Friday, April 29, 2011

Like Coming Home

When I can't sleep, I compose. Usually this entails a body too exhausted to move and a brain too active to shut up before getting all of its thoughts, emotions, and plans down in some unwritten vault of my brain, never to be written in any tangible form. I've written papers, book intros, you name it -- my brain has processed it brilliantly. But will you ever see the genius? Nah. I've always been too tired to put pen to paper. However, tonight I thought maybe if I write it all down, my brain will shut down and go to sleep, and maybe, just maybe, my stomach (which is upset from a cleanse-gone-wrong) will be satisfied and the two can agree peacefully to leave me alone.

So, on to the meat and potatoes of the post. After all, that was about all one could eat over Passover, right?

The last two days of Passover, Tuvia and I were in West Hartford staying with our most favorite Israeli transplants who, unfortunately, are re-transplanting to Israel in a few months. These are the amazing people that I stayed with for much of my time in West Hartford, bunking in a guest room and being woken up by the cutest little girl named after a body of water in Israel one can imagine. (That's Kinneret.) The great thing about this family is that they lived about two doors down from the shul, so my knees remained in tact and my soul got a lot of love.

Family, after all, is more than the people whose blood runs through our bodies and whose character traits we have unwillingly adopted.

Going to West Hartford, then, was like coming home. (Roll DirtyDittyMoney's "Coming Home.)

I didn't sleep much the last two days of the chag, for one reason or another. The sugar consumption of Passover was catching up to me, and the heat was obnoxiously keeping my cool-style sleep schedule off balance. So I didn't go to shul the first night, or the next morning, or the evening after that. Everyone knew I was there, because Tuvia was at shul, and the joke was that I was so frum I wasn't going to shul anymore. As. If. I was almost anxious to go to synagogue, the place where I really fell into my Orthodox pattern of life, where I learned to love and judge (yes, you read that right) other Jews and their practices, where I watched Tuvia grow in his Judaism, and where, eventually, I finalized my Orthodox conversion process.

We left that family nearly a year ago. After our May 31, 2010, wedding, we practically disappeared. Friends came to our wedding, and poof -- just like that, we were gone, caught up in the whirlwind of married life, moving, changing jobs and communities, and starting a new life. It's been great, too.

But sometimes, you just miss your friends. The people who know you best. The people who listened to your concerns, your fears, your life story in all of its detail and still chose to love you. Those people, Baruch haShem, I got to spend some time with over the last days of the chag. 

It was an amazing meal with two couples who are on a plan to move back to Israel when life gets easier. It was bonding with a wee lad named Asher (the name I've chosen for a future son of my own), who somehow gravitated toward me, staring at me deeply in the eyes looking at something that I can only imagine he saw in me. It was talking about the haggadah and the command to return to Israel. Then it was meals with our hosts, the casual and friendly way that I love it. The kids moving from couch to table and the littlest one patiently noshing tuna salad without a care in the world, smiling and giggling the whole time. It was being heard by our hosts in discussions about some of the hardest aspects of life and them being devoted to helping us along the way. It was schlepping a long way for a meal at the Brenner Bed & Breakfast (ha, ha) with some visitors from London, and learning about how the neighborhood has changed since we left and, of course, how lives have continued to move forward.

And seeing all of the regular kids in shul, grown up ... towering over each other and moving at the speed of life toward adolescence? It shook me.

The last time we were in West Hartford wasn't that long ago. Maybe six months? But in those six months, new couples have come, marriages have occurred, babies have been born, children have sprouted like well-watered plants, and people have continued living. Without us.

But walking into that synagogue, into the homes of our friends, and sitting down at the tables and chairs of people who know us all-to-well, well, that was more than I could have asked for during the last days of Passover. Being liberated from Egypt is one thing, but being liberated from the fear that the people who once knew you have forgotten who you were or stopped caring about you?


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dreaming in a Daze

I've written about my wacky dreams before, in all of their vivid and memorable and horrifying glory. My favorite dreams have been those like the one where I was studying with a Hasidic master (that was years ago), and I wish I had more like those. But last night?

The first dream was me (looking like Rihanna of all people), and I was in charge of subbing in a class for a math teacher. The class was learning about basic algebra, and I was trying to get technology involved and the class was very dysfunctional. But the problem? The teacher was actually there in the class the whole time, correcting every little thing I was doing and saying. I couldn't control the class, let alone the lesson. And then, the dream flipped.

I was standing on a street in the Old City or something that looked like it, wearing IDF garb. We were investigating a rumor that a woman on the street was planning to blow herself up on that street. We were questioning several people out on the street (Arabs) and they said they knew nothing, but then this woman walked out, dressed in 1940's style garb, dressed to the nines, and she walked by and just winked at me. I instantly knew that this was the woman who was going to blow herself up. I grabbed the device out of her hand that she would have pushed to detonate and started to move down the street while she just stared at me. She moved near a large group of people (all Arabs, which makes no sense) and she pushed her stomach, like that was where the bomb was, and at the same moment, I pushed the button on the device -- and nothing happened. She started to run and I got her and arrested her. Almost instantly, she turned from being an Arab woman into being a bleach-blond with bright blue eyes and milky skin. I was parading her through town, shouting "She's a Nazi!" I took her through this large hall -- it was almost like a bath house -- full of Jews and everyone was saying "Wow, she's beautiful" and I would spit back, "She's a Nazi!" and everyone responded with disgust. We left the large hall and were heading into the police station and she wrangled herself loose from my grip. I knew I couldn't chase her, so I started to load my gun as she knocked over an IDF soldier and took his garb, got dressed, and ran into one of the IDF gates across the street. I started shooting at her, while yelling that she was a Nazi. I shot her twice, and the rest of the soldiers dragged her into this big room where she ended up being killed. I got really, really upset, curled into a ball, and started weeping about how she should have been put through a trial, prosecuted, and sentenced.

Weird. Okay dream readers -- what's it mean?

Making Passover in Monsey

On Monday, I took a schlep over to the community chametz burning and left smelling like bonfire (my apologies to anyone and everyone at the grocery store who had to smell me afterward).

Burn chametz burn!
Monday night, I took off to Monsey (or, rather, Spring Valley) to meet up with Tuvia, because we were set to spend the first two nights of Passover -- the seder nights -- with our amazing family (well, Tuvia's family, my in-laws, the Katzes). I was eager, nay, excited for Pesach by them because, well, the past two years we'd jet-setted off to Florida for Pesach with the Galatz side of the family, and although it was always great, we were among the few religious relatives and we spent our days pool-side instead of at synagogue.

These sederim were filled with mishpacha from Toronto, us from Jersey, and the Monsey family, and the table was full of children -- five, to be exact! It felt like what I can only understand as a "real" seder where there are enough children to read the Four Questions and sing the kid-geared songs, where the kids are at an age where matzo still tastes good. I really felt like a part of the family; I connected with the hosts on a personal level and I felt like the kids really were excited to have me there. Having a Jewish family that wants me there feels so powerful, especially on a chag.

The first night, we topped off the evening at 12:15 and the second, we shaved five minutes off the seder. The food was outstanding (homemade applesauce? yes, I got leftovers), and everything tasted so fresh and delicious because, honestly, it was made with love for such an important chag. 

The second night, I was charged with washing and checking the lettuce -- oy. Talk about some major pressure. But we put the seder together in record time before the guys got home from shul and for the first time in my life, I actually really enjoyed being the woman behind the scenes, at home, rushing and fixing the table for the meal, proud of my handiwork, having placed all of the items on each of the seder plates. I stood back proud. (Of course, I did have to check the haggadah for what was what because, let's be honest, I couldn't remember the Hebrew for the shank bone, which left me feeling like I couldn't muster the proper Jewish strength to figure out the chag.)

Every year, I get anxious around the chagim. They come once a year, and let's be honest -- this was actually only my fourth or fifth official Passover in the history of me. That means I don't have much experience on the nitty gritty, and I've never had to put together my own seder. But the confidence that the hostess -- who is amazing -- had in me made me feel a part of the whole thing.

Now it's time to enjoy some chol ha'moed matzo and cream cheese. Although I had my ($28/box) oat matzo for the sederim, I'm sticking to the Yehuda brand "matzo-style" crackers. And? I'm excited. Excited for homemade applesauce, some leftover ratatouille, and lots, and lots of schoolwork.

Alas, school doesn't stop just because we stop to recall and relive the Exodus ...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Tale of the Magic Tichel and Its Hijab Envy

Last week I was sitting in the office of a coworker (I use that term loosely since I work from home and don't technically have coworkers) when a woman walked in and began talking to him swiftly in Hebrew about something he had sitting on his desk. The conversation was incredibly fast-paced, even for me, and I didn't catch most of what was going on. Something one of them said I did understand and I smiled, and the woman looked at me and said something in Hebrew (I forget what) and then asked if I spoke/understood Hebrew, to which I motioned that "so-so" thing with my hand. She apologized and said she'd assumed I spoke Hebrew, I said "kol b'seder" (it's okay), and they continued their conversation.

I immediately realized why this woman had assumed I spoke Hebrew. I was sitting in an office at a Jewish institution, and I was wearing a tichel (nifty Isreali head-scarf) on my head.

The tichel, I realized was the tip-off to my supposed mastery of Hebrew. The tichel meant I was Israeli or had some connection. I wasn't wearing a hat or a sheitel (wig).

That got me thinking -- again, as always -- about head coverings and what they mean. In my Hebrew class last week we read an article about the politics of the kippah and what it means, whether it's black velvet, or knitted, or one of those Nah Nach style ones. Our headgear, it seems, delegates how others view and categorize us, both politically and religiously. If you wear a tichel, chances are people will assume you're somehow tied to or involved in Zionism and Israel. If you wear a sheitel, you're from Monsey or one of the more religious and showy areas of Teaneck. And if you wear a hat -- especially a baseball cap -- well, then we all know you're just doing it to appease everyone else. (These are generalizations, folks, not my own beliefs.)

And then I was sitting in Bergen Town Center, biding time waiting for Tuvia to show up so we could look at those fancy lightweight suitcases since I'm going to be traveling so much and have a problem with ... ahem ... overpacking. I was people-watching near the fancy fishtanks that attract children and elderly alike for their bizarre, prehistoric-style fish that just look fake. Two Muslim girls walked past me in the most beautiful hijab coverings I've ever seen. I started thinking: These women look so beautiful in their head coverings that wrap over and around and here I am, wearing a headscarf that I'm perpetually shifting and pulling and tucking and I don't feel beautiful in it.

I expressed my frustration on Twitter and people suggested that it's because no hair is showing -- the focus of the viewer rests entirely on the face of the woman. Someone else posed a question that I've been wondering for quite some time: Is there anything that says a Jewish woman can't cover her hair hijab-style? And if not, why don't we? Is it because it's a Muslim thing to do and we want to distinguish ourselves? I know that in many parts of the world, Jewish women do cover their hair hijab-style, and it tends to be those with historic ties to historically Muslim lands.

Yes, that's J.Lo on the right. Stylin' in her tichel.

I guess, what I'm saying is, the hijab seems to be more, well, more tzniut and more stylish -- more mysterious, if you will. Am I nuts?

When the seasons change, I always have this kind of existential hair-covering crisis. I got married as spring was upon us, then I dealt with the summer-to-fall change, the fall-to-winter change, and now I'm dealing once again with that winter-to-spring change. I'm almost a full cycle of weather-related hair woes, and I don't think I'm a pro yet. I've had my bangs since I was a wee lass, and I just can't get rid of them. That bodes well for cute winter knit hats, but I am not loving how it looks with a tichel these days. I feel like I'm cheating. Tefach (the hand's breadth allotment of hair showing) or not.

I'm guessing if I walked out of my house and to shul with my scarf wrapped all hijab-like, I'd probably be chastised, and my conversion would go out in the window (she's a closet Muslim!). But sometimes, I troll the sites that sell these beautiful scarves and am jealous. Envious. I sometimes covet the beauty that these women accomplish in their clothing and hair coverings.

Sure, some might say I fall into the Orthofox category with my fashion sensibilities, but I'll never look as good as some of the women I see schlepping around the mall. And my tichel will never fit the way it should -- even so far as my ability to suddenly master Hebrew when it's placed upon my head (like a magic slipper or something).


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Linden Shabbaton -- Will You Be There?

Once upon a time, I went to a Shabbaton in Crown Heights, and it was probably one of the most amazing Shabbats of my life (despite being completely overwhelmed by what can only be described as a massive crowd). Once upon another time, I indirectly ended up at a Shabbaton in West Orange at my dear husband's family's shul, and that, too, was amazing. So, I suppose, you could call me a proponent of the Shabbaton experience -- it's like an awesome camp experience, for adults!

Enter, if you will, The Linden (NJ) Shabbaton on May 6-7, 2011, for young couples and families, buyers and renters. Someone once told me that if Linden were compared to a pair of jeans, it would be "relaxed fit." Now, I'm not a pants-wearing kind of gal, but I remember relaxed-fit jeans, and they were cozy and comfortable and made me feel at home in my own skin (thank heavens for jean skirts!). At Congregation Anshe Chesed in Linden, shul isn't a fashion show, and it's not a place to see if you're keeping up with the Schwartzes. Linden folks, I've been told, come together in a relaxed environment to focus on G-d and community.

Thus, during this Shabbaton, the Linden community wants to invite the curious and hopeful to take a gander at what it means to be comfortable and relaxed before your friends and community, as well as HaShem.

And if I haven't caught your attention yet, how about this: The Shabbos Park. This is a place where all of the couples -- children or no children -- get together and hang out on Shabbos afternoon. During this Shabbos afternoon powwow, the rabbi holds a class for women, while the men entertain the children (and themselves, one hopes!). All I can say is, drool. Learning for women while the men (who are really kids) get to play with the kids? This is a definite win-win.

According to my sources, Linden is a beautiful, safe, and very affordable community. The location is great, and the community is devoted to simplicity and spiritual growth -- all according to a "relaxed fit" atmosphere.

For more information on The Linden Shabbaton, just shoot an email to the shul. I just might be there. Will you? It never hurts to check out a new community -- you never know when you might fall in love and find that perfect fit for which you've been searching.

And, for what it's worth, Anshe Chesed's Rabbi Hess is on Twitter and he has a blog! Talk about a tech-savvy community.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hebrew Language and the Passover Connection

Passover is mere steps from our doorsteps, and its expecting no crumbs of bread or other wheat-filled goodies to greet it. Are you ready?

I've been busy doing research for looming papers (following in the steps of Pesach, of course), and the most interesting at this point is a paper on the Impact of Hebrew Language Education on Jewish Identity. I've got more sources than I know what to do with, but few actually appear to have talked to students or individuals on what kind of impact such education has or hasn't had on how they identify. One of the interesting things that I read in one of the many books I've got sitting around is about Passover and the role of language in the redemption of the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians.

According to Rav Huna, in the name of Bar Kapara, in the Midrash on Shemot (Exodus), four things kept the Jews together and thus merited their redemption from Egypt, and one of those was that they didn't change their language. Hebrew held a utilitarian function: it helped (and helps) to maintain Jewish identity and identification.

For me, at this time of Passover, this bit of knowledge speaks volumes to me. It makes me wonder, as is my tendency, why we don't do more to encourage the learning and fluency of Hebrew in the Diaspora. If, at one time, the Israelites were united through a common tongue, why do we pay so little importance to it outside of Israel?

According to David Schers, "There are ways of belonging to a people without knowing it's main-historical-cultural-language(s), but in such circumstances, the implementation and maintenance of cultural, and social, dimensions face more difficulties." The great Chaim (Hayyim) Nahman Bialik once referred to language as a "repository of a culture's most cherished attitudes and values."

Ultimately, language is symbolic communication. It is symbolic of values and culture. It saved us once -- can it save us again?

An unrelated random thought:

The numerical value of chometz (חמץ) is 138. This is the same as the numerical value for pegimah (פגימה), the word for blemish. Whoever eats chometz on Pesach thus blemishes his neshama. ~ Rabbi Yaakov Culi

Some random Passover blog posts:

Last year, I wrote Passover haikus, highlighted some stomach-ache-filled cooking, and wrote Pesach Cometh, Have You Shaken Your Books?

In 2009, I did a poll about favorite matzah toppings, and I did two parts of a Passover roundup on my experiences in Florida with Tuvia's family. I also lamented the fact that I think we should all throw our chametz away or donate it to charity, not sell it (I don't get the selling bit ... ). As it turns out, I blogged A LOT in 2009 about Passover. There's like 10-12 posts on Pesach there, in case you want to peruse the Q&A and commentary (by moi).

And then, of course, there is the bizarre Chabad-inspired Pesach dream I had in 2008. Not to mention the interesting encounter I had during Passover 2008 in Chicago that I deemed the "Passover Paradox." My most favorite Passover memory, of course, is my first true Passover Seder in Chicago that really drew me further than ever into my desire to be Orthodox, as well as my failure at Shabbos and abiding by the Passover rules (sort of).

In 2007, I wrote about the miserable experience I had at a gigantic seder in Chicago. Talk about bad news bears.

Overall I'm blown away by how many blog posts I have on Passover. It seems 2008 and 2009 were big years for me as I learned how to observe and cook for Passover on my own. Since then, the chagim seem to come and go without notice or fanfare. Maybe I should do another poll this year -- the question is, what to ask?

A Song for the IDF Soldiers

I'm all about the music videos these days, so I can't help but give a little love to this very emotional video and song that plays to a very American sensibility: the support and protection of the military, except this song/video is about IDF Soldiers!

I will mention that the artist, Dov, did contact me with this video and he said that the song is "a tribute to all the mothers who lay awake at night while their sons and daughters defend the rights of the Jewish Nation in Israel." Amen, Amen.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Joy of Kosher Magazine Giveaway!


I have EIGHT copies of Jamie Geller's new Joy of Kosher magazine to send to eight lucky readers! Will you be one of them?

The new Joy of Kosher website launched recently, and if you haven't visited it, you're really missing out (and not just because I guest posted on being gluten-free on Passover). It's chock full of recipes, food goodies, and more.

The magazine that I have is 64 pages of recipes and seder plate ideas, and it's the quantity of recipes that has me kvelling. I know Passover is right around the corner, so these Yom Tov recipes might not make it into your already-planned meals, but these recipes are year-round friendly. I'm particularly stoked about the desserts, which look amazing, including a Chocolate Mousse recipe, a Vacherin recipe, a Chocolate Crackle recipe and ... nom nom nom ... a yummy looking Chocolate Macaroon recipe. The magazine has simple recipes for sauces and dips, and it also lays out menu ideas for the main meals and some light sides and breakfast goods.

So you want a copy of this amazing magazine? All you have to do is be one of the FIRST EIGHT people to comment with a way for me to reach you via email to get your mailing address.

I can't wait to see you guys put some of these delicious recipes to the test!

A Jewish Funeral Experience

It's been around 13 years since I attended a funeral. At least, that's the last one I remember. It was my Uncle David, who wasn't really my Uncle David. I wrote a poem about it in college, recollecting the man who was more of a grandfather figure to me than anything else. Uncle David was my father's step-mother's family, distant, but oh-so-close to my father and to us kids. From the poem, "Uncle David Stole My Nose" ...
When I think about the funeral,
I remember looking into the casket
and seeing Uncle David’s face.
I remember, at that awkward age between
childhood and becoming a young woman,
wondering why he wasn’t smiling.
I remember telling my father, as we
left the burial site after crying and hugging
and holding relatives close, that Uncle
David’s lips should have been curved up.
Smiling as he always was.
Because that’s how everyone knew him,
that’s how I knew him,
when he was alive. ... 
I’ve try to forget the funeral and the burial,
while trying to keep Uncle David as
he was the last time I saw him before
he looked so sad in that big black box.
But I continue to recall driving past the Big Boy
where we’d eat with Uncle David every
now and then when we visited.
I remember crying and thinking about how
empty my dad was, because he’d
lost a father figure. But I know I cried
mostly because I’d lost a
Grandfather, and my nose would stay put
and I realized I was no longer
a child.
That funeral took place during a bizarre weekend where there was a wedding and a funeral. Emotional ups and downs were extreme. But this is my memory of funerals -- Christian funerals. 

Until this past week, I had not been to a Jewish funeral. I've written about paying shiva calls and the difficulty of really coming to terms with that tradition, but nothing could have prepared me for this week. I was, in plain words, an emotional wreck graveside. 

At my Uncle's funeral, it began with service at the funeral chapel, there were Bible verses read, the mood was depressing and morose, and seeing my dead uncle in the box put a forever-image in my head. We all took off to the graveside service afterward, where, everyone, dressed in black, huddled around the plot that had been carved out. The beautiful casket was held on props while words were said, words from the Bible were read, and then we departed. Only after that was the casket lowered -- we didn't watch the casket go down. We left knowing that he was still floating somewhere above the service. 

At Roszi's funeral (I blogged about her passing here) -- as I assume is true at all Jewish funerals -- the casket was lowered simply in its wooden-box form into the space in the ground. A rabbi related Roszi's life to those of us huddled under umbrellas in the cold rain, and then, then the men took a shovel and heaved dirt onto the wooden casket. 

Thump. Thump. Thump. 

And I lost it. I don't know why, but my tears just streamed -- and as I write this, my eyes are welling ... and I just don't know why. The sound of dirt -- dirt to dirt -- hitting a simple wooden casket was something I hadn't expected. Something that, to be honest, would never have happened at a funeral back home, back in my old life. The sounds ruptured something deep within me, emotions for a woman who I had barely known and who had not known me at all. 

"How many times did you even meet Roszi?" my husband asked after the funeral. 

I suppose that this is the purpose of such a visceral display of Jewish burial. It is participatory, permanent, and real. In a way, I suppose it seals the truth and the reality of what has happened. As people started to walk away, people were chattering and smiling and everyone except for the immediate family and I seemed to be unshaken by the events. 

I started to wonder: Have I become a softy? Overemotional? Or was it simply my neshama crying out for the loss of a soul so tortured for absolutely no reason.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Huzzah Huzzah! Haveil Havalim is Live!

Not here, unfortunately, but it is live over at Esser Agaroth. This edition has been deemed the "It's Time to Talk About the Elephant in the Room" edition.

Show him some, comment, and pass on the awesomeness that is Haveil Havalim -- a weekly Jewish blog carnival. (And don't forget to submit your posts, too!)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Israel, Here I Come!

I am the happiest camper in the world right now, which will not be reflected so much in an upcoming post (stay tuned), and I want to share the goods with you guys.

The news? I've been accepted to attend the ROI Summit in Israel this summer!

Here's my video entry (just part of the app):

From the email, this is what the ROI community is all about:
The ROI Summit is an ultimate forum for mutual exchange. ROI, a global community of Jewish leaders in their 20s and 30s, recognizes the far-reaching benefits of networking, collaborating and of pooling talents to transform the Jewish world and future.
Super stoked. Israel, here I come!

(PS: I probably will end up being there for both Shavuot and Shabbos ... so ... stay tuned!)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Passover Video Round-up!

There are so many good Passover videos out right now, I want to make sure everyone catches the best and the brightest. I think my favorite is the video. Although I don't love Aish, I can give a nod to an amazing video job, and I'm already gaga for Jake Gyllenhaal. And the NJOP video? Well, those always are worth a view.

Are there others out there I should know about?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Baruch Dayan ha'Emet.

That's Roszi, on the left. Probably taken in the early or mid-1930s.
I've known for some time that the generation of Holocaust survivors has been disappearing. Old souls are finding their way to shamayim, and in some way, are finding their way to peace after facing some incredible horrors. But -- as someone who in the past struggled to tie herself into the memory of the Shoah -- the reality of the passing of a generation never truly hit home.

Until now.

I've been meaning to write for such a long time about my husband's family and all of the amazing things we've found out about those who perished in the Holocaust. Tuvia's been cleaning out the home of one of his great-aunts and his great-uncle, and he's found some amazing things, including a document of donation to a British Mandate organization that supported a Satmar Hungarian community in then-Palestine, as well as the only surviving photo of Tuvia's maternal grandmother's family.

Tuvia's family hails from one of those places in Europe that switched hands a million times from Hungary to Romania to Austro-Hungary to ... you get the picture. They lived in Viseu-de-Sus, and we're fairly sure that's where the older siblings -- three sisters -- were born. When anti-Semitism started up, they move to Oradea, Romania, where the only surviving photo we have was taken. The family was shuttled off to the ghetto there, which was the second largest in Hungary, and were taken from the ghetto to Auschwitz in May 1944. The yartzeits (anniversary of death) for two parents and four siblings is in May 1944, because that's the last time the three surviving sisters saw their kin. (The parents and three of the four siblings are in the photo above -- a younger child was born after this picture was taken.)

After that, the sisters took a horrible journey that I will not detail here. My intent is to someday write the full story down, but the problem is that the stories are muddled and only one sister recorded her version. Records are impossible, the family stories are many, and ultimately the conclusion is that the Sisters Berkowitz journeyed to hell and back.

For one of the sisters -- Roszi -- that journey ended Saturday night.

From what we know from the one recorded history, Roszi suffered the worst of the sisters, both during and after the Shoah. After the war, Roszi lived in Sweden and then in Israel, and in one of the last legal documents by President John F. Kennedy, signed just days before he was murdered, he declared that Roszi was to be brought to New Jersey to be reunited with her family.

When I heard that she passed, all I could think was that she finally has her peace. I've spent simchas with Roszi, but I'm sure she never recognized me. Her mind was tired, and her soul was tired. Baruch dayan ha'emet. 

It's real now for me. The memory is slipping away. I can feel it, like sand through fingertips. What will happen when all of our memories -- the survivors of the Shoah -- have grown tired and faded away? I'm scared, really. I'm scared that history will repeat, and sooner than we anticipate we'll return to the earth as dust.

Embarking On Modesty (Tzniut) -- On Your Own Terms

It could be worse, this could be our headgear!
I received a question on a recent blog post from a reader that I'm going to paraphrase and discuss here. The situation? Well, the reader is considering dressing/acting in a more modest way, from hair to clothes to what she says and what she doesn't say. The reader lives in a predominately non-Jewish area, she's married to a non-Jew, and she's a Reconstructionist Jew. The question? Do I (that's me, Chavi) think that non-Orthodox women can enjoy modest style, dress, mannerisms, and everything else, or is it somehow taboo?

My first thought regarding this question was BEWARE! Why? Well, being someone who came to Judaism via Reform avenues, snaked through Conservative Judaism and zipped on to Orthodox Judaism, I can tell you that once you take on a certain mitzvah -- whether superficially or otherwise -- you really tend to get hooked. For me, it was the realization that if I was going to do x, y, z, I wanted ... nay ... needed those around me to be doing the same thing. The pull of mitzvot like modesty meant that I ended up in a place I never thought I would, but here I am. And that, folks, is the danger. 

That being said, I think that all women -- Jewish or not -- can find an appreciation and enjoyment for tzniut. But you have to be acting, dressing, and carrying yourself modestly because of a personal conviction and understanding of what you're doing. I think that many Orthodox Jews who live or work in non-Jewish atmospheres will tell you about the painstaking moments when someone queries why long sleeves are necessary in August heat or why you suddenly are toting a hat or tichel atop your head, and I think that most of those individuals would tell you that ultimately your modest oddities will be a point of information and education. If, of course, you own it. 

There is a lot to be said for speaking and carrying yourself modestly in all you do, even if you don't take on skirts and elbow covering and hair covering -- we could all use a kick back to respect, shame, and holding back some things. There's no mystery in life anymore (says the blogger who tells her readers just about everything under the sun -- or so you think! Bwahahaha!) One of the biggest problems in the Jewish community, many rabbis will tell you, is lashon hara, or gossiping and bad-mouthing your friends and foes alike. We have loose lips, many of us, so I think we all can benefit from modest mouths.

Oh! And another warning: Those who will question your motives and changes the most will be other Jews, probably those of the non-Orthodox bent. So beware; you might get some really unpleasant reactions from those around you who either think you're "heading to the dark side" or who just don't get why someone would even want to go down that road. 

Ultimately, if you feel good about yourself and the image you're portraying while dressing or acting modestly, then by golly, you're doing something right, and whether you believe or don't believe, HaShem can respect that and those around you will, too. I observe tzniut for a multi-fold reason: because I'm an Orthodox Jew (it's how we roll); because I feel powerful and beautiful when I dress and cover my hair, because I'm making that choice and styling myself in a Chavi-specific way; because I gotta respect the fact that I'm married (that's for you Tuvia); and, well, because I feel like I've gained HaShem's respect for taking on tzniut. I'm not saying those of you who don't dabble in modest dress don't have HaShem's respect, we all have our own ties and vibes from HaShem, right? 

What do you guys think about this query?

My question to the reader who posed the question would then be (and maybe she can guest blog post for us) why do you want to dress modestly, with your own special circumstances that wouldn't otherwise dictate tzniut,? What inspired you to consider this step? 

PS: Modesty doesn't mean frumpy or ugly or out of fashion or oppressive ... mmk?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Don't Get Your Tallitot in a Twist, But...

I feel like a jerk for how this article made me react, but I am not about to post this without saying how I reacted ... and that reaction was one of ... "seriously?"

The article is about one woman's creative take on tallitot for women. Now, I have never been able to wrap my head around the kippah or tallit thing for women, because it has never made sense to me, even when I was Reform. But I appreciate and respect the right of everyone to do Judaism in whatever way they feel comfortable -- even if it makes me tilt my head in discomfort. That being said, I feel like there should be limits, and making a tallit look like an apron crossed with a dress crossed with a tallit seems too much.

Yes, they are pretty, but... What do you think? And let's keep it clean.