Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kaddish, Loving, Sukkot


That's where I went on Sept. 20.

The truth is, there have been one million reasons to stop loving. It's not worth it, saying goodbye is too painful, too predictable. I had almost given it up entirely, I snuffed out my feelings like candles. And then. And then. We talked about life, it was safe. The songs became breath, the words became my own, even though I don't always understand Hebrew. Maybe I don't need to understand completely. It's enough, just to sing. I lit every damn candle. Life is light and wax and burning. There have been reasons to stop, but "saying goodbye is the price we pay for loving someone," and I have learned the cost of love is nothing, compared to its sweetness.

I'm a little belated posting all of that, but that's ok. And I meant to come here and post about Sukkot. Which I guess I can still do.

Sukkot is special to me because it was my very first Hillel event, six years ago. And two years ago, it was the event S attended that made him decide to come to UCSC, and live in the Jewish Co-Op.

It was a beautiful service on Friday night. The Sukkah, for the first time since my freshman year, was overflowing with people. So many of us! They say the Sukkah should be filled with joy, and it was.

After dinner, Rabbi S invited us back into the Sukkah for a story. It was dark, and I couldn't see anyone's faces. He asked us to share a comfort food, and why we found it comforting. Then, a comfort place, somewhere specific, and why that place is so safe and warm. Next, a comfort activity, or a comfort person. The theme was comfort because the Sukkah is supposed to represent the ultimate comfort zone, where we are surrounded by things that are loving.

He pointed out that Sukkot does not actually appear in the Torah, except for in one line that mentions a dwelling. The origins of Sukkot, then, are disputed (like everything else in Judaism!), and the interpretation he offered was one I hadn't heard before. While the Jews were walking through the desert on the way to Sinai, they followed a cloud that was a pillar of fire at night, and a pillar of smoke during the day. This was the Ananei HaKavod, (Clouds of Honor). When the cloud stopped, they stopped and set up camp for the night. When the cloud moved, they followed it. It kept them safe through the desert, and protected them from the elements and dangerous animals. S said that the Sukkah is like that cloud, God's safety, the ultimate source of comfort and love.

I prefer this interpretation to the "they were harvesting and lived near the fields" story I was told in Sunday school as a kid. For me, the community creates some of that comfort. Sitting there in the dark, unable to discern one face from another, it really did feel safe.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur came and went. I had never done all-day services before...and now that I have, I can honestly say I likely won't do it again. I got a lot out of Kol Nidre and morning services, sharing our apologies with the entire community. I loved singing Avinu Malkeinu in evening services. I enjoyed the discussion of the Book of Jonah, and the Yizkor (memorial) service was very touching. At Yizkor, Rabbi S. said that after someone dies, we should try to keep part of what we loved about them alive in ourselves, not just in memory, but in our own actions. We went around the room and mentioned things we loved about those we've lost. I said "There are so many things I loved about R, but what stands out most of all is that every time we talked, he made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. No matter what I was saying, it mattered." S. said "You have a tall order this year." "I know."

Other aspects of the all-day services didn't do it for me. I'm constantly finding and redefining my limits in terms of religious practice. I learned that full-body prostration in a conservative re-enactment of the first Yom Kippur makes me think theater, not prayer...especially when I haven't eaten all day. I wasn't annoyed or bored, just...uninspired. I'm still glad I went. I would have always wondered otherwise, and I didn't even know ceremonies like that existed in Jewish practice. When I told my mom I spent all day at Yom Kippur services she said "That sounds worse than having a gyno appointment and a mammogram in the same day!" My attempts to explain only lead to exclamations such as "What a WASTE of a day! You could have been at the beach or something! You could have been working!" Oh well. I can't expect her to keep her opinions to myself if I want her to hear mine.

Several times throughout the day, Rabbi S. asked us to take a few moments and focus on two or three small goals we could actually achieve in the new year. My problem is that I don't have goals that small right now. Sure, I'd like to think that by this time next year, I will be treating my body the way it deserves to be treated. But I'm having trouble breaking that into smaller steps. I guess the first real challenge is actually bringing enough food to campus with me, and exercising regularly, even when I think I don't have time. I'm going to start with that, and see how it goes. Right now I'm exercising every day. We'll see how I act under pressure, and next year on Yom Kippur, I'd like to know that I've at least made some progress.

Sukkot Shabbat is tomorrow night, but more about that later. I have a series of memories attached to Sukkot that make the harvest holiday even sweeter. Predictable, isn't it?

My memory is so Jewish, that the streets of my present are paved with my past.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"May their memory be a blessing:" Yahrzeit. And a story regarding ritual.

"While Jews have observed Yahrzeit since Talmudic times, the ceremony wasn't called Yahrzeit until the 16th century. The word comes from the German word Jahrzeit, a word used by the Christian Church for the occassion of honoring the dead. " (thanks,

Learning something new because I didn't remember protocol for lighting the candle.

I'm a little upset because I told the newspaper to run this story today or sometime before the end of September, but they completely forgot and now it's slated for October...which is weird. I guess the important thing is that I'm finally telling it...

The reason it’s so hard to tell this story is because it’s a story I don’t want to tell. I want to talk about everything around it until the space where this story lives is a tiny white dot, surrounded by circling black sentences. Every time I add another layer of writing, the white dot grows more visceral, and its silence, louder. I’ve written about goodbyes, graduations (, new homes, and final resting places. I’ve called them “rituals,” hoping to lessen the finality of endings. Rituals are predictable; life itself is not so patterned.

It’s September, and everything is beginning. September brings autumn breezes and new books. Old friends reunite with excited cries, while new students grow younger every year. When I was a child, I rose at five in the morning, even though my first day of second grade would not begin until eight. I couldn’t wait to see what second grade would bring, and this was the start of it all. In college, September still brought the familiar rush of excitement and nerves, and a fresh sense of purpose…which always faded by midterms. Longing for September’s optimism soon became part of the ritual as well.

In September 2005, I had just returned from a National Historical Park on the East Coast, where I worked as a historical re-enactor for three months. I barely had time to recover from my colonial adventure before my senior year of college began. That September, I began writing my history undergraduate senior thesis, after eighteen months of research. I wrote my first few blurbs as a new intern for the Good Times, and discovered that I loved writing literature features. I studied for the GRE’s, enrolled in my last two literature courses, and I began applying to history graduate programs. Everything felt enormous as I prepared to finish college, and took my first steps toward the unimaginable territory of graduate school.

Then, on September 20, my friend Randy died. He was 25 years old, and he had graduated in June with a degree in politics. I remember his bright orange “party shirt,” and sharing cold drinks on his porch. I remember that everyone sat up straighter when he started coming to Kresge Student Parliament meetings. By his senior year, Randy was the Parliament chair, and I was the secretary. I gave him Robert’s Rules of Order for his birthday. He made me feel like I was the most important person in the world. Randy had worked on the Coonerty campaign. He was going to go far.

When I found out, there was a scream that started in my stomach.

The only poem I wrote that school year was about his funeral. I wrote it without meaning to, sitting at my desk in the Good Times office in September, waiting to hear back from a possible interviewee. I called the poem “Twenty-five,” and when I went outside to get some coffee, I read it to my mom over the phone. Meanwhile, leaves scattered on Pacific Avenue, and students huddled together in coffee shops. Somehow, it was still September.

The day after his funeral, I tried to read Clouds by Aristophanes. It was inconceivable. I asked for my first extension on a paper in my fourth year of college, because I was so overwhelmed with grad school applications, the GRE’s, my burgeoning thesis project, and Randy’s absence, which made everything else seem trivial. How could the leaves fall?

On September 20, 2006, I was a busy new graduate student. I spent the entire day reading, and trying not to think about anything. But in the middle of the night, I blew a tire right in front of his old house, and I heard him say “Sweet pea, if you don’t slow down, you’re going to blow a tire too.” I stumbled out of the car and cried "I know, I have to slow down, I'm sorry! I love you! I miss you!” It was the one-year anniversary of his death. I hadn’t forgotten. I was just tired of remembering.

It’s September again, and I’m starting my second year of graduate school. Autumn arrives with its familiar markers - leaves and books, new students to teach, High Holy Day services to attend. My sense of memory is stronger than my sense of present – the past is vibrant, finished, and contained, while the moment is gray and intangible. Rituals provide an imagined structure, the illusion that I can order the present because I can count on new coursework. I can rely on September.

In 2005, Randy’s death disrupted autumn. Familiar rituals seemed insignificant, cruel in the face of shattering change. But over the last two years, I’ve learned that life is not ritual, and that rituals change based on life. I never wanted September to mark an ending, but I didn’t get to make that choice. I can, however, choose the way I want to remember, now that Randy is part of the autumn landscape. Like books, like leaves. Like new beginnings.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I am moments away from completing my Birthright application for the December trip.

My heart is pounding and I feel like there's sand behind my eyes. All this time, I wasn't going to Israel because my mother was nervous. Now I'm nervous. But I'm still going. My mom and I will both be nervous, no matter what. I need to do this, and I need to do it now, before Cai turns 26. I want to go with him.

Oy vey, I worry like the Jewish grandmother I'll be one day. Everything will be fine...I'm just nervous.

But as Rabbi Hillel himself once said: "If not now, when?" It's going to be AMAZING. When else would I have the chance to ride a camel through the negev (desert)? We'll visit archaeological sites, walk through street bazaars in Jerusalem, float in the Dead Sea, drink tea with the Bedouins. All my life, I have faced Jerusalem during prayer services, bowing, perpetually, to the East. In December, I'll actually be there.

All I have to do is get my passport information together, and I'll be finished with the application process. As I told my parents, I'm going to be in Israel at some point in my life. It's better to go now, on a free, guided, 10-day tour, than on my own later. That said, I haven't talked to my parents yet about the prospect of extending our visit by a couple of days so we can spend some time with S and Y, who are studying at HUC and Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, respectively. I have to talk to them about it first. But it would be a wonderful way to end our visit. I miss them all the time. Even if it doesn't quite work out, hopefully they can meet up with us somewhere...we'll see.

- Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Thursday, September 13, 2007

L'Shanah Tovah - and a note on Memory

"We are not commanded to believe; we are commanded to remember."
- Machzor

After a combined 5 1/2 hours of Rosh Hashanah over the last two days, for now, this is what stands out. It stands out because I think the way I remember - or, rather, my obsession with memory - is the most Jewish aspect of my identity. Memory is bigger than learning to kasher my house, it's more important than keeping Friday-night Shabbat. The Amidah, central to a Jewish prayer service, begins with a recollection of what has ended. It brings to life the biblical patriarchs, and more recently, the matriarchs: "blessed are you, God of our ancestors."

In Everything is Illuminated, JSF says that memory is a Jew's sixth sense, and it's true. My sense of memory is stronger than my sense of present. The past is so tangible, so vibrant, and contained. It's real because it already happened. The present is a gray, wavering thing I can't quite grasp.

I'm tired...but the holiday brought so much more than that. I'll have to share it another time. But for now, a comment on Tashlich:

My parents got into town right before Tashlich. At the beach, we met with a small part of the temple community. We sang together, and threw bread into the water, symbolically releasing things we don't want to bring into the new year. I brought a whole loaf of bread, and my mom and I laughed the same laugh, and yelled, and threw almost the entire thing into the water, slice by stale slice. I had told my parents ahead of time that Tashlich could be very beautiful, "if you let it." It felt really good to share this part of myself with my mom.

Ok, that's all for now. I have so much more to tell, but it will have to wait. L'shanah Tovah (Happy New Year), and may we all be inscribed in the book of life for sweetness in the coming year and always.

- Adva Ahava

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The first gathering at our new home was successful. K offered to bring her grill so our non-kosher friends could have sausage. I explained the system for the dishes, and those choosing to eat sausage used paper plates.

I've had a long-standing rule about using real plates instead of paper plates, out of concern for the environment, but Santa Cruz is experiencing a drought right now, so I figured it's no better to waste water washing more dishes. Plus...I don't have a third set of non-kosher dishes, and I don't plan on buying any. Paper was fine.

I did, however, forget to tell everyone to use plastic utensils. They used meat utensils instead of dairy, but used them on sausage. It's ok though. I'll boil them again, and we've learned something for next time.

In other news, my parents are coming up this Thursday and Friday, Rosh Hashanah. I know they won't want to go to RH services with me, but maybe they'll do Tashlich by the ocean.

They are very good about keeping themselves entertained when they come to visit, and they won't stop me from going to services.

Anyway, to those of you reading this blog who came over tonight, thanks for sharing the evening with me. It's time to get some sleep. I let myself take the whole day off today, but Shabbat is ending, and a new week is beginning. Tomorrow it's back to work *yawn* Shavua Tov!

- Adva

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Linguine Compromise and the Kosher Colander

Cai and I cooked our first meal together a couple nights ago (pasta and salad). We remembered to say the shehekeyanu (the blessing for the first time anyone does anything). But after we started eating, I remembered that I'd wanted to bless the food together. Then I realized that I don't remember blessings besides the motzi (blessing over the bread) and the boray p'ree hagafen (blessing over wine). I told Mordecai I'd look them up so we could say them next time, if he was comfortable saying the blessings. He reassured me that it was fine.

A few minutes into the meal, I smiled and said "Thanks for making the spaghetti. It's great!" He said "It's linguine!" I shrugged "Spaghetti? Linguine? Who cares?"

Cai's brilliant response:"I'll learn the different blessings for the different foods if you learn the difference between spaghetti and linguine!"

Needless to say, we have a deal.

Later that night, Cai went out to buy a couple of cooking items I didn't know we needed because I never cook - like a colander, for draining pasta. He came back triumphant:
"Sweetie, I bought a KOSHER colander!"

For those of you who don't know, cookware can't be kosher until it has been dipped in boiling water, stuck in the oven in high heat, or washed in the ocean.

What was he talking about?

I found out soon enough:

The colander has a magen david (star of david) pattern on it.

Also, he said, like any good Jew, he bought it on sale.

Cai is finding his Jewish roots after all.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Introduction: "The beginning of the world often comes"

In this beginning, my name is Adva, which means "small wave, ripple" in Hebrew.

I'm a 23-year-old history graduate student, and in my non-existent spare time, I work as a freelance journalist and columnist for a local paper. My fiance and I just moved in together, and we're learning about ourselves and about each other every day. I'm a practicing Reform Jew, and he's been doubtful or an atheist since the age of three, when he asked his teacher how they knew Jesus was the son of God at his Catholic preschool. In this beginning, my fiance's name is Mordecai, or Cai for short. We have been together for almost seven years, and fortunately, as I've grown more religious, he's grown more supportive of my efforts to connect with my Jewish identity. My fiance has also begun to craft his own connection with Judaism - his father is an ex-Jew, and his mother, an ex-Catholic. But he has always related more to Jewish culture, particularly, he says, the emphasis on food.

Food will be a major motif, or maybe even a theme in this blog. We decided to make our home kosher-style, which is one of the reasons why this blog is named "Adventures in Kosherland." Neither of us have ever lived kosher before, since my family's Judaism was primarily cultural, and his family had a Christmas tree but never attended religious services.

As a child, I went to temple school once a week starting at the age of five, and I became Bat Mitzvah at 13. My parents did not encourage or discourage any religious education beyond this point, but I continued with confirmation at age 14, and I was a teaching assistant at my temple school at home for 5 years. When I started college, I became very involved at Hillel, where I attended weekly Shabbat services, celebrated the holidays, and found my real love for Judaism in a wonderful community. I discovered what it meant to be Jewish and feminist in a brief but spectacular Rosh Chodesh circle started by one of the students in the Hillel family, and I spent several nights a week at the Jewish student housing co-op, where many of my dearest friends lived for two years. It was on their kitchen floor during a Shabbat meditation that I found my own words for faith. It was at their dinner table that I learned what it meant to have a more traditionally Jewish home.

In school, I study early America and gender history, but I had an awakening last quarter in which I confessed to a colleague that "I think I'm a Jewish historian!" "Mazel Tov!" she cried. We embraced, and since then, I've been finding ways to incorporate Jewish history into my own studies. I've decided that I'm going to add it as an outside field when I begin my PhD program.

My biblical knowledge is minimal - I know bible stories at a second grade level, because those are the oldest students I taught over nine years as a temple school madricha. But I started studying Talmud with my rabbi and a couple of friends on rainy Shabbat afternoons last January. We went very slowly, working through 18 pages of mishnah over the following six months, noshing on crackers and lemonade.

I'm starting this blog (at the urgings of others) to chronicle my experiences at a very interesting moment in my life as a Jew. My fiance and I are learning how to compromise our lifestyles (but not our beliefs), and we're doing it largely on our own. I'm discovering that very little exists locally in the way of community for young adults my age. We loved Hillel, but we're a little old to hang out with 18-year-olds. The temples in the area have programs for the elderly, teen groups, and an excellent network for parents with young families. We don't fall into any of those categories, and we're definitely not having kids till I have my dissertation. I'm constantly seeking a balance between my religious and academic lives. My parents and grandparents cannot offer extensive religious support because, like many other children and grandchildren of immigrants, they learned to privilege secular, American life over Jewish religious life. They are very culturally Jewish, we celebrated holidays, and our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were important. But I did not start celebrating a traditional Shabbat until I became involved with Hillel. I would have previously relied on the Jewish Co-Op family for community, or on Hillel, but a majority of my friends have graduated, and many of them now live in two of the Jewish homelands: Jerusalem, and New York City.

Still, I'm trying to simultaneously teach my fiance what it's like to have a Jewish community and a Jewish home, while I continue my own practice and attempt a more traditional Jewish lifestyle. I have a few Jewish friends left in the area who have been very supportive and loving as we embark on our journey into Kosherland. When I went out for coffee with them after Shabbat last week, I found myself thinking about how many ages and ages of Jewish women have chatted over coffee and tea on Shabbat. When the rabbi says that the amidah links us to our Jewish ancestors and to Jews all over the world, I see a long chain of Hebrew words, reconnecting members of my scattered community.

Either way, what follows are thoughts, humorous anecdotes, and religious ramblings about our just-beginning (mis)adventures in Kosherland.

Thanks for reading, and wish us luck -- it's going to be a wild ride.