Still Here, Still Searching

I have been trying for almost a year to write this post. Every time I sit down and try to get my words down on paper, my mind begins to spin. How can I find the right words to convey exactly how I’m feeling? To talk about exactly what has happened over the past two years? My mind wanders further– what is this blog even for? Why do I want to write? What do I want people to know?

When I first started blogging, I wanted people to see my uniqueness, and to see my value. I thought that I had something important to say, and people needed to hear it. I felt that my opinions, my spiritual journey, even the mundane everyday experiences of my life were going to be meaningful to people on the internet. And then as I began to really explore and grapple with my spiritual path and made the choice to pursue conversion to Judaism, I had a hope that the could be a space for me to talk about what it’s like to convert, and how I navigated the process. Again, I thought my story was unique and interesting, that people would want to hear about what I was doing and learning. But I think deep down I knew that I’m just one person in this giant world, and my experiences both unique and common, interesting and also so boring. What I was seeking was validation. And that really blocked me from being able to write. It still does!

But what I was also seeking was community. Even as I saw my story as “special”, I was still searching for people with similar experiences to bond with. That never really materialized with this blog, although I have had other opportunities to build community in other online spaces as well as in person. I’m hoping to start writing again, sharing my experiences here, working through my feelings as my spiritual journey continues. I’m hoping that this could be another avenue for me to build community and find more people like me! So if you’re Black, queer, and Jewish (especially if you went through the conversion process), and you’ve stumbled upon this blog, please reach out! Leave a comment! Share your experiences, or advice, or whatever. Let’s celebrate together, and commiserate together, and learn together.

A Time Apart

2020 has been my year for full on commitment to Judaism. It has taken me so long to commit for a variety of reasons– most of them fear-based, but some simply logistical issues. When the pandemic hit the US, most of my life went online– work, social life, etc. And that has been a blessing because I now have the time to really investigate and participate in Judaism and Jewish Life. I took a class, I went “shul hopping” on zoom, I finally put a mezuzah on the front door. But the best thing I’ve invested my time in has to be Shabbat.

First of all, Shabbat is probably the one think that keeps me tethered to the concept of time, as working from home has caused the days to blur together. Is it Monday? Is it Wednesday? Who knows, but I definitely can tell you if it’s Shabbat or not! It’s a ritual that both roots me to the moment and gives me a space outside of time. Shabbat is when we light candles, say prayers, and eat homemade challah on Friday night (thank you to Kourtney for baking challot every week!). Shabbat is when we get up slowly on Saturday morning, go to Tot Shabbat on zoom and sing songs, and enjoy each other instead of focusing on all the worldly noise.

I’m not 100% observant yet. I use electronics. We cook meals. We watch TV shows together. But I am learning to define rest for myself and build on that. For me, rest means that keep my phone on but I put it on the counter for the day, out of sight. I don’t answer phone calls or texts, I don’t go on instagram or facebook. I don’t check the news. The world moves and things happen, but I stay out of it, unaware of major events until Saturday night. I don’t crochet (which I love), and I don’t write (which I also love). I try not to create anything new (besides food) until Shabbat ends.

Right now, this way of doing things works for me and my family, especially since we are an interfaith family. It wouldn’t be fair for me to demand that my wife stop cooking, or demand that no one turn on and off lights, or demand that we pre-rip our toilet paper every week (learned about that very recently, it seems like…. a lot).

Instead, I’ve reveling in the moments when Kourtney participates, the moments when Aminah claps along to songs during Tot Shabbat, the moments when we’re all celebrating Shabbat together and building a Jewish foundation for our family. I am grateful for those blessings that Shabbat brings.

Enjoying Shabbat and its Blessings

One of the benefits of having Kourtney at home (since she works in theatre and they are not starting back up anytime soon) is that she has been baking constantly. Last week she made apple pie, blueberry cheesecake, and puff pastry with strawberries. This week we’ve been eating strawberry shortcake, broccoli and cheddar pasties. But my favorite new tradition is the challah she makes every Friday, from scratch.

Kourtney is not Jewish, but she loves me, and loves creating new traditions for our daughter, so she has really jumped into weekly challah baking. And beyond that, she’s been helping me build out our weekly Shabbat traditions with Aminah. It’s been really gratifying to now see our daughter get excited as the sun goes down on Friday night, because she knows that it’s time for challah!

Continue reading

The Virtual Seder

For the last 4-5 years I’ve been going to my friend Bekah’s mother’s house for Passover. As someone who is not fully integrated into the community and very hesitant to do anything solo, I haven’t even bothered to try a Seder myself– why would I when Irene’s is already so great? And If I did host a Seder, who would want to come? I don’t know all the rules! I don’t know all the customs! I’m still learning!

Well, this year has thrown a bit of a wrench in my plans of continuing the tradition of leaving it to the practiced Jews. All of California is still under a shelter in place order because of the coronavirus pandemic, and even without the restrictions, most people would be loathe to leave their house when we all seem to have a risk of being infected or spreading the virus to others. How lucky it is, then, that we live in a time where we don’t have to be in the same room to gather together and celebrate? This year we’ll be celebrating Passover via Zoom!

This of course means that we all have to set up our individual houses ourselves, which I have never done before and to be transparent I am not at all prepared to cook dinner and set up my house in a way that is kosher for Passover. Despite my love for Judaism I have been slow to make my life completely Jewish. If I’m being honest, fear is mostly driving this. I don’t have a firm foundation to build my own Jewish identity on– none of my family is Jewish, I was raised in a fairly traditional Christian household, and I know few Jews that I can lean on to teach me how to be a Jew. Add onto that the fact that I’m queer and Black, and I just haven’t met a queer, Black Jew by choice who can share their experiences with me and make this process feel less scary…. it feels like my true desire, to feel like I belong in the community, is just beyond my reach.

It’s not that there are not people out there who are kind and open and willing to welcome me in. There are such people, I have met them, they are all very nice. But it’s hard to trust that the welcome is real, and not just a nicety, like when you and a friend say “We need to hang out more, let’s meet for dinner sometime!” but neither of you will actually follow through. It’s something you say but don’t really mean. I often fear that it’s all talk when someone invites me to come to Friday night or Saturday morning services, and if I actually take someone up on it they’ll backtrack, “Oh sorry, you wanted to come this Saturday? I can’t, sorry….”

So what does this sudden change in venue mean for me? On the one hand, I feel totally unprepared, and I worry I won’t be able to do this holiday justice. When Kourtney went to the grocery store today for supplies, the only remotely Passover-related product she could find was whole wheat matzo. Because we have no car, she had to bike to the store, and had no room in her bike bags for romaine lettuce (for the bitter herbs). I’m too much of a novice to make my kitchen the level of kosher it needs to be for this holiday, and when I looked online for Seder plates I couldn’t find any that could be shipped in time (April 23rd is not going to cut it this time, Amazon).

On the other hand, being able to do this in the comfort of my own home, without being worried that people are watching and determining if it’s Jewish enough. When they’re watching through a screen they only see what I want them to see, and there’s a lot of freedom to that. I don’t have to get everything ‘right’. I may not have the matzo I want, but it’s better than no matzo at all. And it turns out that you can substitute potato for romaine as the bitter herb (it’s doesn’t quite make sense to me but I’m willing to roll with it). And if I don’t have a Seder plate this year, that’s okay. That just means I have time to find one I really like for next year’s Seder. Maybe next year I’ll even go further and try out this African American Seder plate setup I found online (God bless the internet). Who knows? Maybe I’ll give myself permission to find my own Jewish identity without fear of doing it wrong or making mistakes.

Times for Prayer

I have a ritual for when I travel by plane. I’m usually pretty relaxed as I’m waiting in the airport (I’m always 2 hours early even though I know an hour would probably suffice), and I’ll eat a snack or watch a movie on Netflix, chat with my wife or play the ABC game (My name is Alice, my wife’s name is Arlene, we live in Albany and we like to eat Almonds!). I wait patiently to board, hand the attendant my ticket, find a good seat and get comfortable. And then before we take off, before we’re asked to put our phones in airplane mode, before the attendants go over the safety procedures, I clothes my eyes and I pray. I pray to whoever is listening, whoever is out there keeping watch. I pray for a safe flight and a peaceful vacation. I pray for my family, that they stay safe while we’re apart, and I pray that we all are blessed with long and meaningful lives. I know that it might not change anything and that even with my prayer we could still crash or someone in my family could get hurt while I’m away, but I don’t feel safe on a plane if I don’t do this ritual before we take off.

Prayer helps to reduce my anxiety. It’s like, if I push my fears and my hopes out into the universe that maybe the Divine will hear it and maybe decide I’m worth saving or protecting. Or maybe if I pray for courage or wisdom or patience that by simply putting that out in the universe I will be more mindful and remember patience when I’m stressed or courage when I’m scared. Sometimes I pray for answers, like when I first started to realize my senior year that I had a crush on Kourtney and I didn’t know what to do about it. I prayed for months and was looking for a certain answer that I never got. I was certain that the answer to my prayers would be stay where you are, what you’re feeling isn’t real. But every time, the answer I got was Go! This is your chance! Do not squander my gift to you. It took me awhile to really receive that message and take it to heart. Nine years later and we’re married and getting ready to start a family. But I’m not always looking for the Divine to give me an answer to a question– most of the time I ask for peace or protection. There have been many times when I’ve been suddenly very anxious about dying, usually right before I fall asleep, and I feel the panic begin to rise within me. When I was little I used to get out of bed and knock on my parent’s bedroom door, crying about death and what ifs and my parents would tell me that when we die we go to heaven. I would be skeptical but would accept this answer because all I really needed was assurance that death wasn’t scary so I could fall asleep peacefully. I still get panicked about death as an adult but instead of calling up my parents I pray. My prayer is simple: Please god, don’t let me die scared, and don’t let me die alone.

And believe it or not, it makes me feel better.

Why Aren’t You Pagan Anymore?

My mom asked me that the other day. Why aren’t you pagan anymore?

And I just kinda made a noncommittal grunt in response, mostly because I have a hard time discussing my spiritual beliefs with my parents in general but also because my mom is pretty against organized religion (which includes Judaism) so although she has attempted to be supportive, she’s made her opinions on the matter pretty clear. That makes it hard to share my journey with her. However, the bigger issue in that moment was that I didn’t really know how to answer her because the answer is kind of confusing and if you’re a black and white thinker it’s actually not possible.

I’m not NOT pagan. I think my pagan/hippie/liberal leanings can coexist in harmony with my Jewish ones. But I don’t know how to explain that to anyone, really. I know most people won’t be okay with it, many people will not agree that it’s possible to be both. But here I am, being both. The biggest barrier for most people about the combination of pagan and Jewish is that Judaism makes it pretty clear that there is ONE God, capital G, who you should worship “above all others”, and people take that to mean that there’s only one god that exists and that’s the omnipotent Man Upstairs guy who is full of both wrath and mercy. And for many people who are not really acquainted with paganism(s) believe that all pagans worship and believe in many gods all equally.

The problem is, those are two misinformed assumptions about Judaism and Paganism. The more your research, the more you realize how overly-simplified and wrong those two statements are. As the saying goes, ask two Jews what Judaism is about and you’ll get three answers. Ask two pagans what paganism is about and you’ll get probably 50 answers. There are not only different movements within Judaism which have institutionalized differences in “how to be a good Jew” but within those movements you have many individuals with personal connections to their religion that differ from one another. Yes, there are plenty of Jews out there that believe in the One God, the only one out there, masculine father. But there are also Jews out there who make space for multiple faces of God, including the feminine. And others (a much smaller group, I’m sure) who worship God “above all others”, but believe in those others and have relationships with them while still following the letter of the law. And of course there are those who make a case for themselves around being both an observant Jew AND an atheist or agnostic.

Just google paganism and you get tons of sites talking about different pagan paths that vary widely not only in how they worship but WHO they worship. Paganism does not equal Wicca, with one god and one goddess, although Wicca is included under the umbrella term of paganism. Not only do they worship different gods and goddesses depending on their own path, their idea about how gods and goddesses exist also varies. Some believe in the idea that “all gods are one god”, that the many different gods we’ve come to know through research and personal experience are just different facets/personalities/manifestations of the same deity, one grand supreme being. Others, called hard polytheists, believe every deity is it’s own and that the gods and goddesses are independent of one another, and cannot be called upon interchangeably.

All this to say, religion in general isn’t black and white. And my own understanding of my spiritual path is complex, but I truly think that my beliefs taken from my pagan practice and my Jewish practice sit in harmony with one another within me. So while my rituals may have changed, and although my focus as of late has been on strengthening the rituals around Shabbat and Jewish prayer, I would not necessarily say I’m not pagan. I’m still partial to the term Jewitch, personally. That being said, there is still a lot of fear around using that term out in the real world. Being so new to Judaism, and wanting to find an accepting spiritual home, I am wary of stepping on toes or rocking the spiritual boat. I don’t want people to think I’m weird, and I certainly don’t want people to feel like I’m being blasphemous. I know in my heart I have to do this my way, regardless of what others think, but I also know that many people will want to force encourage me to do it the Right Way– the way it has always been done (whatever that means). I’m all for tradition (that’s why I love ritual so much), but I don’t want to live in a box. I want to worship how I see fit, because at the end of the day my relationship with Divinity is my own, and if I don’t worship in a way that is best for me then I’m doing myself a huge disservice, and weakening that relationship.

So…. that’s how I feel about that.

Rules That Make Sense to Me

New rules I’ve made for myself because I’m weird:

  • When listening to music while walking, I can’t check my steps until the song is over
  • When walking  at the end of an hour, I cannot stop walking until I reach the next hour (so if it’s 2:57pm I have to walk until 3:00pm, no exceptions).
  • I have to walk at least 250 steps an hour from 9am to 7pm.
  • If I don’t make my step goal before it gets dark out, I have to pace around my apartment until I reach/surpass it (I don’t like walking outside in the dark because I fear a raccoon will attack me).
  • I cannot eat breakfast until after 10am, and I cannot eat lunch until at least 4 hours after I finish breakfast.
  • I have to take at least 30 minutes to finish a meal.
  • I have to take no more than 1 bite of food per minute when eating until I reach 30 minutes.
  • I cannot drink Smooth Move tea during the week, only on weekends (for obvious reasons).
  • I try not to eat anything after 8pm (this is the hardest habit to establish for me at the moment).

I’m sure that my coworkers and clients think I’m a little nutty because you can find walking every hour to make my step goals, back and forth from one end of the hall to the other, sometimes reading a book and sometimes just walking with determination, counting steps under my breath to make sure I reach the goal.

It’s Not All Angst and Hard Times Here

I’ve been really focusing on a lot of the really difficult aspects of having weight loss surgery and just losing weight in general as a person who has an eating disorder history. This process is really hard and very triggering, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that. However, I had this surgery for a reason, and that was to improve my health, both so I can be healthy now and in the future. Although a lot of this process has been really hard on my body and mind, there are some things that have improved and I want to highlight them, both for my own sake and for the sake of those who are reading this, thinking about maybe having surgery and wondering what it’s like post-op.  Continue reading

The Spiritual CAN Influence the Mental

Getting back into Shabbat was the best choice for me last week. I know I have yet to fully experience it as a true converted Jew, but even observing it in the small ways I did was not 4274418_origonly meaningful but also something my mind really needed– a time for rest. I made a commitment to go through the blessings, light the candles and bless the food, but also to stay away from my phone for just the night. It was totally worth it.

Right after work I went to the grocery store to buy my dinner (rotisserie chicken– perhaps this week I’ll make my own chicken in the slow cooker?) and get some grape juice since I can’t drink alcohol. Let me just say, it’s so nice being able to get off work at my regular time, be able to stop by the store and still get home before it’s time to light the candles. In fact, I had enough time to get home, prepare the meat for my weekend meals, do some dishes, and get the table set for myself. Of course I loved the ritual of it all, it felt really good to be a part of something bigger and older than myself. I could just imagine all the other people in the world doing the same thing I was doing, saying the same blessings around the same time and it made me feel like I was a part of something really cool. Continue reading

Book Haul for March

As I said in my previous post, last week I made a spontaneous trip to Berkeley to visit Kourtney at work. While I was waiting for her to meet me, I found myself wandering into the bookstore down the street. Now, I love my kindle and I use it often, but there is just nothing like reading from an actual book. I’m kinda excited because I think I got a pretty good haul for books about Judaism and Jewish life. Continue reading

Celebrating Alone

Since surgery I’ve really lapsed on my observing of Shabbat (I hope the Divine will forgive me, I was recovering from surgery after all). Now that I’m on solid foods I’m thinking about starting back up again tonight. One of the things I’ve been struggling with as far as observing Jewish holidays is not having anyone to celebrate with. Judaism isn’t really made for solitary practitioners, I mean there are some prayers you’re not even supposed to say without at least 10 people. So it can feel especially isolating when you’re trying to celebrate on your own, especially when you’re a newbie like me and have no one knowledgeable to walk you through it. However, I don’t want that to stop me from at least trying to make it work (baby steps, ya know?) so here I am, back at it again.


Words to live by.

Since I still can’t eat bread or drink alcohol I’m probably going to skip the challah tonight and drink grape juice instead of wine. After eating my little baby meal, I’ll get settled in with some of my new books (see my next post for a rundown of the haul I got in Berkeley last week) and try to accomplish my Shabbat challenge for the week: I won’t use my phone the whole night. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s incredibly hard for me to unplug. I’m constantly on my phone using time-wasting apps. Shabbat has quite a few restrictions, and I’m not looking to tackle them all at once because that’s just setting myself up for failure, but I do want to eventually get to a place where I’m pretty observant most of the time. I don’t want to half-ass it, okay?

Dreams to Realities

I had surgery on Wednesday March 2nd. It went well overall, although the surgeon did find a hernia which may need to be corrected with surgery down the road. I’ve been spending the last two weeks at home recovering. Honestly, it’s not a bad recovery except being SO FUCKING TIRED. All the time. I can do many of the things I did before surgery, but I fade pretty quickly and have to sit down/take a nap. I’m pretty sure that’s because my body is only taking about 200 calories a day and 100 of those are from my vitamins.

Being home has given me time to think about my dreams. What do I want out of this life. I feel like since I’ve graduated from college I’ve been lost, not sure what my next step is, and I still feel that way now but there are some smaller goals I would like to accomplish regardless of what I end up choosing for a career. Some of my goals are not about my career at all, but just about embracing life and learning new things.

  1. I want to become fluent in Spanish and ASL. I’ve also been thinking about maybe taking a Cantonese class, since it is a sought after language skills in both the medical and nonprofit sectors. I’ve always wanted to be multilingual, and I want to pass that on to my future children.
  2. I want to become a craft queen. I’ve spent a loooooooong time dreaming about learning how to sew, quilt, cross stitch and embroider. Sewing used to be required learning for women which is super sexist when you think about it in context, but I actually think it should be required learning for EVERYONE. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to at least know how to fix a hem or reattach a button that’s popped off your jacket.
  3. I definitely want to take a dance class. No, not a zumba class, although zumba is fun and good exercise. I want to take something like tap, or hip hop. I miss performing and working toward a goal (like being in choir working toward concert day, but with movement). When I was younger I was in color guard which incorporated dance into equipment tossing and running across football fields, but I was always self-conscious about my skills and although I would’ve loved to take dance I was worried I didn’t have the body for it. I know now that any body can dance– it’s not about size, it’s about movement (and soul).
  4. Kourtney and I want to take an herbalism class together to learn more about plants and herbs and their medicinal uses. I’m not trying to replace modern western medicine (it saves lives, even if it’s a bit corrupt– but that’s not really medicine’s fault, it’s the greed of the people who run it as an industry) but herbal medicine can be used in tandem with western medicine for wellness. I think Kourtney’s into it which means it’s something we can do together as a couple and hopefully get to the point where we can maintain our own little apothecary cupboard. I also wanna learn about the more magical uses for herbs because I’m totally into being a Jewitch (I just can’t quit you, Jewitchery).
  5. I want to be a Jew. For real. I’ve been casually (and not so casually) flirting with the idea of converting for a number of years now. I think I say this every year, but I want to officially convert. I just worry that maybe I don’t have what it takes. However, I often let fear run my life, and this year I’ve committed to say yes to life and start tackling my fear of failing. So this year I want to really go for it. I honestly don’t know how my life will look once I convert (obviously my marriage is and will always be interfaith, so that makes things a bit complicated) and there are some things about Judaism I have to really think about critically. I’m not going to be a regular convert. I’ve got a lot of ritual and ways of doing things that will mix with my new Jewish identity to make my own brand of Judaism which may make some people uncomfortable or confused but I can’t let their possible reactions influence what I know is right for me spiritually. So I’m going for it. I’M GOING FOR IT.

Final Countdown

March 2nd, 2016.

That’s the date of my surgery (see previous post). I’ve decided on the vertical sleeve gastrectomy (the sleeve, or vsg), and I’m feeling all kinds of feelings. As I get closer and closer to the surgery date I get more and more excited, and although I’ve had some anxiety about it (and who wouldn’t, it’s surgery!) I’m also hopeful about the future. Continue reading

Surgery Date Set!

I wrote this a month ago and never published it. So these thoughts are a little dated:


So, my second appointment with the psychologist at Kaiser went well. Our appointment was short and to the point, and at the end of it he told me he was impressed with my progress and immediately scheduled me to meet with the case manager meaning he approved me for surgery. In fact, I met with the case manager that day, that’s how serious he was about me meeting with her! My appointment with her was a bit longer, and we went over the preop test I had to complete, talked about vitamins and exercise, and then she scheduled me for my surgery. Continue reading