Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year

There are undoubtedly reasons why today and tomorrow have nothing to do with Jews or Judaism. January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was depicted as literally two-faced--one glancing back to the past, the other looking forward into the future. What we now know as the Gregorian calendar was preceded by the Julian calendar, instituted by one Julius Caesar after spending time in Cleopatra's Alexandria and learning about proper astronomy. While Caesar wanted to make the vernal equinox the start of the new year, he ceded to the objections of Senators who took office on January 1st according to the Roman civil calendar. Yes, politicians were just as self-involved back then.

In the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII instituted further calendar reform and had no problem naming the new one after himself, even though most of the work had been done by his predecessor. Since this happened not long after the Reformation, many Protestants viewed the change as a conspiracy to suppress their beliefs, and it took decades or even centuries for countries with a non-Catholic majority to begin using the Gregorian calendar (The US, as British colonies, in 1752). As it turns out, the Vatican was thumbing its nose at the Jews, not the Protestants--one of the major catalysts for a new calendar was putting distance between Easter and Passover, a move initiated by the Council of Nicaea.

I would venture to guess that drinking too much on New Year's Eve is a tradition inherited from the Romans, a people who loved excess. So much so, in fact, that it was common to have a servant tickle one's throat at a banquet to make room for more food and alcohol. And you thought holding your friend's hair in college was gross.

And yet, the Jewish influence is there, because people also recognize the impending new year as a time to reflect, a chance to improve. Of course, it's a cliche that most resolutions don't stick, and I think Judaism can provide helpful insight on this. First, community is key. Modern-day experts back this up and say that making a goal with at least one other person stacks the odds in favor of success. Let's say your New Year's resolution is to go to the gym X times per week. Imagine everyone you know making the same goal. You open your prayer book, it's there. The topic is all over your favorite blogs. If you're wondering how the Jewish religion and people have remained intact for over three millenia, now you know. Community is how we do.

Next up, why on earth have you resolved to go to the gym? Speaking of the Romans, you know how we think everyone bathing together in public bathhouses was gross? I'm convinced future generations will feel the same about our gyms, and rightfully so. Let the record show that I am a woman ahead of my time and not just a germaphobe. In all fairness, some people actually do enjoy the camaraderie of grunting and sweating together. (Ew.) But those people, my dear, don't need to resolve to go. So what's really holding you back? Perhaps you're already decently active, and deep down, you sense that there is more to life than a perfect body. How wise you are. I'll also let you in on another secret the Jewish people have known for quite some time: If you're going to do something, make it beautiful. For myself, staying healthy and making it beautiful means ballet, tennis, and taking long walks. When I wanted to pray more, I moved on from my learning siddur to one whose words capture my heart. You get the picture. By all means, make the goal. Just know that there is nothing wrong with actually enjoying self-improvement.

So no, this is technically not my New Year. I'm still working on my Rosh Hashanah "resolutions." But seeing as I live in a country where it's celebrated, it's not a religious non-Jewish holiday, and I welcome any excuse to grow, I hereby resolve to do the following in 2014: Strive to be more down-to-earth, to be more grateful (to people and to G-d), and to be kinder. Lucky for me, I'm part of something that offers me 613 ways to achieve those goals.

Happy New Year!

P.S. I also decided to give up social media for 2014. If the withdrawal doesn't kill me first, I'll be blogging about it at some point for my friend Ruchi over at Out of the Ortho Box.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Xmas Makes Me Believe

I grew up believing in a lot of things. I believed that an overweight man in strange clothes spied on me throughout the year and then rewarded good behavior by breaking into my family's home through inexplicable means and leaving a pile of presents and a stocking of sweets. On a more serious note, I was raised to believe that the holiday was really all about the birth of a Jewish man, a story replete with details that required an even bigger leap of faith.

I thought that I would be leaving Xmas far behind by converting to Judaism, but I was wrong. There's no escaping it. Jews of all persuasions seem just as preoccupied with it as my goyishe family, though for different reasons. How do we prevent Jewish children from wanting Xmas? Are Xmas traditions for Chanukah ok, e.g. gifts or blue and white lights? How do I handle being wished "Merry Christmas"?

Being a Jewish convert during the holiday season is no easy feat, but I have come to believe Xmas can be used to strengthen my Judaism, not weaken it. I don't regard it as a coincidence that the Jewish holiday that commemorates resisting assimilation lands on the calendar right around the time everything gets hyper holly jolly.

People on both sides have a hard time believing I don't miss Xmas. It helps that I never had a tree in any of my residences after leaving home and I hate most of the music with a passion. That being said, it's easy to take things for granted when they're a regular part of your life. Several months after beginning my conversion studies, I approached my first Xmas warily. Would I feel a twinge of regret over giving all this up?

If I wasn't fully sure I had what it took to be a committed Jew, that first Xmas made me believe. In the art and fashion worlds, juxtaposition is often used to make certain details "pop." Xmas makes my Judaism "pop." The more I know what Judaism is, what I stand for, the less intimidated I am by Xmas. Pretty lights are pretty lights. Magic fades. Myths are outgrown. I choose to believe in miracles.

I believe in Judaism. I believe in its beauty and its strength; no need to gild the lily with traditions that aren't ours. I believe that giving my children an entire heritage is more important than giving them stuff. I believe in resisting assimilation and being proud to be different. I believe in the power of family, because I've remained close with mine despite giving up their holidays. I believe that Xmas is generally good for the world. I believe in my Judaism enough that I can say that. I believe that I can admire certain things about the holiday season, and still be happy and grateful that I left it behind and became a Jew. I believe all these things because of Xmas. It can be the best time of the year to be Jewish, believe me.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Speaking of Apples...

"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them; about the only thing you can't do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do." -Steve Jobs

The other night, when my date proposed a movie, I couldn't resist suggesting This Is Us in 3D. I'm still laughing over the fact that he fell for it, can't help it. Reading over our actual options at the theater, I casually said, "Jobs...oh, that Steve Jobs movie..." only to see his face light up like a menorah on the eighth night of Hanukkah. I guess the joke was on me: Jobs it was.

In all seriousness, I am happy I saw it. Although I'm not an Apple enthusiast (I have an iPhone but verbally abuse it just as much as my non-Apple devices), Jobs' story is undoubtedly compelling. Against all odds, he built a successful company on the convictions expressed above. Standing on one foot, the mold was made to be broken.

At first blush, all this talk of breaking rules may seem to go against the very nature of Judaism, a religion of 613 laws. But I believe it's just the opposite. We Jews are the original crazy ones, misfits, rebels, and troublemakers. Abraham, the very first Jew, stood in opposition to an entire world of polytheists and declared the existence of the one true G-d. The Israelites were crazy enough to accept the Torah at Mount Sinai, confident that they could change the world through it. Boy, did they ever.

Over 3,000 years later, Judaism is still resisting the status quo. Like Steve Jobs with each new device, we continuously push to do better. We're not afraid to think differently, and sometimes we've been persecuted for that. But we always bounce back. Whatever an individual or an entire society thinks about the Jews, they certainly can't ignore us. Because it is our destiny to lead, to push the human race forward.

This fate is fulfilled Jew by Jew. Just as every letter is needed in the Torah, each Jew, man or woman, born or convert, has a purpose to serve for the entire Jewish people. So don't be afraid to be different from the other nations. Dare to have a bigger vision, to make 5774 an even better version than all the ones that came before it. We are the people who are crazy enough to think we can change the world, and against all odds, we do.

L'Shana Tova!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

New Guest Post!

Sharon Langert, the woman behind Fashion-Isha.com, is one of the most incredible Jewish women I've ever met. And I say that without having actually met her. This crazy thing called the Internet has allowed me to connect with Jews all over the world, Sharon among them. Her site constantly inspires me and I genuinely look up to her. So when she asked me to do a guest post, it was like being asked if I want to go to Nordy's. Um, YEAH I do. One of my favorite things about this lady is that while she makes tznius look gorgeous day in, day out, she doesn't judge women who don't. Sharon has offered me encouragement and support when I've touched on the topic before, so I knew I could discuss what the idea of modesty has done for me, even if I'm not perfect at it (yet). Head over to the post and share your thoughts!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Why Princesses of Long Island Was a Kiddush Hashem.

Please forgive my absence--my uncle passed on July 21st and I took much-needed time off to grapple with his impending death and then grieve him. We will miss him terribly, but it is a relief to know he's at peace and out of pain. I can't thank you enough for your prayers.

Given the title of this post, I'm sure there are a lot of challah rolls aimed at my head, but just hear me out. When the show first kicked off, I was as horrified as anyone. I think it would have been even harder for me to watch before my conversion--to see most of these girls think it's about how many Louis bags they own when I was dying to join the Jewish people. But as the season progressed, I noticed an emerging pattern: In the midst of the drama (of course there was drama) in each episode, Chanel, who identified herself as Modern Orthodox and was the most observant by far, was doing us proud. Before you launch into the laundry list of things she could have handled better, I think it's worth pointing out how few of us would look good under that much surveillance. As we go into Elul, there's a lot of talk about reviewing the last year, and I imagine seeing yourself on TV--all the ups, every single down--feels about the same as it would if G-d showed us everything He "caught on camera."

No, Chanel wasn't perfect, but what stood out to me was her constant willingness to reflect and improve. After an altercation at Amanda's White Party to launch her Drink Hanky (no comment), Chanel met with her Rabbi to admit she was not being her best self, chalking it up to the pressure of being "older" and unmarried in the Orthodox world. (And to any of the bloggers I saw dismissing her feelings throughout the season, you are either not Orthodox or not female. Trust me, that pressure is real--both socially, and because as Chanel gets closer to 30, her dating pool will increase in age quite dramatically. But that's another post for another day.) Chanel's Rabbi, by the way, was the only one we saw on the show, and not only did he not look or sound like a cliched Orthodox Rabbi, he dispensed some priceless advice that any woman could take to heart.

While the other ladies organized events around boats or fledgling businesses, Chanel brought them together for Shabbat dinner, her sister's big Jewish wedding, and a Rosh Hashanah ritual. She couldn't control the dramz that erupted before and during these occasions, but she also didn't revel in it. Rather than engage in lashon hora, Chanel encouraged both parties to speak directly to each other and make peace. I can't contrast her behavior with the others' without speaking lashon hora myself, but suffice it to say she proved an overall positive representation of Jewish women to viewers.

And that leads me to my point. None of the other girls or their families professed to be religious; some even mocked making a bracha over food. The one "Princess" who didn't reinforce negative stereotypes, the one you'd actually want to be friends with in real life, was the religious one. Bravo seemed to be aiming for a Jewish version of The Real Housewives of New Jersey: catfights and materialistic showing off with a little Yiddish sprinkled in. But Chanel didn't let them get away with that, because at the end of the day, Jewish culture is nothing without Judaism. Perhaps most impressively, she never let religion create a chasm between herself and the other girls or acted self-righteous. In the final episode, as she used Tashlich to heal an ongoing feud, she ended the season with the following (though I am paraphrasing) thoughts: "Not everyone is going to be BFFs here. But we are all Jewish women, and we have to come together. Our people have been through enough." Tell me that doesn't make you kvell.

If Season 2 continues to show Chanel acting as a leader, demonstrating what Jewish life is really all about, then count me in.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Prayer Request.

Although I made the decision to join the Jewish people, I am privileged and proud to come from a wonderful family full of people who fit the description of Righteous Goyim to a T. One such person is my Uncle Tom, who is currently dying from the cancer he has bravely battled for years. Words cannot adequately capture all of his great qualities and what he has contributed to the world, but suffice it to say that all of us who know him will feel his loss acutely for the rest of our lives. At this time, it is painfully obvious that any chance of recovery is unlikely. So I ask that anyone who reads this blog please pray that his last days on this earth be free from pain and confusion, and that he feel only peace.

Thank you,

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Deficiencies and Difficulties.

My favorite blessing after eating is Borei Nefashot--and no, not because it's the shortest. Nor is it because saying it means I ate a salad, as opposed to, say, pasta or bread. Rather, I am partial to this short and sweet bracha for its poetic rhythm and its standout feature: a reminder to thank G-d for both problems and solutions.

Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, the blessing goes, Who creates numerous living things with their deficiencies ; for all that You have created with which to maintain the life of every being. Blessed is He, the life of the worlds.

Take a second look at that middle part, which essentially says: G-d created all of the creatures of the Earth with a need for nutrition, as well as hunger pangs that will drive them to need to eat, but He also created a wide array of food perfectly suited to each of them.

It's no secret that holidays--Jewish and non-Jewish alike--revolve around food. Many times, a person's favorite holiday will even be based on their favorite dish(es) being served on that day. So while we could wonder why G-d didn't just create a world in which humans and animals never felt hungry and could survive and thrive without food, would you want to live in such a world? Having just spent a Shabbat full of the aforementioned pasta, cinnamon rolls, guacamole, and limoncello gelato, my vote is NO.

Sometimes life is hard. Situations can be out of our control, and problems arise that seem at first glance to have no deeper meaning or purpose. In such times, everything we need to know is in the Borei Nefashot: There is no challenge that does not have a G-d-created remedy. And it is by feeding any deficiency in our lives or ourselves with strength, with determination, with prayer, with calm surrender, that we are sustained. Science tells us that when a particle of matter collides with its opposite--a particle of anti-matter--a burst of energy is created. Trust that G-d has provided you with both the problem and the solution in order to propel you forward into the person you are meant to be.


P.S. Please support your local Food Bank to help those affected by hunger.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

We All Fall Down.

Gwyneth Paltrow is a gadol of the fashion world, if you will. The woman just does no wrong--or rather, did no wrong, because her perfect record took quite the hit last week when she appeared in the above at her Iron Man 3 premiere. The offending dress not only obviously prevented underwear from being an option, but apparently left our dear Gwynnie feeling "humiliated."

Yes, unlike some shameless celebrities who have no qualms about showing too much (and who shall remain unnamed), Gwyneth knows she is better than this dress. It's the feeling we all get when we mess up. That wisest of kings Shlomo HaMelech once said, "The righteous man may fall seven times and yet arise" and the Sages of the Talmud concur. It's not about the mistake itself, it's what you choose to do afterward. Do you defend it, rationalize it, as Gwyneth's stylist did? Or do you, as I hope to G-d Gwyneth is doing, vow to do better next time, and use it as a launching pad into your potential greatness?

Your past mistakes do not define you. Need more style inspiration? Just look at how far Victoria Beckham has come in the last eight years. The same women who rolled their eyes at her front-row presence during Fashion Week several years ago are now on the waiting lists for her It bags. Rest assured that no matter where you are in observance right now, if you want to do better, you can do better. Having the will to improve is half the battle. But don't get too comfortable at any point, because--as our girl Gwyneth now knows--there's definitely always some improvement to be done.

Happy Lag B'Omer!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Gone But Not Forgotten.

There are many experiences and feelings of the Holocaust which I cannot even imagine; The suffering is just too much to comprehend. But there are thoughts I have, as I try to put myself in the mindset of a person watching as their entire community is extinguished. I think of being barred from certain industries, of losing my job along with countless other Jews. I picture my synagogue and my beloved Milt's with the windows smashed in after a night like Kristallnacht. Where once I donned a Star of David necklace as a badge of pride--I'm Jewish!--now it is forced on me as a marker of something shameful. People I had considered friends or at least friendly no longer look at me or speak to me. Signs go up: No Jews Allowed. Who among us would see what was happening, and who would be in denial? After generations in this country, they would not turn on us now. Would they?

This is how it happened. Remembering the Holocaust is not just about mourning those lost, though we do grieve them. It is about teaching the world how it happened, how Hitler did not invent anti-Semitism but stirred it up, step by hateful step. When we say, "Never Again," we are cognizant that events may never exactly replicate what happened in Europe last century, but that we must be on guard against the kind of rhetoric that preceded them.

The morning after the day I converted to Judaism, I was on my way to work, back to my usual routine despite my elation over finally being a Jew. As the 151 turned onto Lake Shore Drive, I noticed a group of people speaking animatedly in German and pointing toward the view of Lake Michigan. I smiled as they filed past me a few stops later, always grateful for a refreshed perspective on my beautiful city. And then I saw it. The swastika on the younger girl's messenger bag. If I thought that my Jewish existence would be free from persecution, here was a reminder that embers of hatred still existed and could always be stoked again.

I wonder if they thought it was the end. I wonder if they asked if the world knew. I wish I could show them everything: How much we know, how we are working to ensure it won't happen again, how Jewish life has not only continued but flourished, how we made it back home. I want them to see every beautiful Jewish baby that has been born. I want them to know about people like me, who are choosing Judaism even after the Holocaust, how we answer with a resounding "Yes!" from the mikveh when the Rabbi asks if we understand that we may be persecuted as Jews. I want to tell them: You are not my blood relatives, but you are my people. You are not forgotten. We will never forget.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

No Going Back.

In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Socrates imagines a prisoner who breaks free from the cave where he has been held with other unfortunates, where a lack of both light and perspective have created a false reality. Such a man, the philosopher posits, would at first resist the truth once it was revealed to him. Sunlight would be blinding; so much so that his initial instinct would be to return to his former familiar captivity.

Incredulously, we read the kvetching of the Israelites to Moses after the Exodus. Under the Egyptians, they experienced hardships beyond imagining, backbreaking work for no pay, even infanticide. And yet, at the first hint of the unfamiliar, the people are ready to run back to that existence. In spite of witnessing firsthand the miracles that led them to freedom, they find it difficult to trust G-d with the little things.

How much more so for us, who can only dream about the parting of the Red Sea. There's an old saying, "The devil you know..." about our tendency to stay in comfort zones that we know are bad for us, but that are just so comfortable. As a convert, I have felt exactly like the prisoner in Plato's tale; ignorance really was bliss in so many ways. But like that protagonist, and like my spiritual ancestors in the desert, turning back was never really an option. A taste of freedom, whether for the mind, body, or both, only increases over time. The human spirit longs for growth, for challenges to overcome, even when the road ahead is daunting.

Don't just make Pesach about cleaning or shopping or burning out on macaroons. Which deserts did you cross in the last year? Which oppressive habits will you leave behind in the months to come, marching bravely and brazenly into the unknown future?

Onwards and upwards, my fellow Jews. Chag Kosher V'Sameach!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Feminist Mistake.

I'm so happy and honored to be back at LadyMama with a new post, this time to discuss my beef with the feminist definition of "empowerment," and how Judaism has shown me what it truly means to be a strong woman. Let me know what you think!


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ideals and Idols.

Parshat Ki Tisa has always been one of my favorites: There's the precedent of counting the Jews by their contributions, not their numbers; a call to eat with compassion with the prohibition against combining milk with meat; a reminder of what a gift Shabbat is; and of course, the golden calf dramz.

I once read a commentary which said that when Moses descended from the mountain and witnessed the worship of the idol, he did not smash the tablets in a temper tantrum. Rather, he understood that if the people felt they needed an intermediary between them and G-d to replace the MIA Moses, then they would only turn the mitzvot into idols as well. According to the Talmud (Shabbos 87a), G-d Himself affirmed that Moses had done the right thing, so we can see a clear distinction between this incident and the one that resulted in Moses not being allowed to enter the Promised Land.

It would be great if we could say Moses' concerns were completely resolved in the forty day period before he received the second set of tablets, but fast forward a few thousand years and some change, and unfortunately, there's still some major mitzvah worship going on. Instead of each Jew utilizing the mitzvot to connect to G-d and set an example of a G-dly life, they uphold a certain few (and only their interpretation of them, no less) as an end-all, be-all form of Judaism. I do not believe that Moses brought down the Torah so that any one Jew could zero in on and obsess over one particular thing and ignore all other aspects of their neighbor. In keeping with the mitzvah of giving someone else the benefit of the doubt, let's presume that every Jew is better than us in at least one aspect of Judaism, and know that the Jewish peopleand the worldare better for it. In this way, we will learn not to worship idols in any form, and only then can the sin of the golden calf be fully rectified.

Shavua tov,

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I Don't CY.

I've been wondering recently why the self-discipline that allows me to keep kosher throughout the year and avoid anything leavened like the plague during Pesach doesn't carry over into resisting the sweets that I have such a weakness for. I even caught myself wishing that there could be some kind of rabbinical ban that would help a girl out--and then I realized that there sort of already is: Cholov Yisrael.

As I was converted by one of the primary students of R Moshe Feinstein, z"tl, and I have heard many wonderful stories about him, he is someone whom I attempt to emulate (emphasis on attempt). If such a tzaddik trusted in the USDA, who am I to doubt them? Still, I can't help but think of all of the corruption within federal agencies that has been revealed via the media, which I'm quite sure is only the tip of the iceberg. And to add to my confusion, I cannot deny that I'm not exactly coming to the CY table with admirable motives. I'm not striving to further my bond with my fellow Jews, or to erect a fence around the Torah; I'm really just trying to put an obstacle course between Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and my mouth, for purely superficial reasons. Is this an acceptable rationale to take on a stringency?

I'm interested in hearing different perspectives on this issue, and why anyone has or has not taken on Cholov Yisrael. Until I can make up my mind-slash-be convinced, I'll be hanging with my boys Ben & Jerry (Mmmmm).


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ignoring Valentine's Day.

For my non-Jewish friends and family, it makes sense that I don't celebrate Xmas or Easter. But when it comes to holidays such as Halloween, St. Patrick's Day, or the one with hearts and flowers just around the corner, they get confused. "It's just _____," I hear a lot.

Forget for a moment that all of these have Catholic origins, because it's not what most people are thinking of when they dress up, drink green beer, or hand out valentines. Before Judaism, I went along with it all like everyone else. I pretty much lived for Halloween. But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a Jew. As I began taking on holidays that were rich with tradition and meaning, the ones that have become so secularized and commercialized suddenly seemed less appealing. I don't refuse to acknowledge non-Jewish holidays out of stubbornness; I just don't care to anymore.

Still, there's no denying that V-Day is all about love, and, as my loved ones love to point out, isn't that Jewish? Well, yes and no. Judaism has nothing against love and romance, and neither do I, for that matter. In fact, just to quell any cynics, there is indeed someone special in my life right now, and it reinforces my stance more than ever. I don't want to go through any cliched motions with him—who made these rules? And I certainly don't want any of my single friends to feel for one minute like less than the beautiful, kind, and wonderful people that they are. So let's stop trying to cram love into a single day, or to relegate it to specific colors or gestures. The love that I know, the kind that Judaism espouses, is an ongoing celebration expressed in a multitude of ways. Just take a cue from G-d:

"I love you with an everlasting love, therefore I continue my lovingkindness to you." - Jeremiah 31:2

Happy Thursday,

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why I Watch Movies & TV.

Choosing to become a Jew is sort of like deciding to be a doctor, based on what I've seen in friends' experiences and on Grey's Anatomy. Getting through the arduous process and taking a serious oath is only half of it; there is also the difficult task of narrowing down what kind of Jew/doctor you'll be. Within medicine, choosing a label may make things pretty black and white, e.g. neurosurgeon=operating on brains. And that also holds true for some Jewish movements, which come with clear community norms on what to do and what not to do, even if it goes beyond basic halacha. Since I was determined to take on observance while still living a modern life, however, I had to examine my choices within the context of my new perspective without having a knee-jerk reaction from either side. Meaning, I wasn't going to give up TV and movies solely because some Rabbis were strongly opposed to them, but I also wanted to consider any valid reasons to keep them in my life rather than just continuing to do what I'd always done.

I came to the conclusion that just as with all areas of my life, I couldn't operate in extremes. I wanted my Judaism to be strong enough to withstand any challenges to it, in real life or otherwise. I've definitely become much more choosy in what I watch, but I find that my favorite shows and films have stayed the same; who knew they were resonating with me on a spiritual level? With that in mind, I'd like to present a few Jewish lessons derived from the screen.

The Gift of Time: Groundhog Day. So many of us take for granted this mechanism which allows us to measure progress, achievement, a life. Bill Murray in his brilliance reminds us that each new day is a gift, and to be careful when stepping off the curb. It's a doozy!

Jewish Hospitality: What About Bob? Another Murray gem. Every one of us will be faced with a less-than-desirable houseguest at least once, but as this movie teaches, we can't only be kind to the people we actually like being around. We always have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else's life.

Beshert: Serendipity. I for one would rather be single than have a tool of a fiance who plays some weird flute for a living. But neither I nor Kate B. have to despair, because our soulmates are out there. Timing is everything.

The Damage of Lashon Hora: "Gossip Girl." Let's all pour out a little Manischewitz for the loss of our homie, GG. Actually, let's not, because it was DAN HUMPHREY. But I digress...everyone on the UES would have had much better lives if they all would have just stopped trashing each other on a gossip site. A bubble of superficial values is conducive to such behavior, but we Jews have the responsibility to use the Internet as a tool for unity. Let's not forget it.

You know you love me (because I'm a fellow Jew).

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 Target.com 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.