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!

Shabbat Recap — Leafy Green Problems

When I left for shul, the weather was clear and cold. By midway through the service, it was snowing hard. By the end, it was freezing rain mixed with sleet. I think the weather people quaintly call that “wintry mix,” which sounds like some kind of candy you buy at the Bulk Barn.

The rebbetzin invited me to come to lunch again, which was nice. Vegan food — I’m not sure they eat much meat, although I’ve seen them eat fish. I skipped the pareve chulent, as I’ve discovered that chulent really isn’t my thing.

In conversation I discovered something that might cause me some problems down the road. A lot of these people apparently just avoid most green leafy vegetables for fear that there might be insects in them. The rabbi says they’re hard to check properly. (I have eaten parsley and spring mix in Israel, so they can’t be that difficult.) This is an issue for me, because I really like a lot of those things, with the exception of many of the brassicas, which are often bitter. LZ related that her mother used to soak romaine lettuce in salt water for three days before she’d eat it. I’m really wondering how romaine lettuce soaked for three days in salt water is edible at all…

I guess I’m just going to have to ask him to give me a really thorough tutorial on how to check vegetables, although I have never seen an insect on those kinds of vegetables. Found one in a cauliflower once, though — I removed it and a section of the cauliflower it was in. And when I see spitbugs on my mint plants in the garden, I remove them with extreme prejudice. I actually worry more about cupboard weevils than thrips or aphids in my green veg. (And, speak of the devil, see his horns, I found some in some pasta last night. Time to KILL THE PANTRY CUPBOARD WITH FIRE.)

And yes, I look. News for Jews — goys aren’t too fond of eating bugs generally, either, the existence of chocolate-covered ants notwithstanding. (Ew.)

Anyway, I think this could be a problem, but we’ll burn that village when we come to it.

Recap of my first lesson coming up!

Shabbat Recap — On the Clock, Finally!

The local rabbi likes to say there are no such things as coincidences. After Saturday, I’m inclined to agree.

I did get to shul, only to find that someone has moved the service time ahead a half an hour, meaning I was even later than usual (note for the Orthodox-unaware: it’s really not uncommon, at least in Orthodox synagogues, for people to come in late, and/or kind of drift in and out during the service, so I wasn’t exactly disrupting anything), and kind of slunk in, only to find that basically nobody was there anyway.

Rabbi: Well, we have a minyan on one side of the mechitza, but not on the other. So I’m going to give the sermon now, and when we get a minyan on the men’s side, we’ll continue with the service.

Apparently this is the time of year when a lot of the Orthodox community here goes on vacation, which totally makes sense, since nothing’s ticking but the clock outside the kehila, either.

After the service, I was walking back to my bus stop from shul (still coasting on goy privilege so I can keep living here for the time being), the rabbi and rebbetzin caught up to me (I walk slowly) and asked me if I wanted to come back to their house for lunch. I accepted, even though it made me very nervous; I get nervous in unfamiliar social environments to start with, and I always feel like interacting with the rabbi is a real pressure situation. I’m still not comfortable around him yet, really, for some senses of the word “comfortable.”

Lunch was kind of surreal, and the rabbi was doing his best to model behaviour, since in attendance were one guy who comes to shul occasionally but normally goes to the Chabad house near the university; a convert, and his ba’alat teshuva wife whose Jewish education was minimal and curtailed by a mixed marriage (she’s Jewish through the matrilineal line), and who almost became an Anglican minister, at her Anglican father’s urging.

I also got to dine under the fancifully artistically-rendered watchful eyes of five Lubavitcher rebbes. (Apparently no one knows what the other two looked like — there were seven all told.) My friend RH joked in Facebook chat: “A meal with rabbinical supervision of the highest order!” You got that right…

We actually wound up talking until motzei, at which point, the rabbi introduced us to some short videos made by Chabad primarily about R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, called The Living Torah. I mostly found this interesting because I could actually more or less understand the Hebrew in Schneerson’s Yiddish. (I speak not a word of Yiddish.) The rabbi’s toddler son is a big fan, but I don’t know if the family speaks Yiddish at home, although I suspect the rabbi himself is not a native English-speaker, even though he doesn’t have a Yiddish-speaker’s accent. (His actual accent is downright weird, though; it’s not quite New York, and not quite Chicago, and not quite California, and not quite southwestern Ontario, although he does have a bunch of New Yorkisms in his speech. He won’t tell me where he’s from.)

After that, he gave me and one of the other guests a ride home. So now I have the odd distinction of having been given a lift home by a Chabad rabbi.

During the conversation in the car, he also told me that the couple he was mentoring through the conversion process dropped out because they said it was too hard (a fate I devoutly wish to avoid), so he’s available to start teaching me now…

I start my studies in a week!! In the meantime, I’m rereading the three books that will form the first lesson block. I’m on my way, finally!

Shabbats Recap — Urfh

Nothing much to say about these two Shabbats, except that I didn’t make it to shul either this week or last week. Bleah. I have wanted to go, too, because I want to nail down the rav about starting to study, since I now have all this free time (*mutter grump*).

I am enjoying Hanukkah, though. I always do. I’ve been ecumenical about holidays since about forever, and while I do agree that if you celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, and/or you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t celebrate Hanukkah (personally, I’d like to decommision the Great Commission), given that it’s specifically about the freedom of Jews to be Jews, I mostly do it for shalom habayit anyway, and have for years. (Can you really call someone who thinks there was no such person as the historical Jesus a “Christian,” no matter where or how they grew up?) Back when I was living in T.O., I always made a point of going down to the now-sadly-almost-defunct Little India (Coxwell and Gerard Sts.) for the annual Diwali party, although I never have been any religion that celebrates it. But hey, it’s dark, it’s cold, let’s light some candles and eat some sweet things and call it a party.

That brings up an important point: Do I buy more Christmas wrapping paper this year (I kind of need it, although I could likely make do with what I’ve got), and risk not needing it next year and having leftovers I don’t know what to do with, or do I wrap everything in two kinds of paper and hope for the best? (And deprive myself of some of the only fun I get out of the whole endeavour.)

Shabbat Recap — Wow!

I made it back to shul this week, after mostly recovering from the nasty virus that pasted me last week. I’m really glad I went, more so than usual, anyway.

I met a nice old lady named Janet, with a British accent and a penchant for Siamese cats, and we talked about her newest addition, a neurotic Siamese fellow who has taken up residence under her settee for the last three weeks and won’t come out (boy, I wish my friend Jan were still alive — she spoke cat quite fluently).

I had a long conversation with my friend MR about why I want to convert and how crazy I really am (at least marginally), which helped me to clarify some things and think about some others. It turns out that a Facebook friend of mine from a town about an hour and a half away is good friends with her. Small world. MR confirms that it’s really, really difficult to be Jewish here, as if I didn’t already know that. She says that’s part of the reward of it, and I can certainly understand that perspective.

As usual, the rabbi was on form, and I really enjoyed the singing. At the end of the haftarah, he gave an “insight” about a child who is dragged onto a bus and taken away to a harsh environment with barracks-style living, guards who restrict your every move, and bad food…which turns out to be summer camp, which is all worthwhile at the end. I laughed involuntarily, since I hold the (ignominious) distinction of being someone who ran away from summer camp at the age of nine, since I hated it precisely that much. (It wasn’t worthwhile, at least not at the time, but I made my friend Ed laugh so hard he had to pull the car over because he couldn’t see straight enough to drive when I told him the story, so I guess it came to a little bit of something after all.)

I made it most of the way home before they caught me, although that was really only about a mile and a half.

Anyway, I do want to write more, but I also want to go to bed. I didn’t sleep well last night, and really kind of dragged myself out this morning.

Shabbat Recap — Flat

I have had, if not the worst cold I’ve had in about 20 years, then a mild case of the flu, probably one of the strains to which I was already partially immune. Plus, Izzy is still sick — he has a “melting ulcer” on his cornea and, while it’s getting better, it still isn’t completely healed yet. So I stayed in.

That said, I’m getting much better about remembering to say the brachot before eating, and I’m hoping I can land a job soon so I can move on to the next phase of my life.

I got the new issue of the OU magazine yesterday — I’m subscribed to it because I sponsored a friend who was running a marathon to support Yachad, a group run by the OU that provides integrated Shabbatons and other Jewish activities for able-bodied and handicapped kids. (Actually, if someone took the Yachad model and made it secular, I’d love to see it implemented all over the place; more kids could benefit from stuff like that. As someone with cerebral palsy, it’s very easy for handicapped kids to wind up essentially ghettoised. Not that I’m against Yachad doing this for Jewish kids, just that all kids should be able to benefit from something like that.) There’s one article in particular, or maybe one section of one article, that I feel I really should write about.

In the meantime, I need to continue trying to get my life beseder. Lehitraot, a bientot, for now.