graduate school, the geographic constraints of where we both live, and everything else, we're having to think about a lot of things. In reality, our lives are being put into perspective, and the most oft thing heard between us is, "I can't wait until we're married, living in West Hartford, with a kosher home."

I've come a long way from three years ago, don't you think?