Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Anniversaries Abound

Three years ago, the bells and whistles of my Reform conversion were completed. The mikvah had been dipped, prayers were recited, the bet din had been satisfied, sushi had been consumed, and I was preparing for a Friday evening ceremony with friends. Three years ago, I was preparing to graduate from college, but also to graduate from a girl with a Jewish soul into a Jew with a Jewish soul. You can read about my experience here.

It's amazing how much I have changed and moved in the past three years. I've had a career, changed careers, lived in three different places -- Washington DC, Chicago, and Connecticut. I've purchased things, and gotten rid of things. I've donated items, and lost items. I have had several different boyfriends, and am now with the man I'll spend the rest of my days with. I lost a grandfather, found out my father has cancer, and watched countless friends get married and now pregnant. I've watched my little brother get his first girlfriend, and I've watched my parents age. I've gained weight and lost weight. I've taken on more mitzvot, moved from Reform to Conservative to Orthodox in an almost fluid motion. I've become a technologically addicted 20 something, the essence of my generation. But all in all, I'm still me. Amanda, Chaviva. I am "beloved."

And with a mere three-year anniversary of my conversion, Israel celebrates 61 years since its establishment.

It's hard to feel connected to the celebrations when spread thinly out in the Diaspora, and I wish I were there. I find myself missing Israel, even though I was only there for 10 days, all the time. I keep thinking "I could go on a 5-month or 12-month program and work/study in Israel after I graduate in a year!" But then, well, I don't think Tuvia would be too fond of that. I'd love to live in Israel, if only for part of the year. I'd love to be part of the community, the living, breathing organism of Jewishness. But until then, I'll be in solidarity of mind with Israel. Maybe find a cupcake and stick a candle in it. Say "Yom huledet sameach, Yisrael!"

Monday, April 27, 2009

Woe is me, no more!

If there were a word to describe how I feel right now, it would be RELIEVED.

Yes, there is still a week and a half left till the end of the semester. This week and a half includes, but is not limited to:

  • Two and a half chapters of Hebrew homework. Due this Wednesday.
  • A Hebrew final exam next week (comprehensive, what joy!)
  • A 15+ page paper on Ima Shalom (cringes). Due next Tuesday.
  • A 10-ish page paper on cultic images in Babylonia + what the architecture of Babylon was meant to represent outside of physical enormity. Due Friday.
  • A 5-7 page paper on my thoughts of the Talmud class and problems with seeking history from texts used in class (Josephus, Bavli, Yerushalmi, etc.). Due next Wednesday.
Now, this list looks much more begrudging than it feels to me right now. Ask me in a week how I feel, and we'll see. Essentially I have to be done with all of these things by Wednesday. I've split up the next week and a half so that I can successfully allot my time, since I seem to have a problem with that. Yes, I've waited until the last minute to write everything, but that is the Chavi way. I have thoughts and genius swirling in my brain and at the last minute I sit down for a 7-hour writing marathon to complete a single paper. It's how I roll, and it works. It won't always work, but for now, this semester, it will have to work. 

But the relief is birthed from having attended and presented at my first Academic Conference. This time around, it was the Society of Biblical Literature, and although it wasn't as exciting and thrilling as I had expected or hoped for, it was a good entrance for someone like me into the conference circuit. I saw what kind of feedback and questions were iterated, and I got a chance to check out the competition at schools like Boston and Yale and Harvard. As I read my paper on the Golden Calf, I saw holes in my argument, missing tidbits of information that I know in my head but somehow didn't end up in the paper (how'd I miss that?!), and I now know that I have some editing to do. I'm presenting the topic to an undergraduate ancient Near East class on Wednesday, and I'm hoping that it's not so much me talking at them as with them -- I seek a dialogue of epic proportions where some nerdy undergrad suggests something or queries something I had yet to consider, perhaps resulting in some massive dissertation someday. 

But overall? I was relieved to get that talk over with. And suddenly everything else just doesn't seem that bad. I put way, way too much pressure on myself. I'm one of those golden children of the differentiated and excelled tracts. I was dissecting frogs and writing computer programs in the fourth grade, and I spent much of my sixth grade year coasting through school with a bunch of other braniacs going for donuts and discussing taxidermy. The difference between me and a lot of these people now, though, is that I really had to and have to work to keep it all up. I'm not a genius, by any means. I did brain teasers well, excelled at my times tables, was an expert at Origami at the age of 10, and graduated fifth in a class a high school class of 525 students. I spend a lot of time wondering if this was the right route, if this whole academic devotion was really what I was meant to do and then when I'm sitting in a car reading about Babylonian cultic objects and telling Tuvia about it and explaining the finer details of kings shipping their idols to avoid plunder, well, it's those moments that I know this really is the right path. I just have to remember who I am, where I came from, and where I'm going. 

So, relief in mind, I'll start in on my papers and Hebrew homework. I have more to write about the Senegalese food we had for Shabbat, meeting a Jewish woman from Norway, and Tuvia's sister's baby shower. But this will all come hopefully after at least one paper is written. Maybe sooner. Either way? I'm feeling confident and good. With the help of friends, loved ones, and the end being near, I'm prepared for just about anything.

As a quick quip, though, there is no Hebrew word for "baby shower." I always knew that baby showers aren't very Jewish things, as it pushes the hand of G-d and beckons the evil eye. But I thought maybe there'd be a word for it! Alas, there isn't. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring has Sprung

I'm up to my knees in the Golden Calf right now. I've been digging up images online to show the undergraduate class on Wednesday when I'll be teaching my first college course, if only for a day! Yes, I'll be the teacher. Teaching. A class. This is what dreams are made of folks. So I can't help but dig up my November 4 post where a group of Christians prayed at the Golden Bull on Wall Street for the economy. I wonder how that's working out this time around? Tomorrow at 9 a.m. at the Andover Theological Seminary in Newton Centre, Mass., I'll be giving a talk on the same topic. I'll be wedged between a Yale student and a Harvard student. Hopefully I can represent?

But the real point here, is to tell everyone that Spring really is in the air. I'm the kind of person who has never, ever had a green thumb. I killed a cactus, I killed a bamboo plant, I even killed the Wandering Jew that my mom bought me. My mother, who has a knack for growing things, no longer gives me plants because I have a murderous thumb. On a whim not that long ago, though, I bought a little Gardens of Babylon kit. It's one of those little boxes that you find on the spinny rack at the front of Borders or Barnes and Noble mixed in with your own mini putting green or beach scene. I once bought a mini sno-globe kit, even. But this was a whim purchase, knowing my history with greenery. Much to my surprise, though, over the past three weeks, this little garden has blossomed into something beautiful. When I'm having a cruddy day, I simply look down at my magical mini Gardens of Babylon and I get a hint of new, blossoming things. It's a good feeling. And hopefully I'm not jinxing myself by writing of my successes here. Check out the goods:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New Poll! And results!

Okay, your matzo eating days in 5769 are over, but everyone wants to know the results of the matzo topping poll, right?! There were other suggestions, including guacamole, mayo and other delicious goods including charoset (can't believe I left that off the list!). Here's the pie chart:

Also, check out the new poll I just posted. I want to know of what you all want more!

Tinkerbell Pulling her Hair Out! One night only!

I'm not consuming nearly enough coffee to stay afloat. I have completely neglected my fellow Bloggers (247 posts in the Google Reader queue) and what can only be some amazing posts. Between Pesach, the end of the semester, and this talk I'm giving Friday? My head is in explosion mode. I drive myself to the limit, stress myself out, and make things a lot more work than they should be. In the end, I'm always proud and satisfied by my work and effort, but I'm beginning to wonder if the ends justify the means. The anxiety, the stomachaches, the sleeplessness, the tears in front of unsuspecting teachers followed up by more tears in a bathroom stall ... and that's only part of it. As such, I just Google Image searched "pull out hair" and got a lot of hilarious stock photos. But the best of all was this animated gif! Score on tinker bell pulling out the hair in twinkly frustration!

But sunnier things? I just read a boatload of goods on false messianism and the Bar Kochba revolt. Incredibly interesting stuff. I'm going to sit down and read the parshah tonight before bed and look over some of the notes I took a few years ago when I was dutifully reading the parshah each week (oy how times have changed!). I have my first meeting with the rabbi tomorrow since pre-Pesach, and I'm ready to get in there and ask the tough questions! And maybe, you know, feel out when the conversion thing will actually, physically, literally happen.

No pressure, though!

So until the semester is over, until I'm done pulling my hair out, and until the only stress in the foreseeable future is the likely mind-bending Middlebury Language School from July 24-August 14, this is what I'm up to when I don't have a nose in a book.

And maybe, just maybe I'll have time to reflect on Yom HaShoah, the Omer, the meaning of the count, the mourning, where it comes from, why we mourn! And all of that good stuff that I thrive on.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shemonei Esrei: Deconstructed!

Every time I'm davening, I stumble over this bit in the Shemonei Esrei that, translated by Artscroll reads
Rebuilding Jerusalem
And to Jerusalem, Your city, may you return in compassion, and may You rest within it, as You have spoken. May you rebuild it soon in our days as an eternal structure, and may You speedily establish the throne of David within it. Blessed are You, HaShem, the Builder of Jerusalem. 
My beef with the text comes with the bolded words there. The Hebrew looks like this:
The text makes sense to me in that it calls for a rebuilding (uvnei) of Jerusalem, but I find the wording on the throne of David difficult. Jerusalem, after all, was destroyed a few times over, with the Temple -- the first and the second -- being destroyed. In my mind, the rebuilding of Jerusalem is largely in reference to the reestablishment of a Temple, a central place of worship for Jews. But the throne of David, established at one point in Israel, needs not be established but merely to be re-established. It's confusing to me that verb associated with Jerusalem is rebuild, but the verb associated with the throne of David is an original, an establishing.

The verb translated as establish, tachin (להכין), literally means "to prepare, make ready." My favorite Hebrew-English/English-Hebrew online dictionary uses the verbs לייסד, להקים; לבסס for "to establish." (Note: These probably are strictly modern Hebrew verbs, not sure about the Biblical Hebrew. Boneh is pretty standard for building, to build, builder, etc. in the Hebrew Bible. Someone with more knowledge of the varying verbs relating to building or esetablishing or constructing in the Tanakh.)

Thus it seems to me that the text in the Shemonei Esrei is actually calling for Jerusalem to be rebuilt as in the glory days and for the city to be prepared and made ready for the throne of David once again thrive (i.e. be re-established). At any rate, it makes me feel a lot better about reading it every time I daven. It has always seemed awkward to me that it would be "establish." 

Then again, I tend to pick apart words and phrases much more than is necessary. I'm guessing this hasn't bothered anyone else, right?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bells will be Ringing.

You know the moment I get engaged I'm going to be all over the Jewish Wedding Network.

Yes, you, the viewing/reading audience will be able to watch the entire, painful process of me planning my future, someday, maybe wedding. I promise I won't be a bridezilla.

But since the Omer Count is in full swing, you won't be seeing any engagements any time soon. 

No pressure, Tuvia. (Insert winky face here!) I bet your mom and other relatives who are reading this are wondering why on Earth I am blogging about this. Well, the infinitely talented Sara over at PopJudaica recently started the Jewish Wedding Network site and I think it's absolutely MARVELOUS. It's a resource, a blog, a place to find vendors, and more. Now I just have to hook up my girls at Quite Like It -- a stellar invitation/card/etc. start-up -- with the Jewish Wedding Network.

Go check out both sites, but defiitely the JWN since there are giveaways this week! Be sure to enter by Sunday night!

Wait, What Just Happened?

Well, Pesach is over. I really anticipated Passover this year, too. I planned a menu, a shopping list, I planned some more, cleaned, I did everything by the book (what book?) and in the end I was still overwhelmed and ill prepared. I ran out of cream cheese three days in, didn't get enough veggies and had to go buy some and neglected to really get anything on my shopping list beforehand because, well, I put the list in a "Passover 2009" folder which promptly got buried under a gigantic stack of papers about two weeks ago.

So much for planning!

But the whole week flew by, and my initial reaction to it being over is "Wait, what just happened?" I didn't feel spiritually connected to Passover this year. I didn't spend much time studying or reading about the actual seder itself, why we celebrate, all the things I like to do before major holidays. You see, these holidays happen only once a year. I'm a pro at Shabbat -- it happens every week! I always feel spiritually and emotionally connected to Shabbos. But the holidays? They come once a year and that means I have very, very few under my belt. I get that everyone else has been doing Pesach since birth and the seders are exhausting and irritating. The traditions and practices are old and lengthy and I get why people don't get into seders and just want them to end. But for those of us who haven't really had the chance to experience 15, 18, 30, 50 of them? Well, we're at a loss. I know I should have done more to really get myself into the holiday, but we were traveling and kashering and toveling. I had homework, quizes, tests, stressors. The holiday came, it went, and I'm left jaw dropped wondering why it passed without me feeling it pass over.

Next year! That's what I say every year. Next year? I'll start preparing in January. The moment Chanukah comes I'll get the books and read the essays and study the services and the haggadot. I'll be better prepared. Next year. It'll pass me over and I'll feel its breeze on my face.

Until then? Well, it's back to the regular chametz-eating schedule. Bread, cereal, bagels, muffins. Color me stoked. I enjoy my matzo and cream cheese, but a girl can only take so much.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pesach Reflections, Part II

I know this is long, but bear with me. The Pesach Miracle comes toward the end, as well as a question about those of you filling out the poll on your matzo toppings ... keep reading!

With a free day before the Second Seder in West Palm, Tuvia and I decided to trek out to the ocean. After all, my one trip to the Atlantic was amid a horrible rain storm in freezing cold weather, so I was looking forward to a beautiful day dipping  my toes in the ocean and collecting seashells. I'm not a big beach bum kind of person, but the vastness and blue of the ocean mystifies me! So we schlepped out, and I convinced Tuvia to dip his toes in the water. The beach was super crowded with families and the water was a little too chilly in my mind for swimming. The sky was clear and blue, the water matched in brightness, and colorful boats floated in the distance. We headed back in toward Tuvia's aunt's house for the second seder, stopping to change first out.
We arrived, and the night mimicked the previous night in many ways. The seder was very short, with few people carrying on for the second half of the seder (in truth, it was the same three people -- Tuvia, myself, and his cousin). It bummed me out a lot, but what can I do? The meal was good and the conversation was interesting. The crowd was mostly the same, save a few new neighbors and a semi-distant relative and his wife. There was philosophical conversation about what happiness is (oy, not going to even go there) and the evening sort of lulled around the living room as people trickled home. The hugs and warmth that were given to me by Tuvia's family is incomparable to anything I've ever experienced. I felt so welcomed by the family, like a true member of the family. Oh, and the dog? Yes, the dog ate the afikomen -- twice. And Elijah never came! Oy. Next year in Jerusalem!

On Friday morning, we got up and schlepped to Tuvia's grandma's place for one last goodbye and a breakfast of matzo brie and matzo pancakes. I've never had matzo brie before -- I tried to make it once and failed miserably -- and bubbe's was absolutely OUTSTANDING. I have yet to make any here yet, but I fully intend on making some tomorrow before the second chag! We said goodbye to his grandmother, headed to his aunt's for some more goodbyes to the cousins and everyone, and headed off to the airport.

On the way to the airport, my anxiety about the iPod incident continued to boil. I'd called the credit card company the night before (despite the chag) to find out if there was anything they could do -- most credit card companies have purchase protection for about 90 days after the purchase for lost, stolen or damaged items. The woman on the phone was kind to relate her own lost item (the bottom of a car seat, really?) and apologize that nothing could be done. So heading to the airport, my anxiety started to build again. I kept thinking -- maybe someone found it? Maybe someone turned it in? Maybe it will magically be there? After all, we were boarding at the same gate we de-boarded from.

We checked in, went to the gate, and there across from us sitting in the waiting area was a little old couple with a bag of matzo. I was jealous and starving and wishing I had some matzo. But I muffled my hunger, approached the woman at the counter who had been so brash with me just days before, and was informed they still hadn't found anything but that I could file a report with baggage claim. Right. It was gone, that was it.

The plane ride back was a lot more smooth than the ride to Florida. The moment we landed in New Jersey we were to pack up Tuvia's car with gefilte fish, matzo, kugel, Judaica, and more and head immediately to West Hartford for Shabbat. Yes, once again, travelling on the chag. It tore me up inside to do so, and I hope that if we go the same route next year, we won't travel on the chag. (NOTE: TUVIA!)

We arrived back in West Hartford just as Shabbos was beginning. Our host family had waited to have dinner until we arrived and we were so thankful. We were welcomed to a house full of friends, extended family, neighbors and children. The meal was loud and boisterous and the food was delicious. It felt like Shabbat in all ways except the amazing Everything Challah was nowhere in sight! We laughed and talked, related our seder experiences, and afterward everyone retired to the living room and we chatted about family and children and Judaism until the wee hours. Shabbat day was a repeat of the night before, with long and loud conversation among friends and loved ones. People from all over discussing religion and Judaism and Pesach and tradition and the chag and matzo. There was so much, so many people, so much noise! And it was beautiful. There was something also involving a hanging sheet in our sleeping quarters, but that's more fun as an inside joke. If you want to know more, let me know and I'll email you the hilarious details :)

But because of the stress and anxiety and constant noise and people for three days straight, I had Tuvia take me back to campus motzei Shabbos -- but only after a quick trip to the supermarket to shop the motzei Shabbos/seder SALES!!! I got some great deals, let me tell you ...

But the Pesach Miracle? I've been in contact with my credit card company, to no avail. I've filed a report with Continental, to no avail. I'd Tweeted and kvetched and cried about the stupid iTouch I'd lost. My success, my achievements, my physical manifestation of feeling good about my accomplishments. And then, as I'm lamenting how many jerks there are in the world, someone -- an e-friend out there in the ether -- decided to donate to the cause. I didn't ask, or plead, or request. There is merely a soul out there who is fighting the good fight, proving that amid all the jerks there are a few mensches. It was an unexpected gift, and thank yous have been issued but I still feel they are not enough. There is no doubt in my mind that this person will obtain their reward and place in the World to Come. If not, well, more immediately. I hope that someday, when I have the means, that I will be able to perform such giving to ease the minds and hearts of those around me. So all is not lost, fear not, dear readers.

So now, I'm busy eating  matzo and cream cheese and lots of other deliciously dairy things and I think my body is rebelling. I'm hoping to head to the store tomorrow maybe to get some fresh fruits and veggies, but we'll see if that ACTUALLY happens. Otherwise, I'll scavenge for food at the rabbi's for the second chag.

Also: For those of you voting in the poll to the right there -- what is the NOT LISTED that you guys put on your  matzo exactly? I'm super intrigued.  

Spill the beans on e-Awards!

I am perplexed. How do e-Awards get started? You know, those kind that have cheeky names that you throw out to a couple bloggers and they throw them out to a couple MORE bloggers and it just keeps going. Where do they START? I followed one blog award today on a friend's blog all the way back about 10 different bloggers and still didn't get to the start.

Maybe I should create my own e-Award. The Menschiest Mensch in Mensch Town Award. Yes, maybe I'll do that. But only if I can understand the purpose, meaning, and history behind these e-Awards.

So spill!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pesach Reflections, Part I

Where to begin, where to begin. I spent my day working on a paper for my Ancient Near East course about the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to ancient studies, as well as cutting down my Golden Calf paper from last semester for a Society of Biblical Literature conference that is less than two weeks away. Oy. Now, I'm a pro on nanogenerators as I prepared a sample blog post for a friend who is considering taking me on as his once-weekly blogger for a new engineering business he's presently setting up. Yes, I might actually become a paid blogger. My take? If you're a good blogger, you can blog on absolutely anything in the world and make it sound like it's your first area of expertise. So here's hoping I'm a good blogger.

But Pesach? I had matzo pizza today and it absolutely elated me. I know I won't feel that way come Thursday, but for now, it's comforting. So far, all of Passover has been incredibly comforting. I've never felt so loved, wanted, needed, accepted, and cared for in my life than I have over the past several days. It's all thanks to the three-day chag. Two days of Passover seders in West Palm Beach, Florida, by Tuvia's family and then Shabbat in West Hartford with our host family and their extended family, as well as many, many guests. I was left feeling exhausted last night, just wanting to sleep, and now that I've slept, all I can think about is how special I feel. How blessed I truly am.

The holiday started out with a devastating turn of events. The iTouch I had bought the week before as a reward for years spent paying off credit card debt, not to mention being accepted to Middlebury's Language School and having my paper accepted to SBL, was stolen from my flight to West Palm from Newark. I'd left it on a seat and it was swiped up in the blink of an eye. The anxiety and stress from the past two weeks culminated in a near-asthma attack, a muffled anxiety attack, and hugs from perfect strangers apologizing for the loss of the $300 item and my sense of security and accomplishment. I spent my time pre-Pesach first night hastily changing passwords to my email, Twitter, Facebook, and other programs that were pre-loaded to appear on my iTouch. So when I got the seder? I didn't want to be there. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to rest and relax and not be near people. I needed to be quiet and sad. I needed to crawl inside myself like I do when things feel like they're falling apart.


I was hugged by Tuvia's grandmother and cousin and aunts and uncles and friends and more family. I was attacked by tiny dogs shoving balls around tiled floors in the most beautiful and grand homes I've ever been in. I was shuffled to a two-table-long seder where the Maxwell House haggadah was the text of choice. Men placed on kippot and the seder leader -- an Israeli whose Hebrew made me feel calm -- began the festive meal with blessings. The food was delicious, the conversation fascinating. I got a chance (both nights, actually) to share my academic works. I got to talk about the Golden Calf and oranges on seder plates and why Jews dress the way they do. I got to put my brain on display and for me? That's something that I live and die for. It's self-indulgent, I'm sure, but I like to teach people things that they might not know or that they might have misconceptions about. It was brilliant and I left the seder that night feeling special, as a true Jew, as someone proud of my knowledge and someone who was sitting around a table with people who will someday be my family. The only bummer of the night? After the festive meal, well, no one continued the seder. There were three of us who had to finish up with the third and fourth cups, letting Elijah in, bensching, and all the other bits and pieces of the second half of the seder. The seder was seriously lacking from the meal. For me, I'd rather have a seriously lacking meal and a full seder. But I shouldn't complain -- it was an amazing time.

Everyone hugged and departed and Tuvia and I trekked off to our hotel near the turnpike. We slept, exhausted, after a long and stressful day that left me without proper footing. As such, we slept in really late Thursday, as our only plan for the day was to head to the Second Seder -- same house, same time, most of the same people. We got up around noon, slapped on some clothes, and headed downstairs for some pre-breakfast coffee. To our excited surprise, the hotel had put out a gigantic plate of matzo! Never in my life had we been so excited to see matzo.

Only in West Palm Beach, folks. Only in West Palm. Did I mention this was my first trip to West Palm?

But more on next time ... stay tuned for Pesach Reflections, Part II!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

So much to say, no time for now!

I have days worth of posts to make, but because of the volume of things I want to write about, it's going to take me a while because I have a volume of work to do over the next three days before the second chag of Pesach. As such, I'm merely going to leave you with some beautiful artwork that I fell in love with while down in West Palm Beach at a cozy little kosher-style diner with Evan's family. The artist is Arthur Szyk, and this is -- appropriately -- his Passover artwork. Szyk is an amazing artist and I'm blown away that I was ill aware of him until now. But here he is, in all his glory.

I hope everyone had absolutely stellar, welcoming and comforting seders with family and friends. Likewise, Shavua Tov and I hope everyone's enjoying their matzo!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A brief adieu for Pesach!

I am presently in New Jersey, where I had a bunch of chametz-free food like stuffed cabbage with Pesach noodles instead of rice, a not so tasty Pesach cookie, and other things, all thanks to Tuvia's bubbe! We then searched for chametz and there is a big dumpster across the street for dumping chametz and tomorrow the local fire dept is coming to set it ablaze! At around 6:30 in the morning to go say Birkat HaChamah with Tuvia's dad and step mom before heading to the airport to leave for West Palm Beach, Florida for the Seders!

It has been a long couple of weeks, and it will continue after the chag, but I am hoping these next three days of Pesach and then Shabbos will help me arrive at a place of ease.

So, live from my ipod I wish one and all Chag Kasher v'Sameach!

Monday, April 6, 2009

A couple o'links!

A few links worth mentioning!

1) Thanks to DovBear/Rafi G for posting up the newest list of Newsweek's 50 Influential Rabbis. Once again, not too many Orthodox rabbis on the list, but that's to be expected, I think. Yasher koach to all the rabbis out there on the list! If that's not a good enough article for you, then, you know, there's always the Third Annual "Hottest Rabbi" list ... yikes.

2) The newest Haveil Havalim is up over on Ima on the Bima! Give it a look, mmk?

EDIT: Also from DovBear: The Dirty Little Truth about the Sun Blessing (Birchat HaChamah). My bubble is burst. But I suspected there was something fishy about it. I mean, seriously. How can we calculate such things!?

And since it's making its way around the intertubes:

Wait, you're NOT supposed to trash Chametz?

This post was inspired by a conversation I had over Shabbat in W. Hartford...

Less than a year ago, I was gearing up for my first real (well, not really, I didn't kasher my kitchen at that time) observant Pesach. It was April 18, 2008 that I first went to an Orthodox shul for the first time, and wow here I am now a regular attendee of the local Orthodox shul, I stay weekly in the community, and I'm working on a conversion with the rabbi there.

When I was getting ready for Passover last year, I went through my entire kitchen -- cupboards, fridge, freezer, you name it, I found chametz and items with chametz and kitniyot (not getting to a kitniyot blog this year, it just isn't worth the time or energy). The result of my search was a donation to a local foodbank of some unopened stuff, and a gigantic box of stuff that I put in the lobby of my building with a note for people to PLEASE TAKE since Passover was coming. The thing is, when I learned and read about Pesach, in my mind, the whole point was to not be in possession of chametz -- period. Not in the house. Not at the office. None of my spaces could have the dirty little leavened goods.

This whole selling your chametz thing throws me for a loop.

I remember doing it last year, on one of the last days, because I was told that's what you HAVE to do in case there are crumbs. But believe you me, there was not a single product with chametz in my house. Isn't that the point? Didn't the rabbis say that you couldn't have chametz, period? They didn't say to throw it in a cabinet, cover it with foil or tape it off, did they? The point is to go a week without it, to get rid of it, to purge. Purge!Now, it makes sense that college students, people living in poverty, the elderly, etc. would keep their chametz and just block it away -- throwing away a bunch of bread and chametzdik products could be completely hazardous to their finances, their health, their livelihood.

But the rest of us? People who can afford to go to the grocery store and re-purchase that $1.00 box of pasta? That $1.50 loaf of bread? Really? We can't manage to donate that stuff to a food bank and purge the chametz?

I don't know if this is really radical or ridiculous thought, but if I have my way, in the future, when I'm married and what have you, there will be no chametz in my house. It just makes sense to me. This whole selling thing seems like a crock.

As an aside: I have it on a good account that there is (was?) a town in New Jersey where, when you sell your chametz, the people who it eventually gets sold to -- the non-Jews -- actually go to people's homes and take out what they want during Pesach because community members are required to inventory their chametz supply at home. Talk about absurd ...
On that note: I still haven't gotten my kosher l'pesach Coke. I haven't seen it anywhere, and this severely bums me out. I'm leaving tomorrow night for New Jersey where Tuvia and I will be spending a day or so, and on Wednesday morning we're heading to West Palm Beach for Pesach with his dad's family. So for now, I'll leave you with the results of the most recent poll -- Pesach plans! For me, I'll be attending two seders. I think it'll be a long time before I'm hosting my own.

Sorry about the hideous color scheme. Not sure how that happened!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thoughts on Anonymous Posters.

I am utterly indebted to @slerner, who brought to my attention the brilliant words of Samson Raphael  Hirsch, the founder of contemporary Orthodoxy, written in the late 1800s. I would venture to say that Hirsch was far ahead of his time, writing the credo for bloggers who would receive anonymous content.
Various publications opposing our call for secession from the Reform community of this city have already appeared under the cover of anonymity. The contents of these publications only show that their authors are in no position whatsoever to voice any opinion worthy of note on this question. Therefore, in view of the seriousness and significance of this issue, I consider it my duty to announce, in connection with the open letter printed below, that any replies written anonymously or signed with a fictitious name will not receive any consideration from me. One who lacks the courage to sign his true name to his views must be aware that what he is saying is meaningless and that he therefore cannot expect others to take notice of it.
Let the anonymous gnatz buzz happily in the sunny meadows. I certainly do not want to spoil their pleasure.
S.R. Hirsch
I refuse to block commentors because on ocassion there are those whom I know who choose to comment anonymously because of their community or what have you, so for their sake I will leave commenting open. But let it be known that those with divisive opinions who intend to use my blog as a soapbox must include a name to be taken seriously at all.

Meeting notes!

For your entertainment and my need to catalogue every thing that happens during my meetings with the rabbi ... here is a brief entry of "Things I Learned While Talking to the Rabbi." Enjoy!

A short note: Gematria is sort of the number-izing of the Torah. Each letter corresponds with a number, Aleph is One, Bet is Two, Gimel is Three, and so on until you get to Yod, which is 10, and then you bump up to 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, etc. so that the enter alphabet corresponds with a number, much like roman numerals. The rabbis take words with similar sum totals among their letters to show interesting and sometimes marvelous things. I posted one of these nifty things using the gematria of "chametz" and "blemish" not too long ago. I recently heard of gematria referred to as fascinating, but "impractical rabbinics." I dig that. 

And now, here we go!

  • The reason Haredim and Hasidim and whomever else does (or maybe doesn't) abide by the rule of not getting your matzo wet on Pesach is because of the fear that there might be some leftover flower that didn't make the cut in the matzo and by getting it went you'd start the process of leavening and if you happened to drip some H20 on something and didn't eat it for 18 minutes it might become chametz! Oy! So I asked the rabbi if the 18-minute time limit for something to go from un-chametz to chametz having anything to do with 18 being the gematria for the word for life -- chai (חי) -- but he said no. Anyone know otherwise? The flour would, technically, come to life. An interesting tradition, but I like my matzo with cream cheese and jelly too much to go that route. 
  • Tradition has it that when you sleep, this is 1/60 of death. When you dream, it is 1/60 of prophecy. I sure spend a lot of time prophesying. I mean, really. Every night. Vivid dreams aplenty.
  • In the Passover Seder, there are four sons. One of the sons -- perhaps one of the most controversial at that -- is the Wicked Son. It's ordered that you knock out the teeth (more or less) of the wicked son. So why do you do this? Well, the gematria for wicked son is 570. The gematria for teeth is 366. If you knock out the teeth from wicked son, you come up with 204, which happens to be the gematria for a tzadik, a wise man. Sometimes gematria makes me go "yeah, right, okay" and sometimes it makes my jaw drop and forces me to go buy books on gematria and bible codes ... 
  • There are THREE types of handwashing. I didn't know this, and I didn't know that I was doing the handwashing on Shabbos before the motzi WRONG. Yes, I have been living a lie for a long, long time now and I didn't know it. What are the three types of handwashing?
    • In the morning, when you rise, you say the modeh/modah ani and you wash your hands with al natilat yada'im. The way you wash is to fill up the cup, and pour it on the right, then the left, then the right, then the left, then the right, and finally the left. Three times on each hand, alternating.
    • In the pre-motzi washing, you say al natilat yada'im, but you fill up the cup and throw water on your right hand twice, then on your left hand twice. Curses! I was doing the morning washing routine before bread!!
    • The third Pesach-centered hand washing is during the seder when you wash, and you only throw water on each hand once. I never got a really keen answer on why it was only once, but hey, it works. 
So, now, on my Amazon Wish List I will add two one stellar books related to my evening with the rabbi and others. [Unfortunately, one of the books is completely and totally in Hebrew (it's called Gematricon -- גימטריקון), so that won't be added.] The really interesting book is the Polychrome Historical Haggadah for Passover, which breaks down the traditional haggadah by when various portions of it were written/developed/etc. It color coats each period of when certain bits of the texts derived -- the early rabbis, the medieval period, etc. Fascinating stuff! Too bad actual copies appear to be in the $300+ range. Yikes!

At any rate, an early Shabbat Shalom to one and all!