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Almost Kosher

My post-Jewish conversion journey.

Updated: 2015-09-16T16:16:53.091-07:00




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One year later...


My previous post was almost a year ago, at the end of Yom Kippur. Here I am in the same spot, just breaking the fast and blogging.

I had a unique experience during these high holidays: I did not need the services very much. I have been on my own path of taking stock of my life, reflecting, and figuring out where I am in life. This seemed to satisfy my soul's need for reflection, as I found no satisfaction sitting in services during these holidays so far.

It's funny how experiences can change from year to year; I wondered if this is what many other Jews experience - the ebb and flow of services feeding some part of them and then not.

In spite of this, the holidays themselves have been meaningful so particular, visiting the mikeveh before RH was fantastic.

Looking forward to Sukkot. Shavua Tov, everyone.

G'mar Chatimah Tovah


As Yom Kippur draws closer, a week of reflection, soul searching, and evaluation comes to a close for me. The high holidays this year took on a deeper meaning for me, as I grew in my understanding of the period and also reflected on my growth in the last year.

This past year has been filled many high points that I cherish. What I cherish more, however, are the struggles in which I've engaged in the last year. I grew so much this year, in my understand of where my life is going and what Hashem has in store for me.

My sense of gratitude for my life has grown exponentially in the past year, and that includes appreciating on a deeper level all the wonderful people in my life. Thank you to everyone reading this who has supported and loved me.

For anyone reading this whom I hurt or wronged, I do apologize sincerely.

May you all have a meaningful fast.

Jews and power


Over the summer, I took some time off from blogging. After my wonderful Bar Mitzvah experience, I needed a breather to focus on some other things over the summer. It is good to be back.

(The following is a collection of reflections that I had during Shabbat services yesterday).

I recently finished reading the book, Jews and Power. It explores the positions of power Jews have held throughout history, and our often tenuous relationship with power, whether through oppressions, conspiracy theories inflating the power we hold, and how Jews generally view power and its responsibilities.

I was thinking about this book yesterday in shul, when I met Sen. Joe Lieberman. I noticed hum davening in the crowd, apparently in town for a family wedding. When our eyes caught as we passed each other, I extended my hand and wished the Senator a Good Shabbos.

Upon reflecting on this moment, I began to think about my access to people in power ever since I became Jewish. Instantly, an uncomfortable feeling crept in, when I realized I have met more people in power since I joined the Jewish community, than before in my previous communities. With this thought, was I being besieged by the myth of how powerful Jews were, and reinforcing that within my head? What does power mean to me, and what does it meant to have access to it?

The small size of the Jewish community means that, mathematicaly, I will come into contact with various folks who are in powerful positions, just like I will meet average people. What does it mean, though, when our community has a disproportionate amount of people in power, relative to our size? Are "they" correct about the Jews greedy need for power?

Not exactly. Judaism, with all its flaws, incarnations, and diverse expressions, hold the practice of education, study, and debate as strongholds of the culture. It also says community is the pillar through which we all thrive. What occurs in the Jewish community is what happens when you invest energy and time into your family and community. Judaism is a model to other communities to show how they can thrive if they hold similar values, and many communities that do succeed as much as the Jews do.

Sen. Lieberman's presence at shul yesterday was not an example of the Jews having too much power, but instead a representation of the kind of people a strong community that values education and ethical self-realization can produce. While many are (rightfully, IMHO) angry with the Senator right now, no one can say he is not brilliant, a wonderful public servant, and someone who stands on his own two feet. This is exactly the kind of person Judaism strives to produce.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin


Love it!

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D'Var Torah


It's been so long since my last post; I've failed to mention that my Bar Mitzvah is coming up in two weeks. Woot! Below is a draft of my D'Var Torah; I would love to hear viewpoints from my (few) faithful readers.Please forgive spelling and grammer; such edits have yet to be made.This week’s Torah potion tells the story of 12 spies going into Canaan, the Promised Land, and reporting their findings to the Israelite people. 10 spies tell stories of a nation with a strong military and believe that the Jews will be grasshoppers in a land of giants. The other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, believe their people will be victorious in taking over the land. The typical interpretation of this story is that the 10 spies told false, cowardly tales, in order to dissuade any movement into Canaan. Joshua and Caleb are telling the truth and are eventually seen as the heroes once the Israelites reach the Promised Land. The end result of the story frames these two sets of leaders into two camps: those that were right and those that were wrong.But, what if these other spies were not wrong? As the story progresses, the community falls into panic, questioning the leadership of Moses, and Hashem banishes them to the desert. What if they were simply testing the Israelites with these fearful tales and the community just was not ready to move on? Perhaps Joshua and Caleb were the youthful, war mongers, so ready for a fight and a challenge, that they were ready to put their community in harms way to reach the Promised Land?This story makes me wonder, how does history declare a winner and a loser? I was always taught that history is written by the winners. If this is true, then how will current events be viewed in 20 or 30 years? If Iraq is a burgeoning Democracy, akin to Turkey and Israel, will the 2003 U.S.-led invasion be seen as a victorious first step to freedom and peace? What happens to the dissenting viewpoints expressed by leaders opposed to this invasion? Are they seen in the same lens as the 10 spies, as simply frightened people who make up stories to keep us from victory? Or are they raising real concerns of the moment that are washed away when we finally “win,” whatever winning defined by?In my role a community leader, I find that I constantly need to be aware of why I come to certain decisions and look internally for how my past experiences shape these viewpoints. I often need to push myself to see beyond my limited thinking and put myself in a new, uncomfortable direction. Perhaps this was happening with the spies who spun these tall tales because their community has been so traumatized by both slavery and liberation; perhaps they themselves were traumatized and could not envision a time that the Israelites would not only have freedom, but complete dominion over the Holy Land. Instead of viewing the 10 spies as wrong, perhaps they were embracing the complexity of the current situation. Perhaps the youthfulness of Caleb and Joshua kept them from understanding this complexity. I believe there is such value and wisdom to embracing current complexity and questioning a decision; unfortunately, the images drawn in our histories do not involve explaining the real doubts that community leaders struggle with.In craving a sense of comfort and security, we create black and white labels and finality. It is so easy to define who was right and who was wrong; who won and who lost. For me, the most valuable lesson in this Torah portion is this: our historical interpretations often do not embrace the complexities of situations that community leaders face. Instead, it focuses on the victories and the heroes that helped usher them in, and paints those who hesitate as cowards without merit. Perhaps those that are thoughtful and not quick to act would have offered in a more victorious outcome, much like the quiet child in the classroom who offers wise words when she does choose to speak. Pe[...]

Is Israel Finished?



While the cover is unnecessarily provocative, the Atlantic Monthly has a good article exploring the issues facing Israel and she turns 60.

You can read the article here.

I (heart) Sfat



Upon returning from my recent trip to Israel, the most common question asked of me was, "What was your favorite place you visited?" It appears the most typical answer to give is Jerusalem. While I loved the belly button of the universe, I found it a great struggle to exist in that intense space. I wasn't prepared for its intensity and it completely threw me off. It wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience, in the sense of pleasure.

Instead, the most pleasurable point on the trip was our visit to Sfat, the birthplace of Jewish mysticism. From the moment I got off the bus, I knew I was in a special place, unique from the rest. The hidden pathways through the town were amazing and the stories of a synagogue appearing after men fasted and prayed for three days and nights were inspiring. Imagine the hope and optimism a person feels if they truly believe a beautiful synagogue can appear from praying and fasting. Amazing, if you ask me...

Sfat was hit hard during the 2006 Lebanon war. The citizens have rallied, however, and are continuing to rebuild their community, putting the pieces together one day at a time.

The air is different in Sfat, as it is one of the highest points in Israel. A mystical presence fills the air there, and it changed a part of me that I cannot yet explain. I was also fortunate to find a beautiful tallis from a shop there, that I will wear for the first time at my Bar Mitzvah in June.

The 60 Bloggers project is co-production of and the Let My People Sing Festival. It is published daily for 60 days to celebrate Israel’s 60 birthday.

60 Bloggers Project


My friend, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, is working with some folks on a blogging project for Israel's upcoming birthday. 60 bloggers will be spending 60 days to celebrate the 60th birthday of the State of Israel.

I am excited to have been selected as one of the bloggers. I'll be posting next week, but folks should check the blog every day.

Check it out here

The 60 Bloggers project is part of the Let My People Sing Festival, published daily for 60 days to celebrate Israel's 60 Birthday.

More Israel Blogging - The Security Fence



After a computer meltdown shortly after we returned home, we have a new computer and I am ready to get back to blogging.

One of the most intense experiences of the trip was being in Jerusalem. I felt the fervor, history, culture clashes, and conflict in the air and in my bones. It was an amazing experience; one in which I felt both incredibly uncomfortably and incredibly alive.

We spent a good deal of the trip discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We also had a good view of the security fence from our hotel room, shown in the picture here.

I fully support the fence being erected, but couldn't help feeling a sense of grief, seeing Jerusalem being divided. Words can't describe the emotions I felt about why the wall had to exist and what it represented for both the Israelis and Palestinians. Our tour guide, a native from Jerusalem, compassionately said the fence is a symbol of the traumas experienced by both the Israelis and Palestinians.

This is just one of many examples demonstrating the complexity of the conflict, and the lack of simple, black-and-white answers available to solve it. This lack of resolution can be felt throughout Jerusalem and this is what the fence represents to me.

Israel trip blogging


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I had every intention of doing a regular blog entry during my travels in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the experience was so intense and the trip to structured, not much energy was left for blogging. I needed to simply experience the trip, digest it, and reflect on on it once I returned home.

Instead of going chronological through the trip, I am going through pictures that resonate with me right now and telling those stories.

The above picture is of me laying tefillin at the Temple wall. This picture was taken on our second day in Jerusalem. I had yet to get over my jet lag, we had delved into some deep, philosophical discussions that day, and I was becoming overhwelmed with the intensity of Jerusalem. I was feeling the energy, fervor, history, culture clashes, and conflicts that exist there. I found it very unsettling and didn't know what to do with it. I, frankly, still don't.

However, laying tefillin at the wall was an incredible experience. To participate in an ancient ritual at the holiest of holy sites is indescribable. The Rabbi who helped me was quite nice and impressed with how much I knew how to do.

This experience of praying at the wall settled me a bit, and I was better able to take in Jerusalem after that moment. I felt more connected to the people, the land, and myself after that. I still found everything overwhelming, but was better able to take it all in. It is difficult to describe.



I am off to Israel tomorrow for 10 days, and then to Jordan and Egypt. I am excited nervous, and mostly in awe of where I am going to be the next few weeks.

I do not know what to expect from the experience, but I expect it will be like nothing I have ever done before.

I hope to check in here during my trip, as internet access is plentiful there.

Until then....

Israelity Tour in Seattle



The Israelity tour begins in Seattle next week. This should be an awesome show, showcasing some top notch acts from Israel. Some information from the promoter is below:

Our tour will feature performances by Subliminal, Israel's #1 selling rap artist, and members of the T.A.C.T. Family (kind of like Subliminal's Wu-Tang Clan), as well as reggae-funk band Coolooloosh and singer-songwriter Michelle Citrin, a.k.a. Rosh Hashanah Girl or "the lil' grrl with a big sound," as she's known. The shows are hosted by comic Mo Mandel, a Bay Area resident and Birthright alumnus who was recently seen on Comedy Central's "Open Mic Fight."

The big concert kicks off at the Nectar Lounge on Thursday, February 7th. Doors open at 8 p.m., must be at least 18 to enter. Tickets are $20 at the door, or you can pay $15 by sending an RSVP here. See you there!

To read more about this show, see the following links:

Israelity Tour Blog
Israelity Tour Web Site

Chinese food on Christmas


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Kosher or not?


We spent the weekend in Vancouver, B.C. celebrating Chanukkah with the in-laws. My Mother-In-Law made the most delicious latkes I've had in years. She also served a wonderful brisket on the side, which sparked an interesting question for me. If she served tofu, dairy-free sour cream with it, would it be considered kosher? I struggle with the ruling against mixing chicken and dairy, because the explanations I've received seem solely based on perceptions of what you are eating.

This question brought some interesting, varying answers. They were:

1. A Chabad Rabbi told me that it would be kosher to serve dairy-free sour cream with the latkes and brisket, as long as *everyone* knows that there was no dairy.

2. My good friend Yonah (a Chassidic Rabbi) said that the meal itself is kosher, but that the mixture would be forbidden under the law of Maris Ayin, the law against misleading people. He seemed open to the idea that, if everyone was informed of the dairy-free content, then it would be permissable.

3. My husband said the prohibition comes more from how it affects the community. Most Americans would believe, "If I am eating something kosher, what does it matter what someone else thinks?" The laws were developed in a different society, however. It was (is) a Jew's responsibility to help keep his community members in touch with the mitzvot. So, if a community member sees you eating a cheeseburger (even if it is soy cheese), you are putting them in an uncomfortable position to feel like they have to correct you. If they did correct you, and they realize they were wrong, you just set them up for an embarrassing situation. Since it is forbidden to embarrass someone, you avoid even the perception of eating non-kosher food.

These varying answers are so interesting, and point to the diversity of opinions on this topic. What do you think?

Iran So Far Away


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Shimon Peres and Madonna


Really? Does Shimon Peres have nothing better to do than meet Madonna?

Madonna toasted the Jewish new year with Israeli President Shimon Peres and declared herself an ‘ambassador for Judaism,’ local newspapers reported Sunday.
The singer, who is not Jewish, arrived in Israel Wednesday on the eve of Jewish new year to attend a conference on Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism.
Madonna met Peres at his official Jerusalem residence on Saturday evening and the two exchanged gifts, with Madonna receiving a lavishly bound copy of the Old Testament.
She gave Peres a volume of ‘The Book of Splendor,’ the guiding text of Kabbalah, inscribed ‘To Shimon Peres, the man I admire and love, Madonna,’ the Yediot Ahronot daily reported.
A Peres aide confirmed the meeting but had no details.
‘You don’t know how popular the Book of Splendor is among Hollywood actors,’ Yediot quoted Madonna as telling Peres. ‘Everyone I meet talks to me only about that. I am an ambassador for Judaism.’
Madonna, who was raised a Roman Catholic, has taken the Hebrew name Esther, and has been seen wearing a red thread on her wrist in a Jewish tradition to ward off the evil eye.
During her visit, Madonna plans to visit sites sacred to Kabbalists. It was not known how long she intends to stay.
Madonna paid her first visit to Israel three years ago on another Kabbalah-centered trip.
‘I can’t believe that I’m celebrating the new year with you in Israel,’ Maariv newspaper quoted her as telling Peres on Saturday. ‘It’s a dream come true.’


The Onion's take on gays in the military



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Rabbi Yonah in Seattle


From his blog

Israel: Truth vs. Propoganda

In the war of words for Israel, we must all learn how to combat anti-Israel propaganda.

I will be discussing the surge in serious anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents, most notably at University of California-Irvine; Jewish communal responses/mistakes, and empowering the Jewish community to effectively advocate for Israel. I am planning a dynamic evening - dealing a very serious and important issue. Please join us for this great program.

When: Monday, August 20, 2007; 7 – 9 pm
Where: Montlake Community Center
RSVP: RSVP Required by August 16 to
Rachel (206) 774-2216 or
A kosher dinner will be served.

Israel for a younger crowd


Article on Rabbi Yonah Bookstein in the JTNewsBrian J* had many reasons why he converted to Judaism, but one of them was Rabbi Yonah Bookstein. A year and a half ago, J* discovered Bookstein’s podcasts, which address Jewish perspectives on topics ranging from sex to plastic surgery, and began downloading them on iTunes. With a conversational teaching style, J* thought Bookstein wasn’t boring, like some of the other rabbis he’d heard. J* so enjoyed Bookstein’s approach to Judaism that he sparked a friendship with the rabbi. When J* and his partner, Michael, traveled to southern California to visit family, he made a point of meeting Bookstein, who serves as rabbi at California State University–Long Beach Hillel and the Hillel Foundation of Orange County. J* expected his sexual preference might be a problem for an observant rabbi, but received a different response. “He wanted to know when I was going to have kids?” recalled J*. “I was like, ‘What?’ It was totally out of the ballpark for me.” In more ways than one, Bookstein is not an ordinary rabbi. An alum of the labor Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror, a largely secular organization, he was ordained by a traditional Orthodox seminary but refuses to identify with any particular movement of Judaism. He even lost some potential funding for rabbinical school after failing to express fidelity to any of the major branches. In the age of the Internet, he has effectively used the Web to reach out to a large number of young Jews, not only with podcasts and MySpace pages, but as a writer on the blog Jewlicious, which attracts approximately 10,000 visitors a day. The popularity of the blog has grown so that Bookstein now organizes an annual Jewlicious Festival on Long Beach that attracts young Jews from around the country with music, comedy, food and late-night Kabbalah discussions. He has also earned a reputation as a forceful defender of Israel, not an easy job for a Hillel rabbi whose turf includes the University of California–Irvine, widely considered the most anti-Israel campus in the United States by advocates for the Jewish State. The bloggers on Jewlicious represent a range of religious and political perspectives, but share an unabashedly pro-Israel stance. After their meeting, J* looked for funding to bring Bookstein to Seattle to speak. When the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s Young Leadership Division received a grant from the David Foundation to be used for Israel advocacy, he recommended they bring Bookstein. So YLD invited him. He will be speaking on Aug. 20 on the topic “Israel: Truth vs. Propaganda.” Bookstein’s Israel advocacy began as a teenager with Habonim Dror, but intensified after a stint living in Israel that coincided with the first intifada. “When I returned to the United States I was out of my little shtetl and realized there were so many people with misinformation about Israel and about the various conflicts that Israel was in,” Bookstein told JTNews. As an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, Bookstein attempted to create a “pro-Israel, pro-peace movement,” and three years ago returned to working on campuses, “thrust into the epicenter of the most radicalized campus and, basically, region in the country,” he said. Bookstein said that nothing could have prepared him for U.C. Irvine. He accuses administrators of doing nothing to address what he sees as widespread anti-Semitism. The Jewish community, which he said is “passionately pro-Israel,” has been divided over the best strategy to [...]

Rocketboom in Israel


The video blog called Rocketboom had a series of videos where they visited Israel. They were very interesting, and strangely unbiased. Who knew? I particularly enjoyed the last one.


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Dude, where's my blog?


Yes, I've been a bit out of the loop with the blog. Summers keep us Community Center Directors busy. In spite of that, though, I am finding my connection with Judaism growing deeper and deeper each week.

I find that, by Friday, I can't wait to walk into the warm embrace of Shabbat. While I am not traditionally shomer Shabbos, I definitely mark the day different from the rest of the week, both in my choices and my mentality. The cell phone is put away, the "to-do" list is pushed out of my head, and I simply take in life.

I am trying to get more disciplined with studying Torah on Shabbat; I feel so fulfilled once I finish my lesson. M and I have also found another community to spend Shabbat with and making connections there.

Most exciting: we have booked a trip to Israel with the Federation and are going in February. I am also planning on taking a few classes with a local Orthodox Rabbi, possibly on Talmud or Modern Hebrew.

Most important than any of this: becoming Jewish has provided me with grounding I never knew before. No matter what the temporary annoyance, stress, or burden, I find myself focusing on the word Hashem, reminding myself that I am connected to something greater than me and that there is some reason why this temporary discomfort is present in my life. This has helped me become a better person in every aspect of my life, and I have a greater appreciation of every day I am alive.

Not to say it's all been a honeymoon, but I prefer to write about this for now. More later....

Are you Polish?


Today was Seattle's Gay Pride Parade. I attended, complete with my wedding ring and kippah. I believe it's important to be present, as a married, religious member of the community.

That said, I struggle so much with many aspects of the gay community, including its ego-driven, body-image obsessed, over-sexualized, corporate-influenced set of values. Not really anything different from the general society, but I wish that the gay community could focus more on celebrating our diverse identities, and less on looking physically attractive, getting laid, and buying the latest in-fashions. The parts of the community I like are overshadowed by these more dominant, negative ones.

On a heart-warming level, I received a lot of curious glances and warm smiles beause of my kippah. Many people loved it, because it has characters from The Simpsons on it. Others were impressed that someone was visibly Jewish at the festival. One German woman asked me if I was Polish, and what Polish city I was from. I kindly laughed, saying I was not Polish, my mother is from Ireland, and I was raised in Seattle. She laughed, telling me I had a nice beard, and beautiful, smiling eyes - the kind she had only seen in Poland and Germany before.

How curious.

Apart from a lot of hatred that exists out there for Jews, there are also those folks that respond quite warmly to someone visibly Jewish. There is something that seems to pique people's interest. When I am wearing a kippah, more people approach me to ask for directions, comment on what I am wearing, or make any other approached toward me.

It makes me wonder what positive aspects and traits people project onto Jewish folks. If they do not have hateful assumptions, I wonder why they assume good. Is it guilt from history? Is it personal, positive experiences? Or is it just me?

Who knows. Every time I wear a yamulke in public, the reacton is generally positive and striking. Maybe the difference is with how I take the world in.

The Driver's 10 Commandments


This is the first release from the Vatican that I find meaningful...the Pope released the 10 Commandments for drivers. Would be nice to see some better behavior on the roads, these days...

The "Drivers' Ten Commandments," as listed by the document, are:

1. You shall not kill.

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

7. Support the families of accident victims.

8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

10. Feel responsible toward others.

What the f$&%?


A Friday funny of sorts, although one wonders if this bizarre story is truly funny or not. And, no, this is not a piece from The Onion.

Pentagon Confirms it sought to create a "gay bomb."