What if everything you thought you knew about your family and their history turned out to be only part of the truth? What if your entire belief system were completely shattered because of a few questions? What if one day the lenses through which you saw the world disappeared and everything you thought you knew had changed?
That’s exactly what happened to me when I learned the long-hidden truth behind our family history.
Hidden in Plain Sight
When my grandmother was 20 years old, she left the Catholic Church to be a Seventh Day Adventist. She felt the Seventh Day Adventists were the only ones at that time who truly tried to do what the Bible actually said to do – essentially going “back to the basics”. If the Bible said not to eat certain foods, don’t eat them. If the Bible said to observe the Sabbath day as holy, observe it. At this time, when Christianity was, and still is, filled with theology that says these things no longer need to be observed, the Adventists were some of the only people who believed this way.
When my mother was about the same age, she too decided to leave the denomination she was raised in for the Pentecostal Church (a variation of Evangelical Christianity) – but she never stopped following the dietary restrictions or the observance of Sabbath. Even though we were taught growing up in the Pentecostal Church that Torah was “done away with,” that we could eat whatever we wanted, and that sabbath was Sunday, my family continued to revere the “Old Testament,” not eat pork or shellfish, and to observe Saturday as Sabbath.
Growing up, we were different than everyone else – especially the people we went to church with. We always had menorahs around our house and at Christmas we had the hanukiah my mother brought back from Israel next to our Christmas tree – a sight you will no longer see. We followed the Biblical guidelines on eating and keeping Sabbath and we had a strong affinity for Israel and the Jewish people. But I couldn’t help feeling that something was still missing.
The Blowing of the Shofar and the Searching Spirit
Following what seems to have become somewhat of a family tradition for the women in our family, at 20 years old, I too began to question the faith with which I had grown up. As a young college student, I began studying the Hebrew roots of Christianity. I soaked everything up like a dry, thirsty sponge. All the questions I had about Christian doctrine not lining up with what the Bible said were suddenly answered. There was a reason they didn’t line up.
The more I studied the more I had strange dreams reflecting something inside of me awakening. My spirit had indeed heard the shofar blowing and began to wake up from its slumber. There was no lightning bolt and there was no epiphany, “aha” moment, but rather, this awakening to who I truly am was the product of months of research, study, talking with family, reflection and prayer. It was a process. It was a priceless gift. It allowed me the time to not only process what I was learning but to also allow it to change me from the inside out.
Looking back at the timing, it can be no coincidence that this blowing of the shofar happened during the month of Elul and the holidays of Yom Teruach (Rosh Hashanah), Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. I remember the culmination of my months of studying and searching led me to a Sukkot celebration.
I had never seen anything like it before. The palm branch-covered booths with the bright colors and the music and the dancing! I felt so comfortable and safe. Like I was somehow home or where I belonged.
I recently shared my story with a group of Israeli Air Force officers I was working with and the response from one summed up my feelings perfectly. Genuinely awed he said, “It’s as if your spirit was always searching to come home. And it has finally found its way back.”
Whenever I tell my story to Israelis or people that have been raised their entire life knowing they are Jewish, I sometimes feel as if they look at me like I’m the lost treasure of Blackbeard or a Narnian creature. I’m the lost Sephardic Jew who was forced to convert – the anusim — that they have been waiting for – the fulfillment of prophecy written by Obadiah thousands of years ago right before their eyes:
“The exiles of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites as far as Tzarphat, and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharaḏ shall possess the cities of the South.”
Putting the Pieces Back Together
Almost 10 years after I started my search, I can say that I finally feel closer to being “home” than ever before. It’s hard to say that I am definitely “home” because I firmly believe that we never stop growing and learning and changing, but my spirit feels like it’s where it belongs. But it’s also difficult to feel truly at home because in some ways, I don’t belong anywhere.
To my Jewish friends, I’m that crazy girl who tries to be Jewish but can’t really prove who her family is. To my Christian friends, I’m that delusional girl who has left her faith in Jesus and has put herself back “under the Law.”
The truth is, I am neither of these.
I may not be the cookie-cutter version of either Jew or Christian but I have held my own when confronted for what I believe. My ancestors did what they thought they had to in order to survive. They converted to Catholicism. But I refuse to hide any longer. I refuse to be embarrassed by who I am. I refuse to change who I am in order to make others happy. Call me meshuganah. Tell me I don’t belong or that I don’t fit in. But you won’t change what I know in my spirit to be true – that I am Israel.
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!
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!
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.
- 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).
- 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.
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 ….).
- 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.
- 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.
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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