Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who is she, anyway?

There are times, when blogging, where I wonder what people think if they actually met me. I try to be as real on my blog as I am in real life. I don't hide behind a persona, I am who I am. But those who know me in person don't seem to perceive me the same way as those who know me via my blogging moniker and Hebrew name, Chaviva.

Are these two different people? Have I split to become real-life, kind, people dig me and my ideas and explanations Amanda, with the other half being poorly worded, contested, irrelevant, obsolete in her attempts at discussing things Chavi?

You tell me. But I'm beginning to wonder if somewhere I got forked and completely missed it.

I began blogging in 1998 or 1999 over on I went through three blog names between then and 2006. That's a lot of writing junk on the internet for all to take in. I spent most of those years talking about school and boys and love and poetry. But I started to dabble in writing about Judaism in 2004-2006. Then I discovered blogger, and I decided to really get to it. To focus myself and write about what was most important to me: Judaism. This is a blog about a Jew, by a Jew.

So what? Am I self-satisfying? Are my motives keeping this blog really exploitation of who I am, or who I strive to be? Am I just blowing smoke?

Maybe I don't want the answer. Maybe I do. Maybe I just want to be taken seriously, to have my spirit and my soul seen as genuine and true.

But this is the internet, and that's expecting too much.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Menorah addiction!

As it turns out, I'm going to be in Baltimore for a few nights of Chanukah to help my friend Heather celebrate her being a newlywed (a hearty mazel tov to her and her husband!). So I went to the store today and picked up my THIRD menorah! Yes, folks, I bought a mini "travel" menorah. It's no bigger than the size of my hand (which I hear is tiny) and has little birthday cake-style candles to go with it! I'm super stoked that I'll get to celebrate a few nights with my good friend! And buying menorahs? It's addictive!

Israel and Palestine: A Roadmap to Nowhere

I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated with peace, the two-state "solution," and I'm frustrated with the effort. I'm frustrated that for nearly 60 years there has been nothing but talk talk talk. I'm frustrated that there will never be a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist. When I say that there will never be a solution, what I really mean is that the next great war, the next great instigation of demolition and destruction of the human soul and hope will arise in Israel, likely in Jerusalem.

The thing is, the talks that are going on today are not new. The people there at the talks know this. They're not naive or stupid. They know that the things they are saying have been repeated, rinsed, and repeated since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Except, well, maybe for Bush. He seems to stay optimistic. Who wouldn't want to solve the great Middle East debacle before leaving office, especially with the striped past 6 years he's had?

[The text of the agreement to kick off the talks can be read here.]

The talks will always, always stall on one thing: Jerusalem.

Everyone has a claim on it, and you can't split the city up three ways -- to Christians, Muslims and Jews. It just doesn't work that way. And even if you could split it up (which has been talked about before, believe me), no one will go for it. That's the other big thing.

In the past, talks have often stalled because it's all or nothing.

I can't even enumerate how many options have been suggested in the 60 years since the creation of Israel. It's almost nauseating the give and take and give and take and desperation. In the 1960s there were a group of Palestinians willing to compromise, willing to seek peace and leave the "all or nothing" philosophy behind. But those people were killed, and it is believed those who died trying to create peace were killed by the very Palestinians they wanted to help. Their own people!

I almost find it hard to discuss the situation. When I worked at the Washington Post, two of my coworkers asked me what I was going to do with my future after leaving the Post. I responded that I was going to go to graduate school for Judaic studies. One asked me what I thought about the situation in Israel, and I explained that it's pretty helpless and gave her my reasons. The other suggested I make it my goal to build a better Israel for Israelis and Palestinians. I smiled, knowing the impossibility of such a thought. Not because I'm incapable, but because I try not to involve myself in the situation, neither in discussion nor in action.

My reasons were this: Jerusalem will not, and can not be divided, thus creating the world's greatest stalemate over the world's most contested area; religious fervor and war will be the end all to this discussion. Additionally, the problem that many in the 60s ran into was that Palestinians were more comfortable playing the victim than they were with peace. Everyone knows that it is easier to be in pain and be hurt than it is to seek the best, most socially responsible route to success. It's like being unhappy is easier than trying to be happy. It's not rocket science, it's just the way we are. I'm not saying Palestinians to blame, but they've raised generations of victims, and Israel -- not to mention the Arab states -- haven't done a thing to see that change. The Palestinians are comfortable being the world's largest refugee population. If you take that away from them, they're just another people. What's so special about that? And finally, the Arab world has turned its back on the Palestinians time and time again, leaving the Palestinians to exist as a refugee population, so how are they any better than Israel? In the beginning, several Arab states -- namely Jordan -- were interested in the issue with motive more than murder and genocide. Then, poof. Nobody wanted anything to do with the Palestinians. Once again, they could safely be the victim, wanting it all or nothing.

So I guess the biggest question is: What now?

I don't have an answer. No one does. You can create all the peace plans in the world. You can say "poor Israel" or "poor Palestinians." You can cut off every Arab country in the world that plans a suicide bomber in Israel in the name of Allah, and you can do the same to every militant Israeli group that seeks to rid his or her country of Palestinians. You can do whatever you want politically and socially, but it isn't going to fix the situation. I don't think there *is* a way to fix the situation. This doesn't mean don't try, it just means ... maybe time could be spent on something else.

What I do have an answer for, is the effects of the conflict. There's that old saying about prevention, how you should go for the source, don't treat the effects or however it goes. It's like the man who loses his leg in a horrible car wreck. Why focus on finding and mending the leg when you could focus instead on how his life will be changed and how to make him better as a result? I'm not saying don't fight for peace, but in reality you can't focus on fixing the problem, you have to focus on fixing the effect it has on society. You can create social organizations, you can educate people, you can give to the Red Cross, you can heal the wounded, feed the hungry. These things are NOT futile, they're necessary. They're doable.

I don't mean to be another pimple on the face of the conflict, but folks, being a realist does not mean giving up hope and being a pessimist. It just means that you understand the history of the situation and that you understand the cyclical nature of these talks, the ramifications, the stalemate, the inevitable devastation. And if it so happens that peace is reached, that a Palestinian state is created, that Israel or the Palestinians give up wanting Jerusalem on THEIR side of the state? Then I'm taking every Jew I know out for a big ole beer and some brisket. And hold me to that.

Until then, I will sit and wait for another Aziz Shehadeh to appear and fight for the two-state solution in a logical, caring manner for the Palestinian people. And maybe I'll reread Strangers in the House, and pray truly hard that peace be possible, not just this tug-of-war pot of frustration and destruction.

Sometimes I ask myself, was this *really* what Theodor Herzl wanted?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A ha ha here, a message there.

I couldn't help but post this. Yes, it's part of a larger, very interesting article on Levirate marriage (as part of this week's Torah portion). And perhaps this opening funny will have you reading the article by Rabbi Yosef Jacobson in no time. Either way, I hope it gives you a little giggle.
The Secret Jew

Ira Goldberg was heading out of the Synagogue on Yom Kippur and, as always, the rabbi was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed.

The rabbi grabbed Ira by the hand and pulled him aside.

The rabbi lunged these words at him, "You need to join the Army of G-d!"

Ira replied, "I'm already in the Army of G-d, Rabbi."

Rabbi questioned, "How come I don't see you in Synagogue except for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

He whispered back, "I'm in the secret service."

The article, by the way, can be found here: When Your Passion Dies.

Sigh. Seriously?

Okay, listen. I don't know how to make this any more clear.


Why -- since Madonna got herself all wrapped up in Kabbalah -- does everyone think it's this separate religion? That it stands alone, separate from Judaism? I mean, I'm sure there's some Jews who would prefer that the two are disassociated, but seriously. Mick Jagger has said that he didn't convert to Kaballah. The thing is, YOU CANNOT CONVERT TO KABBALAH!!! That's like converting to veganism or vegetarianism or something.

Oh the humanity and frustration. I want so very much to delve into the beginnings and fascination and role of Kabbalah in Judaism, but stuff like this just deters the heck out of me.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Parsha Time!

I wanted more than anything to create a video blog of me discussing some of my famous comments on the week's Torah portion ... but it just wasn't working out. I wasn't happy with any of my several takes, so I just quit! Eek. I'm thinking that perhaps I should create some type of outline or script, though I'll admit I hate watching video blogs that are completely scripted and you can tell the person is reading off their computer screen! I want lively, personal touches to my commentary and blogging. So for now, we'll stick to the text commentary.

This week's Torah portion is Va'yishlach ("and he sent"), which is Genesis 32:4-36:43. The portion comprises Jacob arriving at Laban's, subsequently marrying Rachel and Leah, growing Laban's flock, then returning to his ancestral homeland, fearing the re-meeting with his brother Esau, struggling with ish ("a man"), wrenching his hip, meeting Esau with open arms, and going about his business. There are a couple of really striking things about this portion, and to get to the most significant one (in my present view), we have to go to last week's portion, Va'yetzei.

+ In Va'yetzei, last week's portion, Jacob makes a vow, but in the context of most of the patriarchs, it's a little peculiar and thus significant. In Gen. 28:20, Jacob makes a vow on his journey to Laban's saying, "If God remains with me .... the Lord shall be my G-d." There is a lot of conditionals in that vow, including making sure Jacob is fed, clothed and kept safe. The peculiarity about this is that Jacob's statement is conditional! In a way, he's bargaining ... saying if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, and have you as my G-d, too! When we jump forward to this week's portion, 20 years later and with Jacob's success as a father and husband, we have Jacob making another vow -- but a very different one. In this vow (Gen. 32:10), Jacob says "I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown Your servant ... Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau." Jacob's attitude and tone have changed completely. He no longer is bargaining with G-d, he's saying, I have nothing to offer, but please in your wisdom and power, protect me.

The interesting thing about these two vows is the immense amount of commentary on them. There's midrash, and everyone from the Ramban to Rashi has expressed discussion about Jacob's intents. To the Ramban, the key word is the "if" in the first vow. In the Hebrew text, the word is aleph-mem, im. I looked up the word in my trusty Hebrew dictionary and yes, "if" is im. But to Ramban, he translates im as "when." The reason Ramban translates this as such, is because he is trying to make the sentence not a conditional, but as part of the promise. The midrash takes the text from another angle and says that the final portion of the vow "the Lord shall be my G-d" is merely part of the prayer, as much as "Baruch atah Adonai ..." is a part of so many prayers. On another token, the Tosafos believed that although G-d frowns on making vows because we know not where our paths may take us and it is impossible to keep most vows as such, that in times of fear or crisis or uncertainty, such vows are permitted.

I can't help but think that the Ramban is trying to be too easy on Jacob. I don't think that any type of excuse needs to be made for Jacob's conditional vow in Va'yetzei. My own take on Jacob's vow is that ... he's normal. How many times have you sat down in a tough situation and made a vow to G-d that if he helps you or makes you feel better or makes a sick relative well? When I was a kid, I was doing this all the time. "G-d, if you make my (insert relative here) well again I promise I'll pray every night" or "G-d, if you make mom and dad get me what I want for my birthday, I'll read the bible from cover to cover!"

Conditionals with G-d are how we function. It's hard for us as humans to really conceive of something as *not* being conditional. When you buy something, you exchange money. When you get a new job, you make sacrifices elsewhere in your life to make it happen. There are conditions to all things, and it's hard for us to conceive of something just happening without our doing something in return or there being some transfer of "if ... then." We make conditional, bargaining statements because it's how we function, and it's really all we know. We can't all be Moses, can we?

+ In Gen. 32:25, prior to his meeting with Esau, who he fears might kill him, Jacob struggles with ish (a man), coming out with a wrenched hip after a night of wrestling. The big question, though, is who is Jacob wrestling with? Some say it's Esau's guardian angel, trying to weaken Jacob before his meeting with Esau. Some say that it was a messenger from Heaven. But in my opinion, the best take on it is that Jacob was wrestling with himself. Once again, it's a very human thing. We often struggle within ourselves over just about everything, and it is often said that we, ourselves, are our biggest enemy and hurdle. It's amazing what one's mind can do in the way of convincing or discouraging an action.

When I was in high school, I could only officially make the freshman volleyball team if I ran the mile in 10 minutes. Now, mind you, I wasn't a runner and had never been physically active, but making the volleyball team was huge to me. I had all the skills, but not necessarily the ability to run a mile quickly. At about 9 minutes 30 seconds, I was the only girl left on the track. Everyone was yelling and cheering me on and in my mind I was struggling. I was wrestling with myself, the angel and devil if you will, one saying "you can do it!" and the other saying "just give up, you've never done it before, and you won't now." Then the varsity volleyball coach ran up next to me, with a half-lap left and explained to me very carefully that the only thing holding me back was myself. That's what I needed to hear, and I pulled it off in something like 9 minutes and 50 seconds. I can sympathize with Jacob -- can't we all?

+ Finally, I just want to reiterate something that I'm sure I mentioned in last year's post on this portion. It relates to the last discussion about the wrestling and the hip wrenching. This verse is where we get one of the main kashrut laws. Because of the hip situation, Sephardic Jews require that the sciatic nerve be extracted from the animal and Ashkenazic Jews require that the entire hind quarter be considered unfit for consumption! So if you ever wondered why that rule exists or where it came from ... now you do!

There are actually a lot of other interesting aspects of this portion (like why the "man" -- if it is an angel -- remains nameless, and all angels are nameless until the Babylonian exile; or the fact that Esau embraces Jacob, despite what would be expected, though in future generations Esau's descendants will help destroy the First Temple), but I'll leave it here for now. I wish I could have said this all in video form ... but I've got some work to do! Eeek.

Shabbat shalom, and may this Thanksgiving weekend be a blessing unto you all!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Doin' the Turkey Trot.

Well, folks, it's another Thanksgiving. That means that tomorrow the world starts throwing itself into massive debt and today the packing on of the average of 7 pounds begins. So I want to wish you a delicious turkey day, but do not overindulge! Keep it safe, keep it simple. And if you do go out tomorrow? Well, just remember, things are just that -- things!

My otherwise crappy mood (since 5 a.m. the ancient heating units in my apartment have been clicking and banging and clicking and banging and stressing me the frick out) has been brightened by the fact that ... it's snowing! Finally! Snow! Yes, ohmigosh, SNOWW!!!

This means that I can finally be happy once again :) Goodbye reverse seasonal affective disorder!

So be happy, be full, be healthy -- and most importantly, be at peace!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Here we go ....

This is me testing the idea of video blogging :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Got some Gelt?

Tidings, friends and foes. I've been M.I.A. lately, after having a really, horribly, uncomfortably busy couple of weeks at work followed by a weekend of decompressing, that included treating myself to a new iPod Nano for my hardwork :) So I've been busy with that, too. I also posted over on the Jews by Choice blog about Chanukah and Christmas approaching, so get on over and take a gander if you're interested.

But I'm making a quick stop to remind all my Jewish and goyim friends to head over to and check out the delicious goods they have to offer, including my favorite Chanukah CD, "Hanukkah Rocks," which I think we can all totally appreciate. With tunes like "Goyim Friends," "Applesauce vs. Sour Cream" and "Gelt Melts" ... not to mention a song devoted to my favorite Jewish good: Kugel! Here are some lyrics from "Goyim Friends:"
...All my goyim friends/are eating up their ham/hone-glazed, baked to perfection/with dinner rolls, gravy boats and turkey/greme brulee, cherry pie and fruitcake.

But we, we will march on/with General T'sao/and Eggo Foo Yung/take out's not wrong/ and we will march on
Tee hee. Personally, this makes me stoked to be in Chicago for Christmas, as there is an ACTUAL China Town here that I can attack on Christmas. Whoo hoo! But seriously folks, The LeeVees? Creative as all get out when it comes to penning the Chanukah tunes.

Anyhow, check out this video and then go download some of the songs or start sending cards, people. Chanukah approacheth!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On the Donmeh.

We all know about Sabbatai Zevi, the 17th century Turkish Jew who claimed to be the messiah, but later converted to Islam when he was given the choice of conversion or death. His antics appear in Gluckel of Hameln's memoir and in an abundance of other texts. What I didn't know, however, and I don't know that many really know, is that ... there are still followers!

Yes, there are still followers, known as Donmeh, the Turkish word for converts. Also known as the Sabbateans, the Donmeh still exist in parts of the world, including in northeast Iran. No known followers are said to exist in the Western world. These followers represent Zevi under the guise of Islam or Christianity (more often the former than the latter), and save for the observance of some Jewish rituals, are caught in this void of ... well ... I'm not sure what. One of the rituals they take to is circumcision, but get this: at age three, not eight days. Talk about the terrible threes ...

Over on this blog, there is an entire post about the Donmeh, including a listing of their commandments and bits about the different sects. It's pretty interesting stuff, I'd say. So go take a look and be mystified! And if you want to see something related, check out the Donmeh West internet collective for the "foundation for religious education in Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah and related subjects such as comparative religion and Jungian spirituality."

The Donmeh West collective has a little biography on Zevi, which says "In 1666 the entire Jewish world -- and much of the Christian and Muslim as well -- accepted the Jewish Kabbalist, Sabbatai Zevi, as the Mystical Messiah of Israel (See Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, Princeton University Press, 1973.)" Now, call me crazy, but because Zevi wasn't taken seriously by the rabbis of the Holy Land, and was threatened with excommunication, something tells me that the entire Jewish world was not accepting Zevi as the messiah of Israel.

What a subject. I might have to look into a few of the books cited on the blog post about the Donmeh.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The synagogue that just wasn't.

I decided that -- because I'm up for adventure -- I'd hit up one of the other Reform synagogues in the area. I like my shul well enough (it sure ain't home, though), but I like to know what else is out there. So I grabbed some dinner and went to the synagogue, which is conveniently downtown near a convenient El stop. The shul shall remain nameless, simply because ... well ... my rant will give it away anyway, but I don't want to call it out. I'm sure they're doing something right, but beyond the clean, fancy building and the spacious seats, I'm not sure what that "right" is.

There was a tot Shabbat going down, so there were lots of families there. In the main sanctuary I noticed that there were quite a few people my age, mixed in with a lot of your classic, old-school shul folks. I sat down and a friendly fellow walked up and shook my hand, said Shabbat Shalom and walked on. He went a few rows up to two other girls my age and started up a conversation with them. I felt sort of shafted, but let it go. As the sanctuary filled with families and more young people, I felt relieved. Then that friendly guy showed up on the bima! Not only that, but he wasn't even sporting a kippah. Now, I'm not one to judge, and the great thing about this fancy thing we call Judaism is its freedom and bounty of rituals and traditions. But the rabbi without a yarmulke?

Then I noticed that the organ was tuning up to go. Now, I have an aversion to organs in shul, simply because, well, it's an organ. It screams of Protestant services. I sat back, and let it go. Then, then came something that almost set me over the edge ... there was no cantor. The shul doesn't have a cantor! It's HUGE, and it doesn't have a cantor, let alone a song leader. No, it has a choir, of four people, who sing in operatic fashion to tunes I've never heard nor could ever pick up, even if I devoted myself to it 24/7 for the next six months. The harmonies were wild, ridiculous, and to top it off, it disallowed the congregation from participating ... no one was singing.

The real kicker came when we got into the traditional, Hebrew aspects of just about every congregation on the planet. These portions were sung by the choir, and the congregation just sat there. Watching. Listening. No participation? When the bar mitzvah got up to read the V'ahavta ... he didn't chant it with the melodic nature that everyone on the planet does ... he just read the transliteration. Everyone was all glowing with pride, and I was like "Are you serious? That's it? You've got to be kidding me!" I listen to kids go through the kiddush every week and their squeaky, off tune voices are music to my ears! This kid didn't even have to try! Mi chamocha, V'sham'ru, both sung by the choir. We just sat there, and I couldn't even understand the words as they sang them. Then came the T'filah. We rose, and recited ... the words ... just said them. No tune, no passion, no nothing. Just said them. Then the choir sang the Avot V'Imahot while we just stood there. Once again, I couldn't even understand them. Where was my service!?

Then there was the fact that the service was ... well ... out of order. I mean, I know the flow of the service, but there was something convoluted and strange about this service. Things seemed out of place, or things were missing, one or the other. The congregation uses their own "edition" of the URJ siddur. Originally I thought "that's cool" but then after going through the service (and nearly walking out after about 5 minutes), I realized "not cool." The word mitzvot is completely missing. The word salvation appears more times than the word the! It is worded strangely and in truth felt more like the Christian services I went to in the days of yore ... it made me exceedingly uncomfortable.

Then there was the sermon. The guy ... well, I was sort of taken aback at his "analysis" of the Torah portion, which seemed more like him quoting some sages than offering insight. Not only that, but he completely neglected the idea that Abraham becoming old wasn't to be taken literally, but that was coupled with becoming the first to gain wisdom, thus growing old. Sigh. And what else? He sounded like a preacher. He had that slow, evangelical drawl thing going on. Not an accent, but that slow, calculated speech that's almost demeaning.

Afterward I stuck around because they were doing the oneg with the kiddush and motzi. This is one thing that I dislike about my present shul, because there they do the kiddush during services and the challah is completely non-existent. So I was excited, and hopefully. One of the younger guys came up and introduced himself to me and asked if I came around much and stuff. I told him I was a member of a different shul, but this one had piqued my interest. He then proceeded to say "isn't the rabbi great? He's probably the best rabbi I've ever heard! And he's our age, he's only 29!" It then made sense. This guy is fresh meat. Then again, the rabbi that converted me was literally fresh out of rabbinical school and he had a vibrancy and Jewish gusto that lacks comparison!

Oh, and I didn't even mention the most interesting part. This synagogue doesn't have Saturday Shabbat services. Instead, it has Sunday morning services a la church. I repeat: No Saturday services, but Sunday services. They rationalize this because you take your kids to Sunday school at the shul, so why not have services then!? Not only that, but it's a decades-old tradition that just happened to stick around. It seems ludicrous to me, but I guess they have plenty of members, so it must be working somehow. But I think their patronage is a certain type of Jew.

Now, I don't want to keep this going because it's already getting long, but attending this shul made me feel like I'd warped back to the early days of the Reform movement where the goal was to mimic the Protestant service. I hate the idea of "Judaism lite," because most people of the faith would say that that is what I've got going on, being a certified member of the Reform movement and all. But the Judaism that I practice is not lite. It might be lite compared to what many Jews do, but I can say it is probably leaps and bounds above what these people do. It was frustrating being there because I wanted to stand up and scream at these people. My favorite parts about the service -- the T'filah and the Amidah and the Aleinu -- they were all ripped out for the sake of a quartet of opera singers. And what for? The people who attend these services don't even attend the services. They sit there and hold their prayerbook (which opens like other American/English books, by the way) and watch as the service floats by. I don't want to say it, but there wasn't much Jewish about that service. It was generic and edging on preaching the "good word." Eternal life and salvation. My G-d ...

Needless to say, I will not be going back. And if anyone asks, I'll give them my two cents. I never wanted to become that person ... the person who says "you're not Jewish enough for me," but it happens and everyone draws those lines -- convert or not. It isn't being hateful or holier than thou, it's coming to the realization that there are these levels, these pegs on the totem pole. I'll never be Jewish enough for the Orthodox Israelis, and I'm mostly okay with that. And now I know that this synagogue, in the heart of this city I love, will never be Jewish enough for me. And it makes me uncomfortable to say that, but I'm mostly okay with that, too.

So it's back to what I've come to know ... even if there is no motzi.


Poems and Pants

Ode to the Gray
Winter's tree stands tall and naked;
Branches barely there, it rises
like a puff of smoke
amid fall's remaining
shades of flame and rust.

I really, really miss writing. I think of little blurbs while in the bathtub trying to relax or while bouncing along on the 55 or 36. I used to carry pen and pad with me all the time. But now? Well, when you're crunched up in winter coats, people with newspapers spread out and shoulders broad and impeding ... it's hard to pull anything out of my bag to catch a few words.

On an unrelated note: One of my favorite things about Shabbat -- and this might seem really silly or shallow -- is that while the rest of the world is sporting jeans and sweatshirts for casual Fridays, I am wearing my best, anticipating the night's services where I can welcome in the sabbath and really, finally relax. Most people see their nice shoes, black slacks and nice sweaters as the constricting confines of the week's work and hustle-bustle ... but for me? Those slacks and sweaters are my gift of peace for just one day, after a week busy and tedious.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Clearing the air.

It was supposed to flurry here today, but it hasn't and it won't. I'm ready for snow, so I'm hoping Mother Nature will take the time to dust off those snow shoes and bring it on. Last night I went by Borders, despite my knowing that I have several books that I have yet to pick up that are gathering dust on my shelves at home, to browse. I was immediately caught by Bernice Eisenstein's "I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors," which happens to not only be a textual work, but also an illustrated work. It isn't quite on par with Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman in the abundance of artistry, but it's appropriate and almost whimsical in its form. So far it is a very quick read, and I'm finding it hard to put down. I also picked up "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," because there just aren't enough Medieval scholars, by golly. That is, I'm trying to narrow my focus a little. Will that make me more marketable?

On a separate, albeit more pressing, note, I'd like to say a little more about my poorly planned out and perhaps not very eloquently written blurb about Emma Lazarus. I'll note that I have my reasons for doing this, but I thought I'd just go ahead and get out with it here, since this is my outlet for academic and Jewish rantings.

I'd gone off about Esther Schor's new book "Emma Lazarus" and the blurb about it in Reform Judaism's new issue. My reasons for this are that I spent some time studying Lazarus in my undergrad for one of my classes (I forget which), and I'd been mildly appalled at the makings of one of Judaism's great writers of the modern period. I wrote a 10-page paper (ooo, big doins there, folks), pulling from two books: Dan Vogel’s “Emma Lazarus” and Bette Roth Young’s “Emma Lazarus in her world: Life and Letters," as well as historical organization web sites and the like. My ultimate conclusion from my research was that Emma Lazarus identified as a Jew, of course, but only insomuch as that it was a race of people who it was necessary to assimilate to American life, culture and identity. Lazarus had MANY, we're talking many, works with Jewish themes -- no argument there. When her uncle died, she even wrote an elegy that alluded to the call of the Shofar and Rosh HaShanah. But there were peculiarities about her identity. It was as though Judaism was meant for books, not for practice, and most definitely not for the shtetl lifestyle. She sought a return for Jews to Israel, but only for those Jews not living in the U.S. I think that Lazarus was affected more by her class, perhaps, than being an assimilated Jew. She viewed the Jewish immigrants of the Pogroms as ill suited for American life (thus her approval of Zionism for those not in America).

But these are all *my* thoughts. These are my conclusions from the research I did. I'm not saying that Lazarus didn't identify as a Jew, but that her identification was with a nonexistent form of the "Jew." I'm not exactly sure what her idea of a Jew was, to be honest.

If you're interested in reading the 10-page paper, let me know and I'll ship it along to you. I'd post it freely on the web, but I don't want a snot-nosed freshman ripping off my magic :)


Monday, November 5, 2007

Oy! A woman rabbi!? You must be meshuggenah!

I'd wanted to find a way to work this into the blog, but I couldn't think of the right way to do it, and I didn't want to push it. I had wanted to go on the angle that I have a lot of pride for my Jewishness because of its ready acceptance to change and progressiveness (though I'm sure there will be a lot of people would disagree with me and say that I'm absolutely insane, but seriously folks, Judaism was the first organized religion to welcome GLBTs and women into ordination ...).

So with that, I present to you Regina Jonas, an Orthodox Jew growing up in a Berlin slum in the 10s, 20s, 30s and 40s. What makes her special, though? She was THE FIRST WOMAN RABBI ... in the history of time ... as we know it. Now, people will say, what about Sally Preisand? Ordained in the 1970s in the U.S.? Wasn't she the first? Nada, nope, niet. Sally holds the honor of being the first female rabbi ordained in the U.S., but she's often considered the first woman, period. There is another woman -- Regina Jonas -- who seems to have fallen through the cracks of history, after her death in Auschwitz in 1944.

I happ'd upon this while looking for some books on Rashi's daughters on I noticed a book, "Fraulein Rabbiner Jonas: The Story of the First Woman Rabbi," by Elisa Klapheck. I had never heard of this Jonas woman and started searching the web. I then wondered ... how the heck did I miss this woman? How did I miss a woman being ordained in Germany in the 1930s? How did I miss this!? I'm astounded by this woman, though, because she managed to surpass the acceptance of a woman into ordination in any organized group. It would be another 40 years until another woman was ordained.

Shocked at my own ignorance, I searched out Rabbi Regina Jonas and found out the following: She was Orthodox, and maintained her Orthodox observance, even as she was ordained by a Liberal (what the Orthodox called Reform) rabbi in 1935, several years after she'd gotten her certificate to teach Jewish studies and Hebrew. Her thesis, tellingly, was "Can a Woman Be a Rabbi According to Halachic Sources?" which I hope to be able to find, though I don't know that it's possible.

See, the reason Rabbi Jonas was a ghost for so long was that she died in the Holocaust and those Liberal rabbis and scholars who KNEW her, knew her work in the concentration camps (she gave lectures in the camps, which are still on file there), those who prized her work and friendship ... were mute. Leo Baeck, a very well known Jewish scholar who survived the camps, neglected to ever mention Regina Jonas. Why? WHY? Was it because she was a woman? Or was it because she was part of the past -- that part of life before and during the Holocaust? Either way, I find it inexcusable and frustrating. Her existence was only acknowledged when her certificates of ordination were found in 1991 in an archive in Berlin, put there by another scholar who Jonas had entrusted with the documents.

It was not until 1995 that another woman was ordained in Germany.

Jonas is an inspiration, not only because she was the first female rabbi, but because she was absolutely determined. Her father passed away when she was very young, and her mother and her moved near an Orthodox shul, where the rabbi took her under his wing, teaching her all she needed to know. Her passion was outstanding and no one questioned her motives or drive, and after years of trying and trying to become ordained, she achieved that goal. Then the Nazis came to power, sent her away, and killed her at the age of 42.

Here is to you, Rabbi Regina Jonas, for all that you did, all that you set in motion, and all that we hopefully can and will learn for you. May your name be a blessing. Amen.

Some resources (web resources, of course, can be taken with a grain of salt, but taken none the less):

Friday, November 2, 2007

Lazarus, the colossus of Jewish identity ignorance

I'm only 13 pages into the new Reform Judaism magazine (picked up at shul tonight), and there's a small write-up on Esther Schor's new book, "Emma Lazarus." The write-up says "Schor's portrait serves to restore the centrality of Jewishness in Emma Lazarus' life and work, showing how she consistently put her literary reputation on the line to defend the Jewish people."

Thing is, when I did research about Lazarus in college, every source I read (and I'll admit that it wasn't more than 5-10) gave me the impression -- quite bluntly -- that Lazarus' Jewish identification was one mostly of convenience and pity, not of personal effort or out of any kind of deep connection to her roots. Her family was entirely assimilated and when she died, her sisters left out nearly all of her Jewish works from the collections of her works, citing it as a "phase" she was going through. Lazarus' first real outreach to the Jewish community came during the pogroms in Russia -- she was from a very affluent family and had the money to donate. But her identification as a Jew -- in my research -- was never even an issue. It was merely a fleeting aspect of her life. It played no more a role in her personal development than did the length of her pinky nail.

Then again, this is a topic that I was considering pursuing in graduate studies ... maybe I should read Schor's book and do some cross-researching :D OHHH the excitement!

Shabbat Shalom! Pick a menorah for me :)

So I've had a nice little, basic, simple Menorah that I've used for the past three years, but I'm itchin' for another (new) one! But I can't decide which to get ... what do you think?

The first is the "signature" menorah and the latter is the "music note" menorah. I'm leaning toward the bronze because I already have a silver/aluminum one (it was a Walgreens buy right before shul three years ago!! It was my first Chanukah :D)

On a semi-unrelated note: Services tonight were the most mundane, uninspiring they've been in eons. The people were dead. No one was participating. People were huffing and puffing. Kids were screaming (why are there not sitters at the shul for services?). It was frustrating. Why do people go if they don't want to be there? If they do nothing but moan and groan and nod off? I try to stay in my own zone, knowing that what I get out of services is what I get out of services. But sometimes I wonder: Are people waiting for enlightenment? Hoping that by forcing themselves through services for that WHOLE hour to an hour-and-a-half that a spark of something will rekindle their lust for life? Am I just cynical? I want people to love services and Judaism as much as I do. I want people to really WANT to be there; not for people to feel obligated or anything to be there. I felt like crap all day today. I didn't sleep last night and my stomach was upset and I just wanted to go home, but I made myself go to services because I know that -- for me -- I would regret it tomorrow if I didn't go. My week does not end unless I go to Shabbat; it just keeps going and going. But I didn't force myself to go out of guilt or just because that's what Jews do. I went for me, for my mind and spirit and soul. ARGH! So frustrated.

On a more pleasant note, I appreciated the sermon, which was actually not a sermon but a "learning Shabbat" service, where the rabbi explained the V'shamru prayer that we sing. He examined the source of the prayer and the difference in the commandment from Exodus and Deuteronomy, which I actually never noticed before. The original reason for Shabbat observance is because G-d rested on the seventh day, but in Deuteronomy it says we should keep the Sabbath because G-d took us out of Egypt! Oh the tricky intricacies of Torah :)