Monday, April 8, 2013

Yom HaShoah

Jewish holidays start at sunset the night before and end at nightfall the last day. This goes back to the creation story in Genesis. Where the Torah says "There was evening and there was morning..." Since evening came first, our "days" start the evening before. So for Shabbat, it begins Friday evening, 18 minutes before sunset. That is when we light candles. Shabbat ends at nightfall on Saturday. Nightfall is when you can see 3 stars in the sky.

Last night was the beginning of Yom HaShoah. Yom HaShoah is known as Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is the day we remember the 6 million who were killed during the Holocaust by nazi Germany. It was started in 1953 when the Prime Minister of Israel (David Ben-Gurion) and the President (Yitzhak Ben-Zvi) signed it into law as a national memorial day.

Many Jewish households (including ours) light a special yellow candle to remember all those who lost their lives.

To learn more about the Holocaust you can visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Click on "History" on the top bar to read about the history of the holocaust.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Conversion Process

Conversion varies between the movements in Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist). My conversion was through a synagogue that aligned as Reform but followed a very Conservative service. The synagogue was small and rural and had to accommodate many different movements. Orthodox will say that my conversion is not "valid" because it was not an Orthodox conversion. Some Conservative synagogues would not accept my conversion (this is changing however). One thing my beit din tried to do was make sure that my conversion would be accepted by most.

Halakha means according to the body of Jewish law.

According to Halakha, for a "legal" conversion there are a few requirements that must be met. These requirements must be demonstrated to a beit din before a conversion candidate will receive his/her certificate of conversion.

1. Circumcision (brit milah). Sorry guys, you're gonna have to get cut. If a man has already had a circumcision then he must still go through the hatafat dam brit. A hatafar dam brit is when a drop of blood is drawn from that part of the man's body where the circumcision was already performed. I am glad I am a woman. But I am told it is not as bad as one would imagine it to be.

2. Ritual immersion (mikvah). This applies to all converts. The mikvah is a pool of water meant for ritual immersion for various reasons. The mikvah is where Christians derived the concept of baptism by immersion. For a halakha conversion the convert must immerse in the mikvah, say a blessing and immerse two more times. Every part of the body must be touched by the water of the mikvah. This means, you guessed it, when you immerse in the mikvah you are in your birthday suit. Most mikvahs are very nice and warm and very good about maintaining the modesty of the convert.

3. You understand and accept the responsibility of Torah law.

***Side Note: Orthodox will only accept an Orthodox conversion. Many Conservative synagogues will accept a conversion as long as all of the above (plus meeting with the beit din) were met. Reform will accept any conversion. I am unfamiliar with the policy of the Reconstructionist movement but if I remember correctly they follow along with Reform.***

The beit din is the scariest part of conversion. The beit din is made up of 3 learned Jews (they do not need to be rabbis but there is usually at least 1 who is a rabbi). The beit din is there to determine if you understand what you are undertaking. That you are converting of your own free will and that you demonstrate that you have been learning and studying and will continue to study after conversion. You do not have to be perfect, most beit dins do not expect perfection. There is much to learn before you can even be recommended for a beit din.

So before you even have to worry about that list above, study... study... study.

I studied for conversion for 3 years prior to my conversion. The first year I was studying with my family and following the Noahide Laws (will make a post about this another time). After that year I felt drawn to more. It was at that point that I contacted the rabbi and began attending services at the local shul (synagogue).

Traditionally, when a person comes to the rabbi seaking conversion, the rabbi must deny the person 3 times. This is kind of a "test" to see if the person is truly serious about wanting to convert.

Once I started studying with the rabbi I had several additional tasks required by my rabbi. I had a reading list of books. I had to watch a couple of movies (Oh, the pain! The agony! The TV... Score! I highly recommend "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Keeping up with the Steins" but careful of the 2nd one if you have little children around). I had to keep a journal detailing why I wanted to convert and the changes in myself and my home life during my course of study. I went to lessons with the rabbi where we talked about everything from the Jewish lifecycle to the holidays to topics of interest to me. The bare minimum for conversion was at least 1 full Jewish year, to become accustomed to the different calendar and learn the holidays and rituals.

Once my rabbi thought I was ready, he recommended me to the beit din (as my husband was also converting at the same time, through the same process, with the same rabbi, we had the same beit din - only he had to go through the hatafat dam brit - whew!). We each met with the beit din individually and then together. Once the beit din put their "stamp of approval" on us, we went to the mikvah.

The following Sunday (Sunday only because it was a holiday - Shavuot) we had our first aliyah to the bimah (an honor to be called to the front of the sanctuary) where we each received our Certificate of Conversion.

My family has been living Jewishly for 4 years now and we are always learning more. We are looking forward to Pesach, our oldest is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah (conversion of children is a whole 'nuther topic that I will write about at another time), our daughter just had her consecration and we are enjoying the life that G-d has blessed us with.


Preparing for Pesach

Preparing for Pesach takes a lot of time, energy and a ton of planning. Before I get into the preparations I have already completed and those I still need to do, I'm going to post a short glossary of terms that are very necessary as Pesach has its own list of restrictions that do not apply the rest of the year.


Pesach: Passover

Leavened: causing to rise, especially by fermentation.

Chametz: leavened (or fermented) wheat, rye, oats, spelt and barley. These grains leaven within 18 minutes when mixed with water. Chametz may not be eaten, remain in the possession of, or have a benefit derived from it during Pesach.

Kitniot: Leguminous vegetables like beans, rice, and corn. Though these are technically not chametz, many rabbinical authorities restrict their use during Pesach (one may not eat them but you may derive a benefit from them). The thought behind this restriction is that these items may be confused for items that ARE chametz by one who is watching. Generally these additional restrictions are limited to Ashkenazi Jews (those of European decent). Other Jews (Sephardic, Yemenite, etc) are generally not bound by this custom.

Matzah: Unleavened bread that has been prepared under careful supervision so as not to exceed the 18 minute limit. Matzah is a primary bread substitute during Pesach.

Kashering: the process of making from un-kosher to kosher.

Kosher: the English, meaning it conforms to the dietary laws.


Now that we have some of the basics covered... here's how my preparations have gone: SLOW! Many begin preparing for Pesach right after Purim. I was a little behind this year and only began my prep about 2 weeks ago.

It did not help that part of my prep time has been consumed with four children and myself being sick with some kind of stomach virus. Yuck.

So, during Pesach we are to remove all chametz from our homes and our possession... every, tiny, speck. This leads to step one of Pesach preparations: Spring Cleaning on steroids. I do not use that phrase lightly. Every nook and cranny must be reached and cleaned to remove all trace of chametz. Even rooms where you "know" there is no chamtez ("But I've never eaten a PB&J in my bedroom closet!") must be cleaned to a whole new definition of clean. You may never have eaten a PB&J sandwich in your closet but you MAY have dripped crumbs on your shirt and they MAY have fallen off when you went into your closet to get a change of clothes. Furniture must be moved, floors must be swept, scrubbed, vacuumed, cabinets must be emptied and wiped down, baseboards must be cleaned... the list is almost endless.

Next we try to use up the chamtez that we have in the house. In my home, this is nearly impossible because I stock up on food. My pantry overflows with pasta and crackers and oats. So, rather than trying to rush through all the chametz, I stop buying it a few weeks before Pesach. Then we eat normally (I cannot handle eating pasta 5 days a week just to use it all up). We take the permitted approach of packing up our chametz just before Pesach. Once it is packed up and sealed and stored, we sell our chametz to a non-Jew. After Pesach we can buy it back and return it to the pantry to be used again. Usually this is arranged through the synagogue. The Rabbi will arrange for someone to buy the chametz of the congregants, write up the contract of sale and then transfer ownership of the chametz from the Jew to the non-Jew. Some people will donate all the chametz left just before Pesach. One day I would love to do this but when you are on a budget, you cannot always give away what amounts to hundreds of dollars of food. So temporarily selling our chametz is an allowed option.

Next we put away all the items that cannot or do not need to be kashered for Pesach (see next paragraph). This would be our everyday dishes, utensils, etc. We do this because the next step is getting everything kashered and once kashered we do not want any trace of chametz to be transferred. It is at this point that I also line my cleaned cabinets with paper so that I can put out my Pesach dishes and utensils. The paper is to create a barrier, between that which has held chametz and that which cannot hold chametz. Some do not have a set of Pesach dishes and instead use disposable (paper) products during Pesach. The environmentalist in me cannot agree with this option. That is just too much waste for me. But it is an option.

Now to prepare the kitchen and pantry for the preparation of foods without chametz. Anything that has been used for chamtez cannot be used during Pesach or has to be kashered so that it can be used for Pesach. The kashering process can range from simple (a self-cleaning oven is easy) to difficult (immersing pots and pans into boiling water for a period of time to remove all traces of chametz). Many forgo this by having a special set of Pesach pots, pans, dishes, utensils, etc. Some do not have the room for all those extra items. As I do, now, have storage space, I am still working on getting a set of Pesach only equipment. It is tempting to go to the store and buy brand new pots, pans, cooking utensils, etc... but my bank account just will not accommodate (where's that money tree located again?). So every year I get something, just what I can afford. One or two items and over a couple of years I will have all I need. Until then... I kasher. Some things cannot be kashered and, thus, cannot be used during Pesach.

Once the items have been properly kashered (depending on what they are), they are put away in the shelf lined cabinets and ready for Pesach use (or in the case of large appliances they stay where they are LOL).

That is just a summary of some of the preparations that go into getting ready for Pesach. I haven't even touched on the shopping for matzahs or food that can be eaten during Pesach (and many items require a special "Kosher for Passover" certification). It can be very complicated but once you are used to it, it becomes second nature and many a Jewish wife has the entire list memorized.

Hopefully I will have another installment of Kosher for Passover tomorrow.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Not all synagogues and communities have a consecration ceremony, but ours does. A consecration is the ceremony introducing a child to their formal Hebrew/Jewish learning. In our congregation it is done towards the beginning of spring for the first grade class. Being as I have a first grader, we just went through our first consecration!

The children came in on Sunday morning, singing. They got up the the bimah (bee-mah, the raised platform at the front of the sanctuary) and did a short play about the Aleph-bet (the Hebrew alphabet). My little D'vorah was the letters Nun, Kaf and Gimel. :-) She did such a wonderful job! I'm a very happy and proud ema (pronounced ee-mah, it means mother).

In our shul after consecration.
I am hoping to take a little time tomorrow to break from all my Pesach preparations to blog about my Pesach preparations. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 28, 2013


We made it through Purim!

(The short version) Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people as told in the book of Esther. The story is set in the ancient Persian empire. Haman (the royal vizier to the King, Ahasuerus) plotted to kill all the Jews in the empire. His plan was spoiled by Mordecai and Queen Esther (Mordecai's adopted daughter).

Now, we celebrate the saving of the Jewish people by doing several things:

1. We give gifts of food to others (mishloach manot)
2. We give charity to the poor
3. We share a Purim meal
4. We read/listen to the megillah (the scroll of Esther)

Purim is a really fun holiday (a "minor" Jewish holiday since it is not prescribed by the Torah). During the megillah reading we have noise makers (called groggers) and whenever Haman's name is spoken, we drown it out so it cannot be heard using the noisemakers, stamping our feet, or "boo"ing loudly. Many dress up in costumes, kids especially. There have been many reasons for why we dress up but one I was told was that since this is a holiday for the giving of charity, we dress up to preserve anonymity of the giver and the dignity of the recipient.

Many Jewish holidays can be summed up in three simple phrases:

They tried to kill us
We won
Let's eat!

Food is always a part of Jewish tradition and Purim, as with the other holidays, is associated with a few foods. My kids' favorite? Hamentashen! They are cookies in the shape of a triangular hat with a soft filling. The most traditional filling is poppy seed. We made several this year. Poppy seed, raspberry, apricot and almond. YUM!

Some of our apricot hamentashen, just before baking.

Now that Purim is over, we begin the process of cleaning the house of chametz (anything made from 5 grains that are not permitted to be owned or eaten during Pesach).

Be on the lookout, as it gets closer to Pesach (more commonly known as Passover), I will post more about Pesach preparations and all the intricacies associated with it (and they are numerous! LOL).