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.

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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.

Chanukah

Happy Chanukah to anyone celebrating!

It has been a long time since my last post, because I was busy finishing up the semester. Now that I am on break, I am free to write about the many ideas I jotted down but lacked time to write out.

This is my first Chanukah. In the years past, I have made latkes with friends and observed others lighting their Chanukiah. This year, I am preparing my own Chanukah food (for a friend’s dinner party) and lighting my very own Chanukiah. This is very exciting, but at the same time lonely compared to other years. Usually after my last final I head to my parent’s home right away for the break. This year, I wanted to be able to spend more time at the synagogue, spend time with Jewish friends for the holiday, and have my conversion class still. The extra time in my quiet apartment has provided a much needed break after the chaos of the final weeks of classes. I have also had the chance to clean and work on graduate school applications. At the same time, my family is beginning to gather in my hometown and I am not there to enjoy the family moments. Tonight, my family is gathered together making dinner, and I am cooking for one. I enjoy the solitude but miss my family. I will be going home in a few days for Christmas, not to celebrate but to be with family. When that time comes, I know I will miss the peace and quiet of my apartment, but right now I just wish I was with family. Friends are amazing, but family is something different all together.

Christmas has been a difficult issue and will only be more difficult when the day actually comes. My religious family goes to mass several time on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is definitely the biggest day of the year, as it should be for Christians. I am not saying I have made the best decisions, but I will share what I have decided to do for Christmas and give an update after the holiday about how it went.

I am attending all family functions outside of Church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, because this is important family time.

I will prepare kosher food to take to share with my family. This way, I can have kosher food and not upset anyone by having totally different food from everyone else.

I asked for all relatives and friends to not give me any gifts, because I not celebrating. If I do receive a gift, I will however be appreciative.

I am giving my family and friends Christmas gifts, because they are celebrating. Just because I no longer observe Christian holidays does not mean it isn’t very important for many people, including my family. I do not want to stop any of my family from enjoying what is their celebration.

I am taking my Chanukiah to my parent’s house when I visit for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I will hopefully light the candles in the living room, since it is suppose to be public.

I am not quite sure about attending Church. It largely depends on how my parents are taking the holidays. As much of a change the conversion process is for me, it is just as hard (if not more) for them. I need to give them time to adjust, and I do not want to hurt them. Also, I am hoping to move to Israel for graduate school so this is my last Christmas with them. If I do end up attending one service, I will sit with a relative who will hopefully be more tolerant of my non-participation in the service.

Happy Holidays to everyone. 🙂

Craving a Cheeseburger

Shavua Tov (Good Week).

Shabbat has just ended a few hours ago, and I am thrust back into time amid the final weeks of school. Papers need to be written, and I have more test to study for than I care to think about. It is especially in weeks like these that Shabbat becomes an even more beautiful and necessary part of my life. Shabbat has become a sustaining act in my life, and I hope that it will remain one as I continue to learn how to better guard and remember Shabbat throughout my life.

Shabbat is sacred, but even on Friday night and Saturday, as I try to be holier and closer to God, I am just an ordinary human. I had a wonderful Shabbat yesterday/today, but after shul this morning I couldn’t help but crave some non-kosher food. I had lunch earlier at shul and had prepared food for Shabbat, but all the restaurants I passed kept calling my name. I began to fantasize about stopping in for a cheeseburger or really any food that I haven’t had in a long time.It has been 3 years since I last ate pork, and yet sometimes I just want some pork ribs. It is not only non-kosher food that I sometimes miss. There are many things I am giving up by converting to Judaism. Even on the holiest day, sometimes I just want to go out with friends or watch t.v.

I can fool myself into thinking that all these craving will go away when I become Jewish, but I know better. Being Jewish will not suddenly make me forget how good some non-kosher food is. What is more important is trying to keep the mitzvot (commandments), even when its easier not to. I am not yet obligated by the mitzvot, but I know that becoming Jewish is a process and I should try to adhere by the mitzvot already.

So… I came home after shul to read, nap, and eat a vegan bean burger that I prepared ahead of time.

Being Jewish is Expensive

I am not Jewish yet, but I hope to be one day. The process of converting to Judaism has entailed many unforeseeable aspects, one of which is how expensive it is to convert. It is all the little things along the way in the conversion process that really start to add up.

As a college student, money is always an issue, namely not having enough of it. I work part time on campus and my parents help me with books and groceries, but I rarely have extra money to spend. Converting has taken all of my extra money plus some money that should have been spent elsewhere.

Here are some of my conversion expenses:

-Switching my diet to only kosher food: My diet is now vegetarian kosher. This limits my dining out, which saves me money, but has also forced me to switch brands on many of my groceries. I can no longer buy the same milk or eggs as before, and many of the tried and true generic brands are no longer available to me. While the price difference is usually not too much, in the long run I have noticed an increase in my monthly grocery bill. There was also the one time cost of getting kosher cookware for my kitchen. I donated all my old pots, pans, and plates and started over with new utensils, plates, bowls, pots and pans. I know it seems extravagant to start all over instead of going through the process of making my cookware kosher, but once again, I am a college student so I didn’t have too many dishes living in a dorm/small apartment.

-Books: Starting a Jewish library is a necessity for those interested in conversion. This has been my biggest expenditure for conversion. Part of the reason is I just love to read so it is hard to restrain myself from some new books, but the other part of it is that books are an essential part of the learning process in conversion. I visit amazon.com almost everyday looking for new books and buy at least one about every week. They have been wonderful to learn from and to study on Shabbat, but even buying books online becomes expensive. I look at the books as investments into my future Jewish library that will fill my home with commentaries of all sorts. I am trying to build up a collection of Jewish books, including Rashi’s commentaries on Torah and the Bavli, but I also know I will be moving in a few months for graduate school and will more than likely not be able to take all these books with me.

-Hanukkah: Hannukah is coming up, and for the holiday I bought my first hanukiah and set of candles today. As per tradition, I bought the most beautiful one I could afford. I am very excited to celebrate the holiday with my own hanukiah for the first time, but it is a lot of money to spend for eight days. Of course, I will have the hanukiah for years to come and will only need to buy new candles in the future.

-Shabbat: Shabbat itself doesn’t require money. You can’t even spend money on Shabbat, but all the preparation requires some money. I bought a slow cooker, so I would be able to prepare food for Shabbat, and timers for my lights, so I wouldn’t need to turn them on or off during Shabbat. I also have to buy candles to light before Shabbat starts on Friday and a special candle for the Havdalah service when Shabbat ends Saturday night. I have not invested in beautiful sets of candle holders or Havdalah sets, but I want to and will need to have something more permanent than a bottle of cinnamon and cheap candle holders at some point.

-Gas: When I was a practicing Christian, I attended Church nearby and never had to drive to services. Now that I attend synagogue regularly, I have to drive across town to get to services and classes. I spend about an hour in traffic one way, during rush hour, and attend about three or four times a week. The money spent on gas really adds up.

These are just some ideas of the expenses I have encountered during my conversion process. I am sure there will be more, and while my bank account cringes, I smile because all of the expenses are helping to construct my new identity within the Jewish community.