Thursday, January 31, 2013

Coming Home.

This little baby blog was conceived from nail polish, of all things. After OPI launched its Germany collection last year, I started brainstorming color names with a Jewish theme (see post Nailing It), and it seemed like a good enough excuse to kick off the blog I'd been thinking about. I wanted a space to write about Jewish life, but I honestly didn't expect it to resonate with so many people. It has been an honor to receive positive feedback from Jewish women whom I very much look up to, and to write for their blogs. I have loved hearing from Jews of all walks of life and all around the world. Some of you seem pretty intent on turning this blog into Kallah Back Girl; is there any greater compliment in the Jewish world? I love it. And of course, I have a very special place in my heart for the converts who reach out to me.

One question which I've been asked more than a few times in one form or another is: How did I know that I could take on Judaism? And I try to explain, as best I can, that although I am called a Jew-by-choice, at the end of the day, there wasn't a choice. When I found Judaism, it felt like coming home in every part of my being. To turn away from it would have been unnatural and painful, and I would have felt downright homesick for the rest of my life. But it's also not just about me. As I recently explained to one prospective convert, I approached my conversion just as I have ever treated a job interview. Sure, I may want the position and the salary, but I also know that I'm going to be a great asset for the company. I never promise to be a perfect employee; that would be unrealistic. What makes me valuable is my determination to learn and grow from each mistake that I inevitably make. And so it is with Judaism.

Every person is different. Even as a convert, I can't tell anyone else how to do it and if they should go through with it, nor am I trying to. But I am also very aware of the current attitude toward converts in the Orthodox world (and some Conservative circles); how most Rabbis will highly recommend sticking with the seven Noachide laws without any consideration of the damage to the person or to the Jewish people. Because that is the reality of the risk: if a person has a Jewish soul and is too rigorously dissuaded from converting, there is a loss on both sides.

So how do you know? All I can offer here is my own experience. Shabbat was the turning point for me in deciding to convert, and it was also my returning point. After I had parted ways with my first Rabbi, I began to doubt myself and the path I had been on for the last six months. I stopped communicating with my Jewish friends, and when my non-Jewish friends invited me to meet them at a club one Friday night, I went. I'd been out on numerous Fridays pre-Judaism, so why did this one feel so different? Not once during all of the Shabbats I'd stayed in, did I wonder what I was missing at the clubs. Sitting at the table with my friends, I felt the palpable and painful absence of Shabbat.

My advice to anyone having doubts is to test yourself. You're not Jewish yet, so go break Shabbat. Eat a cheeseburger. With bacon. None of those things are prohibited by the Noachide laws. Have a taste of the life you would have without Judaism and see how it feels. The world needs all the good people it can get, so if you choose to be a righteous Gentile, I applaud you. But if, like me, forgoing the mitzvot leaves you wanting to be a Jew more than ever, then listen up: Don't let anyone make you settle for anything else. Don't ever give up. Do whatever you have to do to, as they say, get back to where you once belonged. Welcome home.

“The Holy One exiled Israel among the nations only in order that proselytes might be multiplied among them.” - Rabbi Eliezer (Pesachin 87b)

Shabbat Shalom,

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thoughts on Nechemya Weberman.

The recent hype surrounding the Nechemya Weberman trial brought to light a term that I had certainly never come across in my conversion studies: Mesirah, the Rabbinic prohibition against informing on a fellow Jew to non-Jewish authorities that will likely result in excessive punishment. A brief overview of Jewish history puts this ban in its proper context; if another Jew stole from you, would you report it to a Roman or a Russian, or would you let the Rabbis handle it? In the present-day United States, with a judicial system built largely on Jewish principles, it gets more difficult to justify hushing up illegal activity, particularly when the victims are a community's most vulnerable members.

One of the many revolutionary ideas that the birth of Judaism introduced is the concept of linear time. The surrounding polytheistic cultures based their beliefs off of nature, which included time. History, they conjectured, must go in cycles, just as seasons do. This belief represented not only a limited understanding, but a limiting one; why seek to improve anything if everything will just stay the same anyway? I'd even be so bold as to argue that the progresses of cultures which stemmed from Judaism (the Christian West, the Islamic East) paid tribute to time in continuous form, especially in comparison to the stagnant state of the pagan Native Americans. Most of the modern world references Common Era and Before Common Era, a year zero designated by the birth of a Jewish man. Before then, a calendar depended on whichever part of the world you were in and ruler you were under, as emperors, pharaohs, and kings liked to hit the reset button once they came to the throne.

So why do some Jewish communities insist upon acting as though no progress has been made, as though they are still stuck in the shtetl and the next pogrom could come at any moment? On an individual or collective level, to dwell on the past to an extent that it prevents you from moving forward is a tragedy. And we absolutely must acknowledge that a society which espouses certain Jewish values and ethics, e.g. punishing murderers, protecting animals against cruelty, and awarding monetary damages for injuries sustained, is one in which we should fully participate, not shun.

The second issue I'd like to address is that of Chillul Hashem, a term that was thrown around to decry the embarrassing spotlight that had landed on Orthodox Jews. Such complaining only reminds me of Lindsay Lohan or Kanye West: Why won't the goyim let us be great? Judaism holds that major advancement in technology is a step toward the Messianic Age, but right now we are in the Age of Information. To that end, anything that can be made public will be made public, and it turns out Hashem wouldn't have it any other way. As the Talmud states, "Rabbi Yochanan ben (son of) Beroka said, 'Whoever desecrates the Name of Heaven in secret will be paid back in public.'" The much revered Rashi took it a step further and claimed that G-d delivers punishment in such a way that makes evident the desecration committed in private.

The Jews have undoubtedly been victims of persecution since the beginning of, well, time as we introduced it. But if we make "Jews are always victims" the official party line, not only do we misrepresent Judaism and G-d by refusing to take responsibility for our actions (and what, pray tell, is the point of the mitzvot except to own up to our deeds), but we act as though G-d does not exist. As a Jew, I don't believe in coincidences. I know that life is a constant dance between the gift of free will and G-d's omnipotence, and I trust that His Will is always carried out, one way or another. Nechemya Weberman had the opportunity as a Rabbi to bring more light into the world and to make G-d's presence apparent, but he instead chose to commit a heinous act. As the above passage from the Talmud makes clear, the very public trial was not a shanda but a humbling reminder that there is no hiding from G-d. May we, the Jews, the people whose continued existence defies all rational explanation and can only be attributed to the Divine Hand, always remember it.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Undercover Jew.

As a convert, I don't have a name that is recognizably Jewish. And there is a teensy-tiny part of me that is very aware of this, because I don't always demonstrate the same patience on the phone as I would force myself to do in person, when my Hebrew necklace (which always gets attention) is on full display. It's not exactly a Chillul Hashem, but as Cyrus Rose would say, it's also "Not enough!"

Representing the Jewish people well is important, but no more so than treating every human being with kindness and respect, whether I'm face to face with them or not. I am reminded of the show Undercover Boss (is that still on?), in which higher-ups perform jobs at the bottom of the totem pole within their own companies. More often than not, the employees are outstanding and it's the bosses who have to try to keep up. But from time to time, the bigwig is witness to behavior that would never fly if his/her real identity was revealed.

It would serve me well to remember that though I am technically able to fly under the radar, Jewishly speaking, the Big Boss is always watching. From the moment I was born, I was given a job to do, which entails making this world better. When I chose to convert to Judaism, I voluntarily took on a position with more responsibility. So it doesn't matter if I'm tired, or hungry, or how many times I have to explain what I'd like to order; I need to step up and do my job well. And in the spirit of middah k'neged middah, I'm pretty sure I have the last name Goldenfarbfeldstein coming to me. Oh boy.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Let's Have a Little Style Moment.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Prabal Gurung for a magazine piece in early 2010. I had loved his first presentation and knew he was going to be huge, but what really won me over was how kind and down-to-earth he was. So I am all too happy to present here some of his upcoming collection for Target, which includes several very tznius-friendly looks. Since the beginning, Prabal has said his muse is the "thinking man's sex symbol," AKA the Jewish woman, if you ask me. And look, he even gave the model Shabbos hair. Look for the collection in stores and at on February 10th.

Happy Shopping!

Thinking Outside of the Box.

A couple of Sundays ago, I awoke to an email from a woman named Ruchi, which said that she had come across my blog and shared my post Label: Love on her facebook page. Sometimes I still pinch myself in happy disbelief that I really and truly made it: I'm a Jew now. So I can't even tell you how much it means to me every time I receive positive feedback about this site. Ruchi and I became fast friends, and we agree that the Internet is a beautiful way to bring Jews of all backgrounds together for discussions, for support, and for a reminder that we're all in this together. Considering that Ruchi's blog Out of the Ortho Box is one of my favorites, I was honored when she asked me to write a guest post and share the story of how and why I became Jewish. Please check it out and join in the discussion, and be sure to subscribe for some inspiration on the regular!


Saturday, January 12, 2013


Recently, I watched an episode of Sofia the First with my eighteen-month-old niece (who is the cutest, smartest, funniest, most stubborn kid on the planet). Now, I will freely confess that I ended up setting down my biography of Catherine the Great (which is amazing) and paying attention to the show. What? I'm a sucker for Disney.

In this particular episode, Sofia was throwing her first royal slumber party with the help of her stepsister, Amber. Some other princesses from nearby kingdoms were invited, but so were Sofia's non-royal friends from the village, much to Amber's dismay. As you can imagine, there was some tension between the two groups from the start. Most of the princesses, Amber included, were looking down their royal noses at the intruders who were refusing to follow royal protocol and at least act like the princesses they so obviously weren't. Poor Sofia was stuck in the middle! On one hand, she loved her friends from her pre-royal life. But she was also embarrassed by how they looked to the princesses, and she couldn't help wishing they would talk less and not laugh so loudly, as was befitting royal company.

My niece and I were on the edge of our seats. Actually, she had a box of yogurt-covered raisins and seemed pretty detached from the outcome. Cue Sofia's mom to come in and help her daughter sort it out. The new queen gently explained that princess behavior wasn't all about protocol or acting aloof and dignified, but kindness and friendship. Hmmm sound familiar?

The term "Jewish Princess" gets thrown around a lot in one form or another. Some say JAP, others, "bas melech," but both can be incredibly narrow and restrictive definitions of Jewish women if used in the wrong sense. Being a Jewish "princess" isn't about marrying a doctor or carrying a Louis Vuitton bag, but nor is it reduced to covering collarbone, elbows, and knees. I know this because like Sofia, I'm new to the fold, except I've had the privilege of observing true royal behavior from many of my Jewish sisters. These women exemplify the warmth, love, and light that Judaism is all about, and I am constantly taking notes. It is thanks to them and with their representation in mind that I'm really proud to be a JAP every day.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Label: Love, Part Deux.

I recently discussed avoiding labels in an attempt to promote unity and inclusiveness among my fellow Jews. While I had an Orthodox conversion and I do strive toward complete observance, I felt the need to shed that classification because I didn't want any non-Orthodox Jew to presume I thought I was better than them (I do not and am not), and also to free myself from the constant speculation on how Orthodox I was acting that is, sadly, part and parcel of being a convert.

That decision reminded me of a previous choice to discard other labels: namely of the designer distinction. My first well-paying job in my early twenties coincided nicely (or not) with the logomania of the 00's, and like many women, I was a sucker for it. I was too young and inexperienced to appreciate quality; I just wanted status symbols. But several years of climbing toward maturity and an economic crisis later, and I found myself thinking quite differently.

Today, I carry a bag that is logo-less (and by a Jewish woman, big ups). Only someone familiar with the designer will recognize it, though even if they are not, they'll often compliment it, then ask for the details. I've realized that this is exactly the kind of Jewish life I want to achieve. Rather than relying on labels to define who I am, I want people to either recognize Judaism in my actions, or to just think I'm a nice person based on what they see, and then discover that I'm Jewish upon closer inspection. G-d is the original Designer after all, and I hope to get better with every season.