OyChicago blog

Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv

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Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv photo 1

A little less than a month ago, I took a leap of faith and moved to Israel to participate in a 10-month volunteer/internship program called Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Yaffo. The program gives me the extraordinary opportunity to intern for local non-profits and live alongside the communities my workplace serves.

I also have the opportunity to do something I've never done before: celebrate the Jewish holidays in a country full of Jews; to pray and laugh and eat in a community where Judaism is actually mainstream.

But to my disappointment, my first holidays in Israel, Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah, didn't feel all that different from any other weekday. There were fewer busses and most of the shops in my area were closed, but beyond that it was just an ordinary day. If you weren't familiar with the usual commercial traffic patterns of Tel Aviv, you'd never know that anything was different. As a result, I took my ulpan teacher's promise that Yom Kippur would be "unlike anything I had ever experienced before" with a grain of salt. It turned out that his promise was good.

Set apart from all other Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur -- the Day of Atonement -- brings all daily activity in Israel to a grinding halt. From sunset to sunset on this holy day, all businesses, schools and streets closed, causing even sleepless cities like Tel Aviv to grow quiet for a little while.

Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv photo 3

But as night fell on Erev Yom Kippur, the country's atmosphere of quiet contemplation gave way to waves of joyous sound as people filed out from their synagogues and homes and filled the streets. Children whizzed by on bicycles while their parents strolled arm in arm up the boulevard. Friends and neighbors all dressed in white met with kisses on cheeks and eager embraces. Bus stops and street corners became community living rooms, complete with cheerful old men stretched out on plastic lawn furniture, and traffic signals blinked comically unnoticed in the distance. Only when the approaching sun lent a bit of color to the sky did the people return to bed. Even I, a passionate sleeper, stayed up late to listen to soak up the musical chatter in the streets. How could I sleep when the world felt so alive? What if I went to sleep and the whole night turned out to be a dream?

Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv photo 2

But it wasn't a dream. Early the next morning the streets back came to life with shul-goers and cyclists in a fusion of old and new that only Israel could support. I became a part of that fusion on my way to Torah study when my neighbor's grandchildren challenged me to a bicycle race -- an invitation that, of course, I accepted. On our bikes we flew up and down the carless streets of Tel Aviv dodging teens playing soccer near the entrance ramps to Israel's empty expressways.

After class, I made my way home to help prepare food for the break-fast with my roommates. As I biked through my neighborhood, the smell of spiced meat and baking bread filled the air as other families prepared too. The chefs occasionally looked up from their work to shout holiday greetings to passersby from their open windows.

As night fell, my roommates and I made our way to the Sephardic synagogue a few blocks from our apartment. We were obviously late for the evening service as by this point in the evening no one was left on the streets. When we arrived at the synagogue, it was standing-room only, but somehow, the ladies in the women's section made room for us. They slapped siddurs in our hands already opened to the right page in the service. Every so often, the same ladies would peek over their shoulder to make sure we hadn't lost our place.

Before long, shofars bellowed out from all corners of the city and just like that Yom Kippur was over -- or so we thought. But it turned out that the communal spirit of Yom Kippur wasn't done with us just yet. As my friends and I shuffled out of the synagogue we were stopped multiple times by women of the congregation who wanted to make sure that we had somewhere to go for dinner. In fact, even after explaining that we had food prepared at home, our doorbell still rang that evening with smiling neighbors holding out pots of food for us to taste.

It turned out that my ulpan teacher was right. But at the end of the day, the parts I will remember the most about this Yom Kippur are not the carless streets or the closed up shops. Instead they will be the people I met and the kindness they showed me on what happened Judaism's holiest day. But it is a kindness that I know will last and remain special any old day of the week.


Journey Back Into Imagination

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Journey Back Into Imagination photo

Come with me, and you will see, my world thrown back into imagination with just one spark. Yes, journey with me on a discovery that was more of a re-discovery. For I want to tell you a tale. A tale of fencing! Of fighting! Of torture! Revenge! Giants! Monsters! Chases! Escapes! True love! Miracles -- wait a second! That's The Princess Bride. Wrong tale. Moving on!

This tale is about something within me that was long forgotten yet greatly missed. I am of course talking about -- my imagination. (I thought I had a more clever way to reveal that, but it must've been a figment of my imagination). The year was 20 aught 15. The month, the Ember of Sept. The day, not really important.

I was in the land of Kalamazoo, which as it turns out is a city and not a zoo known as Kalama. I went to the city on a personal journey of self-discovery. I also brought along my girlfriend. Our self-discovery was to find beer. And while beer was found during our self-discovery (and in quite the abundance), t'was the stop between beer discoveries that has had some truly significant significance.

For you see, there was a museum or wonders at the heart of this city, lying right under the lungs but above the stomach. What drew me there was not only the price of the admission (free), or that it was on our beer excursion walking route, but it was that they had one very special exhibit.

Tinkertoys. That's right, toys of the tinkering kind.

A love letter, or rather a love exhibit, was on display encompassing the joy and exhilaration of that carefree building toy of yesteryear. I was reeled in by the bright colors, the elaborate displays, the fact that I had accidentally grabbed a fishing lure and the want -- nay, need -- to build using my imagination. It was a feeling I hadn't experienced in quite some time.

I've always loved building toys. I grew up a lover of K'nex; I was never as big into LEGOs, which is very characteristic of my personality to go against the popular thing. (This is how I rebelled.) But that non-specified day in the Zoo known as Kalama, I found my long-neglected need to fully explore my imagination no longer remained dormant.

That day my girlfriend and I built a great many things. Fireworks, bazookas, lollipops, throwing stars (or starfish, depending on who you asked) a zoo I named Kalama as well as abundance of memories.  And during the course of being reunited with my imagination, I was additionally being reunited with other Tinkertoy enthusiasts (read: toddlers) that I had to contend with to get the best pieces to build my imaginary deluxe-sized abacus made of Twizzlers that uses doughnuts instead of wooden beads and requires a verbal passphrase to unlock as well as a retinal scan from a pet. Not just anyone can use it, you know.

The moral of this tale, as all tales come conveniently packaged with a moral, is that I should never lose sight of my imagination again. To take it a step further, I should even take time out of my busy, adult-stuff-centric schedule to explore what my much more mature imagination has to offer.

Playing with those Tinkertoys was like a wakeup call. Well, actually, not that. Wake up calls are a nuisance. Let's see, um … it was like diving into a pool full or marshmallow fluff! In other words, it was a realization that my imagination is still there, with much more to explore, or as my adult version might say, much more to be tapped. Heh heh. (Because this started off as a discovery for beer. I used my imagination good on that one.)

I've begun to realize that reconnecting with my imagination is more than just daydreaming. It's making something great out of something that came entirely from within my own thoughts, ideas and dreams and then playing with it. I love where my imagination can take me when I use it for the fun stuff, because the fun stuff has no stress, no anxiety and no limitations. As I said, it's more than daydreaming -- it's finding my dreams by using my imagination, because with my imagination, a dream can be a dream come true.


The Confession

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The Confession photo

Yom Kippur is "Judgment Day," and there is a prayer that repeats over and over again throughout the many services of the holiday called Vidui, or "The Confession." Every year when I go to shul for Yom Kippur, my heart beats a little faster when the Vidui comes up in the liturgy. I rise to my feet and pound my chest with my fist, while uttering the long list of sins that I may or may not have been guilty of committing. I once heard that the point is to confess to the entire list because even if I didn't do it, someone in my community did and I am just as much responsible for their sins as my own.

As someone who has worked to make transformative change in his life over the last 10 years, I would love to be able to stand up on this Yom Kippur and say I have nothing left to confess, but that would never be possible.

Every year I come to contemplate and confess my wrongs and just like millions of other Jews, every year I know that I'll be back again next year. I won't ever be perfect in the coming year and I'll always be guilty of something that I promised to never do again.

No matter how hard I beat my chest on Yom Kippur, my inner demons still remain. My story of losing over 100 pounds, building a successful career, paying off thousands in debt and finding true love is not about leaving the "old me" behind and forging ahead as a completely new soul. Instead, it's about figuring out the right routines and strategies to keep that negative side that was dragging me down in check.

When I show up for Yom Kippur, dressed in traditional white, I bring all of my soulful and sinful self to pray. There is still a very large 300-pound man inside of me. All he wants to do is sit on the couch and eat cookies. He doesn't care about putting his health first. There is still a very lazy, unmotivated college student inside of me, and he doesn't want to stop playing video games to finish his work. He doesn't care that people might be depending on him. And there is still a snarky teenager, ready to make jokes at the expense of others' feelings.

Judaism uses the word tshuvah to mean repentance, but tshuvah really comes from the word for "return." When I think about the metaphor of returning, I might leave a place behind, but I still have to bring my whole self with me. I have to come clean about who I was and what I have done and bring the lessons from my mistakes. All of that informs my new perspective so that I may return to my true path. The path that I would like to think leads me down the road to a sweet new year.

Shana Tova Tikateivu -- may you have a good year and be inscribed in the Book of Life.


Shul Fashion Guide

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Shul Fashion Guide photo 1

Dress by MIMU MAXI. Photo credit: Alexanna Cox

The High Holidays allow me time to reflect on my past year and dream of a new year filled with endless possibilities of the person I can become and accomplishments I can achieve. But to be completely honest … I also love attending synagogue during this time of year to admire the outfits of the other fashionable congregants. 

So, I've created a list of shul fashion dos and don'ts for this Yom Kippur, so you can look smashing while repenting.

Crop Tops Should be Cropped Out        

There are many women who wear these tummy-barring tops while exuding the utmost class and confidence (i.e. Jessica Alba). But, I believe these tops should be saved for, let's say, hanging out with friends. 

Clothe Those Kickers

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe the knee should be hard to see when wearing a skirt in shul. I'm all for a short skirt or dress being balanced by a more modest top half (Heidi Klum is an expert at this), but synagogue is not the place to strut those barre legs. 

Having a difficult time finding longer skirts or dresses? One of my favorite labels is MIMU MAXI. It was founded by two Orthodox sister-in-laws who design modest yet fashionable clothes.

Skivvies Should be a Secret 

This piece of advice goes out to both the ladies and gentlemen. Your undergarments should be out of site. Synagogue is not the place to pull out your inner Kim Kardashian with the exposed undergarment look.

The High Holidays are a time to rebuild oneself, but it never hurts to look fabulous while doing it. L'shanah tovah and easy fasting!


Busting Plateaus

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Busting Plateaus photo

One of the "it" phrases in the fitness world is muscle confusion. If you stay up late enough and watch a few infomercials, you are bound to hear some meathead selling a DVD using this buzz word. I hear muscles get really confused with algebra…

In all seriousness, your muscles adapt to how you train. If you are doing the same workout day after day, your body will get used to it and suddenly you stop getting stronger, faster, leaner, etc. Eventually everyone hits a plateau, and then it's time for a change. The change can subtle or drastic. I usually make big changes because boredom sets in. A few changes you can make:

1. Slow down
2. Circuits
3. Unilateral training

Slow Down

I got a little crazy recently and confused my muscles by weight training more slowly. Normally when you are pumping iron, you throw the weight up on the faster end, albeit controlled but still quickly. My workout was similar to the Super Slow method where you bring the weight up on a 10 second count, and lower the weight the same.

I loved Super Slow training! It was a little hard on my shoulder for certain exercises, but it was an intense burn. Fun fact, this was the first method I used to train people when I was in college. The program I used was one exercise per body part, and we went to failure on each set. Here's a sample workout:

- Body weight squats
- Seated rows
- Deadlifts
- Dumbbell bench press
- Shoulder press
- Lunges
- Bicep curls
- Triceps push downs


A circuit is a workout where you move from one exercise to another with little break. Most workout videos are done like this. A lot of bootcamps are also done in this fashion. What's great about it, is you can make every circuit different. When I design a workout like this, I use a balanced approach, i.e. for every chest exercise there should be a back exercise. Another benefit to this style is it can combine cardio training for your heart, with anaerobic training for your muscles if you don't rest between exercises. And since everyone is calorie-burning crazy these days, this workout will achieve that goal too. Here's a sample circuit:

- Assisted chin ups
- Alternating leg lunges
- Push ups
- Single leg deadlift
- Shoulder press
- Jumping jacks
- Rows
- Mountain climbers

Run from one exercise to the next. Take a 1-2 minute break when you finish all exercises, and repeat the circuit 2-4 times. 

Unilateral Training

It sounds fancy, but it's just training one arm or leg at a time. If you are bicep curling, you do your left arm first and then your right arm. I like this because you can work on strength balancing. Most of us have one arm or leg that's stronger; with this type of training you can do an extra set if you need to on the weaker side. Another reason I like this type of programing is it helps with balance when you do single-leg squats, leg press and deadlifts. A kettlebell works well with this type of training. Sample program:

- Single arm row
- Single leg deadlift and bicep curl
- Single arm dumbbell bench
- Single leg squat (I would hold on to a stick, TRX, or body bar)
- Overhead triceps extension
- Lateral lunge
- Dumbbell shoulder press

Do each exercise 10 times on one side and then switch. Because it takes a while to do one side and then the other, I would only do two sets of each exercise and then move on to the next exercise. 

There are millions of ways to confuse your muscles, I recommend mixing up your routine every 4-6 weeks. If you go to a gym that has classes, try a different teacher or new class. Have fun, and of course only exercise if you are healthy enough and cleared by your doctor.


Sanctuary on the Edens Expressway

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Sanctuary on the Edens Expressway photo

I absolutely love working at Temple Jeremiah, and I also love the neighborhood where I live -- Lakeview, almost 20 miles away from Jeremiah. For many, an hour-long commute could seem like a nightmare; but for me, it's my own personal sanctuary.

I am constantly on the go, running from one thing to the next. I rarely take time to sit and just "be" -- it doesn't fit into my schedule. But for two hours a day, in my car, I'm sitting, relaxing, and enjoying "me time" by myself. I don't think I realized it until now, but it is truly a blessing.

In the mornings, I listen to audiobooks. I love to read, and audiobooks allow actors to bring characters' voices to life -- and my book list tells me that I've listened to more than 80 audiobooks (ask me for recommendations!).

In the evenings, I call my mom. We chat daily for almost an hour, sharing stories from our day, and, recently, getting excited about wedding planning details. I truly treasure this time for us, and it feels like she's right there with me in my driving tour of the Chicago suburbs.

While many people grumble in traffic jams and are filled with road rage, I think about the sanctuary that my car has become. It's my time to think; it's my time to relax; it's my time to make connections with my mom and other relatives and friends; it's my time to lose myself in a good book as it transports me to other countries, other times, and other cultures.

Sometimes if highway traffic is bad, I drive down Sheridan Road, with beautiful mansions on one side and a sparkling, shimmering lake on the other. I take a deep breath and just relax.


New Year. New Mindset. New Results.

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New Year. New Mindset. New Results. photo

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the Day of Judgment, is upon us. And it's kind of a funny day. No, being judged for the year is not so funny, but if you look at our customs for the day, you've got to wonder what's going on; we have these huge festive meals on the Day of Judgment.

Yes, we're Jews -- we use any excuse we can come up with to eat. But it's Judgment Day! What's with the five-course meals? And you would think on Judgment Day we're going to have a real heart-to-heart conversation with our Creator about all the things we've done wrong and how we're going to change this year. I dare you to go look for that in the prayer book. You won't find it. It's actually forbidden to talk about our sins on Rosh Hashanah. What's up with that? Are we trying to pull a fast one on the Almighty as if it never happened? And what's with the shofar blast? It's a cry? A coronation? What's the connection?

Rosh Hashanah is commemorating creation. Actually, no Jewish holiday is just a "commemoration." They are actually reenactments (most notably the Passover seder). Rosh Hashanah is a reenactment of creation. Here's a quick Jewish trivia question for you: True or false? Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world.

Rosh Hashanah is actually the sixth day of creation which is the day Man and Woman were created. So technically, false. If every Jewish holiday is a reenactment then it follows that we are annually recreating ourselves on this Day of Judgment. And it's an opportunity we don't want to miss.

So back to the lavish meals, the shofar and not mentioning sin. The reasons all related to the question of how does a person truly change, or in context, truly create? Do we change by focusing on the past and wallowing in the pain of our mistakes? Will that inspire us to become better people? No. In fact, this actually prevents us from changing. So Rosh Hashanah is a setup for success. There's no mention of past errors.

We don't successfully change by changing our behaviors. We can't. Rather, we have to change ourselves first. Then we can change our behaviors. 

I heard this beautiful idea recently from a friend, Charlie Harary. He explained that people think the way to change is to start with your behaviors and eventually you will become a new person. But it's the other way around.

If I decide I want to be more patient with my children, I have to perceive myself as a patient person. Only then can I begin to structure my behaviors in a more patient way. Otherwise, if I still see myself as an impatient person trying to fake patience, it won't work (just a hypothetical example …). If I decide to be more kind, I have to take on that quality as a part of my essence or my kind behavior will conflict with my unkind core.

To change the self-perceptions that will lead to behavior change, we have to stop beating our core up. Every time we smack ourselves for something wrong we've done, we're in essence saying to ourselves, "You are such a bad person! You always do X, Y, & Z!" And we believe it. So on Rosh Hashanah, the day of recreating ourselves, there's no beating up on ourselves.

Secondly, when we accomplish something great we celebrate. It helps concretize the accomplishment. And what greater accomplishment is there in the world beyond changing one's core? If we're really tapping into our inner greatness and potential, there's nothing worth celebrating more than that. Big festive meals are quite apropos on such an occasion.

Ultimately, we are confronted with the overwhelming question of whether a person can truly change; not just our behaviors, but our true selves. I believe we can, by believing we can and by putting every ounce of existence into this effort. That's what the cry of the shofar is about. It's not a mournful cry, but a cry of passion and core strength. It's the age-old cry of our people for thousands of years striving to change and become the greatest Jewish man or woman they could be. It is our own cry for this wish. It is the cry of our ancestors all the way through to our great-grandparents and into us. The shofar ignites the strength inside us, allowing us to reach our soul's strength to truly change. Then, the blast becomes a coronation. It's a coronation for a new reality. It's the new way we see the world as our new selves.

I would like to personally invite you to join me on Rosh Hashanah at the CTN Rosh Hashanah Experience as we discuss the idea of recreating ourselves along with many other beautiful High Holiday insights together on these upcoming beautiful Days of Awe. A happy beautiful new year of true change and creation for all!


Wakeup call

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Wakeup call photo

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the synagogue listening to the blasting of the shofar, something some of us will be doing just days from now.

Feel the power of the sound -- the staccato notes, the longer notes, and the really really long note -- reverberate throughout the sanctuary.

The sounding of the shofar (ram's horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah serves as a wakeup call for the Jewish people, a chance to start over with a clean slate.

Maimonides describes the wakeup call: "Arise you who are fast asleep, and awaken you who slumber," he writes. "Search your deeds, repent, and be mindful of your Creator…"

Now close your eyes again, and this time, look back at the year behind you.

Did you live a year that mattered, and did you fill it with meaning? Did you laugh easily? Did you connect with someone new? Did you cultivate deeper connections with people you already knew? Did you chat with the barista at your coffee house? Did you smile at children?

Did you look up from toggling between apps on your phone to watch a setting sun or notice a full moon? Were you brave enough to take some risks and leap -- even if you were scared? Did you dance? Did you say sorry, and mean it, to someone you hurt? Did you wander slowly through the rain? Did you notice lady bugs?

Did you honor your parents, your grandparents, and other people who helped form you into the person you are today? Did you think about how your food gets from the land to your plate? Did you treat your body as a temple -- at least some of the time? Did you stand up for the things that matter to you and stick up for people who needed it?

Were you sensitive to the pain and bloodshed of others that you heard about in the news -- in Chicago, in Israel, and around the world? Were you present? Did you teach your children to be kind to people, to animals, and to the earth? Did you give tzedakah (charity)? Did you give thanks each day for something in your life? When you spoke about other people, were you thoughtful about what you chose to say?

Did you appreciate the fact that someone always has it worse than you do, and did you recognize that you're luckier than most people in this world? Were you honest? Did you trust?

Did you give yourself a break about the things beyond your control? Did you value the sacrifices of your ancestors that made the world a better place? Were you a mentor to anyone? Did you open your mind and listen to people whose beliefs and ideas are different from your own? Did you let a baby's tiny hand grasp your finger? Did you give big tips? Did you visit someone sick? Did you read and learn about something new? Did you do something you didn't really feel like doing because you knew it would make someone else happy?

Did you stand and say the Mourner's Kaddish prayer for someone you loved and lost, or did you say it alongside someone else who lost a loved one? Did you learn a new skill? Did you smell rosemary, pinewood, vanilla, or cinnamon? Did you invite a guest to come and share your Shabbat table? Did you dream big?

Okay, now that you've looked back over the past year, close your eyes again -- but this time look ahead to next year.

How will you fill your life and the lives of others with spirituality, meaning, and love? Who will you surround yourself with?

As Jewish year 5775 comes to a close, let's take stock -- and awaken from our slumber -- and then press reset for a new year.

Wishing you and your loved ones a year ahead filled with health, happiness, sweetness, fulfillment, and peace.


The Title Ain’t Vital

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The Title Ain't Vital photo

I can't forget that cloud of gray coiffured hair breezing beside Madison Street Bridge. Tell me you saw her too, perched on the florescent Home Depot bucket, in a stylish purple top that matched her pomegranate lips. Tell me you couldn't stop staring at her either, that this living Mona Lisa didn't penetrate you in a way that made your throat croak a heartbeat and eyes well-up. Shouldn't she be on her way to work like the thousands crossing the bridge and not holding up a sign that reads, "Please help me find a job"? Tell me she smiled at you too.

"Oh, so you've met Bonnie."

My dad said he's passed by her for years on his daily commute. He stops sometimes and they chat over peanut butter Chewy bars. Did I know that it was common for commuters to stop and offer Bonnie a job? No I didn't -- so why is she still there then?

We parted and my dad and I picked up the conversation around the dinner table. What if I interviewed her, her and a bunch of other homeless people around the Chicago Loop? I'd go around asking how they got to where they are, and just schmooze. I'd write up an article and pitch it the Chicago Tribune -- wouldn't that be cool?

My dad said I could call it "Bonnie By the Bridge." He smiled, clearly pleased with his alliteration. I mulled over the title, which had a Southern simplicity to it. I liked it.

But within the week, my idea invited fruit flies who were attracted to the smell of rotting reservations. How could I verify that my sources were credible? Would I be compromising my own safety by initiating conversation with strangers? What message was I trying to portray? Was it ethical to use another's financial struggle to push my own professional agenda forward?

My two years in journalism taught me that while titles hook the reader in, it's the story that keeps the reader reading. Sometimes, I realized, we are more transfixed by the title than the actual story -- and the same can often be true when it comes to Jewish observance.


For the past three years, I've been privileged to share nearly every Sunday morning with the same chevruta, or learning buddy, reading the identical text from our year in Israel. Each Sunday we size-up our coarse Hebrew skills against Oral Law and Biblical codex, exploring topics like the step-by-step process of brit milah, Judaism's squeamish vendetta against the descendants of Amalek and why the Passover loopholes of selling chametz actually work. Currently, we're uncovering the rationale behind our Jewish "fringes."

After discussing the significance of the garb -- how the strings and precise knotting reminds us of the 613 commandments -- I looked at my friend's pixelated face and declared that I was going to start wearing tzizit. Mind you, I'm allowed one hasty remark weekly during our sessions before my chevruta usually ends up airlifting me back to less choppy waters. This was it.

Talking over my reasons for wanting to wear tzizit, I realized I wasn't cut out for the fringed linen cut-out. Women have every right to wear tzizit, and they have my wholehearted blessing if they wear them to enhance spirituality, but these impassioned few must be impervious to stares. They would have to maintain the same conviction and determination day after day in their own practice to deflect the raised-eyebrow looks, the mommy-skirt tugs, and the not-another-bra-burner eye-rolls.

I realized that I wasn't that resolute, and so I closed the Torah text feeling like I had just eaten a tub of Ben and Jerry's the day after New Year's. Through it though, I realized how awfully proud I am of the male role models in my life who openly wear kippot and/or tzizit.

I was caught up in the glorified title of being a tzizit-wearer, a feminist, a "spiritual Jew" without truly considering the full story. I was all too focused on the hoorah of declaring my right to wear them instead of envisioning the reality of wearing them and the conviction it would require.


During my first few weeks at college I remember telling one of my best friends that the Jews here call themselves "Orthodox" but don't necessarily look or act like other "Orthodox" people I've ever met. I remember tensing up about Orthodox Jews saying they "eat dairy out" but keep their kitchens strictly kosher, or women who change into bikinis for sun-bathing on Shabbat afternoons but make it to minyan almost every week. These anomalies used to hurt my brain and prickle my scalp -- now they barely make me wince.

During a recent Shabbat I was wore a short sleeve dress with only a mild V-neck in front. The real testiness was in the back with a deep cut plunge. To synagogue I was respectful and wore a cardigan, but the 90-degree heat proved too overbearing by the time I got home, so I shook it off with a sigh of relief. The visible skin did not go unnoticed; it pains me to say that the clash of being a respectful child while determining my matured self-expression is an ongoing battle.

But for now I've stopped being startled by the different versions of Orthodoxy there are, and whether you call that becoming "open-minded" or "desensitized" is up to you. Because "Orthodox" is just another word like "tree" or "feline," which bear altering images to each and every person.

In life we can't live by these titles -- "Orthodox," "feminist," "homeless," etc. -- when the stories are in people.

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