The Day

I had planned for this day for years.  But the specifics of the day were only planned a week in advance.  I was supposed to be off work at 5:30.  I was supposed to get on BART’s 5:56 train and be home by 7:00.  I was supposed to scrub the bathroom sparkly clean and then begin the checklist process of scrubbing from head to toe, with the new loofah and nail scrubbing brush I had purchased specifically for all future mikvah dunks.

But, Man plans and G-d laughs.  I had to stay late at work.  I didn’t get home until close to 9.  When I got home, I was touched to see that my mom had cleaned the bathroom for me, so I could get straight into the cleaning process.  I had found an OCD checklist (literally) for preparation and followed it to a T.

I bathe every day; my morning shower helps wake me up.  I’ve been doing this for 20 something years on my own now.  But this one just felt… SO different. It really does help put you in the right frame of mind, to set apart this bath from all others.  I’d never really understood the appeal of bubble baths either, but this may have been the closest I got to understanding the ability to de-stress, to concentrate on just the physical, to relax, to reclaim.  An hour later, I was ready for the mikvah. Continue reading

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Dear Diary

The Boy went home this weekend for his high school reunion.  I saw him Wednesday night, spoke briefly on Friday, and then didn’t speak to him again until late Sunday.  I was miserable.  He went home over Memorial Day for the same amount of time, but this time was much harder for me (and come to find out, for him).  I didn’t speak to him for 2 days and it made me feel like part of my brain (and heart) was missing.  That was mostly due to Saturday being rough for reasons I won’t get into on a blog, but I really wanted to speak to him, even if just for five minutes.  I didn’t call him because I had told him I would see him when he got back.  Next time I will just call and be the needy girlfriend and risk embarrassing him in front of his friends.  I’ve got no shame.  Or very minimal.

Last night, he signed on just before bed and we happened to catch each other.  He shared bits about all of his classmates that he had reconnected with, and that one of his friends and long-time girlfriend decided to get engaged over dinner, and then how his parents were doing.  And some other cute comments because he is awesome…that lead to him saying,

“I still don’t know how my dad feels about us.  He tried to subtly hint that I should hook up* with A Friend’s sister.”**

Followed by,

“My mom is keeping him in check though.”

Followed by,

“He doesn’t tell me outright anymore that I should just leave you.”***

I think that was about the time the tears started welling up.  And again now, as I write this.  I don’t know if he thinks he mentioned all of this to me before, but he hadn’t.  It’s not the kind of news one ever wants to hear, but especially late on a Sunday, through instant messaging, when you’re already in a low spot.

But, cue sarcasm, it gets better!

“A Friend and I have a lot in common, which is why I keep referring to him.  He’s engaged to a non-Jewish girl. But for him, his mother is Jewish but his dad is not.  And so his mom is bugging him and his dad is telling her to just be quiet.  Both my parents are Jewish, so it’s slightly different, but the role reversal is interesting.”****

I was pretty much silent at this point.  Granted, he does not know that the father of Most Recent Ex refused to meet me during the year-plus of our relationship and referred to me as Jackhole and other lovely sexually-charged epithets for the duration of our relationship.  (Because his son should have been out sewing his wild oats instead of being in a monogamous relationship at the “way-too-young” age of 25 and that he used every opportunity to remind Most Recent Ex of his opinion.)  And that in the name of honesty, Most Recent Ex told me this each and every time it happened, and failed to relate a single instance of defending us, by omission or because it never happened (knowing him, I suspect the latter).

And The Boy doesn’t know how, specifically, The Ex Before That’s mother rejected me as even a non-serious date for her son because “there’s no way [I’d] ever be a Jew.”  She told her son to break up with me and emotionally manipulated him until he did, but clearly, The Ex Before That had his own boundary issues to begin with for succumbing.

The Boy doesn’t know the details here, just that it happened, so he is not aware of my baggage in terms of insecurities and fears.

But, that last chunk of the conversation honestly hurt the worst.   Am I being compared to non-Jewish fiancé of A Friend?  Does this mean The Boy thinks I’m not Jewish? Or maybe that I’m only somewhat Jewish, like a halfie or something compared to his full-fledged or real Jewishness?

Or was he simply comparing the situation of being a young Jewish man with one Jewish parent disapproving of current relationship status and the other parent (Jewish or not) saying butt out?

I’m torn.  I’m trying to write this down, to get it out of my head, to see if it makes me feel better and address my own insecurities myself.  Do I bring this up to him and ask for clarification? Am I simply being too sensitive?

Sometimes I really hate electronic communication.

*I think this means meet up with, not the sexual definition employed by some of my generation.

**To be fair, he did say: “I don’t even know her!” right after this

*** And here he said: “Which I absolutely refused to do.”

**** And here he said: “he will come around eventually because he wants his kids to be happy above anything.”

Two Topics For the Price of One

Lunch meeting:  I met with Sister’s Friend last week.  And I have decided that this encounter should be firmly lodged in the good ole memory bank as an example of the mind being a dangerous thing when left to wander and ponder!  Judaism hardly came up while we were enjoying delicious burritos (in the Tenderloin… which I seriously need to reconsider if suggesting places to tourists in the future, note to self, especially petite young women who are fairly attractive…).  But, when it did come up, she didn’t question my motives or authenticity.  If anything, the small portion of Jewish conversation centered around us both being a 20-something Jew-ette in a big city.  Oh, and Birthright.  Which I will discuss below.  Like, immediately below.

Birthright:  I was really conflicted for a long time on whether I could go on this.  Not only was I concerned about my conversion “working” for Taglit’s eligibility requirements (because we all know people can say one thing publicly but have very different criteria in private), but I guess I was also conflicted politically.

Israel’s no saint.  It is my sinner, however, and it’s got a lot of work to do.  I just want an organization that could acknowledge the complexity of the situation, honestly, as much as they have their own bias.  Bias is human, afterall.  I wasn’t sure if I could deal with Taglit’s propaganda tactics, which from many blog posts I have read written by participants, verged on military bootcamp.  I also know I’m like practically alone in my introverted-natured-inspired hatred of Nightlife that centers on drinking, nightclubs, house music and dancing.  I was born a 90-year-old woman, what can I say?

But, I’ve decided that all decisions require compromise and I can compromise on this trip.  I can deal with 10 intense days on a bus route to carefully selected and presented tourist traps that may push me out of my comfort zone—because I am, after all, getting something in return.  I don’t know if I would get to go to Israel in the next ten years were it not for this trip, and I have suffered from a pretty strong case of wanderlust in the last five years.  I know plenty of people have found their spouse on this trip, which speaks to the bonds that can be forged.  (No, I do not want to find Mr. Mikvah Bound on this.  Yes, I would like to meet other Jews my age from around the country with different Jewish identities and perspectives.)

So.  I am looking for a mostly religious-historical-cultural trip with minimal outdoor excursions if anyone has a trip organizer they can recommend.  I’m seriously leaning toward Israel Free Spirit, the OU-sponsored organizer, because I’ve heard they attract a mellower crowd.  We’ll see.

Hebrew: My Hebrew class is going well! I listen to the CDs in my car on repeat.  Needless to say, I have the dialogs pretty much memorized and I’m sure the Boy would like to listen to something other than the alphabet and dialogs asking where the water is from.

I’ve set up the following schedule, and, being the nerd I am, actually like the feeling of being back in school.

  • Monday: Read section on way home
  • Tuesday: Review section, take notes, and make flash cards
  • Wednesday: Do half of exercises
  • Thursday: Complete remaining exercises
  • Friday: Review flash cards for 30 minutes
  • Saturday: Review flash cards for 30 minutes
  • Sunday: Review session with study buddy and take quiz

Conversion Requirements:

I stumbled across a synagogue in a nearby metro-area in my Google Alerts the other day.  I, of course, checked out the conversion section of the website and was kind of… blown away.  And not necessarily in a good way.  The rabbi had uploaded a 30+ page “Intro packet” listing the required books, meetings, classes, essays, questions, beit din topics, and syllabus.  This is appealing to me.  I like knowing what I’m getting into, what to expect.  It helps lower the anxiety of it all.

What I did not like was that this rabbi, who belongs to a liberal movement, required prospective converts to meet with the Orthodox rabbi in the area.  You are required to ask three specific questions, one of which is “would you accept me as a Jew after my conversion?”

I think the rationale is for the convert to know, going in, that he or she will not be accepted everywhere, and that you have to make your peace with that.  Totally understand that, because I’ve heard of Jews who converted only to discover this after the fact (I don’t know how, but that’s another post).

But, why can’t the liberal rabbi say this him or herself?  Why do they have to go to some other rabbi, from another movement, who does not have the monopoly on Jewish religious authority, to hear this, as though they were the real gatekeepers?

I was majorly turned off.  It got me to thinking: what would have been your “uh, no go”s from rabbis who were sponsoring your conversions?

Okay, so I lied.  More like four for the price of one.

Tu B’Av

Tu b’Av – A Day of Love

arise from your graves
tonight death is defeated
annihilation and loneliness banished
I’ve borrowed my sister’s white skirt
and left my feet bare for dancing in the fields
perhaps I’ll meet him on the road
or while gathering wood
the one destined for me
from a flood’s time before our births
how will I know him?
he shall fill my heart as full
as this moon above
he will speak to me of queens
and count me in their ranks

Today is Tu B’Av.  So call me a softy, but I’m a Spanish Lit major and I was reading up on this holiday and stumbled upon this poem, which I love and decided to share.  The poet is Jennifer Wallace and her other work can be found here.

To use those pesky SAT analogy constructions, I’ve always thought

 prose:indicative mood::poetry:subjunctive mood

…and man do  I love me some subjunctive.

I also love poetry; I love what it can express more primal-y  than just about any other verbal art, with the freedom to selectively follow the rules of grammar.  It’s empowering and liberating and vulernable.

My understanding is that Tu B’Av is becoming Israel’s equivalent of Valentine’s Hallmark-palooza.  My understanding is that it’s shifted meanings once or twice in the past, but I hope it doesn’t morph into America’s V-Day, corrupting the very sentiment this poem seems to capture: tender, hopeful, purposeful, spiritual, unconditional.  It’s like the epitome of new love.

It also inspired me to share some of my other favorites, the classics.

carry your heart with me – e.e. cummings
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Love Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda
I do not love you as if you were a salt rose, or topaz
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
So I love you because I know no other waythan this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Poem IXV – Pablo Neruda

Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.

You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.

Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.
The rain takes off her clothes.

The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind.
I can contend only against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.

You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Cling to me as though you were frightened.
Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.

Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the gray light unwind in turning fans.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.

I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

Memberships, Praying, and Ivrit

I mailed my membership application off to CBS today. I practiced my Hebrew name in Hebrew script on a notepad until it look like someone semi-literate wrote it.  It’s hard to believe that I get a vote now, that I’m official, that I get to belong, that I’m choosing to support one place over all others and call it mine, my home, my community. It’s also hard to believe that my excuse is now gone and that I need to claim ownership and actually, well support it beyond financial means. I signed up for a couple of committees and will help out for High Holiday programming for the kiddos again. We’ll see what else I end up doing.

Secondly, this week Eit Ratzon arrived and I’ve been using it for my prayers. I’m in love with it. I will write the author and ask to use pictures in a review/writeup, but if you’re looking for an egalitarian siddur with transliteration and gender-neutral language, with spirit and poetry, I can’t speak highly enough of it. The author apparently released a machzor this year, as well. It’s really helped me at least open the prayer book once a day–Sim Shalom just never really seemed to work for me, in its attempt to maintain letter over spirit of the law and it’s love of He and Him.

I’m wondering if other converts say sheasani Yisrael in the morning, and if they do, whether it comes naturally to them or feels slightly clunky on their tongues.  Did G-d make me Jewish?  Or did I (through the mechanisms of the Jewish people) make myself Jewish? Does it matter who did the making?

I’ve started my actual studying of Hebrew this week.  I want to take a class–both for purposes of accountability and guidance–but the only one people seem to mention is USF’s July ulpan or the JCC’s class.   I’d love to take three weeks off in July and just buckle down but life just won’t allow it.  The pedagogy of the JCC instructor does not mesh well with my learning style, so I think I’d only be setting myself up for failure.  The text they use is apparently used in some of Israel’s ulpanim, however, and I happened to find a great resource for those of you want some more flexibility in scheduling: The Hebrew Cafe.  Looking for reviews and study guides of the text, I searched for the title of the text used by the JCC class, Hebrew from Scratch I, and found that forum.  From what I can tell, the site founder lives in Israel as a teacher and built this free online class using that text as a hobby, because he enjoys the language and helping people; what a mensch.  (I think he’s a convert to boot!)  If you can find a used copy of the book, you would be able to learn one year’s equivalent of Hebrew for free, by committing to 4 hours per week of studying and working with the study buddy you are paired with.  Seems like a great deal to me!

Shavuah tov

JewsByChoice.org

If you’re like most internet-savvy converts(-to-be) that I know, you at one point or another visited JewsByChoice.org.  It started up 3 to 4 years ago as a blog with posts from various converts and grew to include a forum that was very active, particularly from those of the Conservative and Conservadox persuasion.  Many friendships were forged over its channels and a sense of fitting in, of not being the only one feeling or thinking these things, comforted many of its users.

That site is now gone.  It has been shut down.  On a couple of different sites, I’ve seen people ask about it.  Suffice to say, the project was large, overwhelming, and the efforts of those creating it were probably under-appreciated.  These sentiments were poorly conveyed to the site’s general users, and now we’ve all lost a great resource, rather suddenly, and with no explanation.

I’ve belonged, for a number of years, to two other communities that I’d like to recommend as possible alternatives should any reader stumble upon this post.

LiveJournal’s Jews By Choice: a mostly 20s to 30s crowd overwhelmingly from the US but also with a decent British presence.  Most are egalitarian, liberal, feminist  Reform/Progressive or Conservative/Masorti, but there are a sprinkled few Orthodox in the mix with various worldviews.

Gereitzedek: a mostly 40s to 70s crowd overwhelmingly from the US but also with Latin American and Israeli participation.  Most are egalitarian, conservative Conservative/Masorti, but there are a good number of Reform and Orthodox as well.  Really good for converts who live in the “boondocks”—many members share their life in the rural areas of the US, or doing conversion online, of moving to Israel, of having raised a Jewish family as a convert.  Interesting to read to consider the future, at least for me.

I’ve found these good homes, and my hope is that one of them may speak to you as well.  If you’d like to join LiveJournal’s, you have to make a LiveJournal account (which is free).  This will enable you to “journal” or blog, and also grant you access to many, many communities on a whole host of topics.  I also recommend Weird Jews and Weird Jews 2.

To join Gereitzedek, write to me with your email address at mikvahorbust at gmail dot com.  I will send an email to the administrator of the board, and she’ll probably ask for a 2 to 3 sentence blurb to make sure you aren’t some anti-Semitic spammer, but then you’ll be in.