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High Collars, High Holidays 



Never in a million years did I think I would be fond of the ‘high collar’, also known as the ‘turtle neck.’ I still cringe everytime I hear the name. I remember my mom making me wear them when it got cold outside… But hello, we live in Los Angeles. When does it get cold?

Dressing already modestly, by covering my knees, elbows (song playing in my head), the thought of covering my full neck is like dude, can I show any skin!? It almost felt like I was covering too much, as if I couldn’t breathe! It is as if someone is choking and restricting my head!

Seeing this trend all over magazines and fashion blogs, I decided to give it another chance! Lo and behold… I fell in love. The choking high collar has NOW become my ultimate favorite thing. Just ask Judith, co-founder of our fashion line RaJu. I keep adding turtle necks to all our styles to the point where we’re almost tired of it. The high collar has a sense of class and elegance to it. It has personality, dimension and is more mysterious. Wearing this dress, with all of its details, print and ruffles, I felt like the high collar tied it all together. The high collar makes you of high end, it’s a luxury, a lifestyle. It forces you to carry yourself in a certain way by maintaining a straighter back and a better posture. Everything manifests differently because of this magical collar.

The high collars forces you to hold your head up high, like a princess. When I see someone wear it, it really adds a beautiful sense of royalty and confidence. As we come into the High Holidays (the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), a solemn time, a time for judgement and reflection, we must remember that we are all daughters and princesses of a king. Wear what you may, during these High Holidays… you know what I’ll be wearing!

Here’s some inspiration:

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How To Thrive On Yom Kippur: Three Tips For An Easier Fast



Yom Kippur, one of the most sacred Jewish Holidays of the year, is upon us. As much as we dread the idea of not eating for 25 full hours, it can be an inspiring time to engage in deep spiritual practice.  Here are ways you can prepare yourself for the 25 hour fast. These pointers will help keep your stomach from grumblin’ and your breath from stankin’.

1) Cut down on the caffeine For all you coffee/tea lovers out there, your morning cup of caffeine is a must. In fact, some of you are quick to develop headaches/migraines if you don’t have that cup. What to do:  Days preceding the fast, try to minimize your caffeine intake as much as possible. Try some herbal tisanes, perhaps. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. There is nothing better you can do for yourself than to drink. Stay away from alcohol; poppin’ bottles will only make you more prone to dehydration, causing unpleasantness during the fast.

2) Did I mention HYDRATION? The difficulty we experience during the fast is not usually linked to lack of food; rather, it is the lack of fluids. Best choices: You can never go wrong with the good ol’ H20. Experts suggest drinking EIGHT 8 oz cups of water per day. Try to reach that goal or even surpass it by drinking more the day of. Eat your way to hydration by eating  up plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are naturally full of water. Some of the most hydrating foods include: Cucumber, iceberg lettuce, celery, grapes, tomatoes, watermelon, green peppers, and spinach, to name a few. A handful of these ingredients mixed together sounds like a delicious salad, no?

3) What to eat the day of?  On the day of the fast try eating balanced meals. For the meal before the fast, eat a proper meal that includes protein, carbohydrates, and plenty of vegetables.  Eating more carbohydrates will help make you feel fuller longer (you can never go wrong with potatoes, pasta, and bread). Try to avoid salty and spicy foods as much as possible. The over-consumption of salt causes thirst because the body requires more water to absorb the extra salt. Knowing that we won’t be able to eat for 25 hours drives us to eat as much as possible before the fast begins. However, do yourself a favor and try not to eat a heavy 5 course meal fit for a Prince. The more you eat, the more water is needed from the body to digest it.

Now, you are fully equipped to a have a meaningful fast!  May we all be inSKRIBED and sealed in the Book of Life!

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Six Mindful Eating Tips for Your Body and Soul



The average person spends at least one hour a day eating. So by the age of 30, you’ve spent the equivalent of two years just putting food in your mouth. How can we make this a more pleasurable, productive and meaningful experience?

Traditional Jewish thought has much to say about what we eat, how we eat, when we eat, and even why we eat, and much of it is also recommended by modern scientists.


  1. Eat Hungry.


When was the last time you pulled over at a gas station to fill up your tank that was already full? Probably never. However, when was the last time you ate something when you weren’t hungry?  

Checking your hunger gauge before popping in that random bite will allow you to keep your weight in check as well as build your self-control.

Going to your second event of the evening, already fed, and still have an urge to pop down some more food?  Like the modern day nutritionists, King Solomon advises against the unnecessary consumption of food, saying “The righteous eat to satisfy their souls” (Proverbs 13:25).

  1.  Sit Down.

Late to work? Running after the kids? Doing errands? No problem–it’s just not the best time to be chomping down your meal.  Although it may save time, it’s a bad idea. The Talmud uses harsh terminology against those who eat while standing. The Rambam, in his magnum opus Mishneh Torah, says that one should never stand or walk while eating.

Modern day scientific research also claims that this kind of eating is fattening and unhealthy. In fact, there is even a diet based on this understanding, called ‘The Sit-Down Diet’, which suggests that we consume fewer calories when we eat sitting down versus while standing up or walking. We are also more likely to digest food better when we sit down and chew our food properly.

  1.  Acknowledge

You’re hungry and sitting down to your meal, now recognize where the food comes from. Taking three seconds to acknowledge basic details of the culinary dish placed before you can set the tone for rest of the meal. Something as simple as verbally acknowledging the work of the cook, especially if it is a parent or spouse, can have a profound effect on your mood. Paying attention to all of the individual ingredients can make the experience even more tasty.

On a deeper level, every time any food is consumed, Jewish sources tell us one should recite a blessing of recognition prior to taking the first bite. A common misconception is that the blessing or bracha that is said before eating is a form of thanksgiving. This is not accurate; while the after-blessing of Birkat Hamazon clearly mentions the act of thanksgiving, the initial blessing makes no mention of thanks. It is a statement acknowledging that God is the Creator of the food (Blessed are you Hashem … Creator of ….).

  1.  Remove Distractions

Imagine our reaction to someone in a movie theater who is on their phone half of the time.  Would we have the same reaction to the ever-so-common sight of someone munching down an entire meal while consumed with an iPhone, TV or computer screen?  One cannot fully enjoy a meal while answering emails or scrolling through their Facebook newsfeed.

Unlike many other religions whose ordinances promote abstinence from physical pleasures, Judaism incorporates the pleasure of eating in every one of its holidays. However, we rob ourselves of this enjoyment every time we mindlessly eat.

Don’t care about enjoyment? Distracted eating causes your digestion to be less effective in breaking down your food, leading to less flavor and increasing the possibility of bloating, gas and constipation. Trying to lose weight? Research shows that the more you distract yourself during a meal, the more pounds you add. Doing simple acts of mindfulness, such as paying attention to the smell, taste, appearance and texture of the food, can keep the focus on your meal.

  1.  Chew, Swallow, Wait… Repeat.

Ever mindlessly wolf down a meal in one minute? Scarfing down an entire meal can leave you feeling disheartened, but it can also leave you with unwanted extra fat on your hips.

Taking your body off of autopilot mode while feasting has great spiritual benefits as well.  In describing ways of going against animalistic eating habits, the great nineteenth-century Iraqi sage Rabbi Yosef Hayim, in his famous book, Ben Ish Hai, gives a recommendation that is sure to slow your scarf. He writes that one should not reach for the next bite until the previous bite has been completely swallowed.  

Speaking from experience, this one tip is much easier said than done. However, once mastered, this habit is sure to leaving you feeling in control and elevated, especially if you take it to the next level and put down your utensil between bites.

  1.  Appreciate.

Now that you’re satiated and your spirit is recharged, it’s time for some thanksgiving (without the turkey). Saying thanks is much harder when you have somewhere else you want to go. Maybe that’s why the only biblically ordained blessing is the Grace After Meals and not the blessing before the meal (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Being appreciative is a core Jewish value. In fact, Jews are called Yehudim from the word L’hodot, or to thank. Messages of appreciation are found in the stories of our forefathers and foremothers. Gratitude permeates the entire Jewish experience, from the first words that are uttered by our lips when we wake up in the morning, “Modeh Ani”, to the thrice-daily communal prayer service throughout the day.

Surprisingly, recently discovered side benefits of gratitude include improved health, increased self-esteem and even better sleep. Taking the extra minutes to appreciate our privileged satiated stomachs should now seem more meaningful and hopefully a little easier.

Although not practical for every meal, striving towards these goals should help us lead more meaningful, in-control and healthy lives.  For what it is worth, I will personally vouch for it!


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Upcoming Release: Babak Anvari’s “Under the Shadow”



On October 7th, an Iranian film titled Under the Shadow will be released in select theaters. Its release will signify an important moment for Iranians, in that it will spark difficult yet necessary conversation with regard to the regressed evolution of the nation. Through this piece, writer-director, Babak Anvari masterfully illustrates the sociopolitical imprisonment of women in post-revolution Iran. Situated in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s, Under the Shadow tells the story of a woman’s struggle to balance the public conformity requisite to survive in her society with an integrity valuing the antithesis of conservatism.

Early in the film, protagonist, Shideh faces the repercussions of daring to simultaneously be assertive and female, as she finds herself barred from continuing her medical education due to the liberal ideals she publicly aligned herself with in her support of the Shah prior to the Revolution. She attempts, and fails, to hide her grief from a husband who views her expulsion as justified, and is ultimately relieved to now have a wife who will remain in place properly, with sole dedication to motherhood. A doctor himself, Shideh’s husband is summoned to serve in the war and must leave his wife and daughter behind. He urges her not to stay alone, as he persistently pushes for her to take their young daughter, Dorsa, to his parents’ home and stay there until his return from duty. Shideh resists, determined to prove her parental competence without using her in-laws as a crutch. Soon after his departure, a cursed missile crashes into Shideh’s apartment complex and is believed to have brought with it the Djinn – malicious demon spirits known to travel on the wind. With the presence of the missile, Dorsa and Shideh begin to lose themselves in their struggle to identify distinctions between reality and symptoms of the vulnerability brought on by their fear.

Under the Shadow stays true to the horror genre in its combined use of elements of suspense and tension, which effectively produce and maintain fear throughout the film. This fear reaches far beyond that of a typical thriller, though, as it is based in much more than a simple chase or ailment. This fear is not fictional; it is not brought on solely by the world created by the filmmaker. Rather, its foundation is built from fact – it is grounded by the lurking and certain loss of liberty our protagonist faces and is fueled by her fight against it. This fear is inescapable; it is laid out in the history of a nation, and as it plays out on screen, viewers are reminded of its reach – of the devastatingly omnipresent nature of the imposed restrictions accompanying this kind of regime change. We are tormented, alongside Shideh, as we watch her soul break in our acknowledgement of her shattered dreams. The film and the fear it generates possess what many of its variety lack: substance.

As an Iranian-American, whose family fled Iran to escape the social and spiritual confinements of its political climate post-revolution, I identified with the film in a way that others may not. For eighty-two minutes, I felt like I could have been watching my mother on screen. I saw my mother and her sisters, and every other woman caught between Western standards and Middle Eastern values, in Shideh. This is the story of every woman; of women who struggle to hold onto their heritage while adopting a contradictory culture; of women who have daughters – who above all else hope to raise their daughters to become empowered and independent women who view their futures without ceilings; of women who refuse to live passive and obedient lives. I saw my mother in her as she performed to Jane Fonda’s exercise tape, like I saw my mother in her as she tried and failed, but tried again, acting to protect her daughter at all costs – carrying out the actions she thought were best for her daughter; being stubborn and assertive, and knowing not to shrink herself to the place her society has deemed acceptable for a woman.

Seated in the theater, with intent to focus on Under the Shadow’s insightful storyline, I was able to catch each symbolic reference embedded within its flashes of horror. I saw that the spirits haunting Dorsa and Shideh serve purposes greater than attaining gasps and shrieks among the crowd. They are there to illustrate the psychological struggle of those who feel national pride because of the growth in their homeland rather than the extremism and conservatism it once stood for as they are forced to regress with the country they cherish. I noticed that the villain of the film is characterized by the Djinn – which are satanic spirits originating in the Quran as symbols of chaos and evil – and although it is presented in a way in which it can be easily mistaken for a ghost, as the ominous form we see comes across as a typical cloaked and faceless figure, the actual construction of this figure in its entirety is composed by a chador. I recognize that chador both for what it is and what it is not. It is not an advocacy for taking a stance against Islam. It is not a tool meant to vilify or condemn Islamic ideals or practices. Yet it is political. It is a cautionary emblem of fanaticism and the threat it imposes on autonomy and distinction, which has been strategically placed to evoke awareness and acknowledgement.

The most profound scene in the film, in terms of its sociopolitical symbolism, is the one in which Shideh and Dorsa are trapped under the chador. As they fight to get out from under it, Shideh’s desperation to save her daughter from its grip exposes and clarifies her tremendous fear of their impactful milieu given Dorsa’s impressionability. This scene provides for our consumption a discourse on the suffocation brought on by one’s recognition of the implications accompanying an oppressive regime shift. It references the kind of suffocation that is evoked by a future marked by a loss of civil liberties and illustrates the asphyxiating notion of raising a daughter in a country whose legislature does not recognize women as worthy or autonomous human beings; in a country where civil rights do not exist, and humanity is dependent on gender.

To put it simply, Under the Shadow is a must see. It is an intelligent and politically charged, thought provoking thriller – an incredible and uncommon occurrence. It gives a voice to a creatively underrepresented historical moment that passed decades ago, but continues to effect Iranian citizens, while serving as a reminder of the prevalence in our global society of the tumultuous ebb and flow of infringements on human decency in the name of conservatism. The film is refreshing in its acknowledgement and representation of the various ways in which individuals can be impacted by altered values, standards, and spirituality imposed by newly empowered government officials; and is sure to simultaneously entertain and educate its viewers.

Under the Shadow will be released on October 7th at the Sundance Sunset Cinema in Los Angeles.

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november, 2019

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