Yom Kippur 5776, redux

Yom Kippur was overwhelming. But then, it’s supposed to be, right?

This year, I’d gotten permission from my doctor to actually fast! Yes, I was allowed to actually, really fast for the full 25 hours. I’m a diabetic, but my diabetes is completely diet-controlled, so there wasn’t going to be the issue of “regular medication suddenly sending my blood sugar through the floor”. All I had to do was test my blood sugar any time I felt lightheaded. (And this turned out to be a good thing medically, too, because what this told me, actually, is that I’ve probably been eating too much. My blood sugar was 133 when I woke up on Wednesday morning, and when it got down to the “normal” of about 100, at around 3 pm, I felt lightheaded, but I shouldn’t have. This means that I’m used to a higher blood sugar level, and that’s not a good thing for me, so now I need to really focus on my carb count and how much I’m eating for a while. Anyway, moving on.) The only exceptions to my fast were one glass of water to take my medications for other conditions I have, and a sip of water for a painkiller in the morning for my arthritis. Apart from that? No food and no water through the entire fast.

I made a list of the people I needed to ask forgiveness from that I knew about, and I messaged each of them with an apology. I also put up this message on my social media: If I have harmed or hurt you in some way that I am not aware of within the past year, please let me know, so that I can make amends. Thank you.

The reason I worded it that way is because I am not good with the blanket “I’m sorry.” It also doesn’t meet the standards for Yom Kippur atonement: you must not just apologize, but also offer amends and reparations.

In one case, I did have to make amends, and making amends was not easy. I had blown up at someone on a friend’s Facebook thread and made the friend very uncomfortable. When I apologized to her, she said that the way I had to make amends was to also apologize to the person I’d blown up at.

Ouch. I didn’t want to do that. I’d blocked the person I’d blown up at because I was that mad about what they’d said. But I took it as a lesson in apology – sometimes you have to just bear down and admit that you were wrong. So I sent that person a message apologizing and they responded back that they just didn’t agree, and that we didn’t have to fight just because we don’t agree. I’m still not comfortable around them, but at least I did what I had to do, to make amends to my other friend.

It did help to see the trickle of responses on my post saying “No, we’re good,” though.

My husband got home from work on Tuesday at around 2 pm, with a gluten-free challah in hand for us to have at the break-fast the next night. We cleaned up a little bit, and had dinner around 5:30. I’d been drinking extra water all day (advised by many people) to make sure that dehydration wouldn’t be a problem the next day, and so had he. We planned out how we were going to get through the fast – and as it turned out, both of us did just fine. After the meal, he went and got us huge sugar-free unflavored Starbucks lattes made with heavy cream, so that we could stave off the caffeine headache (also recommended by people who had gone through the fast before).

We put together our food donation bag for the food bank, made sure we had our tickets, got dressed in our beige-and-whites, and got out the door for Kol Nidre services.

We left for shul more than an hour before the start time, because we knew the parking situation would be dreadful. And it was. We ended up parking quite far away and the walk took us 20 minutes. (And as we got close to the synagogue, we realized we’d forgotten our donation bag in the car. D’oh.) It was also a madhouse inside when we got there – people were showing up early and chatting in the foyer, a lot, which was kind of rude to the people in the sanctuary who were still at the earlier services. I finally had to duck into the library to escape the noise. We were fortunate, though – we got good seating and could see everything.

Kol Nidre is a two-hours-plus service. It’s not short, and it’s not meant to be. We were at the second service, which started around 8:30 pm. Both of us were thrilled that we could follow along in the siddur (which is the older 1984 Gates of Repentance siddur, which is lacking in transliterations). The rabbi called for people to do aliyot in groups – and the first group he called for was teachers, so I got to give an aliyah, which was neat. The music was astonishingly good – and the cantor surprised the rabbi and the entire congregation when, instead of the Yigdal for the final song, she sang a different piece. (One couple behind us apparently said “Well. That was different,” as we left – my husband overheard them – but you know what? I wouldn’t have known, because last year I didn’t get to go to Kol Nidre due to scheduling difficulties at home.)

Because I am a klutz, I managed to injure myself during services. Turning around to watch the Torah scrolls move around the sanctuary, and then into the social hall (which the back of the sanctuary can open up to connect to for events like this) was not quite possible because the space between the seats and the back of the next seat is so narrow. As a result, I managed to catch my hip on the seat, which then pulled a muscle in my back, and that was near the start of services. So most of my focus was “ow my back ow ow ow ow ow my back!” I found that putting my arm around my husband eased some of the pain, but it wasn’t until we got home and I was able to take a painkiller that it started to ease off. (Hence the preemptive painkiller the next morning; I wasn’t taking any chances about how to get through the whole day of services if my back was spasming.)

We went home around 11 pm and my husband went to bed very soon after. I stayed up for a while talking with a friend who is going through some rough times, but then I went to bed too. We were ticketed for the later services the next day, and both of us hoped to sleep through the worst of the morning hunger pangs.

Instead, we woke up at around 8 a.m. Oddly, neither of us felt any serious hunger pangs. (This turned out to be a good thing.)

I took a very quick rinse-off shower (required because of topical medication I have to take). My husband was still concerned that I might have a low-blood-sugar episode, so we put my glucose testing kit and a snack (cheese and nuts) into my tallit bag so that they were all in one place, just in case. Parking was not as bad as it could have been, but it’s still street-only parking in a residential area on the biggest temple attendance day of the year, so we assumed it would be bad. He dropped me off with the donation bag and my tallit bag about 45 minutes before services started, and went to find parking.

Yom Kippur for those of us who were at later services consists of the first service at 11, discussion forums about Yom Kippur-related topics at 1 (or so; ours ended up starting at 1:45 due to a lack of chairs in the discussion room), Yizkor at 3 pm, afternoon services at 4 pm and finally Neilah at 6 pm. Sundown was at 6:51 pm.

My husband got very emotional several times. For one thing, a group he is part of was called for the third aliyah and so he stood up when I pointed this out and gave his first-ever aliyah. He was in tears afterwards. I understood – it’s a profound thing. He also got choked up every time the choir sang the Avinu Malkeinu (which I think happened three times over the two days) and the L’dor Vador. He’s very responsive to music. He also got weepy any time “the stranger” was mentioned, as he still feels like a stranger in some ways.

He said he also learned a lot from the discussion he went to (we went to different ones – I went to one on forgiveness, and he went to one on giving people the benefit of the doubt). He often jumps to conclusions, and he said that the forum really opened his eyes about that and about how to stop doing it.

Mine was meaningful too, especially when someone said “If the person doesn’t ask you for forgiveness, you don’t have to forgive them. It’s on them to recognize that what they did hurt you and come to you to ask for forgiveness.” Since I know my mother will never do that, it means that the baggage between us is on her, not on me. It was a relief to hear it.

We also talked about feeling guilt for things that you didn’t actually do, or that you aren’t actually responsible for – which for me, was a flinch moment. Have you ever had one of those? It’s when you hear something that hits you hard and you have to admit ‘Yes, that’s me,” but you flinch while you’re admitting it because the admission is difficult, or embarrassing, or uncomfortable. This was a flinch moment for me because I always take on responsibility for everything – I was trained into that by my mother – and often, as it turns out, it wasn’t my business, responsibility, or fault.

And, of course, both my husband and I had different flinch moments in the list of sins we were confessing when the time came for the Vidui and other lists of sins. I may talk about mine later, or I may not. Suffice to say, I know I’m not perfect.

I was a good little diabetic in that I tested my blood sugar when we first got to shul. That was the 133. Then, around the beginning of the forums at 2, I tested again. 103. At six, I tested one more time. 98. So I never dropped down into the “dangerously low” range (below 70) at all. I did get sleepy a couple of times, and I got lightheaded more than once, but I was never in any serious medical danger. And the only time I felt anything like thirst was AFTER the break-fast and two cups of water. Then, suddenly, I had dry throat – when I hadn’t had it at all during the fast.


Our friends from Intro, D and D, found us before the forums (they had seen us the night before but couldn’t get to us through the crowd). We sat with them at the Yizkor and then again at the Neilah service. They’re a lot of fun – he’s so serious and she’s so vivacious. It was nice to not feel like a total stranger this year – to feel like I had some of My People among Our People, if that makes sense.

My arthritis also acted up, unfortunately. Holding the siddur caused my hand to cramp up to the point where I dropped it on the floor. Fortunately, what I did turned out to be the right thing to do – I picked it up, kissed it, and put it back. My hand still aches this morning. :( I need to find a better way to hold a siddur so that my hands don’t cramp up this way for next year.

And I noticed that the atarah on my tallit was sewn on the wrong side of the tallit. The colored corners were on the opposite side of the tallit, which means that wearing it with the atarah on the outside puts the colored corners on the inside. I don’t think that’s right. Fortunately it’s sewn on with basting stitches, which should be fairly easy to rip out so we can move the atarah to the right side of the tallit.

Just like last year, I noticed when the light began to go out of the window over the Ark, and just like last year, it was incredibly powerful for me. I was not quite weeping, but I did have tears in my eyes as it was ending.

And then we had Havdallah right there in the sanctuary with the light gone from the windows. It was funny that the cantor started singing “Shavuah Tov” (have a good week) and then course-corrected, “Oh, no, no, SHANAH TOVAH!” (have a good new year). We all laughed, but it was the laughter of relief, not mockery.

The only time I had any emotional “I’m losing it” episode was after it was all over, when we went out to the break-fast area and our gluten-free challah was nowhere to be found. After a little investigation, my husband found it in the kitchen’s refrigerator, which means it wasn’t that great (gluten-free challah does not chill well). But it was still FOOD. And we met two other people who are also gluten-free Jews, so we exchanged information with them and we’ll be seeing them again soon.

Then we went to the local deli, which has just started evening hours, and had pastrami sandwiches on gluten-free bread with the biggest diet Cokes we could get our hands on, for our break-fast meal. (Oy, how Jewish are we, I ask you?) And when we got home, the food coma hit us so hard that we both went to sleep almost immediately.

So, what did I learn from this year’s Yom Kippur?

Well, I learned that it’s not about perfection. I still feel I had a meaningful fast (despite the water I had to use to take medication and painkiller). From that, I learned a lot more about the way pikuach nefesh works.

I learned that you don’t have to forgive someone who hasn’t asked for your forgiveness. My mother has my cell phone number. She could call or text if she wanted forgiveness. She hasn’t, and so I can stop worrying myself about it so much.

But I also learned that I can handle a fast. I am capable of doing that. That’s exciting. I felt like I’d done something meaningful by completing the fast.

And I learned a lot about my husband’s approach to Judaism, and I am so pleased for him.

Speaking of which, today it’s been four weeks since I went to the beit din and mikveh. I’ve been a Jew for a month today. And in one week, my husband will join me as a member of the Tribe, and we’ll move on from there.

It’s been an amazing journey. I can’t wait to see what’s next for us.

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Rosh Hashanah 5776

So, first off – L’Shanah Tovah tikatevu! May your New Year be sweet and bring good things into your life.

Apples and Honey

My prayer for these High Holy Days is simple: May peace rise up beneath us like a river, and may joy fall down upon us like the rain. 

Someday, I may write a poem or a longer prayer based on that, but given the past year, peace and joy would be good things to have.

Now, I want to recap my first-ever Rosh Hashanah as a Jew (rather than as a hoping-to-be-a-Jew-someday).

Erev Rosh Hashanah
We had second-service (8 pm) tickets for Erev Rosh Hashanah, and even then it was a near thing, getting there on time. My shul is in a neighborhood, with street-only parking (we have no space for a parking garage or lot) and on the HHDs it’s always at a premium. In the evenings, when residents are home, it’s triple that premium. Add in that the drive is 15-20 minutes, that my husband was off work at 6:30 pm at about 40 minutes away, and that we would have to eat afterwards, not before, and you can see the stress levels. But we got there just as people from the first service were leaving, so we found a great spot about a block away when one group got in their car and left just as we pulled up. Score one for us, yay.

My husband was nervous about what he was wearing – he felt he wasn’t dressy enough – but I thought he looked fine. I mean, come on, there were people dressed like they were going to a business conference, sure, but there were also people in polo shirts and sundresses. My husband was in a button-down short-sleeve shirt and a pair of jeans with good shoes; he was middle-ground. I was wearing a faded pair of jeans (the only ones I own) with a t-shirt and a button-down, open, with the sleeves rolled up over that. I don’t think we actually stuck out.

I put on my tallit as soon as we got inside, and then I felt conspicuous. My tallit is mostly grey and a green which looks turquoise in some lights and emerald in others. In the light in the sanctuary it was on the more turquoise side. Most of the other people wearing tallitot were wearing the classic “white, with some blue stripes” style. It’s also a wide shawl-type tallit and I’m still not used to getting it settled on my shoulders, so until I did, it was a little awkward. But then I told myself sternly that nobody was judging me except me, and to cut it out. Which I did. Mostly.

We brought our gluten-free crown challah with us for the oneg, but we never found out what happened to it after we gave it to the kitchen staff before the service. It was supposed to be at the oneg afterwards, and it wasn’t, so I don’t know what happened there. I may ask to form a committee around making sure that people who have food allergies can still request, and get, at least some food at the oneg which they can actually eat.

My husband has a problem which our Yom Kippur is going to be addressing in one of the midday workshops: he tends to assume the worst of people – usually that they’re judging him or that they don’t like him. He was in a toxic social environment for a long, long time, and he’s still working on digging himself out from that. So I had to spend a few minutes reassuring him that no, people were not judging him, and to calm down, it was going to be okay.

We have a choir for our High Holy Days. I would have been part of it this year, but rehearsals were scheduled for the same time as our Intro to Hebrew classes, so I couldn’t be in both places at once. Our new cantor’s voice is amazing. She’s a coloratura soprano and she knows exactly how to use her voice to bring everyone to tears and joy.

Mostly, I experienced the service (reveling in the fact that, for the most part, I could at least follow along with the Hebrew!). Our rabbi’s sermon was about innovation and how we, as Jews, are always called upon to innovate. I’ll quote a few lines from his sermon here (I love that we have a livestream for our services):

“The Pharisees, the emergent rabbinic movement: as one of its early leaders, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai defied the self-destructive Zealots and negotiated with the Romans… He promoted a revolutionary new approach to Judaism. Torah – God’s instructions on how to live a holy life – was not limited to what had been written down in the Five Books of Moses. According to Yochanan ben Zakai and his fellow rabbis, Torah also consisted of generations of all teachings whose origins and authority stretched all the way back to the moment of revelation at Mount Sinai. Yochanan ben Zakai further embellished his movement’s claim that they were not breaking with the past, but conserving it, by adopting a variety of customs to be performed in the synagogue, that previously had been performed only in the Temple… Responding to a radically new reality, the rabbinic movement created an entirely new religious environment while claiming that these new teachings, customs and practices were conservations of what had endured for two thousand years…. This dynamic relationship between innovation and tradition lies at the very heart of Jewish practice and continuity across four thousand years of history. To innovate is a divine command which is inscribed in our daily liturgy. Twice a day we recite the Sh’ma, which in the third verse says that we should inscribe these words across our heart today…. Each day, we must treat Torah as new, as if we were meeting it for the very first time.”

Obviously, I’ve left a lot out, but that really spoke to me – that new is not bad, that new is necessary to keep Judaism going. (And the people who claim that they’re the real traditional we’ve-always-done-it-this-wayers? No, we haven’t always done it this way. We had to create an entirely new way, two thousand years ago, to get past what the Romans did when the Temple was destroyed, and I doubt any Jew except a few ultra-orthodox literalists want to go back to animal sacrifice, either.)


During services we saw a couple of our friends from Intro, D. and D., who waved and who met up with us afterward. But by then my husband was noticing I was getting a little loopy, so he excused us and we went to get dinner. We did not have any waiting at home; scheduling did not permit it. So we went out and grabbed breakfast for dinner and then came home.

Rosh Hashanah
This morning my husband was awake before I was. I was exhausted, but I managed to get myself together and get us out the door before we’d be late. This morning he dropped me off and went to find parking; I went inside and got us seats before the sanctuary filled up too much. Again, I put on my tallit. Again, he stressed out about being underdressed because his “dressy” clothes are mostly dark colors. Again, I told him to stop worrying so much.

I also spied two people with tallitot identical to the one he is going to get on his day, which he picked out but has not seen – and won’t until the day – and he was able to relax about his looking “too gay” for the congregation.

The choir was amazing, the cantor was more than amazing, and the student rabbi who gave the sermon did a very interesting d’var Torah on the issue of Isaac. He pointed out that each of the times we encounter Isaac – who is, after all, one of the patriarchs – the story isn’t about him. When he’s born, it’s about the end of his mother’s barrenness, not his life. When his father Abraham is commanded to go sacrifice him, the story’s about Abraham, for the most part. We never find out how Isaac felt, how old he was, how frightened he might have been, how stunned he was to find out his father was going to sacrifice him, or what kind of uncomfortable relationship they had afterwards. None of that is part of the story. When we see him get married, it’s all arranged by others. He barely appears. When he dies, it’s about the fight between his twin sons. At no point is Isaac ever a central or major character, even in his own stories. The d’var was to caution us to not treat people in our lives who should be important as if they’re not – to reduce a relationship to a mere transaction.

We got lunch on the way home – and again, it’s because making our own lunches at home wasn’t an option – and then came home to rest a while. We tried to not do work-like things, and mostly succeeded. Then we left again to go to Tashlich, with a bag of gluten-free challah crumbs.

The city we live in is right on the coast, so getting to a body of water wasn’t an issue for Tashlich. There were probably fifty or sixty people there at the pier – a good-sized crowd – and we had a little prayer-and-song deal before we all wandered down either out on the pier or out on the beach. I threw a lot of crumbs, because there’s a lot of things I’d really like to let go of. Not all of them are sins, but just things I want to either be less bad at or better at. Afterwards, we went to the grocery store to pick up some things for dinner (why couldn’t we eat at home? Because we were short on cash and time and couldn’t go shopping earlier). While we were in the store, an older man walked past me and murmured “Shanah Tovah,” and was gone before I could respond. Once we had dinner fixings, we stopped elsewhere to get ice, because it was still uncomfortably warm for September. Then we came home.

We finished our dinner (beef roast in the crockpot with apples, onions, pomegranate juice, and pie spices; salad with pomegranate pips; apples with honey) about an hour ago, and I just got in here to write all about it.

Two things were a little uncomfortable. There’s a fellow at our shul who, with the best of intentions, manages to put his foot into his mouth a lot. Today was not an exception; he said to me “So, how’s your first Rosh Hashanah feel?” and when I said that it was actually my second, he said “Yeah, but you weren’t a Jew last year.” *facepalm* I know he means well…

The other uncomfortable thing was that at both services the person next to me switched seats with the person on their other side. I don’t know if I was making them uncomfortable for some reason, or if it wasn’t even about me. I hope it wasn’t about me. I’d hate for it to be about me.

But for the most part, the start of our High Holy Days went off pretty well. Let’s hope that Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur go off equally so.

L’Shanah Tovah, everyone.

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1 Tactic That Will Help You Grow Your Following: Meet and Greet

Originally posted on Dream Big, Dream Often:

imagesWhat day is it??!!  Meet and Greet Day!

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!  So don’t be selfish, hit the reblog button.
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags (i.e. reblogging, reblog, meet n greet, link party, etc.), it helps, trust me on this one.
  4. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new bloggers to follow.  This helps also, trust me.
  5. And if you leave a link and don’t follow me, how about ya show ole Danny some love?

Now that all the rules have been clearly explained get out there and meet n greet your butts off!

The Reblog post will publish at…

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It’s been two weeks!

And really, I’ve settled in well, I think.

I’m more sensitive to anti-Semitism than I was even two weeks ago, and to calls for separation and division within Judaism. I’m noticing people being twits for all the wrong reasons. That’s not new, but there’s a new layer of sensitivity that seems to be here that wasn’t here before.

And now when I say “I’m a Jew,” that feeling of “… almost” is gone.

Because I’m happy today despite fighting off a head cold, I want to share an awesome song with you. Have some Mikey Pauker (and hat tip to Joe Buchanan for pointing him out to me last year).

Just a few more days until the New Year!

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So, it’s been eight days.

Eight days since I met with the beit din and was found sincere in my goal of Judaism.

Eight days since I made my formal declaration while holding the Torah.

Eight days since I immersed in mikveh and sang out the Shema in a voice that shook.

Eight days since I became a Jew.

In those eight days, we’ve gone to Saturday morning Torah study, Saturday morning Shabbat services where I was called up to be recognized by the entire congregation as a new Jew, Havdalah on Saturday night followed by the mounting of our first mezuzah inside our front door, and our final Hebrew class.

At Torah study, my husband made an observation about the Torah portion – are we supposed to seek out the person whose goods we have found? – that led Rabbi to say “And this is why [Husband] will be a rabbi someday.” When I wrote about Ki Teitzei, which was the Torah portion of the week I became a Jew, here in my blog, that d’var Torah was based on what I said in the Torah study session and what I said to Rabbi afterwards, specifically the interpretation of why we should blot out Amalek and yet never forget.

At the Shabbat morning service that followed, two of our friends from Intro were there – David and Diana – and it was a big deal thing. I didn’t cry, but I almost did. I put on my tallit (again) and when Rabbi and our cantor had the Torah open on the bimah stand, Rabbi said this about the Torah portion, which includes the part about “if you find something belonging to your neighbor, you will keep it for them until they come to claim it”:

Now, for those who have the chumash open, I want to point out something that I discovered in reading the Torah portion to this week that I never really paid attention to. If you look at verse three, the last phrase there is “You must not remain indifferent.” Hebrew is very interesting. The last word there- mechit aleim – that is the verb being translated here as “to remain indifferent.” But the verb in Hebrew comes from the verb “alam,” or “to hide or conceal.” And the form of the verb here is reflexive, so it literally means “Don’t conceal yourself. Don’t hide yourself.” So the notion here, at least in the Hebrew, is that when we avoid helping others, we are concealing ourself from the world. We are hiding. 

And that goes back to one of the first lessons in all of Torah, the incident in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve hid in bushes because they had not lived up to their responsibilities. So our tradition here in this Torah portion is reminding us that to the extend that we involve ourselves in caring about others, we bring ourselves more fully out into the world. Otherwise, all we’re doing is hiding. 

With the Torah out and with this message of taking greater responsibility for who we are, and caring for the world before us and resonating, I’d like to call forward at this point someone who has assumed increasingly greater and greater responsibility for himself and the world around him, who just on Thursday immersed himself in mikveh as part of the process of emerging as the Jewish person that he has always been.

And then he called me forward. I wasn’t quite surprised, but what he said there was profound to me. He tied my journey to the Torah portion. To me that was a really big deal.

Then he and the cantor sang in Hebrew (and said in English) a blessing on me, which is the same blessing said on new b’nei mitzvot, the Birkat HaKohanim.

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

May Adonai bless you and keep you.
May Adonai shine his face upon you, and be gracious unto you.
May Adonai lift his face toward you and give you peace.

I’m not going to deny it – it was a powerful moment. And yes, I did tear up a little bit.

On Saturday night, we got out the new, rainbow Havdalah candle and I pared it down to fit into our Havdalah candleholder. We did Havdalah for the first time in a while. Afterwards, we put up our new mezuzah, with me positioning it and my husband saying the blessing:


The words on the bottom spell out “Eitz Hayyom,” or “Tree of Life,” which I love. It’s on the inside of the door, but on the right-hand side as you enter (best we could do; we aren’t allowed to put it on the outside of the door in our apartment building) and it leans inward towards the main room of the house.

Hebrew class on Wednesday was also powerful, because we were able to bring the Torah out of the Ark and look at it up close in the classroom. All five of the class members read from the actual Torah scroll, including me and my husband. Everyone got the chance to carry it or do something else with it, although my husband asked to not hold it until his day comes on October 1st, and the teacher encouraged me to put on my tallit. I was the one who got to carry it back to the Ark afterwards.

The class was more a Judaism class than a Hebrew class. Afterwards, we all had a potluck. The teacher says she has a gift for me, and it was just a really meaningful way to wrap up my first seven days of being a Jew (since, you know, when sundown came it was technically 19 Elul, one week after the Big Day.

And today my best friend and I did our traditional erev Shabbat errands, got congratulated by the baker, and got reminded about crown challah for Rosh Hashanah.

It’s been an interesting first week of Judaism. Long may this continue.

Shabbat shalom, everyone.

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Sorry for my silence, but…

I wish I had been around the last few days, but things at home have been getting very busy and I haven’t had the brainpower to post as a result. I hope to be back on my game after Shabbat. Until then, I ask you all for your forbearance.

Also, it’s been one week since I finished my mikveh and beit din.

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16 Elul and Prayer

BlogElul 2015

Prayer. It’s an interesting concept.

Are we talking to God when we pray? Is it like picking up the telephone? “Are you there, God? It’s me, Shocheradam” (hat tip to Judy Blume)? And if it is, is it annoying to God? Does it bother God when we pray? Does God sometimes think “Okay already, get moving with the prayer so I can get ON with this whole Universe-maintenance thing I’ve got going on”?

I was going to try to draw a parallel between Christian approaches to prayer and Jewish approaches to prayer, but I can’t.

Instead I want to talk about what prayer means to me. It’s not a conversation with God. It’s more like… a telegram to God. Slightly more old-school.

God, thank you for the people in my life.

God, please watch over my friend who is worried about their health.

God, thank you for my Yiddishkeit. 

God, thank you for the soul in me. (aka the Modeh Ani)

God, thank you for bringing me to this moment. (aka the Shehecheyanu)

God, help me get through this rough patch.

Mostly it’s thanks, and a few petitions for people who are in pain or need help.

Is that enough? Is it too much?

I don’t know, but it’s how I pray.

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15 Elul and Change

BlogElul 2015

Hoo, boy. Can I talk about change for a little bit here? Or a lot bit, here? Because, you know, I haven’t had any experience with change at all. Nope. None. Nuh-uh. No change here. No change at all.

All right, so now that we’ve dispensed with the formalities (where I must always deny change because change is freaking SCARY), we can move on.

I am autistic. Change is frightening for me at the best of times. And yet I still went through some pretty enormous changes in this past week. I went through the beit din and immersed in the mikveh. I became a Jew – that’s a change if there ever was one.

It’s odd. I was longing for the changes, but mostly I was longing to be done with them so I wouldn’t be scared waiting for them anymore.

Judaism has changed me. It has made me more tolerant and less irritable. It has made me more aware and less closed-in. But it’s also made me both happier and somehow less so, at the same time, for different reasons.

I don’t have much to say about this tonight because I’m exhausted, but tomorrow, when I write about prayer, I may touch on change again – because praying is a change for me, too.

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Elul 14 and Learning (How to write a d’var Torah)

BlogElul 2015

Today, I went to my first Torah Study as a Jew. And I want to talk about what I learned there. This is a modified version of a post that I put up on my converts community message board. You can call this entry “Learning how to write a d’var Torah.”

The Torah parshah for this past week was Ki Teitzei (כי תצא), which is Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19. Like most of Deuteronomy, this is a list of many, many rules. Some of these rules are worrisome – for example, in chapter 22, we get this little gem, about a man who falsely accuses his wife of not being a virgin:

18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.

Sounds like rather rough times for her, right? But when we look at this another way, we can see that this is actually giving the woman protection in a patriarchal society, where women who were separated from their fathers’ homes and were not married rarely had protection from anyone, of any kind. This seems to be saying “he will provide for her all of his days; he may not put her aside and stop paying alimony.”

Much of this parshah is like that. On the surface, it seems rather harsh. When you dig down, you find that most often, the laws in this parshah are about protecting those who are most vulnerable; who cannot protect themselves.

The final verses of Ki Teitzei are about Amalek, who attacked the Israelites when they were escaping Egypt:

17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.

This is not the only time Amalek is mentioned in the Torah, but let’s just look at this time. We’re supposed to blot out his memory but not forget him at the same time. This seems contradictory.

However, when we take these final verses in the context of the entire parshah – about protecting the vulnerable – it becomes clear that Amalek stands as a representative of the yetzer ha-ra, or the evil inclination, that we all carry within us. Why is he a representative of yetzer ha-ra? Because he epitomizes the thing that this entire parshah is saying “don’t do” – he attacked the vulnerable in the group of Israelites, the women and children and ill and elderly who were in the rear of the train. Historically, it was considered extremely unethical to do that – you were expected to attack the warriors at the front of the train, not the vulnerable non-fighters at the back of the train.

So perhaps the final exhortation to blot out the memory of Amalek is to blot out the yetzer ha-ra that leads us to attack the vulnerable in too many ways: blog post comments, snide words, gossip, taking advantage of people simply because we can.

This is the lesson I’m taking forward into my week: be kind to those who are unable to defend themselves, regardless of the reason, and take no unfair advantage of them even if opportunity should present itself.


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Sorry, I missed a day

but today was just overwhelming and I’m still recovering from yesterday’s beit-din-and-mikveh marathon. Part of that is due to how much time we spent in the car in horrid Los Angeles traffic. Part of that was the lack of sleep two nights ago. Part of that was that today was and is still Shabbat and so we had to do things today to have Shabbat this evening.

I will write about my first day and first Shabbat as a Jew in truth another time. Right now I just want to share one small amusing thing from the beit din that I remembered today, so I don’t forget it:

Joanne asked about the Seders I’d been to. I told her I’ve been to three – two at my friend’s parents and one that I ran myself last spring. I said “I have to admit we used the Maxwell House haggadah,” and she shrugged and said “Everyone has at one point. It’s a rite of passage we’ve all gone through.” Everyone laughed.

Also, at several times over the course of the day, I should note that Rabbi M. said that I had enriched the Jewish people by joining the Tribe. It really hit me hard thinking about it today, and I don’t know how I left it out of yesterday’s post.

I will pick up with the #BlogElul tomorrow. Today, it just wasn’t possible – I’m sorry.

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