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Jul 17 2014

How to “Do Jewish” in Huntsville, Alabama

By at 1:57 pm

Jewish-in-Alabama

It was two days before our visit to family in Alabama. Feeling hopeful, I Googled “Huntsville kosher.” Nothing useful came up. I tried “Jewish Huntsville.” Not much better. Finally, with “Huntsville synagogue,” a Conservative shul and a Chabad center surfaced,­ neither of which had weekday services or kosher food. I sighed and went to pack a few boxes of granola bars.

Figuring out how to “do Jewish” in different locations is always on my to­-do list before a trip, but some cities make that job easier than others. We hadn’t even left and I was already feeling disconnected from our usual community.

Even my children thought to do some advance scouting of the Jewish landscape. They asked me if the family member we were visiting was Jewish (yes) and if he kept kosher (no). I explained that the place where we were staying had a kitchen and that we’d be arranging for our own food, which would all be kosher. That seemed to satisfy them.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 1 2014

I Left The Hasidic World But Now My Son Wants to Keep Kosher

By at 2:39 pm

Kosher-symbol

When my son was nearly 5, he and I moved to a new home. It was only 30 miles away, but those 30 miles changed everything. We left the insular Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel, and settled into a Modern Orthodox community in Rockland County, New York.

Although I was virtually alone, I was determined to remain connected to my past and remain observant. My commitment didn’t come from a particular religious belief, but from the strong resolve to stay connected–and help my son stay connected–to our network of Hasidic relatives. For my son, I believed, it would help nurture a relationship with his Satmar family.

But things didn’t go as I’d hoped. Staying religious as a full-time single parent meant spending Shabbat in our tiny basement apartment, waiting, waiting, waiting for the day to pass. My son also had trouble fitting into the religious community and, despite my best efforts to go to shul and participate in meals in the neighborhood, we felt shut out. It wasn’t from lack of effort on the community’s end. We simply didn’t fit: nothing of my socioeconomic situation as a struggling single mom belonged in middle-class Modern Orthodox suburbia. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 12 2014

How An Email I Sent About Pizza Started a Religious Firestorm

By at 2:09 pm

email-firestorm

As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. The other day, I forwarded an email to a local community listserv from a local pizza restaurant offering to donate 20 percent of proceeds to a well-known Jewish charity. And with that, I had ignited a religious firestorm.

The listserv was started by an Orthodox woman in our town and, though I assume initially it was comprised of mostly Orthodox women, word has spread and it has grown to nearly 200 women who span the range of religiosity. I was added to the list about two years ago. For me and for many others, it is our go-to place for community recommendations like babysitters or doctors. All three painters who provided an estimate to paint my house were recommended by women on the listserv. When I was cleaning out my playroom, with a quick email to this group, I found an eager taker for many of the toys my children had outgrown. When a friend from California posted on Facebook that she was looking for a bike to borrow or buy cheaply for use during an upcoming New York visit, I was able to hook her up through this list. People post about anything from asking for a last minute ride to the train station to finding out which streets have been plowed in a snowstorm, from promoting a local Torah class to offering sheitel (wig) cleaning services. Though I have never met many women on the listserv, including its founder, I love that they are out there and that we are all willing to help each other out.

Which is why I was so surprised at the reaction to my email. Within minutes of posting, one woman responded to me directly to point out that this restaurant was not kosher, stating that she didn’t think anyone on the listserv would go there. A few minutes later two more women sent replies to the entire group questioning why I’d send an offer for a non-kosher restaurant. Feeling like I had totally done something “illegal” by the unspoken listserv rules, and not wanting to engage in a religious debate, I quickly sent an email to the entire group: “I am sorry if my email offended anyone. My apologies.” Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 21 2014

This Week’s Torah Portion Offers a Glimpse into the Pain of Losing a Child

By at 10:11 am

fire

This post is part of our Torah MoMmentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Shemini. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

Maybe it’s my morbid streak, but the darker Torah stories are generally my favorites. After all, if the Torah portrayed a perfect world, I would just feel worse about my own messy life. Instead, reading these ancient stories makes me feel like things are OK. My life isn’t perfect, but no one’s is or ever has been. So I love that Torah stories aren’t all about angels and flowers.

But although I still appreciate stories of veiled seduction and secret weapons, I find that becoming a mother has (somewhat to my dismay) lessened my delight in stories of child sacrifice and gory deaths. And rather than appreciating the drama of this week’s portion, I found myself feeling sort of disturbed by the family tragedy.

Without warning, two of Aaron’s adult sons, Nadav and Avihu, are suddenly killed by God after offering a “strange fire” on the altar. It’s shocking. It seems to come out of nowhere. And God seems so…casual about the whole thing. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 5 2014

Update: Crown Market Is Back in Business

By at 10:01 am

crown-super

I recently wrote about my local kosher market’s announcement that it was closing after 74 years in business and how devastating the news was to so many people in our community. I regretted not shopping there more often and wished I had a chance to do things differently. But how often do we get second chances in life?

With immense pride in my community and gratitude to our leaders for coming together, we all have that second chance in the Greater Hartford area. Our beloved Crown Market has been saved, and I for one will be shopping there all the time. I will not make the same mistake twice. I hope everyone who was affected by this story takes to heart that our local businesses truly need our continuous and community-wide support.

In the many Jewish communities I have lived in over the years, I have never seen people put aside their differences and work together as decisively as this. Our Jewish community acted swiftly and cohesively to rescue one of our most prized institutions, but it could so easily have ended differently. The Crown Market was at the brink of closing, and in other communities around the world, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are not enough to put their institutions back together again. Don’t wait until your community’s institutions are on life support before mobilizing to save them! Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 4 2014

Every Time My Son Eats a Cheeseburger at Daycare, It Makes My Mother Cringe

By at 11:53 am

cheeseburger

I grew up keeping strictly kosher, both inside the home and out. My husband, on the other hand, grew up eating pretty much everything from shellfish to pork. These days, we work hard to maintain a kosher household, but do not keep kosher outside the home. For me, that means sticking to vegetarian items, but for my husband, it means all bets are off. And I don’t have a problem with that.

But a friend raised an interesting question a few years back when she observed that although I freely admit to not keeping kosher outside the home, she’s yet to witness me eat anything other than dairy and vegetables in a restaurant setting. “So what are you guys going to do if you have a kid?” she asked. “Will he follow Mommy’s rules, or Daddy’s rules?”

We didn’t really give it much thought until about a year ago, when our then 1-year-old moved up to the toddler room at our daycare center and became eligible for free breakfast and lunch. The idea of not having to pack up two meals on a daily basis was enough to convince me to go for it. However, when I casually mentioned this to my mother, her initial response went something like this: “But have you seen the menu? And just how unkosher is it?” Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 19 2014

My Local Kosher Market is Closing & I’m Part of the Reason Why

By at 2:52 pm

The kosher Crown Supermarket in West Hartford is shutting its doors. What does this mean for the future of our Jewish community?

My community’s beloved Crown Market–serving the Greater Hartford community for 74 years with kosher products, butcher, deli-style prepared foods, and catering–announced this morning it was closing its doors. The Jewish community here is reeling. Increased competition in the area is cited as the cause but the horrifying truth is I am the cause.

We are all the cause.

I chose to shop at the new neighborhood Wal-Mart because we wanted to save money. What I realize now, much too late, is that if I had shopped at Crown and paid a little bit more, I would have been supporting this important part of the Jewish community that we cherish and love. And now, with a heavy heart, I admit I was wrong. I apologize. I know that isn’t enough. I wish it were. I wish I could promise to shop there for now on. I wish I could get 500 families to pledge to do the same. I wish I had known they were in trouble so I could have done something, anything. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 25 2013

I Became a Kosher Vegan

By at 12:04 pm

fruits and vegetables on wood tableI’ve written here before about the carefree approach I had to food in my 20s: I ate and drank with abandon, just shy of gluttony, with a penchant for trying new cuisine in new places (thus, I went on a month-long, semi-solo sojourn to India to try the food). I come from expert meat-grillers, and the art of the old-school, dairy brunch that could render a person immobile for two days was not lost on me. Didn’t everyone’s grandparents put sour cream in cottage cheese with dill and radishes?

And then, in my 30s, I married an awesome guy who happens to have always kept kosher. That we would keep kosher wasn’t necessarily written into the ketubah (marriage contract), but an agreement we made that I was, and am, just fine with honoring. I missed cheeseburgers, and now don’t really even give them a thought, like an old boyfriend I know in hindsight was a lot of fun, but bad for me. Read the rest of this entry →

May 23 2013

My Son Wants to Know About God… and Bacon Too

By at 9:32 am

baconThis post is part of our month-long series featuring different ways that parents of various religions have talked to their kids about God.

“I want to try bacon,” my 7-year-old son Zack declared the other night.

“Well, bacon, like, really isn’t kosher,” I said tentatively, always careful of giving him the kind of “because Hashem said so” answer my Yeshiva-educated husband learned to resent early on.

“I don’t care,” he reassured me. “So can I try it?” Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 29 2012

Bikini Line Grooming & Other Conversion Questions

By at 2:15 pm

As a candidate in a conversion class at my local Reform synagogue, who can I ask the pertinent questions?

I’m not talking about which prayer to say over challah, either. They give us plenty of books, and I can always head to Kveller when I’m in need of the day-to-day questions. I’m talking about the really personal questions, like, “Are you supposed to shave your hoohah before the mikvah?” because I definitely can’t ask my rabbi in the middle of class with 20 other candidates on a Saturday morning.

I’m by no means shy… but asking a rabbi about shaving my nether regions is even beyond me. I don’t want to be known at synagogue as the one who asked the hoohah question.

A friend of mine who I met in the conversion class said she once asked her Jewish stepmother if she could use her seder plate as a Thanksgiving hors d’oerves tray. The answer was yes, but she felt so weird about it that she decided to use another platter instead. I once got brave and asked in class why Jewish people binded things to their heads and hands. The reaction I got was, “I’m a Reform Jew, so I don’t have to do that…” which is fine, but it didn’t answer why some choose to do it (or not).

My European husband and I are vegetarians, as if being über liberal and converting to Judaism didn’t alienate us enough while living in a small town in south Texas, both heavily Republican and Christian in nature (not that there is anything wrong with that, to quote the wonderful Jerry Seinfeld). I can’t help but wonder if we’re vegetarian, does that make our house automatically kosher or do we still need a blessing? I assume we’d need a blessing, but you feel silly asking. I would also assume that it can’t be done until the conversion is complete. Another topic yet to be brought up in class is kids. We have two young kids. If we convert, do they have to convert, too, or do they get into the tribe by proxy?

That’s the thing about being a Jew by Choice: we don’t grow up with the innate knowledge of how to do things, because we don’t see the people around us doing them. In my case, I grew up in an Irish Catholic family. It’s an extremely hard (and sometimes lonely) path when the faith of your birth is the wrong one for you. There is a delicate balance to finding your own way spiritually without pissing off your parents and extended family. My husband, Sephardic by genealogy, but agnostic in faith, can’t guide me, either.

Personally, I’d implement an “Adopt a Bubbe” program as an add-on for conversion candidates. It would give you a go-to person to get answers that you’d trust. However annoying or silly they may be to the person answering them, they are meaningful to the one posing them. At the same time, it would be also be nice to have someone to share Sabbath dinner with on occasion to make sure that you’re doing it right. I know we are told that you can’t do it a wrong way, but there are times it feels innately wrong to me.

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