Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tonight Begins Rosh Hashanah

This blog is shomer Shabbat and Yom Tov.

Therefore, there are no posts on Thursday, September 29, and Friday, September 30.

Shanah tova!

Last Minute Thoughts before Rosh Hashanah

Aish Connections has asked me to pass along information about their No Membership Required campaign: it's "a complimentary database of synagogues across the country that offer social, engaging and unique services for non-members. It lists Synagogue details (and prices where relevant) and indicates what range of services are offered including additional programs such for youth, teen, and explanatory services."

Worst case scenario, just show up. I admit, this advice has some risks (mostly embarrassment), and I learned that lesson well one year. But I blame that on the individual working the door, not necessarily the synagogue. And in the end, I still got to daven there. You cannot pay for services on the days, so if you can't afford to pay for a "ticket," maybe this is a less embarrassing route to go about attending somewhere. Assuming there is physically room in the shul, it would (in my uneducated opinion) be a very serious transgression for someone to be turned away on the holiday for lack of the ability to pay. And if you can afford to pay for the tickets or a donation of a smaller amount, just send it after yom tov is over. Do the best you can to do what's right.

As a practical note, remember to write out any meal/visit notes you'll need over yom tov! That is the last thing you want to forget to have written down!

And on the lighthearted side of things...
There is no shortage of High Holyday videos going around this year. Even President Obama released a video of his holiday greetings! We've also got Rosh Hashanah Girl from Birthright, G-dcast's "Shofar Callin'" from Prodezra Beats, and "Dip Your Apple" from the Fountainheads (complete with a shoutout to my alma mater, the College of Charleston!).

And in case you missed them, I already posted Aish's "Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem," the Maccabeats' "Book of Good Life," and Jewish Treats' "Soul Bigger."

I just want to say that my YouTube "research" reveals there is a ridiculous amount of Jewish parody songs. Be careful watching those videos unless you have a long of time to kill. I know it's early, but the award winner for most disturbing YouTube find in this quest goes to "All I Want for Christmas is Jews."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Explaining the High Holidays to the Clueless in 30 Seconds

The High Holydays are upon us, and that means there is a lot going on. You miss a lot of work and school, and you can't take phone calls for those days either. You cease to exist to the outside world for a couple of weeks.

In order to stress the importance and insanity of this time, I came up with the following quick explanation for the (American) Jewishly clueless:
"Imagine having Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years in four weeks. ...And add a couple of days to each. And then make one of them a week long."
(If you've had prior conversations about Shabbat, you can add the part about most of those days having Shabbat-like restrictions.)

I've been surprised at how effective this explanation is. Clearly I never celebrated any of those holidays properly!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pre-Yontif Checklist: A Work in Progress

This page is a continual work-in progress. I don't expect that this is exhaustive, but feel free to add your additions to the comments, and I'll them to the master list. These are in no particular order.

Remember that you can transfer fire, but not create new fire. The best way to have an open flame in order to light yom tov candles on the second day of yontif is to use a yartzheit or Catholic candle. In many stores, you will find these large white candles in a glass jar with saint candles. It will just look like a "blank" Saint candle. Avoiding avodah zara is a good idea. You can find a picture of a "blank" candle here. Remember not to extinguish it! (Or place it next to a window or fan!) Also don't place the candle directly below the fire alarm. Think about how you would handle the situation if your fire alarm went off on chag.

Figure out your meal situation. Will you be eating at home or someone else's home? Plan your menus. Have snacks available for between meals.

Figure out your davening situation. If necessary, reserve your seats at the shul of your choice. If you can't afford seats, speak to the rabbi or office as soon as you can.

Grocery shopping. Much cooking can be done on the yontif, but that is beyond our conversation. [Tishrei advice: Buy eggs and a box of matzahs/matzos/matzot for the three eruv tavshilim you have to make this month! Buy a "new fruit" for the shechechyanu on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.]

Do any necessary (or desired) cleaning.

Figure out whether/how you will bathe during the yom tov. This is especially important if you have young children. 

Let the people who matter know when you are unavailable. Tell them at least a week in advance, and then remind them again. Maybe you also want to change your voicemail message and/or email auto-reply.

Pay any bills that will come due during the chag.

Write out all service times, even if you aren't sure you want to go to something.

Check your timers, lights, and alarm clocks. Put your phone on the charger so that it's not dead once the three day chag is over. This is especially important if your phone is your alarm clock!

Run the garbage disposal so that it doesn't get stinky over the next few days. Same with the dishwasher.

Make sure you have enough clean clothes and underwear. This is important; don't forget it.

Set up your eruv tavshilin.

Implement your cooking plan. Prepare your stove/oven, if needed. If you have a non-yontif-friendly stove/oven, plug in your Shabbos plata or set up a blech.

There are a lot of halachic issues here. I suggest spending some time learning the halachot of yom tov. I found Laws of Yom Tov by Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen to be very user-friendly, but it presumes at least an intermediate-level understanding of the laws of Shabbat (and, like all English halacha books, is stringent in its interpretations).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Adventures in Semantics: The Thirteen Attributes of Hashem's Mercy

On motzei Shabbos, Ashkenazim (and Chabad) began their series of the penitential prayers known as selichot. Sephardim started saying slichot at the beginning of this month, Elul. As Rosh HaShanah starts on Wednesday night, try to make the effort to rise early and go to synagogue so that you can recite slichot with the congregation. It's only three more days, so it won't kill you. Even I, she of the all-night insomnia, am going to try to be on my best behavior and wake up on time this week.

The Thirteen Attributes are the centerpiece of slichot, so let's learn something about them. Every time I see the Thirteen Attributes, I think to myself, "There are not 13 things in here." Then I would promptly forget my question. But this time, I remembered!

First, the text:
Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error, and Who cleanses. - Exodus/Shmot 34:6-7

From that, how do we get 13 attributes (in Cliffsnotes form)? 
  1. Hashem is merciful before we sin.
  2. Hashem is merciful after we sin.
  3. Powerful
  4. Compassionate
  5. Gracious
  6. Slow to anger
  7. Abundant in chesed/loving-kindness
  8. Truth
  9. Merciful
  10. Forgiving iniquity
  11. Forgiving transgression
  12. Forgiving even willful sin
  13. Pardoning
Shana tova! K'siva v'chasima tova!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The 25th of Elul: The Beginning of Creation?

Tonight begins the 25th of Elul. According to Rabbi Eliezer, this is the day Hashem began creating the world. In other words, today is "the first day."

Therefore: Adam was created on the sixth day, and Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the year from the time Adam was created.

Why would we measure the year from the creation of Adam instead of from the very beginning of Hashem's creating? According to some of the rabbis (and a position later adopted by philosophers and physicists), time cannot exist without someone to perceive it. Without going into the nerdy theoretical physics/philosophy, that is how many orthodox Jews can accept both modern scientific findings and Torah, particularly about the age of the earth. The days in Bereishis/Genesis can be different than the human concept of days precisely because there was no human present to perceive time. Of course, there are people who believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old. 5771 years, to be precise.

On a related note, if you ever get the chance to hear a lecture from Dr. Gerald Schroeder, do so! Well, if you're as nerdy as I am. I heard these ideas for years and they made sense to me. If you've studied the theory of special relativity, you already understand the basic concept. But Dr. Schroeder really fleshes out the details in ways I had never imagined. And his analogy to the Hubble telescope and the universe's expansion will simply blow your mind. My understanding is that he is based at Aish in Jerusalem, but I heard him when he was visiting American communities, unrelated to Aish.

Falling Into the Rabbit Hole of Orthodox Pop Culture

It is 3am, and I have a post that has to go up today, but I know all of you want to be "in the know," so we're going to have a double post today!

The Maccabeats released their new video tonight, while mysteriously everyone but the Maccabeats were at a Jewish rock concert. In all honesty, I feel like I should have had my orthodox pop culture bingo card with me. We had the Moshav Band, the Groggers, Except Saturday, Yosaif Krohn, a Y-Stud, and even...Deena Mann (aka Chaya Suri)! I kept expecting Heshy Fried to walk around the corner! Sadly, he didn't. Maybe you can count me, but no one recognized me despite this month's surprising 19,000 hits! But I did get asked for subway directions, so I must look like I live here now, and that's good enough for me.

And this was only a Thursday night in the life of the Young and Jewish.

Speaking of bingo, I should also play bingo with the Maccabeats video. I'm still new to New York City, so I still have the right to get childishly excited about recognizing places!

Good on ya, guys.

Now for my own random comments.

I really love this video because it makes me excited about living in New York. Dorktastic, I know.

I got to see the girls making that "Open Your Eyes" art, and I was pretty impressed. Nice work, ladies! I kept meaning to take a picture of that for the last week or so, but then the rain washed it away! It cheered up my dog walks and gave me a little Elul reminder each day. So thank you :)

And these Maccabeats really seem to be practicing what they preach. While having a 3:30am Facebook discussion with a friend about the video while I was writing this, I realized that every time I see any of these guys (and it happens relatively often), they actively do something that makes my day better. I couldn't count the number of doors held open for me, welcoming smiles, friendly chat, and not death-staring my dogs. Thanks, guys! Elul Mission Accomplished with one person, even though it's been over the last several months. It's a small world, so I assume this'll make its way where it belongs sooner or later. Good on ya again!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Seven Noachide Laws - Sheva Mitzvot B'Nei Noach

If you don't already know this, you should: You don't have to be Jewish to merit olam haba, the afterlife.

In other words, Hashem loves non-Jews too. 

And even better, you don't have to wear anything in particular, or subscribe to a particular religion, or eat kosher! All non-Jews have to do to please Hashem is basically live a good life. And most religions in the world pass muster! (And I once heard a shiur that generally all modern atheists also would, but that is more complicated than I care to argue right now. But I found it convincing.)

In order to merit olam haba, be on Hashem's Nice List, and be a generally good person, you must follow the seven Noachide laws, which are the commandments that Hashem gave to Noah when he emerged from the Ark after the flood. Non-Jews who abide by these laws are called B'Nei Noach. (Arguably, you could call people who abide by these laws without realizing it B'Nei Noach too.)

The B'Nei Noach are an actual religious group, and anyone considering conversion should consider them first. If you're coming from another religion, maybe you could stay that religion. Or maybe you could join the "official" B'Nei Noach and even attend your local synagogue. Only if you rule out Noachidism for you personally should you move on to considering conversion.

I'll admit that I took the following formulation from Wikipedia. I think it's worded more clearly than other places I found.
  • Prohibition of idolatry 
  • Prohibition of murder
  • Prohibition of theft  
  • Prohibition of sexual immorality
  • Prohibition of blasphemy
  • Prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive
  • Establishment of courts of law (aka, set up a system of justice)
So what's up with the living flesh one, right? The example thrown around most is crab. Because they can regrow their legs, commercially-sold crab legs are often removed from a living animal. Some people expand this as a prohibition against cruelty to animals in general. 

I still can't get my family to stop eating crab. This bothers me. I would think that not tearing off animal's limbs and eating them while the creature still lives would be the easiest thing on that list. It makes me ill just thinking about it.

If you are interested in learning more about B'Nei Noach, a reader of this blog blogs at Creed of Noah.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's Elul, What Are You Doing to Make Your Soul Bigger?

During this time of growth, what have you been focusing on to make your soul "bigger"?

I've been focusing on my davening, especially in Hebrew.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Talking to Hashem Around Bad Smells

This little piece of halacha seems like it should be obvious, but maybe that's just me.

Don't daven or say a bracha around a foul smell.

As a practical matter in shul, this usually relates to passing gas. If you really need to do that, go outside for a minute. Halachically, everyone around you should stop davening until the smell dissipates. So if you break wind in shul, that's just rude. (And disrespectful, etc, etc...)

Similarly, don't daven or make a bracha beside a trash can, bathroom, or other smelly place. I've seen some say that the "rule" is standing approximately 6ft away from the bathroom or a trash can. I can neither confirm nor deny, but I'm sure commenters can clarify that.

Likewise, if you notice that people in shul don't want to daven near you, you may have a body odor issue...

Monday, September 19, 2011

When Hebrew Letters Are Actually Numbers

Something that confused me for a long time was that Hebrew letters are also numbers. Worse, the words for numbers have both feminine and masculine forms. But today, we're going to focus on Hebrew numerals. Think of Roman numerals (I, V, and X) and Arabic numbers (1, 2, and 3). I find the Hebrew system to be closer to Roman numerals.

General principles:
  • Each letter has a numerical value
  • There is no representation for 0
  • In order to make larger numbers, you combine letters and their numerical values
  • Modern Israeli Hebrew generally uses the Arabic numbers (and even more notably, the Arabic numerals appear to be written left to right like English even though the rest of the Hebrew language is written right to left!)
  • Hebrew numbers are used much like Americans (and other English speakers?) use Roman numerals, such as numbering paragraphs and lists
  • In religious texts, Hebrew numbers can be used to number paragraphs and chapters. For instance, you may hear someone say, "In perek (chapter) aleph, we read..." This may be a chapter in the Torah text or a chapter in the Talmud. Perek essentially means division or unit. Note: chapter and verse divisions in the Torah (except for Tehillim) are a Christian invention, but that is a different topic!
  • Jewish mystics use these numerical values to ascribe "values" to Hebrew words and phrases, which is known as Gematria. 
A simple Hebrew numbers chart can be found here. It's perfect for your fridge or bathroom mirror!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

UPDATED: Why Out of Town Girls Move to New York City

I apologize for the wind and the talkers. It's a loud day in NYC. But here is a live taste of the Maccabeats from their performance today at the Yeshiva University Homecoming.

And now why those girls SHOULD be moving to NYC...the Y-Studs. If you go to their website, you can get a free song! But this performance was my first real listen to the Y-Studs, and I have to say...they're good. And totally studly.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What Is the Proper Role of a Congregational Rabbi?

I'm curious what you think a congregational rabbi's role should be with the individuals who attend his synagogue. Below is a list of possible roles to jumpstart your thought process:
  • Spiritual Leader
  • Organizer
  • Counselor (but what kind of counseling/how serious?)
  • Role Model
  • Teacher of children
  • Teacher of adults
  • Person who oversees lifecycle events
  • Host
  • Friend?
Reflecting on your answer to the above, how do you think that role changes with a conversion candidate? Should it change? Should the sponsoring rabbi be more distant, more involved?

I recommend that any conversion candidate consider these two questions. You may also want to discuss your perceptions with your rabbi to make sure that you're on the same page. Remember that your rabbi is a human. He may have other responsibilities, including (but not limited to): 
  • Family responsibilities 
  • Jewish community responsibilities
  • Give halachic rulings at any hour of the day
  • Synagogue board and committee meetings
  • Deal with emergency issues such as death or illness
  • Deal with media inquiries and be a public face of the Jewish community
  • Be involved with other community organizations
  • Be taking graduate-level coursework
  • Have a "day job" (not all congregational leaders are "full-time"!)
  • Be expected to study halacha for several hours a day in addition to his work with the shul
  • Not to mention having hobbies and personal interests!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Word of the Day: Shuckle

If you don't know the word shuckle, you probably still know what it is! In fact, if you have been davening with an orthodox congregation for at least a few months, you probably already do it.

Shuckling is a swaying and/or rocking movement Jews tend to do while praying. It apparently comes from the Yiddish word that means "to shake." And despite how it's written, a lot of people pronounce shuckling with an extra syllable: "shuckle-ling." Both men and women shuckle, though women tend to shuckle more slowly than men and are more likely than men to shuckle side-to-side. For your convenience, Frum Satire has compiled a Guide to Shuckling Styles. (If you are easily offended, you should probably avoid his site.)

To me, shuckling seems like a form of movement meditation. I don't know much about meditation, but I do know that repetitive movements can help induce a meditative state. Using a different example, you probably know that children suffering from extreme stress can begin rocking back and forth. It's comforting, decreases anxiety, and gives an outlet for anxious energy. And over time, shuckling becomes a habit that you don't even realize you're doing. (While shuckling does exist in liberal congregations, it tends to be much less common and those who shuckle there tend to use the slower varieties.)

To prepare yourself for the High Holydays, Aish has made a video for Rosh Hashanah! Everybody's shuckling... (I suggest turning on the closed captioning for the second view unless you want to watch it a few times before figuring out what's going on.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Priority-Setting and Jewish Life

I'm having soapbox Friday early this week.

I've seen a lot of discussion lately about the price of kosher food and students becoming kosher. To be honest, the price argument eludes me. I don't get it.

If you think that G-d has commanded you to only eat meat in a certain way, then you would find a way to get what you need or do without. I don't see how price factors in (coming from someone who just finished 8 years of "higher" education). 

We spend money on the silliest stuff. I can go out drinking in a bar, buy brand-name food products, new clothes, pay for extracurricular activities, or even buy the little "junk" at the Wal-Mart check-out line, but I will choose to ignore G-d's law? That just doesn't make sense to me. 

Life is about priorities. Whatever priorities you make, just be honest with yourself. Not everyone is ready to really understand and believe that Hashem commands our lives to that level of detail. That's normal; life and faith are a process. But don't say, "Oh, I can't keep kosher because the meat is 30% more expensive" when you clearly have significant "spending money." 

I hate how people always give students a "free pass" to not eat kosher. When better to learn your true priorities than when you have few resources? Also, your priorities will follow you as your income level increases, so why not build good habits now? 

How do you work on priority setting in your life? Do you have any advice to share?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Conversion Special Cases: Young Conversion Candidates

What if you're considering converting to Judaism in your teens or early 20s? You face special problems during conversion. Sorry. But on the bright side, there are common problems that you will hopefully never deal with! In other words, all conversions have "problems" and frustrations. Unfortunately, when you're under 18 (or even under 22), you have less people to commiserate with and learn from. 

What problems might you face?
  • If you're under 18, most rabbis absolutely will not work with you. Some might with active (and written) permission from your parents.
  • Rabbis might not take you seriously because of your age. Of course, that applies across the board to any decision you make. At this age, most people won't take you seriously about any major life decision. I don't think anyone took me seriously until at least 24. Rabbis may be particularly hesitant if you have a bad home life. They may think you are trying to escape an abusive or otherwise negative family setting. But don't fret yet. Many conversion candidates (myself included) come from difficult family situations. Perhaps that is what makes us comfortable with making major life changes!
  • Rabbis may not believe you will maintain major life changes. For example, I know many people who became vegetarians for a few months or changed college majors 5 times. If you're in high school, you may choose to go to college in a community with few Jewish resources. When you're just starting your adult life, rabbis may doubt your willingness to live far from your family, even a bad one.
  • You have limited financial resources for books, tutoring, or establishing a kosher home.
  • You may lack the financial resources and job training to move to a large urban area.
  • Most batei din will expect you to move out of your parents' home and may even require full financial independence from your family. (And in some cases, they'll just tell you they expect full financial independence, even though they might accept significantly less.) Moving out of your parents' home is generally a non-negotiable prerequisite.
  • Rabbis may be more hesitant than normal about a conversion candidate dating a Jew because secular dating rarely leads to marriage at those ages. No matter how insistent you are on staying with your partner, a beit din may not take your relationship seriously. Thus, they believe that your interest in Judaism will stop once the relationship ends.

And now that you're frustrated, let me remind you of what you will hopefully avoid if you pursue your conversion now:
  • The "shidduch crisis." You should be available to date and marry at the "normal" ages instead of starting "late."
  • You are less likely to fall victim to unscrupulous people who charge exorbitant fees for tutoring and conversion. You simply can't afford them. You may also qualify for free or reduced conversion fees. But do be careful of people who may exploit your naivete. 
  • You will build Jewish memories very early in your adult life. I can attest to the comfort I have from knowing that basically my entire adult life has been lived Jewishly. Born Jews often seem to feel they can relate to me better once that piece of information is exposed. I guess I seem less alien.
  • You may still qualify for "life experiences" that frum-from-birth young adults experience. This includes the ability to attend yeshiva/seminary in Israel, working as a camp counselor during the summers, joining the Israeli Defense Force, attending a college with a large frum population, or marrying young and having your first child by 20. Not to mention Birthright.
Conversion as a young adult is difficult but certainly not impossible. Many people who begin considering conversion at that age take several years to "seal the deal." I would be one of those people, starting my own process at 20 but not having any conversion until 25. I feel that was the right decision in my case, but everyone is different. This is not something you want to rush.

Please feel free to add your own advice to the comments.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Adventures in Shidduchim

There is a new shidduch question on the market, and amazingly, it's even less relevant than your tablecloth.
Sidenote: Tablecloths are often joked about. It refers to shadchanim who ask what color tablecloth you use on Shabbat. It has to be white. The real machlokes is whether the white tablecloth should have a plastic cover or not. 

I didn't even understand the question at first because a) That's an awfully specific child-rearing question before a first date and b) Why comic books specifically?

Little did I know that communists are corrupting our children through comic books. Apparently Congress had hearings on comic books right alongside the "Are you a pinko commie?" Congressional hearings under McCarthy. While I am not old enough to know about these things, I suspect that a significant number of people reading this will visit Wikipedia. I'll save you some keyword agonizing: start with McCarthyism and fall down the rabbit hole.

Kol hakavod to this mom for standing up against such ridiculous shidduch questions!

Friday, September 9, 2011

What If You Live Outside a Jewish Community - Temporary Solutions

This post is intended for people living outside easy driving distance of an orthodox community. We're not talking about "living outside the community" as in "living 5 miles from the eruv and shul."

I'm going to share how I would approach living in an area without any Jewish resources. As always, each situation is different and your mileage may vary. I have two situations primarily in mind:
  • People who live in "un-Jewish" American areas, such as Wyoming or Rock Hill, South Carolina.
  • People who live in countries with little or no Jewish history and presence.
Both groups can face significant anti-Semitism, so I take that into consideration. However, safety is relative.

General Principles
This is a temporary solution, maybe two years maximum (ideally). After that, you should be living in a community. That means working hard, saving up money, and moving. It may even mean transferring to another university if you're currently in school. (Or waiting until you graduate, however long that is.) If you live in a country that doesn't have an established Jewish community, you are in a difficult situation because you will generally need a visa to live and work in another country. (Don't underestimate the value you may get from hiring an immigration attorney! It's worth at least a consultation. I'm not an immigration attorney, so please don't ask me about your situation!)

This is not an ideal situation. It will be difficult and frustrating and you will feel very alone sometimes. However, maybe you can find some comfort in the fact that you are neither the first nor the last person to be here. You can get through this period and successfully convert in an orthodox community. Many others have done so. When you finish, you'll know that you can accomplish anything! And you will have an olam haba that others can only dream of.

Step one: Google "Jewish X," replacing X with the name of your city, state, or country. When I researched law schools, I googled such things as "Jewish Boston," "Jewish Sacramento," and "Jewish New Orleans." Even the outdated webpages on Angelfire from 1998 can give names and places as a starting point. Go to the cemeteries, museums, synagogues (remember to keep safety in mind, particularly in foreign countries), etc. This is your foundation.

After that, everything else depends on you and your situation. I'm going to free-form brainstorm below, and others are welcome to add their experiences and suggestions to the comments. I've broken the suggestions into four categories:

  • Socialize with Jews
  • Learn
  • Increase Your Observance
  • Working Towards Conversion

Socialize with Jews 
There is simply no substitute for the real thing. As amazing as Judaism is on paper, if you end up hating Jews, you will eventually hate Judaism. It really is a gigantic version of the stereotypical loud, busy-body family. That has pros and cons. Am Yisroel Chai, the Jewish people live, and you need to get to know them just as much as you need to learn halacha.

Leverage your social media resources. Use advanced searches in Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform you regularly use to locate people who self-identify as Jewish. Email them, chat online with them, invite them out for coffee. You never know. Again, be safe.

Use real-life socialization websites. I only know two possible sites, but I'm sure others exist: Meetup and Couchsurfing. These sites allow you to arrange or join group social events. Meetup allows for group meetings, and Couchsurfing allows you to contact individuals who have volunteered to make people feel welcome! (Couchsurfing was created for crashing on people's couches, but many people note that they are willing to go out for coffee in addition to or instead of having an available couch.)

Go to any Jewish events/religious services that are available to you. I know, you're probably saying, "Wait, what?? I read what you posted on Tuesday!" I'm not saying that you misrepresent yourself. This post assumes that you are relatively early in your conversion studies. Every conversion candidate should have exposure to all three major Jewish movements: reform, conservative, and orthodox. It's the only way to make an informed choice. Going forward, I'm going to assume you're interested in converting orthodox. Even if you think that liberal Jews are wrong or misguided or whatever, there are still things you can learn from them that will apply to an orthodox conversion; in particular, the rhythm of the Jewish year, Jewish culture, and love of klal yisroel. I'm not suggesting that you seek a liberal conversion unless you intend to live as a liberal Jew. And you never know, potential orthodox conversion candidates change their minds all the time and choose to be liberal Jews. Leaving aside the arguments whether that is good or right, realize that it may happen. So don't burn your bridges by telling local Jews that they are wrong, misguided, or ridiculous. 

Learning without a community is a double-edged sword. It is probably the easiest assignment on this list, but there is a wide range of acceptable orthodox observance within halacha. Books will generally give you the "strictest" ruling for several reasons that aren't important right now. 

That disclaimer aside, you have books, the internet, private classes and university courses in Hebrew, etc. There are so many kinds of resources to keep you busy learning. The most important things you will learn are the concepts behind the halacha in each area. The definitions, the general principles, and the overarching ideas. The details really aren't as important, even though you may not believe that. What's important is to learn how to ask a rabbi an intelligent question. That way, you know what information a rabbi will need to answer your question and you may even be able to debate the issue to help come to the best ruling for your case. (Ex. Analogize to a different area of halacha - "Maybe the principle/exception in X would apply to Y?" Remember, rabbis are humans, and maybe you see a different angle that is equally important. More often, in my case at least, it becomes, "So why doesn't X apply here?")

Work through the various reading lists available here on the blog and on the internet. If you can take a few weeks to study abroad at a yeshiva/seminary that allows pre-converts or study with a chevrusa (buddy) over Skype, you can learn how to learn from the sources themselves. For instance, you can learn the Talmudic study method very well with a knowledgeable chevrusa and Skype.

Skype, phone conferences, mailing lists, email, websites like Jewish Pathways: there are many ways to study "with" other people. This can help alleviate the loneliness somewhat. Skype in particular is a great option because you can even show the other person the part of the text you're talking about!

Increase Your Observance
During this period, you have an incredible opportunity to focus on yourself and your mitzvot. However, if you don't have access to things needed for a mitzvah, don't beat yourself up over it. Do the best you can and you'll fully observe the mitzvah when you have the chance. After all, you're not legally Jewish, so you're not even obligated. That knowledge is a double-edged sword emotionally. Here, use it to realize your limitations and accept them. There is no reason to beat yourself up over things you cannot control.

As an example, let's discuss kashrut. If you don't have access to kosher meat, you do not have to slaughter your own meat or become a vegetarian. (But remember that it takes time to change to a kosher kitchen, sometimes years.) Eat meat, but eat it kosher-style. Eat only kosher types of meat and eat them in a kosher way (in other words, don't mix it with dairy). Continue to eat out. If it makes you feel more observant, you may try buying meat that is free-range, organic, or otherwise intended to decrease animal suffering. Apply those same principles to dairy if kosher dairy is not available to you. There is no need for you to become a vegan or refusing to eat out in restaurants or the homes of others. However, if you choose to become a vegetarian or vegan (and especially if you choose to become vegan), please do so under the guidance of a doctor and nutritionist. You could make yourself very sick.

On the other hand, it is very easy to focus on the interpersonal mitzvot and your relationship with Hashem. Focus on controlling your lashon hara, your jealousy, your anger, your anxieties. Daven. Learn Jewish philosophy. Study Pirkei Avot. Study Mussar texts. Work on yourself. You don't need a rabbi in order to be more mindful of your thoughts and actions.

Likewise, you can work on observances like Shabbat. You won't be able to observe everything until you spend Shabbats with orthodox Jews simply because there are tips and tricks that you won't figure out by yourself. The practical details are often left out of the books, which is why observance seems so difficult.  I mean, it is difficult, but it doesn't have to be THAT difficult.

Working Towards Conversion
Working towards the actual conversion with conversion rabbis is both more possible and less likely. Technologically, it is so much easier to keep in touch with your beit din. However, that increases the possibility of rabbis who mislead potential conversion candidates and either give them a questionable conversion or string them along for lots of money.

Especially those of you in the United States or other countries with converting batei din, inquire about their procedures. You may be allowed to apply. Consider applying to the beit din with jurisdiction over the Jewish community you plan to move to. For instance, if you live in Wyoming but intend to move to New York City, speak to the batei din in New York. You may be able to fly out and have some meetings with the rabbis, and thus, have more guidance over the process until you are able to move. If the beit din declines to work with you until you move, remember that they have limited time and resources and most people who contact them never move to the new community. Don't take it personally.

You could foster a relationship with a rabbi through the internet. That was the route I accidentally took by living my Jewish life online since I had few in-real-life options. That said, don't be a jerk about it and don't presume that you are entitled to the help and assistance of a rabbi you met online. Remember that they're human beings too, that they have other life obligations, and that they are speaking to you out of kindness. 

Don't work with a rabbi who asks for unusually large amounts of money. If you are asked to make large "charitable" contributions as a condition of your conversion and those funds must be given to a particular group, then there is something wrong there. A rabbi and beit din have the right to ask for reasonable compensation. You also have the right to request a financial accommodation (but I can't guarantee it will be granted or granted to what you believe it should be). Often, no payments are made to a beit din until the actual conversion has been arranged at the end of the process.

In other words, if something seems wrong, it probably is wrong. Don't be gullible or naive. And don't be afraid to ask for references. Even rabbis are people and ordination as a rabbi does not guarantee mental health or stability.

It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway: you should never be asked for any sexual activity, anything illegal, or otherwise legally/morally questionable. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Orthodox Inside Jokes: Mixed Dancing Makes Babies

If you really want to pass as orthodox, you have to be able to appropriately use "mixed dancing" in a conversation to evoke the most humor possible. You may think you can be orthodox without this skill, but that simply is not true. But in all seriousness, people have thought I was frum-from-birth based solely on my ability to make fun of mixed dancing.

To begin, let's strip all the humor from the joke by explaining it. In short, mixed dancing is not tznius. It leads to impure thoughts, touching (cross-reference shomer negiah), and who knows what! In fact, it's so untznius that some people believe it must automatically lead to inappropriate "relations" between the sexes and thus...babies. (Note: it's a difficult concept for some people, but these children are not necessarily mamzerim. Another subject for another day. But be glad you're just a convert and not a mamzer. Now that's a difficult shidduch situation.) 

[As a sidenote for my own future shidduch prospects, I do not mixed dance. Or dance at all, which could lead to mixed dancing. Don't you dare assault my tzniut and imply otherwise.]

The most common use of "mixed dancing" as a joke is when someone names something that could lead to interaction between the sexes. Then someone says that "could lead to mixed dancing," and everyone laughs knowingly about all those crazy "relations" and babies that will result. Let's discuss some examples (and I apologize if they're awful because it's 4am and I just got home from the Grogger's CD release party, completely forgetting that the post I've been working on for tomorrow still isn't complete and isn't going to get complete at this hour).

I sat around Twitter for only 10 minutes before finding a good set-up for the joke. This joke could exist in a vacuum in space.

Unsuspecting Twitterer: "Shopping cart bumper cars. Holy carp"
Response: "Could lead to mixed dancing."

From a Doctor Who backstage clip...
Karen Gillan: [Talking about why she should never have a Twitter account] "I just don't... [] I mean, one thing might slip, and you could all..."
Internal monologue: Lead to mixed dancing. Zing!

And the winner for best use ever comes from a comment on a funny Jewlicious post:
[T]he beauty of this punchline is that it applies to all situations. Kind of like manna was supposed to taste like anything you wanted it to. Or maybe that was tofu. Still, the joke I heard was: “Why is premarital sex banned? Because it could lead to mixed dancing…”
First-runner up goes to a comment on the Facebook debate about the probably-imminent mixed dancing at the then-upcoming Grogger's concert:
And if there ISN'T mixed dancing, I'm leaving. I'm sick of relying on brushing up against people on the subway for some action.
Other situations that lead to mixed dancing: kissing, television, college, Facebook, cars (especially women wearing seatbelts, which accentuates their upper torso!), dates, restaurants, and...uhh...everything. You're all doomed.

Quite frankly, with Jewish demographics the way they are, you'd think there'd be celebrating over every baby born, even if it was because of mixed dancing at a simcha. Hopefully one baby results from that wedding day, why not 30 more?

But in all seriousness, there has been a serious shift over the last 10 or 20 years (probably more) to separate the sexes in every possible situation. (Extra credit reading: The Great Mixed Dancing Controversy of 1960-61.) Some people say this is the true cause of the shidduch crisis: orthodoxy has removed all the "normal" situations when people might naturally meet, and singles are thus forced to rely on shadchans. This includes mixed seating/dancing/mingling at the meal following a wedding, social events, and even Shabbos tables! Then it gets translated to subways, buses, and anywhere you might accidentally brush against a person of the opposite sex. If you think this is funny, you should google the segregated seating buses in Israel (and a couple in the New York area). Some complete with a mechitza, from what I hear. You'll stop laughing.

Some have gone so far as to not allow "mixed seating" at dinners, even within their home. For instance, a family may host only single girls (and married couples) one Shabbat, but only male singles (and couples) the next week. As a single in a singles community, I have already heard the stories and seen the results of how many couples can meet at the Shabbos table, and I fully support it as a matchmaking tool. Further, a friend had great advice this week that a dating couple should never move beyond the starting stage of a relationship without sharing a Shabbos table. That way, you see how the other reacts socially - and you also get a kind of verification of his or her level of observance and Jewish knowledge. 

Now I'm going to get some sleep. ...Which most certainly leads to imaginary mixed dancing. Opa!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Video from the Groggers!

I know I've foisted the Groggers on y'all plenty already, but it's my blog, so you have to indulge me sometimes. Power pop is my favorite genre of music, so I can't resist anything combining that with Jewish pop culture humor.

The Groggers released their latest video yesterday, Upper West Side Story. The Upper West Side in New York City is a well-known modern orthodox singles community, though often characterized as being "left-wing modern orthodox." As a single young professional in my late 20s, I am the key demographic of the UWS, but that's not where I live. Hashkafically, it wasn't a good fit.

However, this video is hilarious. It's funny 'cause it's true!

Tonight, the Groggers are having a CD release party for their first album, There's No I in Cherem. (Cherem is the punishment of being cut off from the Jewish people - think of excommunication.) Come party with me and the Groggers at the Delancey, 168 Delancey Street, New York, New York from 9pm-midnight today, Wednesday, Sept 7, 2011. Concert seems to be at 10pm. $7 at the door, $3 drink specials. For more information, check out the Facebook event.

(And you can already buy the album on iTunes or CD Baby.)

WARNING: There may be mixed dancing. I accept no legal liability for any pregnancies that may result. Assumption of the risk. Res ipsa loquitor. Constitution. #NameThatTVShow

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

UPDATED: If You Think Only an Orthodox Conversion Is "Good Enough," Then Don't Get a Liberal One!

Who Are We Talking About: Please take the time to read a few paragraphs instead of having a knee-jerk reaction to the title. I'm not talking about the people you think I'm talking about. I'm not talking about people who are converting liberal but are open to the possibility of converting orthodox at a later time. After all, that's the position I'm in! Posting from below: "I'm referring to people who, at the time they are pursuing a liberal conversion, really do not intend to ever be a liberal Jew and are simply "passing time" in the liberal community until they can move to an orthodox community. In short, it's getting a liberal conversion when you don't want one." They don't think liberal Judaism is right or valid, but it's "what's available," and they plan to flee town at the earliest opportunity to join an orthodox community. (Whether that actually ever happens is irrelevant to this discussion.) As a friend described it, "they think they can cut in the orthodox conversion line." I don't even think these are necessarily bad people (except for possibly the final group mentioned). They rationalize it away, thinking things like, "It's not lying if I just don't say anything. They (the liberal Jews in the community, including the rabbi) just don't realize what they're doing. They're misguided. They're nice people, just bad Jews. They don't really understand what orthodoxy is about."

Time for a controversial, soap-box post. Tough love, folks. Tough love. But it is meant in love. Love for all of you, as well as for the liberal Jewish communities involved.

People are interesting creatures. We are so capable of compartmentalizing what we do versus what we say. We are capable of more self-deception that any con-man could ever accomplish. And we are masters of rationalization, giving "very good reasons" for why we do things that we instinctively feel are not right, moral, ethical, whatever. So I want to discuss one of the rationalizations/self-deceptions I have seen in the conversion community.

"I'm in the process of getting a liberal conversion, but I would only feel Jewish with an orthodox conversion. I can't move to an orthodox community right now, so I figured I'd go ahead and get a liberal conversion while I'm here."

I hear this a lot. People approach me about this, apparently expecting me to say, "It's alright. You're doing the right thing. How terrible that orthodoxy forces you to make these choices!" 

But you're not doing the right thing. I admit, I can sometimes be nicer than I should be, and I do try to understand each situation on its own merits, but there are just some things I can't support you doing. And no one forces you to make the decisions you make, even Big Bad Orthodoxy. I love to listen and help you brainstorm solutions, but I will not help you rationalize poor decisions, particularly when those decisions have bad effects for both you and the liberal rabbis you are misleading.  (Later this week, we'll talk about temporary solutions for pursuing an orthodox conversion while temporarily living outside of an orthodox community.)
Disclaimer: As a general rule, we are speaking about people who are still very early in the conversion process (and yes, that may still describe you, person who has been reading books for five years!). They don't quite know what they're getting into yet, even though they think (as we all did) that Judaism is as simple as the religions they left. I'm not talking about liberal candidates who think about the possibility of "upgrading" their conversions later. (Since "upgrading" seems to be the common word, even though I take issue with it.) Everyone considers it as a possibility, and some even expect there is a high chance of becoming orthodox later. Really, everyone thinks about this. Even the people who honestly believe that orthodoxy is "against them" for being female or gay or whatever. They may laugh it off within 5 minutes, but they acknowledge that it is a possibility, no matter how remote. I'm referring to people who, at the time, really do not intend to be a liberal Jew and are simply "passing time" in the liberal community until they can move to an orthodox community. In short, it's getting a liberal conversion when you don't want one. This does not mean that they have any idea of what an orthodox Jew is or does or even know any orthodox halacha. We'll discuss that issue below. 

I'm not going to sugarcoat this for you. If I am known for nothing else, it is giving an honest answer, even when the answer isn't what the listener wants. I've lost many friends over the years for that, but I wouldn't have it any other way. (I follow the halachic approach-to the best of my ability-about when and how to tell the truth, but that would just be confusing to discuss right here, especially as the intended audience for this post is not well-versed in orthodox halacha yet. So let's not discuss that in the comments, eh?)

Here is my personal opinion on that approach to conversion. Of course, and as we will discuss several times, there are always exceptions to the rule. But the existence of exceptions proves that there is a rule!

"I can't live in an orthodox community right now."

As a general rule, I personally think that "I can't live in an orthodox community right now" is not a good reason for "settling" for a liberal conversion, especially when the intent is to get an orthodox conversion as soon as some situation changes. Most of the time, they have the ability to move within a year or two. Very few people have really good reasons for staying. A job or a house are not good reasons. Thousands of people before you and throughout the ages have made those changes successfully, even though you may be unemployed for a while or lose money on selling a house. I did it, and I'm broke as a joke, and I've been unemployed since April, but I still made the right decision. These people are generally impatient. There's nothing wrong with being impatient. I'm impatient, she's impatient, we're all impatient to become Jewish. In fact, it shows passion and enthusiasm. But that doesn't make it right to compromise on this issue.
Note: Staying close to children from a prior relationship (or keeping them close to the non-custodial parent, especially because of a court order), taking care of an ailing family member, or an inability to get a visa to another country are generally very good reasons for not moving to an orthodox community. What you do with that situation, I leave to you. I am in no position to advise you when you have those kinds of serious issues restraining you. Hashem has given you your situation for a good reason, and I don't know what that reason is.
I think the moving issue is one of the biggest myths out there about conversion. There are always steps you can take: people you can talk to, experiences you can have, mitzvot you can take on. Maybe those steps even include attending that liberal shul while you live there! What I can guarantee those steps do not include is disrespecting that community or misleading them. You don't have to tell them you aren't satisfied with their Judaism and intend to pursue an orthodox conversion, but you shouldn't hide that opinion from the rabbi if you want them to take the time and resources to convert you.

Wasting Time

For everyone else: I understand, you have outside pressures driving you: you want to get married, have children, enroll your children in a Jewish school, have a "Jewish" marriage with your Jewish spouse, etc. When you really don't think that anything less than an orthodox conversion is "right," then you're just cheaping the accomplishment of those goals. Likewise, if you want to be orthodox and get married and have children, a liberal conversion doesn't help you. It just delays your goal. Getting a liberal conversion in order to be allowed to join a Jewish dating site will (usually) not get you a mate who will be fine with you pursuing an orthodox conversion. In fact, having a non-orthodox partner can prevent or significantly delay any future orthodox conversion. (There are exceptions, but never assume you are the exception. They're called exceptions to the rule precisely because it is unlikely. Remember, don't self-deceive! Also read why I advise against dating during conversion.)

One More Thing You Have to Explain Later

Worse, getting a liberal conversion when you don't really want one is something else you have to "explain away" during an orthodox conversion Your learning towards your prior conversion generally will not matter because the rabbis will assume you learned a different halachic ruling than the orthodox one. That year you spent learning reform or conservative Judaism because you couldn't move for 18 months could have been spent learning towards an orthodox conversion instead. You'll have to take that time anyway, so why do it twice? (Remember that we'll discuss the alternatives later this week.)

If you have a prior conversion, you get to spend time and ink explaining why you sought that conversion and why you now don't think it's "good enough." Going through that myself, it's difficult. You have to explain your past failings, essentially. Using myself as an example, I have to explain that I didn't do the research I should have done about the conservative movement or asked the questions I should have asked. And that because of my experiences, reading, and study, I should have known to ask. That is ego busting. Thankfully, I don't have the complication of a non-observant partner or spouse who would also have to explain why he or she wants to become orthodox. Or worse, an already-orthodox partner describing why he or she started dating someone who wasn't orthodox.

What Drives These People to Seek a Conversion They Don't Believe Is Valid?

An interesting sociology project one day: do these people even pursue an orthodox conversion later? I would imagine that the grand majority don't. Once the liberal conversion is in place, why move, why change, why jump through more hoops? Inertia is a law of nature, but it's also a human trait. 

I think that many of those people never really wanted an orthodox conversion in the first place. Maybe their beliefs and lifestyle are more in tune with liberal Judaism, but they had the "goal" of an orthodox conversion because they want universal Jewish acceptance. I'm sorry that this is the truth, but no conversion, no matter what, has universal acceptance. None. 

If you get an independent "modern orthodox" conversion, there are people and rabbis in the orthodox community who won't accept it as valid. Even if you get an Israeli-rabbinate-approved RCA conversion, some groups would still make you have a geirus l'chumrah or not recognize your conversion. Sadly, that's life. People are people. You have to do what you believe is right and what you believe is the law of Hashem. So if you have decided that a liberal conversion is right for you and that Hashem accepts that, don't bother with what other rabbis think. It's a waste of time and will just give you ulcers. 

Don't Bank on Being the Exception to the Rule

Many of these conversion candidates somehow believe that they can get an orthodox conversion without actually becoming orthodox. (Like I said at the beginning, many are at the very beginning of their Jewish journey and just don't "get it" yet.) Because they want that universal acceptance and they're nice people living nice liberal Jewish lives and identify with the Jewish people, they again feel like they will be an exception to the rule. But orthodox rabbis believe that non-Jews can be awesome too. You don't have to be Jewish to be awesome and to identify with the Jewish people and to merit olam haba. That is what the Noachides are, so there is no need to give you an orthodox conversion if you are unwilling to live an orthodox life. 

The "Fake It 'Til You Make It"s

I intended to skip discussing people who intend to be "orthodox observant" so long as it takes to get the orthodox conversion, but I'm already being offensive, so I might as well continue. I'll be perfectly honest when I say that people like that make me physically ill because they completely undermine everything I (and thousands of other sincere orthodox conversion candidates) are doing every day. Those (very) few people are what create the conversion crisis that has thrown the grand majority of conversion candidates into the wringer. We suffer because the few have called everyone into question. Again (and especially here), you are not some exception and you shouldn't rationalize that you "really need" an orthodox conversion when you should know that it directly harms the people who sincerely want to become an orthodox Jew. Judaism values the individual, but not at the expense of others.

RULE: If you want to discuss this topic in the comments, do not name names. That is inappropriate, possibly could lead to a lawsuit, and is halachically questionable. After all, you don't know all the facts and they may really be halachic Jews. Even if the facts are as you assume, there are potentially bases in halacha for upholding the conversion as valid. So...don't go there.

How This Perspective Disrespects the Liberal Communities

Now let's shift gears to how this is harmful to the liberal rabbis and communities who help these people. 

Sins of omission matter in Judaism (wait until Yom Kippur, if you don't believe me). "Omitting" the fact that you intend to seek an orthodox conversion as soon as you are able to is misleading and dishonest. Likewise, it is misleading and dishonest to "omit" the fact that you don't think your rabbi is a good Jew and that (s)he is not capable of converting you into "a real Jew." 

I also believe it wastes the time of liberal rabbis and disrespects them to believe their conversions "aren't really good enough" but you'll go through the motions to get some conversion done. No rabbi has enough time or is paid enough. It hurts me that rabbis waste those resources on people who don't believe they are practicing "authentic Judaism" and don't believe these rabbis have the power to really make them Jewish. The argument about the authenticity of liberal Judaism is totally irrelevant to the fact that this is dishonest and disrespectful, coming from someone who hardly knows what Judaism is and is incapable of forming an informed argument about the merits of the issue. It's using someone for your own ends. And to a degree, it's self-righteous that you've "figured it out" and this congregation doesn't know what they're doing.

Now for the other perspective. A friend had the most beautiful thought on this issue. She felt that many liberal rabbis "would probably be glad to help someone at any point on their Jewish journey." And you know what, I think she's right. But, dear readers, don't use that as a rationalization for misleading those who mean well.

The Influence of Birthright

This is technically a sidenote because this is incredibly unlikely and unusually dishonest. Getting a liberal conversion because it'll be "faster" and you're getting close to the Birthright cut-off age is particularly dishonest (and potentially reaches the level of fraud because of the monetary benefit). Sure, Birthright may be a consideration (and can certainly be a perk), but it should not be the motivating factor. You would be surprised to hear that it can be. Well, probably not that surprised because we're talking about human nature, but I was surprised to hear people admit it and then expect justification from me for doing it. But at the same time, those kinds of motivations lead people to convert for the purpose of immigrating to Israel, or so everyone says. After all, those aliyah requirements and protocols were created in response to that fear. 

Judging Favorably in Spite of Everything I've Just Said

Another friend graciously offered an eloquent and positive perspective on these issues. "Judaism is a journey. VERY few of us end up where we thought we would be, and most people starting the process have absolutely no idea what being 'Jewish' means, let alone being 'conservative' or being 'orthodox.' Personally, I think there are FAR larger numbers of people who start an orthodox conversion, get bogged down, and then choose a liberal conversion. ... I feel sad for them when they spend the rest of their lives doubting their own Jewishness because they don’t have the “right” stamp of approval. I know that is not the orthodox main line view, but I suspect HaSHEM has things worked out a little better than we humans suspect. ... People are imperfect, but even in their imperfection, they are beautiful anyway. Growth is not linear, and Hashem has a plan for each of us. Maybe Hashem's plan for them is to start out in a liberal conversion with 'false' motives, and then to grow in their maturity and love for Hashem." Kol HaKavod.

Monday, September 5, 2011

If You're Considering a Non-Orthodox Conversion, Speak to an Orthodox Rabbi First

When I began my conservative conversion process, the rabbi had a policy that all potential conversion candidates must visit the orthodox rabbi in town and ask him the following questions. I believe these are good questions to consider when deciding which movement to convert through. In other words, you should make an informed decision before making an assumption about which movement you belong in. Don't presume that you know the answers to these questions or what "the orthodox" are like. If nothing else, maybe this will be the first time you've met a real, honest-to-Betsy orthodox Jew. I wish I could say that is always a good first impression, but rabbis are people too.

  1. What are the steps and the process for an orthodox conversion?
  2. If I convert to Judaism under the supervision of a reform or conservative rabbi, will I be accepted by you and by the orthodox community as a Jew? Even if I have a circumcision, beit din, and mikvah?
  3. If I convert to Judaism under the supervision of an orthodox rabbi and at some point decide that I am more comfortable in a conservative or reform synagogue, how will that affect my orthodox conversion? In other words, can my conversion be taken away from me?

Feel free to add other questions if you'd like.

Of course, #3 has become more complicated since 2006, but read Conversion Is Permanent before freaking out and writing crazy comments below. If you ignore this statement and write me crazy angry comments anyway about precisely what I wrote about in that post, I reserve the right to embarrass you by telling you to read that post instead of responding to your statements.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Like Israel? Then Support Israeli Artists by Seeing the Voca People! To Boot, It's One of the Top Shows Ever

Today, I'm going to tell you why the Voca People are awesome. But I'm not going to make you take that on faith. I'll tell you a little about myself so that you can know I am a clear authority on their amazingness.

First, I saw it.

Second, I've seen a lot of performances of plays, musicals, dance, improv comedy, performance art, etc in my day. 

I'm not joking about the number of different performances I've seen. I worked in the theatre for nearly a decade. But I'm no actor. I'm what's known as a techie (not trekkie, but I've never seen Star Trek). Techies are the people who make performances happen. We design the sets, build them, paint them, design the lighting/sounds, organize the actors/performance, and run the actual performance backstage. This means that I have worked on and attended many performances from many genres. 

And the Voca People is definitely in the Top 5 shows ever from all of those genres. It is remarkably fun and well-done.

So why do I say that Zionists and friends of Israel should be supporting the show? It was directed, created, and produced by Israelis and even the New York City production's cast and crew spent nearly 2 months in Israel putting the show together. You want something more interesting? The "comic advisors" helped found "the beatbox movement in Israel." How can you say no to that? 

They appear to have running shows in New York City and Paris, with touring performances in Europe and some in Israel. Go to their main website to see when a performance is coming near you! (The New York City off-Broadway performance's site.)

While the YouTube videos are incredible, they are really only the tip of the iceberg of how fun this show was. For two hours, I did not stop smiling and laughing. And it's not all fun and games: these performers are serious artists performing extremely demanding roles. It was mindblowing to see these people performing very difficult vocal maneuvers for the entire two hours with almost no breaks for their voices. There's not even an intermission. They're a credit to what the human voice is capable of.

That said, here are some YouTube videos. One from the show itself and one from one of the performers. He provides the beat-boxing as well as acting as a kind of narrator. (Not Israeli, he's Portuguese.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Shabbat-Friendly Foods for the Newbie

When you first begin observing Shabbat, the food issue can be the most daunting. How do I cook for Shabbos without cooking on Shabbos??

For a long time, I didn't eat hot food on Shabbat. (That's ok, but be prepared for karaite jokes!)

If you're not ready to tackle the crockpot, hot plate, or blech, you can still eat food on Shabbat. Here are some ideas:
  • Essentially: Anything that can be eaten cold or at room temperature
  • Cold-cut sandwiches
  • Fresh, canned, or dried fruits 
  • Nuts
  • Chips
  • Cheese
  • Bread/pita with spreads (hummus, peanut butter and jelly/bananas, Nutella, etc)
  • Cereal (with or without milk)
  • Chocolate, brownies, cakes, rugelach, cinnamon rolls, etc
  • Popsicles, ice cream, ice cream sodas, etc
  • Leftovers that can be eaten cold
It won't be the best food you've ever eaten, but you'll survive. And it can be an excuse to indulge in guilty favorites! Feel free to add other suggestions in the comments!

Note: Your community may not recognize opening cans or bottles as halachically-permissible. Check with your rabbi. This includes soda cans and bottles being opened for the first time.