Friday, June 29, 2012

A Zivug or Bashert?

When we go through life looking for that other half, the piece of ourselves that was incomplete at birth (what Kabbalah calls plag nishmasa – half souls), we often say that we're searching for our bashert -- our soul mate. But what about your zivug

In search of my bashert, a Yiddish word meaning destiny, I've run into the term zivug quite a bit, and I'll be honest in saying that I was unfamiliar and unaware of the terminology. From what I can muster up online, zivug is your preordained mate or match. In the Talmud (Sotah 2) Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak says in the name of Reish Lakish that a man's zivug is made only according to his deeds. The gemara then challenges Reish Lakish by citing Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav, who says that it's about mazal as forty days before creation of the embryo a bat kol issues forth and pronounces his zivug.

We've all heard this before, right? That before we're even born HaShem has already played the part of shadchan (matchmaker). But the gemara goes on in this deeds versus mazal (luck, aka Rav Yehudah's take) to say that in truth they are both right, because there actually are two matches: zivug rishon is based on mazal and zivug sheni is based on deeds. 

Wait, what? Are we being set up to fail!?

According to Rashi, the reason why the zivug is determined according to one's deeds is that if a person's deeds are meritorious, he is given a better zivug. The thought process is that if you're some crazy tzaddik whose deeds go above and beyond what mazal provided, then chances are there's a better zivug out there for him. So his wife dies, he gets a more meritorious bride, and everyone lives happily ever after. The Mekubalim explain that this second matching only happens if one deserves it because of his good words. If he doesn't merit to receive his intended match, he ends up with another woman.  [Note: This whole concept seems to only apply to widows and widowers! (According to Rabbenu Tam.)]

But it makes me wonder if maybe my first marriage didn't work because some tzaddik out there has merited me as a wife. (Oh geez, seriously Chaviva, come on, really?) Wishful thinking never hurt anyone, right? But there's a lot more weight on that second zivug. After all, it's based on our merits. "Under Pressure" doesn't even begin to describe the heft resting on the shoulders of someone searching for their zivug sheni. 

I guess you could say that because of the idea that man and women are created as one that and that because their neshama is as one, that you can have options with zivug, but that only one of them is your bashert. In a way, it's a contingency plan that HaShem has put into place.

I know, I know. I'm providing a very simplified version of the zivug rishon and sheni issue. Read all of the insights here. There's also a great article here that explains things a little bit further, including some of Rambam's approaches to this issue.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled flashbacks of Chaviva performing as the mother of Mottel in Fiddler on the Roof in 2000 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Adventures in Frum Dating

Saw You at Sinai and Frumster. Yes, I'm on them both. They are sort of the only "legit" frum (observant) dating sites out there for folks like me. And so far, the adventure has been interesting.

I don't want to bash any of the guys I've spoken with or met, but I do want to give y'all a little taste of what it's like to be Chaviva in the frum dating world, specifically online, because let's be honest -- Colorado is crawling with attractive, single Jewish guys, but when it comes to hashkafah, there isn't such a match for me. (Yes, I know I "turned" my ex frum, but I'm not going down that road again. Meet me in the middle guys, come on!)

What other kind of convert would I be exactly?
I've been most active on Frumster. And when I say active, I mean it's that insane "click reply every two seconds" kind of active. As if magically out of the ether my bashert will both look at my profile and actually email me. 

You see, I'm discovering that people do a lot of looking and very little interacting. Or maybe it's just me? Those taking a gander at me have ranged from 24 to mid-50s, everything from divorced men to widows to guys with multiple kids that don't live with them (which always makes me wonder what the story is). I have a habit of finding a guy hilarious or interesting and sending a message. Most of the time, the bochur is kind enough to reply, but in that "I'm replying because I feel obligated so don't message me again" kind of way. No room for questions, no actually asking of questions.

I've met two of the three guys I seriously interacted with so far on Frumster. The third was LA guy, and that didn't work out for reasons not worth divulging here (yes, I honor and appreciate a bit of a private life!). The other two guys I met while out vacationing in Chicago. One of the guys' sisters had recently been married, so I got to be there for some hardcore segula wine. I drank it and prayed for my bashert to appear with a Houdini poof. I'm still waiting on that one. Both of the guys were really nice, but ultimately the friend vibe was stronger than the romantic vibe. In retrospect, and at the advice of another bochur I met while there who jazzed me left and right suggested that the next time I schlep across country to meet a fella I ask him to chip in on the gas. Smart thinking!

Although, truth be told, the next interested guy better haul himself to me. I'm a lady. Be a chivalrous white-horse toting gentleman, okay?

GOLD baby. I'm gold. 
On Saw You at Sinai, the story is a little different. You rely on shadchanim or matchmakers to do the kindly work for you. I'm okay with this because, well, it's easier when there's an intermediary. It's something I actually love about the idea of shidduch dating. On the other hand, I haven't been successful. Of the six matches, I declined three of them (with legit reasons, actually) and two declined me. The other is "active," and I'm waiting with utter anticipation praying that perhaps something positive will come of it. Everyone dreads a match "timing out" on SYAS. It can mean one of two things: The person is too scared to say "yes" or "no" because of what the other person may have said and/or they just don't check their SYAS account often enough. You pray for the latter. 

And then there's the old fashioned "who do you know" thing. That's failed me so far -- after all, I don't have a network of relatives around the world to help in the shidduching.

Oh dating. I'll be completely honest: I've never hated dating. People always show up when I'm not looking and I've managed a lot of long-term relationships and romances that have served me well. But things are different now.

Being frum means there are certain things you can't do before marriage, and it also means that in communities like this where the amount of frum single people can be counted on one hand that you're mostly alone in your endeavors. This isn't Washington Heights, folks. There are no singles dinners or groups of girls getting together to keep each other company. Don't get me wrong -- there are, as I said, lots of single Jews in Colorado. It's just being one of those in the frum category that puts you out.

It's like me, as a gluten-freegan, having a job in a kosher bread factory. So much to be had! But so much of which I cannot partake.

I'm trying not to get hung up on being a divorced convert. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if this very blog is getting me down when it comes to the shidduch universe. Anyone who Googles me will see that I'm quite ever-present on the world wide web. To the kind of men I might fancy, this can be a huge turnoff.

Patience is not a personality trait I harbor. Oh HaShem give me strength.

I'll Never Get Used to This

Anyway ... Wait, what is Chavín de Huantar?

Oh, okay. (It's in Peru.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Healthcare? Of course.

Pirkei Avot for the Soul

In an effort to get back to basics (that is, a Lech Lecha reboot for my neshama), I've decided to get my Pirkei Avot on. Study, study, study.

After all, the focus of the Avot are a guide from HaShem to help us nurse our souls back to spiritual health, according to Knesses Yisrael.

I'm starting small, with the "intro" to the Avot, which is a prologue of sorts and is read as an introduction o the weekly chapter. The question is: Why? Here's the text:
כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא, שנאמר "ועמך כלם צדיקים, לעולם יירשו ארץ, נצר מטעי, מעשה ידי להתפאר." 
Okay, so a quick and simple translation here is that to all Israel there is a portion toward the world to come, as it is said, "And all of your people are righteous, they shall inherit the land forever, a branch of my orchard in which I take pride." The latter portion of the text (the quote) comes from Isaiah 60:21.

Easy enough, it's says a lot in a brief bit, but why do we use this particular piece of mishnah from Sanhedrin 90a to begin the study of Pirkei Avot.

Beginning the study of texts that work to nurse the soul back to spiritual health with a text that reminds us that we have a portion toward the world to come musters up a lot of pressure. We're reminded that as members of the nation of Israel, we're granted a portion toward the world to come. It's a given, right? It's interesting to point out that the text uses "l'olam ha'ba" and not "b'olam ha'ba." The former means "to" or "toward" the world to come and the latter means "in" the world to come. Because of this, we can understand that olam ha'ba (the world to come) is not something that already exists that is just waiting for us. Rather, all of Israel is granted a portion toward the world to come, which means that all that we do here in this life serves as construction for what our future world looks like.

Think about it like the Chofetz Chaim did. Helek (חלק), or portion, can be rendered as a plot, like a plot of land. If every Jew is given a plot of land, he must cultivate it through living a life of Torah and mitzvot. If you ignore the plot, ignore your spiritual growth, then that plot that is empty and barren in this world will be the same in the world to come. 

Brilliant! So think of your portion in this world as a plot of land, and make sure you're sowing the seeds, watering the ground, harvesting the fruits. It's a cycle -- it's not a one-off. And so we begin Pirkei Avot, with a call to and reminder of our birthright -- חלק לעולם הבא. 

Moving forward, I'm not going to write about every little tidbit from Pirkei Avot -- only the ones that really strike me as earth-moving and soul-shattering (in the good way, of course). Have a favorite perek? Let me know!

Food for Thought

I mustered up the energy to make my first frittata (as in, first in the history of my entire life first), and I have to say it was quite delicious. This was made in a single-serve little pan because, well, it's just me here, and it was the perfect nosh complete with fresh local corn, zucchini, jalapeno pepper, and red onions. I'll admit it was a little bland on the taste, so next time I'm going to have to jazz it up a little. Provide some Emeril Lagasse BAM! power.

What's your favorite type of frittata? As I'm no longer scared of making them, this might become one of those once-a-week things. Yes, I know it doesn't fit into the vegan plan, but eggs are the one thing I just can't seem to live without. (I'm good without fish, dairy milk, and cheese -- although fish I eat out sometimes.)

I give you, Chaviva's First Frittata!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Okay, Okay, I Get the Hint!

Breaking news today: Israel is swamped with singles!

Yes, shocking as it is, Israel is having a singles problem, specifically with the 35+ set.
According to the statistics, in 1971 the chance of a 35-year-old woman in Israel being unmarried was 1 in 40. Today, at least one in four women of that age is unattached. The situation is the same with men.
That's a huge departure. The article seems to point divorce as being more acceptable today, which is probably true. The bureau of statistics in Israel, up until 1980, didn't even list divorce as an option -- you were either single or not single. 

I don't believe what one sociologist has to say about the future of women in Israel, however. It seems a little, well, Xena: Warrior Princess Amazon Woman for me. Quite literally. According to Oz Almog, a sociologist from the Israel Studies Department at Haifa University, who has written extensively on Israeli culture, he
believes that the number of single people will grow, especially women, who will be inclined to do away with having a relationship altogether. He even believes that in the future women will start to live in communal dwellings, a sort of Amazonian kibbutz.
If that's the case, no thank you aliyah

Men in the article seem to complain about the aggressiveness and forwardness of women in Israel. To that I say, HELLO! There are plenty of single, amazing, intelligent Jewish women in the U.S. who won't knock down your door to get your attention but would be more than happy to set up shop with you in Israel (points aggressively at self). 

I'm just sayin'. 

Food for Thought

I put too much cinnamon and used peaches instead of nectarines because I got locally grown Colorado peaches on super sale at Whole Foods, but otherwise, I give you Coconut Breakfast Oatmeal with Sautéed Peaches and Maple Syrup (sourced from the newest Whole Living magazine).

Next up? Photos of the coconut/almond ice cream I made last night. It's mint-chip. Be jealous.

The Singles Ad

Pass it around. You know you want to.
Gluten-free, kosher vegetarian coffee drinker with masters in Judaic studies and penchant for critical Torah study who makes a mean cholent seeks bearded Jewish gentleman with mad guitar skills, serious kavannah, avodat HaShem, and a romantic side. Inquire within. 
Ready, set, GO! Just remember: Helping in the shidduch process gets you major points in shamayim (that's heaven). HaShem is big on Jews helping Jews help Jews.

So go on now. Run along. Find me a husband.

(Frumster is a huge failsauce for me right now, and Saw You at Sinai has produced all of two matches. Let's do this!)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Motzei Shabbos Special

I know, I know -- I said that this would be a regular thing, but, well, let's make it semi-regular since life doesn't always seem to be nice, clean, and easy for me these days. Thus, I give you, the Motzei Shabbos Special!

A Cook's Life for Me
I spend a lot of time in the kitchen chopping veggies and fruits, and cleanup is a pain in the tuches. Well, hello there Cutting Board w/Collapsible Bin! It holds up to four cups of your scraps so you don't have to keep chucking scraps.

Keep Your Fingers Cool ... or Warm?
I'm a junkie when it comes to these things. I have a Starbucks one and a Whole Foods one (the latter, of course, I feel a lot better about because it was donation-based). But I like the branding on this -- the Java Jammy. Maybe I should print up some Kvetching Editor(tm) ones, eh?

Used Books. Jewish Used Books! Books That are Used and Jewish!
I have a book habit. Everyone who is anyone knows this, of course. The apartment I'm staying at in Chicago has some good books on the shelf, and I happened upon a few that I'm now dying to pick up. Where can I find them? Jewish Used Books! This is #winning, folks. (I'm looking at the Mishneh Torah Yad Hachzakah and The Kuzari: I and II. I should probably also pick up some of the Laws of Kashrus and Hilchot Shabbat, eh?) Oh. You know what, find your favorite Jewish book there and post it in the comments. Maybe I'll buy it. Maybe I'll buy it for you. Who knows. (And they have more than books and seforim, too!)

Show Your State Pride
Okay, so I already have an awesome apron that I got while married that was a highly contested item because, well, my ex didn't believe in fancy aprons. For $20, I have to say the apron I have is pretty awesome and for the amount of time that I use it, it was totally worth it. So if you don't have a nice apron yet, I suggest you shimmy with state pride and order one of these for double-chai -- a mere $36! (Note: There's no Nebraska. What gives!? I mean, it's a beacon of home-cooking! Come on now!)

Hipster Babies
Oh man. Yes, you've seen the "I Bike ..." shirts everywhere. Places like Seattle and New York and Chicago and Denver all have them. It's like the bumper sticker that says "My other car is a bike." Well, even your little Timmy or Susie can hop on the hipsters-on-wheels bandwagon with these cute outfits. I'd get them for my nephews, but, you know, they're only for 6-12 monthers and my nephews are a spritely 17 months old now!

Bite-size Bits
These kind of remind me of Larabars, but they're more bite-sized and hail from the land of the Danes! Made in Denmark, $13 gets you four bites of three flavors of Kur Delights -- Dark Chocolate Mint, Brownie, and Coconut Cream. Not bad, if you ask me. (It's OU-D, too!)

Manifest Your Inner Vegan!
I'm a sucker for cookbooks, and I'm hoping to land this one once I can validate the expense (yes, every expense these days must go through a serious vetting process). From the mind behind is this gluten-free and vegan cookbook -- Great Gluten-Free Vegan Eats: Cut Out the Gluten and Enjoy an Even Healthier Vegan Diet with Recipes for Fabulous, Allergy-Free Fare. And if you go to the Amazon site, you'll even get a free recipe to try out to see what you think! Brilliant! That's ultimate advertising, folks, because you get buy-in before the consumer really buys in. 

Don't be Toddy to the Party
Summertime is cold, iced coffee time for me. Back in the day, I used to just strong-brew some coffee and then put it in the fridge once it cooled down. Bam! Cold coffee! But not really. There's actually a way to cold brew coffee, folks, and it's called the Toddy. The big difference is that if you cold brew and you do it right, you get rid of more than 50 percent of the acid that comes with normal coffee brewing. BUY THIS: Toddy T2N Cold Brew System ... your stomach will thank you.
And that concludes this installment ... have a product you love? A website you can't live without? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Joseph and Ethel: Part I of a Love Story

So my plans for Los Angeles fell apart in a quick instant, so I had to rejigger my entire plan, which means that I'm now in Lincoln, Nebraska, and on my way to Chicago. Why? Because I can. 

I left Denver on Friday morning en route to Omaha, where I arrived just in time for Shabbat at everyone's favorite Nebraska Orthodox synagogue (okay, so it's the only). I stayed Saturday night with an amazing old friend Melanie (we once took a trip to Kansas City to stay with her very cool sister and the trip, being on Halloween, included me reading what should have been scary stories but were pretty lame, overly long stories) and her husband in Omaha. Then, yesterday morning, I took off back to Lincoln where I surprised my dad for Father's Day.

While hanging out with my dad, he brought out the scrapbook that his mother, my Grandma Ethel Edwards, kept during the war. The book, which only spanned a few years from 1943-45, included gobs of Western Unions, wedding greetings, Valentine's cards, and more. It's a little time capsule of the relationship of two people that I never knew, and that, more importantly, my father barely knew.

Ethel Louise Nelson and Joseph Francis Edwards in San Antonio circa 1944.

It's funny, because when I look at them they look so Jewish to me. Is that weird? Or did everyone look Jewish in the 1940s?

My father was born on August 6, 1953.

Ethel died eight years later of lung cancer on January 20, 1962. Joseph died three years later of a heart attack on August 17, 1965. My father had just turned 12 years old 11 days before.

Joseph was 47 when he died. Ethel was 39; she died on her birthday.

Let's just say my father had a rough childhood and leave it at that.

In the scrapbook are oodles of Western Unions from Joseph to Ethel talking mundanely about the weather or modes of travel, but in a romantic, funny way. There's even an entire conversation that was recorded as it happened (not sure what this is called) between Joseph and Ethel's sister (Helen). It's a really funny conversation to read. It also expresses the modesty of dating during that era.

One of the peculiarities of their communications during this time (Joseph was being moved around while he was active duty, they married on October 3, 1943, and Joseph eventually was sent to France in late 1944) is some of the language that Joseph uses. He frequently refers to 88s and 73s.

January 1, 1943 -- this is almost 70 years old! Eeep!

"Maybe it's the weather?" my dad suggested.

"Nah, that's insane," I said. "Maybe it's some kind of military lingo?"

My dad was able to clear up a lot of the weird military lingo in the letters and Western Unions, but not this one. After some digging, and with the knowledge that Joseph was a technician involved in radios, I discovered that 88s and 73s is radio speak!

According to Wikipedia, for amateur radio users, 73 means "best regards" and 88 means "hugs and kisses." (Oddly enough, amateur radio websites kvetch about those who add -s to the end of 73 or 88 as being grammatically incorrect. I'd like to think Joseph was a pro at the radio speak, however.)

Seriously? Aw. Big squishy puppy kisses aw! My dad never knew his father as a romantic, but boy do these Western Unions and cards really paint a different picture.

Stay tuned for more cuteness shared between Joseph and Ethel during 1943 and 1945, including some one-of-a-kind souvenirs from early 1945 in France. These things are wartime artifacts. It seems that my grandfather landed in Paris just after the liberation. Awesome!

Note: I've been trying to trace my grandfather's path during World War II for years. It would be a lot easier if his military paperwork had not gone up in flames during a fire in the 1950s in the Missouri facility that held his documents. So, from here, I have to piece together where he was stationed (Alabama, San Antonio, Cincinnati, and so on). It's quite the fun time. 

I'm in Nebraska!

Wait, what?
What a mug, right? Runs in the family. 

Stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Helping Out the Sad State of Kosher Denver

Okay, I know that 99 percent of you don't live in Denver, but I do, and the food pickings here for the kosher community are sad, at best.

Thus, I implore you to please help me out here. All you have to do is go to Mission: Small Business and throw your hat into the ring of Chai Peking in Denver, Colorado. That's it. Just go there. Vote. And b'ezrat HaShem (with the help of HaShem), maybe Denver will have a good kosher Chinese joint.

Just go to Mission: Small Business.

Scroll to the bottom.

On the lower right-hand corner you'll see "Log In & Support" -- click that.


Monday, June 11, 2012

If You Feel Like Giving

Michael "Miki" Neumann was an amazing man, and I'm proud to have shared the Shavuot education stage with him at Beth David in West Hartford back in 2010. When he passed away suddenly last year of a heart attack, the entire community and all those tied to Miki were broken. He was a boon to the West Hartford community, but he also was internationally known and recognized for his research in Numerical Linear Algebra, Matrix Theory and Linear Algebra, and Numerical Analysis. Miki published more than 150 scholarly articles, coauthored a book in his field and was working on another book at the time of his death. In shul, I will always hear the prayer for the safety of Israel Defense Forces soldiers with his voice, as every Shabbat he led the prayer in West Hartford.

So why am I writing this now? Well, a fund has been set up in his honor at the University of Connecticut, where he was a professor at the time of his untimely death. This is a note from his wife, Helen:
I'm writing to tell you that the University of Connecticut has established a scholarship fund called the Michael Neumann Dissertation Award fund. This scholarship will be given every year to the student who writes the best PhD dissertation in mathematics. This is a very fitting way to honor Miki's memory. In his career at UConn he was a wonderful and devoted PhD supervisor to nine students. He remained a mentor to them all. 
A very generous member of the math department at UConn has offered to match all donations made between now and June 21st up to $5,000. Below is the information on how to make a donation to this fund. 
So, if you're feeling like giving today, considering giving to the Michael Neumann Dissertation Award. He was a brilliant, kind soul, and his memory should be for a blessing!

How to Make a Donation

By Mail
Checks, payable to "The University of Connecticut Foundation," can be mailed to:
The University of Connecticut Foundation
2390 Alumni Drive Unit 3206
Storrs, CT 06269-3206

Please note Michael Neumann-22909 in the memo line.

Donors can also make a gift, up to $5,000, to any part of the University from our secure Web server.
·         For gifts to the Michael Neumann Dissertation Award, visit:
·         Check box: I would like to give to a fund not shown on this list.
·         Account or fund you would like to support: 22909
·         Gift Amount: ______
·         Please enter school, college or program this fund supports (if known): Michael Neumann Dissertation Award - 22909
Description: btn-honor-or-memorial.jpgOnline donors should select the box on the giving screen (example on the left) that informs the Foundation that the gift is being made in memory or honor of someone. When this box is checked, a form will appear where the donor can enter the name of the honoree and who should be notified of the gift (often the honoree or a family member if it’s a memorial gift).

Payroll Withholding
If a UConn faculty or staff member would like to give through payroll deduction, they may call Human Resources for more information. As little as $1 per pay period can be deducted from your paycheck and designated to the account of your choice until you reach your goal. You may download the pledge form, which may be delivered to the UConn Foundation or faxed to the Office of Annual Giving at 860.486.0907.

Donors can also make a gift over the phone by calling the Office of Annual Giving at 860.269.9965.

Boulder in a Day

Today was a good -- nay! -- great day for me on so many accounts. It helps that I spent the entirety of my time in Boulder celebrating all things Jewish with some of my best friends, but there's also more to plop on top of that.

Earlier last week, I was notified that -- sof sof -- my little carmine red Yaris was finally put in my name, and my name alone. After getting home tonight and checking my mail, I found in my little metal box my certificate of get -- or divorce -- from the beth din out in Jersey that sealed everything. So, as of today, I'm completely and utterly on my own! Baruch HaShem.

So back to today -- the Boulder Jewish Festival. Food, ambiance, friends, music, and sunshine as far as my eyes could see. I got the best hugs, had some inspiring conversations, and am ready to take on the world. I'm constantly reminded of why Boulder feels like home to me, and it's about time I found a way to make that happen.

Here's a mere sampling of my day ... look how bright and beautiful it is!

Devon gets his Brian Williams on. 

Sweet! Buff Gear!

I put on tefillin today!

Mama Doni made an appearance, too.

Nom nom nom pickles. 

The motto of Aish Kodesh, my favorite congregation -- seriously, we don't bite. 

The Goodes and @MelSchol!

Soul Food with Aish Kodesh.

The after party -- completely with margaritas!

Find more photos on Facebook!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ask Chaviva Anything!: Gluten Free and Vegan?!

A while back on Ask Chaviva Anything! Someone posed the following question:
why do you want to go vegan? and why do you eat gluten-free? do you suffer from celiac disease?
I deleted my other blogs where I highlighted my gluten-free diet and product reviews, although I kind of regret that now. But the more I live in Colorado and the more I evaluate my diet, the less I buy processed foods meant for review anyway. 

In a simple answer: I'm taking a holistic approach to health. It includes mental, emotional, physical, and although we live in a world where we attack symptoms instead of the whole body, we often screw ourselves over on finding the right answer to feeling better. I'm also taking a very thoughtful, conscious approach to what I put in my mouth. I give you a story. 
Rabbi Benzion of Bobov was strolling with a disciple, deeply engrossed in scholarly conversation. As they passed a tree, the student mindlessly pulled off a leaf and unconsciously shredded it into pieces. 
Rabbi Benzion stopped abruptly. The student, startled, asked what was wrong. In response, the rabbi asked him why he had picked the leaf off of the tree. 
The disciple, taken aback, could think of no response. 
The rabbi explained that all of nature -- birds, trees, even every blade of grass -- everything that God created in this world, sings its own form of praise to its Creator. If they should be needed for food and sustenance, they are ingested and become part of the song of the higher species. But to pull a leaf off a tree for no purpose at all is to wastefully silence its song, giving it no recourse, as it were, to join any other instrument in the symphony of nature.
So let's begin. The personal reason: A vegan diet keeps all the things that cause me lots of gastrointestinal pain and frustration. The first among those is gluten, of course, but that doesn't have much to do with a vegan diet. Dairy, on the other hand, has a huge conflict with a vegan lifestyle and, as I've mentioned in the past, dairy and I don't get along. Up until I turned 25, I could eat anything without any problem. My father used to warn me that it'd "catch up" with me, and it did. It's really weird how it all started at 25, but it did. Suddenly milk and ice cream and cheese and soy started to bother me. Then gluten became the obvious culprit, and I gave it up but kept eating dairy. Dairy contributes to a lot of problems for me, beyond the gastro issues, including fatigue and these little skin issues on my face called milia that are calcium deposits. I can see a difference in my skin overall when I avoid dairy -- my eczema doesn't flare up and my face is clear. (Note: I still eat eggs, but I don't keep them at home.) When it comes to meat, I feel weighed down and fatigued when I eat meat of any kind -- my body just doesn't enjoy it. 

Then there are the global, environmental reasons: The vegan lifestyle is just cleaner for the environment. Buying local, organic produce keeps people in business and keeps my body feeling clean. I don't feel tired or weighed down when I eat vegan. Instead, I feel alive, awake, and I've been sleeping better like you wouldn't believe. My stress levels are down, too. And the food just tastes better. Everything I make and post on Instagram is vegan (save a few pieces of fish), and people oo and aw over how good it looks. Believe me, it all tastes amazing because it's fresh vegetables, simple grains (quinoa, rice noodles), and fresh fruits. And although I won't get into the horrors of the meat industry these days, it's obvious that avoiding meat has incredible environmental and policy impacts. Even in the kosher world we've discovered that animals are treated poorly, and I have one shochet friend who will only eat what he has raised and schechted as a result of his training. There are no guarantees that the meat you eat has been raised, fed, and killed according to the strictures of Jewish law, and I'd rather be safe than sorry when it comes to observing the halachot of meat.  Feel free to read this article from Aish about Judaism and vegetarianism. Although I don't agree with a lot of what is said there about "radical" vegetarianism, I do think the article makes some good points and refefences. 

Being vegan is just simpler. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it's not. I am able to be more conscious of what I put in my body and thus more able to appreciate the gift that HaShem has given me. It is that -- a gift. It's not a right. 

At the Shavuaton people marveled: So what do you eat? Not consuming meat or gluten or soy, people were perplexed what on earth a person like me eats. Once upon a time, people lived on real, clean food. That's what I do. 

Nuts and raw nut butters
Grains (quinoa, teff, rice)

The other great thing about a diet like this? You can eat a lot more food. I can sit down and snack on an entire bunch of roasted asparagus without feeling guilty. 

As for the gluten-free thing, that one is simple. Since 2005 I had been struggling with a lot of gastro issues. I tried cutting out dairy (that was hard and it took me years to get here), coffee (no dice), and then soy. Cutting out soy made a huge difference, but I was still having a lot of problems. During Passover of 2010 I got really, really sick over Passover. People suggested getting tested for Celiac, so I did. The blood test, like most, came back negative. My doctor advised me to take a bunch of fiber pills and see what happens. I was flabbergasted and told him that I wanted to do the intestinal scope -- the only real way to see what's going on. He said it was invasive. I said do it. He said no. So I took the advice of friends and gave up gluten. 

I kid you not, within the week, I felt 100 percent better. It was a no brainer for me after that: I gave up gluten and haven't looked back. 

It's easy to live without gluten, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a moron. We've been convinced that bread must be made from wheat and that the same goes for pizza crust and noodles and everything else under the sun. Did you know that traditional English crumpets were not made with wheat? Or that arepas -- a classic Latino pastry -- are traditionally made just with corn meal and no wheat? Most of what our ancestors ate that we'd call "bread" was produced using ancient grains like teff, not wheat. But wheat is cheap, so it became the norm. It's sort of like corn and soy -- they're mass produced in a disgusting way in the midwest, so we put them in everything because it's cheap and easy. 

I'm not going to get into all of the specifics of the evils of wheat, soy, and corn, because then you'll all think I drank the Kool-Aid that they serve in Boulder. But those of you who know me know that I'm big on research, finding lots of angles, and picking the one that is both logical and practical. 

A plant-based diet is a healthy diet. That's that. There are plenty of olympians and atheletes that perform on gluten-free or vegetarian diets. It can be done. People survived for thousands of years on a plant-based diet, because meat used to be a luxury. We now think of meat as a right. There is a reason that many Chasidic communities feel that eating meat on Shabbos is a must -- it used to be a luxury. 

Do I miss meat? No. Do I miss dairy? Only sometimes when I'm craving gelato or feta. Do I miss gluten? Definitely not. 

I live in a seasonal, plant-based world, and I couldn't be happier. If you're intrigued and want to do what's both good for your body and good for the environment, I suggest checking out Eat Seasonably. When you eat what's in season, you're lowering your carbon footprint for the trekking of all those exotic fruits and vegetables you just can't live without, and you're also helping support local growers because their produce is what will end up in markets oftentimes. Use this Interactive Calendar to understand what is in season and plan accordingly. Your body and your planet will thank you.  

Changes in Plans

An unfortunate turn of events means I'm not going to Israel in a few days. Nope, I'll be stateside, which has some other exciting news attached to it. But this video was posted on Twitter today and makes me really bummed I'm not going to Israel, and even more bummed that I'm not going to ROI (well, I was never going this year -- why didn't I push to apply!?). Oh Benji, how I miss you! (Esther, you, too!)

Bad screen cap there if you ask me. 

Anyway, sometimes teams don't mesh, and sometimes people get voted off the island, so I'm not going to be staffing a trip to Israel. It's upsetting for me personally and professionally, because I saw a huge change to really impact the lives of some amazing Colorado teens. With my connections, my master's degree in Judaic studies and deep knowledge of the political and religious history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and love of all things Jewish and Israel, I saw myself as really making an impact. Alas, I'm not going. Hopefully I can find a way to Israel later this year or my chazakah of going every year since 2008 will crash and burn. 

The upside? I'm taking a trip to Los Angeles in a few weeks to meet someone I've been talking with online on and off since moving to Colorado. He and I haven't talked about how public I can/should be about the details, so for now, I'll leave it at that. 

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dinner Time in Chavi Land

I'm a firm believer in trying out new recipes most nights of the week, but sometimes I get lazy. There are certain things that I just keep in my pantry because I know I'm going to get lazy. Tonight was one of those nights. With about eight loads of laundry to do (it's been about a month), I grabbed a box of brown rice noodles, a bunch of asparagus, some lemons, salt and pepper, olive oil, some tomatoes, some pitted kalamata (auto-correct wants this to be Kalamazoo if you can believe it) olives, and spinach. And voila! Dinner.

After cleaning and trimming the asparagus, I tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and placed them on a parchment-lined cookie sheets. After dousing them with lemon juice, I roasted them at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes to snackable Lemony Asparagus perfection.

While the asparagus were cooking, I heated a giant pot of water to a boil and removed it from the heat. I tossed in the rice noodles and let them soak (stirring a couple times) for about eight minutes with the lid off. Then drained them in a colander.

Meanwhile, I threw a mixture of hastily chopped tomatoes, kalamata olives, olive oil, salt, and pepper into a saute pan with spinach and heated the goods up.

Bowl, meet rice noodles. Rice noodles, meet random tomato-olive-spinach mixture. Everybody, meet lemony asparagus! Let's call this Rice Noodles with Vegetarian Ragout. Or something like that.

Oh, and if that wasn't enough, I whipped up what I can only call Banana Split Crisp. I seriously rocked this randomly, so just follow me here.

Two bananas sliced, a bunch of cut up fresh pineapple, some frozen mixed berries. Toss 'em with some agave. In a food processor, pulse some gluten-free oats with some oat flour, some chopped walnuts, and some unsweetened shredded coconut. Throw in some butter until it's well combined. Throw the latter mixture on top of the former mixture in a square pyrex (or, if you're like me and the Guti's are holding your Pyrex hostage, whatever container you can come up with). Voila!

Seriously, it tastes like a warm banana split. I highly recommend it!

Monday, June 4, 2012


Okay, I really really hope the person who created and has been updating this Tumblr continues to do so because, well, this is one of the few things I've come across that has had me laughing out loud. Really, really loud. Bravo!

Here's a screen cap of one of my favorites (except on the actual site, it's all animated gifs!).

New Book on Conversion!

I'm so, so excited to announce the release of A Simple Jew's Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought!
This book will enthusiastically be sought after by Jews who were not born Jewish, and those on the path to becoming Jewish. It has received glowing approbations from the Sudilkover Rebbe, Bostoner Rebbe, Hornsteipler Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Morgenstern, Rabbi Dovid Meisels, and Rabbi Lazer Brody.

Unlike numerous books already published in English on conversion to Judaism, this book is not a personal narrative, how-to manual, digest of relevant laws, or academic historical overview. This book presents the story behind the story - the mystical teachings found within Chassidic literature that illuminate the hidden inner world of the ger.

Until now, these teachings were scattered in an unorganized manner throughout countless volumes and inaccessible to those unfamiliar with the Hebrew language. With this book ... relevant Chassidic teachings are collected, translated from Hebrew into English, organized topically, and further elucidated, when needed. Interspersed with these translated teachings, stories- both old and new - are included to help bring them to life. In addition, this book includes supplementary essays written by Rabbi Chaim Kramer, Rabbi Ozer Bergman, Rabbi Dovid Sears, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel, and Mrs. Talya Lipshutz (based on conversations with Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig of Tsfat).

The Awful(ly Awesome) Truth

You'll notice that this post has no commenting option. I've actually never done that before. I'm a firm believer in the flow of communication and reining things in if they get ugly. But on this post, well, the awful truth is that I don't really care what people think about my take on life.

After my post The Storyteller's Dilemma, I got a comment (that was deleted) saying that the pendulum is swinging to fast, that my choices and decisions are abrupt, that it's a sign of the delicate state of my mental health. Yes, I know, I deleted the comment and here I am telling you about it, but I'm talking about it on my terms.

Very few of you have been reading this blog since it started in April 2006. Even fewer of you (if there are any) have known me since I started college in 2002. I can count one person who reads this blog who knew me in 2001. Before that? None of you knew a lick about me. You only know what I tell you, and perhaps I haven't told you much. Maybe, just maybe, if you knew me better, you'd look at what seems like swift and abrupt pendulum swings as normative for me.

The thing is, not everyone lives in a world where you grow up on a street, you go to college in-town or away and move back to that same town you grew up in, you stay friends with all the people you grew up with, you probably marry one of them or your college sweetheart, you have some kids and send them to playdates with the people you grew up with, and you envision them all getting married in a big happy wedding someday. You have wine and cheese parties with friends you've known forever. You buy a house. You life happily ever after. And then you're buried in the plot you bought where you grew up next to the spouse you've been married to for 75 years.

That narrative, is, to be completely honest, not mine. It never has been. You're talking to someone who has had some crazy revelations in life that have resulted in a lot of life-altering changes. That's in my DNA, it's my "free spirit" nature as my father says. He's always told me to follow my sense of rightness and justness that resides in my heart, and that's what I do. The result of that? I make a lot of life change, sometimes abruptly. It's who I am.

Where do I begin? How about a sampling of the "unhealthy" abrupt changes I've made.

When I was a kid, I was involved in dance classes for seven years. Suddenly, at the age of 11, I decided I was done. It wasn't for me. Years of investment, and nope, done. My entire childhood I wanted to be an artist. I took classes, entered contests, again, lots of investment, and then in the eighth grade I met a girl who was really good, so I up and quit artistry. In ninth grade I decided I wanted to be a photo journalist. By the end of the semester, I decided I wanted to be a writer (well, that one stuck, sort of). In ninth grade, I decided I wanted to play volleyball, having never been athletic in my entire life. One year later, I was done with it. When I was a senior in high school, I decided I wanted to date a girl, so I dated a girl for a year. And then that phase of my life passed. I changed my major about two months into college from English to Journalism. I was going to be a copy editor forever! I was so passionate, I loved it. One year into a gig at The Washington Post, I quit. (People nearly murdered me for this -- who quits The Washington Post?) I moved to Chicago for a boy. I decided I didn't want to get married. I left the boy. I left Chicago. I pursued a degree in Judaic Studies (one of my happiest times). I decided I wanted to be a professor, only a year or so later after getting my degree to realize that it probably wasn't the best fit. I wanted to be a Hebrew Language Educator, that lasted about nine months. Heck, even when I converted to Reform Judaism that didn't stick long. I asked for a get, got it a week later, picked up and restarted in Colorado. I started talking to a Lubavitcher online, was smitten, but ended up dating a non-Jew instead. I was convinced it was the best, most right thing for me. I swore off marriage and children. We broke up after five months, and I'm talking to the Lubavitcher again. I've been working in the nonprofit world for a few years, and I've decided that maybe it's not the right fit for me. And so on, and so forth ...


My life is peppered with constant change. It's how I function. To the curious onlooker, it may not look healthy.

The only words/actions/things that I have changed and stuck to 100 percent?

Big Sister

And none of those require me to be in the same place and with the same person doing the same thing at the same time.

"What about roots!?" people ask.

For some people, with a strong, deep-seeded family situation, roots are important, location is important, relationships are important. For someone like me, who doesn't know her extended family and took to genealogical research to find some semblance of self and who converted to Judaism and became a part of the vast network of Jews around the world, my lifestyle makes sense. The Wandering Jew. It's a concept people.

It doesn't make me sick, or mentally ill, or a bad person. Okay? Okay.

Back to your regularly scheduled blogging ...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lessons in Jewish Conversion:
The Denver and Ne'eman Plans

When I first moved to Denver, I was contacted by all varieties of people detailing the unfortunate (emotionally and financially) situation of conversion in Denver. I wrote about it, and there was a huge outcry in the community that I was both uninformed and out of line. Like any good student, I've spent the past many months educating myself on the Denver situation, and now that I'm not dating a non-Jew and I don't have the intention of dating another non-Jew, I feel like I can put myself back in a place of being a voice. And if not a voice for action, then a voice for education. So I give you a brief history of the infamous Denver Plan.

In 1977, two Orthodox rabbis -- Eliezer Berkovitz z"l and Steven Riskin -- came to Denver as speakers in adult education programs. Berkovits, a  professor emeritus of Hebrew Theological College in Chicago, warned the Denver community that the "Who is a Jew?" issue was destroying Jewish unity. Riskin, who later became Shlomo Riskin and served as chief rabbi of Efrat, related passates from the Talmud and Rambam that dealt with conversion's lenient attitude concerning the applicant's commitment to observance of the mitzvoth or commandments. Both considered "mavericks" in the community, they had a great impact on Denver Orthodox Rabbi Stanley Wagner.

Within a few weeks of their talks, Rabbi Wagner called together seven Denver rabbis of all denominations determined to find a way to provide for a single, citywide conversion apparatus. A noble cause, even after the failure of the Denver Plan, Orthodox Rabbi Jerome Lipsitz commented, "Why have two separate types of Jews? ... We want to create a Jew all of us can recognize as a Jew." Clearly the effort was called for, but its basic concepts were set for failure.

The meeting with the rabbis resulted in the Denver Plan comprising the following process:
  • potential converts would take a class over several months on the fundamentals of Judaism
  • the classes would be taught by rabbis across the denominational spectrum of the Jewish community (let's call this holistic Jewish education)
  • after the class, a panel of rabbis representing different movements examined the candidate
  • participants would agree to basic Jewish observances (fasting on Yom Kippur, joining a synagogue, lighting candles on Shabbat and holidays) 
  • note: dietary laws and "keeping a Jewish household" were mentioned, but not a necessary commitment for conversion -- both practices were left "vague"
  • if the panel found the candidate "fit for conversion," a beit din of Traditional rabbis would perform the conversion
A note on the Traditional rabbis. In Pledges of Jewish Allegiance: Conversion, Law, and Policymaking in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Orthodox Responsa, the authors (neither of them Orthodox mind you) emphasize that these were not mainstream Orthodox rabbis. You see, in every version of the Denver Plan that was explained to me, it was Orthodox rabbis performing the conversion in the end. According to the authors, these Traditional rabbis were "Orthodox rabbis whose congregations had adopted more liberal practices, such as the use of microphones on Shabbat, mixed seating, and the like; no mainstream Orthodox rabbi was willing to participate" (117). 

Whoa! Shocker! Okay, I had to regroup after reading this, because my understanding of this groundbreaking plan was that these were mainstream Orthodox rabbis who had agreed to creating a situation of highest-common-denominator conversion practices. Wrong. 

The ultimate failure (which we'll get to) of this program relates to the compromises made by the Traditional rabbis and community regarding the converts' commitments to the mitzvoth. Because of the vagueness of the commitment to the mitzvoth of kashrut and what I understand as taharat ha'mishpacha (such as mikvah), this allowed the Traditional rabbis to approve the conversion. 

By 1982, the Denver Plan was falling apart. Traditional rabbis felt they'd compromised too much, and when, in March of that year the Reform movement recognized patrilineal descent, serious questions were raised as to the viability and sustainability of the program. On June 17, 1983, six years after the initial agreement, the Traditional rabbis withdrew and the Denver Plan was done. 

In its six years, the Denver Plan converted a shocking 750 people. Good. Lord. That's 125 people a year. That makes me wonder -- where are those 750 people today? Are they living Jewishly? Do they still identify as Jews? Has there been any kind of followup with them? And, perhaps most interestingly, how many of the converted to be and remained Orthodox (whatever that means)?

An article in the Intermountain Jewish News brought the largely secretive plan to light, resulting in comments from Harold Jacobs, president of Orthodoxy's American Council of Young Israel, to say, 
We have no choice bu to draw the line, clearly, as to who is a Jew and who is not, as to what limits tand basic standards of elementary Jewish identity and personal conduct we must insist upon. ... It is time that Orthodoxy put the rest of the Jewish community on notice: no longer will 'Jewish unity' be bought at the expense of Jewish identity. For Klal Yisrael today, that is too high a price.
Ouch. Comments from the Jewish Observer were even more blunt.
While compromise for the sake of unity can often make good sense, when dealing with basic principles of faith, 'compromise' is actually a sell-out. ... It is time that all Orthodox rabbis recognize that Reform and Conservative Judaism are far, far removed from Torah, and Klal Yisroel is betrayed -- not served -- when Orthodoxy enters in religious assocaition with them.
What a zinger. The Observer went so far as to warn other communities against this type of "interdenominational cooperation," urging such communities to "step back from the abyss." 

This didn't, of course, stop Bibi Netanyahu from appointing what became known as the Ne'eman Commission in 1997 to develop ideas and proposals regarding religious conversion in Israel in response to the influx of some 700,000 immigrants from Russia and other parts of the Former Soviet Union between 1987 and 1997. Yaakov Ne'eman, an observant Orthodox Jew, was appointed to the head of the commission. After some 70 sessions and 150 hours of deliberations, the committee recommended the
creation of panels of rabbis representing all three movements to prepare the candidates for conversion. The ritual conversion itself would remain within the province of the Orthodox rabbinate alone.
Sound familiar? No surprise here, but the commission's proposal was rejected by the Chief Rabbinate in 1998. 

As far as I know, there were no other attempts either before or after either of these situations to create an interdenominational cooperation for highest-common-denominator (or lowest if you prefer) conversions. The question will always be "is it good for the Jews?" for some and "is it real Judaism?" for others. Asking converts to commit to the mitzvoth before dipping in the mikvah is the crux point of conversion, and an agreement is an agreement. However, if you follow the opinion of some rabbis, what happens after the dip is all on the new Jew. If a convert makes the commitment and decides to live a Reform or Secular Jewish life, then those sins of incomplete commitment are on them -- but they're still Jews.

Note: There have been talks of doing a mass conversion of Russian immigrants in the vein of what it looks like when people take their U.S. citizen oath. I imagine the scene itself would be pretty powerful -- thousands of immigrants who have been living in the Jewish state taking an oath of Jewish citizenship and nationhood. But I'll talk about this some other time. 

Sundays are Fundays

I woke up this morning after only clocking about five hours of sleep (but a really good five hours) to go to the Old South Pearl Street Farmers Market in Denver. I walked away with some delicious tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers, as well as a delicious gluten-free lemon bar from my favorite joint Watercourse/City O City. I was tantalized by homemade truffels and gluten-free candied nuts, and that's the tough world we live in. The nice thing is, according to Colorado law, you can now make and sell goods straight from your home. It has me wondering -- should I parlay myself into the world of kosher, gluten-free baking and selling? 

So, here's a photo narrative of the past few hours. 

Well, first thing's first, I checked my mail from yesterday and awesome of awesome ... my official U.S. Trademark Certificate came in! I'm official! That means if someone decides to squat on a bunch of websites using my trademark, I can get them easy peasy!

Big dog (or is it a bear?) meets little dog. I think they like each other.

I don't think I've ever heard of "Grass Fed Cows" -- usually it's Grass-Fed Beef. But seriously, it's a cow, not beef, when it's being fed, right?

I swoon for the poet, and this guy is amazing. I mean, Poet for Hire? Coolest hipster European thing on the planet, no doubt. So I told him I'd give him $3 to write me a poem about penguins.

Mere moments later, he produced this, and although he only had $1 change, I let him keep the $4. I mean, he made a reference to Morgan Freeman. That's worth $1, right? Find him online: Untouched Poetry.

A Farmers Market is no farmers market without some food trucks, especially in Colorado. If there's one thing we love (wow, I said we, it's official), it's the ability to get food from the window of some super-sized (sometimes poorly) painted truck. Today's offerings included OG Burger (lo kasher!) and Quiero Arepas (gluten-free option, but not kosher). I think I've been inspired to make my own arepas!

At what age do you tell your dog to leave his teddy at home? 

Grass Fed Cows present the Peyton Manning. Yes, folks, Colorado is STOKED for the Manning. 

There are a lot of dogs out here. In fact, I even saw the dog that I intend to get some day -- an Airedale Terrior. Assuming I can verify that it's (whoa, I almost wrote gluten-free, but I promise I don't eat dogs) hypoallergenic. But these two dogs? Well, they looked more like bears. Cute, cuddly, rip-your-face-off bears.

And now? Well, now I'm parked at Stella's -- it's my happy place, where I sit on a patio filled with dogs and people under canopies of trees and soak in a bit of tangential sunshine. Coffee, books, my computer, bliss. I hope y'all are having a great Sunday!