Wednesday, December 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chaviva's PSA: GET HEALTHY! - PART 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I am a Secular Christmas Dropout!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


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

A normal Right Knee?

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Walking, Talking Stress Ball.

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

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

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

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

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

Haveil Havalim is LIVE!

Check it out over at Frume Sarah's World!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Was An Israelite for 10 Days!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Light my Cupcake Menorah?

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coolest. Chanukah. Gift. EVER!

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

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

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

Happy Chanukah, friends!

Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm Here to Start a Fire.

Me, in Caesaria, Israel.

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

But make no mistake: My story is unique.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chanukah Sameach v'Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We Have a Winner!

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


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

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