Weekly Book Review: Shadow of the Storm by Connilyn Cossette

I was sent a copy of this novel by post after joining a program where I enter my name to receive free books in exchange for reviews, and I just received this one. Shadow is about a woman named Shira (which incidentally is my Hebrew name, or part of it anyway) who’s just escaped from Egypt with the Hebrews during the Exodus. Shira defies her mother’s wishes to follow her heart in becoming a midwife. Shira was a very likable and  well written character, and she piqued my interest right away. Her struggles have you on the edge of your seat, and Shadow is the type of book I would recommend to historical fiction fans. I hope you can enjoy this novel the way I did.

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Teshuva Troubles

Why is teshuva so damn hard? Every time I try to repent for my fuckups, I still find myself dwelling on it later on. I can never let anything go. It’s my hamartia, for sure and for certain, as they say in Beverly Lewis’s Amish fiction novels. I feel like I’ve been carrying around this huge rock on my shoulders for twenty years, and I have no idea how to get rid of it. All my guilt, all my sorrow, it’s all still there. I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of sadness and guilt. Teshuva is about repenting and letting the crap go, but I don’t know why I can’t. It’s like in the Pirates of the Carribean movies when Elizabeth wears that damnable corset. To quote Titanic, “You can’t breathe. You can’t think. Least it’s not about anything but the pain.” Will I ever know what G-d wants from me? Am I ever to understand?  Sometimes I want to dive into a book and forget my troubles. But no matter how good the book is, I never can.

A Yom Kippur Rant About Guilt

The life of a BT is never easy. Sometimes I feel like no matter what I do, it’s just not enough for the Big Man. G-d is sometimes the loving Person that’s portrayed in songs and poetry, and other times He is a sadistic, narcissistic, sociopathic Dickhead. Why is teshuva so damn hard? Every time I try to repent for my fuckups, I still find myself dwelling on it later on. I can never let anything go. It’s my hamartia, for sure and for certain, as they say in Beverly Lewis’s Amish fiction novels. I feel like I’ve been carrying around this huge rock on my shoulders for twenty years, and I have no idea how to get rid of it. All my guilt, all my sorrow, it’s all still there. I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of sadness and guilt. Teshuva is about repenting and letting the crap go, but I don’t know why I can’t. My life is pretty much going to shit right now. I’m broke, I’m stressed, and I can’t remember the last time I got a decent night’s sleep. Today is an especially hard day. Seven years ago today, we adopted a sweet old beagle mutt named Luca, and October 9 has been Luca Day ever since. We had to put her down a few weeks ago, and I’ve had a rough time of it ever since. Luca is still my best friend, and her loss is even harder to deal with knowing that I was the one that caused it. The mass/blockage that killed her was caused by her eating a plastic bag that, complete and total dumbass that I am, I left lying around. (I use them to store bus fare.) I don’t believe I will ever be able to stop blaming myself for it. G-d hates me and I don’t blame Him. I’ve done some terrible things. I’ve lied. I’ve stolen. I’ve cheated. Sometimes I wonder if He even exists. I know I’m not the only one. They say that on Yom Kippur, the sins of the past are wiped clean. Bullshit! I still feel as guilty for screwups I made when I was a child as I do when they were committed. This can’t be what G-d wants from me. It just can’t. I do not accept that. This is why I prefer fictional book characters over real people and real life. At least books don’t judge. Feel free to share your struggles in the comments below.

My Take on Rereading Anne Frank’s Diary

I read the Diary when I was eleven. I had been reading up on the Second World War (and not just the Shoah) for months before, but no other work to come out of the war impacted me quite so much as the Diary. I suppose it was because this Anne and I were so close in age. Her problems were mine. We both had crushes and pets and mom troubles. Long story short, I fell in love with Anne. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Anne? She was kind and spunky, erudite and imaginative. She was everything a book heroine ought to be. The only difference was that Anne lived only on paper and in my imagination. She became my role model. I dressed like her. I wore my hair like her. I even started naming my diaries. First was Ginger, a pretty pink notebook pilfered from my grandmother’s gift closet (she still has no idea to this day) named after the horse from Black Beauty. Next was Madhuri, my fifteenth birthday present, who I named for a TV show character. Finally was Jacky, named after the best book heroine save for Anne herself I had ever read about. I still have her.

Fast forward eight years. I still write as much as Anne did. I’m still as in love with Anne’s story as I was then, but now there’s something I never realized: The human spirit is a tough entity,  but there’s only so much it can take. I suppose it’s something of an accident that Anne’s fate and mine aren’t reversed. She could be the one making pizza for a living and I could be the one hiding out in that attic. I still wonder what Anne would think of the world poring through her private thoughts. Would she be happy to know her dream “to go on living even after my death” came true, or would she be horrified to discover the fates of her friends and family? 

How to be Jewish When You’re Broke AF: A High Holiday Message

Money is integral to Jewish life. From synagogue membership fees to the high cost of schools, we broke Jews have trouble fitting in. But all is not lost. There may be a heavy price tag attached to the frum life, but when you’ve spent as much time on the Internet as I do, you figure shit out. So I’ve compiled a list of ways to get free/discounted Jewish books, ritual items and art over the Internet. So happy hunting!

Books:

1. PJ Library

PJ Library is an amazing program that sends glossy, high quality children’s books, DVDs, and CDS to your mailbox each month to kids ages infant to eight. It’s a really great way to keep kids busy when you’re on a budget.

2. Free Jewish Books

FJB is kind of like the adult version of PJ Library. I’ve gotten several good titles from them including pocket versions of the Artscroll Siddur and Pirkei Avos. And free really means free. There’s no shipping charge or tax. They don’t even ask for your credit card information! 

3. Oorah/TorahMates

TM is a chavrusa program where you answer some questions about your Jewish background and they match you up with a frum learning partner. Each lesson is done by phone, and you log the number of minutes you learned with your Torah Mate. 30 minutes is 30 miles, and if you have enough miles you can redeem them for awesome prizes like Artscroll books, toys, and even iPhones. They even send you a copy of Lilmod Ulelamed: From the Teachings of our Sages by celebrated Torah scholar Rabbi Mrdechai Katz when they find you a learning partner. Pretty cool, huh?

Update: Oorah/Torah mates also sends you free Judaism essentials in the mail. Yesterday I got a lulav and esrog from them. Good thing too, because like I said, I’m broke AF.
Synagogue Membership 

1. Chabad

You can use this link to find a Chabad House near you. Services are in English and Hebrew, and they use Siddur Tehillat Hashem, which is the Siddur written by the Alter Rebbe. They don’t charge membership fees, and you can also take Torah classes there. Most Chabad Houses have resources such as kiddush, libraries, and some even have daycares, day camps and schools attached. No one is ever turned away for inability to pay. It’s awesome.

Jewish ritual items

1. Charity/tzedakah is a central focal point of Jewish teaching. You can give to any charity you want. You can find free tzedakah boxes here, here, here, here, here, and here. 

2. Mezuzahs are commonly referred to as a sort of security system for the soul. You can find them in a Mezuzah Bank. The way it works is you contact your local Chabad rabbi, and he determines whether you’re eligible.

So there you have it. Enjoy and shanah tovah umitucha!