Monday, May 31, 2010

Today, I'm Getting Hitched.

Yes, I had the worst night of sleep ever. Yes, my stomach is in knots. Yes, I'm already schvitzing.

But that's just half the fun. Just think: This big, fat Jewish blog will soon become a big, fat MARRIED Jewish blog! Good times. So stay tuned.

If you want to watch all the Tweeting going on today, check out the hashtag #tuvivah (mad props to those who came up with it) or click here to watch a mostly life feed of ye olde tweets!

There will be bucketloads of photos, video, and more, I'm sure. So stay tuned. I'll catch you in a few days when I can catch my breathe :)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Do Carrie and the Mikvah Mix?

Ahh, a new day. I'm standing her in a darkened kitchen, eating Gluten Free Cinnamon Chex and writing this little note here. I'm marveling that I've nabbed TWO new followers over there on the Blogger follow thing, so hello to whoever you are (I hope you stick around for everything!). The boys are off to a Yankees game (that's my Tuvia, @ravtex, Tuvia's dad, and his uncle, as well). I don't know if I've emphasized just how much he needs to reapply sunscreen every five seconds.

After all, we are getting married tomorrow. Pictures, after all, are at this time tomorrow. Sof sof, I'll be able to see my chatan. Thank haShem. I'm ready for this no seeing and dancing around each other to be over. It's rough, even for someone as sort of emotionally handicapped as me.

We had a big party (kiddush that is) at shul yesterday. Tuvia davened at the big minyan downstairs, and I was upstairs at a smaller, quieter minyan (for the first time, I got to daven in peace at that shul!). We both ushered into the social hall for a beautiful, lavish kiddush that stuffed me good. There were a few almost-encounters, but our awesome friends managed to keep us apart. (Mad props to @ravtex and @susqhb, not to mention our awesome West Hartford friends who also helped out.) I was, in a word, overwhelmed by the people -- strangers and acquaintances -- wishing me a mazal tov. "Thank you for coming!" I said. Sus quickly pointed out to me that, well, it's a synagogue, on Shabbat -- they probably would have come anyway.

So today is a sort of kick-back day. Tuvia at America's Favorite Past time, while Sus and I head to see "Sex and the City 2" (totally appropriate for a kallah the day before her wedding, no?), some food, some CostCo, then my big mikvah dip at 5 p.m., followed by a rousing Pizza Party at 7 p.m. at Tuvia's dad's place. I think it's funny, actually. Tuvia's friends joked yesterday about him "becoming a man" yesterday doing all the shul hullabaloo and aliyot, and here today we're having a pizza party.

I think my little Tuvia is becoming a man. Har har. (Insert smiley face here.)

I'm really stoked though because so many family members and friends are going to be there. I'm stoked to see my West Hartford people and my online people and my new, awesome mishpacha all in one place, intermingled, all for our simcha. My new mishpacha, the loving with unconditional and open arms and emotions. And that makes me so happy.

So the cereal is gone (it was really delicious, in case you were wondering), and I need to wrangle Miss Sus from her French Toast-induced coma. Off to get our Carrie Bradshaw on. We're so glamorous.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Marrying a Convert: A Serious Plunge.

Aliza wrote about this on her blog, and I thought it worthy to post here. It's an interesting piece by a woman who married a man who converted -- Orthodox -- and now she's trying to evaluate how religious he is versus how religious she is. Interesting article. I second what Aliza says about getting letters from people who want to convert but whose boyfriends/fiances/partners/etc. are happy with who they are or who fear the converted individual becoming, well, a Super Jew.

Read the story here: Intermarried: My husband, a convert, is more observant than I am

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Without Words: The Book Thief

The Book ThiefThis might be my shortest post ever. I finished reading "The Book Thief," by Markus Zusak, and I'm mostly speechless. I can offer only a series of words to describe the book. After that, I suggest you find the book and read it. Don't be turned off by the first 10 or 15 pages -- keep reading. You'll be entranced and taken by the story. The words?


Have you read this book? Let's talk. I'm curious what your reaction is. There have been a flurry of books from the perspective of the "active" participants of the Shoah, or those who were not "active" but were bystanders during World War II, and I'm intrigued by this. It seems that there's a push for the story of the righteous gentiles and their efforts. In both books I've read recently with this theme, I've felt an undertone of sympathy (note that the other book I'm speaking of is The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy).


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rahab the Harlot: The Rabbis' Convert

Over Shavuot, I gave a shiur on Rahab (which, actually, is pronounced Rachav, or more appropriately, here's the Hebrew: רחב), and I'd been planning on posting some form of the shiur here, so here I am. This paper originated in the Fall semester 2009 for a Midrashic Literature course. How did I happen upon Rahab? You know, I honestly can't remember. I wanted to do something with conversion, and I had originally intended to write about the Rabbi's views on conversion. The literature on this, actually, is pretty broad, so I narrowed things down to one, single, well-loved convert: Rahab ha'zonah. After some interesting mentions of "red cords" and "red threads" in various parashot, I've decided to continue my exploration of Rahab and some inconsistencies and curiosities about the red cord (related to the Passover, perhaps, but in sacrifices of repentance, the red thread becomes as such through the dying of the thread with a substance derived from a lowly snail, showing a rise from a lowly state [repentance] to a higher place [Rashi]).

Anyhow. Let's start with my intro.
In the Book of Joshua, the reader encounters Rahab the Canaanite harlot (zonah, זונה), who is charged with saving Joshua’s spies from imminent danger and as a result is herself saved from certain death at the hands of the Israelites. Subsequently, the Rabbis understand Rahab as mending her unfortunate ways, accepting the Israelite G-d as the only god, and becoming the ultimate example among the Rabbis of the truly righteous convert. They sing her praises throughout the midrash, particularly her wisdom in concealing the spies and negotiating her own rescue. Because the Rabbis paint an extremely positive picture of the woman who, according to the midrash, would marry Joshua and produce eight prophets, it is clear that they view Rahab as symbolizing “the positive influence that Israel exerts on the surrounding Gentile nations, as well as successful conversion.” Any negativity surrounding her occupation, her national affiliation, or the incident of her being spared – despite the commands of Deuteronomy 20:10-20, specifically 10-16 to “not let a soul remain alive” – is washed away and ultimately romanticized throughout the midrash, save for one instance citing Israel’s failure to commit complete destruction by sparing Rahab, which will be discussed in brief. The Rabbis clearly view Rahab as the ultimate, ideal convert, applying to Jeremiah, who is said to have descended from Rahab, the proverb: “The son of the corrupted one who mended her ways will come and reproach the son of the fit one who had gone astray.”
The most intriguing question, however, is why the Rabbis chose Rahab as an example to gentiles as the ideal, righteous proselyte – what attracted the Rabbis to Rahab and her story, prompting their message that if a harlot can convert, so, too, can anyone? This paper will address this question through a discussion of the midrash, as well as its treatment in sources such as those of Josephus. This discussion ultimately will show that what Rahab offered the Rabbis was the model of the repentant fallen woman who finds the true G-d and emerges as a matriarch of Israel, in a “Jewish setting apparently anxious for female figures of conversion and repentance.” Rahab thus becomes the paramount model of the righteous proselyte, indeed one that surpasses even the most well-known of the Rabbis converts, such as Jethro, in her recognition of HaShem's true powers.
It's a little wordy, and it was hacked down by quite a bit for my Graduate Presentation in March and even more so for my shiur. The thing is, for the shiur I opted to axe the academics/scholars from the mix. Dangerous? Maybe. But it fit the shiur better.

The paper goes on to detail the narrative, then examining how Rahab becomes known as a harlot, followed by an exploration of the Midrashic literature on Rahab as a convert in the eyes of the Rabbis, and concluding with a discussion of why the Rabbis chose Rahab over all others as witness to the righteous convert.

I've got a boatload of sources, including a variety that attempt to launder Rahab's post as a harlot (she's named as a perfumer, innkeeper, and more!). But smashing 18 pages into one blog post is, well, ridiculous. So I decided to just post the sources up HERE and the actual paper up HERE. Enjoy. Read. And let me know what you think. I apologize for any mistakes, errors, or assumptions that might seem absolutely obscene to you. After all -- this is an academic exploration of Rahab, but it caters itself well to a religious inquiry as well, I think. Here are my concluding thoughts (in case you're too lazy to read the paper, that is).
The ultimate conclusion the Rabbis drew from Rahab’s conversion is the superiority of repentance over prayer, for even though Moses prayed exceedingly, G-d did not accept his entreaty to enter the land. The repentance of Rahab the harlot was accepted, and the midrash concludes that seven kings and eight prophets were issued forth from her (Seder Eliyahu Zuta). That the biblical Rahab becomes transformed into a repentant convert and wife and ancestress of worthy priests and prophets in Israel reflects the Rabbis’ need to adopt biblical models of the welcome Judaism extends to all sincere proselytes – regardless of their past. Rahab is thus evidence for the Rabbis of the “efficacy of Judaism and its traditions in taming the disordering powers of female sexuality.” These stories are evident in the midrash, including a popular tale in BT Menahot 44a (and Sifre Numbers 115) in a discussion of the importance of observing the precept of ritual fringes, or tzitzit, by recounting the tale of a student who, while careful in observing this precept, himself gets caught up with a harlot. The harlot, after a series of events, ends up converting and marrying the student. This narrative, like the Rahab story, is appealing and romantic, juxtaposing some of the “risqué imaged details of its subject’s profession with a religious miracle and the spiritually elevating account of her acceptance into the Jewish community.” That this prized convert is a woman attests to something even more unique, and that is that there were more men than women proselytes mentioned in rabbinic literature. Thus, it is understandable that the Rabbis would focus on key individuals such as Rahab in their discussion of the female proselyte as a penitent courtesan.
As Phyllis Bird suggests, the story depends on a certain “reversal of expectations.” It is unlikely to expect a “shrewd and calculating operator” like a prostitute to save the spies and declare allegiance to G-d, but she does. The Rabbis, then, understood something profound about their choice as the ultimate righteous convert: “The harlot understands what the king of the city does not – that Israelite victory is imminent and inevitable.”
(Note: In the paper, I use the fully spelled out name of HaShem (I know, I know, not in Hebrew it doesn't matter, but it feels weird to me), because in academia, this is how we roll. I apologize if I offend you!)

Getting Down With My INFJ Self.

I took a test tonight, trying to clear my mind from all the drama of Twitter and my personal life, and discovered that I'm an INFJ. You might be thinking, what kind of ridiculous web lingo is that? Maybe it stands for Internet Night Fun Junkie or Invisible Nice Frum Jew or something. Alas, it's actually the outcome of my Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which analyzes your personality (at least, that's how I understand it). INFJ roughly equates to the "Counselor" personality. Slap me on a list with Sidney Poitier, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi, and Emily Bronte, and call me Chavi.

According to this website, here are the details about what being an INFJ means, along with (of course) my commentary.
Counselors have an exceptionally strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others, and find great personal fulfillment interacting with people, nurturing their personal development, guiding them to realize their human potential. -- This actually explains a lot.
Counselors are scarce, little more than one percent of the population, and can be hard to get to know, since they tend not to share their innermost thoughts or their powerful emotional reactions except with their loved ones. They are highly private people, with an unusually rich, complicated inner life. Friends or colleagues who have known them for years may find sides emerging which come as a surprise. Not that Counselors are flighty or scattered; they value their integrity a great deal, but they have mysterious, intricately woven personalities which sometimes puzzle even them. -- I'd like this to be immensely clear to those readers who think my life is too public or that I share too much of what's going on. It really, honestly, truly, is only probably 10 percent of what it means to be me, what I'm thinking, what I'm doing, and who I am. Most probably wouldn't look at me and say "she's private," but this paragraph basically sums me up in a nutshell. A very large, twisted, complicated nutshell.
Blessed with vivid imaginations, Counselors are often seen as the most poetical of all the types, and in fact they use a lot of poetic imagery in their everyday language. Their great talent for language-both written and spoken-is usually directed toward communicating with people in a personalized way. -- Hello blogging! My vivid imagination plays heavily into what I call SIDS (Sense of Impending Doom Syndrome). I honestly have the most ridiculous ability to foresee any possible problems in any situation, including what would happen if I misstep walking down stairs or step wrong on a sidewalk. I like to think I'm a good writer, but I only like to think that because I write for others. I often say this blog is my therapy, and although it is, I use this blog to help light a fire in the neshamot (souls, spirits) of others. I want to know YOU, and I want YOU to know me!
Counselors are highly intuitive and can recognize another's emotions or intentions - good or evil - even before that person is aware of them. -- I always have said I'm a good judge of character. Look out, you evil doers!
Counselors themselves can seldom tell how they came to read others' feelings so keenly. This extreme sensitivity to others could very well be the basis of the Counselor's remarkable ability to experience a whole array of psychic phenomena. -- Exactly.
The great thing about this is that it makes me perfect for being an educator. Too perfect? Maybe. This also explains why I hate the phone, but relish in online communication via things like Twitter. I cherish one-on-one relationships, and I often feel like I'm neglecting people because I have so many people I care about. I could start listing them, but I'd probably forget some of them. But y'all know who you are.

Ever since I was a kid, I felt overwhelmed. Like, the world is so big. That there's so much going on. That it's all just too much to handle as one person. Do you guys ever feel like that? Like the pressure of the world is on your shoulders? Like you're meant to do something really big, important, and amazing, but that sometimes you feel it's just too much. I spent a large part of my life trying to fix some personal relationships, family, friends. My outpourings -- more often than not -- are met with failure or brick walls. It all piles up sometimes, and it starts to feel like it's beyond too much. Infinitely too much. 

So tomorrow, I'm taking a break. It's not Shabbos, of course, but in solidarity with my e-BFFs @hsabomilner and @avulpineheart, I'm taking a break. They're actually doing this break in solidarity with me, to get me to take a day to just sit back and be myself, to be quiet with myself, to just chill out, and for that I thank them. Expect some awesome blog posts, at least one book review (The Book Thief), and a more relaxed, happier, prepared-for-everything me. 

Peace and cookies friends. Get down with your Myers-Briggs/Keirsey Temperament Sorter selves!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Wandering Jew

I took a drive yesterday, leaving Tuvia's place in the Poconos for Scranton, Pennsylvania, in search of a nice dress for a black-tie bat mitzvah coming up (about six days after we're married, actually). I failed in my search at the less-than-impressive Steamtown Mall, but I did find a Starbucks (ah! civilization!) and happened to pass by Mifflin Drive. I spotted the Osaka hibachi restaurant, which isn't a Benny Hana, but it's a hibachi joint anyhow, which is featured in one episode of The Office. I was hoping that the Dunder Mifflin building was real, but it turns out that it's on a soundstage in California. There are a lot of local hotspots that are referenced in The Office -- the university, restaurants, deli joints, etc. I even discovered a kosher deli while there: Abe's Kosher Deli. No clue who gives their hashgacha, however. I drove by, but not seeing a certificate in the window was a turn off. So I drove on, heading off to the Crossings Outlet Mall about an hour away. There, at last, I found a dress, which cost a lot more than I wanted, but it worked. I hopped back in my little Yaris and schlepped off back home, a day well spent and driven.

The interesting thing to me about my lengthy, round-about schlep, was that I drove through a lot of what can only be called "bumpkin" country. The trees were thick, the roads narrow, and the breaks of town -- or remnants thereof. One of these small towns, complete with an ages-old church, general store, aging gas station, and other typical shops, touted a golf course. As I drove by, a man poured out of his Ford Truck, sporting Carhart gear -- steal-toed boots, plaid shirt, jeans -- with golf clubs in tow, making him the antithesis of the usual golf course crew. The golf course, of course, was nothing more than a large, open field with a few holes and few rolling hills. How simple, how lucky.

I'm solitary in the Poconos for another few days. The trees keep the house cool, and the Carpenter Ants get free reign of the wood above the fireplace until Thursday when the pest guy comes. I'm horrified and spend most of my time in the bedroom, watching reruns of Law & Order: SVU. I brought a dozen things with me to do -- including blog posts on the am ha'aretz, Rahab, and mashiach ben david/mashiach ben yosef -- but aside from my adventures yesterday, I've been doing a lot of nothing. It's almost more stressful not to be doing anything. It's times like this that the mind overworks itself.

T-minus less than 6 days. Let's get this show on the road.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cheesecake Out Your Ears!

Shavuot came, saw, and left. Of course, it also conquered (mad props to the folks in my shiur for adding that neglected "conquering" into my talk on Rachav, wink wink). It was dramatic, dairy-licious, gluten free (for me anyway), and, well, long.

For the second year in a row, I stayed up all night getting my Torah study on. I woke up around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, went about my business, and then ended up in West Hartford for davening. We ate dinner with friends, and then headed off to the first bout of learning at the home of some excellent yidden who have the most beautiful interior (read: kitchen and sunporch) I have ever seen. After I got done coveting (oops) their cabinets and backsplash, I made my way to the sunporch, nabbed a comfy chair, and nestled in for the long haul. The first talk was given by a math professor, but unlike usual, he spent his time talking about a few songs and their connection to the texts (both biblical and rabbinic). There was even singing, which livened the audience participation and helped keep nodding heads awake. My resolve is now to track down those songs and learn them. The only one I can remember off the top of my head is "To sing is to be like the Jordan" (לשיר זה כמו להיות ירדן). Beautiful words, beautiful tune.

Next, it was my turn. I passed out my handouts (I'm an academic after all) with sources for Rachav from the Midrash and Bible, and began my talk. I like to keep things interesting, and I try to use colloquial language because I want to keep people awake and involved. I try to remain just informal enough that it's acceptable, you know? I like people to listen! And I definitely don't like talking at people. So I rocked my talk, which I'm still trying to figure out how to post up here in some fashion -- you might find something in the sidebar there to the right soon -- because the talk illicited a lot of really interesting questions and conversation. After it was over, I felt so good, not to mention completely reawakened. After all, it was 1 something in the morning!

Another fellow gave a quick talk and we all schlepped on to the shul for the second half of learning. We got there, meeting the sprawling group of teenagers that were funneling in, and then? The alarm went off. BURGLARY! BURGLARY! Talk about an inopportune time for the alarm to go off. I waited in the lobby and the policeman showed up after about 10 minutes (very prompt there, fellas), and I had to explain to him exactly what was going on. Late night learning, holiday, Judaism, blah blah blah. He seemed to buy it, so he asked if anyone had the code for the alarm. Alas! Only the rabbi. "Oh, I'll go pick him up and bring him back," the police man said. My response? "No dice." I explained that he'd need to get the code from the rabbi and then drive back with it. As he walked out the door, we also asked him to get the key to the ark. "The what?" he said. The ark! "You guys have an ark here!?" he joked. Luckily, right as he stepped outside, the rabbi's son showed up and saved the day with the code. Baruch haShem!

The rest of the night was kind of a blur. There were two more shiurim (let's not even get into the drama surrounding what happened with the third), and by the time davening rolled around at 4:45 a.m., I was exhausted, full of coffee and sweets, but unable to stand up straight. The interesting thing is that it was as if I were in trance. I stood, and I read the words so fast (you see, early-morning, post-all-night davening usually moves at the speed of light, which it did), and my eyes closed on their own. It was almost like I was experiencing the davening out of body. The words swimming around me. It was, in a word, weird.

I went back to the place I was staying, and crashed around 6:30 a.m. I slept off and on until 9:30 a.m., when I got up, got dressed, and walked to the other side of town to the other shul for a supposed 11 a.m. shiur that, in reality, didn't start until 11:45. I sat, half-alive, through their davening, tried to stay awake during the shiur, and then enjoyed a lengthy meal with a former professor and his family (which, can I say, is completely awesome). I didn't end up back over at my bed until around 5:30, and by then I decided it was futile to even attempt to sleep. I stayed up, forcing Tuvia to do the same, and we chatted with my hosts. Then came davening, then dinner at the rabbis (by which time I was practically loopy and giggling 90 miles a minute). I found my way home, rinsed off the allergens that had stuck themselves to my entire body, and went to bed around midnight.

All told, I had been up for nearly 40 hours with a nap probably clocking at two hours, max. I slept like a baby (which, someone pointed out, does not mean that I woke up every two hours crying for milk or in the fetal position sucking my thumb). The problem was that I didn't want to wake up for shul yesterday, and even after a short nap yesterday I still woke up exhausted. This morning it was painful to pull myself out of bed. I am exhausted

Luckily, it was worth it. All-night learning lends itself to a lot of interesting conversations and interactions, especially with people whom I probably won't see much of once Tuvia and I trek off to the greater NYC area. We're begging them all -- already -- to come visit, stay, and eat with us, and I hope they do. We've made too many good friends here to just wish ourselves away. But Shavuot this year was interesting, especially learning about some interesting characters found in the Talmud/Midrash called Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David

Don't worry. I'm going to write a whole post on that. Maybe @DovBear will let me post it to his blog? Who knows. Shavua tov, friends. Time to get down with Shabbos now. 

Chaviva's E-Shower: The Opening!

Thanks to all the gals who participated. YOU ARE AWESOME! Hugs and love :)

Chaviva's e-shower! from Chaviva Edwards on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Do You Really *Get* Shavuot?

Shavuot is right around the corner, and by that I mean it starts tomorrow night! Have you made your cheesecake? Warmed your blintzes? Figured out where all those Lactaid pills are? But seriously, cheese aside, have you really thought about Shavuot? Have you considered what the chag means, what it stands for both historically and religiously? Or has it been Colby Jack, Mozzarella, Cheese Puffs, and more dairy?

I was blessed to have a professor who really stressed to his undergraduate students the importance of the historical and the religious of the three pilgrimage festivals (a.k.a. Shlosha Regalim): Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

The funny thing is, they've all but lost their agricultural (that is, pilgrimage) meanings, and they've come to mean a variety of things: Pesach being the holiday where we eat matzo and do those annoying seder things; Shavuot being that holiday where we stay up all night studying Torah and noshing dairy; and Sukkot the chag where we sit outside in booths and swat at flies. But what do these chagim really mean, and why are they tied together so tightly? In reality, you can't have one without the other, and if you celebrate one or two but not the others, you're really missing the point.

In a nutshell, agriculturally and historically, Passover starts the grain harvest, Shavuot marks the end of the grain harvest and the beginning of the fruit harvest, and Sukkot marks ... you guessed it ... the end of the fruit harvest. Living in the Diaspora, you really miss the sense of the seasons, and as such you really don't get these simple and basic histories behind the holidays.

Of course, each of them have religious significance as well, with Passover marking the Exodus, Shavuot marking the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and Sukkot commemorating the living of booths in the Wilderness of the Exile. Again, these historic/religious events are cyclical and play a part in a timeline that is, without a doubt, connected. You can't remember the Exile without remembering the Exodus, and the giving of the Torah is sort of insignificant unless you understand why it was given, where it was given, and how.

What's my point? My point here is that these holidays aren't just about our modern observances. Much of what we know about our modern observances (especially about Sukkot) come from sort of a mishmosh of understandings of the Biblical and Rabbinic texts, and although they are just as valid as everything else, it's the basics that are found in the Torah -- in regards to the agricultural festivals -- that really evolved these three pilgrimage/agricultural festivals!

Are you still jonesing to know why we down lots of dairy (and Lactaid) on Shavuot? There are a few interesting and compelling reasons for this. Perhaps my favorite being that the Israelites didn't know how to properly take on meat before the giving of the Torah, so they opted for dairy, dairy, and more dairy, until Moshe came back down and told them how to properly handle meat. Another popular opinion is that it is the sense of Israel as the "land of milk and honey" that appears throughout the Torah that is cause for us to get all milchig over the two-day chag in the Diaspora.

Whichever opinion you like, just make sure you don't forget where Shavuot really came from and that it's the beginning of the next harvest season. You might say, I guess, that the Jewish holidays are "more than meets the eye."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another Shabbat in West Orange, NJ.

I know, I know. You're asking yourself: Where is this post going? The last time I blogged about my experience in West Orange at a very large, Orthodox shul, I got a few ... unsavory ... emails about my words. My experience this time around was actually worse, if you can believe it, despite going to what was hopefully deemed the "quiet minyan." I found out later that maybe went to the non-quiet minyan, but rather to simply a second, regular minyan. Someday, I vow to find a quiet minyan at this shul. I spent most of my Shabbat thinking about how irritated I was with these folks, but for the sake of the shul and for the sake of my sanity, I've decided to focus on something deliciously positive about my experience this weekend: the Our Way Family Shabbaton.

When Tuvia and I walked into shul Friday night, I saw a huge group in the lobby signing (as in, sign language, not the gangsta' signs you might be more familiar with). I've always found myself fascinated by those who use sign language, especially those who aren't deaf/hard of hearing, but who are devoted to the language and opening the world up to those who use sign language every day. We quickly learned that it was a Shabbaton, welcoming the deaf and hard of hearing, through a branch of the Orthodox Union, known as "Our Way." At seudat shlishit tonight, two of the individuals gave a d'var, one of them speaking with a sign language interpreter, and the other signing and speaking his way through his d'var, with the interpreter reading his words aloud.  It was, in a word, fascinating. It was also really frustrating because the two women in front of me were jabbering inconsiderately while I was trying to understand what the man was saying. Sigh.

So the entire experience led me to a few question:

  • What are the halachos of being a frum, deaf/hard-of-hearing Jew? 
  • All of the interpreters there were women -- how does this work into everything? 
  • Can a woman sign/interpret the reading of the Torah? 
  • Is it okay for a frum Jewish male to tap the shoulder of a sign-language interpreter in order to ask her a question or get her attention? 
  • How do you deal with hearing aids or cochlear implants on Shabbat? Is the Jewish community more accepting of cochlear implants than the wider community?

Perhaps most importantly, I just want to know what it's like to view the world, the Jewish world, through the lens of a deaf/hard-of-hearing Jew. So much of Judaism is based on texts, writings, and traditions that easily can be read. But what about the niggunim, the tunes of songs, the joy of hearing voices meld together -- it's one of my most favorite things about Shabbat, the songs, the voices swimming heavenward. I would have liked to approach one of these individuals and asked if they'd be interested in writing a blog post for me, to answer all my queries. But I felt awkward, unsure of myself. I can sign my name, successfully, but that's it.

How do you speak Hebrew in sign language? Are the letters the same? Can I spell "shmi Chaviva" with the letters I know as "s, h, m, i, c, h, a, v, i, v, a" ...? Or do I need to sign something special to say "shmi" and then, only then, spell Chaviva?

I'd like to contact Our Way, just to see if someone would be willing to write a guest post answering my questions, helping me to understand the world through the ears of the deaf/hard-of-hearing frum (or just) Jew. If anyone out there in blog land knows of someone who'd be willing to do this, let me know. Or, maybe, if you're one of these people or you have a child or family member or friend who goes through the motions as a deaf/h-o-h Jew, let me know. I'm absolutely intrigued. This community is a very unique one that probably doesn't get as much as attention as it should, as far as awareness goes.

On a closing note, I have to say "mad props" to Our Way for establishing -- in a very Jewish fashion -- the Our Way Jewish Deaf Singles Registry!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Enough Said: Discuss.

Memories, Nothing but Memories.

On the way down to Jersey yesterday night, I perused my computer's old files of poetry and photos of family and my early years in college at the Daily Nebraskan (forever my happiest memory). I'm amazed at the content of some of the files, not all of them poems, but late-night rants of me talking about religion in 2003 (noting, by the way, that I was looking into Judaism) or dreaming the ideal vision of Christmas morning that same year (happiness, a tree, family, snow). I have pictures of long-since-dead relatives, decked out in Victorian gowns, and yet another, still, of the grandmother I never knew playing around, wearing the army-issue hat of the grandfather I never knew. (I wish I knew where the photo was taken, what landmark sits in the background, or what exactly they were doing out on what appears to be a cool day.)

My computer, it seems, has become a hotbed of history and memory, and sometimes it's just hard to swallow. Some of it, however, makes me wonder why I got so old, so young. My poetry precedes me, in all things. I'm not sure why I stopped writing, but it happened when I moved to Connecticut. I have breakthrough spurts of emotion and lines, but they're fleeting. That poetry used to be my therapy, especially when I slammed, standing in front of a crowd made silent by rhymes of death, the Holocaust, and being Jewish, and hollering, hooting, over lines about my figure and the words "you could be the first fat miss America."

Here's something old, something from September 9, 2001. It's weird, because, well, two days later it happened. I'd never connected it before, actually, but sometimes, I see these things coming.

Apocolyptic Atmosphere

the stars
will fall from the sky
and land on your head
and the
moon will fall into your hands
and melt before your eyes
with star dust crawling across your skin
and fireflies and dragonflies will buzz beneath ur chin
all before the world comes crashing in.

Where, is My Hair Brush?

Eighteen days. Eighteen days of spiky, “wow” hair. And then? My hairdo will gladly send out change of address cards, something unique, notifying admirers and onlookers that it can now be found under a hat, swathed in a tichel, and maybe, someday, stacked under a sheitel for specific simchas for specific relatives with specific, let’s say, hair how-tos.

But, you know, I didn't always have this hair. Once upon a time my hair was long, flowing, and thick as the day is long. The joy of covering in a few weeks is that I can sort of do whatever I want with my hair and no one will EVER know (save Tuvia, of course). I could dye my hair bright pink (like people poked and prodded me to in college) or give myself a perm (like my father always dreaded). Maybe I'll have a fun "vote on Chavi's haircut"thing monthly. Of course, y'all wouldn't be able to see it. I'd share with you, however, unless that's not tzniut! The adventures in hair begin here, folks. No more hair goop, either. Goodbye hair goop.

How do you deal with the loss of free-flowing hair? How do you own your coverings? Did you choose not to cover? How did you make the tough decision? Advice on getting down with your bad hair-covered self?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Lucky Winner of Javaz Is ...

I am proud to announce that the winner of my confections giveaway for a week's supply of Javaz confections is ....

Mazal tov, Mark. I'll send your information on to the kind folks at, and your week's supply will be on its way to keep your buzz going during Shavuot! Enjoy!

Mad props to Random Line Picker for picking a random winner among the several entrants. More of you should have entered ... shame on you!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Color takes away all the drama..."

Mon dieu! Mad props to @DovBear for posting this up on his blog, and for all of the others who have posted this up and will post this up. It's a truly brilliant COLOR depiction of some very important moments in Israel's history. The video is in Hebrew, but it has English subtitles. Watch the whole thing; it's beautiful.

A Divergence: Poetry

I used to write poetry all the time, every day. Every waking moment I managed to pen something into a notebook, on a scrap of paper, on my old online journal. I did slam poetry in Omaha, and I poured out my heart in classrooms. I even once recorded a poem on video, sending it to the beloved recipient. But this venue, my "Jewish" blog, has never been one where I felt comfortable expressing myself outside myself. So here we are. Part 1 in a hopeful multi-post series. 

There's Something in My Eyes

Few places can I find peace of me
Spaces away from where the world outside spins,
Top speed topsy turvy, while I stand,
or sit, still and calm with dusty eyes
and sandy cheeks.

The static of streams, tiny drops dripping
down in systematic streaks, landing, circling
the drain, lost in a tube to tomorrow.
So I drizzle my loofa like a giant cinnamon roll,
toying with the taste of soapy sweets,
while the walls melt from steam, heat, from
standing still for minutes, hours. It all streams
together, and dusty eyes stay still despite

Engine rolling, radio on off, then on
with lyrics loud and reverberating, matching
heart beats and the steady sound of
breathing. Quietude, solitary, being alone
with the hum crossing rhymes with voices
streaming from speakers.

Peace of mind, peace of me. Even when
I sleep there is little time for thinking,
fears slopped onto subconscious walls.
Few places can I find peace of me, so
I stand, or sit, with dusty eyes and
sandy cheeks.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Liberated Me.

Liberating: Driving in my little Yaris (now deemed the Hot Temple Time Machine a.k.a. HTTM a.k.a. Carmine) with music blaring, singing at the top of my lungs. I. Am. Free.

Liberating: Signing up for a gym membership and actually going. Riding a bike and pumping my heart rate  while reading a new book. Sweating. Getting healthy.

Liberating: Choosing to go Gluten Free on my own accord, despite a failed blood test, because I have averse reactions to wheat/gluten. Feeling better, already. No stomach ache. Just me and natural goodies. Making good with my body.

Frustrating: Figuring out how to be kosher, vegetarian, and gluten free. Mad props to The Kosher Cupcake for recipes right up my alley. There's hope for me yet. I just need to figure out how to make some yummy kosher, gluten free challot (since they serve as mezonot and will allow me to make ha'motzi!), or maybe I'll just order some from Heaven Mills. YUMtimes. There's also some interesting stuff up on Gluten Free Mama, including a shopping guide. FTW!

Liberating: Emailing in my final paper for my M.A. in Judaic Studies at the University of Connecticut. Done and done.

Liberating: The consideration that I might post some of my poetry up here. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mmm ... Coffee Sweets Giveaway!

Shavuot is coming up, and that means I need to prepare myself for all night study; after all, I'm giving a late-night (or early morning) shiur on "Rachav the Harlot: The Rabbis' Convert." Usually this means lots of coffee, not too much dairy, and plenty of sleep the day before. Traditionally, Jews the world over stay up all night on Shavuot, studying anything and everything involving Torah, and this means crafty ways of staying awake until morning davening. The interesting thing is that I remember reading -- somewhere, at some point -- that the Rabbis discuss, in the Midrashic Literature, the consumption of coffee in order to study into the late hours of the evening. In many cases, studying at night -- especially in the Middle Ages -- was the safest thing to do. Coffee, then, is in our bloods!

So here I am, partnered with the outstanding folks over at the world's largest online Kosher superstore,, to host a giveaway here on the blog for a special choco-coffee confectionary., you see, recently became the newest East Coast reseller of Javaz's Dark and Milk Chocolate confectionaries. The most fascinating thing about this company? They select and roast coffee expressly for confectionary purposes! Oh, and it's kosher, which is always a plus!

So here's the deal: This giveaway is open for the next week (that is, I'll be drawing a winner at midnight on Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 11:59 p.m.). What do you need to do?

  1. Follow @kvetchingeditor AND @kosherdotcom on Twitter. 
  2. Answer ONE of the following questions WITH a link to the product on the site. POST YOUR COMMENT HERE ON THE BLOG!
    1. How do you take your coffee? 
    2. What do you like to eat with your coffee?
Next Tuesday, I'll choose a winner at random, and that winner will receive a WEEK's SUPPLY of Javaz confectionary! Yes, that's right, a week's supply. That means one week where you can skip the Starbucks line, or better yet, save it all up for all-night Torah study! You can get a hefty dose of chocolate and a coffee buzz at the same time. That, to me, is besheirt! (That is, meant to be!)

Information about Javaz's chocolates: "The Dark is perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or whenever you want to treat yourself. These artisan confections feature fair-trade organic Arabica coffee beans covered in exquisitely rich and luscious dark chocolate. The Milk, meanwhile, features fair-trade organic Arabica coffee beans smothered in melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate!" (Also: They're Kof-K Dairy.)

NOTE: Only open to U.S. residents. Sorry Canadians and Israelis! But if you DO win, you can always choose to have it shipped as a gift to someone in the U.S.!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Learning How to Grieve.

I woke up yesterday morning to a series of emails telling me that a Holocaust survivor from shul had passed away, that a student from UConn who was beaten badly during Spring Weekend had died, and most harrowing, that the mother of a very good friend at synagogue had passed away after a year-and-a-half-long illness. I immediately decided that going back to bed would have been more productive than walking into a world of death and its resultant grief and sadness. I then got news: "Guess where Person X is?!" Yes, probably my best friend in the synagogue community had gone into labor and by the early afternoon the world welcomed new life -- new, beautiful, living life. The circle of life, then, was complete.

I've never been good at dealing with or expressing emotions related to grieving. I'm rock solid; tears don't penetrate the surface -- I choke them, suffocate them, stuff them back into their unnecessarily emotional box. I just don't cry.

Tuvia found out on Friday that his boss had died the night before. For those keeping score at home, that's the announcement of four deaths in my orbit over four days. Throw in Melissa Redgrave, who happens to not be in my orbit, and we've got five in four days. Throw in the thousands more than died over the past four days, and the orbit has lost its center. Tuvia thus went to a service yesterday and today, leaving his bereavement meeting today to go to a funeral.

I'd never been to a Jewish funeral before. I've been to a few non-Jewish funerals in my time, the most vivid in my mind that of my Uncle David Pittman. He died in 1998 after 64 years of life, although I remember him being much older, more like a grandfather to me. He wasn't a blood relative, but a relative by the second marriage of my father's father, my grandfather. After that marriage, my grandfather had a short life and died of a heart attack in the 1960s. Uncle David Pittman, related to my father's step-mother, became a father to him. Growing up, I used to sit on Uncle David's knee and he'd steal my nose; it was his favorite trick with kids. He owned a locksmith store, and for a long time after he died I held onto the last yearly calendar with his store's information on it remained somewhere in my bedroom. The funny, or rather morbid, thing about his funeral was that it took place the same weekend as his son's wedding. Wedding and a funeral, a classic.

I think then, at age 14 or 15, I wasn't completely cognizant of death or what it meant for me. I don't remember crying, I don't remember needing to grieve. He was just gone.

The funeral today left me teary eyed. I choked the tears, else I would have lost it. I've been doing that a lot lately; my emotions are becoming real, and I have never learned how to deal with them. Writing this even has me teared up in a big green couch in Starbucks.

The woman who we honored today died at the age of 57. Fifty. Seven. My father turns 57 in August; it was sobering. I can't imagine having to bury my own parents, despite our distance and the space that creeps between us as the years roll on. They say that it's unimaginable when a parent has to bury his or her child, but the road cuts both ways as they say. When the parent is young, when grandchildren have yet to be born and simchas have yet to be experienced, it's inconceivable.

How do we grieve? For me, life is meant to be celebrated, even at death, and tears should be held, choked, crushed. But that's the me that understands emotion as weakness talking. The tide is changing and my emotions are reversed -- they're crushing me. Coping is what I need to learn. Figuring out how to grieve the loss of those alive and distant, as well as those gone in body but not spirit. I've always been strong, and tears shouldn't mean anything but that.

Here's to the spirits of those lost in my orbit as of late. Baruch dayen emet.