Friday, December 30, 2011

Pretending I'm Colombian

One of my best friends in the entire world is Cesar. He doesn't like being put in the public eye, and the fact that he even let me take a picture of the two of us during his Colorado adventures recently is a breakthrough (sorry, Cesar, I know I didn't tell you I'd be putting it here, but, you know, it's relevant).

Cesar was telling me about a tradition in Colombia for New Years that I think will be very therapeutic and cathartic considering how absolutely rotten 2011 has been for me. The tradition?
Burn Año Nuevo: An effigy on the name of the Old Year is made, which is called as Año Nuevo. It is tied up with fireworks, and at the point of the clock ringing twelve, it is burnt. Also, people write their faults, or any feared bad luck on a piece of paper and throw it in the burning effigy. According to beliefs, doing so ensures liberty from all past troubles, sins, and mistakes, as well as bad luck.
Evidently, people build full-size effigies of themselves, dress them up in clothes from the year, and burn them in order to wish away the craptastic things that happened. There's even a business for making small versions of effigies that are safe to burn on a balcony or in city spaces, so I'm probably going to go this route. I had some clothes I was going to donate that I don't wear or don't fit, so perhaps I'll make a little Chavi out of newspaper and dress her up 2011 style. 

Do you have any particularly interesting traditions for the Gregorian New Year? 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Oh Manischewitz! Probably the most recognized "Jewish" brand out there, Manischewitz is hosting their annual Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff! The quick and dirty?
Create a wonderful original recipe using Manischewitz Ready To Serve Broth and one other Manschewitz product for a chance to win $25,000 in prizes, including Maytag® Appliances and the opportunity to fly to the New York finals to compete in front of Celebrity Chef Claire Robinson. Top entries will be judged in the Manischewitz test kitchen and then you, America, will vote in the 5th and final finalist.
If you're not familiar with Chef Clarie Robinson, she's the host of the awesome cake competitions on The Food Network and has her own cooking show, too. But I know that it's the $$ and the appliances that have probably sparked your fancy, right? Well ...
The GRAND PRIZE winner receives $15,000 worth of state-of-the-art Maytag® Appliances. PLUS, Manischewitz throws in a $7,000.00 check and a gift card to your favorite grocery store to get more Manischewitz products! Prize includes installation that does not require structural alterations to existing kitchen layout. Overall, more than $25,000 worth of prizes will be awarded in the contest. All Finalists will win a trip to New York City for the exciting Cook-Off showdown.
Simply head over and enter your recipe for a chance to win! And if you're one of those "rules" people, you can find those here and FAQs (like age limits and ingredients limits) can be found here.

I guess if I entered and won I'd have to give away my appliances since I'm a renter. Now that would be the ultimate blog giveaway, right?

I'm thinking about some kind of delicious vegetarian stew ... what's on your mind?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Big Reveal

Note: If you want to respond to the content of this post, please post in the comments. Any emails sent to me privately on this topic will be posted in the comments section, with or without the author's permission. I'm trying to keep people's comments/feelings on this public so I don't drown in negativity and criticism that surely will arise, as this is a tenuous and potentially life-altering post. 

Well, my banner gives a hint: I'm rebranding -- both the blog and myself. A lot of people (looking at you @Mottel) believe that people aren't brands, but other people (looking @jeffpulver here) believe that people are and can become brands. Whether I intended it or not, I am my brand and my brand is me. I'm Chaviva, the Kvetching Editor, and this blog is the face of that brand. Do I include every minute detail of my life here? No, gosh no. If I did, y'all would be overloaded and I'd end up looking like some narcissistic lunatic. That being said, I've always prided myself on honesty, forthrightness, and truth.

I was speaking with my therapist today, after several weeks of throwing things around in my head whether this post was going to happen. With that note up top there and with what I'm going to say, this post will serve as therapy for me, and I hope it will take the weight that I'm "hiding" something off my shoulders. I'm a firm believer that if you don't inform on your brand, someone else will, and that's how gossip and lashon hara begins.

I am a Jew. I don't fit in a box, and although I tried very hard after my Orthodox conversion to throw myself into the tidy box of Orthodoxy -- Get Married, Move to a Big Orthodox Community, Have Only Orthodox Friends, Dress the Part, Wear the Headcovering, Go to the Mikvah, Live and Breathe the Box of Orthodoxy -- it didn't work. My marriage failed, my life shook, and I uprooted myself to Denver where I now feel more like myself than I have in a good three years.

Slam Poetry. Music. Film. Writing. Smiling. Laughing. Feeling at peace in my own skin -- except, of course, when others send me emails or texts or chats telling me how I'm letting down the people who look to me the most as a beacon of conversion to Orthodox Judaism. I'm made to feel guilty for feeling happy.

And why am I happy? Why am I really happy? Because unexpectedly, in early November, while sitting at the local Starbucks (a shonda!) doing work, a fellow walked up to me and asked to sit down. While he stepped away, I fled. I was just divorced, I was pretty sure he wasn't Jewish, and I think he was hitting on me. Then, time and again I went into that Starbucks and we struck up a friendship. That friendship over movies and ridiculous YouTube videos and existentialism and family/emotional drama and our love of rodents and books and music and everything else led to now: I'm dating this fellow. His name is Taylor, and Taylor is not Jewish. Taylor's what he likes to call an agnostic-atheist, meaning that he respects everything that I believe but that he doesn't buy into any of it. Has it resulted in any contention? Not really, no. He leaves me to my Shabbat observance, recognizes my kosher-keeping, and the fact that we're both vegetarian (okay, so I eat meat when I go to @melschol's house) makes cooking for each other at my place a breeze. Right now, he's perfection for me. He makes me laugh, he makes me smile, he makes me feel okay being me.

Yes, I've taken to eating out at the two popular local vegetarian/vegan restaurants -- City O City and Watercourse. I can get my weird vegan kosher Daiya cheese, plenty of vegetables, and a bounty of gluten-free options in a city where the only kosher "restaurant" holds a monopoly on the kosher business and serves subpar food (want to open a kosher restaurant? sorry! it can't be anywhere near the one that exists -- va'ad rules). But guess who thinks it'd be cool to open a kosher vegetarian restaurant? Taylor. Go figure, eh?

What else should I put out there?

I've reconsidered having children, I've reconsidered marriage. The children thing has a lot to do with family things that are too private for me to detail here, and the marriage thing has a lot to do with, well, being married and it going so horribly.

Yes, I know what you're all thinking/saying: Chavi, you just went through a tumultuous time, this is to be expected, don't count anything out! Or perhaps, Chavi! Just go to Israel and study in seminary and figure out your Jewish self there! Oh I know, some of you are even thinking Chavi, you're rebounding! It'll all get better once you meet a nice Jewish boy.

And perhaps all of those point are valid, but I've heard them from every angle. Rationalize things all you want, but this is who I am right now and this is how I'm happy right now. The truth is, I don't think I ever fit into the clean Orthodox box I thought I did. I wanted to, I tried so hard, but the Orthodox I fell in love with and the Orthodoxy I practiced were two different things. It doesn't make my past posts any less valid or significant, and I hope people still read and learn from them. I'm a Jew. An underconstructionist, rebranding Jew.

I'm still kosher, I'm still shomer shabbos. I still believe firmly in everything that makes Judaism work and functional. Torah m'Sinai. The important thing is that I'm not letting myself stop. Some of you may think I'm regressing, pouring into the plight of intermarriage and diluting the Jewish pool. And you'll think what you will, and I'm okay with that. I've come to peace with it.

This is my derech. My derech to which HaShem is privy. In the end, yes -- I'm a public figure, people associate and look up to me, I impact lives -- but at the same time I'm a person who is just as confused and searching as everyone else. The difference is that I've forced myself into the public eye and have to continue to stay true to myself and my readers.

As always, this is just the beginning. I'm going to let my haters be my motivators this time.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I Believe, With Perfect Faith. Do You?

Without explanation or interpretation, these 13 Principles of Faith, enumerated by Maimonides, are my credo. I am a Jew, this is my credo, and labels are the fire that will destroy us.

That flame inside you, that burns bright, is your neshama. Use that fire for good, for tikkun olam, for love and community, not hatred, judgment, lashon hara, or to put yourself above others.

  1. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is the Creator and Ruler of all things. He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.
  2. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He alone is our G-d He was, He is, and He will be.
  3. I believe with perfect faith that G-d does not have a body. physical concepts do not apply to Him. There is nothing whatsoever that resembles Him at all.
  4. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is first and last.
  5. I believe with perfect faith that it is only proper to pray to G-d. One may not pray to anyone or anything else.
  6. I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
  7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses is absolutely true. He was the chief of all prophets, both before and after Him.
  8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.
  9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be another given by G-d.
  10. I believe with perfect faith that G-d knows all of man's deeds and thoughts. It is thus written (Psalm 33:15), "He has molded every heart together, He understands what each one does."
  11. I believe with perfect faith that G-d rewards those who keep His commandments, and punishes those who transgress Him.
  12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. How long it takes, I will await His coming every day.
  13. I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen.
Happy Chanukah to those who believe in me, believe with perfect faith in HaShem, and to those who have no clue what to believe. Without judgment, without exception, we all have our own path and no one can tell you that your path is wrong -- only HaShem can guide you. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Getting Help: Books You Can Trust II

Ahh, I love two-part posts. I first posted earlier this week about Rabbi Goldfeder's "Relationship 1:1" and now it's on to the second book that hit my doorstep thanks to the rabbi-author's publicist. Read on!

Life is Great!
Revealing the 7 Secrets to a More Joyful You!
By Rabbi Yitz Wyne

I was always a sucker for Why Bad Things Happen to Good People -- it got me through some really craptastic times. It seems as though these helpful books were coming out of the woodwork over the past few months, giving me food for thought and some wisdom with which to run.

Rabbi Wyne's book is, to put it simply, an eyesore. I say that because, well, you can see the cover, and it screams of "I AM A CHEESY JEWISH SELF-HELP BOOK!" with its sunshiney rays and smiling rabbi. Rabbi Wyne is the founder and spiritual leader of Young Israel Aish Las Vegas, which also threw me for a loop because I didn't realize that Young Israel and Aish were bound up in any way, and he's also a popular radio personality on "The Rabbi Show" on AM 720 KDWN talk radio. With a radio show, six kids, a wife, and a congregation, it's no wonder perhaps that the book cover design was an afterthought. Or maybe it wasn't. Either way, if you can get by the "don't judge a book by its cover" bit, you should be fine.

The book is divided into chapters according to the seven "secrets" that Rabbi Wyne wants to share, which feels a little gimmicky to me. Why do self-help books always have to have "secrets" to offer up? Why can't the author say what he or she means and get on with it. Each chapter leads with the secret and a sunshine clip art, which grated on my nerves at the turn of each chapter. (Can you tell this book annoyed me?)

However! I read the entire book. In fact, I flagged probably 20 different things in it that I found particularly interesting or inspiring. I just wish someone would re-release this book with a new layout, getting rid of the "secrets" and the bad clip art and cover.

Some of the great takeaways?

  • Happiness ratings are subjective || Rabbi Wyne explains how what might be a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 for me might be completely different on a scale of 1 to 10 for someone else. Our scales are incredibly varied, so we can't and shouldn't compare our levels of happiness (21). 
  • Happiness is a choice || "No one can 'make you' happy or 'make you' sad. The most others can do is create situations and environments that make it easier for you to be happy or upset, but ultimately the choice will be yours" (46). Amen, amen. Now to drill this into mine own noggin!
  • Learn from your experiences || Rabbi Wyne quotes the Talmud, saying, "Who is wise? He who learns from everyone." The rabbi-author stresses that "Judaism doesn't view wisdom as accumulation of facts and formulas. Wisdom is a process that is acquired with a particular attitude" (90). I like it. It makes me wonder if I'm wise, however.
  • The Passion Principle || I often wish I was a better waker-upper in the morning, but I often roll around, sometimes for hours, lamenting my lack of sleep or poor sleep and bemoaning getting up. Rabbi Wyne discusses the importance of being passionate about something as it gives life meaning and purpose. He says, "This concept is so important that in Jewish tradition the very first law that is stated in the law books is to 'strengthen yourself to wake up every morning like a lion, to serve your Creator" (137). I need to find my inner lioness, methinks.
I have to give mad props to the rabbi-author for crowd-sourcing a question on Facebook and using some of the responses in his book (99-100). On a negative note, however, I found the rabbi's discussion about how you should "Expect nothing from anyone else. Don't expect gratitude. Don't expect kindness. Don't expect loyalty" as a bit harsh. He goes on to say, "The more we expect from others, the more we will be disappointed" (104). What do you think? I feel like if I get married, I have the right to expect things -- emotions and otherwise -- from my spouse. In a job, one has the right to expect to be treated a certain way. Right?

Overall, this book has a lot of morsels of goodness that will make you tilt your head, go "huh," and think. Aesthetics aside, the rabbi-author offers a lot of personal insight, stories, and tales from his mentor as well. It's not as personal as some other books I've read, and it feels a little cheesy and forced at times, but if you're in a tough place, you can definitely walk away with some things to think about.

Read this book? Know the author? Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah: 2003-Now

A Novel Idea Bookstore, Lincoln, NE || 2011
Back in 2003, at the urging of a friend, I went to A Novel Idea Bookstore -- my third favorite used bookstore of all time after Myopic in Chicago and the Antiquarium in Brownsville, NE -- and down the rickety stairs to this section pictured above: Judaica. It was there that I first bought Choosing a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant, and it was in front of this shelf of used books that my neshama arose from a weary sleep. The fire continues to burn bright, its shades of orange and red and yellow and amber waxing and waning each day.


Eight years ago, the first night of Chanukah fell on December 20; it was a Saturday. At that time, I wrote a lot about my dislike for Christmas and how it made me feel, and I kvelled about probably the first "Jewish" gift ever given to me, by my friend Melanie. It was a musical dreidel. I was a sophomore in college in Lincoln, Nebraska, and I knew I would be Jewish.

Seven years ago, the first night of Chanukah fell on December 7. By that point, I was a Jewish knowledge and observance machine. On December 6, I hopped on a city bus and schlepped over to a Walgreens near the Reform synagogue in order to buy my first menorah. It was a huge, important, ridiculous event for me. The next day, on the first day of Chanukah, I wrote:
Happy Hanukkah everyone! I bought my menorah, lit my candles, said my blessings, and then made some cookies that are shaped like driedels, megandavids, Judah Maccabee, shields, etc. Then I iced them, sprinkled them with blue and yellow sprinkles and brought them down to work. They were literally gone in about 5 minutes. Everyone crowded around them ... it was an amusing sight. Interestingly enough, though, I recieved an e-mail from DAN, the PRES of HILLEL, at 5:45 (though I didn't get it till tihs evening) that they will be lighting a menorah in the J.D. Edwards Kaufman building (where just about every Jew on campus lives ... the "super honors program") each night of Hanukkah. ... Although I don't have the blessing memorized ... mrr. They know I'm a Jew-in-training anyhow. Heh. Did I mention that my Jews in the Modern World prof (Alan Steinweis) played the VIDLIT Yiddish lesson in class today. Oh man ... it was hilarious. I think I enjoyed it more than the rest of the class. Then again, I have a passion for the Yiddish. 
On December 9, 2004, I wrote:
Tonight, after lighting candles with Dan, Cliff and Sari in Kauffman hall ... I definately felt a part of something there with them. Lonely Jews in Nebraska, ha. But Dan sang the blessing beautifully ... Sari lit the candles, and Cliff and I stared on. It was good times.
Shortly thereafter I started working on a paper on why I want to be Jewish for the then-rabbi of the synagogue who subsequently left. I waited another nine months for another rabbi to work with me, and by then I'd mastered so much. I converted Reform in April 2006 and in December 2006 I was in Washington D.C. for Chanukah; I made this video and wrote a lot of blog posts

Back in 2007, Chanukah was incredibly awesome, and then Christmas came and it was bad. A little old man accosted me while I was busy at work at the Spertus Museum's open house for Jews on Christmas. If you want to read it, I think it can give you some insight into what it's like to be a non-Orthodox convert.

And then? From 2008 up until last year, I was in Israel for Chanukah. It was a unique, mind-boggling experience where I felt so much like myself. No Christmas tunes, no expectations, just lots of latkes and sufganiyot and chanukiot everywhere. Walking up and down alleyways, menorahs dotted doorways and boxes outside of homes, parks and squares, restaurants even stopped what they were doing to light. In Israel, Chanukah feels right. In America? It feels strange. 

Perhaps it's because for the first time in so many years I'm back where I began, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Estranged from my mother, without a chanukiah, no latkes, no sufganiyot, nowhere to go. So for the sake of memory, I think, I might go over to that same Walgreens where I purchased my first chanukiah and buy another. Maybe when I get home I'll make Chanukah cookies or try out this Gluten-Free Sufganiyot recipe, but at least I'll be there with my chanukiah and my Jewish troll doll and all of my Judaica and my sunrise over the desert in Israel. 

It all began while I was living in Lincoln -- my Jewish journey, that is -- but it never stopped here, and I think that I've worn away all the memory that's here. 

Getting Help: Books You Can Trust

I love books. In fact, I just went on a book-buying binge, picking up some things by Michael Chabon, Cynthia Ozick, and Kurt Vonnegut, among others. But before I get to those, I have to write about a couple of books that arrived on my doorstep from some outstanding rabbi-authors (yes, for free, to review). Here's one review, and stay tuned for the other. Also, let me know if you've read either of these books or are familiar with the authors! I'd love your feedback

Relationship 1.1 
The Genesis of Togetherness: Tapping Torah's wisdom to fine-tune your marriage
By Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder

Okay, I know what you're thinking: This couldn't have come at a worse time, right? I moved to Colorado and the rabbi-author of this book, Gavriel Goldfeder, who calls himself "alternadox" and runs Aish Boulder, shot me an email mentioning this book and inviting me up for Shabbat. The Shabbat plans fell through, and I haven't made it back up yet, but the book arrived and I spent this past Shabbat reading through bits and pieces of the book.

Yes, I could have used this book back in January when the proverbial feces hit the proverbial fan in my marriage for the first time, but I didn't have this book. In fact, I bought another book at the YU Seforim Sale earlier this year and dedicated myself to reading it with my ex-husband every night; it lasted about a week. There was something insincere and cheesy and dishonest about the book. But Rabbi Goldfeder's book?

A book in which the rabbi-author, seeking to help the reader find balance and peace in a marriage, quotes the movie Batman Begins and talks about balancing "me" with "we" as being akin to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup can't be bad, right?
"No one ever dreamed that peanut butter covered with chocolate could produce one of the best selling candies of all time. We've got to be able [to] hold on to the essential ingredients of who we are while also blending and joining forces. It could be a huge hit!" (16).
So I dove in, reading the first few chapters and wishing that I had known Rabbi Goldfeder back when. I think my marriage would have ended sooner, before I fell into a deep hole of depression and despair that it took me months to crawl out of in order to get the courage to ask for a divorce. The book is set up so that for each parshah of Genesis there is a chapter. The rabbi-author gives you a brief synopsis of the portion, then leads you through the story and its relevance within marriage and a lesson or two that one can take away from the portion. Basically, his goal is to take you back to the beginning -- and he does so with style, grace, and humor, and he doesn't shy away from relating his own faults in marriage.

Like I said, I didn't read the whole book because, well, it was a hard topic to grasp being only about three months out of my marriage, all while knowing that my ex-husband -- from whom I split amicably -- already is engaged (mazal tov!). So, I'm passing the book on to the lovely Melissa over at Redefining Rebbetzin to get a presently married woman's take on the book. I know that if and when I get married again, this book will come to my aid many times (so she better give it back!).

I have to hand it to whoever designed the book, too, because there's something about the cover that is rare when it comes to Jewish books -- it's classy, it's universal, it's something I'd see on a bookshelf and want to read. Also, there's something about the font and layout that makes this book incredibly readable. If you know what I mean, you know what I mean. If you're not into aesthetics, then this means nothing to you. But it's an easily read 130 pages of text, no doubt.

Perhaps the bit that hit home the most, but also urged me to put the book down because of the emotional impact of the statement is the following from Chapter 2 "The Other" on Parshah Noach.
There is a spiritual handicap that plagues many couples. Selfishness is not the right word, as it implies awareness of another while prioritizing one's own needs. Self-absorption is closer to the point -- focused only on one's self, unaware of others. The only way the self-absorption can work (or seem to work) in a marriage is if the other person is willing to play the slave, ensconced in total devotion and surrender. (19)
Many of my readers and friends watched me become someone I wasn't during my marriage -- weak, meek, sad, lonely -- and I think that Rabbi Goldfeder hits on a point here that so many people face, and even after months of counseling, it was difficult if not impossible to break free of these roles.

Basically, we should all just be a lot more like Peanut Butter Cups. It's easy, right?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Are You Ready to Get Served?

This post is sponsored by Serve from American Express. Sign up for Serve and receive $10 credit towards your first use. Comment below within the next 7 days for your chance to win an extra $100 credit to your account! 

I love, love, love being a member of the Clever Girls Collective, because of all of the stellar opportunities for sponsored posts, which means you get to find out about new products and services and I get to, you know, do fun things for free!

I signed up for the promotion and got picked, which meant that I got some free change to take several friends out to dinner and drinks in order to try out Serve's product and to get some other friends to do the same. What is Serve, you ask?

Serve is a new way to settle up with friends instantly via email or mobile device -- whether you're at the bar or a restaurant. The result is that you avoid awkward exchanges of cash, and you don't have to chase down your friends to get them to pay up for your boss's holiday gift.

Yes, we made a Chanukiah out of our
used beer and cider bottles!
SCENARIO: Let's say you're at the bar or a restaurant, but the place only takes cash. You turn to your bestie and say, "Hey man, can I borrow $50 to get drinks tonight?" Your friend, being weird about loaning cash money to friends because he's been burned so many times, is hesitant. So you, being the smart person that you are for signing up for, whip out your cellphone, click over to the Serve app and send your friend immediately from your Serve account the $50 you're about to borrow from him. He knows, upfront, that you're good for the money, because he just got an email saying that you transfered $50 to him. BAM! No weird encounters or "Hey man, so, make sure you get me the money by Friday" or anything like that. It's practically instantaneous.

So I took several friends out to WaterCourse, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant here in Denver that is absolutely amazing and friendly to weirdos like me who are gluten free and about 90 percent vegetarian and dairy free who also have concerns about kashrut (I know, y'all are going to have questions about this, but this isn't the post for it, so stay tuned). After the meal, when we got the bill, we split it up evenly using the calculator that comes with the Serve app, and everyone paid with their respective cards/cash. Having money in my account from Serve to reimburse my co-diners, I immediately reimbursed all of them via their email addresses from my mobile app! Before we even got up from the table, everything was settled and everyone was blown away by how instantaneously awesome the service is. More goodies?
  • Setting up a Serve account is quick and easy
  • No more checks
  • Safe and Secure from American Express
  • Get $10 just for trying it
  • Refer friends to Serve and get up to $50
Check out Serve on Twitter and Facebook, and, of course, sign up already! You get free $10 for signing up and honestly, you won't regret signing up, getting your own Serve card, and jazzing your friends with the ease of use and convenience. 

Remember to sign up for Serve and receive $10 credit towards your first use. Comment below within the next 7 days for your chance to win an extra $100 credit to your account! Official sweepstakes rules and regulations may be found by clicking here

I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Go On: Get Mortified!

Verily, this is good for the Jews. 

I love it when things ooze out of the woodwork. As a blogger, every now and again I get contacted by some of the most random PR agencies looking to get their info up on a blog, and most of the time I turn it down because I find it difficult to even fit it into my policy of 93 percent solid fixed content and 7 percent completely random content. But I think this will fit nicely into that 7 percent of content, and I hope you agree, because sometimes we all need a light, fluffy break from Jewtent (that's Jew + Content, silly).

This week, I was contacted by the Sundance Channel about The Mortified Sessions, a new show that highlights the confessions of some of the biggest stars around. The upcoming episode features SNL's Will Forte (who is known for his awesome MacGruber skit that, let's be honest, I love, because I went to the MacGruber movie screening at SXSW this year) as well as Jennifer Grey, who is, of course, a Jew!

Check out this very brief trailer for the upcoming episode on Monday at 8 p.m. ET.

I think the show is probably taking a cue from the ever-popular Who do you think you are? in an effort to remind us that, yes, of course, actors are people, too. It's shocking, I know, right? I just wish I were famous enough to be on this show ... they should have blogger celebrities. Or maybe I should start that trend, eh?

Each episode is 30 minutes long and takes place interview style with host David Nadelberg (Jewwww) as he guides "celebrities through their shoebox, exposing some stories that they have never shared before."

It turns out Nadelberg actually has been exposing the mortified pieces of our pasts (and his, for that matter) for some time now. According to Bookslut,
David Nadelberg started the Mortified project after discovering a hilariously awful love letter he wrote in high school, and figuring he couldn't be the only one with embarrassing adolescent writings to share with the world. Beginning in 2002 as a live stage show, Mortified has since expanded to nine cities (including Malmo, Sweden), a series of books, and a just-launched web series.
Honestly, I'm kind of bummed out that I just chucked all of my high school notes and love letters because they were bulking up my storage space. Le sigh. You can read something hilarious from David Nadelberg's book Mortified that discusses being "cheap" and being Jewish and how it's a sort of requirement. It gave me a few giggles. Just go here and jump to page 183 and read!

At any rate, you can visit their website or Facebook for more info on the show!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Gifts Roundup!

This is a list of awesome things that I think you should look into for Chanukah gift giving (or, you know, general gift giving). Ready? Ready!

Of course, first ont he list is the Craig N Co. Hanukkah Music Sampler, which, by the way, is still free! You can't go wrong with a free gift of awesome music, whether it's for you or your mom or your bubbe! And ... The Kosher Shopaholic has a whole bunch of giveaways, including Rebbetzin Tap and Friends DVDs, so go over there and enter, enter, enter. Again, free stuff, folks.

Over on ModernTribe, I spotted The Brisket Book, which, unfortunately isn't for me, but I can think of about 30 million men who would appreciate this book, not to mention a few ladies. I'm looking at Mel over at Redefining Rebbetzin's husband; he's a big meat eater. Maybe this is the perfect gift? The author says:
If brisket does indeed improve your life, then The Brisket Book promises to be the ultimate life-affirming resource for anyone who has savored--or should savor--this succulent comfort food.
Seriously. Everything you ever wanted to know about brisket is in this book. Including pictures of cute little old Jewish ladies kvelling about the meaty meat. 

Also over at ModernTribe is Salt-M Russian Stacking Doll & Pepper, which is, um, amazing. The pepper is in the salt. I'm looking at Vicki for this one. I think she can appreciate it, because, you know, she's Russian and Russians like these kinds of things. (snicker) But seriously, cute. Super cute. I just wish it weren't plastic, but I'd still take it. 

One of my favorite sites for random awesomeness is, where I found the Construction Plate. I'm prepared to open a restaurant that serves only vegetables served on these plates. I think it would be both fascinating from a psychological perspective and, well, just entertaining and fun! On the pricier end over at UncommonGoods is something I've wanted for eons, and that's the Custom State Necklace. Of course, I'd get a big ole' Nebraska with the gem located in Lincoln, but I can't bring myself to spend the cash money on it. Feel free to take up a fund. I'd love to muster up the change to get one for Kate over at Suburban Sweetheart. (Ooooo-hhiiiii-ooooo!)

There is a cheaper version of the state necklace available on Etsy, but, well, it's not the same. Not exactly. Still pretty cool. Although, now that I think about it, this one also is pretty gnarlysauce. 

Maybe I'm hungry, but food is a theme here. Check out this book that just came out a few weeks ago: Scanwiches. It's "part coffee table book, part cookbook, all mouth-watering celebration of the world's most versatile meal." However, that description doesn't mention that it's amazing. As in, "full-frontal food porn." (This one has me thinking of Kate, too, is that weird?)

And, of course, anything from Archie McPhee & Co. if you're a classicist and like vintage/retro items (or ones that resemble them anyway) like an Inflatable Beard or a super classic item like the Ark of the Covenant!

Okay friends, that's enough for me. So go, buy stocking stuffers and Chanukah goodies until your hearts' content! Let me know if you find anything funny or worth sharing on any fo these sites. Oh, and, you know, if you want to get me something, you know where to find me. (I'm serious about that plate.)

Jewish Authenticity: Detours, Spirals, Swirls

There is very little that comforts me these days, as the world as I know it changes every half-second. But that lack of consistent comfort, I suppose, does comfort me. It brings my underconstructionist nature into full perspective. Other things that comfort me
  • I wrote my first slam poem in three or four years. This is huge for me folks. My poetry gave some of my darkest, hardest-to-handle emotions a voice. This. Is. Huge. 
  • I realized, while unable to sleep one night earlier this week, that I've spent most of my life feeling guilty about being happy. I come from a place where happiness is unattainable, so when that twinge of happy entered the scene, I felt guilt, I grew depressed and forlorn, and the cycle repeated. But right now, despite everything that has happened and is happening (especially with my family), I have decided that I've earned this right to be happy, above all else. I'm committed to my own happiness. Sof sof

Now, something else that is comforting me is an article from Sh'ma called "The Spiral of Jewish Authenticity" by Stuart Charme, and it isn't just because the article starts out with a girl cutting off all of her hair and taking up slam poetry. The author cites socio-psychologist Bethamie Horowitz (whose work I archived for the North American Jewish Databank back when I was in Connecticut) who points out that "Jewishness is not a static condition but rather a journey with various twists, turns, and detours along the way."

I've experienced the twists and turns, and I suppose that right now I'm on a detour. But don't lose hope!

The author describes Jewishness as a
"loose spiral. We circle back to revisit a variety of issues related to Judaism and Jewishness; each time, we approach the experience of Jewishness from new perspectives and with new investments and understandings that emerge in response to other changes in our lives."
The author describes what we understand to be "Jewish authenticity," our sense of connection to the romanticized or idealized image of the past, of what it means to be Jewish. We search for a lifestyle or DNA for our Jewish marker so that we can understand a "sense of unbroken tradition and peoplehood." But, the author says, this is a myth that serves to "legitimate favored forms of identity while delegitimizing others."

And herein lies the cycle. The idea of "Jewish authenticity" changes, constantly. We construct/invent Jewish identity, what makes someone legitimate or not legitimate in their Jewishness. One could argue that halakah, or law, defines who is a Jew, but it isn't that simple. After all, at some point in time, one could argue that a certain aspect of commitment to a specific halakah is more important than another when it comes to "being" Jewish. Who is more legitimate -- one who keeps kosher or one who keeps Shabbat? One who dresses modestly or one who tithes? But we invent what is more or less important, what is more or less legitimate. (Or, perhaps, the we I speak about here is the rabbi.)

Essentially, the author says,
"Some of what is now accepted as authentically Jewish will eventually be abandoned and some of what is now rejected will later be reclaimed. In this sense, each individual's search for Jewish authenticity is a microcosm of the collective process of redefining Judaism at different moments of history.
And that, folks, is where I find my comfort in this article. The author goes on to validate the statement by warning us to "be careful of claiming too much certainty at the present moment -- recognizing the permanently destabilizing power of the future to shatter and rebuild the foundations of our world in ever-new ways."

The only thing that truly is certain -- that I can be absolutely sure of in this world -- is uncertainty itself. I think the author would agree, as he says, "There is probably some Zen-like truth to the idea that those who claim most adamantly to have found or achieved Jewish authenticity are also those who lack it in a deeper sense."

Ultimately, what the author wishes for his daughter -- the hair-cutting slam poet -- is what I wish for myself and for all of you: May your Jewish journey be intellectually and psychologically honest, vibrant, and creative; value questions more than answers; and, most importantly, discover your authentic Jewish self.

Note: Mad props to @StellaTex for passing this article along to me. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For 24 Hours: Just Give!

no one has ever become poor by giving 
~anne frank~

Today, folks, is a big day for Colorado! Why? Because it's Colorado Gives Day, and I'm taking part in one way or another via my gnarly clients the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education and Stepping Stones.

What is Colorado Gives Day?
It's 24 hours of raising as much money as humanly possible for 839 participating Colorado nonprofits and is the brainchild of Denver-based Community First Foundation. Last year's efforts raised $8.7 million, and I think that this year will blow last year out of the water!

The Organizations for which I'm Pulling?
The Colorado Agency for Jewish Education (aka CAJE), which is pretty self-explanatory. It's responsible for Hebrew High, the Melton Mini-School (adult learning), Israel Study Tour, Early Childhood Education and everything else awesomely educational in Colorado. Them's are some big shoes, folks, and they're hoping to raise $20,000 today! Give $1, give $18, just give, will you? I know most of my readers don't live in Colorado, but Jewish education is Jewish education, and if there's a state that needs it, it's Colorado -- with a Jewish population of 86,000, most Jews here are secular and CAJE does what it can to light a spark in all Jews.

The other organization is Stepping Stones, which is an "outreach organization whose mission is to welcome, support and educate interfaith couples, children and their families." So put your anti-interfaith dialogue on the back shelf and remember that Jewish outreach to interfaith families means a Jewish flavor that otherwise might not exist, and that's important. Stepping Stones also is pushing for $20,000, so give a little, give a lot, just give darn't.

What now?
Be a part of an amazing day of giving. Seriously, give $10, give $100, just give. And then browse the website and see what other organizations are worth your hard-earned cash!

I'll be around town throughout the day today roving and reporting for the agencies, so if you want to donate in-person, check out King Soopers on Leetsdale, Zaidy's in Cherry Creek, Panera at the Denver Tech Center, and Bookies. 

Give and let give! Spread the word, friends!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting Stamped

Okay friends, my besties over at Quite Like It designs are making me an awesome return-address stamp, and I'm crazy stoked. Which of these three designs do you like best? Let me know ASAP by voting over in the sidebar!

(Clearly the blacked out part is my address ... )

Ten Years Later, and I'm Okay

I just finished watching a most horrible movie -- Since You've Been Gone -- starring some big talent like Lara Flynn Boyle, Teri Hatcher, David Schwimmer, Joey Slotnick, Jon Stewart, Jennifer Grey, Molly Ringwald, and Liev Schreiber. I wasn't looking for cinematic genius, and I didn't get it. I figured it would be one of those run-of-the-mill "you've done nothing with your life" kind of movies, and it sort of was, except that at the end the jerks from high school get their comeuppance and the geeks are the real winners.

Now? I'm watching And God Created Woman, starring Brigette Bardot -- a true film classic (although the fight scenes are so poorly done).

But back to the reflective masterpiece that was Since You've Been Gone. It got me thinking, mostly because I'm pushing my 10-year anniversary of graduating high school.

Ten. Years.

I could have several children by now, and I know some who do. Theoretically, I could have a whole clan of kids, a house, a high-paying job, a vacation home. But truth be told, I never sought any of those things.

Ten years ago, I was keen on going to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln -- after giving up my dreams of attending New York University because of cost -- and majoring in English. I was sure I'd be in the Honors Program (which I was) and that I'd live on campus (which I did). Beyond that? I had no aspirations. I wanted to be free, happy, and to write my little poet's heart out.

As a naive and hopeful 18-year-old (I was in the older end of my grade), I dreamed of moving to New York and being a poet.

A few months into my freshman year of college in 2002, I realized how silly my dreams were (much like those of my childhood -- to be an artist). My dentist, a very awesome lady in her own right, had all of her certificates hanging on her office wall, and during a visit I noticed that one of those certificates was for a bachelor's degree in ... English. The dialogue went something like this:

Me: So, you got your degree in English?
Her: Yup!
Me: So, how'd you become a dentist?
Her (laughing): Well, I realized very quickly after graduating that I couldn't do anything with a bachelor's in English, so I went back to school and became a dentist. 

Well, that sealed the deal for me! My freshman honors seminar was in journalism, so after speaking with my adviser and my professor, I quickly switched over to a bachelor's in journalism, specifically in copy editing (aka News Editorial) and fell quickly in with the crowd working a million hours a week at the student newspaper. Within moments my deal as a copy editor was sealed.

My aspirations changed: I would become a copy editor for a major daily newspaper in the U.S. and be an awesome Jewess in the process.

And I actually accomplished this goal! With a job at The Washington Post after graduating college, I was set, but incredibly unhappy. I picked up, I moved, I attempted to figure out what I wanted to do. I ended up in Chicago working for a Devil Wears Prada-style professor of Economics, discovered my inner Orthodox neshama and?

Another flip: I wanted to go to graduate school to become a professor of Judaic Studies. So I jetted off to Connecticut, got a master's degree in my field, and then, again, was unhappy and unsure what I wanted to do.

A quick change: I would get another degree, this time in education, and teach Hebrew language to youngsters in Jewish day schools in the U.S. So I moved to New York, started up at NYU, and was, within an instant, unsatisfied with the program and my aspirations. And off I was to Colorado, where I am now.

Over time, Social Media became a strength of mine. I dream of moving to Israel and becoming part of some kind of translation and grammar commission, fixing signs the country over for consistency and authenticity. I dream of becoming a well-known slam poet, not just a blogger. I dream of writing, always, the things for which I hold a great passion. I dream of being me, mostly.

Oddly enough, I'm not disappointed in where I have gone and what I have experienced in the past 10 years. In fact, I'm quite proud of everything I have experienced. Many loves, many lost. Many jobs, many addresses. Many cities, four trips to Israel. I bought my first bed, my first car. I found G-d, I found out pieces of mystery regarding myself.

Ten years. I feel like I should feel older and more settled than I do right now, but that's not my style -- it never has been. I was the first of my friends to move away, the wild and unexpected one. As my father says, I'm a free spirit. As much as I've tried to tie myself down, it just isn't in my nature.

I will always write, sing, drink, dance, and speak in ways that make me feel free and liberated. The guilt that I should feel, I suppose for the ups and downs, highs and lows, and promises I've made to myself and others is nonexistent. I live my life as though I am in control, and ten years after I accepted that control upon myself, I am proud to have rediscovered it.

So: Are you where you thought you'd be 10 years ago? Where you were when you were a senior in high school and the world was your oyster? 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gam Zu L'Tovah: I No Longer Am Consistent

I thought about making a podcast. I thought about writing a cryptic slam poem. I thought about just saying that this blog has taken too much out of me and I've passed up on many a chance to focus on me, to be and live for me. But this blog has been my baby, my internal dialogue, my therapy. You guys are the flies on the wall of my mental canvas. You get to see the inner workings of a stranger. The world gets to see the inner workings of a stranger. So what would be stranger than me simply disappearing from the blog, citing stress, questioning everything I know about myself, family drama that cannot even be described, and new people in my life?

The weirdest thing about being divorced is feeling like I was never married. Is that normal? Is it normal to look back and think, where did the past three years go? Who was I? Was that even me? Don't misunderstand: I got married because everything seemed to fall into place. I sought the physical and emotional comforts that marriage and relationships provide. But looking back and reflecting on it all, I did myself a great disservice denying my own feelings about the whole thing. To put it more simply: I have no clue who that woman was over the past three years.

There are clear moments: Graduate school, my Orthodox conversion, Israel. But all of the things that should matter, that should stick with me are as if a fog. Like watching a tragic movie with a tragic woman who wants nothing more than to be that image of the Orthodox woman living the Orthodox life with her Orthodox husband in an Orthodox world. And I got that. I dressed the part, I spoke the part, I ate the part, I lived the part. I was that person that people strive to be, and for those who read this blog and look for guidance on conversion to Orthodoxy, I was that example to follow.

And all of the important stuff was honest. It's the superficial stuff that I'm starting to wonder whether it was real. I believe everything -- I believe and have a firm conviction in all that Orthodox Judaism provides and demands, but I've hit this point where, because I'm unraveling who I was for three years, I don't know that I am capable of following through as that person. Not right now.

Man. I sound like I'm being cryptic. Like what I should say, what I want to say is so obvious. But, you see, I've placed myself under the microscope of so many people, at least 55,000 a month. And as you start to question yourself and where you're going, it's like the sun is shining so bright you're on the verge of combustion. In the Jewish community, for me at least, the fear of retribution, exclusion, denial are beyond words. The fear that, if I decide that eating out at a vegetarian restaurant is something in which I want to dabble that I will be rejected wholly by those around me. That if I decide that I'm interested in someone who isn't Jewish that my readers and friends will look at me with judgment and horror.

Oh how the mighty might fall.

In one of the segments of Ask Chaviva Anything! someone asked whether I put too much emphasis on being a convert, and I said that it's impossible, because being a ger is the very fabric of who I am. It defines my social life, my diet, my clothing, my approach to everything in life. A Jew can go "off the derech," and we scoff and laugh and pray that they come back into the fold, no matter how nominally affiliated he or she is. But no matter how not Jewish he or she chooses to date, he or she will always be Jewish. An ancestor's ketubah or picture of a grandparent's grave, and matters are solidified. A convert? Well, I have a folder that holds both my Reform and my Orthodox conversion certificates. Pieces of paper signed by modern rabbis in a modern rabbinical court in an environment installed with processes and circumstance. But those papers can disappear, they can be questioned, they can be enough to cast away someone indefinitely.

I sound dramatic, I know. But this is a glimpse into my head, my life, my world right now. People tell me that HaShem never gives us something that we can not handle, and others say gam zu l'tovah (this, too, is for good). And that makes me wonder why I currently find myself in the circumstances that I do. The more difficult thing, however, is that I feel good. I feel right. I feel happy. For the first time in a long time, I feel like me.

People are fluid. Our experiences are fluid. From one moment to the next, we cannot expect consistency from either ourselves or others. We're impacted by our environments, our emotions, our genetics, resulting in an ever-changing sense of self that should never stand still. Drastic changes, we assume, must be attributed to some life-altering event or emotion. However, in truth, it seems to make sense that we would be constantly in flux, changing, inconsistent. After all, that's why Judaism has so many installed proscriptions of how to live -- consistency. Everyone works better on a schedule. Or do we? I guess what I'm saying is that we expect too much from ourselves, from others, in the way of consistency. We expect people to have patterns, and when the pattern is thrown, we assume the worst.

Don't assume the worst, please.

Also: As an aside, if you didn't see Mitch Albom's "Have a Little Faith" on TV the other night, then you need to find it and you need to watch it. It had me in tears at the end, and I don't cry easily. The only movie I ever cried during was "My Best Friend's Wedding." But in the movie, the rabbi (played by Martin Landau) poses the following (and I'm paraphrasing) Why didn't G-d create one perfect tree? Why did he create multiple trees, spruces, pines, oaks? It's the same with man and our beliefs. There are many ways to G-d, not just one. (And this, folks, is my comfort.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Recipe: Indian-Spiced Roasted Squash Soup

I'm planning some heavy posts this week, so I thought I'd start things out simple and light with a recipe for some delicious soup I just whipped up with pleasure and fresh veggies. If things go right, I'll be eating lots of veggies and yummy things like quinoa all week. Wish me luck to stick to it!

Indian-Spiced Roasted Squash Soup
Adapted from November 2011 Cooking Light Magazine

1 medium chopped yellow onion
8 ounces carrots (that's about three normal-sized carrots)
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium acorn squash, quartered
olive oil
black pepper
2 cups water
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (I winged it with cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg)
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
14 ounces veggie stock
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 container plain yogurt (Greek is best, but I used Green Valley Lactose Free Yogurt)
6 Tbls honey

  1. Preheat oven to 500 F.
  2. Arrange the veggies (onion, carrot, squash) on a jelly-roll pan. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with pepper. Toss. Roast at 500 F for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender, turning once. Cool for 10 minutes. Peel acorn squash; discard skin.
  3. Combine vegetables, water, veggie stock, curry powder, garam masala, and red pepper into a pot and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and stir in salt. Remove the pot from the stove and puree with an immersion blender.
  4. Combine yogurt and honey, stirring well. Swirl atop the soup!
  5. Voila! Enjoy!

Monday, November 21, 2011

O' Hanukkah!

The Maccabeats are so last Hanukkah (Chanukah, Hanukah, and so on and so forth), folks, so turn your attentions this way!

Tomorrow is the big day for Craig N Co., for it is the launch of the newest round of tunes, Vol. 2 of Lights: A Hanukkah Music Sampler.

It drops tomorrow on Amazon, and I will personally be picking up a copy to get into the Hanukkah spirit with the likes of Michelle Citrin, Pharaoh's Daughter, The Klezmatics, RebbeSoul, Mare Winningham, Smooth-E and an abundance of others Jewish rockers, songsters, and musical masters.

After longing for the long-gone stylings of The LeeVees to do something, anything after so many years, I'm excited to pick up the new Craig N Co. album because, well, Christmas tunes are everywhere, so why can't Jews revel in a bit of merrymaking in this season of light?

Also, be sure to e-send an American Greeting card that is in all the spirit of Craig N Co.! Oh! And shake up a drink in the interactive Hanukkah Lounge (and feed the pooch while you're at it!).

Note: I'm doing some outreach for Craig N Co. with the launch of this new album and some of the awesome things they're doing for the Hanukkah season, but y'all know me -- I only work on things I believe in and care about, so sincerity is here. Please retweet, Facebook, and blog until your little heart's content! Everyone should have some happy Hanukkah tunes in their disc man this year!

Give yourself something to sing about this Hanukkah, and head over to Amazon on Tuesday, November 22 to get YOUR sample of the sampler.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Roadblocks Lead Me to ... Existentialism!

Roadblocks come! Roadblocks go. The most recent roadblock? Being let go after a month of work for Jewster. Huge bummer, but mostly to my bank account. Luckily, as every door closes, another opens, and I'm hoping to turn my current gig working for CAJE and Stepping Stones (and their under-orgs, Hebrew High, Israel Study Tour, and Melton Mini-School) into a fuller gig, moving from simple Social Media management into web site management and design. I shall make Wordpress my, well, you know. Wish me luck!

In other news, a local barista has turned me on to existentialism. Now, before you get your undergarments in a twist, I'm exploring, reading, examining, figuring out what, if anything, the philosophy has to offer me. In an introduction to Basic Writings of Existentialism, Gordon Marino says, in regards to the impact of Soren Kierkegaard's work, that Kierkegaard
flung open the window and convinced me that at least the existential movement resonated with the ancient view of philosophy as a way of life, as a guide for the perplexed.
That was a mere few pages in to the book, before I even got to the actual literature, and I was sold. You'll recognize A Guide for the Perplexed as one of the seminal works of Maimonides.

I avoided philosophy and psychology in college for many reasons, largely because I never bought into the "phooey" and loftiness of it all. And after listening to this fellow talk about existentialism and philosophy, I realize that I'm seriously wasting the massive collection of The Great Books that are still sitting in boxes in my apartment. The only thing I've honestly read out of that collection was Voltaire's Candide, which I loved.

And, perhaps, I know more about existentialism and don't realize it. After all, the Book of Job often is cited as having existentialist themes. And many of the greatest existentialist thinkers have been Jews. But what I'm hoping to find is whether existentialism can offer me something that I seem to be struggling to find.

From Wikipedia (I know, I know):
The traditional existentialist Fredrich Nietzsche’s (b. 1844 – d. 1900) concept of the Übermensch (lit. ‘Super-Man’) can be juxtaposed with Soloveitchik’s concept of Halakhic Man. Both Nietzsche (in classically existentialist form) and Soloveitchik deny the validity of escape from this-worldliness; but each offers a different approach to dealing with man’s essential human (as opposed to divine) nature. Soloveitchik suggests that man subsume himself to God and God’s Law, Nietzsche suggests that man act as if he were like God in order to assume power and agency in the world.
Again, just shooting the wind here, but I think there must be a middle ground between Soloveitchik and Nietzshe. So I need to read Martin Buber and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and all of the regulars like Kierkegaard and Sartre. 

The problem? As a copy editor and writer, I like to read things in their simplest terms. I'm a huge believer in simplistic form for writing, which then leads to more in-depth and detailed ideas and theses. I'm already finding Kierkegaard hard to read, but every now and again something he says stands out to me. 

You're probably wondering where all of this is coming from, right? Well, maybe it's the Denver air or the recent perpetual fluctuations in my life, but I'm questioning everything I know about myself, what I do and why I do it, who I am, and where I'm going, more so than I ever have before. You, my readers, know that I'm a questioner -- it's one of my favorite things about being Jewish. But I'm in a deeper place of questioning than ever before, I think. I question neither my belief in one G-d, HaShem, nor in the chosenness of the Jewish people to be a light until the world through moral and ethical example. But everything else? It's fair game. 

Wish me luck, and feel free to let me know your thoughts on existentialism and Jewish thought. Or just one. Or just the other. I'm all ears at this point. 

Ultimately, what I seek was best put into words by Kierkegaard himself.
The thing is to understand myself, to see what G-d really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: Biblical Beauty

I'm a huge fan of taking a look at the old and bringing it into the new -- it's Judaism's basic foundation and approach to everything in life. We look at the Torah, we say "what does this mean now," and we go from there. This essentially is what Rachelle Weisberger has done in her new book, Biblical Beauty: Ancient Secrets and Modern Solutions. [I will add the disclaimer here that I got this book for review purposes!]

Is this book for everyone? Probably not. Is this book for me? Not really, no.

The book is divided into Ancient Secrets and Modern Solutions. I immediately was curious if Weisberger took a look at Rachav (who I've written about many times), and there she was! A section on Rachav and her mad makeup skills as the "most legendary prostitute" in the land. I wouldn't say this really is a shining example of Biblical beauty, and as someone familiar with Rachav and her legacy, I have to say that the chapter left me feeling like the author took a shallow approach, making these Biblical women part of a gimmick rather than a lesson in true beauty. Yes, the Talmud details her beauty and the allure she held for men across the land, but her legacy comes from the fact that she saved the Israelites and became a mother to nations of prophets, not because she knew how to do her eyes.

I guess I've never been one to focus on the physical attributes of one's character, which is not to say that I don't believe in getting gussied up every now and again, but I guess I don't really get this book or its purpose. I can see it playing a roll in communities that frown on makeup and attention to physical appearance, and perhaps it can serve some type of inspirational platform for all of those Orthodox teen girls who are starving themselves to be married off at the right age. But I also see the negative impacts of a book like this. It seems to emphasize that it was important for the matriarchs and prolific women of the Tanakh for being physically beautiful, and it offers solutions of how to mimic that care and expertise in the modern period. A little more than 20 pages are devoted to "Inner Beauty" while the rest of the book is devoted wholly to "Outer Beauty."

I guess I'm just not sold on this book helping me find my "unique, intrinsic beauty." It provides a superficial look at some of the most inspiring women of the Tanakh -- from Miriam to Judith to Sarah and so on -- but perhaps it's in my nature to want more than the suggestion that they all cared about how they looked.

What message does this send exactly?

I'm curious what you -- the reader -- would think of this book, so I'm passing this book along in the hopes that maybe a review will follow. Perhaps we can start a review chain? At any rate, if you're interested in reviewing this book (that is, receiving the copy I received in order to review it on your own blog), simply say so in your comment. I'll randomly pick someone by Wednesday around noon to get the book for review.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Calling All Jewish Blogging Rockstars!

I'm trying to compile a list so that when there are awesome press releases or things happening in the Jewish blogging world I can reach all of my awesome rockstar blogger friends. Please join the list! I promise not to spam you, and the list won't be sold. I just want to easily get to everyone via email without crawling your sites for your email addresses :)

So click here and fill 'er out!

Also, this might give me some new blogs to read!


Ask Chaviva Anything!: Being a Convert, School, and Music

Ready for another installment of Ask Chaviva Anything!? Because I am! Let's get started. [PS: Ask more questions here!]
Do you think that maybe you over-emphasize the whole convert thing? That most Jews (myself included) don't really care if you are a convert, that they'll accept you for who you are? I sometimes wonder how real the feeling of being an outsider is for you, because to me, you seem as much a part of our crazy tribe as the next yid. And it is as normal for you to struggle with your Jewish identity as it is for anybody to struggle with their identity. I know this is phrased as a yes or no question, but any further thoughts from you would be appreciated.
This is a question that I was asked a bit ago and am just now answering. Not because I hesitate with my response, but because I didn't want to give 'tude and give someone a reason to be mean. My answer: No, never, it's impossible, are you crazy!? I can't explain how it's different to be a convert moving through Judaism than for someone who was born Jewish, except to say that as a convert, nothing is ever certain. Nothing. Confidence is everything, but confidence is never going to be enough. I'm a proud, confident, certifiable Jew, no doubt, but just because you are okay with that and don't think it's a big deal doesn't mean that many, many, many Jews out there who were born that way feel the same. Can I pick up and move to Israel with the same ease as a born Jew? No. Can I marry a Kohen? No. If I marry another convert can our child marry a Kohen? No. Can I sit down with a table full of Jews -- secular or not -- and reminisce about childhood Shabbats or Passover or Chanukah or camp or family lost in the Shoah or inheriting my ancestor's Judaica? No. Someone will always care, someone will always make it a big deal, and it will always matter. I will always be different.

Am I bitter about it? No. Is it a big freaking deal? Yes. Am I okay with it? Heck yeah!

I am happy that you are able to look beyond the things that make you and me different (there should be more Jews like you!), but that's not the real world, and I embraced it very early on. Many converts never get to that point where they can cope with the fact that no matter how many rabbis say it, and no matter whether the gemara professes it, I'll always be a convert. And with that, I'm okay!

I wish I could make it easier, but that's me speaking truth.
Are you afraid that the scholarship committee will shy away from future applicants who are converts because of your actions?
Um. No? I'm not sure what my actions are, anyway. Please elaborate! I mean, everyone goes through life changes, everyone hits a point where things change. Does me getting divorced and having huge life changes make me a bad person? And does being a convert have anything to do with that ...? I don't think so. But thanks for asking!
Do you have a favorite song?
I have a million of them, seriously, a million. My life has a very detailed and lengthy soundtrack. Right now -- if you want to know my soul -- my favorites are anything by Mumford & Sons, Abigail Washburn, and Adele. I'm also wholly devoted to Death Cab for Cutie, Erez Lev Ari, Rilo Kiley, Tegan & Sara, Weezer, and so many other musicians.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Choosing: Ashkenazic vs. Sephardic

I've been meaning to post this question for quite some time (okay, since the divorce), but after talking it over very briefly with a few friends, here I am finally posting it.

Before I got married, I had the option -- as a convert -- to choose my minhagim or customs. That means that technically, because I didn't grow up with any, I had the option of choosing the lifestyle of the Sephardim. Beans and rice on Passover! And a lot of other really awesome, fascinating, unique customs that would have made me more normal in Israel than here in the U.S.

(Sephardim, oddly enough, are more strict on many things, including bishul akum, which forbids a Jew to eat food prepared by a non-Jew, something I observed when in the conversion process that I had no problem with -- this is where that "Jew turns on the flame" bit comes in handy for a non-Jew at a grocery store bakery or the like).

Then I got married, to someone with nominally Ashkenazic traditions and a strong Ashkenazic genealogy. Although he grew up not always following the no-leavening bit on Passover, he loosely identified with the Eastern European ways, considering his family came from Romania and areas around there. So we took on those customs, despite my pleas and knowing that we technically could choose our customs. We adopted our rabbi's Yekki tradition of washing our hands before both kiddush (blessing over wine) and motzi (blessing over bread), which, by the way, has a very legit and sense-making reason if you're interested.

But now, since I'm divorced, does that take me back to square one? Do I get to choose my customs? Or am I bound to the 16-month commitment to Ashkenazic traditions? I mean, I look like I'm straight-up Eastern European (note: my family hails from England and France and Switzerland), but ... until I get married (please HaShem) again, can I just have a little bit of Sephardic fun?!


I don't like the eggs, but ... 

For those of you interested in the halachos that are out there, they're incredibly confusing, and opinions are incredibly varied, but there's a great response and plenty of contradictory sources cited over at Fifth Avenue Synagogue. According to Rav Schachter, community comes before family, but how often do any of us live in a community anymore where there is a single established minhag

Can't wait to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The General Assembly: In Photos!

The Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly has come to a close, and I think that I can sum up my experience in a few pictures. Stay tuned for more fun and updates!

Meeting of the minds! @sethacohen33, @benjilovitt, @daroff, @estherk, and @aimeeweiss.

Because I can't get enough of the HILARIOUS @benjilovitt

Amazing performance at the 2011 Gala by Silhouettes of America's Got Talent fame.

So mini Eminem there wanted to play Giant Jenga with @melschol and me at The 1Up (coolest bar ever). 

And then, in a photo-op, these guys RUINED it. Sigh. @datingdad@eshanken, and @denverrelief. Grr.
(These are the guys who run E-3 Events in Denver, by the way.)

Oh, and it turns out this guy here is famous because he's a Ghost Hunter?
So I gawked with @thdpr!

An interesting talk by Howard Behar of Starbucks about being in the people business.  
And, of course, my GA experience wouldn't have been complete without GOBS of time with my good buddies @diwon and @ylove. You guys were amazing, over and over. Mad props for representing Jews!