Friday, December 30, 2011

Pretending I'm Colombian

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


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

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

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Big Reveal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else should I put out there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I Believe, With Perfect Faith. Do You?

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

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

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

Getting Help: Books You Can Trust II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the great takeaways?

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah: 2003-Now

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Help: Books You Can Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 19, 2011

Are You Ready to Get Served?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Go On: Get Mortified!

Verily, this is good for the Jews. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Gifts Roundup!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish Authenticity: Detours, Spirals, Swirls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For 24 Hours: Just Give!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give and let give! Spread the word, friends!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting Stamped

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

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

Ten Years Later, and I'm Okay

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

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

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

Ten. Years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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