I love tzitzis and glitter and skateboard helmets, I love them especially all at once

“Where are my presents?”
“You got your present.”
“What present?”
“That the Hanukkah Man gave you.”
“That thing from last year?”
“I’ve been gypped by the Hanukkah Man!”

So, I came across this picture:


Those were good times, yet terrible times. They were the best of times and the worst of times.

I look at myself and think: “Why didn’t they ship me to hadar immediately?” Then I think: “How did I get to a place like w&m?” Then I think: “How did w&m get someone like me?”

Want to know what those pins say? They say: “Moshiach, we want moshiach now” and “Tzitzis, we want moshiach now.” They were a gift, OK? (Once, a guy in Prospect Heights saw one of my pins and said, “So, you want moshiach, huh?”)

I don’t try to be eccentric, you know? I am a walking collection. For instance, my mom got me a skateboard helmet for my birthday and so I was sitting there like derp listening to Matisyahu wearing my skateboard helmet. And now I have glitter because the “hanukkah man” aka my mom gave it to me aka she re-gifted it from when I didn’t want it last hanukkah. Also, I collect stickers on the back of my computer. Look closely and you can see a real live leopard.



I don’t want tzitzis to be a fashion accessory. I don’t want it to just be a part of my collection of things I seem to acquire. But I know from experience that–unless you’re a halachically jewish orthodox man–there’s absolutely no threshold you can cross where you won’t still be questioning your motives. (I say orthodox cause it’s not really expected so much outside of orthodoxy.)

Honestly, I have no way of knowing whether I’m just trying to have a fashion accessory, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. When I look at a woman with tzitzis I don’t think: “She just wants a fashion accessory.” I think she must be really dedicated to put herself out there like that. I look at that picture of me and I think “Why was I so hard on myself?!” If it were someone else in my situation, I would have judged them favorably. If they showed that kind of dedication, I wouldn’t have done all that, like, pilpul. I wouldn’t care what their lineage was, either.

I’ve had friends who consider themselves gentiles converting to judaism, and I’ve had friends who consider themselves jews converting to judaism. I think the way you see yourself makes you see your conversion quite differently. Maybe it was being in new york, but I don’t think you can dismiss subjective experience so easily anymore. There’s no “official answer,” which I was in denial about for a long time. Of course, though, not having a right answer doesn’t mean there are no wrong answers. I’ve known people who wanted to convert–who believed they had jewish lineage, even–but whose resolve and tenacity I doubted. Oh, don’t think I don’t still judge people! If someone told me they wanted to wear tzitzis and then in the next breath told me they’ve decided to follow Jesus/the Buddha/whoever, I will probably doubt their dedication.

But I also have friends who are converting, whom I wouldn’t doubt for one second, and whom I treat as jewish.

This, so far, is working better for me in everyday life than my outdated system of judging people solely by halachic standards as if I were their conversion rabbi. A conversion rabbi, of course, is concerned with the integrity of the system, but this is sometimes to the detriment of a person’s psychological well-being. I know this well. I can’t know which way of looking at people is the right one. Maybe I really am compromising the integrity of the system. But if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, all we can do is guess. And if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, we can’t exactly feel bad about making a best guess. That goes for anything, really.

And that’s all well and good.

I don’t know what all this means for me, though. I don’t know my own motivations most of the time, but I tend to believe that I should (like most of us, I presume?) And so I analyze it to death, a sound and fury signifying nothing. If I wanted to wear my tzitzis again, it’d have to go beyond “which mitzvos a non-jew can do” and “what does patrilineal mean philosophically.” It would have to go deeper. I’d have to enter a whole new system. I know I can’t be orthodox, and I know I can’t be conservative, reform, or recon either. It’s kind of an open field right now. Everything is free for the taking. I could be anything. I could be renewal (I’m not). I wish I didn’t have to convert (and therefore pick one…currently it’s RCA and currently I don’t want to change that). I wish I could just be. You know, in the margins. Like I do. I don’t feel like a convert. I don’t want to continue acting like I’m converting. I don’t want to be a gentile. I don’t want to be a righteous gentile. I davened like a jew. I learned gemara like a jew. I went off the derech like a jew. I came back like a jew.

Something has to change here.

alice explains

Dear Alice,

You have an excellent site … I think that there is a lot of information that would be useful for high school students … BUT (there had to be a “but”) … as webmaster for our district, I would get hung if I posted a site that had the type of lesbian and homosexual postings that you have. It would be nice if you could have a high school main page … if the above mentioned links weren’t displayed. I think it would help a lot of schools.

thanks, Jim

Dear Jim,

It’s ironic that you used a metaphor of death to describe the consequences of including gay/lesbian/bisexual/questioning information on your district’s site. Gay and lesbian teenagers commit suicide at two to three times the rate of their heterosexual classmates, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A 1991 study at the University of Minnesota found that out of 150 lesbian and gay young people surveyed, 30 percent of them had tried to kill themselves at least once as teenagers. On the “lighter side,” there’s also the verbal and physical abuse of out gay high schoolers and those merely suspected of being queer.

For these reasons alone, Alice will continue to post gay-related Q&As from and for high school and college students, and from and for many others. Much of the world yells “YOU’RE SICK AND YOU SUCK” at les/bi/gay teens. By reading questions sent in by other Go Ask Alice! readers and seeing that their own feelings and questions are echoed, queer high schoolers can say, “if so many people share my joys, fears, and fantasies, then I must be much more ‘normal’ than I thought.”

Perhaps you anticipate the anti-inclusion argument to go something like: “We don’t have a problem with homosexuals. We just don’t want to promote their lifestyle.” A “gay lifestyle” means going to school, seeing movies, working, and perhaps, being in love — this sounds an awful lot like the heterosexual lifestyle. The “type” of lesbian and gay questions in the Go Ask Alice! archives often resemble what’s on the minds of heterosexuals.

In line with the anti-inclusion argument, wouldn’t this mean that the Q&As from women who want to assert themselves in bed, from men with sexually transmitted infections, from people who are depressed, and from masturbators also should be excluded? After all, there are many among us who think dames should save their feelings for PTA meetings, only sluts get herpes, depression is nothing more than laziness, and masturbation is for sex-starved losers.

Alice loves the idea of a special high school home page (many schools already link to Go Ask Alice! as a health information resource). Erasing the gay/lesbian/bisexual/questioning stuff would shut out a huge number of readers — yours and Alice’s. It would also say loud and clear both to queer and “non-queer” people: “Your lives and concerns are not as important or legitimate as those of your ‘straight’ peers…. There’s no help for you here, and, frankly, we don’t really care about your attendance, schoolwork, safety, or the increased likelihood that you’ll hurt or kill yourself.” This message would undoubtedly do much more harm than good, and it’s certainly counter to an educator’s code of ethics. A great big delete to that idea.

Jim, these thoughts are directed more at the “hangmen and -women” in your school district than they are at you. Would it be possible for you to use some of these points if and when it came time to defend reality, the whole reality, and nothing but reality?

A poem. To commemorate my new Creative phase. Some say: era.

A poem. To commemorate my new comix collection series.

What does it mean to be Orthodox? Does it mean wearing pencil skirts and flats, long straight brown hair, and a love for both marriages and keeping every bentcher from each one? Is it being a good docile woman? Is it carrying your high heels to shul and wearing them as soon as you get in, making sure everyone sees you?

Where does culture end and religion begin? Which supports which? What happens if you don’t own any high heels? What happens if you don’t buy all your clothes from the special expensive “frum lady” stores? What happens if you look in the “recommended psalms for any occasion” at the beginning of your tehillim and you don’t find your occasion? Why are there so many supposedly for “welfare of children” or “finding your spouse” but if you want one for “hoping the girl you like talks to you today,” you’re out of luck? Why is it that for the people who need God the most, he isn’t there?

Just look at the “recommended psalms” at the beginning of your tehillim and see.


Conversion Tips ‘n’ Tricks Aggregate

I just realized, re-reading some of my older posts, that I’ve come a lot farther than I thought. And it’s weird, because two years have gone by and I’m technically no closer to converting. It’s disheartening, but at the same time I know that I did learn some things that will hopefully make me look like not a beginner.

I did write a “You Know You’re Over Conversion When…” post in August, and I think it was pretty timely, and had such sage observations as “When you’re angry with God but it’s time to daven, you don’t get an existential crisis, you just angry daven” and “You’ve stopped wondering whether it would be ‘good for you’ to join Sisterhood.”

But we all know that could never be enough. So here’s some advice for anyone who might be reading this and is having their own conversion journey. It might be bad advice. It might even be good advice. YMMV.

1.) Anything I say about conversion might not even resonate with you. I don’t like all these “And at two months, you should feel this, and at one year you should feel this” lists, and even more so I don’t like this out-of-nowhere idea that “Once you feel like you’re not ready, only then will your rabbi know you’re ready!” People will try to get in your thoughts. Get them out.

2.) I was so serious in the beginning! Don’t be so serious! It’s like when you’re a kid and you take your mistakes so seriously, but then you look back and you’re like “Oh I was such a cute little cocoa puff! Why was I so hard on myself?”

3.) Your life might go through stages. Or themes, if you will. It may make you wonder what your core personality actually is anymore. For example, first I was like “Everyone must like me!” then I was like “F you people; I’ll do what I want!” and currently I feel like a yeshiva bochur on the inside; I have internalized Matisyahu. Also, at first I was pretty adamant about being Conservative, but then I decided I didn’t like Conservative, then I decided I wanted to be non-denominational, and currently I’m Against Injustice. A couple of things that changed my life recently are 1.) The Orthodox kiruv on our campus, 2.) The documentary Trembling Before G-d, which for some sick ironic reason made me want to be frum even more, probably because of how those people stayed even though they had adversities, but it also made me want to be against injustice even more, cause those people tried so hard. You also might make “My Life Changed” lists such as this.

4.) Your experience will be radically different depending on what denomination you’re trying to go through. If you’re looking for ease, go for whichever place offers a class. Those are so easy. The two I’ve been to were Reform and Recon, though, and Reform is explicitly into converting people, which is weird to me. Anyway, if you feel like Conservative and Orthodox people are wary of you, it’s probably true. They don’t really have classes. This is probably politically incorrect, but this documentary made me think of it. Those people gave me weird “They still seem Christian” vibes. I think there are two groups of converts; those who are really going to struggle and never quite fit in, and those who will eventually fit in. I’m sure you, my readers, are the latter group. But I’ve seen quite a few potential converts who couldn’t handle it. So, that’s probably what they’re expecting of you, too. I don’t really know if I have vibes or not yet. (If I have Christian vibes, I’ll just die.) Don’t let them tell you who you are. You know if you can make it.

5.) You should learn Hebrew. There’s no question. So many doors will open; everything will make so much more sense in life. I know you might not think you “need” it. It’s like when my sister was five she used to think she wouldn’t have to learn how to read. But you must! Last year, I was really into speed davening without pausing to think about what the words meant. But now that I know a bit more it makes it much more meaningful. You might not believe this, but if you learn Hebrew, the English translations will pale so much in comparison. How can I say this enough? LEARN HEBREW.

6.) There will be easter eggs! For me, this was realizing I could understand (a lot of) what I was saying in the siddur, which happened this morning, and it was amazing. Just like that, suddenly I was like “Wow I recognize that, it’s hifil.” Did I mention you should learn Hebrew?

7.) On a sad note, you might have to deal with people who seem to want nothing but your demise. This could be fellow congregants who want to suck you into their toxic gossip, it could be a rabbi who doesn’t like you, it could be a congregant who makes sure you never dare to think you’re “one of them” yet, it could be someone who laughs at your observance, or someone who has no reservations disparaging your preferred denomination right in front of you etc. Everyone will have an opinion. Don’t let them get you down.

8.) The second year of holidays are much easier. It was so disorienting the first year; it was very weird to think of the holiday year as an endless cycle, each holiday meant to represent something totally different, and it was just too bizarre. I was used to my mom going “I cannot bear to have Christmas without a tree!” and dragging the thing out of the basement, and that only lasts one day! It was just too weird to have all these crazy eight day long holidays, with things like “customs” involved. (My family’s holiday custom, by the way, is to drive past people’s houses at night and look in their windows. It’s a cherished tradition.) But now that I’ve been through Passover already, for example, it wasn’t as bad. And I didn’t feel like such a nerd learning as I go. But I wasn’t used to holidays being such a big part of life. There’s always a holiday. But anyway, the second time around was a lot less stressful for me because I knew what to expect, I guess.

9.) If you’re getting tired of certain platitudes (usually accompanying descriptions of the holidays), like “We’re standing again at Sinai” or “On Tisha B’Av, we should also think about our impact on the environment,” stuff anyone could think up, and you’re getting frustrated with its lack of originality, well, you’re not alone there. Don’t worry, there is a lot more to things than that.

10.) I know it’s easy to get caught up in other people’s opinions and the politics and appearances, but don’t forget why you’re doing this. Also, God is there for you even when no one else is. He is on your side. He wants you to succeed.

I Don’t Know Why But I’m Tired of My Life

Do you ever get that thing where you might listen to a song that you used to listen to during a certain period in your life, and then it brings you back? But then, and only then, are you really and utterly aware of how bad that time was? This happens to me often. And I think this is going to happen with last semester (and perhaps early this semester). This is no good.

For example, last semester I would really just listen to Y-Love and DeScribe and stuff on repeat, and now I can’t listen to them without thinking of how horrible last semester was. I’m not sure I knew how bad my life was at the time. But I felt trapped! Utterly trapped! And it’s too bad too, because I would still like them. And it’s even worse because I used to listen to them before last semester, and those were good times, only now when I listen to them again I’m going to always think of last semester, the bad times. Why is it always this way? It’s very annoying.

I remember mentioning at one point last semester that I felt like I was living my life online, and that all my Judaism was basically online. I was resigned to this idea, but now I’m a little horrified. I spent a lot of time online, and it got to the point where I felt that if I somehow erased my online presence I too would disappear. And that was pretty sad. Moreover, I was around people who constantly argued with me and it made me really tense…worse, we argued about Judaism, which gave it a terrible flavor. Last semester had a really bad flavor.

So this semester, at least nearing the end of it, I’ve pretty much checked out at this point. Seventeen days left. I’ve abandoned my friends, shall I mention effortlessly, and I’ve deleted every post I’ve ever made on Facebook, and I’m trying to eradicate the mindset that led to my feeling so trapped in the first place last semester. Must start anew. I knew something was wrong last semester–I came in following the letter of the law, and the semester threw me up with nothing to show for it, except eating treif again and realizing that what I was currently trying just wasn’t the way. It was a difficult road to the end of this year, to say the least. Especially since nothing I could have done would have helped. Time heals. It’s like when someone’s drunk, and the correct answer to how you can sober up a drunk person is “Nothing. Just give them some water and wait it out.” You just have to wait it out.

It’s weird, because in small increments, I always seem to find so many brick walls and roadblocks, but when I look at the past two years from afar, I see that my journey here to this point in life telling you all this has been almost effortless. It’s as if no matter what problems I had, I was still being pushed through the sludge to get to where I need to be. For example, when I started school here I had no idea what I was in for, and as the year progressed I thought it was impossible that I was “here for a reason.” I’m still wary of that phrase. Everything went wrong last semester–I hated Hillel, I only made a few Jewish friends and they ended up annoying me to the point I wished I’d never met them, and anything good that happened I think I saw through a filter of “Well, how is this going to help me convert, etc.” I was quite goal-oriented, but my soul had been sucked out.

And yet, looking back on the year, look how easy it’s been made for me! I didn’t get elected to Hillel, which makes it easier to leave (I would have had to resign mid-year), my school gave me $4,000 extra in financial aid, I paid off my old school loans, I met an Orthodox rabbi, who helped me with life, I saw myself at my highest and lowest, I was accepted to Brooklyn College, I sat in my Hebrew teacher’s sukkah and went to her seder, I learned how to explain why I’m leaning Orthodox, and all this within the year. I put things in perspective, which wasn’t the goal of course, but now I think I’m realizing that my goals were smothering me. I think, at least I hope, I’ll come out of this year with a better sense of purpose. Or something.

I don’t know what kind of vibe this year is going to have when I think back to it. This semester is the semester of Matisyahu, Nick Cave, Kate Bush, and Sleater-Kinney. On repeat. So, who knows. Hopefully this was a good and useful semester, because I don’t want to ruin them too, they’re my favorites.

Rava Say Relax

You know, the internet can be a pretty dangerous place. I’m pretty certain most of my readers know by now what I’m referring to, so I won’t recount the details cause I don’t think it needs another trackback. But I’ll admit that I’m naive and never thought something could blow up in such a way. And suddenly, everyone was taking sides! Making accusations! Making statements about how they weren’t making accusations! Even I’m slightly embarrassed by the fact that I’m partially connected to the wreckage by, like, three degrees. My first inclination was, like human nature I suppose, to get involved and argue in the comments and things like that. But as it went on, and as more blog posts were written as commentary, fueling the flames (this one included now lolol)…I started to realize that it’s really, really easy to get off track.

I’d been doing it myself…I’d been doing exactly what people on the other side had been doing; latching onto what I don’t like about other denominations and writing polemical essays based solely on a mélange of found examples. And using unwitting individuals as paradigmatic pawns. And worse, turning a small, semi-private affair into a big public spectacle for no good reason. And as I saw the implosion go down, and I saw how much anger and derision and explicit sinat chinam went into a simple blog post, and I thought to myself “I can’t become this person.”

I know that the writer of that post supposes the “exposure of Orthodoxy” (a common theme) is beneficial in the end, but in that post, into which so much effort was exerted, I saw a kind of coarse hatred and revulsion I’d never seen before, thrust suddenly into the limelight. It’s been really affecting me since it was posted, and not only in all the mitzvos broken in order to tell the story the writer wanted to tell. But because it spun off into such a thing, and because it was so hard not to look.

When you’re online, it’s too easy to start naming names and saying things like “I know I shouldn’t say this, but…” “I’m saying this because this information will help expose the general practice,” or “So-and-so shouldn’t have said thus-and-so, he shouldn’t even talk cause he once did this-and-that.” I was appalled by how many people spoke lashon hara while simultaneously claiming to be against someone else’s lashon hara. I know I’m no better, and this whole affair was probably the primary reason I decided to start trying to study more. Cause, frankly, I’m wondering if THIS post isn’t lashon hara.

Someone made a wise comment on the importance of tznius in these kinds of situations, and not throwing your business and your gripes out into the street at the expense of others. Even if you’re entirely in line technically (which according to my current read, sefer hachinuch, I believe I am when I criticize Reform cause I feel it’s bringing people away from Torah but not always so I admit I have to think about that too), you still have to ask yourself: Are you embarrassing someone? Are you causing someone distress? Are you publicly shaming someone whom you know won’t heed your well-intended suggestions? Are you publicly shaming someone who is like a tinok shenishba and doesn’t know any better? Is this a chillul hashem; are you making Torah look bad? Is what you’re saying actually helping anyone? I think one reason that post affected me so much was because I know–honestly–that I’m not above that kind of spiteful rhetoric quite yet, though I suppose I thought I was. I thought there had to be something that sets apart my actions from someone who doesn’t feel guided by mitzvos.

And also, when you say stuff, I recently realized, there are larger considerations. When you publicly denounce something the “Orthodox” do (needlessly, that is), obviously you never know what lost soul is hearing what you say and thinking “You’re right, Torah sounds dumb and outdated.” That’s one reason I really dislike when rabbis tell their congregants things like “Don’t listen to Rashi, he was into magic.” “Urim and tumim, that was put in by the priests so they could tell people what to do.” “It’s OK if the mezuza scroll isn’t kosher, *some people* are just neurotic and will pay $50 extra for one.” “Gemara is just nitpicking.” “Don’t read that; it’s Orthodox.” Do you think that will get people to want to learn Rashi; into being interested in urim and tumim; into being likely to have a kosher scroll; learning Gemara?

But I also know, as far as I’m concerned, that I’ve also been drawn into the indignant observer role, and it’s good for some things, but it’s also pretty consuming. You can spend your time gawking as others go down in flames or you can spend your time improving yourself. Just like how you can study Torah and use what you know to denigrate others, or you can use it to save the world. Pick one.

“Rava said in Berachot 17a, “The goal of wisdom is repentance and good deeds, so that one should not study Torah and Mishnah, and then despise his father and mother because of their ignorance…”