Thursday, June 30, 2005

Do You Value A Secular Education

Ok folks, I am just banging out the posts and I have another question for you. Do you value a secular education? How important is that to you?

In my interactions with people who went to a Jewish parochial school I have noticed a bit of a swing when it comes to their ability to write in English.

In very specific terms I have noticed that those who went to for lack of a better term, a Frummer school tend to have some more issues with spelling and grammar in English than those who did not.

Now I do not have any hard/fast numbers so these observations could be statistically meaningless, but since we have the blog and the time I thought that I would ask.

Refusal, Disengagement, Civil War, Uprising, The Shame

I have written about my love affair with Israel on many occasions. I have fielded comments and questions about why I still live in America, whether I would still consider making aliyah and have sparred with people who accuse me of having mixed loyalties, who question my patriotism to the U.S.

I don't feel much like discussing the 'ins and outs' or the 'hows and whys' of why I do what I do. I don't really care that much because in the grand scheme of things it is immaterial. For now I live in the US and am committed to living here and doing what I can to make the US a better place, but none of that precludes my being interested in doing the same for Israel. Nor does it prevent me from having an opinion on the disengagement.

There are those who would say that because I do not live in Israel I am entitled or allowed to have an opinion on disengagement, but I disagree for a couple of basic reasons.
  1. What happens in Israel has an impact upon Jews worldwide.
  2. As a Jew it is my right to have an opinion, ask your rav or look at the certificate you received at your bris.
In all seriousness, I get to voice my opinion but I don't get to vote because I live in the galut and that is as it should be. But enough of this, enough of the ridiculous banter and the small talk and into the meat.

I am torn and upset by this. I am angry and frustrated by the pictures I see of the infighting, of Jews fighting Jews and the idea that land is being given to people who have been trying to murder us. I don't like it, it is a painful thing to see.

But I tend to believe that it is necessary and I am very concerned with the actions of those who are resisting the move, especially within the IDF. A nation should have soldiers who act and think on their own, but at the same time they must follow the chain of command or the entire system breaks down. I thought that this and other thoughts was summed up well in the following editorial from the Jerusalem Post.

"The father of Avi Bieber, a soldier who refused orders during the demolition of some abandoned buildings in Gush Katif on Sunday, spoke of being "proud that he was able to stand up and say what he feels." Without detracting from a father's natural role in backing up his son, refusing orders for political reasons should not evoke pride, but concern over the shallowness of our democratic roots.

Political refusal is nothing to be proud of, and both sides know it. Disengagement opponents who are now blithely urging refusal were the first to be appalled at leftwing calls to refuse to serve in the territories. One such call currently online, for example, organized by "Courage to Refuse," states, "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people. We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel's defense. The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose – and we shall take no part in them."

Who gave this organization and the soldiers who have heeded it the right to decide which missions serve Israel's defense? It does not take "courage" to refuse, but arrogance. It is a selfish act in which the refuser decides not only to arrogate to himself the roles of elected leaders, but to transfer the burdens he refuses to share to his law abiding compatriots.

Those who are proud of Bieber would have only disdain for his counterparts on the Left, and no doubt the feeling is mutual. But neither side can have it both ways: refusal begets refusal. We have one prime minister, one Knesset, one army and one people. The refuser, more than advancing his own cause, is undermining the institutions on which we all depend for our lives, our security, and our existence.

This is not to deny the legitimate category of refusing to obey illegal orders. Soldiers are taught, and rightly so, that they have the right and sometimes the duty to refuse to obey illegal orders. A soldier's judgment of what is illegal may or may not be upheld against that of his commander, but there is no doctrine that every order is by definition legal.

On the civilian side, there is also the institution of civil disobedience, which can go so far as breaking the law. But there is a difference between dissent in the military and civilian cases. In both, the dissenter must be willing to bear the legal consequences of his actions. But only in the civilian case is dissent legitimate on political grounds.

Civilian dissent does not undermine the institution of democracy, though it can to some extent challenge the legitimacy of its elected institutions. Refusal in a military context directly undermines the bedrock principle that is necessarily drummed into every soldier: that legal orders derived from democratic decisions must be followed. Without this foundation, the army that both the Left and Right agree is critical to this nation, and therefore democracy itself, cannot function.

The question is how we can better inculcate in our youth a revulsion of political refusal, rather than the notion that it is a noble act. Some refusers, either because anarchy does not concern them, or because they place other sources of authority, such as religion, above democracy, know what they are doing. Others may fully understand the gravity of their attack on their own democracy and society.

Whether refusal comes from ideology or ignorance, our society must defend itself not only by punishing the perpetrators, but by maintaining the stigma against political refusal and bolstering democratic values through civic education. Defenders of democracy need as much courage, tenacity and creativity as those whose, deliberately or through ignorance, would undermine what we must all hold most dear."

I have also shared the words of Rabbi Daniel Gordis on a number of occasions and I would like to do so again with two pieces.

First, this is a link to an article he wrote for the Jerusalem Post.

"Hamefaked, anahnu yehudim, ve'et ze ani lo mesugal, read one that's appeared all over. "Commander, we're all Jews, and this I cannot do." It is a call to soldiers, encouraging them to declare that even if ordered, they will not force Jews from their homes.

The phrasing was brilliant, I thought. Not "I won't do this," but "I can't do this."

It evoked, in almost wordless fashion, the bewilderment of those in Gaza who will be moved. It suggested that the Knesset's decision is not simply wrong, but that it verges on a violation of nature.

This simply cannot be done. It is an assault on too much of what we stand for, an assault on fairness, on decency. Even those of us who (however unhappily) favor the disengagement can, and must, understand this sense of betrayal.

Because these Israeli citizens were encouraged by Labor no less than by the Likud to build homes in Gush Katif, and they did so with exemplary dedication. Because, our protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, we are withdrawing under fire.

Because Ariel Sharon effectively promised these people that this would not happen, and they supported him with that assurance in mind. Because homes will be destroyed, communities dismantled, playgrounds abandoned, synagogues emptied, batei midrash razed.

Because those who left Yamit could at least console themselves with the knowledge that it was land for peace; while this week we could not point to anything that we were getting in return for our evacuation.

Because there are cemeteries there, where these citizens have buried their parents and their children.

And what should happen to those graves? Shall we disinter the children killed and buried there, and force those people to relive once again the torment of those funerals? Or shall we leave the graves there, even as the Palestinians move in, pretending that we don't recall the desecrations of Joseph's Tomb in 2000, or of the Mount of Olives before the Six Day War?

Sadly, we hear little validation of the settlers' angst from those who favor the withdrawal. Where is the grieving on the Left for a human tragedy of enormous proportions? Have we become so embittered that we feel nothing for those whom we must dislodge?

Is that what statehood has wrought? Yotzim me'aza, mathilim ledaber, proclaimed the other side. "Leave Gaza, and start speaking," as if there were anyone with whom to speak."

And I leave you with this excerpt from his most recent dispatch:

"Which was the end of the answer to Micha's question. What will be left when we give it all back? A Pesach like this one, and you know the answer. What will be left will be a country where "Exodus" isn't only a reference to the ancient past. And what will be left, undoubtedly, will be a smaller country.

What will be left it a country deeply wounded by the pain it is about to inflict on itself, by the price it is asking its best pioneers to pay for having heeded the call of previous governments to move to precisely where they now live. But what will be left is a population that is still in love with the land that it does have, and that hikes it and bikes it at every opportunity. That fills the roads to overflowing on vacations, that fills the wadis way beyond safe numbers. A place where the sense of shared enterprise is palpable, especially when you need it. What will be left are people who, if someone gets hurt, respond so selflessly that it takes your breath away. And then don't understand why you're making such a big deal of thanking them.

What will be left will be a country in which, if you go to a couple of doctors in the space of a few hours, one will have made aliyah from France, one from Spain and one from Russia. Where even the food cart in the waiting room reflects the fact that it's Pesach. It will be a country in which, despite all the years of conflict, kids still reach
out to each other, across the chasms of cultures, and of languages.

But, most importantly, what will be left will be a place that people have left everything behind to come back to. It will be a country where, after this summer, people will have proven that despite the enormous and almost unspeakable pain entailed, they have decided to have less even in the short run, rather than nothing in the long run. Because they will still love what they'll have. Because they can't imagine surviving without it.

What will be left, when the pain begins to subside, will be home."
Exodus(es), Redux
Here is my wish for hope and that this works out for a better future and peace for all.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sex And The Yeshiva Life

Howdy folks,

It is Jack and I am continuing to roll out the posts fast and furiously. In my brief life I have had the opportunity to be exposed to many different facets of Judaism. As I am sure that it is clear on this blog and my own I have a very rudimentary understanding of somethings and my exposure in certain areas is very limited.

At the request of some friends as well as my own curiosity I want to throw out kind of a general question/comment and see what kind of response we get.

Clearly the human sex drive is very strong and clearly there is no doubt that we all need to be touched, loved and to be affectionate. The manner, place and social norms that surround this however are very distinct and different, especially when it comes to areas such as being Shomer Negiah.

There are those of us who wonder how many people are actually able to do this for any length of time. How many secret relationships are there and how extensive are they?

Some of my BT friends have privately expressed to me that they are somewhat relieved to have become observant at an older age because they are familiar with their own sexuality and more comfortable in it. They don't feel the same need to engage in sexual pursuits as they did because they have become very clear with what they want and need.

The point of this post is not to be titillating or appeal to prurient desires, but to just learn a little bit more, that is assuming anyone is willing to share their thoughts or feelings here.

Do you think that being SN is a good thing? Is it helpful in facilitating the matching of besheret or is do you think that it is extreme?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Thank You Velvel!

Thanks to Velvel, I applied the patch, and we're back in business.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

I Yelled At G-d

I yelled at G-d. I did. I yelled at him/he/she/her/it whatever. I screamed at G-d and beat the ground. I am not proud of it, but not quite ashamed either. It is not something that I keep to myself, but it is not something that I totally share either because, well, I don’t know why.

I can’t say because it comes from a place deep inside. It is a spot that lies beneath a lot of other junk so it doesn’t see daylight all that often. Maybe it is because I don’t like looking there because there are so many questions and so few answers.

When I was 19 I was madly in love with a girl that I though was supposed to be mine forever. I didn’t think of it as besheret, I knew it as such. I knew it the way a 19 year-old knows that life is going to give him everything because that is just how it works. I knew it in the way that I knew my hand, intimate and secure.

And then she left me.

She decided that I was not for her. She told me that she woke up one day and realized that she didn’t love me any longer. I was devastated. I couldn’t get a grip on it. It just didn’t make sense to me.

At that point in time I worked part time at a local shul where I assisted in the Hebrew school and youth departments. Monday through Thursday you would find me there between the hours of 3-6. And somewhere around a quarter to five you would find me davening with the afternoon minyan.

Almost without fail I would ask Hashem to fix things for me. I’d beg for a chance to fix the relationship or for something to help me feel better. I just couldn’t believe that my life had been spun around so dramatically.

One day Howie Mandel started showing up. His father had passed away and he needed a place to say Kaddish. He doesn’t know it, but it was his presence that helped me to recognize that I had gone astray. His loss was far more profound than mine. I stopped asking for things for myself and I healed, but I didn’t forget the feeling of not having my prayers acknowledged. I didn’t forget what it felt like to be ignored, but I didn’t focus on it.

Some years later I received a telephone call from a friend. I was in Los Angeles and he was in Boston. He told me that he was being held against his will in a hospital and asked me to get him out of there. I was 25 and working full time, but he was like a brother to me and I promised that I would help him.

So I began by checking airline flights from LA to Boston and considering how I would get him out of the hospital. As part of my research I got in touch with his family and found out why he had been hospitalized. It turned out that he had a brain tumor and that he was hallucinating. He was being held there, but for good reason.

Fast forward a few years. The first tumor has been taken care of and so has a second one, but there is a third event.

I am 29 now. I am married and have a little bit more life experience beneath my belt and I know that this time is different. I know that this time his life is in serious jeopardy and I am far more aware of it than I was before.

I receive word that the doctors consider him to be terminal. His family is going to bring him home for the final journey. I watch him deteriorate in front of me, his family and friends. I watch his parents deal with a pain that I can see in their eyes, but cannot imagine. And years later with the birth of my son I cry as I realize what loss they suffered.

His death comes after a relatively short period of time, but it feels like so much has gone by.

During his illness I have resumed asking G-d to do something to help. I have returned to the place where each day I spend precious moments begging G-d to spare him. If you can split the Red Sea, if you can cause manna to fall from heaven this should be easy.

I see no response. I hear no answers and I am angry. I begin to really speak my mind. I castigate G-d for being cold and uncaring. I yell and use the harshest terms. For a moment I think that I am overstepping my bounds and then I realize that I believe that he knows all of my thoughts anyway, so why hide.

The day of the funeral my friends and bury him. We watch his family’s most intimate moment of grief are displayed and we give all that we can by making sure that he is interred in the earth by people who knew him, who loved him and cared, not by strangers.

The cemetery is located next to my home. For a brief time I appoint myself his official caretaker and I visit his grave daily. I apologize for not being able to get through to G-d and not having been able to do more. And in the quiet stillness I ask Hashem why I couldn’t get an answer to my questions. Why couldn’t I be given something, some sign or acknowledgment of my presence. I feel badly because I feel like I was ignored and I wonder what I could have done differently and if it is selfish of me to feel this way.

Fast forward again to April of 2004. My father is ill. He is on his deathbed that is what the doctors have told me. They do not expect him to survive. I stand next to his bed and watch as he lies there unconscious. I do not know anyone stronger than my father. Mentally, physically he is unparalleled. I am a grown man, a father of one with another on the way and I feel so weak.

It is only because of the love I feel for him, for my mother, my sisters and my children, for our family that I am able to stand there and appear to be so passive.

At his bedside I beseech G-d to do something. But unlike before I am instantly angry because I remember being ignored and this time I will not accept that. I will not play Job or act like this is some kind of blessing. This is my father and I will be answered. I will be heard.

And in the quiet moments 3000 miles from home I battle for his life. I argue, I beg, I scream, I debate and demand that he be spared. It is too soon and too early for him to be taken.

Against the odds my father survives and comes home. I thank G-d. I thank G-d for everything. I thank G-d for having had experiences that helped to prepare me for this experience. I thank G-d for everything and I forgive G-d for not having responded to me earlier.

To some people this may sound rather trite. It may seem ridiculous and a little too easy, too much like a Hollywood ending. But my reality is that the day my father returned home I stopped feeling so angry and I was content.

I am in a place where I am comfortable and happy with my faith. It doesn’t mean that there are not times in which I question things or am upset, just that for now I am good and I am thankful for that.

(Cross posted on Jack's Shack)

Help (scroll down)

Can someone please help me here? I can't figure this out, I know a few blogs have had this problem, blogger must have done something. If someone who knows HTML could please take a look and give me some saged advice I'd be much obliged. Thank You!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Dealing With Missionaries

One of the things that almost every Jew has to deal with is the approach of the missionary. At one time or another we are accosted by people who are interested in explaining to us why we shouldn't be Jewish but instead should become an adherent of some other belief system.

There are literally millions of dollars being spent by groups who believe that they have a religious obligation to try and convert Jews. And while I admit to understanding how someone could feel the need to try and follow the religious doctrine and precepts of their faith I nonetheless find this to be offensive.

I am not offended that they try to convert us, although I admit to finding it a little sad, but I am offended by the tactics and techniques they use. I am irked that there are professional courses and classes that are given for the sole purpose of snaring converts. I am offended by people who use what I call religious terror to try and affect change.

What I mean by this is the person who says to another that if they are going to suffer eternal damnation because their belief is not the same. I am offended by those that try and target children and others whose Jewish background and education is not strong enough to see the inconsistencies in what they are peddling.

And I am always saddened when I encounter members of these groups who try and build a rapport with me by talking about how they used to be Jewish. "Jack, I know exactly what you are talking about. I remember going to Hebrew school. I remember the youth group and camp experiences, but they never fulfilled me and now I found something that does."

I hear stories like this and my heart breaks. I hear stories like this and I feel a little empty. But it also makes me angry and more determined to do my part to help instill a strong Jewish identity in not just my children but the people around me.

Some of my Frum friends have told me about how they do not worry about things like this happening to people they know, that this is a problem limited to the Reform and Conservative communities.

I do not believe that to be true. I do not believe that every yeshiva bochur believes with perfect faith, some do not. But I do believe that they have a better understanding of why we do what we do and that this is an area that needs to be worked upon.

Orthodoxy is not for everyone. Some people will never take to it, but they might choose to be Reform or Conservative instead of being unaffiliated. If we invite them, work with them given the opportunity these Jews might just look at being part of the Jewish people and be involved on some level as opposed to none.

I still believe that it is to the benefit of every Jew regardless of denomination to have more Jews involved with Judaism, even if it be at a level of observance that is different from their own.

So I see this as a challenge for all of us to work together to overcome. I see a need for us to work on providing a warm and inviting place for the unaffiliated to come to so that they choose to be Jewish and that they choose to raise Jewish children.

Because if we do not open our doors others will.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Defending Israel- A Quick Question

Folks a friend of mine emailed me to ask me to help him defend Israel on a message board. I go back and forth about the practicality of engaging people in this kind of venue.

I am curious to learn whether you think that you can influence people or not. Do you think that people are open to different perspectives or is this a lost cause?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Do You Represent All Jews

This was a 600 word rant that I just nuked because it wasn't flowing the way I wanted it to, so I started over. The question I posed in the title is Do you represent all Jews also known as do non-Jews make their evaluation/judgement of who Jews are based upon their experience with you.

It is an old discussion and one that in general I find to be very distasteful. There is something very wrong about basing an opinion about a group of people based upon the behavior of one person.

For example, it is wrong to judge all Black people based upon your opinion of Michael Jordan or for that matter Michael Jackson. I wouldn't do it and I am teaching my children to develop their thoughts/feelings/opinion about people based upon the person and not some shallow observation.

Yet it seems that all too frequently I have been engaged in a discussion by fellow MOTs about our responsibility to show the world who we are and what we are like. That if we act poorly, if we do not serve as a good dugma we are hurting other Jews.

It just irks me to no end. I'd say that I hate it but that is far too strong a word so I am not going to use it, but it gives a sense of just how distasteful I find this to be.

And now my sad confession. If I am reading the newspaper or listening to the news and I hear/read a Jewish sounding name I take an extra moment to find out what the story is. If the person that they speak of is a suspect or has been convicted of a crime I cross my fingers and hope that I find out that I am mistaken and that they are not a M.O.T. And of course if it is something cool than I want to hear that they are part of the tribe.

It is a bit of a contradiction, but that is part of being human, the desire to pick and choose, the will to take the good and eliminate the bad.

In a utopian society this dialogue wouldn't exist because we would not judge each other based upon anything but the merit/actions of the individual. Even though we do not live in that world now, there is no reason that we cannot work towards it.

We do not plant trees for ourselves, but for our children, grandchildren and the people that come after us.

(Cross posted on Jack's Shack)

Intolerance Continued- A Letter To Toby Katz and our Community

Toby Katz is being skewered around the Jewish blogosphere for a variety of comments she has made on various issues. I suspect that Toby thinks that what she is doing is noble and worthwhile, but I find it to be exceptionally shortsighted, misguided, ignorant, distasteful and representative of the things that many of us term as being the worst traits of Orthodoxy.

Below I share some of her remarks and links to the places where she made them. I applaud her efforts to protect Judaism and to try and be a role model. I think that theses are admirable traits, but even good intentions may go awry and Toby you are killing us.

"If the person who makes this argument is an atheist, the very concept of guilt and innocence may be foreign to him."

"The people who write the news don’t know beans about anything and were mostly not even born yet in 1967."

"It is not true that Orthodox Jews do not mourn our dead. Just the opposite. We mourn more deeply and more painfully than anyone else, because we knew the victim. We know the life and blood and heart of our Jewish grandparents when they were still alive."

"It is a FACT that liberal Jews do not have nearly as many children as Orthodox Jews do.

Come up with all the excuses, rationalizations, and faux explanations you want to. You guys have careers, lesbian marriages, divorces, lots of money and whatever else you want and value. We have what we value: more kids, more Jews for the future."

"If you are honest with yourself you will admit that R and C Jews do not value children as much as O Jews do, because they see children as interfering with other, more important things an educated and intelligent woman could be doing."
I couldn't begin to defend any of the comments you make here. The suggestion that Orthodox Jews love their children more and are better people is the height of arrogance, not to mention patently wrong.

I am not what you would call a Torah observant Jew. I am not Shomer Shabbos, I don't keep Kosher. Some of my Frum friends have referred to me as someone who hops, skips and jumps around the derech.

They would prefer if I went BT. They think that it is better and will do whatever they can to support me if I choose to go that way. But none of them exhibits the lack of respect and courtesy for my beliefs that you and others like you do.

Now it may seem contradictory for me to say this, but I truly do not care what you think of my observance and how I live my life. But I do have a reason for writing this post.

I really am a firm believer in trying to promote more interaction and dialogue among the branches of Judaism. We are stronger as a whole when we work together then when we operate as separate units.

I want to see unaffiliated Jews come back home, but I don't expect all of them to go BT. Many will find that they are more comfortable with the Reform or Conservative movements and I think that it is better and smarter to bring them back to one group as opposed to not at all.

I think that the unaffiliated miss out on something very beautiful and special. I want to see Jews marrying Jews to continue the line and part of making that happen is to be more welcoming and less intolerant.

So Toby while I think that your heart is in the right place I do think that your actions are wrong and I hope that you think about what you are doing and the harm that you are causing.

My apologies for making this such a public forum, but I think that the message needs to be heard by as many people as possible.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Question For Whomever Wishes To Answer

I noticed that the primary respondents to posts on this blog are from the contributors who provide the material here.

So I am curious to find out how many lurkers are out there and if you are enjoying the blog. Let us know, we are interested in hearing what you have to say.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Intolerance Among The Tribe-Where Are The Women

Folks, I'd like to say that I am an easygoing, laidback kind of fellow who follows a "goes along, get's along" kind of philosophy, but it would be a baldfaced lie. And if you have read some of my more recent posts on this old blog you can see that I am not always the quiet, shy type of boy.

Ok, in person and especially in crowds of 1000 or more, I am most certainly a shrinking violet.

But in all seriousness I am quite concerned about the lack of tolerance for Jews who have different levels of observance. It is not something that is limited to one branch. I have heard Reform Jews talk about those fanatics and Charedim talk about apikorsim.

It bothers me for many, many reasons not the least of which is that the sad truth is that there are people in this world who murder any one of us just for being Jewish. It doesn't matter if you wear a Shtreimel, kittel or jeans and t-shirt. In their eyes you are just another Yid and that is good enough.

But I am not really interested in running down that path. Today I am thinking about a silly argument that I have been involved in with some people some other blogs about a woman's role in Judaism.

What I wonder about is why some men are so threatened by the idea of women's prayer groups, in women engaging in various acts that are traditionally male dominated. I am not an advocate of women laying tefillin just because men do or doing anything that men do just because they want to prove that they can.

For that matter I have never been real comfortable with seeing a woman in what I consider male garb, but I do believe that there is a place for women who want to reach out, expand and explore.

That is, they shouldn't do any of these things because they want to prove their equal, they already are, but they should have the opportunity and the place to continue their own education and growth. And what I do not understand is why some people fight this.

Also along those lines, I am confused by people who think that it is ok to look at someone else and declare them not to be Jewish. Whose place is that. Who has the right to make that declaration.

I am a thickskinned old buzzard and likely to give as good as I get, but I have no problem saying that this kind of talk just saddens me. I like to think that we are better than this.

Labels are for clothing and food, not people

While Jack sort of beat me to it, I still had been planning on writing this post for a while, I just wasn't able to get it out. The title line is something that I've loved for a long time. Yes, it's a line. Mostly used by all kinds of outreach centers, but I still like it. I think it is one of those things that can't be said any simpler. The more people fight to be different, the more we always see we're the same. We have the same struggles with the make up of our schools, the same politics in our Kiddush Clubs, or Shul President boards, the same fund raising hardships, the same people who talk in the backs of your temples, and my shteebles. Trust me on that one.

What's a Label? Well, let's ask the Answer people:
la·bel ('bəl)
  1. An item used to identify something or someone, as a small piece of paper or cloth attached to an article to designate its origin, owner, contents, use, or destination.
  2. A descriptive term; an epithet.
  3. A distinctive name or trademark identifying a product or manufacturer, especially a recording company.
An item used to identify something or someone, well, we are all Jews, that we know. We don't a label to tell us that.
When I was in the Chabad House back in my younger days. I often saw this interaction occur.

Someone would come into the building, and be interested in attending the class the Rabbi was giving on the Torah portion of the week. Listening intently, but not asking any questions, when the class concluded the Rabbi would ask the person on their way out if they wanted to come again, if they enjoyed it, if they wanted to come to a service. Many times the answer would be. I can't I'm not orthodox, or I can't I'm reform. Or the most popular "I'm not affiliated with any branch of Judaism, I'm not ready to join one yet"

It hurt me to hear that, cause it meant ages of separatism in our religion gave birth to the notion that you have to be "part of a certain group" in order to participate in something as holy as praying to G-d.

I am will admit though, that the difference in our customs make certain to limit our interaction with certain activities. Such as say, Shabbos customs. I think civil people can agree to disagree on certain things, and have an understanding that those differences will remain. I am not gonna convince you anything is wrong with Reform or Conservative Judaism, and you're not gonna convince me vice versa. These institutions are here, and people are different on all levels, no matter if it's parenting, cooking, or praying. That's what makes us all human. Our ability to be different.

But there are many way's in which by respecting our religious differences, we can still come to understand our singular Jewish soul. Which pushes us to do what we do in our temples, synagogues, shuls and shteebles.

When Jack wrote this post, in the comments you started talking about what we could do. Big programs are great, talking is also a great first step. This blog is a good way to get regular folk like you and me conversing about topics just like this.

One thing I think we can all do, and this isnt hard at all. We need to just come to terms with agreeing to disagree. It's like a marriage. We are in this together, for the long term. We all want the same things, and we're in the same boat.

Still, we're different, we do things different, we think different, we act different. We need to respect each other, talk to each other, and sometimes even more important than talking, learn to LISTEN to each other.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Interdenominational Dialogue

Interdenominational dialogue is something that we lack, that is, there is not enough dialogue between the various branches of Judaism. Too much fingerpointing and whispering about this and that.

I hear Reform Jews badmouth the Orthodox and the Orthodox do the same to them. Frum friends tell me that they think that I am a good guy, but cannot understand why I would ever attend a Conservative shul. Haven't I heard that the movement is going to die, to just up and disappear one day. And then they thrown in comments like "If you are not going to be a Torah observant Jew why not be Reform, at least they do not pretend."

It is all kind of silly to me. Just what do they expect, that one day I am going to see through the same eyes they use, that one day I'll go BT.

And that is the thing, how many of my BT buddies go holy roller for a while, just go meshugah searching for a comfortable place for their own religiosity.

I have Frum friends who say that they would appreciate more interaction, but cannot take a chance on engaging in it because of what their community might think. Should I add that some of them have held pulpits of been Roshei Yeshiva.

Politics, politics, Jewish politics. Don'tcha just love them.

The point of this little comment is simple. We need to do a better job of working together and not against each other. We are a small group among many, no sense pulling in different directions, at least not on everything.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Jewish Art and Soul

Part of my journey this past year has been discovering Jewish art that is being created right now. Ted and I have a beautiful Ketubah from Rachel Deitsch. I have enjoyed perusing the works of soferet Aviel Barclay-Rothschild .

When I was living in Israel at age 14, my dream was to go to Bezalel Art School and create modern iconography for Judaism. That dream was never fulfilled. As a youngster I butted heads with my parents on this matter. I wanted to pursue art with the single-mindedness that I felt it required. My parents, practical folk, said I could always pick up an art class or two as I went through college pursuing my M.R.S.

But in New York, a student at Barnard, I further suffered from doubts about my ability to be an artist as I met young New York artists who exceeded me not so much in talent but in stylishness and confidence. And then, my first day in art class, I was confronted with a fully nude male model.

As an Orthodox girl, I felt conflicted about this. I told the teacher my religious beliefs led me to prefer to not paint nudes, and so I would rather hone my skills on some other subject. She was a true Columbia University professor and happy to engage with me. We had some spirited conversations about the beauty of the nude body, G-d's creations, and related philosophical matters. But I simply felt uncomfortable facing a young man, my own age, who had on no clothes. After some discussion, she agreed that I could paint landscapes and still lifes instead of nudes for my assignments.

But by this point, I seemed to be miles away from my original intention. I still have a beautiful Rosh HaShana card I designed in my teens. It combined calligraphy and ink drawing with a design utilizing traditional Jewish elements. That was the sort of thing I wanted to work on, but Columbia did not have courses in iconography, calligraphy or even design.

I let art drop after that one painting class and focused instead on my major, English, and on History. Columbia had an excellent Jewish Studies program at the time, so I spent most of my course credits across the street from Barnard, taking Jewish history classes with teachers that included the brilliant young Professor Paula Hyman(who later went on to teach at Harvard). I experienced a rare -- very rare -- moment of parental approval when my father finished reading my 20-page research study on the Marranos, looked up at me, and after a moment of silence, said it was an "excellent paper." (The A from Professor Hyman was unimportant in comparison.)


Last night, at services, our Rabbi showed us a framed Shivisi he had purchased when he was a rabbinical student in Jerusalem. He said it was a very old document from Morocco, or at least so said the man who sold it to him in the Old City. (Yes, I know....) If you want to see images of Shivisi, you have to Google on the Sephardi pronunciation - Shiviti. But according to my rabbi, these devotional aids were used among Ashkenazi Jews as well, and are part of our heritage. Along with the Shivisi, he read to us (in translation from the Yiddish), some words from Tzenah UrEna, the book of prayers and midrash for women. Such items, often disparaged, to me hold much of the soul of Judaism and of our past.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Shabbos At Ramah In California

Yetta's recollection of life at Tawonga made me think of my time at Ramah in California. I was there in one form or another from 1981 through 1997. By one form or another I mean that I was a camper, counselor, and or a staff person for not just Ramah but USY and Los Angeles Hebrew High School.

So when I think of camp I have a wealth of memories that I can draw upon, Summers, Winters, Fall- I really have been there throughout every season and even been there in the snow, which is not all that common in Ojai, California.

So many Shabbatot, or Shabboses depending upon your Ashkenazim or Sephardic background. So many memories of a place which really was transformed by the people there into something magical and mystical.

We looked forward to Shabbos all week long. It was special. I suspect that for those of you who are FFB or should I say have been Shomer Shabbos all your life this sounds a little bit like old hat, but I ask that you continue the journey for a few more moments and consider something.

Ramah attracts all kinds of Jews, many of whom have little or no Jewish education, practically no experience in celebrating Shabbos or any of the chagim. So for many people this was there first experience, their first chance to be among people who loved the opportunity of changing from the busy work week into the slower pace of Shabbos. People who loved the introspection and chance to set aside the daily concerns to look elsewhere.

I know quite a few BTs who can look back at their camp experience and say that it was a key piece of the puzzle, the place where their journey to find the derech began.

I am having trouble coming up with a smooth transition into my next thought so I am just going to lay it out there. As a counselor one of my favorite moments was the preparation, specifically Staff Showers.

In the boy's shettach we would assemble. At a predesignated point in time there would be a mass entrance of men into the shower hut and then the singing would begin. There would be clapping and banging on the walls as somewhere between 15-25 men would raise our voices together in what could only be described as a joyous outburst.

We would sing Shabbos songs and camp songs. We would belt out tunes by various secular artists and we would do it for a good 15 minutes. I am told that you could hear us from almost any place in the camp. And throughout the Summer the girls would ask us about this time. They would want to know just what went on in there that was so much fun and so enjoyable.

Even now, years later I am still occasionally asked what happened. My answers are usually very short and nondescript. If you were not there you probably won't get it, and you might even think that this is a dumb story. But it has meaning to me in large part because of the feeling it generated.

This was a weekly ritual in which we prepared for Shabbos, in which we threw off the dirt and aggravation of the week and prepared to enter Shabbos with a new attitude and a lot of Joy.

Friday night would come and fresh from staff showers we would join our campers in trying to welcome Shabbos, in trying to create a moment in time that we would all remember.

There is so much more to share, but so little time to do it now. So I think that I'll end this by mentioning another one of my greatest joys at camp.

Shabbos Basketball.

After we finished davening Shacharit there would be a rush back to our tents so that we could change clothes and shoes. Out on the court we would assemble and for several hours we would play on the blacktop.

It is one of the things that I miss most about camp. I miss the first game in which we would line up and say Shehecheyanu. I miss the camraderie and the joy of playing with some of my closest friends.

I miss the time out on the hill. I miss the discussions we would have with our campers and the big sticks that accompanied them.

I miss my Shabbos afternoon nap and Gorp.

I miss being in a place where time really did stand still. I miss so many other things, too many to list.

It is time to get back to work, to end my daydreaming and return to life. Good Shabbos to you all.

Camp Tawonga

30 years ago, I went to sleep away camp for the first time. I went to Camp Tawonga. It was and still is (I'm pretty sure) associated with the JCC of San Francisco. We always referred to it fondly as Hippie Camp. And, it was, and probably still is quite Kumbaya. But that is one of its most endearing qualities.

My cousins, who were unaffiliated with any shul, went to Tawonga, so when it came time for me to go, it seemed the natural choice even though most of my friends were going to Swig or Arazim (the Conservative movement's camps). I feel in love instantly. I only went for 2 weeks that first summer, but I lived the whole next year just to go back. And I kept going back until I was 16.

I loved being up in the mountains. Our cabins did not have electricity and the screens didn't keep the bugs out and it got pretty cold at night. Mice would find our cookies hidden in our trunks. Snakes slid across the walking paths. We were always dirty and always thirsty and always tired, but we'd stay up all night talking and having stories read or told to us or we would be sneaking out when the counselors weren't in the cabin with us.

Why would we sneak out? I know that one year, one girl snuck out for a smoke. But the rest of us usually snuck off to meet boys. Most kids 10 and up paired off. I shudder when I think of my son who is almost 10. I just can't see it. And I must thank G-d, because what does a 10 year old need with a boyfriend or girlfriend? At the time, though, I seemed to need and want one and I had them every summer. I could tell you all of their names and where they lived. That became a huge part of camp for me.

Camp was also an escape from what I thought was a tough childhood. How silly I was to think I had problems. Baruch Hashem, I had a pretty normal childhood. Nothing horrendous. Just the regular stuff, but being that it was my life, I thought it was bad. So, I lived for my summers at camp.

Tawonga is a Jewish camp. Reform and very liberal, but I was only slightly aware of that fact. We might have belonged to a conservative shul, but we were far from religious. But Tawonga gave me a real feel for Shabbos. Fridays, everyone had something to do for Shabbos. Either making challah or a special dessert or decorating the dining hall or setting up the tables or preparing a service or a skit. Everyone got involved. And a couple of hours before, everyone would take showers and dig around for a clean white shirt and if it wasn't clean, well, at least it was white. It was then that I learned all about preparing for Shabbos. And before we ate, there was kiddush, although, I don't remember if we washed before eating. I think we didn't. At the time, I didn't know we were missing anything. And it was at camp that I first heard of bentching after a meal. And of making the blessing before the meal, for that matter. Saturdays were lazy days. We usually had some kind of service on Saturdays and Friday nights, too. It was a relaxing day. Then, I was not aware of the ban of writing on Shabbos and I would write letters home on Saturday afternoons or I would read.

And I will always be grateful to Tawonga for instilling in me the love of Shabbos. Still, sometimes, when we aren't rushed getting ready at our house or at Lubavitch House, I remember how the director and a few other people would begin playing Shabbos songs on their guitars as they strolled through camp. STopping at each cabin and the campers filing out and following the musicians as they sang their way to the dining hall. I think that has to be one of my fondest memories ever, of all time.

And why do I mention camp now? Because I just found out they have a blog and I can read about what is going on there everyday! And pictures are posted. It's been 20 years since I've been there and I still carry Tawonga in my heart. I feel a bit sad that my children will never be able to go there and that is fine because it would be a culture shock for them. But I was there and I will always have my memories.

Camp always started on Father's Day so I'm feeling a bit homesick for the place these days.

(cross posted at

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"Already There Judaism"

Note: In this posting addressing "Already There Judaism" I am not specifically referring to any one movement, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, or "Ultra-Orthodox".

There are people who practice Already There Judaism within each of these groups.

What is "Already There Judaism"?

A person who practices Already There Judaism believes that he has reached the pinnacle of his religious observance. If total observance of the mitzvos is rated as level 100, he is convinced that he is at 100. He is on top of the mountain and there is no where left to go.

The Already There Jew looks disparagingly at another person whose observance surpasses his own. He cannot fathom the idea that a person can do more than he does. He feels threatened to learn that perhaps he is not at 100, perhaps the rating scale goes from 0 to infinity and he has stopped off at a motel somewhere along the way.

The Already There Jew has forgotten that Judaism stresses maintaining a personal connection to G-d, and by increasing his observance of mitzvos he increases his own personal connection.

If the Already There Jew was truly "there", Moshiach would already be here.

(Cross Posted on A Simple Jew)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Long And Winding Road Part 4

You can find the beginning of this series with these links: 1, 2 and 3.

That first week in Israel was something else. I’d like to say that I remember it well, that it all stands out in my head with complete clarity and recollection, but I cannot. It is twenty years since then and so much has happened.

The thirty-eight of us is at last count only 36. We lost one to suicide during the Spring of 1989 and another to a brain tumor in 1998. I am in regular contact with a handful of people and aware of about another ten or twelve. It is fair to say that in one way or another I can provide some kind of update on about half the group.

Most are married and there are around 18 children or so that I know of, perhaps even more that I haven’t heard about. It is hard to reconcile what I know of us today with the people we were.

I remember so well sharing a dorm room with four other guys and the wars we had with the other guys. Water balloons, stale Bazooka bubble gum and so much more. Even though we were ten thousand miles from home, to a certain extent some of our behavior mirrored what it
would have been had we remained at camp.

And at camp with the advent of Shabbos so close we would have begun looking very carefully at the girls, trying to figure out who we wanted to try and impress. Who was cute, hot and so attractive that you couldn’t wait to see her dressed up on Friday night.

Shabbos may be spiritual and religious in nature, but let’s face it. A group of teens on their own in a foreign country, there is bound to be some activity because we were all on hormonal overdrive.

So I was a bit surprised with my reaction to our first Shabbos in country. It began with a walk from the base to the Old City, the Kotel was our destination. I remember parts of it well. The conversation I had with a very dear friend stands out to me, some of the buildings and people do too.

But it wasn’t until we began walking over the rooftops in the Old City that I began to notice that there was something special in the air. It wasn’t until we got closer to the Kotel itself that I really began to feel something.

It was the connection that I had felt there earlier in the week. The bond that I felt towards all the other Jews in the plaza who were davening and the unmistakable feeling that G-d was there with me, us, them, everyone.

It was stronger than it had been before.

It was almost surreal.

I felt like I was in some kind of science-fiction movie in which I was traveling through time and space. It sounds goofy, but I really did feel like I was standing in the same place that I had been in thousands of years before and at the same time experiencing it for the first time.

And more than anything else I was pleased to feel like I was part of the group, I was in on the secret. I was happy to be able to daven with kavanah and real belief and not to sitting there waiting for Maariv to end. It wasn't a chore to be endured but a pleasure.

It was just one more piece of chain that brought me back into the fold that made me believe again. This is a story that really could be much longer and much more eloquent and to some extent I feel that I am not doing it justice because how I can share something like
this, how can I explain something that tugs at places so deep inside you don’t know that they exist.

If I was a man of brevity I would end this tale here, but there is too much to share, too much to say and I need to add another moment or two to my story.

The next morning at Shacharit I was a little disappointed because that feeling from the night before was fading. It was like an amazing dream, the kind that you wish would never end so you try to go back to sleep and get it back, hold onto it so that it doesn't disappear. But trying to do that with a dream is a little bit like grabbing a fistful of water, no matter how tight your grip it spills out from a million different places.

I can remember daydreaming, lost in thought of the night before. We had danced with reckless abandon and sung out loud, almost shouting the prayers, but still with reverence. There was a power and an energy. As I look back I realize that it was a little bit like being buzzed, there was a high and I fed off of it. All week I waited for Shabbos to return so that I could experience it again and each time I got lost in the moment. I began to wonder if this feeling was going to be limited in time and place. I got my answer a little later.

It was Tisha B'AV and we were in the hills overlooking the Old City. We read Eicha and discussed the burning of the Temple, the sack of Jerusalem and the moment made a huge impact upon me. I could look out on the city and picture the flames, in my mind Jerusalem was burning. I could hear the screams of the women and children, smell the fear and feel the greed of the invaders.

I might have cried, but I couldn't tell you for certain. I was so caught up in the moment, so enthralled and so amazed that something could move me that way.

The next day we returned to the Kotel and again I lost myself in the crowd, but this time I made my way amongst the crowd to the wall itself and just lay my head against it. My eyes were closed and my hands caressed the stone.

Time passed and the end of the trip grew closer. I began to get anxious about returning to Los Angeles because Jerusalem had become home to me. If I could have I would have stayed. I would have stayed indefinitely. Jerusalem had captured my heart and soul.

The night we left solidified everything. Just before heading out to Ben Gurion we hit the Kotel to say goodbye. It was after midnight and the plaza was lit up. As I headed down the stairs I heard the Shofar blowing. It was like the bugler in one of those old Westerns in which he plays his horn as the cavalry comes charging in. It grabbed me, pulled me, tugged at my heart and made me choke up.

I knew then that when I left I would leave part of me behind. There is a piece of me that never came home. A place in my soul that only opens in Israel, that comes to life in a way that it never does here.

When I got on the plane home it was with great reluctance but it was with the knowledge and acceptance that G-d does exist. It felt good and it felt right, dayenu.

(Cross posted on Jack's Shack)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Jewish Child's Thinking

Although I'm very creative, I must admit that I'm a rather linear thinker -- black and white oftentimes supercedes any gray possibilities.

That is exactly how I was as a child: I took things would many a child.

I recall standing in the schoolyard when I was about age 9, looking at the sky and thinking, "How could G-d be overlooking this very the schoolyard and at the same time be overlooking my parents at their home a 2o-minute drive south of this area?"

When I was even younger than that, I used to look at the sky on a very cloud-filled sunny day, searching among the clouds, looking for G-d's throne. I pictured him up there, sitting on a throne, watching every move we made. As hard as I'd try, I couldn't find the throne.

When it came time of the "Yamim Noraim" I used to mentally picture the scales of justice; if I ever used a curse word or bad language, which I was counted as a sin, I pictured the scale weighing down a bit on one side. And the book of Life... I wanted to edit that on behalf of my family and friends. I wanted to get a peek at it, so that I could correct any errors. But of course, we were taught that G-d did not make errors.

I remember being very afraid at every Pesach seder when it was time to open the door for Eliyahu; again I thought, if he's here, how could he be at my friends' houses or cousins' houses. Okay, maybe he was expected to be there at a different time, but my home and family were now keeping him occupied.

Most of all I was AFRAID to ask these questions aloud. I was afraid that if I did, or sometimes if I even THOUGHT THEM, that my doubts would be evident; a sign perhaps that I was not a good Jew.

I understand now that it is good to ask questions, to seek out answers, to look at the gray areas. But try telling that to the child that I once was....


As of Shavuot, all the individual Blogger pages are updated, Enjoy and have a great holiday!


a solid Conservative Jewish background

I grew up going to the same shul my father went to when he was growing up. Originally, the congregation was orthodox, but in the 40's and 50's, the second generation Jews were more interested in assimilating and the shul easily slid into a conservative format.

I went to Sunday SChool. I went to HEbrew School. When we went to shul, it was usually on Friday nights. For a very long time, I didn't even know that people actually went to shul on Saturdays. My mother tried to always light candles on Friday nights before she and my father would go out on "date night".

I was very into my Jewish education. I came home with such novel traditions as bedikas chometz. Something neither of my parents had ever heard about. I read everything Jewish I coiuld find. Sholem Aleichem, Elie Wiesel, IB Singer. EVerything. I remember thinking how chasidic men really had it made. They sat around and ate and drank and discussed Torah and danced and their wives waited on them while taking care of their 10 children. I wished that I would come back as a chasidic man in my next life, but I knew it wasn't possible since that life was over. There weren't anymore chassidim..... or so I thought.

I grew up in a town with two shuls. The Reform and the Conservative. My father loved to talk about how the reform Jews weren't real Jews, but we were because most of our service was done in Hebrew and men wore yarmulkes in shul and didn't take them off until after walking out of the building instead of taking them off before walking into the building, like they did at the reform temple. It's true, my mother never made a ham, but we had bacon all the time. We mixed milk and meat regularly in casseroles and cheeseburgers. Italian salami was a favorite treat. But then, my mother loved making matza brei and french toast from challah.

We "did" the holiays. We did one seder at our house. It's true that there wasn't bread on the table, but what was made was not kosher for Pesach in anyway. Chanukah, we lit candles and opened mounds and mounds of presents that my mother would pile up on our fireplace under our names in glitter on cut out draydels. When we were very little, my grandfather dressed up as Santa Claus and we have lots of pictures of me and my sisters sitting on Santa's lap. We always had new dresses for Easter and hunted for eggs with my parents' social group. We went to shul on the High Holy Days. We sat in our regular spot in the first row of the second section. This was ideal for greeting everyone just walking into the sanctuary. We went to lunch during the Yom Kippur break. My father had a tiny, portable TV that he would ran out and check on during services. OFten teenage boys would come with him to check on game scores and report back to their fathers still in shul. My mother remembers something big going on in shul a couple of days before I was born. It was Simchas Torah. I remember in 1977 when the first woman was allowed to carry a Torah. IT was a huge big deal. Almost a scandal. In 1978, I was the first girl to wear a tallis in our shul. IT was my bas mitzvah. I went to a Jewish summer camp. Reform, hippie camp from San Francisco. ( I hope to post about it soon) Very liberal. But it was there that I learned about the beauty of Shabbos and I will be forever grateful for that. I was involved in Kadima and USY and went to Israel when I was 16 and was determined to return as soon as possible. Like many of the kids on my trip, I wanted to keep kosher and Shabbos, but without the encouragement or help from my parents, it wasn't easy and I gave up.

I always wanted more, though. I couldn't verbalize it because I just wasn't sure what it was that I wanted. It was just a feeling. At 18, I decided I wanted to be a rabbi. NOt that I wanted a pulpit, but because I wanted to learn more.

When I moved away from home (1500 miles away), I went to a very large Conservative shul every Friday night. No one said a word to me. Not in all the months I was going there. I sat in the same place every time. Someone told me about a new, young, egalitarian conservative shul and I started going there. Very warm. HEimishe. Then I met my husband and we went there together. And we were very happy there.

(Next post will be a little bit about my husband's upbringing and what brought us to where we are now.)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

frum, but not frumpy

No one got nervous when I started wearing hats all the time. It was a fashion statement, right? And I wasn't, at first, trying to cover all my hair. I was just in training for that. And when I gave up wearing pants, it wasn't such a big deal because I favored dresses and skirts anyway. And the ones I wore, because I'm on the shorter side and because I can hardly sew on a button, let alone make a hem, had long hemlines that drove my mother-in-law crazy. My friends and family started to worry, though, in the heat and humidity of a Midwest summer, I wore long sleeves and shirts buttoned at the neck and knee high stockings.

My mother was upset that I was going to lose my individuality. My whole life, I always stuck out in a crowd either because I was dressed funky or because my hair was some wild color. As we took on more and more the habits and dress of frumdom, my mother complained that I wasn't going to be my old self. And here, for the first time in my life, I really wanted to belong to a group. I wanted to look them, too. And I was willing to play by the rules.

But even though I wear long skirts with sleeves past the elbows and buttoned up to my ears, my style still shines through. I have found a way for my bright orange and purple striped shirt to fit into my wardrobe. I wear doc martens (maryjanes). I carry a leopard print backpack (with a picture of the Rebbe hanging from it) everywhere I go. And of course, I have the now infamous blue hair extensions in my sheitel.

My mother is now relieved that I'm still the same person I was before. I haven't lost any of who I used to be in the outward sense. Even though I do believe it is a reflection on who I am on the inside. My mother all but cheered when I told her we actually went to the movies to see Star Wars and she loves when I tell her about what new (secular) book I'm reading or a movie we have rented.

I think it was Groucho Marx who said that he would never want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. At one time I felt like that, but now it's a different story. Sure, I don't dress and maybe I'm not as aidel as some of the ladies in our community, but I'm perfectly tznius. I'm not loud, but I'm not silent. I'm moody, but I'm not sullen. I try to keep a smile on my face. How do you say that in Hebrew? Keeping a smile on your face? But then, I was always like that before.

How do I sum this up? I'm still the same person I was before, except that now I feel complete, but not finished. Everyday is an adventure in being a parent, wife, mother, friend, sister, worker and Jew. Everyday is a struggle to be a little bit better than I was yesterday. To learn something and to grow. But that doesn't mean I have to wear boring, grey, baggy clothes. There is always room for bright orange in everyone's wardrobe.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Orthodox Versus Jewry- Or My Blood is More Jewish

I wrote this piece last February but in light of other posts here and around the blogosphere I thought that it would be appropriate to put it up. Also, with the chag coming it seems appropriate to think about this and remember that we are all part of one big, happy, albeit at times dysfunctional family.

There is an ongoing battle in Judaism, a battle for it's soul and identity, at least that is how things are often portrayed. We have to fight those who wish to assimilate us alongside those who wish to destroy us by murdering us. In some places Jewish blood is still considered to be cheap.

The title of this post is intentional, because part of the aforementioned battle can be phrased as internecine warfare among the various denominations of Judaism. There are groups of people among us who refuse to accept the others practices, our minhagim are downplayed and sneered at, our Yiddishkeit questioned.

So you ask, who is the "our" I refer to and I say to you, the reader that it is all of us or any of us, you make the choice.

I have an ongoing battle with a friend of mine about the intent of Orthodox Judaism and its position on those who are not on the same derech as they are, at least not in practice. The allegation is that Orthodoxy looks down it's nose at those who are not as "Torah True" as they are, that Conservative and Reform Judaism are viewed as being lesser forms of Judaism. And to a certain extent I am forced to agree with the premise of the argument. There are too many examples that prove that this element exists.

But I like to consider myself a student of Jewish history and I can find examples of this type of thought and behavior throughout history. I remember learning about Hillel and Shammai, our class being divided to argue the positions of the two and the feelings it created.

This is not new behavior, but it doesn't make it right and it doesn't help.

I often write about being torn, conflicted about where to stand. My circle of friends includes everyone you can imagine, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Reform, Conservative, FFBs, BT's and independents.

My own familial practices probably make this mishmash clear, I feel more comfortable living further to the right than the left, but neither is home now. They may be in the future. I read and consider the experiences of all sides. I'll pick on David again and reference his post about The Dance. I have a lot of experience with people who are Shomer Negiah and there are things about it that I really like and find very attractive, but I am far too physically affectionate to do completely cut-off my contact with women. I will still kiss and hug my friends, it doesn't change or impact my feelings for my wife.

But I respect those that engage in the practice and yet I have seen it be the cause of misunderstandings on many occasions.

At my son's Pidyon Ha-Ben some dear friends were leaving the house and I watched as the wife of one of them became infuriated with the refusal of the host to shake her hand. I walked outside with them and listened briefly as she ranted and raved about his arrogance and intolerance.

I think that in this case both parties were at fault, she could have been more tolerant and respectful herself of his beliefs and he could have been more forthcoming in his explanation of why, or better yet just shook her hand.

To a certain extent the problem here took place because of ignorance but also because of perception because it fed into a perception that some people have of Orthodox Jews as being more arrogant and intolerant. Perception is often more important than reality, it is kind of twisted, but true.

I would very much like to see more outreach and outward, open expression of friendship between the groups. But I am not real sure that we will see it happen any time soon, as long as you can be "Slifkinned" there are going to be fewer people who are willing to stick their necks out.

I don't expect, need or want for their to be one monolithic perspective, no groupthink for me. But in the end we are all part of one people, one family and it would be nice to see us act more like the Brady Bunch than Joseph's brothers.

(Cross posted on Jack's Shack)


I think that Shavuot is probably my favorite holiday. Maybe it's the nice weather, or the long daylight hours. Or maybe it's because it's stress-free. I don't have to build a hut and eat with bees, or turn my entire house upside down and abuse my digestive system, or spend hours upon hours on my feet listening to opera. It's a time to spend with family and friends and eat yummy food (mmm....tilapia....). But perhaps it is this lack of specific character that makes the holiday somewhat underrated. Most people, even Jews, have never heard of it. Take this conversation I had with my partner today (we'll call him "Bob"):

PT: So, Bob, don't forget: you're covering me Monday and Tuesday.

Bob: Oh yeah, right, some holiday?

PT: No! I'm going scuba diving in the Cayman's!

Bob: (shoots me an incredulous look)

PT: OK, just kidding. Yeah, it's another Jewish holiday. call it Pentecost.

Bob: Pentecost? That's a Catholic holiday!

PT: No, pretty sure we had it first. What's yours about?

Bob: Probably something about...Jesus...I think. Like he's rising or something...

PT: Is it about 50 days after Easter?

Bob: Yeah, I think so.

PT: Yup, you guys stole it from us, but we use it for something else. It's the commemeration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Bob: Mount Sinai? That hospital downtown?

PT: No, Bob, the mountain. In the Sinai.

Bob: Well, why did they name a Hospital after it?

PT: I dunno. Maybe 'cause they saw Moses coming down the mountain saying "Take these two tablets and call me in the morning."

Bob: ...really?

PT: No, Bob. Not really. Anyway that's what it's about. And it's only two days so you don't have to cover me for too long.

Bob: So do you have to do anything weird like on your other holidays?

PT: Not really. There's a custom not to eat meat, which is great because I love dairy. And there's a custom to stay up all night the first night studying the Torah.

Bob: Sounds brutal.

PT: Actually, when I was in 6th grade, and I first heard about this, I thought it was pretty cool. I got to stay in the synagogue all night long with my friends guzzling down coffee, eating cake, and cramming for my Gemarah final. But when I hit medical school, I learned something very important.

Bob: What's that?

PT: Never miss sleep.

Bob: Oh yeah, never let a bed pass you by. You never know when you're going to get paged by the ER.

PT: See, you do understand, Bob. Anyway, my attention span is so shot that I wouldn't make it 20 minutes without falling asleep in my book.

Bob: What are we talking about, again?

PT: See ya next week, Bob.

(crossposted at PsychoToddler)

Jewish Education + Missionaries

- I'd like to welcome out first GUEST blogger. This is Lyss from No_Blog, an excellent Blog!

- It's also Cross Posted at her blog.

Jewish Education + Missionaries

I value my Jewish education (Schechter school from K-8 and yeshiva HS) for the questioning nature, concept of tikkun olam, biblical factoids that help me do well when playing Trivial Pursuit, and sense of depth it has imbued in me. I also value it because it has helped me easily shoo away some missionaries I’ve encountered.

The Hare Krishna Guy
Picture it- New Years Eve of the new millennium, Big Cypress Reservation in Florida’s Everglades. I was there to attend a Phish concert and enjoy the sunshine. Besides a few college friends I was accompanied by an old friend form my Schechter school.

One day as we wandered around the campgrounds a guy wearing a saffron colored robe stopped us. Having recently taken a intro course to Eastern Religions I immediately recognized him as a member of the Hare Krishna sect. He began his spiel when one of us (not sure if it was me or my friend, D) piped up with “Umm…we’re Jewish”. The man began speaking about how all religions are related, or some nonsense like that. I countered with “I just read this great book called The Jew in the Lotus about how Buddhism and Judaism have some fundamental things in common”. Saffron man asked me more about the book. I told him a bit about it. He wrote down the title, thanked us, and walked away. D and I looked at each other and one of us said “Wow, all that $$$ my parents spent on Jewish education was worth it for the fact that we made a Hare Krishna walk away wanting to learn more about Judaism”.

The Mormons Go To Shul
Picture it- about 10 am on a Saturday, the summer of 2000, a hippie college town in upstate NY. I have just gotten up and am wearing pajamas consisting of a tank top, no bra, and boxer shorts. The doorbell rings. Who could it be so early on a Saturday? The main door was open, meaning that they could see me through the screen door. Busted! I had to interact with them.
They begin their spiel. I tell them that I had just learned about Mormonism in a class called Sociology of Religion. I then inform them that I’m probably not a good prospect, being that I am Jewish. They seem happy to hear this and then babble on about how our two religions are related. We are kinfolk.

From the LDS website:
The Book of Mormon is another witness that Jesus Christ really lived, that He was and is God’s Son. It contains the writings of ancient
prophets. One of these, Lehi, lived in Jerusalem around 600 B.C. God commanded Lehi to lead a small group of people to the American continent. There they became a great civilization.

I kind of nod. Then they tell me that they’d gone to temple the night before to celebrate the Sabbath. They really enjoyed it, even though they could not understand that language that people prayed in. “Hebrew” I inform them. Perhaps because of my tired state I then go on to explain the difference between biblical Hebrew and modern day Hebrew. They are very excited at this point and tell me that they are off to the library or something to learn more about Judaism…since we’re kin and all… A housemate comes out of hibernation and asks whom I was talking to. I tell him the story and he says “see you didn’t go to Hebrew school for nothing”. “Exactly” I reply “and worth every penny”.

[Side note- morning of college graduation another housemate answers the door to two Jehovah’s Witnesses. They begin to talk. B cuts them off with “Three Unitarians and a Jew live here. I really think you’ve got the wrong house.” Closes door.]


I told my parents those two stories and they said that it made them feel that spending all that money on my Jewish education was indeed worth it to ward off proselytizers, know who I am, where I come from, and to stay Jewish.

A Baal Teshuvah's Realization

This is copied from an old post I wrote and a great link that's right up this blog's alley.

Ok, this is an amazing post, really cool. I myself was raised frum from birth (very frum) and from about 19-21 had a major religious identity crisis. I used to ask Baal Teshuvah's all the time why are you becoming frum, I always got the same answer, I don't know, they just felt drawn, like they were missing that "feeling" that being spiritual gives. Feeling close to G-d, and having been drawn to "it"

I Myself flirted with various paths and levels of religion, often leaning to what I like to call, "very extremely slightly modern orthodox" at some point, and then eventually became "a frum from birth bal teshuvah" myself, and came to the point I am now and have been for almost ten years.

This guy writes a post on his transformation into an orthodox Jew. It's a great post. Read it!

Did you ever wake up and realize that you’ve become an Orthodox Jew?

I found this blog via here (good job digging!)

Original Life-of-Rubin post here

The Long and Winding Road Part Three

It was daylight when we arrived in Israel and it would be an understatement to say that I was excited. When we walked off of the plane and entered the terminal I felt as if I was having an out of body experience. It was so surreal to finally be in a place that I had heard about my entire life.

I was the first person from my immediate family to go to Israel. When I think about the faith and trust my parents had in the camp it sometimes amazes me. I don’t mean to suggest that they ever would have sent me anywhere if they did not think that it was safe, but as a parent now I look at things differently.

When we entered the terminal and headed over to the baggage claim we learned that they had misplaced our luggage and were not sure when we would receive it. Because my dad is a planner I was spared this inconvenience. Prior to my departure he had purchased a backpack for me to take on the trip. It was large enough to hold a weeks worth of clothing/toiletries yet small enough to serve as a carry on item.

When I tell this story some people suspect that immediately upon my arrival I was overwhelmed with emotion and a spiritual connection to Judaism. It makes a nice story, but it is simply not true. Although I certainly was on a path in which I would reconnect with my belief in G-d and Judaism it didn’t happen that quickly.

I hadn’t gone on the trip to find G-d. I hadn’t gone because I needed to feel a connection to Judaism. Those were things that I thought about a little, but they were really secondary. I went because I was curious to see if Israel was everything that I had been told it was and because it was a good way to have a lot of independence from my parents.

It is kind of funny to me to think about how I saw things then and then compare it to my attitude/impressions during later trips to Israel. Maturity does funny things to a guy. ;)

There are a lot of stories that I could tell about what happened during the bus ride from Ben-Gurion to our base in Jerusalem, but I don’t want to get sidetracked (which is something that I do all too frequently) so I am going to jump ahead a little bit.

We began touring Jerusalem the very next day. Somewhere I have a copy of our itinerary. I’ll have to dig it out and see if it spurs any more memories. What I do remember for certain is that during that first day we were all very interested in hearing about camp and whether the fire had destroyed it. When we learned that it had not we were all very relieved and launched into silly jokes like “And the camp was not consumed.”

Our bus had dropped us off at Jaffa Gate and we wandered through the Armenian Quarter. Slowly we worked our way over to the Jewish quarter where we stopped to look at the remains of the Hurva Synagogue.

The arch of the Hurva is probably one of the more famous sites in the Old City.

The Hurva Synagogue, also known as Hurvat Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid, was the center of the Old Yishuv. It was destroyed by the Jordanian legion shortly before the fall of the Jewish Quarter in 1948. It's remains can be visited under the great arch, which was built after 1967 to commemorate the synagogue, in the main square of the neighborhood. Entrance from the stairs above the Ramban Synagogue or from HaYehudim St."

As I looked at the remains of the Hurva and listened to stories about it and the things that had happened to Jews and Jewish history in Jerusalem I grew a little angry and frustrated. I remember thinking about how we had fled a fire to come to a place where fires had been set to destroy Jewish Jerusalem.

It was the beginning of a life long love affair with Jerusalem and it was also another step in rebuilding the connection that had been severed.

Shortly thereafter we finished our time at the Hurva and made our way over to the Kotel.
I can’t remember what day it was or even what time, but I remember that the sky was blue and it was afternoonish.

When we arrived at the steps overlooking the plaza we stopped for a moment so that our madrichim could speak to us about something. I refer to as something because the Kotel was now in sight and I wasn't listening to anything anymore. I was too busy staring at the wall and too busy trying to figure out what it was that I was feeling.

We basically ran down the steps and sprinted to the Kotel. The plaza was relatively empty so you had your pick of places to stand. When we got within about 100 feet or so we stopped running and resumed walking. I have always been someone who can get lost in thought and this moment probably still ranks among the top ten.

As we continued to approach the wall I noticed that some of the guys and girls in the group had begun to cry and for a moment I wondered why I wasn't. In large part it was because I was too happy and feeling too content. I'd like to say that I immediately felt G-d's presence wrapped around me like a mother hugging her child, but that wouldn't be true. I was just happy.

So I slowly walked up to the wall and stared at it for a moment before I gingerly reached out and touched it. The stone was cool to my touch and smooth beneath my fingertips. I leaned forward and rested my head against it with my eyes closed and my mind wandering. I spoke to the rock and to the earth and to the sky and I spoke to G-d.

I said that I wasn't sure if I believed and that I wanted to and asked why I couldn't get a sign or some kind of signal that I could hold onto because I wanted to believe again. And in return there was silence. But I was not angry, disappointed or upset at the lack of response. I was ok. I don't know how else to say it, I was just ok with it.

There is more to say about this moment and things I could share, but I am not sure that I want to. Some of that is carved deep within and I don't know if I could tell you even if I wanted to and some of it is for me alone.

It is another link in the chain of events and activities that made me into a believer again and like so many of these stories it is not something that can be applied to anyone because it is a personal event.

I am sure that some people will find that to be less than satisfying, but I am ok with it and that is what matters here.

Perhaps I'll blog some more about this all a little bit later.

(Cross posted on Jack's Shack)