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 √úbermensch (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!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

There's More Than Lemons, Chavi

As I'm sure you can all tell, there's a lot of tension in my life these days. Divorce, moving, readjusting my entire idea of what it means to be me. It's weird how this life change, more so than any other I've experienced (and I've moved a lot and changed communities a lot) has really shaken me to the core, making me reconsider what I want, where I'm going, and what makes sense to me in life.

Don't worry, I'm still a committed Orthodox Jew. I'm just trying to figure out what that means.

After the divorce, a lot of people commented with gam zu l'tovah -- this too, is for good. I find myself saying it a lot, although I don't find myself saying it to others much. I think that the phrase can really confuse the emotions. Bad things happen to good people, life changes, and the world keeps spinning, but staying positive is the hardest part.

I'm infamous for focusing on the negative. My friends have told me that, my exes commented on it, and even my therapist says that I need to figure out a way to get out of it. I can't take compliments, and when the world hands me lemons, all I see is lemons; at least, all I focus on is the lemons. I might make lemonade, but I'll still be looking at those darn lemon peels.

Since September, I've gotten a speeding ticket, rear-ended a car, had my phone stolen, become quite broke, left my car windows open so my passenger seat was full of snow, and ... well, there's more. But again, I need to refocus.

When I went out to my car this morning and opened the driver's side door only to notice that I left the window cracked (this is Denver, it was warm yesterday, snowy today), I felt relieved that the wind blew the snow in the opposite direction. Then I looked at my passenger seat: snow everywhere. Yes, I'd left the passenger window open, too, and I wasn't so lucky. I stood there, in the snow, smiled, shook my head, facepalmed, and laughed at myself.

Gam zu l'tovah. 

It's taken everything -- all the lemons -- over the past several months to bring me to a point where I can laugh at my misfortune.

My place in life has always been as a caretaker. I take care of people, I help them, I guide them, I counsel them. This is both my greatest attribute, I think, and my greatest flaw. Why? Because I forget that I'm here, that I'm also on a journey and that my problems, my concerns, my feelings are just as valid as those who I am here to protect, guide, and speak out for.

I have a lot going on, and I want to than you all for your patience, your kindness, your outreach, your love. I'm trying to get over the lemons, but it's going to take a while. But as long as I can figure out how to laugh at myself, I think I'm going to be okay.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Jewish Observance, Colors, and the Weird!

Last month, I started an Ask Chaviva Anything! series. I had two installations, and it's time for a third! (Check out those posts here.) Are you ready for more Q&A? If you have a question to ask, just click here!
What's your favorite color?
This is a good question. For the longest time (read: forever) it was red. At some point, it transitioned to green, and about six months ago, I realized that I owned a lot of purple. When I moved, I got purple sheets, and a purple lampshade. I have a purple purse and purple shoes. So, I guess right now, it would be purple.
Do you ever question your level of observance? Do you ever reconsider it or think about being less traditionally observant? Do any aspects of progressive, egalitarian Judaism appeal to you?
Honestly? No. As I discussed when I was moving to Denver, the thoughts crossed my mind, but they weren't real thoughts. They were what-ifs, and I wasn't committed to those considerations. Once you go kosher, I can't imagine what it's like to not be kosher. The guilt? The regret? And, of course, the disappointment. Nothing is ever as good as you remember it. When it comes to being Shomer Shabbat, I couldn't fathom life without it. Even if I -- heaven forbid -- went off the derech, Shabbat would be something I always would hold on to. I honestly have no idea how I got by without a day to shut down, refresh, and recuperate.

As for progressive, egalitarian Judaism, I have to say that it's never something that's appealed to me. I guess I've discovered a way to be a woman and Orthodox without the two contradicting each other, let alone resulting in a feeling that I'm not as equal, respected, or responsible as my male counterparts. I had my days of aliyot when I was Reform, and it always felt awkward. I never understood the appeal of the kippah or tefillin, but I fully support those who, as women, feel like those observances are something that is importnat to them. I have found my own way to feel valuable, important, and necessary in the Jewish world, without those aspects of egalitarianism. Also: I love the mechitzah too much to give it up!
What's the weirdest thing you've ever been asked on your blog?
Good question. I haven't been asked so many "weird" things as I have received extraordinary emails from extraordinary people with amazing stories and queries. If only I could share them all with you guys! So instead of "weird" questions, I'm going to give you some of the weird search queries that land people on my blog!

  • cholent (that's No. 10 for all-time searches that led to my blog ... weird)
  • chinese zodiac
  • gefilte fish
  • famous beards
  • indian vests (um, huh?)
  • chasidish halloween (tis the season!)
  • hitler painting jesus (without any kind of reference, that sounds really, really funny)
  • what is a jew called who can't prove their bloodline? 
  • political kippah
  • pirate scarf (ha ha ... the Captain Jack Sparrow!)
Okay, that's enough for now. Stay tuned for more Q&A with Ask Chaviva Anything!