Shalom!

I’m marginally insane.  I went from being completely irreligious to wanting to convert to Orthodox Judaism, and I’m trying to do it in a medium-sized city in southern Canada with a tiny Orthodox community, no kosher butcher, no kosher restaurant (at all), and a very busy Chabadnik rabbi.  Converting to Judaism isn’t easy to begin with, which is why I’m sort of extra-crazy.

Even the people at the shul think so.

Along the way, you’ll get to “meet” them, and I’ll write about some of my (mis)adventures as I continue along the process.

Be’tavyon!

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Urrghh…

I feel like everything I’ve eaten in the last several days is sitting in my stomach in one sodden, undigested lump. If my gastrointestinal tract were a toilet, it would be clogged at the U-bend right now.

Apparently my body’s not taking to this vegan+fish diet regime very well…

Furtive, Part 2

You may have noticed that the word “furtive” has disappeared from my slugline.

I finally managed to tell my family.  My mom said, “I’m surprised you didn’t tell me this earlier.”

*sigh*  Well, I’m glad it went the good way of the two possibilities I thought of.

On a completely unrelated note, I believe you could (if you felt so inclined) sing “Adon Olam” to the tune of “Amazing Grace.”

I’m not sure if that’s funny, offensive, blasphemous, or all of the above, but it does in fact demonstrate the wonders of common meter.  See, a degree in English is useful!

Disengaging, Engaging

An old friend of mine seems to have unfriended me on Facebook, probably because I made an ill-advised comment on one of her posts, but less proximally because we seem to be just drifting apart.  Since I stopped being so willing to do Friday night movies or Saturday afternoon outings with a lot of my friends here in town, and since three of them have taken to working out together (which I do at a gym, usually with a trainer, as I have done for 3.5 years or so now), my relationships with them have been fraying.  It may be just the kick in the pants (or skirt-seat, as the case may be) I need to move out of my current living situation and move closer to the shul.  But man, am I going to miss my garden.  So, combine that with the impending loss of my job, and I’m feeling a little down…again.  I haven’t had very many days of being not-depressed since September of last year.

On the other hand, I finally got my application in to the Beit Din.  It took me quite a while to round up all the pieces and parts, alas.

And I still haven’t had the opportunity to tell my family, <i>or</i> my oldest remaining friend yet, either.

Nngh.

Old Life, New Life

I read a fascinating pair of articles today.  <a href=”http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/190673/the-lives-we-never-lived”>The Lives We Never Lived</a> is Simon Yisrael Feuerman’s account of pondering a secular life from the point of view of an observant Jew, and <a href=”http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/judaism-and-the-twice-born”>Judaism and the Twice-Born</a> is convert-in-progress Kelsey Osgoode’s brief account of leaving her old, secular, and even self-identified atheist life behind.  I am, of course, in a similar situation.

For me, the articles interest me because they illustrate the tension I as a would-be convert feel in my life between the secular and the sacred, the spiritual and the earthy, and my “old life,” as it were, and the life I’m slowly but surely stepping into.  Contrast that with Shulem “The Hasidic Rebel” Deen, who has written a deconversion memoir about leaving the Skverer Hasid community and religion altogether.  (I used to love reading his blog; it felt like the best aspects of the documentary style of reality television, without the cheapjack sensationalism — giving you an insider’s view into a closed world that otherwise you’d never get to see.)

I think there is a lot to discuss in these articles, and I may write more about them, but right now I’m very close to a meeting at work…

How Did You Do It?

Ask post for any other converts or baalei teshuva out there:

When you first started keeping kosher, how did you do it?

How do you handle things like making arrangements so you could have a hot lunch at work?

What do you do when you’re travelling or out running a lot of errands or something and there are limited (or no) kosher options available?  (This particularly concerns me with airports, because airport security will confiscate many different kinds of food you try to bring with you beyond say, candy and protein bars — which get boring after a while.)

Did you get a Shabbat food warmer, or a blech?  If so, where, and how?

Do you have a water urn?  If so, where did you get it?

What do you do about opening the fridge?  (Some observant Jews won’t open the fridge at all on Shabbat in case opening it causes the compressor to come on, whereas others will wait until the compressor is on first.)

Are there any other issues you can think of that tripped you up or were difficult to negotiate at first?

Thanks!

Kryptonite

Have I mentioned that food is a particular weakness of mine?  (This is why I’m portly instead of puny.)  Keeping kosher outside the home is going to be a big struggle for me, I can tell, because bastard smell molecules waft into the air like they own the place and make me hungry for things.  Today it was fries with gravy.  These may be the last fries with gravy I eat, given that I don’t have a deep-fryer and you can’t get decent fries in Israel unless an Arab makes them (Israelis seem to think cold, soggy fries are tasty, for some inexplicable reason; I blame knee-jerk rejectionism of anything British), and I’ve never seen fries with gravy available in Israel anywhere.

Which sucks, because they were bad fries with gravy, really.  But as long as I keep working here, and I keep having to go into the staff cafeteria to get cutlery to eat lunch (I’m fairly ideologically opposed to using plastic cutlery on the regular), this is going to keep happening.  I guess I’m going to have to start carrying cutlery back and forth with me in my work bag.  And hoping that rogue smells don’t ambush me.

Not a Farmer or a Gardener in Ten Generations

I just found a blog by a writer named Yonassan Gershom, who identifies as a Breslover Hasid, and lives on a farm in rural Minnesota. It’s so good to see a rural observant Jew! Not that I’m not a city person, but I’d go absolutely mad without some kind of access to green space, since I grew up roaming around a semi-rural area and in a provincial park that spans part of the (Canadian) Thames river.

In his post, “Nature Deficit Disorder,” Gershom writes about how excessive urbanism has cut a lot of Jews off from appreciating vast parts of HaShem’s world — including, may I say, the odd green vegetables

He writes

I was very lucky, in that I grew up in an area where I could go play in the woods –and my parents let me do it. This was not wasted time — it was learning in a very different way. It enriched my understanding of Torah in ways that my nature-deprived urban brethren often cannot grasp. And it ultimately led to me becoming a Breslov Hasid, because of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching about hisboddisus — the practice of spending an hour alone with God each day. He recommended doing it in a forest or field because, he said, the plants and animals would join in our prayers. And he meant that literally.

Breslovers still try to do that today, although in a city it is hard to find the solitude. But at least they have the teachings about spending time in nature, which many other groups do not. In fact, mainstream Jews have sometimes considered the Breslovers crazy to go wandering in the woods.

I’m certain that I wouldn’t like being a Breslover Hasid, but I do like nature, and I feel strongly attached to the mitzvot to be kind to animals, and to respect HaShem’s world. I’m also a gardener, and spent a lot of time on farms when I was growing up; I rode horses for twenty years, and spent enough time pitching hay and mucking out to be really unbothered by nature generally. And this is one area where I really seem to differ with my rabbi, alas, and most of my kehila, who seem to treat both living animals and plants generally with some vague suspicion. One of these days, I really should wander into the woods and daven, just to do it.