Thursday, April 25, 2013

Of Crickets and Stars

Chloe, some girl, and my little brother Joseph -- not watching the game.

Last night, I fell asleep to the sound of a single cricket noising outside my window.

It was heaven.

I tried to explain to Mr. T how welcoming and comfortable the sound of a cricket chirping noisily was to me, and I'm not sure he understood entirely. But for a girl grown up in Southern Missouri and Nebraska, crickets are like white noise. As summer approaches, even more so do I feel like a cricket outside my window is a huge blessing.

When I was a kid in Joplin, Missouri, my father played softball on the company league and my older brother played baseball. My memory likes to tell me that we were out on the softball or baseball diamond almost every night every summer when I was a kid, but I'm guessing that it was more like every weekend or once a week. The baseball diamond on the outskirts of town, the tall lights illuminating the field and dust plumes flying upward when a ball smacked the infield or someone slid into base. The games always started when it was still light outside and by game's end it was pitch black and the crickets were a symphony of summer.

I'd like to say I spent a lot of time watching my brother and dad play, but the truth is that me and my band of merry picker-uppers would wander the grounds nabbing trash for the reward of something free from the concession stand -- I'd always grab a Chic-o-Stick or giant dill pickle while friends grabbed ring pops, soda, or a hot dog.

When my little brother was born, I spent time watching him and then enlisted his help when he was old enough to walk and pick things up in garbage grabbing.

Late in the evening, we were always among the last to leave, watching the fields being closed up and the dust settle from people racing out of the gravel parking lot toward home.

One year it was particularly hot, and I neglected to drink enough water to keep me fully hydrated. So near the end of the night when the sun was already gone I chugged a ton of water. So much water, in fact, that I ended up throwing up all over the dry gravel and dirt near our car in the parking lot -- water poisoning! I've never been a regurgitator, but boy did I really do myself in that time.

So crickets. Usually, we talk about how powerful smell is. How it can transport us to a different time and place and make our shoulders relax, our eyes close, and a deep sigh to emanate from someplace deep within. I have those moments, but they are few and far between (the smell of stale soda cans is one, because as a kid we used to spend a lot of time at the aluminum can recycling facility in Joplin). Sounds are even fewer for me, but crickets is one that transports me to a time when I know we were all happy.

(Another sound? Wind chimes, but that's another story from a less happy time.)

It's funny that my little brother never took up baseball and that my older brother basically quit when we moved to Nebraska. The culture was different -- football, not baseball, reigned supreme. I no longer spent spring and summer on the baseball field but rather spent my fall and bitter winters on stone slabs in a large high school football stadium, which transitioned to college where I was a proud season-ticket holder for three years (something happened senior year -- I couldn't afford season tickets, even at the deeply discounted student price).

And I can guarantee you one thing: You don't hear crickets late at night amid the crunch of helmets and shoulder pads at a football game.

After I attempted to explain this cricket fixation to Mr. T, he said, as if out of nowhere,
"I wish there were no street lights in Neve Daniel." 
I responded, "Why exactly?" His response reminded me why I so love him.
"I'd like to be able to see all the stars."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Invitation to a Bris

Recently, Mr. T was sent a Facebook "invite" to a brit milah (ritual circumcision of an 8-day-old baby boy also called a bris), which set of an interesting discussion and a bit of research about something that I hadn't heard of before and that Mr. T didn't completely have aligned in his head.

There's a common belief in Judaism that you shouldn't formally invite someone to a bris because it obligates them to perform a mitzvah, and -- if they can't come -- you're basically setting them up to fail at performing a mitzvah.

After a bit of crazy Googling and asking around, I ended up arriving at the source of the minhag, which is the Rema, also known as Rabbi Moses Isserles who lived in the 16th century and who is known for his inline commentary on the Shulchan Aruch. I listened to a very informative podcast by YU on the topic, and it seems that our minhag derives from a misunderstanding of the text.

The Rema writes (Yoreh De’ah 265:12) that anyone who does not participate in the festive meal that accompanies a bris is viewed as if he is “excommunicated from Heaven," adding that if offensive people are participating in such a meal, one is not obligated to join them.

A basic reading of this suggests that if you go to a bris and decide to scoot out before the festive meal or attend the festive meal and don't eat anything, that you're a pretty rotten person. There are thus two aspects to the bris that play into this minhag -- the attendance of the mitzvah of bris and the festive meal that accompanies it. It's the latter that seems to be the point of contention for the Rema, not the bris itself, and not the invitation itself. 

At the same time, there's an opinion that if there is already 10 adult Jewish men at the meal, the guest is not obligated to take part because the commandment will be fulfilled without him (Otzar Ha-Bris, p. 163).

So I can understand why people think that outright inviting someone to a bris would automatically obligate them to come and attend the festive meal, but ultimately it's about the decision someone makes once they're at the bris/festive meal, not before hand. 

Do you hold to this minhag

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The UK: The Sights, The Cold

I thought about detailing every last and little thing I saw and experienced during the first days of my time in England -- the bus tour and visiting the beautiful Hatfield House (think Downton Abbey, but with whole bunches of amazing art and unique paintings of the illustrious Elizabeth I) -- but I've decided that the pictures will speak for themselves.

If you have questions, please ask. I'd love to share more, but I'm removed enough now from the experience that the pictures can say more than I can on the fly.

London: The Bus Tour

Hatfield House

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ask Chaviva Anything: The Children Edition

In this edition of Ask Chaviva Anything, I've got some children-related queries from blog readers.
What is iBoy like?
I'd like to say that iBoy is like any other nearly 10 year old out there, but this is a kid who loves tofu and broccoli ("little trees!"). He loves listening to his dad read Shakespeare (in a kid-friendly text, of course), and doesn't demand to watch cartoons and movies as much as he demands games like Taki. He's a very emotional kid who is aware of hurting other people's feelings -- almost to a fault -- but he also knows how to push boundaries like any other kid his age. He's just starting to get really good at reading English and helps me out with Hebrew while I help him out with Hebrew, too! He hates getting up in the morning, has to be reminded to brush his teeth, and is always eager to help when anything is going on in the kitchen. He's a prince who snores like a trucker but will cuddle up with his dad like he is the only thing that belongs in that space.

On a down day, he's the kind of kid who would go out of his way to make you smile with a hug or joke. He's really something special (just like his dad, who he is soooooooooo much like). Does he sound like every other 10 year old you know? Oh, and he loves to draw, which makes him a kid after my own heart. While in the UK I purchased him this amazing book full of things to draw, to fill in, and to get creative with. He kept asking, "Can I draw it like this?" to which I responded, "Kid, it's your book! You can draw and explore anything you want!"
You have mentioned every now and then about wanting lots of kids.  I know that is kind of the norm among Orthodox families but wonder if it's also just something you've always wanted (lots of kids).  I always wanted four kids but after two I may have met my match!  
It's funny how up and down I've been about wanting children. Most of my life, I wanted children (a few) because I was lucky enough to have a little brother who is nine years younger than me that I got to help raise. But then, while I was married and divorced, I had no desire to have children. I became really disenfranchised (so lame and stereotypical, I know) while I was incredibly depressed and decided not to have any children. The fear of passing on the depression and anxiety that I was dealing with, not to mention my fears of how I'll be with my children because of how I grew up (that fear we all have) drove me to vow to never have kids.

And then? I met Mr. T. We met, got engaged 10 days later, and if I had had my way, I would have been married instantly and with child at this point, folks! There's something about being with the right person at the right time that just punches you in the face and says "Be a mom, darn't!"

I know what you're thinking -- I'm already in the role of offering female support and guidance for a kid in my life, so that should be something, right? True, I'm getting a certain sense of satisfaction making delicious nosh for this amazing child in my life, helping put his healthy lunches together, watching him play soccer with friends, reading him Hasidic stories and him asking for more ...

But having your own child is something uniquely special. I know I'll feel it more when I do get pregnant and have my own child with Mr. T, but at this moment, I'm starting to feel where that thin line exists. There's a lot to be said about being a woman marrying a man with a child versus a man marrying a woman with a child. I'm debating on whether to write it up for and seeing if they'll start publishing me. I think I'm going to end up with a lot to say about parenting.
As you settle into married life and seek to start a family of your own, I wonder; as an Orthodox Jewish woman, how would you respond if your son or daughter told you that they were gay/lesbian?
This is a great question with a short answer. I was raised in a household where -- by and large -- I was allowed to explore the life that I thought was good for me. Mind you, I had a very vanilla childhood and never broke the rules, drank, smoked, or anything until I was in college and the depths of the newspaper world sucked me in and turned me into a temporary alcoholic (seriously, I'm kidding). Mr. T also was given a lot of freedom to be a wild and unique individual (and believe me, he was). As a result, if there's one thing that Judaism teaches that has been so potent for me over the past few years is that when someone lives a life that we do not necessarily agree with, we're meant to pull that person closer, not push them away (like most people do). Your children will always be your children, nothing changes that. Nothing. Life is short, you only have one family, and I'm going to be as strong as possible to do everything to make sure my children know how much they're loved, no matter who they are or what they do. 

Okay. That was a lengthy post. So much more to say about parenting and children! Have questions? Just ask!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What's for Dinner?

When it comes to food, I'm a sucker for fresh, colorful, and healthy. For dinner tonight, I wanted to use up some of the greens from the CSA, plus a sweet potato I had laying around that looked like it was about to go south.

Tonight, I toasted some bread (gluten free for me, regular brown bread for Mr. T), topped it with diced roasted sweet potatoes (olive oil, pepper, paprika), some sautéed greens (any will do with olive oil salt and pepper), and a poached egg (Mr. T did these) with crumbled feta cheese.

Assuming this wouldn't be entirely satisfying, I also used up some of the cabbage and one of the zucchinis from the CSA to make a Dijon-Maple Slaw. The recipe was fairly quick and easy. I shredded the cabbage with a peeler and then with a knife for some chunkier pieces, used a peeler to thinly peel the zucchini, and then tossed in pumpkin seeds. I tossed in the Dijon-Maple Dressing (garlic, dijon mustard, maple syrup, salt and pepper, olive oil), and voila!

I love my CSA. iBoy loves the CSA. Mr. T loves the CSA. Life is good (and delicious).

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Six Month Aliyahversary

The view from the garden. My neighbor's flag 
waves in the breeze against the clear, blue sky. 

On the Gregorian calendar, exactly six months ago, I hopped a plane to Israel, landing and officially making aliyah on October 16, 2012. That makes today's Yom ha'Zikaron (Day of Remembrance) and tomorrow's Yom ha'Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), two very significant days in my calendar. I didn't realize it when I made aliyah, but the lining up of my aliyahversary and the anniversary of Israel's independence speaks volumes to me. I can't believe it's been six months -- the past three or four just flew by, like a rug from under my feet, and I'm flying.

Ever since I arrived in Israel, life has felt right. The food tastes right, the air smells right, the quiet feels right, the relationships I've discovered and built feel so right. This rightness and light that I feel wouldn't be possible if there was no Israel, if 65 years ago a great struggle had not occurred, a struggle that is perpetuated every single day for Israelis and Israel.

At the same time, on these days, with the sirens blaring (which scared me because I thought we were under attack) to mark moments of silence, I'm struggling to process what it means to live in Israel. Having gone to the UK and returned recently, I was reminded of how different life is here. It's a more expensive life, a more complicated and frustrating life (bureaucratically and emotionally), a more uncertain life. I'm thankful for all that Israel has provided me, but what does it mean? What does it really mean? Israel isn't just another state, another country. It's unique because it's so young, so fresh, so torn between the past and present, between war and peace, between hunger and satiation.

On Yom ha'Zikaron, I personally honor Chaviva Reich and the 23,085 Israeli soldiers who have fallen so that I can become Jewish, live Jewishly, and be an Israeli. On Yom ha'Atzmaut, I honor the great struggle of those who have fallen and those who stood tall to make a state of Israel a possibility. Without Medinat Yisrael, becoming Jewish and living openly as a Jew would not have been as easy. Without Medinat Yisrael, I would not have obtained the support I did in making aliyah happen. Without Medinat Yisrael, I would not have met the love of my life and started building the kind of life for which I have so longed.

I have so much to say, but for some reason, in this moment, words are all clogged up in my head and heart and can't be painted in the colorful way I wish they could. I'm happy, speechless, full of love and appreciation, and eager for what tomorrow brings.

For the first time in my life, I think I'm unafraid of what the future holds, because I know I'm where I'm meant to be, where HaShem needs me to be. This is life.

The UK: Feast!

Hello market!

Despite the title, this isn't a blog post about the food I experienced in the UK. The truth is that the food I experienced in the kosher world was rather limited (we went out for kosher Indian and ordered in kosher Chinese), but being there over Pesach definitely limited the options. No, this blog post is about a market in West Norwood called FEAST!

I know what you're thinking. I've posted about a coffee roasting experience and now am posting about a local hipster market, what about Big Ben and castles and changing of the guard!? Being married to a gent from the UK hopefully means I'll have several trips to England in my future, so I was excited to experience the local flavor where my brother- and sister-in-law live. So after a schlep down from Edgware to South London, we popped out to the market, which spans several blocks and features food, local crafts, antiques, and oodles of other awesome things.

Vintage is cool! There were so many beautiful antiques. 

This was the first place I was exposed to Volcano Coffee Works, not to mention a bounty of unkosher and delicious smelling/looking food that was out of reach. The local flavor here is intense!

This was the kind of place (much like Camden Market) where I could probably easily drop hundreds of dollars on local goodies. I ended up walking away with a cup o' Joe and a beautiful pair of purple coconut shell earrings from a vendor who is incredibly green in all of her jewelry design, focusing on vegetarian ivory, old magazines, coffee beans, and coconut shells. I also stumbled upon African Inyoni artwork by Marika du Plessis, and I seriously struggled to not buy one of the paintings. The colors were so vivid and bright, but how do you schlep a painting back to Israel when you're limited on luggage? Argh!
This pic is funny because the sign says it's an alcohol-free area,
while fresh alcoholic cider is being served in the tent next to it. D'oh!

After walking around the market we walked through an incredibly old cemetery, saw the beautiful Greek structures that were adorned oddly enough with stars of David, and then partook in a picnic lunch at home followed by a trip to a local pub so I could get the true taste of the English pub. The most shocking thing about the pub experience? Babies, children, and pregnant ladies everywhere! Aside from the prevalence of children the smells of the pub reminded me of college days long gone by. Unfortunately the quintessential aspect of pub life (the food) was something we couldn't partake in. 

Maybe that's what Israel needs -- a kosher, British pub! Find more photos from my day on Flickr!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The UK: Taste the Coffee

The brother-in-law's yummy coffee from Volcano. 

Hello there blog, it's been a while, hasn't it? I haven't even had my coffee yet today, but I feel a sense of obligation to get going on getting back into the swing of things after my Pesach adventures in the lovely United Kingdom. After nearly three weeks in the old country visiting Mr. T's family and touring around and about visiting all the sites there are to see, I'm back in Israel and attempting to get back to "real life." We visited Hatfield House, Camden Market, took a double-decker bus tour around London on the most freezing of cold days, took a ride up in the London Eye, and so very much more.

I'm going to work my way backwards, starting with a visit to a local coffee roaster on Monday, April 8 -- Volcano Coffee Works. It's a funny thing that my in-laws are all big coffee drinkers, considering the classic English hot beverage of choice is tea. Somehow my dear husband ended up with the tea bug -- he won't even touch coffee. Luckily, my brother-in-law is a big coffee lover and was more than happy to pop into a local roaster because I've never seen the process of coffee roasting before (and neither had he).

We arrived at the industrial area in West Norwood to the startup-style location colored brightly with oranges and some amazing light fixtures. We started with coffee while we waited, admiring the wacky circus-style art on the wall and the old-timey espresso machines and coffee grinders. Then our coffee roasting expert met us and took us through a very small door (which, let's be honest was just the right side for Mr. T, the brother-in-law, and me) into another very industrial area into the coffee roasting and training area. Giant bags of colorful coffee bags were stacked up a against a wall and the hum of the roasting machine made me feel like I'd entered Santa's workshop.

You can see the green beans in the roaster,
while the last batch cools in the giant tray below. 

The odd thing? At first sniff, the entire operation reminded me of the scents of shop class. I'm guessing it was the mixture of the gas-powered roaster and the buckets of roasted beans sitting and scenting the room. The more time we spent in the facility, however, the less I picked up this scent and the more the space smelled of delicious, freshly roasted Volcano coffee.

The roasting expert took us through nearly two nearly complete roasting cycles, and we watched the beans go from a pale green to a dark, aromatic brown. I was blown away that the process only takes about 12-15 minutes; it's bizarre to watch the coffee beans change color, weight, and scent so quickly. While we were waiting for the beans to finish roasting, a fella on the other side of the room offered to make us fresh coffee, so I opted for yet another Americano (poor Mr. T, he didn't drink a thing!).

This is the sampling wand -- you pull the beans throughout the
process to make sure that they get the right roasted color and scent. 

It was heaven -- drinking coffee from freshly roasted beans while watching more beans roast.

After watching a few batches roast, asking tons of questions (How do you make decaf? How does flavored coffee get made? Can I roast my own beans at home?), we jaunted off to Camden Market, which was an experience. Imagine where goths and punks and hipsters and fetishists and tourists and foodies all meet in one giant mashup. That, folks, was Camden Market. I picked up a few beautiful scarves there that I'll be blogging about at some point in the future, so stay tuned for that. If you are ever in London, be sure to hit up the Market. You can really find just about anything to meet your wildest dreams here (including a dirge!).

Have you ever visited a roaster? There is a local roaster in Efrat (the next town over) called Sipsters. I wonder if they'd let me pop in for a roasting experience? 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ask Chaviva Anything: The Hater Edition

We all have them. We all try to ignore them. But sometimes, I like to drag the haters out into the public eye and maybe let them see how ridiculous their questions and proddings are. Why? Because what we see and detest in others is that which we see and detest in ourselves. It's about coping with those things, not deflecting them onto others.

Question Number One:
I'm rather confused by the contradictory nature of your adherence to tznius. You dress very modestly and yet you talk quite freely about matters which are rather intimate and inappropriate for the public sphere. Just today you posted about vibrators on your facebook page - isn't it a bit contradictory to be modest in dress and yet not in behavior?
Okay, what you're confused about is what tzanua is. Above all, I frequently remind people about the many layers of tzanua, because as I discovered when I did The Tzniut Project a few years back, many people see tzanua as a very shallow thing -- cover the elbows, cover the knees -- when it's about so much more. It's speech, actions, how you carry yourself, the company you keep, the way you eat, the way you sit, everything.

So I'd like to know what -- other than my Facebook post at my utter shock at the ease in which people can purchase vibrators in the UK and why they're located in something as benign as the Bandaid asile -- is "intimate and inappropriate" that I post about here on my blog or even on Facebook. I'd really love to know. Give me some examples. Oh pretty please!

For those of you curious about the utter scandal to which this questioner refers, this was the Facebook post:

 Now for Question Number Two, which is actually more of a statement.

"I feel so antisocial. On my computer. While the family observes #chag. D'oh." Are you FOR REAL??? I give your marriage about six months ... 
Oh haters. Oh haters! The quote the person refers to is from Twitter. You see, this year, because we were in the UK for Pesach, things were kind of messy. Me, a new olah to Israel, and Mr. T, holding to the traditions and rulings of the Chacham Tzvi (when in Rome, do as the Romans do), had to figure out our situation delicately. Traditionally, those who do not live in Israel celebrate two holiday days at the beginning and end of Passover -- those are days that are very Shabbat-like in restrictions, but you can cook and there are other leniencies. Those inside Israel only have one day at either end of Passover.

After speaking with a rabbi, it was decided that I only had to hold to one day, while Mr. T had to hold to two days. The result was that I was sitting in the bedroom doing work (because, well, work called, and I was observing one day) while the family was sitting in the living room reading or conversing about odds and ends. I felt bad about it, and Mr. T and I discussed how strange it was to be on two different time tables. Hopefully, next year, we'll be on the same schedule and all will be right in the world.

As for your bets on my marriage, I hope someone actually took that bet. And bet you a lot of money, because this marriage is pretty amazing. But I have nothing to prove to you. We'll talk again in six months, mmk?

Peace to the haters!

Advice: Contacting a Blogger? Read it first!

Here's a huge shocker: When you want to contact a blogger about promotional material, maybe read their blog first. Consider the topic or theme of the blog, the audience, the focus!

Sex products? Come on now folks. This blogger, even for $100, would not even consider posting something like this.

Get wise, folks!