Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Free Choice is Pro Choice

I read something so utterly.... "Jewish" last night.

After much consideration, this 18-years-old or so author felt that she had solved one of the nation's most politicized issues. Here's what I read:

       "In Rav T's class..we briefly discussed abortion. Abortion is like murder, yet one would not                 be halachically [according to Jewish law] culpable since the child is in utero and not yet                       an actual fetus. I got to thinking about Western credo--why is there even a concept of free                   choice to abort? Who gave us permission to end another's life, even if that baby would be                     born sick or disadvantaged? I had an epiphany, just like a rich man is given wealth in                           order to be the distributor, the messenger, the vessel, so to, a woman is the vessel to bring                   forth Hashem's children. The cup does not have the option to decide not to hold water. I've                   decided that pro-choice is murder and pro-life, is simply, the natural order of the world."

After reading this, I felt an instantaneous desire to roll my eyes, make dramatic retching noises, and knock the author over the head, ironically, with a vessel. But I figured I'd better not: self-imposed fractures to the skull aren't too hot.

You see--that's because the author was me--back on November 6, 2012.  That was seminarydox before she became collegadox. I'd like to say she--I--have taken a few shots of sensibility since then.

This past month, I wrote a final project for class on  #shoutyourabortion, a digital movement kickstarted by two private citizens turned social activists. The hashtag ran after the House of Representatives voted to defund PlannedParenthood for FY2016. The founder's prerogative was to remove the stigma surrounding abortions. How? Through Twitter and Facebook posts and a YouTube channel devoted to sharing vlogs of women from all races, religions, ages and creeds.

Their message: Yes, we had abortions. Yes, we are good people. Yes, we would do it again.

Towards writing my article, I conducted interviews (akin to verbal colonoscopies) with abortion clinics, the Sea Change Program, the creators of #shoutyourabortion, feminist groups on campus, Women's Health specialists, government and policy professors and women's studies professor emerita. I worked for weeks piecing together the social animosity and emotional torment women who have abortions go though from outside pressures. I spoke with analysts, forecasting the sustainability of the hashtag and whether its vloggers were merely falling trees in an empty forest. I interviewed a woman who attended New York's public Speak Outs in the 70s, which brought topics like incest, rape, and reproductive rights to the dinner table. She told me what it felt like the first time she walked into a Planned Parenthood. How she lied and said she was engaged in order to get her first legal contraceptive at the age of 23.

Simply, I penetrated into the depth and breadth of reproductive rights. And after weeks of Type-A research, months of being a political paparazzi, and years of thought-marination, I feel more compelled to the pro-choice stance.

According to Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a research group committed to making sure reproductive health care and policy are grounded in evidence, 61% of women receiving an abortion are already parents. Their reasons for terminating the pregnancy isn't the self-centered justifications Hollywood loves to spoon feed. A women aborts because she can't cover the water bill. Her partner is abusive. She wants to focus on being a good mother for her other children. She's a rape victim. He didn't use a condom. She's only fourteen.

But what of the Jewish approach? How does halacha dissect the controversy?

For abortion to be sanctioned by rabbis, the fetus must be in utero and the mother's life must be in peril. If her water breaks and a baby is at the point of crowning, it is given the status of a person. At this point, even if the mother's life is endangered, to terminate the labor would be considered murder.

Every day rabbis encounter particular cases of women who seek consultations about their pregnancies and each counsel is must be met with a one-size-fits-you solution. So yes there are exceptions to the mother's life catch-all protocol, such as babies with identifiable Tay-Sachs traits and other life-hindering conditions, but the cases are rare.

In my research I came across a controversial approach that considers emotional harm to the mother. While all rabbis concur that if a mother were to be truly suicidal, she could abort, many argue that in most cases depression is treatable, and therefore, veer on the side of hesitance. Only one rabbi that I've encountered, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, quotes the Tziz Eliezer and insists "Whether the suffering is physical or mental is irrelevant, since in many instances mental suffering is greater and more painful than physical distress." -Jewish Virtual Library.

According to a Pew Research report, in 2007 an estimated 84% of Jews in the United States believed that abortion should be legal. This shocking approval for abortion was greater than that of any other religion-- even greater than atheists. Over half a decade later, approval is still at 83%.

When taking a decisive stance, I can't judge sensibly without judging sympathetically. And sympathetically, I cannot say I am against abortion when I know that if G-d forbid I was got pregnant in college, with 1.5 years to graduate, with a man I wasn't married to, abortion wouldn't be an attractive consideration. I can clearly recall my sister sending me off to college with a half-serious finger wag that if I got pregnant, mom and dad would disown me.

Which makes me think, yes, G-d gave me the tender and important responsibility to be his 9-month vessel. But He also gave me the ability to be a cup that chooses not to hold water- if it means I'll drown in the process. To me, free choice is pro-choice, and that sem-girl diary entry would look a lot different with morning sickness on the tip of my tongue.

Sisterly warnings of disownership = 100% effective

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tears, Sweat and Blood

-at the Lebanese border 

At 8 years old I rammed the shopping cart into a pyramid of cans at Hungarian Kosher Market and spent the next half hour with an ice pack tilting my head back in the parking lot. During basketball practice in 7th grade, I remember a friend set a pick on me, missed, hit my nose and covered her own face in shock. I laughed with lines of crimson dribbling down my chin and said, "Now I'm bleeding from two places." At 14 I broke my nose in a swimming pool, 16 a soccer ball, and by18 my bedroom just really needed a humidifier.

For 3 years all was quite on the nose-in-front, until last night, when I cried so hard I couldn't tell whether my nose or neck was bleeding.

But to understand we need to backtrack over a year ago, to November 4, 2014, the day I made contact with the first of many in the long chain of Israeli reporters.

How to get a bloody nose:

1. Find a friend who knows an Israeli reporter so you can network. Make a good first impression. Ask about Summer internships in Fall: " I know that it may seem a bit early to be thinking about this, but for someone who's always been passionate about writing, news, and Israel, I would say I'm being only moderately proactive." Click "Send." Wait and nail bite.

2. Click "Compose" on December 16th: "Just reconnecting after a few busy weeks and holiday season here. I was wondering if we could set up a time to chat." 

3. .................................... Taste Cuticle. 

4. Finally, get a human response. Get the "okay" to give them a call. Reach for the phone and notice they don't have an American line...

5. Stay confident when you're told that your Hebrew isn't t good enough for breaking news coverage. 
Read to line two:  "You may be able to intern with our culture/lifestyle editor...." Do the stir-the-pot dance also know as, the cabbage patch.

6. Apply for the university's international travel grant in the hopes you get the internship. On the funds requesting sheet put down price figures to an El-Al standard. Ask for $2,500 total, because your Bubbie taught you how to negotiate.

6. It's bitter cold outside, but your head's still on summer, especially after the lifestyles editor responds mid-March asking for writing samples. Jump on your bed at school. Bounce for approximately 25 seconds before realizing if the bed breaks you'd probably have to sell a kidney to replace it. Desist jumping and call Mom instead.

7. Mom says you need a Plan B. Apply to a Jewish leader fellowship that night and power off for the day. Find out you are accepted. Feel like a cheese stick being pulled in many directions, yet, strung.

8. Be told by fellowship you must accept by date X. Email reporter S.O.S. calls. Shout that this Titanic dream is sinking not on holiday! Accept fellowship  at 11:59 p.m on X.

9. Contact reporter. TRULY "regret to inform" them.                                    

10. Love fellowship. Ask multi-billion dollar donors to support the Holocaust Museum. Realize you aint shabby either. Befriend fellows. They know you're weird immediately. How? Ask, "Howdy Doody?" Mystery solved.

11. Plot Twist: "Dear Eliana, I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism to receive the Gene Roberts Award......This award provides travel reimbursement to undergraduate or graduate journalism students at Maryland to travel outside the U.S. on particular journalistic or research projects with a specific itinerary." COME FREAKIN ON!

12. Convince school to let you use the grant for Winter instead.  Do you have a reporting internship in the Winter? Yes, mmhm, of course. Get the "okay" now pull your face into The Scream.

13. Get hit my wall of silence from Newspaper. Use fellowship clout to get email of someone at the Israeli paper. Receive email hours later, saying she heard from David and the position is all mine. Wonder who the hell the fellowship led you to. Discover it's the guy who started the paper.

14. Buy ticket to satisfy parent's restrictions. No AirFrance, Luftansa, Korean Air, Qatar, Turkish Airways... Anything not El-Al. How about $686 on Air Canda? kk.

15. Your editor Skypes you while she makes dinner. Chill. You'll be traveling all over Israel- from Tel Aviv to Eilat, Jerusalem to Hermon- going to concerts, plays, local events and more covering whatever's happening. Get pumped.

16. Locate a place to stay within a 10 minute walk. check. Unlock Phone/buy SIM card. check. Call BlueCross for health insurance info. Learn what a deductible is for 30 minutes. Don't actually get what it is. Check?

17. Over the next few weeks watch as your Facebook timeline becomes a morgue. Palestinians wield knives, cars plow people down, rocks in windshields aimed at 8 year olds, 18 year olds, 80 year olds. Feel things changing.

18. Do what any seminary girl at heart does- whip out your Tehillim, empty your wallet into a Tzedeka can, turn to the words of Rav Kook and Rav Solevechik. Bob your head to the tempo of scholars who say Am Yisrael is incomplete without Eretz Yisrael and "The Way of Hashem evaluate each situation and determine if it warrants a battle cry or a peace negotiation."

19. Prepare yourself by watching boxing videos and practicing your jabs and cuts. Again, again, until blisters on your raw knuckles pop peach. Buy a personal alarm. Purchase pepper spray. Have your boyfriend ask you what pepper sprays going to do when a terrorist stabs you from behind. Ignore the question and say you've been ramping up your push-ups. So, if you're mortally in danger and the attacker asks you to drop and give him 40, you'll be prepared.

20. Parents forbid you to go. They tell you reporting in a "war zone" is a suicide mission. They tell you they don't want to lose another daughter. Feel icy. Explain you can't live in someone else's shadow--becuase she no longer lives will not prevent you from living.

21. Cry until your nose bleeds.

Everyday, I am bombarded with mixed messages. The FBI just issued a warning not to travel outside the country, but my friends are taking the bus to school, my boss is meeting up with friends at the mall, at the movies. My boyfriend is swimming with dolphins in Eilat.

It feels like everything I worked towards was just a sand castle made too close to close to the shore, never really made to last. But more than my failure, there's this ineffable desire to return to Israel. Three years ago, almost to the day, I sat in my seminary bed with a Bar-Ilan application in my lap. But I listened to my parents, the good girl that I am, and told them I'll go to an American college on the condition that they wouldn't stop me from making Aliyah after graduation. Their response: we'll help you pack your bags.

Now, I get this ash-in-my-mouth feeling that it was all lie. That no matter what, it's never going to be a good time to go to Israel. But that's the geo-political nature of Israel being sandwiched between enemies and the sea.

And you may think this is all stupid, that I'm making such a big deal about a 28 day internship to go to concerts and plays, but I see this as more than that.
It's about a girl who shows resistance not with a gun but with a pen. A girl whose not about surviving but living. A girl who is so passionate she cries blood.

It's the struggle of parents who love too much and a girl whose trying to love herself.

Drama Queen

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Head in the Toilet Bowl

I am furious at the cosmos. 
By "furious," I mean subtly agitated and by "cosmos," I mean this tube of front-rolling toilet paper (which is in no way logical!!).

^^Google, not only are you profoundly wrong, but  you need a lesson in punctuation.

Feeling furious, I pucker my lips and furrow my brows with a contemplative (and constipated) look that says, 'I'm going to reverse the toilet paper direction with my mind.' I imagine I actually resemble that  Kansas woman who got stuck to her boyfriend's toilet seat for two years back in '08 because she "didn't want to leave the bathroom." But in that case, where's my Double Big Mac and Supersized soda?

But being the big kid that I am- dare I say, adult- I calmly took a breath and reversed the roll so that the curlicue patterned sheets emerged from underneath.

Cosmic crisis averted. No need for a Nobel.

Here are some other reasons I deserve an ovation:

1. for having no regard of the "Save As" button
2. for becoming a prisoner in my own apartment because lotion and metal-handled doors are at war
3. for failing out of my Journalism class and asking that professor for a recommendation letter
4. for attempting to teach my Sunday School class of eight-graders about Capital Punishment and watching way too many YouTubes on dismembering.
5. for bombing my Wall Street Journal interview by looking up the other candidates beforehand on LinkedIn, staring all green-eye-monster-like at CNN interns and Chinese grad students fluent in "5 romantic languages"- screwed.

While cycling the gym's platinum gerbil wheel later that day, I focused in on two of the four TV screens playing (and teachers wonder why we have such low attention spans) and felt a wave of nausea. One screen panned the crash site in the Sinai where the Russian Metrojet lay like a pulverized aluminum can, with the headline reading, "At least 25 children dead."

I turned to screen number two which projected the picture-day portrait of a boy with perfect almond eyes wearing an aqua tie tucked into a suit vest- a sign of clear parental love. Below his unblemished face read: "9-year-old boy shot and killed on Chicago's South Side."

A word to those who wake up to the wrong side of the roll- press save, go out chapped, use some sense, let children be children, and focus on yourself- because there are things far worse and life doesn't sit still.... unless your boyfriend brings you McNuggets on the loo.

you caught me on an off day

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


My roommates and I lounged around in Sunday pajamas, which became our outfits for the day, when a friend walked in, plopped onto our sofa, and announced how last night she had come close to losing her virginity.

"Do I have a story to tell you," Frieda Leah said to us four-suddenly-transfixed-"you"s.

It started with  a high ponytail, a pair of acid wash skinny jeans and a couple of modest vodka rounds. Cutting through the bar throng, Frieda Leah was approached by John, whose body smelled of packed people and breath reeked of bottled yeast. John said he remembered F.L. from freshman year oral communication class.

"What a smooth talker," she said with a faraway glance.

John showered her with compliments at the bar and before long the two were making out on her tie-dye blanket back in her apartment. She described the pace and place of their movements and how their contact erotically accelerated, so that the packed-people smell of the bar was back. It wasn't long until John made his intentions clear: he wanted to have sex--without a condom.

By this point, my roommates and I were like tamed snakes wholly bewitched by the tune F.L. played. My mouth tasted dry, at which point, I realized I was gaping.

When F.L. decided things between her and John were getting precariously pregnant, she told him flat out, "I'm not having sex with you." And his single response sobered Frieda Leah to guilt and actually made us feel sorry for John.

"Did you know we weren't going to have sex when you brought me here?" he asked.

(Side note: My intent is not to explore the severity of rape and sexual exploitation on college campuses but rather to note that in every moment we have the right to change our minds, and we often do at the expense of another's expectation. In this moment F.L. did not change her mind, but told her mind, which is a a commentary on our need to be better communicators so expectations are consensually fitting before they are formed.)

Last year I lived in a dorm on campus with a library  that made me feel misplaced without a terry cloth robe and engraved Sherry glass. I would do almost all my work in that library and take frequent breaks to chat with Wyn. He would tell me about the screaming nuns in Catholic school and I would tell him whatever he wanted to know about Judaism. One day though, I put religious discussions aside and asked Wyn about sex. (Tell someone once in your life that you're a virgin, and I promise, you'll be replaying their furrowed, blushing and contorting face as they process the unfathomable over and over. It's pure gold.)

I asked Wyn how long he usually waits after meeting a girl for them to have sex. He said usually after their third hangout or date, confirming the Hollywood image I knew. "But, I'm seeing this girl right now and I've never met anyone like her," he said. "I want it to be special, so I'm going to wait three weeks."

In my 2.5 hour poetry workshop class, it doesn't take long to discover who out of the crew isn't catching on. With a class of seventeen success-exually prowling poets, my homework is to read about drugs and sex.

I've scanned stanzas of Skype sex describing "pink pixels," cringed through rhymes of rape and blushed at ballads depicting  boats hitting the dock back and forth, driven by the current. My poems, on the other hand, were about a pickpocket, a mother putting her daughter to sleep with a fairy tale, and moving into a new house; they're not the ones that have you running to google "areola" and "coitus." Never mistakenly hit Google Images.

When I was at my Bubby's for Sukkot, I was trying to find one of my poems in a folder and she accidentally picked  one up one of my classmates' entitled "I Lost My Penis." My Bubby's  blouse rippled as she shook in a fit of laughter. If Mom and Dad had been there I would have heard for the umpteenth time their disgust and misgivings over not sending me to Stern College for Women ( a Jewish university).

I don't judge Frieda Leah--how can I? Do I consider myself much better? Not at all. Because to be poetic- to wield a judge's mallet against another requires virtuous values that my own two feet cannot support- and to be blunt, we all can relate to having sexual drives. 

Being immersed in secular college , with its own cultural code of conduct, my Orthodox ideologies are being pushed and shoved to accept or reject this sex culture that I haven't come to terms with. As an Orthodox Jew I believe in saving sex for marriage, and as a Jewish college student I feel this tug of war between making my parents proud while enjoying the funnest years of my life; but just as Me, I know I'm deeply jealous of those who don't have to reconcile both.

To my sexually active peers who read this, use protection. To my very-modest friends, don't worry, I promise the world is safe. To mothers who read this, teach your kids everything they need to know about sex before sending them to school. And to sisters who read this, make sure mom isn't reading this.

Never Google Images.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Foreigners, Fortune Cookies, and my Fickle Future

My uncle is both a  famous electrical engineering professor and the hospitable Abraham incarnate, so on the Shabbos  my thirteen year old cousin became a man, my uncle invited his entire PhD class to Seudah Shlishit, and I introduced myself to a group of Asians that eat IQs like mine for breakfast.

I met a girl whose name started with an X but called herself  "Sally." The 23-year-old engineer gave herself the name 7 days prior to our conversation, the day she landed at LAX airport to begin her life in America.

I met "Joe"- or Jin- a chatty 30 year old with a smile that reached  from the corner of his eyes to the tip of his chin. I welcomed the freshness of their foreign politeness by jumping into reporter mode and interrogating them with questions like, "I've heard about the one child rule in China, are you an only child?" and "Do you ever feel that because you're so smart it's difficult to interact with normal people?"

Oddly enough, my probing questions made their smiles grow wider, and I got to know a lot about them. Sally likes taking pictures at the nature arboretum; Joe enjoys ping-pong. Their families gave everything for their education. They both think the world of my uncle, and he, thinks that any of them could easily do his job.

 Eating bagels and cream cheese on a warm L.A. night at my cousin's Bar Mitzvah surrounded by less than strange strangers, my uncle cleared his throat:

"Half of you sitting here are smarter than me, it's your job to figure our which half," he said. Chuckles all around.

"Look to your right and your left, all of you scored in the 99th percentile. What sets everyone at this table apart, is the last .1%"

At this point I hold both sides of my folding chair and take a huge scoot back from the table. Everyone laughs.

We continue with the banter and before I know it our arms our linked in rippled circles with the havdala candle at the center. And as daytime folds into night, I cant help but think how these kids come full with ambition, grab hold of opportunity, and quite literally, make names for themselves.

This Rosh Hashana I was unimpressed with the congregants' spirits. As someone at lunch pointed out, "it felt like a room full of observers not participants." And while I couldn't disagree, I too fell victim to a  deluge of distraction.

There was the woman cautiously teetering in her too-high cheetah stilettos. The 5 foot granny who owned a glasses case with purse-like handles and peace signs. The shietal hairspray fumes. And the 14 year-old nuzzling her forehead into her mother's shoulder wondering how the chazzan can hold a note for that long. And as I was ready to flail my arms in a "serenity now" motion, the Rabbi quoted a fortune cookie, and I was brought back:

"Challenges aren't there to make us bitter, they're there to make us better."

There I was, altogether moved by an obscure cookie  scrap written in a factory producing fortunes by the minute, probably with the phrase "lucky numbers 39, 8, 4" on the other side. But from then on, I plugged in.

I plugged into the challenges this past year that made me bitter. Rejection letters from jobs. Interviews that ended with "but you're so young." People who finally apologized for tormenting me and making 8th grade a dungeon with school bells. People with problems who say to me: "help I'm bulimic," "I'm an ex-cutter," "my parents found out I smoke weed." Insert problem here.

I plugged into the challenges that made me better. Competitive awards and scholarships. 27 hour deadlines. Love-filled relationships and new friendships.

While the room around me had much to recapture, the room within me filled with rapture. I felt my mind replay snippets of this past year and i felt my heart swell with appreciation and awe. More than anything I felt eager for the new year and energized to recommit to my two-year Aliya timeline.

- Exhaust Nefesh B' Nefesh website
- Make as many contacts as you can when you intern at an Israeli newspaper this winter break
- Learn Arabic
- Become a super nerd in all things Investigative Journalism related
- Convert those 20 new pounds into self-defense/Krav Maga muscle
- Only date guys who want to make Aliya too

In my prayer quorum of one, I felt like Sally and Joe- not ready to shake off the world of challenges that brought me to today- but rather ambitious, opportune, and ready to make a name for myself.


I really got to work on my don't-scare-the-foreigners  with questions about Communism skills

P.S. shout out to friend since five and fellow blogger Aaron Bloch on starting and carving out his own name in the bloggers' community!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Title Ain't Vital

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? No clue.

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 clever alliteration. I mulled over the title, which had a Southern simplicity to it much like the jingle “Down By the Bay.”

I liked it.

But within the week my idea invited fruit flies, who were attracted to the smell of rotting reservations. With one in four of homeless people affected by mental illness, how could I verify that my sources were credible? Would I be compromising my own safety my 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?

And so, I realized sometimes we are more transfixed by the title than the actual story.
For the past three years, I’ve been privileged to share nearly every Sunday morning with the same chevruta, 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 tzizt, 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 from both non-Jews and Jews. 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 tug looks, and the not-another-bra-burner eye-roll.

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 Years.  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.

Here too, I was caught up in the glorified  title of being a "tzizt-wearer," a feminist, a "Spiritual Jew," without truly considering the story: I was all too focused on the hoorah of declaring my right to wear them, instead of envisioning the social cost to wear them.

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 who “eat dairy out,” but keep their kitchens strictly kosher. People who change into bikinis for sun-bathing  during Shabbat afternoons but make it to minyan almost every week. Those who get wasted on weeknights but are prepared to read from the Torah the next morning. These anomalies used to hurt my brain and prickle my scalp—now they barely make me wince.

This past Shabbat I was wearing a short sleeve dress with only a mild V 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 and 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.

My two years in Journalism taught me that while titles hook the reader in, it’s the story that keeps the reader reading. In life we can’t live by these titles when the stories are in people.

Bonnie wants a Chewy

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Some Doubts About Aliya

On our walk back from the park, my nephew picked up a maple leaf from the ground and began wiping it against the sides of his cheeks and neck.

When I gave him a suspicious look he said, "It's my sweat leaf ," with that clear-eyed grin that says I'm doing something peculiar but pretending like you're the weird one. So I didn't question.

Every few blocks, as we passed more and more people I knew, I kept glancing over to check and see if he was still sponging himself with that leaf. Whenever I did, sure enough, that leaf was down the back of his polo, behind his ear, or rubbed against his forehead. But I couldn't reprimand him A. because when we left the park he hadn't given me grief   B. for Heaven's sake it's a leaf  and C. the way he cherished it made me want my own sweat leaf.

A few blocks from home, he began to yell. He covered his eyes with the maple, pretending the sweat leaf  had become a monster and was attacking his face.

We both stopped and looked at each other in a who-can-laugh-last showdown. He unfurled the corners, revealing a sidelong smile and we stood there waiting for the first one of us to crack-up.

One heartbeat.
My lips raised up making that creamy pop like opening a yogurt container.
Another heartbeat.
The contained laughter made galloping waves in his chest cavity.
I couldn't make it to the third heartbeat.

We drowned the noise of play-dates and traffic with squeals of sweat leaves on Sacramento Ave., and in that moment I can truly say I regretted my 2-year Aliya plan.

These past few months I've been 100 percent career oriented- meeting with mentors at Starbucks, taking night classes to graduate on time and  landing a winter internship at a newspaper in a foreign country- and with all this networking in the States, with all these relationships I've cultivated and bridges I've built, I feel like I'm flippantly throwing it all to the wind by even entertaining the thought of moving.

As I push myself to get my short stories published, as I circle hungrily around positions at The News York Times, Washington Post and NPR, I can't help but think that America is the only place I can be professionally successful.

Why? Because I know the language. I have the connections here to get me where I want. I have the family infrastructure to support me during rough periods. I have a mom who will move me into my first home. There, I can only assume it will be hard.

I always meet interesting people in economics class. First there was the mustache-goatee combo guy who enjoys building motorcycles and then there was Rose from Rowanda who is moving to Dupont Circle and took down my number to meet up for lunch.

Last week, a week before our final exam, there was Way Lyn. She asked me how I did on the last test. Pretty crumby. Her? Not at all what she hoped for. We were both struggling to teach ourselves to sink or swim in a classroom environment where the lifeguard turned out to be fireman. He thought he was saving us, but was really just adding more water.

Way Lyn and I got to talking about our jobs. She works at Starbucks for their 5 a.m. shift until around 11. She works weekends too, going door to door selling window blinds. When she's not in  economics shes taking a math class in the same building. She told me how difficult it is to do well in her classes, how she cant afford to buy or rent the textbook so she studies from it in the library for three hours at a time. But, it's okay, she says, her house is too loud to do work there anyways.

Way Lyn wants to go into business. I asked if she had any business internships . No. Does she have any contacts to help her get one. No.

When she asked what I do, I didn't want to answer. I told her I was working as a grant writer, but didn't give much detail. When she asked what high school I went to, and I told her, she beamed. She had heard it was a terrific school.

She looked at me from my suede oxfords to my sleek laptop on the desk and her face grew serious and very contemplative. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "I am so happy for you. You have your entire future all lined up for you. You're going to be really comfortable in life and I am honestly really happy for you."  I didn't know what to say or what to do. I just felt honestly--pathetic.

In contrast, yesterday I wrote to a trustee who is sitting atop a 2.5 billion dollar foundation. My knee-jerk reaction was saturated with criticisms until I looked at his 990-form as saw the 15 attached pages of various charities and organizations he supports. It was my daily reminder to judge everyone favorably until you have the full- 8879EO black and white - picture.

When I called my Bubbie the next day and told her how life was handed to me on a silver plate and served to Way Lyn's in a take-out box, she told me to breathe. I felt like Way Lyn's success story is far greater than anything I could accomplish, that however hard I work will never compare to her success. My Bubbie told me not to compare. One day, if God wills it, I will work hard and get to that position where I can help people like Way Lyn. I could be the contact she needs.

What Way Lyn taught me was that in America my "entire future is all lined up," but in Israel nothing is certain. She put a price tag on the life I say that I'm 100 percent willing to exchange. She revealed my stakes on the poker table. No doubt I'll still have to work extremely hard, and of course I'll still be that cliched "starving artist." But in America, at least I know my mom's waiting with piece of hot lasagna on the table.

Truthfully, I'm relocating to a land where I cannot speak fluently, where my familial ties are sparse, and where I have no professional contacts. I am giving away my "comfortable life" and consciously choosing Way's. But besides the money, I'm giving up something far greater, something far greener: all my sweat-leaf moments,

Just spilled a bowl of grapes and excess water in my bed--man's first grape juice spill that won't stain.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shifty Shades of Gay

Pride Parade NYC

“If a man also lies with men, as he lies with a women, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” -LEVITICUS 20:13

For Chicago’s 46th Gay Pride Parade 750,000 people made lines of twelve-rows-thick down five city streets.  Showers of rainbow confetti spiraled the skyline and it seemed like there had been a blowout sale on banana hammocks and fluorescent wigs. While I wasn’t there to partake in the states of gaiety, my social media feeds blew up. Allies on Facebook began using rainbow photo screens, snapchats of festival pics waited for me on my phone and the twitter hashtag #LoveWins went viral. With the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states I got to wonder what I truly felt about it all, as an American, as an Orthodox Jew and as college student in the liberal arts.

A  Gayteway through Time:

1.Go to BIMA, a summer arts institute at Brandies. Find your niche of singers and musicians whom you write lyrics with, star-gaze with, and roll down high hills with at 2 in the morning. At 3 a.m. Julie tells you she is a bisexual. Say “so cool” because you’ve never heard the word before. Discover Marcus is also bisexual. Google “bi-sexual.” Go to sleep wondering how you feel about all of this. Grab your breakfast tray and sit down with the crew. Notice Julie and Marcus seem aloof. Shira whispers in your ear, “they hooked up last night.” Wonder if now they’re straight.

2. You never thought anything of his high pitched voice, even after winter came and he started wearing infinity scarves and a sweatshirt that read “fruitcake.” He isn’t gay until he tells you explicitly, and when he tells you, he tells you the explicit. He’s dating guys, many of them. He meets them online. Cute guys, brainy guys, young guys, bald guys. And then there are the 50 year old professor guys. He tells you that in gay dating, age isn’t a thing. The words “SEXUAL PREDATORS” flash across your eyes in bright lights. Suffocate your thoughts into his sweater.

(2a. Try setting him up with your gay best friend in PhotoJournalism class. Discover your gay best friend from PhotoJournalism isn’t gay.)

3. Her topic is Judaism and Homosexuality. A large picture of Men under a Chupah kissing fill the Powerpoint slide. And though you are the quintessential helpless romantic- Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth give you goosebumps, Jack and Rose make you sweat- this image on the screen makes the air thin. Turn your head away slightly cursing yourself for not loving love equally. Wonder if those around peg you as a bigot.

4. Flip back to when you dated a guy who has two gay brothers. Recall drafting an email to your friend to tell her, because you didn’t know quite how to break the news over the phone. It would probably be the second worst thing you could tell her. The first only being that you were gay. After the relationship goes under, muse over the incredible fashion sense your kids would have had with four gay uncles buying them presents. Apple watches would have been growing on trees.

5. Your first Shabbat back from school over winter break, all you can think about is sitting next to your mom in synagogue. Trying to catch up, you stand with feet together in silent prayer, as the white-bearded figurehead ascends the platform to the podium. He starts talking about homosexuality, about it being the evil inclination, about the tiy-vahs (the desires) taking hold. About homosexuality being abominable. You can’t finish your conversation with God, so you just crouch to a seat. When you whisper to your mother that you’re walking out, and she says don’t make a scene, look over at your dad and know that you can't. He’s president of the synagogue.

6. There’s a carnival at sleep away camp and all the younger kids are invited on the “hill,” where the highschoolers bunk. Go into a room where music weaves between the small crevices of sweaty skin just barely brushing. Start dancing in a circle with a bunch of your girlfriends. Lose your friends at some point because of the bodies and brushings. When you find them later and they say you danced like a lesbian, turn the insult back on them. Swear for thinking wearing just a Northface was ever a good idea. Embrace heat rash—feel like trash.

7. You know you’d rock a pixie-cut, but guys want hair they can stroke and tug and have sexy dreams about. Figure you’ll crop it short once you’ve settled in your mom jeans with mom hair and sketchers. Until then no guy will look at you and think Ellen DeGeneres.

8. Determine to go to see a live performance of Rocky Picture Horror Show to educate yourself on drag-life. Wimp out. Discover from friends that it was sex on a stage. Feel hair crawl.

9. Dive into Orange is the New Black the way 90's teens devoured Sex in the City.

10. Work at the Holocaust Museum. Learn that lesbians were not sent to the death camps like gay men were. Lesbians still had the potential to procreate and were kept alive as Nazi pleasure-whores.

11. You’re in a bungalow with kids wearing hemp hats and wool socks, eating organic popcorn and carrots that still have their leafy tops attached. Ricky tells you to look at the girl leaning against the wall wearing hiking boots and cameo shorts past her knee. She slaps you’re shoulder. Don’t make it so obvious, she says. You make eye contact with the girl. She’s getting pumped with hormones to become a man. You turn the spot where he stands into a black hole that ceases to exist. You feel excited by his presence and wish so much to strike up a conversation but you can’t make your eyes meet his. By the time you decide to man-up, the corner’s empty.

12. Abomination: " something that causes disgust or hatred.”

Things I know:
God loves all mankind equally.

Things I know:
Man is meant to follow in God’s image.

Things I know:
Just because I turned my face, doesn’t make me a bigot.


Trying to be both open-minded and faithful,
both tolerant AND tolerant of the opposing view 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Collegadox Goes Community

Three stories about determination that intersect, I promise.

It’s just after my first 9 to 5 workday. I’m tired, slightly annoyed and sitting on a carpeted hallway floor with 35 others feeling ticked off while watching the clock tick by. Arms at a right angle, the face reads 6:15. Some girls start complaining beside me wondering how much longer we’re required to wait for the teacher before we can leave.

It’s “unprofessional,” they say, “unfair.” I pull out a container of roasted broccoli from my bag, setting up camp, when a woman from the downstairs quickly strides down the hallway holding a piece of paper. She tapes it to the front door and turns to face the hallway. “Mr. Woo is on his way but is running 15 minutes late,” she announces.
A chorus of curses over missing the Hawks beat Tampa in the Stanley Cup Finals. The woman has her hands on her hips.

“Mr. Woo was on his way here a few hours ago, but got in a car accident. His car was completely totaled. He’s on his way straight from the hospital now.”

When Mr. Woo did arrive, he was smiling so much so, that I couldn’t see his eyes: a composite of exhaustion, relief, wrinkles, ethnicity and pure joy. Just three hours after his near-death experience,  the eighty year old Woo looked at his wrist with the ivory hospital band still fastened to it, and said “I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t understood a word of his Chinglish since that.

I’m part of a fellowship program for young Jewish professionals. We have seminars once a week in downtown Chicago where I get to ride a train with real conductors, cross over the beautiful Chicago River and gawk at steely skyscrapers wondering how enough people exist to sit in every window. Sometimes I’ll bring an extra Chobani for this homeless man on the corner of Monroe and Lasalle street. Sometimes I’ll remember to pack a Chewy bar, because I’ll remember not everyone likes Greek yogurt. He hasn’t complained yet.

During our seminars we meet with Jewish giants in the Chicago community- lots of CEOs, V.P’s, people with long titles that start with executive at the beginning-and we usually wrap up our seven-hours of lecturing with an exercise related to Jewish identity.

This particular session, we split into groups of five, and were given a cluster of papers reading “Marrying Jewish,” “Tikun Olam,” “Israel as a Home Land,” “Speaking Hebrew,” etc., and tasked with ordering the pieces from most to least important. Taking a frum from birth, two Reform, and two secular Jews, and making them produce a unified list everyone approved of, was not as difficult as it may sound. When you strip it down, I think we’re all more in sync than in-sects.

A top principle that most groups agreed were among the top two was “marrying Jewish.” Personal backgrounds, Talmudic codex and community norms were tossed into the air. Debates flew overhead, much like how I imagined ancient discourse among sages duking it out in the times of the Mishna and Gemarah. At the apex of intellectual-emotional crossfire, a gentle arm stretched high into the air like a white flag.

We all need to learn a lesson from our good friend J.K. Rowling, she said. She cleared her throat.

“We all know who the most noble wizard of all-time is. He had incredible adventures, killed Voldemort, and changed Hogwarts forever. His father was a wizard and his mother was a muggle. But even so, I don’t think anyone would disagree that Harry Potter was the most magical wizard in history.”

The room exploded in a round of applause. Trish, a half-muggle as she put it, dispelled the brief tension.

I’m writing grants this summer, fundraising for donors to sponsor programs at the Holocaust Museum. With the meter running and no change to spare before we lose the entire generation of survivors, we’re doing everything we can to document local stories on film. Interns and VP’s alike are encouraged to step away from the desk and attend the speaker filmings.

So far, I’ve listened to some supernatural survival accounts: one woman was a child saved on the Kindertransport from Germany en route to Britain, and met her husband there, also a Kindertransport survivor. One woman shared how she would protect herself against rape from guards in the ghetto, by cutting her arm with glass and dabbing blood on her underwear so they would be repelled by a menstruating woman.

There’s a nineteen year old German boy interning here completing a gap year program to repair relations between Germany and the affected Ally countries. Two weeks ago all the interns got a VIP tour with a docent. The docent asked us who the perpetrators of the Holocaust were. Someone answered “the Nazis,” another said “the economy.” I said, “anyone who has the choice to inflict evil and chooses to.”

I was totally unprepared for this boy’s answer.

“My grandparents” he said. “My grandfather. And my grandmother.”

Belly flopped before a computer screen trying to figure out what determination is, it’s these images that shuffle on repeat. An emigrated U-Chicago alumni, slightly senile, questionably sane, undoubtedly committed to teaching community college economics. It’s a girl with her bloodlines called under question, steadfastly committed to her Judaism, reminding us all to be a bit more human. A boy who strives day after day to undo the evil of his homeland, committed to reclaim the legacy of his own namesake. 



Thursday, June 4, 2015

What the Beep: The Eyes of the Trucker Go Up and Down

There's something new I'm sensing about my neighborhood that's making me uneasy--something I'd never noticed in all my life living here, but made me cringe, like a Q-tip hitting the brain, in just two weeks of being home.

I'll share with you an incident that occurred less than 24 hours of being home:

The way my heart raced, you'd think it had been years not weeks since the last time I'd seen my sister. Yesterday I was too exhausted to drive, let alone walk, to visit her my decade-divided twin, so I collapsed on my bed instead and hoped she'd understand. With the summertime luxury of sleeping-in, I woke up after 10:00, brushed my teeth and threw on something to wear. I rushed out the door, calling behind me that I didn't know when I'd be back and began the precisely 4.45 minute walk to my sister's townhouse.

Strolling down my street, taking in the familiar birds and 50 degree "summer" heat of Chicago, I noticed out of the corner of my eye  a red pick-up truck parked  along the curb. Lawn mowers and hand held weed-whackers filled the trunk and a Hispanic looking middle-aged man sat in front looking bored. There wasn't much to take in and I found the squirrels wrestling in front of my feet much more entertaining. I trailed their squirelly game to the end of the block, and it wasn't until they jumped into the bushes that I noticed the truck cruising alongside, matching my walking pace.

I figured it was only a coincidence. He must be headed somewhere in the same direction...maybe he was running low on gas... who knows? But as I turned the corner and walked the width of two more blocks it slowly dawned on me that the "this isn't happening" situation, was happening to me.

 He drove a bit further and parked on my side of the street. With  1,000 and one red flags raised, along with every hair on my arm, I decided to cross to the other side, putting distance between me and the vehicle.Crossing to the other side helped my nerves as did being a few steps shy of a major intersection, but just as I thought it was over, a heckle hit me hard.

"Shake that ass baby! Shake that ass!"

Over my right shoulder I threw a hard look of shock and confusion, and in a beat, the truck u-turned fleeing like a torero in a Spanish bullfight. The match was done. The red truck drove away and I became the trophy animal--enraged then gouged in the belly by his words.

As an ED survivor, the metamorphoses of my body from frail-lanky boy, to strong and curvy, isn't just physical, but psychological. Since my ED I've gained over 20 NECESSARY pounds, and its those pounds that let me get back to the things I love. Whether it's losing the time while roller-blading, counting my chin-ups between breaths or striking my personal trainer with an uppercut during a boxing lesson, its moments like these when I almost forget the girl whose undernourished body physically couldn't get up from bed one morning. It's moments like these when my body and me are finally on the same page.

So obviously I was stunned, to say the least after this episode. Should I run, cover up, be embarrassed of the body I was so proud of? Would I stand there and let others ridicule my self worth because I'm an attractive woman? No, and you know why? Because I've spent too long reducing my own body to let others do it for me.

So the tally stands at seven now, a count of seven "nice ass"es, whistles and honks in the two weeks since I've been home. Don't think I'm strutting around in thigh high boots and patent leather minis: I literally got honked twice on my way home today wearing an  sweaty XL gray t-shirt with a picture of Challah that says "Hallah Back" and capris from 8th grade.

What's going on?

I believe that women and girls have the right to walk down the street without being made self-conscious, just as men and boys have a right to express their favor. And women do love compliments! But next time, please, tell your mom/sister/grandma/girlfriend/wife/best friend she looks beautiful today. Tell her how strong and confident she looks. Save the antiquated "a-woogas" and whistles for some cartoon network show or 1920's black and white clip. Let's change the way we give compliments.

Yes, there's something new I'm sensing about my neighborhood that's making me uneasy--but it's not about the way I look, it's the way some are so blind.


What the Beep?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What To Do When You're Failing Judaism.

Getting a 96% in Oral Communications, does not make preparing and delivering a Dvar Torah before a full room any easier.

Because just thinking about the speech made me want to stick my head in a freezer, I attended a learning session to- at the very least- recall the name of this week's Parsha.

I discovered this week's double portion,Bechukotai, is ridden with calamity to a War of the Worlds caliber.

 Even with tangential conversations about the capital of Macedonia (would you expect anything less of my friends?) and the smell of oily pizza endeavoring to steal my attention, I was completely absorbed in the horrific words I read. I sat hunching over the verses until the room cleared out, and though my Final's To Do List screamed "Move Bessy" from my backpack, I sat in that white folding chair for nearly two hours reading about G-d's lurking wrath.

Cities lain in ruin.
Unyielding fields.
Wild beast stampedes.
Carcasses strewn across pagan idols.
Raging war.
Schizophrenic rife.
Abysmal existence.

-A muffled cough at the end of the table-

My head snapped up, taking in a woman of about 25 years old. She balanced a bun atop a bohemian scarf, using her Teva sandals to anchor herself amid a two legged chair-lean.

(Did my mom know that when she taught me to A. always be my "fun, smiley self" and B. not to talk to strangers, I would naturally confuse the two and de-strangerfy every person I met? This is why conversations with her go something like this, "hey mom, I made friends with this magician on the Metro today, he got blinded in one eye and was bitten by a dog as a kid, so now he walks with a limp.")

"Have you read through the Torah section?" Sharon asked. I nodded, waiting for her to continue.

"Why do you think G-d gives all these threats? I mean, doesn't it seem a bit harsh to you?"

I smiled inwardly, grateful someone someone else shared my concerns. I regurgitated the same passe non-answer I had received earlier when I had said the same thing to a friend: history has proven that when things are good for the Jews, they become ingrates, they spoil it. They respond better to a heavy hand, than to a light one.

But even as I said it, I didn't fully believe it.

She asked me if I thought the punishments were just. Did I think that just because people deviate from the Commandments they were deserving of brutality. I thought, and asked if she was a student here. Yes. A grad student. In the School of Policy.

"Well," I said, "say you have a paper due in one of your public policy classes. Your teacher doesn't just assign you a paper and say 'write whatever you want.' He always gives you a rubric. He tells you you'll get 5 points for clarity, 5 points for citations, 5 points for a persuasive thesis statement, and so on."

"The teacher gives you explicit directions of his expectations--what you need to do to get an A. Ya, you can always cut corners, say 'screw this rubric' and turn in whatever you feel like doing, but you have to expect poor results."

"So, the Professor, or God, or whatever, won't let me make my own rubric? Can't I explain my reasoning? Doesn't my intent matter?" she said.

"Of course you can, you can always appeal your grade to God. He's always willing to listen to you. He doesn't work on office hours," I said.

She smiled. "But do you think we can personalize our own rubrics, I can choose my own commandments to follow, and they might not  be the same ones defined on His rubric, or maybe even the same ones on yours. But He'll still accept it?"

"Students don't get to make the rubric, we are all commanded of the same things." She grimaced.

"But," I said slowly,  God doesn't expect us all to finish at the same time. We all have different due dates."

And that's how I spent my Tuesday night.

For an hour, in a sea of empty folding chairs, two complete strangers spoke candidly about shomer negiya, acid trips, relationships with parents, homosexuals, shabbat, kashrut, justice, slavery, and the world to come. When it was over she offered me a ride home so I wouldn't have to walk back to my apartment alone.

What I learned from this experience, is that alone, we face these religious blockades and often keep our concerns inside,  becoming bitter or sad, simply because we think no one else feels the same way. But when we speak them aloud, and work through them with others, we find that the answer was there all along. That we cant close the book on them just yet.

Needless to say I strategically didn/t give Policy girl my last name. She wont be reading this.

specializing in de-stranger-fying

Monday, April 13, 2015

Relationship advice from "Dougie Fre$h"

Traveling home for second days of Passover- missing 5 classes because this ain't no "Pesach Z'man," mind you- there's a checklist of things you wish to hang on to forever.

Here are some "Eliana took a screenshot of your snapthought":

Israeli friends back at it #takemewithyou
Honey Chicken for midday snack- I need a College Mommy
Soaking up Shabbos Sun Hammock-style
People still buy Crispy' O's?!? #aunthood
SNL viewing from a dogpile
Driving back to the airport- Tucking and Rolling is sounding pretty good#childlock

 So, with tears in my eyes (and hair and clothes and nose), I printed my boarding pass, shuffled through security, and found a seat at Gate B8.

Having not been able to check-in 24 hours in advance because of the holiday, I got boarding number B52, and I was made to pick between the myriad of middle seats. Seeing me and the people in line behind me pass by the first few rows, an attendant announced "the middle seats you're passing by are just as uncomfortable as the one your going to choose."

I picked a seat three rows ahead of the Emergency wing exit, because my mom once said that its the people within 5 rows of an exit that survive a crash. Total bogus-- but in either I became wedged  between a cropped haired Whoopi Goldberg and a taller, longer-armed version of CeeLo Green.

Within 10 minutes we were 35,000 feet up in the air.With my borderline claustrophobic position leaving me out of reach of my tucked away Tifilat Haderech, I decided to recite Shema, a few memorized Tehillim, and some freestyle chants of "don't let me die. don't let me die. don't let me die."

I heard some gruff exhales to my left and that's when I noticed CeeLo wasn't doing so well. He hadn't been on a plane since he was 11 on his way to Disney World. I told him my barf bag was all his when he wanted it. He laughed and we began our hour and 50 minute plane-ship.

I should call him "Dougie Doug," or "Dougie Fresh," whichever I preferred.
I told him to call me "Ellie."

We fist-bumped the introduction making it official.

What year in school was I? 
Here comes the split second when you decide whether or not to include your Seminary gap year in Israel. I decided to tell him I took a year abroad before starting school. Apparently learning Bible and Jewish philosophy in the ancient land is "dope." 

He told me about his steel workers' business conference he was headed towards; four days of conferences, marketing strategies, and dynamic company reorganizing.
"But what I'm really excited for is this," thrusting the gigantic screen of his iPhone6 in my face. It a beach resort with palm trees and digital clock counting " 4 days 15 hours 3 minutes and 23..22..21..20 seconds." It was his St. Lucia countdown. I told him he was going to have to fly there, and again, offered my barf bag as a token of safe passage. " I'm buggin' out man," he laughed looking over my shoulder out the window. "Where than oxygen pack at?"

He was the guy that ends up holding everyone's phones and coats at SixFlags.

We talked about the NCAA tournament, about 6 o'clock sprints, and the St. Lucia "honeys" he was so excited to meet. He asked me if I got a guy, and I told him I was recently dumped. He didn't believe me, and decided to call me "heartbreaker" after that. 

"Listen," he said, "the dude missed out, ya know. And trust me, he'll realized what he missed. You're young anyways, go out and have fun, don't think about it too much."

He saw me scribbling in my notebook, and I told him I was writing a reminder to study for a test, too embarrassed to let on that I was writing down everything he had said. He called me "one studious heart breaker."

As we started our descent into D.C. he asked very audibly if the plane was "going down." I told him not to say that phrase too loudly, and the people around us started laughing. 

After some armrest clutching and a successful landing, we split ways the way we formed them, with a fistbump. He told me not to go around breaking too many hearts. I wished him luck with his honeys.

Walking through my apartment door, I didn't feel the gaping pangs of homesickness I had prepared for. I saw my roommates and we all caught up about our weekends.

As it turns out, I missed sex week on campus. My roommate told me about the crazy discussion event she went to about BDSM. Apparently it wasn't so much of a "what is this thing," as a meet and greet between chronic sadists. They discussed how to make household whips and "the best" ropes to purchase at Home Depot.

Secular College

Friday, March 27, 2015

What is Feels Like to be Dumped

In one of those rare and coveted vacations to Los Angeles, I found myself driving alone with my uncle in his compact car, windows down, palm trees swaying, getting relationship advice at age 17. Women hold the reigns of every relationship during their high school and college years, he said in his confident, thoughtful tone. They determine the pace, route and termination in 99 percent of cases. Guys really have no power.

Of course, impelled to deny this overstatement and redeem women from sassy micromanagement, I contested. At which point, he asked me- straight blank- to think back to every past relationship. Had I ever been dumped, or was I always the dumper? Reclining deeply into the leather of my passenger seat, flip-flopped feet propped and crossed resting above the airbag compartment, the way I do,  I stare out the window, letting the breeze comb through my bangs.

 No, I had never been dumped--that was until two days ago.

With the memory of cruising alongside my uncle, in mind, and this wrenching sting forking inside my heart, I think it appropriate to apologize to all men. Getting dumped is one of the most bruising, light-headed, confusing feelings I have ever experienced.

So why tell you this? Why share my raw vulnerability and intimate feelings of zero-gravity with the wide web?

Because in this resonate racquetball room of a blog, where ideas fling and smack the walls of my Judaism and youth, I think it's not only healthy, but necessary to say the things no one talks about. I think it's important to be honest with yourself and to others, and to simply reflect.

Here is what it feels like to be dumped:

1. Play back ever moment of the past six months wondering where you stumbled. Try to figure out where you took a wrong turn because you must have done something wrong. You must have failed in some unforgivable way. Close your eyes to concentrate, retracing your steps.

2. Start laughing so loudly, that had their been birds nearby, the entire flock would retreat in a moviesque fleet. Laugh because you've convinced yourself it's only a bad dream, and you've caught on, foiling the "gotcha" punchline. Stop laughing when there's no punchline. Only a cut-line.

3. Cringe at how awkward it's going to be seeing his friends every day, people you considered your friends (only by extension?) What are the rules- is there a handbook for cordial post break-up etiquette?

4. Register a severe loss of appetite. Stereotypes of girls reaching for ice cream are so wrong. Nothing looks appealing.

5. Thank the Heavenly forces above that bestowed to you a sister. Cry to her. Let her in. Let out an exhaustive sigh when she enthusiastically asks, if you want her to start bashing the guy or to just listen.

6. Regret falling in love with your best friend, and mourn the loss of two relationships. Try to picture college without him, but draw a blank. Realize how different you as a person would be.

7. Look towards Pesach and Summer Break with the fidgety eagerness of a kid in line at a water slide. Try to contain your longing to be home. Tissues help. So does Skype.

8. Think about all the friends you've neglected by way of collateral damage during couple-dom. The friends you haven't talked to in months, where are they? What have they been up to? Will they accept you back?

9. Refrain from telling your best friends, because in your fragility you can only handle so many phone calls, so many "you're too good for hims," that you may just faint. When you do tell them, accept 11 individual, half hour long calls. Cry during most of them. For the one's you don't, excuse yourself for not crying, explaining that biologically, you cannot.

10. Take two Advil the next morning for stomach and neck pains as a result of crying. Realize you're making yourself ill.

11. Freak out that while you've been in college, you've been in relationships for longer than you've been single. Have a friend remind you of your 17 years of life being single. Say "oh,ya," and consider them the smartest person in the world, for like 5 minutes.

12. Look in the mirror and analyze your broken nose, the one forever crooked after slamming your face against the bottom of a swimming pool. Inspect your dry, patchy hair, your awkward knees, your protruding gut. Become disgusted in your mirror fixations and cover the mirror in post-it notes with inspirational quotes and feelings. Peg a blue one that reads, "Just because I got dumped doesn't mean I'm garbage" near the top corner. Get excited over this last one and tell your mom about it. Hold the phone away from your ear as a concerned mother bear yells at you for calling yourself garbage. Explain the meaning of DOESN'T.

13. Let pour the guilt of not being shomer. Nuff said.

14. Erase your images of a "future" with the guy. He always made you feel special when he complemented your voice. Feel intensely grateful that you never shared with him the song you had been practicing and planned to serenade  him with at just the right moment.

15. Know that there is a filing box full of places, phrases and foods that will forever remind you of him.

16. Feel strung- feel stung.

17. Picture some "other girl." Feel inside-out, like your rib cage and its contents are jutting out.

18. Unfriend him on Facebook, roll your eyes at your cliche-ness.

19.  Feel anxious about all the memorabilia of your relationship. Pictures, letters, event stubs,  a paper weight... yes, a paper weight, what do you do with them? Remove his Goofy doll from your bed, stashing him in a stow-away box. Remember how happy you were the day he gave it to you shopping together on Black Friday.

20. Get distracted in classes- letting reality settle in- feeling the prickly spasms going on inside, like  tiny epileptic neurons firing.

21. Walk to the gym in the rain and spy worms wiggling on the sidewalk like discarded leaves. Pick up a squirming one and return it to a patch of dirt. Feel like you've done something right. See hundreds of worms on your walk but realize you can't stoop for every single one otherwise you'd never get to the gym. Feel helpless.

22. Feel relieved because there were parts in the relationship that didn't match up. Feel the burden of making excuses melt off.

23. Fight the urge to strut in front of everyone you know (and don't know) pretending you are better than normal. Fight the glances of strangers with the accusatory eyes that seem to sing, "we know what happened to you."

24. Realize you're young and beautiful and someone will want to marry you some day. Scream while cutting off a bit of banana bread. When you're roommate asks you whats wrong. Tell her you just realized that everyone's married to themselves for their entire life. Eat banana bread with wide eyes.

25. Come to your senses. He gave you the gift of being dumped. In being dumped, he gave you the freedom to find someone who will love you for your entire essence, and he gave you the ability to know what it's like to be dumped--the clarity to empathize. He added so much to the meaning of you.

Last night one of my best friends, whom I will call Lisa, told me that one day I'm going to find that person who will love me for my articulate, poetic, fearless mind and heart.  They will love me not in light of my eating disorder, but because of it! Because I overcame anorexia three years ago when my mom said I needed to "stop this" because we didn't have enough money to send me to rehab. They'll love me not in spite of having been bullied, but because of it! For knowing how to root for the underdog, and for being the underdog! For being the type of person who notices sidewalk worms.

But until then, I've just got to "see the trees in the forest" as mom says. I've got to recognize I am the luckiest person in the world to have such incredible friends. I've got to marry myself unconditionally.

Dumped yet pumped

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Saving the World One Insecurity at a Time

You won't be able to appreciate it, but I got dressed today, combed hair tucked-in shirt and all. But before you dismiss this as a three-year-old's success at putting my pants on frontwards, fashioning an appropriate amount of cock-eyed ponytails, and matching my left foot to my left shoe, remember that I'm in college, where the code of dress is: optional. I was taught that a messy room is a messy mind, and if we extend the analogy to clothing, then these past few weeks I've been a bit in a rut.

Here's why:

Me: I got two more assignments today from the magazine. I'll be meeting with  an author and writing book reviews on dressing for the office and one on "making partner" as a woman.

Dad: That's great El, good for you!

Me: .......ya...

Dad: Ya?

Me: Well.... I dunno. my roommates their studying to become nurses. Their taking on 12-hour shifts working in the ER and at clinics. They're saving lives, ya know? And I'm just sitting in my pjs writing book reviews no one will ever see or care about. I feel wanna save the world.

In moments like this, the listener faces a forked road of honesty and flattery. My dad pulled out his ancient lawnmower and paved a new path- Herschel's wisom. It cut into my cognition, muting my misgivings. He took a breath.

Dad: They won't be saving the world every day. Most likely they will be stripping sheets and changing bedpans. You can't be a hero every day. Some days you write things that will change life as we know it, and other days, you write the book review.

This morning I was stretching after a run in the mirrored studio at the gym. Music was shouting choppily from someones Iphone on speaker, as sorority sisters were girding their kettle-balls, pumping rhythmically in tush defying lunges and squats. Sitting down for a break on their mats, they inspected themselves in the mirror. With spring break next week the women sat bemoaning the hours left they had to get in shape for beach ware. One snarled while pinching a generous roll on her midsection, the other prayed for just 2 more pounds to melt off. Locked in warrior pose, I felt shocked and frustrated at what I was hearing. Why were these women so intent on fitting a cookie cutter image (or bikini!), instead of looking in the mirror and seeing how gorgeous they are? I am all about being healthy, energized, and confident, but is losing those two pounds really going to achieve that?

I left the room dwelling on their words, deeply worried. Then, while organizing myself in the women's locker room, I heard the door swing open and an electronic Justin Bieber singing "Baby." I closed my eyes, thanking G-d for the opportunity.

"I overheard what you were saying out there, and I just wanted to let you know that you don't need to lose the 2 pounds. You look beautiful." I let the door swing on my way out, cutting out the sound of   "Oh my God that was sooooooo sweet" gushes.

This month I've become a confidante, a place to vent fas people move through life's insecurities. I've been a listening wall as people complained about roommates. Were they justified in lashing out? They were justified. Right? I've been pond for people to skip rocks down as they opened up about body issues and depression. No topic off limits. Relationship Frustrations. Religious Queries. Dating Gay.

And I get it, I get it all. Even the stuff I don't get, I'm trying and empathize.

This month I'm facing failing grades, the difficulties of staying involved in the lives of my best friends when they live states and continents apart, and qualms with connecting to Tiffilah. And while my mom, has always insisted "I think you're cool," sometimes, not often but sometimes, I fail to see it.

But I think what's important to keep in mind in light of insecurities is that there is NO standard. You need to stand confident and not let two extra pounds reduce you. You need to be confident as you date online, stand up for your rights as roommate, talk openly about G-d.

Some days you'll face situations where you feel dehumanized and undetermined- you may even be changing bed pans-literally dealing with crap. But in that gloom, when insecurities get the best of you, remember a day will come when you'll save the world. And while you're waiting, go ahead and get dressed.

Strapping on my cape

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentines Day Shabbat

Shabbos Valentine's- seemingly dichotomous- but honestly who doesn't like feeling appreciated and getting gifts?
(I vaguely remember from my Seminary days the concept of gift giving on Shabbat. Apparently, passing ownership of an object from one person to another too closely resembles engaging in commerce, which is forbidden. This led me to think about the candy man at shul, who gave me candy regardless of being way too old for the men's side of the Orthodox shul we attended. This led me to think about Bar Mitzvahs and being all too old and competitive to be shoving kids as volleys of Sunkist candies and Mike and Ikes rained from above, pelting the 13-year-old who was probably too busy "becoming a man" to contemplate Child Services at the time. This led me to think of that time in carpool writing "SOS" and pantomiming a capture-striken face in the backseat, on my way to the first-grade Siddur presentation.  I mastered the Macaulay Culkin. This made me think about my gray dilapidated Nissan Quest and the shenanigans my mom would never know went on in the backseat, like the collage of Barbie and Ninja Turtle stickers from doctor's visits gummed to the middle seat, and the collection of cream-less Oreo Cookie tops and bottoms stashed below. This made me think of the foolishness of an 8 year old who forgets about the hysteria of Pesach cleaning. This makes me think about the foolishness of Pesach Cleaning. This makes me think about how the weeks before Pesach, and how I would grab a bag of Shaloch Manot from the kitchen table in lieu of a lunch, not bothering to take out what I wanted from the bag with the label "Have a Golden Holiday!! -The Goldsteins." Remember to stay calm as you disembowel the golden bag of its golden decorative strings, and to be as nonchalant waving to the  Goldstein boy convincing yourself he is smiling  not smirking. But do I really have to explain to him the rule that exists between Purim and Pesach where you survive on 2 week old Hamentashin and mini Gefen grapejuices? Do I really have to explain eating meals on the steps a week and half before Pesach starts becuase the kitchen is already "turned over"? And do I have to explain the insurmountable restraint not to open the food pantry and stare longingly at the Manishevitz Cake mix you only want because its the only thing  you recognize as "food" beside the canisters of "Potato Starch" and "Matzah Meal." And when Pesach does come around, don't do anything stupid like come to the seder having fasted and a large glass of Malaga be the first thing in your system. Don't be that person who spends the rest of Seder crying about whether or not they would have been redeemed from Egypt or which animal they would be most frightened of during the Plague of Wild Beasts. (Ostrich!) Don't be that person to read every interesting comment in their Haggadah aloud-first in Hebrew-then in English! And definitely don't storm to your room, lock the door, and yell that you hate the world when everyone is laughing that you have to read the part of the Rasha. Simply smile and politely tell them you've put mouse poison in one of the side dishes. Don't tell them which one. When you get a dissapproving look all around, reassure them it was KOSHER FOR PASSOVER food poisoning so as not to ruin their holiday. Return to eating salty celery sticks and ward off growls when someone whispers in your ear that its not the meal yet and you cant eat more than 1 kezayis of Karpas. Beg for an Ostrich to walk through the door.) Valentine's day. Because holidays are about being around the people we care about.

Secretly envious of cool Shaloch Manos last names

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

13 Truths About Winter Break

13 Truths About Winter Break

1. Expect to do you own laundry: realize that you can no longer use the excuse that A. you were never taught or B. you don't want to break the machine. Try out C. "but you're so good at it."

2. Discover that sleep-overs get more fun as you age. Laugh at the ridiculousness of four grown friends as they each respond to the command, "right foot, blue." Notice how the game gets absurdly competitive as players begin to twerk in one another's face. Determine that you will not go down with out a fight: swipe your leg break-dance style and knock out the competition. When you win- collapse into the girl pile and fall into everything you've been missing in college.

3. Come to terms with the fact that  pre-break promises to "hang out every night with friends," is a lie. Rediscover the remote, and binge watch Sherlock with a fringed throw blanket draped over your shoulders like a shelled hermit. Become a hermit.

4. Reacquaint yourself with the basketball hoop: remind yourself the fluid movement of bend-flex-release while gluing your feet to the court. Forget how to use the backboard and deliver 4 successive swishes. Look around to see if anyone caught your accomplishment. No one cares. Realize its getting late and wonder why you never practiced at college. Place the ball on the floor, fire it across the gym with your foot, and hear the crack of leather on concrete. Wait for the realization to strike: you've been practicing soccer instead.

5. Feel pumped trying out new recipes you've googled online. Try not to let exhaustion overtake you as you sip and swallow the vegetable soup and lasagna lunch you made from scratch and put in the oven  an 1 hr. 40 min. ago. Become discouraged that you will be making your own food next semester and spend equal amount of time cooking as you will be in class.

6. Check out every available project on Pinterest. Discover that projects titled "easy" are not, and that "yourself" was not considered in the category "Do It Yourself." Give up, then try again, and end up sitting in glue. Explain to your dad later why there is glitter in your hair.

7. Try to learn a new language. Get repeatedly discouraged as you discover that most of Sign Language is arbitrary gang symbols and catatonic gestures. Learn that the sign for "I love you," is the same as the spider man hands.

8. Spend time with the niece and nephews you've missed tremendously. Learn a new game called "mustache smash" and determine to buy it for lazy Shabbat afternoons. Play Candyland past their bedtime and make promises to buy all the treats on the board and play "real Candyland." When they ask twice daily in the time that follows, discover the irrevocable nature of a promise and that children have fantastic memories.

9. Use your mornings hunting for summer jobs. Send out 5 emails every day to potential employers. Send out another 5 emails--this time with your resume attached. Celebrate the Spring internship you were offered by running a victory lap around the house. Send in your acceptance email, descend to the kitchen, and proudly announce to your family, "I've decided to get less sleep."

10. Lose your independence. Get calls at 9 p.m. asking where you are. Make sure to remind them not to lock the storm door. Stand outside feeling cold and peeved.

11. Prepare for an inspirational Kabbalat Shabbat at shul Friday evening. Discover that in the "real world" not everyone does Carralbach styled singing. Mumble the tunes to yourself, feeling uninspired.

12. Yell down the staircase that the bathroom scale is broken. All-you-can-eat-around-the-clock meals have not gone unnoticed by gravity. Download MyFitnessPal app, and log everything. Sometimes "forget" to log, and on these days, eat cookies and milk for breakfast.

13. Prepare yourself for witty answers when people at shul or in the grocery market ask you what you've been up to over break. Give them your best truth--the best news you can share. Discover that 6 weeks is way too long. Admit to yourself the inevitable: you're ready to go back.

Trying approach  D. "but I don't know how to get glue out of my clothes"