Sunday, September 30, 2012

Another Year, Another Number

So ... it's my Gregorian, crawled-from-the-womb-of-my-mother birthday. I'm 29 years old today. That means next year I'll be 30, and that's an age I've always longed for. Why? I can't say exactly. I just feel like it's some kind of prized accomplishment to hit 30. Twenty-nine, it seems, is not so exciting. But at least I remembered my birthday this year.

I slept in, went and got a massage thanks to a gift credit from an awesome coworkers, bought myself a birthday cake to take to a friend's sukkah tonight, and am now sitting outside of a Whole Foods still greased up from my massage drinking something called RUNA that advertises itself as "focused energy." Only 50 calories per bottle! Hoo-rah!

So what is my wisdom? What is my grand statement of day of birth clarity?

I honestly don't have one. Birthdays, it seems, are irrelevant at this age. I don't get gifts anymore, and the only in-the-mail card I got was from the stellar Tenzin (thank you!). It's another day, and that's okay.

If you look back to Tanakh, the only birthday ever mentioned was Pharoah's, and he was no friend to the Israelities -- so why do we even celebrate birthdays? Age, it seems, was only important at the point someone died or something major happened.

Perhaps someday a biography will state, "At age 29, Chaviva moved to Israel." And then it will skip forward to the next age-significant moment in my life's chronology.

When I was in kindergarten I had a bowling party. After that I think it was mostly sleepovers. My 16th birthday involved miniature gummies that were shaped like hamburgers. When I turned 21, I met my (mostly) underage friends for dinner at Old Chicago and then went bar hopping with my newspaper coworkers and imbibed quite a lot of Bomb Pops (perhaps the most delicious girly beverage on the face of the earth). After that? Birthdays stopped being fun and started being obligatory. Two years ago, I got my first ever surprise "party" on Shabbat when my ex-husband took me out while sick to a friend's apartment where there were mini-festivities as I sniffed and coughed and felt like utter hell.

So there we are. It's 2012, I'm 29 years old, and it's really nothing special. I'm crazy stoked for Sukkot, but I'm realizing that leggings or tights or something warmer than what I currently seem to have in my wardrobe might be necessary.

Here's to another year. And celebratory birthday leggings. Chag sameach, everyone!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yom Kippur in Galut

I had an incredibly emotional Yom Kippur, and for the first time in many years I was able to power through a migraine and fully fast without drinking anything. There was something in the air this year about Yom Kippur ... something fulfilling and powerful. Something that moved me to tears during the confessions or vidui.
We have willfully sinned.
That one got me every time. Thinking back on the past year and knowing that I made choices that were ones of sin, and yet acted anyway, well, that smacked me in the gut and brought tears to my eyes. I think that for the first time the Yom Kippur service held a deep and painful personal meaning for me, and it stretched back beyond last year into my failed marriage. 

I was asked to speak during Kol Nidrei with Minyan Na'aleh for roughly five minutes on "new beginnings" because of my impending aliyah. I gladly accepted -- to be asked meant so much to me. I toiled over what to say for a long time, and I ended up turning to my rav to hash out exactly how to connect Yom Kippur with aliyah with new beginnings with my ever-changing experience. The result, I think, had a more powerful impact than I could have known. I won't repost the text here, mostly because it's that personal. Yes, I stood in front of a crowd of largely strangers, but for some reason it made sense. The message? Choices. I spent three years of my life devoid of choices. Aliyah is me breaking out with the ultimate choice. 

I managed to stand throughout the entirety of Neilah, despite fatigue, a headache, and the fact that I was completely freezing. The sanctuary was frigid, and I was dressed for a typical Colorado summer day. Near the end of the service, when the shofar was blown and a burst of adrenaline had the men dancing around the bimah singing "L'shanah ha'ba'ah b'Yerushalyim!" (next year in Jerusalem), I realized that the words were so apt. So personal.

As Yom Kippur ended and I grabbed some Orange Juice and headed home, I realized that I'm so close to Israel. I'm mere weeks away. I just have to power through the eight days of Sukkot and Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret and then ... I'm off.

Sell my car. Sell my bed. Pack my clothes and books. And say goodbye to Colorado and hello to the choice of a lifetime. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's a MoSHY Life for Me!

Motzei Shabbat cooking ... sweet squash stuffed with lemon-pepper rice.

I've returned to the classic tradition of some of our greatest scholars ... the tradition of MoSHY -- Meat on Shabbos and Yontif. After spending a good bulk of the year as a vegan, I recently started eating fish again, and then with the holidays appearing I realized that my dietary restrictions made me a tough guest for people. So I've opted to be MoSHY for the time being. So the things I'm not eating? Dairy, gluten, and "added" sugar. And meat. But only during the week. 

Food is so complicated, but I've discovered that my body isn't absorbing the right nutrients, at least not in the right capacity, so I'm hoping consumption of fish and some meat will get my body back on track. My aliyah flight is kind of a bummer because I have two options: Gluten Free w/Meat or Vegetarian w/Gluten. Clearly I have to order the former. Chances are good I'll be bringing my own nosh on-board. 

So for Shabbat, I whipped up some delicious Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free Salmon Chowder. This recipe was me kind of winging it. I combined roughly four different recipes I found online but didn't like in full, so I picked them apart and put my own together! In the future, I anticipate adding some corn starch to thicken it up a bit and a bit more fish. But overall? Amazing. 

1 large yellow onion, diced 
1 can corn 
2 cups fingerling potatoes, diced 
1/2 bunch kale, roughly chopped 
2 carrots, peeled and diced 
4 cups vegetable broth 
1/2 cup almond milk (or other dairy-free milk)
1/2 cup Original So Delicious Coconut Creamer 
1 1/2 pound salmon fillet, skinned, boned and cut into small cubes 
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 
1/2 teaspoon dried dill 
1/4 teaspoon sea salt 
Plenty of pepper 


  1. Saute the onion and celery until onion is translucent. Add potatoes and saute 5 minutes more. Do not brown. 
  2. Add carrots and stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are fork tender about 15-20 minutes. You really want the goods to be fork tender.
  3. Add milk, half and half, salmon, kale, parsley, dill and pepper. 
  4. Simmer over low heat 5-10 minutes or until fish is cooked through and liquid is steaming, but not boiling. Throw on some minced chives if that's your fancy.
  5. Add plenty of pepper and salt to taste.

Motzei Shabbat cooking ... a random rice concoction including wild rice,
corn, red pepper, tomato, tangerine, maple syrup, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and ...
I think that's about it. Completely random ingredients I had around.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What is a Jewish Birthday?

All of the goodness in this blog post comes from the amazing book that is Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought by the illustrious and wonderful Dov ben Avraham.

I was born on September 30, 1983 || 23 Tishrei 5744.
I was born Reform-Jewishly on April 28, 2006 || 30 Nissan 5766.
I became a halachic Jew on January 1, 2010 || 15 Tevet 5770.

So, what do I celebrate?

I get excited every year when we're nearing Simchat Torah because that's my birthday! The actual day that I was born day. The day that I crawled out of the womb of a non-Jew into a big world that was just waiting for me to realize my neshama. I like to think of it as HaShem knowing that I'd someday give in to the Jewishness and thus forced me out into the world on the day that we dance around and celebrate the completion of the cycle of Torah. It's celebrating coming full circle. Thus every year I really feel like my birthday and Simchat Torah really offer a unique experience.

But the truth is this: Even though my my actual date of birth remains the same (halachically speaking), I should be celebrating my spiritual birth as a Jew. Even though when a person completes geirus (conversion) it is a rebirth, the ger emerges as a gadol (a fully halachic adult).

In Tosafot Rosh HaShanah 27a, Rabbeinu Tam writes that G-d's ...
"desire for the world began in the month that would eventually become Tishrei, while the physical creation of the world happened in the month of Nissan. The physical creation of the world, however, is not emphasized or celebrated. Instead, we commemorate God's desire for a world which would benefit from His goodness. The date of a ger's physical creation, his biological birth date, is not the tachlis (the purpose) of his being. Rather, his purpose, what God ultimately desires of him, is found in his spiritual birth via becoming a Jew." ("Some Halachic Aspects of Geirus" by Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel in Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha)
Thus it's most appropriate for the convert to celebrate the spiritual creation rather than the physical creation.

That being said, there's nothing outright wrong with celebrating your Gregorian/physical date of birth. In fact, after so many years of doing so, it seems strange to switching to just my spiritual birthday. Celebrating both, on the other hand, seems right up my alley.

I do think it's interesting to consider, however, that a born Jew -- whether they're religious or not -- technically has their "spiritual awakening" at birth, no matter how spiritual. It's automatic.

Then again, I suppose that there is not date and time that a born Jew becomes a ba'al teshuva, right? Or can you pinpoint the moment you returned to religious observance (if you're a BT)? And if you're a convert, what birthday do you celebrate?

Names.Vocabulary to Know
  • Rabbeinu Tam was a leading 12th-century halachic authority. 
  • Tosafists were medieval rabbis from France and Germany who are among those known in Talmudic scholarship as rishonim that created critical and explanatory questions, notes, interpretations, rulings, and sources on the Talmud.
Links to Visit
  • Find your Hebrew birthday and make your own certificate here:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Q&A of 10Q: The Ultimate Truth

I thought about writing a reflective piece on divorce and how it impacted me over the past year, since many of last year's 10Q answers focused on that. But I realized my answer to two questions actually define the past year and offer my ultimate truth.
Day 2: Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you're especially proud of from this past year? 
Your Answer: I wish I had spent more time on myself and not become so wrapped up in my failing marriage. I lost myself. And I am not proud of that. I am however proud that I stood tall and walked away in order to save myself.
And part two:
Day 5: Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? "Spiritual" can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth. 
Your Answer: I realized my relationship with HaShem need work. I need to rediscover my passion and faith.
There are two things here. One is that I lost myself, and the other is that in the process I lost my relationship with HaShem. Over the past few months, I've been mastering the art of rediscovering myself while reconnecting with HaShem.

And that is the ultimate truth for 5773, and it is the path by which I'll guide myself this year. Me, Myself, and HaShem!

L'Shanah Tovah u'metukah!

Chaviva Does Dallas!

Hopped on a plane at Denver International Airport at 7 a.m. It was the first time I walked up to the counter to check in and the guy said, "You're a plus seat, so you can have the best seat on the plane, what do you want?" So I opted for the second row, and I got free TV on the way! I watched Kathie Lee and Hoda. It was a fun flight. 

Rav Tex and I went shopping at Trader Joe's for some last-minute goodies and I spotted some delicious-looking pomegranates that weren't a million dollars each. Huzzah!

And here's the cutest little girl on the planet, who makes me happy because she lights up when I walk in the room. Makes. My. Life. If only you could see her eyes. Seriously, the bluest, most beautiful eyes on the planet. And she loves the toy and jacket I brought for her!

So excited for Rosh Hashanah here with tons of my friends' family members. I've been so relaxed while here. I can't believe that in one month, I'll be in Jerusalem.

Life is happening! L'shanah tovah friends!

Big Differences: Ba'alei Teshuva and Converts

I recently received the following email from a blog reader.
...More than once people have drawn the comparison between being a convert and being a BT. I find myself having a hard time explaining the difference to people who cannot relate. My question to you is what is your thoughts on this and if you can help me figure out something smart to say about what makes converts different than BTs.
So for starters, BT stands for ba'alei teshuvah, also known as someone who is born Jewish and either isn't religious and then becomes religious, or is religious, strays, and returns to the religion. 

This is a conversation I have more frequently than I'd like, and it's also one that very rarely has a clean resolve. BTs often feel like they've gone through what a convert has, while converts are often left feeling like BTs and even FFB (frum-from-birth) Jews just "don't get it." In fact, I find it personally frustrating when BTs say that they're also "Jews by Choice." A Jew by birth didn't choose the birthright, it was inherited. A convert chooses to answer the call of the small, still neshamah within. 

So my conversation ender is usually something along the lines of this: 
A born Jew can eat pork one day and have an aliyah the next day. They'll always be Jewish, no matter how far they stray from the path. A convert who has a halachic conversion is held to a "higher standard" that requires a strict adherence to the path. If he or she strays, the entire conversion becomes one big question mark. 
This is something I had cause to deal with earlier this year, as you all know. And I'm sure there are still people who would think twice about having me at their Shabbos table, let alone setting me up with a sibling or cousin. 

I want to emphasize that I'm not saying that BTs or converts are better, holier, or have a more difficult experience than the other. I'm saying they're different. The experiences are different. The outcomes are different. And the struggles are different. 

Whereas a BT might have to deal with a long-secular family thinking they've gone nuts or joined the "dark side," a convert might have an incredibly supportive non-Jewish family that doesn't get it but is willing to support them. On the other hand, a BT might mess up and eat meat and milk together and people will chock it up to the learning curve while a convert might be told that they clearly had a poor education and aren't committed to the law. It's different. Apples and oranges, folks. 

So what do you think? Is there a magic bullet that separates the BT from the convert? A conversation stopper that says there are differences? 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Sweetness is Coming

Photo taken on Birthright circa 2008 on Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem. 

Aliyah Update: I've Sold it All

My passport returned with my "aliyah visa" 
-- the stamp of approval. It's time to return!

I didn't anticipate how quickly everything would go. I mean, we're talking lightning speed here. I blinked and everything was taken.

One girl from Nebraska came and picked up entertainment center, which she dismantled cone she got it to the parking lot. I left her to her handiwork after helping her schlep it outside. A veteranarian from Michigan bought my four-by-two IKEA bookcase, and in the process I discovered she was Jewish and promised to set her up with the Jewish community.

You see, I realized that the "Oh I'm selling it all because I'm moving to Israel" to be a powerful narrative. That, paired with the "I've only lived her a month because I got divorced" bit seemed to resonate.

The guy who came and dismantled my dining room set in about 10 minutes flat is going through a divorce, and the guy who came and purchased my couch and side chair? Also going through a divorce. The latter had actually been to Haifa on a military contract, so we got along swimmingly.

I've sold some things locally, like many books and kitchen goodies. But it's the strangers that really do it for me. I'm not very good at meeting people, especially strangers, and I have a tendency toward anxiety every time someone says they're coming to pick something up. But then they get there and we start up in conversation about why I'm moving and where I'm moving and why on earth I spent so much money buying everything brand new when I moved to Israel less than a year ago.

Now, all that's left is my bed. A mattress, a box spring, a frame. Oh, and my patio set. I've had two people offer to buy it and no one actually come through to take it. Anyone need a nice patio set? Barely used? Less than six months old? Let me know.

It's weird going home now. There are still a few things on the wall, but the truth is the only things left in my apartment outside of the aforementioned are my clothes, a simple stack of books (and two boxes, which I'm going to store in a friend's spare space, and my kitchen stuff. I'm surprised at how quickly I downsized. Looking at the amount of clothes and books I plan to schlep with me, I'm actually starting to wonder whether I'm going to need all 150 pounds of allotted space on my flight.

If I can manage all of my life's important possessions in two 50-pound suitcases to Israel, I'll feel accomplished. A little sad, but mostly accomplished. Things, as we all know, don't come with us when we die. Things are replaceable. It's memories and people that we keep with us, and I don't need a suitcase to schlep that.

I just need a really, really great capacity for the memory of love, kindness, and luck.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Q&A of 10Q: Of Mattresses and Adulthood

The takeaway from this post, in case you don't get to the end: You don't become an adult by buying your first mattress, even if it's an incredibly expensive pillow-top with marshmallow-covered coils covered in cotton candy for a deliciously sweet night's sleep. Despite popular opinion, mattress purchases don't make adults. 

I started up with 10Q back in 2009. I was utterly boring, the only life-altering experience that pen put to page that year was my father's diagnosis of lymphoma. (B"H, he's in remission.) But my answers were not well-thought-out, in fact they were overly predictive and shockingly accurate.
Day 10: When September 2010 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you'll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you're at as a result of pondering these questions?
Your Answer: I think my life will be TOTALLY different in September 2010. I'll be an Orthodox Jew. I'll be married. I'll be in some type of advanced degree program. I'll hopefully be living in a new place, with new things.
And there we have it. Chaviva the future seer. By September 2010 I was married, at NYU, and living in Teaneck, New Jersey. Moving on ...

In September 2010, I'll admit I'm shocked to read that I was really serious about this aliyah business. The thing is, I knew that my ex-husband wasn't interested. What was I playing at?
Day 6: Describe one thing you'd like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?
Your Answer: One thing I'd like to achieve by this time next year ... probably to have functioning knees. And a HIGHER level of accuracy and fluency of Hebrew. Oh, and more progress re: aliyah!
I will admit that my knees have gotten a lot better since moving to Colorado, but my Hebrew has waned quite a bit. I hope it's like riding a bicycle and the moment my feet hit the ground I'm all over the mamaloshen. 

But then there's the kicker in 2010. The fact that I didn't know what was coming in 2011. I read these words and realize the naivety that fills them. I was overly optimistic, and it shows. Yes, already four months into the marriage I was in therapy -- for the first time in my whirligig of a life.
Day 9: What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year? 
Your Answer: A fear? Opening up, seeking help, committing to therapy. I've gone twice, and both times I felt apprehensive and tried to cancel. I don't expect it to get easier, only harder. But for now, it's right. It's helped me already fix things with myself and my husband. Over the coming year, I want to get even better, to commit to it, and to make it make me healthy.
And then part deux.
Day 10: When September 2011 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you'll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you're at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?
Your Answer: I think I'll feel ... more empassioned about ending up in Israel, either happier or depressed about my academic situation. I hope that I'll be happier in my marriage. I hope therapy will help. I hope that I'll be overall HAPPY.
I might not have gotten the happy in September 2011. But I sure as hell got insight. 

But still, there's that Israel thing. Man it peppered my life more than I knew over the past several years. It's like HaShem is plotting me a map ... backwards. 

The funny thing about my 10Q from 2010? I didn't fill out the final question: What are your predictions for 2011? Maybe I knew the year would be as unpredictable as it really was. Maybe it was my subconscious protecting itself from what it knew was coming. 

Reading back on all of my answers from the three years I've participated (wow, so much has happened in three years, yikes), I'm eager to answer this year's questions, mostly because I finished a hard cycle of therapy, cut off some cancers in my life, reevaluated what I need to make me happy, sought the advice and counsel of some amazing friends, and came to terms with my divorce and subsequent pendulum swings. This has been a year of inexplainable inward evaluation, teshuva, and realizations. Despite being an adult since I was a kid, despite having had to grow up very early, I think this might be the first time I've ever felt like an adult. 

I thought it was when I purchased my first mattress when my then-boyfriend Ian and I broke up back in 2007. I felt adult. But I hadn't yet learned to deal with emotions and feelings like an adult. I was still on the "fix everybody, every possible person -- except yourself" journey. 

So when the questions come, I suppose I'll say, "I grew up this year." Maybe not financially, and maybe I still enjoy the childlike fantasies of curling up with a good book and sipping hot cocoa and eating rice krispie treats. But I did grow up. I grew up, and I grew in. Into myself, that is. 

Lech Lecha, friends. 5773 is the year. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11: The Obligatory Post

Another 9/11. Another year when I can't look at September 11 on the calendar without transportation to a different type. Another year where I see the numbers 9 and 11 completely independent of one another and yet still pair them together to the day I sat in Citizenship Issues and then math class and then the rest of school, clutching the hands of friends and my then-boyfriend, as the entire school shut down to watch burning buildings.

In every generation there is some moment that becomes the catalog point. Where were you when ...? And then a year later, the year after that, the first time you're near the location where it happened. We catalog our lives based on trauma.

Why is that?

I took this photo while on my first-ever trip to a big city, to New York City. It was frigid and we were on the ferry to Ellis Island. It was March 31, 2001. Less than six months later the skyline was changed. And the moment it happened, I went back to this picture and thought, "But we were just there." Every year on 9/11 I look at this picture, photoshopping little planes in my mind, adding audio of screams.

It's surreal. But this is one moment by which I catalog my life.

If you're looking for more, check out Jewish Responses to 9/11 over at Hirhurim, or maybe Un'Taneh Tokef Prayer and 9/11. But whatever you do, be wary when you Google "Judaism" and "9/11." Primarily, the results are riddled with tales of the Jewish conspiracy and how no Jews died on 9/11. This, folks, is false.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Q&A of 10Q: Overcoming the Fear

Every year, for I don't know how many years, I've participated in 10Q -- a project of the amazing REBOOT that sends you questions every day for 10 days, then locks them up until next year. It asks you for predictions, reflections, and insights into the past and the future. Every year, for me, it's like a scary little box arriving in my inbox just before Rosh HaShanah. What did I say a year ago? What did I feel a year ago? Who was I one year ago? 

So the Q&A came. It arrived today, and knowing where I was a year ago it scared me. I had anticipated writing about the 10Q, my answers, and my responses to those thoughts and feelings today. It'll be a mini-series of sorts. Today? I want to start with the question from Day 4 from 2011. 
Day 4: Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?
Your Answer: The killings in Israel of innocents. It has made my drive to move to Israel more pressing. I want to be with and defend my people and my state.
Well, that's interesting. Then came the extra question, from Day 11 in 2011. 
Day 11: What are your predictions for 2012? 
Your Answer: Predictions? Complete world destruction. Mashiach will come. I'll be in Jerusalem. Things will be amazing! Bli neder.
Okay, even more interesting. I'm guessing I wrote down my predictions out of order. I'm guessing it should have been: "I'll be in Jerusalem. Things will be amazing. Completely world destruction. Mashiach will come." Okay, that sounds better. 

From the looks of it, I think maybe I had an inkling that I'd be on the road to Jerusalem this time last year. Clearly I wasn't ready (and from my answers to some of the other questions, I clearly had a lot of soul-searching to do before I was able to make this giant leap), but it seems that my answers had a bit of truth in them. 

I was scared to read the Q&A when it arrived in my inbox, but now I'm feeling uplifted, satisfied, satiated. Like maybe the guiding light has been there all along, it just took a couple of huge falls before I could lift myself up and commit to aliyah

I will say, however, that I'm kind of hoping that the Complete World Destruction thing holds off for a little while. Just maybe. 

Did you participate in 10Q? Will you participate this year? The questions start coming in five days. Be prepared!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Parshah Ki Tavo: Are You Listening?

A modern photograph by Roie Golitz | "Shofar"
"Before he began his lesson to the scholars," says the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 30b), "Rabba used to say a joking word, and the scholars were amused. After that, he sat in dread, and began the lesson."
So the rabbis did have a sense of humor. But is something like the following passage humorous, or just ridiculous? I mean, it does include a "Why does the chicken ..." question.
Rabbi Zera encountered Rabbi Yehuda standing by the door of his father-in-law’s house. He observed that Rabbi Yehuda was in a very cheerful mood and understood that if he asked him the secrets of the universe, he would tell him. Rabbi Zera asked: Why do the goats go first at the head of the flock and then the sheep? Rabbi Yehuda replied: It is in accordance with the creation of the world. First there was darkness and then there was light [the goats are dark colored and the sheep are white]. Rabbi Zera asked: Why do the sheep have [thick] tails which cover them, and the goats do not have tails which cover them? He answered: Those with whose material we cover ourselves [i.e., wool of sheep] are themselves covered, while those with whom we do not cover ourselves are themselves not covered. Rabbi Zera asked: Why does a camel have a short tail? He answered: Because the camel eats thorns [and a long tail would get entangled in the thorns]. Rabbi Zera asked: Why does an ox have a long tail? He answered: Because it grazes in the marshland and has to chase away the gnats with its tail. Rabbi Zera asked: Why are the antennae of locust soft [i.e., flexible]? He replied: Because it dwells among willows and if the antenna were hard it would be broken off when it bumped against trees and the locust would go blind. For Shmuel said: If one wishes to blind a locust, let him remove its antennae. Rabbi Zera asked: Why is the chicken’s lower eyelid bent upwards? He answered: Because it lives on the rafters, and if smoke entered its eyes it would go blind. (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 77b)
I spent a lot of time mulling over this week's parshah when I was preparing to offer up learning for my awesome coworkers yesterday. I was torn between the discussion in Torah Studies adapted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson about why the text specifically mentions Egypt and Laban when discussing the first fruits.
“And you shall speak and say before the L-rd your G-d: ‘An Aramite destroyed my father, and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number … And the L-rd brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand … And he has brought us into this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now behold I have brought the first-fruit of the land which You, O L-rd, have given me ...’ ”
The Aramite being Laban and Egypt being, well, Egypt. The discussion surrounds why these two specific instances are mentioned above all the other tragedies that were befallen by the Israelites. It all comes down to those being to instances where total destruction was a promise, but also moments in which we were "permanently settled" in a land that was not ours. You see, the first fruits offering is meant for when we're dwelling in the land that HaShem gave us. Because during these two narratives we were settled but not in Israel -- compared to the other tragedies that befell us during the wandering -- these two hold a significant place in us needing to remember those times when we were not where we were supposed to be. It's a gnarly concept, and you can read more about it here

But for me, I ended up focusing on something incredibly simple that we probably overlook that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks didn't overlook. There is no word in Torah meaning "to obey." Judaism is not a religion of blind obedience, despite what many thing and the way that many profess to live their lives Jewishly. The word in Torah that often is used when HaShem is saying "hey, you, do this or else" is "to hear" or l'shmoah. And what a perfect time of year for this parshah, right? We're commanded in the month of Elul to hear the voice of the shofar, because it is the closest thing we can get these days to truly hearing the "voice of G-d." 

The question is ... If HaShem is not demanding that we obey, but rather that we simply hear, what does that mean for us in the scheme of things? 

We talked for about a half-hour at our staff meeting yesterday about this concept, and the best way for me to approach it is this: We're commanded to listen to HaShem. To hear HaShem. We're invited to be active participants in this world, to really think about the reasons and the words that we're given in the Torah. And when we make that choice to really listen, we see that so many of the 613 mitzvoth are about ethics, values, and morality. They're not as distant and strange as we might think they are -- the problem is that we don't take the time to listen, examine, and explore. 

And, I also pointed out, the problem today is that so many Jews do listen -- but not to Hashem. So many Jews choose to listen, but instead to intermediaries that would wish to send them down the wrong path, a path where the listening comes second-hand. I say this in regards to the Haredi and to the most secular of Jews. 

We are commanded as individuals to listen to HaShem. To process, consider, evaluate, to truly be active in life, in this experience of Judaism. Are you listening? 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Get a Room (at Room 77)!

My life of traveling -- really traveling, not that driving from Joplin to Tulsa or Kansas City to Nebraska -- began my junior year of high school when the Lincoln Northeast Rockets Concert Choir headed to the trenches of New Jersey for a choir competition. Luckily, the competition was a small portion of the trip that took a bus-load of white kids from Nebraska out of the corn and soybean fields and into places like Harlem, Ellis Island, and to shows like Les Miserables and out to fancy dinners. It was a world I had never experienced before, but that first trip sealed the deal for me. I was going to be a traveler, period. It was in my blood. I loved staying in a nice hotel, I loved having a million channels on TV, I loved knowing that a machine that produced ice was down the hallway and if I wanted an extra pillow, all I had to do was ask for one. That New York City trip back in 2001 changed my perspective on the world (and not just because we had what appeared to be New Jersey mobsters as our "security guards" at the hotel) ...

I want to apologize to Maryl profusely. But seriously, look at my hair!
You can't see the excitement on my face. I think I was pretty much exhausted.

And now?

I've got four flights booked in the next month. I'm heading to Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and then on to Israel. If that's not globe-trotting, I don't know what is! (And when I get to Israel and have some money saved, the first thing I'm doing is heading to Europe ... I've been to Israel four times and I'm moving there, but that's my only out-of-the-U.S. experience!)

A few of the upcoming trips I have I'm staying with at-home accommodations, but with my trip to New York as I prep to head onward to Israel, I didn't have such luck. I had to dig around for a hotel, comparing with actual brand websites with other hotel search engines. Finding out that Room 77 exists makes me lament the stress it took to find a price-friendly, wifi-capable hotel with a free airport shuttle. It took some digging.

Had I had Room 77 -- “an intelligent and easy to use hotel search engine that allows travelers to find and book the best rates from across the Web in one fast and simple search" -- I would have found my hotel in about two seconds flat. Why? Well, Room 77 offers competitor rates (in the vein of everyone's favorite airfare search engines). D'oh! Where were you all my life Room 77?

My requirements for this adventure were a free airport shuttle from the hotel to JFK (where I need to be by 3 p.m. on October 15) and free wifi, because you know I'm going to be Tweeting and Facebooking every single second of my aliyah adventure. And guess what? Room 77 has that option. Genius!

I'm glad I found something, although I probably would have had better/more options to consider had I opted for Room 77. There's always next time, of course, and they do have international location, so that's a huge win for me!

Seriously, friends. Never wonder whether you've gotten the best deal on your hotel room again. Check out Room 77 when planning your next travel adventure!

I was selected for participation in this campaign as a member of Clever Girls Collective.

What is This Life?

Late August 2011 on one of my many trips alone to the Poconos.
On these trips I'd speed around the tight, curvy corners 
of Valley Road between 84 and 6.
I prayed to lose control.  

Wait. How did I get here?

Nearly 29, selling all of my belongings, moving to a perpetual "war zone," starting over -- again -- after so many fresh starts. How do I know if this one is the one? I just know, that's how.

A year ago, I knew that my life was over. I say that in the most literal way possible. A year ago, I saw two ways out of my life: divorce or suicide. The latter seemed like a more noble approach to the situation. I'd failed to make my marriage work. It was me who couldn't fix it, so it was me that failed. I could even muster the strength to ask out, so what kind of person would I be to anyone else? The reality of the financial and emotional impact (of losing everything I knew -- friends and family) seemed too strong to handle. And all the while, I played the part of me, Chaviva. Age 27. Blogger. Wife. Teaneck, NJ Orthodox Jew. Strong, confident, stable. Happy above all. Here, on this blog.

It was a dark space. A very, very dark space. I owe my being here to several friends who helped me baby-step through that scary part of my life. They are angels on earth.

I vlogged on September 1, 2011, about a debate between my ex-husband and I about whether -- when there's one breadwinner -- the person not pulling in the bulk of the cash can treat the other person. I watch that video now, and I see the deadness in my eyes. I was attempting to fix the break in the levee with duct tape.

On September 6 I blogged about the world of Jewish women bloggers and whether when I started this blog I intended to be anonymous, for the content to be public or private. I wrote about how the things I didn't discuss on this blog could fill entire libraries. I wanted to speak, but I was distracted.

More duct tape for the levee appeared on September 7 when I tried to explain and ask for help in my battle for a new, proper full sheitel, because my ex-husband didn't believe in sheitels and couldn't validate the expense. So I bought a fake wig. I stressed out. People began to see something was up.

After realizing life is greater than death, and with the support of friends and realizing that I am stronger than I appear, I asked for a get on September 12. You have to understand -- it took me nine months to ask for the get. We spent a lot of time in therapy trying to fix things, but I think that we both knew that it wasn't going anywhere. Finally requesting the get is probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Period.

By September 14, I put my blog on hiatus. "For the High Holidays," I said. Clearly I was lying.

Faster than was expected -- than anyone expected -- we were divorced according to the Jewish religion on September 20.

On September 25, I revealed what was happening. I was getting divorced. I was moving to Colorado without a job, I was starting over. "It's going to be an interesting 5772," I said. Boy was that the understatement of the year.

I arrived in Colorado on September 28 and was thrust in to the Colorado scene for the High Holidays. It was a strange circumstance to be in -- new, newly divorced, surrounded by strangers.

What. A. Year.

The pendulum had a mighty swing in both directions this year for me. From feeling free and released from a dark depression, to finding myself in a relationship with someone unexpected, to finding myself and my teshuva, to deciding to make aliyah.

Yes, a year ago Denver felt like the right move. And now? Israel seems perfect. Am I a nutjob? I don't think so. Look at what I wrote a year ago:
Why Denver? Well, I didn't have this blog back in 2005, but if I did, you would have heard me sing the praises of Colorado as the healthiest place on earth. The moment my wheels hit Colorado, I felt the need to eat healthy, to be healthy, to feel healthy. I went through a heartbreak there, but it didn't smack me in the face like it did elsewhere, because I was mentally and emotionally healthy. I was able to cope and move on. When I lived in Denver, I went running and walking, I ate fresh vegetables and maintained a mostly vegetarian diet, I explored the state, I got out. I did things. I was happy, I was healthy, I was positive about my future and confident in who I was. Everyone keeps telling me Denver's a horrible choice because there are no single frum folk there. To that, friends, I say, "I'm not interested in dating at the moment. Seriously?" 
Why not Israel? Divorce is a big enough shock to my system right now. I need a change, so I'm starting small with a move to Denver where I can regroup, clear my head, and find some inner peace. The balagan of Israel is too much for the tender state of me right now, so stay patient. I haven't ruled it out. After all, the world is my oyster at this point.
I think I knew. I just needed to take stock. But people were right -- Denver is a horrible choice because there are no single frum folk here!

So will 5773 be as crazy with the balagan as 5772 was? I don't think so. I foresee more of a wave of changes than a pendulum of heavy swinging back and forth. There's something about the great ease of everything with this move -- the aliyah process, the paperwork, finding the apartment, how quickly my stuff is selling, my being able to keep my job. Everything is just fitting into place without hesitation. 

I think I'm finally doing what HaShem wants from me. To take the land, to make it my own, to dwell there, and to take the happiness that I've found into a home and to grow Am Yisrael

But nothing in life is absolute. I'm not that naive. But stick with me friends, for another year, and let's see where the road takes me. Okay?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Aliyah Update: Flight is Booked!

I appreciate that Southwest Airlines allows one to "name" their trip itinerary. Above? That's what I named mine. Yes, I just booked my flight to New York to catch my Monday, October 15 flight out of JFK to Eretz Yisrael. (Okay, so it's not my last U.S. flight ever ... G-d willing my little brother will get married someday, and I'll come back to see it.)

I'd been stressing out over the logistics of the entire adventure, mostly because Southwest (where I had boatloads of miles to use) didn't fly in to JFK. I didn't realize (until today) how close LaGuardia and JFK are, so I nabbed a reservation at a hotel near the two with a free shuttle service to JFK. But also stress arose because I'm going to Los Angeles for the last days of Sukkot to catch up with one of my favorites families on the planet, which has me back in Denver on October 10. Those days when I get back are going to be hardcore crunch time.

And the hotel? It's not a five-star joint -- after all, it's hard to find an airport hotel with any niceness that is under $300 a night. But I found one, and although I might not sleep at all my last night in the United States, I do have this:
"This nonsmoking guestroom offers 1 king bed with a pillowtop mattress, plush duvet, and a choice of pillows. Wireless Internet access is complimentary. The TV comes with premium cable channels."
I'll be comfortable, to say the least. 

So friends, if you're in New York and want to see me before I boot-scoot off to the land that HaShem promised me when I decided to take the wacky adventure of appeasing my Jewish neshama (soul), then you'll know where to find me. 

I just have to be at JFK by 3 p.m. Or Nefesh b'Nefesh will have my head!

As a side note: I think the hotel where I'm staying actually was where I attended a Nefesh b'Nefesh fair several years ago. If so, it will be a weird, happy coincidence.