by admin

It has been a long time since I last posted an entry on my blog.  I have been busy traveling, attending the High Holidays services and applying for a course at MUM.

And now that I have a 6-hour layover in Minneapolis, I can finally rest. I am writing this blog entry at a coffee shop near the bus station.

When I told my friends that I was going on a 21-hour bus trip across the midwest, they cringed.

“No, it won’t be that bad,” I reassured them. I knew I was going to meet interesting characters along the journey.

During my first layover in Des Moines, IA, the bus station was ugly and the TV was loud. There were few people at the station_ all blue collar_ waiting for the 11:30 pm bus connection.

There was a woman in her 60s sitting nearby. As soon as I unloaded my backpack onto a seat next to her, she started to tell me her life story. So I listened. Her ex-husband had wrecked her brand new car and she had gotten injured in the accident.

“Now all I do all day is watch my house,” said the woman, who could barely walk. “I don’t go nowhere.” she kept her 4-legged cane next to her; I had seen her use it earlier as she moved her feeble body to and from the restroom.

After the car accident, she promptly divorced her husband. ”I am never gonna get married again,” she said, shaking her head with disgust.

By now the TV was getting louder. The commercials were starting to repeat themselves as Jennifer Lopez (or a celebrity look-alike) was promoting a car.  I was starting to have a headache; I needed peace and quiet. I asked the newly divorced lady to watch over my bags as I went for a walk.



by admin

I went for a short walk.  It was a beautiful Autumn evening. Then for dinner, I sat outside on the steps of the Trailways bus station and ate my bagel with cream cheese, a banana and drank grape juice. Soon a fellow traveler joined me.

“Hi I’m Lee!” Despite his name, Lee was not Chinese at all. It turned out, he was Mexican and a truck driver. Lee was pudgy, wearing a baseball cap over a white t-shirt with its sleeves chopped off and dirty jeans. He had a missing tooth up front.

“I drive 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” said the man, who works for a company based in South Dakota. “I make about $6,000 a week.”

The only reason he was at the bus station and not driving was because his truck had broken down somewhere in Illinois earlier that morning.

“G-d told me I had to get away from my truck,” he added.

Lee did not have an apartment. He slept in his truck all year-long and even had a microwave and Satellite TV on it. On Sundays, he drove his 18-wheeler to any Catholic church he happened to travel by, parked it, and attended mass.

Lee had been driving a truck for the past 17 years. Without his truck, he did not know what to do with himself.

“My boss said to take a few days off. What do you think I should do?” he asked me.

I asked him what he missed doing the most.

“I like the Ocean, I like to go fishing…” he rattled off a list of the places he would like to live in in the United States.

After he finished telling me about all the beautiful places, I found out the core of him: he was a lonely 36-year-old man, who wanted to start a family … and had an 11-year-old son in the very city where we were in.

“Well, there is your answer,” I said. “Why not spend some time with your son in Des Moines? You rarely see him.”

“I can even rent an apartment,” he said, his face lighting up with wonder.

“Sure you can! It will be a good experience. And you might even meet a nice Christian woman at a local church.”

He thanked me for the advice and said, “from the moment I saw you get on the bus, I saw you had G-d’s light in your eyes.”

“It must be because yesterday was Yom Kippur.”

“Yom what?”

He asked me if we could be friend. Sure on Facebook. As we surf Facebook together on my iPad, he showed me his favorite song: a Christian song with a picture of Jesus in the water. Lee seemed to transcend from the music. When it got to be my turn, I showed him the latest Chabad.org message in my inbox; it’s a cartoon about building the biggest sukkah in the world.

He asked again if could we stay in touch. I firmly steered him toward looking for the woman of his life in church. Because yours truly here, being Jewish, was not interested.



by admin

YouTube Preview Image

I have spent the last two weeks at Bais Chana’s Jewish Studies Retreat for Women in the Twin Cities.

Being immersed in Jewish Learning has been an enriching experience. The women at Bais Chana are supportive of each other as we learn and grow together.

I have filmed myself through some of the activities at Bais Chana. This video gives a snapshot of life at Bais Chana.

YouTube Preview Image

It’s 11p.m. My Jewish Study class at Bais Chana just ended.

We read the rebbe’s diaries in Yiddish. We discussed the coming of the Mashiach (the Messiah) and why Chabad Jews go to all corners of the world to reach out to Jews.

On our way out, we found a frog on the glass door, looking in. Maybe he wanted to attend class too.

So we asked him… on camera.



by admin

YouTube Preview Image

During the Bais Chana’s retreat, I got the honor to attend a Bris Milah, a Jewish circumcision ceremony performed on a 8-day old male infant.

The circumcision ceremony took place in a synagogue on a Sunday.
I barely got to see the circumcision itself since the baby was surrounded by his male family members: father, uncle, grandfather, as well as the mohel, a Jewish person trained in the practice of Brit milah (circumcision). I filmed what I could glimpse of the circumcision, holding my iPad high above my head, and standing in the women’s section of the synagogue. The mother of the baby and other female family members were also in the women’s section.

It was amazing to be immersed in this atmosphere of prayers, songs and joy to celebrate the keeping of a covenant of more than 5,000 years old between the Jews and G-d _ ever since Abraham.

YouTube Preview Image

While immersed in Jewish studies at Bais Chana’s retreat for women, a senator walked in.

It was Senator Rudy Boschwitz (R-MN), who negociated the release of Ethiopian Jews in 1991 in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.

Operation Solomon.

One of the most daring missions in history. It resulted in the successful release of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews, who were flown to Israel within a tight window of opportunity: 24 hours.

The operation had required the combined efforts of the United States and Israel. Senator Boschwitz was the main American negociator.

And my friends and I were lucky to hear the inside story of Operation Solomon.

Enjoy the video!

YouTube Preview Image

Brochie Kanelsky is a young Chasidic Jewish woman. She is 21 years old and passionate about serving G-d.

I met Brochie at Bais Chana’s retreat of Jewish Studies for Women. This was her 11th time at Bais Chana.

In this video, she explains what it means to be a Jewish woman of Chabad affiliation.

Dear Nesta.

I hope all is well with you in Sargeant.

I am learning a lot at this retreat of Jewish studies for women. There are women of all ages, who are all passionate about learning. Our classes start at 9 a.m. and end at 11 pm every night. I am barely getting enough hours of sleep. And it is all worth it.

However, yesterday I got frustrated.
We learned about the role of women according to Jewish Law, which is followed to the letter by Orthodox and Chasidic Jews. The emphasis was of course on the woman’s obligation to get married, have children and care for the Jewish home.

“Not getting married at 18 means you’re putting off life,” the Chasidic rabbi said in class.

I felt like I was going to run out of the classroom. I don’t know if the frustration I was feeling was because I was being told that I was not leading a real life or was it because I was wondering _ deep down inside _ if my decision to wait to get married and have children had been a mistake?

Either way, I had to flee the building. On my way to grab my jogging outfit, I met the rabbi. I asked him if wearing pants was appropriate for a woman going jogging. He kindly replied that women usually wear a skirt over their pants.

What?! I thought to myself. Does he know how hot it is out there?

Under normal circumstances, I would have understood. The Chabad dressed code for women is to be covered from the collar bone to the elbows and knees.  And not to cross dress. But I was already agitated by the class discussion on marriage and was not so open to listen. I went for a power walk in the woods to calm down.

Today, I am still thinking about the choices I’ve made in my life and the decisions I will face as I learn more about my own faith and heritage.

Shabbat Shalom!

YouTube Preview Image

Torah is the instruction for life.

I am sitting in class during the two-week retreat of Jewish Studies for women in the Twin Cities, MN. The class is titled “From Generation to Generation: Trace the origin of Jewish Laws, customs, and traditions.”

“If you were to open up the Torah, you would find stories,” said my teacher Leah Abraham. “The stories teach us about ourselves and how to serve G-d.”

To illustrate how the Torah shapes our views today, the teacher brings up the craziest story I have ever heard.

It is about goat uteri. It comes straight from the Talmud. And it shapes the lives of every Jewish woman.

Enjoy the video; it’s an excerpt from the class lecture.

Lubavitch Retreat in Twin Cities (Photo from www.lubavitch.com)

Lubavitch Retreat in Twin Cities (Photo from www.lubavitch.com)

I have decided to go to a Jewish Studies Retreat for Women.

This was my first time immersing myself in Jewish studies and diving into a Jewish environment for a period of time longer than a Shabbat. I was excited.

And I was nervous.

The two-week immersion program is being organized by Bais Chana, which is affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch. Being a conservative Jew, I did not know if I would feel like a fish out of water in an ultra orthodox retreat.

When I arrived at the 5-acre wooded land, the first thing I saw was three women walking down the street. I knew right away they were Orthodox Jews because of their long skirts and long-sleeve blouses.

Oh no! And here I was wearing a t-shirt and pants!

At the reception office, the organizer, with whom I had been in contact with over the phone, gave me a big hug to welcome me. She too was dressed in long sleeves and long skirt, but she did not mind the way I was dressed.

I had nothing to worry about.

A young woman walked into the building pulling a suitcase. She wore black tights and a t-shirt.

“Hi I’m Samantha from New York,” she introduced herself with a big smile. This was her second summer at Bais Chana’s retreat.

I then met a teenage girl from Pittsburg, who studies at a yeshiva.

Then a woman in her 60s walked in; she had flown in from Texas. She wore a hippie version of the long skirt and sleeve: she had on a long jean skirt and a white long sleeve blouse underneath an open shirt.

I realized then that the Chassidic house, with paintings of bearded men on its walls, was welcoming Jewish women of all backgrounds.

All of us have come together with one passion: to study Thorah and immerse ourselves in Judaism. Some are interested in the Talmud. Others in the Mashiach (the Messiah). As for me, I am here to learn prayers and Jewish Law.

On its website, Bais Chana sums up what the next two weeks will bring:

“You may not become a scholar at Bais Chana, but you’ll definitely leave with a more profound appreciation of your identity – as a Jew and as a woman.”