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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.

Sep 28 2012

Free Stuff Alert: The At Home Gourmet Kosher Cookbook

By at 3:18 pm

the at home gourmet sarah lasry cookbookYom Kippur is said and done, so we won’t be fasting anytime soon. That means it’s time to talk about FOOD. The At Home Gourmet is a phenomenal kosher cookbook by Sarah M. Lasry and we’ve got a copy to giveaway to one lucky Kveller reader.

If you’d like a sneak preview of just what kind of recipe you can find in The At Home Gourmet, Sarah was kind enough to share one of her classic Sukkot recipes, which you can find below.

As for entering the contest…

Sign up for Kveller’s e-newsletter by clicking here, and then drop us a note in the comments below. If you’re already signed up, just skip ahead to the comment part. We’ll choose a winner next Friday, October 5th. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 14 2012

Stories of Our Fathers: The Oyster Eater

By at 3:48 pm

oystersAll this week, we’re featuring stories of great fathers collected by the Jewish Women’s Archive in honor of Father’s Day. Today’s is from Ellen K. Rothman.

One night when my father was about 10 years old, he came downstairs looking for his mother. He paused at the top of the cellar steps. In the basement, he saw his parents and his maternal grandfather savoring a local delicacy–Chesapeake Bay oysters. In later years, my father would say that this night in 1933 marked the end of any real feeling he had for Judaism. He loved and respected his grandfather, a successful self-made businessman who was a pillar of the shul where my father would be bar mitzvahed and confirmed. But even as a 10-year-old, he knew hypocrisy when he saw it.

Still, my father never failed to make a generous contribution to the Associated Jewish Charities every year, he was famous for his skill at telling Jewish jokes, and without ever using the words, he instilled a strong sense of tikkun olam in his sons (two) and daughters (two). Did he make the connection between the importance he placed on service to the community–a value he both lived and passed on–and his Jewish heritage? I wish I had asked him.

To read more, head on over to JWA’s blog, Jewesses with Attitude.

Apr 20 2012

In Search of the Perfect Kosher Birthday Cake

By at 2:09 pm
birthday cake

Though the kids don't remember it, the parents definitely do.

Do you remember your first birthday? I don’t. My parents do have photographic evidence that I attended, and they’ve repeatedly reminisced about the great cake I had. It was chocolate and featured a marzipan mousse, in honor of my baby nickname, Melissa Mouse.

In the intervening years, I have dedicated myself to becoming a dessert connoisseur. I don’t believe in eating just any dessert. I like to eat the best possible dessert. This proclivity even impacted the way we planned our wedding. Our brunch buffet was followed by a dessert buffet, showcasing treats we had the caterer create in addition to the wedding cake. Yes, we rewrote the caterers’ entire dessert menu. Dessert is serious business. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 10 2012

Are You Jewy Enough?

By at 9:36 am

I grew up in a home where “Jewish” meant sneaking into High Holy Day services without a ticket, and “kosher” meant we didn’t eat bacon. We did a raucous version of Passover where one sister always replaced “God” with “Great Spirit,” another referred to the Pharoh’s army as “the band of ninjas,” my mom never sat down, and my grandpa patiently read aloud from the Maxwell House haggadah.

I took it upon myself to be way ahead of the curve and write our own haggadah as a teenager. I didn’t get very far, but I did end up with a ridiculous one-act play in which the punny phrase “A hundred shekels? Oh no! Egypt me!” was shoe-horned into the action.

So I went off to college with only the barest knowledge of what, actually, it was to be a Jewish Jewy Jew. Suddenly living in upper Manhattan, where synagogues are as plentiful as Starbucks, I had a funny little spiritual rebirth and found myself going full-on kosher for Passover. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 9 2012

Organic is the New Kosher

By at 2:11 pm

organic now logoLike another Kveller blogger, my husband and I are getting back to the land. It’s not something we set out to do–when we met, we both worked for large corporations, me as a freelance journalist and sometime marketing writer, him as a video-game producer. Then 2008 happened, and suddenly our cushy corporate jobs wanted nothing to do with us. There we were, with first one kid and then two (thanks to a careless nap-time nooner to “celebrate” my layoff), with no more savings and increasingly impatient parents. What were we to do?

Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 29 2012

My Daughter Keeps Kosher, But I Love Pork

By at 3:15 pm
lobster roll

I love lobster, too...

My name is Rachel, and I’m a treyfaholic. I like bacon, and shrimp, and lobster rolls. I really love lobster rolls. I’m craving a lobster roll right now.

Mmmmm lobster rolls…

My 15-month-old daughter, Adi, is kosher.

How can a 15-month-old keep kosher? I keep her that way. But it’s not sustainable. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 6 2012

Tu Bishvat in Candyland

By at 10:47 am
Tu Bishvat Candy

No time to plan a 15-course fruit seder for Tu Bishvat? Try candy.

The holiday of Tu Bishvat, a.k.a. the birthday of the trees, starts at sundown tomorrow. Tu Bishvat is a field day for all environmentally-conscious families: an ideal ground from which to explore, celebrate and protect all things ecological. Kabbalists gave it a 15-course fruit seder of its own back in the 16th century, which is still observed in some fashion today. But if you want to make this tradition more tangible for your kids, we have some candy recommendations for you.

To read the rest of Joanna’s piece, click here.

Jan 12 2012

Bribing My Way Through Potty Training

By at 3:05 pm
jelly beans

Is it bad that potty training has turned into bribing with candy?

My nearly 3-year-old daughter, D, finally made the declaration shortly before Hanukkah: she was done with diapers, ready for her Rapunzel undies, and no one–NO ONE–was going to prevent her from putting them on.

Naturally, I was overjoyed. Two kids under 3-years-old had long meant two kids in diapers, and with every purchase of a new box of size 5s, I hoped and wished that this box would be our last.

I wasn’t really sure where to start. Friends had successfully managed their toddlers through “potty boot camp” and the hard-core approaches to making the transition. We navigated the onslaught of near-misses and misses, accidents and successes, in our own way, and found that the reward system that worked best for our kid was not in the more preferable forms of stickers and stamps, but in gummy bears and jelly beans.

That’s right, Tiger Moms. I have been feeding my kid a straight, steady stream of sugar for two weeks now. It is all at once horrifying–because yes, like you, I once insisted that the only treats that would pass my kid’s lips would be for special reasons or on special occasions:  Shabbat dessert, birthdays, special holidays, etc. And dammit all if those treats weren’t either in portions controlled by yours truly, or at least had some kind of kosher, organic symbols on them to make me feel somewhat comforted. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 15 2011

Thanksgiving Recipes: I Need ‘Em!

By at 3:17 pm

thanksgiving turkeyI’ve never been a Thanksgiving-er. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for gratitude, family, and big meals. It’s just that Judaism affords us to have all of the above pretty much all year round. Between Passover seders, Sukkot meals, Rosh Hashanah family gatherings, and Friday night Shabbat dinners, there are ample opportunities for us Jews to get our food-and-family on. So the idea of entering the everyone’s-included Supermarket Scrum for things like squash and sweet potatoes seems comparatively unappealing.

My family’s Thanksgiving was always a relatively low-key affair, followed by all of us going to see a movie. I’m not going to miss my movie opportunity this year, accompanied by sleeping baby in car seat (crossed fingers), but apparently I am hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in my life. One word: yikes! Not only that, but I just got the memo that this thing is happening next Thursday! Are you guys all aware of this?

I love perusing Food & Wine, occasionally even making a recipe from there, but apparently a main food group of Thanksgiving is butter – and, being kosher, this doesn’t quite go with the whole turkey thing. I need pareve help: stat!

Let’s share. Anyone got any great recipes for pareve appetizers, soups, sides, desserts?

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