9 Things We Can Learn From the Video of Daniel Radcliffe Wrapping Tefillin

I can think of a few choice people who could use this message, so here goes nothing:

  1. Just because a Jew is lax in his/her observance doesn’t mean s/he isn’t a huge help to the Jewish nation.
  2. If Orthodox Jews shame and ostracize non-Orthodox Jews for their lack of religious observance, then we are no better than the assholes who were behind Kristallnacht.
  3. Any idiot can do a mitzvah, correctly or incorrectly. But, like everything, it’s the intention behind it that really counts.
  4. One Jew is not better than another simply because he’s more frum. That’s bullshit.
  5. It does no good to hide one’s past, for said past may come back to either bite you in the ass or do insane amounts of good.
  6. No one can control whether s/he is a pig-eating, Israeli-flag-burning, sex-having shiksa or a black-crushed-hat, dog-hating, TV-condemning frum from birth, so stop judging right now. Again, it does absolutely no good.
  7. Labeling Jews based on their observance level does absolutely nothing at all but divide us.
  8. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.
  9. Harry Potter can defeat Voldemort and still be totally, adorably clueless.
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What’s Jewish About Downton Abbey?

I started watching this show a few years ago. I’d seen documentaries about its real-life setting, Highclere Castle, and I’d been hearing rave reviews about it, but I’d never actually seen it. But I could not for the life of me get the commercials out of my head. So I checked Season One out from the library.

I was hooked. Wealth, servants’ gossip, and illicit affairs (Yes, I’m talking about you Lady Mary; you didn’t really think I’d forget the whole Mr-Pamuk-died-in-your-bed affair in a hurry, did you?) It was everything that a good story should be.

But the further in I got, the more it began to disturb me. Downton was uncannily similar to biographies I had read about the Hasidic rebbes. A passage in Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman particularly stuck out to me: “Where, I wonder, is the brotherly love that G-d commanded Jews to feel for each other, now, in this community that calls itself holy? Back in Europe, Zeidy says, no one would dream of fighting to be called a rabbi. In fact, they often turned down the position when it was offered to them. A man truly worthy of being a rabbi is a humble one. He is not in search of power or recognition. But in this day and age, rabbis are chauffeured in black Cadillacs and have private ritual baths built into their opulent homes. They are the celebrities of the Hasidic culture.Children trade rabbi cards and boast of having rabbinical connections. On Purim, the holiday of masquerades, they Scotch-tape long beards made of white cotton balls to their chins, drape themselves in faux-fur coats, and walk with the aid of a shiny wooden cane. What more does every child dream of than to grow up to be a rabbi, or at least a rabbi’s wife?”

Deborah is right. Modern-day rabbis have become entirely too damn much like the stuffy, English well-to-do Crawley family portrayed on the show. A man who really is worthy to be a rabbi is humble, modest and doesn’t try to climb up the social ladder.

What do you think?

How I Live Like a Queen on a Zero Dollar Budget

I recently did a post on resources for broke Jews, and now I’m going to do one for broke everybody. So, without further ado, here is how I live for super cheap.

Toiletries

1. Food banks often have a toiletries section where you can get some toothpaste, a razor, even deodorant.

2. Dentist offices almost always have free dental hygiene supplies available.

4. Soup kitchens have hygiene supplies available as well. So far, I’ve gotten feminine hygiene products, toothpaste and even makeup.

Food

1. Food banks are the best way to get free groceries if you’re in a pinch. They also have hygiene supplies, dish soap, diapers and baby food if you need it.

2. Free food samples are available at many grocery stores.

3. The food stamp program is a balm to those of us who cannot afford food without it. You can even buy seeds to grow your own food.

Clothing

1. Clothing closets are a great way to get free clothes. You can find some really cute stuff at one of these. Some churches may have a free thrift store.

Entertainment

1. Spotify offers free trials for their Premium service. It lasts thirty days before they charge you. Cancel anytime during the 30 day period and you’ll get to finish the trial without being charged. Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, YouTube Red, and HBO Now do this as well.

2. Public libraries have more than just books. After my laptop broke in 2016 I used to use their computers to apply for jobs. They have CDs, DVDs, audio books, free museum passes, magazines, events, free printing, newspapers and free music and movie streaming services.

Beauty

1. Free magazine samples are a great way to get free makeup.

2. Dumpster diving at ULTA and Sephora also works well for this.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave feedback in the comments section below.

My Encounter with Anti-Semitism in the Trump Era

To the girl who mentioned that she was Jewish because of her nose:

I don’t doubt that you’re a good person. In fact, you were the best roommate I ever had before my current one came along. The other patients tell me that your tendency to blurt out things is part of why you’re here, and I acknowledge that. I’m trying to rise above. But what you said to me was incredibly racist, and I’m hurt. I won’t apologize for being hurt. My goal is not to humiliate or vindicate you in any way, but for you to apologize and acknowledge that you hurt me. You’re a good person. I know this. But I don’t know if I feel comfortable around you anymore. Like I said, I’m trying to rise up.

But I can only rise so high before I hit the ceiling.

Why We Need to End the Stigma of Mental Illness Right the Fuck Now

Let me just start by saying that there are two sides to every story. Here’s mine.

I’m writing this as a patient on a psych ward. I lost my job at a local daycare because there were witness allegations that I was pinching children. There was mounting evidence and witness accounts of this, and yet I have no memory of hurting those kids.  But CPS is involved. You don’t screw around with shit like that. Yet if my former employer hadn’t fired me, she would have lost her own job, and she was a good boss.

So I left as professionally as I could given what happened. You guys know that I suffer from anxiety, but there’s also depression to think about. I had a panic attack when I had received the news that I had been fired. I went to the counseling center on campus and they called 911 (999 for you Brits) because I felt as though I couldn’t keep myself safe on my own. I waited in that ER for a good five hours to see if the psych ward had a bed for me and if my insurance would cover my stay here. (Spoiler alert: it did.) I slept and read to pass the time, and I had my coloring book with me too.

There’s a quote from the movie Titanic that I feel applies to this situation excellently, said by Old Rose after the ship sinks: “The people in the boats had nothing to do but wait. Wait to die, wait to live, wait for an absolution that would never come.” I felt that I was waiting to know whether I would live or die. The boredom was the worst part. Finally, I was wheeled up to the ninth floor. I was poked, prodded,  interrogated. What meds did I take? Did I feel safe? Do you need something to sleep?

I had stayed on a psych ward once before, and it scared the shit out of me. They took my phone and iPod (which may seem small now but when you’re 12, it means a lot) and even my clothes. I was given a set of ugly sweats that did nothing to keep me warm. I had no privacy or choice.  The food tasted like even cardboard would say “That shit tastes like cardboard!” I was miserable, terrified and alone. I had no one there. So I did something I’m not proud of: I faked feeling better to get out of there.

My experience at the hospital I’m at now has been vastly different. I’m allowed my own clothes and toiletries and even makeup (although my foundation had to be locked up when it’s not in use because glass bottles aren’t allowed on this ward). The other patients are friendly and kind. The staff is kind and understanding. There’s always something to do or read or watch or eat or color, so I’m never bored. Boredom and anxiety don’t mix. The food is delicious and locally sourced, and we get to order it ourselves via order form. They even have Luigi’s Italian ices, which I haven’t seen since Virginia. My local rabbi was even able to get me a fake Shabbat candle (the little ones with the fake flames and the switch to turn them on and off) since real fire isn’t allowed on this ward. My mother visits whenever possible, and she always brings tales of our dog Holly, along with clothes and books for me. I have access to a computer, a phone and a TV.

This morning, I sincerely though for a brief second about drowning myself in the bathtub. I scared the hell out of myself for a moment, and I told the doctor the second I saw her. She put me on an antidepressant, as well as an everyday anxiety medication. The antidepressant was only started today, so I don’t know how it works yet. The anti-anxiety medication has worked miracles. I feel calmer, almost as much so when I was smoking pot (for anxiety; don’t judge). Everyday anxiety has been so far kept at bay, and I’m grateful to both my doc and to G-d, because the way I see it, all of Western medicine is just one giant answered prayer.

But the stigma was what very nearly stopped me from coming here. I was so, so scared of being thought crazy, or dangerous or both. That stigma is a real killer. We have to get rid of it.

Bang

Valentine’s Day. Some people think of cheap dollar store cards. Some think of marriage proposals. Some think of conversation hearts and flowers. One question no one should ever have to ask on this day: Will I die today?

Imagine you’re sitting in your high school biology class. You’re screwing around with friends, but not really bothering anybody. Your friend is yammering on about her Valentine’s Day plans with her boyfriend. Suddenly, some asshole storms in with a freaking assault rifle and starts shooting. Bullet holes riddle the walls. Broken glass is everywhere. You’re terrified and hiding under the desk.

This is how students at Stoneman Douglas High were feeling last Wednesday. And I hate it. I could say that my thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the shooting. I could say that the victims are with G-d now. All of the above is true but not what’s truly needed. I’m so fucking sick of hearing about innocent children being slaughtered at school. I read a very disturbing Twitter post about a woman whose daughter said she would need new shoes. The mom asked why. The little girl’s response shocked and saddened and enraged me. While her class was doing a lockdown drill, it occurred to the little girl that in the event of a true emergency like the one that happened in Parkland, her light up Sketchers would give away her position. This is an eight year old who is afraid of being shot because of her shoes!

I am pissed off about this. Innocent children should not have to worry about crazy gunmen killing them while they eat shitty cafeteria pizza and learn their ABCs!

Actually, gunmen is the wrong word. Terrorists would be better. A terrorist is anyone who aims to cause terror to a person by threatening their life, and that’s exactly what Nicholas Cruz did.

And if you think this doesn’t affect you as a Jew, A) Fuck you very much. Whether it’s a Catholic school or a yeshiva or a Quran academy, a school’s a school, and no one deserves to die there, and B) Cruz espoused anti Semitic views as well as racist ones. So, in the words of the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, put THAT in your pipe and smoke it.

I have a message for the NRA and their cronies who are dressed up as politicians: Their blood is on YOUR hands. I want you to know that.

Opening Up About Anxiety (Hint: It Ain’t Easy.)

For a very long time now, I’ve been scared and tired. I put on this facade of being sarcastic and bad ass, when in reality I’ve been dying for years. It started when my grandfather died of thyroid cancer. My innocence died that day too, and I began to see humanity for what it was: cruel and stupid. Grandpa was the only father figure I ever had, until my stepdad came into the picture when I was fifteen. Losing someone so important…it shattered me and my whole perception of the world.
In sixth grade, something happened to me which still haunts me to this day. My mother suffers from a lot of medical issues, you see, and between her and Grandpa, I’ve been going to hospitals all my life. She had gone though another surgery, and when I asked her what was for dinner, she said to make myself a frozen meal. It may seem like a small thing, but the message my mother sent me (unknowingly and unintentionally, I’m sure) was that she didn’t want to take the time to nourish me. I don’t know, she may have been suffering from the same depression I am now or she may have still felt sick. But for an eleven year old, it’s so much more than a meal. It was a chance to bond with Mom.

Flash forward to May 2016. I was nineteen and loving my job at Home Depot. I don’t have a car so I’d take the bus to work. They kept scheduling me for shifts starting at six and seven AM. This resulted in my chronic lateness. I tried so hard to get them to stop scheduling me for early shifts but they didn’t listen and fired me for the lateness they had a role in.

My confidence shattered then. I felt like a moocher. I couldn’t pay rent. I couldn’t pay for dates. I couldn’t even risk library fines. I was two hundred dollars in overdraft debt to my previous bank at the time. It wasn’t a huge amount compared to what some folks owe, but it was enough to cause me to lay awake most nights thinking about it.

September 2016. Luca, our dog, had just died and quite frankly I wanted to join her. I mistakenly thought that the mass/blockage/whatever that killed her was caused by her eating a plastic bag that I left lying around. I took her death so hard because she was never just a dog to me. She was the only friend I had at the time. 

Despite the support system I had, I was still hurting. One day, the depression and guilt got so bad that I started thinking seriously about suicide. I got as far as writing a note, which I still have. I was so ashamed that I had reached such a low point in my life. I felt guilty over what had happened to Lu. I hated myself for how I treated my grandmother. I felt undeserving of the gift of life. What still frightens me to this day is that I actually had the means to do it. I’d gone off my sleeping pills but I hadn’t thrown them out. At the time, it seemed like a quick and painless way to go. G-d knows I’m too chickenshit and too broke to buy a gun.

I don’t know why I feel all this sadness. After all, I have a great support system and access to meds, amazing parents, friends, and I’m doing well in school. I thought misery was a luxury only the rich could afford. I didn’t seek help because I was so scared that if I did, I’d be judged unfavorably. Go ahead, call me vain, but it’s true. I thought I’d be chucked in the madhouse. I knew I had a support system. I knew that. But my subconscious didn’t seem to. It was almost as though my subconscious and my awareness were at constant war with one another. They’re both part of me. How do I choose? How do I find the balance?

Once a few weeks ago I forgot to go to work and I thought for sure I’d be fired again. So I went to the counseling center on campus and my pain just let loose and overtook me. I’ve made a resolution to flush my sleeping pills and see a counselor once a week, or at least every other week. 

I’ve spent so many years looking after the people I love that I was afraid to let them take care of me. I felt as though G-d had abandoned me. Why else would He make me afraid of my own mind? Depression is like a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body. You can’t move or even breathe. It’s like getting the Dementor’s Kiss. It fucking sucks donkey assballs.

The monsters in my head won’t go away. They never go away. I don’t know what to do or how to deal with how I’m feeling. This is getting ridiculous. It’s starting to take over my life. I can’t live like this anymore. I used to self harm too. I was so desperate to lose weight in high school that I skipped lunch my entire freshman year. The guy I was dating at the time shared every other lunch shift with me so I spent those days with him. I said I wasn’t hungry but I was. The other days I spent in the school library. God must hate me to plague me with these issues. Have I done something, said something to piss Him off? The worst kind of pain is the kind you feel you have no right to because things could be worse. I have friends, I’m doing okay in school, I’m working a job I love and I have more books than I could read in a lifetime. And yet my mind is a black hole filled with abandonment issues, anxiety, screaming pain and loneliness. Sometimes it’s so bad that I can’t move or even breathe. I am living in my own hell. 

The anxiety is the worst. It isn’t just worry. Anxiety is the reason why I’m so shy. I will proofread every single text I send because I worry if there’s even one mistake I will be thought to be uneducated. I can’t look anyone in the eyes for more than a few seconds. 

Last night I had a panic attack over something stupid. Apparently the whole building could hear me singing along to my headphone music. I inadvertently revealed one of the most private and secret parts of myself to I don’t even know how many people at eleven at night. I felt naked. I don’t know how many of you watch Game of Thrones, but last night I felt as naked and vulnerable as Cersei Lannister must have during her walk of shame through the streets of King’s Landing. I had the worst panic attack of my life. My heart was pounding, I was in tears, my breathing was rapid and rattly, and my hands were shaking. Texting my friend was the only thing that got me through the whole ordeal.

But I’m going to live. I’m going to get my degree and have sex and do all the things my shitty mental health prevented me from doing before. I’ve made up my mind.

I am unstoppable.

A Week in the Life of a Super Busy College Student/Baal Teshuva

Sunday-I usually spend Sundays with my boyfriend, depending on which one of us is free.

Monday-12:30, call up my chavrusa to debate the weekly parsha. 3:00, call up my other chavrusa (yes, I have two). Go sample hopping at a strip mall. 

Tuesday-2:00 to 3:15 is my Creative Expression class. I usually have a two hour and 45 minute break before my Infants and Toddlers class. I use this break to print out commentaries on the weekly parsha as well as the text itself.

Wednesday-volunteer at food bank from 10-7. Occasionally take items home. 

Thursday-CE again, but no IAT. Therapy session after class. Vacuum, dust and change sheets. Do laundry.

Friday-volunteer from 5 to 6 at library. (Yes, I know, it’s Shabbat. Please don’t judge me; I’m not quite there yet.) Have friend pick me up biweekly for club meeting.

Saturday-10 to 2:30, attend Shabbat services at my local Chabad. Library again, also five to six. Watch new episode of Outlander. 

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into my world!

How Far I’ll Go: How Moana Helped Me Solidify My Jewish Faith

The movie Moana isn’t one I watched by choice, but when you’re around kids as often as I am (I’m an Early Childhood major and an ex-nanny), you learn to appreciate and even love the annoyingness that is kid movies.

Moana is about a girl who finds the courage to follow her heart even after her father tells her not to go near the ocean. (Side fact: Moana’s name literally means “ocean.”) It took her a lot of courage to save her people.

Becoming a baal teshuva is a bit like what Moana went through. She had to go all the way across the ocean to find the god Maui, only to have him refuse to come with her to return the heart of Te Fiti. Sound familiar? Maui is a representation of Pharaoh and Moana is Moses.

For further context, enjoy the lyrics to the song for which this post was named.

I’ve been staring at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember
Never really knowing why

I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water
No matter how hard I try

Every turn I take, every trail I track
Every path I make, every road leads back
To the place I know where I cannot go
Where I long to be

See the line where the sky meets the sea?
It calls me
And no one knows
How far it goes

If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know
If I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go

I know everybody on this island seems so happy, on this island
Everything is by design
I know everybody on this island has a role, on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine

I can lead with pride, I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?

See the light as it shines on the sea?
It’s blinding
But no one knows
How deep it goes

And it seems like it’s calling out to me
So come find me
And let me know
What’s beyond that line, will I cross that line?

See the line where the sky meets the sea?
It calls me
And no one knows
How far it goes

If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know
How far I’ll go

A Chanukah Party with a Nerdy Twist

Consider these items already in your cart. Enjoy, and may the Force be with you.

  1. These lightsaber shaped candle holders. Make sure the candles you put in them are green, blue or purple. I’m tired of these motherfucking Sith in this motherfucking galaxy!
  2. This awesome kippah which will look amazing on the Jedi in your life.
  3. This Vader mezuzah case. (And you can get it in less that twelve parsecs too!)
  4. These fangasmworthy cookie cutters. Use them for latkes. Go on, I dare you. The cooking skills are strong with this one!
  5. This cool menorah. *Sigh* Me to this menorah: I love you. Menorah: I know.

Ant Soup, Halacha and My Outlander Obsession

Anyone who actually bothers to read my blog knows I wasn’t born frum. But that doesn’t make me less Orthodox. As a wee one, my grandmother would have to bribe me just to get me to comply with any kind of religious service or instruction. It started when I was seventeen. I had forgotten how to hang a mezuzah, so like any other clueless idiot, I Google it.

That particular search took me to chabad.org. I read one of their articles and BOOM! Just like that, I was hooked like bait on a line. Three years later, I still have yet to find one reason to regret my choice. For it was just that: my choice and no one else’s. 

They say that chicken soup is the penicillin of the Jewish world, and it’s true. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a cough or a cold or cancer, that shit can heal anything! I remember one Rosh Hashana when I was seven, maybe eight. My grandma hade made her legendary chicken soup in honor of the holiday. I looked down and their were ANTS in my soup. I shit you not! “EEEWWWWW! There’s ants in my soup!” I yelled. The adults all told me to shut up and eat my soup. No one took me seriously,  presumably because I was so young at the time. But I was stubborn  (surprise, surprise; some things never change) and insistent. Finally my mom’s boyfriend looked over at my bowl and confirmed that “yeah, she’s got a couple of floaters in there.” And the whole time my cousin is taking her ants and flicking them at my grandpa’s head! 

Halacha literally means Jewish law. Halacha governs every aspect of Jewish life, from what we wear to to who marry. Personally, I always thought halacha was dry and boring, like toast without the jam. After all, it’s nothing more than a bunch of old darts with long white beards sitting round bent over a series of books written in a language no one even understands anymore, right? Yeah, that’s no longer the case (Not that it ever was). Stereotypes like that only come from insanely offensive movis like Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, Fiddler on the Roof, and Yentl. Chana Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbetzin, was known as an erudite and wise woman. And it wasn’t just glorification, it was because she was able to transcribe notes and maamarim as well as speak several languages. If that’s not the very definition of a Jewish Ravenclaw, I don’t know what is.

And now on to Part Three of my little discourse. I’ve always been a bookdragon. But one series in particular has always stuck with me: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I tore through that book like a half blind colt. Outlander is about a woman named Claire Randallstown who, while on her honeymoon in post WWII Scotland, accidentally passes through a stone circle to 1743. I enjoyed reading about Claire’s struggles she found herself caught between her husband and a gallant an noble warrior called Jamie Fraser. Jamie is every romantic bookworm’s dream: kind, decent and smoking hot. He’s also unrealistic. There isn’t a person alive today who is anything like him. But most people find in Jamie what they should find in their husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend. (Kosher brownie points to any boyfriend of mine what calls me Saasenach.)

All these points may seem completely random, but when you put them all together, they make me who and what I am: a loudmouth, hotheaded Jewish bookdragon. Nothing more, nothing less. 

Thoughts?

How to Turn a Smartphone Into a Mobile Yeshiva: My Favorite Apps

There are millions of kosher websites and apps out there. For the sake of time, I can’t list them all. Here are the ones I have on my phone right now. Most of these are from chabad.org. IMPORTANT: I have an Android device, so I don’t know how many of these, if any, are compatible with Apple devices.

  1. Chabad.org-the whole site at your fingertips 
  2. Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi-where you can submit any Jewish question, no matter what the subject
  3. Chabad.org Daily Torah Study-works with you by taking date, time zones and locations into account
  4. Chabad Locator-helps you find the nearest Chabad shul
  5. Chabad.org Hayom-see #2, also helps with halachic times (zmanim), provides news articles and insights on the weekly Parshah.
  6. Shabbat Times-tells you what time to light the Shabbat and holiday candles. 
  7. Hebrew Flashcards-perfect for people like me, who are shit at reading Hebrew (even after having been raised Jew-ish)
  8. Brachos-I can’t even tell you how many times I didn’t know what bracha to say on what food, and this app saved my ass.
  9. Chabad.org Write to the Ohel-allows you to send messages to the graveside of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, OBM, to intermed On High on your behalf. I used this before a final once and it worked.
  10. Sefaria-has every single Jewish holy book you could possibly imagine. Be careful if you’re trying to study the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, because they don’t yet have a complete version in English.
  11. Chabad.org Jewish.tv-access thousands of Jewish videos
  12. Mayanot-quick access to hundreds of shiurim given from the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies
  13. Chabad.org Rabbi Gordon- allows you to watch Rabbi Gordon’s classes on Tanya, Torah, and Talmud.
  14. OU Torah-they aren’t just for food anymore
  15. Chabad.org Daily Mitzvah-allows you to study the daily Rambam.

Did you enjoy this list? I certainly hope you can get as much use out of the apps listed above as I did. Comment your favorite Jewish apps below.