Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Aliyah Update: Of Books and Cars

I had fully intended on going to the gym after work today. I was in good spirits despite feeling a bit on the low end thanks to some dehydration and sun sickness from Sunday -- mostly because I received, signed, and sent off a signed lease for my apartment in Nachlaot, Jerusalem, Israel! Yes, it's a done deal, folks.

But I didn't go to the gym. No, instead I went to the Post Office to inquire of M-Bags. The conversation went something like this:

Me: So, I read about M-Bags online, and I'm moving to Israel and want to know what the pricing looks like.
Him: M-Bags? Wheewww. Haven't had an M-Bag in a while. (Looks to coworker) Do we still do M-Bags?
Coworker: Depends what she's shipping.
Me: Books.
Coworker: Books, yeah, we do.
Him: Okay, so, you just package them up and bring them in.
Me: Um ... I need to know the pricing. Can you tell me the pricing?
Him: Sure, just ... (futzes with computer) I can't seem to find it. (To coworker) Where is it?
Her: International.
Him: Let's see ... okay ... let's say 50 pounds ... looks like ... (Makes a face like he just saw his first $100 bill, and turns the computer screen to me).
Me: $180? That's not so bad. Okay, thanks.

The funniest thing about all of this was that he didn't say the price of shipping 50 pounds of books. He just turned the screen. Like it was too obscene to say out loud. What he doesn't know is that shipping something like that usually costs upwards of $300 to $600 internationally.

$180 isn't bad, but not ideal. I might have to pare down what I'm taking and figure out what books I can ship back to my parents for storage. If you have other suggestions, please let me know. (Note: I already sold a ton, have more to donate, and bought a Kindle with the sold-book earnings.)

After the trip to the post office I decided to do the big, bold thing and head to the Toyota dealership. Gulp. Lucky for me, my car is prime for buy-back by the dealership, and one of the guys said he has someone in mind to buy it with cash. So, either way, he's going to get my car bought for me -- for more than I currently owe on it, which is a huge, huge, huge blessing.

Seriously, is something going to go wrong at some point? Will the shoe drop? Or is this what it feels like when you're finally on the path that HaShem wants for you?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Emily and Me

Every now and again, I get to meet an awesome, amazing, super-cool e-friend in real life (IRL). This happened yesterday after a long day volunteering, on foot, in the heat, in which I neglected to properly hydrate or guard myself from the sun. Let it be known that shortly after this photo was taken by @denvereric, I went home and passed out for well over twelve hours and @TheMishkina hopped on a plane back to the land of long "o"s.

Cheers to meeting people IRL! And seriously, next year in Jerusalem! (For us both!)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

To Talk in Shul

I was digging through some old posts for something and came across an old post that was very near and dear to my heart. Thus, I started writing this blog post.

Several years back, I attended shul at probably the most talkative congregation on the face of the planet. The entire experience was a mess for me -- someone who cherishes the silent moments while davening or listening to Torah reading or being in solitude with someone saying kaddish. I love what I like to call the "organized chaos" of an Orthodox service -- when there are places for loud or communal davening, the voices intermingled whooshing upward are beautiful to me. But the rest of the time? Silence is golden.
The Zohar identifies a person who speaks about worldly matters in synagogue as a kofer b'ikar -- a heretic (Parashas Terumah 131a), and the Roke'ach adds that one who speaks during prayer is guilty of masig g'vul or stealing the sanctity of the synagogue (Hilchos Teshuvah, Siman 26). One text goes so far as to say that he who speaks in shul is chillul Hashem -- desecrating the name of HaShem.
And then there is the Mishnah Berurah citing the testimony of the Eliyahu Rabbah who writes in the name of the Kol Bo saying, "Woe to those people who speak during the prayers. For we have seen several synagogues destroyed as a result of this sin."

So what's to do? According to a halachic ruling by the Kaf HaChaim, a person who habitually talks during prayer should stay home and pray alone, rather than bring others around him down to his depths of disrespect, making him a chotei u'machti es harabim -- a sinner who casuses others to sin and forfeits his portion in the World to Come (olam ha'ba).

I understand that so many people come to shul to be social, but there's a reason most synagogues have a social hall. There's a sanctuary, there's a social hall. I guess I don't understand why for some these two spaces have to be the same. Is it really so difficult? And with more and more studies coming out showing that multi-tasking is a myth, you can't really say that someone wants to be present for the Torah reading but also be social -- you're not taking in the parshah if you're talking, and you're sinning by talking during the reading anyway.

What do you think?

Note: These texts come from a two-part bit in "Praying with Fire" -- one of my favorite mini-books. 

The Motzei Shabbos Minute

For some reason, my brain happens to work in insane creativity and pensiveness overdrive on Shabbos -- probably because I know I can't write anything down. So here are some things that crossed my mind over the past 25 hours.

  • I can't seem to figure out which lights to leave on and which to turn off for Shabbos. You'd think, after nearly a year of living in this apartment and being Shomer Shabbos that I'd have it down. Alas, I always miss one. When I was married, it was my ex's job to keep tabs on the "what to do before Shabbos starts" list. The benefit of this was that if he missed something, it wasn't my fault. (hashtag "perks of being married.")
  • Why do I snack so much on Shabbos? What is it about these 25 hours that make me want to do nothing but sleep and eat? I used to do a lot more reading and learning, but these days it's eat a bunch, sleep until 3 p.m. on Shabbos afternoon, get up, go to shul, nosh, pray, sleep. 
  • I've realized I have very inconsistent habits when it comes to when I sit down for the brachot during Torah reading aliyot and when I stand. Sometimes I find myself standing for all of mincha, sometimes for all of maariv. I don't know that there's a hard-and-fast rule about whether you stand or sit, whether you do a full lean-over for the bracha or if your tush coming off the seat in a little nod is enough. Maybe I should ask my rav. It's interesting the mish-mosh of sitting and leaning versus standing and fully leaning that goes on. Consistency is key in so many of the things that we do. 
  • Guitars are weird in shul. I don't know why. I love to sing, I love to dance. But. I don't know.
  • Feeling a little weighed down from my overcooked Moroccan cholent and spending last night noshing some coconut ice cream and chips (not to mention staring down the yellow-based food options at seudat shlishit for which I did not consume) ... I've realized I've let myself go a little. I need to walk the walk if I'm talking the talk. Yes, I am a gluten-free, egg-eating vegan, but that doesn't mean that junkfood abounds for someone in my shoes. So I'm going to call this the Aliyah Diet. Step one? Throw away everything I own foodwise (and donate the stuff that isn't open). I'm going to stick to a strict shopping list that will serve the three meals a day I consume -- no more, no less. By and large, what I eat is going to be focused on my two favorite change-the-way-you-eat-and-feel books Crazy Sexy Diet and The Eat-Clean Diet ... both say "diet" but mostly are focused on eating vegan, living foods.
  • Moving to Israel doesn't scare me. At all. Is that rational?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Parshat Shoftim: The Role of Rabbi

As I so often do when it comes to the weekly Torah portion, I'm looking into the archives for inspiration because this week -- nay, this month -- has been busy and I'm finally feeling the strangle-hold loosen. One major event and one major project at work have come and closed (well, except the project, which was my baby of online course registration for the first time at my job, but it's up-and-running, which is all I really wanted).

Even still, as Shabbos nears, there are a million and one thoughts pouncing around in my braincage, so hoo-rah for the archives of this here blog. These thoughts come from 2006, believe it or not, just a few months after this blog got legs and started walking. Back then, I was wholly devoted to the weekly parshah. After a late night of copy editing at The Washington Post, or on a quiet day off, I'd wander to a Dupont Circle coffee shop with my chumash and read the entire portion, taking notes along the way in a steno notebook. Those were the days. Straight from August 2006, I give you ...

One: Some Elul thoughts, or A month of rabbis on Elul

From Chabad.org (probably my MOST favorite site):
"It is like a king who, before he enters the city, the people of the city go out to greet him in the field. There, everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him; he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all. And when he goes to the city, they follow him there. Later, however, after he enters his royal palace, none can enter into his presence except by appointment, and only special people and select individuals. So, too, by analogy, the month of Elul is when we meet G-d in the field..." (Likkutei Torah, Re'ei 32b; see also Likkutei Sichot, vol II p. 632 ff.)
"In Elul, teshuvah is no longer a matter of cataclysmic 'moments of truth' or something to be extracted from the depths of the prayerbook. It is as plentiful and accessible as air: we need only breath deeply to draw it into our lungs and send it coursing through our veins. And with Elul comes the realization that, like air, teshuvah is our most crucial resource, our very breath of spiritual life."
Note: Reading this last line made my eyes well up. I know that most of you don't know me, and I don't know you, and that the web is a place where we come and go as we please in and out of the lives of others -- nameless and faceless -- so I don't expect you to understand how powerful the idea of teshuvah is for someone like me. But if you have the slightest notion of what it means to truly need something, to need hope in order to even imagine carrying on another day, then you understand this idea of the "very breath of spiritual life."

Two: Parshat Shoftim

Shabbat Shalom. This week, Moses instructs the appointment of those who will pursue and enforce justice. In every generation, according to Moses, there will be those entrusted with the task of interpreting and applying the laws of the Torah. This parsha has quite the place in modern Judaism, and an article I read last night in Tikkun really makes this hit home. The article discussed the modernization of Judaism, the evolvement from priests to rabbis to lay people. The latter, of course, being the modern application of those entrusted with leading services and minchas.

It wasn't rare at my shul back home [Referring to South Street Temple in Lincoln, NE] to have a lay person lead services, delivering the sermon and bringing the Torah out. It was strange, to me, though it also was relaxing, as I could paint myself in that picture up on the bima. At the same time, I worry about the future of the rabbi in modern Judaism. Orthodox and Hasidism seem to have a pretty tight rein on the idea of the rabbi -- they are, as Moses foresaw, those entrusted with "interpreting and applying" laws of Torah. The article stressed the importance of an academic Jewry that could serve as lay leadership, interpreting and applying the laws. Analyzing them to bits for blogs and sermons on Saturday mornings. Is this the next step of the teacher evolution?

There's nothing wrong with lay-led services, but the rabbi's purpose is ever so important. Rabbis (those trained, anyhow) serve as encyclopedias of every cubit (har har) of Judaism, from Rashi to Maimonides to the Baal Shem Tov to Moses. Rabbis I've encountered may not know everything, but their passion for exploring and teaching and interpreting the laws of Torah are astounding. Lay leaders are often very involved in shul activities, serving on trustees boards and donating large sums to the local Yeshiva or Birthright foundations. They often have a deep-seeded need to participate in the community, Torah studies and shul choirs. But lay leaders also tend to be businessmen/women, journalists, artists, computer scientists, engineers, doctors, etc. Rabbis have the chance to hone their skills and focus on one thing -- Torah, Judaism, halakah. Lay leaders already have so much on their plate without tossing responsibilities of rabbinic duties on top.

Maybe it is preemptive, but the article made me wonder. Is this the evolution of our sages, scholars and teachers in modern Judaism? Are rabbis an endangered species, not from a lack of interest but because lay leaders are taking the reins?

Note: This piece of the post was interesting to me especially after a rather tenuous conversation that occurred on Facebook last month (or was it earlier this month?) where I posed the question of a rabbi's role outside of Orthodoxy, where rulings on halachic matters require an almost constant attention of every moment of every day in a frum person's life. Perhaps I answered my own question without even knowing it. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

One Coach Seat

And this is how I started my day. Glowing. Elated. In the world of Tyra Banks, I've got my smize on. Why so happy?

GAH! McKayla! Get off my back! Yes, my flight to Israel to become an Israeli and to fulfill the mitzvah of possessing the land of Israel is booked! I cannot explain how I feel about all of this, how smooth and quick it's moved. As my boss said, sometimes HaShem clears the leaves from the ground and the path is clear and you have no choice but to follow it. Life. Is. Happening! And soon!

When I got the email from Nefesh b'Nefesh, I rolled around in bed giggling to myself as I said Modah Ani, then crawled out of bed and took on the day, starting at the Farmers Market. If you want to start a day off right, start it at the market surrounded by fresh, local produce. It will put a bounce in your step and hope in your stomach.

And then I went to work, where I realized that there are way too many cups on my desk and the place is just a mess this week.

And, of course, I once again stayed late enough that the cleaning guy came in to empty the trash, at which point I realized I really should go home. But about an hour and a half before I went home, I made this video!

And then, my poor car, I took it home.

And now? I'm ready for Shabbos. Just a few days to go ...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Friendly Nudge

This is your friendly reminder to be sure and vote for my SXSW 2013 panel "Getting Social at the Niche Nonprofit." Yes, I'm going to be in Israel, but I plan on coming back for SXSW hopefully with the help of the ROI Community (as in the video above), but also by doing some saving and "fundraising" on the road in Jerusalem. 

So vote! You have until Friday!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Anatomy of a Name: Chaviva

So I was thinking, my name is Chaviva -- חביבה -- is quite pretty, and I often get comments about how bizarre and unique it is. Yes, it's pretty rare in the scheme of things. It's not a modern Hebrew name, although it's working its way into the lexicon pretty swiftly. So from where is the name sourced?  I see it in two different interesting spaces.

1. משנה תורה מנוקד - ספר עבודה - הלכות מעשה הקרבנות פרק ד

Even though the eimorim and the limbs [of the sacrifices] may be offered on the fire of the altar at night, they may not be willingly delayed. Instead, an attempt should be made to offer everything during the day, for it is desirable that a mitzvah be performed at its designated time. [The importance of this can be seen from the fact that] the offering of the eimorim and the limbs [of the sacrifices] on the fire of the altar supersedes the Sabbath prohibitions on that day. We do not delay this until Saturday night. (via Chabad.org)

2. משנה תורה מנוקד - ספר זמנים - הלכות מגילה וחנוכה פרק ד

The mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lamps is very dear. A person should be very careful in its observance to publicize the miracle and thus increase our praise of God and our expression of thanks for the miracles which He wrought on our behalf. Even if a person has no resources for food except [what he receives] from charity, he should pawn or sell his garments and purchase oil and lamps to kindle them [in fulfillment of the mitzvah]. (via Chabad.org)
And then, according to my Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, חביבה was the name of many Amoraim. Most oft' quoted I see is
"R. Habiba says men call their grandsons sons..."

So what's in a name? I'm still not sure. I chose it way-back-when because my given name, Amanda, means lovable or "worthy to be loved." Chaviva means basically the same thing in Modern Hebrew. The translations above suggest that חביבה means desirable or very dear.  I searched again and found three pages worth of Chaviva goodness. A super common use of חביבה that many folks know is the following:
חביבה עלי כת קטנה שבארץ ישראל יותר מסנהדרין גדולה שבחוצה לארץ
Essentially, it says something along the lines of, "More beloved to me is a sect/faction in Eretz Yisrael than a Great Sanhedrin outside of the land." I'm also loving a portion from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakoth 63a where it discusses what to do if the people hold the Torah dear, and what to do if they do not hold it dear (תורה חביבה).

Okay, I could seriously spend days looking at the references to this word in the Talmud, but I won't bore you with it. It seems that the word חביבה is used in instances of deep and passionate commitment. In Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 10a, the text refers to King David, saying,
כל פרשה שהיתה חביבה על דוד פתח בה באשרי וסיים בה באשרי
Basically, every parshah or chapter that was "beloved" by David began with happiness and ended with happiness. It seems to be a word of endearment, devotion, passion.

A long time ago, in my senior year of high school, I wrote a paper on etymology -- the study of names. I learned of the importance of names in the development and creation of our personalities and lives, and it's something I've always clung to. I chose the name Chaviva without really thinking about it, and all of the years as I've further embodied the name, I haven't really thought about whether I'm actually embodying the depth of the name. 

So, what do I say? To fully live up to the oomph of my name, I would live a life such that HaShem would be comfortable and eager to call me חביבה חביבה -- Chaviva, beloved. Chaviva, very dear. And am I living my life in such a way that HaShem -- or even those closest to me -- would see me as someone ever-so dear and beloved? 

I think that every day when I open my eyes, when I thank HaShem for giving my spirit back to me, I am trying. I am starting and striving to embody the beloved. So, you could say it's appropriate that I'm spending the month of Elul reading Shir haShirim -- Song of Songs -- every day. It's a segula, you see.

There's a tradition to say Psalm 27 during morning and evening davening from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur. I won't explain it here, but you can read about it here.  The bit about reciting Shir haShirim comes from the fact that Elul is an acronym from Ani l'dodi, v'dodi li -- I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine -- from Shir haShirim 6:3. During this time, the Ba'al Shem Tov said that these are the days when "the King is in the field." The idea here is that HaShem is in the field, ready to listen and accept, to hear our prayers completely. 

So 'tis the season to really talk to HaShem for me. To be the beloved, to learn to embody my name. To ask HaShem to see my deeds, grant me a zivug sheni, grant me shalom. And then, perhaps, my second Hebrew name -- אליענה -- will make all the more sense. 

How are you embodying your name? How are you approaching the month of Elul?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Parshat Re'eh: To State or Not to State

On Thursday I had the pleasure of talking about this week's parshah in our weekly Stand Up staff meeting. This is the quick and dirty of what I talked about, and I hope it gives you some serious food for thought.

First, I offered up a quick summary of what is offered up in parshat Re'eh:
  • Blessings & curses (shout it from the mountains!)
    • But what about bechira hofshi (free will)? Rabbi Akiva in Avot 3:19 said, “Though everything is foreseen by G-d, yet free will is granted to man.” 
    • Re’eh is singular -- "You see" -- putting emphasis on the individual.
  • Rules for living in Eretz Yisrael (centralized worship)
    • One note: When in mourning, you cannot physically harm yourself. 
  • Don't become a Canaanite (false prophets and idols are not cool)
  • Review of kashrut (you heard them at Sinai, so hear them again)
  • Tithing (that's 10 percent of one's annual produce)
  • Shmitah year (let the land rest, yo)
  • Laws of Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot (pilgrimage and sacrifice -- according to your means)
Then I got into the meat of what either Matters to Chavi or is Bothering Chavi. I started with Devarim 17:14-15,
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 
I tied this to something I actually posted here on the blog in this post from July 17 about the decision to make aliyah and the challenges I was facing.
There is a positive, biblical commandment to dwell in Eretz Yisrael, as it says, "You shall possess it and dwell in it" (Devarim 17:14, 26:1). (Sefer Chareidim, Mitzvot Asei HaTeluyot B'Eretz Israel, chap. I, sec 15.) 
Chazal (חז"ל acronym for Chachameinu Zichronam Livracha -- “Our sages, may their memory be blessed”) say that this mitzvah is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah (Sifrei, Re'eh 28), and it is one of the 613 mitzvot according to the Ramban.

And then I posted The Big Question: What does this mean for the Land of Israel today? Are we rushing a good thing?

This question is based on the understanding of many Hasidic dynasties who have expressed anti-Zionist opinions because of the "Three Oaths" -- found in Talmud Tractate Ketubot 111a -- by which all Jews are bound.  This discussion comes from the book Vayoel Moshe written in 1961 by Satmar Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, who, by the way, was living in Israel at the time. The title of the book states very plainly the rabbi's stance in opposition to the State of Israel,
"And Moses agreed to stay ... an alien in a foreign land" (Exodus 2:21).  
Moses agreed to stay an alien in foreign land, so we should to, right?

So the "Three Oaths" discussion comes from a passage from Shir haShirim in which God made the Israelites promise "to wait for Him before arousing his love" as King Solomon pleaded -- three times -- with the daughters of Israel not to stir “his love” before the time is due. So what are the "Three Oaths" that dictate why we shouldn't have established a State of Israel (beyond, of course, the obvious statement that the State of Israel is a secular, heathen place failing in its Judaism):
  1. Do not ascend to Eretz Yisrael as a group using force
  2. Do not rebel against the nations of the world
  3. The nations of the world will not persecute the nation of Israel excessively (guessing PEOPLE/Am Yisrael)
So, what do you think? Are we rushing things? How do we reconcile the knowledge that the Torah tells us to possess and dwell in the land but that it was meant, perhaps, for the most immediate of generations (aka those that actually did enter and possess the land)? Do Hasidim have footing upon which to stand with the whole "we're rushing it, and this is the reason Mashiach hasn't come yet" argument?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Aliyah: An Even Better Update

You can't please everyone ...

McKayla Is Not Impressed: Giveaway!

Hatin' on Sharpies. Don't tell Mayim. She loves Sharpies. 

Because I can't get enough of the hilarity that is McKayla Is Not Impressed -- the only good thing to come out of the Olympics, if you ask me --  I decided to create a few of my own images.

We'll call this one Independence Shmendependence. 

I'm guessing she could part the Reed Sea in her SLEEP! Duh. 

So Orpah up and decided to ditch the fam'. 
So what you're all "Your people, my people." Pssh. Whatever.

Your task: Create a McKayla Isn't Impressed using this image (it's transparent, so go crazy) with a Jewish theme, post it online and link to it in the comments. I'll pick the two that make me giggle with utter joy the most and send you a few books from my collection -- from the likes of Chabon, Vonnegut, Geraldine Brooks, Roth, and more!

If you choose to accept this mission, you have until Monday, August 20 at 9 a.m. (Which is about how long I have before I finally get a break from the insane work schedule I've been keeping.) Ready, set, go!

(And if you can't figure out how to upload your photo someplace and share it here, just email it to me and I'll take care of the details.)

And if you're confused about what's going on, it's a meme. Go read about it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Aliyah Update!

So what's doing? What's up? What exactly is happening with this crazy aliyah business? Have I seen the error of my ways and realized that moving to Israel won't solve all of life's problems?

Well, the current state of things is that all of my paperwork is at the Jewish Agency -- save a letter from my current rabbi, which is written but just waiting on a signature. D'oh. After this is submitted, I'm told, I'll be approved. What that means, exactly, I'm not sure, but I think it's a good thing.

So far I've sold off my TV, a bunch of books were sent into Amazon (which hopefully will result in the procurement of a Kindle with the funds earned), my POANG IKEA chair that was barely used, my yoga equipment and ... so very much more. Slowly but surely. I figure it's easier that way, right?

The upside is that local Goodwills, Arcs, and Disabled Veterans associations are getting all of my awesome crap. The downside is that, well, the truth is that used clothing and junk tends to create more of a travesty than a positive. Thanks to Stuff Mom Never Told You for enlightening me on this one. (And giving me oodles of guilt.)

I have yet to talk to Toyota about buying my car off me (and thus taking the loan away in a seamless process), or seeing if Sprint is going to make the cancellation of my phone a seamless process for me. I also need to talk to my landlord to see if they'll let me extend my lease through the end of October (if I get the October flight), so I don't have to clear out on October 1. Let's see, I think those are the big things, right?

Oh! If any of you have experience with having an entirely U.S.-based salary while living in Israel, please shoot me an email. I'm intrigued as to how that works -- both from the perspective of taxes as well as getting money from your U.S. account into your Israeli account if needbe. (Happy to have gotten more hours, which means more money, this week. Yay!)

It's the small things that will make my head explode in this process, so I'm trying not to dwell too much on them. Oh right, I should figure out what to do with my hamster, shouldn't I?

What left your head spinning as you made aliyah

I'm Published! Sort of.

Wait, what? I didn't write about this? *Hangs her head in shame*

Well, better late than never. You could say that I'm something of a published author now, thanks to the amazing mind behind PunkTorah.org, in Choosing to be Chosen: Essays by Converts to Judaism!
Choosing To Be Chosen is the first anthology by converts to Judaism from the PunkTorah/OneShul community. From Orthodox to Reform, LGBT and straight, from funny accidents to times of tragedy, this collection of stories is captivating, personal and inspiring.
If you haven't picked up a copy of the book yet, there are only 25 copies of the book in stock and rumor has it they're almost sold out. So for $13.99 with free shipping, you might as well click here. If you're down with the eBook edition, Choosing to be Chosen also is available on Nook and Kindle for only $6.99!

Also, I just got word that the first proofs are finally out for Dictionary of the Bible and Western Culture, for which I wrote three entries (Mara, Naomi, and Tzippora). So that'll make me dual published, I guess? Or at least, twice contributing author. 

On that note, I'm thinking about taking the much-beloved Tzniut Project and putting it in e-book format and compiling it and throwing up for a very, very small price or donation. What do you think? 

Monday, August 13, 2012

SXSW 2013: Give Me Some Love!

Okay folks -- it's that time again. Time to spread your love this way!

The illustrious Panel Picker for SXSW Interactive 2013. Yes, it's really far away (March), but the voting and panel picking starts now. The public's opinion accounts for roughly 30 percent in the final decision process, so you clicking the "thumb's up" button really does make a huge difference. But wait, what is SXSW?
Scheduled March 8-12, the 2013 SXSW® Interactive Festival will feature five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders, the SXSW Trade Show and an unbeatable lineup of special programs showcasing the best new digital works, video games and innovative ideas the international community has to offer. Join us for the most energetic, inspiring and creative event of the year.
I spoke on the first "Jewish" panel at SXSW Interactive back in 2010, and in 2011 I created and hosted/participated in the only Jewish panel at SXSW with the illustrious @susqhb. This year I simply attended SXSW Interactive, thanks to a delicious grant from the ROI Community (of which I'm a 2011 alum).

So at this point, it's a chazakah -- I simply have to go again. Yes, I'll be in Israel, but guess what -- there are ways to make magic happen and I believe in that.

So please go and give my panel -- Getting Social at the Niche Nonprofit -- your love and a thumb's up, and be sure to Tweet it and Facebook it so that we get PLENTY of votes! Here are the details:
If you're AARP or PETA, you've got hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people backing your niche, nonprofit cause. But when it comes to smaller, localized nonprofits, the work can be a lot more lonely and daunting. Reaching, let alone finding, your audience and engaging them with innovative platforms is soul-breaking work. 
Questions Answered
  1. How do you find a very niche audience in the social universe?
  2. How do you engage with your audience across social platforms?
  3. How do you scale DOWN the campaigns that larger nonprofits find success in?
  4. How do you create a social campaign on a shoestring budget when you're standing alone?
  5. How do you sell the product and the effort to a board or funders who are skeptical -- at best -- about social media?
Oh, and while you're at it ... also give a thumb's up to my bestie @Mottel's panel: Transcendent Tech: Is G-d Rebooting The World?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Converts: Like a Skin Lesion


If you haven't purchased Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought. Do it. Seriously. Stop fiddling and twiddling and get inspired, please? I'm going to highlighting something interesting that I read in this book off and on, and I hope it encourages you to get a copy of your own.

There is a common statement from our Sages that raises a lot of eyebrows. In Tractate Niddah 13b, Rashi attempts to explain this passage, but let's be honest, he doesn't really make things any better.
'Gerim are as difficult for the Jewish people as sapachas' (קשים גרים לישראל כספחת) because [being as they weren't raised as Jews] they are not sufficiently knowledgeable of G-d's commandments, and this lack of meticulousness can bring punishments to the Jewish people -- moreover, they can negatively influence the Jewish population in general.
Well, tell us how you really feel! And in case you're wondering what sapachas is, it's a type of pesky skin lesion. Then, in Tosafot, commenting on Yevamos 47b, it says,
"Gerim are as difficult fo rthe Jewish people as sapachas because they are not knowledgeable in the details of the commandments, and the Jewish people learn from their actions."
Still, not feeling the love here. It's important to understand that there is an idea in Chassidus that after Mashiach comes, there will be no more gerim. Why? The understanding is that only a sincere convert will go through geirus during a time of crisis and persecution. But when things are good for the Jews, people want to take part (just think of the Esther story) in that mazal. Thus, once Mashiach arrives, the doors of conversion are closed for business. I encourage you to jump in while the water is hot and oppressive.

So the question is: Why would Rashi and Tosafot speak so poorly of gerim during the times in which they were living? After all, HaShem demands love and acceptance for the ger, right?

In comes a contradictory explanation from Tosafot in Tractate Kiddushin 70b:
Rabbi Avraham Ger explained that gerim are as difficult for the Jewish people as sapachas because they are fastidious in their observance of the commandments and knowledgeable in the details surrounding them -- which causes G-d to remember the transgressions of those Jewish people who are not performing his will.
If there were a giant "like" button floating over that quote, I'd hope that all of you would smack it until your keyboard-poking finger was bleeding. Although the various renditions of this that I've read in this book don't cite it, I'd have to say that this ties in very closely with what the midrash has to say about Rachav (my favorite convert) and how her actions of identifying HaShem as the one and only, repentance, and geirus were reflected later in the life of her descendent the prophet Jeremiah. In Pesikta de Rav Kahana, Divrei Yirmiyahu 13:5, it says,
“The son of the corrupted one who mended her ways will come and reproach the son of the fit one who had gone astray.” 
Also in Pesikta de Rav Kahana, Divrei Yirmiyahu 13:4 it goes so far as to say that whatever was written in Israel's honor was written in Rahav's praise. Just check out the juxtaposition of these:
It is written of Rahab (Josh. 2:12): “Now, since I have shown loyalty to you, swear to me by the Lord.” And of Israel (Jer. 5:2): “They are sure to be swearing falsely." It is written of Rahab (Josh. 2:13): “that you will spare the lives of my father and mother.” And of Israel (Ezek. 22:7): “Fathers and mothers have been humiliated within you."
Thus, I think that the contradictory statement of the Tosafot is probably running with the right message. If not because of the Rachav connection and what the Rabbis had to say about geirus, then perhaps this approach from Bo M'Ephrosa, Parshas Tazria, Shalosh Seudos 5771 will sparkle your fancy:
A sapachas develops on the flesh in order to awaken one to return to G-d, and if, G-d forbid, the individual does not heed the message, he can bring great suffering on himself. Similarly, gerim are to awaken the Jewish people to serve G-d with fiery enthusiasm and meticulous observance of the Torah's commandments. They cause those born jewish to follow their good example and fulfill the commandments with an uplifted soul and not out of habit or rote. If, G-d forbid, those born Jewish do not take inspiration from their example, this can cause great accusations to be brought against them Above. The Sages taught that because Hillel was poor, a poor man could not use poverty as an excuse for not learning Torah. Rabbi Elzar ben Charsom was rich, so a rich man could use his wealth as an excuse. Joseph was able to control his passions, so even the wicked are obligated to do likewise. In the same manner, gerim obligate those born Jewish to act as they should. 
Loads of heavy responsibility rests on the shoulders of the ger, whether we know it, like it, or want it. Stay tuned for some more beautiful morsels on Gerim in Chassidic Thought -- including birthdays. Yes, birthdays. For gerim, it's a perplexing question of what to celebrate. 

What Does Modern Orthodoxy Mean?

What. A. Shabbat.

I don't know what it was about this Shabbat, but it felt good. I felt uplifted and in-step with myself. Despite the noise of the random visitors there for simchas of people I've never met or seen at shul, despite the wind and a bit of rain, this Shabbat was a bright spot on my Shabbatot here in Denver. I got invited out for lunch (mad props to Mr. and Mrs. L who also are of the vegetarian variety) and got to listen to the illustrious and hilarious Rabbi Dani Rapp talk.

If you've never experienced Rabbi Rapp, he's in the NY area and you need to find some time to go and listen to him. He provides humor with depth, and during his time here in Colorado for the YU Summer of Learning, I've found myself waking up more and more.

Tonight, for example, at seudat shlishit (third meal), he was discussing Modern Orthodoxy (subtitled "The Final Frontier"). He used three classic biblical narratives to give depth and understanding to what exactly it means to be Modern and Orthodox, the Tower of Babel and Yosef and his brothers among them. (I know, I should remember the third, but it's escaping me.)

Regarding the Tower of Babel, I heard a take on the narrative that -- despite my vast education on the topic both religiously and academically -- I hadn't considered. Rabbi Rapp cited Nehama Leibowitz when saying that we sometimes need to learn Torah like Rashi did -- without Rashi. (*giggle snarfle giggle*) The common narrative that we know isn't what's really in the text. That being said, Rabbi Rapp told a story of a people who built a tower as high as the sky in order to watch over the community -- to make sure no one left. This people gathered in a valley, speaking one language, and realized that they had a good thing going: homogeneity. They decided it was a good way of life, so they built the tower to keep people in, to keep them in line. HaShem said, whoa, folks, this isn't how the world was meant to work! Spread to the corners of the earth, inhabit my creation! Thus, bavel -- confusion, multiple languages, and a people spread out. A people living among other people.

Now the story of Yosef and his brothers also had a quirk that I hadn't noticed before. It goes something like this: Yosef had a dream. He wanted to go out, to be as he was but to show the world, to spread HaShem and their way of life around. To be a light unto the nations. His brothers, on the other hand, thought things were good, that Yosef was nuts, that the internal culture they had was solid. So they sold Yosef, bid him good luck in living in the "outside world" and maintaining who he was. And guess what? Yosef proved them so wrong. When the brothers come to Yosef, their shame is from knowing that his philosophy was right -- not that they'd sold him. Yosef knew something his brothers didn't: We're meant to be out in the world, living with other nations and growing in Yiddishkeit.

So what does this all mean? How did Rabbi Rapp amazingly tie it back into what Modern Orthodoxy means for us today? These narratives are two examples where HaShem was proving to the Israelites/Jewish people that we're meant to be a people among the nations. A light unto the nations, if you will. To that point, "Modern" in Modern Orthodoxy doesn't mean less or leniency or even that a Modern Orthodox Jew is living in the modern, outside world. No, it means MORE. Why? Because, like Yosef, when you are put in a position where the world is not homogenous, you must try harder and be more committed to living a Torah-observant life. It takes more strength to live among the nations and not to become one of them, but rather to hold your head high and serve as an example -- a light -- unto the nations of the world of what determination and commitment look like.

Wow. Right?

In the process of the day, Rabbi Rapp was able to make passing mentions of the ASIFA, Whole Foods, 14'ers, the Xbox, and so very much more. That's a talent -- engaging Torah with pop culture woven in. Some rabbis try really hard to make it happen. Rabbi Rapp did it, and it's left a lasting impact on me. After his shiur this evening I told him that he's very "Tweetable," so it's hard to listen to him on Shabbat. That's the sign of a good rabbi, folks.

If you're jonesing for a bit of learning, check out YU Torah and search for Rabbi Rapp there to hear some of his shiurim from his summer here in Denver -- many of which are on conversion, believe it or not. (Oh, did I mention he's an RCA Beth Din member?)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Are We Chosen? What About Israel?

Eikev is, in truth, one of my favorite parshiot. It repeats a lot of what we heard elsewhere in the Tanakh, but clearly HaShem thinks we need to be swung over the head a few times to really have things sink in (we are, after all "a stiffnecked people"). Last year I wrote some thoughts down on the parshah, and I'm repeating them here. Why? Because no one reads my parshah posts anyhow. This is more self-gratifying than anything. But I hope you do read. Especially this first bit and the last bit.

Eikev comprises Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 and is a continuation of Moshe's final words to the Israelites in which he implores them to follow the word of HaShem and he reminds them of all of those ... missteps ... that they're so well known for, the Golden Calf incident among them.

In Deut. 7:14, it says
ברוך תהיה מכל העמים

Most would probably use this line as proof, especially with the English translation, that Jews view themselves as greater, holier, more special than other people. The English translation often reads "You will be blessed above all people." The Hebrew uses the preposition min (מן or -מ), which means "from." It's a comparative preposition, and it would be used to say "I am smarter than him" (אני יותר חכמה ממנו). A literal translation would be "I am more smart from him," but that's how Hebrew works. When you're comparing two things, you're setting them apart. Something is XXX from XXX.

Thus, this specific phrase from the parshah, which is found in a million other places in the Torah actually means that HaShem has made us different from other nations. Different, separate, unique. Remember that when you're eating a big plate of bacon with all of your non-Jewish friends. (I'm only half-joking here.) Is our uniqueness granted by HaShem inherent? Or must we act different?


Later on in Deut. 9 I find it odd that the retelling of the Golden Calf incident from Ki Tisa doesn't mention an important aspect of the narrative. When Moshe descends the mount and finds out what has happened, the Golden Calf is burned and its ashes are spread into the water that trickles down from the mountain. In Ki Tisa, the people are then required to drink the concoction of ashes and water, but in Eikev, there's no mention of this ritual. I find it interesting simply because this very ritual of ashes and water was a very common one in the Ancient Near East, which makes me wonder if when the writing of Deuteronomy was going on the ritual was taboo among the Israelites. (Remember: The Golden Calf is one of my academic pursuits du jour.) 


There's also a lot of talk in this parshah about going to "possess" the land that HaShem as given our forefathers. It makes me jealous of those who've been able to make aliyah (or moving to Israel) a real, tangible thing. And maybe what that nagging empty feeling that really strikes me at random intervals is. All I can say for now is, in time. Ultimately I'll be in Israel, I just don't know when. HaShem promised it to my -- OUR -- forefathers, so it's only right that we should make it happen. It's not a "maybe," it's a "must be."

Note: I'm jealous no more! A year ago I was longing for freedom from a bad marriage, for aliyah, and now? Well, here I am -- it's happening B"H!


But the way the parshah ends has me a little unsettled. From Deut. 11:22-25:
For if you keep all of these mitzvot that I command you to do, to love HaShem, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him, then HaShem will drive out all of these nations from before you and you will possess nations greater and stronger than you. Every place upon which the soles of your feet will tread will be yours: from the desert and Lebanon, from the river, the Euphrates, and until the western sea, will be your boundary. 
No man will stand up before you: the Lord your G-d will cast the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land upon which you tread, as He has spoken to you.
This sort of makes it sound like we're going to be some big scary force that the rest of the nations cower before, and I'm not sure I like the sound of that. There's no real "how" for this, and that also has me worried. And the word "possess" ...? Of course, I'm thinking of the physical, when perhaps HaShem really means possess in terms of possessing respect and acknowledgement. The verb is לרשת, which translates to inherit or succeed, so I suppose it's pretty clear that it's a physical take-over or succession.

But now I wonder ... back then, nations were small, nations were made up of peoples sharing a similar geographic boundary. Nations aren't like what we have today. The boundaries are clear in this portion, so perhaps, then, the claim has been satisfied -- almost. Maybe it doesn't mean world domination, but simply geographic domination over the specific land area that HaShem gave our forefathers. Does this mean we're just that much closer to redemption? It does say "HaShem will cast the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land upon which you tread," so perhaps it does intend something bigger, something greater, something more massive than the geographic boundaries of Eretz Yisrael. However, maybe that bigger, greater thing isn't domination in the sense of politics or military but rather a domination as I mentioned before -- one of the heart and mind, one of respect and acknowledgement.

Perhaps HaShem meant for us to have Eretz Yisrael, but perhaps he also meant for us to have the hearts and minds of the rest of the world. The children of Israel, set apart from all other people yet loving and caring for those unlike ourselves. Perhaps HaShem expected us to fight for mutual respect.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Farmers Market + A Recipe!

I know some of you appreciate my food-related posts more than others, but I can't help sharing some of the photos I took at the Cherry Creek Farmers Market this morning as well as a recipe for Mexican Pilaf.

A coworker decided that we should hit up the Farmers Market before work today. It was a stupendous idea, although once I got to work it was really hard to focus. It still is. Hence why I'm here on Blogger, taking a break from some poster-design and website updates. I love Farmers Markets, and lucky for me, the shuk at Machane Yehuda is like the most awesome Farmers Market EVER!

I bought some okra -- my first time! Have a recipe for okra that you dig? Let me know.

And now ... for the lunch ...

And here's the recipe for Mexican Pilaf from "Crazy, Sexy, Diet" -- a book I highly recommend! This recipe packs a hidden punch that you get at the end of each bite. It's crazy filling, too.

3 cups wild rice, sprouted or cooked
3 tbsp green onions, diced
1 1/2 cup tomato, diced
1/2 cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp fresh oregano, minced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked 1-3 hours
1 1/2 tbsp miso (Chad suggested white miso)
1 tbsp garlic minced
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
salt if desired

Directions (Crazy Easy, for reals)
Place rice in mixing bowl and hand toss with the green onions, 1 cup tomatoes, cilantro and oregano. Set aside.

In high speed blender (or hand held one) blend sun-dried tomatoes, remaining tomatoes, miso, garlic, chili powder, cumin, lemon juice, and olive oil until smooth. (Note: I used my mini-chopper. It worked pretty darn well.)

Toss tomato paste with rice and mix well.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Halachic Inquiry

Tap tap ... this thing on?


Hello out there in listener/reader land! If you can find me halachos on mezuzah for "pocket doors," I will owe you one delicious coffee beverage of your choice upon our next chance encounter.




Oh, and in case you have no idea what a pocket door is, it's that door that is a door but it slides INTO the wall. So it's not exactly a sliding door, because for all intents and purposes it disappears into the wall and makes it look as if there is no door to begin with.

Okay, okay ... so you want to know why I'm asking? The local Jewish museum (which is awesome, by the way) has several pocket doors without mezuzot on them, which struck me as odd because I, myself, at home (where there is, in fact, a pocket door leading to my bedroom) have placed a mezuzah. Thus I was left wondering if there's something the Mizel Museum knows that I don't. Someone said that because the door pulls across to become a wall, it doesn't need a mezuzah because walls don't ... get ... mezuzahs. Yeah. But it has all the trappings of a typical doorway! So what gives!?


Friday, August 3, 2012

Amen, Amen

Taken at the Mizel Museum in Denver, Colorado. 

The Working Woman: Console Me, Please

Every night this week, I've done that thing you see in movies and on TV shows that tell the tale of the hardworking career woman.

I come home after 9 p.m. after a 12-hour workday, put my keys on the hook by the door, unload my bags on the table, kick off my shoes, start to take my earrings and watch off, get rid of my "work" clothes -- black pencil skirt and nice top -- trading them in for comfy lounge pants and my Boulder Startup Week T-shirt. I look at my living room, look at the kitchen, realize that my entire apartment is in need of a huge scrub-down, stare blankly into my fridge and pick a random something that's been in the fridge too long to warm up, plop on the couch, pray that Hulu has something mind-numbing in my queue to watch, find out otherwise, start working -- again -- and consider how I'd kill to have a husband or kids to serve as an excuse to step away from work more often than I do.

The nonprofit world isn't gentle on a working girl these days. I've been complaining -- a lot -- this week on Social Media about the mind-explosion-inducing level of work I've been enduring. I love my job, and I love my coworkers. It's the kind of work where I know I take on and commit to more than I can possibly accomplish in the 30 hours a week I'm paid for. The work amounts to more like 70 hours a week, putting me on my computer and throwing together some newsletter or graphic or social update or website fix or email list or ... something ... from the moment I wake up until quite literally the moment I close my computer and go into my bedroom (although I always check to make sure something didn't come up at, you know, the ridiculous hour that I happen to crawl into bed).

This week, my comfort-before-bed was in the book In Black and White by Dov Haller -- an Artscroll tome. I know, I know. Chaviva's dipping her toe in the Rabbi Artscroll pool. But the water is good, and I really, really enjoyed this book (mad props to Mrs. Z for letting me borrow it all those weeks ago). But it was the kind of reading that put my mind at ease and gave me some food for thought and Yiddish to nosh on while dozing off. (Word of the week: Abishter -- the Yiddish word for HaShem.)

And yet, I feel exhausted from too many nights of bad sleep, not making it to the gym at all this week as a result (I was set to go today between work and the work event tonight, but, well, I ended up working) didn't help either. I. am. beat.

So this Shabbat is Shabbat Nachuma. Baruch HaShem! In a nutshell:
Shabbat Nachamu means "Sabbath of Consolation." Shabbat Nachamu is the first of seven haftarot starting with the Shabbat after Tisha B'Av and leading up to Rosh Hashanah. These readings are meant to console us after the destruction of the Temple and reassure us that it will be built again. As with Shabbat Hazon, the cycle of Torah readings is structured in such a way that these readings will occur on the appropriate weeks.
I look forward to being consoled, to knowing that yes, the Temple will be rebuilt. After weeks like this, where I feel worked to the bone at a Jewish educational nonprofit, where every moment I spend working plays a role in tikkun olam and filling Jewish souls with the nurturing of knowledge, I have to believe that Mashiach is not far off. And -- puhlease HaShem -- rebuild the Temple soon, in this lifetime.

And, you know, a nice relaxing Shabbos would be nice, too. Please HaShem?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Come On Baby, Light My Fire!

From Imrei Pinchas, Sha'ar Toras Adam #79, from the amazingly awesome book "Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought" by the amazing and inspiring A Simple Jew, aka Dov ben Avraham ...
"Before his geirus, a holy spark falls and burns inside a ger until it compels him to complete his geirus. He is not given any choice in this matter. Only after his geirus is the ger given free choice."
For more deliciousness on kabbalah and the convert's soul, check out this AskMoses posting that I cited back in 2008 on my blog that says,
According to Kabbalah, a convert is one who's soul possesses a latent Jewish spark, was born to a non-Jewish mother, and therefore must undergo the process of a Torah conversion in order for the Jewish spark to be actualized as a Jewish soul. This “non-Jew” is born with a potentially Jewish soul, yet it is not revealed at this point or accessible.
Back in 2009, after taking a month off of blogging because a bad experience I had with something in my conversion process, I came back with a vengeance, saying,
I can't change minds or opinions about my character and whether how I present myself on this blog is appropriate for a modern Orthodox Jewish girl, but what I can do is continue what I started. I can't really finish what I started, because it was never meant to be finished (much like the journey in Judaism is a perpetual one). I'm here to tell my story, discuss Judaism, and to light a fire in all of the people who come across these pages. It is not unheard of here at Just Call Me Chaviva for a Jew to be inspired by something and head to shul that week. If I can light that kind of fire in a Jew, then I think I'm doing some serious good -- I'm helping in the eternal effort to remind Jews to be proud of who they are, to be involved, to develop their Judaism.
Light and fire, folks. In 2010, I wrote,
And, you have to remember, the goal of this blog is not money-making: It's people making. The goal here, is to light a fire under all the souls I can.
Since my blog started having a regular readership, my mission and passion and goal was set: Light a fire, find the spark, and blow it up. This is a piece of tikkun olam, folks. When HaShem created the world, according to Kabbalah, there was light that was held in vessels, kelim. But they couldn't withstand the light, so they broke, and the light shattered like shards in all things. Now, we're tasked with gathering the sparks of light back together. 

For me, the convert that brings that holy spark to the beth din and converts is doing some mighty, amazing, beautiful work of tikkun. Wouldn't you agree? 

This does, however, beg the question: What does it mean when someone begins and pursues a conversion and yet never completes it? How do we explain this phenomenon? Food for thought, I think. And I don't presume to have an answer or even a suggestion.

Stay tuned for more goodies from this amazing book. So much inspiration, so many beautiful pieces of Chassidus that make my heart sing. Let me leave you with this one, which makes me smile.
From one perspective, a ger is closer to becoming a tzaddik than a person born Jewish. If a ger continues serving G-d with the same self-sacrifice he exhibited during the geirus process, he will ascend to untold heights. Perhaps this is one reason why gerim are mentioned before those born Jewish in the Al HaTzadikim blessing in the Amidah. -- Rabbi Micha Golshevsky