Tuesday, August 31, 2010

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things ...

I like giveaways. Why do I like giveaways? Because I get to hand cool stuff over to cool people. Usually, my giveaways involve products like coupon codes emailed to winners or products sent from companies. Sometimes, however, I get the pleasure of sending a giveaway item to an individual myself, which, for me, is all sorts of fun. It creates a sort of "hey, people on the internet are real" atmosphere. And who doesn't like real mail?

I'm currently hosting a Gluten-Free giveaway over on www.kosher-critic.com, so be sure to check that one out. I think that everyone -- gluten free or not -- should keep some gluten-free treats in their freezer in case friends or kids come over who have an allergy or sensitivity. And, to be honest, Katz Gluten-Free stuff tastes like normal food (I put some icing on their cinnamon rugelach, and I was floating ...).

But again, the winner gets stuff direct from the company -- not me. I don't get a say in the packaging or the contents or the sentiment behind the winnings. Sure, it's nice getting free stuff, but who wants something packaged without love?

So, inspired by the lovely Baker Girl, who is behind An Extended Vacation (who, by the way, was inspired by Brown Eyed Belle), I'm doing a Favorite Things Giveaway! You see, I won Baker Girl's giveaway and the package came today, and I'm just oozing with good feelings for not only having received real mail, but for the great things she included (which, as it turns out, are my favorite things, too!).

How do you win a cool box like this with my favorite things? Simply make sure you're following me here on the blog (there's a button over there in the right column) and then post a comment that you are, indeed, following me! Easy as pie. 

What will come in the package? Well, Unlike Brown Eyed Belle, and more in the vein of An Extended Vacation, it'll be a surprise. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time might have some idea of what kind of goodies will come inside, but hopefully I can surprise you. 

This giveaway will close on Tuesday at 11:30 p.m.! 
(Just in time for me to get the package to the post office before the holiday, hah). 

Covering Your Hair: Leprous Plague?

Now that we've established that covering your hair is considered Dat Moshe, or law directly from Torah, which makes it binding for the Torah-observant, married Jewish woman, and that head covering doesn't come directly out of the call for modesty per se, we can now discuss how we cover. This, I think, is a more gray area that has led to a lot of conversations over the years and a lot of animosity among a lot of women in a lot of Jewish communities. So let's dig in.
hair (n) a slender threadlike outgrowth of the epidermis of an animal; especially: one of the usually pigmented filaments that form the characteristic coat of a mammal (from m-w.com)
Most of us know the act of covering our hair as kisui rosh, which actually means covering the head. By this account, even if a woman shaves her head, she's still required to cover her hair. Similarly, many women take this to mean that you merely need to cover the whole of your head and that anything that falls away from the head is unnecessary to cover (it's hair after all, not your rosh). But have you ever noticed that in some very religious communities all of the little girls -- no matter their age -- have their hair tucked up high in pony tails? That, folks, is an extension of the idea of keeping the hair bound, not loose. Let's explore. 

In the Rambam's codification of law, he discerns between two types of uncovering: full and partial, with the former being a violation of Dat Moshe (clear enough, right? we already figured this one out). In Rambam's discussion in Hilchot Ishut 24:12, he essentially says that it is a "direct Torah command (Dat Moshe) for women to keep their hair from becoming exposed in public, and a custom of Jewish women to increase that standard in the interest of modesty and maintain an intact covering on their heads at all times" ("Hide and Seek," 201). Rambam says, then, that full covering is law and partial covering is custom. Ultimately, his point is that your hair should neither be let down [paruah] nor exposed [galui]. So that thoughtful and tightly formed braid hanging out of your clearly covered head is not kosher in the eyes of Maimonides.

In the Babylonian Talmud, a more lenient pattern is established, maintaining that although a "minimal head covering is not acceptable in public, in the case of a woman going from her courtyard to another by way of an alley, it is sufficient and does not transgress Dat Yehudit" (20). So, I suppose, I could walk out of my apartment in whatever would constitute a "minimal" head covering and go through the alley to a neighbor's without fault. The Jerusalem Talmud, on the other hand, insists on a minimal head covering in the courtyard and a complete one in an alley. On that note, who has courtyards anymore? Luckily, the actual sources (BT and YT) explain what constitutes each of these public places. For us, it's not significant at the moment, but rest assured: they matter to modern understandings of how we cover where we cover.

The Rashba says that "hair which normally extends outside the kerchief and her husband is used to it" is not considered" sensual. But does that mean she halachically can leave that hair out? In talmudic times, the Maharam Alshakar said that it was permissible to allow some strands to dangle out the front (between the ear and forehead), despite the custom being to cover every last strand of a woman's hair. This, then, births the idea of the tefach, or hand's breadth, of hair that allows some (including me) to keep bangs showing or some hair out the back of a hat exposed.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled (in the vein of Rambam) that all married women must cover their hair in public and that they are obligated to cover every strand. However, he was a proponent of the tefach, saying that "a woman's hair can be regarded in the same way as any other part of her body that is typically concealed from view -- if a handsbreadth is revealed, so be it" (22). Rest assured, the slippery slope was not something Rabbi Feinstein was concerned with, as he advocated complete covering as "proper," but that the revealing of a tefach was not in violation of Dat Yehudit. This revealing of a tefach, to many, is considered "lenient."

The funny thing is -- I wouldn't consider myself lenient in hair covering. I'm just infinitely attached to my bangs, as my forehead is abnormally small. But if others consider me lenient for embracing the tefach, so be it.

Did you know that in Hungarian, Galician, and Ukrainian Chassidic communities, the women customarily shave their heads before covering and shave each month before going to mikvah? I know what you're thinking: crazy! However, the logic makes sense to me (am I crazy?). When you go to the mikvah, if you have long or longish hair, when you dip, if all of your hair doesn't go down with you and is left floating on top, your dip isn't kosher. So these communities resolved this by shaving their heads. I'm not as brave as Demi or Natalie Portman or these Chassidishe women. I also keep my hair short enough I don't think we'll have this problem.

The sheitel is the real thing that brought us here: How is the sheitel kosher? If the point is to cover your head and hair, how can it be okay to cover it with hair? And if it is okay, why not just cover it with your own hair? One argument in favor of wigs is based on the premise that head covering is all about modesty, which doesn't really fly -- it isn't based on modesty, at least not exactly. This idea revolves around the idea that by wearing a sheitel, you more easily blend into the population and don't bring unnecessary attention to yourself. A brightly colored tichel with some gnarly pattern on it (ahem, like mine), will make you stand out in a crowd, especially in South Carolina (believe me, I know).

The funny thing is that wig-wearing became popular among non-Jews before it did among observant Jews. In Europe, especially. In France in the 16th century, wigs became popular as a fashion accessory for men and women. Rabbis rejected wigs as doable for Jews because it was inappropriate to emulate the "ways of the nations (chukkot ha'goyim)." Women, too, were uncomfortable as it fell like a loophole out of hair covering. Wigs were embraced, begrudgingly, but women typically would cover their wigs (which didn't look natural to begin with) with another type of head covering, as is the case in many very religious communities today (I think of Monsey -- lots of hats on wigs).

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, believed that a wig was the best possible hair covering for a woman. Why? It wasn't as easily removed as a scarf or hat. This makes sense, believe me. He even helped needy brides purchase their wigs! On the other end, then, we have the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel who called wigs a "leprous plague," even stating that "she who goes out with a wig, the law is as if she goes out with her head [uncovered]." Yikes. Big yikes. For those of you curious about cutting your own hair and having it formed into a wig, it's kosher according to Darkei Moshe, Orach Chaim 303, which says, "A married woman is allowed to expose her wig and there is no difference if its made from her own hair or her friends hair." Of course, there's a lot more to it than this, but this discussion is more helpful than me trying to explain it all. In truth, even if you use your own hair to make a sheitel, it will never look or feel the same as your natural hair, period.

And then there are those who descend from Lithuania, Morocco, and Romania, where women did not cover their hair at all. From the Lithuanian community we have the great posek and father of modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who, interestingly, never wrote down his opinions on hair covering! This, some conjecture, is because he was incredibly frum but his wife did not cover her hair. Even those he entrusted his opinions to never shared his views on covering. As a result of this, however, many former students of the Rav teach their congregants that it is no longer necessary to cover their hair -- yet, how can they know? The great Rav Soloveitchik never spoke on this!

In conclusion: The majority opinion is that hair/head covering is Dat Moshe, a binding, from-the-Torah law. How we approach it, however, depends on time and place. The Rambam (Maimonides) and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein dictated that all hair should be both covered and unexposed, with Rabbi Feinstein leaving room for a tefach or hands' breadth of hair to be exposed. Wear a hat, wear a tichel, just keep it covered and unexposed. However, some communities never covered, and others shave their heads to cover. The important thing to note in all of this, then, is that all of these individuals who choose to cover and not to cover have basis in texts and the opinions of the great rabbis. Ultimately, you should seek out a reliable rabbi in your community to explain to you your community's standards. It is not -- ever -- advisable to "shop around" for a rabbi who will tell you it's okay to go out uncovered as a Torah-observant, married, Jewish woman. It isn't in the spirit of Judaism! As one rabbi has said, "It is not God-fearing to hunt for new leniences where there is no pressing need" (33).

Modesty, indeed, plays a role in hair covering, but that's a "scratch-the-surface" answer that results in more questions than answers. Yes, by covering my hair I carry myself in a manner that I view as modest. It keeps reminds me that I am a Jewish woman, it reminds me that I am married, it allows me to walk about without running wildly (my scarf would fall off!), and all of these things allow me to speak appropriately, think appropriately, and keep Judaism before me at all times. But knowing that this simple mitzvah is an act of Torah law? That's powerful. That's the crux of everything: Torah, HaShem. 

(Note: The Shulchan Aruch commentary does say that hair covering clearly is only a custom that may be subject to change based on societal standards and community practice. This goes back to the previous post, and even in the Mishnah Brurah and Aruch haShulchan there are discussions about what to do if a married woman does have her hair uncovered. As progressive and forward-thinking as some women today might think they are, someone's already attempted to push that boundary of uncovering.)

Action: Write your own story about why you are embracing it or aren't. If you're not married, write something to. Why would or wouldn't you embrace it? Post it to your blog. Link it here on this blog post. We'll start our OWN narrative on what gives us the heebie-jeebies about hair covering, what we don't buy into, and what makes our hearts sing when we cover our hair.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Covering Your Hair: Why?

This is part one of a multi-part series exploring the why, how, and when for hair covering for Torah-observant, married Jewish women. Enjoy, and please post any questions or additional thoughts you have in the comments section. PART TWO IS HERE

My sheitel post is my all-time, most-viewed blog post here at Just Call Me Chaviva. I'm proud that it got as many hits as it did, and I'm also really proud that people kept it civil without hat or sheitel slinging, so thank you for that.

Hair covering in Judaism is, as you guessed and may very well know from personal experience, a very tenuous and barely understood topic. If you ask a woman on the street why she chooses, as a Jew, to cover her hair, she'll probably answer immediately with "modesty." If she gets into explaining the depth of this simple answer, you'll probably hear things about the rabbis, respect for the husband, HaShem, and the marriage. Very few people ever really get to the core, the basis of why we cover, and many women begin covering with sheitels superficially -- it's what everyone else does, it's the community standard, it makes me blend in, I feel pretty. These same reasons could be said to apply to tichels in Israel, where sheitels are less normative than beautiful scarves are. Of course, in certain communities (such as Chabad Lubavitch), the sheitel is the commanded or preferred hair covering, no matter where you live. Just as you would find a Satmar woman shaving her head the day after she's wed, so, too, would you find a Lubavitcher in her sheitel whether running to the store or lighting Shabbos candles.

But why? WHY is the big question. Few people ask why, because, as we all can recognize, Judaism is a religion that requires a leap of action; Judaism is a very thing and action based religion, which is something that I adore about it.

Good ole' TheBrickTestament.com.
The entire story begins with the sotah narrative in Numbers 5:11-20. Yes, the reason women cover their hair is based on the incident of the suspected adulteress. What a colorful beginning, no? It is in this narrative that the suspected adulteress's hair is parah. The meaning of this word is, itself, contentious, as it means a few different things, which lead to a few different understandings of the law today. One meaning: unbraid or untie. Another meaning: let down, uncover, or dishevel. Either way, one thing is clear: the suspected adulteress typically has her hair in a certain fashion in public and in the eyes of HaShem, and by altering the way that it is held up or covered, she is shamed in the eyes of the public (only her husband would see her hair parah). Her private image is let go to the public. 

The rabbis, then, understood this as a direct-from-the-Torah law for the daughters of Israel (Sifrei Bamidbar 11). One would think, then, that this would apply to all married and unmarried Jewish women and girls (such as in Islam), but it has generally been accepted to refer only to married women (hence the intensity of the scene of the sotah). From here, however, we run into a few problems. Various sages throughout the years debated whether it truly was Dat Moshe or Dat Yehudi -- basically, a law from the Torah/Moses or a custom of the Jewish people (subject to region, familial customs, etc.). 

The overwhelming and accepted opinion regarding head covering, however, comes from Gemara Ketubot 72a-b, which states that the obligation to cover one's hair is immutable and not subject to change. It is, in fact, law. So there's that. The Torah-observant Jewish woman is required to cover her hair upon marriage, as dictated by Dat Moshe

The biggest question arising from this, then, is the one that concerns us today and results in the variety of looks we have ranging from a hat with natural hair pouring out to kerchiefs half-exposing hair to full-on sheitels and scarves that pull any thread of hair out of site. This question of HOW one covers their hair. What's okay, what's not, and what exactly is meant by the words "head" and "hair" in the law. The image of the sotah in my head is of a woman with long, thick hair, twisted up under a scarf, that is then parah -- both untwisted and let down. Or was it not really like that? Perhaps it was a long braid coming out of a scarf, or just a long braid period, or maybe it wasn't a braid at all and she had short hair shoved under some type of scarf. This, you see, is the complication. The Torah doesn't detail what her headgear was like, it merely explains the action that took place, which is why the rabbis had to sit down and figure out exactly what this meant. Of course, this now leads to us figuring out what the rabbis meant. 

I wanted to lay out where the idea (read: law) of head covering comes from in this segment, and my next segment will lay out the various opinions on the how of head covering, including what the great sages Rashi and Rambam (Maimonides) had to say as the final word on how a woman is to cover her hair. Yes, they had sheitels way back when, and yes head covering was a normative activity for most of the cultures of the world up until the last 100 years. 

Read Part II by Clicking Here!

Friday, August 27, 2010

"It's Shabbos Now"

This video makes me ... really, really really ... want to be in Israel. I'm sure it isn't even filmed in Israel or anywhere near Israel and it doesn't really say anything about Israel, but, it sings to me. Hat tip to Life in Israel for this.

Happy Birthday Gilad Shalit ... the world-over we're praying for you.

Shabbat shalom!

I Choose You ... PikaJew!

From this week's parshah,
(17) You have selected the Lord this day, to be your God, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him. (18) And the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments.
I wrote about this back in 2007, and it's interesting because I feel much the same about this particular section of the parshah as I did then. I have bolded the sections "You have selected HaShem this day" and "HaShem has selected you this day," because, for me, as a convert, this is incredibly poignant, especially during this super special month of Elul (renewal, reflection, reconsideration). As someone who literally chose Judaism and HaShem, these words sing to me.

The interesting this is that clearly, HaShem chose me first (for converts, the understanding is that you are born with a Jewish neshama and that it takes time for the neshama to sort of, crawl out -- like "Alien," but less creepy), and I chose to choose HaShem, embracing the agressive neshama within. However, the fact that it says "this day" suggests something further. A constant, perpetual, renewing choice. Every day I wake up, I choose HaShem, I choose Judaism. I choose to say my morning blessings, to cover my hair, to put on a nice tzniut (modest) outfit, to eat kosher and say my blessings over foods, to treat others in the way of a mensch, etc. The way this is worded -- and I think everything in the Torah is worded so very precisely, with a specific, basic meaning -- suggests that we must choose to be Jews every day, chose to carry ourselves in a certain way, and that, in turn, HaShem chooses us back.

All of that being said, it's a weird choice to make daily. I quipped in 2007 that "I'm sure I'm not the first to admit that the compelling pull of Judaism is as indescribable as is the idea of Noah's flood." That, I'm sure, makes sense to many of you. It is almost as if ... even if I would wake up tomorrow and say, "I'm done, no more Judaism for me," the pull would be so intense that I wouldn't be able to walk away, no matter how hard I would try.

About these verses Rashi says,
you have selected; has selected you ~ Heb. הֶאמִיר‏ְ We do not find any equivalent expression in the Scriptures [which might give us a clue to the meaning of these words]. However, it appears to me that [the expression הֶאמִיר] denotes separation and distinction. [Thus, here, the meaning is as follows:] From all the pagan deities, you have set apart the Lord for yourself, to be your God, and He separated you to Him from all the peoples on earth to be His treasured people. 
Conclusion? I think Rashi would agree with me.

Lesson? Choose Judaism, choose your path (if it's not Judaism, then, choose what makes your heart sing, just do it with all of your heart and soul), and you'll be chosen in return.

Shabbat Shalom!

Want to Feel Better About Yourself?

Hat tip to the awesome Ananda for this. This is good for Elul, right? Just think about it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Itching for Fall

The weather around these parts (Teaneck, that is) has been nice and cool (and by that I mean mid to upper 70s), which has me itching for Fall and Winter. Stores already have placed sweaters and winter skirts out, and that means tis the season: Get ready, here comes the changing leaves and cool weather that allows those of us of the modestly dressed variety to blend in more comfortably (not that we need to, but I'm just saying).

Inspired by the weather, I reached to the back of my closet for my long Brown Corduroy skirt, and it's a little big on me, which is always a nice feeling when you go for the winter clothes, right? Topped it with a tissue tee and a sweater I picked up recently, and you have this little number, which screams of the blacks, grays, and browns of Fall and Winter.

Sigh. Here's hoping Fall arrives soon! Worse comes to worse, I'll just head back out to the Poconos, where Fall started a few weeks ago (I need to take pictures!). Here's a touch of detail on the sweater, which, might I add, is a perfect changing-season sweater because it's a halfsies sweater -- short sleeves, cropped top, and fairly lightweight. It makes the transition smooth!

The outfit broken down:

Tichel/Scarf ~ CoverYourHair.com ($6?)
Ankle-length, Brown Corduroy Skirt (Land's End, last year, $25.00, on sale)
Target Tissue Tee Undershirt ($10.00, I think)
Cropped Gray Sweater (Conway, $10 ... yes, $10)

Oh, and this photo? Taken with my brand new Canon Powershot SX20 IS. LOVE IT. Thanks Tuvia, you're a real mensch.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Quite Like It

For those of you who never got to peek at the invitations to our wedding (circa May 31, 2010), here's a look at them, taken from the designers of the beautiful, unique invitations, QuiteLikeIt.com. The gals behind QLI are two of my BFFs, Heather and Ananda (mazal tov to the latter, who recently had a baby girl!).

So here's a screen-shot of the invite on their page. I feel so dazzled to be featured in their homepage montage!

I was their first Hebrew-language invite, but their experience with invitations for any and every event is expansive. I can recommend them personally and professionally (after all, we were journalismos together for a few years), so if you're looking for invite designers, these girls are the most creative, talented designers I know.

Jewish Anti-Gravity Tornado Warfare!

I have to hand it to my BFF Cesar for sending this my way. A man, deeply upset about the tearing down of a country club in Omaha, sent this letter to the Omaha Planning Board. It is, in a word, hilarious. And the image that someone made to go with it is even MORE hilarious, and I've included it in this post because I can't get over how ridiculous it is. With all of the bad, horrible, violent, and negative posts that exist out there in the Jewish blogosphere, this is a beacon of light ... on the ridiculousness of some people.

You can find the full letter here, but here is a bit of the text of it.
The public is tired of and angry about corrupt Jew-connected big business gangsters and business-as-usual porkbarrel payment of bribes to regime bureaucrats. (I find this hilarious because it puts corrupt Jews and porkbarrel together.) ...
Tall new buildings might be toppled or damaged by Jewish anti-gravity tornado warfare like that done against Omaha in June 2008 linked to the spelling of the name Obama and linked to eleven letters in the name Barack Obama. (Um, what? Why didn't I get the memo about this AWESOME anti-gravity tornado machine!?) ...
Oh, and then he blames the Jews' "electromagnetic secret weapon anti-gravity beam-intersection" for killing beloved Nebraska football quarterback Brooke Barringer (who actually died in a plane crash). He also, of course, denies the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust (get some fresh material!).

Oh it just makes me laugh. I had to share it. But mostly because I wanted to share a depiction of the big, bad Jewish tornado. Are you ready?

When will it end? At least this guy isn't threatening violence ...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Taking the (Hair) Plunge

Before I got married, people told me that I would be unrecognizable with my hair covered. Why cover your beautiful, spiky, unique hair? people said. That hair, after all, had been my signature since nearly the turn of the millenium. A friend once recognized me in a crowded Washington Heights synagogue -- purely by my hair. Women at synagogue described me as "you know, the one with the hair," complete with hand signals to describe the way my hair looks (imagine jazz hands).

I like to joke that I was born with bangs. I've had these bangs since forever, and when I started covering, I vowed to keep them there, and I have. Everything else covered up, I've discovered that I love covering with scarves (okay, I knew I would), with one small caveat: I miss the volume. I miss the shape of my hair. I miss the way my face and my head look with the hair all up and out like it used to be. I miss having a "look," that made random strangers in random stores ask me if I'm a hair stylist.

Do I miss it enough to give up hair covering? Of course not. I miss my hair's shape and body like I miss putting 70 buttons on my purse and wearing tons of colorful bracelets on my wrists. It's nostalgia. It's a "moving on" kind of nostalgia. A choice that I'm 110 percent okay with.

My hair is still there, of course. No, I didn't shave it. It's funny how long it's gotten, but it's still not long enough to put into a ponytail (grrr), and it's at that obnoxious length that makes it hard to really do much of anything with it under a tichel or outside of it in the privacy of my own home. I pin it, tuck it, pin it some more, band it, and sometimes, I stare in the mirror imploring it, "GROW! GROW DARN'T! JUST GET LONG!"

I haven't wanted long hair. Not since I cut my hair. Long hair, contrary to how I feel about my former 'do, is not something I'm nostalgic about. Having had bangs and the same haircut since, I dunno, kindergarten, I really loathed long hair. It didn't fit my face, my physique, my anything. It was what everyone else did, and I didn't do that. I would have missed the ease of putting it up in a ponytail, but let's be honest: my spiky 'do took me about 2 second to do.

But then I got married, and I moved to Teaneck, and I realized that there were options for how I was going to cover my hair. By that I mean tichels, scarves, sheitels, hats, you name it: there are options. I vowed, from the time I started discussing hair covering, that I would not, I repeat would not be buying or wearing anything that consisted of someone else's hair. Never, ever, ever, ever. Period. Stam. No conversation. Zehu!

But living here, living as a hair covering woman in a hair covering world, well, I saw the allure. So I bit. Last night, my fashionista friend and I took off to a sheitel sale, with the agreement that there would be no pressure to buy. I was looking. We walked in to a table full of hair, women doing each other's hair, asking each other questions, and my friend knew exactly what she was looking for. Then, it came to me, "So, what are you looking for?"

Um. Newbie here. Fake hair that's real hair? I haven't a clue. I don't know what I'm looking for. I wasn't really looking for anything. In truth, I was initially there for the experience of blogging it. Imagine it, me at a sheitel sale. What a riot!

But then, after some attempts at matching my hair color (no, I don't have blonde highlights), and some guidance from my friend, there I was, standing in front of some stranger's dining room mirror, with long hair. I was staring at someone I didn't know. So I grabbed my cellphone, took a photo, and emailed it to Tuvia. "Who is that?" he responded. I replied with how much the piece -- a headband fall, which is sort of a half-sheitel (aka wig) that would thus allow my bangs to do their thing, with only a headband between my bangs and the fall -- cost. "That's not bad, it's up to you," he responded. Then, conveniently, my phone died. 

I showed the conversation to my friend to verify that, indeed, it was up to me. A seriously look-altering item was up to me. 

I inquired with the seller if I could maybe take the piece home and wear it around for a few days, see how it feels and whether I like it. After all, it was my first one. "No," was her response. Thus, I had to decide whether it was worth it. Would I wear it regularly? Only on Shabbat? Maybe in the winter when I can blend in. Would I cut it? Would it be a "special occasions only" sheitel? What would my parents think, my friends, my ... husband? 

I bought it. As my friend said, if it ends up being a mistake, it's the cheapest mistake in the sheitel department that I can make. But, I've put it on a few times. I've put it on and smiled in the mirror. Taken photos. Sent them to my mom, "Did you get a wig? Your dad and I like it!" was my mom's response. Tuvia's response was, "Just don't wear it all the time, okay?" 

In the end, I'm still a tichel kinda girl. But a sheitel gives me something that a tichel doesn't right now, and that's body, a 'do, something to work with. I look forward to wearing it on Shabbat, with cute winter hats, and for special simchas and events in cities and locations that, well, are perhaps a little more sheitel appropriate. It gives me something to play with, to do like I didn't do once upon a time when I had long, irritating, thick hair. And, as my real hair begins to grow long, I look forward to taking it to a special place: growing it, cutting it, donating it. Repeating. That, it appears, is what the awesome gals in my complex do, and I admire them for doing that. (Of course, first I wondered why people don't get their hair cut and turned into a sheitel, but then I realized how silly that was. *wink!*)

So here it is, folks. Here is what Chaviva, nee Amanda, looks like in a sheitel. Here's what a Missouri-born, Bible belt bred, Nebraska grown girl looks like when she takes hair covering to a new and interesting place, with a mop of someone else's hair. I'll admit. I feel pretty ... pretty glam. Like a whole new and different person. Do I like that person? I think so. 

Don't get me wrong, folks, it's still really really really weird. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Casual Clothes, Chavi Style

I know I said I didn't want to make this a regular thing, but, well, how I dress and cover my hair -- and, inevitably how I carry myself in speech and action -- are part of who I am as a Jewish woman, so it only makes sense that I'd talk about my clothes, right? I pride myself on my spend-thrift behavior, even if Tuvia thinks I pick up too many garments (hello, he still has more clothes than me!). So here's an outfit from last week, Thursday I believe, and the details therein.

This is a pretty casual, everyday outfit. If I remember correctly, I wore it running some errands. I really liked the twist detail on the tanktop, and throwing a white shirt under it was perfect and it was a definite airy wear. The skirt is super cozy, as well, a cotton/linen type of fabric with an awesome detail at the bottom of eyelets. Throw a scarf with it and bam, an outfit to run errands in or grab a burger in (which I just now remember I did, with my husband!).

Top: Conway (NYC, awesome, $9.99)
Undershirt: Kiki Riki (Susan Abrams, local, $14.00)
Skirt: Lane Bryant Outlet (The fun-time adventure in North Carolina, $20.00)
Scarf: CoverYourHair.com ($6.00, I think ...)
Shoes: Crocs sandals ($25.00-ish)

Overall, this is an outfit that costs less than $75, and a third of that comes from the shoes, which I wear pretty much every day. I really need to learn to accessorize, however. Necklaces, earrings, etc. I wear the same stuff everyday, which is, well, it's fine, but come on. I can rock a mean pair of dangly earrings, so why shouldn't I?

Also: There is a CoverYourHair.com promotion going on RIGHT NOW! The kind folks at CYH are giving away a $200 giftcard to one of the following retailers: Macys, Target, Toys R Us, Banana Republic, GAP, and Children's Place. All you have to do is head over to CYH and enter to win. And, while you're at it, buy some head coverings, mmk?

Note: I'd wanted to post a video blog of how I tie my tichel, but, unfortunately, YouTube was disagreeing with me (my 3 minute video is TOO long? what?) and Vimeo appears to think that my voice and the video shouldn't match up (grrr). So stay tuned, that's coming, too. 

Second Note (of importance): Stay tuned for a big, mind-blowing post about ... hair. Covering it. New ways I'm choosing to cover it, and more. I think I might get flamed by some of my faithful blog readers, and patted on the back by others. Coming tonight. Are you prepared to let your MIND be blown?

Loving and Learning to Cook.

Aarti is my newest inspiration. She's cute as a button, seriously. 
I've mentioned it time and again before: I left my parents' house with little to no cooking skills. My mom likes to joke that I could burn water, and she's right. My first big cooking adventure began Passover of 2008, when I decided that I needed to cook an abundance of Passover goodies for myself, because the Lean Cuisines I'd been living on (that helped me to lose 25 pounds back then) were neither kosher nor Passover friendly. The result? It was delicious and awesome and I blogged about it once upon a time here (that, by the way, was the first time EVER that I'd cooked fish). 

Now? Cooking is something that I love. Baking, even more so. I've got an abundance of cookbooks -- kosher and not -- as well as clippings from dozens of magazines like Cooking Light and Real Simple, whose recipes I try to use anew every week for Shabbat and our regular meals. This week, I went with an Indian-inspired menu, in honor of Aarti Sequiera, the freshest winner of Food Network's "Next Food Network Star." Aarti's background stretches from the media to food to her faith (she's a devout Christian), and I get her passion for what she does. And, well, I love Indian food! So here is my menu, inspired by Aarti, and I hope y'all will tune in to her Aarti Party on Food Network to get some Indian inspiration, too!

Homemade Challah 
(I realized using @hsabomilner's squish and squish method helped the challah keep its body!)

Marrakesh Carrot Salad (a la Kosher by Design ... light, I think)
Sweet Potato Salad (ditto on that ... sweet potatoes, maple syrup, cilantro, perfection!)
Curried Cauliflower Soup (again, same series, different book)

Curry Chicken (KbD, again)
BBQ'd Meatballs
Basmati Rice (I love my rice maker.)
Roasted Indian-Spiced Potatoes (winged this one)
Masala Vegetables (cauliflower, peas, potatoes, with a masala simmer sauce!)

Chocolate Creme de Pots (Kosher by Design strikes again! Plus, gluten-free "oreos" were used.)
Watermelon (nom nom nom)

What's your favorite easy-to-throw-together Indian or Indian-inspired dish? Next time, I think I'll shoot for a rice pudding or something of that sort to top off the meal.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Haveil Havalim No. 281!

Well, I'm not hosting it (I remember how much work it took, and I'm still hesitant about hosting again, but I should, because it's the right thing to do!), but Ki Yachol Nuchal! is hosting it, and it's the Summer's End Edition. Slap me silly and call me stoked, but I'm ready for fall. So go give it a read, and then come back here and give me some love.

Also, just for kicks and giggles I thought I'd share with you a funny verb that y'all should know.


Yes, that's "l'fesbek," which is "to facebook." Thus, I would say, Ani m'fesbeket (אני מפסבקת), which is just hilarious to me. I love the evolution of English words into Hebrew!

Happy trails and a good week!

Dream a Little Dream ...

Tuvia and I just got home from our motzei Shabbos movie date, in which we saw Inception, that movie with confusing commercials and an even more perplexing premise. And? Well, let's just say it's probably the best movie I've seen in a while, and I highly recommend you all go see it. At 2 hours and 28 minutes, I felt as if I'd been sitting in the crowded theater for a mere hour. I suppose that's part of the trickery related to the movie's theme.

The concept of the movie is that you can "break into" other people's dreams to extract ideas, with the impossibility (or is it?) of inception -- of placing an idea in the dream that will then consume the dreamer's conscious thoughts. There's someone who creates landscapes in dreams, another who masterminds the syrupy goo that keeps you asleep and able to accomplish your dream feat for extended period of time, and so on. It's a dreamscape of pretty much illegal proportions.

So why am I even blogging about this? Well, dreams are something near and dear to my heart, because I dream just about every night, vividly, with the ability (most of the time) to recall the depth and details of my dreams. People, faces, colors, scenescapes, the weather, the conversations, everything. I've also -- and this is the most awesome thing -- mastered the ability to throw myself back into a dream after waking up from it. Sounds nuts, right? Sometimes I wake up from an exceedingly vivid dream, and either unhappy with the point at which it ended or frustrated with how it was going or wanting more details, I push myself back into slumber for the express purpose of satisfying what I want out of the dream. Really radical, eh? I mean, I'm the kind of person who can barely fall asleep on any given night, and yet, when it comes to my dreams, I can push myself back into them to try to change outcomes. For what purpose? No clue. My subconscious and I are probably a psychologist's dream.

The best example of this that I can offer is a dream I had a few months ago in which I somehow ended up in an electrical storm outside of a large university building. I can't remember all the details, but it was a dream in which I walked into the building and accidentally caused a powerchord to hit some water and lit the building up. In the first version of the dream I ran throughout the halls, trying to get people out, but dozens died and the building fell before my eyes. (I'm so irritated; I thought I wrote this dream in my dream journal, but it appears that I did not.) I awoke from the dream, frustrated, angry at myself for something that happened in not-real space. I put myself back down and dreary-eyed attempted to fix the dream. The entire thing played out exactly as before, but I got more people out and was able to call for help. I proceeded to play through this dream about four more times, still unable to help everyone out. I changed the way I went through the building, I altered aspects of the floor plan, I did everything in an effort to re-scape the dream in order to be successful. And yet, still, my subconscious was set on defeating me.

Dreams are ... bizarre. For me, dreams are wicked places that, while supposedly revealing plenty about my innermost thoughts, really just baffles me. Over the past week I had three nights in a row with dreams of being hunted, through city streets, including one city street that featured Kate Gosselin and her sextuplets (she was deeply upset with me for attempting to talk them away from the road while she was busy yelling at someone on the phone). I need to keep a better log of my dreams than I do. I often sit Tuvia down and relate them to him, but he just stares at me blankly like a nutjob. People used to think I was fabricating or elaborating on a kernel of a dream memory. In reality, my dreams are exhausting. I wake up feeling as if I've been running a marathon all night (and in the case of the "being chased" dreams, I really was running -- for my life), and thus I end up feeling as though I haven't slept at all. My mouth guard has become my best friend, with teeth marks poking small holes into its base. Soon enough, I'll chew through the darn thing from dream anxiety.

This stuff is real, folks. And Inception was like this picture of my dreamscape. Weird. Surreal. Creepy. So what I leave you with is a recent dream of mine, from about a week ago, that left Evan staring blankly at me, as usual. Enjoy!
The dream began with Tuvia waking me up for lunch (we're in the Poconos, so the dream took place in our Poconos house, but the house looked a lot nicer and larger than our place actually is). The skies were dark and stormy, and as he was pulling me out of bed this huge torrent of rain came and it started seeping through the ceiling. It was like there was no roof, like the rain was seamlessly slipping through the wooden planks. I started freaking out and told Evan to turn on the lights, and he said, "But it's Shabbat!" and I responded, "I don't care! We need to pack and get the hell out of here!" So he turned on the lights and just then a man came walking up the stairs with an umbrella. "I thought y'all couldn't turn the lights on on Shabbat," he said. We asked him why he was even there and he said he saw our car in the driveway and thought he'd pay a visit. No clue who this guy was, by the way, but I think it might have been the neighbor who I've seen only through his minivan window. We explained the rain, the house falling to pieces, and needing to leave, so he pulled this little ball out of his pocket, pressed a switch, and it lit up. He threw it into the fireplace (which was in a different spot than our actual fireplace) and, with a flash, the rain in the house stopped. He left, and we began to assess the situation. The house suddenly morphed into this big house/community center thing, and all of our friends from West Hartford were there (and some of mine from the shul in Nebraska, too) and the skies were looking seriously doomful. Women and kids started to scream and sirens started going off ... so I ran for the lower level, I crouched in a corner, only to realize that the entire room -- of the basement, which was done up like a kindergarten or preschool classroom -- was full of windows, and this big, looming tornado was coming at us. I got up, squished this little kids hand as I stepped on it (oops), and ran for the only room in the place without any windows, a big cement block of a room. As I got there, an old woman grabbed my hand with a grip I can't describe. I tried to push her off, and I think I broke her arm in the process. I finally got to the corner of the room and then ... POOF. There was a flash and I looked up and I was sitting on a cement floor, the walls mostly decimated, in a field of pumpkins. Alone.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Judaism (and the Web) Saved Me

I've wanted to write a book for a long time. My desire to write a book (i.e., get a book deal) has only been ramped up by the fact that my Social Media life has really taken a positive upswing (my greatest pride is connecting converts to one another and to helping converts find a positive space to thrive). I have no idea where to begin, and I don't even know if I have the time to do such a thing. I already figure that a second book would be in order after we make aliyah (okay, a girl can dream, right? Tuvia, you reading this?).

The other day, on a bus ride home from the city where I got to hang out briefly with the illustrious @EstherK, it came to me. A book title and a rough abstract (at least for half of it). So, I give to you, daringly, something I wrote on a NJ Transit bus a few days back. Let me know what you think. Oh, and if you know a book person, hook a Jewess up.

“Judaism (and the Internet) Saved My Life: How My Soul Found and Socialized Me.”

No pull is greater than the pull of belonging. Having some little corner in a greater universe to call your own is to be comfortable, at ease, happy. 

When I came to Judaism, I was depressed, alone, and without a place to claim a niche. I was wandering, and emotionally and mentally it was to a most dangerous place. I’d spent my entire childhood attempting to figure out the universe, feeling aged beyond years even as a Tween, and in high school attempting to plan out my own end. The world was too big. It was too much. And I didn’t belong anywhere. I fit into no puzzle, no square hole or round hole or Christmas Tree-shaped hole. I couldn’t take it, and no one was going to stop me from taking it by the horns. I threatened suicide once. Late at night. My world came crashing down at the age of 16. And then, it was like it never happened. My parents forgot, my friends forgot. I didn’t forget. I got better, I told myself. I didn’t need meds, and I didn’t need a doctor. No shrinks for this deep-thoughted teen! So I threw myself into religion, Christianity, the force I’d battled for years, but I needed something. I tried, I made that community my community. At least, I thought I had. But it was a lie. A sham. I admitted to myself and to my friends who I really was, a non-believer, caught in my own mind and my own thoughts, I had my own beliefs. And then, out of nowhere, I was alone. With my thoughts, of course. I had no people, no category, I was statistically the cheese that stands alone. I grew inward, I lost myself. In college, Judaism saved my life. The community, the niche I’d fought so hard to find, to no avail, was present and accounted for. I suddenly belonged, I had people, I had a history, I had a shared dream. I had a home. 

When I came into my own on the internet, I was, once again, without friends, without a sense of community, without a place to call my own, even within myself. I was a hermit living in one of the major hot spots for 20-somethings in the U.S., Washington D.C. I even lived like a hermit, in a basement apartment, three steps down through a dirty old garden, and I was in a hole. Like a Hobbit. I could sleep until four in the afternoon without seeing a sliver of light. My loner habits continued, even after I moved to Chicago and became even more entrenched in my e-life: my blog, my Twitter, Yelp, they were my outlets. The internet saved my life. On more than one occasion. It pulled me out of my hole, after a bad breakup, and it threw me into a social scene of like-minded e-thinkers, and it made me whole again. I had e-stalkers, e-haters, and, most importantly, I had e-friends who became IRL friends who accompanied me on outings for prime pieces of meat at local steakhouses and indulged my love of thin-crust pizza. I was re-socialized. I was loved. I was welcomed. I was part of something, something huge and nebulous and beautiful. I was a part of the New Community. The 2.0 e-club. I made it. I branded myself, I became Chaviva. The Kvetching Editor. 

Mmm ... Waffles.

Note: This is a food/product review, but I also discuss a soon-to-be-posted giveaway of Katz Gluten Free. Read on if you want. I talk about my love of waffles, after all. Enjoy!

I run several different blogs, and it's hard sometimes to figure out where exactly to post things like food giveaways and reviews. I typically rock my Gluten-Free Kosher Critic blog with all of the yumm GF and, well, kosher things I find, and I hope y'all will hop over and take a look because probably 7 out of 10 items that I review are good for the regular consuming public and not just for those of us who can't handle gluten. In fact, I'd venture to say that all of the food I review is tasty for just about anyone, not to mention healthier (gluten-free products tend to have less *stuff* in them).

I'm going to be throwing up a giveaway from Katz Gluten Free, purveyors of goodies like gluten-free rugelach and cupcakes and challah rolls (yes, they have oat challah rolls now!), which, to be honest, is a good giveaway for anyone because the products can easily be frozen and kept in your freezer until you get that "Oh, by the way, I'm gluten free" email from your Shabbos guest. So stay tuned for that giveaway, which, likely, will be cross-posted here because of my wider viewership here.

What I do want to write about, however, is waffles and maple syrup. Every morning I wake up, throw some Van's Gluten Free Waffles or French Toast into the toaster oven, put together some yogurt, and then douse my waffles or french toast in some syrup. Now, traditionally I use Cary's Sugar Free Syrup, which, at a quarter cup, runs only 30 calories, 0 sugars, and 0 basically everything else. But then you look at the ingredients: "Water, sorbitol, cellulose gum, natural and artificial maple flavor, salt, aspartame, citric acid, caramel color, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (As preservatives), acesulfame potassium. Phenylketonutics: Contains Phenylalanine."
I kind of want to chug from this jug. 

Yikes. That's a lot of *stuff* to be in something as simple as syrup, even at 30 calories, which makes it a good pairing with my somewhat high-calorie waffles.

Today, I received in the mail from the kind folks that make Log Cabin Maple Syrup a jug (no, seriously, it's in a little jug) of their new, all-natural syrup (which happens to be gluten free). It arrived just as I was throwing some Van's GF Apple Cinnamon Waffles in the oven, so I thought I'd give it a go. Now, my eyes nearly popped out while reading the nutritional information: 210 calories and 35 grams of sugar in a quarter cup! Yikes! But, wait a second. This product has no high fructose corn syrup, no fake sugars, no fat, and no preservatives (so be sure to put it in the fridge after opening). That means there's a balance, right?

Stuff versus all-natural.

I don't think I'll be eating the Log Cabin Maple Syrup every day at breakfast, but I will tell you this: It tastes amazing. I think I forgot what real maple syrup tastes like, I haven't eaten it in so long. It's sweet and creamy and absolutely tasty. Log Cabin has been making syrup for 120 years, so it makes sense that they know exactly what they're doing! I look forward to using this syrup in cooking, and I tend to use maple syrup a lot (mmm, sweet potatoes and butternut squash).

So, like all things, there will be balance. Me, Log Cabin, and Cary's. One big, happy, syruped family!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And The Winners Are ...

We have winners for the giveaway of free $$ to donate to a project on DonorsChoose.org, and I have my handy-dandy "Random Line Picker" to thank for this. So, without further ado, the winners, who each will receive $10 to donate to the project of their choice, are ...

Gerard Dypiangco



Congrats, and use your $10 well. You could just push a project over the top in meeting their goal. And blog about it! Spread the word about DonorsChoose and the good it is doing for teachers the country over!

Note: Carolyn, please email me (kvetching dot editor at gmail dot com) so I can send your code for DonorsChoose.org! I can't find your email address!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rashi on Shaving: Ki Teitzei

I used to sit down, every week, in a coffee shop, and read the weekly Torah portion (aka parshah). I'd make notes in a notebook, which I still have, and then write up a blog post with some semblance of my thoughts made coherent. That ritual began when I was living in Washington D.C. in 2006, and it continued well into 2008 before I moved to Connecticut. But when I moved to Connecticut, I got busy with school and my weekly parshah study was replaced largely by my academic probes that translated into personal discovery with Talmudic and midrashic study, as well as Hebrew.

Something Elul has me thinking about and reflecting on is my devotion to weekly, if not daily, Torah study. Or examining the halachos or some other aspect of this Jewish life I carry so proudly. Thus, I give you, some thoughts on just a bit of the upcoming parshah, Ki Teitzei. 

(Deuteronomy 22:5, with Rashi commentary from Chabad.org)

5. A man's attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman's garment because whoever does these [things] is an abomination to the Lord, your God.

ה. לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְי אֱלֹקיךָ כָּל עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה:

A man’s attire shall not be on a woman: making her appear like a man, thereby enabling her to go among men, for this can only be for the [purpose of] adultery. — [Nazir 59a]

לא יהיה כלי גבר על אשה: שתהא דומה לאיש כדי שתלך בין האנשים, שאין זו אלא לשם ניאוף:

nor may a man wear a woman’s garment: to go and abide among women. Another explanation: [In addition to not wearing a woman’s garment,] a man must also not remove his pubic hair or the hair of his armpits [for this is a practice exclusive to women]. — [Nazir 59a]

ולא ילבש גבר שמלת אשה: לילך ולישב בין הנשים. דבר אחר שלא ישיר שער הערוה ושער של בית השחי:
because … is an abomination: The Torah forbids only [the wearing of] clothes that would lead to abomination [i.e., immoral and illicit behavior]. — [Nazir 59a]

כי תועבת: לא אסרה תורה אלא לבוש המביא לידי תועבה:

Okay. What struck me about this particular verse is that it relates that a woman shouldn't wear the article, or as it is understood, clothing item, that belongs to a man, while a man shouldn't wear "a woman's dress" is what it says specifically. Does that rule out bras? I'm joking, of course. The reason for this command, according to the text, is that it is an abomination. Rashi understands this to be because it would lead a man or woman to commit adultery. The modern and commonplace act of wearing pants and button-downs among women aside, how does Orthodoxy understand this?

Women in the Orthodox community wear skirts, by and large, wear skirts, so pants aren't an issue. But what about shirts that could be understood as men's clothing. A button-down, for example. The "boyfriend tee" as many places call it. A simple, classic, professional button-down shirt, skirt or not ... would it make Rashi shudder? 

And how do we view the man who wears a skirt on Purim for kicks and giggles -- is it in the spirit of this simple command not to don the dress of a woman? You won't find too many women in the Orthodox community donning full male attire for Purim (that whole skirt thing, of course), but men. Men wear dresses and skirts and get their hilarity on with ease. What validates this, considering this command from Deut. 22:5? It does seem, at the end, with Rashi, that only if the act of wearing a skirt or men's button-down would lead to "immoral and illicit behavior" is it an abomination. The assumption, however, is that the clothing itself will result in an abomination (no free choice?), so donning it isn't even an option or consideration. Or, rather, it shouldn't be. The point: No good can come from wearing the clothing traditionally worn by the opposite sex, so don't do it. Stam

What I'm really taken with, I will say, is the mention of how women remove their pubic and armpit hair. I was always under the impression that this was very much a 20th-century thing to do, a modern insecurity with the hair of our bodies. Now I have to wonder whether this was a normative activity even back in the 11th century. It seems strange to me, considering how difficult it must have been to shave back in the day. There weren't easy-to-use BIC razors, after all. No bikini-line razors and what have you. Definitely no Nair. Does anyone have a good history of shaving (for women, that is, I know Alexander the Great made a big to-do out of being clean-shaven; way to go Alexander!)?

I'm sure there are plenty of interesting and curious aspects of this simple verse from this week's Torah portion that I'm missing, so feel free to share what you see in it, or what you think about this whole "women dressing as men" and "men dressing as women" command. It's such a strange and unusual concept to us in the 21st century, even within the Orthodox community where women wear skirts and head coverings and men sport suits on their way to shul. I wonder what this verse will mean to us in 100 years? 500 years? What happens when we all go Star Trek and wear body suits? 

Thoughts a'plenty over here!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Haveil Havalim is Up!

Check it out over on Soccer Dad. Good people, good reads, good times.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's Art, It's Renewal: Jewels of Elul

This post is part of Jewels of Elul, which celebrates the Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days of the month of Elul to growth and discovery in preparation for the coming high holy days. This year the program is benefiting Beit T'shuvah, a residential addiction treatment center in Los Angeles. You can subscribe on Jewels of Elul to receive inspirational reflections from public figures each day of the month. You don’t have to be on the blog tour to write a blog post on “The Art of Beginning... Again.” We invite everyone to post this month (August 11th - September 8th) with Jewels of Elul to grow and learn.

It's Day 3 of Elul, Do You Know Where Your Apples & Honey Are?

The inspiration for this post, "The Art of Beginning ... Again," gives me a very literalist punch, and I hate being a literalist (don't tell the rabbis), but I can't help it; art has always been the gas in the automobile of life for me (nice, eh?). When I think about art, it's a frenzied, frenetic examination of emotions and thoughts splattered together onto one ginormous canvas. The canvas, for some, is literally a canvas. For others its a wall or a newsprint page or a spiral-bound notebook. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an artist, the traditional kind with pencils and charcoal and clean white sheets of paper filled with images of people and plants and animals and life. I figured out in high school that that dream wasn't necessarily realistic because my emotions had started to plant their feet in the written word. In college, still, I found words the most beautiful art out there, and I began, again, in the form of spoken word -- slam poetry. I discovered a power in words I'd never known before, and then slowly they seeped back onto the page in the form of this blog. My new canvas. The art, then, is life, and the canvas, is this blog. Every time I sit to write a new blog post, it's as if I'm planning the next great masterpiece, the work that will catch every reader's heart and pull. My thoughts, frenzied and frenetic still, find their way onto new avenues each day, with each post, in the form of Judaism. Jewish thought. Israel. Judaism in academia. Jewish food, observance, quirks. The art is ... beautiful.

I've discovered that this art of mine allows me to begin again each and every day, or sometimes twice a week, or sometimes less often -- life, you know, gets in the way of art. But I consider myself blessed. I don't have to wait until Elul each year to reflect and learn from my every-step in life. Like many bloggers in this series, I went back and looked at all of my past Elul posts over the four years of this blog, and the funny thing is that I really get into Elul. Although, shouldn't I? I've had more beginnings and start-agains in my life than I can count. More schools and homes and addresses and cities and friends and religious awakenings than can easily be enumerated here. And, of course, there's the two conversions I pushed myself through, which are ultimate steps in teshuvah (repentance, or returning) that only begin when steps are taken out of the mikvah. I look at every day as a chance for renewal, reevaluation, a reconsideration of who I am and where I'm going, based largely on where I've been, who I've touched, and how I've moved others to move myself.

This blog, for me, makes that happen. You, the readers, who constantly push and question and -- yes, sometimes -- infuriate me, make considering me possible. And, of course, there's always the text in my banner (שמע יי קולי אקרא וחנני וענני) that comes from Psalm 27, which Jews the world-over read every morning of Elul, that translates very roughly (and colloquially) as "Hey, G-d, I'm calling out, so be gracious to me, hear me, answer me!" Elul, then, is like one big, ginormous (man I love that word) experience of renewal and questioning, turning toward G-d and G-d turning toward us. It's like the last chance to ask yourself where you're going and who you are and what you want to be in the new year.

But if there's one thing I've learned about renewal and fresh starts, about beginning again, it's that it isn't a once-a-year occurrence. At least, it shouldn't be. Jews are blessed with the big holiday- and reflection-filled months of Elul and Tishrei where we ask for forgiveness, reflect on ourselves and our pasts and future, and ultimately get written into that big book of life or death that G-d keeps tugged away (surely) in his jeans pocket. And it's important to artfully and carefully extend ourselves, especially during Elul. But every day, every word that escapes our mouths, every step we take, every conversation we have, they're all chances for renewal and fresh starts. It's never not a good time to consider who you are, where you've been, and how you're going to move forward.

Happy renewal, folks. Use your own art as a form of exploration and expression, and let me know how it turns out in 5771.

Also: If you're interested in reading a few of my Elul blog posts, click on the year and you'll be transported to Chaviva of Years Gone By! 2009 AND 2006

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

SXSW 2011: Vote!

Okay folks, I called upon you last year to help vote-in my friend's panel for SXSW Interactive -- a gigantic tech and social media festival held over five days in March in Austin, Texas, leading up to the actual and original SXSW Music festival. This year, I've submitted a panel because I saw how successful and powerful our being at SXSW Interactive was, and I want to develop our ideas more succinctly this year. Thus, I submitted the following and I really really really need you guys to log in to the site and vote for the panel:

Jewish Synergy: Social Media and the New Community

In the 21st century, religion has found its way to the internet via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, making the ability to discover new avenues of belief, observance, and involvement in entirely new ways. The question is: Why are some more successful than others in embracing and executing this form of digitizing an ages-old religion full of individuals, organizations, associations, events, synagogues, schools and more? How does one convince reluctant groups and individuals to embrace Social Media? And, perhaps most importantly, how can those who hail Social Media develop and grow this new global Jewish community that exists almost exclusively online? This panel will extend efforts made on the Judaism 2.0 panel from 2010, and it will focus on the benefit of Social Media in synergizing the broad Jewish and Israeli communities through the wires and waves of the internet!

So please, please, please vote for this panel. I'm excited to have the opportunity to attend SXSW Interactive again, and I think that this very-focused approach can really help move some mountains for organizations and individuals in the Jewish community. If the panel gets picked, hopefully I can convince some daring souls to head up the panel and really make the conversation lively and awesome. 

If you didn't notice it up top there ... 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who Wants Free $$ (To Donate, That Is)!?

I wrote very recently about my awesome experiences at the Future of Jewish Nonprofit Summit in New York City, which was hosted by Social Media and Nonprofit guru Dave Weinberg. Most specifically, I wrote about DonorsChoose.org, which helps classrooms all over the country to meet their financial goals for projects on such things as salmon, the Holocaust, and the Great Gatsby (to name just a few, of course). DonorsChoose provided those of us in attendance with $10 to use on the site, so we could get started and really feel the goodness of giving (it's easier to give when it isn't your own money, right?) and hopefully inspire some of us to continue giving (I helped a friend meet his classroom's goal of math supplies!).

So I'm here to pay it forward, and hopefully, I can inspire some of you to start giving, too. I truly think that giving once (in this case it's free money) can really spark your neshama into a constant effort of tzedakah (charity).

GIVEAWAY: I have TWO $10 DonorsChoose gift cards to TWO individuals. The winners (that is, GIVERS!) will be chosen at random from individuals who comment below. You will get the gift card information via email, at which time you'll head to DonorsChoose, pick a project, and give your $10. The result should be a feeling of great pride, mitzvah awesomeness, and hopefully, as I said, an urge to give again and more often.

TO ENTER: When you comment, to fulfill your chance at $10 to give at DonorsChoose.org, you have to write about either an experience in which you gave (whether charity or time) that truly impacted you OR about a project on DonorsChoose.org to which you plan to give your $10. 


Nu? What are you waiting for? Spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, and everywhere else. 

DMV = Driven Mad, Verily!

I always tell people that what makes my blog (and others like it) successful is the human interest aspect. Storytelling. People like to hear and read stories, because it plays to the parts of us that are sympathetic and empathetic. I like telling stories about my experiences and life because I think it allows others (that's you guys, the ones reading this) to see something in me that you can relate to, or something that you can't relate to, and then, poof, you have a dialogue.

That being said, I spent my morning at the DMV, which I did just a few months ago back in Connecticut after Tuvia and I were hitched. I thought going to the DMV there would make the process all sorts of smoothness and light, but it didn't.

Exhibit A: Blago Hair
I went back and forth to a man with a gigantic Blago-style tupee about six times, one involving him yelling at this poor old woman (who was awesome, by the way) across the crowded DMV office regarding what exactly a "power of attorney" meant. The husband assured me that this DMV was low-key, uncrowded, and that it would go quickly and smoothly (this being his answer to me inquiring as to why exactly he chose a DMV that was a half-hour away from our apartment). Oy va voy. I arrived to a huge line, that branched into a half-dozen other lines going in all directions of registration and "express" registration (whatever the heck that means) and licensing and so on. I went to one table, spoke to the tupee'd fellow, filled out some forms, went back to the tupee'd fellow, went to the nice elderly woman to get a number and have her re-check the forms, filled out some more forms, went back to the elderly lady, then went to the tupee'd guy again, who yelled at the elderly woman, then went back to the elderly lady, then finally got called (No. 44!), stood up at the counter for a half-hour while the guy did something on his computer, sat down, got called up again to a nice Latina lady, sat down and filled out some forms over again because the tupee'd fellow got it wrong, then went back to the Latina lady, and then ... only then ... after my zig-zagging across the office a dozen times, did I have my plates and my new driver's license.

The perks of this experience: The guy who fuddled around with his computer for a half-hour simply said "Do you always wear glasses?" to which I replied "Yes," followed by "Do you always wear a head-covering and is it for religious reasons," to which I replied again "Yes." And that was it. No interrogation, no letter to write, no form to sign, zehu! (that's it!) Talk about miraculous. That was a breeze.

Oh, and then there was the hilarious guy working one of the licensing counters who I've decided would be the prime character for a sort of dark comedy. Picture it: Phillip Seymour-Hoffman as a lonely DMV worker, who jazzes up his counter duties by calling out people's numbers with a hilarious, yet obnoxious flare, driving his coworkers to loathe him uncontrollably. On his off-hours, Seymour-Hoffman's character is an OCD psycho killer in the vein of the great Steve Buscemi. That is, until a new girl shows up in the office, played likely by a Latina hottie like Jennifer Lopez. Seymour-Hoffman's character, in love, vows to stop his killing and woo the Latina who can't use the internet and doesn't know what "Firefox" is. Alas, she rejects him and he kills her and then ends up in jail, sharing with his fellow inmates all the woes of being a DMV counter guy. The inmates subsequently beat him down because of all the unfortunate hours they spent waiting in DMV lines. Fin!

That's what waiting in the DMV line will do to you, folks. It'll drive you to insanity and screenwriting. (By the way, if you know an agent, let me know ... wink!)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fashion's Modest Cousin.

Inspired by one of my new, awesome friends who recently started a blog ("Modestly Fashioned," that is), I've decided to do a fashion piece. It won't be regular, and it may never happen again, but I think it's nice to know that, well, being modest (tzniut) and fashionable are not opposing forces.

Today, in honor of the Jewish Social Media Schmooze event in New York City, I decided to go a little vintage with my outfit, homing the power of the glorious Joan of Mad Men! I positively adore her curvaceous, yet mostly modest (circa the 1960s, after all) digs. The way they style her is proof that you can be a primo fashionista even when you have some curves. Sometimes, I just want to look good, and today was one of those days where I felt positively excellent in my clothes and in my skin.

The best thing about this outfit is that it didn't cost much to put together. (Also borrowing this item-by-item breakdown from the "Modestly Fashioned" blog -- the name that I coined!)

Polka-dotted scarf ~ CoverYourHair.com 
Red Rose Earrings ~ Urban Outfitters 
Pencil Jean Skirt ~ Land's End
Black Kiki-Riki 3/4-length crop shirt ~ Local store 
Black tanktop ~ Lane Bryant
Polka-Dotted Ruffle Shirt ~ Marshall's 
Peep-toe flats ~ Croc's 

Most of the components of this outfit I've had for quite some time (the skirt and tank top, for example, are items I've owned for 2+ years and are serving an awesome purpose). The Polka-Dotted Ruffle Shirt cost a mere $14.00 at Marshall's, and the rest of the items (save the earrings) were purchased on sale, too. I'm a sale shopper, what can I say?

All together, I'd say this outfit made me feel vintage-modest, which is a look I can be happy about. 

The point of this post? Enjoy the clothes you wear. Being modest doesn't mean selling your soul to the muumuu and baseball cap. Be comfortable, be fashionable, be modest. But most importantly, be YOU!