Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pesach Playlist

Because any good journey needs a soundtrack. Put it on shuffle and shake off your shackles.


Freedom! '90, George Michael

Now We Are Free, Jenny Jordan Frogley

To Zion, Lauryn Hill

Think (Freedom), Aretha Franklin

Free Your Mind, En Vogue

Dog Days Are Over, Florence + The Machine

A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

Freedom Train, Lenny Kravitz

Time To Move On, Tom Petty

Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd


xo cbg

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dayenu

Thy Juliet is alive,
For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead;
There art thou happy; Tybalt would kill thee,
But thou slew'st Tybalt; there are thou happy too;
The law that threaten'd death becomes thy friend
And turns it to exile; there art thou happy;
A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;
Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,
Thou pout'st upon thy fortune and thy love:
Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.


The above admonishment is given by Friar Laurence to Leonardo DiCaprio Romeo in Shakespeare's most well-known tragedy. We really could have used the wise Friar when the Israelites were grumbling about melons and leeks: Thy Lord hast brought thee out of slavery; there art thou happy. Fortunately for us, when we revisit the story of the Exodus each year, we know we're in for a happier ending than Romeo and the object of his affections. And to be fair to our ancestors in the desert, it's always easier to be grateful in retrospect. Knowing everything that came after the journey out of Egypt, we have a perspective found in Dayenu: Each blessing, each miracle, would have been enough for us.

The truth is, we all have our melons and leeks: Things we are so preoccupied with that we lose sight of the bigger and more important blessings we already have. Jewish tradition tells us that G-d creates the world anew in every moment, meaning, every blessing a person has is not given just once; it is given again and again and again. What better time than the month of rebirth to take inventory of all we have received--as individuals and as a people--and see that it is enough.

Chag Kosher V'Sameach!

xo cbg

Thursday, March 27, 2014

On the Charedi Draft

I have never wished I'd found Judaism earlier for reasons of dating or marriage. But one occasion did make me regret converting at the ripe old age of 32: When rockets were raining down on Israel in late 2012, I contacted an organization that coordinates volunteer IDF service for American Jews. I was years past the cut-off age for women, but I was convinced I could make my case to be the exception to the rule, especially at such a dire time. Trust me, I know this is somewhat laughable. I pretty much left the womb in heels and makeup. Staying in a cabin with my family in the fall and showering with well water is my version of roughing it. But I am strong. A big part of this is thanks to my mom, from whom I learned a very "can-do" approach after my parents divorced. I also believe that every person has a deep "in case of emergency" reservoir of strength they can draw from when they need to.

So while I knew I was an unlikely candidate, I had to try. I couldn't stand to do nothing, not after everything Judaism had given me. I'm aware that I will probably (and unfortunately) see many more such conflicts in my beloved Holy Land in my lifetime, but since this particular one was the first I'd experienced since deciding to convert--and just months after my JDay--the pain, guilt, and helplessness I was feeling was brand new.

This isn't Charedi-bashing. I know and know of far too many amazing Ultra-Orthodox Jews to make any sweeping negative generalizations. Rather, it is very difficult for me to understand just why they would refuse to defend our beautiful country, as so many righteous Jews have done before. Beyond these feelings, though, I have to admit I'm a bit out of my depth on the topic, so I leave it to a knowledgeable Rabbi to make a very compelling argument (as shared by my Rabbi on his blog).

Shalom al Yisrael.

cbg

Monday, March 17, 2014

On Banning Bossy


It was my sister who first brought the "Ban Bossy" campaign to my attention, when we were discussing our niece and her, uh, leadership tendencies, if a two-year-old shouting, "No! You do it!" can be described as a leader.

Since then, I've watched the video and read various posts on it, and I've been mulling over why it doesn't sit quite right with me. Initially I thought my knee-jerk eye roll was due to yet another "Treat girls like boys" sentiment. But the truth is that I don't have my own children and I haven't observed enough children of both genders to know if their respective bossiness is indeed handled differently. Sheryl Sandberg, who is spearheading the movement, has apparently been keeping up her data analysis at the playground while I'm racing my niece to the slide. And that, I suppose, is why Sheryl is the COO of Facebook and I am a person who wastes time on Facebook. I thought it only fair to dig deeper and ask myself if she was on to something.

Here is what I know: The same sister I mentioned above has many childhood memories of being shoved into a costume and made to play a supporting role of my choosing. When my parents told me I was being too bossy, they weren't trying to stifle my ambitions. In fact, they got me involved in theatre programs at a young age and always encouraged my talents. But they also placed great emphasis on being kind and fair to others; what they wanted to discourage was my propensity for treating my friends like props and disregarding their ideas. If I was emulating a leader, it was of the dictator variety. (I never saw them treat my brother differently, mostly because he is the youngest and never stood a chance at being bossy.)

I've realized that what ultimately bothers me about "Ban Bossy" is its oversimplification of the issue. True leaders create other leaders. They accept feedback, trade ideas, and seek out talent to enhance the team. So perhaps some parents are quicker to notice unkind behavior in their daughters than in their sons. And yes, some men have built their careers on getting others to do their bidding. Rather than want girls to grow up to do the same, don't we owe it to all children to teach them a bigger lesson? I don't have an alliterative catchphrase, but I think we can do better than boycotting a word. By all means, intervene when you witness bossiness in your sons and daughters, and instead teach them real leadership values that will not only be good for their career, but also for the world.

xo cbg

Monday, March 10, 2014

Step Up Your Mishloach Manot Game


Let's be honest: A person's tastebuds and intestines can only take so much apricot. Aish has some great recipes for unconventional hamantaschen, including a candy-lover's dream come true. While we know the mitzvah is performed by sending at least two different food or drink items, that doesn't mean you can't include other fun things to make a memorable gift.

Beauty Booty If you're a beauty junkie like me, you're sitting on a ton of free samples collected over several trips to Sephora. (Fun Fact: Sephora gets part of its name from Moses' wife Zipporah, who is reputed to have been quite the looker.) I don't know why women love getting a tiny packet of moisturizer, but we just do. Throw a few of these in a female friend's basket and make her day. This is also very fitting for Purim, since Esther's beauty won over the King and placed her in a position to save her people.

Modern Mixtape Growing up, my friends and I used to love making each other mixtapes. And if your crush made you one? SWOON. (I'm really dating myself here.) For the digital age, put together a playlist of songs for the gift recipient and pair it with an iTunes gift card.

The Babysitters Club Make up an IOU or two for a complimentary night of babysitting. For the parents who need a break (AKA every parent you know), this will be the gift that keeps on giving.

Flower Power After this winter, we could all use a pick-me-up from a few of Hashem's creations. Most florists have the little vases that look like test tubes that will make it easy to include beautiful blooms in your baskets.

Gluten-Free It seems that nearly everyone knows at least one person who can't/doesn't eat gluten. They may have to abstain from most traditional treats, but there are gluten-free candy options galore. Find a comprehensive list here. Most wines are also naturally gluten-free.

On that note, give wine or liquor a personal touch with a customized label.

Finally, I think it's worth reiterating that we give each other gifts on Purim to disprove Haman's assertion that there is discord and disunity among Jews. Perhaps this holiday is the perfect opportunity to make amends with someone? Take that, Haman.

Wishing you a joyous and beautiful Purim,
xo cbg

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

G-d and Gravity


I finally got around to watching Gravity last week, the last one on my list before the Oscars. I knew I was in for a stressful two hours, but I also warily anticipated an evolution-enthusiastic theme after reading this review with snippets from the director.

*Spoilers ahead*

As the credits rolled, however, I wondered if Alfonso Cuaron had been talking about the same movie I'd just seen. It was possibly the most religious film I've experienced since Tree of Life. Sandra Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone is quite literally the atheist in the foxhole. After a debris storm destroys her ship and kills off her comrades, she is left to either die alone in space, or to attempt reentry with equipment she is unfamiliar with. As she resigns herself to her bleak fate after yet another thing goes wrong, she confesses to a stranger that she has never prayed; no one ever taught her how to.

I suppose people will process a movie through the filter with which they view the world. I for one did not see Dr. Stone's triumph over adversity as symbolic of the creatures who emerged from the "primordial soup" to become beings that walked on two limbs. I witnessed a woman who was able to stand because she believed she had G-d behind her. And once she was relieved from fighting for her life, when she realized that she was grasping earth in her hand, she uttered aloud the prayer that should come most easily to any of our lips: Thank you.

Now, bring on Noah!

xo cbg

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Favorite Things about Being a Jew

In no particular order:

-Knowing that miracles happen

-Shabbos naps

-Israel

-The comfort food

-The parsha each week and all the layers of meaning

-Living life with purpose

-Getting inside jokes

-Kol Nidre

-Stories about great Rabbis

-Saying blessings over tree blossoms and thunderstorms

-Feeling quite small and quite significant at the same time

-Counting three stars in summer

-Jewish blogs

-Tehillim

-Caring about where my food comes from

-Everything that pushes me to be a better person than I am

-A sense of community wherever I go

-Knowing that I chose this


xo cbg

Friday, February 21, 2014

Eat, Pray, Love: Birthday Edition

It's my birthday! This morning, I woke up to the gift of...snow. Oh Hashem, you really shouldn't have. But no matter, I have a day full of massage, art, and French treats ahead of me. I like to think that I get my joie de vivre from being born in Adar, the days of joy.

Eat: Macarons are by far my favorite sweet indulgence. It's not just the taste, it's the texture that is so addicting. Each bite causes the airy light wafers to collapse and give way to a creamy and chewy center. MacarOn Cafe is a patisserie after my own heart, with a kosher certification and a special edition Queen Catherine de Medicis gift box. Legend has it the French consort brought the recipe with her from Italy. Perhaps if she'd focused more on the sweet and less on the revenge, she'd have a better reputation today.

Pray: Some excerpts from my birthday Tehillim: I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth... I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and saved me from all my fears... O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy is the man who trusts in Him... Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? 

Love: I would be honored if you would make a donation to Water for People to celebrate my birthday. In many developing countries, women and children walk up to six hours a day to obtain clean water, leaving them vulnerable to rape, kidnapping, and violence. Making water more accessible improves their lives tremendously and allows them time to make a living as well.

L'Chaim!

xo cbg

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Twice in One Week?

NY Times, you spoil us. Although some people don't like anything that even resembles criticism of Orthodoxy, I think Tova provides a very honest and unbiased perspective. Her recountal of the Rabbis' kindness and understanding is a Kiddush Hashem.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Water and Peace

This piece is great for two reasons. First, a pro-Israel op-ed in the Times? 'Nuff said. And for those who are familiar with the belief that water in Israel is a blessing from G-d, the innovative practices in the Holy Land and their potential for peace take on more significant meaning. It's a great read and refreshing perspective.

Also, I think the social media deprivation is setting in.

xo cbg

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Let's Talk about Love

I've always liked Natalie Portman. I thought Black Swan was brilliant, especially her performance. She once played one of my favorite historical figures. (Sidebar: this just rocked my world.) I started wearing Miss Dior again after her gorgeous ads for the fragrance came out. On that note, I loved how boldly she handled the John Galliano fiasco. And I can appreciate her approach to Judaism. Unlike some other Hollywood stars, Natalie doesn't try to reduce it to bagels and lox or a sprinkling of Yiddish, but openly discusses her love of Israel and her respect for how Judaism is done there (as compared to LA).

Yep, she married a non-Jew. A rather handsome professional ballet dancer with a French accent at that. In case you had any doubts as to Ms. Portman's commitment to her religion, the ceremony was Jewish, she named their son Aleph, and it was recently revealed that while she is filming her directorial debut in Israel, her husband is studying to convert to Judaism. This, mind you, is just before they move to Paris for his new position with the Ballet, when it is not an easy time to be Jewish in France.

I obviously can't speak to why Natalie fell for her husband or what made her move forward with a relationship with him. I also don't know whether she actually wears Miss Dior; I just know I love it on myself. This post isn't really about her, nor do I make huge life decisions based on what celebrities are doing. But I have always aimed to be completely honest on this blog, and I think it's time to admit that only dating Jewish has made me absolutely miserable.

I thought I was doing everything the right way. I didn't so much as browse JDate during my conversion process. I didn't think twice about spending the first two years of my thirties abstaining from dating and devoting myself to studying Judaism. And then, after I dried off from the mikvah and slapped some Essie on my naked nails, I realized I wasn't getting any younger and I contacted a shadchan.

I was so sold on the shidduch system, you have no idea. Finally, I thought, a man was going to appreciate me for who I am, instead of what I look like. I'd imagined having intimate conversations over tea with my matchmaker. She would get to know me as a friend and provide advice like a favorite aunt. I was not expecting to be barked at with a Long Island accent that would put Fran Drescher to shame. Who was I? How did I find her? Who was my Rabbi? How long had I been frum? I was blissfully unaware at the time, but I know all too well now: If you're a convert or BT, you are never, ever done proving yourself. The day school your great-grandchildren go to will reflect your sincerity (or for some, lack thereof) as a Jew.

I had no idea what a shidduch resume was, and she certainly had no time to tell me. I was instructed to call her when I was in New York so she would know I was serious. (Fun Fact: NYC is the center of the universe. You shouldn't even be Jewish if you don't live there.) I think I continued to hold my phone to my ear for a full minute while trying to process what had just happened.

But it got better. And by better, I mean better for a writer, because someday I'll look back on all this and laugh. Make no mistake, it got worse. I will provide here a handful of highlights. Picture them as a movie montage to that Fiddler on the Roof song, if you will. One shadchan dumped me because I was not interested in her first and only suggested match. If there is a nicer way to reject a gentleman than, "He seems lovely, but I'm just not feeling it, I'm sorry," I'm open to feedback. I gave up on shadchans and joined JWed. I was contacted by a bevy of Howies, Bennys, and Mendys, all of whom asked me if I would wear a sheitel before asking how my day was going. My profile, for the record, stated that I would, but I suppose they were determined to ascertain my actual commitment level. (See above.) I've had automated email responses that were warmer than JWed messages. I've had job interviews that were more personal than JWed dates. I moved on.

I began meeting Jewish men naturally, both through Jewish events and my increased Jewdar. I went through a phase of dating non-Orthodox Jewish men, thinking that I could inspire them into observance. They must have also presumed they could change my views, because this only resulted in me constantly being on the defense. I met a guy who wanted to identify himself as Orthodox but didn't keep kosher or Shabbat, yet told me he wouldn't have respected me if I didn't. (Again, see above.) Then he proceeded to look me up and down and explain why shomer negiah didn't matter. He never got a date. I had a brief relationship with an Israeli who spent more time at the gym than with me. I realized that we had nothing in common besides being Jewish.

And that brings me to the end of my kvetch-fest and to my ultimate point. In searching for love, it was easy to forget to love myself. I got caught up in trying to prove my sincerity. I bought into the mentality that only a man's Jewishness mattered, regardless of anything and possibly everything else I'd be compromising on. I subjected myself to treatment that I did not and do not deserve.

I have accepted that I'll probably never be considered "good enough" for a true blue FFB. But you know something, Benny? I kind of think that a grown man in his thirties should go by "Ben" or "Benjamin." I wish we could have had a real conversation instead of a one-sided interrogation. So the feeling is mutual, best of luck.

The same men who accuse me of being brainwashed by Orthodoxy have got it locked in their brains that the ban on pork was for sanitary reasons and refuse to consider any other explanations. I need to be with someone whose curiosity and passion for Judaism is never sated.

And of course, Jewish or not, I refuse to settle for someone who doesn't respect women or treat me well. Overall, I've reached the point similar to the one in my conversion journey, when I decided to stop just doing what was expected of me and hold out for what I wanted. Hey, it worked then. I found a Rabbi who was kind and patient. He and the Rabbis on my Beit Din made sure I knew what I was getting into, but they also trusted me to be a good Jew. Those were my standards when it came to converting. I'm so high-maintenance, I know.

I don't operate in extremes. I'm not saying I'll never date another Jewish man or that I'm off to join GoyimDate.com. I have always believed that converts come to Judaism in different ways. It so happens that I was introduced through a class, not a man, but I know a few very sincere converts who came to Judaism through a Jew. I'm aware of at least one cited in the Talmud as well.

It occurs to me that the commitment to Judaism and other important qualities I am seeking in a Jewish man, I may very well find in a non-Jewish one. Funnily enough, where Reform and Conservative Jews seek to correct me on my supposed overzealous practices, non-Jews couldn't be more supportive and enthusiastic. And who else could better understand my pop culture and Jewish references than a fellow convert who also balances both? Most importantly--and I really can't stress this enough--I love the idea of a man truly falling for the person I am and not seeing me as a checklist. I've had it once before. I believe with all my heart that I'll have it again.

From this point forward, I am open to all possibilities.

Shavua tov,
cbg

Friday, February 14, 2014

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love is a new post I'll be doing every Friday for a little last-minute inspiration and information before Shabbat kicks off. Eat will cover—wait for it—food, either a recipe or a kosher eatery. Because let's face it: As a single girl, sometimes cooking/baking is one part credit card, one part delivery. Pray will be a space for closer inspection of Jewish prayers to boost kavannah and/or prayer requests. By all means, send them in! Finally, Love will be about something I'm currently loving or a way to share love. There is room for both, n'est-ce pas?

Eat: I love this blog! Who else starts eating hamantaschen a month before Purim? This former shiksa right here does.

Pray: Please keep Naomi bat Rosalia in your prayers. Beautiful writing as always by my friend Ruchi.

Love: I don't celebrate Valentine's Day, but that doesn't stop me from buying rose-scented treats all day, er'ry day. I am obsessed with this hand cream. Not only does it give me an instant lift this time of year, but now my gloves smell amazing, too.

Good Shabbos!
xo cbg

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dear Feminist Rabbis

I think I'm pretty qualified to write this. One, I'm a woman. By the way, you will never, ever know what it is like to be a woman, no matter how many women you're surrounded by. And of course, you wouldn't try to tell me that you're in touch with your feminine side, because you subscribe to the secular notion that all masculine and feminine traits are subjective and simply programmed into us. I can only wonder what I've missed out on in life thanks to my gender-specific toys. They obviously negated my education and my parents' encouragement. What a waste all my writing is when I could be operating a crane right now! Or maybe the truth is that my siblings and I were taught to share all our toys, and we usually did, and I totally hijacked my brother's Legos only to build a house and focus on the Lego people's family life. And maybe, just maybe, it's because I have this inherent wisdom that the real building blocks of any society are families, not skyscrapers. For all the feminist tears shed over little girls playing Barbies, never was there a more submissive male than Ken. It was actually a relief to grow up and discover that my boyfriends would not wear more pink than me.

But I also have a perspective shaped from three decades in the non-Jewish world and all the feminist conditioning that came with it. I believe so strongly in Judaism's understanding of women precisely because I have seen and experienced firsthand the failings of feminism. Whether it's regarding sex, clothing, family, careers, and so on, feminism has not allowed women to fully come into their own as women but taught them to imitate men. This attitude has bled into the liberal Jewish movements and your corner of Modern Orthodoxy, which is why you think an empowered Jewish woman lays tefillin and becomes a Rabbi.

Do you have any idea how arrogant it is to dismiss the achievements of Jewish women over the last 3,500 years? You act as though we've simply been playing house, and now, finally, we have the opportunity to step into the roles created by men. You think you're enlightened, but you could not have it more backwards. When you attempt to argue against traditional roles, you are the one reducing my role to the color pink and housework, which only serves to prove that you do not understand the greatness of women.

You are here today because of all the Jewish women who have come before you. The women who defied Pharaoh's orders, who refused to participate in the sin of the Golden Calf, who knew which son should be blessed, who beheaded Holofernes, who took care of their families every day, and not for any title, not for any honor and glory, but purely for the continuity of the Jewish people.

It is interesting to me that the Rabbis who label themselves as feminists are the ones who think they need to speak for women. When I first entered the Orthodox world and had questions about women in Judaism, my very traditional Rabbi didn't even attempt to sway me. He simply said, "Talk to my wife. Talk to any Orthodox woman you want. See if they're unhappy." And believe me, I did. I spoke with women who stayed at home to raise their children and women who worked outside the home. However much or little work in the home they did, they all cherished their roles as wives and mothers and felt cherished in return. As much as you may want to paint the Orthodox world as oppressive toward women, it has never had a problem with women having careers. When opportunities opened up in the secular world, more Jewish women went to work along with non-Jewish women. What you fail to understand is the importance of a Jewish woman as the foundation of her family. It doesn't matter whether she is a lawyer, a doctor, or a stay-at-home mom, the center of Jewish life has always been and will always be the home. Not the synagogue. If a woman feels that she must play a prominent role in the synagogue in order to be honored and respected, that is a sign that the community is failing to honor its women. Men who only respect women who act like men can hardly be considered pro-woman.

Valuing the work of a woman who takes care of her family offers more choices for her, not fewer. Feminism, on the other hand, dismisses the contributions of any woman without a career. It proclaims that society is built on achievements, and women have got a lot of catching up to do. I once had a very feminist coworker tell me that being a stay-at-home mom was a waste of a life. Judaism is not trying to chain every woman in the kitchen, but feminism absolutely does tell women they only matter if they're in an office. This, I believe, is why feminism has such a branding problem today. As women marry and have children, they are realizing that a movement that fails to acknowledge what they feel and are willing to do as mothers does not necessarily have their best interests at heart.

So while we can agree that women having more opportunities in the secular realm is a good thing, your mistake is in thinking the same needs to happen in Judaism. This presumption is wrong on two fronts: First, we do not adjust Jewish beliefs according to the whims of the secular world. Our very refusal to do so (often led by women) has preserved Judaism from the giving of the Torah to the present day. As I said in my previous point on tefillin, we innovate, yes, but we do not imitate. Second, for all your praise of women, you seem reluctant to acknowledge that we are spiritually superior. We are the culmination of creation, Hashem's most complex work (and you wonder why you can't figure us out). Our ability to not only create life but sustain it allows us to naturally emulate G-d. It makes perfect sense to me that our role cannot be captured with a single title. The more you try, the more it will elude you.

I live by the motto Res non verba. I look at actions, not words. I did not come to these views lightly or because of one Rabbi. Rather, over the last four years, the best experiences I've had in the Orthodox world have been with traditional Orthodox women. They range in age, background, and hashkafa, but they all share pride in their role and an absolute disinterest in imitating men. Where Rabbis could not help me, these women succeeded. None of them spent precious time or energy attempting to gain recognition; they simply acted. That speaks volumes for me.

Such women are the ones who have been true leaders for nearly forty centuries. They are the reason I am so passionate about this topic and why I will continue to speak out against the influence of feminism.

cbg

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why I Won't Wear Tefillin

It is always with amusement that I listen to someone describe the fashion industry as "frivolous." There is a degree of frivolity, to be sure, as with most creative pursuits, but fashion permeates the lives of even the most oblivious among us. Everyone thinks about what they wear. No one would dream of going to an interview in sweat pants, regardless of how solid their resume is. On Purim or Halloween, costumes and characters are identifiable either due to a specific moment in fashion history or because of the self-expression that fashion makes possible. 

The Torah holds clothing in the same high regard, as the Written dictates every detail of what the High Priest will wear, and the Oral specifies how to fulfill the commandment of laying tefillin. Tradition tells us that the Israelites were on the lowest possible spiritual level when they were freed from bondage. One of the things that preserved their identity and prevented them from being a lost cause altogether was maintaining a difference in dress from the Egyptians. This is why many groups of Orthodox Jews choose to dress in a very distinctive manner today. Beyond appearances, however, I think Judaism requires a different approach to what we wear, and it is the reason I see no need to wear tefillin.

In the secular world, there is a lot of imitation in terms of fashion that goes on. Confusing style with status, people buy designer "knockoffs." When women began entering the work force in the 70s and 80s, they did so in "power suits" to prove they were up to the task. Rather than explore and express one's own unique potential, an individual mistakenly equates fashion with expensive, or success with masculinity, and seeks a quick, external fix to what they want to be. 

The Jewish people are commanded to be a nation of priests. It would be a mistake to think that this is accomplished simply by dressing like the Kohen Gadol, whose role is undoubtedly important. One of the many groundbreaking advances of Judaism was the idea that each person could have a relationship with G-d without an intermediary. In short, the role of priest is not reduced to a garment. Clothing in Judaism is rife with meaning, and on many occasions, it points to something bigger than the tangible element. In other words, performing a ritual such as tefillin provides a way to capture the essence of inscribing the Torah on one's mind and heart, much like a picture book helps a child to follow a story. 

I do not say this to emasculate men. I adore men. But it is no secret in Judaism that women are considered spiritually superior. Therefore, any mitzvah that men are held to must be understood as a step they are taking in an attempt to reach women's level. For women to imitate that step is not only superfluous, it diminishes our power. 

I did not come to the decision to be Modern Orthodox lightly. I knew that I would face more temptation and have to constantly be on guard against secular influences. This is where the different approach to clothing comes in: Contrary to what the outside world says, in Judaism, what we don't wear is just as significant as what we do. I don't begrudge men their tzitzit, tefillin, kippot, or anything else that sort of beats them over the head with "Please TRY to behave more like the women and less like the animals, mmmk?" My exemption from wearing any of these speaks to my ability to just get it naturally. When, that is, I fully own my strengths as a woman and take my cues from Jewish tradition, not secularism. 

In Judaism, we don't imitate; we innovate. If you are looking to grow as a Jewish woman, use the gift of your binah to love the Lord your G-d in everything you do, and lead the Jewish people--and the world--forward. 

cbg

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Map

Once upon a time, there was a Map. It was given long ago to a group of people who promised to guard it and to follow it, and it was copied meticulously many times over the centuries. The people understood that no matter how much time passed or where they were in the world, they were to be guided by the Map.

From the Map shone a golden city, a promise to all who kept to the map. "Someday," the people said, "we will see that place of light." And they believed it with all their hearts.

For generations, it was accepted that more than one route led to the golden city. When he looked into the Map, each man saw all possibilities, though one in particular might stand out to him. Great scholars met to debate the merits of each route. Entire schools were born. On one point they were all in agreement: Even if their own eyes never beheld the sight of the golden city, living by the Map was its own reward.

And then it came to pass, a group claimed to have no need of the Map. They had lived in the land for so long, they knew it as well as the faces of their wives. The land could be navigated without the Map. Perhaps, the most rebellious ones said, the golden city did not even exist.

So they left, their arguments hanging in the air like dust. The Map had never been threatened by their own kind before. The elders agreed that more than ever, it must be preserved and protected. Mixed with their determination was fear.

Suddenly, the Map looked different to many of the people. Where once he had seen multiple routes, only one appeared in each man's sight. The possibility of another way seemed like a threat. Neighbor turned against neighbor. Scholars accused one another of not following the Map, and the schools divided. All revered the Map. All believed that only they knew the true way to the golden city.

One day, a young boy, just on the cusp of manhood, was exploring outside as young boys do. He had been told of the Map since he was born. He knew that when he became a man, he would be responsible for following the Map toward the golden city. That morning, he stumbled across two scholars, both highly esteemed by their respective schools. The boy paused to listen to the wisdom they would have to impart.

But the two men were angry. Their words were coated in vitriol. Accusations flew with their spittle. Each accused the other of betraying the Map. His adversary would surely not merit the golden city, both said.

The boy ducked out of sight and leaned against a tree, his mind whirling. If neither of these great men could believe each other, then the entire Map must be a lie. The golden city was undoubtedly a myth. After all, who had seen it? What fools these people were, he thought. He would never be like them and believe in something that wasn't true.

When the scholars had parted ways and gone back to their Maps, for once they saw the same thing: The golden city was farther away than it had ever been.

The End

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Once, Twice, Three Times a LadyMama

Why did I ever think I could give up blogging? Especially when it means I have the honor of another (my third!) guest post on LadyMama. My friend Mimi makes being a Jewish woman look good, you guys. She has a rock star husband, two of the cutest kids I've ever seen, her own convention-shattering clothing line MIMU MAXI, and incredible style to boot. Topped off, of course, with a gorgeous sheitel. I'm so grateful to her for allowing me to share about my sheitel envy and one of the many reasons I'm looking forward to being a married woman. Check it out!

xo cbg

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Say It Ain't So!


Last week, a headline caught my eye: "Meryl Streep calls Walt Disney Anti-Semitic."

WHAT.

Listen, I can live without Wagner; I've always been partial to Mozart anyway. And I couldn't find any concrete proof that Disney expressed or supported antipathy toward Jews. But the fact remains that we do often face choices involving companies with Nazi connections or people who made no secret of their anti-Semitism. So where do we draw the line? Should a Jew drive a Benz? Is buying Chanel wrong? If Disney actually was a bigot, would that make his movies off-limits for me and my children?

It's a question, I think, that each Jew must answer for him/herself. However an individual feels about it, one thing holds true: We're still here to make such choices. Amalek, in all his forms, comes and goes with the tide of history, but the Jewish people carry on.

cbg

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project

Last year I wrote a piece for JUF on coming to terms with the Holocaust as a convert. It's a subject I have studied for over 20 years, but it became much more personal as I learned just what it meant to be a Jew and met children and grandchildren of, and the survivors themselves. It seems that one of the dangerous trends in the years since the Shoah is the attempt to whitewash history and absolve everyone but the highest-ranking Nazis of any guilt. Perhaps the best defense against such excuses, then, are the stories of Righteous Gentiles who refused to sit idly by while their fellow citizens were murdered. In the face of unimaginable evil, they risked their lives to choose good.

I recently stumbled across the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who helped to save the lives of over 2,000 Jewish children. Going door-to-door in the Warsaw Ghetto, Irena convinced parents that their children would only survive if she smuggled them out and placed them with Polish families, convents, and orphanages. At one point, she was captured by the Nazis and brutally beaten, after which she went underground and resumed her brave efforts.

Were it not for a history assignment half a world away and decades later, Irena's name and courage may have been forgotten. But in 1999, three students in Kansas entered their project on Irena Sendler into a National History Day challenge, inspired by their classroom motto, "He who changes one person, changes the world entire." Those familiar with the Talmud will recognize the similarity to, "Whoever saves a single life, it is as if he has saved the whole world." It's a coincidence that is perfectly fitting for a woman who courageously saved many lives.

You can visit IrenaSendler.com to learn more about her incredible story and upcoming events, and discover other unsung heroes in history via Twitter and Facebook.

cbg

Monday, January 6, 2014

Are You Happy Now?

I am officially Over. This. Winter. When you're wondering if you should take that trip to London a couple of months earlier than planned because it's currently a balmy 48 degrees there, you might live in Chicago. Actually, forget London--is it too early for me to join the Jewish community in Boca Raton? I play (miniature) golf!

This is what I do. When faced with an uncomfortable situation, I start mentally hitting the 'Escape' button. In some cases, e.g. nasty weather, it's very easy and socially acceptable to do so. There is a sort-of consensus on being able to have one mood in winter and another when it's lovely out. As a Jew, however, I would be remiss if I didn't dig a little deeper and see if I can do a little better. Whatever the scenario, the question is: Will I allow myself to be governed by the whims of chance and circumstance, or will I choose to be the person I want to be in every moment, regardless of whether it's a blessing or a challenge? I didn't phrase it that way by accident: Even at the root, there is a choice.

As I mentioned in my New Year's post, I am striving to be more grateful. Part of gratitude is staying in the present, focusing on what I have rather than jumping ahead to what I want instead. I have a warm home. I have all the proper accoutrements should I venture outside. What may seem standard to me, what is easy to take for granted, are in actuality blessings, and they are really all I need. I want to be a person who is content with what I have and where I am every day, who will be in a good mood and resist kvetching whatever the weather.

I think people often misconstrue happiness as an absence of any pain or discomfort, but that's not what it is at all. Happiness that depends on outside factors is happiness that fades fast. I believe that true happiness is a combination of acceptance of what is, trust in G-d, and working on myself in the meantime. These things cannot be shaken by a little Arctic blast.

To everything there is a season. If not for the dark and cold parts, there wouldn't be any new growth.

Stay warm,
cbg