Friday, February 29, 2008
I got an e-mail today informing me a postal letter is on its way from BRANDEIS ... with a big, fat acceptance! Eeeeeeeeep! Accepted at BRANDEIS! The Jewish ivy league, folks. I could meet my besheirt! I mean, the odds would, indeed, be in my favor. So that means Michigan, Brandeis and UConn are in the bag. The problem? Money.
It's always about money.
UConn has promised me an assistantship, with tuition remission, and a stipend, among other things. Michigan has said there will be no financial aid, nothing, nada, niet. And Brandeis? Well, I haven't gotten the official letter, so I can't say whether there is any type of funding aid, but from what I've heard the school is infamous for not offering any funding to its masters students.
The latter is having an open house day on March 7 for accepted students, and I want to go more than anything on the planet, but the late notice means flights that exceed $300. Even to drive, well, as it turns out it would be way too expensive and would require too much time off of work. So what to do? Sigh.
I think I've ruled Michigan out, actually, simply because there's no aid and the PhD program is not through the Judaic studies department, but requires applying to the department of focus (religious studies, history, etc.). I have yet to hear from Boston U, but I'm not necessarily leaning toward that. So I'm trying to figure out what is more important to me -- a no-cost Master's degree at an institution w/o a PhD program that is a decent school, but that has a very young program and professors with a focus on literature OR an expensive, loan-filled Master's degree at an institution that is incredibly Jewish, with a PhD program and is a well-known and profound school with more professors in the areas that I intend to focus on.
Prestige vs. Free.
An incredibly Jewish campus vs. a normal, Northeastern campus.
I know that I shouldn't be bitching about this, but come on. This is seriously a very *AGH* kind of moment. Do I want to take on more loans than any human should for a master's? But I feel like if I had the chance to visit Brandeis I could sit down with the faculty and with the financial people and see what they think -- should I stick it out for a master's at Brandeis? Should I go to UConn for the cheap degree? Should I just reapply to Brandeis for a PhD in a year?
AGH. I want to cry.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
The first is the site Unclutterer.com. It's your basic website devoted to de-cluttering and finding ways to cut down on the crap. Next, we have Zenhabits.net, done up by what Real Simple magazine calls "A self-proclaimed 'regular guy' who quit smoking, lost weight, and doubled his income." The fellow "aims to help others make good habits stick." It's worth a gander, darn't. And then there's the classic, Lifehacker.com, which offers tips and tricks for getting things done in the land of technology.
For the foodies out there, there's Startcooking.com's blog, which, from just a quick once over, would appear to have a massive amount of information consolidated in one easy space. Nice! If you like looking at beautiful food photos and watching someone adventure along the path of cooking, visit Smittenkitchen.com. Then there's, well, I think the name says it all, but it's CupCakesTakeTheCake -- a blog devoted to the delicious little cupped treat. YUMtastic.
And then, just for kicks and giggles, head over to FirstShowing.net for insider movie/film information!
Stay tuned for a Jewish Blog roll sometime in the near future. I need to scour the blogs, pick out the ones that are worth your time, and get sharing. Then again, what's my opinion? Nu?
Monday, February 25, 2008
Some of you know me as Amanda.
Others of you know me as Chaviva.
On this blog, and in most of the internet world, I am Chaviva, better known as Chavi.
Would I be insane to make this a permanent change? I mean, I'm moving in the fall and going off to school somewhere and I can become who I feel that I am quite easily, indeed. No offense intended to anyone or anything, and most assuredly those who have known me and my family will know me forever as Amanda. But names, in my mind, have such significance, such importance, such meaning. And as I grow, and as I become the person I was meant to be, I grow more and more into my Hebrew name, which in translation means precisely the same thing as the name that my parents issued to me at birth.
But, it's something I am thinking about.
X-Posted at JewsbyChoice.org.
I am sure that by now you all have seen -- or heard about -- the new study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The group interviewed more than 35,000 adults -- an amazing scope for such a study! And the results of this survey? The revelation that Americans are switching faiths at an incredibly high rate.
According to the study, "nearly half of American adults leave the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether." Additionally, non-denominational churches are gaining ground and Protestant churches are in decline as far as membership. The survey concluded that 78 percent of Americans are Christian, and one in four adults ages 18 to 29 claim NO AFFILIATION with a religious institution. I find this quite sobering, considering this is the period in most people's life where they embrace a belief system. Though I suppose at the same time this might also be the period where people deny and depart from their faith of upbringing. Also interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church has lost more members than any faith tradition "because of affiliation swapping." According to the survey, nearly one in three Americans were raised catholic, but fewer than one in FOUR say they're Catholic today. What does that mean? There's a whopping 10 percent of all Americans are lapsed Catholics.
The group with the highest retention rate is sort of surprising, in my opinion, and that is Hindus, at 84 percent! Of course, it should be known that the retention rate among Orthodox Jews is 89 percent (this comes from a different survey than the one I write about here). In this survey, though, Jews accounted for only 1.7 percent of the overall population.
The few! The proud!
Interestingly, though, more people in the survey identified as Buddhist than Muslim, with Buddhists accounting for .7 percent of those surveyed. The story on CNN.com raises an interesting question in regard to this: What does affiliation mean? They ask this, considering many people "identify" as Buddhist simply because they practice yoga or meditation. I recall in college many friends who identified as Buddhist, despite not living a Buddhist lifestyle. I frequently remember saying to friends "you aren't just Buddhist, it's a lifestyle, and you're not living the lifestyle." To some extent, this is true.
I'm curious about reactions, of course, considering this is a forum and blog for those who have returned to the faith, converted to Judaism, etc. We are the essence of stories like this! In fact, I was interviewed by the local paper back in Lincoln, Nebraska, about my conversion and how I grew up. I'll be sure to update the post when the story appears on the Web.
So what do you think? Is this depiction of Americans and religious identity today? I'm amazed at the scope of the study, and I think that it's probably one of the most representative tests of religious identity that I've seen. It's also surprising that so few identify with a religious group. I'm presently taking part in a mini-debate on a local web forum about the article, and interestingly, 9 out of 10 on the board debating the topic are agnostic/athiest. It's hard to be an adherent to an "organized religion" sometimes, but I have to say that we hold a special place in the sphere of religion today. There are several people who have said that they admire those who have faith, who believe. And as someone who once struggled with where she fit, I can say I understand that admiration.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
I managed to get out and about today, grabbing some groceries, through the goods in the crockpot (I'm making Crockpot Creamy Italian Chicken, and boy does it smell good), head back out to Crate and Barrel where I grabbed a pepper grinder and a brand new shiny grapefruit-eating device. I have to say thanks to Kosher Academic for giving me my first taste of grapefruit at last week's shabbat lunch. I then went to the bookstore to see if there were any good Pesach books, and happened to pick up two copies of the Passover Haggadah with comments by Elie Wiesel, because well, it was on sale!! So it was a good day of getting out and doing things, darn't.
For the first time, today, though, while riding the Sheridan bus downtown and watching runners along the lakefront and the skyline of Chicago's downtown get closer and bigger, I realized that the moment I leave Chicago I will most certainly be devastated. Chicago is *the* perfect American city. I missed Denver desperately when I left several years ago, because I was the happiest I'd ever been when I was living there. I was eating healthier and was active and engaged in life in so many ways. But the way I feel about Denver and the way I feel about Chicago are very different, and I know that when I'm done with school I intend to move to either of these cities. Chicago, though, holds this special, unmovable place in my heart. Everything is so close, almost scrunched, there are areas of town that are so jampacked with people and stores it almost looks dirty, but it's just the way a blue-collar city was meant to look. There are bars and little joints selling burgers and dogs on every corner. Cars are unnecessary and the lake is right there. People go out, they do things, and without their cars. It's a moving city that rarely ever sleeps, but not in the same manner as a place like New York. The people here are -- for the most part -- friendly, working people who know what it means to earn and lose a buck. Yes, it's gentrifying like every other city in the U.S., but it will never lose it's classic roots that define it as a rough-and-tumble town where people work to get by, where people stop in after work for a beer, and it's easier than you'd think to become a regular just about anywhere.
So there we are. On that note, I can say that I also realized today that I am happier right now, in this very moment, than I have been in quite some time. I feel good about where I'm going, and I feel good about where I am right now. I have a solid group of friends, including several who I can talk to about the most personal, emotionally devastating events in my life. I'm excited about what I will be doing with my life, and I feel like there are big, big things in store for me. I feel like I'm on my feet. I feel like there is nothing that will keep me down, and that I am growing evermore every day in my Judaism and identity of the self. I feel like I'm doing really well with my blogging, and that, if anything, maybe I'm helping someone out there in some way. Basically, folks, I feel good. And it feels so, so good.
"Texas Republicans have worked overtime to make it harder for key Democratic voting groups to vote and be represented fairly. The redistricting games they’ve played are infamous. And for the Prairie View A&M University precincts, they put the early-polling place more than seven miles from the school.
So what did the students in this video do? They shut down the highway as they marched seven miles to cast their votes on the first day of early voting."
Saturday, February 23, 2008
On another note ...
I was heading down the walkway toward the El after visiting the airport today, which, might I add, brought a smile to my face and a skip to my step, when two men in front of me shared this brief, awkward conversation, that made me snicker out loud.
Man 1: (Rubbing head, pained look on face) I think I'm feeling sick. Sick, definitely sick.
Man 2: (Exuberantly) YOU NEED VIAGRA!!!!
Man 1: (Speeds up to a practical run, disappearing ahead)
I had to share that, my apologies. But it was amusing and random and those are the kinds of things that get us through the day.
Kosher Academic mentioned a few sites to me, including the Drisha Institute and JOFA, that I thought were worth a mention. The former is in New York and is dedicated to empowering Jewish women to become scholars and educators, running full-time, part-time and summer programs, among other activities. The latter is the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and their tag states that the group "works to expand the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha." JOFA is a great site for resources whether you're exploring becoming ba'alai teshuvah or those just seeking to become more observant or those just curious about what it means to be an observant Jewish woman in the context of halakha.
Have you or do you intend on applying for graduate school? A useful site for you in the future will be The Grad Cafe. It's a site dedicated to the rejections and acceptances of future graduate students. Click on the "results" page to check out the snarky remarks of those rejected or accepted by their favorite institutions. Likewise, if you're looking for a program/school that supports Judaic studies as a degree, you can visit the Association for Judaic Studies for public school listings in the "resources" section of the page.
Of course I have to mention and recommend everyone hit up Jewsbychoice.org, where I actually posted today. My post talks about all things Jewish -- including the people -- becoming popular in the U.S., and what the implications for this are. In a 2006 Gallup poll, a random sample of Americans were asked how they felt about a variety of spiritual groups/religions in the U.S. Compared to 60 years ago, the results were astonishing. Jews were ranked THE HIGHEST, and Scientoligists were ranked the lowest (below athiests, even). Interesting how that works out.
If you're in a major metropolitan area, I cannot stress enough the importance of a site like Yelp.com. Now, I know plenty of my readers are observant and so the site might seem devoid of significance, seeing as it is seemingly a restaurant review site, but it is so much more. You can review all sorts of businesses, not to mention network and use the Talk forums to meet people. Likewise, I think it would be beneficial to have some kosher voices on the site! Anyhow, it's just an awesome site that I have become horribly addicted to :)
This might be silly, but when I'm looking for certain Torah stuff, I hit up Navigating the Bible II: Online Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutor. It's a really easy-to-use interface and it includes the Hebrew, English, Transliteration, chanting sound bites, blessings, and so much more.
For Jews in Chicago, I must recommend heading over to JewishMeetup.com. It's a slowly growing site that a super nice fella has setup, and it needs bodies! There are a couple of upcoming events, and there are often Hebrew nights, food nights, and a variety of other outings. So head over, sign up, and say hello! On that note, if you're Jewish and in Chicago, be sure to go over to Leah's blog to read about the upcoming Jewish Discovery Shabbat camp for Jews who have converted, are interested in converting, etc. It sounds like a good time ... I might just sign up :)
Is there a question you have about something Jewish that you just can't find an answer to? Head over to AskMoses.com and pose your question to one of the waiting and willing scholars and/or rabbis.
For people with kids, or those who prefer a kid-friendly style site where they can learn bits and pieces about Judaism, pay a visit to this site. It's Social Studies for Kids!
For an online keyboard of Hebrew, you can visit Mikledet, the Hebrew Virtual Keyboard. The great thing is you can type, then copy and paste elsewhere with no difficulty!
All right, I think those are all the links that are fit to print for now. Like I said, check out the blogs to the right and get some good reads on. Michael is a good read for a good read; he's keen on reviewing books, so if you're in the neighborhood for a new read, hit up Michael's blog. If you're an educator or are interested in the topic of education and/or Judaism, I recommend visiting Tamara's or Lift Up Your Head, Child blogs; it's a big bad world out there and I admire both of them for dedicating themselves to the field of education.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Note: The glucosamine was hopefully to help grease up my joints so the crunching isn't so loud and obnoxious and that the pain would disappear. Looks like I'm going to have to find a substitute. Argh.
I'm feeling a little tired and lazy today, so I won't be saying much about this week's portion, Ki Tissa. I took several pages of notes while studying a few evenings ago, and there's some worthwhile content there, but I'm just not feeling the full oomph of a d'var Torah right now. It's been a long, draining week and I'm poised for a quiet weekend where I'll be seeing an old friend and sleeping a lot. So here are a few thoughts from this week's parshah.
+ Exodus 31:14 reads, "You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you" (emphasis my own). I really appreciated this because several verses later it says that we should keep the sabbath as holy for G-d, but in this instance, it is necessary to proclaim that the sabbath is holy for he/she who keeps it.
+ Exodus 31:16 reads, "... stone tablets inscribed with the finger of G-d." (emphasis my own). I appreciate the subtleties of words, as frequent readers will note. Grammar and syntax and the choice of words -- be it the word itself or the translator's choice -- are incredibly significant to understanding what is written in Torah. Typically I would read something like this as "inscribed by" not "with" ... though this is sort of a grammar stitch that I'm not completely sure as to whether there is a ruling either way as to which is more appropriate. I can say, though, that the word in the parshah utilizes "bet," which as a preposition can mean "in, on, or by." The Hebrew preposition for "with" is "im" or "et." Thus the translator decided it would be more appropriate to translate it as "with the finger of G-d" than what it likely was originally written as. So when you consider the different reading of the two -- "stone tablets inscribed with the finger of G-d" versus "stone tablets inscribed by the finger of G-d" -- the latter reads very simply, saying that G-d inscribed the tablets. The former, however, using "with" portrays something more heartfelt, perhaps that the tablets are saturated with G-d, not just that he merely inscribed them, but rather resides within the tablets, within the commandments. They are not just issued by G-d, but contain G-d. Thus in them do you find G-d's presence.
And finally ...
+ Exodus chapter 32 contains the golden calf incident, in which the people, wary of waiting for Moses' return, demand that Aaron construct an idol, which results in the formation of the golden calf. Now, in my mind the story always results in an instance of idolatry, in that the people wanted a physical form of G-d in their midst and thus create the calf to serve as such. However! For the first time, while reading this portion and the commentary together, had I really seen perhaps what was going on. The Israelites were used to having Moses in their midst, and as such, G-d was ever-present -- they viewed Moses as embodied by G-d. Thus, with Moses gone, they needed another physical way to view G-d, something in which G-d could embody. As Hersch says, the people did not understand that G-d had taken the initiative to reach down, believing instead that Moses had power to summon G-d. When I read this and it finally clicked that they were not fashioning G-d, but were fashioning a replacement for Moses (the vehicle of sorts), I immediately thought about the place of Jesus. Perhaps, just perhaps there were those who could no longer view the synagogue as a viable conduit for G-d, and thus sought a Moses-like figure who would embody that presence? I mean, I'm not calling Christianity out, here, but it seems like the classic case of the confused mass not recognizing that G-d would not identify himself through man, necessarily. I think it's a fascinating though, but one that directly connects the two situations -- golden cafe to Jesus.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Your admission to the University of Michigan, Rackham Graduate School, has been approved. Recently, Rackham sent you an email message to inform you of this decision and to provide information regarding enrollment.
Visit our website at www.rackham.umich.edu/rns.php?faqid=1697 for important pre-enrollment materials.
We hope you will join our University community.
You may respond to this offer by clicking on the Respond Now button below.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
It's important -- and I realized this after the fact -- that we emphasize the little "c" here as I begin this conversation as it relates to my discussion about Conservative Judaism as I explore what it is and how it works and whether it's what I'm "looking for." So we're not talking Catholic Church, we're talking simply the word, "catholic."
catholic: Etymology: Middle English catholik, from Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French catholique, from Late Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos universal, general, from katholou in general, from kata by + holos wholeIn essence, what I gather from Solomon Schechter's position is that "the whole of Israel" (i.e. the Jewish community) should make decisions on Jewish law -- not rabbis or sages or scholars. Now, in his time, Jews were much more observant than they are today. I can understand possibly how such a statement and/or idea could be within reason in the late 19th, early 20th century. But to have such an idea espoused today is sort of ridiculous. Robert Gordis, a leading Conservative rabbi of the 20th century suggested that the idea of "catholic Israel" is completely feasible, but must be reinterpreted so that "the whole of Israel" is instead the whole of Jews who try to observe Jewish law. This seems to me to defeat the purpose, then, of "catholic Israel." Gordis writes in the 2003 version of The Blackwell Companion to Judaism (which I can view nicely on Google Books, btw):
Speaking to the very nature of Conservative Judaism, [Schechter] wrote that contemporary American Jews "accept all the ancient ideas, but they want modern methods, and this, on the whole, may be the definition of Conservative Judaism."I've been told that the idea of "catholic Isreal" is still actively espoused among the Conservative community, and it just adds to my derivation of a movement so very confused about what it wants and hopes to be. On this note, it seems that even Schechter perhaps didn't have a firm grasp on the community or how it might change -- or was already changing.
But Schechter's notion that the Jews who made up the nascent Conservative community "accept all the ancient ideas" may have been one of the gravest miscalculatoins of his career and of the movement's founders in general. ... But [the community] did not accept or deny the "ancient ideas" -- indeed, they differed from Schecter and his colleagues in that the worldof ideas was simply not what animated their Jewish lives. ...
The leaders of the movement seem to have intuited this tension early in the movement's history. Whether consciously or not, they assiduously avoided articulating with clarity what they meant by "Catholic Israel," a phrase that Solomon Schechter had introduced when he wrote that "the centre of authority is actually removed from the Bible and placed in some living body ... the collective consciousness of Catholic Israel. ..." This implicit decision left open the possibility that a largely non-halakhically committed community could still be a legitimate partner in the emerging project called Conservative Judaism.
Now. There are 5.9 million Jews in the U.S. (according to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey), and according to estimates from a variety of sources, Conservative Judaism claims 1.25-1.5 million individuals who identify themselves as Conservative. It must be noted, though, that of those million plus, the amount that claim synagogue membership is likely half to three-quarters. On that note, Daniel J. Elazar and Charles Liebman "have estimated that there are no more than 40,000-50,000 that live up to the standards of Conservative Judaism as defined by its leadership and who see themselves as Conservative Jews" (from "The Conservative Movement in Judaism," 2000).
Schechter claimed that those who would be members of the movement would most assuredly accept the ancient ideas, and merely want modern methods. But if this is so of "catholic Israel," then why is it that there is the division of the elite and the mass -- the people expecting the rabbis and their families to be more observant than the lay community? Why is it that Elazer and Liebman's figure is so minuscule compared to the larger picture of the Conservative community? If this is true, and if the community, the whole of Israel were to decide on Jewish law, then -- in all honesty -- Jewish practices of custom and halakhic standards would fall entirely by the wayside ...
So, I guess what all of this means is that I disagree entirely with Schechter and his idea of "catholic Israel." I'm not sure what I think alternatively, but I know that Schechter sort of had a pipe dream going on, there, with no anticipation of the extent of assimilation and acculturation. But regardless? Disagreement abounds.
Any thoughts are welcomed, of course. I look forward to comments and considerations! Likewise, if I'm completely off-base in my interpretation of "catholic Israel" or have misunderstood what Schechter was going for, feel free to sock it to me!
Monday, February 18, 2008
My morning/afternoon in West Rogers Park was really a great experience, even though we didn't make it to shul. I mean, I could have gone with the friend's husband, but I felt like I might be more comfortable at home with my friend and her kids. In truth, my first Orthodox shul experience -- I hope -- will be with a friend who happens to be of the same sex as me. So I played the new version of the LIFE board game (and it's sooo complicated with bells and whistles now) with the older kids. We had lunch -- which was delish -- and generally enjoyed one another's company. Then another couple came over with their three youngins and we sat around and chatted. It was a completely relaxed day. I'm not going to lie -- it thrilled me on my way home to see men in black hats walking around the neighborhood.
On a different note, Schvach sent me a few interesting quips over on AskMoses.com, and I thought I would share this one, because I find it profoundly poignant. In reply to the question "If a convert is meant to be born Jewish, then why wasn't he born Jewish?"
A convert who was born to a non-Jewish mother but wishes to convert to Judaism has a difficult challenge that must be overcome. It is one thing to choose to return to one’s roots, even if that decision is contrary to how one was raised, but to essentially choose to become part of a people, culture, religion and heritage that is foreign to the one you were born into, is a test and privilege that is rare.
G-d provides each and every individual with unique circumstances and tests that the person must undergo in order to reveal who he/she truly is and what he/she is capable of.
The Talmud actually refers to the convert as "the convert who converted" rather than "the gentile who converted" or "the person who converted". This implies that even before converting the prospective convert's soul is innately connected to the concept of conversion and Judaism, and that gives him/her the strength to go through with a conversion.
What is essential is having both the faith within ourselves to pursue what we know to be truth, and when we need help, to trust that even if we can't make it through on our own, G-d has the ability to carry us through. And as we all know, the harder the challenge, the greater the reward. When we endure and ultimately break through our restrictions to become who we are meant to be, we have a resolve, determination and strength that we never could have achieved had it not been for the challenge that was set before us.
I really love, and feel that that first part truly defines who I am as a convert. I'm not a goy who converted, I'm a convert who converted. It's such a beautiful idea, nu? And then there is this bit on when a convert attains his/her Jewish soul. Now, I am the biggest kabbalah ignoramus there is, and for some reason I've just failed to get into kabbalah -- academically or personally. Now, when I say this, you have to understand that I in no way judge kabbalah or kabbalists and I quote many of them quite frequently and the ideologies and espoused ideas are truly fascinating and meaningful to me -- I simply do not have a working knowledge of kabbalah that would make me anything of a novice, let alone expert.
This means that this person is not Jewish, but has the ability to become a Jew through a proper conversion process. Once this person chooses to undergo a conversion, and accepts to live according to the dictates of the Torah, it is then that the soul is revealed and accessible, and from this point on, the “Jew” is revealed.
This is also why, interestingly enough, the date that the convert immerses in the
Mikvah, the ritual bath, is the moment that the Jewish soul is revealed within the body. This process of emerging from the water is compared to a birth process, in which the baby bursts forth from the water-filled environment in which he was contained. The baby existed beforehand, but reaches completion and attains independence at birth. So, too, the convert contained a Jewish spark beforehand -- a spark which blossoms and matures upon conversion.
Isn't that beautiful? I dipped in the mikvah twice (new rabbi, I was his first convert, and there was some confusion!), but I remember the feeling of the mikvah the first time. The stillness, the quiet, the overwhelming sense of peace.
So those are the thoughts for now. I think they're beautiful, really. I was telling my friend this weekend that as a convert, it's incredibly difficult because you are told that once you convert, it is as if you had always been Jewish and that necessarily you needn't tell anyone that you were once "not Jewish." However, AS a convert, it almost feels like your duty to "represent," to serve as a sort of, example, for those who want to convert but perhaps feel overwhelmed or lost. It's why I'm proud to be a part of Jewsbychoice.org and to write about what it means to be a convert, yet it makes sense to me when a friend says, "As a Jew you may find following the pursuit of Judaism as a Jew to bear greater reward than to pursue Judaism as an initiate," I feel that, completely and wholly. It's a tug and a pull, two directions, two different takes on being one who has sought and found who she was meant to be. I think the conversation is a lifelong one, though. One that likely will never be satisfied, perhaps.
I'm hoping this week sort of eases by, as I have a really good, old friend hitting Chicago up on a layover and I couldn't be more stoked to see him!! SUPER STOKED, in fact. I'll be going to Sushi Shabbat this week at the Reform shul I haven't been to in, well, months. I'm sure I'll get some interesting looks, but the only reason I'm going is because it's the only time I see certain people. The crappy thing about it is that it's just a bunch of 20/30-something Jews prowling. Ugh.
So be well, friends and G-d willing, I'll have something substantial for you in a few days!
Thursday, February 14, 2008
I sat down with the parashah last night. I'll admit that last week's portion (t'rumah) and this week's portion, T'zavveh (תצווה), are -- in my opinion -- more begrudging to read than all the so and so begot so and so sections. In those portions, you at least get all these beautiful explanations behind the beautiful Biblical names, right? But in t'rumah, it was the cubits for building the Tabernacle. It can get a little difficult to read since it's basically a blueprint. As for this week's portion, it was basically entirely about the kohenim (the priests) and their priestly garb. The portion details what stones and fabrics and colors and such that the garb should comprise, as well as the ordination rites for the priests. I'll admit, I read through it pretty quickly, but picked up at least on a couple of things that are worth mentioning. First, a simple quote from the Etz Chayim commentary: "Religion, like so much of life, oscillates between the poles of individual and collective activity" (p.507).
+ When G-d instructs that Aaron shall carry upon his garment the names of the sons of Israel as a "remembrance before the Lord at all times," the Torah commentary suggests that "Remembering is the source of redemption, while forgetting leads to exile." Of course, this thought comes from the Baal Shem Tov and is quite poignant. The thing is, Judaism is so very much about remembrance and the collective memory of the Jewish people. But by remembering, we learn and grow. On the same vein, we are all very familiar with Mordecai Kaplan's oft-mentioned declaration: "The past has a vote, not a veto." I think the Baal Shem Tov and Kaplan both had a firm grip on the importance of remembering and the weight memory has on the collective Jewish identity as it grows and changes.
+ The big thing that caught my eye, though, seems like sort of a stretch. While reading the portion and the commentary, I'm not sure exactly how the editors of Etz Chayim got from point A to point B in their comments on Exodus 29:45, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. The excerpt reads: "I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their G-d." The comments on this seemingly benign and oft-repeated phrase throughout the Torah, leads to some interesting comments. Firstly, this expresses that the people's holy acts alone did not engage G-d's presence among them, but rather it was by the grace of G-d that G-d chose to be present among the people. And here is where they lost me, but my d'var Torah comes from this next thought.
The Talmud asks, "If a priest's body is inside the Tent but his head remains outside, is he considered having entered the Tent and may he perform the service?" The answer (which seems obvious to me) is no (BT Zev. 26a). Now, this was likely a very literal question, for the sake of logistics, but it also incites an interesting question that is less literal. I'll word this question in my own way: If a Jew is in prayer but his head (thoughts) remain elsewhere, is he considered having entered the presence of G-d and may he be counted as present in prayer? The answer, is no.
As I read this and formulated the question, I thought of the Kosher Academic, who I had spoken to earlier yesterday over some delicious swarma from the Kosher cafe on campus. We were talking about going to shul and she was explaining that because her children are of a rambunctious age, she doesn't attend shul often because she worries about them running about and even if they're completely calm, she is constantly with her children on her mind. Interestingly after that discussion I was looking up the eruv locations here in Chicago and came across a little ditty about the importance of childrens' behavior in shul and how sometimes it is perhaps better to not bring them than to come and be disruptive to themselves and those in prayer. Those who keep up the Chicago Eruv web site write:
Despite the cherished place children enjoy in Jewish communal worship, there is no license to restructure our synagogues as indoor playgrounds for the young. On the contrary, the Mogen Avrohom in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (ibid) mentions: "And one must train them (the young) that they stand (in Shul) with awe and respect. And as for those that run back and forth in the synagogue in levity, it is better not to bring them."So it coming back to the idea of one's thoughts and prayer and being at shul. I know I've written about it in the past, but this also comes back to the idea of the mechitzah, which the Kosher Academic and I also talked about a little. The thing is, the mechitzah makes complete sense to me. I mean, it isn't going to completely keep one's thoughts from running amok, but it's one way to attempt to quell the busy thoughts we have as we are trying to come into a place of prayer mentally. I know that when I was attending the Reform shul I found it nearly impossible to focus on anything because I was so distracted by the fact that everyone seemed completely unengaged and unhinged from the services. I felt as though I was alone in a crowd of completely indifferent people there for the social hour both before and after services. It frustrated me and clouded my thoughts. I'll also admit to scoping out the young, attractive Jewish gentleman at services. The article that sort of gave me new insight on the mechitzah is here.
Anyhow, the point is -- prayer requires focus, it requires having your whole head into it, to truly experience G-d's presence. The thing is, how often are we truly clear of mind and completely focused on the task at hand? My ex always joked that I have ADHD, simply because my focus is never on one thing for more than a few seconds. When we go out to eat, I have to face a wall, or else I'm constantly looking around, making observational comments, my eyes flicker from thing to thing. This came in handy in my former job, because so much was going on at once. I find it more difficult now, because I don't have as much to do and when I start something, I start something else, and forget what I was doing until minutes, sometimes hours later. It's frustrating, and even plays into my myriad sleep problems (the mind that will neither shut off nor focus). So when it comes to prayer, I truly have to strive for a clear mind as much as possible. It doesn't come as easily as it once did, it seems, but I know that being fully engaged is of the utmost importance -- so we forge forth, clear our minds, and hope for the best.
So friends, I leave you with that. May you have a beautiful Shabbat tomorrow, or a wonderful weekend, or a restful Thursday and rest of the weekend. In whatever you do, be well.
Also: Check out the Idan Raichel Project! Seriously ... some beautiful/amazing music there.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
When you look carefully into the story of the Exodus, you see that the true redeeming force was the faith of the women.
Today, history is repeating itself.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
(For those who don't know, Jewish youth ages 18-26 get a free trip to Israel that can last five to 10 days and includes lots of fun-having, merrymaking, and general development of a connection to Israel.)
So I've made some headway in both books. I have a lot to say about both books -- those being "Constantine's Sword" and "Conservative Movement in Judaism" by Elazer. But I'm going to hold off and try to sort of collect some notes in a Word file in hopes of creating some type of logical statement or argument about either of them. So, well, in truth I'm in the middle of five or six books right now. This is the danger, of course, of being a book-a-holic. I'm going to try to finish off "CS" and "CMJ" and then move on to another book, suggested by a reader of the blog who has no luck with the comments, Schvach. He's suggested "American Judaism" by Nathan Glazer.
On that note, I leave you with perhaps my new mantra, which is in the dedication of Elazer's "Conservative Movement in Judaism,":
ונתתי את־לבי לדרוש ולתור בחכמה על כל־אשר נעשה תחת השמים
Friday, February 8, 2008
I've sort of taken on a, well, academic endeavor into Conservative Judaism. I realize that I have slowly floated away (more or less) from Reform Judaism, in which I converted. Now, I have to give the precursor that the Reform Judaism that I converted into in Lincoln, Nebraska, in my mind, is nothing like the Reform Judaism I have found anywhere else. The Reform Judaism there is filled with people who are active in the shul, everyone knows each other, the same people go to services every week, it's just very close-knit. I mean, not everyone keeps kosher or davens daily or anything, but it felt more genuine. Like the people were there because they believed in Judaism, not necessarily Reform Judaism, but Judaism itself. It never felt like church. It never felt like the Protestant Reform Judaism that I've witnessed elsewhere. I went to shul, it was shul.
But as I grow, and as I learn and explore what it means to be religious or observant or devout in Judaism, I realize more and more that what Reform Judaism is (with the exception of that which I came into, which is always the sweetest) is not the kind of Judaism that I practice or want to practice. I don't mean to offend, and I know I have Reform readers. But in my mind, it has become all the more clear that it -- in my mind, once again -- is insincere, it's like, a show. A repetitive, droning show that no one really wants to be at. The b'nai mitzvah celebrations are benign and the kids -- it would appear -- are not having to learn much of any Hebrew to become b'nai mitzvah. The people look bored, except when they're noshing at the pre-oneg or scarfing desserts afterward at the oneg. It's more about socializing than anything. It's like, belonging to a club. A club where you see people and you say hi and then you listen to some guy speak and it lasts way too long and then you go home and that's that. It feels like church to me anymore. It doesn't feel passionate. And I know that it depends on the shul, but I've been to shuls in Denver and Washington DC and New York and Nebraska and Chicago. And save for the one in New York and my home shul, I'm just not getting it. It's so suburban and benign. And the idea that I keep "somewhat" Kosher or -- G-d forbid -- go to shul every week or study the Torah portion or want to go INTO Judaic studies just astounds many of my Reform/Secular friends.
So as time has pressed forward, I have found myself more and more leaning toward Conservative Judaism. But then I realized, I really, truthfully, know nothing about Conservative Judaism except that it was birthed as a middle-ground, to keep the shtetl Jews who wanted to Americanize but keep their traditions. Reform was too lazy, Orthodox was too crazy. So what is Conservative? What does it say? What is its function? What is it all about?
And so I found a paper by Jack Wertheimer, "The Perplexities of Conservative Judaism." I read this paper with great interest last week on the train ride home from work. I often find it incredibly difficult to focus on reading anymore on the train, but this had me glued. I'll admit, too, that the "lazy" and "crazy" lines are taken right out of his paper, because his comments on the issue of what Conservative Judaism strives to achieve really struck me and actually are what made me realize that what I know about the movement could fit on a single page of paper. Says Wertheimer,
"In religion as in other areas of life, disunity and disorganization can be symptoms of a deeper confusion. A wag once memorably classified Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism as, respectively, 'crazy, hazy, and lazy.' The 'hazy,' at least, is not inaccurate."At this point I realized that what I didn't know and now did know made sense. You have this middle-ground movement that is losing members left and right to, well, the left and right -- Orthodox and Reform. Why? Because of the hazy. Conservative Judaism, it would appear from this paper and other documents I've poked at, doesn't know what it's doing with itself. In its beginnings the rabbis had things one way and the lay community had things another way. I also didn't realize that there is no defining body of Conservative Judaism, but rather the body of rabbis and then the organization for the synagogues. What's more, Orthodox and Reform leaders predict the movement will go defunct in the next 10 to 20 years, for lack of membership.
It makes sense, of course. I am sure there are those within the movement who keep strictly kosher and walk to shul and edge on Modern Orthodox, but perhaps who grew up in the movement with parents or grandparents who came to the states and vowed to not maintain orthodoxy. And then there are those who go every now and again, enjoy a nice pork chop, but appreciate the services with their bounty of Hebrew or perhaps simply grew up in the movement. So what do these individuals do? Over time, they shift, one way or the other. It's only a natural progression, nu?
So here I am. I have a few books here from the library, including "Conservative Jewry in the United States" by Goldstein (which surveys the demographic and trends among the community), as well as "Conservative Movement in Judaism" by Elzar, which is, well, what you would expect. Avi has suggested some texts to me off the Conservative movement's website, and, well, we'll see if I can't pick those up locally or up in Skokie and then go from there.
The thirst for knowledge is strong in this one, believe that folks. I just want to understand what the movements have to say -- while knowing, of course, that within every movement are a million microcosms of different ideals and beliefs and systems of living the law. Then, perhaps, I can figure out why I feel as though I'm in this weird dimension of floating around, feeling like I don't necessarily fit anywhere, but at the same time craving the organized chaos of a Sabbath service. I mean, I feel fine at the Conservative shul. I love it, I really do. But if there is this tension and confusion that I don't know about, I'd rather be prepared than hit head-on when people start defecting to the other movements en masse. I feel like "Jews in Space" or something. Trying to find a planet that will accommodate my specifications, if that makes sense.
So with all that in mind, Chavi shall search for a place to land that has more to offer than simply oxygen and challah.
Be well, and Shabbat Shalom.
The lights were dimmed, or rather, some of the lights were blown out, so it was dark and still in the stacks where all the Judaica is kept up on the third floor. Gold Hebrew script bounced off the shelves from books noted with patron check-outs from the 1920s and 40s and beyond. Names of people, perhaps long dead, or long gone away. Copies of the great Jewish books and texts written by the great Jewish thinkers past and present. Books losing their binding, held together by shoe strings tied carefully, close to the cover.
It made me smile. It also made me miss the hours I spent in the library researching Grant and the Jews in my junior year. Not to mention my time working at the library my senior year. Libraries are these beautiful, ancient places that I think will never disappear, but will fade into memory, as all civilized forms of bookkeeping do. But the precious, the few will maintain their shelves, keep binding clean and relish in the smell of a musty, old, overly loved book. It sometimes makes me jealous of Beth -- a life of library science. It's a beautiful, unique thing.
I went over my "lunch hour" if you could call it that. I really just wanted to sit there, on the floor, with the Hebrew and German books open, staring, hoping for osmosis to finally kick in. It makes me understand that learning German would be a good thing. I suppose some day, when both of my now-bosses are out of town or otherwise occupied, I will place myself on the floor of the third floor of the U of C Regenstein library, and open book after book reading the wisdom of our ancestors and forefathers.
There is so very much of it. I can only hope to gather some of it in my time.
On an unrelated note, my first review over at HeatEatReview.com was posted! Give it a look :)
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Secondly, here's a post I put up over on Jewsbychoice.org today. I guess I'm the Torah-girl in residence of sorts. Anyhow, give it a read, folks.
This week’s Torah portion is T’rumah, which means gift or offering. This is the portion of Exodus where the instructions are given for the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and all Israelites whose hearts so moved them are instructed to round up the supplies for the construction of the structure, a "sanctuary" for G-d. And within this Tabernacle, G-d will dwell among the Israelites.
I wanted to write, just briefly, to take note of that last sentence. The portion says that the purpose of the construction of the Mishkan is so that G-d may dwell among the Israelites, and of course my initial worry about this and the portion as it is composed, is the idea of idolatry. The purpose, perhaps, of the construction of this structure, to be with the Israelites, is so that the feeling of G-d at Sinai can be with the Jews always, as we know that moments and instances of intensity are fleeting. What if we forget that feeling? The Tabernacle, thus, is a physical site to "represent the presence of G-d" in the midst of the community. It is to become a "sacred space." (These quoted words come from my reading of Etz Chayim, the Conservative chumash w/commentary.) My concern, of course, comes from the idea that an object can represent G-d, or at least do so in the eyes of the community. How does a community draw lines? How does a community — a new community like the Israelites — define the sacred space without allowing the sacred space to become that which is worshiped?
We see in many religions that symbols become almost worshiped items — figures of saints or holy places. The cross itself has become a worshiped symbol among Christian believers. I know some might take offense to that idea, but that is my opinion of the object. Many have said to me that Jews wearing the magen David is quite the same thing, taking a symbol and placing it forth as an idol of sorts. Of course, for those who know the story of the star of David, the idea that it is symbolic as an idol is preposterous. It is by no means a necessarily "holy" symbol so much as it is a representative symbol — but most definitely not worshiped.
But for believers — of all faiths — the struggle with the unknown in a place where everything is physical, immediate, and evident is difficult. You can see the computer in front of you, and you know precisely what it is. But for the religious, you do not know of G-d or the afterlife or anything beyond the immediately physical realm. Creating idols and symbols to worship makes sense out of that which we do not understand.
But the sages have said that the importance of sacred space was to remind us that G-d does not exist exclusively in the heavens, "remote from humanity" — or rather, that G-d has not forsaken us. Exodus 25:8, which says the structure is that so G-d may "dwell among them," is meant to serve as this reminder. The Tabernacle as such is not per se a sacred space of G-d’s dwelling, but rather a physical reminder of a non-physical presence.
Of course, on a related note, we know that with the destruction of the temples came Rabbinic Judaism and the permeation of the synagogue as the house of meeting for Jews. The synagogue (or shul or temple) serves as the modern-day Tabernacle with some more social features, perhaps than the former. The synagogue has many holy objects that remind us of the presence of G-d, and perhaps it can be said that the synagogue serves so much as a physical reminder of G-d’s presence, dwelling among us in modern times.
So my question, amid this little Torah spiel, to you all is to express what purpose the synagogue serves for you. To you, is it a place for G-d to "dwell among" us? Is it a house of prayer? Is it merely a structure within which we meet friends and family to represent like ideals? Is it, indeed, a sacred space that exists as a reminder of those feelings from the foot of Sinai?
Be well, friends. It’s time for me to go dig myself out of the snow!
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
And a quick MAZEL tov to Beth and her now-fiance S on their recent engagement! I'm so excited for you guys :)
Monday, February 4, 2008
So in honor of the Mannings, here's a cute photo of the brothers -- Peyton, Eli and Cooper.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Maybe, she says out loud to herself turning over, adjusting her pillows, and settling in, I needed to have this time to talk aloud, to air my grievances and pose my questions, to speak to G-d or my ancestors or the fan humming above.
I find myself talking out loud to myself a lot while laying in bed trying to fall asleep. It started in my early years, as a young child, when I struggled with the idea of death. My tears and out-loud conversations to no one and someone were welcomingly quelled when I felt an overwhelming sense of peace within me. And ever since then, when I am most ill at ease, feeling like I need something to calm me or aid me and give me strength, I do this exercise. I speak out loud. Most of the time, I am connecting -- not praying -- to G-d. I'm just talking. Posing questions and making suggestions about why things are the way they are and discussing the questions people have been asking for centuries and throughout generations -- the how's, the why's, the what's.
The thing is, when you share a bed with someone, you can't do this. I mean, I'm sure that there could grow to be this understanding that you talking out loud is your personal conversation and that the other person should pop in some earplugs or wait to come to bed or something. But it seems awkward and uncomfortable. I don't know how it would work, and I don't know if it will.
For much of the past year and a half, my bed was shared with another individual, and I would whisper the sh'ma quietly, into my pillow, like a secret. I never spoke aloud in my way of private conversations. My head got busy and I'd have circling thoughts, unable to release them into the air in the room.
But it isn't the same. Releasing words into the surrounding space makes them quiet. It's like writing down your thoughts, it creates this strange sense of calm to know that they're no longer in your head, but are someplace, concrete and still.
Anyhow. I find myself speaking aloud each night, not searching for a divine sign or anything. Just wanting to get the words out, to calm my mind, to ease my soul. And it reminds me of how I felt as a child, and I pray every day for that kind of calm. That washed-over feeling of silence and peace.
Do you affix a mezuzah to a revolving door? Is there any responsa about revolving doors and whether it is necessary to affix mezuzot to them?So, if anyone knows, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll find a rabbi and ask, like the Orthodox community websites for Brandeis and Penn tell me to!
Friday, February 1, 2008
But really, I must kvetch, if only for a second, about how it is seemingly difficult to meet a nice, single, observant Jewish man. I think maybe it's because I'm somewhere in this gaping hole between Reform and Conservative. Maybe I hang around the wrong circles. I mean, don't get me wrong, if I met someone in Chicago now and then hopped along to graduate school wherever that would put us in quite a situation. But truly, I think it might be more complicated than one would think. I've met several nice men in the past month or so, all of the Jewish variety, but most either "quirky" or oblivious. Then there are the MySpace messages that arrive with blunt messages stating that said messenger is such and such feet tall and does such and such and happens to be Jewish and it would appear is looking for a committed mate. No fun flirtation, no dancing around things, but straight let's get to the point kind of action. Then there are the people on the train who see fit to accost me at 8 a.m. to attempt to get my phone number and name and other personal details. Fact: I do not, in fact, look good in the morning. I look grouchy and tired and irritable. Yet still, sometimes, there is persistence. I refuse to sign up for JDate again, simply because, well, I met some nice guys, and even dated one for about three or four months, but it just doesn't produce the kind of mate a nice Jewish girl like myself is looking for.
So where does a nice Jewish girl like me meet a nice Jewish boy who happens to be religious (not in an Orthodox sense, but religious and passionate as I am)? I mean, I can think of at least three or four nice Jewish guys I know who sort of -- in composite -- make up the perfect Jewish spouse. But, well, they're all married.
Anyhow. After two advances in the past 12 hours I had to write. And anyhow, Chavi, just remember, graduate school will bring an abundance of nerdy, academic Jewish types. Right?
And now for the daily dose from Chabad.org, delivered conveniently to my e-mail inbox. I particularly like this one, actually.
Do not pray.
Prayer means there are two entities, one entity petitioning a higher one. Instead of praying, connect.
Become one with your Maker, so that divine energy will come through you and into our world to heal the sick, to cause the rain to fall...
A Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe
(words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman)
Shevat 25, 5768