Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Cupcake in Your Eye!

Just finished my Shabbat cooking ... the highlight? Gluten-free cupcakes with some delicious Pillsbury frosting (I'm lazy). Here's Tuvia, er, a cupcake.

The rest of the menu? Carrot Kugel with a GF Chex topping, Corn Kugel, Acorn Squash a la Fall, Roasted Potato Wedges ... and ... what else? Oh right. A Chicken, Mushroom, Onion and Rice thing I threw together in a Dutch Oven. Overall, I'm crazy stoked. If they work well, and you're interested, recipes will fly at you!

Od pa'am, Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ir Ha'Kodesh?

Photo taken from via Google Image Search.
Another Shabbat has come, another week has passed, and I've officially been (Hebrew calendar) married for 2 months and 1 day. Tomorrow, on the Gregorian calendar, actually marks the two-month anniversary of my being wedded to the man, the myth, the legend, Tuvia (a.k.a. Evan). It feels like boatloads longer that we've been hitched. We got married, settled quickly, and finally having all of our stuff in one place has helped us feel like an old married couple. We have a home. A home in Teaneck, New Jersey. So?

See, there's one thing I can't get over: When people ask me how I like living in Teaneck, it's always with a tinge of hesitation, like it's a loaded question. And when I say it's wonderful, facial expressions almost turn into a question mark. As if to say, "wait, you like it there?"

So what is it. What do you know/think about Teaneck? What is your impression of Teaneck? Have you heard about this city, its Jewish population, its rep in the greater Jewish world?

Tell me about it. Let me know what you think about this city I now call home, this city that I absolutely love.

And with that, I bid y'all a Shabbat Shalom!

Haveil Havalim: Oops!

I definitely spaced the posting of the most recent of Haveil Havalim (and this is my reminder to submit for next week, thanks to my Yiddishe Mama). Please, go visit, read, enjoy!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Way We Were.

A friend posted on a forum some classic photos taken from 1939-1943 in color! Photos in color were rare back then, and these photos are so vivid and gritty ... I really can't put into words the emotions some of them evoke. This one, in particular, really struck me. It looks like it could have been set and taken today.

Women workers employed as wipers in the roundhouse having lunch in their rest room, Chicago and NW Railway Company. Clinton, Iowa. April 1943. Photo by Jack Delano. (Library of Congress)
You think about people looking different in a different era, their faces expressing the time, the place, their life then. I often look at the Jews around me, and -- morbidly -- I attempt to picture them in 1940s garb, what they'd look like in a kitchen in Germany or Austria or France circa 1938, and into the 1940s. Is that weird? Like I said, it's probably morbid. I have such an affinity for the past, my memories of moments thousands of years old vivid (that's another blog post, standing at Sinai, the imagery clear as my childhood in my mind), so these photos really sing to my spirit.

Woman working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber. Tennessee. February 1943. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer.
(Library of Congress)

You can view the rest of these photos by clicking here. Check out No. 30! (Shout out to Lincoln, Nebraska, there!)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Asking Tough Questions!

Last night Tuvia had an anecdote to share about one of his coworkers, who is from India: She said that she'd rather be broke, living in a 300-square-foot apartment with her entire family (which she did) than be here. I'm guessing she was happy there, among her people, her culture, her life. This is a sentiment that I completely get. I wake up most days thinking "What would my day be like if I were waking up in Israel?" I count the days until I go back (late November, this year, baruch HaShem), and I plot in my mind my career path for if when I make aliyah. So I have a question for you all.

Would you rather be living seriously on the cheap in Israel 
wealthy and/or comfortable in the United States (or your respective country, the U.K. or Canada or Australia or wherever)? 

I have to follow this up by saying that anyone, I mean ANYONE, can make it work, no matter where they are. I'm a hard worker with a lot of irritating medical crud, but I don't let it stand in the way of success and happiness. I remember the hard days my family had with basically zero dollars and financial support, and I remember having to borrow money from friends to help pay my rent because my credit cards were maxed out. I got a job I hated, but I paid off ALL of my credit card debt, which was really hard to do. It can be done. I've had my highs, my lows, and I know that I can survive on nothing and everything.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Power of Giving

Last year I went through a phase of giving over the period of a month. I gave to a variety of Jewish organizations, with the ultimate goal of ... feeling good. I'll admit it. I never really gave to any organizations before, because I never had money. When I did have money, I was busy paying off my creditcard debt. So the moment I had a few free bucks, I gave. Meagerly, but I gave, and mostly to my tzedakah box at home.

Right now, I'm sitting at the Future of Jewish Nonprofit Summit in NYC, where giving, charity, and money have been the major topics of conversation. The fellow who opened the day's events, Charles Best of, really paved the way for me to rethink how I view giving and charity, and for that I'm super thankful. In fact, I added a link on the right-hand sidebar to GO to And? I donated some money to a single effort that I'll mention in a few. All you have to do is go there, find any random or specific project looking for some funds, and give something, anything. One dollar will get a classroom far, believe it or not, and if a lot of people donate a lot of dollars, then bam -- you'll have a classroom with a bunch of awesome supplies like protractors and pencils and calculators and ... books. Yes. Books. Some people need something as simple as books.

In 2009, more than $300 billion were given charitably.* 
Seventy-five percent of that? From individuals.

A corporate giving list can be found at

You can actually go to and type in the keyword for any cause you fight for on a regular basis, any cause you donate to. Best used the example of a guy who is big on salmon in the Northwest. So Best told him to go to DonorsChoose and search "salmon." Bam. There were projects at schools all over that needed some type of donation tied in with salmon. Yoga? There are a lot of those, too. I looked up journalism, and there are a ton of projects looking for simple goods for journalism goodness. Holocaust your thing? There are a bucketload of projects looking for help in funding for supplies for Holocaust projects.

Basically, what I am saying is this: You got a cause you dig? You got an extra dollar in your pocket? Skip the latte tomorrow and donate it to a good cause. Let me get you started. An old college chum, Josh, is a Teach for America teacher in Kansas City, is looking for supplies for his math class. Simple stuff. Easy stuff. Just go there. (He needs $80, come on!)

Connected in the City

Living near NYC has its perks, big perks. A hub of Social Media life, NYC is bustling with events and meetups and Tweetups and creativity that breaks the boundaries of anything I was involved in in Chicago and definitely Connecticut.

I missed out on the #140conf partizzle that Jeff Pulver put on this past week, only because it rocked out on Tisha B'Av, but I'm blessed tomorrow in the city with the Future of Jewish Nonprofit Summit (an all-day extravaganza of great minds meeting to talk turkey) and in less than two weeks I'll be back in the city for the Jewish Schmooze event at the JCC of Manhattan. I've blogged about FOJNP (event's tomorrow, you can still show up and join us!), but here's the 411 on the Jewish Schmooze event, which I hope y'all will consider coming in for! Check out the event over on, too!


Want to tap into the incredible online presence of Jewish-flavored social media networks that can increase the visibility of your brand? Join Metroimma and Prime Time Parenting for a very exclusive social media event.

Jewish Social Media Schmooze is an event for Jewish authors, musicians, film and television producers, and entrepreneurs--all creative individuals that weave their Jewish heritage into their books, CDs, television, and film. Learn how creators engage in conversations and interact with their fans, followers, and inspire individuals via social media platforms (facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs) and build long-lasting relationships.

Guest speaker and moderator Jessica Abo, anchor and reporter at NY1 News.
Participants include:
Allen Ganz, Co-Founder,
Chaviva Eliana Galatz, Writer and blogger,
Rabbi Motti Seligson, Media Relations,
Dave Weinberg, recently named one of the “Top 50 Most Influential Personalities Online” by the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA)
Itamar Kestenbaum, Moishe's Moving Systems Social Media & Manager
Lisa Grunberger, Author, Yiddish Yoga

Cost: $15
Raffle prizes, goody-bags and refreshments will be serviced

To RSVP, send email to

Please send any questions via email to

For advertising opportunities please contact or 262.692.0123.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pardon the Interruption

Please excuse me, those of you who value the academic and intellectual integrity of this blog, for a few seconds while I make a very, very girly inquiry to my head-covering female readers (or the attentive man with a head-covering wife).

My hair, which I have decided to just sort of let grow now that I'm covering (it hasn't been longer than VERY SHORT since probably 2001), is at this really awkward length where I can't put it into a pony tail, but a headband doesn't keep all the tiny pieces in check. So a half-hour into wearing any type of tichel or scarf (and don't get me started about how hard it is to wear a hat right now), my hair is flying out of every nook and cranny possible, attempting a not-so-crafty escape.

Is there anything I can put on my head that will keep everything in check? All I can think of is like a knit hat one would wear in the winter that's tight fitting, but I need something smaller, more lightweight, that will keep all of my hair in place until it's long enough to put in a ponytail under my tichel.


Stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming, including a rehash of the mechitzah issue.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Shabbat Thoughts.

I want to stress to the readers that when the Tanakh talks of the ger, it is not referring to the "convert." Rather, ger means "stranger" or "sojourner" in the midst of the nation of Israel (גר is the Hebrew, which is used even today as the verb "to reside"). In the Tanakh, there is little conception of a convert, and I think that this concept might have been very foreign to the people of Biblical times. Throughout history, conversion to Judaism has been outlawed, and the danger of converting meant low numbers converting to Judaism. It is only over the past 60 years or so that conversion has become the booming "business" that it has, with new freedoms and new nations allowing this possibility to really flower.

That being said, the rabbis spend much time about the ger and how to treat the ger, because, for the rabbis, the term came also to refer to proselytes (converts) to Judaism. The terms used by the rabbis throughout the literature, then, are ger tzedek and ger toshav (toshav means "resident"). Thus, today when we see that blasted word, we assume it always refers to converts, when, in fact, it doesn't -- especially in the Torah. 

Okay, now that that's out of the way, I wanted to impress upon my readers and all those worried converts out there, as well as all of those born Jews who don't know how significantly the rabbis impressed upon born Jews to make Judaism work for the gerim (referring specifically to proselytes). These are bits taken from my D'var Torah from Parshah Sh'mot, which actually can be found in full on the righthand side there (it was largely about Rahab, my tour de force, but got into the discussion of the rabbis and converts).
Numbers Rabbah 8:2 says, “Why does the Holy Blessed One love the righteous (referring to a discussion of converts being loved as the righteous)? Because they have neither inheritance nor family. Priests and Levites have an ancestral house, as it says, “House of Aaron, praise the Lord. House of Levi, praise the Lord” (Psalms 146:19). If someone wants to be a kohen or levite, one cannot because one’s father was not. But if someone wants to be righteous, even a non-Jew can, since that is not dependent on ancestry.” The midrash continues with a parable about the stag that attaches itself to the king’s flock. Daily, the king instructs his shepherds to take care of the stag, and they ask the king why he cares so much abvout this one animal:
"The king responded, 'The other animals have no choice; whether they want or not, it is their nature to graze in the field all day and to come in to sleep in the fold. Stags, however, sleep in the wilderness. It is not in their nature to come into places inhabited by man. Is it not to a sign of this one's merit that he has left behind the whole of the wilderness to stay in our courtyard?' In like manner, ought we not to be grateful to the proselyte who has left behind his family and his relatives, his nation and all the other nations of the world, and has chosen to come to us?"
This parable responds to the unvoiced question/critique of the native Israelite: "Why does the Torah provide all of these protections for the convert? Does God care more about them than about me?" The midrash responds, "Consider what the convert has given up."
This section of the midrash concludes:
"Accordingly, God has provided the convert with special protection, warning Israel to be very careful not to do any harm to converts, and indeed, it says, 'Love the convert' (Deuteronomy 10:19) … Thus God made clear safeguards so that converts might not return to their former ways [which God fears they might do if native Israelites treat them poorly]."
Although some tannaitic midrashim voiced suspicions that the convert might fall back or that the convert might not entirely abandon his past beliefs, this later text places responsibility for backsliding converts squarely upon the native Israelites – that means YOU! Born Jews! 
... I think that many people today could learn much from the rabbis discussion of Rachav and other converts – our great sages viewed these converts as truly magnificent, unique, and key to the future of the Jewish people. 
So, my diverse readership, take to heart these words that the rabbis wrote for a reason. Why do we so readily ignore these words today? Why is the weight of the world placed on the convert, in the crossfire of politics? I don't know. I can't be sure. Paranoia, fear, a tumultuous world in which trust is something people know not of. Think on this over Shabbat, speak about it with your table guests, discuss your fears and what you don't know and then go out and educate yourself!

Shabbat shalom, friends!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Who is a Jew?

I wrote about the conversion bill in the Knesset in Israel not that long ago, and with the bill stalled in the Knesset (to the cheers of those opposed), The Jewish Daily Forward has posted an interesting editorial on the bill and its stall.

I'm not going to go into any great details about the bill or the stall or the Forward's editorial, other than to say that the perception that there was across-the-board outcry and discussion about this bill rubs me as odd. I don't know a single person who brought the issue up with me, outside of my circle of friends who have converted or are in the process. Do Jews with no connection to conversion even care about the bill? Or conversion for that matter?

In my time as a convert, I've discovered that -- at least the Orthodox world -- is largely blind to what constitutes a conversion, who converts, the politics involved, the pain involved, or the repercussions that come post-conversion. I do my best to educate folks, and I've enlightened plenty in my time, I think.

The biggest problem, orbiting widely around conversion period, is education. We shelter ourselves unnecessarily, because Judaism tells us "once you convert, you're Jewish," and converts for ages have been encouraged to hide their conversion because, well, who wants to marry the child of a convert or the grandchild of a convert? There's a lot of fear out there about the halachos of converts in the community, and that derives from a lack of education.

So, I ask, what can we do to curb the fear of converts in the Conservadox, Orthodox, and, more importantly, ultra Orthodox communities?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Reader's Haven

I'm in the midst of THREE books right now. Three nonfiction books, that is. I started one, then got my nook and started another and then I got a free review copy of another book, so obligated to get that going, i started that as well. So here's what I'm currently reading and how I'm feeling about each lovely novel.

  • "All Other Nights" by Dara Horn -- I started reading this quite some time ago and had to actually re-start it when I began again recently. I'm about 60 pages in, and aside from the confusion in transition between chapters 1 and 2, it's been pretty outstanding. The story is set during Civil War times and has a nice Jewish boy (or maybe not so nice) skipping out on his future nuptials for some war service. He gets an uncomfortable gig doing some uncomfortable (read: anti-semitic) work, but runs with it. That's about as far as I am, and it's a beautifully woven novel that moves incredibly fast. I'm still perplexed as to where the storyline is going, but being an immense fan of Dara Horn's "The World to Come," I'm incredibly hopeful. Here's hoping I'm not disappointed!

  • On my nook, I'm currently reading an amazing book called "The Invisible Bridge" by Julie Orringer. The problem is, I have a hard time putting it down, so it's on my bedside table, and I read it before going to bed each night, which actually has done wonders for helping to put me to sleep (can't say much for the staying asleep bit). It's a very fluid novel, save some of the parts that go into architectural mumbo jumbo that I just sort of breeze by. The focus of the novel is a Jewish gent from Budapest who heads to Paris for architectural school in pre-war times. He rallies around a group of Jewish fellows, falls for a mysterious woman with a scarred past, and eventually ends up back in Budapest (which is where I am now, and I still have a ton left to read, so I have no idea what's going to happen, so no worries about spoilers). The narrative and dialogue are brilliantly written, very period appropriate, and my only beef with the novel, as I said, is the random tangents on architectural stuff (also, sometimes the Jewishly peppered stuff seems forced). So, I know he's in architectural school and that the goings on at the Ecole d'Especial is very important, but the detail is a little obnoxious at times. I'm sort of mesmerized, however, with Orringer's attention to detail, and I'm really mystified as to where this novel is going, what with the war having started and me still having half the book left to read. The characters are so vivid, I feel like I'm walking the streets of Paris with them, eating at the same bars as them, and smelling the fresh bread they're purchasing. Pick this up, stat. 

  • The final book I'm reading is a review copy I got from the nice folks at Other Press LLC called "The Debba," which is the first novel of Avner Mandelman. Now, I picked this up after my nap on Shabbos and got about 22 pages in (we had guests, so my reading was slow and sporadic). At first glance, I was sort of horrified as to where this book was going (the word goy appears a bajillion times on the first page), not to mention that it's about an ex-IDF soldier who gave up his Israeli citizenship ... but, well, so far I'm impressed. The writing is far beyond my expectations, and the emotion floating behind each of the characters is palpable. I'm hopeful, but skeptical. I'm just hoping this doesn't turn into the all-too-often Jew being critical of Israel mumbo jumbo. I am, however, excited that it's a murder-mystery, which is a genre of which I've never been a fan.

A New Look.

I've been Jonesing for a new look for a while now (I can't even remember when I opened up my last blog layout, but since then, this blog has grown and grown and grown and I need more coffee!), and this is what I've come up with.

Do you like it? Do you not like it? Give me your feedback, and we'll go from there.

I hope y'all had an easy fast (tzom qal), although someone pointed out on Facebook that maybe all this easy fasting is why we haven't seen much change in our situation, eh? Here's to hard, painful, exhausting fasts in the future!

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Monday, July 19, 2010

She's Gonna' Be a Big Star!

Well, it's official. I mean, it was official before, but now my name and information and photo are up for the world to see: I am an NYU grad student, and here's my profile to prove it!

Man. I dreamed of this day back in 1998 when I was in high school and dreaming of someday heading to NYU for college. When the pamphlets started coming in 2000 (two years ahead of my 2002 high school graduation), I was decided, I was going to NYU. And then? Reality. Costs. Money. Financial impossibilities.

So here I am, a decade later and heading to the school of my dreams to pursue the career of my dreams. Teacher. Social media guru. Hebrew educator. Educated educator.

Anything's possible, folks. Anything.

Tisha B'Av Cometh!

Jews the blog-o-sphere over are blogging about the impending fast of Tisha B'Av (literally, 9th of Av) that begins tonight and lasts for 25 hours through tomorrow evening. We eat a big meal tonight, followed by a hard boiled egg dipped in ashes, and then we begin our fast. We go to shul, we hear the reading of Lamentations, and we spend the day avoiding work, not wearing leather shoes, sitting low to the ground, and reflecting on the day in the Jewish calendar that seems to swallow up all the of the bad things that happen to us.

Four years ago, I wrote about my experience fasting on Tisha B'Av and my frustration with one Jews approach to Tisha B'Av for Secular Jews. Three years ago, I wrote about my frustration with the sentiment that on this day we "mourn for a life we no longer want." Two years ago, I wrote about how I felt distant from Tisha B'Av, as if I were just going through the motions.

Last year, of course, I was in Middlebury, Vermont, attempting to deal with the whole "kosher catfish" situation and touring the "kosher" kitchen on Tisha B'Av while attempting to stay sane amid classes without air conditioning in the steamy and humid Vermont heat. I was, in a word, miserable. I also was feeling pretty distant, again, from Tisha B'Av, focused, instead, on my exhaustion and the heat.

What was I doing prior to four years ago? I'm not sure. I can't remember whether my Reform experience back in Nebraska necessitated me fasting, and from what I can tell about my writings of four years ago, I'm guessing that's a big "no" on fasting and/or seeing any significance in Tisha B'Av as an active and important day in the Jewish calendar.

So what does this year mean for me? I'm not sure. I'm all the wiser, much busier, and not looking forward to fasting. As I get older, I find my body less and less accepting of fast days. I will, however, have the option of studying the necessary texts related to the day.

In reality, the one thing that's on my mind is that as soon as Tisha B'Av comes and goes, it's time for the High Holidays. Yikes. Seriously?

What I do want to leave you all with is a question: Can you carry out the mitzvah of being sad and mournful on Tisha B'Av in the manner that all mitzvot are carried out? With happiness?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Top Secret Rules?

After eating a meal with bread (or any meal really) there are a series of prayers that we say, a type of Grace After Meals, that Jews call bensching. You go to b'nai mitzvah, you go to weddings, you go to any kind of simcha and you walk away with a little book full of prayers and blessings and the Birkat Ha'Mazon.

Every Shabbos, or even when I'm out with friends, I've noticed something: I take lightyears longer than every other Jew on the planet to bensch. Now, I read my Hebrew really quick, but I read it all. I've noticed people flipping pages faster than Forrest Gump running cross-country.

Am I missing something? Am I not privy to the top secret rule that there really are parts you don't need to read? Am I wasting my time going through the entire series of prayers? What am I missing? Is there a set of rules on what is "required" and what isn't?


(Note: I also wonder this about prayers in synagogue, too, as sometimes I find myself ahead of people in the Shemonai Esrei and then suddenly they're done and I'm like "wah!?")

(Second Note: I've always wondered where the word bensch comes from, and I always assumed it was Yiddish. Turns out it is Yiddish, but it derives from Latin, not German or Hebrew. How bizarre! It means to bless or make a bracha, but generally it's used when referring to saying the Birkat HaMazon, or blessing after meals.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Shabbos, Here I Come!

Well, let's just say I'm stoked that it's nearly Shabbos, and that Shabbos is starting earlier (if even just a few minutes). This day has me knackered. (In the, geepers I'm exhausted kind of way.)

I spent my entire day cooking, cleaning, and preparing for our impending guests, the illustrious @susqhb and @ravtex, who are heading off to Texas in a few weeks. We're glad to host them, even if it means we won't be at the home of @hsabomilner (feel better, toots!). The place looks pretty darn good, I think, and there are a boatload of photos up on Facebook if you're interested.

The menu, of course, is what excites me. I dabbled a bit online, a lot with Susie Fishbein's "Kosher by Design" series, and a little in my own stash of recipes. Here's what the Saturday menu looks like.

(Homemade) Challah
(Frozen) Gluten-Free Heaven Mill Challah rolls (for me!)
Garlic Salad (Susie Fishbein; think kirby cucumbers, mushrooms, garlic dressing, etc.)
Gefilte Fish (to be served on my hand-made gefilte fish plate!)

Thai Quinoa (Susie Fishbein a la "Short on Time")
Teriyaki Rounds (Ditto, except in "Lightens Up") + Butternut Squash Casserole (This goes to Paula Deen)
Slow Roasted Tomatoes (Fishbein in the original "Kosher by Design")
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes with Shallots (Also in "Kosher by Design" the original)
Greek Garlic Chicken (Can't remember which cookbook, but it was K by D)

For dessert, of course, I have the delicious Chocolate Mousse Torte with some fresh strawberries!

I also put together some of Our Best Bites' Quick and Easy Creamy Fruit Freeze, which I look forward to having tomorrow night as a snacky snack.

Yes, it's a delicious bounty of food. Yes, there's just going to be four of us. But, you know, we're people who like food and it's all a lot of seriously fresh food (I love the local Farmers Market store), which is good for most of us (not Evan, who won't eat most of the vegetables anyway).

So Shabbat Shalom, and I'll catch you all on the motzei!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Future of Jewish Nonprofits!

How do you move a vital, living, breathing organism of Jewish life forward? My good buddy Dave Weinberg knows how to get it done, and that's why he's put together the Future of Jewish Nonprofit Summit in New York on July 27, and I think most of you should be invested in this. Why? Because most of the things we take advantage of in our Jewish lives are nonprofits.

In the words of the website: "Our objective is to cultivate substantive and concrete dialogue between a select group of decision makers and help make things happen."

Sounds like my cup of tea. Dave's a really enthusiastic guy, and ever since we attended SXSW Interactive together back in March, he's been super jazzed about this opportunity to bring decision-makers together to make something awesome happen in the world of Jewish nonprofits, which in many ways are stalled these days. From my point of view, Social Media is the future for these folks, because it's how you build an involved and curious and excited orbit of people.

Are you interested in attending? Because I know you are. There's still time to register, and there are even a few reduced-price spots for folks who, well, maybe work for a nonprofit that doesn't have the funds to send them off to the summit. There's a discount code on the site, and you can probably contact Dave if you have any questions. Here's the 411, and if you're interested in
The Future of Jewish Nonprofit Summit (#FOJNP) on July 27, 2010, will be at the NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development, 133 E. 13th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10003. Registration begins at 8am.
It'll be a great chance to schmooze with awesome movers and shakers, and the list of speakers is scintillating! My friends @ylove, @susqhb, and @daroff will be there, but so will a lot of big dogs like Charles Best of! For the full list of speakers, click here.

I'll be there, so you should be there. If you care about the future of the Jewish nonprofit, then make it happen. If you have any questions, let me know, and I'll do what I can to help. T-minus TEN DAYS until the conference!

As a bonus: There's a Shemspeed concert that night at the Honey Bowl and guests of FOJNP get in on the house!

I'm An Oscar Mayer Weiner ...

Growing up, hot dogs were a family staple. My mom made Pigs in a Blanket (think a hot dog with a slice in it, a piece of cheese placed in the slice, and a biscuit wrapped around the hot dog and cheese and cooked) regularly, and when we went to the Drive-In as kids my mom always made hot dogs in buns, wrapped in foil, to schlep to the theater for good eats. Hot dogs were always a staple. Old school hot dogs. The kind with who knows what inside them. As I got older, I got hot dog cravings and opted for turkey dogs -- at least I knew they comprised only one curious item (turkey, that is).

For a lot of people, Hebrew National Hot Dogs are the bee's knees of the non-gross hot dog business because it's the non-crappy stuff that makes up their dogs. I can get behind that, but I can't get behind the kashrut. I know, I know "ages old rumors" and "Conservative hashgacha is just as good as Orthodox" and all that jazz. Nine times out of ten kashrut issues involve something that happened a long time ago that a business or store owner or company just can't get over. It happened back in the day, too (I'm reminded of a story from "The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million" by Daniel Mendelsohn in which village residents remember the author's family because he was selling non-kosher meat as kosher and it caused a huge scandal!).

But what Hebrew National did for the industrialization of kosher food in the United States can't be underestimated. So mad props to Sue Fishkoff in her July 4 New York Times OP-ED "Red, White and Kosher" for her exploration of just what Hebrew National did when it did it. Today, one-third to one-half of the goods you find in your average supermarket chain have kosher certification (of course, whether Orthodox Jews will buy those certified products is questionable), but Fishkoff's point is that most of the people buying these products aren't Jewish! People (mistakenly) think that kosher = healthier, better, less junk than all that other stuff. Boy, have they walked down the grocery aisles in Monsey? Candy, chips, candy, chips, sugary treats. Have they sat down at a Shabbos meal!? I mean, come on, we're not the healthiest eaters out there.

Fishkoff has a new book coming out in the fall called “Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority," and I'm super eager to read it. As the kind of person that gets giddy when she sees the kosher food carts at Yankee Stadium, I'm guessing Fishkoff's look at kosher food production and evolution in the United States will be right up my alley. Here's what the Random House page has to say:
Kosher? That means the rabbi blessed it, right? Not exactly. In this captivating account of a Bible-based practice that has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry, journalist Sue Fishkoff travels throughout America and to Shanghai, China, to find out who eats kosher food, who produces it, who is responsible for its certification, and how this fascinating world continues to evolve. She explains why 85 percent of the 11.2 million Americans who regularly buy kosher food are not observant Jews—they are Muslims, Seventh-Day Adventists, vegetarians, people with food allergies, and consumers who pay top dollar for food they believe “answers to a Higher Authority.” She interviews food manufacturers, rabbinic supervisors, and ritual slaughterers; meets with eco-kosher adherents who go beyond traditional requirements to produce organic chicken and pasture-raised beef; sips boutique kosher wine in Napa Valley; talks to shoppers at an upscale kosher supermarket in Brooklyn; and marches with unemployed workers at the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant. She talks to Reform Jews who are rediscovering the spiritual benefits of kashrut and to Conservative and Orthodox Jews who are demanding that kosher food production adhere to ethical and environmental values. And she chronicles the corruption, price-fixing, and strong-arm tactics of early-twentieth-century kosher meat production, against which contemporary kashrut scandals pale by comparison.
A revelatory look at the current state of kashrut in America, this book will appeal to anyone interested in food, religion, Jewish identity, and big business.
Color me stoked. Are you stoked? Put this on your to-read list for the fall!

Note: You might recognize Fishkoff's name from her book "The Rebbe's Army," another book I'm dying to read. Anyone have thoughts about Fishkoff and/or her books?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Winding Journey to Social Media.

It began when my parents purchased a computer in 1997. We got AOL, and for the first time in my life, I had instant messenger and access to the outside world. The big, bad, e-world of strangers. I remember meeting some kid online (okay, I was a kid too, at the ripe age of 13/14) who lived in Arkansas. We actually "dated" online, which was weird, because we'd never talked on the phone or in real life. Needless to say, it didn't last long, but it was my first true taste of what the World Wide Web had to offer.

I created a MySpace page, started a LiveJournal, and really got the flavor of chat rooms. I joined groups on LiveJournal, made random friends on MySpace, and started to become a pro in the world of early social media platforms. I was hooked, I was addicted. My dad had to put a time limit on my e-time, in fact, which kicked me off the web at 1 a.m. I was that hooked.

When I got to college in 2002, I didn't have a computer of my own. I relied on my roommate's computer to keep my LiveJournal very active, and I instant messaged there as well. Then, in 2003, I purchased my first desktop computer and my first cellphone (I was a little behind the game in the cellular department). My LiveJournaling took off and I met my first "real" online boyfriend (who, yes, I would later meet in real life and move in with while living in Chicago, actually), and I started to meet people In Real Life that I'd met online on MySpace (scary).

I joined Facebook the moment it was available at my university, got GMail when it first came out, and became a quick devotee of all things Google. In April 2006, I decided to venture away from my LiveJournal and start a real blog -- a topical blog, this blog. I stopped going to MySpace so much, and embraced Facebook in a serious way. I joined Yelp in 2007, and I took a real dive into the world of meeting strangers In Real Life that I only knew on the web. In January 2008 I joined Twitter, and I went to my first Yelp function where I met a boatload of strangers who were awesome and not scary at all. From that point on, I realized that Social Media and the e-world was more than meets the eye: it was a networking extravaganza of awesomeness and friendship.

In 2008 my blog really took off with followers, and since then I've managed to loop in tons of new readers, new Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and a degree of Social Media presence that earned me a #5 on the most influential Jewish Twitterers by JTA. I spoke at SXSW Interactive 2010 as an expert on Jewish social media, and I've been tapped to moderate a panel discussion next month in NYC at the Jewish Shmooze event. My blog is my top priority (after Tuvia, of course), and I feel guilty if I don't Tweet dozens of times every day. I try to keep up on Facebook, but it's hard sometimes.

You can find me on Yelp, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Blogger, Daily Photo Booth, Flickr, YouTube,,, Foursquare, and ... the list just goes on and on (I also have a lot of inactive, defunct spots like Brightkite, that are in my name).

Just Google "kvetchingeditor" and tell me what you find. I've branded myself, and that's a success story in Social Media. People know me by my handle, and because it floats across the web, I'm lucky that it's consistent.

Sometimes, I sit back and wonder whether it's all been worth it -- the amount of time wasted playing games on Facebook while waiting for my Twitter to update on Hootsuite or an email to come in from some connection about some function, and my overall conclusion is Oh oh oh YES!

All I have to think about is the people I've met and how they've enriched my lives. I can't count the number of Twitter and Blogging connections I've met In Real Life who have become my closest and dearest friends. Is it worth spreading my entire life all over the web and sharing my experiences with the most distant of strangers? Without a doubt.

That's what Social Media is about: selling yourself/your brand to complete strangers in the hopes of building lasting connections and creating important, life-changing conversations over a variety of web platforms that highlight user-created content.

Of course, it isn't for everyone. I got started on this all 13 years ago (man I'm old), and sometimes it feels too big even for me. But I wouldn't change my experiences for anything in the world. This is the future, folks. Embrace social media. It's the present and the future. Don't believe me? Watch this awesome video below (hat tip to @bryfy).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Conversion in Israel, We're at it Again.

I really want to be up in arms about this, I really do. I want to be up in arms because I have a lot of good friends who didn't go through an Orthodox, RCA, Israel-approved conversion like I did. I want to be up in arms because even my conversion could go kablooey if one of my beth din rabbis decided to do something drastically un-rabbi like.

But I just can't. I can't be upset about what's going on in the Knesset because I get what the bill is trying to do. For those of you who don't know what I'm blabbering about, I'm blabbering about the big fat Conversion Bill that's floating through the Knesset as we speak.

The crux of the bill is actually to ease the process for potential converts by allowing local batei din convert folks instead of using a big centralized system. The tag-on to that has folks up in arms "expands the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate’s jurisdiction by bringing conversions, until now the province of special conversion courts, under the explicit authority of the Chief Rabbinate."

The former has the ultra-Orthodox in Israel peeved because it would make the process "more lenient" (right ... ) and the non-ultra Orthodox in the rest of the world are peeved because the latter would bring non-Orthodox conversions up for consideration as non-halakic/legitimate.

You can't please anyone, right? Listen, I get what the guy who proposed the bill is trying to do. He's trying to help converts, but in the process, there are things tagged on that have to be used to please all sides of the battle (if you can call it that). It's just like bills in America. We want something, but we don't like all the add-ons that make us wonder whether the actual bill is worth it.

I guess that's what I have to suggest: Is making the conversion process in Israel less-centralized worth all of the stuff that's going to come along with it? Is allowing hundreds of Russian olim the ability to finally say "we're Jewish" worth putting all Reform, Conservative, and other non-Orthodox conversions on the line? If you ask a Russian olah, they would say yes. If you ask a Reform convert from Middle of Nowhere, U.S.A., they'd say no. So who gets the weight here?

I really want to be upset about this, but I can't. My big thing is to not let this stuff bother me. It ruins the lives of people who dwell on it, it puts chips on the shoulders of converts and potentials everywhere, it makes people live their lives as if they're under a microscope rather than living their lives as Jews. And I can't buy what they're selling. I have to approach it from a positive angle, and perhaps I'm lucky for my "status" as a convert. I really feel for my friends who are drowning in this debacle, the what ifs and the what will I do?

My advice: Only HaShem knows who is a Jew, so continue to live your life as you do as a Jew, and don't let anyone dictate who you are. The conversion question and the "Who is a Jew?" question is a deep, dark, messy one that I'm often asked about. People want to know whether I consider my Conservative-converted friends Jewish or my patrilineal friends Jewish, and all I can say is: Is it my place to say? Everyone's on their own journey. I know that going the Orthodox, RCA, Israel-approved route was the best for me at the crossroads of my life. Our journeys move at different paces and I'm happy to support converts as they move through their Judaism, whether they end up Reform and end up Orthodox or start Conservative and end up Conservative. It takes a huge neshama to take that step, in whatever form you take it.

So live as you live, don't let this bill ruin your hope and your confidence in who you are.

Also: Remember, halakicly you can't "revoke" a conversion. You can be excommunicated, you can be shunned, you can be treated like trash, but once you're converted, you're Jewish. If some rabbi out there wants to correct me and point me to where the law says you can revoke a conversion, I'd be happy to take up that conversation. The way that conversions are done (i.e., the process, the requirements, the tests to make sure you know how to tear a bag on Shabbos, etc.) is a very really new concept (save circumcision and mikvah, of course). Look at Ruth, Yitro, Na'aman, and Rahab -- the Rabbis took their simple declarations about HaShem being the only G-d out there as enough to deem them awesome, rocking, righteous converts. The way we do things now would probably make the Rabbis roll over in their graves.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Real Housewife of NJ

I'm sipping some coffee from my oversized Coffee Mug, watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey, fantasizing about how I'd look in a five-sizes too small dress throwing a sandwich at some other New Jersey housewife and the cops showing up to dismantle another unnecessary scuffle. Over what? Probably over the last Kiki Riki shirt or tichel at the local shop. Or, maybe, over the last gluten free crust at the local pizza shop. It would be, in a word, legendary. The Really Frum Houswives of Teaneck.

It's funny how quickly I've settled into wifedom. I dread looking at myself in the mirror because oftentimes my hair look a'mess, and I worry about its affects on my relationship (which, of course, is stupid because Tuvia expresses his love no matter how crappy I look or feel; what a mensch). I manage to fit an ungodly amount of stuff into a single day, and when I sit back and drink my cup of coffee I wonder how I did it. I can't imagine how it'll work when I have kids.

I've been suffering a bout of serious exhaustion the past few days, so I went to bed at 9:30 p.m. and slept until 10 a.m. today. I woke up ... exhausted. I showered, put all the dishes that were toveled and washed yesterday away, and washed some more things that were toveled. I rearranged some stuff in the house, scavenged through my notebooks for what I needed to work on today. I made some food and ate, grabbed my backpack and more stuff to be toveled, and headed out. I went to Starbucks and did about three hours of paper writing, realized I left a notebook at home, and left. I went to Shop Rite and bought fish and potatoes. I toveled. I went home. I grabbed things to return to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I drove back to BB&B, picked up a few things, ran to Whole Foods for a few things, went home. I set up shop to work at home, organized myself, started dinner. Grilled up some fish, roasted some taters, used my rice maker for the first time. Ate dinner with Tuvia. Got back to work on my paper. Finished the paper (well, this is one-quarter of the paper I have to write). Made a cup of coffee. And here I am.

Yawn. Being a Really Frum Houswife of Teaneck is tiring.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Guest Post? Anyone? Bueller?

I'm looking for some knowledgable folks on the following topics, because, well, they're things I'm curious about and know nothing about. I'd be happy (really happy) to reserve your identity if its a topic that would cause you undue harm to speak openly about said topic. Or maybe you're a guy who knows a guy and thus can talk about some of these. Just let me know. Mmk? Mmk.

  • Same-sex couples: how do they handle the laws of ta'harat ha'mishpacha? For women, dealing with mikvah, for men, not having mikvah as a normative activity. I'd be curious about covering (for women), tallit traditions for men, etc. 
  • Community standards and the halakot. I know plenty about what's what, although I'm a little lacking on the halakot specifics on many things (I'm smart enough to know that a lot of what people think is halakah actually is community standard), but I want to hear someone else's perspective on the issue. 
  • The halakot of hair covering, the varieties therein, and why the "Captain Jack Sparrow" is so normative (how on earth can I learn to tell when women have a fall on underneath their Captain Jack -- which, I also now am willing to call the "Bret Michaels" [see photo above if you don't get it]). 
If you're willing to blog about anything you might rock my readers' minds, just let me know. I'm doing this show solo, but I'd love to get some different opinions on all things Jewish. 

The Food Prophetess: Susie Fishbein

Do you worship at the church of Susie Fishbein? Have you known the food prowess and skill of her gloriousness, Susie Fishbein?

If not, boy oh boy, you can't move to Teaneck, New Jersey. I have yet to go to a home that doesn't worship at the church of Mrs. Fishbein, and I drank the Kool-Aid. I took the plunge. I bought the cookbooks, I bought the ingredients, I made the recipes (well, three of them anyway), and I'm pleased. I feel, well, the way someone probably does when they've been food-saved.

I typically get my recipes online. I think about what I want to make, and I find something online that resembles my cravings, schlep my laptop into the kitchen (which, as it turns out, isn't such a good idea), and cook. Now, I've got three versions of the "Kosher by Design" series: Lightens Up, Short on Time, and the original version. I flipped through them really quickly last Shabbos and marked dozens of recipes I'm jonesing to make, and this week I opted to rock three of them for our Saturday lunch alone.

1) A turkey, hoison-glazed thing that I had to substitute the hoison because every version I found was full of wheat;
2) Some jazzed-up vegetables with a red wine vinegar-drizzled sauce;
3) Sweet and Spicy potatoes, which I'd never make for normal guests because it's crazy spicy!

Overall, I'm very pleased. Susie knows what she's doing, and obviously the lovely residents of these apartments know what's going on, too. I'm glad I drank the Kool-Aid. Now, if Susie could just put out a yummy Gluten Free version of her series ... kosher cooks everywhere would be more easy-going about having Gluten Free consumers at their Shabbos tables, and Gluten Free guests would feel more comfortable attending (I'd be happy to lend my Kosher by Design: Gluten Free out to anyone and everyone!).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fourth of July: In and Out Like a Ghost

It's Tuesday July 6, and Independence Day just zipped on past me. In fact, yesterday zipped past me. I think it's the first Fourth of July in years that I really haven't thought much about the day or longed for July 4ths of years gone by.

This picture probably describes what I was doing on the Fourth better than I can.

Or maybe this one? 

We were on a bridge, driving back from Connecticut with a UHaul full of the rest of our "stuff." I didn't see a single burst of fireworks, and I only heard a smattering of poppage. It was depressing, mostly because where I come from, that is to so say where I grew up in Southern Missouri and Eastern Nebraska, the Fourth of July was a big deal.

I remember attending one year an installment of the dualing neighbors in their fireworks displays that rang in at $2,000+ at each house. Other years I went out to the lake with friends and watched the fireworks. One year I even hosted people at my parent's house; it was the July 4 after graduating, in 2006. We grilled out, had a water-balloon fight, and accidentally blew fireworks off in the garage (much to my father's dismay). Afterward, we went across town to watch the big display. That, folks, was a year to remember. A few years back I was in Oak Park with my then-boyfriend, drinking bears, playing bags (Chicago style), and ogling a friend's new baby. The year after that -- my last in Chicago -- I schlepped out to the local harbor, plopped down with hundreds of other people, and waited for the fireworks to begin. I watched people order Latino corn treats off carts, children edging near the water and parents pulling them back. It was a peaceful, calm, and, for me, perfect way to celebrate Independence Day.

And this year? Moving boxes, packing boxes, emptying boxes, staring at boxes, wondering when it will all be done. Painting, trying to find time to eat, nursing back pain, knee pain, leg pain, arm pain. One thing's for sure: I was never cut out to move heavy or light objects up and/or down stairs.

I was joking with Tuvia that I am a thinker, an intellectual. Worse came to worse, I wouldn't be able to snuff it physically with the rest of them. Thinking about the Holocaust, the camps, those who couldn't snuff it, it depresses me. Would I have been one of them? Such a morbid thought for Independence Day, but that's the way the cookie crumbles right now.

We hope to have everything painted and unpacked by Friday. Hopefully Shabbos will come in to a well-organized, settled, comfortable house that feels like a home. Come Monday, I'm back to being a student (for the time being anyhow, as I have to start and finish my grad exam in two weeks). It'll feel good to be back doing something that I'm good at: learning, writing, positing.

Back to the unpackin' and paintin' grind, folks. Be well!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Once Upon a Time, I Was Agnostic.

Let's get personal. I don't know that I've blogged about this specifically before, but I figure now's a good of time as any. I was inspired to write it after all the hullabaloo re: an earlier post on a certain rabbi who shall remain nameless.

When I was a kid, I didn't go to church. My parents weren't big believers (so far as I could tell), and we were raised on the Golden Rule (do unto others, etc.) and I got a small Precious Moments bible at one of my early birthdays. The only church I ever went to was with friends. This time of year, I'd be gearing up for Vacation Bible School, full of home-made ice cream and bible tales that I never retained. These characters, these Marks and Pauls and Johns and the Jesus guy ... well, I didn't believe.

I was a child, and I didn't believe. Jesus, to me, was a mythical creature, a fake person, a non-existent fabrication. A man to color in a coloring book. Religion didn't exist for me beyond something to do during the summer, and I never spoke to G-d, I spoke to my dead grandparents who I had never met and the stars in the sky (Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight ...). And then?
When I was about 10 years old, I experienced an incredibly scary crisis of reality: I realized that we die. I realized that at some point, life stops, and what comes after it I didn’t know. For two weeks I was awake every night in my day bed, the light of the moon peeking in my curtains, and I cried. I felt silly in the morning, and I never did tell my parents about it. I didn’t ask them. I felt as though I should know what happens when we die. But all I could picture in my mind was darkness, pitch black nothingness. I would talk to my grandparent’s (my father’s parents who I never knew) in the dark, asking them to ask G-d for a sign of what I needed to know, what death was about. And then, for some reason, I went to bed without tears. I’d realized that death didn’t matter, and what came after it certainly didn’t matter. Our life here – both how we live it and how we choose to live it – were what I realized are most important. Suddenly I understood. (From my conversion essay.)
This was when I started believing. At least, that's when I remember believing. In something bigger than us. There was something, someone, sitting somewhere, guiding our thoughts and our hopes and our deeds, and that was all that made sense. The here and now being so important, someone had to be expecting something of us, right?

I spent the next nearly 10 years floating in and out of Christianity, clubs and getaways in high school geared toward "being saved," and anticipating the "big reveal." I was waiting for the moment when I'd believe all the stuff I was being told, that I had been told for so long. But it never came. In high school, I decided it was all a sham and I couldn't do it anymore. I declared myself an agnostic -- I believed in something, I just didn't know what it was, but I felt it at my core. I couldn't define it, no matter how hard I tried. I was agnostic, I denied praxis entirely, and maintained that there was something, but that was it.

One day, I outlined my principals of belief. One Higher Power (HaShem?), a focus on this life, living for the good, doing good things and not focusing on only doing them for a someday entrance into eternal life, wherever or whatever that was, being more conscious of the world around me, and figuring it out. I was on the search. That thing at my core was yearning, hungry, trying to crawl out of its cocoon, and as I grew, it grew, and in the early years of college, over a conversation with a friend, I discovered what it was; it was Judaism, haShem, the Jewish people.

I was once a non-believer, then I was some kind of believer, I was a Christian faker at one point (and I gave that up pretty quick, believe you me, I felt like I was misleading my friends), I was another kind of believer, and then I found what I was looking for. Will I always be so healthy in my relationship with HaShem? No. No one is. We're all imperfect. If we were perfect living in a perfect world then I'm pretty sure Mashiach would be enjoying this coffee with me right about now. The point is to search and inquire and ask questions in the hopes of developing a more well-rounded and clear answer to all of the BIG QUESTIONS out there, including whether HaShem is, was, will be, and whether Judaism is the right response to an individual's neshama.

I have no direct line to the answers, but this works for me, even as an ever-curious academic analyzing tough and contradictory topics within academia and Judaism. But the inquiring and searching -- Judaism DEMANDS it! I like to think of myself as one in a long line of individuals who have been able to inquire, think, and insist on exploring while also believing, wholeheartedly, in this big, great, amazing thing we call Judaism.

I don't think it's easy for everyone, but I'm proud that I can seek and believe, that I can ask and brim with faithfulness. My academic inquiries, truth be told, have brought me closer to my belief. Maybe I'm an anomaly.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Finding the Perfect Pattern

We're all insanely busy, running around for our spouses, significant others, kids, bosses, parents, friends, and everyone else under the sun. I find myself, most days, struggling mid-afternoon and staving off a nap, while at night I tend to wake up around 10 p.m. and, as a result, I am unable most nights to sleep before midnight and sometimes even earlier than 2 a.m. This works for me in some respects -- I am, after all, a student. But now I'm married and I have a husband and I have things to do and places to go and food to cook and people to engage in worthwhile conversation ... so I can't keep up with my crazy late nights every day of the week, right?

You're probably wondering where on earth I'm going with this. Well, I was perusing the most recent issue of Real Simple (free at my local coffee shop for in-store reading, yay Teaneck!), and I found this nifty little chart of the through-the-day way to eat and drink. Do you guys have anything that works for you? Let me know if this chart seems pretty accurate. When I get to commuting into the city, I'm going to have to get really good about eating the right stuff at the right time (when I'm away from home, I tend to ... well ... not eat, and then I get home and eat a huge, unnecessary meal).

Follow This Eat-for-Energy Timeline

Here’s how to power through your day effectively:

7 a.m.: Rise and shine!

7:15 a.m.: Drink a glass of water. “Hydrating first thing increases the chances that you’ll continue throughout the day and prevents dehydration, which causes fatigue,” says Sara Ryba, a nutritionist in Scarsdale, New York.

7:45 a.m.: Have your cup of coffee. While you’re filling that pot, pour yourself another glass of water.

8:30 a.m.: Eat a protein-rich breakfast. “Protein helps keep your blood-sugar levels consistent, so you don’t run the risk of an early-morning energy crash,” says Ryba. Stick to foods such as scrambled egg whites on a whole-grain English muffin, peanut butter on toast, or cottage cheese (which has more protein than yogurt) topped with berries and high-fiber cereal.

10:15 a.m.: Snack on a few hazelnuts or almonds. “The nuts are high in magnesium, which is believed to boost energy,” says Ryba.

10:45 a.m.: Drink more water. If you’re not a water drinker, try snacking on some watermelon, which is about 91 percent water.

12:30 p.m.: Enjoy a brown-bag lunch. Dining out, especially in a group, might lead to overeating, which will zap your energy supply later in the day. “The more food you consume, the harder your body has to work to break it down,” says Ryba. Consider an open-faced turkey sandwich with carrots or a cup of lentil soup and an apple.

2:45 p.m.: Snack time. Boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which help improve brain function, with yogurt with flaxseed or a trail mix with walnuts. Now is also a good time to sip an iced green tea, which can help rev your metabolism and give you a bit more buzz. (Antioxidant-rich green tea has less caffeine than a cup of coffee, so you won’t risk messing with your sleep patterns later.)

4:00 p.m.: Break out the popcorn or Twizzlers. “Most people experience a dip in serotonin between three and five,” says biologist Judith Wurtman, a coauthor of The Serotonin Power Diet ($16,, so you should reach for 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrates to boost levels of the feel-good hormone. Try one cup of popcorn, three Twizzlers, or a low-fat granola bar.

8:30 p.m.: Finish eating dinner at least 2½ hours before bedtime. Otherwise your body’s digestive process could disrupt your sleep pattern. Try a light but satisfying meal of protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates—for example, salmon, broccoli, and brown rice; or beans, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and grilled chicken in a whole-wheat tortilla.

10:00 p.m.: Sip an herbal tea. Chamomile will help calm you down for sleep, while peppermint aids digestion.

11:30 p.m.: Lights out!