Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lunch With Leeba

Between all the kids, school, work and the desire for sleep, it's hard to cultivate a friendship. Sure, you can spend 1600 minutes a month talking on the cell phone, but then you run the risk of divorce court. So every once in a while, to keep the friendship alive, you have to go one on one; get face to face; spend quality time together. Even if that quality time is one hour and 45 minutes.

So today I had a date with my best friend Leeba. We ordered the lunch specials at Le Sushi* restaurant - sesame chicken for her, teriyaki chicken for me. And yes, we did share our meals. But more than that, we shared laughter, secrets, funny stories and all the things women do together when they're called girls. Leeba and I had a great time. It healed a lousy morning and made for a great afternoon.

A clothing designer by profession, the new year looks full for Leeba. As for me, school starts in a few days and it's a solid wall of studying for the next 10 weeks. But week 11, well, I'm already planning my next hot date with my favorite gal.

*Located in the San Fernando Valley. Check this space for a video food review in the next few months.

Test Taking Trial

Thank G-d, I can't say that I have ever panicked, as I did today, often in my life. Facing a computer screen with verbal and quantitative GRE* test questions, I froze. Despite spending two days studying intensely (okay, not enough I know), I was unprepared for the trial that lay before me. Mind you, this is a retake. It was as though the exam dropped out of the sky like a space alien. How is that possible?

Truth be told, I think I would have preferred a space alien close encounter to what I ended up with. When it was over, it wasn't over for me. I felt sick to my stomach, the kind of sick you feel after nearly getting into a car accident. I had failed myself. Technically, I needed a score 30 points higher than before and I got it. So I didn't actually fail completely. But I wanted a higher score. This is the part where you have to say, let go, let G-d. The One Above knows the plan. Unfortunately, I had to say let go, let G-d twice today about the same thing - once before it started and now afterwards. Oy. It's a good thing G-d knows the plan. I just hope it works!

*Graduate Record Examination

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Comforting A Mourner

There's a woman in my community who recently lost her father. I'm not very close to this person, but I respect and admire her, and felt the need to sit with her during the "shiva" or seven day mourning period and hear what she had to say.

Having lost both my parents, I know how important it is to share their lives with people who never knew them. Every time I talk about my mother or father, it brings them closer to me.

This woman and I, our lives couldn't be more different. Or so I thought. Yet, the more I asked about her father, the more I heard about my own father. Is it possible that generations of people are the same - with similar moral codes, work ethics and belief systems? There were definitely differences, but also surprising similarities.

What I learned today is, just when you think you know something, be prepared for a revelation. Thank you Creator, for making it all open to interpretation. Thank you for giving me a few minutes with my Dad today, too.

The Day is Short. . .

The day is short, the task is great. Just what that means to each of us is a "fill in the blank." To me, on a physical level, that means being all things to all people: wife, mother, best friend, community participant, student. On a spiritual level, it means remembering Who's the Boss, Who's running the show. And when I get frustrusted because feel I've failed somewhere (or everywhere), it comes back to me that I didn't write the script and I don't know how the story ends. I'm just playing my part. If I could get more sleep, truly restful sleep, I might be able to be a bit more introspective. But until that happens (and my guess is it will coincide with the "sleep of the dead"), then maybe I won't be making the same mistakes over and over again, and I won't be so mad about it all. There, I smiled. It's all gonna be okay.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Making Kindness Matter

It wasn't my idea, it was Moav's. She wanted to do something to help people. So she asked a group of CSULA students by email to join her. "Let's get together and hand out food on skid row," she said. Okay, a few of us said back. So today, armed with 100 sandwiches handmade by Moav, Penny's tangerines, re gifted chocolate and Uzi's watchful eye, we drove around until we came upon a group of people standing still around the Midnight Mission and a parking spot, in that order. What we thought would take 2 hours took 20 minutes.

People seemed to know why we came. We didn't even have to say
a word. They asked us for the food before we made it known we had it. It happened so fast I didn't even get any photos. But the feeling was electric. I went along for the ride, but when the ride was over, I was ready to organize the next run. We four huddled afterwards to critique we just happened and decide how, not if, to move forward.

There's nothing like the high you get from making other people happy. Thank you Moav, Uzi and Penny. Thanks for letting me tag along. Next time, I plan to to drive.

Stop and Smell the Roses

My husband bought me these flowers for Shabbos, and I only noticed them today. My life is obviously screaming out for "stop and smell the roses!"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Aseres B'Teves

Today, Jews all over the world observed the 2,432 anniversary of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians which resulted in the destruction of the first Holy Temple. It is our custom to note such sad occurrences with a fast; in this case, from sun up to sun down. It provides a great opportunity to repent and review our lives so far. I read some truly moving writings by holocaust survivors and others. Cried like a baby. In truth, the observances aren't getting any easier. It's not the lack of food - I had plenty of practice with that all week. Another fast means another moment without Moshiach. Another chance for an end to war, hate, violence, and pain lost. Is it coincidence that Iranians rioted for the freedom today - the same day several millennium ago when we took to the walls of Jerusalem to defend our freedom as a nation, as a people? Here's an interesting take on our present situation from Rabbi Laser Brody, a Breslover. It's 7minutes long, so listen to what you can. It was posted in May 2009, and is called "The Last Generation Before Moshiach." I hope you find it as inspiring as I did.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Parent Teacher Conference

I have a dear friend who loves parent teacher conferences. She holds the teachers overtime to hear them wax poetic about her child's deeds. Me, I hate them. Parent teacher conferences are a pox on my life, and I try to weasel out of them every time I get the call to set them up. It stems from the time I had five boys in one school and made appointments with the wrong teachers. (In all fairness, the teachers were brothers, and hence, had the same last name!) Then there's also the part about the unknown - just when I thought everything was alright, I hear they're all wrong. Add to that the part about the school doing all they can and how it's up to the parents and I'm really to spontaneously combust. My children know how I feel about an education. I've taken years out of and off my life pursuing an Master's degree in Nutrition - a science, although I have no head for anything math or scientific. Hence I choose to be spared the 10 minutes I get per teacher (often 10-15 minutes late) and would rather spend that time working on and with my children to succeed.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jury Duty

As a full time student, I was allowed to change my jury duty service to a time best suited to my schedule. How accomodating, I thought, and did just that. I chose this week. But something happened - I got sick. The nausea kind a sick where you don't want to know there's a world around you, much less participate in it. So I forgot to call in one night to find out if I had to serve the next day (yeah, all kinds of court cases on December 23), and now the process starts all over again. Because when you forget to call in, there in no forgiveness built into the system. You must reassign your jury duty. BTW, this is the third time I've been called in 6 years. There are 10 million people in the city of Los Angeles, and I can't help but believe that only a fraction of that number vote. So instead of 12 angry men, you've got on angry woman here. Still trying to figure out how G-d plays into this one. Probably won't know until mid-June, when this process begins again. Oh joy.

On Being Sick

There a special place in the sickness kingdom for the stomach flu. When you have a cold, you can still function, you're just achy. When you have the regular flu, you're flat on your back because of the fever. The stomach flu is unique in that you have nausea, and aches, but no fever and hence no way to gauge when you're coming out of it. You keep having to test the waters, and hope they don't come back up again. No need to belabor the point. The best way to approach the stomach flu is to acknowledge this is G-d way of saying "stay in bed, watch a movie." Done.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Parking My Car

As any victim of alternate street cleaning days will attest, street parking can be a nightmare. Your choices are: leave the house for half the day; find a parking spot the night before and don't use your car for half the day; find safe parking close to public transport so you can take the bus back and forth to your car; rely on G-d to find you a space.

Okay, the last option is kinda weird and sometimes doesn't work, but when it does, you can feel the G-dliness. You are certain that the only way you got that spot (besides putting your car in crawl mode as you case up and down the block) is because G-d wanted you to have it. That makes you feel so special.

Obviously, that happened to me today. For the first two hours, I parked some distance from the house. But after two hours, the car had to be moved, and still no spots where available. So I drove around and around and finally ended up on my street, right behind a young man walking to his car. Right in front of my house. And I knew then and there that G-d was with me.

Here's to feeling that way 24/7!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Victory is Ours!

To Jews everywhere, Tuesday, December 22 is also known as Hey Teves, the 5th day of the Hebrew month of Teves. To Lubavitcher Chassidim worldwide, Hey Teves goes by another name - Didan Netzach, or Victory is Ours. It refers to the famous court case where the question "who is the rightful owner of the Previous Rebbe's collection of books and original manuscripts" - priceless objects being sold surreptitiously by the late Rebbe's grandson -was answered by the verdict in a secular court in New York City. And that answer was: the very same owners of the Rebbe himself - his Chassidim, or followers, and not an inherited right of the Rebbe's family. It was an amazing decision, and one that kept those priceless works in a library for all to see, and not in the hands of private collectors.

But the concept of "Victory is Ours" goes further than books and libraries. It goes to the very essence of who we are. We are holy creations of the ultimate Creator, and Hey Teves is a day imbued with the spiritual capacity to connect with the Holy One, Blessed Be He. Today, the Heavens open up, and He hears our pleas, our complaints, and indeed, our demands. It's a day when the Creator truly belongs to all of us. So human race, it's time. Call Home.

* The photo above is entitled The Opening Sky by Armand Belakow.

Feelings of Loss

I'm a little out of breathe right now, having just returned from nothingness. Literally. I went to comfort a mourner, and arrived too late. The emptiness I feel is overwhelming.
What did I learn from this? Never hesitate to act. Never put off a task. Never stop short of making the right move. I missed the greatest opportunity to do a mitzvah - to console another human being after the loss of a parent. Second only to losing a child, G-d forbid, losing a parent can tear a hole in your heart that will take forever to repair. I pray the mourner can forgive me. I just hope I can forgive myself.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Family Day

There's nothing like family - good or bad. I've been blessed with good, and I thank the Holy One as He smiles down on me.

My only sister lives about 45 minutes away from me, and conflicting schedules and the the "daily grind" keep us apart. We might see each other a few times a year, and that is truly unconscionable. So today I took my family and went to visit my sister's family. The few short hours we had together were amazing. The kids played, we looked at old pictures, and I actually became more confused about the history of family members past. Ah, the delights of get-togethers!

I truly wish my brother and sister were my neighbors. Not likely, of course, but a wish all the same. To those of you blessed with relatives "on your head," enjoy. I envy you more than you know. (The photos shows my baby sister Sue on the left, and giddy me, on the right!)

This is Grandma!

Just a few days ago, I posted some photos given to me by a cousin of my grandfather and grandmother. But I knew the woman wasn't my grandmother - and until I found the photos, I could not compare them. Well here she is: Rebecca (Alpert) Strausberg, formerly of Kroylina, Bessarabia. I will say that fashion was not particularly kind to women in the 1920-30s, and that includes hairstyles.

I did know my grandmother for nearly the first decade of my life. She passed away in 1967 and lies in a lonely grave not far from my parents and older sister. As she spent the last 30 years of her life, she is without her husband, my grandfather, who died in 1938 when he was barely 40 years old.

Those who knew my grandmother said she was beautiful. As I look at these photos, she does look beautiful. However, the untimely death of her firstborn at age 7, and the death by his own hand of her husband took its toll on her. But here, she's appears young, happy and open to life's adventures. What happened to change all that is a story untold, as the cast is long gone and those who remain don't know the script.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Unexpected Meeting

Today at my neighborhood Trader Joe's, I met an a former professor, someone I had grown close to during class. It's been a good year and a half since we last saw each other or spoke. But today, we were in the same line; she was checking out and I was behind the next in line. I looked at her, she looked at me. Then she smiled and I knew it was her.
How good to catch up with her after what seems like a million years. So much has happened in that time - me moving on to University, she getting her class load reduced due to the budget crisis. It was her idea that I pursue the course I am currently taking, and standing face to face with her in the parking lot brought back some wonderful memories - I made two dear friends in that class that I still have today. Thank you, Creator of the Universe, who sets it all in motion, and lets us play it all out. Thanks for sending her my way.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Give Peace A Chance

I got to thinking yesterday, when my grades came in from the Fall Quarter, that I really had to thank the Holy One, Blessed Be He, for making my hard work matter. And hard work it was. I know I say this every quarter, by I've never worked so hard in my life. All that work paid off.

As I sat staring at my grades on my friend's computer, I thought, thank you G-d for making this possible. Thank you for giving me the strength to survive another onslaught of information digestion in a short amount of time. Thank you G-d for bringing me to this day. As we say in Hebrew, She-heh-che-yonu, Viki-ye-monu, Ve-he-ge-onu, Lezman Hazeh.

What does G-d want for all this? Peace. Peace in our homes (Shalom Bayit), peace in our communities, and peace in our hearts. Then He can dwell among us.

In terms of peace, think global, but act local. I'm not saying forget about world peace. But I think world peace can only come about when there's peace everywhere. It's got to start to each of us individually.

As hard as it will be, I pledge to my Creator that I will work to bring peace to my loved ones. Care to join me by bringing peace to yours?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Eating Write!

Once the word gets out that you're a Master's student in Nutrition, well, everyone hits you up for suggestions about what to eat. In a nutshell, I tell my friends to check out "" Probably the one thing the government got write or right, and is willing to change to accommodate new data.

In one sentence, the advice is: "Eat everything in moderation." So, those of us, including yours truly, who are completely without a clue as to what "moderation" means, here it is, based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet:

Grains: 6 ounces every day. That includes: at least half that amount in whole grains, which are pasta, bread, cereal, and rice.

Vegetables: 2.5 cups every day. That means dark green and orange veggies too.

Fruits: 2 cups every day. Variety is the spice of life. If not fresh, do be shy about canned fruits. Just go easy on the juices.

Milk: 2 cups every day. Definitely choose low-fat or fat-free. And it you're lactose intolerant, you'll need to be creative about your calcium intake.

Meat & Beans: 5.5 - 6 ounces every day. A serving should fit in the palm of your hand.

For anyone interested in the ounce to gram conversion, it's roughly 1 ounce = 28.3495231 grams.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yitzy Goes to Israel

What follows if a short photo essay of my eldest, who left last week to go study in Yeshiva (Jewish school) in Israel. I thought I couldn't stand his sleeping in all day, but now I walk by his room and look in. He's not there, and I miss him. His leaving is a big hole in my life. So here he is, with his friends, and his Bubbie (grandmother), as they leave Los Angeles together.

What Chanukah Means to Me

I know it sounds like a essay contest, but I just want to share a few thoughts about Chanukah , which comes at the time of the year that I love most. It seems to me that people are at their best right now - giving to others in a world lit up bright from holiday displays. I love those lights blinking lights.

Lighting up the world - yes, that's what Chanukah is all about. Over 2,000 years ago Jews stood up for what was rightfully theirs and fought a mighty empire to be free. The few against the many. The weak (in numbers) against the strong. The clothing and weapons have changed, but the story remains the same. We still stand against the many, but we are the strong. We will prevail. As long as our will is the Holy One's Will, no enemy will take our place.

That's why I love the Chanukah story. Because no matter how small in number we are, the Jewish people have a really big ally. The Creator. Peace to all. Good will towards humankind. Amen.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Strausberg Stories

The photo to the right was given to me by a cousin, showing my grandfather, Abraham Strausberg, posed, she says, with my grandmother, Beckie. I knew my grandmother, but she never looked like this. I never knew my grandfather, and wish I had. They were both immigrants from the old country, in this case, Bessarabia, Romania. My grandfather came to New York in 1913 and naturalized in 1928. My grandmother naturalized in the 1950s, but I'm not sure exactly when she arrived.

On the left is another photo of my grandfather (left) and his brother Louie, obviously dressed up to celebrate a happy occasion. It's not like pictures where just snapped on the spur of the moment then. These were obviously staged, as the background and pedestal are the same, but judging by the appearance of my grandfather, they appear to be taken some time apart. I know the chances are very slim, but if anyone knows anything about these people, please let me know.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ethiopia - The Movie

On Friday, October 23, my fellow NTRS 312 Cultural Cuisine classmates and I went to Rahel's Vegan Ethiopian Restaurant on Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles (Little Ethiopia) and made this movie, with the help of cinematographer Daniel Savitt. We played it for our classmates during our report on Subsaharan Africa. Instant celebrity. Enjoy!!!

From Ethiopia

Good Yom Tov

For Lubavitchers everywhere, today is Yud Tes Kislev, the 19th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, a holiday celebrating the liberation of our first Rebbe, known to all of us as the Alter Rebbe (Elder Rebbe). Below please find an explanation of this day, and be sure to do good deeds, as holidays always allow an extra level of holiness into our lives.

Kislev 19The "New Year" of Chassidism

The 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev is celebrated as the "Rosh Hashanah of Chassidism." It was on this date, in the year 1798, that the founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), was freed from his imprisonment in Czarist Russia. More than a personal liberation, this was a watershed event in the history of Chassidism, heralding a new era in the revelation of the "inner soul" of Torah.
The public dissemination of teachings of Chassidism had in fact begun two generations earlier. The founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), revealed to his disciples gleanings from the mystical soul of Torah which had previously been the sole province of select Kabbalists in each generation. This work was continued by the Baal Shem Tov's disciple, Rabbi DovBer, the "Maggid of Mezeritch"--who is also deeply connected with the date of "Kislev 19": on this day in 1772, 26 years before Rabbi Schneur Zalman's release from prison, the Maggid returned his soul to his Maker. Before his passing, he said to his disciple, Rabbi Schneur Zalman: "this day is our yomtov (festival)."
Rabbi Schneur Zalman went much farther than his predecessors, bringing these teachings to broader segments of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe. More significantly, Rabbi Schneur Zalman founded the "Chabad" approach -- a philosophy and system of study, meditation, and character refinement that made these abstract concepts rationally comprehensible and practically applicable in daily life.
In its formative years, the Chassidic movement was the object of strong, and often venomous, opposition from establishment rabbis and laymen. Even within the Chassidic community, a number of Rabbi Schneur Zalman's contemporaries and colleagues felt that he had "gone too far" in tangibalizing and popularizing the hitherto hidden soul of Torah.
In the fall of 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was arrested on charges that his teachings and activities threatened the imperial authority of the Czar, and was imprisoned in an island fortress in the Neva River in Petersburg. In his interrogations, he was compelled to present to the Czar's ministers the basic tenets of Judaism and explain various points of Chassidic philosophy and practice. After 53 days, he was exonerated of all charges and released.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman saw these events as a reflection of what was transpiring Above. He regarded his arrest as but the earthly echo of a Heavenly indictment against his revelation of the most intimate secrets of the Torah. And he saw his release as signifying his vindication in the Heavenly court. Following his liberation on Kislev 19, he redoubled his efforts, disseminating his teachings on a far broader scale, and with more detailed and "down to earth" explanations, than before.
Kislev 19 therefore marks the "birth" of Chassidism: the point at which it was allowed to emerge from the womb of "mysticism" into the light of day, to grow and develop as an integral part of Torah and Jewish life.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Nana Speaks!

Hi everyone. Writing a blog is new to me, but I love reading them. Hopefully, the two will work together here. My goal is to express myself and have a great time in the process. So stay tuned for restaurant reviews, interviews, and stories about life as I see it.