Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Atheists Know More Than You!

When I say "you," I'm referring to the whole lot of you who are Jewish and Christian and whatever else you might call yourself. That is, according to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study, reported on in today's New York Times.

Mad props to those who identify as Atheist/Agnostic. But what explains why the A/A group seems to know so much more about religion than those who identify themselves with and profess it? I've got a simple answer, and no offense to my good buddies who are A/A, but I find most atheists and agnostics to be fairly, well, defensive about their stance. In my experience, they know a lot more than anyone else because they have to or need to in order to stand up in arguments of why exactly being religious is wrong, ridiculous, or just straight pointless. Without a religion to dwell on, knowledge on world religions is pulled from every corner of the earth in order to understand and explain away its ideas. Maybe that's a radical view, but from my experience, you have to be educated about something if you really want to argue it. Religious individuals are firm in their faith or beliefs set and often don't question anything because belief and faith are enough; in the end, there's no need to defend anything. It's a sort of false confidence that often leaves religious individuals befuddled when asked about basic big questions of their religion. When I say this, of course, I'm referring to everyone: Jews, Christians, Muslims, you name it.

Here are some of the surprising (and embarrassing) statistics with my thoughtful commentary:

+ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation. This is just ... wow. This is really sad. It shows you how much people in the modern period pay homage to the big dogs of the religious past. 

+ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ. Seriously? Really? I wonder if this alters how any Catholics feel about the rite/ritual. It also reminds me of the amusing (to me anyway) TV spot on some thief who stole the body and blood of Christ from a church in Pennsylvania. The people quoted in the spot kept saying "Someone stole the body! How could someone steal the body?!" Which just made me giggle. Anyone who just turned on their TV would assume that someone picked up a body from the morgue or something.

+ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish. Oh wow. Really? Maimonides! Thirteen Principles of Faith! Probably the greatest mind of his time! This is embarrassing, and probably relates to a lack of education on the big dogs of Jewish history and memory. Shame shame shame my yidden!

+ The question about Maimonides was the one that the fewest people answered correctly. But 51 percent knew that Joseph Smith was Mormon, and 82 percent knew that Mother Teresa was Roman Catholic. Okay, so maybe I can dismiss the Maimonides thing. Mad props to the people who answered it correction (I wonder which group managed to get it right the most?). Glad to know that so many are familiar with Joseph Smith and Mother Teresa. It shows how far back our religious memories go -- they pretty much stop pre-1800 it appears. 

(Interestingly, they didn't get enough Muslims to really be able to say how their knowledge compared. This seems really, really bizarre.)

It's a Kosher, Kosher Nation

Thanks to a marathon session of Eat, Pray, Sleep (hat tip to Adina on that one, talking about the three-day chagim), I had a lot of time to read. My usual intent is to avoid school reading on the chagim and Shabbat, because, for me, school is my version of "work." I sometimes make exceptions for Judaica because, well, Judaica is my school, my blog, my work, my life. It's a delicate balance, but I work it out well. Thus, most of the time, I read what I'll call "pleasure reading" books over the chagim and Shabbat -- usually historical fiction (in the vein of "The Invisible Bridge" by Julie Orringer and the like). Every now and again, I'll sit down with something more serious (or not) in the realm of nonfiction. This past three-day Sukkot/Shabbat fest had me glued to my chair with Sue Fishkoff's upcoming book, "Kosher Nation: Why More an More of America's Food Answers to a Higher Authority."

I got the book as a pre-release read, one of the many perks of being a blogger. I was notified of this book's impending publishing many months ago, and I even blogged about it over the summer in my "I'm An Oscar Meyer Weiner ..." blog post. I was seriously excited. So let's talk.

I haven't had a chance to read Fishkoff's "The Rebbe's Army," yet, but after reading "Kosher Nation," I can only imagine how good it must be. Fishkoff has this elegance about her writing, reporting without being forceful, and maintaining a neutral point of view. Fishkoff is a reporter with JTA, so I have high standards for these writer types -- can they write? or are they just good reporters? are they biased? is there an underlying current of sentiment? do they let the sources speak for themselves? is the BIG QUESTION answered or are we at least left questioning?

Synagogue membership went up during Prohibition because
sacramental wine was exempt from the law!
The great thing about Fishkoff is that she's not only an amazing reporter, but she's also a talented writer (a rarity -- in my experience, you can either report well and write worth you know what, or you are an amazing writer but fail to report properly). The individuals that pepper this book -- from the masghichim to the "eco-kosher" movement specialists to the big wigs at some of the nation's largest kashrut authorities -- tell the story for us, Fishkoff just sews the stories together, creating a fluid discussion of the boom in kosher in the United States. We learn about why people buy kosher (and most of those people aren't even Jewish) and why companies seek out kashrut status -- even when they don't have a large Jewish customer base. The story of a baker who seeks out certification because he wants his patrons to trust him when he says that he only uses vegetable shortening is a perfect example of what Fishkoff is trying to explain: Kosher isn't just Jewish.

I applaud her for not dwelling solely on the politics of kashrut, and she blocks off the issue to a few chapters, which is appreciated. The politics are explained with a delicate pen, and reading about the kosher wars of the early 1900s blew my mind. There could be a movie ... based on the book. I have a title: "Kosher: A Bloody, Bloody History." It's multi-faceted, of course, because we have the blood draining of animals, but also people being killed over it. Yes, killed. You want to read the mafioso-like stories? Buy the book. But really, it will shock you. You think the Rubashkin and Monsey chicken fiascos were bad. People have been killed for less. Over KASHRUT.

All the drama aside, the book left me with a lot of things to think about. Because the book is filled with stories -- the plight of the mashgiach, the struggles of the eco-kosher movement, the battle to keep kosher when you live in the middle of nowhere -- we hear a lot from people. Most of these people talk about the way food helps them connect to HaShem, which I think is something I didn't expect. For me, kosher means being 110 percent cognizant of every item of food you put in your body, because every step of the process requires you to think, think, think about what you're doing (what you buy, how you prepare it, how you cook it, how you eat it, what blessing you say, etc.). Thus, it was incredibly meaningful to read about the very religious experience people have with food and why keeping kosher is more than just laws and customs. Hearing the mashgiach of a Northwestern juice factory talk about davening Yom Kippur and fasting in a factory -- alone -- and how it was the most powerful Yom Kippur for him because he did the work in prayer and didn't rely on a chazzan? That's brilliant. That's a narrative worth reading. 

Kosher meat market on the Lower East Side
But then there were the ... less than stellar moments in the book. Hat's off to Fishkoff for including everyone -- including the naysayers. But some of these people ... yikes. There's the 40-year-old California chef who thinks that kashrut is an insult. It disallows you from having meals with other people (which, I sort of get the logic of). What I don't get the logic of is her asinine reason for eating pork. You see, this woman's mom was a "hidden child" during the Holocaust, and as a result, her mother regularly ate pork and bacon growing up. Thus, this woman, this 40-year-old woman, feels obligated to eat the stuff ... "I feel like I would be betraying my mom if I didn't," she said. Are you kidding me? That's like saying, my mom stole stuff, so to honor her memory, I do the same. I mean, really? The book goes on and on about secular Jews who don't keep kosher but can't bring themselves to eat pork and shellfish -- the two biggies for most Jews on the "don't eat this" list. And this woman honors her mother, who survived the Shoah, by eating pork. Barf. This is the crazy of kashrut. It's unfortunate, I think, that this woman feels this way. (She's quoted later in the book talking about how ridiculous she thinks kashrut is, and she's really the only person in the book who appears to have a negative view of kashrut.)

And then there's the shocking. I already alluded to the kosher wars of the early 1900s, but the statistics that appear in the first several chapters of the books are plentiful and sometimes shocking. Here's the one that struck me the most: "According to a 2006 Conservative movement survey ... 87 percent of Conservative rabbis and cantors eat in non-kosher restaurants, although just 9 percent will order meat" (98). Eighty-seven percent? That's an incredibly, incredibly high number I think. Especially considering that the Conservative movement is -- according to its precepts -- just as committed to kashrut as Orthodoxy. Yet, yikes. There's a story of a woman in the book whose father used to take them out to eat dairy/fish at non-kosher restaurants, while they kept kosher in the house. One day, this woman's sister was eating her tuna salad sandwich when she realized it tasted funny. Turns out the tuna was chicken. The woman's father vowed that they'd never eat out again, and the woman -- to this day -- keeps kosher. In my mind, there is enough room for error in non-kosher restaurants that I wouldn't even want to approach the idea of eating out vegetarian/dairy. When Tuvia and I decided to go kosher both in and outside of the home, it was largely because we just couldn't deal -- the idea that we had no idea what the fish we were eating out was being cooked with (on the same grill as pork? as a cheeseburger?) disturbed us to the point that we couldn't negotiate that anymore. Even eating out cold -- you don't know that the salad knife didn't also cut some catfish for that yummy fish salad they also serve. The Conservative rabbis stat just bothers me. It seems, well, questionable.

Lastly, I just want to mention one more interesting storyline: the 2008 creation of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism. Yes this is a group devoted to the old-school way of Reform Judaism: no Hebrew, no kippot, no tallit, no b'nai mitzvah, etc. These individuals see other Reform Jews on the slippery slope of observance and "recognizing Orthodox authority." The concept of this is fascinating and frustrating. I'm curious if any of my readers are keen on this movement or know anyone in the Reform movement who is jonesing for the days of yore.

Overall: Sue Fishkoff is amazing, and this book was a beautiful exploration of kashrut -- from here to the plants in China that excitedly seek kashrut status. Fishkoff really takes us into the world of the mashgiach, restaurants, factory life, and why so many people trust items that are kosher, despite so few buyers in the market are actually purchasing the items for religious reasons. The balance of the book is excellent, and Fishkoff lets the stories and individuals speak for themselves without pushing an agenda. Definitely pick up this book. You'll be surprised and shocked at the detail that goes into ritual slaughter and the ease of which some mashgiachs simply push buttons to get the process done. Either way, this book has something for everyone -- even the non-kosher consumer.

If you read this, let me know what you think. I'd love to start a dialogue!

PS: Did you know that treyf doesn't mean "not kosher" or "unfit," but rather refers to tearing -- the prohibition of tearing the flesh from an animal (לטרוף). Fascinating!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Comic Break

This actually is pretty accurate for me. Minus the cat vomit thing, because, well, I'm allergic. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Figuring it Out

The thing about being me, is that I have very few of the major chagim as an "observant" Jew under my belt. Every time the High Holidays or Pesach or some other major Jewish holiday rolls around, I freak out. I almost ignore the impending bigness in order to not freak out. I get nervous because I don't even have as many "sort of" observant holidays in my past as many secular Jews do. I stopped eating pork and shellfish probably seven years ago, before I found a (Reform) rabbi or a (Reform) shul, but I didn't take on observing the chagim seriously until probably three years ago. I might have fasted on Yom Kippur, but not seriously. I might have considered the idea of Pesach and stopped eating bread, but the rest? Nah. And Sukkot? Well, I probably have the least experience with this multi-faceted time of year.

Last year, I was in the community in Connecticut, I was sukkah hopping, I was running out in the rain with challah and sparlic (parsley + garlic + olive oil) in tow, just for a b'racha. The funny thing is, I didn't really understand last year that as a woman, I'm not bound to the mitzvah of sukkah, but getting soaked for the sake of a bracha was worth it. Simchat Torah last year was my first real one, in which I watched people dance with the Torah and rejoice in Judaism. It was a lively, unforgettable experience.

But still, this year, I was unprepared. I've never had these holidays to myself, in my own home, with my own rules and my own plans. Overwhelmed, is how I felt.

The community put up a communal sukkah, and most of the couples in the apartments headed family-bound. Overall I'd say there were probably about six or seven couples around, and enough men to make a minyan. I made lunch plans for Thursday and Friday with some awesome friends who were hanging around, and I began to panic: What are the rules for the communal sukkah? How big is it? Are there chairs? Tables? Do we sign up? Do we have to wait for a place to sit? Are there lights? How do we wash outside? And the list goes on and on ... I panicked. Over meals in a hut.

Luckily, everything came together fine, despite Mother Nature's wrath the moment the chag started. Yes, a storm of the likes of that one that smacked Brooklyn (although, in truth, not as bad) hit us out of nowhere. Luckily, Tuvia and I had decided to not eat in the sukkah because my allergies were killer. We saved ourselves half the roof caving in and the extreme and fast downpour. The next day we hit up the sukkah and saw the damage, which was significant, but half the sukkah was in working order. We had several more meals there, until Saturday around lunchtime when the winds picked up and, while sitting in the sukkah, I made the executive decision to exit the sukkah as the walls were shaky. Just as I started to pack up, more of the ceiling came crashing down, along with a couple two-by-fours.

But the experience? Outstanding. Unique. Special.

Sitting in a sort-of functional sukkah, we joined a large group of families that ate most of their meals together, an older couple with a challah cover that seemed ages-old, a guy who came for kiddush and motzi ("how lucky women are!") and another awesome couple with the most amazing second-night idea: cheese, crackers, and salad (no worry about preparing here, folks). We had our separate food, our separate dishes and plates and cups, but we all ate together, swatting mosquitoes (it was far too hot) and laughing at the same jokes. We were eavesdropping on one another, but conversing with one another. We were all together, separately. It was a powerful, communal experience. Chag sameachs abounded and offers of shared food followed. We were a tiny drop of the worldwide Jewish experience, sitting in huts, eating our food, laughing, and praying.

In the end, the tiny things didn't matter, and just being there did.

I suppose it will be years and years before I get adjusted to knowing how to do the chagim. Every year will come with anxieties and pressures, and the moment I have children I'm sure I'll freak out all over again over food and time and choreography. But the moment the candles are lit, everything stops, and it is that that matters most, for which I am most thankful. For which being Jewish comes fully to a head.

Life As We Know It ...

We here at Just Call Me Chaviva ... er ... that's just me, I mean ... love Oh! Nuts, the awesome purveyors of nuts, sweets, and other goodies that are, happily I add, kosher! There are a variety of stores (the husband and I have frequented the Monsey locale), and their online ordering is super fast. The husband loves the Sweet and Salty Nuts and I'm a huge fan of anything chocolate covered (the lentils? oh yeah), not to mention the dried fruit goodies.

So what's this all about? Oh! Nuts is partnering with Warner Bros. Entertainment to promote the upcoming movie Life As We Know It, and as such, Oh! Nuts is hosting an online sweepstakes for the chance to win a family trip for four to Hollywood, CA! Yes, you want to win (I know I do, who would be my other two?), so head over to the website and enter!

Never heard about the flick? Here's a quick rundown:
In the romantic comedy “Life As We Know It,” Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) is an up-and-coming caterer and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) is a promising network sports director. After a disastrous first date, the only thing they have in common is their dislike for each other and their love for their goddaughter, Sophie. But when they suddenly become all Sophie has in the world, Holly and Messer are forced to put their differences aside. Juggling career ambitions and competing social calendars, they’ll have to find some common ground while living under one roof.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chag Sameach!

I have a few posts in the que -- including an awesome sweepstakes that y'all will love. But for now, I just wanted to say CHAG SUKKOT SAMEACH to you all, and I hope that the first few days and Shabbos are filled with simcha and plenty of guests.

Someday I'll be able to sleep in the sukkah ... but this year? Not in the communal one (how does that work, anyway? do they put up a mechitzah?). Hopefully next year we'll be out in the Poconos and can build our own sukkah and rock it out. Maybe even invite people out!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My sheitel makes its National Television Debut!
I was secretly hoping that there would be a Sukkot-related craft segment yesterday in honor of my attendance at the live taping of The Martha Stewart Show. Alas, there wasn't. I did, however, get a sukkah full of Sukkot goodness yesterday at Sukkah City in Union Square in New York City. Have I blown your mind with information sans details yet? Let me elaborate.

The awesome Esti Berkowitz set me up with the opportunity to be in Martha's first Twitter section in which we'd get the opportunity to live tweet the show from our seats. I've live tweeted plenty of events before, most of them tech events, but this was a truly one-of-a-kind experience. I arrived at the studio yesterday around 8:30 a.m., stood in line for a while, was herded into a nice little waiting room, jazzed up in spirit and personality by the stage pro Joey, and then? We were taken in to the special Twitter section. The awesome part? There were only eight of us! We were in the front two rows (four in each row) of the audience, and in no time, the show was rolling. Between the second and third segment, Martha -- THE Martha Stewart -- actually spoke to us! Yes, she gave a shout-out to us, asked us if we were having fun, and thanked us for being there. Coming in and out of commercial breaks, there we were, Twittering away. The show featured eclectic fashion icon Iris Apfel and a variety of tips on consignment shopping (something I'm not a huge fan of largely because consignment clothes = really small). The show ended, they filmed a few promos and the intro to the episode set for Friday, and I was off.

I took a serious schlep (past an awesome  hat store that I wanted to raid, but, unfortunately, wholesale only -- hat business in my future?) and ended up at the subway, which I took down to South Union Square to meet up with my co-workers for a play day at Sukkah City. Unable to locate them once I was there, I decided to take a boatload of pictures and stand-by. Finally, I caught up with them, we schmoozed and discussed the exhibit, and then I was back to work. End scene of the coolest day.

I have a lot to say about Sukkah City, but I'll keep it short and give y'all some photos to ooo and aww over. Although the pamphlet at the main booth (which, by the way, didn't scream "information booth") had a little spiel on the back about what a sukkah is, but it neglected to say anything about it being Sukkot or that the holiday was a Jewish one. In fact, the word "Jewish" didn't exist at the Sukkah City display, and unless you went to the info booth, you probably left wondering what the heck a sukkah even was, outside of something to interpret in gnarly ways. I admire the organizers for putting together such an amazing contest that had such far-reaching entries, which also allowed for artists and architects the world over to really examine and explore what a sukkah is, as well as what a lot of the requirements (halakah) for a sukkah are. Word has it they even had an Orthodox rabbi on-staff to consult. The great thing about the exhibit was that the people exploring it were many and they were diverse -- student groups from a Solomon Schechter school, an adult group with rabbi in tow, and countless hipsters with fancy cameras snapping shot after shot with the perfect light. I was left wondering, however, if the exhibit made that all-too-common move of not being too Jewish. I think of Hillel here, which, on most campuses, tends to be scared to death of being too Jewish and scaring off its student body. Events tend to be "let's go bowling, oh, and you're Jewish, so, you know, that's cool, too." Social events for Jews, not Jewish events for socializing. New York City, after all, is full of Jews, and perhaps the assumption was that people would just know what the exhibit was about and for. In the end, I would have liked them to give a reference point -- hey, it's Sukkot starting Wednesday, hence the exhibit being now and here.

And now? Pictures!

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

HH #284: No Cholent For You!

It's that time again ... yes, after a year-and-a-half respite, I'm hosting Haveil Havalim again. This time? We're rocking edition No. 284. I've happily named this the "No Cholent for You!" edition, because I know that most of you are deeply depressed that thanks to Yom Kippur falling on Shabbos, you didn't get to indulge in that delicious crock of yummy meaty goodness called cholent! I know you're seriously upset, I mean, my husband has been weeping for the past day (or maybe he's repenting?), so here's a photo of some of the goodness.

Ahh, the traditional Ashkenazi-style stuff: beans, potatoes, meat, and barley. (Gluten free, I rock rice or quinoa.)
For those of you faithful readers who weren't around back in March 2009 when I first hosted who might have zero clue what Haveil Havalim is, it's a really awesome concept.
Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack. The term "Haveil Havalim," which means "Vanity of Vanities," is from Qoheleth, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other "excesses" and realized that it was nothing but "hevel" (or in English, "vanity").
I know, right? Super exciting. So I get all of the submissions (three per blogger's the rule!) via the entry form and sort them out and, sometimes, add a bit of commentary, so let's begin.

Grab-Bag Posts!

RickisMom presents Motivation, Discipline, and Willpower posted at Beneath the Wings, saying, the post is a bit personal, but also a bit of teshuva and how we all change.

Mazal tov to Allison Josephs & Jew in the City in honor of JITC Turning 3! at Jew In The City! Also over at Jew in the City is  If I Could Turn Back Time: Teshuvah - the Only Way to Turn Back Time.

You can find a "cynical" set of haikus over at the Selichos Haiku Rant, as well as some Gifts to give your Rabbi posted at The Rebbetzin's Husband.

A binder by any other name by Mrs. S is posted at Our Shiputzim: A Work In Progress.
Ooo! Sephardic cholent. All crazy with the eggs.


Jacob offers up a video with 25 new Hebrew words around the house over at Good News from Israel.


Joel Katz presents Religion and State in Israel (Section 1) and Religion and State in Israel  (Section 2) posted at Religion and State in Israel.

Have I Been Mistaken for a Head of Insect-free Lettuce? is up over at Shiloh Musings.

Hadassa DeYoung presents Have I Been Mistaken for a Head of Insect-free Lettuce? posted at Shiloh Musings in which she discusses "uprooting." I'd recommend checking out this post for the comments!

Jewish music

A Jewish Music Insider presents Why do you buy a CD? posted at Jewish Blogmeister. And Risa offers Women and Prayers at Isramom


Lady-Light presents Kaparot with Chickens: Custom or Cruelty? posted at Tikkun Olam, asking, "Is this religious and holy, or merely superstitious?"

On Shiloh Musings, Batya presents Israelis Prepare for the Three Day Rosh Hashannah Onslaught, as well as Kol Nidre, Wiping The Slate.

The illustrious Gruven Reuven reflects on his son's taking-on of computers and his own plan of study with Computers and Chassidus at Gruven Reuven.

Elianah-Sharon presents Fill 'Er Up! and The Days of Awe over on Irresistibly Me.

The illustrious Notorious R.A.V. presents My Big, Fat, Middle Aged, Facebook Elul: Teshuva Meets Social Media posted at The Notorious R.A.V. If you read a single post from this carnival, I recommend you read this one, which is chock full of reflection and analysis about who we were and who will are.

Rabbi Oliver presents The Moshiach paradox: Preparing and praying at A Chassidishe farbrengen.

Food Before the Fast by Batya can be found over at me-ander.

Rachel Barenblat presents More Yom Kippur resources: video, liturgy, song posted at Velveteen Rabbi.

A wasted life? Yechezkel offers a message for Yom Kippur with  The Most Terrible Crime a Human Being Can Commit posted at Achas L'Maala V'Sheva L'Matta.


Another hearty mazal tov, this time to Batya, who has a new granddaughter! Check it out at Thank G-d! A Baby Girl!! and Bitter Sweet posted at me-ander.

Elianah-Sharon presents The Top Five Steps of Crisis Management posted at Irresistably Me.

Everyone's favorite Yiddishe Mama, Dass, presents a very personal and thoughtful Forgiveness is Freeing over on In the Pink.

And, lastly, blog newcomer Ally presents Modesty: My Personal Journey posted at "Modestly Fashioned" in which she explains what brought her to tzniut. As a huge fan of Ally's awesome style, I recommend reading this post to get the 411 on how she got there.


If you're interested in submitting a post to Haveil Havalim, use the carnival submission form and stay tuned for future blog carnival posts, which, in addition to past posts, can be found on the blog carnival index page.

I hope you all had a meaningful and easy fast (I spent most of the day sick and in bed) and that cholent, truly, is the last thing on your mind! Shavua Tov and Shanah Tovah!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur Cometh!

My fondest memory of Yom Kippur -- if you can have a "fond" YK memory -- is from my Reform shul in Nebraska one year long ago. Or not so long ago. But the thing is that our sanctuary was located on the main floor of the shul and the social hall and kitchen were downstairs. During the afternoon YK services, people would begin preparing the goods for our break-the-fast meal. Now, you can imagine what this was like. We'd spend probably two to three hours, the hardest of a fast day, smelling the wafting scents of delicious goodies up the stairwell from the kitchen. It was unbelievable. Difficult. And, inevitably, very amusing to us.

Yom Kippur, for me, is tough. I'm not a good faster, I get dehydrated easy, and migraines come at me the moment I wake up on the morning of a fast. But Yom Kippur, to me, is something worth powering through. It's necessary, it's the ultimate day of purpose. The service is long, soul-crushing, perhaps, but ultimately, there is something in the day for everyone. Even if it is a word, a line that strikes you, something that sings to your soul and moves it from crushing to freeing. They call these the High Holidays, because you're supposed to get high. Not on weed, folks, but on life, HaShem, Judaism, you name it. Get high in your mind, in your soul, in your heart. For me? I need this right now, and you should, too. This day comes once a year, so you have to make it right for you.

And, while you're getting your Yom Kippur thoughts on, please check out this amazing video "Yom Kippur: Overboard (Jonah's Song)." Note: This song has a very "Christian Rock" feel to it, but the animation and message are perfect.

An easy fast to you all, and a g'mar chatima tovah! Check in after Shabbos for Haveil Havalim, the newest edition, here on the blog!

Walk a Mile in My Vest

Oh no! Blurry ... let's clear that up.
I decided to get my fashionista on today for an outing to the city that started far too early for my liking. My understanding was that class began at 8 a.m. down by Washington Square, so I got up at 6 a.m., grabbed a nearly-7 a.m. bus, and ended up at the door of my building (after nabbing a coffee) around 7:47 a.m. The door? Locked. Another classmate walked up, the security guard opened the building, we found the room, two other students joined us, and half an hour later ... we were sitting. Turns out the class was bumped to 9 a.m. and no one told us! Ugh. What a way to start the day, eh? After an intensive Hebrew-only course and reading a Hebrew article, I ventured to the campus Starbucks to do some e-work. After a few hours there, I decided to trek up to midtown, walk around a bit (stupid), find a place to sit and work, etc. It turned out I spent too much time walking (my feet are covered in blisters and raw skin), my computer ran out of juice and the Starbucks I was at had closed off all their wall-plate plugs (jerks), and by the time my awesomely awesome friend met up with me at around 4:30, I was pooped.

But? I looked good. And I was comfy.

We schlepped over to Cafe K on 48th, ate an amazing meal and schmoozed, and then got turned around heading to the subway on our way down to NYU for a 7 p.m. reading by Jonathan Safran Foer (author of "Everything is Illuminated"). By the time we got there, the auditorium was packed, we were exhausted, and we called it a day. But throughout the day, and even though when I got home I could no longer walk, I felt put together. I felt like I had a fluid look that I was comfortable in. So let's talk about it.

The outfit is:

Hat ~ Burlington Coat Factory
Jean Skirt ~ Land's End
Vest ~ Van Heusen
Ruffle shirt ~ Van Heusen
White tank (under) ~ Lane Bryant
Black Leggings (not pictured) ~ Old Navy

I wore my Skechers with these, and usually they're crazy comfortable, but no dice this time around. Sigh. My feet seriously hurt. My knees probably do, too, but I can't feel them. Anyhow, this outfit was an easy  throw together, and I was so, so, so excited to actually buy a vest and be able to pull it off. It's a really cozy material, and the ruffle shirt is really light weight, which makes it good for layering. The jean skirt, of course, is my constant-wear item. And the hat? Love it. The zipper detail is super cute, and the color scheme really comes together (CoverYourHair.com actually has headbands with this design now). If I'd of had some cushion in my shoes, this would have been the best fashion day EVER. There's always next time.

And, for those of you who haven't been to Cafe K, here are some photos of the amazing food. I had the most delicious fish ever, with the most creative potatoes ever -- baked potatoes that are then grilled! I felt so healthy-licious eating this. Oh, and the awesome friend wanted me to make sure her cappucino got some play. It, too, was delicious (or so she said). I highly recommend Cafe K, by the way. It's dairy, delicious, and aside from the bones in my fish, I had zero complaints. There will be a Yelp review, but believe me, it will all be good, so you can just take my word for it.

Yes, that's a fish in a cup on the cup!

This is the salmon with "baked" potato ... best grilled fish I've ever had, hands down.

And, again, in case you missed it the first time.

The Japanese salad. Yes, there's seaweed.

Stay tuned for a Yom Kippur post, and, on Sunday, the next installment of Haveil Havalim!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Bad Day Post

Very rarely do I let the words, thoughts, opinions, or -- in some cases -- knowing glances shake me. LiveJournaling and then Blogging has forced me to grow a thick and necessary skin. I'm happy about this. I'm even proud of it. I consider myself one who is driven and passionate. What I dream of, I seek, what I seek, I find (most of the time), and what I find I get really, really flippin' excited about. I am a passionate person. I am the kind of person who gets geared up talking about Twitter's ability to create communities between people who likely wouldn't give one another the time of day on a street corner. I get all tingly and excited when I talk about my blog and how I've managed to help people get through the conversion process, how I've been able to calm fears, how I've been able to turn around the irrational on the web for those who feel disenfranchised, confused, lost, and on the verge of walking away from everything Jewish. I like that people know about my blog, because, in my mind, this means people get what I'm doing, what I'm saying, what I'm trying to create with my words. I assume that people understand that when I talk about my blog and how many visits I get each day and how many emails I get from readers that I'm not tooting my own horn (although, I suppose in some way this is my way of attempting to help "fix" something that I failed to "fix" in other parts of my life, which is gratifying in a way that I don't expect anyone outside of those who know me more intimately than this blog can aspire to delve). I blog and Twitter and evangelize about Social Media because I see its power. I see its power to teach, to ingather, to calm, to stifle, to ... breathe. To breathe some kind of sanity and kinship in all of us. To bridge gaps and create a New Community. A better community. Not a happier or more equal or wealthier or more satisfied community, but a better community. Better in the sense that we're using these technologies to put ourselves one mile marker ahead of where we were before these technologies. After all, if we can't make ourselves better, then what's the point? Luckily, for us, "better," is relative. But it means ahead of where we were. Different. But different better.

But I'm also passionate about Judaism. Everything that that small word captures. Even more so, everything that the three letter word JEW encapsulates, which, let's be honest, is more than any human can grasp. As a result of this, I'm that student. I'm that student that sits in class and answers every question because I hate waiting for other people to respond. I have a five-second rule, that I sometimes expand to 10 seconds. If there's silence, if people are staring at their books or papers (the class, please don't talk to me move), I speak up. As a result, I'm the dominate engager in almost every classroom I'm in (save the classes where the topic os foreign, such as sociology). The point, I guess, is that I get psyched. I want to talk about Jewish things and Jewish communities, and talk about professors who've said this or that -- when I think it's relevant or will give the in-class professor better perspective as to what I'm saying. I like to dialogue, I like to ask questions, I like to get academically dirty. It's who I am, and it's who I've always been. THAT is the one thing I've always had, outside of what everyone else said or thought or assumed about me, I've had academic engagement. In the classroom, I'm someone. I'm someone more than I am online, at least in my mind.

The reason I'm writing all of this is because I'm frustrated. Nay, I'm dejected. In one of my classes, that knowing glance showed up between a few of my classmates when I piped up with a question and mentioned the name of a professor who was connected to the point I was trying to make. That glance, which I spotted out of the corner of my eye, which killed me, which made me want to shut up and not engage, has left me feeling, well, blah. Is it wrong to engage? To be eager? To be passionate about something? So passionate that you want to ask questions and engage and push and interact? Am I a kiss-ass because I know things? Because I have a background? Because I can hold a conversation with a professor on Greek Esther or a tendency toward revisionist approaches to Jewish history?

Okay. You see, my entire life, I had this problem. And evidently, I still do. I'm the kind of person who wants to fix things, fix people, fix situations. Make things better. I do this by blogging about my personal, intimate thoughts (although, seriously, there's a lot y'all don't get here on the blog) and by learning. I learn to educate others, to better myself, to better the world around me through the light of LEARNING. I am passionate about both of these things. I am not a great ego about them. It's just who and how I am. Other people have judged me my entire life for my weight, my eczema (seriously, this ruined elementary school for me), my religious views, the way I dress, etc. Most people get over it. They grow up. They mature. They realize that life is about more than the details and pleasing other people. The one thing I was never judged on, was my passion for learning and having a conversation. And now, now that I'm here and in this new environment, I'm feeling it. I'm feeling the "you talk about it too much" and "who cares" and "get over yourself" stares and undertones of conversations. Suddenly, this one aspect of me, this aspect that I have always owned fully and completely, is wrong.

And, like I said, I'm not the kind of person to let people drag me down. I've become a much more confident person than I once was. When I came to Judaism, I came to myself. I found confidence and strength. And now? I'm worried. I'm worried that these new classmates of mine think I'm someone I"m not, that they have created assumptions, that these Jewish cohorts of mine, think I'm all ego and nothing more.

Is it wrong to be passionate? Is it wrong to be excited? Is it wrong to be me? Do I exude ego and feigned passion?

On a related note to my "Bad Day Post," at the end of my class this evening, the professor suggested that an unmentioned and unconsidered aspect of Jewish history is the idea of family, a shared Jewish family where we're all connected, across denominations or streams, and that it is family that brings it all together, no matter what individuals or groups say or do. An Orthodox rabbi could marry the daughter of a leading Reform rabbi and the world doesn't crumble in on itself. Family, after all, is the undercurrent of Jewish identity and history. The question, of course, that I immediately wrote in my notes was, "What about the convert?" There is no shared family, no connections (well, for those of us that come to this completely blank, without any genealogical tie to be found). Just the soul, the neshama. Is that why it's so tough? Is that what makes the convert sort of a fringe member of the Jewish family? Because we aren't family?

I try to keep it positive here, but I'm having a rough night. Forgive me my Debbie Downer mood (that'll lift you up, go watch SNL), especially before Yom Kippur. In these Days of Awe, reflection is necessary, but this isn't the kind of reflection I want to be doing. I'm just filled these days with a sense of figuring out who I am now. With a sheitel and a new home and new friends and big dreams and excitement about the New Community out the wazoo (whatever that means ... what is the wazoo anyway?).

I'm not looking for y'all to lift me up or tell me I'm great or that people who aren't me suck or anything. This is one of those "hear me, see me, throw me a virtual hug" kind of posts.

Something more interesting for everyone hopefully will come before the Yom Tov. If it doesn't? An easy fast (tzom qal) to you all! And, you know, I'm sorry if I've wronged you or hurt you or done anything in any way to make you think "geepers, Chavi, you suck."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Year, New Gig, New Dilbert!

I started a new job today, and it's going to be awesomely intense. I can't say much about it exactly, other than that I'm a Social Media "Intern," and my work is massively cut out for me (and I am crazy stoked). And now? I give you Dilbert.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Fruits, New Tastes

Pluot ... nom nom nom!
Every year for Rosh Hashanah, we dine on "new fruits," which can be anything you basically haven't eaten in the past year that is newly in season. I picked up an organic pluot from Whole Foods, as well as a pomegranate (even though we'd already had the latter this year, I just like having one around on Rosh Hashanah). For those who aren't in-the-know, a pluot is a cross between a plum and an apricot and is a 20th-century invention. Cool, right?

We had invited our good friends A&D over for dinner for the second night, and I was stoked with A showed up with a variety of new fruits for us to dig into. A had gone crazy with the new fruits (something I intend on doing next year) and brought over a red tamarillo, star fruit, and lychees. I've heard of star fruits, and I wasn't jazzed about their flavor, which was pretty muted, but aesthetically -- awesome fruit.

A tamarillo for your troubles?
As for tamarillos and lychees, I had zero experience. We sliced the tamarillo and discovered very dark seeds inside, which, as it turned out, were edible. The flavor of the tamarillo is unlike anything I've ever had before. D sort of gagged, while Tuvia got a twisted "gross" face. A and I were a little more graceful, analyzing the flavor. The interesting thing about the tamarillo was that it really was a truly new flavor for the new year. It was spicy and very not fruit like. From what I can tell, the tamarillo is better after it's sat around and ripened over time (it loses its acidity) and that it's good for culinary ventures. Would I eat one straight again? No dice.
The lychee is ALIVE!!!!! Seriously. How weird does this thing look? 
The lychees were easy enough to figure out, as the package had instructions! The bumpy skin peeled right off, leaving a sort of eyeball looking thing with a dark nut in the middle. These are not very appetizing fruits, especially if you're one for aesthetics. They really did look like eyeballs or fetuses or something ... unnatural? The taste, in my opinion, was akin to perfume. The taste of lychees screams of some potent scent used for jazzing up your favorite perfume. For eating? Not so much.

Overall, the new fruit experience was just that -- an experience, which I was happy with. I think the idea of simanim (symbols/signs) for the new year are powerful, and the ritual of new fruits really allowed me to consider newness, all through a few simple bites of some very bizarre fruits.

Let's Try This Again ...

Okay folks. You know how I announced that the awesome Sophia won the My Favorite Things giveaway? Well, Sophia lives in a faraway land I know little about and that is quite expensive to mail to, so I've opted to pick another winner while also sending something small Sophia's way (I was actually thinking about doing TWO winners to begin with, so this has worked out marvelously).

Thus, the winner of the package of My Favorite Things (by this I mean Sophia is going to get an envelope or something like it with My Favorite Things) ... is commenter Suburban Sweetheart! Mazal tov to SS (who has a real name, but, you know, for the sake of privacy I'll just link you to her blog).

That means I need your address, toots. And to everyone else? Thanks for entering. I might make this a few-times-a-year giveaway, because as the seasons change, so, too, do My Favorite Things change!

Also: I hope your Rosh Hashanah was filled with meaning and awesome reflection, not to mention some napping (but not too much) and that your Shabbos was filled with light and joy!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Favorite Things: A Winner!

You can print this out AND color it!

So, the saga of "no internet at home" continues. Supposedly some buff studs (ha) from Cablevision will be coming out today to try and fix it, which, unfortunately, is of no help to us because the next three days are Rosh Hashanah + Shabbat. The light will be blinking green while I'm davening. A lot of good that'll do me!

As a result of this internet lag, I'm very behind in everything. Yesterday was my first day of classes, and I have to say of the two classes I've been to so far, one (teaching a second language) will be challenging because of the teacher's very interesting teaching style (don't take notes!) and the other will be fascinating (sociology of education) if only for its first-day class discussion of what a society is and whether stratification is necessary and happens sort of on its own. I have a lot of reading to do, however, which is never fun. Hopefully, though, I can make waves in my teaching a second language course by finding some scholarship on using social media in the teaching of a second language. Anyone have any materials for me?

At any rate, Rosh Hashanah starts tonight and -- like every year -- my head is exploding and my mind, body, and soul are ill prepared. Am I ready to hear the shofar? Am I ready to experience newness and renewal and the excitement of 5771 and all of the awesome holidays that come after? Have I considered what 5771 will hold? No, I haven't. I haven't had time to breathe. Oh, and I've come down with a cold. The rest over the next few days will be excellent, but what does that say for my reflection and rediscovery? I wrote a Jewels of Elul blog post at the beginning of Elul, and I reflected on past years' posts. But all of the cooking (I was up until 2 a.m. last night) and running around has made me weak and exhausted. Thus, I only hope that at some point over the next few days it clicks, and I figure out where I'm going. I'm all about fresh starts and new beginnings, and this Rosh Hashanah should provide a much-needed refresh on my browser. So I want to wish you all a SHANAH TOVAH and may your new year be sweet, filled with all that you deserve! I'm so excited to start another year here on the blog with such an amazing crop of readers. You guys are awesome!

But now why you're really here: the winner of the My Favorite Things Giveaway! I took a nod from An Extended Vacation who uses the random number generator to signify the winner, as opposed to my typical method of typing EVERY name into the random picker (which is time consuming). The winner?

No. 4, which is Sophia! 

(I had a screenshot but it appears my computer ate it, so you're going to have to trust me on this one, folks.) So, Sophia, if you're reading this ... email me. I wanted to get the box sent out today, but because of the madness of preparing for the holidays, that's not going to happen. It'll go out on Monday, I hope. But believe me, it's worth waiting for :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tale of a Sheitel, Tale of a Scarf

I'd thought long and hard about video blogging this (vlogging, as it were), but I opted out of it. When I vlog, I tend to wander and not stick to a set trajectory of conversation. Thus, here we are, a text blog. Old fashioned-style.

I went to an event last week, between all of my orientations and receptions at NYU. My first day of classes is Tuesday, so I was excited to hit campus last week and meet the new students and do some student-y activities. So I showed up for a Jewish student event to visit the Jewish Heritage Museum down in Battery Park, eager to meet some students (knowing most would be undergrads) and excited to see the museum. I walked in to this facility around 10 a.m. where we were congregating before heading down to the museum and was greeted by a familiar face who quickly jetted off to a meeting or something elsewhere. Then, I was left in a room of about 10-15 people, whom I didn't know. There were about three or four individuals who were dressed in the facility's garb, and it became quickly clear that these were the group leaders, there to introduce themselves to the students, ask them how things were going, and make them feel warm and welcome as we schlepped down to the museum. So I stood there, awaiting the introductions. And then?

One of the group leaders stepped -- literally, and I mean that -- in front of where I was standing to address a group of students sitting in the lounge area. She proceeded to introduce herself to everyone in the room, except for me. She asked them their names and what they were studying. She even went out of her way to walk over to a guy that walked in a little late, asking him his name and how he was liking everything. He, too, was a graduate student.

So I stood. I waited. I thought, Okay, this girl is going to talk to me, right? She's made an effort to speak to every single person in this room, so I'm next. And I waited. I waited. I waited for anyone in this group of people -- leaders and students alike -- to say ANYTHING to me. And? Nothing. Not a darn word. Not a smile or a look or anything.

One of the girls offered water bottles to everyone in the room, I said no thank you, and we were off. As we were nearly at the transit station, finally a girl said something to me. "What are you studying?" she asked. I told her, she said that it was nice, and moved along.

Now, I'm not trying to play the oppressed Jewess here, but after my day there and at the museum I sort of had this realization of being exceedingly uncomfortable as the Frum Jew in a Secular Room. There was one guy there in tzitzit and a kippah, but he was the life of the room. There I was, in my skirt and ridiculous sleeves for the heat of the weather and the scarf covering everything but the tefach of my bangs. And no one wanted anything to do with me. People didn't look at me, smile at me, come near me. I was the leper in the room. At least, that's how I felt. It's entirely possible that these people were just as shy as I was. But that girl ... that girl who made such an effort to speak to everyone in the room ... bypassing me with a serious effort ... that says something to me. Something negative. Something hurtful.

I later thought to myself that maybe if I had been wearing my sheitel (wig), I would have fit in. Looked normal. Like a girl with long dark hair like the rest of the girls in the room. I would have been worthy of an introduction or a "hello" or something. Anything. But is that a good enough reason to actively wear it?

I spent Shabbos tormented over this incident and my sheitel. We were back in West Hartford, in our old community of no scarves or some scarves. I opted out of wearing my sheitel both Friday night and Saturday during the day for two reasons: fear of judgment that I'd gone off the deep end and my husband's aversion to the darn thing. I ended up throwing the sheitel on for motzei Shabbos as we drove to the Poconos because it's the easiest way to travel with it -- on my head. Friends saw it, and some said it was cute and one told me I looked silly. I felt ... relaxed. I felt the sheitel on my head, the netted cap causing a bit of an itch, but I felt good. I was irritated with myself that I had let what I worried the community and my husband would say reign over my emotions. The rabbi's wife wore her sheitel both days. Why didn't I? Fear. My old community is a very Conservadoxish one. When we siad we were moving to Teaneck we got laughs, scoffs, and questions of "Why?" I didn't want them to think I'd consumed the Kool-Aid or become one of those "rightwing judgmental Jews." I'm still me.

Sheitel or not. I'm still Chaviva. I'm still who I've been and will be.

But for those who don't know me, I'm a girl in a scarf or a hat or a sheitel and whatever my headgear says about me, I find myself frustrated. I've been told before that I've become more judgmental since becoming "more observant." The funny thing is, I almost feel like my observance allows other people to judge me in ways I have never been judged before. The way I dress, my headgear, my language, everything physical about me says to other people that I'm something that I'm not.

I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated that a scarf on my head made a room full of Jewish people not want anything to do with me, and that the thought of wearing a sheitel made a room full of other Jewish people cringe at who I've become. But how much of this is a projection, and how much is reality?

I guess I'll never know.