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.)
2. simpletoremember.com
3. aish.com

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."

On Writing

Quite a few times, I have retold an event that occurred and received a comment of, "You should write a book, or at least keep a blog." I don't tell these people I keep a blog, but I do think of this blog and feel a little sad. My problem is that I tell stories much better than I write them. Having gone through high school and college participating in hundreds of public speaking events, I honed my skills of body language, nuance and vocal inflection. However, also focusing my academics on science made my written communication much more dry and to the point. I have this idea that if I write a blog, I'll get better at having more personable written communication. Now the problem is actually writing on a regular basis. Also, I edit parts of my life depending on to whom I'm speaking. My best friend knows 100%, Rabbi F, well, he knows less. I think it's appropriate that way. However, to be personable, sharing more is almost necessary. But, what if I share more than I would want, say, the Beis Din to know, and then it gets back to them? And, when I have these thoughts, I feel guilty, like maybe I'm trying to be dishonest, but I'm not. It's just that somewhere between 0% and 100% sharing is this level that, in order to understand the percent you know, you need to know more. Sometimes that more is much beyond the scope of our relationship.
Plus, the internet is quite open and for some reason, I imagine it being more difficult keeping my identity private here than it would be keeping it private in a book. Probably because I book is published (and written mostly) ex post facto and can be edited and re-edited for clues. This blog, well, goodness, I've already run out of little abbreviations to call people. In fact, my new plan is to go through and just assign random names to people to protect the innocent.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Learning, Learning, Learning

Gracious, I have been busy. Every night, I learn with someone else. I'm so grateful that when it rains it pours. On Monday, I learn Kashrus; Tuesday, I learn the Books of Our Heritage; Wednesday, I attend a class taught by RF on Kashrus and then I learn about davening; on Thursday, I practice reading Hebrew with a friend; on Saturday, I relate everything I've learned about the Pasha to Maddy; on Sunday I learn the Laws of Brachos and the Laws of the Shabbos Kitchen. It's a lot in addition to the two jobs I am still working and the fact that I still have a paper to complete.
Also, the girl with whom I learn Kashrus is engaged and will be married in six weeks. She's moving to Isreal and will support him while he learns in Kollel. When he was here for the Vort (which is Yiddish for "speech" and is basically an engagement party where someone gives a speech), he didn't meet any of my chavrusa's friends (all female) and I wasn't allowed to meet him. He looked really friendly, though, and my chavrusa has a beautiful ring. Additionally, my good friend Baker proposed to my other good friend Petunia. I'm so excited for both of them and am immensely pleased that they are so happy with each other. Their wedding is not until December. My best friend from college is getting married on August 16, which is Shabbos. I have been a bridesmaid since the wedding was scheduled, back in the Fall of 2005. I have a tznius dress (well, altered to be so), and thankfully the wedding is located such that I can daven, have meals, and walk to the wedding all on Shabbos. I really need to work out the details with my LOR (local Orthodox Rabbi), though.

Last month was pretty busy with a lot of personal stuff that has been taken care of, I think. This month, my goal is to climb on top of this overwhelming pile of obligations. We'll see what happens. I know I am supposed to be meeting with the Beis Din sometime soon, although I don't know what soon is. I'll keep everything posted.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Quotes, Removed from the Sidebar

I had the quotes below placed on the sidebar to the blog. I like them because this process is a huge struggle and a constant fight with myself to remember that, although I often feel like an outsider, it's not because people dislike me -- it's because there are rules and restrictions that are not personal. However, I know these quotes are taken out of their context and I doubt I properly understand them. I also was speaking to a girl who plans to convert who said that she didn't understand why it was so difficult to convert and that if the local community didn't convert her within a year, she was just going to move to Israel. She vaguely referenced a quote to support her assertions. I think she was probably just venting some frustration and doing much the same thing with her references as I do with the quotes below. However, I think my use of the quotes could be a bit offensive since I do not really know what they mean and because it may imply that I am resentful of the process and feel like I know better. I am keeping this as a post so I can reference it if I wish, but I hope that my explanation helps make it clear that I am grateful for everyone who is helping me, and even those who I feel are not. Each barrier through which I break and each challenge I overcome is a great learning experience.

When a proselyte comes to be converted, one receives him with an open hand so as to bring him under the wings of the Divine Presence."
~Leviticus Rabbah 2:9

"Dearer to God than all of the Israelites who stood at Mount Sinai is the convert. Had the Israelites not witnessed the lightning, thunder, and quaking mountain, and had they not heard the sounds of the shofar, they would not have accepted the Torah. But the convert, who did not see or hear any of these things, surrendered to God and accepted the yoke of heaven. Can anyone be dearer to God than such a person?"
~Tanhuma (ed. Buber), Lekh Lekha 6:32

"Beloved are proselytes by God, for the Bible everywhere uses the same epithet of them as of Israel"
~Talmud, Gerim 4:3

"Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried"
~Ruth 1:16-17

"You shall love the convert"
~Deuteronomy 10:19

"You must understand the feelings of the convert."
~Exodus 23:9

Thursday, May 22, 2008

No Knees

Well, school is out. I wrote three research papers and I have one more to do, but I have an extension. I need to finish soon, but I have still been crazy busy. I started my new job last week and I love it. I have an entire wall that is a window and I love the sunshine!
I keep making progress and then hitting walls with my attempts to learn in Israel next year. First, it seemed that the school wasn't going to let me take a year off. However, after a week of feeling sad, I received an e-mail from the Dean of Students who said that he was going to ignore his misgivings and just let me go. Yay!
Then, I had a hard time contacting my Rabbi. After a while, I just set up a face to face meeting, where he asked me what was needed in the letter the seminary requested. I didn't know, but soon I found out. The letter has to state my mikvah date. What a daunting request! I can't imagine that the Beis Din actually knows. I feel so in the dark about where I am in this process and the end feels so far away.

Good news, though. Maddy, with whom I learn Parsha, had a baby boy. Nadia, with whom I learn the laws of Kashrus and The Books of Our Heritage, got engaged. Both of them kept secrets really well, though. Nadia didn't even indicate that she was dating, despite several very pointed questions I had asked her (I was just curious in general, but a weaker person would have confessed). Maddy named her son my favorite name, but managed to never say a thing when I had gone on and on about how I loved the name.

Oh, and, I found workout skirts that are actually tznius! I'm excited.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


School has gone from busy to hectic to overwhelming. Although I have no exams this semester, I have four papers to write. International Human Rights and Children is going to be about Egypt, Public Health is about Bottled Water, National Security is about the importance of Israel, and I'm not yet sure about Biotechnology. I may do GMOs. I have a draft for two of the papers, but there's not much time to get everything else done.
Thankfully, I have a job for the summer at the Department of Health. I'm really excited because it's the position I wanted and I am hoping that it will affirm my desire to work in public health law.
I have written to the Dean of the school about attending Seminary in Israel next year. The Seminary said I need a letter from the Beis Din. That's the intimidating part. I have never met with them, and I am not sure how to set it up. I don't want to talk to RabbiY about it until I am ready to go in. I'm not sure when that will be, but I'm hoping it will be soon. I now learn on Monday, Wednesday, and Shabbos with four different people. It's so much all at once that it's hard to keep my head on straight.
I've been so overwhelmed of late, that I made a slew of mistakes at my current job. I have had the job for about a year, and I should not make these thoughtless mistakes. I really like my boss, but I'm pretty sure I tried her patience this past week, or couple of weeks. I'm just hoping I didn't push her too far.
The Jewish Law School Students Association at my school has been pretty busy too. We volunteered for a local Purim parade and carnival, which was really fun. We wore graduation gowns and wigs made of cotton balls and posed as the King's Lawyers. We threw out blow up gavels during the parade and I sold prune hamentashen to a 102 year old man.
I have realized that I really love legalese. I love it in American law and I love it in Jewish law. I really like learning new halachos and discussing the nuances of them. I really want to learn this stuff more formally, though, because I always feel bad about saying anything I've because I'm so worried that I'm wrong. My most recent favorite halacha is that a man shouldn't put on two articles of clothing at the same time because it might cause him to forget Torah. Women are allowed to put on two articles of clothing at the same time. Guess why.
A guy in the community converted this past week. I am not sure how long it took him, but I've been trying to talk to him for a while. He's been busy. He was married to a Jewish woman (he married her after a Conservative conversion, they both became more religious, and then he converted Orthodox) who is very nice. I went to her Sheva Brachos on Saturday night. It was a bit sad because she was sick and there weren't many people. She said that she wasn't really excited because the marriage was just a formality. However, someone pointed out that the marriage was very exciting because she was marrying a new Neshama. It was sweet.
I met another woman who converted. I am not sure how long ago she finished, but I am sure I'll find out. She took over 3 years for the process, though. It's really nice talking to people who went through my experience. It makes it seem less lonely. This woman has offered to talk to me any time, so I have to make sure I get her number.
I'm cleaning my apartment for Pesach. A Jewish friend who has a non-Jewish roommate is going to stay with me because she isn't sure that her roommate will be able to do all the Pesach stuff. Although we're not sure if she can "trust" me, we figured that it was a better certainty, plus, she's new at this and we'll learn together.
FG came back from Israel for a while. I'm really excited to spend time with her whenever she's willing and I have it. I hope that happens soon.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Ok, I'm pretty sure this wasn't written with the intention of including converts, but it reflects my appreciation for the conversion process, even if I am sometimes frustrated by what seems like an indomitable task:

The essential point is that living beings do not undergo sudden, complete transformations. The caterpillar does not become a butterfly in a single act but as a result of a gradual process, governed by certain laws. Within the process there appears to be a series of jumps between distinct stages, and these the baal teshuvah must make from time to time. But these transitions, too, are neither as quick nor as sharp as they appear. Sudden entry into the world of Jewish religious life is a rare phenomenon for the simple reason that these changes are highly complex. The acceptance of Judaism is not a matter of one-time affirmations or moments of revelation. Such transitory experiences can be important as turning points, but in Judaism they can only serve as the starting point of a very long journey.

~Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Saturday, March 1, 2008


I've always wanted to travel, but I've never had the funds and I've always been in school. I recently saw Endless Saturday, and now I'm wondering if someone could backpack around the world and be an observant Jew. It warrants looking into. For that reason, I'm making note of these links:

A Map of Saturday.
Blog of guy who made the movie and his new blog.
Information for travel preparation.
Worldwide hostel search.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Israel love overfloweth

I've recently been particularly bothered by the blind hatred of Israel, the sympathy for terrorists and the general...lack of awareness around me. I have created this for myself as a way to document and compile everything I have, and can find in support of Israel. Feel free to leave comments with criticism or further support.

Economic Benefits
The United States has done a cost/benefit analysis and has concluded since the '70s that having a allied democracy in the Middle East is worth around $240 billion (total since '73). The fact is Israel is the 151st-smallest country (It could fit into Florida 8 times!), with 11% of the world's population but has the 24th highest per capita GDP, and a $100 billion economy (larger than all of its immediate neighbors combined). Despite global criticism (World to Israel: "Tough Luck"), incessant terrorism, constant barrages of missiles into Israel, and the terrible quagmire of discontent, Israel's economy still manages to outperform that of the United States, Europe, the UK, and Japan. Israel has the second highest percentage of university graduates in the workforce (behind only the US) and the lowest percentage of adult illiteracy and the highest percent of primary school enrollment in the Middle East (higher than the US).

It has designed the airline industry's most impenetrable flight security and U.S. officials use Israel for advice and technology in handling airborne security threats. Israel has the highest concentration of high-tech companies in the world apart from the Silicon Valley. The Israeli Company, Givun-Imaging developed the first ingestible video camera (PillCam), used to view the small intestine from the inside, to detect cancer and digestive disorders and other Israeli researchers have developed a new device that directly helps the heart pump blood -- an innovation with the potential to save lives among those with heart failure. The Israeli government plans to invest$230 million in nanotechnology research and development over the next five years, which would make nanoscience one of Israel's most heavily invested R&D fields.

Of course, Israel invests in weapon technology. They have created "small flying robots" (the "bionic hornet") which are a further development of the pilot-less "drones" which our government already uses in our war on terror. Just in case Israel seems 'war-mongering,' remember that it is a country surrounded by enemies who have tried many times in the past to destroy her, as well as currently shelling her cities and ambushing her civilian population. Necessity is the mother of invention and, Israel has the manpower, education, and intelligence to be up to the task.

In the late 19th century Israel was considered barren due to deforestation, soil erosion, and drought. The fact that agricultural production continues to grow despite severe water and land limitations is solely attributable to the cooperation between researchers and farmers. The agricultural sector in Israel is based almost entirely on science-linked technology from which the US benefits. Basically, despite the fact that Israel is in the middle of the desert, and has only 5% of its populace acting as farmers, it still feeds itself and exports $4 billion in agriculture each year. (Just in case you were curious, Israel's total exports are $42.86 billion/year.) The United States (and other countries) receives a great deal of benefit from collaboration with Israel in the form of technology, innovation and imports. For example, The Middle East has been growing date palms for centuries. The average tree is about 18-20 feet tall and yields about 38 pounds of dates a year. In comparison Israeli date palms are now yielding 400lbs/year,are short enough to be harvested from the ground or a short ladder, and have medicinal benefits.

Media Controversy
I think it's important to note that despite criticisms of a Zionist controlled media, there is little proof to back that up. Check out this senior editor of TIME.COM, who displays his hatred of Israel. The media fails to publish accurate data on Israel. I.e., the Guardian claims only 10 rockets landed in Israel contrary to multiple sources including Hamas' own reports. There's also that part where the UN, which consists of primarily pro-palestinian nations, unjustly criticizes Israel and denies clear truths. The media and the UN, however, overlook claims that Israel is a dirty microbe, governments which participate in the indoctrination of youth to desire death in order to kill Israel, and downplay the advances in more humane military technology. Despite being proud of their suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism, the media portrays Palestinians sympathetically, using sickeningly inaccurate terms like "resistance" and "militants". It even calls firing 11 rockets peaceful, and skews images to make it seem like the Palestinians are packed behind "border" fences looking longingly into Israel (from a fence over 1/2 mile from Israel!). Old photos are re-posted to make current events seem more dramatic. Just glance at headlines to see the clear bias merely with the choice of words.

It's all quite ironic given the fact that the Palestinians are ruled by the terrorist organization Hamas, which has, written into its charter, an acceptance of proven anti-Semitic lies and a desire to kill all Jews. Leaders long for a map without Israel, replaced by an Islamic republic, because the fundamental struggle can end only when all Jews are destroyed. Sometimes, Hamas tries to say it does not want all Jews dead but merely wants Israel to disappear. They're lying.
A site keeping track of the daily attacks on Israel from the palestinians.

Silly "News"
Hah! In April 2006, NBC News’s Dateline attempted to stage an Islamophobia sting on NASCAR fans.

In November 2007, ABC News’s Primetime Live attempted to stage a homophobia sting in Birmingham, Alabama.

Now, Primetime Live replicated the same thing in Texas!

Here are some suggestions I like (credit goes here):

Set up a Southern white guy wearing a pink shirt with a popped collar and some uggs with hidden cameras, put a George Bush T-Shirt on him and have him walk down a street in Pakistan. Or, better yet, have him walk down a street in Detroit.

Have a man, or woman, wear a pro-life t-shirt to a Women’s Studies class.


Charles Johnson points out that CAIR acted as "authorities" for this piece. Hey, ABC News stage managers: How about sending someone undercover at a CAIR office for a month and seeing what bigotry and fraud you turn up?

Oh, and here’s a helpful reminder from IBD based off data compiled by the FBI:

FBI data unequivocally shows that anti-Muslim hate crimes are plummeting, in spite of CAIR’s allegation to the contrary. Besides, given the number of faked hate crimes, how do we know which are true. (I hate the fact that this question is raised, though, because I think ALL hate crimes are terrible. They can be addressed, however, only if the truth is known.)

Why is it that we watch reality television for entertainment and watch theater for news?

Hopefully, this will end soon
I think if the Palestinian leaders suspended the constant rocket fire that has been raining on Israel for quite some time, they'd have more luck in convincing the Jewish State to halt its military.

If another government sponsored the firing of over 3,000 rockets into Chicago (150 of which were in the past few days), I'm pretty sure far that government would soon find itself obliterated (as would be expected). This isn't someone getting shot. This is a country's people living in fear. Just because people are living in their basement bomb shelters does not mean that Israel is not justified in trying to allow it's people to live without terror. In fact, many Israelis feel they have tolerated the attacks for too long and will no longer stand to be the most heavily bombed place in the world.

Yeah, a think that if it would be ok to hunt an individual who shot and killed a single guy in Chicago, it is also ok to fire 150 rockets into a place from which 800 rockets have been fired in the past two months. It would be senseless for Israel to continue to allow these rockets to fall on its citizens without doing what it can to stop the attacks.

Survey estimates
that "only" 7% of Muslims are extremists. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That's a lot!

Edsel: vernonFL: Ending this crisis is so simple:

Hamas = stop shooting rockets at Israel

Israel = loosen the borders a little to make life better for people.

If I was Condi Rice I would tell both sides to agree to the above or no more $$$ for either.

I agree with you. Unfortunately it's politically impossible to put any types of sanctions or constraints on Israel, and Hamas doesn't get any aid from the U.S. by law.

Wait, why do the Palestinians need U.S. aid in order to stop shooting rockets into Israel? It seems like they would save money if the cut back a bit on the rockets, maybe from 200/week to just 100? I mean, I guess the rocks massive stones are pretty cheap, but maybe they could use those to build infrastructure instead? But, well, if the Palestinians stopped fighting, they would be betraying Islam (see Hamas' charter) and would stop creating the poor oppressed martyr image they have carefully cultivated.


On a lighter note, just for fun, here's the world's tiniest Bible. I think it's amazing that such a small country has been able to accomplish so much. Looking at all of this evidence, I have no idea how someone could feel that the US should retract all support for Israel. I mean, the US is making a smart decision in investing $3 billion/year in the country. Of course Israel is not perfect, but it not worthy of hatred.

/I know some of my sources are biased, but there's a gazillion of them, and combined, it's pretty decent.

      Wednesday, February 20, 2008


      Another blogger stated that my post "weighty questions" created the impression "that if modesty was actually about not standing out, it would be alright to go to the gym in gym clothing," but, from reading my post, it appeared "that modesty is about silence after all…"

      I am not sure if that was truly the impression I gave, or if she was reacting to my response to her post asserting that "thinness" and "modesty" were dirty words, or if it was a combination of both. However, I replied with the following, in which I assert that thinness, while not a moral good is still a type of "good" and I assert that tznius is done for focus on ones inner self.

      I was not attributing thinness with any moral value. I compared it to something that has a moral value, but the comparison was just used because they are both "good." Being thin (or, as I used it, "thinner," i.e., loosing weight) is physiologically, emotionally, and mentally good as seen in the linked articles which demonstrate longer life, greater happiness, and lower stress. My analogy to giving to charity was done so I show how obtaining something that is pretty much universally accepted as "good" sometimes benefits from outside pressures and influence. If people do not even give charity without benefits other than the moral good, then it is easy to understand that some people would not lose weight without benefits other than those listed. Some people need some societal pressure to get them moving in the right direction. Do I think that the pressure current society puts on people is healthy? No. But, I do think that a desire to be thin can be healthy and is not unnatural considering the benefits derived.

      As for the quote from my blog:
      Thanks for the publicity? I am not sure how you get that modesty is about silence. I think in order to perceive that my wearing a skirt to a normal gym would be silencing, you'd have to do some mental acrobatics. First, I am not silent, ever. I am friendly, outgoing, ebullient, sarcastic, and noticeable. Everyone at my gym knows this and if someone told them I was silent, they'd be very confused. Second, when I wear a skirt to the gym, I certainly do not disappear. In fact, it lead to much conversation. I talked to them about Orthodox Judaism, about why I am converting, and about why the heck I would be wearing a skirt while doing pull ups. If anything, wearing a skirt gave me more of a voice to express something more personal. However, that is a one time thing, so it doesn't prove my point. The concern expressed about my skirt is because it is not long enough. Having a 3 inch longer skirt that would cover my knees would not make me any more silent. The further concern is based on the fact that it seems odd to think about modesty while at this particular gym. I have gone to numerous gyms, and I have been to those where the gym was a fashion contest involving designer sports bras, barely there spandex shorts, and masks of make-up. If that environment allows a greater voice to women and caters less to men, then my perception is way off. At my current gym, most people wear practical work out clothes and people are there to challenge themselves. So, it feels strange worrying about tznius while I am there because I feel like I am around my work-out family. But, I realize that my feelings of closeness are not always shared and I realize that I am making a lifestyle change and commitment to be aware of who I am. To shed the standards of modesty I have chosen for myself just because it seems odd, or seems unnecessary is contrary to who I am. If I am protesting injustice by wearing all black for a week, I continue wearing black even if it's night, even if it's dark, even if no one else is wearing black, and even if people not protesting are wearing black. By wearing tznius clothes to the gym, I maintain focus for even that hour on who I am, and people around me see that I am committed to principles I have chosen. After 45 minutes of exhausting myself, my skirt helps remind me that today, I'm modest. Today, I am not my physical body, I am more than that. The other people at the gym do not talk about my skirt much anymore. Just like we don't talk about Chad's full body tattoos or Sarah's 36 piercings. The great thing about my gym is that it isn't about what we put on our bodies -- it's about who we are on the inside. It feels weird worrying about wearing clothes to focus attention on my internal self when the attention is already focused there. It feels weird wearing black clothes when no one notices but myself, or when no one can tell because there is no light, but the focus just returns to the fact that I am not wearing black clothes for anyone but myself.

      Tuesday, February 19, 2008

      When it Rains, it Pours

      I have been fortunate to have met many people recently who are willing to learn with me and/or help me learn. In fact, I have had so much help that I am now a bit overwhelmed and need to sit down and get very organized. School is also getting pretty demanding. I have a detailed paper outline due next week, a rough draft of a different paper due in a month, and the third paper I have to write is just on my own. A paper may not seem like a big deal, but when one paper determines my grade for an entire semester of class, it really is a big deal. I also have a midterm on Thursday. My goal is to have each paper be about something that interests me because I think that will make the paper easier to write. So far, I have these topics chosen:
      • International Human Rights Law & Children: Human Traffiking (I'm thinking, though, about maybe doing something about human rights violations in Egypt, especially after watching this series) (20 Pages)
      • Public Health Law: Bottled Water. I considered GMOs and terrorism, but I think bottled water is more manageable given that the issue is narrower to begin with. (15 pages)
      • National Security Law: United States v. Israel Foreign policy. Something along the lines of continued support for Israel is key to the national security of the United States. (20 pages)
      • Biotechnology Law: A discussion of the contributions of Israel to the world's advances in biotechnology and the implications of the attempts to limit research in other countries. This is the shortest paper at only 1500 words.
      This past Shabbos was wonderful and the chazzan at shul was the best I have heard. I got sick on Sunday night and yesterday I went to an event where the head Rabbi of the Shul had a Q&A session, but I was way too ill to participate, despite the fact that I tried really hard to pay attention. I'm getting better and should be 100% by tomorrow or Thursday at the latest. The Rabbi in charge of my conversion emailed today requesting a meeting for 10 minutes. He assured me that I am "not in trouble" but said that there is "one thing" he wants to talk to me about. Despite his assurance, I'm worried. I don't know what that "one thing" is, but I imagine there is some manner in which I have failed or erred. I suppose we'll see.

      Monday, February 11, 2008

      Weighty Questions

      Today, at the gym, I did a front squat and maxed out at 145lbs. Even I am amazed. I am pretty strong, and always have been, but it makes me feel very accomplished to achieve something that seems so impossible. I also ran 1.5 miles, did around 40 push ups, 40 squats, 20 lunges, a bunch of push presses, and worked on doing a "clean" which is a really difficult move. All in all, according to my Polar heart rate monitor, I burned 908 calories in 48minutes. Not too shabby. So, why post it here?

      Back to tznius. I go to a gym that does group personal training. 4-5 people share a trainer and we do lots of different exercises using free weights, rowing machines, rope climbing, running, etc. Recently, I started wearing a skirt to the gym. I wear a pair of close fitting pants and then put this loose cotton skirt on top of them. I wear a long sleeve, loose t-shirt and tennis shoes. I have been looking for skirts that are better options, and all I can find are these running skirts that are quite short but better than pants, maybe. But, even so, I doubt that what I am doing is really acceptable. Although my trainer is a female, men are sometimes in my group and they are frequently often in the gym. The people who go are mostly older than I am, married and with an established career, and I have never felt that anyone was there being distracted by un-tznius thoughts. However, how do I know?

      But here's my issue. How can I get exercise and be tznius? I know some FFB girls who run in pants, even on the sidewalk. I know some women who have treadmills and rowing machines in their homes. From experience, I know that I need to have someone who pushes me to work out. Usually, this has been in the form of paying money (even though I have had something available at school), and having a trainer (who calls if I do not show). So, staying in my house wouldn't work. Also, the type of workout which is most effective, and enjoyable, is not safe to do by myself. If I attend a women's only gym, I still risk that men will come in to get their wives, as janitors, lost and confused, etc.

      I know that women, even dressed tznius, are not really supposed to dance in front of men. However, exercise is for health and dancing is for fun. Does that matter? If I somehow find a way to have a skirt that covers my knees, is my gym class acceptable? If someone needs to go through physical therapy similar to exercise, are they allowed to have men present? At what point is something necessary enough for health that a heter is given? If someone has been instructed to exercise by a doctor is it more important than someone who knows they should exercise just to remain healthy? Does it matter if everyone at the gym is not-Jewish?

      Friday, February 8, 2008

      Concerns I have

      When I first learned about tznius, it was said that dressing tznius created an emphasis on who a person is, and not on a person's appearance. Therefore, covering up allows a person to de-emphasize the parts of themselves which do not express the internal. The face, being the medium for expression, could be exposed, but the collarbone, knees, and elbows (and areas in between) should be covered. The cut off points are clearly delineated on everyone's body and I was told that joints have very significant meaning, although I'm not sure what. So, ok. I want to do what's right, and even though it means I needed to adjust my wardrobe, it wasn't a problem for me to at least try. I have never been particularly fashion oriented, and I have no problem doing what seems to be right even if I do not fully understand it. However...

      I have read a few incidents lately that have caught my attention. First, the caveat that I have only read about these things and have NO first hand experience with any of them. I have not spoken to any of these people, nor have I seen evidence. I fully believe that all of these may be grossly out of context and/or misrepresented. However, I think I would be foolish to ignore them because even if they are all fiction, such fiction would still create worry. Because my point exists even if the following are not true, I have taken down links I am uneasy about posting, because if they are false, or misunderstood, I would hate to spread such misconceptions.
      • Pictures of tznius women's faces used to advertise sheitles, are tznius, but pritzus, and thus a store owner’s failure to remove themjustifies boycotting his store.
      • Schools need only educate girls in things that will help them be better wives and mothers. Science, Shakespeare and Algebra does not help someone raise a family and crams "poor girls [sic] heads" with too much stuff!
      • A clothing store near Shabbat Square was set on fire, while Geula neighborhood patrols are armed with containers of bleach to damage the clothing of women who break the dress code (including wearing knitted, denim, jersey and spandex).
      • A woman should not swing her arms while walking in the street
      • This article (here, the full article, in Hebrew) interviews some of the followers of the Rabbanit, women who have taken tznius to an extreme. One woman wears 5 skirts, two capes, seven scarves, and a veil angled to cover one eye. Although she feels guilt, she leaves her other eye uncovered because she is disgusted by the idea of using her children as guide dogs.
      These things concern me. Not because it causes me to love Judaism any less. I know that extremes exist within all good things, and that everything can be manipulated from being "good" to being "bad". My worry is that the line could be blurred. I think an obsessive focus on tznius could create distorted body images for women, in much the same way that the secular world has done so. Girls become anorexic as a way to control their bodies, to reach "perfection" through self destructive behavior; it seems like wearing tons of layers and covering your face and not speaking to men is similar in an extreme attempt to exert control. If you are hyper-tznius, then you no longer have to worry that you may cause a man to sin, you no longer have to worry that someone may attribute immodesty to you. If any show of femininity is shameful, pritzus, dirty, or forbidden, why not be safe and hide every bit?

      People often say that if you are "more religious" then you do X. However, I do not like this term. I find that it doesn't often mean that person A does 260 mitzvahs and is only somewhat kind and loving towards Hashem and his family while person B does 316 mitzvahs and is 100% kind and loving towards Hashem and his family. I find it's more often that person B is much like person A, only person A also does 20 extra stringencies. At some point, I think the extras are not done for honorable purposes anymore, but are done so a person can show how religious they are. For example, in high school, there were girls who would bring things to school in bags from designer stores in New York, although they usually wore clothing from local department stores. I was once told by someone who did this that bringing a bag from a fancy store in New York allowed that purchase to be twice as useful. Not only could you wear that expensive blouse, but you could let everyone else know that you owned such a blouse by bringing the bag! So, the point of the clothing was not that you liked it, but rather that you wanted everyone else to see that you had the (taste, money, fashion advice, etc.) to shop at that store.

      So, if one over-emphasizes tznius, I could see that the goal of focusing attention on the person instead of appearance would be lost, and in fact, the focus is again on a person's appearance. Like I said, it's nothing that would make me change my path, and it's not something that concerns me too much, but it is something I would never want to experience myself and something that warrants some thought.

      (Addendum: I would like to add that I think communities come together because they relate on a certain level. Through that, certain standards are formed because those are the places of overlap. If I move to a community and I want my children to be around modestly dressed people, I would be quite upset if a family of nudists moved in and insisted on running around. Of course, I wouldn't stone then, but I would try to encourage them to adhere to the community's mores (through frank discussion, example, and trying to be warm and understanding). However, if the family insisted on running around nude, I would probably ignore them and encourage my family to do the same. So, I understand. I think that applies with less extreme grounds. I could understand why a Synagogue would probably have a problem with a house next to the Shul having a volleyball tournament with girls in bikinis and a pig roast on the front lawn on Shabbos. I think that these other communities are similar, but the examples are different. Even if not for religious reasons, I like Judaism because it gives me comfort that the community produces educated, religious, happy, unique, well rounded, friendly, caring and creative children. I like that I wouldn't have to be as concerned about sex in 5th grade, gangs and throw downs at the grocery store. However, at some point, a community needs to guard itself but recognize that there are different communities, beliefs and ideas and that the Torah places great emphasis on loving kindess and the proper way to influence others.)

      Wednesday, February 6, 2008

      Danger, Will Robinson!

      So, I watched a few episodes of The Jewish Americans, which I found to be informative and thought provoking. Hoping to find other shows, I had set my DVR to record shows with the word "Jew." I chose Jew so it would include Jewish, Jews, and Jew. However, apparently, that also includes jewelry, which explains the 73 infomercials I just had to delete from my DVR. Oops.

      Also, last night around 9:00 P.M., a friend messaged me to tell me that her neighbor had just been robbed at gunpoint right outside her apartment. Two weeks ago, two men were robbed at gunpoint while studying inside one of the smaller shuls in the area. Apparently, there were four armed robberies before that one. I'm afraid of what I'm going to do on Shabbos. I could stay with other people, but I do not want to have to do that forever (or even until I go to Israel). I eat out every Shabbos, but I do not think it would be reasonable to expect someone to go so far out of their way to walk me home every week. I've asked Rabbi Dan if maybe a group could be formed to walk this way every Shabbos, but I am not sure how the logistics of that would work. I suppose we'll see.

      Tuesday, February 5, 2008

      Praxy vs. Doxy

      Someone recently mentioned that Judaism seems to lack a focus, or emphasis on the spiritual side of religion. Not only do I think that converts should already have enough "spiritual feeling" before they begin, but I also think that a desire to have spirituality, or theology, taught is a remnant of Christian influence. I also wrote this:

      I am in a community that is full of outreach to non-religious Jews. Much of my first experiences were through these groups. When I received my syllabus for conversion from my Rabbi, I was confused by the lack of books on "spiritual" matters. Over time, I have come to love the difference and embrace it. This is how I have come to understand it:

      Orthodoxy: Correct thinking
      Orthopraxy: Correct practices

      I used to be a Southern Baptist, and in lessons, I was always taught to be loving and kind and respectful, etc. However, there were no clear guidelines or indications to what this meant. It was pretty subjective, and when I would ask for clarity, I would get none. When I was realizing that I needed to convert, I asked one of my Minister friends whether one should try to follow the "old testament laws." He told me that a person could do what they wished and what made them feel closer to God, but should not feel chained to the law. I found this too vague and in clear opposition of the spirit in which the laws were given.

      As I became more informed about Judaism, as things began "fitting," I realized that the rules and laws in Judaism are spiritual and far more spiritual than what I had ever experienced. Why? Well, by acting in the manner Hashem has prescribed, one can understand Him so much better. If His laws are flexible and you only follow what sounds good and what makes you "feel" closer, are you really learning about Him or getting any closer? I have heard many times that one should practice mitzvahs first, and understand the reasons why later. It's not because the reasons aren't important, but it's because the reasons are much clearer once the actions have been done.

      In conclusion, I think one reason Christianity fails is because one cannot have Orthodoxy (which is Christianity's focus) without first having Orthopraxy (which is Judaism's focus).

      Monday, February 4, 2008

      I read about the bombings today in Dimona. I talked about why I want to convert last night. I spent all day trying to learn. I read some writings by Norman Lamm, listened to some shirs by various Rabbis and got a call inviting me to monday night learning. Then I got a letter from an old friend who was born Jewish but is...bitter. She wrote about how I'm getting sucked in and how I should run away. She hopes I'm in a phase because she likes the old me and doesn't want me to become a "brain washed drone." It makes me so sad. All of the dislike people feel. There's so much to know and there is so much beauty. Any need I have can be fulfilled by Hashem and it makes me so sad that other people don't understand.

      I Met a Seer

      I met a seer.
      He held in his hands
      The book of wisdom.
      "Sir," I addressed him,
      "Let me read."
      "Child -- " he began.
      "Sir," I said,
      "Think not that I am a child,
      For already I know much
      Of that which you hold.
      Aye, much."

      He smiled.
      Then he opened the book
      And held it before me. --
      Strange that I should have grown so suddenly blind.
      ~Stephen Crane

      Ditto to Stephen Crane.

      Sunday, February 3, 2008

      Darn it!

      I host game night every other Sunday. Today, for the super bowl, I planned on getting chicken wings from a local kosher restaurant and serving them. However, they were out of them by the time I contacted them 2 minutes after they opened. After running around town, I found some pre-made ones in the freezer. I had a friend come over and make sure my oven was clean, and then turn it on and let it broil for 2 hours (enough time to kasher it). Then, she left. Later, before game night, I opened the chicken wings and put them in the oven so they would be ready when people arrived. However, I forgot that now the meat has been left alone with me and cannot be considered Kosher. Lame.

      Saturday, February 2, 2008


      Ok, so, I know I have not said anything about last week. I've been really busy and have wanted to tell everything. I'm sleepy now, though, so let me make this kinda quick:

      Monday: in the morning, I meet with Jane who had offered to learn with me. We talked about prayer and Hebrew. She loaned me a Hebrew reading book and a children's siddur. Later that day, I get an email from Rabi Dan, offering to set up a meeting. A few emails later, I have a plan to meet him on Wednesday at 1:30.

      Tuesday: I set up a meeting time for Wednesday at 10:00 with Karen, a local woman who converted elsewhere and whose husband converted here. I also confirmed my meeting with Jane for Wednesday at 12:30 to learn The World of Prayer. So, my schedule will be tight. I stay up all night working on my jewfolio and end up printing it at kinkos via the internet.

      Wednesday: I wake up at 8, having gone to sleep at 6:30, drive to kinkos, pick up the Jewfolio stuffing, punch holes in it, form 2 copies. I drive to Karen's and run through all of my questions. It made me feel much calmer and helped me relax and was comforting to know someone who reached the end of this process. I leave there, drive to meet Jane, talk to her about The World of Prayer. She's excited to learn, and we decide to read through the first chapter and meet next Wednesday. I show her my Jewfolio, she says it's good and we talk about my nervousness and she wishes me luck. Then, I go to Rabbi Dan/ I am so nervous and stumble over my words at first. Thankfully, all my questions are written and I have my Jewfolio. I mentioned it, planning on just leaving it with him. He decides he wants to look at it first. So, he looks at it, and seems to like it. He asks me some questions, wanting to know if I know what's in it (most, but not all, I say. It is, after all, my notes to help me study). He is amused that chullent made my vocab list and asks me what Mohel means (I tell him, but think this is an easy question). I leave pleased at what he has told me (I'm on the right track, I can learn, Israel next school year is not an impossibility although he does not control the pace, etc.). Yay!

      Shabbos Kiddush: Adara informs me that she saw the Jewfolio and that Rabbi Dan was super impressed, saying that it's something he would you to help teach converts. I'm way excited. Rabbi Adan, the BIG rabbi, tells me that he saw my work and was impressed. I almost squeeled but managed a pretty calm thank you (I hope!). It made me feel so great. I am guessing happiness will be in ebbs and flows, but I'm enjoying it today!

      Thursday, January 31, 2008


      I have been really busy and extremely exhausted, but I promise to update with fantastic news soon. Until then, I had wanted to go to Israel over Spring Break. I thought I might take an additional week off of school to make it more worth the expense. But, then I stopped working 2 jobs and budgeted this semester, which caused me to realize that in order to go to Israel, I'd have to pay for the entire thing on a credit card (a bad idea). Then, today I saw this:

      Wow! I have friends in Israel, but I only ever see pictures of them in different places, but never did I actually see the land. Talk about an ardent longing! I can feel it in my gut. I looked up tickets, and I can fly for under $1,000 still. However, I'd have to rush my passport and quickly replace my driver's license which has been lost. I'm going to sleep on it and decide.

      Monday, January 28, 2008


      So,I brought Mrs. Fabio some flowers for her birthday today. Cala had asked me to buy some for her, so I just got some extra nice ones and brought them over. I tried to be there early enough so Mrs. Fabio wouldn't feel pressured to ask me to stay for the learning she has, but I couldn't make it that early. So, she did ask me to stay and I said it was ok and there was a bit of awkwardness. She went outside with me and explained that she really just doesn't know the rules and she does not want to do anything wrong. Then she asked me to ask Rabbi Dan and I told her of course I would. So, we'll see what happens.



      Saturday, January 26, 2008

      Shavua Tov!

      I try to make sure that every Shabbos is the best Shabbos ever. Even if last Shabbos was fantastic, the next can be better. So, that's my goal every Shabbos. This Shabbos was truly fantastic. I have really felt the need for help, and I asked for it in a yahoo group for orthodox conversion. The woman who runs the group passed my information on to a woman in the community who may be able to help. Right before Shabbos, she e-mailed me and invited me to a meal. I was super busy on Friday, but called her when I had a moment and ended up leaving a message saying that I couldn't make it. However, I felt so happy that she actually emailed me. Someone in the community is willing to talk to me, and might be able to help me. Maybe I will be able to find some direction.

      The reason I could not go, though, was because I was having dinner at Rabbi Haine's (the Rabbi who I met with a while ago). He and his wife are wonderfully kind their house was so much fun. Lots of people from my home town were there, and although I didn't know them then, I know them now and we just laughed and chatted. Afterwards, I went to Rabbi Fabio's house and chatted with them. A girl my age who does not live in the eruv was staying with me, and when I got back to my apartment, she was already there. We stayed up and talked about the various books I have learned and need to learn, why I am converting, and why she's considering teshuva. We went to sleep way too late and arrived at shul a bit late. However, unlike last week, at kiddush, so many people were there, and it was a nice feeling compared to last week. After Shabbos, I went to eat at my favorite mechanic's house. He's an ex-wrestler who is BT and now lives in the community. He invited me and all of my friends to his house, and we had a really enjoyable time. It was nice because I got to experience Shabbos in a new way. He isn't FFB, and he is divorced, so we got to hear about what made him return and how he perceives Judaism. After that, I went to have third meal at this wonderful lady's house whom I had met at shul on Friday night. When we got there, everyone (she and her daughter's and some other girls) left to go to the wonderful home of another family. We took a shortcut and traveled through the woods which was tons of fun.

      Once we got there, we sang and debated about feminism and ate and talked. The new person I met asked me if I could read Hebrew. I told her I was trying, but was not really good at it yet. She offered to teach me Hebrew if I would teach her how to do legal research online. (She's an attorney, and figured it would help.) She also invited me to be her adopted daughter for the night so I could go to the Mother-daughter dance. I have not told her I'm converting, but I plan to tell her as soon as she calls me (hopefully that will be tomorrow).

      I felt like I had been fighting so hard and finally, I've had a break through. Every night, I pray so hard. Sometimes, I've wondered if God won't listen to my prayers because I'm not Jewish, but then things like this happen and I know that He does.

      Tuesday, January 22, 2008


      So, on Sunday night, I had my bimonthly game night, where friends from high school, college, law school and the Jewish community are welcome to come over and play board games and video games. It's my attempt to squeeze socializing into my busy schedule in a regular, wholesome way.

      A friend from college said that she was Jewish and asked me why I would want to convert. She knows me from my Christian days, and was flabbergasted by my change of heart.

      I have had to answer that question quite a few times, but it never becomes easy. The answer that immediately comes to my tongue is "Because, it's what God wants me to do." I always restrain myself, but I'm not sure that I should.

      If you'll excuse my trite verbiage, I think God has given me a great gift in giving me the spark to take this journey. I love learning, I find the practices I've taken on deeply rewarding, and, despite my frustrations and fears, I've felt happier and closer to God since starting this journey than I ever did before.

      "The Rishonim also relate to the hidden aspect, known to Kabbalists, and write that a righteous convert's soul was meant to be born in a Jew's body and certain reasons caused it to be born as a gentile. In the responsa attributed to the authors of Tosfos (Responsa Ba'alei HaTosfos, Appendix I, Paragraph 19), they state so regarding our Gemara, which says that "the son of David will only come when all the souls will end from the guf (lit. body)": "My teacher, my father-in-law zt"l citing Rav Y. Chasid explained that there is a room in Heaven called Guf, containing all the souls meant to be given to people, and the appointed angel...takes from the room and puts in a woman's womb and sometimes he puts a soul fit to be a Jew into a Gentile's womb and he becomes a convert."

      It's difficult because I didn't get a badge, or a seal, or any other physical proof that I'm supposed to convert. I read stories of others who have converted, and they tell amazing tales of unknown Jewish relatives, immense spiritual journeys, and volatile sparks. My tale is much less inspiring, and more meandering and pretty much just a recognition. It's powerful and life changing to me, but I don't think it would make anyone cry (except my mom). How can you explain to people that the Diary of Anne Frank was always especially interesting, Number the Stars was dog-eared from the re-reads, Chaim Potok wrote books that told irresistible stories, Introduction to Hebrew Scriptures was the first college class you signed up for, and the numerous other ways that Judaism and its people have pulled you in throughout your life? Converting is difficult, being Jewish has its dangers, and my life will never be as easy as it was when I was a Christian. I know that I am not yet Jewish, but until I am, I'll be working hard to become Jewish, because that is where I belong.

      It's really difficult to explain my feelings adequately. It's similar to feeling like you really belong in a certain university, and going through the application process trying to make sure that the committee knows that you're a good fit. I have that same anxiety, that maybe they'll see that I'm not quite good enough, but the hope that they'll see the depth of my desires and let me in.

      Saturday, January 19, 2008

      Climbing Hills

      So, how did my talk with Mrs. Fabio manifest itself in my psyche over Shabbos? Well, it was snowing, and so a lot of people did not go to Shul. When I got there, late, it was almost time for a Bris. I saw no one with whom I felt comfortable just chatting, so I stood by myself for a bit. Mrs. Fabio came in with three girls who I know. They came and greeted me and Mrs. Fabio did the same. As it became time for the Bris, Mrs. Fabio and the girls moved closer to the seating area and Mrs. Fabio started talking to them about what was going to happen, and showing them the prayer from the Siddur. I moved up and stood near for a bit, trying to learn, too. However, what Mrs. Fabio had told me nagged in the back of my mind, and as the circle didn't open to include me, I just stepped back. I felt sad.

      After the Bris, I went to the Kiddish and looked for the people from the house where I had planned to eat. They weren't there. I kinda wondered around, but none of my friends were there. I thought about how Mrs. Fabio said I wasn't lonely enough and I felt so alone. I mean, here I was, feeling totally out of place, but apparently that wasn't enough. I went into the bathroom and cried a little bit. I thought about my mother, my family, and my friends, considering how I could have just stopped being "religious" and they never would have questioned my change from Christian to non-observant Christian. I would still have my college friends, my mom would not be sad, and there would be peace in my home. Yet, I have given that all up because I need to do what compels me. However, maybe even then, I can't. Maybe I will not be allowed to be Jewish. Often, I feel that I'm just not what I need to be in order to convert, but I am willing to fight if there is a possibility of victory. It's just when it seems like failure is inevitable that I feel defeated. And, then, I feel bad about feeling defeated. Doesn't someone who truly wants something keep fighting despite defeat? Do they do it cheerfully? Does the fact that I feel frustrated and defeated mean that I'm not good enough? I just don't know.

      Then, I found some other people who were going to lunch where I was, and I walked with them. While there, we went around the table and talked about one way where we saw Hashem's hand in the past week. The Father-in-Law of the hostess was there. He is a great Rabbi from South Africa who has sense retired, I think. He started by explaining Brachos and how the Jewish laws force people to see Hashem everywhere. When a billionaire thanks Hashem for a glass of water, it's a humbling experience. Brachos are the currency with which we purchase from Hashem. He then said that he is never alone. Hashem is always there, and every second of the day, Hashem is paying attention. Although there is no way I can do justice for what the Rabbi said, but in the end, it doesn't matter exactly what he said. At that moment, he brought me back out of my head. I am not doing this for Mrs. Fabio to love me, I'm not doing it for people to flock to me in Shul. I'm doing this because I love Hashem. I had a warm church family, and I had mentors and religious leaders who would look after me. That's not what I want. I want to serve God, and I want to do it the best way I can. I realized this because of the Rabbi's talk, I need to remember that, while I am fighting an uphill battle, Hashem is with me and with each step that I move upwards, I'm that much closer to Him.

      On loneliness

      So, a couple days ago, right after I had made my plan (detailed before), I decided to speak to them to Mrs. Fabio. Mrs. Fabio is the wife of Rabbi Favio, who is my sponsoring Rabbi. They were the first "official" Jewish people I told about my desire to convert, and they are very close to Baker. They have always been friendly towards me, and when I needed a sponsoring Rabbi, I asked Rabbi Fabio. He said he didn't know what he would need to do, but he was willing to try. Since then, he and his wife have always been very kind to me, but they have never really discussed where I am in converting, nor have they given me any clear offers of help. It is ok, though, I have not minded. They are extremely busy people and they mostly do college outreach and are always on the run.

      I approached Rabbi Fabio last year about teaching me something from my list, and that led to a small class where he taught from one of his favorite Rabbis. It was really nice, but it wasn't something from my list, and the class ended. It has since been supplanted by Mrs. Fabio leading a large group of girls in learning. I see the invitations go out on facebook, but I have never been invited. I had discussed this with Baker, and his suggestion was that I should just show up. I am far too southern to do such a thing. Plus, even if she had missed my name the first five or six times, she could not have missed it every time. I thought it was intentional, but I was not sure why. Anyway, Mrs. Fabio comes to my school and gives talks for girls. After the last one, I was really excited to tell her my plan and get her feedback.

      I gave her a rundown and explained that I thought it might help Rabbi Dan (the conversion Rabbi), realize my sincerity. She said they didn't need to know I was sincere. I said, "But, I want him to know that I'm working hard and he will not be wasting his time." She told me that they were not worried about waisting time. She said the concern was that a convert is the responsibility of those who convert him. After someone converts, if they break laws, the beis din suffers, too. I explained that I understood (she had told me this before), but I said that even given that, people still convert and I wanted to do something, anything, besides this stagnation. She then went on to say that barriers between Jews and non-Jews existed for a reason. She said that all people were the children of Hashem and worthy of love and respect, but that not everyone should become too familiar. She explained that non-Jews are not supposed to learn the Torah from Jews and that there were no exceptions for me. Now, I know that there are prohibitions on teaching a non-Jew Torah, but I thought that there were exceptions for people converting. How am I ever supposed to learn that list if I do not have someone to teach me? How am I supposed to be able to show that I know how to keep the mitzvahs if I am not allowed to know what they are?

      Then, she continued to tell me that she knows of some seminary in Montreal where people go to convert. I told her that I had not heard of one there, but had heard of things in Israel. She said that where I am, I am too comfortable. I am not alone enough. I have Baker and Edgar and Cala and other friends. I am not like Abraham because he was alone and had to travel to a foreign land. This upset me. I am very pleased that she was willing to be completely honest with me. I appreciate her candor.

      However, I think there are a few mistakes. First, Abraham was not surrounded by people who believed as he did, he was surrounded by idol worshipers, which is why he had to leave. In fact, when Hashem told Abram to travel to the land of Canaan, Bereshis says, "Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot...and the persons that they had acquired in Haran." Which clearly indicates that he was not alone. He went with people.

      Additionally, in many ways, I am alone. Sure, I have made new friends in the Jewish community since beginning this process. Edgar and Cala are among them. Baker and I have been friends for a long time, but we had gone four years without much interaction at all and in high school, we were friends, but not really close. This process has brought us closer. Probably a combination of our being in law school and the fact that we are both learning and growing in the same community. However, having friends does not make a person not lonely. Many times, I feel very isolated. There are many Shabboses where I do not receive an invitation to go anywhere and it feels lonely. When my friends do not receive an invitation, they can eat at their family's home, or, as with Baker, they can always eat at those people who have practically adopted them into their family. Baker and Rabbi Fabio are extremely close and Baker can always go there and feels comfortable doing so. I have not been embraced to such an extent. Many times, I see people being invited and I am overlooked. I think it's because most of my friends are targets of "outreach," but I, of course, am not. I'm already sold on the club; I'm just not a member.

      I have been asking people to learn with me for almost a year now. So far, one person has accepted (not counting NG, with whom I will start learning this week), but even she became too busy and seemed too disinterested for me to continue trying to impose on her. It is difficult because my friends all know that they are welcome at the classes sponsored by the shul; they are all called and told about trips to Israel or learning programs at various schools. I am not called and I am often not really allowed. It is very difficult.

      My mother, and my mother's family thinks I am crazy. They are all Southern Baptists and, although they do not know too much about their own dogma, they do know that Jews aren't Christians and that they have been told that one cannot go to Heaven without being Christian. My mom told me that she did not think I was going to hell, but that God said I was going to Hell. My non-Jewish friends think I am a bit nutterbutters because why would anyone want to give up Friday nights? Sure, I am around Jewish people and have befriended them, but it isn't always a choice. It's practical. My other friends are available Friday and Saturday nights, but often, I'm not even available on Saturday nights because Shabbos ends too late. Being in law school leaves very little free time, and what I have is often dedicated to studying school work or Jewish things. I won't even start to explain how all of my childhood memories with my family center around some holiday that I will no longer practice. Every one of my new friends has warm seder memories, even if they have become more religious. I have those memories, but not from a seder.

      I am a member of a debate society from my Undergraduate school. It was my "fraternity" and how I made all of my friends in college. Every year, they have an anniversary meeting which is attended by most of my friends who have disbursed since graduating. I cannot go because it is on Saturday. I missed it last year and I will miss it this year, and every year to come. The society holds regular meetings on Thursday nights, but even then, I do not go. I have work and school and giving up Thursday night to study and driving the three hours it would take to go there and be back by Shabbos is too much when I am also not studying on Shabbos. It's lonely for sure.

      The final thought I have regarding what BG told me is that I wish she had told me this earlier. I would not have continued to request that she learn with me. I would have understood why I was not invited to her learning classes. I would have been able to question RF about the rules regarding my learning Torah. If I really do have to move myself across the world to Montreal or Israel, I could have known. I would still learn, but I probably would not have told my mother so soon. It would have saved her from a lot of pain and it would have allowed us to have a better relationship for longer. I could have initiated plans for moving, and tried to include them in my plans for the future. Although I intend to talk to RF about this, law school moves at a set pace, and once I graduate and my debts become due, it will be much more difficult for me to uproot myself and still meet my obligations.