Passover in College

I have attended Passover seders for the past four years, and last year I didn’t consume any chametz (including leavened breads, oats, rice, corn and peanuts). But this year, I am going to be having my first real Passover complete with cleaning my apartment, selling my chametz, and conducting the search for chametz the day before Passover. While I have been anticipating Passover all year so I would be able to have a Passover more closely aligned with Jews around me, I have also been stressing over Passover for about the past month.

Living in a college apartment is not the same as having a Jewish home. The hardest part of the situation is that my roommate is not Jewish. While this does pose some issues for general kashrut (kosher) laws, it becomes much harder when the dietary laws become stricter over Passover. Also, having a college student budget does not allow for too much frivolous spending and lets face it, Passover is not a cheap holiday. In order to have a kosher kitchen for Passover you can’t use your ordinary dishes, pots, pans or utensils. Also, you need to get a whole new pantry full of food for 8 days.

After many weeks of stressing and running over scenarios in my head, I have found a non-ideal but practical solution to making it through Passover in my apartment. First, let me say it would be so much easier if I had a Jewish home to be in that already kept the mitzvot of Passover, but I can not invite myself to live with someone for eight days! But, if you have the option to help someone else prepare their home and stay with them, it would be a great way to learn and escape the issues of a roommate who doesn’t keep kosher for Passover. Now, my solution:

I am going to get rid of all the chametz (that I own) in my apartment, as well as clean the entire apartment (except my roommates room, which I never enter), car, and other possessions. During Passover, I will not use the kitchen at all since my roommate is going to continue to prepare food normally in there. We already discussed that for the week she will keep all food in the kitchen only. I will use a mini fridge set up in my room to keep all my food separate. Basically, all my food consist of for the week is raw fruits, (approved) raw veggies, and cheese approved for Passover. I also bought some prepackaged Passover junk food in order to keep my sweet (and salty) tooth at bay. I will use all paper goods for my food and won’t eat or take food outside of my room. I will drink still bottled water.

It is not perfect, but is what I see as a reasonable solution for Passover this year. Hopefully, next year I will be able to properly prepare and keep Passover in my home.

Live in Israel for Two Years?

It is now officially late March, and the time has come to receive acceptance (and rejection) letters from graduate schools. I only applied to four schools, two in the U.S. and two in Israel, and I thank God that the two I have heard back from so far have both been letters of acceptance. While I am glad I got into both programs, I secretly hoped I would only get into one program out of the four so the decision of where to go would be made for me. I have trouble deciding what to eat for dinner, so the decision of where to get a Master’s from is pretty much impossible for me.

I spent the past year trying not to become too invested in any program so I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t get in, and now, I have to go against the rule I made for myself and rank. There are so many factors to consider, such as money, faculty, location. I also have to at listen to, and somewhat consider,  the opinions of my family, friends, and mentors. I think all the programs I applied to are great and pretty comparable to each other money wise (when taking cost of living, scholarships, and everything into consideration), so it really feels like it is coming down to where I want to live for the next two years.  And as scared as I am to say it, I feel the answer is Israel.

I spent this past summer in Israel studying at Tel Aviv University. I had the opportunity to see many different parts of the country and even spent my last week and a half exclusively in Jerusalem. While two and a half months is not the same as two years, I feel like I had the opportunity to get a good sample of what life would be like living in Israel- and I loved it. I can’t idealize it and say it was truly only the land of milk and honey. I had my phone stolen at the shuk in Tel Aviv, had to sit on the floor of an overbooked bus from Tel Aviv to Eilat, and had a few awkward moments in Haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem.  Even with the not so great and many frustrating moments, I could still see myself living there (at least for a few years). And what is a better time than when the commitment is only two years and I am only 22 years old?

Mitzvot in Conservative Judaism

I love Judaism.

From the beginning of my desire to convert to Judaism, I knew that I would first and foremost identify as a Jew and the branch of Judaism that I affiliate with would be secondary. While this sounds nice, it is naive to  see the branches of Judaism as artificial divisions. You can think a certain way and practice a certain way but at the end of the day you have to function within a community.

Orthodox and Conservative were the two branches that I spent the most time considering  when choosing a community. I still question where I fit best at times, but for several reasons I know that Conservative Judaism is the right place for me. The tension comes because my practice tends to be on the more Orthodox side of things.

When I discuss this with my friends they tend to think I am crazy and that Orthodox practice is much harder than Conservative practice. I disagree.

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism both see mitzvot (commandments) as binding. Conservative Judaism, unlike Orthodox Judaism, sees mitzvot as evolving. This difference in opinion leads to differences in practices, like the Conservative movement ordaining female rabbis while the Orthodox movement does not.

For me personally, I feel it is harder to live out mitzvot through the Conservative movement than the Orthodox movement, which is largely why I practice in a more Orthodox way. In Orthodox Judaism, there is a clear sense of not only what to do but how to do it. In Conservative Judaism, there is the same 613 mitzvot, but there is a very different approach that enables you to practice each in ways that are meaningful for you. This ambiguity can be beautiful and confusing at the same time. I struggle with finding the most meaningful way of living out each mitzvot in my life. Especially in this early stage of learning to live as a Jew, I find it necessary and rather comforting to have clear rules and expectations of how to live in the world.

I am in no way saying one way of practicing is better than the other. I think that everyone needs to find what is best and most meaningful for them. For me, I find the structure and clarity of Orthodox practice more comforting , but I am also trying to ensure I understand and value my community’s practices. While the process of trying to find what is best for me is mostly frustrating, I know that it is necessary in order to ensure that I am secure in who I become as a Jew and that I can live out my Judaism even when I leave my present home and community.

Shabbat (Conservative Style) x 4

The decision of which branch of Judaism to convert through has been a long, hard road. I feel like my theology and practices fit one branch on this issue and another branch on another issue. After much thought, I decided that the Conservative movement was right for me. Even after that decision, even after many months of living within the same Conservative synagogue and working with the same Conservative rabbi, I still go through bouts of doubt when I don’t exactly fit into the practices and beliefs of the community. One of the most frustrating instances I face, weekly, is that my way of “keeping” Shabbat is different from the majority of my community’s practices.

Usually, I observe Shabbat in ways that would be associated with Orthodox practice. I do drive to shul, because there is no synagogue in walking distance, but I also make sure to prepare my food ahead time, not to write, and stay away from my phone, t.v. and computer.  While I enjoy observing Shabbat with these practices, it feels very isolating at times to be separated from the normative practices of my community, like eating out after Kabbalat Shabbat. I have not found anyone in the community to share my Shabbat practices with, so it often becomes a lonely experience to come home and eat and read in silence. In order to avoid the feeling of isolation, I would usually try my best to stay up late on Thursday night and wake up early Friday so I would be tired Friday night and not have to spend too much time alone after services. As it is getting closer to the summer, I know that Shabbat will only begin to feel like it is lasting longer and longer with late sunsets on Saturday. And as things stand now, this only means I will be spending more time feeling isolated than before.

After months of frustration over Shabbat, I finally realized I am approaching this wrong. Yes, I love a more Orthodox approach to Shabbat, but that is not the right approach for everyone and my community finds value and meaning in another approach. Instead of being frustrated by the disconnect between my practices and my community’s practices, I need to push myself see things in a new perspective and try to better understand how my community finds wholeness in Shabbat.

For that reason, I decided to dedicate at least 4 weeks to Conservative style Shabbats. I began last Shabbat, Adar 16, and plan on continuing until the Shabbat before Pesach. Last week, I attended Kabbalat Shabbat service and then joined a few friends from shul for a dinner at a local restaurant. On Saturday, after services, a friend and I drove to a conference I had to attend on Sunday a few hours away. Normally, I would have waited until after Shabbat to make the drive, but decided that spending the five hours in conversation was a better use of Shabbat than my usual reading alone. We even stopped at a restaurant on the way for some food. I have still kept some earlier practices that keeps Shabbat sacred for me personally while blending in with the community better and not having the same isolating effect. For example, I still do not use my phone, watch t.v, or use my computer. My outlook on Shabbat for these four weeks is to build relationships and seek the “spirit” of Shabbat in new ways. This primarily calls for me to be in community and learn from others. Whether I end up keeping Conservative style Shabbats or returning to my previous practices is still to be determined, but either way, I certainly know that this is an opportunity to learn and grow.

 

Dreaming of Kosher Food

A moment that made me feel like a Jew:

Last night, I had a dream that the candy Starburst suddenly became kosher. I was in the check out line at the grocery store when I saw the package now had a hechsher. I was so excited and grabbed a bunch. Then I ran to the breakfast cereal aisle to see if Lucky Charms were now kosher too. They weren’t, but I was still too excited about the Starburst to care much.

I woke up laughing about how crazy I was to be dreaming about candy becoming kosher. In dreams anything can happen, and in my dreams candy becomes kosher. I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face thinking about how awesome a dream it was and how I could not possibly have had the same dream a few years ago, when I didn’t even know what a kosher symbol looked like.

Stay the Same

One phrase is more prominent than any other when reading through the signatures of my junior high and high school yearbooks- “stay the same.” Usually this phrase is paired with the idea that I am “cool” or “fun” to be around.

Obviously, we don’t really want people to stay the same in every aspect. We want people to grow past the immaturities of high school and think beyond the concerns of a teenager. At the same time, we cling to our idea of who those close to us are and crave their consistency for our own sake of retaining a “cool” friend.

I never thought I would be confronted with the suggestion to “stay the same” again, but now as I tell those closest to me about my decision to convert, most have the same response: I will always love you as long as you “stay the same.” Or, if they don’t want to make their love seem so conditional, they find another way of saying that all they are concerned about is that I am happy and will “stay the same” person they have come to know and love.

While I understand that the care and concern of my loved ones for me to “stay the same” is genuinely connected to their idea of my well-being, I feel uncomfortable addressing their concern to “stay the same.” Part of me addresses their concern sensitively and answers that Judaism is not something new in my life and has been forming who I am gradually for the past few years. This answer expresses my idea that Judaism does change me, but it has already begun and they still love me now so they should not think they cannot love my change in the future. The fact that I will continue to change is more implicit, because I do not want to cause worry.

My other response is not as gentle but is how I really feel. Judaism does change me. It has begun changing me and will continue to change me for the rest of my life, but the day I step out of the mikvah (ritual bath) and become a Jew will be the most transformative moment of my life. If becoming a Jew was not fundamentally transformative, why would I convert? If I was going to remain the exact same person, there would be no reason to convert. The beauty of any ritual, especially a conversion ritual, is that the person is changed in a very profound way. I know that this is harder for loved ones to hear, so I will continue to try and give the more gentle description of how I see Judaism shaping my life.

Judaism has changed what and how I eat, pray, dress, think, and approach God and others. I will continue to change and grow throughout my life with Judaism as my guide.