Monday, April 30, 2012

Growing Pains

Over the past week or so, I've been doing a lot of internal searching and reflecting. It's part of my "move forward, grow upward" approach to life these days.

I've discovered that sometimes, when people are toxic to your healthy growth, they must be let go. Sometimes these are long time friends, and sometimes these are family members. For the first time in my life, I am Number 1, and what I need to be healthy, happy, and grow is my greatest consideration.

Then there is another strange realization that it took me a while of talking-out-loud about that it finally made sense. I've happened to have a lot of interactions with single Jewish guys lately, and I was beginning to feel like my personality has become abrasive or overly aggressive with men, in particular. One of my biggest issues that has plagued me since I was a kid is that I get really excited about people. When I meet awesome people, I want to talk to them and get to know them and just immerse myself in their awesomeness. The problem is that I often mistake this for "interest" or something else, and that aggressive me comes out. But then, when I was talking this whole realization that I had today out with a friend, and I discovered something else.

Growing pains. In my marriage, I became someone I didn't recognize -- I was timid, closed-off, almost submissive in a way. I was a shell of myself, and those who knew me well knew it, saw it, and felt it. And my feeling today that I'm aggressive or abrasive in my conversations with men was a little off. No, I'm not being abrasive or aggressive, I'm returning to my original self. Confident, outspoken, and strong. Who I was before my marriage was who people know me as. I just forgot who I was ... 

That kind of realization has left me feeling strange. I'm so insecure about coming back into my own that it's made me doubt who I am. But that strong, self-sufficient, independent woman that I was was who I was proud of, it's me. It's Chaviva. I can't wait to feel comfortable in that skin again, and seeing those little pieces of it makes me feel hopeful.

I'm discovering that I'm stronger than I thought I was; I just forgot who that strong person was when she hid away inside of me.

It's a very, very weird feeling.

A Hazon Food Summit Recap

I had the pleasure of spending 8 a.m.-5 p.m. today up in Boulder at the first Hazon Rocky Mountain Food Summit, which was, in a word, stellar. I attended three panels -- Eco-Ethical Meat, Kashrut and You; Caffeinate Your Conscience; and The Jew and the Eatery: Jewish Restaurateurs of Denver and Boulder -- as well as a workshop on how to make infused vinegar (I'm so stoked to do this, by the way).

A graphic artist recorded what "Food Is ..."

Some things I picked up on are ... (and all the photos are here, FYI)

The only way the kosher meat/chicken market will succeed with ethical practices, the highest-quality meat, and proper schechting (ritual slaughter) is if we scale back. Tradition, tradition! The industrial revolution gave us the power of quantity and speed, but with that came the unethical treatment of animals and schechting that goes so fast that oftentimes it's not even really kosher. Success, ethics, and halakah will come when we return to the classic manner of society where you know the farmer who raises the animals, you know how the farmer raises the animals, you know your butcher, and you know that your butcher knows what he's doing. Here in Colorado, there are a few chicken/goat co-ops where you can buy a chicken or part of an animal, see it schechted, and take it from farm to table. Back to basics, folks.

I also learned quite a bit about what Fair Trade really means, how it works, and how it fails farmers. The thing about Fair Trade is that the contract is great for farmers when the market is average and/or below average. It guarantees that the farmer will have a livable wage, no matter what the economy does. But when the coffee market is good -- like now -- farmers don't see anymore cash in their pockets because of the Fair Trade contract. So it's good to buy Fair Trade, but it's not always the most cost-efficient for actual farmers. Also, discovered that it takes more than 80 beans to make a doubleshot of espresso, so think about that person picking those beans the next time you order your latte and how much work they put in (picking all those beans by hand, of course).
The four Jewish dudes.

And then there's the fact that there's an undercurrent of awesome, outstanding, passionate Jewish dudes running some of the most popular restaurants in Denver and Boulder. (Of course, none of them are kosher or vegetarian ...) Four Jewish fellas who run restaurants that focus on locally grown produce, ethically sourced meat, and conscious efforts to recycle, compost, and more. Also? One of the restaurant owners, Josh Wolkon, even created multiple separate menus for various allergies. Talk about smart. And I got to meet Etai Baron of Udi's Gluten Free, and I got to tell him how happy and thankful I am for his biz. I also managed to maybe convince the awesome restauranteurs to consider a kosher food truck for Boulder/Denver. If that is one of the amazing things to come out of the Hazon food conference, then I'd say it was successful.

I made a lot of really great connections, and I spent some time getting to know some folks from the Boulder community.

And, I'm very seriously considering moving to Boulder. The religious community there is more my speed, the people and lifestyle seem be more my speed, and, well, there's just something about Boulder that sings to me. More than Denver. So we'll see about that. My lease isn't up until October, but I'm planning.

Don't worry, I'll still work in Denver.

And then? Amelia and I walked around the Pearl Street Mall where there were the most amazing, tall, colorful tulips. I couldn't help but take five million photos.

Until next time ...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Israeli Cover: Somebody I Used to Know

This just made my life ... a cover of a cover ... wow. I almost like it more in Hebrew.

The Israeli bouzouki version of the cover by Walk off the Earth (Gotye) Performers from right to left: ayal yishay benua nehaisi roi lavi rafael cohen ofir shilan guy levi

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Challenge of the Food Variety

Well, I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I'm broke. (I even canceled my cable and internet at home. It's that serious.) I attribute this not to being an exorbitant spender on things I don't need (after all, you haven't seen me replace my beloved and stolen iPad, have you?), but rather that I tend to buy things I need but not when I need them. One of the biggest crimes in this respect is my tendency to browse the grocery store like a woman browses a clothing store. I could spend a couple hours grocery shopping, just looking at products, turning them every which way to check for a few very specific things: Soy Free! Gluten Free! Kosher!

The result is that I often end up with a lot of food getting thrown away or never used. I make lists to buy things I already have in my cabinet and then return home with a big "D'oh!" Thus, because of my dietary needs and my inability to keep stock of what I do and don't have, I've decided to challenge myself. These are my rules for the next MONTH. Yes, I said month.
  • $10 fresh produce budget each week
  • No purchasing of non-perishable items (canned goods, cereal, spices, etc.)
  • No purchasing of dairy or dairy-like products (no Daiya, no feta, no nothing)
  • Photo documentation of the inventory and what is produced with it
  • No eating out unless it's paid for by someone else
  • No purchasing coffee (make it at home!)
Think it can be done? I'm fully stocked with nuts and lentils and other grains, not to mention cans of black beans and chickpeas and plenty of canned tomatoes. In the fridge I've got plenty of condiments and some cheese, not to mention that there are oodles of frozen fish in my freezer with frozen fruits and veggies, too. 

Also, with Israel being a mere 45 days away, I figure using up as much as I have in my kitchen might be a worthwhile endeavour. 

I'm guessing my $10 allowance will go to buy things like spinach, kale, jicama, and bananas -- four present staples in my kitchen. EDIT: I also have to buy eggs. Eggs ... I love eggs. 

Have you ever given yourself this kind of challenge? A "use it all up" before you "buy it all up" kind of situation? 

A Yom HaZikaron Tribute: Chaviva Reich

I could have sworn that, at some point in the past, I wrote about her. The paratrooper who shares my name. When my blog started taking off her name dropped further and further down in the results and I felt a huge guilt in that. So I thought I wrote about her on Yom HaZikaron, but looking through the archives it appears that she got an ever-so-brief mention on a post where I donated some money to the Friends of the IDF.

Where to begin? I chose the name Chaviva for myself prior to my Reform conversion in April 2006 after a conversation with my rabbi about naming. He picked up a book of names and we explored options that were similar in meaning to my birth name, Amanda, and he came up with Aviva, Ahava, Chaviva, and so on. I chose Chaviva because I like that throaty guttural sound -- it really makes you work for the name. It was a few years before I realized that there was someone particularly unique with the name Chaviva out there and that she had done more for Am Yisrael than I could ever do. I don't remember exactly how I stumbled upon her name or her story, but once I did, I knew that if I ever went to Israel I'd have to see her grave on Har Herzl and pay my respects to someone who honors the name in such a unique way.

I'd forgotten about this special Chaviva until my Birthright group was walking through Har Herzl in late December 2008. There, in the middle of this separate space, were the graves of several paratroopers. And there, amid those paratroopers, was the grave of Chaviva Reich (Haviva Reik). The group was rushing through the area, but I insisted on stopping, placing a stone, taking a picture, and thanking her for what she did for Israel. Thinking about it now even makes me emotional. I don't know why I feel such a strong tie to this woman who died more than nearly 70 years ago defending the Jewish people's right to survive.


Chaviva Reich was born on June 14, 1914 as Marta Reick in Nadabula, Slovkia and grew up in the Carpathian Mountains. As a child, she joined the HaShomer Hatzair youth movement and subsequently made aliyah in 1939 where she joined Kibbutz Ma'anit. Later, she joined the Palmach, the elite strike force of the Haganah underground military organization.

She then became one of 32 or 33 Palestinian Jewish paratroopers sent by the Jewish Agency and Britian's Special OPeration Executive (SEO) on military missions in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Reich joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as "Ada Robinson" and then joined SOE for specialist training, including a parachuting course. After a short time, she assumed another name for her mission: "Martha Martinovic" and was promoted to sergeant.

On August 28, 1944, the Nazis began to start occupying Slovakia in order to eliminate an uprising, and it was during this time that Reich and three others waited in Bari, Italy, to be parachuted into Slovakia. There was a bump in the road when the British refused to fly a woman behind enemy lines for a military operations, so Reich hitched a ride with a group of American pilots who were flying there. After Reich and the three other parachuters and an additional parachuter convened in as-yet unoccupied Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, they set up relief and rescue activities, organizing a soup kitchen and community center for refugees. They also facilitated the escape of Jewish children to Hungary and on to Palestine.

Then, on October 27, 1944, German troops occupied Banska Bystrica. Reich and the other parachutists escaped with about 40 other Jewish partisans and community leaders to build a camp in the mountains. They were, however, captured a few days later by Ukrainian Waffen SS soldiers.

Less than a month later, the Germans and their Slovakian collabortors shot most of the captive Jews, including Reich, and buried them in a mass grave in the village of Kremnicka. Two of the other parachutists were deported to Mauthausen and later killed. Only one of the parachutists -- Haim Chermesh -- escaped and returned to Israel. Chaviva Reich was only 30 years old.

After the war ended, in September 1945, Reich's body was exhumed and buried in the Military Cemetery in Prague. Then, in September 1952, her remains were moved and buried in the Har Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem along with the famous Hannah Szenes. Today, Kibbutz Lahavot Haviva, the Givat Haviva institute, a small river, a gerbera flower, a big water reservoir, an Aliyah Bet ship, and numerous streets in Israel are named after her.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: Crossing the Borders of Time

I meant to write about this last week, but, well last week was peculiar for me, so I'm just getting to this book review now. The kind folks at OtherPress sent me Crossing the Borders of Time by Leslie Maitland,  a "True story of war, exile, and love reclaimed."

I'm not done with the book yet, but I'm about halfway through and I'm perfectly keen on writing this review before I finish it because it's absolutely amazing. A can't-put-it-down kind of read, which I attribute to the author's background as an investigative journalist. I find that journalists make the best book authors, because their talent is simply stretched out over hundreds of pages rather than across a broadsheet.

The book tells the true story of the author's maternal ancestors and their experiences prior to, during, and after the Holocaust. The family hails from the fine line between Germany and France, Maitland's mother grows up bouncing back between two worlds until they are no longer welcome in France as Germans and no longer welcome in Germany as Jews. Their journey from Europe to Cuba and on to the U.S. is harrowing, shocking, and Maitland describes it in vivid detail. And the entire story is told through a lost-love narrative between Maitland's Jewish mother and her Alsatian Catholic love. A few times I had to stop and sit back to remind myself that Maitland herself wasn't there; her storytelling is that good.

I've learned some shocking things about the experience of Alsatians, French and German Jews, and those caught between France and Germany during Hitler's reign. Did you know that when the Nazis went to France, they basically walked straight in to Paris without firing a shot? That they turned the clocks of France to German time? (So much for time zones, eh?)

Also: There are some outstanding pictures and documents in this book, thanks to Maitland's family's penchant for holding on to important, meaningful family paperwork. It really makes the story come to life.

If you appreciate a good storyteller, if you appreciate history, if you appreciate love lost and found, then I definitely suggest you find a copy of this book and get to it. It's hard to put down, I guarantee you that, so make sure you find a long, nice day to curl up outside with the book and some coffee.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened ...

Sometimes funny things happen and it's just worth sharing. So ... I was at Whole Foods today picking up the weekly supply of bananas and other goodies when, during checkout, the following conversation(s) took place.
  • Bagger: Thanks for bringing the watermelon! (spins the melon up and down his arms)
    • Me: Do you ever drop it and disappoint your customers?
  • Bagger: Nope! And I'd never disappoint you!
(woman behind me spills blueberries all over the floor and bagger runs to get a broom)
  • Checker: What is this?
    • Me: A yucca I think? It's my first time buying it.
  • Checker: *mumbles*
    • Me: I said it's my first time buying it.
  • Checker: No, I said have you ever tasted it.
    • Me: Nope, I like to be adventurous with my vegetables.
(something transpires, but I forget how we get to this point)
    • Me: So, is Maxary even a real name?
  • Checker: Yes, is your name a real name?
    • Me: Chaviva? Yeah, it's Hebrew.
  • Checker: Well, so is mine. Maxary ben Moishe (he even says it this way).
    • Me: Oh ... um ... well, isn't that interesting. 
  • Bagger: My last name has Jewish origins. At least, according to a guy in the drive through. When Gonzalez is spelled with an "s."
    • Me: Oh yeah, totally. Sephardic origins, like Gutierrez. 
  • Checker: My name isn't really a Jewish name. It's just Max. 
    • Me: I figured as much ... 
(bagger finishes bagging my things)
  • Checker: Well, have a good rest of your Shabbos!
Hilarious. It had me giggling all the way to my car ...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Brightening Up in Boulder

For me, Boulder is where it's at. Spiritually, with comfort, with kindness.

I spent another Shabbat there, and I was once again reminded why it feels so comfortable in that community. When you're sitting around a third-meal table singing niggunim and all of the voices -- no matter how few -- seem to match up like a well-trained chorus, when you feel comfortable moving from learning in the sanctuary to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, when children take you to you in seconds giggling with you, when you feel at home ... that's Boulder for me. It was what I needed in this moment of my life where "change" seems to be the only constant.

The learning aspect of being in Boulder is something that I love. When I'm alone in Denver, I don't know what shabbat is supposed to be.

Item 1: The parshah on Shabbat was Shemini and it contained the midpoint of the Torah as measured in words when Moshe considers offerings. Those words that fall on either side of the midpoint are דרש דרש, darosh darash. The doubling of words in Hebrew often implies an intensity of the basic word, so in this case it suggests intensive inquiry, an intense searching. That's Judaism in a nutshell, folks.

Item 2: We discussed Nadav and Avihu and the prohibition of certain actions while intoxicated. The conclusion that we arrived at was that they weren't literally drunk, but perhaps drunk on HaShem. They were so up in the clouds that this world didn't make sense to them. They were, in a way, too high up for this world. It's how I feel sometimes, like I can't connect to this world. I don't, however, want to be the next Nadav or Avihu ... but there are some minds that aren't long for this world because they can't connect on the appropriate level to people, they can't figure out relationships. The lesson: figure out how to live in this world, figure out relationships, figure out how to bring ourselves down to this world. We live here, we don't live in shamayim.

I feel like I walked away from my Shabbat in Boulder with a more vivid view of my neshama. I feel like the flame is brighter, and that I'm moving forward. Small steps, Chavi. Small steps.

And of coure, in addition to just feel at home in Boulder, there's the fact that the Pearl Street Mall is a lot like Ben Yehuda ... especially after Shabbat. Don't believe me?

This was Friday before Shabbat. I roamed the mall ...

This guy was bananas. Muscles like crazy. 

Ben Yehuda has break dancing, Boulder has Improv Yoga. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Starting from the Beginning: שיפור עצמי

I stole this from who stole it from, so I'm really spreading the love around. In my current headspace and with the changes I'm perpetually going through, this list of 30 Things to Start Doing for Yourself has a lot of truth. There are plenty of people who read my blog and think I'm self-obsessed or selfish, but those who have known me a long time and know me in real life know that the last person on my list of helping/fixing is me. So here are some very practical things I'm going to apply and focus on each day during the month of May (it's just easier to start on May 1, you know). Would you add anything to this very, very detailed list?

  1. Start spending time with the right people. – These are the people you enjoy, who love and appreciate you, and who encourage you to improve in healthy and exciting ways. They are the ones who make you feel more alive, and not only embrace who you are now, but also embrace and embody who you want to be, unconditionally. 
  2. Start facing your problems head on. – It isn’t your problems that define you, but how you react to them and recover from them. Problems will not disappear unless you take action. Do what you can, when you can, and acknowledge what you’ve done. It’s all about taking baby steps in the right direction, inch by inch. These inches count, they add up to yards and miles in the long run. 
  3. Start being honest with yourself about everything. – Be honest about what’s right, as well as what needs to be changed. Be honest about what you want to achieve and who you want to become. Be honest with every aspect of your life, always. Because you are the one person you can forever count on. Search your soul, for the truth, so that you truly know who you are. Once you do, you’ll have a better understanding of where you are now and how you got here, and you’ll be better equipped to identify where you want to go and how to get there. Read The Road Less Traveled. 
  4. Start making your own happiness a priority. – Your needs matter. If you don’t value yourself, look out for yourself, and stick up for yourself, you’re sabotaging yourself. Remember, it IS possible to take care of your own needs while simultaneously caring for those around you. And once your needs are met, you will likely be far more capable of helping those who need you most. 
  5. Start being yourself, genuinely and proudly. – Trying to be anyone else is a waste of the person you are. Be yourself. Embrace that individual inside you that has ideas, strengths and beauty like no one else. Be the person you know yourself to be – the best version of you – on your terms. Above all, be true to YOU, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it. 
  6. Start noticing and living in the present. – Right now is a miracle. Right now is the only moment guaranteed to you. Right now is life. So stop thinking about how great things will be in the future. Stop dwelling on what did or didn’t happen in the past. Learn to be in the ‘here and now’ and experience life as it’s happening. Appreciate the world for the beauty that it holds, right now. 
  7. Start valuing the lessons your mistakes teach you. – Mistakes are okay; they’re the stepping stones of progress. If you’re not failing from time to time, you’re not trying hard enough and you’re not learning. Take risks, stumble, fall, and then get up and try again. Appreciate that you are pushing yourself, learning, growing and improving. Significant achievements are almost invariably realized at the end of a long road of failures. One of the ‘mistakes’ you fear might just be the link to your greatest achievement yet. 
  8. Start being more polite to yourself. – If you had a friend who spoke to you in the same way that you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you allow that person to be your friend? The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others. You must love who you are or no one else will. 
  9. Start enjoying the things you already have. – The problem with many of us is that we think we’ll be happy when we reach a certain level in life – a level we see others operating at – your boss with her corner office, that friend of a friend who owns a mansion on the beach, etc. Unfortunately, it takes awhile before you get there, and when you get there you’ll likely have a new destination in mind. You’ll end up spending your whole life working toward something new without ever stopping to enjoy the things you have now. So take a quiet moment every morning when you first awake to appreciate where you are and what you already have. 
  10. Start creating your own happiness. – If you are waiting for someone else to make you happy, you’re missing out. Smile because you can. Choose happiness. Be the change you want to see in the world. Be happy with who you are now, and let your positivity inspire your journey into tomorrow. Happiness is often found when and where you decide to seek it. If you look for happiness within the opportunities you have, you will eventually find it. But if you constantly look for something else, unfortunately, you’ll find that too. Read Stumbling on Happiness. 
  11. Start giving your ideas and dreams a chance. – In life, it’s rarely about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance. You’ll never be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work. Most of the time you just have to go for it! And no matter how it turns out, it always ends up just the way it should be. Either you succeed or you learn something. Win-Win. 
  12. Start believing that you’re ready for the next step. – You are ready! Think about it. You have everything you need right now to take the next small, realistic step forward. So embrace the opportunities that come your way, and accept the challenges – they’re gifts that will help you to grow. 
  13. Start entering new relationships for the right reasons. – Enter new relationships with dependable, honest people who reflect the person you are and the person you want to be. Choose friends you are proud to know, people you admire, who show you love and respect – people who reciprocate your kindness and commitment. And pay attention to what people do, because a person’s actions are much more important than their words or how others represent them. 
  14. Start giving new people you meet a chance. – It sounds harsh, but you cannot keep every friend you’ve ever made. People and priorities change. As some relationships fade others will grow. Appreciate the possibility of new relationships as you naturally let go of old ones that no longer work. Trust your judgment. Embrace new relationships, knowing that you are entering into unfamiliar territory. Be ready to learn, be ready for a challenge, and be ready to meet someone that might just change your life forever. 
  15. Start competing against an earlier version of yourself. – Be inspired by others, appreciate others, learn from others, but know that competing against them is a waste of time. You are in competition with one person and one person only – yourself. You are competing to be the best you can be. Aim to break your own personal records. 
  16. Start cheering for other people’s victories. – Start noticing what you like about others and tell them. Having an appreciation for how amazing the people around you are leads to good places – productive, fulfilling, peaceful places. So be happy for those who are making progress. Cheer for their victories. Be thankful for their blessings, openly. What goes around comes around, and sooner or later the people you’re cheering for will start cheering for you. 
  17. Start looking for the silver lining in tough situations. – When things are hard, and you feel down, take a few deep breaths and look for the silver lining – the small glimmers of hope. Remind yourself that you can and will grow stronger from these hard times. And remain conscious of your blessings and victories – all the things in your life that are right. Focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t. 
  18. Start forgiving yourself and others. – We’ve all been hurt by our own decisions and by others. And while the pain of these experiences is normal, sometimes it lingers for too long. We relive the pain over and over and have a hard time letting go. Forgiveness is the remedy. It doesn’t mean you’re erasing the past, or forgetting what happened. It means you’re letting go of the resentment and pain, and instead choosing to learn from the incident and move on with your life. 
  19. Start helping those around you. – Care about people. Guide them if you know a better way. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you. Love and kindness begets love and kindness. And so on and so forth. 
  20. Start listening to your own inner voice. – If it helps, discuss your ideas with those closest to you, but give yourself enough room to follow your own intuition. Be true to yourself. Say what you need to say. Do what you know in your heart is right. 
  21. Start being attentive to your stress level and take short breaks. – Slow down. Breathe. Give yourself permission to pause, regroup and move forward with clarity and purpose. When you’re at your busiest, a brief recess can rejuvenate your mind and increase your productivity. These short breaks will help you regain your sanity and reflect on your recent actions so you can be sure they’re in line with your goals. 
  22. Start noticing the beauty of small moments. – Instead of waiting for the big things to happen – marriage, kids, big promotion, winning the lottery – find happiness in the small things that happen every day. Little things like having a quiet cup of coffee in the early morning, or the delicious taste and smell of a homemade meal, or the pleasure of sharing something you enjoy with someone else, or holding hands with your partner. Noticing these small pleasures on a daily basis makes a big difference in the quality of your life. 
  23. Start accepting things when they are less than perfect. – Remember, ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good.’ One of the biggest challenges for people who want to improve themselves and improve the world is learning to accept things as they are. Sometimes it’s better to accept and appreciate the world as it is, and people as they are, rather than to trying to make everything and everyone conform to an impossible ideal. No, you shouldn’t accept a life of mediocrity, but learn to love and value things when they are less than perfect. 
  24. Start working toward your goals every single day. – Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Whatever it is you dream about, start taking small, logical steps every day to make it happen. Get out there and DO something! The harder you work the luckier you will become. While many of us decide at some point during the course of our lives that we want to answer our calling, only an astute few of us actually work on it. By ‘working on it,’ I mean consistently devoting oneself to the end result. Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 
  25. Start being more open about how you feel. – If you’re hurting, give yourself the necessary space and time to hurt, but be open about it. Talk to those closest to you. Tell them the truth about how you feel. Let them listen. The simple act of getting things off your chest and into the open is your first step toward feeling good again. 
  26. Start taking full accountability for your own life. – Own your choices and mistakes, and be willing to take the necessary steps to improve upon them. Either you take accountability for your life or someone else will. And when they do, you’ll become a slave to their ideas and dreams instead of a pioneer of your own. You are the only one who can directly control the outcome of your life. And no, it won’t always be easy. Every person has a stack of obstacles in front of them. But you must take accountability for your situation and overcome these obstacles. Choosing not to is choosing a lifetime of mere existence. 
  27. Start actively nurturing your most important relationships. – Bring real, honest joy into your life and the lives of those you love by simply telling them how much they mean to you on a regular basis. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be everything to a few people. Decide who these people are in your life and treat them like royalty. Remember, you don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of. 
  28. Start concentrating on the things you can control. – You can’t change everything, but you can always change something. Wasting your time, talent and emotional energy on things that are beyond your control is a recipe for frustration, misery and stagnation. Invest your energy in the things you can control, and act on them now. 
  29. Start focusing on the possibility of positive outcomes. – The mind must believe it CAN do something before it is capable of actually doing it. The way to overcome negative thoughts and destructive emotions is to develop opposing, positive emotions that are stronger and more powerful. Listen to your self-talk and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Regardless of how a situation seems, focus on what you DO WANT to happen, and then take the next positive step forward. No, you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to things. Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects – whether or not you’re happy and successful in the long run depends greatly on which aspects you focus on. Read The How of Happiness. 
  30. Start noticing how wealthy you are right now. – Henry David Thoreau once said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Even when times are tough, it’s always important to keep things in perspective. You didn’t go to sleep hungry last night. You didn’t go to sleep outside. You had a choice of what clothes to wear this morning. You hardly broke a sweat today. You didn’t spend a minute in fear. You have access to clean drinking water. You have access to medical care. You have access to the Internet. You can read. Some might say you are incredibly wealthy, so remember to be grateful for all the things you do have.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's Time to Take a Stand

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, bully meant lover. A sweetheart. A fine chap. How do we know? It derived from Middle Dutch boele, meaning lover, and its first use in the 16th century. As an adjective, it once meant excellent in the 17th century. Bully for you! Bully indeed. And then?
1 to treat abusively
2 to affect by means of force or coercion
What happened?

When I was a kid and eczema began to plague my legs and arms horribly, I became the focus of bullying. I had weird legs, weird sores, weird skin. People didn't want to touch me. I was different. 

When I entered middle school in Joplin, MO, I was taller and larger than just about everyone I knew. I had my first period before everyone else. In home room, my purse was stolen and thrown around the room; I had pads. Every girl goes through it, but I went through it before everybody. I felt out of place, large, big. I spent the second semester of 6th grade throwing away my lunch and drinking only juice boxes. The difference in my 5th and 6th grade bodies is stark. I was different. 

When I was in middle school in Lincoln, NE and at the Belmont swimming pool, a classmate sang the Butterball Turkey theme song to me as I swam. He called, "Beached whale!" And to this day, I don't like to swim, I don't like to be in the water or near it, and I went nearly 10 years without owning a swimsuit. I was larger than other girls my age. I was different.

When I was in seventh and eighth grade, a boy decided that my body was meant to be objectified. He emotionally assaulted me with his inappropriate thoughts, harassed me in class, and his friend prodded him on. We went to the administration, and nothing happened. Nothing ever happened. I had a figure, and I was different. 

For some reason, when I got to high school, I blended in. I was in choir, honors classes, volleyball. I covered my bases in order to survive. But my older brother had bullies -- jocks who thought they were funny -- and those bullies became my bullies. I was associated with different. 

In college, my Jewish neshama burned bright and woke me up. I felt relieved, excited, eager. People who I'd considered friends began bullying me about being interested in Judaism online, making anti-Semitic jokes, and everyone egged everyone on. I consistently shrugged it off, until I couldn't, and then I removed myself from the situation. Years later, some apologized. Being Jewish meant it was okay to bully me. After all, I was different.

After college, when I lived in Chicago, Jews bullied me. "You'll never be Jewish, because you don't have Jewish blood," they said. I was "too Jewish" in their eyes. I was proud to be something that they deemed that I wasn't. I was scared to go out, I was scared to leave my apartments. And it all happened online. But the threats were vivid, scary, and I crumbled under them. I was different. 

And then, as my blog became more well read, I experienced the bane of the internet: anonymous, hate-filled bullying. That is, at first a lot of it was anonymous. As time has progressed, the bullying has come from those I once considered friends who probably don't consider themselves bullies. "To treat abusively" covers many bases, not just physical. Emotional abuse is perhaps the worst of it all, and the emotional abuse that I've received for being me continues to amaze me. Why am I a target of bullying by other Jews? Because I AM DIFFERENT. 

The funny thing about the Jewish community, I've realized, is that we're the perfect community to combat bullying and yet we are horrible, horrible bullies. Jewish ethics and values tell us that man was made in the image of G-d and should be treated accordingly. How poorly we follow through. How badly we treat one another on behalf of differences. I wonder if some of the things people have said to me they would be willing to say to HaShem. Our values teach us that we are responsible for repairing a very broken world. Hatred, abuse, and bullying exist at every stage of life, and while we should be fighting these abuses, we're allowing others in our community to participate in further breaking into pieces this world we live in. 

All of this comes because I saw the movie "Bully" tonight, and it left me outraged. Sick to my stomach. An 11-year-old boy should not have to carry the casket of his best friend (also 11) to a hole in the ground because that friend killed himself because he was being bullied. Eleven. Years. Old. I cried. I cried, and I cried for the parents that lost or were losing a child from something they could not control and something that school administrators refused to change out of stubbornness or ignorance. It made me sick. 

They call it "Bullycide." Every year, 6.3 percent of high school students attempt suicide. With that, I am a statistic. I did a quick search of recent bully-based teen suicide. In the past month ...
  • Grace McComas, 15, killed herself on Easter in Howard County, MD. She was cyberbullied. 
  • Kenneth Weishuhn, 14, killed himself on Easter in Paullina, IA. He was bullied for being gay.
  • Ted "Teddy" Molina, 16, killed himself in on April 2 in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was part Latino and part Asian and was bullied for being "mixed."
  • Rafael Morelos, 14, killed himself in late March in Cashmere, Washington. He was bullied for being openly gay.
I'm sure there are more. Many more. 

And then there are cases like Austin Rodriguez of Wellsville, OH, who attempted suicide in late March -- entering a coma. He was bullied for being gay. Imagine how many other suicide attempts there are everyday because of the despair of bullying? 

We think that words are simply words, but words are the worst daggers of all. We have a responsibility to stand for one another, to give a voice to the voiceless, and to make sure that children reach adulthood and can experience life. What am I going to do? I'm going to create a resource at work as a means of education for parents and teens in what to do if they are being bullied online and how to make it stop. 

And I advise those who wish to come to this blog and bully me, that I will no longer stand for hate, judgment, or abuse. This blog is a bully-free zone. If you can't handle that, then you need to reevaluate what the Torah, the Talmud, and our sages have to say about repairing the world and treating those who inhabit this world. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness

I started off writing a post about my Passover experience. Detail by detail. Seder to Seder, meal to meal, joke to joke. But it didn't feel sincere, when all I can think about is how disconnected this year was compared to every observant Passover I've had since 2008.

For the first year since 2008, when I had the world's greatest experience in Chicago thanks to Rabbi Asher Lopatin's help finding me a seder, I was spending Passover mostly by myself. The past three years I enjoyed the tale of our Exodus from Egypt with Evan's family -- the first two years in Florida, poolside, visiting his grandmother, aunt and uncle, and last year in Monsey with cousins. Those were family holidays, how I always envisioned Passover to be. In Florida, four generations gathered around a large seder table eating matzo and cracking jokes.

Even the first year I observed Passover in Chicago, the seder was a family experience. Led by a grandfather at the father's house with grandmother and the orphans of the community around the table.

I'm not saying this year didn't feel like family, but it wasn't the same. The seders were outstanding, filled with intelligent queries and questions of why, why, why. And there were families there, generations represented, but they weren't my family.

An old friend (circa 2006 when I was working at The Washington Post) stopped in last week for the first seder (her first, as far as I know) while working on a story for GOOD magazine. We spent a lot of time talking about my conversion and what I'm really looking for in life, the thing that Judaism was meant to represent for me -- community, family, connections, belonging.

The pursuit of family.

There's something about the seder that asks us all to be a part of a continuum, from generation to generation, and for so many -- even the most secular of Jews -- the seder creates a consistent timeline within a family. For about three years, I was part of a continuum, a story within a family that could serve as a history.

And now? I'm an orphan, a random. And I'm trying so hard to remember that family is more than immediate connections made through marriage or birth. I'm trying to remember that the Jewish community is a family all its own.

But for some reason, I feel so outside of the community. Self-imposed out of fear? Fear of rejection, chastising? Perhaps. I don't know where I've gone wrong or how I ended up here, but despite the inclusion I received at seders and end-of-chag meals, I still feel like that piece of furniture that no one can seem to place. Who bought it? Where do we put it? Should we throw it out? Put it in the attic? It's as if no one knows what to do with me, and worse yet -- I don't know what to do with myself.

Passover, I think, was eye-opening for me. It made me long for something I've lost -- my Jewish family. So the question is: How do I recover what I had, what I lost, and what I need?

(Note: I don't want this to sound like I am diminishing the amazing friends who keep me afloat -- I'm looking at you @melschol -- but there's so much more that I long for. I crave memory, family, history.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Big News!

I'm ...

Going ....

To ............


Not forever, but for part of the summer. I'm going to be one of the Hebrew-speaking staff members on the CAJE Israel Study Tour trip to Poland (four days) and Israel (four weeks). If there were better words to describe how stoked I am, I would use them, but there's not, so, just believe that I am beyond excited to visit Israel for the FIFTH time in the past FIVE years!

HaShem knows my heart is in Jerusalem.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dreaming of Things

I'm broke. Really broke. I've paid off a huge chunk of debt, but the result is that I have no spendable dollars, and I'm going to have a pretty hefty bill to the IRS thanks to my filing situation (married-filing-separately). Which makes me super broke. Even still, a girl can dream of things that aren't completely out of line with wanting. A bike? Shoes? Things that would do me a little bit loads of good.

This beautiful Schwinn Point Beach Cruiser Bike in Red/Cream ... le sigh ... I can picture myself riding to a farmer's market or the gym or anywhere, really. Price Tag: $130-200

I want very much to up my shoe game. I've been working out about 3-4 days a week (that's a half-hour on elliptical + a half-hour doing weights), and I'm using walking shoes that I purchased more than four years ago while living in Chicago. (I remember the trip well -- I had to take a few buses and a train to a Kohl's.) As such, I've realized I should probably buy some shoes that are more attuned to the type of workout I'm doing these days and, you know, shoes that aren't specifically "walking" shoes.

So I'm thinking about something like the Vibram FiveFingers JAYA. If, you know, I can ever afford them. Price Tag: $85.00

I finally bought a washing cup on Thursday. I mean, it was a $3.99 gold plastic washing cup, and I really don't want it to be my main cup, but it gets the job done, I guess. I want to start working on adding more mitzvoth to my calendar. Thus, I've found this beautiful Brown Polyresin Washing Cup that, yes, it might not be expensive, but, well, groceries or a washing cup, you tell me. Price Tag: $34
There's also a lot of other Judaica that I need, but, well, can't afford -- like a challah board! Also, it's killing me that I don't have any Judaica to wear. I have some, but, well, it's attached to previous relationships and I can't get around that. So, I'm looking at this Letters of Creation Necklace. Price Tag: $82.00

Oh and there is so much more. But, well, dreaming can only go so far. What are you dreaming about?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Two Important Pesach Questions

Well, they're important to me, anyway. You see, being a gluten-freebie like I am, I only have gluten-free oats in the house, which means I don't have chametzdik items around to tear up and disperse around my house for the big search on Thursday night.

So what do I do? Do I sprinkle oats all over the place? Seems a little ... strange.

Since we're talking about Passover, can I use my year-round hot-water kettle over Passover? Without kashering?

Ready, set ... go!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Newest Thing in Tanning?

We call it Tzniut Tan. Yes all of my 3/4-length cardigans are going to give this unique glow.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Oh Passover! Oh Passover! How Soon You are Approaching!

Oh ... Passover! Pesach! The feast of unleavened bread! The week of pained colon! So on, and so forth. 'Tis the season, folks, are you fully prepared?

I'll just say that I'm not. Period. I bought some stuff to exist as Passover-specific, and I'm planning on taking a bucket-load of things to be kashered tomorrow -- pots, pans, and other bigger items that I can't kasher on my stovetop. But beyond that? I haven't started cleaning and the amount of kosher l'pesach products I've purchased is relegated to some jam, some of the Yehuda Gluten-Free Matzos (which don't fulfill the mitzvah for the seder), and a few other things. I'm trying to buy as little as humanly possible for Passover, largely because over the past three years the volume of things that I had in my dating and married life sort of horrifies me now. When I was married, we had two homes and each of those homes had three sets of everything for everything. We had Meat, Dairy, Parve and Passover Meat, Dairy Parve. Among two homes, that amounted to twelve sets of things. Of course, the Parve weren't full sets, but otherwise, we had it. It was just too much. So I'm going minimalist this year.

Thus, tomorrow, it being the kashering day, also is going to be the "start the cleaning" day. I've got a kosher l'pesach Smoothie Maker for all of my liquid-diet needs, and I'm planning on doing a lot of salads and eggs.

And on that note, I'm also going Sephardic. That means I plan on digging through piles of rice to get all the bad things out, so that come Friday night, I have clean, kosher-for-Passover rice. I probably won't delve too much into beans, but I do plan on having quinoa around. Flax Seed also is a friend of mine, so you can expect that will be in the diet plan, too. Also? I was elated to find out there are certain brands of Rice and Almond milk that are good for Passover (for Sephardim) WITHOUT certification. Color me stoked! (Find the Sephardic kosher-for-Passover products list here.)

Luckily, I have a pantry that I can simply close off, and I plan on taping off all of my cabinets, too. This is going to be live-on-the-counter Passover.
The reality, lucky for me, is that there really isn't any chametz in my home to begin with. The only thing that is chametz are the gluten-free oats that I have. Otherwise, this is a 24/7/365-chametz-free zone. Does that mean any less cleaning? Nope. Oats are chametz, and thus hardcore cleaning is a must.

I'm also one of those people who always ascribed to the idea that on Passover, a house should be completely clean of chametz. You have plenty of warning, you know when Passover is, so eat all of your bread and cereal beforehand. I've never bought into this whole "sell your chametz" thing. It just seems like a cheap copout. But this year? Well, the gluten-free oats that I have are from Trader Joe's, and I have an entire unopened bag of them. There are no Trader Joe's near here, and the other gluten-free oats I can purchase are hella expensive. So I'm being that person this year: I'm keeping my oats, locking them away, and feeling like a hypocrite.

In addition, I'm planning to do a hardcore car-cleaning scrub down this week. We all eat in our cars, we can't lie about it. Whether it's a snack or a coffee or a nosh, we do it. I have, without a doubt, eaten some delicious oat-based granola bars in my car, and that's chametz, so I'm going to vacuum the heck out of my car. Plus, it's a good time for Spring Cleaning, so why not?

But I have a week to do all of this. I really need to do a bit of meal-planning so that I have everything I need once Friday attacks. I have plans for both of the seders, yet no plans for the last days of Passover. In between, I plan on my staples of Matzo + Cream Cheese + Jam for snacking and lots of smoothies and raw foods for meals. Still, it's going to be a rough week as a Gluten-Free Vegetarian. I might have to cave and rock out some fish this week.

If you're in a last-minute rush and need some help with finding a seder, figuring out the rules and regulations, or are looking for some gnarly recipes, here are some helpful resources!
  • | Yes, it's run by Chabad. They own the domain. I think this is impressive! Their website has everything from the blessings to a bounty of recipes that will leave you giggling with joy. I highly recommend the Lemon Ice Cream. Also, they have a calendar to keep you on track with what you're supposed to do when. Print it out, and abide!
  • Vegetarian Times Super Seder | If you're like me, you're looking for filling, protein-packed vegetarian meals. These recipes sound delish!
  • Oranges + Seder Plates | If you're curious what the history is, read my post on it
  • Unconverted at the Seder Table? | Yeah, it came up once. It's an interesting thing to consider. Then again, we're supposed to have strangers at our table!
  • | It is what it is. A seder-plate full of recipes!
  • The Orthodox Union | They have everything you could need up -- a sefirat ha'omer chart, a guide to foods, and more. Check out their digital magazine here
Have any questions you think I can answer? Just let me know!

The TribeFest Round-Up

If you have to go to Vegas, stay at the Palazzo. You won't regret it. 
Where to begin. It's been nearly a week since I got back from Las Vegas where I was attending the first-annual (aka second) TribeFest, and I'm still struggling to figure out what I really got out of the entire experience. There are a few things I can say for certain.

  1. Being in a certain space with nearly 1,500 other Jews makes you feel at home. 
  2. There is so much that needs to be done among Jews in their 20s, 30s, and 40s to ensure our Jewish future.
  3. The conversion and minority Jewish communities (GLBTQ) were highly underrepresented, underinvolved, and almost marginalized.
  4. Jews need to consider who they are, where they're going, and how they're going to get there.
And on that last night, five-inch heels and a miniskirt with a beyond low-cut blouse are not the way to go. For this, I am certain. 

It makes me sad that what stands out most about TribeFest was the ogling men and half-naked women. And these were the attendees -- not the average Las Vegas folk. I might as well have been wearing a burka. Not that I was on the prowl, because, well, I'm happily relationshiped. But it made me sad for all of my single counterparts. 

I was also highly disappointed by how "left out" I felt by the entire experience. So much of TribeFest relies on connections from camp, day school, college fraternities, Hillel, Hebrew school, synagogue, b'nai mitzvah, and so much more. For those of us who didn't grow up with any of that -- no memories, no connection, no relation -- there were voids. Grand Canyon-style voids. There was a time for people with certain affiliations to get together for food, friendship, drinks, and re-connecting. There wasn't a single one that I fit into, because I didn't grow up Jewish. Many moments left me wondering, "What about my experiences? Or lack thereof. How do I fit?"

But even still, knowing the shenanigans going on behind the scenes and how insignificant my Jewish experience felt, I had an amazing time with my fellow Colorado Jews. I got to catch up with old friends like @EstherK and meet certain old friends in real life for the first time, like @drewkaplan. I also got the amazing opportunity to meet and spend time with illustrious former SNL comedian Rachel Dratch (a member of the tribe!). I wish I could replicate her reaction to my birth name, which was hilarious. Being told by Rachel Dratch that I should write a book was, honestly, enlightening. Now, if only I could find someone to give me an advance so I can take time off, move to the mountains, and devote my time to book-writing ... 

I was able to listen to inspiring stories by a girl who started a multi-million dollar nonprofit at the age of seven, a lawyer who was inspired in law school to bring to light the reality of the abuse of children who are forced into becoming suicide bombers, and an Ethiopian Jewish woman (now an IDF med) who was saved from near-death as a child during her family's harrowing escape to Israel and who turned that experience into her career as a doctor and advocate for Ethiopian Jews. 

My reaction to it all? This tweet: 
The more people I listen to, the stronger I grow in feeling like I need to do more with my voice. #Tribefest
I know that I have a unique voice for a unique community, and perhaps I don't do enough with that voice.  I wanted to use my voice so many times, but my peculiar current circumstances largely prevent me from taking action, or even speaking on things that are important to me. But the experience left me inspired, none the less.
QUIZreal winning team, FTW!
It also left me with a $20 giftcard to Amazon (Colorado rocked QUIZreal, hosted by @thdpr and @hypersem) and a winning record in G-dcast's Pitchfest (again, Colorado rocked it and will be having our pitch made into a video)! I made so many new friends and connections in the Jewish world, and I got to experience the vibrancy of the Detroit and Texas communities (which were heavily represented).

The next time around, I hope to see more educational sessions. I can think of a dozen sessions that could happen at TribeFest that would integrate Judaism, social media, Israel, and so much more. Sessions that provide material and ideas as takeaways. I also think that the convert's point of view is one that is both unique, necessary, and was missing and that voice needs to be heard. It's a teaching moment. An elegant, necessary teaching moment. 

Okay, okay. I was spoiled in THE Sheldon Adelson's private suite. But still, Vegas? Nah.
Oh, and the ultimate lesson of this trip? I hate Las Vegas. (Not the people, the place.)