Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Packing Away the Losses and Looking Forward

All roads have led us here. 

I've always been a big believer in the "no regrets" philosophy on life. I like to think that everything happens for a reason (cliche), that the big dude upstairs never gives us more than we can handle (Jewish cliche), and that no matter how craptastic everything in life seems, gam zu l'tovah (religious Jewish cliche).

On this point, a friend sent me a video of Oprah talking about how there are no mistakes, that all paths and decisions lead to the same point, a greater destiny in time that we can't always see or envision or understand, but that all of our choices, good and bad, land us at that same destination. I'm not an Oprah-holic, but she has a very good point appropriate for both a new year and my life right now:
"There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life. Your job is to feel that, hear that, and know that. And sometimes when you're not listening you get taken off track. ... but it's all leading to the same path. There are no wrong paths. There are none. There is no such thing as failure, really. Failure is just that thing trying to move you in another direction, so you get as much from your losses as you do from your victories. Because the losses are there to wake you up."
The other day the local afternoon radio show was doing a segment where they were asking callers what, if anything, they would hop in a time machine and go back and change. There were all sorts of stories, from people cheating with their best friend's significant others to not taking amazing job opportunities and losing out on millions and millions of dollars. I started racking my brain about the choices I've made in life and trying to decide what I would go back and change.

I thought about the moment I decided to stop working for The Washington Post. A dream job, my friends said. People would have killed for my job at The Washington Post. Should I have stayed? Should I have found a way to make the hours and loneliness work? Where would I be now had I stuck it out? My dream was always to live in New York City and work at The New York Times, and maybe that dream would have become a reality. I had connections, I had the skill.

I thought about the moment I decided to really end things with a long-term boyfriend, a boyfriend with whom I held an epic love story of distance and years and drama. What if I had stuck around in Chicago instead of leaving to go to graduate school, what if I had made a commitment to be there for the one-millionith incarnation of our relationship? I had loved him, I knew him, I'd committed years to us.

Oddly enough, those are the only two moments in my life that popped up as possible "go back and change it" moments. And in that same instance of momentary thoughts I considered my son, my husband, my Judaism, who I am now.

Had either of those moments in my life not occurred precisely as they were meant to, no matter how much heartache, pain, and fleeting regret I have about them, I would not be where I am today. I would  probably not be an Orthodox Jewish mother to a beautiful little dreamboat of a boy or a committed wife to a husband a million miles away doing everything in my power to keep our world afloat.

I've had a lot of losses this year. I could enumerate them month by month for you, but that would be a labor of looking back, not forward.

I want to focus on waking up, not the losses. This year's wake-up call is propelling me into 2015 with a sense of commitment to my marriage and my son, to knowing that my father is in the right place for him, to solidifying a plan to return to the land where I feel so at ease even when I understand nothing I read or hear, and to feeling more alive and trusting in my Judaism.

After five years of doing Jewish (I finalized my Orthodox conversion on January 1, 2010), I think I can handle this.

Here's to 2015, everyone!

Friday, December 26, 2014

10 Days Will Never Be Enough

At Ben Gurion, prior to departure.

I'm the woman you'll find booking it between Terminal C and the International Gates at the Philadelphia Airport with puffy red eyes and tears streaming down her face. Twice. Coming and going, I broke down, Asher happily eating cheerios and staring at the shops flying by and people asking if I'm okay, as I flew through the airport trying to make connections, barely, both times.

And after 10 days in Israel with my husband (and the difficult last-minute decision whether to possibly cancel the trip because of health issues with my father), who I hadn't seen in 2.5 months and won't see for another 2.5 or more months, after the second breakdown in the airport after leaving him at Ben Gurion and the 12-hour flight with a 1-year-old child and the never-ending customs line and having to pick up and then recheck my luggage and stand in security and have a TSA agent yell at me for throwing my shoes at her because I was frustrated that I had to completely dismantle my entire stroller unlike I had at any other airport, after it all and I was sitting back in my car in Denver heading back to our apartment where all our stuff is and where Ash immediately fell back into his circuit of toys here, toys there ... I realized how utterly broken I am.

I find myself perpetually on the verge of tears. Those moments where things are quiet and calm where my mind is relaxed I remember my reality, the reality of those around me, my family, my father, my husband. It all breaks my heart. And it's exhausting.

There's a popular joke that Jewish guilt is a special form of torture. Although I wasn't born Jewish, I was clearly born with a Jewish neshama (soul), because the moment the plane rose into the sky over Tel Aviv all I could think was, "I didn't tell him I loved him enough or hug him enough. I didn't do enough while I was there."

I also found myself walking through the Philadelphia airport today whispering to myself, "What did I do HaShem? What did I do to deserve this?"

After I got divorced (or maybe while), I read Harold Kushner's Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, and part of me is thinking I should crack that puppy back open. I remember having more clarity and understanding of the pain I was feeling and feeling better about the cause-and-affect reality of Judaism.

Without a doubt this has all been one mighty test. It will continue to be a test until we're all back together again. The verge-of-tears reality over those far away and those close by will continue, the frustrations with not having a night to myself will continue, and the pain of feeling alone, helpless, and lonely will persist.

My world is a mess. As usual. Right? Calm is not in the books for me.

Luckily, as everyone along my journey to and from Israel told me, my son is beautiful and happy, evidently I'm a natural mother, and with those things combined, I have a bit of hope that we'll survive. That I'll survive.

I just have to figure out what that means.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Maccabee on the Mantel, Mensch on the Bench, and Gelt-Giving Golem

Captain makes a guest appearance with the Chanukah crew.

My house is full of cute plush creatures and their tales of Chanukah miracles and Asher couldn't be happier!

Yes, we're the proud owners (thanks to receiving these for review) of the Gelt-Giving Golem, Mensch on a Bench, and Maccabee on the Mantel. Each of these plush cuties comes with a box and a book that tells a bit about the Chanukah story, a bit about the character, and a bit about the celebration, the brochot (blessings), and how-tos when it comes to the eight day festival. Likewise, all three encourage the new owner to give a unique and special name to the Golem, Mensch, or Maccabee.

The three are very different in terms of what they bring to the table for the discerning, gift-giver. I always say that I'm boldly honest when it comes to my reviews, and I won't hesitate with that promise here.

Mensch on a Bench (✡✡✡)

You've probably seen the Mensch on a Bench in your local Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, as it's the most well-advertised in the mainstream. It's also probably the most substantial "kit" out of the three, as it comes with a mensch decked out in a black hat, tallit, and beard; a book about how to be a mensch (a generally good person); and a removable bench for his lounging pleasure. The mensch holds the shamash (that's the candle that you use to light the other candles on the Chanukah menorah) at the ready for each night of Chanukah, and I love that you're urged not to actually let the mensch light your menorah.

I really like the idea behind this kit, and the plush mensch has a super expressive face (we named him Mordechai) and a well-thought-out outfit and brand. Of the three, however, it isn't Asher's favorite.

The Gelt-Giving Golem (✡✡)

The first company that contacted me presented the Gelt-Giving Golem, the concept for which I really liked. According to the website, this kit
"tells the tale of the Hanukkah Golem, a friendly character who was formed from clay by Rabbi Ben Bezalel on the 25th of Kislev, the first night of Hanukkah. The Hanukkah Golem teaches children to practice Tikun O'lam (repair of the world) and shares chocolate gelt with children who are well-behaved during the holiday."
In this sense, its theme is the closest to the popular Elf on the Shelf, what with the Golem geared toward overnight antics and the promise of treats.

I will say that the plush is not very impressive (especially compared to the other two), although he does have velcro on his hands and feet so you can easily attach him to things in your home. If anything, Asher really loves that the Golem has a cape, because we can make him fly. Even still, he's not Ash's favorite!

The Maccabee on the Mantel (✡✡✡✡✡)

Of all three of these Chanukah-themed boxes of meaning, inspiration, and fun, this is Asher's favorite by far. It is the most substantial and high-quality of the three when it comes to the packaging and presentation, with its almost anime-style illustrations in its book, and the plush itself is very light and soft in its features, which seem to really appeal to my little one.

I also think The Maccabee on the Mantel provides the nicest tie-in to Chanukah overall, what with the plush and almost squishy-soft/hard-cover book highlighting the miracle of Chanukah and the role of the Maccabees. Of the three, it seems like it's the most true to the message of Chanukah.

Asher schleps Zevulon (that's what we named our Maccabee) around the house with joy and giggles, and I have to say that if I had to pick one of the three to gift, I'd definitely pick this one. They also have a lot of really cute videos:

Note: I have a bunch of pictures of Asher + the Chanukah crew and how he reacted when we received them and opened each of them, but I have to find them to post. When we opened Maccabee on the Mantel it was almost like the Maccabee walked out of the box! His jaw dropped and he did this sort of "air release" sound. It was freakin' adorable. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Day in the Life: Single Parenting, Ear Infections, and Survival

Oh hello there. The past few weeks have gone a little bit like this:

Three weeks ago Ash got pink eye.

Two weeks ago he got it again.

Last Monday: Ash was a little kvetchy.

Last Tuesday: Ash was very kvetchy and got sent home from daycare with a fever.

Last Wednesday: Ash was kvetch half the time and laying around lifeless the other half of the time. He threw up.

Last Thursday: My parents showed up. The turkey went in. I was told by the parent line to take Ash to urgent care/the ER. Then the turkey came out. We went to Children's Hospital and it was diagnosed as an ear infection. We drove across town to a 24-hour pharmacy, went home and ate turkey and Pistachio Salad. (For my first turkey ever, it was pretty amazing.)

Friday: Ash screamed for two hours straight inconsolably several times. I felt helpless.

Saturday: Ash seemed a bit better. Hoping the meds were working, we went to shul and then out to lunch. Ash deteriorated again that night. He threw up twice.

Sunday: Magic! Just as my parents prepared to leave town, Asher brightened up, became himself again. And by Monday he was healthy, happy, and giggly like normal.

I'm not asking for sympathy or for the trolls to write about me and how sad and pathetic and whiney I am. I'm just writing it out for perspective. Thankfully, Ash has been a pretty healthy baby as far as illness goes. Yes, he was terribly colicky and had terrible gas/intestinal issues the first part of his life, but considering, he never suffered ear infections or anything worse until now. I'm simply hoping he doesn't get chronic ear infections. I never had them as a kid, and the inconsolable screaming proved one thing to me: ear infections are the worst. Worse than teething. Worse than a painful poop. Worse than anything for baby.

Ultimately, however, I realize that it all was probably a lot harder on me than it was on him. Having my parents around should have been helpful, but it made me anxious. All I could think was, they probably think it's always like this. I'm a terrible parent. I can't sooth and calm my child. I'm failing.

The worst of it all for me? This is going to sound stupid, but when G-d decided that babies shouldn't be able to blow their own noses on instinct, he was asking mothers everywhere to feel terrible, horrible, demonic for having to pin down their children to suck snot out of their tiny noses. At the hospital, I had to hold Ash down while the nurse did it and made him wail. Dad heard all the way out in the waiting room. At home, I found it too hard to do. I probably did Ash a huge disservice not squiging out his nose four times a day like they suggested, but the stress of his screaming and having my parents around and feeling like a failure as a parent kept me from it.

Also? That tiny little screaming baby face with welled-up tears and that look of, "Mommy, why are you doing this to me!? I'm so cute and cuddly and snuggly and I love you so don't take my boogers" is hard to overcome.


Just a week and a half and we're off to Israel so Mr. T can help us celebrate Asher's first birthday (and, you know, it's been more than two months since we've seen each other and it'll probably be another three or more). I can't believe it's already been a year since Asher was born. I can't believe it's only been two years since Tuvia and I first started talking. Where does it go? The time. It's ripped away at lightning speed.

The reality? You never know your own strength until absolutely everything is moved out of reach and you're forced to cope, adapt, and stumble through it all with necessary optimism. Because there's a tiny human -- one that pulls off your eye mask in the morning with a huge grin and loud bursts of "da da da ba ba ba" as he crawls all over you -- relying on you for absolutely everything.

To be needed is what forces us to survive.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Turkey Day and a Chanukah Giveaway!

Thanksgiving prep has us beat. 

Oh Thanksgiving. I have such love-hate relationship with you. In truth, the "love" part is the Green Bean Casserole. The "hate" part is all of the other food. I'm not a big crazy indulge meal kind of person. Wait, how did I become an Orthodox Jew with that type of meal twice every week on Shabbat?!

I digress. (On that note, if you're curious why some Jews don't celebrate Thanksgiving, read my article.)

This year, oh this year my parents are coming to town, and I'm making my first solo Thanksgiving ever, without the help of a husband at home. Add to that Asher breaking out with some illness and a fever yesterday and boy oh boy it's been tough cookies around here.

Here's the menu, and before you ask, no, I'm not not making stuffing because I'm gluten free. No, I hate the stuff. It's disgusting.

Kosher Turkey a la Trader Joe's
Gluten-free Green Bean Casserole
Streuseled Sweet Potato Casserole
Deviled Eggs (mom is supposed to make these)
Pistachio Salad 
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie
Udi's Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls

Yes, you can see there is some heavy prepackaged goods going on here, but the gluten-free green bean casserole is itself quite the undertaking. I make my own mushroom soup/gravy and my own fried onions. Basically, I do everything but grow, pick, and prep the green beans. (Thank you Target and your Del Monte discount on the Cartwheel app!) These recipes will be posted up, but after Turkey Day. Sorry! At least you can plan for next year?

The Pistachio Salad is an Edwards Family standby. However, for the first time ever in my life making it, I noticed the recipe on the Jell-O Pistachio Pudding box is our family recipe and that it's actually called "Watergate Salad." Secret family recipe bubble burst! I did have to get creative, however, because Cool Whip is dairy and turkey is not! Luckily, I found a new non-dairy whipped topping product by SoDelicious called CocoWhip. Now, I wouldn't suggest plopping this on your pumpkin pie because it's potently coconut flavored, but in something like Pistachio Salad? Perfectly dreamy!

The Pumpkin Pie got help from Wholly Wholesome's gluten-free and parve pie crust. Although it didn't get very crispy and the pie filling appears to have separated from the crust, it looks like Pumpkin Pie, and that's what matters.

The big sticking point for me here is going to be the turkey. Yes, it's pre-brined thanks to the kashering process, but there's still the whole need to cook and baste and perfect the turkey. I've never cooked a turkey in my life. I've watched plenty of them being made, but I've never had to do one myself. And, thanks to my hatred of stuffing and Alton Brown's crusade against stuffing your bird, I'm anxious about a hollow turkey cooking right. When to start? When's it done? Do I season it? Do I put anything in the spacious cavity? I've become a monster on Facebook and Google owns me.

But I'm sure it's all going to turn out okay. After all, the worst that can happen is my non-Jewish, non-kosher parents will look at my gluten-free, non-dairy kosher Thanksgiving, smile and head out to McDonalds whenever it opens. I honestly don't know how non-Jews feel about parve substitutes, let alone how carb-loaders feel about gluten-free fried onions (a classic) and pie crust (so tasty when it's chock full o' gluten).

Amid the stress, the love-hate balance, and attempting to cook with a sick babe, I have to say a big thanks and hallelujah for Manischewitz. Yes, I don't imagine you suspected this post to end with a big "Whoo Manischewitz!" plug, but here we are. The truth is, I did them a huge disservice. They were kind enough to send me their naturally gluten-free Vegetable Broth, Chicken Broth, and a can of Turkey Broth, and I was going to write an elaborate post with the recipes for my Thanksgiving goodies. Unfortunately, life got the better of me and here we are, the evening before Turkey Day and I'm finally saying "these products have made my life so much easier."

The Vegetable Stock actually made its way into some quinoa for Shabbat when we partook of more Terra Chip Tilapia with Roasted Mushrooms and Popcorn Cauliflower. The rest of the stock made its way into the gravy for the Green Bean Casserole, along with some of the Chicken Broth. The rest of the Chicken Broth and the Turkey Broth are going to be the basting goodness for my hopefully successful 14.5-pound beast in the fridge.

Without these broths, I probably would have defaulted to water like usual. I just don't keep broth or stock in the house anymore! Color me convinced that Manischewitz has a good thing going with their broths. It's an easy way to pack something full of flavor, and I'm sold!

Also from Manischewitz? The Do-it-Yourself Chanukah House! Okay, I thought I was way ahead of the curve and super progressive back in 2008 when I made my first Gingershul, but the Chanukah House has really upped the ante. Yes, you could go out and (like I did back then) buy a kosher-certified Gingerbread House kit, but the colors would be a little unfestive for Chanukah.

The Manischewitz kit has festively colored frosting and sprinkles, and it comes with a magen david, too! Talk about the kit with everything you need to make a real Gingershul.

I'm schlepping mine to Israel in mid-December when Ash and I go visit Mr. T (thanks to my gracious inlays) or else I'd show you my amazing constructing skills (oh, there will be pictures, but I won't be eating any because it isn't gluten free). But wouldn't you love to make one of your own?

Well, I'm giving away a Do-it-Yourself Chanukah House kit! The best part of this giveaway is that after you win the kit and build your own, you can snap a picture and enter a contest to win up to $500 (find out more below the giveaway)!


After you've designed your own Chanukah House (or Gingershul), snap a pic and upload the photo between December 9 and 23, 2014, to Manischewitz's Facebook page. The grand prize winner will receive $2,000, second prize gets $1,500, and third gets $500!! $500, second prize nabs $200, and third prize will get $150.

(Rules: You must be 18 or older to enter. Minors can submit their entry with parental permission using a parent's or guardian's email address. Additional materials like sprinkles, frosting, cookies, or candy can be used to enhance the design.)

And the Cookbook Winner is ...

Be on the lookout for an email to receive your FREE copy of Secret Restaurant Recipes from the World's Top Kosher Restaurants by Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek.

Enjoy and make lots of good recipes in good health!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Giveaway: Secret Restaurant Recipes Cookbook

Although there aren't many kosher restaurants here in Denver, I was lucky enough to experience the amazing kosher options in the New Jersey and New York area, not to mention in Israel. Pair this with a childhood grown up with my mom whipping up some classic restaurant recipes from places like Red Lobster (those cheddar biscuits were to die for), and a cookbook with secret kosher restaurant recipes was made for me.

Yes, this is a review and giveaway post, and I shocked myself with this cookbook. After looking through the index and knowing a lot of the restaurants, I was worried I wouldn't be able to find anything with my two at-home cooking criteria:
  • gluten free
  • vegetarian
Luckily, I'm a creative cook and the recipes are easily changed for the discerning and committed cook.

As one of the things I'm missing most in the world is amazing kosher Chinese food (oh those evenings with Chopstix in Teaneck, I wish I had cherished you more), I immediately decided to make the Sesame Chicken from Kosher Chinese Express in Manalapan, New Jersey happen with tempeh in place of the chicken and tamarin in place of the soy sauce.

The result? This is seriously the most delicious thing I've made lately, and that's after absolutely falling in love with Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Buffalo Tempeh Sandwiches. I have a new love, and it's the sesame sauce in this recipe. I can't believe I never tried to make my own, because it was really easy and it's super tasty. I could put this on just about anything, and the tempeh was an excellent, meaty substitute.

Then I decided to tackle the Tilapia with Terra Chip Crunch from The Purple Pear, as Terra Chips are naturally gluten free, fish is a staple in our house, and when I lived out east I loved The Purple Pear. (Yelp has the reviews to prove it.)

I will admit that I didn't have granulated onion or garlic on hand, and I ended up subbing in some mirin for the corn syrup. I also picked up some seasonal Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Terra Chips instead of the Terra Sticks and Sun Dried Tomato Terra Chips. The result? Delicious and beautiful.

This cookbook has everything (yes, thinking SNL here): tips from the restaurant chefs and owners, advice on kitchen tools, beautiful pictures for every recipe, and more. I have to tell you that pictures are so critical in my decision on whether to purchase a cookbook. Basically, I only buy cookbooks with tons of pictures. I need perspective!

Thus, giveaway of this cookbook (a $29.99 value) just in time for Chanukah, too, so even if you're not a cook, you surely know one!

(NOTE: You must enter on the web. It will not work properly on mobile.)


Friday, November 14, 2014

Do Jews Celebrate Thanksgiving?

I threw up an article over on on the topic of Jews, Judaism, Thanksgiving, and the 2013 anomaly that was Thanksgivukkah. (Note: It really wasn't that big of an anomaly.)

Go over and check it out now!

While you're at it, be sure to check out my article on the 13 Principles of Faith and the controversy surrounding the principles for hundreds of years after Rambam compiled them (based on the Talmud).

See something missing from's Judaism section and would like to see an article on it? Have a question about Jews, Judaism, Israel, the Bible, or something else in that realm? Let me know! I love writing articles that people want to read!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

When Being a Girl Isn't Cool

I took a step back this week, paused, and decided to really focus on happiness, positive thinking, and willpower in an effort to get my happiness, health, and sanity in check. The result? I'm having a really good week. I mean, a really, really good week. I'm starting up my workout regimen, talking to HaShem before bed every night, thinking before posting negative/kvetchy posts in the social universe, managing my "feed the stress with food" habit, and I've even picked up more work. Yay!

I can do this.

While chatting with an old friend this week about getting together for coffee, I mentioned I'd rather get together on a day when Ash is in daycare because "I want to feel like an adult." You know, two adults getting coffee reminiscing about the good ole days behind the grill at McDonalds? He joked,
A phrase I strongly stand by is this: A man is a person who admits he's still a boy.
My initial reaction? "The keywords are MAN and BOY. Being a girl isn't as cool/fun as being a woman."

His response: "#MaturityisOverrated"

It got me thinking about what it means to be a woman. It seems like it's cool or funny or expected for a man to be a bit of a boy at times, whether that means playful or immature or downright juvenile about things. Men can roll around in the mud, make fart jokes, build a fort, make a mess. Be a big ole kid and it's cool.

Being a woman, however, means not being a girl.

Being a girly girl as a grown woman just doesn't fly. As a grown woman, you have to be strong, confident, driven, and able to handle anything that flies at you at any hour of the day in any form. There's no crawling back into your dollhouse or putting on a tutu and dancing around the room all day. It just doesn't fly. Be a big ole kid and it's very not cool.

It's all about the perception. What do you think? Can men be boys and women can't be girls? Is it just society?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reconstructionist Judaism and the Chosen People

I present: The Havdalah Hedgehog

While working on an article on havdalah for, I came across the detail that Reconstructionist Jews, at the urging of founder Mordechai Kaplain, omit the portion of havdalah that highlights separation. (Havdalah is the post-Shabbat ceremony that marks the separation of Shabbat from the beginning of the work week.)

Specifically, the havdalah text says:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹֽדֶשׁ לְחוֹל, בֵּין אוֹר לְחֹֽשֶׁךְ, בֵּין יִשְׂרָאֵל לָעַמִּים, בֵּין יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לְשֵֽׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹֽדֶשׁ לְחוֹל.
Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the universe, who separates between the holy and the profane; between the light and dark; between Israel and the other nations; between the seventh day and the six days of the week. Blessed are You, G-d, who separates between the holy and the profane.
The portion that is omitted by the Reconstructionist movement is "between Israel and the other nations" because Kaplan rejected the concept of chosenness and this is a central tenet of Reconstructionist Judaism.

Unfortunately, the concept of chosenness is soooooo misunderstood. It doesn't mean chosen to be better than or more loved by G-d or more awesome.

The origins of the text are Deuteronomy 14:2:
כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; וּבְךָ בָּחַר יְהוָה, לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה, מִכֹּל הָעַמִּים, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה.
Because you are a holy people for G-d, and God has chosen you to be an am segulah from the nations on the earth. 
The beef probably comes from the concept of being an am segulah -- roughly translated as a treasured people. But what comes next is important. It doesn't say ABOVE or MORE AWESOME than other nations of the earth, but "from" the nations of the earth. 

The concept of chosenness for the Jewish people means to be different, to be a "light unto the nations." This means to live a certain type and style of life that will inspire and motivate the other nations of the world toward an ethical, positive, empowered life. There's nothing about being better than or more special than the other nations of the world, contrary to popular belief. 

So that's news to me. Did you know that Reconstructionist Judaism rejects the idea of chosenness? I'd like to hear your thoughts -- especially if you're a Reconstructionist Jew. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Lech Lecha: Chaviva and Avram

Terach left with Sarai, Avram, and Lot to go to Ca'anan, mostly because it was his dead son's inherited land. So they left but stopped along the way.

Then HaShem speaks to Avram, tells him to Lech Lecha -- go forth, to yourself. Avram leaves with Sarai and Lot and heads to Ca'anan, fulfilling the original destination goal. It's there that HaShem promises so much to Avram and his future offspring.

So essentially, the first bit of the journey was not enough and HaShem and to tell Avram to keep going. Would he have gone on his own? Would he have stayed with his father?

The truth is, I feel like this about my journey and my conversion.

I found and began my Jewish journey in the Reform movement of Judaism around 2002/2003 and after much teeth grinding and examination of myself, who I was, and where I was going, wound my way through other branches of Judaism until I landed at the doorsteps of Orthodoxy in 2008.

That first leg of the journey was like leaving my land with Terach and heading toward the land of my inheritance -- Judaism.

The second leg was HaShem telling me to go further, to go forth to who I was truly meant to be. To embrace that person I was.

I feel a bit like Avram. But only a bit.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thoughts on Lech Lecha

This week's Torah portion is Lech Lecha, which is a banner portion for converts everywhere. While prepping for this week's women's learning group, I happened upon this bit of wisdom from Rabbi Sholom Dover of Lubavitch via

From the time that G-d said to our father Abraham, "Go from your land..." and "Abraham went on, journeying southward", began the process of birurim -- of extracting the sparks of holiness that are scattered throughout the universe and buried within the material existence. 
By the decree of Divine providence, a person wanders about in his travels to those places where the sparks that are to be extracted by him await their redemption. The Cause of All Causes brings about the many circumstances and pretexts that bring a person to those places where his personal mission in life is to be acted out.
It makes me think that perhaps this is why I've lived in at least 13 cities and had more than 25 addresses in my lifetime.

Wandering Jew that I am, perhaps when I ask, "What exactly do you have in store for me, G-d?" the answer is staring me right in the face.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Reviews: The Pious Ones and The Rise and Fall of Great Powers

Being back in the U.S. has opened back up the world of book reviewing for me, which has me giddy like a schoolgirl. I am a bibliophile, and, as Ash becomes a bit more independent and has a consistent sleep schedule, I actually get to read the books that are sitting on the coffee table, couch, dining room table, side table ... 

First up is The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America by Joseph Berger. You see, I frequently go into Barnes and Noble and peruse the bookshelves, search out the books at the library or on publisher sites, then get ready to read, read, read. The Pious Ones was one of those books, and a publisher was kind enough to send along a review copy. 

That being said, the truth of this book is that I'm simply not enjoying it. One chapter in and I felt like the author was skimming the surface of what I was expecting to be an in-depth and honest look at a subset of the Jewish population. Then again, I was expecting something in the vein of Sue Fishkoff's amazing look at, for example, the Chabad community in The Rebbe's Army. I was sorely and sadly mistaken. The stories in The Pious Ones are shallow and paint broad strokes across a community that is so fascinating, deep, and unique. 

In short, this book left me frustrated and annoyed. I expected so much more from such a mighty title/subject. 

In the world of fiction, I just finished reading The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman, which I found on my own accord and read simply for the pleasure of it (no sponsorship or review copy involved). I saw this sitting on a new-releases shelf at the local library while Ash was squirming in my arms, and from the moment I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. 

A story of mystery, intrigue, family, and identity, this book follows the bizarre life of a girl named Tooly. The chapters hop from the present day back to the 80s and the late 90s, as well as the early 2000s while Tooly tries to find her bearings in a world that seems to throw her around willy nilly without much explanation -- but that doesn't seem to bother her. 

I found myself desperate to figure out the cast of characters, all mysterious, strange, and tied together through one unassuming, special girl. I honestly didn't figure out the storyline until a chapter or so before the big reveal came, and even then there were things that I couldn't have even imagined or suspected. 

Although I haven't read The Imperfectionists, Rachman's first work, I have to say he's a very creative writer, dedicated to the storyline but utterly committed to developing a cast of characters at arm's length. 

Up next on the list? I've received a review copy of Rabbi Shlomo Brody's A Guide to the Complex, which from the dozen or so chapters I've read so far is one of the most comprehensive, detailed, and accessible samples of halachic (Jewish law) responses I've ever encountered. I've also started reading The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, which is a pretty quirky and honest look at life on the Lower East Side of NYC from the perspective of a (fictional) Russian-Jewish refugee. 

Have your read any of these books and have thoughts? Let me know. Also: If there's a book you think I must pick up, please let me know!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's Bothering Chavi: The Bereishit Edition

Yes, yes, I know that we just finished up the week of reading Noach and the flood narrative, but I'm still in last week for this newly anointed edition of ...

You see, I'm part of this amazing women's learning group every Saturday morning on Shabbat. There's roughly 6-8 of us who gather in a classroom and schmooze about our lives and families (occasionally while partaking of delicious home-baked goods and Trader Joe's chocolates) and talk about the weekly Torah portion. The aliyot (every weekly Torah portion is separated into seven different sections, or aliyot) are dished out to different women who do a bit of reading, studying, and then during our learning share their thoughts, ideas, and what's bothering them.

More often than not, there's a "What's Bothering Chavi?" that can't be explained, although I'm utterly elated when someone has an answer or idea to help me out.

This week, I was looking back at the first portion of the Torah, Bereishit. In this portion, after the creation narratives (of which there are two versions, by the way), Adam and Chava (or Eve if you prefer the English) eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and are booted out of the Garden of Eden. After being clothed by HaShem in animal hide, they have relations and Chava gives birth to Cain and Hevel (or Abel if you prefer the English).

What happens next, most people will tell you is that Cain and Hevel present an offering to HaShem that isn't met with the jolliest of responses, and then Cain kills Hevel, HaShem is none too happy, Cain repents, and so on.

Now, what no one seems to discuss is the fact that Cain and Hevel presented an offering to HaShem.

Jigga wah?!

We're pretty early on in the story of mankind and all of a sudden these two guys have the wherewithal, knowledge, and impetus to make an offering. So what's bothering Chavi?

  • How did they know to make an offering?
  • Was HaShem expecting offerings at this point?
  • How did they know what to offer?
  • If there was little to no knowledge of offering specifics, how could HaShem be unhappy with what they brought? (After all, most of the commentaries I read discussed the offerings' qualities, not why or how they decided to make said offerings.)

So, do you have any thoughts? Ideas? A quick Google presents some Christians sites discussing the matter, suggesting that HaShem actually made the first offering (to Himself?) on behalf of Adam and Chava when he fashioned their clothing out of animal hide. But ... this just doesn't sit right with me. How often does HaShem say, "Oh, guys, it's all good, let me take care of that for you" ...?

Also, the detailed list of the who, what, when, where, why, and how of offerings came much later, so this early rendition of giving seems odd, out of place, and uncomfortable to me.

Ready? Set? Chuck your thoughts at me!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Anti-Social Parent


I had this awkward moment today as I drove Ash home from the Denver Children's Museum (which, much like the local mall, unfortunately couldn't seem to keep grown children out of the play area for toddlers and babies). It was like that moment after a first date where you relive the experience and think of all the places you should have said something or asked a question or laughed or commented or reacted and you, of course, didn't. 

Except this was the kind of replay I was having in regards to an interaction with another parent there with his child. You see, he immediately engaged Ash and I in conversation.

"Oh wow, he's standing, look at that." (Because Ash looks small, people are usually shocked to see him standing and walking so easily apparently.)

"Yeah, he's 10 months!"

"Very cool."

Then there was that awkward silence where I totally should have said something about his kid or lamented being stay-at-home parents or engaged in my sob story about my husband being overseas or we could have laughed about being grownups crawling around on soft play at a children's museum instead of sleeping off a hangover. The only further conversation we even had was about how I usually take Ash to the local mall, but thought I'd mix it up with our free day pass, and he responded, "Yeah, I just have to get this kid out of the house" or something along those lines.

But I didn't. I didn't say anything about his child. Or him. Even when I disappeared with Ash and he picked his child back up and came over to us to play after watching as we plodded around the play area. Seriously, it was like I was purposely rejecting this poor man and his very cute child.

I felt like a parental/social failure. I seriously have zero social skills when it comes to parenting sometimes. After leaving I couldn't help but think that, here's this stay-at-home dad who is clearly bored as beans and looking for conversation/interaction and I totally just kicked him in the proverbial balls and said "I'm not interested in engaging."

Why is there a whole different set of social skills when it comes to parental interactions over drooling, growling toddlers?

Or am I just generally socially inept ... she wonders ... trailing off ...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sukkot in the Land of Memory

Today is one of those days that's made for Mumford and Sons circa winter 2010-11.

Those were melancholy days where I spent a lot of time on the backroads of Pennsylvania on dangerous, winding roads drifting between a coffee shop and a Poconos bungalow that was never mine.

Leaves in burnt orange, rusty red, and deep marigold mixed with splashes of rain all send me back to that place, and Colorado is deep in that weather at the moment.

After a three-day holiday (that was the first two days of Sukkot plus Shabbat) home with the little one, where I was reminded -- once again and for the last time -- that I simply can't take Ash out at night, the oddest thing about not having Mr. T around on holidays and Shabbat became apparent.

Kiddush. Motzi. Havdalah.

It might seem like minutiae, but there are many things as far as ritual in Judaism that I was never keen on making my own. I know a lot of families where the husband does kiddush (that's the blessing over the wine on holidays and Shabbat typically) and the wife handles motzi (that's the blessing over the challot, or bread). In most communities havdalah (the blessings to mark the end of a holiday or Sabbath) is done at synagogue or handled by the husband at home. Yes, it seems very patriarchal, but for some reason, I really like those aspects of my married life.

I've been trying to remember whether, when I was single and religious, I did these things at home, relied on synagogue for them, or just didn't do them at all. Part of me thinks I heard the prayers at synagogue and covered my bases there, but part of me also feels like maybe I just didn't do them when I was alone at home, which is probably why I tried desperately to get meals out on the holidays so I didn't have to do them myself.

Does it sound weird? Being so unwilling to do a few simple blessings over some wine or bread once a week? After all, a woman is totally allowed and, in fact, encouraged to make kiddush. There's nothing about a woman not being able to say motzi, either.

There's just something that's always been comfortable in my world about having my husband, the "head" of the house, the super-duper, obligated-to-do-so-many-mitzvahs guy, taking control of these ritual acts. I'm all in love with being a progressive, forward-thinking working woman, but some things just feel right a certain way.

So I went through the motions, with Ash squiggling about, saying the prayers and inhaling gluten-free challah at a table set for the night meals. We'll repeat the ritual again at the end of Sukkot, too. But I'll be glad when the holidays are over.

The thing I keep telling myself is that the pain of separation from a spouse for the potential of months, not weeks, is that this is how people used to live. Husbands would go on trading routes or off to war for months, if not years, leaving wives and children back home to fend for themselves. In those days (even 50-100 years ago), there wasn't Skype or FaceTime or Facebook or texting or other instant forms of communication. There was a hope that -- maybe -- you'd hear from someone in a few weeks or months.

In reality, I'm spoiled. I'm lucky. I'm able to chat with Mr. T daily (save the three-day holiday situation and Shabbat, of course).

Then again, as a good friend R.C. pointed out, women also didn't have the obligations of full-time jobs back in those days. They stayed home and kept house or ran the shop with hired help or other similar assistance.

Although I'm going to miss many months of hearing my husband say prayers over the wine and bread we eat on a weekly basis, I'm blessed to live in the 21st century and in a Jewish community where people are ready and willing to help -- even if I don't always take people up on their kindness.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Update: Advance Parole, Immigration, Formula, and Daycare

Stay strong, they say, as I do things I had never intended had I ever become a mother.

And here I am, a mother, with Ash taste-testing some formula I purchased at Target while shopping for his daycare goodies (bed sheets, blankets, bibs, food) for his first day of impromptu daycare tomorrow. For now, he'll be attending daycare with other younguns every Tuesday and Wednesday, so I can get what little work I have to get done done and search for other jobs and interview for those jobs, and if, b'ezrat HaShem, I get one of those jobs we'll talk about full-time daycare.

I lament that I'm trying him out on formula, but this kid is crazy about solid food and seems to only feed at night and in the early morning hours, which means the mommy cow is low on supplies, and, paired with the fact that I've been home basically every day for the past however many months, means we have zero provisions for Ash in the freezer or fridge.

He's chugging the stuff. I'm insufficient. But you know what? It's fine. I'm fine.

I never wanted to put Ash in daycare. I always told myself that if I did have a kid I'd be a stay-at-home mom, or at least a mom who worked from home and was able to manage with a kid.


I've also been sleep training Ash while his tatty is gone, because that's what happens when you make one parent responsible for getting the little one to sleep. I am miserable at getting Ash to sleep, so sleep training it is. Luckily, he's taking to it. A few minutes of tears, and he's out. Usually. It's the napping that's suffering, which is why it's 5:36 p.m. and he's asleep. (I guarantee he'll wake up again in about an hour.)

So Mr. T is out of the country indefinitely, thanks to an immigration law that says it takes forever once you start green card processing to get your travel documents, and if you don't have your travel documents, you're stuck in this country. Parent dies? Sorry, unless the right USCIS agent tells you to go to a local office to get an emergency "advance parole" document, you're up a creek. Unless, of course, you go ahead and leave the country anyway, in which case you screw yourself to the point of not being able to re-enter the USA. So that's where we are. I've emailed state senators, I've emailed local representatives. I've talked to a handful of lawyers. Everyone says the same thing:

Why did he leave? Did he know what he was doing when he left? That was a really stupid move. You guys really screwed up. Sorry, there's nothing that can be done. The law is the law. He'll have to transfer his case to the UK or Israel and wait 8-12 months for consular processing. Yes, that means he won't be able to see his son. Yes, that means he'll miss his son's first birthday. Sorry.

So there we are. The result was an emergency visit to the local daycare, an explanation of logistics, finances, and realities. We'll see how I do. We'll see how Ash does.

I keep telling myself that HaShem doesn't hand us anything that we can't handle. I'm starting to believe that this is a test of strength, commitment, and responsibility. Am I up to the challenge? I have to be. For Ash. Everything's for the Shmoogedy Boo. His happiness and well being are my utmost concern, and ultimately those things are dependent on my own sanity, happiness, and health.

Where will this road take us? Who knows. But I must continue to let HaShem guide me and lead me, however obscure and confusing the journey is.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sukkot and the Ushpizin

I can't help but reshare this infographic for Sukkot. Feel free to print out your own version and hang it up in the sukkah! I have one for ours, even though we won't be building one this year (Mr. T is indefinitely stuck in the UK, so Ash and I are relying on the kindness of strangers for meals, friendship, and sanity).

Also, if you're curious about the ushpizin and the traditions surrounding these special guests, check out my article over on The Seven Guests Who Make the Sukkah Special

Do you do anything special for Sukkot? Do you have any unique traditions? Let me know!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I'm 31 Today

Yea, verily, today I am 31 years old. I have been on this earth for 31 intensely perplexing, often stressful and emotionally exhausting, years.

I started my birthday with a 9-month-old pretending I was some mighty mountain to be conquered while spouting "Bahhhh" sounds and a notification that my bank account was overdrawn.

Then I got dressed in my birthday outfit (thanks inlaws!) and took off to Comcast (aka Xfinity), where I've been now three times over the past several days because some stranger managed to cancel our cable and internet over Rosh HaShanah. "We really don't know what happened," they continue to tell me.

And then? Then I went into my former place of employment and picked up my things and stuff and said "see ya!" That was both awkward, super awkward, and depressing.

Now we're trying to plan for -- G-d forbid -- the worst as Mr. T's grandmother appears to not be doing very well back in the UK, which means a nightmare of immigration problems as we are still, still, still waiting for his green card, travel documents, and work permit to come through. If we leave the country without getting approval, then the paperwork is canceled and we start again from scratch. Yay!

But hey. There's an ice cream cake in my future, a gift card to Old Navy to be spent, and, who knows, maybe I'll land an amazing job in the next few days or so. Unfortunately KISSmetrics was a bust (killed me, it was the perfect job).

Do I sound kvetchy? I am. Maybe Aimee Mann said it best in "31 Today." Minus the Guiness, of course.

"I thought my life would be different somehow."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Shanah Tovah!

Although we're living in galut (exile, or better yet, the U.S. and not Israel), there is something special about this place during the holidays. Not living in Los Angeles or Chicago or New York or another city with a giant Jewish community means that the chances of running into a Jew, you would think, are slim.

Being in Denver this time of year, as Rosh HaShanah is on our doorstep, greetings and connections have popped up in the most unusual of places.

I stopped into Target this morning to spend a gift card that my in-laws sent me early for my birthday (yipes, turning 31 on the 30th) and heard greetings of "Shanah Tovah!" coming from nowhere in particular (seriously, I looked, I didn't see any Jews, I just heard the voices ... am I nuts?). Walking to the car in the parking lot after my migraine-fueled adventure into yellow cardigan purchasing, I saw a very tall, tanned blonde piling out of a minivan full of men.

As she approached our car, she took one look at our Na Nach sticker, one look at me (tichel wearing) and shouted "Shanah Tovah!" A bit startled, I responded in kind.

A bit later, while Ash and I did our final run out for groceries (seriously, does holiday shopping ever end?) at Trader Joe's (where everything is now pumpkin spiced, including the pumpkin seeds), the girl at the next check counter popped over to help bag our groceries.

Hannah, with a hamsa and star of David around her neck, wished us a "Shanah Tovah!" and proceeded to explain how she was working during the holiday. She did, however, make sure to pick up apples, honey, and a pomegranate. Although it bummed me out that she has to work instead of enjoy the holiday in all its joy and splendor, I understand where she's coming from.

I've always waffled between being Jewish being easier/harder outside of Israel, where being Jewish is a breeze, it's a given, it's carefree. In the U.S. you have to really try hard to find the little Jewish sparks here and there, especially when you don't live in a community like Teaneck, New Jersey.

And when you do find those little connections, it's beautiful and reminds me that the Jewish people are here, there, and everywhere -- in their own way and their own style.

Shanah Tovah everyone!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Box-of-the-Month Club Review: Gwynnie Bee and Bluum

In an attempt to get work done I'm falling down the rabbit hole of the internet as I wait for iOS8 to figure itself out because I'm tired. I'm more tired lately than I have been because although Asher consistently wakes up at 6 a.m. every morning, I can't seem to get in a habit of going to bed early in order to accommodate such an early arising. Then again, we did just move houses and I did just spend the past two weeks sick (cough cough, hack hack), and I can't seem to figure out these mysterious hives that have plagued me for more than two months now.

But yipeee! There are glimmers of hope in the cloud of exhaustion and coffee-fueled mornings in the form of ... subscription box-of-the-month clubs! You may or may not recall that I used to work for a gluten-free box-of-the-month club several years ago, but it looks like these boxes have not lost their steam. The market wants variety, it wants to try before you buy, it wants to examine quality, taste, experience before going all in. 

I'll be honest, it's an amazing world we live in when you can order something for minimal cost, wear it as much as you want, and then buy or return. It's like a revolving closet. When it comes to food boxes, the ability to sample something before buying an industrial-size box at CostCo is brilliant. 

I'm currently subscribing to the first-month-free trial for Gwynnie Bee, which is a plus-size clothing subscription box, and the amazing folks at Bluum, goodies for mommy and baby, sent me a box to try out. 

The Bluum box starts at $20.99 and sends goodies for mommy and baby from pregnancy through preschool. The great thing about this box is that it's customized for your baby's age, which means you won't get any toys or treats that Little Timmy can't use for the next year. There are a bunch of stellar plans (monthly, three months, six months, a year), and there's always free shipping. 

By and large I was happy with the box, although the treat that came in (dried snap peas) was not kosher, so unfortunately we couldn't use/eat those. There were two items in the box geared toward the pacifier crowd (a pacifier carrier to attach to a buggy or bag and a fuzzy worm to attach to a pacifier), which also didn't help us because -- lucky for us -- Ash never took to a pacifier or thumb sucking. The Dr. Seuss bowl was a treat after my husband's own heart, and the book was absolutely adorable. Ash took his first own solo bath last night (with me in the room, of course) and absolutely loved chewing on the bath temperature ducky. I also have to offer up mad props for the really clean, colorful packaging. It's nice to know what your'e getting the moment you see the box in your post!

As for Gwynnie Bee, I couldn't have been more happy to find this box. There are a lot of really stellar clothing subscription boxes, but finding one that caters to the plus-size crowd is next to impossible. Oddly enough, even plus-size thrift stores/consignment shops has become quite the rage here in Denver.

How does it work? You subscribe to Gwynnie Bee in one of three ways: get three items of clothing per month, two per month, or one per month. It's a bit pricey, so the one-month free is a genius idea that will tell you whether it's going to be "worth it" or not for you. You fill up your online closet with selections from their bounty of brands, sizes, and styles, and the clothing curators at Gwynnie Bee will package and send your clothes out depending on your subscription. Then, you can wear the clothing item as much as you want or send it back if it doesn't fit and they'll keep sending clothes out to you with free shipping and free returns. 

Talk about a dream closet, right?!

Please ignore the earrings/head covering in the first photo. 
I would never wear that combo, but for the sake of blog photos ...

Of the eight articles of clothing they've sent my way so far, only one dress has really fit well and looked good and one cardigan is just cozy and beautiful. A third item, a beautiful black-and-white dress has the perfect cut (and pockets!), but I need a smaller size. They've been really great about swapping out clothes quickly when something arrived damaged. But I do wish they'd rethink their packaging. One accidental slicing and you've cut the clothes. 

Will I continue paying the $79/month for a three-garment plan? I'm still not sure. It's a great way to try out a ton of different plus-size clothing brands in one easy go, but even with the discounts on purchasing the clothing prices are pretty steep. Designer plus-size clothing is crazy expensive for reasons I just don't understand. 

Do you have a favorite subscription box? Have you been able to find any food-based boxes that cater to the kosher crowd? 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Hardest Thing About Being a Working Mom?

It has to be this.

I watched this and was both so happy and so sad at the same time. Happy because my little boy is getting so big at nearly 9 months old and because his dad was around to watch him take his first unguided steps (albeit holding on to something), but sad because I missed this moment in his development and growth.

Being a working mother sucks sometimes. My baby boy is getting so big.

How do you cope?

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's Elul and the King is in the Field

The King is in the field, and I'm in Nebraska. There are, of course, plenty of fields here and on the derech (way) to and from Colorado. This monthly trip has become old hat for us, with our Shabbats spent in Omaha becoming a normal part of our lives. There is so much going on, so many emotions floating about. 

The Ba'al Shem Tov said that from Rosh Chodesh Elul (the first of the month) through Rosh HaShanah, "the King is in the field," prepared to listen, accept, and hear our prayers completely and wholly. 

Jews the world over are called upon to recite Tehillim (Psalm) 27 during this month as a segulah (something that changes your path or luck). Although the true source is unknown, the theory behind this custom is that it can reverse even the most set-in-stone heavenly decrees. 

Within Tehillim 27 is a refrain that has been a potent part of my life since I started this blog, as it was once in the header of this blog years and years ago. 

Hear (listen to) my voice, HaShem, when I call; 
be gracious to me, and answer me (7). 

It's easy to feel like our prayers are disappearing into an ether of unanswerable silence. Whether for a simple night of rest after so many sleepless sleeps with a baby at my side or for guidance, patience, and peace after experiencing the threat of forces trying to destroy my life, my spirit, my marriage —  the month of Elul is a time for all prayers. It is a time for impassioned pleas and tearful attempts at vocalizing the pain that this world brings to the soul. The King is in the field, waiting, just waiting to hear voices of repentance. 

When I light Shabbat candles every week, I have a regiment of things I say. I thank HaShem for so many things and then begin my pleas. Requests for guidance, patience, parnassah, work, and a path to be a good Jew. 

Teach me your way, HaShem (11). 

That's also part of the same Psalm. Every year I suddenly remember that this Psalm is my weekly prayer said by the light of the Shabbat candles. The important thing that I frequently forget, however, is also found here:
HaShem is the stronghold of my life, 
from who should I be afraid (1). 

And this, perhaps, is the most important lesson in the entirety of Psalm 27. I can ask, ask, ask and pray, pray, pray and repent all I want, but if I don't believe and trust that HaShem will protect me and provide me strength and never give me something I can't handle, then all is lost. And it's the first line in the Psalm! But my greatest fault and downfall in life is to forget that I'm not in control, that there is so much bigger and more powerful than I am. That I cannot control everything. That sometimes, I have to relent, repent, and remember that any fear I have is because I've forgotten who is responsible for everything. 

I just need to hear the shofar. Just once, and I hope my soul will remember. Traveling is hard when it comes to this time of year. Perhaps we should have brought our own shofar ... 

How do you remember — even in the hardest, most trying moments — that HaShem is your rock and strength? How do you personalize such an ethereal concept? 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Taking Submissions: Top Judaism Rumors and Conversion Myths

Do you have a pet peeve when it comes to rumors about Judaism? Do the "hole in a sheet" or "Jews have horns" myths drive you absolutely nuts? Share your favorite rumors about Judaism with me in the comments!

Also, if there are myths about conversion to Judaism and Jewish converts, share those, too. I'm working on a few articles for, and I want to pick your brain (it's called crowdsourcing, because you, my readers, are amazing).

Want to check out some of my recent articles? Here you go:
Ready? Set? Submit your pet peeves and kvetch at me!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Still Sitting in the Catbird Seat

Back in January, when Ash was just a wee bean, I wrote about the deliciously awesome Catbird Baby carrier I'd been sent for review. With our dip into babywearing, we were exploring Moby-style wraps, Mei Teis, and Baby Bjorn-style carriers. In case you need a refresher on why "catbird" is the perfect terminology for any schlepped-about baby:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded usage occurred in a 1942 humorous short story by James Thurber titled "The Catbird Seat," which features a character, Mrs. Barrows, who likes to use the phrase. Another character, Joey Hart, explains that Mrs. Barrows must have picked up the expression from Red Barber, a baseball broadcaster, and that to Barber "sitting in the catbird seat" meant "'sitting pretty,' like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him."
It was Catbird's mei tei that I initially fell in love with when Ash was small, but as time went on and we became more mobile, the pikkolo became (and still is) my go-to carrier.

Here's Ash at four months after our trip
to the U.S. and before our move to
the U.S.He is loving his carrier because
he can see everything and every one!
When we first visited the U.S. back in February before we made the decision to move, we struggled to pack lightly when it came to baby carriers. Mr. T was fond of the moby-style wrap we'd concocted, while I was using a ring sling. While in the U.S., we even picked up an additional ring sling to replace the one I'd been borrowing, but Mr. T stuck to the stretchy wrap that I just couldn't master.

Almost the moment we got back to Israel, I feel like Ash wasn't perceptive to the ring sling, so I needed an alternative. I finally got to give the pikkolo from Catbird a try, and I haven't looked back.

When we made the move to the U.S. in April, it made life a breeze in the airport when we packed the stroller full of our carry-ons. With no space for Ash in the overflowing stroller, he rode in the Catbird seat! It's amazing how comfortable he was in it and how easy it is to get on and adjust when I'm by myself.

The most surprising thing I've found about having the Catbird pikkolo as a consistency is that Ash knows the carrier. If he's kvetching and whining in the car and losing it when we park and I get out, he calms down and gets excited the moment he sees me putting on the carrier. When he was very little, I used to call it his "special Asher chair," and he now knows that it's his special spot to see everything going on and he brightens up and calms down immediately. Talk about a baby making a positive association!

Do you have a favorite carrier? What do you like about it? Have you changed carriers as your child's needs and size have changed? 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Confession Time: The Toughest Part About Being in the U.S.

I have a confession to make: It's hard being back in the U.S. Really hard. Yes, I miss my friends and my adopted family back in Neve Daniel and Jerusalem, and I miss the convenience of observing Judaism with ease and a level of comfort I can't find anywhere else. But this isn't what I'm talking about. 

I'm talking about the temptation. 

I didn't grow up Jewish. We all know this. In fact, I didn't start strictly observing things like modesty and keeping kosher until well into my 20s. That's a lot of my life spent with the conveniences of America: McDonalds, Chick-Fil-A, and other terrible, bad-for-you convenience restaurants and fast-food stops. I mean, I could probably count the number of home-cooked meals I made in college on my two hands. No feet needed here, folks. College was Subway, Wendy's, Taco John's, Taco Bell, D'Leon's ... (no wonder my pregnancy food was Mexican). 

Do you know how hard it is to drive down the street, starving, and not stop into a Mickey D's for some delicious, greasy French fries? 

Having worked at McDonalds for two years in high school, I know that they are pretty strict about their standards of what they cook and where. The fry stations are used strictly for fries. No chicken nuggets or patties or anything. Just. Fries. 

Knowing this, of course, is hard for me. Yes, there are a million problems with picking up French fries from a completely non-kosher establishment, even if there was a giant box around the fry station that other, non-kosher food never entered, but knowing, just knowing that those are dedicated fryers ... AGH! It kills me. 

The temptation, of course, is constantly pushed down by the fact that I'm a kosher-keeping Jew, of course. Being gluten free also helps push the temptation down because, well, let's be honest, there isn't much eating out I can do here or in Israel where I can eat carefree. 

But it's tough. Yes, this is a first-world problem situation, but it's just plain difficult. You have to constantly have snacks with you and plan meals out like a drill sergeant because if you get caught starving and it's dinnertime, Denver gives you few options for a quick bite to eat. 

There's the ever-amazing Brooklyn Pizza, but how much pizza can you eat in one week? There's a delicious ice cream joint High Point Creamery, but too much ice cream makes for tummy woes and despite an Italian-themed favorite, it isn't a meal. We don't go to the local deli because, well, too many stories about food poisoning and the place just doesn't respect itself enough for me to respect it.  And then there's the fact that all of these restaurants are clustered in a specific part of town absolutely nowhere near where I work. 

Oh what I wouldn't give for a nearby restaurant to go out to lunch with my coworkers. To feel like a normal member of a "working lunch" society. 

The amount of times we've been out running errands and stopped someplace to buy a package of lettuce, some tomatoes, and packaged smoked salmon to hodgepodge a bite to eat would blow your mind. We can't pop into an Aroma or local gas station where the food is just plain kosher like in Israel or even in places like Teaneck or NYC. 

Am I kvetching too much? Perhaps. I'm just feeling the pressure. The pressure of being a full-time working mother who lives someplace that is chock full of Jews but doesn't have the dining and cultural infrastructure to meet the demands.

No worries folks. No slippery slope over here (been there, done that). 

I suppose this is part of teshuvah (repentance). I'm being placed in situations and scenarios where it would be easy for me to eat out here or there just getting the "vegan" or "vegetarian" option like I did once upon a time when I was less than strict in my observance of kashrut

I just keep telling myself: The tummy grumbles and moments of hunger are worth the healthy choices at home. We'll be back in Israel soon. HaShem is working this out with me. One day at a time.