Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ask Chaviva Anything: Am I a Religious Jew?

Not related to this post, but ... I highly recommend getting this book. 

Ah another rousing installment of Ask Chaviva (Almost) Anything, and I got a few doozies. Let's start with the easy, yet incredibly offensive one, shall we?

Are you deeply religious? This seems like an absurd question given your conversion journey however it seems as though you mention surface things of a Jewish lifestyle (cooking, kids, Shabbat) but not the joy/love you have for the Gd of Jews and the actual faith itself. I suppose what I’m attempting to say is that you seem to be culturally Jewish without being religiously Jewish.

Well hello there. Now, I could get super offended at how completely offensive your question is, because you've asked a question based on reading some blog posts and not seeing me in real life or knowing me or really digging into the thousands of blog posts I've posted about my relationship with HaShem (which, by the way, is meant to be deeply personal and private) or things beyond the superficial, but that would be an exercise in futility. 

Making a statement suggesting that I'm not "religiously Jewish" is, well, gosh. I don't even know where to begin. It's presumptuous, it's offensive, it's hurtful, and, if you're a Jew, then you're breaking quite a few mitzvot regarding converts

I am a married, full-time working mother to three kids ages 5, 2.4, and nearly 9 months. On top of that, I do marketing work for my kids' preschool and work other side hustles to help keep our family on the up and up. First and foremost, I'm a Jew. Then I'm a mother. Then I'm a wife. Then I'm an Israeli. Then I'm writer. And so on. Capiche? 

This is the period in basically every Torah-observant Jewish woman's life where she can barely find five seconds alone to use the bathroom, let alone to spend hours online writing about her deepest inner feelings about HaShem and what it means to be a Jewish woman and mother and how I can't seem to find the brain space and focus to formally daven. That being said, I cry out to HaShem daily ... for strength, shalom, guidance. 

So, before you go throwing around things like "Oh you sure seem like a cultural Jew, but not a religious Jew!" take a step back and recognize that I'm a real human with a real human brain and a real human life that is a whole heckuva lot more busy that you can possibly imagine. My religiosity is my business, not yours, not anyone else's. 

I'll also say that I am sorry for whatever it is that you're going through that you have to project these sentiments on me. We often project our greatest struggles onto others as a means of deflection, so I hope you find your peace and direction as well.

Oh, one more thing, this:

And now for the tougher one ...

Did you know you have a huge “Messianic” following? How do you feel about that and what do you think of their lying by omission to be in Jewish places (such as mikvas)?

Wait, WHAT?! No, I had no idea. How do you know this? Where do I find this following? How, what, where, when ...? I'm baffled here. 

Okay, now to compose myself ... I'm not sure that there is such a huge problem with these people making their way into mikva'ot, because that's such a personal experience it's not like they're influencing others while they're there. Messianics who go door to door or work their way into Jewish preschools or organizations and slowly plant materials and ideas among communities, that's what seriously bothers me. The sneaky factor of Messianics drives me nuts. I'm an advocate of being loud and proud about who you are and what you believe, not sneaking around and defining yourself by what you aren't or by some kind of mask of who you are. If Messianics want to be Messianics, they should own it and stop trying to sneak their way into people's minds. 

But seriously, who are these people and where is this following!?

Are you in imamother? Favorite topics?

I'm not. Should I be? What are YOUR favorite topics?

Want to ask me something? Try not to be an offensive jerk about it, okay? Ask away!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Recap: Jewish New Media Summit 2018

Hanging with Motti Seligson of Chabad and Howard Feldman of his own awesomeness and ChaiFM.
I was privileged to be invited to the 2018 Jewish New Media Summit this past week in Israel. I left on Thursday, November 22nd, got to Israel in time for Shabbat the next day, slept all of Shabbat, and then got to conferencing on Sunday, November 25th through Wednesday, November 28th. Here's a quick recap of each day:

  • Day One: The opening night began in Zedekiah's Cave with some yummy-looking food I mostly couldn't eat (gluten, sigh). The weird thing about this venue was that, well, we're the media and influencers and bloggers and there was no cellular or wi-fi available. Nothing like throwing a bunch of media folk in a cave without the ability to relay what's going on to the rest of the world. We listened to Michael Oren go on and on about how amazing Donald Trump is and then got a stellar comedic presentation by Avi Liberman. The evening ended with a truly bizarre performance by Voca People (so much talent, way too much shtick). Bedtime? Roughly 10 something p.m.
  • Day Two: The first full day of the conference was filled with back-to-back speakers and presentations starting at 8 a.m. Again, in a space with not great wi-fi. This day was probably one of the most informative, mostly thanks to a talk gave by journalist Matti Friedman, which I'll talk more about in a bit. Then, we packed up and moved on to dinner, followed by a special viewing of the new light show at David's Tower, which was absolutely incredible. While everyone took a mini tour and got their drink on, I went down to the Kotel for an incredibly moving evening before hitting the sack around 1 a.m.
  • Day Three: I was supposed to go on an Old City tour, but I ended up in Tel Aviv touring some pretty exceptional places, including Start-Up Nation Central HQ. Then, we got a private, delicious tour of the Carmel Market, where there are shockingly plenty of kosher places, including the most delicious hummus place I've ever been to in my life. The new trend? Hamshuka! Stay tuned for more on that tour in another post. The evening ended at a club where there was no food for me to eat, so I cut out early because, well, it wasn't my cup of tea. 
  • Day Four: The day started at President Ruvi's house, which was pretty awesome, because the President of Israel is basically like the grandfather you always wanted. We then went on to the Knesset, where we got a beautiful tour of Chagall Hall and then got a huge surprise: Bibi, who was supposed to show up the first day, showed up at Knesset! The best part? He answered our questions like a truly real, honest, transparent person. Then? I as he left, I asked him if he'd take a photo with me, to which he said "No," followed by a quick, "Okay, quickly." Brilliant!
So most of my takeaways come from Days Two and Day Three, a lot of this based on what Matti Friedman had to say followed by tropes that continued over the next few days. The three major takeaways for me were these: 
  1. The conflict narrative was crafted, and journalists place facts into that narrative and make them fit. Whether the facts are positive or negative, they fit into the narrative by the will of the press. The problem? The press fancy themselves activists these days. The world doesn't need activists, it needs facts and an honest narrative seated in history. As Matti Friedman says, if a reporter is sent to cover what is meant to be a major protest and only three people are there, the journalist has to fit the facts into the narrative, so the lede will read: "A small, but vocal group of protestors ..." I'm going to be uploading some of his talk a bit later, so stay tuned. 
  2. Diaspora Jews, especially liberals and younger Jews, have more exclamation points than question marks, and more information than knowledge. Israel's primary focus right now is to help Diaspora Jewry turn its exclamation points into question marks and to turn information into knowledge. Questions and knowledge are the key to truth, and they're two areas that need so much more work.
  3. Anti-Zionism has become the proxy for antiSemitism. It's safer and more people can get away with it because the assumption is that anti-Zionism is about the state and not the people who run the state. But it's merely become a socially acceptable substitute for antiSemitism. Can you be anti-Zionistic without being antiSemitic, you'll ask? As there are plenty of Jews who are anti-Zionism. But think back to America and Europe leading up to World War II. There were plenty of Jews born of a higher class who sought to hide their Jewishness and even berate the shtetl-dwelling Jew as lesser and "bad for the Jews." So, it's basically that, but all over again. And in that case, no matter how upper crust and wealthy and removed from the shtetl you were, once Hitler rose to power, you were on the level with every other Jew on the planet. Perhaps Jews who are anti-Zionistic are trying to self preserve under the guise of nobility and human rights, but as history has shown, Jews who battle other Jews never succeed. 
Hanging out at Start-Up Nation Central HQ!

Here are some of the additional takeaways/interesting tidbits that have stuck with me: 
  • There are more journalists stationed in Israel to cover the "conflict" than there are stationed in the whole of Africa or China or India. This is pretty shocking/appalling/disgusting, consider the following reality.
  • The truth of the matter is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is small peanuts and a blip on the radar of the larger problem. Matti Friedman explained this masterfully: If magically, tomorrow, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved and there was peace or not peace, two states, or one, Arabs and Muslims would still be killing each other. The Syrian war wouldn't magically end. Hamas and ISIS wouldn't just disappear. People make the "conflict" out to be so much bigger than it is, and this is the biggest part of the problem and the biggest missing piece of the narrative.
  • The diaspora is a necessity. There is no longer a push for every Jew to pick up and make Aliyah. As a result of this, Israel sees itself playing a much more pressing role in Diaspora safety, Israel education, and so on. 
  • Israel is concerned about the rate of ignorance of world Jewry about its own Jewishness, Israel, and the Hebrew language. At the same time, Israelis are growing more and more ignorant about Diaspora Jewry, and as such are beginning “reverse birthright” experiences. 
The Israeli Knesset (parliament) 
The interesting thing about all of these takeaways is that, while true, I can't begin to see how sweeping change can occur. It's not an overnight thing, but we live in a world where people see the facts that they want to see and they fit them into the narrative they've been given. So, those who believe Arab Muslims are an abused minority in Israel will continue to find the facts that fit that narrative within their own personal echo chamber, and it doesn't matter how many people speak out and say "Hey! We have full rights in Israel and love it here!" it's not going to change a single mind. 

Additionally, I think that the narrative is too deeply implanted. Israel is a mere 70 years old, but the narrative of a conflict as old as time itself, which just isn't true, is more sexy than talking about something that started up in the 1960s and is complicated because it involves the larger Arab world, Russia, America, and Europe. 

How does re-education begin? That's my question. It can't come from Israel. It can't come from Jews. People who have bought into the narrative of their echo chamber can't hear the facts and information and turn them into knowledge if they're coming from people like me. So how does it start? Who is responsible? 

As we get closer and closer to 100 years out from the blossoming of Nazism and World War II and the subsequent rise of anti-Zionism as a proxy for anti-Semitism, I grow afraid and weary. When little boys walking down the street are getting beat up for being Jewish and anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise at alarming rates, I wonder who will step up and re-educate and re-inform the masses so history doesn't repeat itself. 

Find the Chaviva!
Overall, the best part of the entire experience was the connections and re-connections I got to make. Also, I've got bucketloads of pictures up on Instagram and Facebook, and lots of live Tweets from the conference itself. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Ask Chaviva Anything: Of Chanukah, Immigration, and Genetics

I realized I have a TON of "Ask Chaviva Anything" questions that went unanswered over the past few years, so I thought, now is a great time to hit some of them. Hopefully the people who asked are still reading. If not? My apologies!

Do u & ur family ever go totally crazy for Chanukah and put up lots of blue and white lites and inflatable lighted decorations and stuff like that? Holiday lites in winter time remind me of a magical winter wonder land!

Nope! We do the basics: A few Chanukiyot and maybe a little sign. In fact, this year, while we were at Target, Asher picked up a little Chanukah sign so I bought it. I'll probably hang it on the front door. But beyond that? No decorations. Most Jews don't actually go nuts for the decorations. I do, however, Love holiday lights. 

When I was a kid, our one Christmas tradition was driving around and looking at all the holiday lights. I think it's still relevant, and okay, to do this now with my kids. We call them "thank you" lights (Thanks Daniel Tiger!) and teach the kids that it's how our neighbors show their thankfulness and friendliness. So, this year, for the first time, my plan is to go out one night with Asher to a neighbored where there are lots of lights, and give him a piece of my childhood as I never have before. 

Do you ever find yourself upset still at how hard it was for your husband to immigrate to the USA?

Yes, 100 percent yes. I think about it a lot. When we have little argument for I'm stressed or I'm wondering what I'm doing here in this part of my life, I think about it. It still makes me cry, actually. We have very different memories about how everything happened, which is also hard. But I became a much stronger person as a result of it, and it definitely has helped inform how I vote based on immigration issues, too. 

Is there a DNA test for Jewish ancestry? If so which is best? I am a carrier of Tay-Sachs and have a sister who died from the disease. I have been asked by doctors if I am Ashkenazi Jewish, but I don't know for sure. (There is an abnormally high rate of Tay-Sachs among the Cajuns in south-central Louisiana.)

We did and were very happy with the results. In fact, Mr. T found out that he's 99.9 percent Ashkenazi Jew (we knew this, but having the proof is pretty epic) and I discovered what I already knew: I'm French, German, English, and Scottish with zero Ashkenazi Jewry in my DNA. If you click this link and buy, you'll get 10% off your purchase of a kit, too!

Want to ask me something? Click here: Ask away!

Friday, November 30, 2018

I visited Israel: And This is How It Felt

Israel Startup HQ in Tel Aviv
Here's me at Startup HQ in Tel Aviv. 

I wrote this while sitting on the plane in Israel during boarding. These are the days I miss, when words just spill out of me like the overflowing havdalah cup on Saturday nights. It doesn't always happen like this, but when it does, I know I'm getting close to being back to my happy place. 

When I made aliyah back in 2012, I had two — count 'em two — solid jobs. I was pretty sure that neither would let me go, because both were Jewish organizations and I was, after all, moving to Israel. Then, just a few months after arriving in Israel and meeting Mr. T, I was let go without much ceremony. It was heartbreaking. I got married, I got pregnant, and I was jobless. I picked up some freelance content writing work through connections, I applied for several full-time jobs in the tech sector doing stuff I didn’t want to do, and I turned down a few jobs because I couldn’t handle the soul-sucking possibilities.

I spent the second half of my time in Israel underemployed and mostly broke. It was incredibly depressing and demoralizing. My English was great and a definite plus, but my Hebrew wasn’t good enough to make it in most workplaces.

For the longest time, my biggest worry about returning to Israel has been the financial one. Everyone says where there’s a will, there’s a way, but I refuse to live in poverty, constantly in the red, wondering how I’m going to buy groceries. I’ve done it in Israel. I’ve done it in the U.S. I refuse to do it again — and I refuse to live on credit.

During my trip this past week to Israel, I was supposed to spend a day touring the Old City and Har Ha’Bayit. I found out last minute that I can’t visit Har Ha’Bayit without visiting the mikvah first, and then our rabbi said it was a blanket “no” for visiting anyway. There were three other tracks, and I opted for the one that seemed least attractive: a high-tech day in startup nation in Tel Aviv. Some of the people I’d really connected with on the trip were heading on that track, so I said okay, and we were off.

We met with some really fascinating people (and one guy who wasn’t so fascinating) and I ended up realizing that, since leaving Israel, I’ve acquired quite a bit of experience in fields that could — and should — make me marketable in Israel now.

Not only did I spend nearly two years working for a hardware IoT startup that I took to market, but I’ve also been working in inbound marketing and all it entails as a copywriter and editor. My English is 100, and with the right time and patience, my Hebrew can get back to where it was.

As the tour guide said when I told him my recent experience, he said that people would be doing backflips to hire me. Now’s the time to come back, he said.

My ultimate dream is that Tesla opens an office in Israel and Mr. T can put in for an easy transfer and that my job, in which the entire company is remote, will let me work from Israel as long as is humanly possible. I’m just thinking about all of the potential business my company could acquire in Israel.

My wheels are spinning, and I’m considering carefully and thoughtfully what a return to Israel looks like. It’s so funny that I arrived and spent two or three days thinking to myself that a return to Israel with my three monkeys and husband in tow was an impossibility. And then, at some point, the magic of Israel, of the place, the people, it all hit me hard and I can think of nothing other than a quick return.

So, we’ll see how/where things go. Mr. T would drop everything tomorrow to move back. I, on the other hand, am much more practical and have to consider all the variables — financial chief among them.

And now? Time to buckle up for wheels up on my way back to the U.S. L’hitraot Yisrael (see ya Israel).

Here is something I wrote while visiting the Kotel (aka the Western Wall, and please don't call it the "wailing wall"), I wrote this in a moment of overwhelming emotion in which I felt like my breath had been knocked out of me and my heart leapt out of my chest. I was crying, overwhelmed, more so than I've ever been at the Kotel. I don't know what or why, but something was happening. 

Pigeons pining for our prayers
Pecking away at souls they know are there
Digging deeper into walls of stone
Finding comfort in this place we long to call home. 
Heartsick and the breath stolen
From my breast I can’t breath,
I can’t speak, can't see,
Because all there is is stone.

Want to ask me something? Click here: Ask away!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Reviving a Bygone Era: Poetry

Once upon a time, I wrote a lot of poetry. For ages, I was convinced I was going to be a poet. I went into university as an English major set on the idea of being an intellectually advanced poetry-composing artist. My dreams were swept under the rug after a visit to my dentist. Yes, during that visit I saw an English diploma hanging on her wall, and, after asking her about it, I decided that I absolutely was not going to go down the path of a wasted degree (but honestly, a necessarily evil, they're all pretty much wasted these days).

I did my best to continue writing, doing slam poetry, trying to keep my mind nimble, but somewhere along the line (during my first marriage) I fell out of love with it. I miss poetry, I miss being able to sit down and the words just flowing like they were already out there in existence and I was merely recording them (think: the Oral Torah) for future generations.

On that note, here's an oldie but a goodie that I once penned in the days when I was generically Missouri born and Nebraska grown Amanda Edwards, shortly before my Reform conversion.


I fill the shoes of a Jew, and the
wind that floats by your face may be a piece of
me.  but I am no longer in a ghetto.  for now,
they say.  I am in the shul, next to you where you ponder
how history has repeated itself.  I feel like
repetition, with your fingerprint on my history.

northern Africa, Poland, Germany … history moves like
water in its cycle.  changing, but always coming
back to it’s primary form.

and you walk past me as if you can smell it on me,
like fresh matzo or kosher wine.

perhaps I have the nose, the nose that seems to run,
everyone thinks, in centuries of g-d’s chosen.
or maybe you smell on me gelt, centuries
of money lenders and bankers. used and tossed
aside as needed and beckoned upon by kings and
other gentiles. you know it’s christianity’s history
that swore Jews to the money trade.

but it is merely the badge I wear on my arm,
this g-d forsaken yellow badge.  the chutzpah
of the goy who invented such a symbol, a mark
of some kind of chaye.  centuries after it was
created it is stapled to the skin of everyone who
was promised the holy land, who cherishes the
Sabbath and lives respectfully for and of life.

i didn’t kill your g-d.  Jesus was a liberal Jew.
do you notice that for centuries my community
has wanted nothing more than to live in peace?
and we are created and destroyed by being moved,
expelled, killed, murdered, our precious objects
of Passover and holy days stolen and ruined.
my halakah has been forked by your history.

museums are the resting place for my history, my
blood, my memories are kept in plastic boxes
with little cards and dates that mean nothing but to
say this is when a branch broke, a leaf fell, a vine
was ripped from it’s place and made to forget.

my torah, your book, my Talmud, your prayer,
your weapon, my words. my death, your hand.

my mother tells me I am merely a luftmensh, blind
to what will happen to my people someday. she
says to me, ‘my little bubbala, you know that
history has murdered a memory, soon the memory
will be murdered as well.’  we are all g-d’s chosen.

fershtay? do you understand? there is no rachmones
for anything my history has done for your present.

but history has learned nothing of itself, and I remember
everything of it, as it is in my blood, my eyes, my nose,
my fingers.  i breathe and sigh history’s mistakes everyday.

so let us lomir redn mamaloshn.
12 million voices, half murdered.
ashes to ashes, dust to dust, dirt to shmutzik.
you or I, it makes no difference.

little key:
shmutzik: dirt
shul: school
matzo: the bread made during Passover
gelt: money
gentiles: non-Jews
chutzpah: nerve, gall
chaye: beast
halakah: path (in Judaism)
Torah/Talmud: key Jewish books
luftmensh: someone with their head in the clouds
bubbala: darling
fershtay: do you understand?
rachmones: compassion
lomir redn mamaloshn: literally, “let’s talk Yiddish” or “get to the point”

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Israel: Everything is the same.

step out to cough, smoke
step out to breath, garbage strewn.
are they happy? no.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

I Suck at Sticking to Things, but I'm Good at Being a Social Introvert

So ... you remember that time I said, it's a new year! It's 5779! This is the year I blog every single day!

Yeah. That didn't happen. The thing is, when it takes 20 to 30 days to create and maintain a good habit, how do you get to that point to actually make the habit stick? Maybe I'm just not at a time in my life where it makes sense. By the time my brain has settled down even a little bit and I can start thinking about the things I want to write for the sake of my own verbal bliss, I'm usually in bed, too tired to sit up, and my brain just spins and spins and spins. The hamster runs at light speed when I'm supposed to be sleeping. I have the most amazing ideas, the most profound thoughts. And then I get really angry at myself because I don't have the energy to get up, get my computer, and put fingers to keyboard and make something happen.

So I'm not going to do resolutions or promises or commitments to do X every Y number of days. My husband kept asking me if I was going to start learning Daf Yomi, as I was so inspired by If All the Seas Were Ink, but I didn't. I can't. I won't. I don't have the time. I literally cannot pen in a specific time every day to make it happen. In my line of work, calls come up, people need things sporadically,  and I simply don't have the willpower to wake up at 5 a.m. every day before everyone is awake to commit to it.

Basically? I suck at resolutions. I blame being a mommy. Scratch. I blame it on being a working mommy.

When I was single and living in D.C. and then Chicago, I sat and went through the weekly Torah portion every single week like a gangster of gemara. I was good at it, I kept to it, it was my thing. I look back at that girl and think, "DAMN girl. You go. You go girl. You get your learn on."

So enough about my inability to stick to anything for more than five seconds, let's talk about me being a ridiculous introvert.

A few days ago I was standing at the local King Soopers in the self-checkout lane. I go to the self-checkout religiously (like, I'm better at sticking to my ability to self-checkout than to write) because it prevents me from having to engage with strangers. Even when I have a coupon or run into an error or need my ID checked, the interaction is non-verbal and quick. It's bearable. But when I was standing there on a Sunday and the store was busy and the self-checkout was packed, someone walked up to me and said, "I can help you on number 11, ma'am."

I was playing on my phone, and I froze. I had two options:

  • Tell the nice checkout guy that I was intentionally waiting in line and to leave me to my mobile device, pretty please. 
  • Take the nice checkout guy up on his offer and have to engage in conversation and awkward smiles and unwanted dialogue and ... my worst nightmare. 
The reality of having to explain that I was happy to be anti-social and wait in the line was too unbearable so I went through the guy's checkout lane and it was just as awkward and unwanted as I thought it would be. 

Thanks, but no thanks. 

But then there was the few days over the Jewish holiday season where we had guests over and it was wonderful. I was, undoubtedly, exhausted after people left, because that's what being social does to me. It drains every last ounce of energy and strength I have. But it was so nice, I remembered why I loved to host. During the year, we never host because our house is too tiny. But when we can move outside and into the sukkah, we have an actual dining room people! Space to have multiple people and families over. So we invited friends over, the kids played in the backyard, people spent all afternoon with us, and it was great. I fed people, I talked, I schmoozed. It felt good.

I'm an odd duck, honestly. I crave interaction and desire to be included in social activities and outings, but at the same time I do absolutely nothing to include myself or inject myself into the lives of my friends. 

I know there's a name for it -- social introversion -- but I also struggle with it making sense to people. Everyone says how great I get along with people and how social I am, but the physical and emotional toll it takes is what people don't see. 

So now we're back to the regular year where we're back inside our house and can't host anymore. I'm both relieved and disappointed. I wish we had the space to bring in friends every few weeks. Our kids love it. And sometimes, just sometimes, the mess their friends bring with them is worth it. Until next Sukkot ... 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

#MomLife: Yom Kippur Edition

Zusha and the Big Fish!
Now that we're well stuffed with the gluten-free lasagna I made, it's time to start shutting things down, bathing everyone, and getting ready to shut down for the most important day on the Jewish calendar. I have to mention that the lasagna was actually made for Shabbat lunch, but our plata didn't turn on, so we had to have challah, lox, and cream cheese instead, so I decided to heat it up for our erev Yom Kippur meal. Why? Well, the traditional pre-Yom Kippur meal includes kreplach, which are little meat-stuffed dumplings. The idea behind them is that the meat is "hidden," and it comes from this verse in Isaiah 1:18:
“Come, let us reach an understanding, —says the LORD. Be your sins like crimson, They can turn snow-white; Be they red as dyed wool, They can become like fleece.”
Meat = red. White = the pasta. Boom! Except that we don't do meat, but the spinach and sun-dried tomatoes were hidden between layers of pasta. It works! IT WORKS!

Anyway. Am I ready? No. Does it matter? No. At least, that's what I keep telling myself. But you know me. I know me. It does matter, but I'm trying really hard to not let it matter.

Yom Kippur is hard. Neither Mr. T nor I fast well, and we've got three small kids who need us to be at our very best all. day. long. So, I'm trying to pull some understanding and forgiveness to myself based on this article on
Let go of expectations for how a “real” Yom Kippur should look like. There are many ways to honor and celebrate Yom Kippur, and each year will be different, depending on the ages and needs of your children, as well as your own physical and emotional capabilities. Intense prayer may be out of the question for you, but you will still be experiencing Yom Kippur to its fullest.
The sages tell us that on Yom Kippur, itzumo shel yom mechaper—the essence of the day atones for us. Regardless of our prayers, meditation or hard work, Yom Kippur itself reveals that part of us that is always connected to G‑d, the part that doesn’t need to do anything or be anything other than what it is. This is our etzem, our essence.
Spending the day caring for your children is no less G‑dly than spending it in the synagogue. Wherever you are, you are at one with G‑d.
So, here I am, pounding Little Secrets and water instead of, well, anything else. My husband is bathing the kids, I put the baby down for bed, and now I'm anticipating what 5779 holds for me and whether I can honestly and truly commit to Daf Yomi while also blogging every day. 

It's all about carving time out, having a schedule, prioritizing. Things I'd like to prioritize better? My husband, my kids, my self-care, my learning, my career growth, my happiness, my health. It's about time that I put everything in perspective and start prioritizing what matters. And the nice thing? I think my job gives me that space. I just have to take advantage of it and stop treating every work assignment like it's the end of the world. 

Anyway, candle lighting is coming soon, and it's time to sip the last of my water and refocus myself for Yom Kippur. To really think about who I am, to celebrate these moments where we are closest to HaShem. 
“For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G‑d" (Leviticus 16:30).
As I plead for forgiveness, I also ask for strength to be inscribed in the book of life in the year to come. 

I'm wishing one and all a g'mar chatimah tovah -- may you be inscribed in the book of life and have a meaningful fast. Catch you on the other side!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Haiku for the Jewish Mom with a Full-Time Job

Twelve hour workday.
Coming in, close to midnight.
I see Yom Kippur.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Ari Fuld, and Living it All on Loan

There is a Midrash on Proverbs 31:10, and it goes like this:
Beruriah was the learned and compassionate wife of Rabbi Meir. While Rabbi Meir was teaching on a Shabbat afternoon, both of his sons died from the plague that was affecting their city. When Rabbi Meir returned home, he asked his wife, “Where are our sons?” She handed him the cup for havdalah and he said the blessing. Again he asked, “Where are our sons?” She brought food for him, and he ate. When he had finished eating, Beruriah said to her husband, “My teacher, I have a question. A while ago, a man came and deposited something precious in my keeping. Now he has come back to claim what he left. Shall I return it to him or not?” Meir responded, “Is not one who holds a deposit required to return it to its owner?” So she took his hand and led him to where their two children lay. He began to weep, crying “My sons, my sons.” She comforted him, “The Lord gave, the Lord took. Y’hei sh’mei rabah mevorach, May the Name of the Lord be blessed…”
I bookmarked the discussion of this particular midrash this past Shabbat as I finished up If All the Seas Were Ink by Ilana Kurshan. It felt so powerful to me, the discussion of how all that we have is merely on loan from HaShem. 

Even further is a discussion in the sixth chapter of Berachot over the blessings over foods. At once it attempts to reconcile the fact that "the heavens are the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the earth and its inhabitants" (Psalms 24:1) and that "the heavens belong to God and the earth was given to men" (Psalms 115:16). While later Rabbi Hanina bar Papa says, "All who benefit from this world without first staying blessing are as if they are stealing from the Holy One Blessed Be He" (35b).

The reconciliation for this, Rabbi Levi explains, is that everything in the world belongs to HaShem, but the moment we make a blessing, it's on loan to us. 

This discussion was so powerful to me, so potent because I struggle intensely with making berachot. One of the things that drew me to Judaism was the level of 100-percent consciousness that is required of the Torah-observant Jew. So I marked this page, it made so real the idea that all that we have is on loan from HaShem, we only need make a bracha, a blessing, in order to take pleasure of it, to enjoy it, to truly be able to cherish something -- or someone. 

And then, this morning, I awoke exhausted after going to bed around 1:30 a.m., turned on my phone, and started looking through my news feed. The first thing I saw? A distant friend, someone who helped me greatly when I made aliyah, someone who was a Lion of Zion, someone who would lay his life down for any person who was on the right side of history ... had been murdered, viciously, by a Palestinian terrorist at the very place I used to go to buy groceries or get a coffee many times every week. My immediate reaction was that I had to be mistaken. Ari, Ari who basically spends 24/7 -- or spent -- at that place in Gush Etzion speaking with soldiers and providing them with chizuk and food and other special gifts from his fundraising -- couldn't have been murdered. He was a soldier. He knew that place inside and out. And yet, there he was. There was the video. The video of him being stabbed by a vicious animal -- not a human, not anyone I would remotely call a human -- and then chasing after him, poised, shooting at the savage, and then collapsing backwards. 

There's something about watching a friend, someone you know, someone who you watch regularly from a distance be murdered ... that just crushes every possible understanding and love you have for life. For Israel. 

And then, as the day went on, and I fought between anger and tears and confusion and the question, "Could I ever take children back to that place?" And then I thought about what I'd bookmarked on Shabbat. About how this life is just on loan from HaShem, and we have to be grateful and send out as many blessings as we can every moment of every day to keep these lives and all that are part of them on loan. For it's all we have. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Haikus for a Shabbat Afternoon

Although I have much to write about, especially after finishing If All the Seas Were Ink, I want to keep this short and sweet as I have much to do this evening. Here is my Shabbat in a series of Haikus:

Sleep? I try so hard.
Toss and turn, flip and groan. Sigh.
My mind does not stop.

A quiet morning.
Kids at shul with Mister T.
Head in a book -- peace.

I promise myself
when they return I will breathe
and stay calm, happy.

The plata? Not on.
Looks like lasagna will wait.
Lox, cream cheese it is.

The whirlwind arrives,
overwhelming my senses.
I embrace crazy.

Everyone naps now.
Fast, I put head to pillow.
A cry -- poor timing.

Finishing a book
feels like fresh, warm laundry
on my skin at last.

The sky turns black-blue.
The flame flickers bright before
spices are inhaled.

Shavua tov, you.
You who dreams of eternal
shabbat and shalom.

And that, friends, is Shabbat in Haikus with Chaviva. Shavua tov!