Saturday, September 29, 2007

And then there was none.

Breaker, breaker.

Cancel that.

No Italy trip.

(Travel agency failed to ticket the flight ... no way to make it in time for the conference ... that's all, folks.)

>>>>insert sad face

Friday, September 28, 2007

To Italy, Bon voyage.

Tomorrow, in the early evening, the boyfriend and I leave for Italy, and we arrive Saturday.

We'll be in Padova (Padua) Saturday night and all day Sunday, after which we'll head to Venice for Monday and Tuesday. We return to Chicago on Wednesday. It's a short trip, but one that I am hoping will lighten me and make me feel a little more worldly. I feast on history, and I am going to a true hub of some of the greatest locations and moments in history.

In Padova, I plan on visiting the areas where Jews migrated in the 12th century. Then, in Venice, I am stoked to visit the old Jewish ghetto. Of course, there's a million other things I look forward to seeing, but I know that this will only make me more stoked to hit up Israel.

History! History, my friends. It's beautiful, it's absolutely divine.

Here's to hoping my first international voyage goes well, without a hitch, that we don't forget anything, that we make our flights, that my presentation goes off swimmingly, that the Italians understand me, that it's all meant to be.

And most importantly, that we travel safely. So I say the traveler's prayer. Cheers to you all friends, and look out for pictures!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The final Parshah.

"And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face ..." (Deut. 34:10)

This found its way into Maimonides Thirteen principles, chiefly within the following:
7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses is absolutely true. He was the chief of all prophets, both before and after Him.
8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.
Key in the initial citation to note is "in Israel," which makes one wonder if this is a foretelling that perhaps such prophets will arise in other nations, among other people. A midrash touches on this in the following:
Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, in Israel there did not arise, but among the nations there arose, so that the nations should not have the excuse to say that if only we had a prophet like Moses we would have worshipped the Holy One. And which prophet did they have like Moses? Balaam the son of Beor” (Numbers Rabba 14:19).
Is it suggesting that other prophets of the caliber (in the eyes of worshippers) arose out of envy for Moses? Did envy or visions of grandeur birth the great prophets (visionaries) that birthed Christianity or Islam or Mormonism?

Or, perhaps, the key idea here is that what Moses (via G-d) gave to Israel was greater and unlike anything that would ever arise. Torah! As the greatest revelation from a prophet such as Moses, it never again will be repeated or regiven or redacted. It is THE ultimate final say.

Either way, this brief sentence at the very end of our Torah, before we begin again, inspired Maimonides in his Thirteen Principles (of course, which I'll discuss at some other time when I have more time to explicate on the many points, which I might not exactly agree or understand or GET), which says something. It is not enough to say that Moses was a prophet -- no, he was THE prophet.

This take on the situation seems pretty spot-on:
In the Yigdal prayer in the morning service, we read, "No one from Israel arose like Moses. . ." Could there have been another Moses? Theoretically, yes. But did anyone reach his lofty heights? Only Moses earned the right to ascend Mt. Sinai and accept the Torah directly from Hashem. Moses was just a normal human being who overcame his evil inclination and reached his vast potential. He was a man of physical defects who was slow in speech and spoke with a lisp. Nobody can say that it was his great oratorical skills that mesmerized an entire nation into following him. Moses was a far cry from one who could preach matters in his own words or give expression to divine truths. He was a scribe who could sit before Hashem on Mt. Sinai and take perfect dictation. Moses was the secretary who mirrored the ideals of his divine boss. Interestingly, Moses' Hebrew name Moshe, spelled mem, shin, hay, mirrors that of Hashem, spelled hay, shin, mem. Moshe spelled backwards reads Hashem.
Even the dissection of Moshe and Hashem is pretty compelling (if you're into etymology and a little superstitious like me).

Of this week's entire portion, this is the bit that moved me most. What a man, what an amazing man and what a gift -- or burden. And at the mouth of G-d, Moses passed. A thoughtful kiss goodbye.

Whose Lament?

If you've read "My Name is Asher Lev" by the profound Chaim Potok, then likely if you picked up "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer you'd recognize the main character -- a little boy who has lost his father in the 9/11 attacks in New York.

I was reading this in Argo Tea & Coffee last night while waiting to grab dinner with the boyfriend when I stopped, shocked at the absolute identical nature of Asher Lev and Oskar Schell. The former is a budding artist, the latter a budding inventor. Their imaginations are vivid and complex, almost adult-like in nature. Their thought process and often the way they speak are fast, with question after question coming at the speed of light and spanning many different topics. The two boys are twins, separated at the spine.

It's as if -- like Asher Lev with the rebbe's face in the chumash -- Safran Foer created an entire character and when he finally came to, it was the face of Asher Lev.

Moments like this are sort of like reading errors in texts (and boy oh boy were there many, many more in the fall holidays book I was reading; talk about nauseatingly disappointing). With errors it shows a lack of concern for quality, for perfection. When it comes to character development ... yes, it's easy to say it's all been done before, but you can create a variation on a theme without rebuilding the theme brick for brick. That's what Oskar Schell is in my mind now. I'll admit that Safran Foer's second effort was not nearly as masterful as his first, but that's the plight of being a new author -- finding that higher plane.

But as I near the end of "My Name is Asher Lev," I find myself more in love with Potok. I'd like to read his follow-up to "The Chosen," but at the same time know that it is probably a crowd-pleasing work (success begets success, no?). It seems that sequels often are.

Then again, I crave Shalom Auslander's "Foreskin's Lament," if for its tagline alone: "I believe in God. It's been a real problem for me." Watch this video, it's an absolutely brilliant introduction to what surely will be an insightful work.

Friday, September 21, 2007

May you be inscribed in the book of life.

It is said that not fasting on Yom Kippur is better than fasting without purpose. (The fast is introduced in Leviticus, as we are told to afflict our souls and practice "self denial.") It is on Yom Kippur that even most secular Jews take part in services and fasting -- but what is the meaning of such a fast for the secular Jew? On that note, what is the meaning of the fast for a practicing Jew? Is it to suffer? To wilt and wither for but a day? The haftarah (from Isaiah) for Yom Kippur reads:

They say: "Why is it that we have fasted, and You don't see our suffering?
We press down our egoes ... but You don't pay attention!"

Look! On the very day you fast you keep scrabbling for wealth;
On the very day you fast you keep oppressing all your workers.

Look! You fast in strife and contention.
You strike with a wicked fist.

You are not fasting today in such a way
As to make your voices heard on high.

Is that the kind of fast that I desire?
Is that really a day for people to "press down their egoes"?

Am I commanding you to droop your heads like bulrushe
And lie around in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast day,
The kind of day that the God of the Burning Bush would wish?


This is the kind of fast that I desire:

Unlock the shackles put on by wicked power!
Untie the ropes of the yoke!
Let the oppressed go free,
And break off every yoke!

Share your bread with the hungry. Bring the poor, the outcasts, to your house.
When you see them naked, clothe them;
And from your own flesh and blood don't hide yourself.

Then your light will burst through like the dawn;
Then when you need healing it will spring up quickly;
Then your own righteousness will march ahead to guard you.
And a radiance from Adonai will reach out behind to guard you.
Then, when you cry out, Adonai will answer;
Then, when you call. God will say: "Here I am!"

So then, it is not suffering that this day entails. Physical starvation is merely a path to open up the mind and soul. The fast is not a black fast as on Tisha B'Av where we mourn the great tragedies of the past, but a white fast. While on many fasts we afflict the body while fasting, it is on Yom Kippur that we afflict the SOUL. It's sort of solemn, but we greet one another with gemar chatimah tovah -- tidings to be inscribed in the book of life for good. The goals are light, teshuvah, reconciliation.

I can understand perhaps why Yom Kippur is so widely practiced among secular Jews. It is said that 95 percent of Israelis fast on this day. I just have to wonder whether it's really SPENT the way it's meant to be spent. That goes for secular Jews and religious Jews, really. It seems that for many, going to synagogue on the High Holidays is this forced requirement. It's just expected. That's what makes me want to avoid shul on the High Holidays, despite the absolute importance of the days. I'd rather be surrounded by 10 people who genuinely soul search than hundreds who are there because it's just what we do. On that note, why don't more Jews really dedicate themselves to understanding the day, it's meanings and gleanings? I find myself ever more frustrated as the days go on here in Chicago at my super large synagogue. I miss my small community. More importantly, I miss knowing that people care; that it's more than just going through the motions. But I will be in synagogue tonight and tomorrow, thinking of the transgressions of all of humanity, not just myself, and hoping that even those whose hearts are not there, are not present, and I will think on them.

I had a chance this year to ask forgiveness from someone who I had hurt so very deeply more than a year ago, but that whom I hadn't been able to ask for forgiveness prior to last Yom Kippur. The pain carried on through this past year, so I felt it was sufficient to ask, and I am glad that I did. I can't express how light I felt when he said he forgave me. It's as if all the sins -- big and small -- are transformed, only through that one granting forgiveness. Now, and perhaps for the next year and beyond, I must work on forgiving myself. Is it wrong to go into the Yom Kippur fast having a continued heavy heart? Forgiving oneself is perhaps harder than asking forgiveness from those that have been wronged -- and this I have learned, and continue to combat.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The most ridiculous anti-Semitic site on the planet.

I really, REALLY hate giving anti-Semitic sites traffic, but WOW have I found a doozy. Such a doozy that it's almost laughable. I'm talking, the most ridiculous site I've seen in a really long time. It says the Oklahoma City bombing was orchestrated by Zionists in Elohim City, Oklahoma. It cites a 1950s case of several missing children who obviously were stolen by Jews and bloodlet to bake the matzo. Not to mention that it chocks the whole Aruba missing teenager thing up to Jews. Black Dahlia? Yup, Jews. Lindberg baby? Jews. Jews Jews Jews ... yes, we've done it all, folks. Mostly in the name of bloodletting.

This web administrator should probably read some history. A book, perhaps. Yes, a book. Several of them maybe.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A diversion from Judaism.

I'm diverting (slightly) from Jewish talk for a moment to highlight my favorite all-time state senator -- Ernie Chambers of Nebraska, also the longest-serving state senator of all time in Nebraska.

Why? You ask. Check out this news story, which features Chambers's lawsuit against G-d! So sayeth the news piece:
Chambers says in his lawsuit that God has made terroristic threats against the senator and his constituents, inspired fear and caused "widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants."
I mean, really, folks, does it get any better than that? The lawsuit, of course, is a tactical move, aimed at a ridiculous lawsuit (discussed in the article, of course). The man is a genius. His filibusters are lengthy, his amendments are hilarious.

He was first featured in 1966's "A Time for Burning," an Oscar-nominated flick about a pastor trying to get his congregation (all white) to reach out to the black community. It lost the pastor his job, but put Chambers in the eyes of the public. He was first voted into the senate in 1970. Among some of his famous efforts were the 1989 Franklin Coverup Hoax and his support in 2006 of what was basically state-sanctioned segregation in Omaha Public Schools.

Really, the man's a genius. In an effort to prove the idiocy of so much in politics, he comes out as the hero shining brightly on his stead of justice for the downtrodden. The greatest thing about Ernie Chambers, though, is that so much of his life is a mystery. At 70 years old, I can only hope that there's a secret manuscript somewhere that will unleash the details of his life the moment he passes (though here's hoping that's 30-40 years down the line).

But for your lawsuit against G-d, Ernie, I salute you. Keep on keeping on, and being the coolest state senator EVER.

A few little news clips.

I've happ'd upon a few articles or tidbits in the news that I thought I'd bring to the attention to the masses (hah) of readers of my blog.

+ First, of course, I have to mention Esther ... er ... Madonna ... er ... whatever her name is. She was in Israel to ring in the New Year and hung out with Shimon Peres (Israel's president) and they bestowed holy books upon each other. I think Hugo Rifkind over at the Times Online put it quite poinently when he said:
Madonna, who is to actual Judaism what the Beach Boys were to actual surfing (in that she can’t do it, and doesn’t really want to, but pretends it has influenced her songs), has been visiting Israel for the Jewish new year. “I am an ambassador for Judaism,” she told Shimon Peres, the Israeli President. Maybe she could open an embassy in Baghdad.
How can she be an ambassador for Judaism, when she isn't Jewish? QUE!? I do not understand!

On a similar note, Rosie O'Donnell also was in Israel to get her kabbalah on. When it was suggested perhaps she'd gone all converty on us, her response on was "there is no need to convert /its not a religion." Gag me with a freakin' spoon. When will the kabbalah bandwagon quit rolling? Really, I'm tired of hearing about Madonna and her posse.

+ Dennis Prager of The Bulletin rails against Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the Reform movement, in this article over a talk he gave to the Islamic Society of North America, where he said:
"Why should anyone criticize the voluntary act of a woman who chooses to wear a headscarf or a veil? Surely the choice these women make deserves our respect, not to mention the full protection of the law."
His conclusion is that Yoffie was trying to cozy in with the audience and thus round-about supported one of the most oppressive things "imposed" upon women. Now, isn't it possible that Rabbi Yoffie understands that there is no way to say what is right and what is wrong. Imposing one's beliefs on another is not the way we get things done, last time I checked. Thus, this statement, to me, is him simply saying "Islam is Islam, and no one should criticize it." It's sort of like ... it would be if a Muslim leader said no one should criticize women wearing wigs to cover their hair in public. Would he be endorsing it? Probably not. I highly doubt Yoffie was in any way attempting to ENDORSE the burkah.

Seriously man, get a grip.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Shana tovah, friends and passersby. I just downed some apples and honey (oh how sweet!) and am settling in for a quiet night before services in the morning (because of that whole 2-day Rosh HaShanah thing we got goin' on).

I have some explaining to do. Or rather, some dredging. Read on, read on.

Last night after work, Ian and I went to this stellar place called Jury's that specializes in delicious burgers (and it was burger special night!). We then got some ice cream and enjoyed the evening before heading to synagogue for 7:30 services. It was a beautiful, pleasant evening and I was feeling excited (especially after Saturday's S'lichot services) for the holidays. I was so eager.

But then we got there and had to unload some things outside (no bags, PERIOD). There was SERIOUS security. We always had security in Lincoln, but it was usually one guy in front, one guy in back. Even in D.C. last year there wasn't as much security as there was outside of the temple last night. The security people who had us unload weren't -- by any means at all -- friendly. They were stiff, and I understand that security on High Holidays is meant to be serious ... but really. It was unwelcoming and sort of disheartening. We went in and it was a seating free-for-all. I was expecting there to be seating delegation, especially considering how pricey tickets were. But there were only a few dozen reserved seats. There were people running around all over the place with walkie-talkies like it was a huge production.

The ark/bima were pushed far back to make room for hundreds more seats. These seats were folding chairs and we chose to sit in the back in the actual sanctuary, which made the ark/bima seem miles away. The space filled up and there were hundreds of faces I'd never seen before, which was sort of irritating/frustrating.

Services began and it was shocking. The organ and professional choir, not to mention the high-tech sound system (complete with a soundboard and several soundmen), made me feel like I was in CHURCH. Yes, Church. It hearkened to the Christmas services I went to when I was in high school and early on in college. It screamed of the Protestant influence that gripped Reform Judaism way back when and still lingers. What made it more unfortunate was the rabbi talking about how my synagogue has come so far from it's original Reform roots and has become more "traditional." What this means in the Reform movement is that there's more Hebrew in the liturgy -- nothing more, nothing less. And that is irritating. It was even more uncomfortable than last year when the services I went to where held in a local church ... with JESUS all over the walls and crosses plastered everywhere (seriously bad idea, I don't care how inter-faith people are and how little Christianity bothers me).

The service was about what I expected in length, but the entire thing felt like an arena church service and it hurt the very depths of my Jewish soul. People looked disinterested -- even more so than normal. People in their D&G and stilettos and pin-stripe suits and seriously important looking demeanor looked pained to be there.

Last night was the most non-intimate synagogue experience I've ever had. Period. It didn't feel like Rosh Hashanah. I tried so hard to focus. I tried so hard to make it personal and my own. I've been reading and researching and thinking the holiday over. I want it to MEAN something. And then this. This?

The entire thing just made me miss Lincoln. I was so spoiled there. I had a small, close community where even on the High Holidays when the entire sanctuary was filled, people were always engaged (or at least they looked like it). It was intimate, it didn't feel huge. Can I not find that kind of engagement anywhere else but a small town with like, a few hundred Jews? Do I need to go the suburbs?

The temple president got up toward the end and talked about the history of the synagogue. How it began with barely a minyan 140 years ago in what is now downtown Chicago. And now? More than 1,000 families. Families that come and are anonymous and are just there and don't care and show up here and there and make the people like me -- the people who want synagogue to be about more than just belonging to something and doling out cash and shipping the kids off to Hebrew school because it's just what you do -- feel completely faceless.

I'll go to services tomorrow morning, because I need to hear the shofar. Because I hope ... HOPE ... that maybe there will be fewer people, that it will feel more intimate, that it will be what I need and what I remember and what I want.

One of the reasons I was turned off so greatly from Christianity was the mass production of it. The arena feel. The gigantic churches with coffee shops and telecasting and gigantic sound systems and the impersonal nature of church. It felt faceless. And then Judaism, the Judaism I so desire, was a group of people with common passions and excitement about community and tikkun olam and learning what it means to live a holy life. Not the mass production aspect. That was never there.

It's just frustrating. It's frustrating because this is how I rang in the New Year. This is how I begin my year -- feeling frustrated and bitter at the way the place I chose as my religious home handles itself. The regular Shabbat services are great. They're small, they're sweet and intimate. Why can't it always be like that? Why does it have to be a production with organs and professional choirs and sound systems that blast?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem!

שנה טובה!

Yes, it's the new year. I have a lot to say about services last night at my local synagogue (which we joined, largely so that we could get High Holiday tickets and wouldn't have to pay 200-400 bucks a pop), and a lot to say about why it caused me not to go to services this morning.

Stay tuned. And may your new year be blessed and filled with all of the sweet things that life has to offer, and may every day that you live be holy and healthy!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hear the Shofar, Hear your Heart.

I've never before been to a Selichot (or S'lichot) service. I now understand the importance of such a service, not to mention how peaceful and beautiful it was.

First let me explain what the Selichot service is. As some of you might or might not know, the Jewish High Holy Days (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) are fast approaching. The Selichot service is basically a service to prepare us for the holiday season and introduces the themes, prayers, and music of the holidays. It's traditional to have the service late at night after havadalah, typically at midnight. A lot of places have adopted doing it earlier in the evening so more people can attend (ours started with a study at 8:30 p.m., desserts at 9:30 and service at 10 p.m. -- it lasted until about 11:30 P.M.).

The synagogue I go to is quite large. The main sanctuary is set up so that the bimah and ark can be pushed back into a gymnasium-style room that is decked in stained glass (and where we sometimes have services), to add hundreds of more seats for individuals. Now, it's hard to describe what this is like. You definitely have to be there. The ark and bimah are a HUGE piece of construction, and I'm not exactly sure how they do this, but it's absolutely fantastic. The service last night, though, was set off to the side and was set up with chairs off to the sides of the lectern, with the choir behind the lectern, creating a square shape. It was incredibly intimate, and it was dim in the little make-shift sanctuary. The choir comprised only 10 or 12 individuals, but the music was loud and powerful. Our cantor, Aviva Katzman, has one of the most beautiful cantoral voices I've ever heard.

The service was moving. I can't exactly describe the emotions, but I only wish I had attended such services before, as it truly is just enough to prepare one for the service-heavy holy days. The silent meditations interspersed with the reciting the sins and transgressions. I feel prepared enough for the holidays, but I think there's a lot I need to think about. I need to really reflect on the past year and how it has changed me and who I have become.

One of my favorite bits from the service was a quote from Louis Finkelstein: "When I pray, I speak to G-d; and when I study, G-d speaks to me." The gleanings read before and after the changing of the Torah covers from their colorful decor to their High Holy Days white. The night ended with the blowing of the shofar by a man who did the act for his 59th year -- talk about a tradition. I forgot how comforting and beautiful the sound was ... though I do miss the gal who used to do it at my temple back home in Lincoln (it was a teen girl who had some serious pipes on her).

I'm excited and ready for the new year. It means new beginnings, rebirth, and chances to really make something of myself this year in all avenues possible. I want to do more for the community, I want to pursue my goals, and I want to strive to make every day holy. I have resolutions that are worthy of the new Jewish year of 5768. I want to extend my Torah study to include the haftarah portions, as I didn't do that last year. I want to spend more time with the texts and look into Talmud. I want to take those Hebrew classes and being pursuing school. I want to be engulfed and flooded over by learning. And at the same time, I want to review the past year and learn from my transgressions and work toward holiness.


Prior to services, I went to Borders and picked up Chaim Potok's "My name is Asher Levy" and to my luck, "Celebrating the Jewish Holidays" that focuses on the fall holidays! Alas, the latter book was going along swimmingly until I hit a duplicated word about 10 pages in ... and if you know anything about me and my anal retentive editor tendencies, you know that I had to stop reading the book. I'll pick it back up in due time, but things like that are a complete turn off to me and it's probably some kind of OCD tendency that I should have looked at!

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Time for the Shabbos nap, ya'll! It's been a long time since I actually took a nap on Shabbos ... but ... well, I was up late and got up early, so I need a quick nod off before the late night Selichot services at Temple Sholom. Come for the discussion, stay for the dessert, and indulge in the services. Shabbat Shalom!

There's nothing like waking up to idiocy.

I was sort of shocked to read this article in the Seoul Times today about the state of Israel and how Israel should pay reparations to Palestinians (okay) and how Zionists are busy raping Palestine in the name of already-resolved promises. So say the article:
The fact is that almost none of the Jews in modern Israel today are descendants of the original Jews of Palestine thousands of years ago. Most of the Jews in Israel today are descendants of Europeans who had converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages (known as Khazar or Ashkenazi Jews).
Now, it's clear that this guy has no idea what an Ashkenazic Jew is. They aren't Jews who converted ... they're just Jews. Then he says:
Unlike before, almost all Arabs, including Palestinians, now will recognize Israel's right to exist or, at least, will not wage war with Israel if Israel completely withdraws to its pre-1967 borders.
Really? Are you SURE about that? Because last time I checked, that as a big "not true." Yes, a lot have decided that maybe it is possible for there to be a Jewish state, and that yes, perhaps Israel should be left there. But the majority still think NO. In discussing the terrorist acts of Jews in the initial stages of the creation of the state of Israel (which I will not deny):
During that time Palestinian families suffered huge atrocities at the hands of Jewish immigrants including many pregnant Palestinian Arab women having their wombs ripped open alive and their babies slaughtered before their very eyes.
Could he be a little more graphic? Then there's this tidbit:
Ultimately, the Islamic jihadis are interested in imposing a theocracy of their fundamentalist version of Islam on all Muslims and eventually the wole world, but they will continue to win hearts and minds in the Islamic world against the U.S. so long as we continue to let Palestine be raped by Jewish Zionists.
At this point, I'm thinking this guy has some issues with the Jewish community as a whole. He's a self-proclaimed Indian Christian and this article goes on and on about the raping of Palestinians. Yet he doesn't mention the fact that the issue is two-faced. It takes two to tango, bucko, and the Palestinians have done plenty of pillaging of the Jews on their own in Israel.

No matter what way you put it, this article ... this OPINION piece ... is absolutely juvenile, ill informed, lacking a history or understanding of the conflict. I could give this guy two or three books to read that might make him sound a little more feasible and not so much like an anti-Zionist windbag. I appreciate that everyone can have their own opinion, but I'm so tired of people using the Fox-style tactics of horror and awe, no to mention fallacies, to get their point across.

What a way to start the day! Maybe I'll e-mail him my thoughts. Or if you have some, feel free to correct his historical errors yourself! He can be reached at:

Thursday, September 6, 2007

TORAH! And Work.

First, a quick read on this week's Torah, which allows us some of Moses's last days. Then, a bit about work and some thoughts I'm having.

+ The double portion this week -- Nitzavim-Vayelech -- expresses some of the most basic and fundamental tenets of Judaism. Its opening beckons all men, women, children and converts within the camp. This is the all-encompassing aspect of Judaism!

+ Deut. 29:14 -- "But not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, but with ... those who are not here with us, this day." My first inclination was that this is speaking of future generations. I checked out Rashi's commentary and BAM! Same thing. This may seem like a "duh" thing, but that could be interpreted as those not present (idolators, people elsewhere, etc.), or future generations, or past generations.

+ Deut. 29:28 -- "The hidden things belong to the Lord, our G-d, but the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever: that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah." I had to read this sentence several times and do some web searching before I got the gist of it. Then I found this great explication over on the Edinburg (yes that Edingburg)Hebrew Congregation website. In sum: "Our verse, therefore, comes to tell us that we are only accountable for the ‘revealed things’: the way society acts and behaves; not the ‘hidden things’ of everyone’s private behaviour." It definitely emphasizes the importance of community!

+ Deut. 30:6 -- "And the Lord, your G-d, will circumcise your heart ..." Okay. On the surface, yes, this is the spiritual representation of the physical circumcision as ordered by G-d. During the wanderings, circumcision ceased temporarily, but now, as they enter the land, the Israelites are called to circumcise their hearts (this also appears in Deut. 10:12-16). I was sort of shocked that when I did searching on the web for this portion, most of the sites that came up were Christian sites, and the second top site was a Jews for Jesus article. They all say similar things ... and they're all pretty ... Jesus-y.

-----RANDOM NOTE: One of the Temple Sholom staff members, and my personal favorite -- Josie A.G. Shapiro -- is on Dinner: Impossible! WOW!!!! -----

+ Deut. 31:17-18 -- These must be what prompted so many to assume that after just about every major catastrophe (inquisition, pogroms, Holocaust) that surely G-d had turned away his face and that surely it was "because of all the evil they have committed." So many who called for Jews to convert after such travesties probably eyed these events and these verses. It also calls into attention the "why do bad things happen to good people" adage. It's why -- so often -- when someone dies or a tragedy happens, pundits and zealots automatically scream "YOU WERE BAD! YOU ARE BEING PUNISHED!" But there has to be more to this than what comes off the surface. G-d isn't just a punishing god, there's compassion in there. In all my bad moments, never once have I said "I have earned this, G-d has turned his face from me. I have been abandoned."


Now for job stuff. Every morning on the #66 bus down Chicago Avenue, I ride past the nearly open Dominick's grocery store. It's going up right next to a McDonalds -- one of the few chain restaurants on my end of Chicago Avenue. The moment that the "Now Hiring" sign showed up outside the store a few weeks ago, I turned to Ian on the ride and said "Hah, maybe I should apply there!"

Now, I'm not presently searching for a new job. In the future, yes, I'll be looking for a new job that's a little more up my alley. But here's the thing.

I want a mindless job. I want a mindless job so that I can focus on the things that matter: reading, Torah, Hebrew, my studies.

Every morning I ride by that store and think that if only I didn't have bills and groceries to buy and things and stuff. I could get by on minimum wage with the minimum things, working a mindless job where I can disconnect myself when I leave. Where I can hop on the bus and be there two seconds later. Where I can spend my spare time thinking about literature and Rashi and things that mean something to me, instead of all the things that don't (ahem, those things at my present gig).

I don't hate my job. It's just completely not stimulating. It has nothing to do with anything that has to do with me. And if I'm going to work a job like that, I want it to at least be less all-consuming and something that doesn't cut into my after hours.

So maybe I will look into working some slum job like a grocery store or retail. It would kill my father and it would make me look like a complete shmuck. I went from a job hundreds and thousands would kill for (Washington Post) to another job dozens if not hundreds would kill for (working for a Nobel prize winning economist). So if I called it a day here and went downhill in order to go uphill to what I want to do ... wouldn't it be worth it?

So maybe. Just maybe I'll be bagging your groceries someday. I'm not so prideful that I wouldn't do that. I'm the girl who worked at McDonalds and Wal-Mart growing up. The end goal is being happy and doing something that I'm passionate about, so in any case, the means are not necessarily the most important thing on my mind.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The New Siddur ... here's hoping it actually comes out this time!

So I saw this little gem in the New York Times about the Union for Reform Judaism preparing to adopt a new prayer book. Hold the phone. Weren't we going to do this like ... a year ago? Six months ago? Three months ago? This thing has been in the works for AGES. At one service last year I heard that the printing was halted because of some typos. Then I heard that the printing was halted so that all the Harry Potter books could make it out in time.

Either way, I'm a fan of the new book.

I attended a service up north at a synagogue I ended up passing on where the head honcho was one of the leading rabbis on the new siddur. I knew this immediately because their personal prayerbook (they'd left the old Gates of Prayer behind long ago) was printed in the style that I had seen in the sneak peeks we'd gotten back home in Nebraska at B'Nai Jeshurun. It appeared for a long time that the union was sending out bits and pieces to rabbis for use in sort of acclimating their congregations to the new style of the forthcoming (still waiting!) prayerbook. It's a complete — COMPLETE — change from the old version.

If you poke at that article, there's an interactive section that shows you a bit of the new prayerbook. I like to call it the "choose your own adventure" prayerbook (its new name being Mishkan T'filah). Why? Well, each page is full of the Hebrew, the English and the transliteration, in addition to a lot of gleanings and optional prayer portions pulled from the great rabbis and thinkers, not to mention other portions of the Tanakh. The goal of the book is to appeal to anyone and everyone. Says the Times:
The changes reveal a movement that is growing in different directions simultaneously, absorbing non-Jewish spouses and Jews with little formal religious education while also trying to appeal to Jews seeking a return to tradition.
The siddur took more than 20 years to complete ... talk about an undertaking. The last siddur was published in 1975, and I guess I understand why just about every synagogue I've gone to outside of my home shul in Lincoln, Neb., has created their own version of the prayerbook in an effort to be more universal. I'll admit that nothing in the old Gates of Prayer offended me. In fact, there's a portion in there that inspires and moves me every day. But the new siddur has removed references to God as a “He”, and whenever Jewish patriarchs are named — like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so are the matriarchs — like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

I'm quite excited about the new book. I think — if anything — perhaps it will bring more people into the shul, seeing as it has a bounty of new stuff to read (the book is pretty thick, from what I've heard), so when you get tired of the rabbi's sermon you can just read on some wisdom from the sages or Elie Wiesel. It's variety, and that's what we thrive on these days it seems — something for everyone, gall darn't.

I suppose I should check in with my synagogue to see if we're taking on the new siddur or if we're sticking with our homemade versions. Here's to hoping this text can pump some fire into the hearts of my fellow Reform Jews!

Not Jewish, just Beachy.

I went to North Avenue Beach today. Yes, it's in Chicago, and it's a beach.

It was Labor Day, and I didn't want to waste it. So I thought, yes, go to the beach. So I hopped on the North Avenue bus toward the beach, forgetting my sunglasses and folding chair. I got to the beach and thought perhaps I'd rent a chair or umbrella and pick up some sunscreen, but it was $15 for a chair, $15 for an umbrella and $18 for sunscreen. So I said screw that and went back a few blocks to the Walgreens and picked up some sunscreen and a beach chair. I wished I had worn flip flops, but it was too late for that. I trekked out in the sand amount the thousands and plopped down. I slathered myself in sunscreen, leaned back, and watched the beach folk.

I did this for nearly two hours before I couldn't take it anymore. I'm not a hot weather person. I don't know what struck me to go to the beach. It wasn't THAT hot out by the water, because the breeze off the lake was beautiful. But I could only take so much of grown men in thongs, grown women with their boobs hanging out all over the place, and teenagers and 20-somethings flaunting a little too much while tanning. I wasn't feeling self-conscious ... at least not for me.

And that was how I spent my day. I probably won't go to the beach again. Unless it's at night and it's cooler outside. I'm a late-summer/fall beach person, where you can walk along the water's edge and it feels romantic, not hot and sexual.

And that's that.

Just a thought.


Complacency breeds anxiety. To be healthy, a person needs to be affecting his surroundings, uplifting those about him and bringing in more light.

A Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe -- words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The World to Come

One of the most powerful aspects of Judaism (to me) is that it is focused almost wholly on the here and now and not so much on the afterlife.

When I first began my exploration of Judaism, this was one of the things I clung to the most, because I had spent my entire life distraught and frustrated with the idea that every (Christian) person around me was living their lives purely to get into heaven. (This isn't a generalization, this is what I experienced. It's like the man who built a colony for Catholics in Florida -- he said himself he wants a place inside those pearly gates.) The goal was always heaven. All good deeds and observance and efforts and the meaning of life and everything was for eternal life. It wasn't about doing good here, that was merely a byproduct. The world to come, as it were, was the goal. It seemed selfish and unfocused.

So as I read Dara Horn's "The World to Come" ... I had this passion, these ideas in my mind. It is one of the things about Judaism that I so cling to. The idea that it's nearly impossible to concieve of the world to come, so that living here and now is the most important thing, is what saved me when I was a child and spent weeks crying myself to sleep over the idea of death. And when I discovered this tenet in Judaism, I became at home. So as I concluded the book, I felt enlightened, lucky and excited.

Let me begin by saying I have no conception of the afterlife. That is what keeps me sane most days. It is what keeps me curious and thriving. It's also what excites me when I read books like this.

"TWTC" is a book fiction based on a lot of fact. It was inspired by a bounty of things, with the soul of the story coming from an event in 2001 when a Marc Chagall painting was stolen after a singles mixer at a Jewish museum in New York (the painting was found later in a Kansas mailroom!). This is what the story begins with, and from there the details of Yiddish writers, Chagall's life, and the story weaves through many generations of a certain family and involves a certain Chagall painting (the one that was stolen). The book is an absolute dreamscape. The entire thing is ethereal, with moments of earth-bound dialog.

The reason I write so heavily about the idea of the afterlife (the "world to come") and this book is because it's given me a new hope of what it all means. I don't want to spoil anything, I really don't. I encourage everyone to read this book. Why? Because the world to come in this book isn't what we think of as the world to come. In this life, the world to come is that which comes after now -- resurrection of the dead or heaven or what have you. In the book, the world to come is life itself.
A note: There is a classic Jewish tradition (and one of my favorite) that before we are born, angels teach us everything -- Torah, the world's secrets, etc. -- and before we are birthed, the angel taps us above the lip (where that little indent is), and we forget everything we've been taught. Why? Because we must spend our lives relearning all the great knowledge and strive to be whole again.
Here's the thing: In the book, when a person dies, he or she spends their afterlife preparing the unborn souls for birth. Teaching them all the secrets and knowledge and things about their genealogy and family tree. But the way that they are ingested are unlike anything you would expect (you'll have to read the book to find out). The world that the newborn souls enter, then, is the world to come ... ! This is a reversal of the idea of the world to come. It reverses common thought regarding "the world to come." It makes more meaningful the idea of the present! It is the essence of everything!

This idea of the afterlife, to me, is hopeful and contains the understanding that I would most fathom. After all -- Torah says nothing of the afterlife: what to expect, what it will be, when it will be. The Jewish tradition of the unborn soul is beautiful, and paired with this idea of the world to come being THIS physical life is equally so.

I encourage anyone to read this book ... it's a beautiful dreamscape of hope and conviction. It's about the self, about today, about time. It's going to hit my list of top books. I have some more to say in relation to the book's ideas versus some things in Abraham Joshua Heschel's "The Sabbath" ... regarding angels and such. I'll write more on that later, though.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Life is Beautiful.

I decided last week at synagogue that I would no longer do anything work related on Shabbat. You're probably wondering what I was doing working on the weekend anyway, but my job is sort of a 24/7 effort, in order to keep the man (the professor) happy. But no longer will I come home from synagogue to answer his silly questions and requests. No sir. It's Shabbat, darn't. And it shall be treated as such!

I still get on the computer and flop from site to site and heck, even update my blog. I also manage to send some personal e-mails. But that isn't work. On the upside, I never have to turn my computer on :) I wonder if there's something written by the rabbis about how clicking a mouse is work ... though, since I have a laptop ... it isn't so much clicking as tapping!

Since it's beautiful here today, I'm going to trek over to Wicker Park and get my read on. I'm almost done with Dara Horn's "The World to Come" ... and boy oh boy do I have a smashing review to give it. Then, I'm *finally* going to read Chaim Potok's "The Chosen" -- lended to me by a coworker's wife. She's interested in Christian studies, I believe, but has some stellar Judaic studies selections. Edit: But not before I give Abraham J. Heschel some more love ...

Enjoy the long weekend, folks. The next one won't come for a while!