Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tearing Toilet Paper on Shabbos

This post here led to some interesting comments and questions both online and off. One of the questions that garnered some attention was this one.
"Um? Could someone please explain the tearing of toilet paper comments to me?"
As an answer someone provided this link which I reviewed as I do all links that come across my blog. Now I find a lot of this to be interesting, but I have to admit that trying to explain somethings such as this and the reason that they are encouraged or discouraged to be tough.

Let's look at this section:
What about tearing toilet paper when there is no option?
Obviously one must prepare toilet paper before Shabbos. The problem arises when one has depleted the supply of tissues, torn toilet paper etc. or one is in a place where there is no pre-torn paper.
For obvious reasons we will not discuss the various technical options that are on hand when there is no toilet paper available, but when those options are exhausted and/or one’s only practical option is uncut toilet paper, the following is the correct procedure:
One should tear the toilet paper by resting one’s elbows on the sheet of toilet paper and tear it with one’s elbows. This is called tearing kilachar yad – in a backhanded manner, and is only an issur d’rabanan. [6]
This is one of those things that I cannot explain without shrugging myshoulders repeatedly because it just doesn't make sense to me. Now perhaps I am missing something but this is a necessity that you cannot do without, unless you are in the woods and all you have are pinecones in which case you are in big trouble.

Ultimately what I find is that there are areas such as this in which I cannot provide a reasonable explanation as to why they are necessary. Some of these things are acceptable to me and some are not. Yes, I am picking and choosing but that is part of life and when it comes to matters of faith I think that we often reach places in which we are forced to use our gut instinct instead of our heads.

That is not a value judgement but an observation.
(Crossposted on Jack's Shack)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

How I got to where I am

It is sometimes tough to look at yourself honestly and realistically, especially with regard to religion. From my point of view, there is lots I know I should be doing, but dont do, and it is hard to think about that descrepancy, without either becoming very depressed, or radically changing one's life. In any event, here is the story behind how I came to find myself in the place that I am.

My father speaks mostly Hebrew to me. He always has. Although he was born in the US, he grew up speaking Hebrew, and his relationship to Judaism was very much the intellectual one, rather than extensive practice. We drove to the orthodox shul on Shabbat, built the only sukkah in the neighborhood(we didn't live in the Jewish area), kept kosher, learned gemara in 4th grade, and kept all the holidays. I didn't get my first pair of tzitzit(and didn't know we had to wear them) until 5th grade, had no idea what Asher yatzar was(the blessing said after using the bathroom), didn't know any halachic reason for washing hands on awakening, and was unaware of a lot of the little things that Jews are supposed to do. On the other hand, I was tutored by some very august rabbis, spoke fluent Hebrew, and , when I finally did start day school, was far ahead of my classmates simply because I could understand the plain meaning of chumash, whereas they had essentially zero hebrew skills.

I decided to wear my kippa all the time when I was in 5th grade(even though one of my teachers insisted I had to wear two if I was going to wear a kippah srugah(crocheted one). I got detention when I asked him to show me where this was codified. After 2 years of day school(the education was horrible, both Jewish and secular) I wound up in public school, then a few years of prep school, all the time being the identifiable jew because of my kippah. It never occured to me to go to Israel to learn, I was in a hurry to get on with life.

Through college and past I identified with the Modern Orthodox, keeping kosher, shabbat(strictly), attending various shiurim and lectures, but never seriously studying anything in particular or in depth, amassing a kind of superficial knowledge of what and how but not a whole lot of why. When I finally finished the education process, having picked up a wonderful wife in the process, and settling in a community, I needed to know more. I started learning gemara in earnest, reading as much as I could, using the mishna brura that I had gotten as a bar mitzva present(I think I had opened it up maybe twice).

I find that I am much more serious about mitzvot than I ever was, and wonder why I didn't put more emphasis on even the little things. I am trying to infuse my children with the desire to learn and to do. I know that I am becoming more "frum" in the recent years. However, "more frum" in this case means not showering on Shabbat, making sure to say brachot before and after all meals, making sure my few hours of scheduled learning are more important than the few hours of basketball, and not accepting the answer that its ok because "everyone in the community does it."

I look up the sources for what I do and don't do. I don't want to be machmir for machmir's sake(strict). I think there is a perfectly good halachic rationale for my wife not covering her hair. However, if I didn't think there was, it would bother me. Previously, I would have thought "whatever, hair covering isn't that important."

Thus I look at what I do(and don't do) and realize that by halacha there is a lot that I dont (and should ) do. Making the committment to change, and keeping with that committment takes a lot of work, and doesn't always work. It also sometimes conflicts with prevailing family practices. Looking around at prevailing modern orthodox practice, I am now a little towards the right side of the community. However, I am happy there, and can now adequately voice the reasons why I am there, and why it is the best place for me, and hopefully for my kids.

Mixed Feelings About Chanukkah

What we have here is a holiday whose name we can not spell. Look, Yom Kippur isn’t that hard. Even Rosh Hashanah – manageable. Pesach. Easy. But…

Chanukah Chanukkah Chanukka Hanuka Hanukka Channukah Channukkah Hanukah Hanukkah Chanuka Chanukka Hanuka Hanukka Channukah Channukkah Hannukah Hannukkah Channuka Channukka Hannuka Hannukka Kannukah Kanukkah Kannuka Kanukka Ckannuka Ckanukka Ckannukah Ckanukkah

Could we just make up our minds? I know it’s a Hebrew word transliterated and transliterations are all over the map. But this is ridiculous.

OK, next problem. We all know that in comparison to the High Holidays and the Shalosh Regalim (Succos, Pesach, Shavuos), Chanukkah is a minor holiday. And yet, because of it’s proximity to Christmas, and maybe because we just like to light candles on the darkest days of the year, it has become a major big deal. Also, over the past few decades, more and more Jewish families, even Orthodox ones, have started giving Chanukkah gifts.

Now I’m reading that Chanukkah is actually, historically, not a victory over the Greeks, but a commemoration of a civil war, Jews fighting Jews. I guess I always knew this on some level -- that it wasn’t Greeks the Hasmoneans fought but Hellenized Jews -- but this article spells it out quite clearly.

Read in its historical context, however, the Hanukkah story is really about a revolt against the Hellenized Jews who had fallen madly in love with the sophisticated, globalizing superculture of their day. The Apocrypha's texts make it clear that the battle against Hellenization was in fact a kulturkampf among the Jews themselves....

That's the clash of Hanukkah. Armed Hasmonean priests and their comrades from the rural town of Modi'in attacked urban Jews, priests and laity alike, who supported Greek reform, like the gymnasium and new rules for governing commerce. The Hasmoneans imposed, at sword's edge, traditional observance. After years of protracted warfare, the priests established a Hasmonean state that never ceased fighting Jews who disagreed with its rule.


I like Chanukiahs. I like lights. I like latkas. Honestly, I don’t care for jelly doughnuts, but that’s OK. Personally, don’t care too much for civil war or theocratic rule. Generally do enjoy going to the gym. The truth is, had I lived back then, I could easily picture myself on either side. I’m pretty sure that there was much I would enjoy in Greek culture. Though, as a woman, not sure I was invited to the party, if you know what I mean. On the other hand, the Hasmoneans were a tad harsh.

It’s kind of sad that the general knowledge of Chanukkah is basically zilch. “Judah Maccabee riding on an elephant,” as the Grace Adler character says in Will & Grace. (Macabbee? Maccabee? Makabee?) In my youth, we celebrated the concept of the Jewish soldier and warrior (still a newish Jewish thought, in the 1960’s). Judah the Macabee was seen reflected in the faces of handsome young IDF soldiers. That’s a good instance of taking fuzzy history and turning it into a symbol. Inspiring, but hardly accurate.

I wonder if the closest thing we’ve experienced to the Hasmonean revolt was the attempt by religious settlers to remain in Gaza last summer. No elephants, however, were involved. And the sad spectacle of Jews fighting Jews was not something anyone wanted to celebrate. We did celebrate, and rightfully so, moments when settlers hugged soldiers, when the two groups prayed together. Maybe we’ve come a long way.

Meanwhile, it’s winter time, even here in Texas. OK, it’s sunny and 80 degrees, but they tell me it’s winter time. We open our drapes and light the Chanukiah, making sure the lights are clearly visible to anyone walking their dog along our block. So today, it’s mostly about that little demonstration.

Down the street is a 18-foot high Santa Claus. (I wish I was exaggerating!) Manger scenes dot the main road of our subdivision. There is no Santa Claus or manger scene in our yard. We have two chanukiahs in the window. It’s a gentle statement that says, “We are Jewish” and “There is light here in the darkness.” Maybe someone walking by will pause to wonder what that means. I know I do.

(crossposting at Mirty's Place)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Not My Judaism

So last night (Christmas Eve), I went down to the university campus, to watch Ushpizin. We were in a tiny theater that seats fewer people than my Dad's old Buick and, needless to say, the audience was listening and the audience was Jewish. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.

It's a beautiful movie, infused with spirit, and wonderfully acted. And I, personally, think it has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism.

Sorry, folks. Not my Judaism.

In my Judaism, if you are poor, unemployed, and living in squalor, when $1,000 drops "min hashamayim" into your lap, you go enroll in technical school and get yourself some skills so you can get a J-O-B.

That's right. It isn't about relying on G-O-D. Because G-O-D gave us brains that can calculate Pi, arms to lift things, legs to move around, and the heart to go out into the world and get things done. So move it! Get a job!

I'm sorry. I should be more accepting. They are Breslau. They live by faith. Someone has to.

Someone has to?

No. Our avot and amahot did not live by faith. Avraham and Yaakov built wells, herded sheep, built communities. They were active forces in the world. They were not secluded in a slum, impoverished, desperate. Is that what God wants? For us to do nothing, to cry like babies to Him for every little thing?

The world is a growing environment. We have everything we need right here. Everything to make our lives worthwhile. It's crazy to think our role is just to sit and say Tehilim, that that is what our Creator wants from us. No. I don't believe that for a second.

When my stepkids ask me questions, I often say: "Look it up. You can find the answer." When they ask me for things, I say: "Get it yourself." Am I a mean stepmother? Maybe so, but I don't see any point in raising lazy kids. Why would God want anything different from his own children? You need money? Figure out how to get it. (It's no big secret.) You want to have a baby with your wife? Quit smoking, your sperm count will go up.

All right. It's their life and they are free to live it as they choose. It is moving and makes a beautiful fable of faith and hope, but it's not real to me. And the deeper question is -- Is it real Judaism?

ADDENDUM: The question was raised in a comment at my blog whether it is necessary or appropriate to discuss the vision of Judaism in the movie. It's a good movie, so why not leave it at that? Well, I don't know. Probably seeing it here in Texas affects me as well. So few Jews here, and so few Jewish movies shown, that there is a sense that each one may be seen as standing for the whole. That probably is an unfair burden to place on any movie. On the other hand, this particular movie seems designed to engender discussion on matters of faith and belief. Or am I just reading that into it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Some Posts That Are Worth Looking At Again

Hi all,

One of the challenges with building a blog is that sometimes some of the early posts get lost in the shuffle. So I thought that it might be nice to provide a couple of links to a few that I think are pretty good, or maybe it is just my own ego speaking.

Without further ado may I suggest that you review the following:

Jerusalem

Davening for Dollars

The Long and Winding Road Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

I hope that you enjoy them. Leave a comment and let us know.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

How the Moshav Band changed My Life.

One of the sad things about the frum world is that certain types of music are looked down upon.

Anything that doesn’t involve an Oy or a Vey or a combined Oy Yoi Yoy Vey is considered “goyish music” Let’s give this a try and you play along at home ok?

"Oy ... Yoy ...La La, Lah, Ai Yai Yoy … Vey Vai Dee Dum Dum …"
Jewish Music or Goyish Music?

If you answered Jewish Music YOU are CORRECT!

Ok, next round ....

“Return Again, Return Again, Return to the land of your soul. Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are, born and reborn again.”

Are those English words? Is this Israeli?Are these boys religious? No Piano or Horn section? And that’s a guitar they are sturmming in the background? What doe they mean by "reborn?"

GOYISH MUSIC!!

Wanna play one more time? Yes you do! … Come on, you know it. Ready?

Alright, Jewish or Goyish …

"Rachaim .. Oy Yoy Vey … Rachaim … Kvetch, Cry, Kvelt … Rachaim .. Vey Oy Vay …"

JEWISH! … Ding Ding … Correct!

Next …One last round ...

"Hot, sun is going down, my wheels are off the ground, the clouds up in the sky are in my face, until I come back … whoh, L-rd, the things you can’t afford. But I will find that road, I will find my way back home again.”
What part of Tehilim is this from?? Which “L-rd” is he talking about, why didn’t he just say Hashem? Thing you can’t afford? What is is this what cant he afford? What road are talking about here? Is that a guitar again? And still no Piano or Horn section? GOYISH.

Seeing a trend?

Growing up in a very religious household, and later going through school and yeshiva, there was only one selected music called “jewish music” anything that strayed from the basic Oy and Yoy’s were termed Goyish. Even if it was soulful and had thoughtful English lyrics.

During the time I’ve referred to in past posts here as my “religious crisis of faith” I was very heavy into grunge and rock. There was something very calming about it. My family was going through a lot of personal stuff and me being away, couldn’t do anything to help. I often felt helpless and somehow this type of sound was very settling.

As things got better, I still hung on to the music that got me through it. Even today, when I pop in a CD I like to hear loud, noisy, rock music. Maybe it reminds me that things could be worse. They have been worse, and that life is what you make of it. I can’t begin to explain the effect music has on a person. We can all atest to that on our own.

During the same time I was hanging around Chabad house a lot I started dating this girl. She was also very into the same types of music I was into. One year on my birthday she bought me this CD as a present. I had no idea what it was, and had never heard of it before. The cover did not look impressive, and I had a hard time believing it was going to be any good. she said "trust me, you'll love it."

A couple days later while making a long drive I checked it out. Wow, I really loved this music. It was like... good Jewish music. Could that be? I knew that in Yeshiva this CD would never be allowed. Most Jewish CD’s have one English song, and the lyrics are so cheesy as not to offend anyone. All Hebrew words are left Hebrew, nothing is translated, and the usually contain words like, Yearn, Soul, Hashem, Western Wall and Moshiach.

Not only that, but the songs in this CD don’t all come directly from Tehilim, or some cutesy Gemara piece. They are soulful, real lyrics, with a point, a story, a message and they rock too.

Believe it or not, and I’m sure this was not the only reason, but when I was listening to this band, the spark of which I always talk about, seem to have been ignited. I was enjoying something Jewish. I felt like this band was my little secret. A good Jewish CD. Jewish folks, singing Jewish songs, and they rocked. Imagine that.

A month later I bought the rest of their CD’s and since then have purchased anything they produced.

If you know anyone that wants to hear something Jewish, but thinks all Jewish music stinks. If they prefer Nirvana to Shloime Dachs, offer them this CD. Who knows, it may really return them home.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Conservative Judaism- Which Way Does It Go

Rabbi David Wolpe has an interesting idea about direction for Conservative Jewry. I am going to grab a couple of excerpts from a piece in The Jewish Journal for your review:
"Many of us have learned that Conservative Judaism is either a complex ideology (at least we never get a straightforward explanation) or simply a movement that stands in the center between Reform and Orthodoxy. An early classic of Conservative Judaism was titled, “Tradition and Change,” but tradition and change is a paradox, not a banner of belief.

Conservative Judaism is crying out for renewal and revitalization. Some of the most spiritually charged, socially sensitive prayer groups and institutions in the country choose to not affiliate themselves with the Conservative movement. Yet they are led by rabbis ordained by the Conservative movement and attended by congregants who grew up in that movement.

In synagogues that do define themselves as Conservative, the congregants often expect halachic observance from their rabbis, yet they are not moved to emulate them. Conservative Jews are increasingly confused and uncertain about their spiritual direction.

As I posed these problems and questions, some turned the question back to me.

“Who are you, and what do you believe?”

When I reflect upon the beliefs with which I was raised and how I have grown in my faith, I realize that the word “Conservative” does not best fit who I am and what I believe.

I am a Covenantal Jew."

Ok, what does that mean.

"Covenantal Judaism is the Judaism of relationship. Three covenants guide my way — our way: The covenant at Sinai brings us to our relationship to God, the covenant with Abraham to our relationship with other Jews and the covenant with Noah to our relationship with all humanity."

The article elaborates on all three covenants. It is too long to post in its entirety but I do think that it is important to highlight a couple of things so here are a few more excerpts.

First Covenant: Relationship to God

The Jewish relationship to God may be seen as a friendship, a partnership, though of obviously unequal partners. In the Midrash, God swears friendship to Abraham, is called the “friend of the world” (Hag. 16a) and even creates friendships between people (Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer). Friendship is one aspect of the Divine-human connection.

The Torah speaks of God as a parent, a lover, a teacher and an intimate sharer of our hearts. When we speak of friendship or partnership, all of these relationships and more must be understood.

The terms of all friendships are fixed by history — we define our partnerships by our memories. One friend can speak a single word, “Colorado,” and the other knows that the word refers to a trip taken together 15 years before. However, vital friendships do not dwell solely in the past. They are always creating new memories, entering new phases and enriching what has gone before.

Some Jews believe that everything important in the friendship between God and Israel has already been said. The Torah, the Talmud, the classical commentators and codes have said all the vital, foundational words. Our task now is simply to fill in a few blanks, but otherwise the work is done. We are the accountants of a treasure already laid up in the past.

This is not a covenantal understanding. It is a Judaism frozen in time, as though all the clocks stopped in the 18th century.

Conversely, there are those who think the past weightless, because times have so radically changed. This is a friendship that tries to recreate itself each day, dictated by the demands of the moment. While the past is acknowledged, it is seen largely as something to be overcome, not to be cherished and integrated into the present. This creates a relationship with predictably thin and wan results.

Covenantal Judaism believes in the continuous partnership between God and Israel. When we light Shabbat candles, God “knows” what we mean — we have been doing it for thousands of years. It is part of the grammar of relationship. Our past is the platform from which we ascend. The covenant at Sinai is the first, reverberating word."

I can relate to this as I believe that it is important to have a living, breathing and flexible Judaism.

Second Covenant: Relationship Between Jews

"All Jews are involved in the Abrahamic covenant — not only those Jews whom we like or those of whom we approve but all Jews.

Jews have always fought within our own community, and undoubtedly, we always will. Devotion to Torah does not free us from the constraints of human nature.

Still, a Covenantal Jew seeks active dialogue with Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist, as well as secular Jews. The covenant does not depend upon movements or ideologies; it is a covenant of shared history and shared destiny."

Exactly. We are all responsible for each other.

Third Covenant: Relationship With the Non-Jewish World

"The first covenant was not made with the Jewish people. God sent a rainbow in the time of Noah as a sign to the world, to all of humanity. Noah lived 10 generations before the first Jew.

The meaning is clear: We have a responsibility toward others of whatever faith; we have a covenantal relationship to the non-Jewish world."

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A New Letter To Toby Katz and our Community

This past June I wrote an open letter to Toby Katz about her actions. I cited a number of quotes she made where she foolishly suggested that Orthodox Jews loved their children more than Reform and Conservatives do and made many other foolish remarks.

Well it seems that dear Toby has again opened her big trap and spouted off more nonsense. I laughed pretty hard when I read it because it is more proof of her foolish and uneducated bias against Jews who do not practice Judaism the way that she wants.

Here is an example:

Non-observant Jews who are nevertheless connected to an O shul and O rabbi for major life cycle events—girl baby-naming, bris, bar mitzva, wedding, funeral—are fundamentally attached to Judaism in a way that is simply not the case with a Jew who belongs to a “Conform” temple. Conform exists for only one reason—to make Jews psychologically and emotionally comfortable with their total disloyalty to the religion of their forefathers, to ease their conscience when they intermarry or do whatever they please."


So her argument is that nonobservant Jews who join an Orthodox shul are better than those that belong to a Conservative or a Reform shul. But why. She alleges that members of the Conservative/Reform shuls belong there so that they can "intermarry or do whatever they please."

That remark is false, but we'll set it aside for now. What I ask now is what is different between the two. Toby, you say nonobservant meaning that those people are not Shomer Mitzvot. It is clear that you have a problem with Jews who are not, but because they belong to an Orthodox shul you think that they have a stronger attachment to Judaism than those members of a Conservative or Reform.

That is just narishkeit and illogical.

The reason I refer to both Reform and Conservative as “Conform” movements is that both exist for the same reason—to help Jews conform comfortably to the prevailing secular ethos of America. Conform does very little to help people stay connected to Judaism, just the opposite.


One could make the argument that vast numbers of Orthodox Jews are unthinking automatons who have never dared to consider the possibility that their beliefs are wrong. They do not dare open their eyes to the possibilities that lie out there so they do as we see in Lakewood and ban the Internet or rail on about Slifkin and this and that.

Fortunately I am far more open and progressive than Toby and I have no problem saying that there are many who are not so provincial in nature in all of the branches of Judaism.

There is also another factor to consider, and that is the question of, to whom do we owe loyalty? It is true that we owe loyalty to all our fellow Jews and that we want—or should want—to maintain close ties between all Jews, and to make sure that all Jews feel welcome in our community.
Toby, your kiruv is outstanding. Make people feel welcome by badmouthing and demeaning them and then just so that you cannot be backed into a corner qualify it with a sad statement like this.

But we also owe loyalty to G-d. We do not have the right to falsify the Torah in order to make our fellow Jews feel comfortable. We hate to lose any Jews, we grieve over our fellow Jews who have elected to live in such a way that they will not have Jewish children—but we do have a mesorah, a chain of transmission, that has kept going father to son, mother to daughter, for three thousand years now, since Sinai. And we absolutely do not have the right to be the generation that breaks that chain.
Toby has it occurred to you that you offer no choices. It is your way or the highway. Do you really think that this is an effective way to make people feel welcome. You know life is full of black and white and shades of gray.

You do the Jewish people a disservice when you designate yourself as arbiter of morality and who is a Jew. You hurt all of us when you use such divisive language.

I stood with you and everyone else at Har Sinai and what I heard is different from what you heard. You are no better than anyone else and it would be better for all of us if you changed your attitude.

And since we all know that there is no one uniform approach to Orthodoxy we are never going to buy your arguments that it is better than Conservative or Reform because the fact is that there is disagreement and dissension there too.

You claim to that your arms are open, well so are ours. We are happy to welcome you to a community that doesn't try and maintain itself by turning on each other.

We are happy to make you part of the group. Really, our arms are open. You can continue to try and badmouth and belittle those who disagree with you. It is a tactic of insecurity and not built upon strength or you can accept that some people see things differently and work with us and not against.

It is really up to you. Either way we are not going anywhere.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Interfaith Relationships- Jews and Christians Misunderstood Again

There is an ongoing problem with the relationship between Jews and Christians. There is a misunderstanding that exists that is creating numerous issues that are going to need to be dealt with.

I wouldn’t characterize this misunderstanding as being between all Jews and all Christians. I suspect that there are large numbers of both groups who haven’t given a thought to any of this, but I also know that there are many who have and that is part of why I am writing this post.

Boiled down the misunderstanding is along these lines. There are Christians who see Jews working to tear down Christianity, to attack it and try destroy it and there are Jews who see Christians working to destroy Judaism. That my friends is the very simplistic version of this story. There are multiple layers here, but we’ll leave those alone for now.

Part of the impetus for this post was generated by a post by a Christian blogger here. His post was in response to a statement made by Abe Foxman, the national director of the ADL who issued a warning about the attempt to Christianize America. Here is an excerpt:
"Today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!" he said.

Foxman proceeded to describe the process and to name names: "Major players include Focus On Family. Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association, Family Research Council and more. They and other groups have established new organizations and church-based networks, and built infrastructure throughout the country designed to promote traditional Christian values."
I haven't any problem with what Foxman said because my perception is that there is much truth in this. In September I covered a CNN story in which we read about the Southern Baptists and their discussions on how to convert more Jews. In that same post we revisited several Southern Baptist decisions including:

"The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 1996 calling on its members to "direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people."

A 1999 prayer guide by the International Mission Board recommended conversion of Jews to Christianity during their High Holy Days, an effort labeled "offensive and disrespectful" by Jewish leaders.

As recently as 2003 Jewish leaders criticized a Southern Baptist seminary president for saying Christians have a mandate to evangelize Jews just as a surgeon has a responsibility to tell a patient about the presence of a "deadly tumor."

They are just one of the groups that have missionaries in place whose purpose is to witness to Jews for the purpose of conversion. They excuse this by claiming a religious obligation to do so. I am consistently surprised that they are so surprised by how vociferous a protest there is to these actions.

And I have to say that when I read some of the responses to things Foxman and other Jews have said I am most disappointed. Vox Popoli's post irritated me. In it he said about Foxman:
"This guy would have made quite the grand strategist, wouldn't he? With leaders such as these, it's no wonder that Jews always manage to find persecution all over the world. Launching all-out assaults on the overwhelming majority doesn't exactly strike me as the best way to win friends and influence people in any place or time."
If I hear him correctly he suggests that Foxman should be lambasted for having the audacity to question the majority, as if the larger number automatically provided moral superiority, not to mention his foolish remark about persecution. And that is a topic to be grabbed a little later on.

And then within the comments there are all sorts of gems:

Well, maybe if his ancestors hadn't killed Jesus 1975 years ago, he wouldn't have such a guilty conscience...

Mr. Astrosmith, smart boy that you are do you realize how many Jews were murdered or persecuted by your brethren using this allegation and you call us paranoid.

"Of course the reason Christians feel under assault is the largely Jewish and Jewish-led for the last 40 years ACLU/Southern Poverty Law Center have gleefully assembled their ranks of lawyers for a little Christian-bashing and getting Christ out of Christmas and the public and shopping mall spheres. Perhaps that is who Foxman should target. He might also wish a little word with his fellow Brooklyn Jew Michael Newdow who is after the Pledge and getting "in God we trust" removed from public buildings and US currency."

Aside from making unsubstantiated claims old Cedarford seems to be under the misguided impression that trying to see that the Constitution is followed is wrong.

And then within the comments on the Haaretz article there is this little nugget:
"Abraham Foxman is unbelievable! He seeks to destroy the reason America is the ONLY true ally Israel has. The Christian faith is the only reason Israel exists. Oh, by the way, Foxman, do you like not having to run from Kristallnacht, pogroms and Zyklon B? Thank the christians. We are the reason more of your people did not die in the gas chambers.

Foxman should not be fighting the only people that like Jews and go after the people who lust to slaughter Jews: Muslims, especially the Palestinians. Why isn`t he fighting the Palestinians? Doesn`t he know the Abbas and his buddies kill Israelis every day? Doesn't he know that Iran wants to kill every last Israeli?

Don`t bite the hand that feeds you." Jay Stang
Call me crazy, but I don't see any reason to thank someone or grovel for enjoying the same rights as anyone else in the US. And believe it or not, the US is not the only reason that Israel exists. It may have been at one point in time, but that is no longer the case.

Let's circle back to the initial opening in which we talked about misunderstandings. As a member of the minority it is hard for me to see the discrimination that Christians, primarily evangelicals are complaining about.

We live in a country that has a clear definition of the separation of church and state in which we go out of our way to promote pluralism and tolerance for all, not just the majority. That means that courtrooms and other public (read gov't funded) buildings are not decorated with the 10 commandments or other religious paraphenalia. A Buddhist, Hindu or Wiccan should be able to walk into a courthouse, for that matter anyone should be able to walk in and feel comfortable in the knowledge that the law of the land is going to judge them, not some biblical law that they may not believe in.

Students in school are entitled to be educated without being forced to be witnessed to or placed in other uncomfortable situations, based upon nondisriminatory laws.

Private businesses and homes are a different situation. I understand and accept that within these places there could be religious expressions of all kinds. When I go to the mall I expect to the salespeople to use some kind of holiday greeting. Frankly I get tired of everyone wishing me a merry xmas, but ok, I am not surprised by it and I am not even asking that it not happen.

All that I am asking for is an understanding that following the law is not discrimnatory but in our best interests. Our plurality and diversity is an exceptional strength that we can and should draw upon.

This is getting rather long so I'll try and tie it up. For better or for worse there is roughly 2000 years of persecution of Jews by Christians. It really is just within the last 50 years that things have really improved, but within that time frame many of us have still witnessed things that can be seen as an attack on Jews and Judaism and witnessing can be categorized as such.

It is hard to see the majority as having to face the same challenges and even if we accept that they do it is not of the same magnitude.

And that is about it for now. Perhaps I'll come back and try to cover this again at a later date.

,

(crossposted at Jack's Shack)

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Shabbat Box

My mission...and I chose to accept...was to teach a brand new preschool class for Religious School in our synagogue.

I have six and a half little kids...one comes over just for craft time and snack time from the second grade since he's the only kid in that room. My six kids though...I have had them nearly every Sunday since the beginning of October. Together we're travelling through holidays unknown as we explore the Jewish year.

This month we have focused on Shabbat. Out of the six, only one, I believe, even remotely has any idea what Shabbat even IS. The other five tend to look at me like I have grown a third eye when I talk to them about pretty much ANYTHING having to do with Judaism...which, of course, makes Miss Z.'s job that much harder. I have to not only teach them what something completely alien to them IS...I have to make them WANT to do it!

Now, I am not a teacher by trade. At best I am an engineer who lives a second life as a non-profits contracts manager. But I do have my own kid...whom I have brought along with me on my journey to Judaism. I know what memories I want HIM to have.

We start our days in preschool by coloring. This week we colored pictures of a family eating their Shabbat meal. Last time we colored pictures of a mother lighting Shabbat candles. While they color, I talk to them about what it is they're coloring...and of course, none of them have any idea really, only one family even lights candles much less has a Shabbat meal. But I talk and I explain and I try as hard as I can to get them to remember - to grab hold of something in this foreign language I am speaking to them and want to know more.

This week we made spice boxes and colored another picture about havdallah while I walked around and explained it to them. I told them that Shabbat is just such a wonderful time, that when it's over we're all so sad to see it end. And smelling the pretty spices makes us happy until we can have Shabbat all over again!

When the principal came down to see them and asked them what the spice boxes were for...they looked at her like a herd of small deer caught in her headlights.

I really felt like a failure.

Our final activity of the day was a book called "The Shabbat Box." It was all about a grade school class who shared a Shabbat Box - a box filled with candles and candlesticks, a kiddush cup, challah rolls and a challah cover - everything each family would need to celebrate Shabbat. The students took turns each week taking it home.

My kids became ANIMATED! "THIS!" they exclaimed. "THIS is a GREAT idea!" And they were all over the idea of making a Shabbat box that each one could take home and actually have all this wonderfulness that I have been telling them about every single week.

So next time...we'll be making our class Shabbat Box.

When the day was done and I was rounding them up to take them to meet their moms and dads upstairs, they were still talking about this Shabbat Box. Now don't forget, I have two kids each of 3's, 4's and 5's. The fact that they were ALL all over this idea...well, it was huge to me.

And just when I thought they never WOULD understand havdallah, one of my 5's ran to his dad and handed him his spice box. "Daddy!" he was breathless with excitement. "This is a spice box and you use it after Shabbat is over to make you feel happy again because you're so sad it's over!"

I couldn't help but smile and feel exhiliarated all at the same time. They're getting it...isn't that wonderful?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

"Judaism won't be here in 100 years"

GoldaLeah has an interesting post called "Judaism won't be here in 100 years."

Does Judaism need G-d?

I pose this question to my Jewish readers on my blog and here. Does Judaism need G-d. Do you have to believe in G-d to be Jewish? What do you think?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Oh I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Being Jewish means you're part of a community...or at least striving to be part of a community if even from a distance, whether that means a pure physical distance or a symbolic distance.

Books, literature, music can all be made part of the Jewish experience. Jewish newspapers, as well.

Here in Canada, we have a nationwide "community" newspaper called THE CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS. The newspaper features a column called "The Jewish Highway," which deals with international websites that follow a theme. For example, around Chanukah, the columnist will do bits about web sites that feature Chanukah recipes, family stories, the how-to's and why's of Chanukah, etc. Or around Pesach the spotlight might be on different web sites that offer historial aspects of Pesach, or variations of the Haggadah.

Some months ago I decided to contact the columnist and make mention of THE JEWISH CONNECTION. He said he'd keep it in mind if he ever again deals with readers' choices of web sites. The man was true to his word, and this week in the column we got this write-up:

"The Jewish Connection is the joint effort of a dozen Jewish bloggers including, Pearl, who wrote to tell me about it. On the day I peeked in the offerings were quite varied. I read an article on whether to take Jewish kids out as “Erev Halloween” was approaching. Pearl wrote about her evolving feelings about being able to dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah. And a contributor named Z told of how Simon Wiesenthal’s determination to lead a life fighting on behalf of millions of Jewish souls had changed his own life. http://ajewishsoul.blogspot.com/

If you'd like to see the rest of the article, link here.

Perhaps each of you readers of THE JEWISH CONNECTION should contact your local Jewish paper and give them the heads-up about our Jewish online drop-in center. Reading about us somewhere might just be the first step for some people to make that "Jewish Connection."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Helping Yourself through Helping Others


As I’ve written in the past here, when I was in my late teens, sparked by some personal things that happened, I had a crisis of faith. That is the proper term for it right? I grew up in a religious home an Orthodox, Baal Teshuvah Chabad home. For some sad reason my father never carried over his initial “it” feeling for how he came to be religious into his parenting lifestyle. There were no lengthy explanations for why we do certain things. No reminiscing about how when he wasn’t Frum he took this or that for granted. No love, or passion for things he lectured his children on every day. Reading what I’m writing now, it’s actually even sadder than I realized.

On the other hand my mother, also a Baal Teshuvah, did bring that passion for religion into the home, she didn’t have all the knowledge that my father had, so it would not have been as easy for her to do the “explaining” but I definitely developed my own passion for life and for being religious from her.

Part of what happens sometimes in a large orthodox family, where there are chores aplenty and school busses coming and going. Where there are always late classes, tons of Hebrew and English homework to do. There is little time for logic, explanations, general conversations of why we do the things we do. In the best of situations the parents and the teachers combine to give you just enough to sustain your need till your old enough to delve further into it. In the worst of situations you’re just along for the ride. What happens when you just go with the flow is that when you get older and your not being watched over as much. Where your old enough to start doing and thinking on our own, when the already know it all attitude has developed in your teen years, you start asking yourself the biggest question of all. Why am I doing this? Without proper conditioning as a child, some people just don't bother to answer that "why."

I have many friends that grew up frum and never had the crisis of faith I did. Now, I don’t know that for sure, maybe some of them weren’t brave enough to face it but they did remain frum. I think the reason is because they were in situations where there parents did go the extra mile to nurture their spiritual growth. You can’t just give a plant air or sun, it needs water too. In order for the plant to grow just right and survive, in needs all the elements.

It’s ironic, to think that a man who came from a place so far removed from religion, and who went on such a long and harsh road to return, didn't instill the passion that drove him there in the first place in his children. Because he didn’t do that, many of my siblings aren’t religious today. What can I tell you; with some people bad parenting is just bad parenting, religion aside. Thank g-d for my mother.

I think to understand what I went through myself, and to better understand my own journey, its good to read my smaller less intimate posts leading up to this. This post for example will demonstrate how my love for doing “smaller mitzvahs” eventually powered the engine that lead me back. I think I felt guilty about some of the bigger mitzvahs I wasn’t careful about or didn’t understand the reasons behind, or never felt that passion for them. Since I didn’t feel so into those bigger things, I went out of my way to do the “easier” little things. Helping someone out in a jam for me was a simple and logical “mitzvah.”

Jumping forward many years to college, I “hung” around the Chabad house on campus a lot. Since I was well versed in being frum, (just not understanding why I would want to be) there were always things I could help out with there. I ended up being like an assistant rabbi. It must have been odd, there I was a regular guy, not dressed in any formal rabbinic gear. No beard, no hat, just some jeans, a baseball cap and a sweatshirt. Talking about major issues, like the woman’s role in Judaism. Did Moses really exist? How do you know? Isn’t it easier to “rest” on Shabbos by going to a nice quiet restaurant Friday night and a movie afterwards? What does turning on a light switch have to do with it? But for whatever reasons we connected, and those were some amazing and inspiring conversations.

Of course I believed everything I was explaining to them, I just hadn’t always believed IN THEM. In one case, a student who I became friends with at the Chabad on Campus, came to me and asked me to teach him to read Hebrew. He was 21 years old, and never had any connection with religion. No Bar Mitzvah, no Hebrew School, No Jewish friends, he knew he was Jewish, but that was it. I agreed, we were both serious football junkies, so we had these Sunday football and Hebrew Classes. That was the first of many such classes with not just him, but other students as well (sans the football lol.) Months later when he was reading out of a Hebrew Siddur, I had this warm feeling in my gut. I felt like I had done something good. I was happy with myself. It was through those types of feelings that I eventually discovered that “it” feeling I always speak about. Through those “little” things.

I’ll write more another time. I’m kinda cutting this post off in the middle. There is more to this story, and I hope to find the time it deserves to write about it in the future. For now, thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Marriage and Mystery


The Arnolfini Marriage, painting by Jan Van Eck, 1434


My 17-year-old stepdaughter is asking us questions about love and marriage. Why do people divorce? Why are some couples unable to live without each other? Why do some married people argue every day? As we talk about these matters, I remember when, at 15, I was filled with the same questions.

And I remember a moment that felt like magic, when it seemed the answer to all those questions was right in front of me, in a very ordinary home, in the most unromantic of cities…..

Mrs. Levinsky picked me up after school on Friday. She drove me and five other girls in her station wagon to Baltimore. There we were met by our host families who took us to their homes. I don’t remember which Shabbaton this was – NCSY? Bnei Akiva? In high school, I was heavily into group activities. I signed up for most every Shabbaton that came along.

The young couple that picked me up were from a different community than mine. He wore a black suit and, significantly, a black hat. She wore a longer dress than the women in our neighborhood and not a stray hair escaped from the kerchief on her head.

They were very, very young. No kids yet, recently married. And they glowed. There eyes were locked on each other. Without touching, they gravitated into each other’s sphere and moved in harmony. Love. It was the mystery I most wanted to understand. And here it was before me, for my observation all weekend. It was almost too much. I could hardly look.

I didn’t mind being excluded from this magic circle of husband and wife. In fact, I was treasuring the opportunity to observe, first-hand, the very miracle I sought for my own life. I’ll never forget that Friday evening meal. As her husband walked through the door, she became infused with light. I believe she radiated. At the dinner table, he chanted “Eshes Chayil.” Each word rang out, respect and love pouring into those ancient verses.

Back at home the next weekend, I asked my father why he never chanted that song to my mother. He said because there was no such thing as a "Woman of Valor" and continued on with some further misogynistic ramblings. Oh well.

I wonder if that couple (who must be in the 30’s now) had any idea of the strong impression they were making on their young guest. I carried that image in my mind long after I left their house, remembering a young man, a young woman, and a home filled with light and warmth. What would I see if I dropped in on them now? Perhaps a table rounded out with children of all ages. Perhaps the same respect and warmth in his eyes as he looks towards his wife. Or maybe not. Life wears us down, often. Did the daily chores of diapers and bills slowly erode that diamond-like brilliance? Did the necessary tragedies of life pull them closer together or become a wedge between them?

At fifteen, the beginning of love fascinated me. But at 45, I find the long road of love more interesting. What happens over time? What survives and what is lost? Despite my father’s refusal to acknowledge the Woman of Valor by his side, he and my mother are still together after more than 50 years. And, to his credit, he did have us present her with a “Best Balabusta Ever!” certificate after she hosted about 25 houseguests for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. (I remember drawing the certificate, thinking “Balabusta? What the heck?”)

The couple I saw when they were just nineteen or twenty was wordless in their love, but I imagine that now, in middle age, they are comfortable and conversational together, reflecting on a shared journey through life.

(crossposted at Mirty's Place)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sunday, October 30, 2005

It is Almost Erev Halloween- A Few Thoughts

Some of my fellow MOTs are reluctant to let their children observe Halloween. There are a variety of reasons why this is so and I admit to having been reluctant to get into it, but that is a different story for a different day.

I once heard Rabbi Ed Feinstein give a sermon in which he outlined some compelling reasons for taking our children out and wanted to share some of it with you.
"I take my kids trick-or-treating on Halloween. The truth is that you don't find many rabbis out on Halloween. Many of my congregants are surprised, even upset, to find their rabbi and his kids in costume celebrating a holiday that has definite Christian and pagan origins. And my kids certainly don't need any more candy in their daily diet. But something remarkable happens on Halloween, something I want my kids to see: On Halloween, we open our homes to one another. On Halloween, we come out from behind solid-core doors and dead-bolts locks and electronic burglar alarms. The doorbell is met, not with a gruff "Whose there?" and a suspicious eye in the peep-hole, but with a smile and sweets. On Halloween, and only on Halloween, we pretend we are a neighborhood again...families from disparate background who share common civic values, making life together in a common space. If only once a year, I want my kids to see what it's like when fear subsides, and people trust one another enough to open their doors."
Sadly there is so much truth in that. There are fewer and fewer neighborhoods that have that open, friendly, Leave it To Beaver feel in which you can let your children play unattended in the front of the house.

All too often you only know the neighbors on either side of you and you just barely recognize the man/woman down the street. So I see a lot of value in being able to show the kids something out of my past because I walked to school and reached a point at which my friends and I were allowed to trick or treat by ourselves. That is not something that my children are going to share with me and I am saddened by it.

Here is another snippet of the speech.

"The most destructive disease in America, wrote the New Republic magazine some years ago, is not AIDS, but "AFRAIDS" -- the pervasive fear of violence that steals away our freedom, our sense of community, our trust. What happens to a city when everyone is afraid of everyone else? What happens to us -- to our souls -- to our children, when fear of violence is constant and pervasive? Bombarded by a daily litany of baby-snatching, berserk gunmen, child molesters, drive-by shootings, school shootings, police shootings, what happens to us? what happens to our children?"
This is something that I do wonder about. I have a hard time believing that things are so much worse now than they were. Part of me expects, or should I suspects that the vast amount of instant information (read news) has made some events seem to be far more prevalent then they used to be in the past because the sad reality is that pedophiles, rapists and murderers have always been here.

But while I will go to great lengths to give to my children I am not willing to take certain risks because every time I think of the final line of that speech it reasonates with me

"When they finally fell asleep, my wife and I dumped out all the candy on the kitchen table, to inspect each and every piece for needle marks and razor blades and the pernicious, poisonous tampering of some sick mind. God help us."
So we do what we can to keep them safe and to provide a normal life because what else can you do. I try to do what I can to be a good neighbor and look out for those around here not just because it is my neighborhood but because if you do it here there is a chance that it might spread. A viral infection of positive action.

Crossposted at Jack's Shack

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Simchat Torah Memories

Rejoice with the Torah! Such is the proclamation for the holiday that finished this evening...and so mark the end of our chagim until Chanukah.

I've seen Simchat Torah in many forms, in many shuls throughout my years.

My earliest memories are of the shteibel we attended till I was about eight years old. Young and old alike in the basement of a house dancing in glee and carrying that glee upstairs and out of doors onto public property...proclaiming to any and limited passing car and foot traffic that the Torah is ours and it's here to stay.

My next memories are of the family shul, also an Orthodox minyan, where I could still join the men downstairs because I was not yet bat mitzvah age. Or else I stood with my mother and the other ladies and young girls in the balcony, looking down below and watching as certain shul members overexaggerated everything, helped by a little -- or a lot of -- liquor in their systems.

There was one year that I was with friends and we were downtown (the Lower East Side area of Toronto, called Kensington Market) at a shul that just happened to be egalitarian. Now that concept was far beyond me and what I was used to. Yes, we danced outside on the shul property with the Torahs, but when someone offered to hand me the Torah to dance with, I declined. And back inside the shul, when someone offered me hagbah, and then an aliyah, I declined again. It was so foreign to me, so far removed from the environment I was accustomed to, so NOT ME.

One of my loveliest memories of the holiday is from about 10 years ago -- I was married and our oldest was about 6 months old. He was wearing a beautiful white and blue plush velour sleeper and was dancing in the arms of my husband, back in a shteibel setting of the shul my husband attended when we married and where we continued to daven until we moved northward. That memory of that baby being held is likened to a Torah in its mantel being held -- lovingly, adoringly and carefully -- and displayed for all to see.

Before a move a couple years ago we attended another small Orthodox shul and the last year we were there, one of the women pseudo-begged the rabbi for the men to pass the Torah over. Reluctantly he and the menfolk agreed and this woman held and danced with the Torah, crying like a baby. She said she'd been trying for over 20 years to get to hold a Torah. She truly rejoiced as she held the Torah like it were her baby and embraced it lovingly. Yes, I finally took the Torah where it was offered to me, but it wasn't as if it were a great achievement for me. I was indifferent, but not as against holding it as I'd been almost 20 years earlier. I just remember being v...e...r...y cautious when I held it.

The shul we attended for the past two Simchat Torah celebrations is very lively -- Bnai Akiva teens come from far and wide and add to the spirit with their singing and dancing. As well, in this shul, also Orthodox, the Torah gets passed over the mechitzah to the women. Women come from far because they know this shul gives women the right to hold and dance with the Torah.

It is clear that the glee shown on the faces of these women and teenage girls as they dance with the Torah is the same glee and wonderment that shone on my face when I was a little girl in that first shteibel my family attended. Then, I stood on the outside looking in on the men; these women stand on the inside and get to look out. There is a great joy in knowing that each of us is part of something bigger, of a community, of a people. And the Torah is our inheritance, our heritage.

May we all merit to share in the joy and dancing of Simchat Torah next year again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

In My Pocket

On my way out the door today, this second cold day of fall, I grabbed my heavy leather jacket to wear. In its pockets were my gray gloves. It was nice to find them there. I didn’t remember where I had left them last February or March. Texas is the kind of place you can get through a winter season without gloves, though your fingers will be cold at times. It was reassuring to reach into my pockets and pull out my gloves. I put them on.

I’ve gone through one full cycle of the Jewish year. A year back in the fold. I’ve been reaching into my memory and pulling out many things, some I recognize with fondness, some with regret. Despite a lapse of two decades, the words to the prayers have never left me. I know them by heart. From Modeh Ani to Anim Zemirot, in synagogue or at home, the words are as familiar as if I had never stopped singing them. That’s frumkeit for you. Once trained, ingrained, you never forget.

Other things come back too. I remember now why it is hard to be a Jew. Not because of the many customs and laws, but because of the pain. It’s hard to read about young Israelis gunned down alongside a road outside Jerusalem, to see the photos of their beautiful, shining faces. It’s hard to face the hatred that inflates our enemies. The news from Israel is so often bad. Beyond bad; heartbreaking. James Joyce wrote: “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.” But we know there is no escape. Our history is indeed a nightmare, a revelation of the darkest pits of human evil. It’s hard to carry that weight. It’s hard to watch my husband clean his plate at every meal, and wonder if he does that because his father was starved in Auschwitz. That is a lot of pain to carry. It is hard to be a Jew. It’s hard to care and feel so much.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming. I’m not sure I want to be back in the fold. I have my own neuroses and odd characteristics, and at times my rough edges knock hard against Judaism. I’m a shy person in a social community; a loner in an energetically engaged, socially-directive religion. I try to be neutral in politics, but it’s impossible to do that and also be on the board, or even a member, of a synagogue.

But I don’t want to divorce myself from Judaism again. Not like before. I carry a siddur now in my purse (along with iPod and cell phone). It’s good to be in contact with God again. I’m moved by the Friday night services and enjoy learning and listening to Torah. I feel like my day is worthwhile if it includes a little bit of learning. Far from seeing Torah as arcane knowledge, I’m continually amazed at how unchanged human nature is and how relevant and true Torah remains. We are the same people that crossed the desert with Moshe, except now we have laptop computers.

Belief, then, is not hard for me. But involvement, engagement – that is tough. Sometimes, when I talk to God, I ask him if he doesn’t think I would have made a better Buddhist than Jew. I have a natural tendency to try to step back and be the observer, to see all sides and choose none. But being Jewish means choosing sides, and quite emphatically. And we don’t always agree. In my own congregation, we all support Israel, yet I was one of only a handful that opposed – or even questioned the wisdom of -- the disengagement from Gaza.

In the end, it may all come back to learning Torah and to prayer. Because these are the tools we have to help us know ourselves. I was brought up as a religious Jew, and I have a solid ethical and moral foundation for my life. I value that. Though I still make poor decisions and many mistakes, I have a compass that brings me back around to where I should be. That sense of direction also gives me the strength to hold firm when I need to, to disagree with others, and be true to myself.

It’s been a full, busy and rich year. It’s a good start and we will see how Judaism grows within me, and what is next. This story is not finished yet.


cross-posted at Mirty's Place

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Why be Jewish

On my own blog there is a post in which I ask if religion matters anymore. Here I ask the simple question, Why be Jewish?

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Kehilah Kedosha

On Yom Kippur, my rabbi accused us all of not being a Kehilah Kedosha...a Holy Community. She stood up on the bema at the Kol Nidre and told us all about Kehilah Kedosha and how we weren't even close.

Today, my husband went to Children's Hospital to see his cardiologist about that little incident that landed him in the hospital in September. Dr. Lee thinks he now has developed Coronary Artery Disease...something we'd always been told probably wouldn't happen but apparantly now, because of his diabetes, our worst fears are realized.

And to confirm this diagnosis, Anth needs a heart cath...next week!

I don't get very many days off...a total of 20 to be used to sick and personal and vacation. One year I used them up in the hospital with a kidney stone but usually I plan them out strategically over the year...to be sure I have plenty if an emergency crops up and I need to use them. For us an emergency could be Anth being in the hospital and me having to take off to get Evan back and forth to school...or it could be me getting sick and being unable to work for a while. Or it could be the very worst we can think of.

But we won't think about that now.

And so, while I have 12 left as of today and I don't plan to use more than 5 between now and the end of the year...there's always the "what ifs" that I have to factor in.

So when Anth told me he needed a cath, I knew I'd have to spend one of those precious days...which was okay, I mean, I HAVE them, I should USE them...especially for something like this.

Absolutely.

Well, Anth said "Don't worry about it, I don't want you to use those days if you don't need to. Let me see if Bob can go with me." (Bob is our adopted Ima's husband.)

So he called Ima.

And Ima told him that if Bob couldn't go, then not to worry, SHE would go.

When Anth told me this, I really, honest and truly started to cry. THIS was kindness, THIS was chesed, THIS was empathy and what people in a community do for others in the community.

Our rabbi was dead wrong.

Despite what she thinks and despite what she says, we ARE Kehilah Kedosha...we are a Holy Community. It's gestures such as this which reinforce that...these are people who genuinely care about one another, who are THERE for one another, who help when their help is needed.
Rabbi seemed to think that the definition of Kehilah Kedosha was a community that moved and acted as one...a bunch of Stepford Jews who were interested in the same things, who liked the same events and activities, who only saw sunshine and blue skies.

But this isn't Kehilah Kedosha, at least not the way I experience it.

Kehilah Kedosha is a community that genuinely cares about the people who form it. They don't ALL do the same things or attend the same events but they ARE just a phone call away. A new preschool in the shul? The ones who find this interesting call the teacher and offer to be aides. Sunday Clean Up? The men show up and climb up on the roof and throw off the debris that has accumulated. All of the men? No...some of the men. Others run the golf outing and still others run the big, annual fundraiser. Some we see once a year and some we see every week. It's a community. That's how communities work. We all have our lives and families and jobs and other interests that occupy us...but in our Kehilah Kedosha - we all find something to do. Maybe not all of it but somehow, somewhere we fit in.

And as a Kehilah Kedosha, we make room and we find a way for everyone to fit in. Regardless of what or how much they offer. Sure, there are those members of our community who prefer to armchair quarterback the whole thing...sit back and do nothing except offer their sage advice. Others don't even do that. But even THEY are part of this community...for better or for worse.
And THAT'S a Kehilah Kedosha. It's not the shiny, perfect, cookie cutter community our Rabbi waxed poetic about (and insulted more than half us with her comments) - we are humans and we have flaws. But we DO have a common purpose...and when the chips are down, I truly believe we rally to the cause, whatever it is. We may not be the BEST Kehilah Kedosha but we ARE a Kehila Kedosha. It's what we do. And I, for one, am glad to be a part of it.

(crossposted at Jewview and Matzah and Marinara)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Thoughts from Somewhere Else

Hi, Chaim here, just putting up a post that Shloimy sent me. (Corrected)

Post Yom Kippur thoughts: Looking toward the future….

As I stood there praying on Yom Kippur, some thoughts started creeping into my mind as Neilah started.

Neilah: the last prayer we say on Yom Kippur marks the “ closing of the gates”. I realized with sadness that Yom Kippur was slipping away. Where had the day gone? This special day when we are so close to G-D that we are like the angels above and we can therefore proclaim out loud: “Baruch Shem K'vod Malchuso Lolam Voed” (Blessed be his name and his glorious kingdom forever and ever). When, until next year will I have this chance, I sadly thought?

These ideas certainly opened my heart and allowed me to pray with much more fervor and concentration. Before Neilah the Rabbi spoke to the congregation and pointed out that it was important not just to beg forgiveness but to change as a person from within.

Whatever promises we make to be better people, they should never be more than we can handle. “ A little bit goes a long way”, he said. Take upon yourself something such as benching from a bencher, or to be careful to wash when eating bread etc. I’m hoping that I can still hold on to some of the holiness that this Yom Tov brought me. To go back to “business as usual” is surely not what G-d is looking for. May we all merit to have our names sealed in the heavenly books for healthy and happy prosperous year.

Yom Kippur Thoughts and Musings

I am still tired from yesterday, or maybe I am tired because I haven't slept much this week. Or perhaps it is a combination of lack of sleep and mental fatigue.

This year I made a real effort to get into davening. For some communicating with G-d is easy, but for me davening can be challenging. On a side note, I have written about this a number of times, but that is the only link that I can find. It irritates me, I have to try harder to categorize things.

What is most challenging about davening is trying to decipher/determine whether my prayers are heard. We live in an era of instant gratification, we want answers now. When my mother first instructed me on how to make a phone call she told me that I should let the telephone ring at least six times so that the person I was calling had time to pick up the phone.

Now if I wait more than three rings to get a person or voicemail I am irritated. It is kind of silly, but it is true. There are many other examples of this, but we'll save those for another time. For now it is enough to say that like so many others I want a definitive answer, even if that answer is "no."

This year was easier and I blame my children for it. Just before I began to read Torah I took a moment to look out on the crowd and I caught my son's eye. The smile on his face lit up the room and I couldn't help but smile back. His excitement just propelled me. To those of you who were there I apologize for the crack in my voice, no water wreaked havoc on a weak voice.

Later on my daughter decided to take a nap on my shoulder. I wrapped her in my tallis and as I davened the Shmoneh Esreh I could feel her breath on my cheek and could hear nothing but her steady breathing. Daddy and twenty-three pounds of baby girl bowed and convened with the heavens. It just made sense and for a brief moment I felt as I was crossing a bridge into a different place and time.

To some of you it may sound silly, but I felt as if I was walking into Jerusalem. I was bound for the Temple and was surrounded by others. My daughter helped me set the tone and then I tried to stay there. I draped my tallis over my head and listened. There was a low roar emanating from the people around me. I felt like we were all pulling for a common cause.

It was special and it was meaningful. It was what it should be.

The holidays are here and I feel settled.

(cross posted on Jack's Shack)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Jewish Education Revisited and New Thoughts

There is a universal consensus that a good education is of paramount importance. The real question is where can you find the best education for your child. This past June I asked the question Do You Value A Secular Education?

I asked about it because in my interaction with many people who have attended parochial school there seems to be a distressing lack of focus on basic writing skills. Time and time again I read posts by educated and intelligent adult bloggers who seem to be unfamiliar with spelling and grammar rules and that concerns me.

Earlier this week PsychoToddler blogged a bit about paying for a Jewish education. In principle I agree with him that it is a very important piece of maintaining Jewish continuity, but I have a couple of problems with it.

The primary issue is my concern with the secular education that the students receive. I don't have any problem with establishing communities where there is access to Jewish needs (Kosher butcher, restaurants, shuls etc) but I am not a believer in isolating ourselves either.

I don't have hard numbers or data to share with you that provides any conclusive evidence to support my suspicion that some of these schools take the secular world less seriously than the Judaic studies.

What I have is my own experience in reading the blogs of those who went to these schools and the stories that I have been told confirming my beliefs. So it may not be conclusive, but it is enough to warrant concern.

The second piece of this puzzle refers to the cost of sending a student to private school. The problem is that the tuition is far too steep for many families. Just trying to send one child to a private school can be very difficult but sending more than one can for some be downright impossible.

This is not a new issue. I remember hearing my parents and their friends discuss this very thing some 25 or 30 years ago. So what are we going to do about it.

I can tell you what I am working on right now. I am in the middle of preparing a marketing blitz in which we are going to approach people who have the means and ability to support scholarships and ask them for their help. We are going to do everything that we can to drive down the cost so that this option is available to as many children as possible.

And there you have the short version of my thoughts on this. What do you think?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Time to Read Torah

I read Torah every Yom Kippur. Each year since 1982 I am the first guy up there. I walk up to the bimah, wait for the blessing and then it is off to the races. The first few years I was self-conscious about it.

I don't have a particularly good singing voice. I found that out the hard way. In 1982, (yes, the same year) I had the lead role in a musical. I still remember the laughter and I see some of the faces of those who laughed at me.

Many of those people were there when I started reading and I remember wondering if they would laugh again. I was 13 and much more aware of myself in that awkward junior high way. Part of me very much wanted to get out of reading, but at the same time I was honored and so I did it.

In time it got to be quite easy. I knew it by heart. I didn't have to look, all I had to do was start chanting. It is fair to say that I got a little cocky, but my cockiness was shortlived.

Three years ago I was tripped up. I started chanting and then looked down only to realize that the scroll was in the wrong place. Someone had grabbed the wrong Torah. I stopped in midstream. There was silence as I tried to quietly tell the gabbai to stop coaching me from his Chumash. I knew what the problem was.

And I also knew that suddenly I felt like that kid again. I couldn't remember how it was supposed to go. I couldn't get started and for a moment I wondered if somehow, someway G-d was testing me or punishing me for not taking it seriously enough, for not paying attention.

Since that moment I have made sure to do a few things. I always start out by confirming that we are in the right place, but even before I get up there I make time to consider what is happening, why I am there and what I want. I wrap my son up with me inside my tallis and I silently bless him.

I ask G-d to protect my family to forgive me for the things I have done and offer myself in this service. I am not yet the man I want to be, but I am working on it. I try to remain humble and honest. I may not tremble, but I am aware of my place in the world.

This year I will take both of my children inside my tallis and bless them. I will kiss them both and then I will silently walk up and prepare to chant. In moments it will be complete, but during the time that I am up there it will feel like hours. I will be present in the moment and aware of things going on around me. I'll see my parents and the faces of others. I'll hear my son tell everyone around him that I am his daddy and I'll smile.

It will be over in a moment but during it I'll feel like I have lived a lifetime. In the end I always ask for the same thing. Take care of my family, worry about them and I'll worry about me.

Yom Kippur approaches and I feel unsettled.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Paying for Jewish Education

A topic that has been discussed multiple times on this blog is Jewish Education. If you've read my comments, you know that I think it is the single most important factor in Jewish Continuity. Many of you parents also know how incredibly expensive it is.

Jewish Action, the official magazine of the Orthodox Union (the ones who put the little "OU" Kosher symbols on your food) has an amazing series of articles on the subject here. (they are in PDF format, but worth the download)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The mehitza- A Deterrent to Assimilation

I just finished reading an article in The Jerusalem Post that had me shaking my head. It is called The mehitza that made waves in New Orleans and it suggests that the presence of a mehitza is a strong deterrent to assimilation.

I strongly disagree with much of what was written in it. Let me share a couple sections. The opening of this opinion piece relates the story of a lawsuit in New Orleans that was brought when a shul removed the mehitza and implemented mixed seating.

"The New Orleans decision inspired many Orthodox Jews to go to court to stem the floodtide of assimilation, which often began with the elimination of the mehitza. Baruch Litvin, who galvanized American Jews to fight to maintain the mehitza, recorded his success in his 550-page tome Sanctity of the Synagogue. When his Orthodox shul instituted mixed seating, he obtained a 1959 ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court that returned the mehitza to the synagogue.

THE MEHITZA brouhaha had wider significance. Judaism is distinguished by its adherence to Jewish law, Halacha, and Litvin argued that such adherence is compromised by the radical change of mingling in synagogue. The issue of separation of the sexes for prayer was a test of the entire halachic system. Abandoning this principle, Jews would succumb to the centripetal forces of American modernity, jettison the rest of Halacha, and the dikes would burst.

The mehitza proponents have proved correct – the floodtide of assimilation by intermarriage for those Jews affiliated with mixed-seating congregations varies from 50 to 80 percent. Among the Orthodox it is barely 5 percent."

It is far too simplistic to sugges that separating men and women in the synagogue will prevent them from assimilation. For that matter one could just as easily argue that you are more likely to prevent assimilation by using mixed seating because it enhances the opportunity for nice Jewish boys and girls to meet each other.

The question of what causes more non-Orthodox Jews to assimilate ( I am trusting the authors figures here which have been provided without support) should have a broader framework and we should better define what we mean by assimilation. For the purpose of this discussion we'll say that assimilation refers to Jews who not only stop practicing Judaism but marry outside of the faith and allow the spouse's faith to become dominant within the household.

If we were truly to explore this I would want to know about belief in G-d and the belief in Torah. That is, do people believe in G-d and what is their opinion of Torah. Was it handed to us as the precise word of G-d or is it divinely inspired and perhaps subject to interpretation.

I would also wonder about how many Orthodox Jews would like to stop living as Orthodox Jews but refrain for fear of the problems it would create within their families.

These are just a few questions to be asked and I haven't even bothered to think hard about them which is part of why this gives me real pause as to the validity of this allegation. I have serious doubts that it really holds up. It really makes me shake my head because it is just narishkeit.

Here is another selection from the piece that irritates me.
"Prayer requires deep concentration, kavana. Women realize that men can be in a state of inner distraction by virtue of the presence of women at a time when it is essential for people to be as fully engaged as possible in their concentrated awareness of their conversation with God. The situation of men and women is not symmetrical; men are more easily stimulated by viewing women, as the advertising industry well knows."
I find this part to be offensive. Men are not animals and what this does is suggest is that we are unable to control ourselves. An attractive woman is not the reason why men sometimes have trouble davening.

A pretty face or nice legs are not going to interfere with saying the shemoneh esreh, or be the reason for a lack of focus. My davening has been interrupted by the whispered stories of what happened during last nights ballgame or conversation about what little Sammy is doing now.

And then the final part of this piece that made me shake my head is this:

"RABBI JOSEPH Soloveitchik, who established a Jewish day school with mixed classes and promoted teaching girls Talmud, surprised many with the stringency of his ruling on mehitza.

"A young man moved into a suburb of Boston where the only existing synagogue had men and women sitting together. He asked me what he should do on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I answered him that it were better for him to pray at home and not cross the threshold of that synagogue. The young man practically implored me that I grant him permission to enter the edifice, at least that he might hear the shofar blasts. I hesitated not for a moment, but directed him to remain at home. It would be better not to hear the shofar than to enter a synagogue whose sanctity has been profaned."

This story is nothing more than a divisive device that pushes us away from each other. It does nothing to encourage inclusion, only exclusion and it will be seen by many as snobbery.

I was there at Har Sinai and I don't remember Hashem instructing us in this manner.