Monday, February 28, 2011

Best Giveaway Ever: A Cheese Basket!

As I quipped to my husband a few nights ago, "There are those who need a coffee fix (me), there are those who need a chocolate fix (also me), and then, Tuvia, there are those that need a cheese fix (me!)."

As a perpetual snacker, I've been known to grab a slice of cheese to hold me over before a meal. The  more cheese on my pizza, the better. Grilled cheese? My favorite comfort food. On (Gregorian) New Year's, we dined on cheese and crackers, and for our Super Bowl Party, we prepared a wide array of cheesy treats (including cheese fondue, thanks to some guests). And, of course, my favorite kind of cheese? That which pours out of my husband, Tuvia, who, because of my love of all things cheese, has been deemed the Cheeseball ...

But where am I going with this? Well, a giveaway, that's where I'm going!

The amazing folks at Anderson International Foods, who are behind the delicious lines of (mostly) cholov Yisrael cheeses Natural & Kosher, Les Petites Fermeries, Organic & Kosher, and the new Pure & Kosher, dropped the most amazing basket of cheeses at my front door late last week to review (of course, it arrived right after we'd gone out for burgers so I had to wait three hours before cracking into the cheese, which I did, at nearly midnight). Of course, the variety and amount of cheese had my eyes popping, and Tuvia was more than gracious in helping me in sampling.

My favorites? The Goat Cheese Medallions with Cranberries and Maple Syrup (chalav stam). This is one of those moments when I wish there was taste-o-vision, because this cheese is more like dessert in its flavor. Like eating a thick, creamy sweet drop of yogurt or ice cream. Even Tuvia was a fan of this one. Oh! And? It's gluten-free! Hoo-rah!

There also was the Processed Olives Cheddar (chalav Yisrael), which, let's be honest, sounds a little crazy, right? After tasting it, however, the flavor of black olives emanates from the cheese, and I'm very much looking forward to making a gluten-free pizza with this. How? The cheese is round, so I plan on throwing some pasta sauce on a pita, putting the round cheese on top, and going for it. It's the cheese and olives in one! Brilliant!

Having never had Havarti (chalav stam) before (do I live under a rock?), Tuvia and I were eager to crack the package open. With crackers in hand, Tuvia gave it a go and really liked the flavor, likening it very much to our favorite cheese -- Muenster. The flavor was muted, but it was creamy and delicious. He also cracked into the Sharp Goat Cheddar (chalav Yisrael), which piqued both of our curiosities. Tuvia said the hints of goat cheese were very strong, but he ate half a block on his own anyway!

We have a lot of cheese left, and I'm stoked that a lot of it is kosher for Passover, too. So, I'm not going to lie, we're saving a lot of it for Passover cheese cravings -- including the Goat Cheese Medallions (chalav stam), Goat Mozzarella with Fine Herbs (chalav Yisrael) and Goat Mozzarella with Red Peppers (chalav Yisrael). What I do have to say overall about these cheeses, however, is that they're classy, upscale, and they won't break the bank. I'm no cheese snob, but I'd put out any of these cheeses on my cheese plate any day.

But I'm sure you're wondering -- how can I win a basket of delicious kosher cheeses? Here are the details -- read them carefully!
  • The giveaway runs through Friday, March 4, at noon (EST). 
  • To enter, you must post a comment on this post with an original cheese recipe from your arsenal -- and if it's gluten-free, you'll make me a happy camper. Original can be a recipe you found that you adapted, I just don't want you to Google "cheese recipe" and put something here!
  • The winner will be chosen at random, but must provide an original recipe in order to win. 
The winner will receive an amazing cheese basket from Anderson International Foods delivered right to your door, and your recipe will be featured March 10 on the Sincerely Brigitte blog of Anderson International Foods CEO Brigitte Mizrahi, a French cheese connoisseur and the woman behind the four lines of cheese currently on the market today.

Also, be sure to "like" the Sincerely Brigitte Facebook Page and follow Brigitte on Twitter! Good luck everyone!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Unlikely BFFs: West Germany and Israel

I've become utterly fascinated (as I often do with academic topics) with the "special" German-Israeli relationship that came about in the wake of World War II and the Shoah, as I mentioned in yesterday's post. I had no idea that there was such a relationship, and when I heard about it and started reading about it, the relationship seemed absurd. After all, Germany was responsible for the destruction of so much of world Jewry. How, so soon after the war ended, could Israel develop a mutually beneficial relationship with a country that had acted, well, evil?

German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer
Before World War II was even over, American Jewish organizations were calling for reparations from Germany to the Jewish people (Nahum Goldmann of the WJC was the first). There was no necessarily formal effort, and as the war came to a close, the U.S. wanted no part of an endorsement or push for Germany to pass funds to Israel as it became a state in 1948. The situation for West Germany (as the state was split into Communist East and Democratic West) was one that sought expiation of guilt, but also the rehabilitation of the state's reputation in the West following the tragedies of WW II. For Israel, by 1950, the state was in a dire situation: unemployment was high, there were bread lines, they were recovering still from the 1948 war, and they needed financial support and arms. And in the U.S.? Anti-German sentiments ran rampant among the Jewish and Jewish Zionist communities. How quickly that changed ...

For West Germany, there was one country and one people that could rebuild their reputation and for Israel, there was one country that owed them -- big time. Thus enters the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" situation that defined Israel-West Germany relations.

(As an interesting aside ... David Ben-Gurion, in the autumn of 1950 actually wanted to retroactively declare war against West Germany for their inability to step up to the idea of reparations. Luckily, his foreign ministry said "no way, Jose.")

In 1951, the Israeli government sent a letter to the four occupying powers in Germany demanding restitution -- $1 billion from West Germany and $550 million from East Germany. The Western powers responded by recommending direct talks, which Ben-Gurion later endorsed, but the Soviets didn't answer until a year later, saying the only way Israel would get reparations was if there was a united Germany with a peace treaty. Of course, this wasn't going to happen, so East Germany stayed out of reparations situation.

In April 1951, there was a meeting in Paris where talks began between Israel and West Germany. The result over the next year were violent protests in Israel, with outcries about taking "blood money" and acknowledging the Nazi party from the right (Herut) and the left (Mapam). Officials in West Germany also spoke out privately and publicly about the deal, suggesting that the country should focus on rearming and repaying its wartime debts. However, the illustriously awesome Chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer, held firmly to his belief that both morally and politically, the deal was best for everyone involved -- for Adenauer, the influence of American Jews was huge, and to please American Jews, who were largely Zionistic, you had to give a little love to Israel.

(Another amusing aside ... In March 1952, West German Finance Minister Schaffer suggested an international loan from the U.S. Jewish community to finance West German restitution payments, believing it would limit Israel's direct claims on their generosity ... genius idea. No one would figure that one out, right.)
Signing of the Luxembourg agreement. Surprised there's not more press!

Finally, in September 1952, Adenauer and Foreign Minister Moshe Sharrett signed the Luxembourg Agreement for $3.45 million (marks) to start in 1953. By 1957, Shimon Peres (IDF) and West German Defense Minister Strauss met to discuss a "secret military cooperation" to exchange a large amount of arms, for free. There were no formal diplomatic or defense ties between West Germany and Israel, because West Germany feared (rightly so) that if they were open about their relationship with Israel that the Arab nations would endorse Communist East Germany, so things were on the down low until around 1964 when "someone" revealed to The New York Times and another paper that there were armaments being transferred. Talk about story of the year.

(An aside that isn't so amusing ... the German New Left and Arab critics argued that the agreement was the result of pressure from the U.S. and that the funds being paid to Germany via the Marshall Plan were being used to pay reparations. Unfortunately, there's no evidence for this, and the U.S. was extremely adamant about staying out of everything, which is why they told Israel and West Germany to talk on their own originally.)

The relationship between West Germany and Israel was so strong that  in November 1956, when Israel invaded Sinai, that Adenauer refused to suspend reparations shipments to Israel at the demand of the United States. Yes, folks, Adenauer was devoted to his relationship with Israel. Good man, right?

The meeting at the Waldorf. "I hear your back itches, need me to scratch it?"
In 1960, Adenauer and Ben-Gurion met at the Waldorf Hotel in New York to discuss a bevy of things about their relationship (as states, of course). It was a huge press moment for the both of them -- Germany looked good because they were doing their moral part to help Israeli infrastructure and Ben-Gurion assured American Jews that the new Germany was not the old Germany. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours!

Between 1963-1965, a few things happened. There were German scientists working in Egypt, which had the world a'flutter

And we all lived happily ever after ... or not. After the 1960s, the relationship between Israel and Germany deteriorated, and even more so after the reunification of Germany. Once Adenauer was out of office, each of the new chancellors seemed more and more disengaged with support of Israel. My focus for my research/presentation is on the 1940s-1960s, so that's where I stop.

I have a few questions about it all, however.
  • I mean, Adenauer saw American Jews as having huge "economic" influence in the West, which was one of the many reasons he gave for choosing the Israel reparations plan over paying off debts and rearming. Was he working on the function of stereotypes? Or was he playing to the German people's understanding of the Jews as a financially savvy people? He also played the moral card a lot -- stating that it was Israel's moral obligation to receive reparations and that it was Germany's obligation to pay them out. 
  • I also wonder who got the better end of the deal -- Israel or West Germany? The latter got the benefit of the Jewish people's endorsement as being "changed," and after the horrors of the Shoah, that was huge. Beyond huge. Imagine if that hadn't of happened? Would Germany still be fighting for legitimacy today?  On the other hand, Israel wouldn't have been able to support itself financially without the reparations from Germany, and there might not have been an Israel today, at least not a habitable one. 

I honestly can't imagine how many people had to bite their tongues and go with it ... because, really, the war ended in 1945, Israel was established in 1948, and by 1952 Germany and Israel were BFFs. Today, when I think about this, it's absolutely unfathomable. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Would you have been able to handle this? If you were in Ben-Gurion's shoes, would you have seen the positives over the negatives? Would you have been able to make a decision that in the long term made sense and in the short term was completely mad?

Readings on this topic focused largely on whether the relationship between Germany and Israel was bilateral or trilateral (influence of U.S. Jews), the role of the Holocaust in the creation of Israel and its influence on the German-Israeli relationship, and whether what exists between the two countries was a special relationship, tied completely to a unique historical and psychological relationship that exists nowhere else -- ever. If you're interested in the readings, let me know, and I can send you PDFs. And if you got this far, mazal tov!

The Germans, Israel, and de-Judafication

The portion of Shabbos that I wasn't sleeping, I was busy reading -- everything. Shabbos is my big reading day, so I sit down with The New York Times Magazine, whatever magazines have come in the mail (this week it was Cooking Light), whatever book I happen to be reading (there's usually three of them), and, of course, whatever reading is laying around for class.

German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at the Waldorf Hotel in 1960.
I'm prepping right now for a Monday presentation in my Israel in the 1960s class on the "special relationship" between Israel and West Germany in the wake of World War II and the Shoah. There's a lot to say about the issue, of which I'm now considering myself a "pro," but I wanted to quickly post something that I read and get a reaction from my readership before I go into the long and interesting relationship that existed between Israel and Germany, specifically from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s.

Part of one of my readings (Eternal Guilt? Forty Years of German-Jewish-Israeli Relations by Wolffsohn) examined the "use" of the Holocaust as a political strategy -- both in a post-WW II environment and even today. The chapter discusses the "de-Judafication of the Jewish people" and how the essential loss of tradition and religion among a great deal of the Jewish population, particularly in Israel, causes a huge problem when it comes to our historic and biblical claims on the State of Israel (an interesting point I hadn't thought of, but sort of validates the right-wing push in Israel if you ask me -- better a religious state that can claim the land than an irreligious state with no claims on the land).

The author argues, and I would agree, that the Jews of the world, and Israel in particular are becoming "people" just like any other, with their unique identity based on the "peculiarities of their history rather than on Jewish tradition" (80). The argument is that post-Shoah, we became obsessed with our history rather than our uniqueness, traditions, and religion. Past atrocities were blamed on G-d, the Shoah blamed on Nazis. We went from the non-physical to the physical and in the process lost ourselves. I don't agree that blaming G-d would solve anything or make us feel better about the Shoah, but it's thought-provoking. Thus, regarding the state of Israel and our uniqueness, as "the people of the book" we no longer cleave to the book, thus the "Jewish claim is rendered historical and, like all things historical, it becomes relative rather than absolute" (81). We were called to be a light unto the nations, but we're becoming more like other nations (is the argument).

Anyhow, here's something that the author wrote that gave me pause, and I can't decide how I feel about it. Thus, I was wondering what you guys think about it -- as well as everything I wrote above.
Whether in Israel, the United States, or elsewhere, Holocaust memorials are really highly un-Jewish. The creation of such images is a violation of the prohibition in the first commandment. Put even more sharply, Holocaust memorials are an indication of the de-Judafication of the Jewish people (75). 
If you don't know about the German-Israel relationship in the wake of the Shoah, I'll be posting about it tomorrow, so stay tuned. It's a highly interesting issue that, well, shocked me. I didn't realize how much we needed (West) Germany or how much (West) Germany needed us ... stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Styling for the Kosher Food & Wine Experience

(Clockwise, top left) Pomegranates from Pomegranate, my best pick for dessert ~ Mousse & Cookies from Basil, Treats from My Most Favorite, and the awesome face behind got cholent? 

Tonight, Tuvia and I hit up the 2011 Kosher Food & Wine Experience at Chelsea Pier 60, and wow was I blown away. It was like Kosher Fest with the pushing, shoving, and mass quantities of food, except that the people were dressed more nicely, the ambiance was more classy, and the food and alcohol was amazing and unforgettable. There were gobs of Twitter folk there, including @hsabomilner, @dovidlobl, @yeahthatskosher, @mottel, @wifeofmottel, @ohnuts, @koshertopia and ... man alive, I can't remember who else. A lot. We all gathered in front of the Shalom Bombay booth and schmoozed and kvelled about the goodies and the crowd. Yes, people were crazy rude and pushy, but for some reason, it wasn't nearly as offensive as folks were at Kosher Fest. Thank heavens for that.

My pick for best food? Subsantional. Yes, I know, it isn't a steakhouse or high-class restaurant, but the food was amazing and it was gluten-free. Chili, some delicious Latino pulled something or other, and, wow. It was amazing. *Edit: I have to mention the glorious Jack's Gourmet. I was so happy to finally meet the faces behind Jack's, and there was always a huge crowd around their table. Bravo!*

My pick for best dessert? Basil, without a doubt. They had a delicious, rich chocolate mousse and a meringue cookie that had this amazing hint of ... yes, you guessed it, basil! It was so delicious, that I think I've finally got a reason to force Tuvia to go to Brooklyn!

My pick for best alcohol (wine or otherwise)? Binyamina Sour Apple Liqueur! Oh my gosh it tasted like a Jolly Rancher.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a ton of gluten-free food there. Tuvia had to do a lot of the eating. Maybe next year? Luckily, the chefs there knew what I was talking about when I asked if the food had gluten in it. Phew. Except that one Indian restaurant I've never heard of that said, "So you can't have white flour or whole wheat flour?" Oy.

And, of course, the real reason for this post: fashion!

I was perplexed as to what to wear to this event. The photos up on their website made the event appear to be a classy, dressy event, but from what I heard from other attendees, it wasn't as dressy as I was expecting. I couldn't choose between two outfits, so I asked the lovely Hadassah, and she and I agreed on the best outfit: Dressy Tzniut Librarian!

I was struggling with the outfit at first, but then the hair thing hit me up. I wanted to wear my sheitel, but it wasn't jazzing me. It's super straight right now and needs to be styled, so on a whim I decided to pull it back with a hairband and, well, I really love the way it looked.

I paired the 'do with ...

  • School Marm Shoes from Kohl's with some Target "sweater" tights
  • Looped earrings from Target
  • Cardigan a la Marshall's (no clue when I bought it or for how much)
  • Ruffled collar shirt from Van Heusen (Tuvia calls it my Pirate Shirt; think Seinfeld)
  • Skirt from Dress Barn
  • Headband from the Icing (yes, that cheesy jewelry store in the mall)

Let me know what you think of the look -- I'm still trying to decide how I feel about the hair and the ruffles. And, of course, I include Tuvia because he bent to my will and wore a pair of nice black slacks, a white button-down, and a black/white/gray checkered tie that I got for him from either Conway or Marshall's. I forget. Either way, he looks great, right?

Here's to delicious, classy kosher food from all over the New York area -- may next year's Kosher Food & Wine Experience be more amazing, more delicious, and bigger than ever!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Reader Request: Shiva

One of my readers sent me this and asked that I post it anonymously -- it's sort of a followup to yesterday's Shiva post. Please spread it around and let me know if you have any answers!
My father is not doing well, and as part of preparing for the inevitable, I'm looking for an online guide to "what to expect when your Orthodox Jewish coworker experiences a death in the family." Something geared to non-jewish completely ignorant bosses that explains why we dont do flowers at funerals and not to bring gifts of food to shiva (which they don't have to come to anyway). And that explains why I'm growing a beard for a month and why I have to leave every day for 30 minutes to catch mincha.  
The online resources I've found so far are general introductions to Jewish mourning customs, but arent really geared to a professional situation where I'm trying to save people trouble and/or social faux pas. Thanks!

Pardon the Dust

So ... I'm trying to revamp my blog layout. As you can see, it doesn't look like it did before (and man alive did I love that layout). I'm trying to integrate my logo, but I'm beginning to wonder if I should have done the redesign WITH the logo -- a dual project. Because right now? I'm not feeling this layout.


Any savvy blog designers want to build me a beautiful welcoming, vintage, coffee-drinking, cloche-loving, glasses-wearing blog design?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Deconstructing Shiva

In my seven to eight years doing Judaism in some form or another, I've experienced many moments when the thoughts "will I ever get used to this?" and "will this ever make sense to me?" crossed my mind.

Initially, the biggest one was anything that had to do with the Shoah (Holocaust). Either being completely disconnected genetically to anyone involved in anything to do with the Holocaust and thus lacking some chain of emotion and memory, or ending up in a situation where I had to consider the horrors as others related them to me. The Shoah was always a distant beast that I never thought would ever mean something to me, outside of the general horror of what humanity is capable. And then I married Tuvia, who comes from a family with survivors of some immense horrors of the Shoah, and through work on genealogy and tracking down stories and facts about where his family came from, I threaded myself into that memory and now, well, the Shoah is not distant, it's part of who I am.

Now, as I watch a generation fade away, as I become more a part of a community, as I understand new responsibilities, I consider the act of sitting shiva, which is the act of mourning over the seven-day period following the death of one's immediate relatives (mom, dad, brother, sister, spouse, and child). I'm blessed to not have had to even consider sitting shiva at this point in my life, but part of this act of mourning is the communal aspect of "paying a shiva visit" to the grieving party.

In my time doing Judaism, I've paid all of two shiva calls. One was to the home of a friend whose mother passed away far too young from an illness and the other was to one of Tuvia's grandmother's friends, who had lost her brother. The two experiences were starkly different, but both left me feeling uncomfortable in a way I can't describe. I don't know that shiva visits are meant to be comfortable, but for those who grew up Jewish, the whole idea of Jewish mourning is old hat.

For instance, Jews bury their dead almost immediately, preferably the next day. Jews don't put up a headstone until 11 months after the burial of the dead, when they do an unveiling. Jews mourn for seven days and then a month and then a year and then recite kaddish every year on the anniversary of the death of the relative. Jews tear their clothing when someone dies.

Where I come from, when someone dies, you wait until the family can get together, then you plan the funeral, which consists of a service at either a church or the funeral home, complete with songs and testimonies, followed by a long schlep to the cemetery with everyone in tow, a further ceremony there with a pastor or preacher saying words from the bible, then the burial. After that, usually people come to your house with food and linger awkwardly and then leave. After that day, all is over and you go back to your normal life.

At my first shiva call, I met my grandmother-in-law's friend for the first time. She, too, was a Shoah survivor, and as we were sitting in her time capsule of a living room, she shifted in her chair and her shirt sleeve lifted to reveal numbers. I'd never in my life actually seen a tattoo on a survivor. Tuvia's grandmother and her sisters got dog tags instead of tattoos, because by the time they ended up in the camps, it wasn't time effective. I froze, Tuvia carried the conversation, and after some awkward silences, we left. For days afterward, and even today, I remember how uncomfortable I felt. Was I supposed to say something? Do something? Sit quietly? Dance around the room and spit nickels? No one prepared me for the acts of death and mourning.

The second shiva call was heartbreaking. I'd attended the service at the funeral home for my friend's mother -- the place was packed, and the emotion was intense. The entire thing allowed me to really put into perspective my relationship with my own parents and how life is fleeting. When Tuvia and I went to their house that week for a shiva call, it was my first visit. Tuvia had been going all week, like the real mensch that he is, to help make minyan (the quorum of 10 men needed for prayer). The room was small and crowded, and I realized that it was in that room that we sat and noshed that my friend's mother had spent her last days. We had plenty of friends there, and I didn't know what to say or do, again. Silence? Comforting words? Is one's presence enough? We davened and some emotional words were shared. Everyone said their goodbyes, and we went off into the night.

More recently, my husband's uncle, Bert, died. It was unexpected and -- for us -- very sudden. The week of mourning went on as normal, but amid a snow and ice storm, which kept me and my tiny car away. I found myself unable to really cope with the death, unable to grasp the reality of it, because I couldn't go to pay a shiva call. I was both relieved that I would not be faced with the foreign and awkward custom and upset that I had no where or way to grieve.

Is it a Catch 22?

Death is never easy. Can you ever really be prepared? Does growing up with the traditions of death and mourning in Judaism make it easier to grasp? More normative? More regular? Or does it have nothing to do with it?

On a related note, for the media lovers out there: One of the best movies out of Israel in recent years, in my opinion, is a film called Shiva, which has the U.S. title of "The Seven Days." I can't seem to find a website for it, but it's about a large Moroccan Jewish family gathering at the death of one of the sons/brothers. It's a really interesting look at mourning, and what family dynamics are like over a seven-day period of enclosure and emotion. (A review of the movie from the Cannes Film Festival is online.) I recommend watching it ... whether shiva is something you're comfortable or familiar with, this movie will definitely give you a new perspective.

Do a Mitzvah: Mitzfunder!

The awesome social starter, Leah Jones, sent me an email before Shabbos that I want to share with y'all, because I think it's an amazing project that needs our funding, even in the smallest amount ($10 gets you a button even!). Can you spare $10? This is a great project. Read on!


I'm working with Aryeh Goldsmith and a few others to create a peer to peer fundraising platform for Jewish projects called Mitzfunder. Too many buzzwords this late in the week? Think Kickstarter, but for Jewish projects.

And the first project on Mitzfunder is Mitzfunder.

We want to build the tool, but won't build it unless there is financial support. The world doesn't need another digital tool without an audience, so we are relying on the Jewish community to vote with dollars to tell us if we should keep building. We're talking to people and racing to try and get 70 percent of our goal pledged in the next 27 days - that's $10,500 of our $15,000 total. I've written a blog post answering as many questions as I could come up with that Aryeh hadn't already answered on the FAQ on the site.

Mitzfunder: Peer to Peer Fundraising and You 

Take a gander at the site for Mitzfunder and the blog post. Send us your ideas and questions. If you are interested, I hope that you'll make a pledge, write a blog post or send a tweet. Aryeh and I are both available to answer questions you may have.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Conquering the Conversion Conversation

You know me -- I really try to ignore all of the "who is a Jew" convert business because it saturates the news in Israel and the U.S. at all hours of every day every few weeks or months. Something happens, there's an outcry, and then it settles down, we go about our business, and then something else happens. I don't like to dwell on the negativity that swirls around conversion in the U.S. versus Israel, but lately it seems to really be taking on a life of its own.

There's the outcry that it's easier to have a "liberal" (i.e., Conservative or Reform) conversion and make aliyah than for the Orthodox convert who went through the process outside Israel. Personally, this seems pretty ridiculous, and it will drive converts to go Conservative and live a happily Conservadoxish life. It defeats the purpose of trying to get converts to go on that happy Orthodox path of truth and light (sarcasm, folks).

Then there is the story about the Modern Orthodox Canadian convert who has been denied immigration, even though he had an Orthodox conversion and is married to an Israeli Jew! The policy has always been that if you're a convert and married to a halachic Jew, it's like a golden ticket for aliyah. So what gives? Oh, right, he converted with rabbis who are on the International Rabbinical Fellowship (read: heretical rabbis who want to overthrow the Rabbinical Council of America's domination of the Orthodox conversion process in the United States). I'll admit that I am a little troubled by the fact that this individual had an Orthodox conversion and continued to work on the Sabbath and not fully observe, which is a requirement of the post-conversion life, but in reality, they converted him, he's Jewish, that's that (maybe this bothers the power that be in Israel, too?) What he chooses to do is up to him (this, of course, is a simplification -- post-conversion you're watched like a hawk).

On that note, this little morsel from the tail-end of the story surprised me, I'll admit, but it makes me feel pretty solid with my conversion.
For immigrants from North America, the Chief Rabbinate is only recognizing conversions carried out by the Rabbinical Council of America, a primarily ultra-Orthodox group.
I guess that means I'm ultra-Orthodox? Oy to the vey.

For all intents and purposes, there is a list that is regularly updated list that includes all of the batei din accepted by Israel for the sake of conversion. Of course, this is for Orthodox conversion, but the point of all of this hullabaloo is that Reform and Conservative conversions have the potential to be less problematic when it comes to moving to Israel -- what happens when you're there is a different story. But wouldn't this encourage people to have a Reform conversion in the U.S. or anywhere else, make aliyah, and only then have an Orthodox conversion? In Israel itself? Is that good enough?

What's my point? My point is that this is all the usual, run-of-the-mill junk that is out there regarding whose conversion is good enough, whose is the best, whose is accepted, and who should go back and restart the game of geirus. It's hard, and it's tough, and it's mind-bogglingly frustrating, but it's the reality of the situation right now. As Harold Kushner surely would say, it's how we respond to it that makes a difference. We cannot control the powers that be, nor can we control who says whether our conversions are good enough. What we can control, however, is how we react to the situation -- with grace and dignity and patience or with anger and disengagement and giving up. I encourage everyone to choose the former. To get angry only fuels the fire of those who surely would say that only a born-Jew is good enough to be a Jew.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Are You Ready to Shmooze?

If you're not busy on Wednesday night, and you're in or near New York City, put this event on your calendar! I wish I could make it -- I spoke on the panel at the last MetroImma Social Media Shmooze event, but I have class on Wednesday nights (bummer).

This time around, the focus is "How Kosher Brands Use Social Media." On the panel will be Tamar Genger of, Kim Amzallag from Kosher Inspired, Yossie Horwitz of, and Paula Shoyer, the author of The Kosher Baker. And my favorite moderator, Stephanie Grayson-Zane, will be corralling the event.

The event is sponsored by MetroImma and its sister site, (of which I'm the ambassador, ya know), as well as, Cherry Heering (ohmygosh this stuff is amazing), and U Cafe. There will be some amazing schwag as well as good nosh and raffle prizes!

The event is Wednesday, February 16 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the offices of Lisa Brandes at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, 450 Lexington Avenue, in New York City. To RSVP, please shoot an email to

Oh! And be sure to tweet about it ... after class, I'll be checking out what I missed!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

To Build a Homeless Shelter in Jerusalem

You all probably remember when I was busy pushing, a website where teachers can go to seek funds for classroom projects to help overcome financial difficulties. I'm really big on pushing good causes, because I think that this blog, with its strong and devoted readership, has the ability to really initiate and engage in social change. Thus, enter the Dell Social Innovation Competition, which puts $50,000 into the hands of the creators of a project of true social change.

A second-year logistics students at Bar-Ilan University -- originally from New Jersey -- contacted me about their project: a homeless shelter in Jerusalem, which would make it the only one, believe it or not. These students have been working for the past year to lay the groundwork for this project, which already has posted third place in the Dell and University of Austin Social Innovation Competition.

You can read more here and here -- and you can also get to the voting at both links. If the group is in the top ten by February 18, they'll automatically proceed to the second round, and if they place first, they'll get an additional $1,000, a vital resource if they want to win the $50,000 grand prize.

If you don't have the time to help advertise this great cause, at least take the time to go vote on their project -- it's a noble cause, and social change is worth your time. Just look at these statistics, and then tell me you don't have the time to VOTE.
The rate of homelessness and poverty in Jerusalem is increasing drastically, with 41% of the residents living below the poverty line, as of June 2010. Workforce participation is at 40%. Child poverty in West and East Jerusalem is at 45% and 75%, respectively, and 2/3rd of those suffering from poverty and homelessness are forced to forgo meals on a daily basis.
Let's fix it -- okay?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Some Uncommon Questions

Photo a la OneShul.
I'm busy at work in my second semester at NYU in the Education/Jewish studies dual M.A. (yes, I already have one M.A. from the University of Connecticut in Jewish studies, but you can't have too many, right?), and I've discovered that my technological and social media know-how is a huge boon to my experience. In just about every class so far, I've been able to pull on my experiences online to make connections that are ever-so-much-more important when it comes to education, and not just in the Jewish world. Social media skills are what we have to teach students, because at some point, I have no doubt in my mind that such skills will be a prerequisite for just about every job out there.

Along with the growth of social media and online networks, however, come questions. I've been thinking more and more about these questions, and as I prepare for my panel at SXSW Interactive next month, I really would like some kind of insight into whether we have answers or whether we've moved along quickly enough to even be able to consider answering these questions. And these are just a few. Ready?

  • Yichud. Basically this word refers to the prohibition of men and women who are not married from being in seclusion or in a private place together. There are a bajillion ifs and buts tied to this law, but that's the basic gist. This means that I wouldn't invite a single man or a friend's husband over to my house for coffee, k? Now, my question is how we apply the laws of yichud in a digital age. Is it okay to text and email with a woman who is not your wife? With your wife knowing? Without your wife knowing? I'd say the former is okay, the latter violates yichud. What about online chatting or messaging through Facebook or Twitter via Direct Message? How do we apply the laws of yichud to Social Media? Should we? Is it being too strict to think that it should be? You have to consider that just as it was "dangerous" for a man and a woman to be secluded privately because g-d knows where it would end up, so, too, have people found that in the digital age, private communication is quite the same thing, just in a different medium. Thoughts?
  • Davening. There are great collaborative communities online like OneShul from that create an online space for prayer (davening), but can you count in a minyan (a quorum of 10 men needed for prayer) if you're only there digitally?
I guarantee you these are two things that the rabbis of old never would have considered, even on the most distant of horizons. So how do we approach these kinds of things today? My big thing is the idea of the New Community, which exists online, where people in the most remote of locations can find a community and participate Jewishly online. This community comprises a bevy of denominations and boasts synergy in a beautiful and innovative way. The question is: Are we ready for it? I know the Reform community is, but what about the Orthodox community? How do we approach life online via halacha and modern sensibilities? 

Monday, February 7, 2011

My 2¢ on Financial Fitness

Thank you to TurboTax for sponsoring my writing about household finances. Learn more about how TurboTax can help you find every tax deduction you deserve. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.


When I was a junior in high school, I got my very first credit card. Yes, I was a junior in high school. Older than most of the kids in my grade, I was 17 years old, and I was eligible to sign up without a co-signer, and my parents hailed the idea as great, considering I had a trip to New York City with the choir coming up and I needed what I like to call insurance, just in case, just in case I got mugged or robbed or found something really awesome to buy. So the card arrived with a $500 credit limit. I had never had so much money in one place in my entire life. The problem? No one ever told me about credit, credit cards, limits, late fees, etc. I thought I had the money, when, in reality, I didn't. Talk about a tough lesson in life. 

I couldn't pay my rent, my bills, nothing. My senior year of college I actually sold books, DVDs and CDs for extra rent cash. By the time I graduated college, I had four major credit cards and lots of store-based cards (JCPenny's, Lane Bryant, Avenue, and the list goes on) with a ton of debt on them. I was in such bad shape I had to borrow money from a friend to make the drive to my internship in Washington D.C. and to make some of my credit card payments. This was a financial low for me.  When I got to D.C., I was living alone, not dating, and I was focused entirely on my work at The Washington Post. I devoted all my time to work, sleeping, and blogging. The result? I suddenly had an excess of cash sitting around. I went through the tough task of researching on the web what was better -- holding onto the cash or paying off my credit card debt. Security blanket or debt freedom? After some careful Googling and watching those helpful snippets on the Today Show and other morning shows about financial smarts, I chose to start paying off the debt. 

I moved to Chicago in 2007, and with my new job, I had even more money to continue paying off the debt. I cut back on eating out, going to bars (where money just disappears), and threw money left and right at my debt. By August 2008, when I schlepped off to Connecticut for graduate school, I'd almost paid down some nearly $10,000 in debt. It was insane, and I was surprised with myself, but it felt good. Finally, in February 2009, I hailed my debt conquest here on the blog. Do you remember it? 

When I thought back on how I accumulated that debt, I remembered what really killed me -- I was withdrawing cash from my credit cards to pay for rent and other things I knew I couldn't afford but just had to have. That folks, is red flag for serious financial stupidity. 

Luckily, I've been blessed with a husband who happens to be an accountant, a very secure and financially brilliant husband who knows about investing and spending wisely, putting money where it needs to go. I thank his family for raising him with financial smarts that I didn't seem to acquire growing up. Although he handles most of the finances, I still have to step back and think before spending a single penny, because I know what the downward spiral looks like -- but this time, there's someone attached to it and that person is my husband. 

So what's my advice to you on the best way to stay smart when it comes to spending? 
  • If you see something in a store that you want and just have to have, put it in your cart. Walk around, do the rest of the shopping. And when you get to the register, if you still feel unsure about it, if it's just a want and not a need, think about what buying that item means in the long run. Will it keep you from buying something you and your family need? If so, hand it to the cashier and proudly say, "I've changed my mind." (I do this all the time.)
  • Or, if you don't have that much will power, put it back on the rack or shelf, go home. Give it a day or two. If it's still on your mind and bugging you, then go back and buy it. But remember to think about the repercussions of buying that single item. 
  • There are a million websites for keeping tabs on your spending. And, to be honest, they're kind of addictive once you get tracking and planning. 
  • If you have to have a credit card, make sure it's one with a great rewards program. I have a few, but my favorite is my Sears Mastercard :)
  • Never fear calling your credit card company and tooting your own horn to ask for a lower APR. 
  • Marry an accountant. No, seriously. They know all of the tricks and tips for tax write-offs, which can come in really handy when it comes down to tax time.

And, most importantly, keep it simple. Don't drown yourself in 10 credit cards. If you have them, you'll use them. I learned that the hard way. It took me eight years to dig out of my hole, and those should have been carefree years without financial frustration. 

Think, spend wisely, and, of course, marry an accountant if you know what's good for you! 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Mikvah Miracle?

I'm pretty sure HaShem reads this blog.

No, I'm serious. I've always had these sort of weird moments where I'll wonder about something and *poof* it'll show up on the next page of what I'm reading or I'll be frustrated about something at shul only to find out that the text I'm reading is focused on that very frustration in the next chapter. It's like HaShem is willing me to understand the things I don't and to cope with the things that frustrate me. Of course, it doesn't happen often enough, nor does it happen with the major questions and frustrations in life, but beggars can't be choosers.

I wrote a blog post back in December called The Mikvah is Lost On Me, and it's one of my most oft-read posts these days. A lot of people gave me a lot of great advice, and I took a lot of it into account during my next trip to the mikvah. The thing of it is ... is that it was probably the best mikvah experience as a married woman that I had and have had.

I was frustrated with the rush, the time curiosity, the mundane nature of the preparations, and the quick fly-by of the actual mikvah dip itself.

And then I went to the mikvah, after airing my frustrations, and the entire experience was heavenly. I paced myself, went through a set routine, but with emphasis on each aspect of preparation. And when the mikvah attendant came, she was the friendliest and most kind attendant I've had. She kept insisting that I take my time, all the time I needed, that there was no rush, and that if I had any questions or needed anything to just ask. We got to the mikvah and she again assured me that it was okay for me to take my time. So I counted the steps as I entered the pool, and when I was in, I took my time with each dip, thinking about all of our mothers, the great women of Jewish memory. I counted the steps as I came up, I put on the robe, reentered my room, and for the first time I felt relaxed, not rushed or unfulfilled.

It just felt right. I knew in that instance that HaShem read my blog post. You probably think I'm nuts, but seriously, what are the chances to land a mikvah lady that attuned to my greatest frustrations with mikvah-going? Okay. Maybe the mikvah folks are plugged in to my blog and brace for when I come in.

Or maybe, just maybe it was a fluke. Maybe it won't happen again, and maybe I just got lucky. Maybe I was looking for that rekindling experience, one that would set everything right again.

Either way, it gave me a little bit of hope that the mikvah and I were going to be okay after all.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Kohen and a Chicken Walk Into a Bar ...

The interweb is giving me a huge shout-out today. I'm all glowing and delighted, what can I say. For your viewing pleasure, check out these two items and let me know what you think!

  • The first thing? The Chicken in a Bag returns! This time, an article in The Jewish Week that quotes this here blog in Instant Kosher Chicken. My only beef (har har) with the chicken article? It cites me as a "recent" convert. I suppose in one sense that's true: I completed my Orthodox conversion a little over a year ago. But in another sense, I've been doing Judaism in some form since 2003, having converted Reform in 2006. I realize that to some that doesn't count, but, you know, even more than a year later I don't feel "recent." ~ At any rate, others in our 'hood have tried this and were pretty pleased with it. I'd say my kosher microwave chicken ambassadorship has been successful!
  • And then there's The Huffington Post piece by the lovely Shira Hirschman Weiss: The Kohein's Conundrum. Some have asked me about my quote in the piece and referring to the problems my daughters and granddaughters will have when it comes to not even considering marrying a kohen, and it stems from something I read in one of my halacha books a while back, and it was referenced however fleetingly in my blog post Three Years and a Day. I really need to write a more comprehensive post on this, and if I can find the book and source, I'll sock it to you. 
Stay tuned, also, for an OU piece on Project Frumway that should appear some time this month and will also feature the blog here. Does this mean I've hit it big time? Who knows. I just know the exposure puts me in a happy place. 

Next Up: A mikvah follow-up to The Mikvah is Lost On Me (seriously, HaShem must read my blog) and a fashion post on my duds for the 17th Annual NJOP Dinner at the New York Hilton last night, as well as a post about my studies and thoughts on Jewish and Hebrew education today. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Kosher Super Bowl Sunday Giveaway

Got yer Terrible Towel handy?
I'm pretty bummed that none of my favorite teams ended up in this year's Super Bowl, although I suppose I can rejoice in the fact that the commercials should be interesting and the half-time show has the chance to dazzle. Of course, with the amount of people we have coming over, who knows what madness will ensue Super Bowl style, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

For the third year in a row, we're having a party at our place (although, our abode is much smaller this year than Tuvia's old digs in Connecticut), which actually kind of bums me out simply because I just found out about Stand Up New York's awesome Super Bowl party. Lucky for you, if you don't have plans, or if maybe you want to change your plans, I have a nice little giveaway for you.

The location: Stand Up New York at 236 W. 78th St. btwn Broadway and Amsterdam, which is outfitted with LEDs and an amazing sound system, on Sunday, February 6, 2011. Game starts at 6:30 p.m.

The goods: The "Stand Up Sit Down Special," which features two tickets (an $80 value) to Stand Up New York to watch the Super Bowl, plus a bucket of four beers, and an unlimited supply of the delicious kosher wings of Carlos and Gabby's.

How to win: Simply comment below and let me know your most favorite Super Bowl commercial (from any year), and a winner will be chosen at random using an online, unbiased auto-picker.

Contest ends tomorrow, Thursday, February 3, at 10 p.m.

So Tweet this, Facebook it, and find someone special to sit down with for Super Bowl Sunday. I mean, come on, it's free food, free beer, and a great venue. What's not to love about this giveaway? Feel free to enter and gift the tickets to someone in NYC, too!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gefilte Gone Gone Gone!

I have to hand it to my husband. He's ridiculous. This was sent to the Teaneck Shuls Listserv.
Last night I purchased a gefilte fish from Glatt Express. I know it was in my bag when I left the store but I couldn't find it when I got home. I went back and couldn't find it in the parking lot. Did anyone pick it up? 
Yes, he actually asked that. One response raises a really good point, however.
Hi. Just a thought . . . if someone did find the fish in the parking lot would it remain kosher after having lain unmonitored on the ground?
Indeed! What do you think? And, also, do you think my dear husband was being serious?