Wednesday, September 28, 2011
This time of year, cliches are very welcome. They're called "traditions."
Thank you, all, for making my blogging adventures so very rewarding.
Won't be blogging tomorrow or Friday... and big blogging break coming up October 12- November 6 due to the Sukkot holiday rolling right into my upcoming trip to Israel!
Lots to talk about meanwhile, and upon my return!
Shana Tova - may it be a good year!
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Take one chicken.
Hold it by its wings.
Move it around your head in a circle, halo-style, three times.
Now say this:
"This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This rooster/hen will go to its death (or this money will go to charity), while I will enter and proceed to a good long life and to peace."
Now give the chicken to a kosher slaughterer (shoichet) and donate the chicken to charity.
Nice! You've just done the ritual called "kapparos" - pronounced "ka-PUH-ros" (long "o"). Or, in Yiddish, shlugged kapparos.
1. This is a custom, that is traditionally done around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. NOT a law. There's a big difference.
2. Many have the custom to perform this ritual with money that will go to charity instead of a chicken that will go to charity. Back in the day, fowl was currency. It's cool to continue traditions exactly as they were done back in the day; it certainly enhances preservation of our faith. But the point is charity, so if you're squeamish, vegan, or a germaphobe, money is the way to go.
3. The chicken is not harmed or mistreated. They are handled at least as well as regular chickens are handled for normal food consumption. If the way chickens are handled for normal food consumption bothers you, I am sorry, but that is a whole 'nother blog.
4. The concept is that the consequences of our misdeeds can be symbolically transferred to the animal, and simultaneously, wake us up to the reality that our deeds indeed do have consequences, in a very technicolor way. By sacrificing it (or anything of value) to charity, we have the priceless opportunity to gain absolvement for those misdeeds. Caveat: if you do kapparos, and keep on sinning, you've just wasted a chicken and your time. This ain't no presto-chango hoojie woojie - it's supposed to be a supplementary device in the general repentance toolbox.
5. Interested in trying it out? Let me know... I can work it out for ya.
Ever tried kapparos?? What was your experience?
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Like, Jews don't have baby showers.
Has your Jewish grandmother ever done odd things like spit when someone offers her beautiful grandbaby a compliment? Or say stuff like, "poo poo poo!!" Or tie a red string around the crib?
If so, congrats. You are part of the K9 Hora club. And, uh, no relation to the "hora" that you dance at a bar mitzvah.
Let's start with some ulpan.
The phrase K9 Hora actually stems from three words smushed together (is smushed a Yiddish word too? When I was little I always thought "smorgasbord" and "farfetched" were Yiddish) - and I'd like to credit my source - a very cute kenohora article right here. And just try to google kenohora - there about 613 ways to spell it.
Which is why I like my way: K9 Hora. It almost looks English.
So the three words are: kein, the Yiddish word for no or negating, ayin, Hebrew for eye, and hara, Hebrew for Evil.
What is an Evil Eye? Are Jews superstitious?? Is God out to get us? Why does Madonna wear a red string?
I'll tell you.
And on principle, I don't speak for Madonna.
What's an Evil Eye?
Jews generally earn the Divine Protection of G-d - by default. Not necessarily because we earn it, but because He loves us. However, there are some ways to invalidate this protection, and one of them is by flaunting our blessings in a way that makes others uncomfortable or envious. In a way that is excessive. Then G-d pulls out His ledgers and checks us out. Audits us. And may very well say: "Hey - if you don't really deserve your blessings, but no one's getting hurt... OK. But if your being in-your-face with My gifts, I may have to retract them."
So this is called the Evil Eye - of other people in our lives, viewing our gifts with a negative eye. Now, if there's anything smart Jews want to do, it's protect their assets. So us Jews have gone completely extreme with protecting ourselves from Evil Eye - in some interesting ways.
Like when someone compliments your beautiful granddaughter, to spit and say, "Ew! She's so ugly!" which is code for "Get your evil eyes far away from me!"
This is not really my way.
The Torah states that if you buy into being victim to this whole dynamic, you will, indeed become susceptible to it. And if you don't, if you trust G-d, act normal, don't flaunt your blessings, and share your goodness with others, you will continue to merit G-d's Divine Protection.
It's might seem easier, though, to just omit the baby shower, hang up a hamsa, wear a red string. But those are shortcuts - not accessing the real state of faith that offers protection from the Evil Eye.
By the way, this is also why some people won't share news of a pregnancy till it's obvious or say how many kids or grandkids they have, and why some will otherwise downplay their blessings.
Me, I prefer to say "Thank G-d." It's positive - and focuses on my gratitude. With Divine assistance, this will be the protection I need.
Friday, September 23, 2011
JFX is an organization that my husband and I and some friends began 7 years ago. We were back in Cleveland after having lived in Israel and Buffalo Grove, IL, and were running some Torah classes with some folks that my husband had met at bris ceremonies. And they said: "Who knew Judaism was so cool??? Will you teach our kids?"
And we said: "Yes!"
But that's just the face of JFX. There's a whole other part to us: the soul.
Basically, we're a family. A community. My husband and I, we're like the parents. And then there's all this extended family. They're all my friends. We like hanging out with each other. We invite them for Shabbos and they invite each other. We take care of each other in joys and sorrows. No, we're not all the same. Some keep Shabbat and some go to Vegas Friday night. Some keep kosher and others... don't. Some don't gossip and some wear skirts. Some kids' go to day school and some to Hawken and some to public school. Some wear kippahs and some lay tefillin and some are atheists. But, I dunno, it works.
We're not afraid to tackle some serious issues: G-d? Developing a relationship with Him? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good people do bad things?
And we all are investing our kishkes into our kids. Making sure they stay Jewish. Making sure they love it. Making sure they find it cool, fun, and awesome. Making sure they know the Rabbi's cell phone number.
JFX is so special to me. I feel humbled and loved and enveloped and grateful.
JFX... I love you.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Sometimes this makes for a very interesting daily schedule. And multiple outfit changes.
Here's a sample page from my calendar:
Sunday, August 28th
7:30 am - my kids wake up. I stumble out of bed, say my Modeh Ani (grateful I'm alive) prayer and get going with the kiddies: diapers, breakfasts, straightening up after both of these. Try to fit in some formal prayer; it doesn't work.I appoint one of my teens in charge and leave for my first engagement.
10:00 am - bris of a friend's baby. It's a rather Orthodox, conservative-type affair. It's her ninth (or tenth?) child. Mazel tov! My husband does the bris, so that's always fun for me. Appropriate garb would be black and black, with a bit of black. However I do not dress to code since I am going straight to...
10:45 am - bat mitzvah of the daughter of a friend. While my friend is Orthodox, lots of people at the affair are not. Lots of colors being worn. I dress for this occasion, and have a wonderful time (no correlation).
I briefly contemplate attending an event where one of our friends is going to kick off a political campaign, and while I really, really, want to go, I just feel like my kids need me home.
Family first - it's a tough one to implement sometimes.
4:00 pm - Back to School BBQ for JFX. This requires yet another, cute-but-casual outfit. Change from head to toe is pretty much required. My daughters contribute some uninvited input into my choices, and I summarily ignore them. Transportation to the BBQ is iffy, because my son has a drum lesson 20 minutes away in the middle of the BBQ. Two cars are needed so teen driver can transport said drummer. Teen driver also transports those kids that don't want to arrive early to help, after we leave.
6:15 pm - BBQ is wonderful. Lots of great JFX friends, new and old. Weather: awesome. Food: too busy to eat. Clothing choice: apparently OK, despite my spurning the advice of my teens (!). I panic, since I can't find drummer and lesson is in 15 minutes. I find him, teen driver is dispatched, and I attend to baby and cleanup. We get ready to go. Upon arrival home, it dawns on me that drummer-boy did not take his antibiotics on time... bummer.
7:00 pm - bedtime for the two younger ones. Off regular schedule due to BBQ... hafta deal. TG (thank G-d) my husband is around to do baths and help - have I ever mentioned his exquisite awesomeness? I am in a time crunch because at 8:30 pm I have a...
8:30 pm - Mother's meeting at my girls' high school for moms of incoming 9th graders. Oh my, do I have to change. Unwritten dress code is once again black and black, with a bit of black. We hear inspirational words about the beauty of Torah learning and living, and meet the teachers and mothers. I'm really happy that my girls will have such awesome teachers and am excited to see my friends in the "other" world.
10:00 pm - return home to chill with older kids and hubby. Reflect back on the diverse people in my day and in my life... the diverse outfits in my closet... the diverse communities that I am a part of.
Tired, but grateful... g'nite!
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
What do you say, readers?
Too fast/too slow?
Freaking yourself out/freaking others out?
Healthy growth/slow growth/stagnation/reaching a plateau?
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Ortho/Non/other point on the spectrum
So, take the quiz! See what happens.
1. What do you do with a 2-year-old?
- potty train
- toilet train
- pamper him
- not sure, but it's encased in plastic
- Seriously? Briefcases are for people that have completed law school.
- mac 'n cheese
- macaroni with ketchup
- soda water
- supper if at home, dinner if at a restaurant or fundraiser
- Innernet (as in counnertop and Conninennal Airlines)
- My mom
- My mother
- Winner break (see: innernet)
- Winter vacation
- Umm... Chanukah?
- Talk to you later (even if you won't)
- Be well, take care
- Zy gezunt
- Put them to bed
- Put them to sleep
- Go shluffy
- Knock on wood
- Thank G-d, Baruch Hashem
- Kenainahara poo poo poo
Monday, September 19, 2011
I know that the people who forward them, and specifically, who forward them to me, have only the best intentions and most wonderful sense of spirit when doing so, and far be it from me to kill a spiritual moment, but I must set the record straight.
God is not walking through your house.
Probably nothing will happen in five minutes.
If you delete this email, nothing will happen to you.
And this is not based on kabbalah.
For good fortune, health, and the rest, whisper a prayer and try your best to put forth normal effort.
Thank you and have a nice day.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
the new start
Fall has always been my favorite season
Rosh Hashanah is approaching
It starts with Elul:
that Jewish month that starts whilst summer still lingers
Thirty days prior to the holiday
not the honey
not the chickens
not the apple picking.
That was the easy part.
is the hard part.
Serious holiday. Whazzat?
Hard because ignorance is bliss.
Truly: harder not to
Thanks to David on the Lake for his inspiration in the new genre
What do the impending High Holidays mean to you?
Friday, September 16, 2011
Here are a few:
1. "Making a bar mitzvah."
Frum (Orthodox) people generally say, "I'm making a bar mitzvah. I'm making a wedding." What this means is that they are planning the simcha for their child, which is true, but I've never heard non-Orthodox people use this particular verb in this context. Why is this? Similarly, Ortho-folk will say, "I'm making Shabbos," or "making Pesach."
2. "Just come."
I've found that Ortho-folk who come from large families and busy communities are much more "heimish" (homey) about extending an invitation by phone, declining an invitation, cancelling, showing up uninvited, etc. Clearly, people should be good about sending invitations and reply cards, and not make the "baal simcha" (the one "making the simcha") call you to see if you're coming (!) when they'd much rather be at the manicurist's, but in general, this degree of chilled-out attitude doesn't seriously bend anyone out of shape. "Surprising" someone at a simcha is also a totally accepted thing to do, or popping in for part of it if you can't be there for the whole thing.
3. The six weeks rule.
4. Gifts table.
No idea why on earth this is true, but at non-Orthodox shindigs, there is typically a gift table. Ortho-folk bring their gifts to the home before or after. Truly an oddity to my mind.
5. What time does it start?
Non-Ortho affairs start, well, when they're supposed to start. Showing up late requires an explanation. On the other hand, when an Orthodox wedding or bar mitzvah is called for 6 pm, "everyone" knows it's only going to be immediate family and the photographer at 6 pm. Show up at 6:30, for crying out loud. (!) The other totally bizarre thing about this is that the further east you travel, the later you should show up; so when my sister's vort (engagement party) in NJ was called for 8 pm, most folks showed up at 11. Oh... was that not on the invitation??
Well, this makes perfect sense. Orthodox people have more kids... their simchas have a lot more kids! Your typical Orthodox wedding will have multiple nieces and nephews, all decked out in their finest, to the extent that a babysitter (or team of) is often hired at the hall to supervise the kiddies. There is often a whole "kiddie table" with "kiddie food."
But as usual, I like to find more in common than not... we all: want to experience nachas, want to be surrounded by family and friends, have spent more than we planned, and want all our guests to be happy. Oh, and if our kids could write their thank-yous with no input on our part, we'd all be all the more joyous.
Curious to hear your observations!
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Is Hashem a male? In Hebrew, it’s necessary to choose a gender, because all the adjectives and verbs require it. Not so in English – and without a body, it doesn’t make a lot of sense (to me) to choose – but I’ve noticed you always refer to “Him.” And what about the Shechinah?
I'm hardly a Kabbalist, but since I consider it core and central to my life to continually cultivate my relationship to God, I have spent time thinking and learning about this question.
Hashem (God) is neither male nor female. God contains both male and female attributes. It is difficult to speak of these things, for two reasons:
1. No human can truly conceptualize God, as the whole concept transcends everything we know. It transcends the five senses; it transcends time and space and science. Can your mind truly conceive that numbers go on FOREVER? Mine can't. Infinity is but one of the facets of God that are ultimately unknowable by humans. That doesn't prove their inability to exist - we all know infinity exists, yet we can't draw it or truly know it.
2. As soon as you start talking about males and females, there are people that get uncomfortable. As soon as I shall generalize in this post about traditionally "male" attributes and traditionally "female" attributes, some of you will get annoyed. So sorry for that, but I'm going to do it anyway, because I still think that most of the males in this world more or less fit the prototype, and most females in the world more or less fit the prototype, while I acknowledge that many exceptions exist.
Typically male attributes include power and strength.
Typically female attributes include insightfulness, the drive to nurture, and sympathy.
When God acts towards us in typically "male" ways, or when we pray to God in a way that evokes those attributes, we use male names. When God acts in "female" ways, or when we want God to, we use female names.
1. "Elo-him" (I hyphenated the name so as not to take God's name in vain, in the event someone prints and discards this post.)
This name means: God of power. Its construction is male, and its meaning is classically male. This is also the name of strict justice, as opposed to kindness/compassion.
2. There is a four-letter name of God that is so holy I can't even write it. We don't pronounce it as its spelled, even in our prayers. We pronounce it "Ado-nay" which means "my master" - but in true form it is a feminine name in its grammatical construction, and whenever used, refers to the attribute of compassion and mercy - typically feminine attributes.
3. Shechinah - God's compassionate presence. This is classically female in construction, and denotes care and love - feminine traits.
So in English, it would be most correct to say "it" since God is neither male nor female. However, this is clumsy, and therefore not worth it for me.
Nevertheless in Hebrew, the pronoun used for God is, indeed, "he." This is because God's overriding quality is that of power and strength over the whole world. When we ask God for things, we say "You" in the masculine form, indicating that God possesses all the power and strength to give us these things.
(Btw, what's so fascinating about THAT is that how many other languages are there where the pronoun "you" must be qualified as either male or female? While many - most? - languages genderize nouns - with the interesting exception of English - very few - and I'm sure my readers will correct me if I'm wrong - genderizes the "you" pronoun. Why this is true is a whole 'nother topic. Just saying it's not like it's an inconvenient fact that a pronoun must be chosen - it's deliberate.)
It's also notable that EVERY noun in Hebrew is either male or female. Is a table male? Of course not, but on some deep level it contains a classically "male" purpose, and when you say "it [the table] is made of wood" in Hebrew, the true translation would be "he is made of wood." In fact, if you listen closely when Israelis speak English, they very often say "he" or "she" for objects instead of "it" (and not just for trucks or boats).
A much deeper and interesting discussion of the male and female attributes of God is here.
Would love to hear your (respectful) thoughts, insights, and input on this topic.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
I'd like to thank Roni Sokol over at Mommy in Law for inspiring this post!
Every single time we have sat down to choose a Hebrew name for one of our newborns, we've had to take multiple considerations into account:
1. Did we have a relative to name after? (If no, proceed to #2)
2. Do we pick a name related to the Torah portion? An upcoming holiday?
3. How will this name be spelled in English?
4. How will this child's name appear on the birth certificate?
5. How will this name sound to people that are unfamiliar with Hebrew or Yiddish names?
6. How do we spell it?
For example (note: some of my kids' names have been changed):
Child #1: Let's pretend my daughter's name is Esther. She is our first-born, and we decide to name her after my great-grandmother on my father's side, who was killed in the Holocaust. There is a custom among Ashkenazic Jews that babies are named after deceased love ones, and that the first name goes to the mother's side barring a pressing reason to name after the father's side (like, father has no dad; mother would have to go back 3 generations).
Great-grandma had two names, common among Eastern European Jews, but her middle name coincides with my mother's name, who is very much alive and well, thank you. Just as it an honor to name after a deceased relative, it is SPOOKY AND NOT DONE to name after an alive relative. Unless you are a Sephardic Jew, in which case it is a BIG HONOR.
So we ask her daughter, my grandmother, if she minds if we only use the one name. She's great with it, as "Esther" is the name great-grandma was known by. Awesome. Esther is SO EASY. It's Hebrew and English and phonetic to boot. And it's one name. That simplifies life. "Esther" goes on the birth certificate. Daughter #1 is all set. Woohoo!
That was the easy part.
Child #2 comes along - a son. This is a no-brainer, as my father passed away when I was six, so even though name #2 "belongs" to the husband, it's obvious we will name this child for my father. Let's pretend my father's Hebrew name was Shlomo - one name, but it gets complicated. For one thing, it's customary to add a name when you name after someone who dies young, so the newborn doesn't have exactly the same "mazel" - fortune, sort of - as the deceased. We need to add a name. The classical Hebrew names that are added in such a case are Chaim ("life") and Baruch ("blessed"), but my husband's grandfather, who, at the time, was alive and well, thank you very much, is Chaim Baruch! So we choose a name - Nesanel (Netanel), which means "gifted by God." So now our son's name is Nesanel Shlomo.
Second thing: my father was not exactly called by his Hebrew name, but was called by a Yiddish-flavored nickname of his Hebrew name - "Shloimy." NOT PHONETIC. EASY TO MISPRONOUNCE. And definitely, er, ethnic.
So we wanna call this kid "Shloimy" since it's what my father was called, which is a very normal name in our community, but what do we put on the birth certificate? One name? Both? The Ethnic Nickname? We opt for simply (ha) "Shlomo," which has since been mispronounced by every doctor's office staff member since. Ah, well.
Child #3: a girl. We have a choice of two great-grandmothers on my husband's side. Finally, his turn. Both are Yiddish. We do some homework and find out that one was a classic Bubbie, a regular saint; and the other was a strong woman who retained her faith out in Scranton, PA. We opt for "saint." My husband is scheduled to name the baby at the synagogue. I am in the hospital. It is Shabbat, so we are not communicating over the phone. After Shabbat he calls: "I didn't name the baby... I just felt it wasn't the right name!" Okaay - who am I to question my husband's prophetic powers? I didn't feel that strongly either way, so we go for name #2 - strong personality, Scranton, PA.
This Yiddish name, Gitty, is at first glance, phonetic and easy. Ha. Everyone rhymes it with "pretty" and "witty" when actually the "T" is emphasized. I would give an English rhyme for her name, except there is none. Also, living in Israel at the time, my husband is the one who travels to East Jerusalem to the consulate to get the birth certificate, so he chooses "Gittel," the real Yiddish name, instead of "Gitty," the commonly used nickname. Nice. Now daughter has one name that appears on her BC that no one can pronounce and that no one uses except her younger brother in cruel moments, another name that everyone calls her that rhymes with "pretty" and her real name that is pronounced correctly. *sigh*
Child #4 is named after someone in the parsha. We didn't have any urgent relative to name for and are married long enough that we don't need to take turns anymore, and name after our Patriarch Abraham. Great - easy, right?? EVERYONE knows Abraham Lincoln! Yes, except his Hebrew name is Avraham, and his nickname shall be... Avromi. So how easy is it to mispronounce "Avromi'? Answer: very. It's pronounced "Av-RUH-mi" (Ruh as in Run). But some people, like Jews from more Chassidic backgrounds, like my grandparents, pronounce it "Av-ru-mi" - Ru as in the way a Bostonion would say "roof." Or those that are not comfy with Hebrew or Yiddish say Ru like "rah rah rah! Sis boom bah!" Ah, well.
Oh, and we decided to be "smart" and put "Abraham" on his BC so everyone will be able to pronounce it... now he just seems like a relic from the 1800's. Really? Your name is Abraham, and you're... 10? Not 89? Ah, well.
Also: since we did not reach back multiple generations for a name we had some explaining to do to family members... 'nuff said.
Child #5: girl. We decide to name after my great-grandmother Mindy. She also had another name, which coincided with my husband's grandmother's name. (Anyone want to become a Jewish Baby Naming Coordinator? I'll send you lots of clients.) Yes, I know my side of the family is seriously winning, but I already told you, we're done taking turns. Also I just happen to have more dead relatives - sorry. We ask my grandfather (she was his mother) how he feels about us just using one name and he is fine with this since she was called "Bobba Mindy" and that's how everyone knew her.
Can I just emote for a moment? I LOVE THIS NAME. It has everything I need! It's named for someone I knew and loved, it's easy to say, spell, and pronounce, and I can put the nickname right on the BC since we are now living in America and I don't have to travel anywhere dangerous moments after giving birth to obtain a BC! The lovely, nice hotel - er, hospital - does all the hard work FOR YOU!! Yay! Mindy Koval. Love.
Child #6: Boy. He is born 10 days late, on his great-grandfather's yahrtzeit. Like, exactly, on the Hebrew date. Did I say "chose a name"? I think the name chose us. This name does not fit the profile of my perfect name. It's Hebrew and Yiddish, two names, neither of which are phonetic, nor easy to say, spell, or pronounce. Yay! Well, we go mostly with the first name and just plunk that Hebrew name right on the BC. And if no one can pronounce it... it's their problem. Lots of cool people have weird names (Gwyneth?).
Child #7: Girl. When you get to this number of kids, my philosophy is you pick a name you just LIKE. You've earned it. We picked the name first (Nomi) then prayed for her to be born on the holiday that coincided with her name. And... she was! Can I just emote for a moment? I LOVE THIS NAME! For all the reasons I love Mindy, but one more added bonus: It's not a nickname but the real name. However, even this name was not hitchless. The REAL name is "Naomi," and is pronounced in truly grammatically correct Hebrew as "Na'ami," and is still pronounced a variety of ways by my relatives. Nevertheless, it's super easy to spell and read, and we love it. So far, it's the only low-maintenance thing about the child, so that's a good thing.
Was it hard to pick out your kids' names? What did you have to take into account? What did you choose for their birth certificates - have you regretted it?
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
And here are the winners:
1. If God is all-powerful, why do bad things happen to good people?
Note: this questions appears in various forms and may be hard to discern under the alias. Like, why are bad things happening to me? Am I being punished? Am I truly that bad?
Answer: I do not answer this question unless it's in person; I have time to transmit the ideas I've learned in full; and I know the people I am talking to and what their questions really are.
2. Is that your hair sticking out from under your hat?
Answer: if you see it, it's not my hair. It's my wig!
3. How do you have time for everything?
Answer: I don't. But I will not compromise on my sleep (though I do suffer from insomnia) or on household help. Also I really insist on my kids' help in accepting responsibility around the house. Also, my husband is an amazing help. Also, I believe that God helps me because He wants me to succeed.
4. How do you remember all your kids' birthdays and appointments and activities?
Answer: God gifted me with a good memory and an organized orientation. Also, my Droid.
5. Do you guys speak Hebrew at home?
Answer: no, English is my first language and that's what we speak at home. Although I confess, it IS liberally sprinkled with Hebrew and Yiddish references.
Example: Come here! Let me wash your henties (hands, Yiddish). Oy! You're so cute I could just plotz (pass out, Yiddish)!!
6. How do you have three teenagers? You look so young.
Answer: Can you ask me that again? I didn't hear you the first time.
Real answer: Exercise and good genes.
Real answer, for real: I am so young. I got started young!
7. Were you Orthodox your whole life?
Note: I always wonder here, what the "right" answer is. Are people hoping to hear "yes" or "no"? Do I present as an FFB or a BT? Does it matter?
Answer: yup. But that doesn't make me a blind follower. It's always been important to me to ask tough questions and make intellectual sense of that with which I've been raised. The more I probe, the more I love.
8. Are you Chassidic?
9. Are you Amish?
10. Are you Chabad?
Note: if you are Chassidic, Amish, or Chabad, I'd love to hear from you for a future post.
What questions have been posed to you about your Judaism?
Monday, September 12, 2011
Don't be fooled.
Cholent is customarily eaten by Shabbat-observant Jews at lunch on Saturday. It is such a powerful food that its mention will evoke groans, giggles, rapid salivation, the urgent need to take a nap, and the motivation to break a diet or vegan streak.
When it is eaten may be broken down by who you are: classically by yeshiva guys, in anticipation of Shabbat, anytime from Thursday night forward; by semi-normal people AFTER dessert following Shabbat dinner Friday night; by normal folk at lunch; and by hungry carnivorous husbands, as leftovers anytime from Shabbat on through Thursday of the next week.
It appears in different varieties, depending if a Jew's genealogy stems from Germany, Poland, Italy, Morocco or what-have-you.
Q. Why do Jews eat cholent?
A. Years ago back in the day there was a group of Jews known as the Karaites. They had a philosophical belief that the Oral Law was not divine, but that the Written Law was divine. Well, the Written Law states, "Do not burn a fire in your homes on Shabbat." The Oral Law explains: don't ignite it, but you can have it burning from before Shabbat. The Karaites observed Shabbat by sitting in a cold, dark home and eating cold food. The Jews that believed in the Oral Law developed a custom to eat a food, that had been simmering from before Shabbat to emphasize that according to the Oral Law, this is how God wants us to both observe and celebrate Shabbat (which are not the same thing, btw).
Q. What on earth does "cholent" mean?
A. Some say it comes from chaud ("hot") and lent ("slow"), expressing the point of cholent: that it be hot, and been cooking since Friday.
Q. What are some other things you can tell us about cholent??
- It's the ultimate comfort food. When I smell it, I am brought back in time to the many, many Shabbos meals I've experienced in my life. When I wake up Shabbos morning and smell it cooking, all seems right with the world. If Shabbos had a smell, it would be the cholent simmering away.
- Many conversations center around it: did it come out watery or more stew-like, spicy or savory, did my husband throw in some jalapeno sauce when no one was looking?
- "They say" the cholent depends on the guests... if the guest are good, the cholent will be good. I doubt this is true, but it makes for excellent conversation (when the guests compliment the cholent, that is).
- Babies LOVE it. It's mushy and savory. They can put the hungriest teenage boy to shame in a cholent-off.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
1. Professional bloggers, who blog about their industry: computers, law, crafting, running.
2. Personal bloggers: blogging about a personal journey such as marriage, conversion, raising a special needs child.
3. Sporadic bloggers, who occasionally muse on whatever. Nothing formal here.
4. Negative bloggers, who blog to spew, vent, and dis, expose, and stir up the pot.
I find this final category extremely disturbing.
I am by nature a positive person. I know there are negative things to be encountered in this world, and I avoid them like the plague. I hope I am like my grandmother, who was dealt a pretty rotten hand and has the warmest heart full of faith. (Not the rotten hand part.) I associate with wholesome people and look for the good whenever possible. Not because I'm special, but just because that's my orientation.
But now that I've become a part of the blogosphere, I am encountering that negativity. People whose every online encounter is loaded with negativity. Ewww! I'm allergic. It almost makes me want a divorce from the blogosphere. It's disturbing. It haunts me. I can't sleep at night.
What to do?
I am 18 and studying in seminary in Israel. I have never had a boyfriend. It is Friday during the holiday of Passover (Pesach) and I am at my aunt's house. I call my parents to wish them a good Shabbos, and my mother asks me if I am sitting down. I sit, then say yes.
Mom: Someone approached me to ask if you would be interesting in dating while in Israel.
Mom: It seems the Koval boy is in yeshiva in Israel right now and was suggested for you.
Me: But-but I'm still in seminary.
Mom: Why don't you think about it?
Most Orthodox girls "start dating" for marriage when they return from their year/s in Israel. Unless she's not ready, a girl's parents will start fielding suggestions from friends or relatives who "know someone" - ie, their neighbor, cousin, nephew. My case was unusual because the guy was my neighbor and our parents were friends, so his mother basically suggested the idea to my mother, whereas typically a middle-man or woman is involved to minimize the awkwardness if one party is disinterested. These are not "arranged marriages" - the dates are arranged, and not dissimilar from a classic blind date, and the marriage itself must be entirely consensual after getting to know one another. Parents typically do a rather thorough background check, talking to neighbors, relatives, teachers, roommates.
I'm not ready for this. This is so exciting! I'm not ready for this. How cool is this! Am I ready for this? The Kovals are really special people. Are you ever truly ready for this?
April, 1993. Jerusalem.
The holiday is over. I call my mother.
Me: So, what's going on with the Koval situation?
Mom: Well, they are definitely interested.
Me: But I can't go out while in seminary. That's too weird. And everyone in the dorm will know! I think we should wait till after finals.
Seminary is a time to focus on spiritual growth and textual knowledge. I wanted to close one chapter before opening another. It helped that seminary offered philosophical lectures and practical advice on dating and marriage, and I wanted to get that all in before I got started with the dating bit. Also, typically the dating process is very private. The guy and the girl don't share with friends whom they are dating. This is for two reasons: one, to protect the couple from awkward explanations and gossip in the event it doesn't work out, and two, as the Talmud states: Blessing only rests on that which is hidden from the eye. Put differently, if you've got it, don't flaunt it, or you risk losing it.
How will I borrow that killer outfit from my Belgian friend in the dorm without letting on that it's for a date?
June, 1993. Jerusalem.
The "Koval guy" pulls up in a taxi to my aunt and uncle's apartment in Jerusalem to pick me up. He knocks, comes in, and sits at the table that is set with refreshments no one will touch. We chat, and leave. All according to script. He speaks Israeli Hebrew to the cabbie and is very, very, nice.
After the date I return to my aunt and uncle's apartment. I am happy. We went to a lounge and chatted for a few hours, then took a walk in a park. It was a good date. He's very nice. I'm willing to go out again. My aunt and uncle are the "shadchanim" - matchmakers or middlemen, but that's a lousy definition - meaning they mediate after each date. It is de rigueur for both boy and girl to get back to the shadchan within 24 hours. He does and also had a nice time. The second date is handled through the mediators and is set for a few days hence.
The purpose of Torah dating is for marriage - no delusions there. There is absolutely no touching before marriage, so the dates are spent chatting and in casual activities like touring, playing games, or eating out. The subsequent dates are either arranged via the shadchan, or by the couple themselves over the phone once they become more comfortable.
He's so nice! Could I marry this guy? Wait. I don't need to know if I want to marry him. I just need to know if I want to go out again. I do. That Israeli accent was pretty impressive.
End of June, 1993. New York.
We've gone out 4 times in Israel. Our dates have included a safari trip, an air hockey stint, a pizza date, and the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. He's really, really, really nice. I respect his values and his opinions. I am truly impressed with how he treats the waitress, the toll booth guy, and the parking attendant. He is thoughtful of my schedule and respectful of Torah leaders. I like that he's also normal. Very spiritual, but likes to have fun too. Great family. He obviously thinks this is going places, because he left his yeshiva mid-semester in Israel to continue dating. Our next date is to meet his parents, which is hilarious, because I totally know them from the block. But OK, to spend some time chatting. As a potential daughter-in-law. We meet in Central Park, then head over to a restaurant for dinner. Future FIL jokes about my boyfriend ordering garlic spaghetti. I blush. FIL is sweet. My parents are very supportive and talk me through the whole process. At this point we do blood tests to rule out Tay-Sachs incompatibility.
If all continues to progress, the sixth or seventh date will be proposal time. If either party feels they need more time, or are unsure if this is it, the shadchan will be notified and will relay this info to the other party with as much tact as possible. Ideal shadchanim are kind, thoughtful, tactful, reachable, and responsible.
If he would propose today, I would say yes. I feel that I know everything that I need to know. I feel confident that I making this decision with my head and not just my heart. Thank you, Hashem (God)! I am so grateful! Thank you for sending me such an amazing guy, with no effort on my part! You are so good to me. May this be good, may this be right, may I only know happiness. And if it's not right for me, won't you kindly alert me soon?
July, 1993. NY/Cleveland.
Three dates later, he proposes at Medici's in Manhattan. I am glowing, I am ecstatic, I can't believe it. We have to keep it a secret because his grandparents are on a cruise and we don't want to announce it without them here. We'll tell hand-picked family members only. My grandparents have tears in their eyes. They love him. I am popping with joy. A week later, we arrive in Cleveland, announce our engagement, and schedule a vort (engagement party), which the entire city attends. Delighted comments range from "I had no idea!" to "I should've thought of this one!" to "I thought of this idea, but you were in Israel/I didn't think you were dating yet/you guys beat me to it" to "Mazel tov! May you build a wonderful Jewish home!" It's wonderful and my cheeks ache from smiling. We set the wedding date for three months hence - October 18.
No touching = short engagements. Can't say the David's Bridal peeps were too keen on this. ("October 1994?" "No, October 1993." "OCTOBER 1993?? That's very soon, ma'am.") However, all the Ortho-folk involved in this shindig are totally used to this (the caterer, the Italian hall owners, musicians, photographers, and flower people).
I'm so excited! I'm so lucky! This is serious. I have to start learning about marriage. I'm so excited!
August-September 1993. Cleveland.
We arrange for a local Jewish rebbetzin to teach me about a Jewish marriage. This includes all the mikveh laws. I read lots of books and take classes on communication, the holiness of marriage, and the spirituality in building a family. I feel very entrusted with millennia of sacred texts and learning. The "Koval guy" has returned to Israel to continue yeshiva study, much to my chagrin and pride. We talk once a week on the phone as he stands on his friend's balcony in Israel with a cordless. It's noisy and hard to hear him. It has to suffice. I am so happy knowing that he, too, is taking many classes on marriage and how to be a good husband. I pray a lot, in gratitude and supplication for our future. I turn 19 in August and my birthday is celebrated with my fiance and his family, as well as mine.
This is crazy! Is this me?? Getting married?? Am I playing house? Hashem, please let this be good. Please let me deserve this. Please let me know how to be a good wife and him to be a good husband. Let us be healthy and happy and build a wonderful family together, kind, spiritual, loving. This is crazy!
October 18, 1993. La Malfa, Mentor, Ohio.
Marty La Malfa joins hundreds of guests in our special day!
And... how did you meet?
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
I, however, have resisted joining even Costco till last year. I hate driving a mini-van. I will not buy things that are designed for dorms, even if they work well for us.
We are a family, not an institution. Specifically:
I do my basic grocery shopping at Marc's, our local budget-friendly grocery that never actually has everything you need (actually my teenage daughter usually does it), augmented by quick fill-ups at Heinen's - our standard garden-variety supermarket. Costco usually happens every couple of weeks. I can't buy produce there regularly since we can't finish it all before it goes bad. It's good for non-perishables like diapers, paper towels and the like, but sometimes I get lazy and just go to Target, which is so much more fun anyhow. I keep track of what we need via an app on my phone. Once or twice a week we hit the kosher butcher for dinner and Shabbos supplies, and to supply other "Jewish" food items. The kosher grocery is a job my husband handles, since he's in the 'hood every day, and I'm not. Usually only need that trip once a week or so.
We have a disgustingly boring Toyota Sienna mini-van. It's gold. I hate gold cars. My husband thought it was my favorite car color, so he surprised me. It seats 8. Yes. I have 9 people in my family, including a car seat and booster, but when do we ever all go somewhere simultaneously? My son is away at school, so if anything it would be the 8 of us, but when he's home we take both cars - a similarly boring Toyota Camry. Honestly, I couldn't care less about the status of the car I drive, but the mini-van genre to me is so fuddy-duddy middle aged.... *sigh*. Shockingly, this still bothers me every time I drive it. I am fanatical about keeping it clean, as though to keep the demons at bay ("She's let herself go...just look at the car..."). Thank you, Alpaul Auto Wash.
No, it's not mess hall. We have a regular dining room and a regular table. When we have company for Shabbos, we usually bring in an extra table and have the kids sit there, who usually spend a grand total of 2.4 seconds at the table before heading outside to the trampoline. I have dishes for 16 - a wedding gift from my awesome grandparents. Beyond that we are using disposables. And often well before. If we have more than two families at a time, this is deemed in my mind an "event" and I hire help.
My kids do laundry. OK, pick your jaw up off the floor. If a 16-year-old can operate a motor vehicle, can she not operate a washing machine? Each child over bar or bat mitzvah is responsible to wash, dry, fold, put away, sort and otherwise manage her own laundry. When my son comes home from yeshiva, I do it for him as a special treat. I have cleaning help that folds the rest of the household laundry and irons.
I've hopefully taught my kids one of the golden rules of Jewish shopping: Be Allergic to Retail. My grandmother taught me this well (traveling from Queens to Manhattan on a regular basis to pursue this goal) and my father-in-law reinforced it. We also have a pretty decent hand-me-down system going. If I feel my kids need less than they think, they have the option to buy with their own babysitting money. I used to feel very strained by the errands involved in this until my daughter got her license. I now feel like a got a "get out of jail free" pass - yay! My husband and I are super-low-maintenance when it comes to clothing. We all splurge on the baby - girls are just too much fun.
Growing up Orthodox, I never realized that there were parents whose discretionary time was nearly entirely consumed by their kids' after-school activities. Parents sat through play rehearsals? Soccer was a full-time job? This was completely foreign to me. Sure, as a kid I played piano, acted, wrote, and did public speaking, but none of these activities involved my parents aside from paying for it and transporting me there. There were siblings and jobs and dinner, and I had absolutely no expectation that my mother would sit through a play rehearsal. Now, why should she want to do that? She would see the real thing. It would be a surprise. So when I found people asking me how I managed my kids' activities, at first I wasn't quite sure what the question was. Now I do, and here's the answer. Extra-curricular activities in large Orthodox families look like this: one kids takes drum lessons. Mom drops off and picks up. One kid is in the school play. Stays after and carpools home. Involves 2-3 months a year. Sports are usually casual and take place in the driveway or backyard. Kids occasionally get a gym or lawn to play something slightly more formal. Again, we carpool. With budgets and time constraints, no family schedule is working around any one kid's activity. Should I feel guilty about this? Well, I don't, so I hope that's OK.
EXTENDED FAMILY MEMBERS
I have two categories of extended family: those that are wired, and those that are not. By "wired" I mean Facebook, texting, email. I keep up with my wired family members, and only speak on the phone occasionally to my non-wired family members. I mean, it's not like there are awkward silences or anything - it's like riding a bike - but I have very little phone time. We forgive each other and laugh about it and catch up when we catch up. Again, should I feel guilty about this? Well, I don't, because it works for me and my family and we all know we love each other and would drop anything for one another in a pinch.
And that's how I run my family like a family... and not an institution!
But somehow, I just can't shake that Costco membership.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Monday, September 5, 2011
How does it feel when our kids fight? We raise them; we give them everything we've got. We give them our sleep, our food, our best decades. We give them our money and our time and our brain cells and our non-gray hair.
And they fight.
They fight for the dumbest reasons. They fight out of boredom, for attention, or for competition. They fight out of anger, jealousy, and for no reason whatsoever. They fight because they feel that it is safe to fight with one another, as opposed to outsiders. They fight because they don't dream that they are wrong.
And so, they fight.
And when they fight, we crumple.
Us adults, with our psycho-savvy, and with our dual degrees, and with various self-help books memorized in part, crumple. Admit it, parents: it brings you to your knees.
Nothing feels worse than our children, flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, carrying our very DNA, not to mention each other's, turning against one another.
If God is our Father, and we are His children, why, oh why, do we do it... to each other?
When will the madness end?
1. If "Orthodox" is Offensive, What About "Non-Orthodox"?
3. Newsflash: We are more alike than different
4. Judgmental is Not a Religion, It's a Personality Defect
5. The "O" Word
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Hi dearest readers,
Firstly allow me to say thank you for reading my blog and for all your positive feedback.
Secondly, I need your help. I'd like to do a series on "What would you like Orthodox Jews to know about you?" and "What would you like non-Orthodox Jews to know about you?"
Can you submit any tidbits?
If so please either post below, or email me at Ruchi@jewishfamilyexperience.org.
Shavua tov! Gut voch!
Friday, September 2, 2011
So for the benefit of all my readers, here goes:
*Note: the quotation marks are an approximation of two small lines that appear in the Hebrew abbreviations, similar to the apostrophe used for a contraction in English. The difference is that these abbreviations are not really contractions OR abbreviations, but rather acronyms. However, in Facebook and textese, the quote marks are generally dropped. What, you find that confusing?
It stands for:
Baruch dayan emes, which means "Blessed is the true judge" in Hebrew.
This phrase is used when you've heard that someone has passed away. The following Facebook post, for example: "So sorry to hear about your grandpa! BDE! How are you guys doing??"
When you are in the know, you will know exactly what happened to Grandpa and not be stuck posting things like: "???" "What happened??" "Does he need help?"
Judaism teaches that we must bless God for the bad as well as the good. Quintessential bad news is that someone has died; therefore the custom has arisen to bless God, as the true Judge, even when the news is truly lousy.
2. BSH"T or BSHT"UM or some such combo
It stands for:
B'shaah tova, which is Hebrew for "may it be in a good [fortunate] moment," or "Bshaah tova u'mutzlachas/t" which means "may it be in a good and successful moment."
This phrase is used when you hear that someone is pregnant, or when they tell you they are. NOTE: Not when you see someone and think they're pregnant. Just ignore that thought right off the bat. Example:
Text - hey do u know any birthing coaches im like due any day
Reply - seriously!!! bsht! I had no clue!
Most people think you wish "Mazel tov" here but that is actually an error. Mazel tov is said when the baby is born - the notion here is that we, ah, don't count our chickens before they hatch. Put another way, it's considered presumptious to just assume that everything will be fine - so we wish that when the good news does, actually happen - it should be just the right time, not too soon and not too late.
3. B"H, IY"H, B"N - see #1, 2, 3 respectively here.
It stands for:
B'siyata d'shmaya, which is Aramaic (oh yeah, I forgot to mention there is a third language to contend with here...) for "with the help of Heaven."
This phrase is used in abbreviated form in either Hebrew or English letters at the top of a page to indicate that the work or planning that went into whatever is written on the paper was done with God's help; or it's used conversationally, indicating that God's help is needed in our lives.
Example: "The whole renovation was literally b'siyata d'shmaya - every time I needed to pick something out, I found it on sale somewhere!"
Judaism teaches that we need God's help for success in any endeavor. This phrase reminds us and others that we don't take credit for our achievements - God's help was and is key.
I KNOW THESE DO NOT LOOK LIKE SYNONYMS.
They don't even look remotely related. Yet they all refer to roughly the same thing.
It stands for:
ZT"L: Zecher tzaddik l'vracha - Hebrew for "may the righteous one be remembered for a blessing." Used more when referencing a known scholar or Torah sage.
OBM - Of blessed memory. That was an easy one.
A"H: Alav (or aleha) hashalom - Hebrew for "may peace rest upon him/her" - you got it, it's what we say when referencing someone that has passed away.
This phrase is used both in speech and writing. You may notice the ubiquitous OBM on a yahrtzeit plaque, whereas ZTL or AH would appear in a publication more geared for the Hebrew-and-Yiddish-familiar-public. Example: can't believe today is my grandpa's ah yarhtzeit already... miss him so much!!!
Judaism teaches that a person who passes away does not disappear - his/her memory brings blessings to the world. Also, his/her soul, we pray, finds peace in the world to come. Yes, Judaism believes in heaven and hell - another talk for another day.
It stands for:
Frum from birth. "Frum" is a Yiddish word that is synonymous with religiously observant, or Orthodox.
This phrase is used identify oneself as having grown up Orthodox one's whole life, as opposed to BT - see #7.
Not so much significance here, other than eating your pasta with ketchup instead of marinara and drinking seltzer and having pizza with fries (I'm learning). Also talking like a New Yorker even if you're not one, and bungling various prepositions due to your ancestors having spoken Yiddish as their first language.
It stands for:
Baal teshuva, or baalas/t teshuva. This literally means "master of return" - returning to one's authentic self, or to the ways of one's ancestors. It refers to someone who becomes observant in their adult life.
"Hey - are you FFB or BT?"
Note: some people don't mind being organized this way, and some do. If you find that people are vague while you're trying to play Jewish geography, keep this in mind. Some people find their background and history cool, and some would rather bury some of the memories. Tread carefully.
Judaism teaches that people who make significant changes in their lives in order to reach a deeper spiritual place, will merit unprecedented reward. I find that kind of cool. I get no credit for bypassing McDonald's, but someone who still craves it, gets lots.
That having been said, I'll wish you all a lovely Shabbat... ttyl, ffb's, bt's, and jig (jews in general)!