House Showings and Passover Cooking

I had just put a huge brisket for Passover in the oven, the kind that you have to cut just to fit in the pans.  Two glorious full sheet pans where covered and ready to go and the oven was heated.  My cell phone announced a text.  It was from our realtor.

“Can you do a showing at 2pm?”

I looked around my kitchen, the counters covered for Passover, potato starch seemingly everywhere and a pile of dirty dishes in the sink.  We had only hours to prepare for a showing and this was just the kitchen.

“Of course,” I texted back.  Because, this is what you do when you really want to sell a house in a tough market.

My husband, who works from home, pitched in and together we put the house back to show-ready condition from top to bottom.  Carpets were vacuumed, produce put away, counters uncovered that would just be covered again after the showing.  The one thing that I couldn’t do, though, was hide the brisket.  It would have to just keep cooking.  Soon, the entire house was clean and ready…and smelling completely of brisket and onions!

We packed up Sam the beastdog and left, the brisket in progress.  I hoped that the buyers weren’t vegetarians or vegans.

These are just the kinds of decisions that anyone taking on observance has to make, Jewish or conversion candidate.  There are times we have had to go on a walk on Shabbos while our house was shown, hoping that they didn’t turn off or on too many lights.  Others have spent a Shabbos in an airport when their flight was delayed.  Still others have had to use the ocean as a mikvah in remote areas.  Observance challenges us all in different ways, but sometimes it’s those stories that are the best ones to remember when things seem difficult or too much to handle.

I have a few Jewish friends who are down this week.  It’s a tough week for everyone, with all the cleaning and cooking and preparations.  I’m reminded just how fortunate I am that I have supportive family around me.  My kids are helping me when they can and are enthusiastic about our upcoming Seders.  How much harder would this be if they were sullen and sarcastic?  My husband is brushing up on all the laws to lead the Seder and is handling all the preparations for the Seder plate even as he works this week.  How much harder would this all be if he wasn’t engaged and looking forward to it?  My dear Mother in Law in Arizona even overnighted me 3 containers of potato starch when we couldn’t find it locally.  That’s a lot of love from a woman who is busy with her own Seder prep!

Yes, I may have periodic interruptions this year, but I also have so much love and support that it seems silly to complain about them.  I’m sure they’ll make for great stories in the years to come, too.

And the brisket turned out amazing, even if the people looking at our house didn’t make an offer.  At least they didn’t take the brisket!

May everyone have the freedom to see their blessings this Passover!

“Turning Over” My Kitchen…and Turning Over my Pre-Passover Anxiety

The same thing happens EVERY year without fail.  I always plan to “turn over” my kitchen (that is, clean and kosher it for Passover), as close to Passover as possible so that my family doesn’t have to either eat kosher for Passover food longer than necessary or eat their floury, chametz-leaden food in the garage.  I plan and think I have everything down and scheduled.

Inevitably, I always wind up beginning my cleaning and then just turning over the kitchen a few days earlier than I’d planned.  Every.  Single. Year.

I’m not even sure why, but at some point, it seems less stressful to just get it done.  Maybe it’s that I hear of other women turning their kitchens over earlier and I begin to worry I won’t have time to cook?  Or, perhaps it’s just that the cleaning begins to take on its own momentum?  I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with a discomfort with living “in between.”

At a certain point, you begin to have some areas cleaned and some things kashered and some things not and in that state, it gets harder and harder to keep things separate and not make any mistakes.  I feel a sense of relief when the kitchen is all turned over and set for Passover, even if my family is huddled around the toaster oven in the garage or eating potato kugel for an extra week.  I’m fine before I begin turning things over, but once it’s started, I really feel this need to get it all finished as quickly as possible so that the wrong spoon doesn’t wander out or someone cooks in the wrong pot.

I think that probably says a lot about me in general.

There is a discomfort that comes with living in any half-completed state.  I think we feel this in the last weeks of school before a graduation or those rushed weeks before a wedding.  A big life transition is taking place, but, at least for a short while, there is a space where you’re between and there is a mental and emotional discomfort that accompanies that state.  It’s a feeling you’d think our family would be accustomed to by now!

I find comfort in the idea that there is a purpose to such states, though.  Hashem certainly could have simply brought the Jews out of Egypt and directly to Israel.  It would have been simple given all the other miracles He performed.  Alternately, He could have just led them on the most direct route right to Israel.  Instead, the Jews had to wander for 40 years in the desert.  They needed to dwell in the discomfort of being free from slavery, but not yet having their own land.  As uncomfortable as that state was, it was necessary for so many reasons for them to become the nation they were meant to be.  Similarly, when we individually make big life transitions, sometimes, as painful and awkward as it can feel, we need to live in a state between one thing…and another.

I have a friend currently experiencing this in a very personal, visceral way.  Her marriage has ended, but both her civil divorce and the process of getting her get have stalled (to be clear, she is not an agunah and it looks like everything will work out…it’s just going to take more time than she ever imagined).  She has to live in an awkward place between being married…and being single and not really being either.  A chapter in her life has ended, but she can’t yet begin the next chapter and she’s stuck at the turning of the page.

Life just simply isn’t as orderly as the numbered pages of a book.  My rush to turn over my kitchen is my small way of trying to make it more like that, to make the world simpler for me to understand, where the change between one state to another is so much easier to see and so much neater and cleaner.  That anxiety I feel where things are halfway turned over and my kitchen is not quite kosher for Passover but also already contains things that need to remain kosher for Passover is such a mirror of the powerlessness I often feel when I feel like I’m stuck at the turning of a page.  In my kitchen, I have the freedom to rush through and my family is patient enough with me to allow it.  In fact, they know by now that when I say I’m going to turn the kitchen over on X day…they might as well subtract three days from that.  They just smile knowingly.

In life, we rarely have the ability to control the big transitions of our lives in this way.  I’m sure it’s for the better than we can’t because who would willingly choose to live in-between for any longer than they had to?  Still, within that tension of not quite being what we were and yet not being able to step fully into who we are becoming is where we find some of our deepest growth.  We’re off balance between steps, essentially falling forward until our foot catches us, but that’s how we move forward in this life.

As I finish turning over my kitchen tonight, I will pray that I become more graceful when it comes to these in-between spaces and try to resist the urge to rush through them so much.  Who knows what I might miss along the way?

The Non-Gebrokts Non-Jews

Passover is an interesting holiday.  It’s one where traditions and customs really seem to come to the forefront in a way they don’t always the rest of the year.  From how stringent each family is about their cleaning and prep to what they will and won’t eat on the holiday, there is so much variation, even among Orthodox Jews.

My husband comes from a Lubavitch family, which, for us, means that we try to follow Lubavitch minhagim, or customs, particularly on major holidays.  So, that means that our Passover preparations and menus are even stricter than many other Orthodox Jews.  For years, I cooked according to more mainstream Ashkenazic customs for Passover.  Our Rabbis didn’t really mind and encouraged us to make the holiday easy for ourselves since his obligation was questionable and the rest of the family’s obligation was non-existent.  While this did mean that I had to still do a lot of cooking, it wasn’t so difficult because there is actually a lot you can do with matzah and there are a ton of recipes out there.

Last year, though, we decided to take the step of no longer eating gebrokts, which is really anything that involves soaking matzah to kind of simulate bread or pasta.  We do eat it on the last day of Passover, but the rest of the holiday, we do not.  We also peel most vegetables and don’t use many spices.

We’re probably crazy for taking it on before we have to, but I wanted to have some practice with it and some good recipes up my sleeve for the day when it’s all for real, so there we are.

What I found last year was that almond chocolate chip passover cookies really are the bomb and that limiting my ingredients this much really made me appreciate even more how much I normally have to work with, even in Alaska.  We still ate well and healthy and you can pretty much do anything for a week.  That final day I don’t think I’ve had anything as wonderful as the matzah lasagna we could finally have and it was nice to ease back into eating all our usual foods that way.

This year, I have a few more recipes to try, but I like that doing Passover this way is such a big change from how we eat the rest of the year.  We really get to eat simply, with very basic recipes and ingredients and it is a time to step back a bit and think about all the deeper themes of Passover.  I love how Jewish holidays are an immersive experience and how the food of our holidays connects us to every other aspect.

Now if only I could find the same inspiration in cleaning out my cupboards!

What’s in a Name?

When we first began this journey, 7 years ago, a lot of our focus was to hold on to everything we could.  I had originally sought conversion and in the midst of beginning that journey with my children, we suddenly found ourselves dealing with my husband’s unexpected issues with his own halakhic status.

It was as if his Jewishness was a fragile box now holding so much of his memories and identity and the only way to repair that box was for our entire family to undergo Orthodox conversion.  In that fragile box that seemed to be turning to dust in his fingers were things like his bar mitzvah, his memories of day school, every aliyah he’d ever proudly been given, his first tallis, his awareness of his place in the world as a Jewish man.  It’s difficult to put into words the crisis of identity I witnessed him go through in those early months.  It was much like a grieving process, where first he was in denial, looking for some way this could not be true, then angry, then full of dispair, and finally…a kind of acceptance.  It’s taken years, really, to work through all the stages and, like any loss, there are still moments where the pain and struggle becomes fresh again, but those moments become fewer and have less power to disrupt his life.

Among the things we were trying so hard to hold onto…was names.

Jewish men are called to the Torah by their Hebrew name and also by their father’s name.  This ties them to their family and where they have come from.  When a Jewish person is ill or injured, they are prayed for by their Hebrew name and their mother’s Hebrew name.  When we hurt, we all become our mothers’ children again.  In the case of converts, once converted they are adopted by the spiritual parents Avraham and Sarah.  My husband was horrified that he might lose his tie to his biological, Jewish family in this way.  He had a Jewish father already and a beloved Jewish grandfather before him.  His mother’s name, Sarah, made conversion less problematic functionally, but he didn’t want to be called to the Torah as a son of Avraham when his father’s name was Yitzhak.  Converts are also urged to choose common names…and my husband’s Hebrew name was anything but common.  In fact, neither of us have ever met a Jewish man with the same name.  After 40 years of holding these names, it seemed that they were soon to be taken from him…another casualty of the conversion process.

Due to the delays we experienced, he’s had more time to sit with this and more time to dig into why he was named what he was and more time to process what might be to come.  We still don’t know if he’ll be undergoing a full gerus or a gerus l’chumrah, so there’s still a chance he might get to keep his names, but just like so many other things, as he processed his grief, his grip on those names became less and less firm.

Perhaps at some point, he realized that he’s no longer the same boy who stood for his bar mitzvah, afraid he’d be winged in the head with a hard candy as he struggled with his voice, afraid it would crack during his reading.  He also discovered that there was no reason behind his unusual Hebrew name…it had simply been a suggestion from a Rabbi and his father had been disinterested in choosing a name.  He realized his father, now Reform, really hasn’t been a spiritual father to him, unable to pass down his traditions or faith and that most of the Jew he has become is due to his stepfather and mother.

Maybe he realized that being Jewish itself was more important to him than losing this link to generations of Jews that came before him.

Whatever the reason, just this year, after 7 years of struggling with this loss, he finally decided that he is fine with it, that this is an opportunity for a new beginning with a new name and a new father.  His old names didn’t save him from everything he’s gone through and, with new names, it’s believed that there’s a fresh chance at mazel, that shifting idea of luck or fortune that somehow flows through the idea of free will and prayer without contradiction.

I love him and am so proud of him…no matter what his names are.

Thanksgiving Kosher

Thanksgiving couldn’t be more timely for our family this year.  We’ve gotten so bogged down with so many things and it’s easy to lose sight of being grateful for what we have.  Thanksgiving in Alaska comes during the deepening darkness leading up to the winter solstice, a time that can seem particularly dark even as our neighbors begin to hang their holiday lights.

Our family has a weekly Shabbos table tradition of each of us saying 3 things that we are grateful for from the week we just finished.  Bonus points are given if the person who just answered manages to ask the next person just as they begin to eat a bite of food and sometimes it’s easy to come up with three things and other times it’s a little more challenging.  It always helps us begin our Shabbos meal in the right spirit, though.  In some ways, I feel like Thanksgiving is a great holiday to break up the beginning of winter and remind us of how much we have to be thankful for.

I’ve been particularly in need of a reminder to look more at the positive.  Work has been challenging, the kids have needed a lot of help with school work, I’ve been stressed about getting the house whipped into shape for sale, and I’ve just been kind of down overall, only seeing the challenges and negatives.  As I contemplate sides that go with turkey, I’m also thinking about how I can focus more on all the places we have been so fortunate and deepen my trust that everything is going to work out for the best.

Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday for Orthodox Jews.  Some choose not to celebrate it, seeing it as being more of a Christian or non-Jewish tradition.  Some kosher keeping Jews also don’t eat turkey since there is no tradition of Jews eating the bird in the past and kosher laws can be a little tricky with birds.  Our family still eats turkey and we still celebrate Thanksgiving, albeit with kosher recipes.  When it comes to the meal, the turkey is the star of the show and for us that means a fleishig meal, meaning a meal that has meat in it and therefore no dairy.

In Alaska, that means ordering a kosher turkey (or two) ahead of time at a pretty steep cost and then rejoicing when you’re able to find them.  Our two birds each cost about $60 a piece and weigh in around 12-15 lbs, but they’re all ours and we’re grateful to have them at all.  The rest of the year, the only turkey available to us is frozen ground turkey.

Over the years, I’ve found ways to prepare sides without any dairy or using dairy substitutes.  Mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, even the ubiquitous green bean casserole can all be made pareve.  This year, I’m also trying out a pumpkin challah and a pareve pumpkin pie.  There are so many recipes now with so many people cutting dairy from their diet that it’s not hard to pull together a pretty nice Thanksgiving spread.

In many ways, cooking Shabbos each week makes cooking Thanksgiving a lot less daunting.  You become used to pulling together a formal dinner every week, so what’s one more?  Besides, you can COOK on Thanksgiving!!!!  To me, that makes Thanksgiving positively relaxing after all the Yom Tovim of the High Holiday season.  I love having the kids in the kitchen, helping out with their favorite dishes, music playing, and the familiar smells and tastes of my childhood.  With so many other holiday traditions that needed to get the boot when I chose to convert, it’s wonderful to have one holiday that still translates.

At first, I initially wrestled with whether or not we should keep Thanksgiving, since it isn’t really Jewish.  In my mind, though, the more I thought about it, the more I found it fit.  What’s more Jewish than a meal that brings family together to focus on all that Hashem has given them?  We wash our hands and say brachas rather than grace and we bench after the meal (benching is the blessing for after a meal with bread), but the desire to take time out of our busy lives to thank our creator for a successful harvest and all that we’ve been granted, I think, is a deeply human desire.

I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate.  If not, it’s not that long until another warm Shabbos!  This week, with the temperatures outside dipping into the negative F, we’re planning to spend a warm Shabbos at home, resting up to return to the Shabbat RV and the cold next week!

Conversion Advice – You’ve Gotta Love BOTH

I had one reader have a very negative reaction to a writing I did yesterday about the current state of conversion.  Basically, by writing about my experiences and some of the other issues I have known about, this person was discouraged from attempting an Orthodox Jewish conversion herself and her image of the Jewish people was changed.  The words were strong and it made me question if I’d done the right thing writing what I did.  I’m including an excerpt here:

Your article sickened me, I had to stop reading it – I was so horrified by what I read. I have admired your culture and religion for most of my life. I have considered converting, more than once. You have saved me, by writing this, from making a terrible, terrible mistake. I thank you for that. But, I have no tolerance, whatsoever, for “human error” harming good people, who are so very sincere.
Something has, obviously, gone terribly wrong. Or, perhaps, I was wrong all along.
Good luck to you, but this information has left me heartbroken. Not for me, but for you.

There is a concept in Judaism of a “chillul Hashem,” basically, this is the idea that if you as a Jewish person commit an act or speak in a way that brings shame to the Jewish people, it can be serious enough to be an offense against G-d, desecrating His name.  The idea is most often used in reference to causing scandals or spreading gossip, but I began to wonder if I had myself committed a chillul Hashem by being so open about issues with the current process of Orthodox Jewish Conversion.  That was not my intention and I’m still not completely sure.  Sometimes it is important to talk about problems so that we can raise awareness of them and work together to improve them, but maybe a public blog isn’t always the best forum.  I’ll need to think on that one a while and I may or may not remove some posts based on it.

However, another thread in this comment stood out for me and it’s one that I do find often repeated among conversion candidates and is worth talking about.

I often will speak with conversion candidates who are head over heels in love with Judaism the religion, but struggle with the Jewish people and I also meet conversion candidates that really love the Jewish people and living among Jews, but struggle with Judaism as a religion.

One of the complicated things about Orthodox Jewish conversion that I think makes it different from a lot of other religious initiations is that by converting to Judaism, you’re really signing on to both the religion and the people.  There is no way to accept one while rejecting the other and still be successful as a convert.

Part of this is due to the communal nature of Orthodox Jewish observance, which I have written about previously.  At some point, in order to convert, a conversion candidate has to move to a community and live among Jews.  Men need to pray with a minyan 3 times daily and even for women, life kind of revolves around the Jewish community.  Being an Orthodox Jew means spending most of your free time with other Orthodox Jews doing Orthodox Jewish things.  Not feeling love or acceptance either for or towards your fellow Jews can make those hours very long and painful.

While there is a lot of diversity between communities and cultures, there are some generalizations, at least here in the US.  Most Jewish people here have a culture that at times can seem like a loud, boisterous family.  Every Synagogue has its characters, from the gossipy yenta to the guy who sings obnoxiously over the chazzan (prayer leader) to a whole wide variety of people you might not otherwise choose to socialize with.  Now, though, as a convert or conversion candidate, these people are family and you can’t exactly just avoid them.  For people unfamiliar with the culture, I like to use the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” as an imperfect example.  People talk over each other, elbow their way to the kiddush line, and can be very blunt.  At the same time, there is tremendous warmth and I’ve seen Orthodox Jews come together to support a family, with some of the people most generous with their time or resources being those you thought couldn’t stand each other.

Conversion is like dating an entire people with all their strengths and weaknesses, flaws and potential.  You have to get to know them and learn if you can accept them as they are and if they can accept you.  After so many thousands of years, they’re not going to change to please you any more than your spouse could suddenly get rid of every trait that annoys you about them.  For me, that did take some time.  Since my first crush with Judaism was with the religion, it took me a while to reconcile the fact that Jews, as a whole, are not a perfect reflection of the religion they follow.  I had to learn to accept that as humans, they would not always live up to their own ideals, let alone the pedestal I’d set up for them.  Just like I had to learn to love Mr. Safek for who he is instead of expecting him to always be a superhero, even though he might himself want to be a superhero.

And I do deeply love the Jewish people as a nation.  I love the life and warmth and genuine caring I so often see.  I love the stubborn determination, the lively disagreements, and I love Israeli directness.  The more I “date” the Jewish people, the more I begin to see their “negative” traits more as loveable quirks and also as the flip side of the traits I so admire about them.  I’m also just as defensive about them to others as I might be if someone outside the family poked fun at one of my husband’s quirks.  Some jokes are only funny when you’re around all family, you know.

I have also met conversion candidates who already loved the Jewish people, sometimes having grown up among Jews and just really fallen in love with the culture.

Sometimes, though, these conversion candidates struggle with learning to love the religious aspects of Judaism.  Often, they admit that they’d rather not take on observance fully and really just want to be part of the people, but they also want to be fully recognized as part of the Jewish people, with the ability to go to almost any Synagogue and be welcomed as a Jew or go to Israel and register as a Jew.  They may seek out an Orthodox conversion not because they want to live an Orthodox lifestyle after conversion but more because they want the best stamp of approval of their Jewishness they think they can get.

Some eventually do fall in love with Orthodox Judaism, after lots of questions and wrestling and those converts seem to blend seamlessly into the Jewish community while I’m still eyeing the kiddush line with some trepidation.  The ones that do not, though, very often wind up giving up observance not long after conversion, if they make it to conversion and they can cause real issues for others in the process as well as a lot of regret for the Rabbis that helped them.

It’s easy for a potential convert who is drawn to the religion of Judaism to become frustrated with the lapses of actual Jews and it’s easy for a conversion candidate who is drawn to the Jewish nation to be frustrated with the strictness of Orthodox observance or the basic tenets of Jewish faith.  Still, in order to find fulfillment and happiness as an Orthodox Jewish convert, it’s important to learn to love both.

If there’s one thing that history has taught the world, it’s that Jews and Judaism are stubbornly inseparable.  It’s important that a convert feel that’s a good thing.

Don’t Lose What Makes You, YOU! Advice for Orthodox Jewish Converts and Baleei Teshuva!

The times that I have fallen in love, I’ve had a tendency to lose myself in the man I’ve fallen in love with.  It’s a pleasant kind of loss of identity and it happens slowly, subtly until I realize that I suddenly have new habits, preferences, and tastes.  Similarly, over the years, I have watched those newly in love with Judaism lose some of themselves as they took on observance.  I’ve even been that person myself (usually when I write any conversion tips, it’s so others can learn from my own mistakes!).  It’s one of the side effects of one of those early stages of love, the heady infatuation part.

The problem with this often comes later, when reality sets in, both in love and observance.

In love, after the glow wore off, I’d find that I really didn’t like that food I’d been trying to like because he liked it or that hobby that he really enjoyed.  Then, I would have to be honest with myself and him and find my own preferences again.  Mr. Safek LOVES tabletop roleplaying games.  For those unfamiliar with these, they can be very involved, with complicated math to tell you whether or not you’ve killed whatever monster has “appeared” and backstories written for your character, down to painted figurines.  He revels in all this, completely geeking out.  Initially, when we got together, I tried to be all about it, too.  I painted figures for him and went with him to games and tried to be interested.  Once the glow of just doing something with him subsided, though, to a more normal level, I realized…I really find this kind of gaming rather tedious and boring.  I’d rather be reading a book or knitting!

In Judaism, this often takes on the form of a person who previously wasn’t observant suddenly taking on very strict observance or very specific customs and throwing away things like their favorite clothes, music, movies, or hobbies because they simply aren’t “Jewish enough.”  At first, anything Jewish is automatically better, more authentic, and more worthy of time and energy, but after the initial excitement of “being Orthodox” wears off and the day to day reality of Orthodoxy sets in, this can become a problem.

Observance is essentially a collection of habits that are based in Torah and combine to form an Orthodox or frum life.  Given this, tossing out everything you were before you decided to become religious works about as well in the long term as going off to a spa for three weeks to lose weight.  Sure, as long as you exist in this different world away from your “normal” life, you’ll eat healthy, exercise, and have all these great healthy habits, but what about when you return home?  Similarly, the challenge for both converts and BT’s (Jews who weren’t raised Orthodox, but later take on observance) is to find a way to integrate these new habits into their life.  Throwing away everything that made you who you are and simply taking on the persona of what you think is the ideal Orthodox Jew very rarely works long term.  What happens when the only choice you think you have is to either never enjoy the things you once did or go completely and utterly off the derech?  (OTD – giving up observance, going off the “path”)

This is partially why everyone encourages converts to take on observance slowly and to be moderate in their observance, but beyond that, I think it takes learning how you can still do many of the activities and pursue many of the interests you had before you came to Orthodox Judaism, but within the confines of Jewish law.  In this way, it’s less a question of “either or.”

In some ways, many converts have an easier time grasping this than born Jews becoming religious because we already have to find creative halakhic ways to navigate things like holidays with our non-Jewish family or eating with non-Jewish family.  We’re used to having to find some kind of middle ground between our pasts and our presents that is still allowed by Torah since there is a major mitzvah to honor one’s parents and in most cases our parents aren’t converting with us.  I’ve often seen more tension when a child of secular parents decides to become religious because there can be more pressure on the parents to accommodate their child’s new observance.

I’ve had a few interests or hobbies that I just couldn’t find a way to fit into an Orthodox lifestyle, but, by in large, with the help of Rabbis, I’ve been able to integrate most of who I was into who I am.  I take an aerial yoga class, something I came to enjoy during our break from our conversion process.  These classes involve a really wonderful mix of flexibility, strength, and endurance and I find them fun as well.  As we returned to our conversion process, I had already been sidelined from my classes with some minor health issues I was working through, but I was a little sad about the idea that I wouldn’t be able to take them back up again.

That’s when it finally occurred to me to ask a Rabbi if there might be a way for me to do these classes, but not violate Torah laws.  We looked at who takes the classes, whether there are windows in the building men could look through, what clothing do I need to wear to be able to do the activity and how could that be made modest?  What kind of music do we work out to?  I found tznius workout skirts with built-in leggings and undershirts and tops as well as headcoverings that don’t slip even when I’m upside down.  The classes are almost always all women, but there are windows, so we sided on the side of greater modesty and I avoid the kinds of classes that would have immodest positions and any classes that could work in any of the spiritual aspects of yoga versus the fitness parts.  I’ve been back for three weeks so far and while I might not be the most fashionable looking woman there, I’m very glad to be able to be there and without compromising following Torah.

This is just one example and after a while, it becomes fun to look for ways to do things in a way that is consistent with Torah law and then check with a Rabbi to see if I’m on the right track, like a puzzle to solve.  We’ve done this with camping trips, with my upcoming work trip to the North Slope, and with our hobbies and the kids’ public schooling.  Sometimes, the answer is, “No, there just isn’t a way to make that work with Torah law,” but more often than not, it’s more about how we do something than if we do it all.  By making old interests and hobbies as well as time spent with non-Jewish friends a priority even if it involves some creative problem solving, our family feels more cohesive in our observance and more positive.

It might not fit with a more stringent view of Orthodoxy, but it’s a balance that is approved by my Rabbi, fits within halakhah, and allows me to be me and an Orthodox Jew.  I make time for hobbies I enjoyed long before conversion ever entered my mind and I find new insights in many of them from my Jewish studies.

I think it’s important, for long term success, to be able to form a Judaism that enhances one’s life rather than reduces it to a long list of “don’ts” and where there is a will, there is often a halakhic way to find compromises that allow for a kosher life that is sustainable and full of joy.