Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Favorite Things about Being a Jew

In no particular order:

-Knowing that miracles happen

-Shabbos naps


-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


-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.


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,

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.