Wednesday, September 30, 2009
What to say as I turn 26? I have the world's greatest friends. You guys rock, and I'm continually blessed as a result. What a way to start 5770. I kind of like that my birthday falls during the holidays because it's like starting anew, and anew, and anew. But it also makes celebrating hard (who wants more cake after Rosh Hashanah and break-the-fast babkas and treats!?). There are also no kosher restaurants to dine at around these parts, which is a little bummer, but I'll survive.
I do, however, have to share the most awesome gift EVER that I received from Tuvia (and his mum!). Yes, this gift is seriously the most thoughtful gift ever. Why? Because it takes me back to being a kid, and it's the kind of gift I'd never in a million years expect to get. I got the American Girl's new Rebecca doll, which I blogged about in the past. She's their first Jewish doll to be released with her own story, accessories, and American Girl life! So why's she so special to me?
Here's the story.
When I was a kid, I started to get the American Girl doll catalog in the mail. I'd sit down with it, circling all the books and dolls and accessories that I wanted. This was in the late 1980s, early 1990s, when I was still living in Missouri. They even came out with a special "make a doll that looks like you" feature in the catalog, and I dreamed of having my own doll. Even if I couldn't make one (they were more expensive), I could at least get Molly because her and I were practically twins (brown hair, glasses, pale, geeky). But as much as I prodded my parents, they could never afford the dolls. So every month when we'd visit my parents in Branson, Missouri, we'd go to Silver Dollar City (a very old tyme themepark with train robbers, glass blowing, and hot s'mores during the winter), I'd spend what little money I had on purchasing American Girl collectors cards. I also managed to get a couple of Addy books along the way. But I never got a doll, while some of my other friends did. It was depressing, but I eventually stopped looking at the catalog and moved on. My dreams would never be realized -- after all, you hit a point when dolls become a thing of the past.
So when I saw the Rebecca box and the box with her Shabbat set (challah! hot water urn! tea! challah cover!), I was elated. It was such a special and thoughtful gift, a gift unlike I would expect or ever think of receiving.
The rest of my birthday will be routine. No big parties, no big celebrations. No cakes, no surprises. I'll be teaching a review session at 6 p.m., schlepping into Manchester after that, and hopefully decorating Tuvia's sukkah with him. Chances are I'll curl into bed with my Ancient Fictions book or some Midrashic gem and wrestle myself to sleep with dreams of where I'll be in another year -- Jerusalem? Graduate school? Married? With child? This is the fun of life. Never planning ahead, taking it all in stride, and enjoying every moment surrounded by friends and loved ones.
PS: I forgot to wish Elie Wiesel, my very own birthday buddy, a Yom Huledet Sameach last night. Curses!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
You'll notice the title of this post, and then you'll notice that I'm writing words that really, to be honest, won't do much justice to a simple photograph. My face, in this photo, is swollen. I'm still recovering from my allergic reaction last weekend and the medication I'm on has caused my muscles to ache, my body to fatigue, and my face to swell. So that's me. But that guy next to me?
He is what I consider a celebrity. An academic, spiritual, Jewish, brainy celebrity. My heart beat fast when he was asked my question, among the four that were asked, during his talk this afternoon and when he was walking into the dining hall to eat a delicious kosher meal with about 50 of us, I got sweaty and nervous.
I walked up to him, "Thank you for answering my question, thank you so much for answering it." And he responded with "Well, thank you for asking it." (The question was irrelevant -- about Iran and the Holocaust and how we approach these people, what Elie Wiesel so aptly deemed those who are "morally ill.") I stood nervously. "Can I get a picture with you, please? If it's not too much trouble?" He answered that it wasn't, he put his hand around my back, leaned in, and this is the photo that I have.
A friend from Russia took the photo. I got the camera back from her and noted that in the photo he looked sad, tired. His eyes were saying something timeless, but something devastating. Even when he was smiling in the photos he took with countless benefactors and important persons this evening, he wasn't smiling. His expression always crawled back into a fatigue. He looked tired. I thought to myself, "If I were Elie Wiesel, I, too, would be tired."
But it's interesting how, while sitting and listening to this man -- this icon, this inspiration -- speak, I started to realize that I don't even remember what it feels like to not be Jewish. It was a funny thing to think upon while he was discussing what constitutes a moral society and whether we live in one today. He was discussing the Holocaust, surviving, his friendships and his experiences, how he lives his life and what it means to be moral. All the while, he was relating Hasidic legends, talking about the Talmud, and reciting popular quotes we find from the sages -- all to teach about morality. I realized, in those moments, that to be Jewish is so much of who I am, my efforts to relate to this aspect of Judaism and its history -- the Holocaust -- have stopped being difficult. Have I realized my fullness? I've finally crawled over that bump in the road where I found it so hard to relate to the Holocaust, to the survivors, to that period of Jewish history. In those moments, listening to this man inspire and emote, I felt as if I were listening to my grandfather, my father, my brother, my people.
So when I finally got to shake his hand, and feel his arm around my back, I felt as though I was finally realizing a part of me that was hidden. His hand, which surely had seen so much, felt so much -- both pain and simchas -- touched my back, and I felt so at home near those sad eyes.
Will I ever see Elie Wiesel again? Perhaps. But if I don't, I have the memory of asking him a question, him spending so many minutes answering it passionately, him shaking my hand, putting his arm around my back, taking a photo with me, and listening to me stammering nervously. What a man.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
"A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies the murder of six million Jews? While promising to wipe out the state of Israel? The state of the Jews? What a disgrace. What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations."
Thanks to Shirat Devorah, I finally have my answer to the gematria behind this new year of 5770. The year can be written as תש"ע, which those of you might recognize as the Hebrew number tishah, or nine (9).
So what does that mean? What's the point of this year being "nine" ...?
Some interesting tidbits? The number nine appears exactly nine times (according to Shirat Devorah) in the Torah. And, as you'll all remember from my 09/09/09 post, the Hebrew word for truth -- emet (אמת)-- has the gematria value of ... wait for it ... NINE!
I'm not always big on the big and wow of Judaism, the miraculous moments where things click and everything fits and the weird and eeriness of connections. It seems superficial almost, like I'm looking for things that might not be there. But I have to say that NINE is a big number here. We're in 5770, the year 2009 (still, for now), and truth is in all things, especially this year. Maybe there will be a great truth this year? I could use a little truth, a little bit of clarity in a few things.
Anyone else see anything interesting about this year being spelled out as tishah? Or perhaps the significance of the number nine in the coming year?
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I read an article in Tikkun about a guy who was at a bookstore in Tennessee when he ran into a college-age kid who was browsing the small Judaica section in a Border's books. He observed that the kid would pick up a book, flip through it and put it back as if he wasn't really looking. The guy walked over to the collegian and they got to talking about what this kid was looking for -- G-d. The collegian said that G-d was missing from so many books. That G-d is almost devoid of meaning in modern Judaism -- in nearly all followings therein. It got me thinking. The one thing I always detested about "religion" was that it lacked rhyme or reason. Things were done because "that's just what we do." You go to church on Sunday because that's what a good Christian does. You daven three times a day, because that's what a good Jew does. You go to confession, becuase, well, that's what a good Catholic does. The WHY gets lost in translation. That's also what drew me so much to Judaism ... the idea of rabbis across centuries arguing things down to the accidental ink blot on a specific Talmudic trachtate. It is, enlightening and brilliant the amount of discussion and argument that goes into Jewish thought. But it feels like we're missing something. G-d?
When rabbinic and Talmudic Judaism was born, G-d almost disappeared from the Jewish map. It makes you wonder of Adonai is sitting idly by, waiting for Jews everywhere to realize that when they left for Summer Vacation, they left good ole' Adonai sitting on the front porch stoop. Many, many years later, there Adonai sits. Waiting. And what are we doing? Well, I'm not sure.
I know what I'm doing. I'm making a concerted effort to "rekindle the flame" as a popular phrase within the Jewish literary circles quips. I carry G-d with me more than I ever did when I was wrestling with organized religion or my fear of life after death. It's almost an unconcious hum in my head, always keeping me at ease. It's the moments when I'm ill at ease that I seem to cry out, truly and deeply, for strength, reciting the words in the Siddur (page 75) that my rabbi and I discussed so often (cannot rebuild a bridge, but can mend a broken heart). I don't want to be a Jew-by-habit, I'm a Jew-by-Choice, who chooses to create a holy bubble where G-d is more than just four letters in the holy books.
So each morning when I rise, I'll rebuild the figure near the bimah and the shofar, the sound it makes calling us to repentence, to focus on heshbon ha'nefesh -- taking stock of oneself, the soul, reflecting and asking for Divine forgiveness. I'll recite the Psalm, calling Adonai to hear my cries, and I will think of Moshe, ascending the mount for the third time on this day in 2448. I will find my kavannah, and I will keep my beloved close, as my beloved keeps me close.
Every year, no matter how hard I try, the holidays -- be it Pesach or Rosh Hashanah or something else -- sneak up on me. I start reading and preparing, analyzing the meanings behind fasts and actions and how we daven, far in advance of the holidays. But then, out of nowhere, it is upon us and I'm lost. Lost in the music, the prayers, the people, the noise, the chaos. And this Rosh Hashanah, it wasn't enough that the days were full of all of these things, no, what was added to it was an incident that will probably be one of those "Hey, remember that year where Chavi didn't come to shul and when she did she looked like she'd been knocked out in a boxing match?" kind of memories.
I was staying in a new environment, and despite my best efforts -- bringing my own pillow cases, my own allergen-free pillow, my own pillows and body wash -- somehow I managed to develop a violent allergic reaction to something still unknown to me. It started Saturday morning when I woke up, progressed throughout the day, and culminated around 2 a.m. Sunday morning with a swollen-shut right eye and a left eye on the way there. In the morning, I didn't make it to shul because I'd been up all night wiping my eye and making sure my face didn't swell too much and that -- most importantly -- my throat didn't swell shut. Two people, two amazing friends, even made their way to the apartment to wake me up and check on me (they didn't know the situation). When I finally made it to shul, moments before shofar, I was surrounded by friends dishing medical advice (real doctors!) and handing me antihistamines. The swelling in my eye was down drastically when the service ended a few hours later, and by the evening my eyes were looking better and my skin was bumpy like the peel of an orange and red as can be. Did I mention how itchy it was?
Even today, my face is bumpy, red and blotchy, and I just have to hope that the Prednisone prescribed to me on Monday will really kick it up and make this go away. For someone like me -- with an always-clear complexion -- it's frustrating, disheartening, and depressing. I hate to be vain, but it's more than that. I was embarrassed to be at shul, and later, in class. It's hard to focus when your eyeballs are itchy and your skin is peeling and flaking. It's disgusting and distracting.
I tried so hard to focus on Rosh Hashanah services this weekend. Our chazzan, flown in from Israel for the High Holidays has a voice of honesty, passion, depth. I found myself, despite the state of my face, focusing on his arms as they swung about in song, his shukeling, his devotion to the words, to their meaning. He managed to find a space in his own world to bring his soul toward G-d, and despite all of those people in the sanctuary chattering and reading novels and paying no attention, he was real, he was true. His words were something special. I found that, when my face was itchy and looking horrible, it was easier for me to focus on the chazzan and his words -- more easy, that is, then when I'm normal, healthy, and focusing on the babblers around me.
[As an aside, the dinner I went to Friday night was at the home of some Israeli friends of mine (note: more like family!), and the chazzan was there as well. The chazzan, whose English isn't too stellar, allowed for our hosts and myself to speak a bit of Hebrew, and for Tuvia to nod along joyfully. It was so interesting to be in a household where we bounced back and forth between Hebrew and English, and it was absolutely something special for me because it gave me practice listening, comprehending, and even speaking a bit.]
I did, however, have an interesting conversation with friends about the state of affairs at shul over the High Holidays, and I have to agree with them -- to a point. They were talking about how for some of these people, these twice-a-year Jews, it's a huge step for them to make it to the shul for Rosh Hashanah to hear the shofar (which, in truth, is the major mitzvah of RH anyway). Although they drive me nuts, grate my cheese, and make it all-around more difficult to listen to the chazzan than a swollen melonhead, they're there, and that's something. That they chose to come to an Orthodox shul, where the only sound you'll hear is the purest voice of the chazzan, is also something. There was no production, no lights and choirs and extravagant displays of High Holiday excess. No, it was simple. It was chaos. It was organized, beautiful, chaos. They didn't extend the walls to pack in hundreds of people -- it was men and women smashed into the sanctuary listening to a chazzan with pipes of gold, pipes with a direct connection to the divine. And overall? It was beautiful. It was how I've always pictured the service. Simple, chaotic, perfect.
Interestingly, a friend suggested the following advice: If there are days of the year to skip shul, it's the High Holidays. It gave me a chuckle, but I understand. The pure volume of people there elevated the chattering behind the chazzan's davening. But I keep telling myself -- they were THERE.
I feel as though I was cheated a bit, however. Because of the state of my face. People kept checking up on me, asking if I was okay, making sure I could handle to be in the sanctuary during davening. So? I focused my energies on the shofar, and I was reminded of probably the one thing I miss most about my old Reform shul: the girl who blew the shofar -- she, she had pipes. That long note? She could blast it for minutes. Her skills were incomparable. Unimaginable.
But it's the sound of the shofar that brought everyone to quietude. The rabbi wouldn't let the shofar be blown until the entire crowd was silent. Children came running in from every direction. Women silenced their chattering. Men turned toward the bimah. The rabbi read the sound, the man blew the shofar. And it was beautiful. The sound that I hear in my dreams, that powerful sound above all quietness that connects us all on these days of Awe. Silence and beauty. Silence and loudness. It's that sound of creation, bringing order through noise to the quiet.
So here I am, in the days of Awe, contemplating whether my face will clear up and stop itching in time for me to enjoy Shabbat and Yom Kippur. To really focus on the reason for the season (if I can say that, that is). We have friends, the illustrious @SusQHB and @RavTex coming up for the weekend, and I'm so stoked. I love sharing my community with others, because it's the most amazing community out there. I think this weekend was the most perfect example of the gift I've been given -- people cared enough to check on me, people ran to their respective houses to bring me medicine, people offered up their homes to me to rest in the afternoon, their beds to rest my swollen head, food to comfort me, and jokes and calm things to make me less worried. These people, this community of mine, is a family unlike any other that I've known. Eizeh mishpacha!?
Thus, 5770 came in with an interesting bang. They say that how you spend the days of Rosh Hashanah will define your year -- if you nap on RH, you'll have a sleepy year and the like. I have to hope, with all my heart, that this won't be a year of pain and suffering. I have to hope that rather, it will be a year of friendship, community, family, and connections. A realizing of my dream to be an Orthodox Jew in all halakic senses of the word. So may I be sealed, for all my efforts and passion, in the book of life. And may you all -- my extended family through blogging, Twittering, and many other avenues -- be sealed in the book of life for a healthy, happy, productive, and peaceful 5770!
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
But I thought I'd entertain you all in the meantime with an early photo of me. I suppose this photo might be an indication of my future almost-frummie lifestyle. Weird, isn't it? This is Freshman Homecoming, circa ... 1998 I think?
EDIT: Just for kicks, here's me a mere year later!
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Yes, I got really f'ing sick this weekend during Rosh Hashanah. Sick enough that half the congregations doctors were diagnosing me during Shacharit today.
No pictures. Let's just say I looked like this guy:
Except minus the blood. And that I am a woman. And I don't box. But other than that? Yeah.
Let's just hope this isn't an indication of the coming year ...
Friday, September 18, 2009
In 2005, I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, finishing up my bachelor's in journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I was attending a Reform shul, and I was preparing for my then-imminent conversion. I was seeing someone long-distance, sleeping a lot, and coasting through my senior year. My Judaism was unspeakably important to me, but it was a very different Judaism.
In 2006, I was living in Washington D.C., working at The Washington Post as a copy editor on the Metro desk. I'd been hired on there after an amazing summer internship. I was dating a Jewish guy, lamenting my inability to have Fridays off, and feeling a little lost without a community or a sense of who I was. I was studying the weekly parshot at a bustling coffee shop, and I was expressing my Judaism through my blog and through d'varei Torah.
In 2007, I was living in Chicago, Illinois, working at the University of Chicago in the department of economics for a tyrannical professor. I was working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I was dating my on-again, off-again boyfriend, eating decadently, and gearing up for what I thought would be an outstanding High Holiday season at a Reform shul in Chicago. I was still studying the weekly parshah, blogging, going to shul every Friday, and trying to figure out -- still -- where I fit in Judaism, and subsequently, who I was Jewishly.
In 2008, I was living in Storrs, Connecticut, starting my master's degree in Judaic studies at the University of Connecticut. I had just met a guy on JDate, was loving my classes, and at that point had realized that the only path for me was Orthodoxy and an Orthodox conversion. But those plans were on hold as I was living on campus, carless, and had yet to track down an Orthodox synagogue.
And now? In 2009? I'm in my second year of my master's program, still dating the same guy, still working on my Judaism (an endless and exciting process), and anticipating an Orthodox conversion in 5770. I'm unsure where I'll be at this point next year -- in a PhD program? Or maybe not? Living in West Hartford? Or maybe not?
Will I be Jewish? Always. Will I be learning? You betcha. Will I be in flux in my observance, assessing and reassessing how I live my live? Of course. It's the way I live my life. It's the Jewish way!
It's interesting to see how my Rosh Hashanah yearly posts have changed over the years, going all the way back to my days on Livejournal. I've definitely run the spectrum of Judaism, starting as a Reform Jew in Lincoln, Nebraska, and arriving as an Orthodox Jew in Connecticut. There's nowhere to go but up, up, and away in 5770!
So with that, a small reflection, I want to wish you all a Sweet and Happy New Year. Shanah Tovah, and may you have life, health, and happiness in the new year. May your families grow, your hearts be full, and your minds be at ease.
(Rosh Hashanah Day 1, Lunch Menu: Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Tzimmis, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Honey-Spice Cake, Couscous, Salad, Chumus, and Challah. OH YEAH! Oh, and our new fruit? Kiwi!)
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I came across an interesting passage in my reading for Ancient (Jewish) Fictions last night. We're currently reading/discussing Achilles Tatius' "Leukippe and Kleitophon," which is a work of the Second Sophistic from around the 2nd Century that tells of the tragic and lengthy saga of the love of Leukippe (a chick) and Kleitophon (the dude) as they traverse many lands, entangle with pirates and military battles, etc. It really is a pretty out-there story. There's a beheading and a gutting -- both fake, of course. There is love, deceit, death and anguish; you name it, Achilles Tatius has it.
But the passage I'm going to share with you hit me like a ton of bricks, because it really defines my sleeping woes. Yes, my sleeping woes. Were you expecting something more profound? As many of you know, I don't sleep a lot, and when I do, it's not such good sleep. I toss, I turn, I wake up at the drop of a needle, and I tend to have extremely vivid dreams and nightmares that leave me reeling. It turns out that Kleitophon has the same problem as me, he just has managed to verbalize it a bit more eloquently than I can. To set you up, Kleitophon is toiling over his love for Leukippe, and he's on his way to bed after a decadent dinner where he got to watch his not-yet lover from afar.
When I reached my bedroom, I was unable to fall asleep. For all diseases and wounds are usually more severe at night; they attack us more at our rest and increase our pain. When the body is relaxed, then a wound is free to fester. And when the body is inactive, wounds of the soul are all the more painful. During the day the eyes and ears are absorbed in leisure in which to suffer. But once the body is constrained in quietude, the soul is set adrift in a sea of troubles. For then begins to stir all that till then slept: woes of the sorrowing, worries of the careworn, imperiled men's fears, the fires of men in love.
Wow, just wow. So those of you who don't get why I can't sleep, there you go. The engine revs up when I lay my head down. For most people, it slows. Mine? No, mine is at full energy! Thank you, Achilles Tatius for verbalizing, via Kleitophon, my woes!
In other, unrelated news, have you done your 10Q today? That's the catchphrase for a website that will prepare you for the new year to come by sending to your inbox everyday, for 10 days, a question with a link where you answer that question on their website. Then, after the 10 days, the question gets locked away for a year, and this time next year you'll get to view the questions and answers. Of course, two of the 10 days are chagim (holidays), but hopefully the links will still be active post-chag. I think it's a pretty snazzy way to do a mini-timecapsule to see where you are now, and where you'll be then.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
But the talking during davening? This exists everywhere. Everywhere except maybe a few select shuls where if you talk, you're really, seriously chastised with an unverbal, eye-piercing excommunication from the sacred space.
Interestingly (one of those "wow" moments), the readings for the weekend in my "Praying With Fire: A 5-Minute Lesson-A-Day" addressed the very issue that I was experiencing. Maybe it aroused more anger in me, maybe it brought the situation fully into perspective. I joked about taking the book with me, and shouting to the people what exactly our sages have said on this very issue of talking during davening. But I didn't. Instead? I'm going to share it with you here, and maybe I can alter how some of us (we're all imperfect; even me!) carry ourselves in shul, while davening.
"The harm done by disturbing others (by talking during prayer) is so substantial that the Shulchan Aruch rules that to avoid disturbing others, a person saying Shemoneh Esrei should not raise his voice in prayer (Siman 101, Se'if 2). ... If this is the halacha regarding voices raised in tefillah, one can surmise that there would be no tolerance for disturbances created by voices raised in casual conversation."The text goes on to discuss various rabbis who cited the cause for certain massacres being because the community didn't respect the shul, they spoke during davening, bringing harm upon the community. I think this is a little harsh (at one point it is suggested that the reason the Sephardi community was saved from the Holocaust is because of their strict rules NOT to speak during davening), but interesting to ponder at any rate.
The Zohar identifies a person who speaks about worldly matters in synagogue as a "kofer b'ikar," -- a heretic (Parashas Terumah 131a), and the Roke'ach adds that one who speaks during prayer is guilty of "masig g'vul" or stealing the sanctity of the synagogue (Hilchos Teshuvah, Siman 26). One text goes so far as to say that he who speaks in shul is "chillul Hashem" -- desecrating the name of HaShem.
And this text was made for me: "The impact of talking during prayer is sometimes perceived more keenly by newcomers to Judaism (that's me!), who have not become desensitized to it. They cannot reconcile the great divide between what prayer truly is and how it is sometimes treated." Now, I see the divide, I'm just really annoyed. The author goes on to discuss that if this is the impression to a new comer or ba'al teshuvah, imagine how the children feel. If they see it, they can't discern what is normal and what is not, and thus talking during services is the "norm" -- it perpetuates the myth that this is in fact okay.
In essence, by talking during davening, you're negating the mitzvah of davening by committing the sin of nullifying the prayers! It's a horrible cycle. Why don't people see that? On Shabbat, for example, a person is 13 blessings short of the required 100. Throughout Shabbat, we fulfill the commandment by eating various foods and delicacies, but if we fall short, we compensate by listening to the blessings said over reading of the Torah and the Haftarah and responding Amen. But if we're talking during all this, we probably fall short, and where's that leave us?
Let us talk to G-d quietly, in devotion that is personal. After all, "there is too much ugly noise in our world today." Why bring more?
Monday, September 14, 2009
Alternatively, if you want to see The Sway Machinery's cover of "Billie Jean" in Krakow, give it a gander here:
Sunday, September 13, 2009
First it happened in the House with Joe Wilson. Then Kanye west spewed his guts without thinking on the VMAs. Whatever happened to self-respect? Restraint? The human filter of decency? Here we go ...
"So you're completely out of Selichot books?" he asked the clerk.
"Yup. But, you know, my shul is right down the road. I've got more than enough Selichot seforim there, and, you know, our's is a little bit, well, shorter. Because, you know, we're closer to G-d," the clerk said with a snicker, shifting his weight from one leg to the other.I think he was joking, but maybe only half joking. And this was how our weekend in New Jersey for Shabbat and Selichot ended. Sans selichot seforim and with a clerk making jokes left and right about being "closer" and nearer to G-d.
I don’t want to say I didn’t have a good time in West Orange, but I feel like there were a lot of things playing against me. We arrived at Tuvia’s mom’s place about 10 minutes before the absolute latest candle lighting time (that was using the 18 minute leeway). I’d wanted to shower, but there was no time. Tuvia ran off to shul, and I, being frustrated, exhausted, and all-around grumpy, stayed home, lamenting my hair (sad, I know). Add to this that the weather was miserable, and, well, this kvetcher is set.
In the morning, I arose to the most hideous display of Chavi-hair ever. Tuvia suggested I throw on a hat “Want to be married today?” he asked. I thought about it for about a half-second and decided that no, that would not be a good idea. I didn’t want to confuse all the little old ladies and family friends. I did my hair the best I could, got dressed in a new skirt, and plodded off to shul. Tuvia’s grandmother set me down in a back-ish seat of the shul to daven, because I actually wanted to focus on my davening, and didn’t want to intermix with the chatty folks. And I was good to go until right before the Torah service when these women came and sat all around me. I suddenly realized that there are some things that I will never – I repeat never – be able to adjust to in the Orthodox shul.
I understand that there’s this unspoken thing that says that it’s okay to schmooze in shul during davening. That the older women are permitted because they’ve seen it all, and I get that. But most of the time they whisper. They have the respect – the self-respect – to whisper. But the women who go to shul, sit in the sanctuary, and do nothing but talk? I don’t get it. If you’re going to shul to socialize, not to daven a SINGLE WORD, then why are you sitting in the sanctuary? There’s a whole shul of space where you can air your dirty laundry without disturbing the beauty of the Torah or the importance of Kaddish or the Shemonei Esrei. And even when the guy in front of the bimah would stop the reader, in order to garner the attention of the crowd, to get everyone to shut up and listen, these women just kept talking. At full strength, full volume, as if they were in the crowd at a Yankees game. I was baffled. Truly baffled. I could have moved, but would it have solved the problem? No, it wouldn’t have. The men were talking. The women were talking.
Whatever happened to sacred space? Respect for the book? Self-respect? Shame?
Things only got worse. I mean, women at my shul jabber away, and I found a different location and sort of made it clear that no one can sit next to me when I’m davening. And it works. After the service, I go to the social hall, and we all do our thing. We talk. We schmooze. But the Kiddush was, well, something out of a horror film. It was What Not to Do at Kiddush 101. Now, it was a big Kiddush. They were honoring a pillar of the community, an amazing man who just hit 85 and is still going strong like a young buck. The man deserved the festivities, but the people – the congregation – didn’t show this man any respect. There was nothing but gluttony, selfishness, rudeness, and an utter lack of self-respect. It reminded me of that scene in “Mean Girls” where the main character imagines the cafeteria and everyone’s slinging food and acting like jungle creatures. Or maybe like a soup kitchen from the Depression Era. Kiddush can be outlandish at my shul (people pushing and shoving and acting like they’ve never seen kugle before), but at this Kiddush? Because of the pure magnitude of people and food, it was like a massacre – of food, of respect, of everything that I cannot adjust to Jewishly.
I’m a Midwestern girl. I may have a backwoods Ozarkian family, but my parents taught me patience, they taught me manners, and they taught me not to eat out of things with my hands, not to double-dip, to use a napkin, to pick up after myself, to not cut in line, to have respect for your elders, and just generally how to act like a decent human being – not an animal.
But there, in this shul, I had people shoving me out of the way for a meatball, I watched a 10-year-old girl double-dipping chicken in a sauce dish about a half-dozen times, a kid trying to reach five people ahead of him for a plate even though he was, well, five people deep. I watched adults dropping food on the floor, and leaving it there, probably assuming the help would pick it up. I watched people setting their dirty and disgusting plates down on tables with fresh food when there was a trashcan about a foot away. I had to step back from the crowd. And watch. I was disgusted. Is the Jewish way to be self-fulling? The idea that Jews – especially the Orthodox type – are messy, impatient, cheap, and pushy?
I’ll never be like that. And you can sure as hell bet my children won’t be that way. No sir. Not this girl.
I can’t explain the disgust I felt during that experience. After a while, I just wanted to go home. I didn’t even go back for mincha or maariv or the special talks they had with their scholar in residence. I wanted to not be there at that place, with those people, who lacked a sense of self-respect and common decency. I wanted to run away, find an Orthodox synagogue where the people are calm, patient, kind, respectful, and want to be there more than anything to daven, to share a sacred space with G-d, and then get their social fill afterward in a calm and respectful manner.
Does such a place not exist? Is this going to be my Jewish pipe dream?
We ended up going back for Selichot around 11:45 on Saturday night. There was a speaker and then davening at 12:54 in the morning. There weren’t nearly as many people there, but the crowd was calmer, more relaxed, more attuned to what was going on. Or maybe everyone was just exhausted. The chazzan’s voice was mournful, soul-piercing. My eyes welled up when he cried out the words, speaking to G-d with the most beautifully sad voice. And then it was a rush of quiet davening, and then it was over. Where was this during Shabbat? This passion, this fervency, this communication with G-d?
Sometimes I feel at a loss. Like I’m walking a lonely and quiet path, where my way doesn’t meet up with the majority way. I want to daven in organized chaos – the sound of voices mumbling together, but mumbling with a purpose, devotion and a passion. Not voices discussing other people or random things irrelevant to the prayers at hand. I get that davening isn’t for everyone, and I get that not everyone wants to go to shul to daven, and that shouldn’t deter people from just going, I guess. But how is someone like me supposed to reconcile all of this?
Overall, this weekend left me confused and frustrated. I feel very much like no one understands how I function as a Jew – religious, passionate, thoughtful, serious, hopeful. Sometimes the cheese does stand alone. To be Orthodox, must I alter my personality into something that it isn’t? Something loud and pushy and unconcerned with prayers and people?
Where is the fire? What happened to the fire in our souls?
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Outside of the biblical gathering at Mt. Sinai, the annual televised Kol Nidre service that streamed online to more than 220,000 people last year may be the world’s largest single Jewish service ever.
On the evening of September 27, JewishTVNetwork.com, a vibrant global broadband community connecting Jews around the world, will stream its third annual Kol Nidre service, which marks the beginning of Yom Kippur. In its first year, JTN streamed the service to about 30,000 online viewers. Last year, the live service originated from the leading Jewish organization – Nashuva – led by Rabbi Naomi Levy and more than 220,000 online viewers in North America and around the world tuned in. This year the numbers may go higher, a testament to the number of Jews who either cannot physically get to a synagogue or are unaffiliated and seeking something spiritually Jewish to connect to.
Nashuva offers a passionate, highly engaging service complete with a dynamic, seven member, multi ethnic, multi racial “band” that adds inspirational, modern takes on traditional prayers and hymns. Nashuva is based in Los Angeles and is as much a social action organization as it is a house of prayer.
With the intent to connect with Jews of all denominations, Levy founded the Nashuva organization to reach people who may not be part of the conventional Jewish structure. Unlike any other conservative Rabbi, Levy presents a whole new approach to Jewish prayer that includes elements of global sounds, meditation, dance and translations of Hebrew prayers that are rarely experienced.
“Like JewishTVNetwork.com, Nashuva uses an innovative approach to bring the Jewish experience to the greater Jewish community,” said Jay Sanderson, CEO of JTN Productions/JewishTVNetwork.com. “The overwhelming response to last year’s service demonstrated that there is an incredible demand around the world to connect and create a dialogue.”
Named as one of Newsweek’s “50 Most Influential Rabbis in America,” Rabbi Levy is a best selling author whose spiritual guidance has been featured on national broadcast shows like Oprah and Good Morning America.
“Our experience last year, of reaching so many people through JTN, was exceptionally rewarding,” said Rabbi Levy. “I have made it my life’s work to provide an engaging Jewish experience for all and the best way to reach a global audience is through the Web. This was not possible just 10 years ago, but now through this medium, we can reach people most anywhere and that is both humbling and exhilarating.”
JewishTVNetwork.com’s High Holiday content will allow people throughout the world to experience and learn about Holiday rituals and traditions of the Jewish New Year with hours of new and engaging content. Online users can prepare for the holiday and learn new twists on their favorite dish, watch renowned Rabbis discuss the importance of the holiday and discover fun crafts the whole family can enjoy.Follow @JewishTVNetwork on Twitter for more information!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
You see, I have absolutely no will power.
I know, that's a huge fault. A horrible fault. It's why I dedicated myself to Weight Watchers last year and tried not to have a TV in my dorm room (but that girl last year was just giving it away!).
I'm attempting to read Chaereas and Callirhoe by Chariton for my Ancient (Jewish) Fictions course. (Note: I dropped my Sexual Politics/Women in Tanakh course, but that's for another post at another time.) I'm sitting here, with the book sitting next to me, and for some reason I can't pull myself away from trashy VH1 "reality" shows filled with potential murderers and definite narcissists. Their ridiculousness has captured me, more than a classic ancient fiction can. Why is that? Why is it that the horrible reality of being a tool is more riveting than a story of love, lies, and Aphrodite? Is it me? Am I weak!?
At any rate, the point is that a learning environment is important. For me, this means no television, no computer, no distracting noises (but definitely some type of music, probably Itzhak Perlman or something similar), no noisy people, no distracting items on the walls, or places with a lot going on all at once. Interestingly, I could blog in a hurricane or wind storm or with hail beating down on my face and fingers.
What's YOUR zone? How do you focus? Can you make homework and important things happen with kids running around, things flying across the room, the TV blaring, and noise elevating every second? How do you make yourself walk away from distracting things? What's your secret?
Monday, September 7, 2009
Monday, September 07, 2009
Rav Soloveitchik, An Authentic Giant of Authentic Judaism
There is an obnoxious new blog called Authentic Judaism whose author keeps e-mailing me and offering to educate me on how his particular version of right wing Orthodox Judaism is the only authentic type of Judaism. I have been ignoring him but in today's e-mail he bragged about his high Google ranking. In response, I would like to request the help of fellow bloggers in driving down his Google ranking.
As I write this post, the second result for a Google search on "Authentic Judaism" is a post of his titled "JB Soloveitchik, The Authentic Impostor" (the first result is to a Secular Humanist Temple!). Yes, that is the kind of hateful things he writes. He is spending Elul this year writing about "the idiot Natan Slifkin", which is incredibly offensive. What he might not realize is that by insulting people like Rav Soloveitchik and Rabbi Slifkin, he is opening the door for others to insult his mentors, both in public and in private. It is practically guaranteed to happen (although I ask readers to please refrain from doing so).
Please link to this post and even put up a similar post of your own to push him down in the ranks. Feel free to copy this word-for-word if you want. And while you're at it, it might also help if you end every new post with the words "Authentic Judaism".
On this post, I will offer free reign on links. Any blog that posts something like this will be linked below (please leave a comment here or e-mail me so I know).
For Friday Dinner: "Everything" Challah, Honey-Apple Chicken, Honey-Dijon Carrots, and a simple salad. (Meat)
For Saturday Lunch: More "Everything" Challah, Cholent, Corn Kugel, More Honey-Dijon Carrots, a simple salad, and Sabra Hummus. (Meat)
For Saturday Dinner: Baked Mac N'Cheese and Berry Crumble. (Dairy)
Now, most of these recipes were simply used, but did not define how and what I made. I've sort of realized that recipes are mostly meant simply to be followed, not completely to the letter. Of course, when it comes to desserts and breads, they usually have to be followed precisely. The Berry Crumble recipe came from Real Simple magazine and was a mixture of a few different recipes. The Baked Mac N'Cheese used some delicious White Cheddar Jalapeno cheese that melted gloriously for a delicious cheesy flavor. The Everything Challah is basically just your run-of-the-mill challah recipe topped with various things -- poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic salt, you name it. Overall, I'd say that the food was outstanding, with the exception of the Honey-Apple Chicken. I wish I had photos, to be honest, but I don't!
At any rate, it was an amazing weekend with friends. We went to waterfalls, ate outside on a blanket, hiked around, and sat around chatting and catching up. And, most surprisingly, it wasn't so hard having non-Shomer folks around (some of our friends aren't Jewish, and some just aren't shomer), and explaining everything was fascinating. It was nice -- three couples out in the woods, hanging out and enjoying a beautiful summer day, probably one of the last. Stay tuned for some photos, because you know there's photos of the weekend.
The rules are:
- Open the fourth file where you store your photos.
- Pick the fourth photo.
- Explain the photo.
- Pass challenge onto four other bloggers.
So, here’s my photo.
This photo is of one of the daughters of one of the professors at my summer program. She was the cutest little thing, and she would take fruit on with a serious face! This little girl LOVED to eat and run around with the boys.
Tagged for this meme: KosherAcademic, Hadassah, Tuvia, and ... Dunking Rachael!
Friday, September 4, 2009
A quick update on the mezuzah situation: Unfortunately I still haven't found my beautiful mezuzah. I ate dinner on Wednesday by the Chabad rabbi on campus, and he graciously granted me a nifty mezuzah for my door on campus. After we left and headed back to campus to move ALL of my things from one first-floor, horribly stinky mold-filled room to a much smaller, second-floor but non-mold-filled room, Tuvia presented me with a beautiful gift -- a new mezuzah! It's a small pewter mezuzah with dark blue gemstones at each end (which, interestingly, is reminiscent of my birthstone, Sapphire), and it says: Baruch atah b'voecha v'baruch atah b'tzetecha, which means "You shall be blessed when you come, and you shall be blessed when you depart." But there's more!
Last night Tuvia and I went to the shul for mincha/ma'ariv and to have a quick sicha with our rav. Over the course of the conversation, we came to find out that this phrase on my mezuzah is actually found in THIS WEEK'S PARSHAH, Ki Tavo!
Now, after the mezuzah situation, you all are going to think I'm really supersticious. But every now and again there are these little moments of "clicks" in my Judaism. I'm thinking about something and instantly/subsequently something happens to answer my question. Like that time I couldn't figure out if it was kosher to use bathroom spray (like Glade) on Shabbat, and when I returned to my book on the forbidden activities for Shabbat, the next page detailed how you can use the spray bottle. I don't want to think that every little thing happens for a reason, or that I need to attribute every little thing to some greater cosmic connection (in the larger sense -- I realize that in truth all is connected!). But when things like this just happen, I have to wonder.
And, okay, I promise this is the last thing I'll say, but I was sitting in my Midrashic Narratives course yesterday and the professor was discussing the Midrash on Abraham (Abram) destroying his father's idols. The midrash serves to explain the meaning of a specific phrase in Genesis, and the professor was detailing a few other spots in Tanakh where the same phrase appears (it's not important to know which, just go with it). I was expecting him to give us the Book, Chapter, and Verse, but he didn't. He simply said "In Exodus ..." and I'm waiting for the chapter and verse, and nothing, so I pick up my Tanakh and open it and land on Exodus 50:1. And there, right there, staring back at me, at this random page that I opened, was the exact verse he was discussing.
So, is it luck? Is it happenstance? Is it some gigantic ball of cosmic thread connecting me from one thing to the other? Is it some secret part of my brain working overtime without me knowing it, providing insight into things I can't even begin to imagine? Is it HaShem reaching down, poking my brain and making it happen?
I don't know, but it has me spiritually enlivened, and just in time to really throw myself into this month of Elul. To really think about the past year, how far I've come in the past year, and where I'm going in 5770. Do you know where you're going?
Some key words in this post: mezuzah (the little item fixed on the doorposts of Jews with a special prayer in it); chatuna (wedding); mazal tov (congratulations); neshama (soul/spirit); Midrash (an written exposition on the underlying meaning of Biblical texts); Tanakh (the five books of Moses); sicha (conversation); mincha/ma'ariv (the afternoon and evening prayers); Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath); HaShem (the way I write G-d when I don't want to write the name!).
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
When I converted to Judaism in 2006 (via Reform auspices), my congregation gave me a beautiful basket of goodies to get me started on the derekh. There were candlesticks, candlestick holders, a bottle of Kedem grapejuice, all the fixins for a proper Shabbos. And most importanty was the gift they gave me with the basket -- a mezuzah.
You'll remember the mezuzah. It was beautiful, pewter, and it had adorned so many doors of mine throughout the past three years. I loved that mezuzah. I know that it's got to be somewhere in Evan's house, mixed in with my books or storage or the Judaica, but I can't find it, and it makes me want to cry. I've looked in every knook and cranny, every space that I could have stored it for safe-keeping. It was the last item I removed from my dorm last year when I moved out. That mezuzah means so much to me. I want to hang it on my doorpost at school, because my room feels naked without it, but I can't find it and as a result I'm feeling pretty down.
My initial reaction to losing the mezuzah was that maybe it's a sign. After all, my path has continued to extend itself into the horizon. I have rejected or denied my Reform past, but rather I've built new and different stepping stones through Conservative Judaism and on into Orthodox Judaism. Is losing my mezuzah, a gift after my Reform conversion, a sign that I'm really ready? I'm ready to accept the 613 mitzvoth? To live my life as a Torah-observant Jew? That maybe I need a new mezuzah to fit my new shoes?
I know some of you will say I'm nuts. Signs shmines. And maybe you're right. But knowing how important this mezuzah was to me makes me wonder why it would up and disappear. I checked the places I know I would have put it, but it just vanished.
I guess I'll have to call up Chabad and get a mezuzah for my door. Its generic and plain, but it's something. After all, I suppose the cosmetic appeal of the mezuzah isn't as important as it's fixture. I need that separation of space that the mezuzah brings.
- Go to the OhNuts! Rosh Hashanah gifts page, choose your favorite gift, and leave a comment here on the blog with the NAME of the gift. On Thursday, September 10, I will pick a random winner, and OhNuts! will send you a gift!
- You can go to the OhNuts! Facebook page and write on the wall your favorite Rosh Hashanah OhNuts! gift.
- Or, you can follow @OhNuts and can Tweet: "Win a free Rosh Hashanah Gift from http://bit.ly/2OwulF. Follow @OhNuts and RT to enter." Tweet This
Note: or All non-packaged products sold through this website are certified Kosher under the strict supervision of OK laboratories. Packaged products bear a reliable certification on the packaging.