Thursday, November 19, 2009

Other considerations:

I’ve been thinking about potentially donating my wedding dress, now that the wedding is over. Saving it seems wasteful when there are organizations that can use it to provide other brides with affordable dress options while using the profits for charitable causes. And really, while I suppose its possible that someday I might have a daughter who wants it, the odds are dramatically against this ((a) I might not have a girl, (b) she likely won’t be my size, (c) even if she is, she likely won’t share my taste)).

On the other hand, it is sort of sentimental, and maybe some day I would appreciate being able to go back and look at it.

Either way, I need to decide soon. If it’s being kept I need to deal with getting it cleaned and preserved. If it’s being shipped for charity, well, it’ll still need cleaning etc, so sooner is still better. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Once Upon a Wedding, Or, Jewishly Conscious Wedding -- Part II

(The previous post told you about resources. This one talks about the decisions we actually made.)

Things we did to walk the orthodox/egalitarian line, and make a halachic wedding that was also inclusive of women:

  • Our RCA halachic pre-nup was signed (and notarized) before the wedding, by friends who would not be valid halachic witnesses, but are totally competent to sign this particular religious document because it simply requires witnesses to meet the standards of American juridical practice.

  • The rabbi announced at the tish that the pre-nup had been signed ahead of time, so that, even though the signing was not public, it was made public knowledge. (We also explained that we had done so in our wedding program).

  • The ketubah was not signed during the tish, but rather at the bedeken, so that both of us and all our friends and family were present.

  • To effect the kinyan of the ketubah, rather than having the groom lift an insignificant object (e.g. pen / handkerchief) to signal his assent, I personally gave the him a ring I bought for him; he took it and lifted it to signal his acceptance of the ketubah obligations. Thus I was able to publicly give him a ring in a way which produced a halachic effect, and that could not possibly be interpreted as interfering with kiddushin.

  • Under the chuppah, during Erusin, I announced my intention to accept the ring bought for me by the groom, saying, “Behold, I am prepared to accept this ring for the purpose of kiddushin according to the laws of Moses and Israel” (in Hebrew). This announcement not only adds equality by giving the woman a voice under the chuppah, but it also adds clarity to what takes place since she verbally announces that she intends to accept the ring rather than working on the basis of “silence is acceptance.” After I made this statement the groom gave me the ring he had bought and recited the traditional formula.

  • For sheva brachot under the chuppah we chose to have one person (in this case a family member) sing all 7 brachot rather than calling up a rotating list of friends. We love the person who did so, but the decision was also made for cosmetic reasons – you cannot get around the halachic requirement to have a man say the sheva brachot under the chuppah, but it looks and feels very different to have one man do so versus a parade of men.

  • Benching was led by a man, but sheva brachot during benching were recited by a mix of male and female friends.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jewishly Conscious Wedding -- Resources

As you may have guessed, not only have I thought long and hard about various social, political, and environmental concerns about the wedding (see previous post), I have also put a great deal of thought into the Jewish aspects of the wedding.

Specifically, here are some resources I found useful in trying to plan a wedding that is both halachic and meaningfully inclusive of women:
  • Most important are the following JOFA Journal issues:
i) On making halahcic weddings more egalitarian: Summer 2003 JOFA Journal's special wedding edition.
ii) On the issue of halachic pre-nuptial agreements, and other means to avoid agunah issues, see the Summer 2005 JOFA Journal on the subject.
  • Relatedly, here is the RCA (Orthodox) halachic pre-nuptuial agreement.

  • Additionally, I would point out that there are many other relevant resources available on the JOFA website about Jewish marriage from an Orthodox, Feminist perspective.

  • We also found this article, "What's the Truth about...a Chatan and Kallah Not Seeing Each Other before the Wedding?" quite illuminating. Turns out this is not an ancient, time-honored Jewish custom, but rather a relatively recent innovation.

Also worth knowing about is JUFJ's Green and Just Celebrations Guide, which provides a lot of ideas about making simchas more environmentally and socially conscious. This of course relates to the subject of the previous post, but with a particularly Jewish bent, so I'm including it here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Socially conscious wedding

I tend to think of my self as a socially-conscious person, but we (fiancé and I) are not the activisty types (though I am much more so than he is). I buy environmentally friendly cleaning products, but I don’t preach about it, and I don’t object to resorting to paper plates when doing dishes feels like too much of a chore. I think about my choices, and attempt to prevent injustices in the world where possible, but I don’t go out and protest very often. My entire choice of vocation is premised on making the world a better place, but my chosen route is research rather than advocacy, outreach or fieldwork.

Similarly, our wedding will not be the most environmentally friendly possible -- it will not involve local food, and will likely generate plenty of waste. It will, in most respects, be a typical wedding. At the same time, however, I feel that (a) when planning an event I know will be wasteful, I should attempt to curtail that waste in at least some areas, and (b) that if we are spending so much money on one event, it should be an opportunity to do so in a way that reflects our values. So, here are some of the small ways were are doing this:
  • You already know that my engagement ring is made from a conflict-free diamond, set in recycled-gold, and sold by a socially-conscious jeweler. Both of our wedding bands are also made of recycled gold and come from the same seller. We will make sure our guests know about this.
  • We bought (with money from my bubby –her wedding gift to us) fair trade kippot from MayaWorks for our guests. (Toyb’s sister is making kippot for the men in our immediate families). Again, our guests will be told about this choice.
Aside: The MayaWorks kippot are amazing – absolutely beautiful hand knit kippot in an array of colors (so everyone will have kippot of a similar style but different colors) – they will be memorable, and many people will actually use them afterwards!
  • We asked guests not to have registry items gift wrapped when ordering them to be mailed. The packing material generates enough waste.
  • We also asked guests to consider offsetting the carbon-impact of their travel to the wedding as part of our gift (particularly relevant given the long-distance travel inherently involved when you live 3,000 miles from your family of origin).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

“I am a resident of the County of Los Angeles”

Last Spring, my parents came to visit and brought with them a Jury summons I had received from the County of Los Angeles. I sat in their hotel room looking over the form. It asks several yes or no statements where the “correct” (or most common) answer is highlighted. I read the questions out loud, along with my intended answers:
“I am a US Citizen? Yes. I am a member of the armed forces? No. I am a resident of the County of Los Angeles? Yes.”
Wait! I meant, NO. I don’t live there anymore. Like, seriously!

Later that day, back at my apartment, when I sat down to fill out the form, I thought to myself, “I should pay careful attention so I don’t do that again.” And so I began: “I am a US Citizen? Yes. I am a member of the armed forces? No. I am a resident of the County of Los Angeles? Yes.” Oops. I had to get a new form. Freudian slip? Um, yeah.

So today, I did something really crazy. Perhaps the hardest thing I’ve done since leaving CA for the East Coast 6 years ago. I officially declared myself a resident of Massachusetts, and turned in my beloved CA driver's license. I feel like I've lost a piece of my identity. As I said to Toyb later, "This is what true love looks like. Nothing less could have induced me to do this." I did not, however, register to vote. Not yet. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. For that one I’m going to need someone to hold my hand.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Post-denominational egalitarian girl in an orthodox world

So, what does an egalitarian girl do when she’s engaged (much less married) to an orthodox boy? This is a question I expect I’ll be answering over and over again in different ways for the rest of my life. And, as usual, there isn’t an easy answer other than to approach each issue as it comes up.

At the moment the interesting thing is that figuring out how to strike the right balance in our wedding is much more difficult than figuring out how to live our lives together. That makes sense actually, because as it turns out our practice, apart from the egal davening, is not very different. So setting up a life together is relatively easy on that count. And we are happy to continue to daven in two minyanim. We are particularly lucky in our current locale in that we can do that all in one building, but even if that does not remain the case, we’ll be okay.

But planning a wedding? That’s a bit more complicated. Luckily we have great resource in Rabbi Linzer’s article for JOFA (circa 2003), which indicates a variety of ways to make Jewish weddings more egalitarian within the boundaries of halacha. Stay tuned to see just what our balance will be. It promises to be an interesting ride.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Made with love, not angst

I have previously written at length about the subject of conflict diamonds and (consumer-based) measures to alleviate the problem. However, this question had renewed potency when I recently became engaged. You may wonder, what did Sunkist Miss decide to do about an engagement ring? Well, I’m here to share that information with you.

Initially when we went shopping (browsing), I really couldn’t find anything I was happy with. And the more I thought about it, the more I recognized that I was not going to be happy with a standard Kimberly Process certificate of origin. Don’t get me wrong, the Kimberly Process represents a very important improvement in how diamond retailers do business. However, it wasn’t enough. It is well known that, as I described previously, “it’s difficult to actually verify where diamonds come from and the major buyers (companies) may mix them together.”

Enter Brilliant Earth -- a San Francisco-based company committed to making socially conscious jewelry. Their diamonds come from Canada (from Canadian mines, not through Canada). They use recycled metal (mine is white gold) for making the settings and bands. The materials they send/pack in are all made from recycled paper and the jewelry boxes are from wood from a sustainable forest. Finally, they recognize that all of these things are not enough because, as I wrote about in my previous blog post on the subject, the problem with effectively boycotting African diamonds is that while verification is extraordinarily difficult, not all African diamonds are conflict diamonds, and poor communities are reliant on their export. Their solution? As their website explains, “Brilliant Earth also dedicates 5% of its profits to directly benefit local African communities harmed by the diamond industry.” Moreover, they are also beginning to offer certified Namibian diamonds which are conflict-free, and mined with fair labor and environmentally monitored mining practices. In other words, they are really making an effort to get to the source of a variety of social problems in the jewelry and diamond business one ring at a time. Also, the people there were very helpful and informative and we got a hand-written note with the rings! (We got wedding bands there as well so they would be made from recycled metals and would match).

Yes, I know I sound like a commercial for this company, but really, I want people to know that this option is out there. Finally, when I found them, I actually felt good about the ring. Because it’s not just me getting something I don’t have to feel guilty about, but something I can feel confident is making a market-based statement about what is important and helping to support a company that does good work in this area.

I will add one last thought. In my prior post on this subject I brought up the question of whether wearing a diamond ring in some sense constitutes marat ayin. Marat Ayin is the Jewish concept which proscribes an action that while technically permissible looks like something that is not, and which therefore makes others think that the impermissible is permissible. So, is wearing an extremely socially conscious ring marat ayin because other people might think that any old diamond ring was acceptable? This was really my last hold-up. What I concluded is that (a) as mentioned above, it is important to support this company, and (b) it is in a certain sense an educational opportunity for me. No, not everyone I encounter will know the story of my ring. But my friends and family will, anyone who reads this blog will, anyone who attends our wedding will. And in that way we will teach people that there are more possibilities out there. It’s not only about Brilliant Earth, but more broadly about the fact that it is possible to make socially and politically responsible choices.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Yesterday I had the privilege of witnessing history. I was cold and achy and walked forever and it was chaotic and the sound echoed. But I was there and it was amazing. I was lucky enough to have a ticket to the Inauguration of our newest President, Barak Obama.

I, along with some two million of my fellow Americans stood on the National Mall and watched Obama take the oath of office and address the country. His speech was eloquent as we have come to expect, but that is not what made the moment so special. It was the grand significance of this moment in American history, and the energy and optimism radiating from an enthusiastic crowd of people who trekked to Washington to be present in that moment, that made it unforgettable. I am awed by the thought that my children will never know what it is to grow up believing that only white Christian men can be president. Okay, in my heart of hearts I believe that Christian is still politically required in this country (though I would love to be proven wrong). And I don’t think that this election ended the significance of racial or gender inequality—but it represented progress that we didn't imagine was possible in our generation.

My parents worked to change the possibilities that American offers. My father was in high school when he volunteered on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign in 1968, and later really cut his teeth politically on the McGovern campaign. My mother worked to get women into elected office. They tried to change reality. But by the time I was growing up, they were not expecting to see this happen, not yet. It seemed like the changes they worked for were still a long ways off.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, one of the characters, Hallie Noline writes, “[T]he very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” I am not an optimistic person. But yesterday I felt a part of a moment of collective optimism.

All weekend the millions of people who made their pilgrimage to Washington exuded a spirit of exuberance. They were just not celebrating Obama’s inauguration, or even the inauguration of our first black president, but something more – the fact that this seminal event changes the possibilities that the future holds. I grew up in a diverse metropolitan community, and very few of us ever believed that anyone like us could grow up to be President. We were brilliant and we were going places, the presidency just wasn’t one of them. And so I am thrilled that this highly symbolic change – the realization of the impossible dream – has taken place. I believe that more deeply rooted changes have taken place allowing this moment to arise. And I am cautiously optimistic that further deep changes are coming – not just during Obama’s presidency but further into the future. Because it is not one man changing history. It is Americans changing their own destiny by collectively changing the realm of the possible.

Someday I will teach my children about these things, and tell them that I stood there in the cold at that moment. Sí se puede.

An Ode to Socks

Yay! A while ago some friends were talking about “smartwool” socks, but I tossed it aside as hype. However, my feet are always cold (okay, most of me is always cold). So I'd been worrying about spending a bunch of time outside in DC this week. And besides, I needed to try something different. Thus when Toyb suggested I try smartwool, I decided to give it a whirl. I obtained a few pairs (with some lovely designs). I have been wearing them the last few days (including a double-layer today), and wow am I impressed! (Though I’m not convinced the miracle is really the brand so much as wool vs. cotton in general, but still…). Hooray for cozy feet. Clearly a shopping trip is in order!

In honor of this new revelation, I bring you an excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Oda a los calectines” (“Ode to Socks”), which concludes:
Y es esta la moral de mi Oda:
Dos veces es belleza la belleza,
y lo que es bueno es doblemente bueno,
cuando se trata de dos calcetines
de lana en el invierno.

And this is the moral of my Ode:
Beauty is two-times beauty,
And that which is good is doubly good,
When you are talking about a pair of wool socks
In wintertime.

(Translation is my own).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Answering to a higher authority

The application of standards whether for to people, organizations, or even nations is not easy and not always fair. We are all biased. And sometimes that bias is revealed through preferences or prejudices – treating favorites less harshly than others. But sometimes that bias is manifested in holding certain people to a higher standard.

During my sophomore year in college when I was taking a notoriously difficult Spanish literature class I encountered this type of standard. More than once I was surprised by receiving a lower-grade than I thought I had earned on a paper for the class. I discussed this with La Profesora. I told her that while I was fine with a B if I earned it, I wanted to know why I had been given that grade when all of her comments on my paper were complimentary. She responded by telling me that in fact I had written the best paper in the class, but other the students had received higher grades because while my paper was clearly very good, I was capable of better.

Likewise, when I was growing up my mother regularly told me “I don’t care what other people’s children do, I care what you do”, whenever I would try to bring in someone else as an example of why she was being too judgmental.

I must confess that despite recalling my great frustration with both my mother and La Profesora, I empathize with their position. I hold myself to a higher standard than I believe is fair to apply to other people. Likewise, I hold those I respect to a higher standard than people with whom I have no connection. The same can go for organizations or even nations. I think that this is legitimate, but I also try to temper the tendency with some leniency. I try to remember to distinguish between hopes and expectations – to hold a combination of idealism about potential and realism about what to expect. I think I succeed, at least to a point. After all, while I have been accused of being an idealist, I’ve never been accused of being an optimist.

An Ode to Travel by Train

I am writing this as I sit on the train from Boston to DC. If you can afford it (in terms of time and money), I believe the train is the best way to travel between East Coast cities. It’s comfortable and stress-free. You don’t have to get to the station super early as when flying and when you arrive you’re already in the city. You don’t have to know where you’re going and pay attention to the road as when driving. And it’s less cramped and more reliable than the bus. (Not to mention more reliable than a plane in winter!). My computer is plugged in and my phone is charging. When I’m done writing, I’m going to take a little walk and stretch my legs. I only wish there was wireless, but I’m sure that will come some day. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying looking out the window. I think the view is probably considerably nicer during the winter – everything looks magical covered in snow – at least when you’re looking at it from a warm and cozy vantage point.

As for the Left Coast: I’ve taken the train from Los Angeles to Portland, OR. It was a fantastic experience (and much more scenic than back East), but is worth doing only if you will enjoy the experience for it’s own sake. If your purpose is simply to reach your destination, a plane is worth it at that distance.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

When inspiration fails to strike, try a meme

So I haven’t really felt like writing in a long while, and the truth is I’m still not feeling the love. I guess I’ve been wrapped up in living my life and processing events of the past semester. However, Katrina (of Conservadox and Single) tagged me with a meme (two-in-one actually). This is not the sort of thing I have ever done, or imagined myself doing, but I’m flattered, and besides, I’m in need of inspiration and this was handed to me! So, here goes.

Part 1. Pick up the nearest book (physically) to you, turn to page 56, and write down the 2nd to 5th sentences.

The book is The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (a novel which I have not yet read – it’s next on my reading list).
It was suffused with Indian femininity in there, abundant amounts of sweet newly washed hair, gold strung Kolhapuri slippers lying about. Heavyweight accounting books sat on the table along with a chunky Ganesh brought all the way from home despite its weight, for interior decoration plus luck in money and exams.

“Well,” one of them continued with the conversation Biju had interrupted, discussing a fourth Indian girl not present, “why doesn’t she just go for an Indian boy then, who’ll understand all that temper tantrum stuff?”

“She won’t look at an Indian boy, she doesn’t want a nice Indian boy who’s grown up chatting with his aunties in the kitchen.”

Part 2. (Unrelated to Part 1). State 7 facts about yourself. Katrina says the facts should/can be a combination of weird and not-so-weird ones.

1) I find talking out loud a very useful way of organizing my thoughts. I like hearing myself think. While having an interlocutor is preferable, if none is available, talking to inanimate objects is frequently an adequate substitute.

2) On occasion I have caught myself talking out loud to myself in Spanish.

3) I feel much calmer and happier when my stuff is neat and organized. I feel like there’s a connection between the organization of my things and my life. So if my space is chaotic I feel like my life is chaotic. When I organize my space and my things, I find myself feeling more in control of my life, I have ordered the chaos in my universe in a way that extends beyond the pieces of paper and books filed neatly into their correct locations.

4) I thrive on making detailed plans of how to approach upcoming tasks. My favorite way of organizing is making lists on post-it notes. I can plan out my work days, weeks, even months in advance that way. And the really special thing is – it works! I actually follow the plan.

5) I frequently forget to eat. I get absorbed in my work and I don’t get hungry. Really, I must have a defective hunger mechanism.

6) I love buying greeting cards / note cards. I can spend forever searching for the perfect one. And I frequently buy them even when there is no occasion imminent. In those cases I save them because I have found the perfect card for some particular person on some occasion that may eventually arise.

7) Back before grad school, in the land before time, I actually had real hobbies (in addition to varieties of politics), like dance and art.

(Note: I am not actually tagging anyone particular. But if you read this blog, then I probably read yours and would love to read your answer. So consider yourself tagged if you would enjoy this exercise. You can even link to your answer in a comment!).