Thursday, February 12, 2009


I have noticed that almost every article I have read discussing the Israeli election or politics, and many recent articles describing Jews refers to Jews as being "hawkish." I know what this word means, and I have seen it used to describe people who aren't Jewish, but it is not a common enough word to be so prevalent in articles about Jewish people. I think it's more likely that it's used very frequently because Jews are caricatured to have beaklike noses and are often portrayed as praying on the weak (ironically).

Here are some examples of what I'm saying:

The International Herald Tribune does it 3 times in one article.

Here, the weather helps as Israelis choose their next hawkish leader.

Ooh. This time, it's in the headline.

The less religious jew makes the more religious jew appear less hawkish. If only there were more less religious jews...

Just run the google news search for the word "hawkish."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


So, what's been going on? I'm still not Jewish. I heard through the grapevine (this time, a trustworthy one) that they are waiting for law school to be finished in order to show that I am more settled.

I have been struggling with a lot of things recently. I have made some more friends within the Jewish community, some younger, single girls (rabbi's daughters, no less), and some older people who are married with children. The younger women are FFB, meaning they were born religious. It's nice to know them because they all seem really well grounded, aware, intelligent, and not as weird as my imagination had me believe. They give me hope that FFB males are equally normal. At the same time, the few married FFB couples I know, who are from out of town, belie the impression of normalcy that the rabbis daughters make. They make comments that are flat out offensive (the gays are to blame for ecological disasters, black people are poor because they are being punished because they are from such and such tribe of people who were cruel to the Jews, etc.), and seem to have difficulty grasping basic social concepts. Granted, they may be examples that the frum community has as many off colored crayons as any other community, or they may be a product of their insular upbringing.

The married friends I have are mostly BT (became religious later), and they, too, seem strange. It seems like so many of them had some tragedy, internal flaw, or other HUGE issue that was assuaged by religion. I don't know if Judaism is what helped them as much as it was maybe religion. Also, some of them seem overwhelmed and trapped by their lives now. They became religious, within a couple of years they were married, and within a year of that (Imirtza Hashem), they had a child. It's a great network for support, but it also creates a system that is very rigid in holding someone in a certain position. A married woman with children is much less likely to go on a large spiritual journey questioning the foundation of her beliefs. Also, sometimes, the married couples, both BT and FFB, don't seem really married. They seem to coexist in the same place linked by geography and four to eight children.

Such cynicism! oy vey! It's true, but that is why I am struggling. I love Judaism for it's learning and the insistance that every question should be asked and that answers are available. I'm struggling because the Jewish community does not seem set up to support that reality.

There's more where that came from, but I'll save it for later.

P.S. Someone commented that they had some questions, but I lost that comment. Just post your questions as a comment, and I will answer them. (If you don't feel comfortable having others view your questions, make a note, and I won't publish your comment, but I will still answer the questions.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pouring out my heart

I spent some time speaking to a man in my community who recently finished his conversion. He's about 28, converted conservative 3 years ago, got married, both of them became more religious and then he converted Orthodox. His situation is different from mine, but it's still similar. I asked him for some advice. He first gave me the basic advice that everyone wants to share: read some books, keep "kosher," learn, make sure this is what you really want. I listened and took what I could from his advice, but then I explained to him that I have already learned quite a bit. I told him that I learn with a chavrusa every day except for Friday. I told him that I have read all of the books on my syllabus. I told him of my Jewfolio and told him that Rabbi Adan had told Adara that my Jewfolio is so thorough that he would give it to people who wanted to convert to show them what they needed to know. I told him that I'm 100% sure this is what is right for me, and that no whim would be strong enough for me to make my mother cry and believe I am going to hell. He stopped, kinda looked at me, and said, "Well, what's the Beis Din waiting for." To which I had no answer. Then, he told me what I am doing differently from him. He said he spoke to Rabbi Dan and Rabbi Aden so frequently that he became a fly, buzzing constantly. He said that by the time they converted him, they had to have been relieved to have him off their back. I explained that I am hesitant to seem flighty or overly emotional about this, or overly cocky. His suggestion was that I write an e-mail to Rabbi Dan and to Rabbi Aden tinged with the flavor of desperation and full of the passion I have for this. With that e-mail, I need to explain why I need to convert, what's motivating me, and why I feel I'm ready. After that, all I need to do is follow up. So, now I'm working on this email. I've worked so long in school, debate, etc., to remove emotion from my writing and to make it impersonal. The perils of being a science major, I suppose. This e-mail is going to be difficult for me, I'm certain, but I'm going to do it. I don't know if I'll post it yet, but I will be sure to let y'all know.

P.S., regarding my previous post: I am pretty well informed of the laws of tznius and the laws of yichud. My point was not that I didn't know what was appropriate, my point was just that there are two very different worlds, and nothing I know about the laws of tznius or yichud prohibits a guy from being introduced to a girl in a public kiddush without there being an intention of a possible marriage. More than a law, I would guess that it's tradition and custom. It's the tradition and custom of one world that I sometimes forget is different from the world I've always lived within.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Sometimes, I forget how different my world is. At Kiddush on Saturday morning, I was talking to one of my friends, a girl who is about to be a Senior in high school. Although she and her sisters claim not to be "frum," they most certainly are. I think, maybe, by claiming not to be "frum," they are trying to say that they aren't too religious, but who really thinks they are? Anyway, she pointed at the back of someone's head and asked me who he was. I told her and explained that he was really nice. He turned around, I greeted him and he came over. Being a polite and social southerner, I introduced them, chatted for a bit, and then flitted off to talk to someone else. They remained chatting for a short time after which she came to find me again. "That was so awkward!" she exclaimed. "I just wanted to know who he was because he stares at me all the time. I don't want to marry him!"

Oops. It had never crossed my mind that either of them would want to marry the other. The male in question has had a crush on my friend for quite some time although it will never work because she is 7 years his senior and not interested. Plus, he's out of school and a pilot, albeit a young one. Once, Rabbi Dan suggested to me that I not be seen in public eating with Baker because people might get the impression that I'm converting for reasons other than a desire to be Jewish.

At lunch, Mrs. Hardon, the hostess and a friend, told me that she met another friend's girlfriend. It would be normal, except this friend is staunchly homosexual (he's not so observant) and has no girlfriend. I didn't laugh, but I asked why she thought he was dating someone. Mrs. Hardon told me that she saw him with the same girl twice -- once in his car and another time at someone's house on Shabbos. Trying to decide how to correct the rumor that my friend was dating without speaking Lashon Hora, I told Mrs. Hardon that my friend wasn't really interested in dating any girls right now and that I was absolutely certain that the girl was just his friend. In the back of my mind, though, I just kind of laughed because the idea of him dating right now is almost absurd.

I understand that the frum world is different from the secular world and that relationships between genders are much more regulated. However, sometimes I forget that everyone else is so different from me. It's as though I've blended so well that I forget what I know. I was introducing my friend to a guy about whom she asked a question because I thought maybe they'd be friends. He's nice, she's nice, they're both Jewish and of similar mindsets. Seems like a great friendship. However, clearly, their talking alone together at Shul indicates that wedding bells may be ringing in the near future. In my world, talking to a guy didn't do it. In fact, so many people have male roommates, best friends, etc., that you have to 1. announce that you're dating or 2. be all over each other in order for someone to think you're dating. Sometimes, it even has to be a combination of both. Not only do I forget that I think differently, but apparently I, and some of my friends, blend so well that others forget we think differently, too.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Feng Shui

I have done my best to make this blog much more anonymous. The reason is that I do not want to inadvertently identify someone else who may not want to be known. Additionally, if you have any comments that you do not want to be public, you can now e-mail me. In the interest of full disclosure, which I think is more honest, I make all comments public, even if I disagree with them. (Of course, this policy may change, especially if I find a comment offensive or believe it may cause more harm than good.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Before Times

When I first decided that I needed to embark on the path towards converting, I had been learning as much as I could, in any way I knew how, via the internet. I would spend 6-7 hours/day reading information about Orthodox Judaism. I had no idea how else I could learn, but I knew I needed to find out as much as possible. I stumbled upon many different message boards, blogs, webpages, and mp3 sites. Some of them were better than others. Some of the best:
1. 613.0rg (not 316 as I had written...sometimes, I'm a bit disnumeric.)

I won't post sites for the worst, but I do want to describe some of them:

1. A webgroup advocating that Christians convert to Judaism only to later convert to Christianity in order to be the ultimate type of Christian. This one made me tear up. I did not, and still do not, understand the logic behind this. The site had pages of information about answering questions in certain ways in order to deceive a Beis Din into allowing a Christian to convert. This is the type of group/person/advocacy/action that makes it even more difficult for those of us who are sincere. If I were on a Beis Din and I saw this site, I would probably stop handling conversions, or I would make them even more difficult than they already are.
2. A few websites from the same Rabbi & Congregation which advertise conversions done online. I had a hard time finding out the affiliation, and at the time, I didn't realize that such a thing would almost certainly not be orthodox. I wrote to the Rabbi, feeling it would be less intimidating than my mental image of meeting with one in person, and was told I could certainly go through the classes and just needed to send a check for $500 and he would send me the materials. Thankfully, at the time I didn't have the money (I always knew being a poor student has its reasons), or else I certainly would have purchased it.
3. Websites that would apply only to the most extremely holy people, I think.

Clearly, my mind was being filled with information, but I realized that I couldn't trust most of it and that I didn't have the information or knowledge to cull the quality from the trash. I wish there were more online resources that were reliable or helpful, but I've learned the best thing to do is to immerse yourself in a warm community, find chavrusas and read. Again, I started this blog in the hopes that others in the process would find that there is at least one other person experiencing similar bumps in the road.

Monday, July 14, 2008

On Learning Lingo

Something most people in the Frum world know is that there is a lingo unique to religious Jews that can be difficult for an outsider to navigate. Just the word Frum is unfamiliar. There are so many of these words, that in my Jewfolio, I have a words section that lists all the unfamiliar words I have come across and their definitions. I don't need the dictionary much, but making it helped me learn the words. When Rabbi F first saw it, he was particularly amused by the fact I had defined "chullent."

The other day, my friends Baker and Petunia (WHO ARE ENGAGED!!!) were having their Vort and I was discussing it at a Shabbos dinner. I accidentally called it at Shalom Zucher and boy was my face red! Some people teased me in good natured fun, and I've recently decided to just misplace all sorts of catch-phrases, bli neder. So far, it's been fun and it relieves me of having to remember to say the right things at the right times, chas vashalom.

In case you don't know, here is an index of some potentially unknown words used in this post:

Frum: At the basic level, I think it means observant. Apparently, it is Yiddish and originally meant "pious." Some people are more "frum" (aka "frummer") than others, which usually means that they are more strict (sometimes, in a way that seems nutty) with what they observe. For example, a family I know that is well-respected in the community, and a personal favorite of mine, has four daughters, whom I hold in the highest regard, who do not consider themselves "frum." I am not sure why, but when I asked, I got a bit of a look and one of them told me that they weren't as frum as many and used the example of being allowed to watch some videos. At first, I thought it might be a take on the word "frumpy," since many frum women can seem to be dressed only in black unfitting dresses. However, that first impression is incorrect as I have since met many well dressed and stylish women. You have to be careful with compliments, though, since telling one Rebitzen that she looked "hot," meant that that outfit was relegated to the gemach.
Chullent aka Cholent: Basically, stew. In fact, I think that may be the only thing that most Jews would agree on with Chullent. It tends to have beans (pinto, chick peas, white beans) that can be identifiable or cooked and mushed into a state of totally unrecognizable. Also, it has potatoes and barley. Other than that, it's very different. Some leave the kishke in (Kishke is a tube stuffed with carrots, celery, other stuff and spices), but some take it out and serve it on a plate. Many have meat, but that can be ground beef, chunks of beef, stew meat, hot dogs, etc. Apparently, Sephardic (Jews of Morrocan descent) chullent has eggs in it. The word supposedly comes from the French chault, meaning hot, and lent, meaning slow, which describes the cooking process of preparing it before Shabbos and leaving it to sit through Friday night and until Shabbos lunch. It can be watery, or thick enough to "fill potholes" as one husband lovingly said.
Shalosh Seudos: Sounds like "shaloushudus" when people say it. It's the third meal of Shabbos and usually the one that is the smallest. It tends to be parve (neither meat nor dairy)
and in my community, women and men do not usually eat it together. I find that this results in more chit chat and a lighter, less formal feel. I think the reason men are not usually there is so that the women can sing, only I find that women tend to be really shy and don't sing out very much. It makes me want to learn more zmiros (Shabbos songs) so I can change things. When I go to DE's, we read Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore, discuss (usually, this involves a lot of debate), and eat delicious delicious food.
Baruch Hashem: Means "thank God." It is often given as an answer for the question "How are you?" I think it's the frum world's way of saying "fine." People also intersperse it throughout conversation when expressing anything positive. A typical conversation may go, "Hi. How are you?" "Baruch Hashem, you?" "Baruch Hashem, well!" "What did you do today?" "Well, I went o the store and flour was on sale, Baruch Hashem! I mean, it's gotten so expensive along with gas. But, Baruch Hashem, I'm getting a raise and tuition prices have stayed the same, Baruch Hashem."
Shalom Zucker: A party celebrating the birth of a baby boy on the first Shabbos after the birth of a baby boy. Apparently, it's traditionally just for men, although I've always been told I should feel free to go. I think it's a meet and great where guys congratulate the new father while the mother sleeps. I'm not sure why it's done only for boys, but my guess is because a newborn girl has a naming ceremony, and I'm not sure what that's called.
Chilul Hashem: Desecration of God's name. People use this whenever someone may be doing something blatantly wrong in public.
Bli Neder: Means without making a commitment. Basically, it indicates that someone has an intent but isn't promising to do it. Sometimes, people will say, "I promise to be there, bli neder." This is because one shouldn't make a commitment they can't keep, so it kind of downgrades something from a promise to an, "I'll try." I don't know why people don't just say, "I'll try."
Gemach: A place where things are donated, loaned out, returned and loaned out again. I see it like an old school Napster, but for things.
Vort: Means "speech." A party for an engaged couple where someone gives a speech and everyone eats, or stares at, strategically placed finger foods.
Chas Veshalom: Means "heaven forbid." Say this whenever you say something that might happen that would be bad, even if you're using the most outlandish idea ever. For example, "If aliens took over to earth and turned all people into Brussels sprouts, chas vashalom, cars wouldn't be needed."