Recent twitter entries...

How Much is One Life Worth?

Okay, close your eyes... wait, not really, you have to read this. Pretend to close your eyes.

Imagine it is WWII. The German's captured a soldier on night. Just snatched him over the border. The next day there are cries for his release. But the Germans won't even talk about releasing him until the American's release 1000 prisoners. Not prisoners of war, Germans who came to America and committed a crime or multiple crimes that got them put in jail. Well... we can't let a poor American boy languish in prison in Germany... so we release those prisoners and wait for more instructions. Well that wasn't enough. Now for one man's life, we must release 1000 more criminals.This kid didn't break any rules of war, he just happened to be in a place where he could get grabbed. The American public starts to wonder... why are we releasing these criminals back into society so they can commit crimes against us again? For one kid? What is his life worth?

This situation is actually happening right now... it has been going on but change the word German to Hamas/Palestinian and the American boy is really, then 19 year old, Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier (in the middle of his mandatory draft service). And he has been in custody for 1278 days (and at the time I am typing this... 17 hours, 30 min, and 2 seconds). And Hamas demands something new everyday. We have to release thousands of prisoners, who were captured jumping the border, attempting to bomb Israel, or other crimes to appease these Palestinian captors. And yet, all we get in return is a video of a sickly, thin, young man who misses his parents and his home.

WHERE ON EARTH WOULD ANYONE ELSE DO THIS?! In America, we would not have fought for that one person. Not that, in America, we place any less value on life but we aren't tormented by terrorists in America. These terrorists know we want peace, that we want our people to be safe... and they exploit that... and no one stops them. And yet they are still the poor underdog. While I will not claim that the Israelis are completely innocent, I think the actions on the part of the Palestinians are often white washed.

Anyway, I am just disturbed at the amount the Israelis are giving up for this boy. And while I want him to be released to go home, I don't know how much I am willing to give up to do that... And by I and we... I am referring to my spiritual homeland... Israel.

This blog is written by a mother of an Israeli soldier. She is very brave to be able to articulate this difficult position.
A Soldier's Mother

(originally posted to my blog at Patheos)

Kosher Candy

One of my biggest challenges as a person who keeps kosher is finding kosher candy. Seriously! It's not something you think about. I mean, what are the chances that your chocolate candy bar has bacon in it or cheese and turkey? Okay... I guess I can't really say that anymore because people are making bacon candy bars... (couldn't they have found a better picture of bacon? I mean that doesn't even look good!)

But back on track here... the reason we need to look for a hecksher on a candy bar is usually because of the gelatin. I had a reality check many years ago. It was horrible... People always ask me, "Have you EVER eaten something that isn't kosher?" And my answer is, I am sure I have inadvertently but I have been keeping kosher since I seven and strict since 17. My reality check was a mistake. I love gummy bears. I really, really, do... certain flavors mind you (why do they always put more of the crappy flavors in the bags?) but I just love them. They are my second favorite candy. Well, Haribo makes insanely good gummy bears. They are just soft enough and taste yummy. Not too big or too small. Just perfect. One day I was having a chat with a vegan friend who mentioned that I should check the gummy in the gummy bears... uh oh, I thought. I hadn't even considered the possibility. Well I mean who even uses pork gelatin these days... sure, no hecksher but...

AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I went to their website and sure enough, in their FAQ's this is what it said -
  • What type of gelatin does Haribo use?
    Haribo products produced in Haribo's factory in Turkey are made with beef gelatin and are certified HALAL. All other items are made with pork gelatin.
  • Are Haribo products Kosher?
    Haribo products are not kosher.  There is however, a kosher line of Haribo sold exclusively through PASKESZ.

I nearly died... for several reasons.
#1. I LOVE these gummy bears!
#2. I had just bought a 5 POUND BAG! (remember... gummies are light... 5 pounds is a lot!)
#3. I had been eating them for about a year!
#5. ... the Paskesz version they mention, while just as good, cost about 300% more than regular. You can buy regular for $0.99 but the Kosher kind is usually just over $3

:( :( :( :(

So I vowed that day, never to eat candy without checking the hecksher again. No complacency. No more piggy gelatin. So I searched. You will be happy to hear, many of my favorite candies have a hecksher... including my #1 favorite, Good and Plenty. Yes. I love black licorice.

There is a great resource (though you have to be vigilant because these things can change at the drop of a hat) online. This company compiled the heckshers of all the candy they carry (which is most of it). Check it out here - Old Time Candy - Kosher

Use it wisely, friends!

(originally posted to my blog at Patheos)

Challah Baby

So many jokes you could make with that one... in fact, a lot of my friends use the word challah like holla... cheesy I know. But I am talking about the mitzvah of taking challah and the magic it can do...

So, women were give three special mitzvot (commandments) -

Challah - separating a portion of the dough, saying the blessing, and burning it
Niddah - family purity... meaning you go to the mikvah monthly and stay separate from your husband during your period
Hadlakat Nerot - lighting the shabbis candles

But let's talk about challah here.

Basics first.
When you are setting out to bake a true challah, you need to use at least 12-14 cups of flour. Many authorities say, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of challah and to be legitimate enough to separate, it needs to be about 5 pounds of dough. After you have gone through the long process of combining ingredients and kneading and waiting for it to rise and then punching it down and letting it rise again, you will separate a section of the challah out to be burned (see here for more info on that). This is technically the challah. At this point you will say - harai zeh Challah (this is challah) and then the blessing - “Blessed are you, adonai our G!d, who sanctified us with these commandments and commanded us to separate challah.” Then you shape your challah and put that small piece in the oven and burn it.

Why do we burn it? Because that piece, the one that is designated challah, was only to be eaten by the kohains (the priestly tribe) which was easy when the Holy Temple stood but... since it has been destroyed twice and not rebuilt, we can't give it to the kohain. SO we burn it so no one accidentally eats it.

Now on to the magical mystical side.

A friend who is dear to me has been struggling. To protect her privacy, we will call her D and her husband M. She has a beautiful daughter and a wonderful husband but they desperately want to have more children. She has struggled for over a year and a half to get pregnant again. I was fortunate enough to travel to Mexico with her and her family in January. She was deep in the midst of this struggle. She contacted the Chabad rebbitzin in Cancun about doing a mikvah in the ocean to help with her infertility. I was with her that night on the beach. It was so beautiful. Not really the weather, or the scenery... it was a blustery night and we were on a public section of the beach that was deserted but full of resorts. But what was beautiful was this mother's conviction to her unborn children. She swallowed her fears and went into the ocean with the rebbitzin (rabbi's wife). She dunked the requisite three times, said the blessing, and ran out of the cold water. I caught her with towels and we took a cab home. It was as if a calm had settle over both of us. And I prayed. I prayed that she could conceive and that her body would hold and nurture this child. Sadly, it did not work. She has, over the past year, had two losses.

I hadn't seen her in a while until the beginning of December. We were all getting together to celebrate the birth of beautiful twins. Our mutual friend, another Chabad rebbitzin, had just given birth to these miracle babies and it was fitting to see her again at this event. We caught up and I hugged her beautiful little girl. It was 6 days later that I got the plea.

"I am sending you this email because I think you may participate and because you may know others willing to participate. I am looking for at least 40 people to bake challah and to perform the mitzvah of separating challah during the 24 hour period between sundown Thursday, December 17 and sundown Friday, December 18.

There is a tradition and a belief that with the unified prayer of at least 40 people and performance of this mitzvah conception may be made possible. M & I have been trying to conceive for a year and a half. We have had two losses in the past year. It is said that if you “...pray on behalf of a friend with similar needs; Hashem answers you first," I have been baking challahs for a few years now and have seen the miracle of conception in many people. Today I am asking for your help."

First, how can you deny such a heartfelt plea? How could I deny this from a woman who I shared that beautiful mikvah with? How could I deny my family a delish challah? :)

But I needed to help find some more women. I found three more and the list topped out at 61 from all over the world. On this list were women who had NEVER met M & D. We all came together over a 24 hour period to bake challah, think about this family, and hope and pray for them.

My challah was a bit rushed. I had to get home from work and I was tired, I went to a friends house to have her daughters help me but they were grumpy and I was rushed, I used her kitchen-aid mixer (I WANT ONE!), got the dough together and then it had to rise... that took forever and we were all tired by the time it was ready so I took my dough home, threw it in the fridge with the intent to finish it the next day. Friday I got home from work, turned the oven on and took the dough out of the fridge to let it get to room temp... I'm running out of time! It's 5:30, dinner starts at 6:15... guests at my parents house, everyone is waiting for my challah... But I wouldn't rush it. I had to put every intention into the separation and the braiding. I couldn't cheat these challot. Baked and ready to go, I literally pulled a challah out of the oven, tossed it in a glass casserole dish, covered in foil, and dashed to my car. Steaming hot still, I pulled up to my parents' house at just after 7. They had JUST started shabbis! We hadn't gotten to the challah yet! What luck! Still hot from my oven, I put my challah on the plate next to the store bought one. It wasn't as pretty but it sure had a lot more love.
We did the motzi and dug in. A chorus of groans of enjoyment went up. It was delish! My father's tradition is to give the priestly benediction to everyone present. He calls it the holy huddle. We huddled, he gave us the blessing and then I told the 10-15 guests about the story behind the challah. I asked they keep D in their thoughts and intentions when they ate it. It was an amazing moment.

We don't know if our prayers or mitzvahs helped D get pregnant yet. We don't know anything other than 61 women who may not have baked challah that week, baked. We did something that wasn't easy, that took some of our time and we dedicated it to a friend, sister, cousin, stranger. We were unselfish for a minute.

And I don't believe that my challah separation was noticed by Hashem and Hashem wrote a sticky note to remind G!dself to make sure D got pregnant. But what I do believe is that in that 24 hour period, D was so loved, cherished, and hopefully realized that so many people out there are pulling for her and her family.

Maybe that's the kinda boost those eggies needed.

A great talk - On Challah and Mothers by Sarah Esther Crispe

(originally posted to my blog at Patheos)


Matisyahu... reinvented

There is this great new interview with Matisyahu on PBS (look for the video below) and it is really a beautiful and public and relateable story about how his faith has evolved.

I think one thing that defines our generation is that we aren't satisfied with the status quo in our spirituality. And it isn't just Jews, I have seen this with my non-Jewish friends too, whether they are Muslims or Christians. Sometimes our parents are observant in faith and it can feel oppressive and so behind the times. Other people have parents who aren't observant or involved in any religion (often times you hear them say, I don't want to push this on my kids like it was pushed on me) and those kids just want to find spirituality or a community.

I think the moral of the whole story is that there isn't really any ONE right path. We all are as unique as can be and there for different paths work for different people. And our journey to those paths is as unique as we are.

I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on their own path to their spirituality. I will share mine after these videos...

PBS Interview with Matisyahu Pt 1

PBS Interview with Matisyahu Pt 2

I was raised in a Reform Jewish home. My father, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather were/are all reform rabbis. I was active in the reform movement. I served on the NFTY-SE board (back when we were still changing over from being called SEFTY) as the Religious and Cultural VP. I thrived in my community. When my parents moved to Colorado and I went to college, I lost that community. I was searching for Jewish fulfilment and community. When I couldn't go to my own father's services any more (because he was in a different state), I found myself totally spriritually unfulfilled by the English reform services. I hated being "judged" when I walked into the sanctuary for what I was wearing or what I drove. I didn't feel sprirtually fulfilled... and then I went to Chabad. Over the past 10 years, my Jewish practice has evolved from far left to far right and now I have landed in the middle. I consider myself Orthodox, I prefer to wear a skirt and dress more modestly, I love going to Chabad services, and some of my closest friends are chasids.

So that was my evolution... what was/is yours?

(originally posted to my blog at Patheos)

Don't you DARE say Merry Christmas!

Do you know what really grinds my gears? The Happy Holidays/ Merry Christmas debate.

Look you can say what you want, you have freedom of speech but that also means that I can say Happy Holidays or Happy Chanukkah to you. If you want the freedom to say Merry Christmas you can’t take away my freedom to say Happy Holidays.

I am not diminishing your holidays by saying Happy Holidays, I am just including other people in that statement like my fellow Jews who celebrate Chanukkah or African-Americans who celebrate Kwanza.

I just question how Christians would feel if we only said Happy Chanukkah? Wouldn’t that be marginalizing their holiday? Well isn’t it reasonable that by saying Merry Christmas you are marginalizing mine?

Hey if you know that person is Christian, say Merry Christmas but if you aren’t sure or you are making a public statement, why not say Happy Holidays? The last time I checked, America wasn’t a solely Christian country, Christianity wasn’t the national religion of the USA, and Christmas isn’t a national holiday (though Christmas Day is recognized as an official federal holiday).

And then we get to public displays of religion… You want a Christmas tree funded by the Federal or State government? Fine… but you don’t get to block a public Menorah. So Bill O'Reilly said in 2006 that a policy banning nativity scenes in NYC public schools was "anti-Christian". But banning menorahs isn’t anti-semitic? Or anti-Jew?

I don’t care if you call them Christmas trees when you sell them… I’m not buying one anyway… we don’t have Chanukkah bushes or a Christmas tree for fun. I have a menorah and I am proud of it. You can absolutely keep Santa and Christmas trees and Easter bunnies that lay eggs (yeah, still don’t get that one). You don’t have to call them winter things or spring holidays, that doesn’t fool me. I have my own traditions and holidays.   I don’t want to feel included in Christmas, I just don’t want you to tell me I am anti-Christian if I say Happy Holidays. I am not marginalizing Christmas, I just am being inclusive and sensitive just in case the person I am talking to is Jewish or celebrates another holiday.

What about the retailers… what about them? So in their marketing they use holiday (well not any more since they have been susceptible to the right wing, Christian fanatical boycotts and petitions), cool then I actually look at what they are selling. When they use Christmas… then I don’t look because I assume it is all red and green and Santa Claus… So fine. If you want to alienate a portion of the population… well I guess you have to choose one. Either the insane, extremists of the Christian faith who are very good at fire and brimstone (it’s their bread and butter…) or the entirety of the country who don’t celebrate Christmas (Jews, Muslims, Athiests, etc)… perhaps placating the nasties is a good idea… less chance of violent threats than from the rest of us who are used to being ignored. But Target Corp might be onto something (full disclosure: I worked for Target for about 2 years… and I did say Happy Holidays when I was at a register). By including both Christmas and Chanukkah, you please a larger demographic in the US… hum, what a thought… pluralism. You can even use Christmas AND holiday AND maybe even Chanukkah! What?! No way!

So what happens if you are ringing me up at the grocery store or at Target and you greet me with Merry Christmas?

I say with a big smile on my face, as politely as possible, Happy Chanukkah.

Your face… is priceless.

I can't find the Target commercial I was talking about online but here is the newest GAP one and I think it's great! Clearly their products are for anyone who is buying and not just Christmas celebrators...

GAP Commercial

Whew! That feels better. Thanks for letting me get that out. :)

Check out my friend's blog (less of a rant) about straddling this line with his young daughter. Click here!

(originally posted to my blog at Patheos)

E-mail Streams

I just got overwhelmed.


I am just sitting here, minding my own business... eating my delish Mad Greens Salad (one request, cut your beets into rounds, not teeeny tiny diced bits) and working when I realized I had about 92 email or email like things to read. Communication overload!

At work, I generally have open:
My personal email
My work email
My Facebook page
My work's Facebook page
My website
My Twitter page (or my work one)
My Skype
AND my iPhone next to me

And every venue of communication has some group of people whom I don't talk to any other way. Most of my Facebook friends aren't on Twitter, my Tweeps only know me through Twitter, my family and Gamma Phi email me on the personal email, work emails go to Patheos, work people Skype me... Not to mention the text messages...

It's one giant cluster! Some days I feel like all I do is check email in one form or another. And with Twitter's new functionality where they let you know how many tweets have come in since the last time you refeshed, I am getting mega anxiety! What the hell? Now I have to feel guilty for not staring at twitter and constantly refreshing? Then every time I refresh my Facebook or post something new to the work one, there is a new message! I barely get them cleared before they start piling up again.

Now, here is the really screwed up part. I am totally overwhelmed with communication today but if I don't have a Facebook message or Twitter @reply or email from a human being tomorrow... I will feel neglected.

Why G-d? Why? Why have I been afflicted with this e-twitterbook disease?!

I don't have an answer but I do know this... it is these days, these weeks, that make me enjoy my Shabbis so much more. Sleep in, no alarm, no email or phone... just relax.

Ahhhhh visions of shabbis dancing in my head. Thanks for the vent...