Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Face of Utter Joy

Ask Chaviva Anything: Of Mr. T and Snark

Ah, another fun installment of Ask Chaviva Anything, chock full of questions that some people would consider pretty darn invasive. I'll admit, some people have been complete jerks -- giving people the power to anonymously ask things is just ripe for this, and I accept that. But seriously, come on folks. Grow up! And now, on to the questions.
Have you found a Rav in Israel? If so, how did you find a Rav in a place with so many people who are Rabbis? In general--as a woman and a ger--have you found it easy to find Rebbeim and to be open with them? (I ask, because I find that discussing personal things with men who aren't relatives or friends to be difficult).
Great, amazing question. The reality is that I still consult my rav back in the U.S., and Mr. T has a rabbi here and a rabbi back in England that he consults (in addition to him being crazy knowledgable on things from his studies). That being said, if and when I decided to seek out a new rav, I think that Jerusalem is one of the best places for it because there is every flavor and shade of observance and halachic understanding here. The easiest way to find someone is to run around in circles with like-minded people, live in a community with like-minded people, and seek out a rav there.
What do your parents think of your second marriage?
If I could share with you how amazing my family has been about my marrying Mr. T, your minds would be blown. Mr. T and I Skyped with my family right after we got engaged, and it was an utter blast (my little brother and Mr. T were hilarious). A few days before the wedding, my father sent me the sweetest email about his take on Mr. T and me and how happy we seem. My father always worried about me in the past, and he always expressed his concerns for my happiness. The great thing? He sees my joy and loves Mr. T and gave us his blessing! 
How old is Mr. T? [and] Is it weird that both of your husbands have the same name?
How old is he? Is it relevant? And as for whether it's weird: Nah. It was kind of like "WHOA" in the beginning, but I just have amazing proof that a name is just a name -- it doesn't make the man, at all. The beautiful thing is, someone suggested that my neshama knew I needed a Tuvia, it just took a while for me to find the right one. 
I know that you resist Orthodox labels.  What about Mr. T?  What "type" of Orthodox is he?  Is this the same or different from how he was raised? [and] When/where was Mr. T ordained?
You know, maybe I should do a Q&A with Mr. T to answer this question. I don't want to put words in his mouth. We're very much on the level with our individual approaches to Judaism. Hold the line!
Drop out of ulpan yet?
What gave you the idea that I would drop out of ulpan? Yes, I was toying with it when I was offered a very well paying job, but I opted to stay in ulpan and hold out for something that was a little further up my alley.  

Stay tuned for future installments of this fun series. I'm toying with doing a LIVE Ustream chat with Q&A. Thoughts?  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Getting Married: The Video and More

For those of you who weren't able to "attend" the wedding on Wednesday night in Israel (come on, we only had 24 people plus a mashgiach in attendance, although it was pretty amazing when Pey Dalid showed up), the entire thing was recorded and is available online. It's 1 hour and 19 minutes long, but I can tell you the first 20 minutes are excellent, then the chuppah starts at 45 minutes or so, and then is the rest of the shebang.

Feel free to comment here, there, everywhere! I was so happy to have so many people watching and so many people commenting. Seriously, I love you guys!

Oh, and here's a bit of Pey Dalid singing us into the end of the meal, too.

Stay tuned for more pictures and details about everything (I can actually call myself a rebbetzin now, eegads!). For now, I'm just enjoying being married, it being Purim, and living in the most beautiful country in the world surrounded by the most loving friends and family a girl could ask for.

HaShem's blessings are so prevalent in my life, and I want to thank you all for being such a major part of those blessings!

PS: For those of you who have heard tell of the hilarity that is now my last name, please see this informative expose on the topic. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Marriage: Today is the Day!

Well folks, today is the big day! I'm marrying the love of my life, the man who makes me laugh when I'm at my lowest, the kindest, sweetest ... okay, okay, I'm not going to go all cheesy on you, but just know that whatever this crazy thing I have going on with Mr. T is, it's from shamayim.

I'm going to try my darndest to get my chuppah (marriage ceremony) LIVE on Ustream, so be sure to check out my channel later around 7 p.m. (in Israel, that is).

Catch you all on the flip side of marriage!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ask Chaviva Anything: The Stepmother Query

This installment of Ask Chaviva Anything! has a fairly easy-to-answer query.
How do you feel about becoming a stepmother? 
I'm not sure if I've said it on the blog before, but if I have I'll say it again: I'm not becoming a stepmother so much as becoming iBoy's dad's new wife. Why do I say it that way? iBoy is at an age where he doesn't need another mother figure in his life, and it's not a role I can fulfill at the age he is, either. Heading to 9.5 years of age, iBoy has a mom and a dad, as well his mom's new husband and soon his dad's new wife. Zehu.

The word "stepmother" has excessive negativity attached to it, and that's just not something I'm looking to adopt. Yes, at the very basic level, I'm going to be iBoy's stepmother, but I'm not looking to fulfill the role of a mother that rears a child from the very beginnings of his or her life in a way that is critical and distinct -- for that purpose he has had a mother.

But I can already tell that I'm going to be bad cop and Mr. T is going to be good copy. After all, I got iBoy to do 10+ pages of math homework one afternoon without too much trouble. Mr. T is the fun one, I'm the "get things done" one. I'm a friend, a cool lady, dad's new wife.

All in all, I think it's going to be quite the time.

That being said, I'm sure there are those of you out there who have massive amounts of wisdom on this topic to which I'm just not privy. My father grew up with a stepmother, and for many of my mother's siblings either/or of her parents were stepparents. Fortunately, most of my friends growing up had parents who were married, so the whole divorce/stepparent thing never entered my orbit. Feel free to lay your wisdom on me!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

England: Cover Thy Head!

A graphic representation of head and hair covering in England!

After I posted about being unsure what type of headcovering made the most sense as far as "fitting in" in England, I got an email from my future father-in-law with the above image. My initial reaction was laughter, followed by a quick email saying, "Did you find this online? Or make it yourself?"

The reason I asked was because my future father-in-law has an amazing talent for creating stories for iBoy, so I thought that just maybe he crafted this little gem himself. Lo and behold, he did!

For those of you who have lived in England, live there now, or are familiar with the trends there, how does this very crafty graphic measure up?

Marriage: The Law in the Custom

For the first time in what seems like a long time, I have a lot of blog posts in mind that don't involve pulling from the Ask Chaviva Anything! log of inquiries and curiosities. A lot of this is probably because of pending nuptials (whoa, getting married in just a few days!), but also because I feel like with the move to Neve Daniel I'm in a more curious and settled head space than I have been for a while now. So where do I begin?

On Friday, Mr. T and I bumped into several people over the course of the morning in Neve Daniel, which I'm sure raised some eyebrows. Why?

Traditionally, the week leading up to a religious Jewish couple's wedding the two don't see neither hide nor hair of their betrothed. On the day of the wedding, there traditionally is fasting and more not seeing, even before the actual chuppah itself. The keyword here is "traditionally."

The first time I got married, my ex and I didn't see each other the week before the wedding, which created a lot of entertaining choreography as we were staying in the same city, and pretty much the same house but on different levels. On the day of the wedding, we didn't see each other up until the point of picture taking, at which time we decided that it made sense to see each other.

Although Mr. T and I have decided that the day of the wedding we won't be seeing each other, we concluded -- after some research and investigation into the whole "not seeing each other thing -- that we're going to let minhagim be minhagim (traditions) and not stress out about avoiding each other during the week before the wedding.

I know what you're thinking: Catastrophe! Disaster! Shanda! But hold your horses. What would you do if I told you that the basis for this tradition is not in halakah (Jewish law)? What about the fact that Sephardim don't even observe this custom?

Yes, friends, shocker time. The whole avoidance pre-wedding is a tradition that has some shady and unclear origins, ranging from medieval fears of bad luck to the fact that most religious people just weren't in the same place the week up to the wedding (and in most cases, the months up to the wedding after the engagement).

You can read the entire megillah on this topic over at the OU, but I'll give you the rundown quickly here.

This custom seems to date back to as early as 1228, but in Jerusalem it was introduced in the early 1700s. The main reasons cited by poskim for why a couple shouldn't see each other in the week leading up to the wedding are that forced separation builds excitement and that it decreases the likelihood of premarital relations (seriously?), but also that it can be a tense period of time in which strife could arise and the wedding could be called off as a result of stress, tension, and arguments (“There is no marriage contract that does not contain a quarrel,” Shabbat 130a). After watching a few episodes of Bridezillas, this makes gobs of sense, but it also doesn't explain why in most religious circles this has become the required "law." Where exactly does it all come from?

Let's start with this interesting morsel.
"In a footnote, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (Made in Heaven, [New York, 1983], p. 67) cites two other works that mention the custom, and then states that the source for the custom may be YD 192:1, the section that deals with dam chimud ... [which is the] concern that meeting the chatan [groom] may cause the kallah [bride]to have a discharge that could invalidate the shivah nekiyim (seven clean days before going to the mikvah)."
Both Rabbi Kaplan and Rabbi Binyomin Forst find this tie suspect at best, because the Talmud requires that upon accepting a marriage proposal or setting a wedding date that she might discharge blood as a result of the excitement (talk about a complete lack of understanding about the female body, am I right?). Even if this were to happen, she's still required to observe seven "clean days" prior to the wedding, so unless she's getting engaged and married seven days later, there's no concern here (also, because, you know, women don't bleed when they get excited). 

In Sefer Minhagim: The Book of Chabad-Lubavitch Customs, the footnote simply cites letters from the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson as the basis for the tradition. However, 
"Nitei Gavriel, a recent, comprehensive source of customs, does not mention this practice, but records that around one hundred years ago, there was a custom in Jerusalem of the bride and groom going together to famous rabbis to get their blessings during the week before the wedding (Hilchot Nisuin, p. 55, in the name of Sdei Chemed, Ma’arechet Chatan Vekallah, 22)."
The reality is that halakah requires that a bride and groom must see each other before the wedding, which makes this custom kind of strange even at its very roots. Even Ravs Moshe Feinstein and Aharon Soloveichik advocated for not letting this custom serve as an inconvenience to couples prior to the wedding. 

So what did you do when getting married, or what do you plan on doing when you get married? Did you realize just how custom-y this was, or have you always assumed it was halakah

Friday, February 15, 2013

Terumah: Just a Thought

Before we purchased this couch, we invested in Torah.

This week's parshah (Torah portion) is Terumah, in which HaShem commands us to build the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary and dwelling place, as the Israelites travel through the desert. The Mishkan became the Holy Temple, and after the Second Temple fell in 70 CE, the Jewish home became the central dwelling place for HaShem.

Driving down any street where new construction is going up you'll see the shells of homes under construction. We start with the bones of a building and construct it inward, with the knickknacks, drapes, color combinations, bookshelves, and family photos all coming in at the end stages of construction.

In this week's parshah, however, we see that the first aspect of construction was the ark -- the resting place of Torah -- and then come the various vessels, the walls, and finally the framework.

What does it all mean? Why do we build our homes hafuch? (That's the name of a popular take on coffee in Israel, which just means upside down or inside out.)

When we build a home, we must place Torah at the center of everything before we begin to build anything else. Before we pick out towel colors or bathroom mats, before we pick out a couch or decide on plate patterns, Torah must have been placed at the center of the relationship.

If anything, Mr. T and I placed Torah on the ground floor of our relationship before building or exploring the everyday, seemingly monotonous aspects of our future together. Can you imagine first dates talking seriously and passionately about tzedakah and minhagim (traditions)? With a Torah-based marriage, you're setting yourself up for a dwelling place for the shechinah (the presence of HaShem). Until the Holy Temple is rebuilt, the Jewish home is the best and most important way we can express our dedication to HaShem, Am Yisrael, and, ultimately, each other.

So, what do you think about it?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ask Chaviva Anything: The Mish-Mash Edition

Another installment of Ask Chaviva Anything! Let's do some random ones this time. To start us off, we have the following.
Can we meet you in Israel? (Not trying to be sketchy)
Sketchy? Psshaw! Never. I'd love to meet anyone and everyone who visits Israel or lives here. I'm also going to be in the UK over Pesach for a few weeks, so if you live there, shoot me an email and we'll get together.

This one isn't a question, but I'll address it anyway.
I asked questions that we never answered.
You did? What were they? Feel free to re-ask at the link or to post your questions below. Alternatively, you can email me at kvetching dot editor at gmail dot com. I try to answer all questions that are asked. However, I don't answer questions that are derogatory, mean-spirited, or just plain hateful.

The next question could be a long-answer query, but I'm going to keep it short.
Why are there so many different "catagories" of Orthodox Jews? Where do you fall in?
Like everything in life, and in every religion and country, we feel most comfortable when we can categorize someone or something. It makes it easier to say "He is this, and I am not" or "She eats that, but I do not." Without these boxes or categories, people find it difficult to breathe. It's sort of like the joke about the Jew on a deserted island who is rescued. When the rescue party shows up, they notice there are two synagogues on the island that he built. They ask him why, and he points to one and then the other saying, "That's the synagogue I go to, that's the synagogue I wouldn't step foot into." Humans are creatures of adjectives -- it's just how we function. The bummer about this is that we limit the adjectives and categories we have when it comes to religion.

Most people would peg me as Orthodox, or, here in Israel, as Da'ati Leumi (National Religious or Religious Zionist) because of how I dress, how I will cover my hair, the people I surround myself with, etc. However, I don't like to put myself in boxes. I've written about it before, but these days I'd just call myself shomeret mitzvoth -- I observe the mitzvoth that HaShem has gifted us.

Next up?
Do you want to have children?  A lot? A little? Do you think Israel is the ideal place to raise children?
Yes, yes, yes. It's interesting how when you end up with the right person the thought of children is almost compulsory. Many of you will remember in the not-so-distant past that I was hesitant about having children. Because of some strained relationships, I thought that I would not be a good mother, that I would do more harm than good with having children, so I was considering just writing off kids forever. Moving to Israel and meeting Mr. T has changed my needs and wants astronomically. For the first time in my life, I can actual picture myself having children (as many as HaShem has in store for us), because Mr. T is an amazing father already. He lights up eyes in children without any effort, and I find it beautiful and inspiring. We're eager to have our own brood so that we can screw them up as much as possible. (Joking, of course.)

As for Israel being a good place to raise children, I would say a million times yes (especially in Neve Daniel). There's a freedom and comfortability here for children, and I'm eager to bring Jewish kids up in a place where they're free to be Jews but where I also can teach them about the global community in its diversity. I'm blessed to come from a non-Jewish family, so my kids will never exist in a bubble where the world is all Jews, all the time. At the same time, they'll be comfortable and happy in a country where being Jewish is more normal than in many other places.

We'll close off this round of questions with another easy question.
Will there be a photographer at the wedding and will we be able to see the pics? : )
Yes! One of Mr. T's friends will be taking pictures, and I'm going to have several friends there who are Social Media superstars, so there will be lots of live-action Tweeting and Facebooking going on, I predict. We're also still trying to figure out whether a livecast on UStream or YouTube is possible, so be on the lookout for that.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ask Chaviva Anything: A Life Illegal?

This is going to be a rather tense edition of Ask Chaviva Anything, simply because of the nature of several questions I have received in recent weeks. The first one is easy, and then come the tough, emotional, complicated ones.
How did you choose Neve Daniel? 
This is an easy question. In my past visits to Israel, I've been able to experience the Golan (northern Israel), Jerusalem, Ramat Bet Shemesh, Neve Daniel, Tel Aviv, and Caesaria. Since moving here, I've also experienced a few other small, beautiful towns and neighborhoods. When I first moved to Israel, I was utterly pleased to live in Jerusalem in the Nachlaot neighborhood, because of its proximity to the shuk, centrality in Jerusalem, and the vibe of the neighborhood.

Mr. T, too, lived in Nachlaot until the beginning of November. Yes, we've wondered whether in those few short weeks I was living in Nachlaot whether our paths ever happened to cross.

That being said, when you meet someone amazing and decide to get married, you want a place that can and will be all your own -- a place that is "yours" as a collective couple. My apartment in Nachlaot was a shoebox, and Mr. T's apartment was (unfortunately) falling apart and not a place that we felt like we could be a "we." Thus, moving.

Why Neve Daniel? The short answer has two components: It is absolutely freaking beautiful there, and the bulk of my closest friends in Israel live there. (They call it Har HaBloggerim -- mountain of bloggers -- for a reason.) Lucky for me, Mr. T is an absolute dream and wanted to be in a place that made me happy, where we could be happy together. Neve Daniel is most perfect for what we need and where we are right now. They're even building a Beit Knesset right across from where we live!

Now ... the following are actually two different questions from two different people at two different times, but I've combined them for ease of answering.
How do you justify moving to a settlement that is considered to be in violation of international law? || I agree with you that the west bank in general, and the gush in particular, as stunning, and have a very special feel to them, and some lovely people living there.  But does it bother you to live in a place where there are two sets of rules for two groups of people, with unequal access to roads, water, healthcare, and civil protections under the law?
I knew this question was coming, and to be completely honest I haven't spent much time thinking about it. I've found that a lot of people outside of Israel don't necessarily understand what a "settlement" is in Israel. Many people think of caravans or tents or people living in trailers -- not the community in which I'm now living where the homes are built, completely permanent, where there is infrastructure, and a complete sense of permanent living. That being said, I think some history is necessary here.

Neve Daniel was established in 1982 on the site of the Cohen Farm -- which itself was founded in 1935 on lands purchased by Jews from an Arab village. In 1943, the land was transferred to the Jewish National Fund, abandoned during the Arab riots, and remained under Jordanian control until 1967. By this account, the land is Jewish-owned, period.

The question about legality comes from Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war, which says,
"The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies."
So my first question here is whether we're currently in a "time of war." My second question arises from the fact that no "state" held exact control over Judea and Samaria/the West Bank prior to 1967 anyhow.  According to the 1935 purchase and 1943 transfer, the land which Neve Daniel occupies is Jewish-owned. If we're neither at war nor was the area controlled by one state from which Israel then "occupied," then this isn't problematic.

As for the question about the inequality of access and lifestyle, I have to say that I just don't see it. Almost daily I ride through the checkpoints, I shop at the grocery store with Arabs and Jews alike, I travel the same roads, I live the same life, except I cannot enter certain places because I am Jewish -- like Bet Lechem, for example. The giant warning signs are explicit: It's dangerous to enter these Arab towns for Jews. There is no sign at the entrance to Neve Daniel telling Arabs not to come in out of danger to their lives, and you won't find one at any entrance to any "Jewish" town in the Gush either. (Lots of Arabs come in to Neve Daniel every day for work, at that.)

At Tzomet HaGush (near Neve Daniel where the grocery store and several other shops are), I park side-by-side with Arabs. We wait in the same checkout lines. We buy the same groceries. We ask the same questions. We travel the same roads home. In Jerusalem, we wait in the same waiting rooms, drink coffee at the same cafes, get annoyed at the same bank tellers, and run to catch the same buses.

It isn't a life apart like you think. Take, for example, the fact that Beitar -- the Jerusalem soccer team -- has Muslim players on its team, but the team they're playing this evening is a Muslim-only team. It's like Bet Lechem, precisely.

Of course, we could argue about it until we're blue in the face. This is simply my perspective, and this is my experience in nearly four months here and several years visiting the country. There are people who want all Arabs to die, to occupy every last inch of this small land, and who treat Arabs and Muslims like rats rather than people. Guess what? I'm not one of those people. I believe in an equal opportunity to succeed, to be happy, and to live life. But I also know my history, my politics, and I know that so much of what the world sees of Israel is either not based in fact or is based in fact and skewed. I know that Arab nations have rejected those who call themselves Palestinians and only acknowledge them when it serves a greater purpose for Arab and Muslim nations. They're a pawn, and it's disappointing and depressing. Israel does more for Palestinians than any of the nations of Arabs, period.

I'm debating whether to leave comments open on this post. I think, against my better judgment, I'm going to leave them open. Be kind, but be honest and realistic if you want to comment, please. I have no interest in fighting with anyone about this subject. I do, however, appreciate intelligent discussions that stick to productive dialogue.

Side note: The name "Neve Daniel" comes from the name of a bend in the road southwest of Bet Lechem where a convoy bringing supplies to Gush Etzion was ambushed in 1948. According to reports, 15 Jews were killed, 73 wounded, and tons of supplies and vehicles were destroyed when Arabs blocked the roads and swarmed the Jewish convoy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ask Chaviva Anything: The Um What Edition

From the files of "Wait, what?" comes the following question:
How much do you weigh?
Okay, I'm curious what the inspiration for this comment was. I mean, yes, you can ask questions anonymously, but, why this one? Why would you want to know? What can you gain from knowing my weight!?

At any rate, what I can tell you is that I've been told my whole life that I "wear my weight well," whatever that means. I weigh more than most people would ever guess, so I suppose there's some credence to the statement.

Something I can share in regards to this question is that I finally tracked down my wedding dress, paid the customs fees, tried it on, and blamo it fits, with plenty of room to spare. It needs to be shortened and taken in a few places, and the sleeves need to be cut down a bit because I prefer the 3/4-length-sleeve dress as opposed to the crazy long sleeve thing.

The reason this fits into the question above is that I ordered the smaller of two sizes between which I was waffling, despite advice otherwise. The thing is, typically wedding dresses are made small, so you have to buy two sizes or so larger than the size you really wear, which makes every bride to be feel absolutely delightful about her size. Because I went the nontraditional route and purchased a dress off the internet from the U.S. (I also did this for my first wedding dress, mind you), I was shocked to see the sizing matched that of my actual size. I was sort of in between two sizes, but, feeling confident, I went for the smaller size, which is truer to my normal size.

Lo and behold ... it fit. It fit! Talk about a boost to the self esteem. I now have a beautiful veil from a gemach that my friend found for me, and I just need to find some shoes to fit the evening and get the dress tailored.

Easiest. Wedding. Planning. Ever. Go small or go home. That's my new policy.

But seriously, my weight? You'll never get the number, which, I might add, seems to be dropping thanks to the requisite schlepping of life in Israel. Now get busy, because you know you can Ask Chaviva Anything, right?