Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Don't blame the message

First, read this blog--

My Love and Not So Like Relationship with Orthodox Israel

I find this blog post very interesting- I like the tree analogy, but I don't agree that orthodoxy without secularism is akin to a useless stump. Sometimes healthier growth occurs once you prune the broken branches.... 

Interestingly enough, it's not the blog but the comments on it that are itching my mind.  There are some not-so-nice things being said about ultraorthodoz Israelis (Haredim).  I hearken back (and yes, I did just use the word hearken in everyday use, Mom) to a message that my teachers repeat often-

Torah is perfect, people are flawed

The simple phrase helped break the mental connection when I see orthodox Jews behave in ways that are a Chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d's name).  I used to think "How can they say they follow G-d's mitzvot and act like that?  What kind of Torah approves of that behavior??!!"  The answer is no kind of Torah.  It's understandable but erroneous that people make that judgment.  What's the cure?  Education.  Communication.  Understand what the Torah really says, and you'll understand that it only teaches how to be a better person.  Learn with teachers who can answer your questions with actual text and source.  Don't blame the message if human beings are playing telephone with it- it becomes clouded quicker than you think.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Matisyahu- cleaning up his act?

I just read this article about Matisyahu, and the, well, let's call them public changes he is making in his life. I'm having a few (well, at least three that I can articulate) issues with both the article and its content.

1. I'm wondering what his announcement will mean for the public face of observant Judaism. A lot of his Jewish fans look to him as an example of the possibility of straddling both the secular and religious worlds-- if he can do it, maybe I can as well? Plus the music is rockin', and gives "kosher" messages to boot- does it get any better??? Maybe if they served kosher food at his shows.... well, a girl can dream, can't she?

Now he is clean-shaven, blogging about "... reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission." Is he giving up chassidus, or observant Judaism altogether? I certainly pray that it is not the latter. You can be chassidic, yeshivish, modern orthodox, on "the path" or any point along the ortho-spectrum and it matters naught, but once you hold the belief that 1) the Torah came from G-d and 2) Mitzvot are His way of telling us how He wants us to connect to Him, what must happen to make you give that up??????

If you say that it is his right to believe what he wishes, I certainly won't disagree. Everyone has the right to believe whatever they wish about G-d. Matisyahu became a public figure, however, in large part due to his persona as an observant, ba'al teshuva Jew. More needs to be said by him soon, because the world-at-large may well interpret that observant Judaism can be cast off as easily as picking up a razor and buying a new suit. To allow that perception to spread unchecked would be a tragedy, a chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d's name).

2. Matisyahu and his choices aside, I did take offense at one statement in the article:

"Heeb congratulates Mr. Miller on his momentous decision and on the bravery of his public honesty. We also look forward to seeing him at Chulent with all the other recovering kiruv victims."

Recovering kiruv VICTIMS??!! As someone who has benefitted from the inspirational kiruv (literal translation-"bringing close") efforts of many, to see the kiruv movement portrayed in such a one-sided way hurts me deeply. Heeb's seeming celebration of "his momentous decision" reveals a not-so-subtle bias against Torah Judaism. I don't doubt that there are cases where kiruv is not performed so well, but to make such a sweeping, casual statement trivializes the work of great men and women like R' Noah Weinberg zt"l of Aish HaTorah, R' Menahem Mendel Schneerson zt"l of Chabad Lubavitch, and Rebbitzen Lori Palatnik of the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project, among many, many others.

3. One last thing is lingering in my head.... the timing of this. Matisyahu. Chanukah. The original Matisyahu was a central character in the Chanukah story, which carries the central theme of triumph brought to a group of Jews who held fast to their beliefs, who refused to assimilate even for appearance's sake. and his namesake is brought to the public eye during this Chanukah season. Coincidence? I think not.

Come on, Matisyahu, don't leave us hanging. Tell the world you're still you- beard or not. You tweeted that you went to the mikva and shul today, "just like yesterday." Let that be your new truth- that you can be an observant Jew without looking like everyone else That's a message I'd listen to.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Potato-Leek Soup

I confess, I am pretty poor at cooking via recipe. Baking is a completely different story (only very experienced bakers can bake via feel, like my friend Annette's grandmother and her strudel)- recipes for baking are a MUST. But cooking, I definitely do by taste.

Tonight I made potato-leek soup. It was delicious. My Best-Husband-in-the-World commented, "You're pretty good at making soup. I mean, your soups are generally pretty good... this one's just pretty spectacular." I heart him.

I will attempt to recreate the recipe here, but please forgive the sometimes rough estimate of ingredients. Feel free to ask questions. In terms of kashrut, it was a dairy soup, but would not be difficult to make parve with usual substitutions.

Ingredients to make about 6-8 cups of soup:

1 pound cut up peeled potatoes (this is an estimate- I had about a dozen mixed very small potatoes from my CSA a few weeks ago- if you have baking potatoes, use 2-3 medium ones), cut into small pieces

3 small to medium leeks (each one was no more than 1 1/2 inches in diameter), rinsed clean and sliced into half moons- I use the white, light green, and medium green parts, but not the dark green tops

1 teaspoon salt

10 grinds of pepper


2 teaspoons parve chicken soup powder (also an estimate, I sprinkle in enough to taste it a little, but not so much that it would overwhelm the potatoes and the leeks

3 Tablespoons butter (or margarine)

1 cup milk (I didn't have any milk so I used non-dairy creamer)

Melt the butter over medium heat, add the leeks, salt, and pepper and saute until soft- try not to brown the leeks. Add in the potatoes and stir. Add in enough water to cover the veggies by about 1 inch, and sprinkle in the parve chicken soup powder. Stir everything together and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are completely cooked- about 15-20 minutes. Puree the soup with a hand blender (or in a regular blender in batches if you don't have one). Add in the milk or whatever dairy substitute you have on hand. Taste for seasoning- add in some salt or pepper if the milk muted the seasoning level as it sometimes does.

Garnishes- cheese, green onions, baco-bits, sour cream



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hashgacha Pratis- G-d's hand in your life

Hashgacha Pratis, or Divine Providence, refers to G-d's supervision and governance of every action and aspect of the world in which we live. Here is an example. I'll try to post them as I see them-- I'd love to hear yours!

Right before lunch, I was invited to a business call at 2 pm. I'm working from home, and I went upstairs to eat a late lunch while doing a brief bit of non-business work on my home computer. One of my mother's friends sent me a link to this really great Rosh Hashanah song:

I got caught up in listening to it, and then I wanted to listen to all their songs, because one of the things I've been thinking about lately is how much I enjoy music, but I'd really like to have more Jewish pop music to listen to-- if I'm going to goof off, at least it can have some sort of a purpose. After I'd watched all The Ein Prat Fountainheads videos, and revisited Candlelight by The Maccabeats, and Ya'alili by 8th Day, I gasped-- it was 2:10 and I was late for the call!! I ran downstairs to make the call, and found an email by my colleague telling me he'd had to reschedule the call until Thursday morning. I didn't miss a thing!! I have to wonder if the same thing would have happened had I not been pursuing something that was elevating to my soul, as well as my body. Baruch Hashem (blessed is G-d)!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

One of Those Rare Days

Today we put up kosher mezuzot on all our doorways (all 17 of them!!)!! We threw a party and our friends hung out and noshed, FFB (Frum from Birth) and kiruv families and people at all different points on our path, as we sanctified our home and protected everyone within its walls with our filfillment of this mitzvah. I think, in some still quiet moments, that I can actually feel the extra holiness, and it spills out through my eyes as tears. I have no idea what my husband is thinking as he's sitting beside me watching television. I'm guessing he 1) is wondering if I've lost it or 2) knows I've lost it and is no longer surprised by that and loves me anyway!

It is such an amazing feeling - I think I remember feeling this way the first time I recited the blessing of taking challah in my own kitchen. I pray that as I continue to work on my connection to G-d I will feel liks this more and more.

Thank you to every one of my teachers and friends, wherever you are on this path. I hope that when Moshiach comes and you get an accounting of your deeds, you will get to see the part you have played in all my growth.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thanks for sharing....not so much

I struggle sometimes with how much to share on this blog. I think about living with tzniut (the Hebrew word is pronounced tznee-yoot', in the Yiddish it's tznius, or tznee'- us)- often incompletely translated as modesty, it's not just about the way you dress, but the way you conduct yourself in every area of life. It's about not "letting it all hang out" in every way- physically, verbally, emotionally. When you live in the secular world, you're bombarded with so much over the top data that there is a slang anagram for it- "TMI!" standing for "too much information!" Rarely does someone apologize for saying too much, instead, they are proud of "saying it like it is!"

Being an extrovert and an external processor (one who gains energy from hanging out with people, talking about things, processing information out loud), it is the non-dress-code aspect of tzniut that gives me the most trouble. How to speak modestly. It's not just speaking with humility, like not bragging about a raise or what your child did that morning. It's about not sharing every sordid (and maybe not sordid, just personal) detail of your life with others.

When I am struggling with an issue, my first impulse is to verbalize it, call a friend or write an email or a blog post. The problem comes in when there is another person involved-- and really, even when it's something in my head, there's always someone else involved. The closer they are to me the more I feel responsible for not embarrassing them by sharing too much.

It's a fine line to walk- telling your story to get the support or help or guidance you need, while not telling someone else's story at the same time.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Just be happy

In a nod to actually becoming my parents, my husband and I have developed the habit of watching CBS News Sunday Morning. It's a dependable topic of conversation between me and my Dad, and I take comfort in my conviction that I'm still not old enough to watch Face the Nation.

Today CBSNSM is running a piece on Jimmy Fallon. I have to admit something- I really only like watching celebrity interviews if the person turns out to be nice, a regular Joe or Jane, relatively egoless and cognizant of both the amazing life they have and how lucky they are to have it. Jimmy Fallon seems to be this sort of fella. I always like watching SNL at the moments that he starts to crack up, laughing despite the cameras and the audience (it reminds me of old Carol Burnett shows, and how much I loved watching them make one another laugh). When watching his show, I always seem to detect a whiff of a kid on a surprise trip to Disneyland, who can't believe he gets to do what he's doing. Watching the story, I think how happy he seems, right as Russ Mitchell comments, "He seems thrilled to be doing whatever he is doing." I agree, he just seems humble and happy, and slightly mystified at his success.

You might think "Well, it's easy to always be happy if you're rich and famous!" I think that money and fame have absolutely nothing to do with it. Neither does a job, or a spouse, or even a child. We've all seen the rich and powerful fall mightily, and those laid low by natural disaster positively glow with the ecstasy of being alive. We've seen people that have whatever it is we are seeking yet still have no joy . Here's the secret--- I think it's easy to be happy if I commit to just being happy. If I'm always looking to be happy "when" or "if" ("...we open a cheese shop...," "...we get pregnant..," "...I get that spare bedroom finally cleaned out..."), I know I'll never get there By then I'll have moved on to the next step, the next "when," the next "if". If I can look around and think, like Jimmy Fallon, "Wow, I don't believe I get to do what I'm doing!" then I'm more than halfway there (although unlike Jimmy Fallon, I'm not at all mystified by who my blessings come from- they come from G-d and I always want to remember it). Sometimes "what I'm doing" is as big as traveling to Israel or getting married (or else it may be moving into the home of your dreams, or getting a promotion, or buying that car you've dreamed of and worked for since you were 16). Sometimes it's as taken-for-granted as breathing or walking, or the smile on a baby's face when they see you (note I don't say "as small as", because there's nothing so small that it doesn't need to be celebrated as a gift).

In Pirkei Avot (Ethic of the Fathers), Ben Zoma says, "Who is rich? The one who is appreciates what he has." I just try to remember, whether it's a dinner at a new restaurant with my husband, or a flight to Greensboro and back in the same day, that I'm lucky to be doing whatever I'm doing. I want to feel like that kid at Disneyland. I'm committed to being happy, not "when" or "if", but now.


Friday, November 26, 2010


We were blessed to have my husband's entire immediate family at our home for Thanksgiving. Those of us who were so moved said what we were grateful for, but I always feel at those moments that whatever I say comes out trite- you know, "I am thankful we are all here together."

Well, that was pretty much what I said, but at that moment I didn't feel so trite. My mother in law has had a very difficult year health-wise, and I truly am grateful for the gift of having her with us. To get my husband's entire family in the same house at the same time requires skills rivaled by those in charge of corralling shoppers on Black Friday at the Mall of America, so another thing to be grateful for. I just returned safely from a glorious three weeks in Israel (half of which were spent with the JWRP Transform and Grow trip and half with Cheese Guy and a spectacular cast of characters including family and friends). And those are the big things. To even get started on the little things would take forever.

But I guess that's the point, isn't it? Take forever and be grateful for the little things. You'll never run out of things to be thankful for once you start thinking small.

1. that Julia Child is finally getting recognition from an entirely new generation of young adults (I'm sitting on the couch watching old "Julia Child with Master Chefs" with Cheese Guy).
2. That I don't have to worry about how to stay warm when it's 26 degrees outside.
3. That I don't have to shop at any stores on Black Friday because I can't afford to buy presents otherwise (not that that's why all people shop on Black Friday, obviously, but that's the only reason I could ever be dragged out on such a day).


Friday, November 19, 2010

First Shabbos back home

Jet lag can be crazy, but it certainly lets you get an early start on the day. Here it is before 10 am, and I have challah ready to go into the oven (final proof going on as we speak, so to speak). This morning was a powerful experience. I made a commitment one of the first days in Israel with the JWRP that I would take on the mitzvah of challah (thanks again, Sara Simpser, for all your assistance in Tsfat that led up to my taking on this mitzvah. I pray for your success in all your endeavors as a merit for the mitzvah you performed that day). G-d helped me to arrange it so that I have had the opportunity to make challah every week since then.

This week was the first one on my own. Let me tell you, it was spectacular.

When I recited the paragraph after saying the bracha, I felt this charge go through me. Usually I struggle in the Hebrew, because I don't really knonw what the words mean, but I can read the Hebrew so I do After this week, I am sticking to the English words. I felt every one of them as they came out of my mouth. Until I can feel the Hebrew words as fully as I can feel the English, I will always say the English words as well. Many people have told me that G-d speaks all languages, and I thought I knew that, but this felt like the first time that I prayed someone else's words with my whole heart.

I have a feeling this week's challah will taste special.


Monday, November 15, 2010


We drove from Petah Tikva to Eilat today, stopping off at Mitzpe Ramon, the largest crater in the Negev desert- Israel's version of the Grand Canyon. It was stunning. Unfortunately, the Visitor's Center was closed, so we didn't get the "full experience."

I saw plenty- much closer than my uncomfortable-with-open-heights husband would have liked, but when faced with an incredible view of a huge canyon, what's a girl to do??

Dinner tonight was a delicious grilled Labrak (a type of sea bass), while Patch had the grouper. Both caught fresh locally that day.

If my mother could see me eating whole fish, her eyes would pop out. I have incredibly vivid memories of her reaction to passing by whole fish at a market, screaming, "They're looking at me!!!"
Tomorrow, a lazy day in Eilat.