Six nights of Hanukkah

It’s been special for me and for the husband.

Last night our kids were here. We played dreidel for two hours. We had a successful Havdalah. When we lit candles, the hubby stated his intention for the evening’s candle to be for both our girls to grow up into successful and happy young women.

He’s a peach. I’m keeping him.

Tonight we both had intentions for our daughters – me for one of them and him for the other.

Tomorrow a friend visits and we have the seventh night.

The last night, my best friend will be here, just as she was on the first night.

I have pictures and no doubt they’ll make appearances, but it’s been very special for our first-ever Hanukkah.

Tonight, we looked at tallitot.

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3rd Day of Hanukkah

Today we realized we’d been doing the lights backwards, so we switched them. Hubby read the siddur (in English, after stumbling over “b’mitzvotav” one too many times) and I lit them.

Third Night of HanukkahTonight our intentions were said as the candles were going out. Mine was for my students, and hubby’s was for our marriage and its success.

A continued Chag Chanuka Sameach to you all.

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Day 2 of Hanukkah

Here’s a picture of our menorah. We are facing the back towards the window, but lighting it facing into the room, so… we’re doing it right, I think.

Second Night of Hanukkah

Tonight, my intention was for our marriage. My husband’s was for his grandfather, whose yahrzeit was yesterday.

Chag Sameach, everyone.

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Chag Chanukah Sameach!

So last night was my first day of my first Hanukkah ever. (I will be using “Hanukkah” in my English writing and “Chanukah” when I write in Hebrew transliteration. Just sayin’.)

My Jewish best friend came over, helped me get through errands that I couldn’t avoid, made a fabulous dinner (she wouldn’t let me help) AND brought me and my husband gifts.

For him: A Jewish Study Bible (one of the books on our Intro to Judaism textbook wishlist). For me: another of the books from that same wishlist.

She also brought gelt and a dreidel, and taught me how to play. I had bought a set of very pretty dreidels that were also delivered yesterday, as well as a box of dark chocolate gelt. It was very fun.

My husband was blown away by her gifts. And when we lit the candles, we each stated our intentions for that first candle: me for my late father, my husband for one of his best friends who had died recently, and my best friend for my husband – that he is also joining her People along with me. He got teary-eyed. It was sweet.

First Night of Hanukkah

We put the menorah in front of the window. The shamash is the one on the far right (and yes, it’s a little taller than the other candle holders in this menorah). My friend lit it and taught us the song for the prayers – which are in our siddur, thankfully.

Dreidels and gelt.

That’s the dreidel that my friend brought, up-a-top. The similar-sized one from the set I purchased is lying among the gelt. (Note: we have silver gelt and gold gelt both – the silver is the dark chocolate type.)

We have holiday plans for Friday evening; friends of ours who are chosen family (including my Jewish best friend) are coming over for Shabba-nukkah (Shabbat during Hanukkah?). I have a brisket waiting to be cooked with apples and red onions in the slow cooker; my husband is planning bread pudding with gluten-free artisinal bread we got from our local gluten-free (and Jewish!) bakery; apple fritters; challah from that selfsame bakery; brussels sprouts with capers and lemon juice – it’s going to be a good feast. I’m hoping that my friend will also make us latkes; we’ll have sour cream and applesauce for them, for sure. Sufganiyot won’t be possible this year because the bakery doesn’t yet have the deep-frying ability to make them, but hopefully by next Hanukkah we’ll have those as well.

I also plan to (and resign myself to) gaining ten pounds over the next few days. Hey, it’s the holidays. I’m allowed.

We’re also having to take the husband’s car in to the shop to get the window repaired – it stopped working yesterday, which would have been fine if it had done so when rolled up. Doing so when rolled down was less-good (it was pouring rain last night). We are also going to go get our new cat, we hope, tonight. Our previous fur-kid died in early February, and it took a while for both of us to be ready for a new one.

In the meantime, I have a few more grades to finalize, a house to clean up, and students to manage in a wintertime class. If you’re so inclined, keep a good thought that I hear back positively from the job I had a second interview for a week ago. They said “late next week,” so that’s now “late this week.” I can hope they’re going to call today or tomorrow, right? And in the meantime, I’m not going to worry about it.

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Copied from a comment: The Unthinking Retailers at Holiday Time

In response to another person’s blog asking why retailers carry almost nothing for us Jews at this time of year, and whether they were thinking or not, I had this response.


The old saying is, “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Which is true, but… my argument with this aphorism is that there is a space between stupidity and malice. That space is thoughtlessness. That’s where the retailers are.

They don’t think, because we’re a numerical minority. Unless they live in one of the big urban areas near one of our small urban enclaves, they’re not really even aware of us. They don’t realize that not all Jews look like the young Mel Brooks.

They don’t think, because we’re not like them. Our holidays have weird names in a non-English language and they don’t stay put on their calendar. We don’t put up trees or lights (unless they’re blue and white) or say the holiday greetings that they say. We’re not interested in sitting on the lap of the fat man in the red suit (or in letting our kid sit on his lap either). And the fat guy? He’s probably just wishing that all these screeching kids and drunk adults would go home and let him go get a coffee or a brandy.

They don’t think. They don’t have to. They’re on Holiday Autopilot and it would never occur to them that other people have holidays they don’t understand. They think of Hanukkah as “Jewish Christmas” and wish us “Molotov!”, believing that they’re doing something “inclusive” by doing so.

I’d almost prefer stupidity to the proliferation of “Hams for Hanukkah” and “Want your menorah to arrive by Christmas? Just pay for ultra-fast shipping at checkout and we guarantee it’ll be there by December 24th!” I would almost prefer malice to the absolutely braindead non-thinking Holiday Autopilot.

I don’t have a Hanukkah bush or an Eitz haMoed. Instead, I have a bouquet of cut flowers with juniper sprigs mixed in on my dining table. I have a menorah waiting for me on my bookshelf for when I can light its first candle tomorrow night. I have dreidels on the coffee table and gelt making its way to me from a fair trade company through the mail. I have a feast planned for Shabbat, when I will have my children and my husband and my chosen family with me, and I plan to be as Jewish as I can be that night and cook for armies. When I think of the winter holidays now, I think back to last year, when my Jewish friend hesitantly asked if she could bring a travel menorah on the night she was visiting, and how I watched in awe and wonder while she sang the prayers over a lit birthday candle in a menorah smaller than my wallet.

I am trying to ignore the proliferation of green-and-red-and-white light displays and ostentatious (and tacky) inflatable snowmen and the awful music pouring out of the grocery store speakers. And mostly, I’m successful.

But yes. I get it. You’re not alone.

Shall we sing along with the Maccabeats to drown out the unthinking noise?

Chanuka Sameach!


Now I want to make something clear: if you have an Eitz haMoed, I have nothing against that. It’s your practice, and it’s your tree. No skin off my nose.

I just get tired of the non-Jewish expectation that I’ll still celebrate a holiday that has nothing to do with my religion, or that I’ll go along to get along. It annoys me. Always has, always will.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have grades to finalize and a tzedakah box to plan a paint scheme for.

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A comment to a post on Kveller: Coming Late to the Party, But Glad That I’m Here

When I saw the blurb for this post at Kveller.com on Facebook, I did a double-take. I, too, grew up Catholic and dabbled in paganism and Wicca (and atheism) before finding Judaism just last year.

And although I came to Judaism for different reasons than the writer did, I identify specifically with this:

“Somewhere along the line, I became Jewish. It wasn’t at the mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), it wasn’t at the formal meeting with my Beit Din (rabbinical court) during my conversion process, and it wasn’t during a year’s worth of discussions every month with the rabbi.”

I have yet to stand before the Beit Din or go to the mikveh – that’s next summer. But I have been a part of the Jewish community at my synagogue for nearly a year now, waiting to take the formal classes that will allow me to go to the Beit Din and the mikveh. And somewhere along the line, I became Jewish too. I attended High Holy Days services and prayed with everyone else. I attend Shabbat services at least once a month, and more if my husband’s work schedule permits it. I have Shabbat dinners for friends and family at least twice a month. I’ve already paid for my Introduction to Judaism classes that start next month.

I pray the brachot every time I eat. I pray the Sh’ma morning and night and find comfort in it. My home is a Jewish home – it has a hanukkiah on the bookcase, a siddur and a Torah commentary on the coffee table, a hand-painted besamim box and havdalah candle holder on a shelf near the dining table, Shabbat candlesticks in the dining room, a box of Shabbat candles in a kitchen cabinet… I find myself humming Jewish and Israeli songs pretty much constantly. I wear a kippah and a Mogen David openly, and I dream of the tallit that I’ve picked out and the day that I finally get to put it on. I found my faith and my people.

My rabbi told me that conversion happens “along the way.” It’s not about the moment at the Beit Din or the mikveh. It’s about the point at which “us” comes to my lips much more easily than ‘they”. When my first response is “I’m Jewish.” When I know that I’m a Jew so deeply that I don’t even have to question it.

I’ve passed that point. The rest, as was once said about the Torah, is commentary. It’s a commentary I’ll be learning for the rest of my life, but it’s okay that I, too, came late to this party. The point is that I came to the party, no matter when it happened.

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Friday Feature: What are you thankful for this week?

13 Kislev 5775

It’s time for the Friday Feature again, where I ask you what good things happened to you this week. This is direct from Telushkin’s Book of Jewish Values, Day 69.

This is supposed to be a regular Friday morning feature for this blog. Telushkin intended his book to provide topics for Shabbat discussions for at least a year, as each “week” is composed of six values (one per day) and then Shabbat, where he encourages us to talk about those values at our Shabbat dinners and services. I feel that the idea of gratitude is so central to Jewish practice that we should be reminded weekly of what we might be grateful for.

While I know that this might seem a little self-centered, I’m also doing this so that people will have some food for thought for their own Shabbat dinners about what they might be thankful for. I generally talk about the following areas of my life: work and career; family and friends; health; household; my conversion studies; miscellaneous life; and the wider world. Feel free to add or subtract as necessary for your own use.


I’m thankful for my husband (married 35 days as of today). I’m thankful for my kids, who spent last Friday and Saturday with us (we had Thankshabbat on Friday instead of having Thanksgiving on Thursday; my husband had to work on Thanksgiving and my kids couldn’t be here on Thanksgiving).

I’m thankful that my husband has told me he intends to convert with me, after taking the Taste of Judaism class. We’ve already registered for the full Intro to Judaism class in the spring. This excites me very much. Now that the school semester is winding down, I should have the ability to get back to my blog here and to my Judaism and Hebrew studies very soon. We’ve bought a menorah and candles for it, and my best friend gifted us Our First Dreidel. Now I just need gelt, and we’re good to go for Hanukkah. :D

Menorah

I’m thankful that my teachers’ union was able to get us a raise, which should go into effect either this month or next month, and has some retroactiveness to it.

I’m thankful that I had a great interview for a full-time position yesterday. I’ll know by Monday whether I get a second interview. I’m hopeful. Even if I don’t get this job, I still have a full schedule of classes lined up for the spring, and a winter intersession class that I’m going to finish regardless of whether I get the full-time job or not. (Income is good.)

I’m thankful that my husband has Saturday off this week so we can go to temple for the first time in two or three weeks (sometimes his schedule doesn’t allow him to be home, and it’s hard to go to temple by myself when I’m stressed out about other things; his presence is calming for me).

I’m thankful that my friends are open to me converting and are willing to come over to Shabbat dinners on Friday nights. Our next planned one is the Friday during Hanukkah.

I have a lot of work to finish – student papers and homework to grade, so that next week all I have to deal with is their finals. So today, I’m going to be working on that while I bake challah and clean up in between stints of paper grading. But I’m also thankful that I have this work. It’s meaningful to me.

What are you thankful for this week?

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World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. Today, I am remembering my friends Jim and Paul, both of whom died in the early part of the 1980s AIDS holocaust.

I was born late enough that I was not part of the gay community while so many thousands of gay men died from the “gay cancer.” The generation who went through that was about seven or eight years older than me. But I was old enough that there were a few people in my life who died of it.

Some facts you may not know about AIDS/HIV:

1. THERE IS NO CURE. The anti-retroviral (ART) drugs that people take to control it are only controlling whether it reproduces inside a human being’s system. They do not kill it and they are not a vaccine. People who take the ART drugs can still infect other people through fluid contact.

2. You cannot catch HIV from hugging someone with HIV, from shaking hands with someone with HIV, from eating from the same plate as someone with HIV, or from using the same toilet as someone with HIV. HIV is fluid-borne, not airborne. Fluids which can carry and transmit the virus include blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal secretions.

3. People with HIV are considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

4. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV has killed more than 39 million people since the start of the epidemic. In 2013, 1.5 million people died from AIDS around the world.

5. Currently there are about 35 million people living with HIV worldwide (WHO).

6. 24.7 million of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa, the most affected region of the world. This region also accounts for more than 70% of all new HIV infections worldwide (WHO).

7. People infected with HIV can remain symptom-free for years. Just because you do not look like you have it does not mean you are free of HIV. According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 people who have been recently infected are not aware that they have the virus, and 1 in 6 who live with HIV are unaware of their viral status.

8. Nonwhites, especially blacks, are disproportionately affected by HIV. In 2010, 44% of new infections in the United States were African-American. Latinos accounted for 21% of new infections in the United States (CDC).

9. HIV is not a “gay disease.” Anyone can catch it. Although men who have sex with men are still the largest category of risk, straights can also contract HIV through sexual contact and through dirty needles used for drug injections (CDC).

10. The first known case of AIDS was a man who died in the Congo in 1959. Blood samples taken from him at the time of his death confirm he had HIV. His illness was not identified as HIV until much later.

11. I recommend reading the excellent book “And The Band Played On,” by Randy Shilts, as well as watching the movie that was made from it, to understand just how stupid we were at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Back then, HIV was one virus. Now, it has mutated over and over again. According to uhavax.hartford.edu/bugl/hiv.htm, there are three major groups of HIV variants, and one group has at least ten subtypes.

If the government had been willing to expend research money in 1982 or 1983, we could have stopped this thing. Now, we may never be able to.

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New Music: Eric Komar, “Justice, Justice”

It’s no secret that justice is a big deal for me. I have the quote from Micah right there on the front of this blog:

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; to do justice, to show mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

That’s sort of in-your-face, wouldn’t you say? If you needed a commandment that sort of encompasses the idea of tikkun olam, I can’t find a better place to start.

Well, in the last few weeks, I’ve been expanding my Jewish-and-Hebrew music collection. In a search for recordings of the Shehecheyanu, I discovered Eric Komar. Unfortunately, his music isn’t available on YouTube, but you should definitely look him up on his own page at http://www.komarmusic.com/merch.html, or at iTunes or Spotify. And the first song of his you should look for and listen to is “Justice, Justice,” from his album Two Life.

I’ll just put the lyrics here.

Justice, Justice
Eric Komar

Too many hungry families sleeping on the street
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many addicts trying to get back on their feet
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many tyrants wreaking havoc on their lands
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many helpless victims of destructive plans
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek

(Chorus)
Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof

Too many jobs denied because of greed or race
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many laws defied; the wrong side wins the case
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek

Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof

Too many young and feeble heartlessly snuffed out
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many old and sick nobody cares about
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many selfish interests trump the common good
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Too many messages not being understood!
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek

Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof
Do justly, love mercy
Walk humbly with your God
Justice, justice shall you follow
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Tirdof tzedek, tzedek
Oh… justice, justice!

Tirdof tzedek, tzedek.

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Coming Up For Air

So, a few things have happened since my last post.

1. I got legally married. My husband and I planned very carefully to make sure we could get married on a Friday without violating the Sabbath. We got married about ten minutes before sundown on October 31st, surrounded by friends. It was lovely.

2. There’s a very good chance that we will reprise the wedding next year as a religious wedding, with a huppah and everything. The other night my husband told me that there’s a 99% chance he’s going to convert with me. We’ve started attending the Taste of Judaism classes at our temple, and we’re definitely taking the Introduction to Judaism course that starts in January. There’s a very good chance we’ll take our mikveh dip at the same time.

3. I have purchased our own copy of the siddur used at our temple – the Mishkan T’Filah Reform Siddur. Last night we did Havdalah together and included a few readings from the siddur as part of it. (I wish I could find a recording of Elana Jagoda’s Havdalah song that was available as an MP3 instead of only on YouTube, though.)

4. There is no fourth thing.

5. I have been overwhelmed with work and other issues, which is why I haven’t been posting. I’m sure that “getting married” counts as something overwhelming, doesn’t it?

I’m also working on my antipathy towards the fundamentalists in my own faith. I have to get past this; it’s making it hard for me to practice tikkun olam. Reading part of Spiritual Activism by Rabbi Avraham Weiss (an Orthodox rabbi who calls for unity among all Jews and does not judge non-Orthodox Jews – for the most part) helped. I may talk about that in a few days.

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