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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"What's in a name?" on Shavuos

In Romeo and Juliet, my favorite poet and one of my favorite playwrights has dear Juliet say:

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Babe, that's because your parents weren't Dominican and they named you Juliet. Okay, William Shakespeare named you Juliet but I digress. 

My parents made up my first name using the initials of their own first and middle names. It's the Dominican way. Why pick a name out of a baby book when you can come up with an "original"? Especially an original that takes the names of both parents and juxtaposes them in an unusual way.

Growing up, I hated that I could never find my name on a keychain at theme parks. I paged through catalogs dreaming of paying to get my name put on things like towels or jewelry. And it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized inadvertently my parents HAD given me a name that meant something other than it intended. The conjunction of their names means "give laughter" in Spanish. (Google Translate has it mostly right.)

As an adult, I was able to find other people who had the name because it is also Irish for oak tree and Hebrew for compassion. Joke's on me, I already had a Hebrew name when I was born! In Persian, it also means queenly. When I told this to my Dad, he said "See, I didn't completely screw up!"

I picked Aliza because the rabbi said I couldn't name myself Issac which means "laughter." I figured I should go with the unintended meaning of my parents' made-up name for me as I was always the comedian growing up and I still am. I used to be "Smartest Sister" until my younger sister, who is a genius, dethroned me and I got stuck with "Funniest Sister."

Aliza means joy. I also picked it, I told the rabbis on my beis din (Jewish court) because I wanted it to signify my joy in and for Judaism. But it was a close call between Aliza and Dalia among my friends when I took a vote and the tie-breaker was a friend who said "I knew a girl named Dalia and I didn't like her."

My Hebrew middle name didn't come so easy. I remember being racked with anxiety because I couldn't come up with one. I later remember wondering if I hadn't if the rabbis would have chosen one for me. I know converts whose rabbis have given them their Hebrew names for better or worse. I was reading about the binding and near-sacrifice of Isaac when I came upon the fact that it happened on Mt. Moriah and I thought Moriah is perfect. (Well, ALMOST perfect: I force everyone to pronounce my first name in Hebrew but my Moriah more like Mariah Carey. But no, everyone calls me Eliza like Doolittle and Moria like the mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings. Go figure.)

I know what you're thinking? Aren't you a child abuse survivor? Why would you pick a place in the bible where Abraham almost sacrificed his son to G-d simply because G-d asked him to do it? It certainly sounds even crazier when you consider that my mother has claimed she hears "voices." But for some reason, it clicked for me.
Sacrifice of Isaac by Jacopo da Empoli
When the rabbis at the beis din asked why I chose my middle name Moriah,  I said that I wanted to someday have as much faith as Abraham did on Mt. Moriah right before he almost sacrificed his son and he was stopped. My rabbi teared up when I said this and I didn't think he'd remember little old me but he wrote this in a letter that I keep with all my important documents:

"Dear Aliza Moriah:

I address you by your new name which you are officially changing to (wow, I guess I told him I was going to the courthouse after the mikvah, too!)...rather than your birth name of...because you are now fully Jewish, having been converted to Judaism in the West 78th Street Mikvah in the presence of a Beit Din composed of....

We fell privileged to have been able to preside at this great moment of transition in your life. You have been studying a number of years. Your desire to be Jewish goes back even further. You are shomeret mitzvot, and when I asked why you chose the name Aliza Moriah your response was: "My given name means happiness and that's what Aliza means; and as for Moriah, I hope to have the same degree of commitment and belief as Abraham did at Mt. Moriah." I confess that I have never quite heard such a response in my life.

You are Jewish in all respect. The only restriction on you is that you may not marry a Kohain. 

May God bless you with much happiness and joy in your new life as a Jew!"

Ruth in Field of Boaz by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

I have spent most of my life spelling out the made-up name my parents gave me so I was delighted to literally get out of the mikvah and head to the secular courthouse the same day and change my name legally. They literally strikethrough your old name on your birth certificate and write in the new one on top. By the way, I recently found out that on top of already having had TWO Hebrew names at birth, all four of my grandparents have Jewish ancestry and my father's last name translates roughly into Jacobson. You can't make this stuff up!

Jewish Residents of Zolynia

As an orphan "by choice," I was all too happy to have Abraham and Sarah adopt me. I even changed my maiden name to boot. My Dad was all for me converting but not happy when he noted the change to my surname on my birth certificate. I reminded him that having been born in America, unlike him I never had had two last names as most people from Spanish-speaking countries do (father's first, then mother's surname) or end up passing his own to my children (father's first, then mother's father's surname).

For example if I was born Penélope Cruz Sánchez, Cruz would have come from my father and Sánchez from my mother (and her father). Then when I got married I would be Penélope Cruz Sánchez de Bardem or Penélope Cruz de Bardem dropping my mother's father's surname altogether. P.S. Actors Javier Bardem and Antonio Banderas actually both use only their mother's surname (or their mother's father's surnames) for acting. Personally, I'm jealous of my cousins who all have two or three last names.

Okay, where was I?

I had hoped that this Shavuos, I would have some really happy news to tell you all. I worked so hard on my health last year that my doctors told me late last year that it was okay to start trying to get pregnant and have my first child right before my anniversary. When you have as many medical bills and conditions as I do (really it's just Ehlers Danlos and extensions of that), you need a team of doctors to approve something that is otherwise considered healthy for most women but could put you in jeopardy. Even a healthy, young friend of mine nearly died giving birth.

Very shortly after, I found out I was pregnant in late February. And I was already showing by May. A friend joked that I looked "bigger" than her at 2 months than her at 7 months. But on May 1st, my first pregnancy had ended in miscarriage. If there is such a thing, it was the best kind of miscarriage to have in my case: I had a blighted ovum.

Look it up, if you don't know what it is before you bombard me with how-to-get-pregnant-emails. In fact, DO NOT bombard me with any emails on how to get pregnant or infertility as thank G-d, I am not the latter but I wrote "My Uterus is None of Your Business" for the so many friends I have who have suffered from infertility.

I got a very sour taste of what I wrote abut in my article years ago when I made a joke about babies soon after my miscarriage on my Facebook page (I was referring to my two nieces who turned 1 this year and my baby brother who will do so later this year as well). Someone asked if I was pregnant on my Facebook wall. I said no, I just had a miscarriage and that led to him assuring me publicly that even though I was infertile, I could always adopt and that plenty of his friends had done IVF and maybe worse of all that if I hadn't told people early then I wouldn't be suffering publicly. (While Jews wait to tell and even celebrate until after the baby is born, it isn't a Dominican custom to do so and most of the family knew my sisters were pregnant well before three months.)

Note to fans: Don't ask someone their race or the status of their, ever. In fact, in the midst of my miscarriage, I flew on a plane with a woman who everyone thought was 8 months pregnant but was in the country for much needed surgery on a hernia. 

For those of you too lazy to click on the link, a blighted ovum occurs when a fertlized egg attaches itself to the uterine wall--really people it's uterine wall, not womb wall so just deal with the medical term--but then the embryo does not develop.

We named our little embryo that couldn't "Speck" because he was almost non-existent on his/her first ultrasound before Passover which should have been a sign. So why in the world did I say this was the "best kind of miscarriage to have in my case"?

Because it didn't happen because of my health problems (uterine prolapse is common in women with Ehlers Danlos who are not pregnant!). And because unlike so many of my friends who have poured their hearts out to me over the years and have poured out their hearts to me since then, the doctors know why it happens and they assure you: "It is not your fault." So many of my friends have suffered through miscarriage after miscarriage without knowing the reasons why. "Speck" was really just a little embryo that couldn't and likely had chromosomal problems through no fault of my own that caused a spontaneous miscarriage.

If I sound really good about it, it's because it's over a month since Speck "passed" and I have gone through all the stages of grief. Don't make me go through more with silly emails but do feel free to share your own stories of loss. I named two stars in the sky for him/her on a whim when a Groupon for the International Star Registry hit my email inbox. There are now two little stars called Little Specktacular 14 and Specktacular Major. I can pull out a telescope and always see "Speck" up there.

Photo: Carrie Sandoval

This Shavuos as we celebrate the Day G-d gave the Torah to the nation of Israel, when I'm davening my heart out I'll also be praying for--my grandmother would kill me if I didn't insert this here first--Bli Ayin Hara triplets! 

My friends think I'm crazy but I have peer pressured them anyway into praying for me: Aliza Moriah bat Sarah with the hope that by Rosh Hashanah, Baby(ies) Hausman will be on his, her or their
way. Let me know if you'd like me to pray for you for any specific reason. My email's on the blog.

Have a wonderful, happy and healthy Shavuos!

Enjoy your cheesecake! As I am lactose intolerant and "mostly" vegan for health reasons, I will be enjoying my family custom of #meatforShavuos.

Check out this recipe for pareve cheesecake my fellow intolerants and those allergic to dairy:

And these other alternatives to dairy on Shavuos: 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Good Housekeeping Quote: Complaining to a Friend Who Is Grieving

Belated for my great-grandmother's first yarzheit (4/3/14):

Charles W. Bartlett, "Hawaiian Mother and Child"
It's just a blip quote but my family thinks it's hilarious that I ended up quoted in Good Housekeeping magazine.

Okay, it IS kind of hilarious.

The first thing people think when they think about me is NOT housekeeping, especially considering that awful allergies (dust, fragrance, chemicals) make me unable to do most housekeeping. Not to mention my Ehlers Danlos makes most repetitive work impossible!

So here it is:

Complaining to a Friend Who Is Grieving (Good Housekeeping Magazine, April 2014)

Until recently, I had never had to grieve for a relative. I have been blessed with family members who live for a very long time. It wasn't until my great-grandmother Leonidas passed last April that I truly understood grieving. And having been born in April 1912, she was just about to turn 101 before she passed away. I had my ticket booked for her 101st birthday after having missed her 100th birthday due to my health problems and I ended up having to use it for her funeral.

My great-grandmother, my Abuela...I have to stop. Because I have never called anyone but her Abuela. I will never call anyone but her my Abuela. I have always called her daughter, my maternal grandmother Mami because my grandmother had had her last child a  year before my mother had me, her first, and that is what I heard my mother and my aunt call her.

Abuela was the matriarch of my maternal family. She was the person who consoled me when I was 4 years old and too young and too old to understand that my parents were separating forever. She was the person who humored me by calling me Xavier that year, ALL YEAR, when I insisted I had changed my name (the first of many name changes) to my favorite Menudo boy band singer. She will never embarrass me again by revealing the deep dark secret that used to be my favorite song in the world: "Subete a Mi Moto." (My husband just told me to SHUT IT OFF!)

Abuela will never see the GREAT-great-granddaughter, my second niece born last year, who was in utero ready and waiting to meet Abuela in July of last year. She will never meet my own children though she was just 94 when I got married and I thought I had all the time in the world. But most people do not get to meet their great-grandmothers. They do not get to enjoy their great-grandmother's wicked sense of humor. They do not know that they talk as much on the phone as their great-grandmother did because they spent hours on the phone with her.

So you can imagine, when someone tells me that their mother or father has passed, like many people I do not know what to say. But unlike most people, I know that it is mainly because while I sympathize...I will never feel the same way. There is a void. A space in my heart. It grew a long time ago and it will always be there because  my parents...are not the same.

If I am lucky, I see my father once every five years. My father knows he is more like a distant uncle...who just happens to bless me every year with a new sibling! And despite his neglect, my mother is still the abuser, the perpetrator who got away with one of the most heinous crimes one can commit against their own or any children. I do not feel as others do about their parents. It is almost impossible to break the bond between parent and child but someone wise told me that I had to stop feeling for order to survive. So I survived.

And when my much younger paternal sister lost her too-young mother unexpectedly this year, I had no idea what to do or what to say.

I grieved...not as a child but as a big sister. I grieved because I could not "fix this" for my little sister. There was no one that I could beat up. There were no dragons I could slay for her so that her mother could yet meet her beautiful, first grandchild who is also my adorable first niece. I could not exchange with her the days I can still have with my not-really-there-mother or father.

My wise LITTLE sister knew more about loss when she decided to join me at my great-grandmother's (no relation to her) funeral the year before than I did when she lost her mother suddenly this past year. For when she lost her mother this year, I was for the first time rendered VERY speechless. So I knew that when I did speak, I would put both feet in my mouth down deep. I ended up apologizing a lot for everything and everyone under the sun. And she was patient with me. But I still do not know what to do when I say the words "my mother" in the present tense and she has to use them in the past.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jewminicana in Lakewood

During the past holidays, I gave an interview to The Lakewood Shopper that I've been meaning to post on here.

You can see the two parts of the interviews here:

See pages 64-68

October 4
Issue 19
Volume 9
Illness & Health

Women Speak by F. Adams


See pages 90-93
October 11
Issue 20
Volume 9
Illness & Health
Women Speak by F. Adams


Friday, November 8, 2013

I have always been...

(I was at home for both photos but yes, that's my hair uncovered. May you never suffer from the multiple conditions that cause my head, face, scalp to constantly hurt. I am likely one of the few women to get a heter for hair covering due to severe health problems.)


In high school and early college, I looked emaciated enough to earn the name "the Somalian." My first boss bought me lunch every day because she thought I couldn't afford to eat. I couldn't. Seriously, I still wore clothing from the girl's department.

But since 2011 when I had to go on the strongest painkiller I've ever taken to help me get my Ehlers Danlos to a manageable point, I have been obese. Possibly, the worst thing you can be if you have Ehlers Danlos. I have sprained my wrists and my ankles daily. I've subluxated my shoulders and my hips. I've fallen down and over just trying to walk and stand. I've twisted my knees. Thankfully, I have broken anything. And (hopefully) I haven't developed early on-set osteoarthritis that comes with Ehlers Danlos, wobbly joints and body parts and obesity.

Two years later, after already having gained 20 pounds on Motrin--I am considered intolerant to all NSAIDs now which is kinda funny when you have inflammation in all your joints--after my botched wisdom tooth extraction and 15 pounds on Prednisone for the allergies that flared up because, well, Ehlers Danlos invades your whole body and makes everything worst, I am two pounds away from having lost...

50 pounds. 

I  have lost almost 50 pounds since January 2013.

If you had told me at 17 that one day I'd be obese, when I hated missing school because it meant also meant missing free breakfast and lunch and freedom from my very scary home life...well, I would have laughed in your face.

The first Dominican boy I liked in high school wouldn't date me because I was too skinny. He may have said skeletal. Rice and beans apparently hadn't hit me hard enough!* (His friend later asked me out but in doing so, also compared my thick, tight-curly then-long hair to pubic hair.)

I am so much stronger than I have ever been now. Sometimes, I think I'm stronger than I really am. Apparently, even though I was spacing it out throughout the day, well, working out three times a day or three hours a day is not something that my body does. Apparently, I was doing this because the endorphins are the best painkiller I've ever experienced in my life. They make me feel like Superman.

But after I collapsed into a chronic fatigue coma in my bed for two weeks, I'm taking it easier at the gym. Doctor's orders. Trainer's orders. Also, I threw up at the gym thanks to POTS. But my job is still the same.

I won't be coming back any time soon on a permanent basis though I am still trying to do what I can in my own way for the Jews and future converts who contact me from all over the my own pace. I'm still posting articles and quotes and comments on my Facebook page.

2013...and it took long enough because I was first misdiagnosed in 2005 when my body pretty much shutdown like a computer gone awry is the year that I put my health first wholeheartedly. Because of that, I'm feeling stronger than I've ever felt.

Even though I've got to lose 10 pounds before I move from obese to overweight, I look strong. I have muscles I haven't had since I was 17. I can pick things up that I've never imagine I'd ever pick up again with my horrible motor skills. I can do more that I ever thought I would be able to do again.

And I've learned that there are things I will never be able to do again and if I can't find a way to do them differently, I need to accept it, move on and do what is right for this body. Because I am no longer than underweight high school girl.

I'm a 33-year-old woman with severe Ehlers Danlos Type 3, an amazing team of doctors and two gym memberships, an awesome trainer, a Weight Watchers membership and the most supportive husband, sisters and family and friends that that underweight high school girl could ever have imagined having in her life.

35 more pounds to go and maybe the next baby photo you see on this page will be a mini-me!

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Aliza Moriah bat Avraham & Sarah

Note/Update: I actually gained 75 pounds in a month and a half on that painkiller but I lost 15 as soon as I got off of it. Unfortunately, at the same time, a bout with allergic asthma caused me to be put on steroids and I gained it right back again. If the scale is right today, I may have just passed 50 pounds. Thank you for your support.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wait, I'm what?! Putting the Anglo in Anglo-Saxon.

Okay, as if it wasn't shocking enough to find out that I was significantly English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish Catholic as in Republic of Ireland, not Northern Ireland and French when I thought I was strictly half Iberian Peninsula and half African in ancestry, discovers yet another interesting tidbit.

I have always joked that I'm Ashkefardic. I'm Sephardic at heart. It is the tradition that feels like home to me. But I am married to an Ashkenazi husband and I converted through an Ashkenazi rabbi and well, SOME PEOPLE don't think I look Ashkenazi.

But apparently, 2% of my ancestry is Eastern European Jewry. Sure, it's just 2% but I think it shocked me more than finding out I was British, French or Italian. How in the world does a Dominican girl from NYC end up with ANY Eastern European ancestry. So far, I've uncovered one Polish ancestor and Italian ancestors and an Irish ancestor on my family tree but apparently, there will be more surprises along the way.

My husband and I were so certain that there was no possible way that I had Ashkenazi ancestry. And not just because I don't like bagels (can't chew them because of my damaged jaw) or lox (I prefer sushi). We just couldn't contemplate how complicated my ancestry actually is when you look at the statistics! I can't wait to look further in my family tree and uncover more family surprises!

This reminds me of when my niece Leyla was born and we hadn't gotten all the results back on our European ancestry. We were sure that she was taking after her Irish/Scottish/English/Native American father without having any clue that we had some of the same ancestry!

Here is's update on my DNA genetic ethnicity test as of late October:

(My friend now likes to joke that I've lost all street cred as I am clearly WHITE if I'm 55% European. So, let me be clear. My mom is brown. Her mom is white with red hair. My Dad is white. My grandfather was black. The other one was so white they called him "Blanco" (white in Spanish). Nobody Ashkenazi ever thinks I'm white. I think it's the hair despite the epic Jewfros I've seen.

I am white (European-North & South), African, Native American and East and South Asian.

I am multiracial. And I am proud of every part of my heritage even though, well, most of my ancestors spent a lot of time trying to kill each other! (Note to ancestors: Really, not cool!)

If you want to know what I am, it's still easier to tell you what I'm not: Australian! I was really hoping Hugh Jackman and I had more in common than our sideburns.

Europe 55%
Great Britain 9%+
Primarily located in: England, Scotland, Wales
Also located in: Ireland, France, Germany
Iberian Peninsula 31%
Primarily found in: Spain, Portugal
May also be found in: France, Morocco, Algeria, Italy
Italy/Greece 12%
Primarily found in: Italy, Greece, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia
Also found in: France, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Serbia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria, Croatia, Bosnia, Romania, Turkey, Slovenia, Algeria, Tunisia
European Jewish 2%
Primarily found in: Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Israel
Also found in: Germany, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Estonia
Ireland <1 span="">
Primarily found in: Ireland, Wales, Scotland
Also found in: France, England

Africa 31%
Ivory Coast/Ghana 10%
Primarily found in: Ivory Coast, Ghana
May also be found in: Togo, Mali, Nigeria
Cameroon/Congo 9%
Primarily located in: CameroonGabonCongoRepublic of Congo
Also found in: AngolaChad
Nigeria 6%
Primarily found in: Nigeria
May also be found in: Niger, Benin, Cameroon
Senegal 3%
Primarily found in: Senegal, Gambia
May also be found in: Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania
Africa Southeastern Bantu 1%
Primarily found in: South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda
May also be found in: Nigeria, Congo
Benin/Togo 1%
Primarily found in: Benin, Togo
May also be found in: Ghana, Nigeria, Mali
Mali <1 span="">
Primarily found in: Mali, Guinea
May also be found in: Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Senegal
Africa North <1 span="">
Primarily found in: Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya
May also be found in: Spain, Portugal, the Near East

America 9%
Native American (Taino)
Modern Day Location
United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Caribbean

Near East 4%
Primarily located in: Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Lebanon, Israel
Also found in: Iran, Pakistan

Ancestry doesn't include my East Asian ancestry which has already been confirmed by Filipino ancestors on my family tree.